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.
You know, sometimes shit just happens. You take a wildly popular franchise of superheroes and movies, start listening to some really bad ideas and before you know it there are nipples on the Bat Suit, effectively killing 60 years of built up goodwill and great storylines. One bad film is all it can take to bury a great cinematic series. Six feet under. Pushing daisies. DEAD.
But then something amazing happens. A new kid comes around with fresh ideas and a reverence for what made a franchise so good in the first place. Plus, it’s been a few years since the last fiasco so maybe the audience will forgive and forget. All of a sudden you have a great film on your hands that the critics love, the audience will pay big money to see, and voila! The franchise is reborn! Healthier than it has ever been, like it was never dead in the first place! But what does a franchise savior have that previous entries lacked? Read on for the specifics.
X-Men: First Class
Cause of death: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. An unnecessary, thinly plotted and horribly scripted character prequel (Wolverine’s backstory was the focus of the first two movies, dammit!) with shitty CGI? DOA.
Savior: Matthew Vaughn and James McAvoy. Now THIS is a proper prequel. The X-Men are the most prolific comic book stories in existence. There are so many interesting tales to tell you would have to try very hard to mess it up (which totally happened). So how do you take so much potential and turn it into something tangible and real? You take the most interesting mutants, ones with true character histories, and then put them in the hands of a super talented filmmaker with success in the genre. Combine that with one hell of a cast (Jennifer Lawrence! Kevin Bacon!) and, yeah, the X-Men are back.
Also, January Jones' ample cleavage doesn’t hurt.
Cause of death: James Bond didn’t so much die (007 can’t die, remember?) as he became a clown. Sure Pierce Brosnan could spit out witty lines with the best of them, but no one took Denise Richards playing a character named Christmas Jones seriously.
Savior: Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig. When it was first announced that Daniel Craig would be playing England’s most famous spy, the outcry was enormous. He’s blond! He’s tiny! He’s not devilishly handsome enough! Then Casino Royale came out and everyone went “Oh. Never mind.” Sometimes when a franchise dies, in order to bring it back you have to invert everything that caused its demise. So Craig’s Bond doesn’t give a damn whether his martini is shaken or stirred - so what?! And forget the stylized stunts with the hero coming out as well-groomed as ever? Screw that! A sweaty, unpredictable Bond was exactly what the world wanted. Bond came back in a big way, baby.
Cause of Death: Batman and Robin. Nipple suits. Said it once before. Twice is enough.
Savior: Christopher Nolan. Holy shit, this is the textbook example of a franchise being saved. Too much has already been said on how horrible Batman and Robin is and the Oscars, billion dollar box office totals and career defining performances speak well enough for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Take away the camp, the tongue-in-cheekiness, the bloated action stars and replace it with grittiness, darkness and (most importantly) a competent filmmaker. Thanks to Nolan, Batman went from being big-screen joke to a serious character on par with one that Shakespeare would’ve come up with. That’s how you do it folks.
Cause of Death: Exhaustion. The original long-run of this classic British show ran from 1963 to 1989. That’s 26 years to fill with original programming and wildly changing tastes of consumers. Add in some executive meddling and a made-for-TV movie that failed on an epic level and it looked like the Doctor finally bit it.
Savior: Russel T. Davies and Steven Moffat. You can’t keep a good man down, but the Doctor? Well, he never really had a chance of staying down anyway. 2005 rolled around and BOOM; Doctor Who was back on the air and better than ever. Everything that brought the series down in the late 80’s was stripped away, leaving the Doctor war-torn but stripped down to his essentials (so no more Time Lords, but plenty of TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers). Throw in some great writing and the Doctor was fully regenerated. However, and this is a unique situation, Doctor Who was practically saved again without dying! It was super saved! Steven Moffat stepped into the head writer’s chair and elevated Who to a degree that few thought possible. He is still running the show and it’s honestly one of the best on television at the moment.
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Cause of Death: Exhaustion. Sherlock Holmes never really died so much as faded from popularity. Sure, he’s been featured in more movies, TV shows, books, comics and what have you than any other character, but the people just didn’t really care about him when the Millennium rolled around. So he wasn’t dead, but he was malnourished and forgotten, sitting in the corner trying to warm himself with a single match.
Savior: Guy Ritchie and Steven Moffat. Sherlock got a face-lift from two very different sources and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of the famed detective. First, Ritchie gave the uber-awesome Robert Downey Jr the keys to the flat on Baker St. and, really, that’s all you need to know. Sure, he fought in slo-mo, but he was as whip smart as ever and crimes were solved. Ah, but not everyone enjoys Victorian England. Steven Moffat (saving franchises again!) brought Holmes into the present and what do you know, Sherlock fits right in. Of course a good Sherlock series would be smart, but Moffat made his visually stunning and turned Watson into one bad-ass assistant thanks to Martin Freeman. Even after decades of hanging around solving crimes, these two showed that there was plenty of excitement left for the beekeeper.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Rosie O'Donnell reveals in the August issue of her magazine Rosie that she has been depressed for years, according to Entertainment Tonight. She originally resisted taking medication, fearing it was a cowardly way to live, but has now been on antidepressants for two years. The talk show host said she was pushed over the edge by the Columbine shootings and a celebrity benefit she attended, where she found herself sobbing throughout the evening.
Singer Rick Springfield broke his arm during a performance at the MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas, The Associated Press reports. He treated and released Tuesday at University Medical Center. The singer fell from a 20-foot high beam that is used to lower him on to the stage in the show's last scene. In EFX Alive, Springfield takes the audience on a journey to the worlds of wizard Merlin, showman P.T. Barnum, illusionist Harry Houdini and sci-fi writer H.G. Wells.
A park honoring Theodor Seuss Geisel, a k a Dr.Seuss, will open in Springfield, Mass., on June 1, AP reports. The Seuss Heritage Park and National Memorial will feature 30 bronze statues of Geisel's literary characters including Horton, Thidwick the Moose and Cat in the Hat. Geisel's stepdaughter, Lark Diamod-Kates, designed the sculptures. Geisel died in 1991 at age 87.
To commemorate the comedienne's 90th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a stamp honoring Lucille Ball, Reuters reports. The stamp will be the seventh in the Postal Service's Legend of Hollywood Series. Others have included Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Alfred Hitchcock, James Cagney and Edward G Robinson. Ball, who was best known for her 1950's sitcom I Love Lucy, died in 1989 at the age of 78.
William Dail, the road manager for Insane Clown Posse, has pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for choking an Eminem fan, AP reports. The fan apparently held up an Eminem T-shirt and chucked some M&M candies at two clowned-faced band members following an Insane Clown Posse concert in Omaha, Neb., in May. The 24-year-old man was taken outside where Dail then choked him until he blacked out. Dail agreed to plead guilty of one count of disorderly conduct and pay a $100 fine.
The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin said in two magazine articles that his arrest in April was not due to a chronic drug habit but sporadic use, Reuters reports. Sorkin was arrested at a Burbank airport in April after airport employees found marijuana, crack and hallucinogenic mushrooms in his bag. Sorkin told TV Guide that he has broken his sobriety since 1997 by occasional drug use. He said he would smoke pot from time to time to relax, and likened it to having a martini at the end of a long day. Sorkin also said he used crack less than five times in the last two years. In a September issue of Talk magazine, Sorkin said he would used drugs after work to celebrate the pressure being off. "There's no way I could be writing high and not have people know it,"he said.
Robert Downey Jr. was back at work on Tuesday. Variety reports that the actor filmed a music video for the song I Want Love, the first single from Elton John's new CD Songs From the West Coast. Ed Limato, Downey's agent, said that the actor had received several important offers in film and TV roles.
A new biography of Natalie Wood claims the actress was raped as a teenager by an unnamed actor, the BBC reports. According to author Suzanne Finstad, Woods was 16 when she was raped by a "powerful, married movie star." Finstad chose not to name the actor so that people would focus on Wood's horror and trauma. She also added that Wood's mother conspired to keep the rape a secret. The book also details the events leading up to the actress' drowning in 1981 during a boat trip with actors Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. Wagner has said there are many errors in the book and is upset that the inaccuracies have been published.
Director Steven Spielberg has decided to scale down his plans for a riding ring complex at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, Reuters reports. Neighbors initially objected to the plan, saying the 27,000-square-foot domed monstrosity would clash with the rustic style of the nearby homes. Spielberg reworked the plans and came up with a smaller dome-less version that has met with local approval. The stable will house four or five horses and be surrounded by a 6-foot high gate.
Mick Jagger will release his fourth solo album in November, Virgin Records has announced. According to Reuters, Jagger, 58, has been recording the album with Pete Townshend, Missy Elliott, Lenny Kravitz and Rob Thomas.
Michael Jackson's 30th anniversary all-star concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York sold out in less than five hours, AP reports. Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years will be Jackson's first with his brothers since the 1994 Victory tour in 1984. Other artists scheduled to appear are Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Ray Charles, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin and N 'Sync. Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, William Shatner, Quincy Jones, Kobe Bryant, Willem Dafoe and Macaulay Culkin will also pay tribute to the pop star.