Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow has taken a lot of flack from the comedy world for his highly publicized religiosity. Most notably, Tebow was lampooned by a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, wherein the athlete was played by Taran Killam, accompanied by Jason Sudeikis as Jesus. Last night, an SNL veteran got in the game in a particularly creative way: on Late Night, Jimmy Fallon wrote a parody of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," combining the quarterback and the glam rock star to create a sensation known only as TeBowie.
The "Major Tom" role in the song is taken by Tebow, asking Jesus for help winning his upcoming football games. The "Ground Control" part goes to Jesus, who insists that Tebow needs to stop asking him for help, as he has more important things to do. It's irreverent, and likely to offend (Christians and David Bowie fans alike). But it's some pretty classic Jimmy Fallon.
It was all going to be very exciting for me.
The big summer movies were on their way. The Japanese were going to attack the United States. A buxom video game babe was going to be brought to life. There were going to be more dinosaurs and a whole planet ruled by apes.
It was going to be beautiful.
The season started early, and things looked promising.
The Mummy Returns opened May 4, making a whopping $68.1 million in its first three days and staying in the top five for four weeks. It was one of those thrill-ride movies, maybe not better than the original, but certainly as much fun.
Then Shrek came to town May 18.
Arguably the biggest box office success this summer, the 3D computer animated story from DreamWorks, about one green ogre who falls in love with a beautiful fairytale princess, captured everyone's hearts. The story was simple, sweet-and made us laugh our asses off. And we came to see it in droves. So far, the film has made roughly $255.5 million and is still a top draw.
Still, the real summer movie bonanza began Memorial Day weekend, when the mega-budget blockbuster Pearl Harbor opened to much fanfare. Oh, what a glorious time I was to be have going to the movies.
But that's just when the summer all went to pot.
Why? What went wrong with these blockbusters? Why haven't the huge summer movies so far raked in the money week after week? And how did those considerably smaller films make it to the No. 1 spot?
Maybe a good story actually counts
That's always been my point. An involving plot really does have something to do with a movie being a success. Special effects are wonderful and, by golly, they are getting better every single day. I love following the bomb all the way down until it hits a ship. I love dinosaurs and statues coming to life. I love what they are doing with computer animation. Wow.
But there's got to be a plot. The plot doesn't have to be complicated. We aren't always looking for The Usual Suspects or Being John Malkovich, but the story has at least got to be interesting to keep us going.
Pearl Harbor, for all its heart-wrenching action as the powerful U.S. ships sank under the Japanese bombs, was a complete dud in the story department. Every known cliché was brought out, in spades, and the story went in about 10 different directions. First, it's a love story. No, it's a story about two best friends. Wait, no, now it's a story about a suicide mission to exact revenge.
And it was long. Way too long. The action doesn't even get started until three-quarters of the way through. Even the pretty faces of Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale couldn't help much (although Hartnett has got to be thanking the acting gods in the sky for giving him this exposure).
I hate to compare the film to Titanic. I know there will be some people who disagree with me, but for all its heart-wrenching action, as the powerful ship sank under an iceberg, Titanic grabbed me--and about 500,000 teen-age girls who saw the film repeatedly. Again, it wasn't very complicated. It stayed pretty much a love story, but I cared about those people, and I certainly didn't want them to die an icy cold death in the North Atlantic. That's what made the film work.
Pearl Harbor was just too ambitious and too scattered. It may have made a ton of money in its first few weeks because of all the hype, but people are not talking about it now. It did not leave an indelible impression.
Things didn't end there.
I thought, OK, so Pearl Harbor didn't really work, but boy, now I can't wait for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It was going to kick some major butt. Angelina Jolie was going to be perfect as Croft, and we'd get to watch a female Indiana Jones in action. The movie would surely make loads and loads of money.
And what happened? The story was dumb. Sure, Jolie looked great, and the special effects were cool, but the plot was fairly mindless. And now the movie is a blip.
And so went the rest of the summer, as far as the bigger films go. Good look, bad plot.
Take Final Fantasy. Spectacular visuals, but just as cold and boring as it could be. However, there are a few minor exceptions. A.I. was problematic--half Kubrick, half Spielberg--but it made you think somewhat, and people talked about it a lot, both positively and negatively. Jurassic Park III had some interesting new dinosaurs, and the story was simple-and short. The film only runs 85 minutes. That was good thing.
The one movie that has fulfilled my expectations so far has been Planet of the Apes. I just like the movie a lot. The look of the ape planet was amazing. The story was compelling, even if it was a little cheesy in parts. The acting by Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth was tremendous. So thumbs up from me.
The film has been getting some flack for the ending. Come on, people. It's not that hard to figure out, and even if it is, it still makes for a great ending. Let's hope it keeps the box office rolling (so far, it's made about $90 million. Not bad, monkey boys).
They aren't working. The originals are better. Enough said. (Save, of course, The Mummy Returns).
The fast, the blonde, the cats and the dogs
In looking at the films that have done well despite their smaller stature, one thing is clear: appealing to the younger generation is an important factor in a summer movie. Makes sense, doesn't it? They are home for the summer. The parents want them out of the house. And there, awaiting them at the theaters, are hot young bodies driving fast and living hard in The Fast and the Furious and perky blondes getting their due in Legally Blonde.
Even the somewhat silly but nonetheless entertaining Cats & Dogs beat out big films, such as Scary Movie 2, to take the No. 1 spot when it opened July 4. Why? It was funny and the parents could take the kids. And America's Sweethearts, with the ultra-popular Julia Roberts, stands alone as one of the only romantic comedies of the summer--a very useful and distinguishing characteristic.
So, what have we learned?
That the movie going audiences are a continually evolving bunch. They read reviews. They listen to their friends. They like plots and aren't just mindlessly oohing and ahhing over the fantastic special effects.
That young adults make up an enormous percentage of the summer movie going population.
That studio executives better pay attention on how this summer went. I'm sure they all think they have successes on their hands, especially since the movies made decent amounts of money.
But we know the real deal.
Story counts. Period. Well, story plus hot young actors and a great soundtrack. But that's it.