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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
In recent years, the Golden Girls star has signed on for guest spots on U.S. shows including My Name is Earl, Stealing Christmas and Annie's Point.
But now she's set to front her own show - network bosses at TV Land are turning her pilot episode for Hot in Cleveland into a full series.
The legendary star will play the sharp-tongued caretaker of a Cleveland home shared by three former Los Angeles residents, played by Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick.
Hot in Cleveland is set to premiere in the U.S. in June (10).
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 -- Watch out, "Charlie's Angels." Here come "Josie and the Pussycats."
According to today's Hollywood Reporter, Rachael Leigh Cook, the pan-wielding grrl from those get-tough "Just Say No" ads, has signed on to play the title character in a live-action "Josie" film.
As announced last year, "Can't Hardly Wait's" Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan will direct.
The Universal picture is scheduled to begin shooting this summer. Marc Platt and Riverdale Prods., which own the rights to the toon, are the producers. Mogul Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and wife Tracey are in talks to provide the music through their Edmonds Entertainment.
For those not up on their schlocky cartoon history, "Josie and the Pussycats," inspired by the 1960s-era comic book, was originally produced for Saturday morning purposes from 1970-72. Cousins to "The Archies," the Pussycats were a bubblegum precursor of, say, the Go-Gos. Their all-girl band lineup consisted of Melody, Valerie and, yes, Josie. (A pre-"Charlie's Angels" Cheryl Ladd provided Melody's singing voice.) In 1972, the Pussycats were blasted into orbit -- hence the title of their next (and, alas, final) TV toon: "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" (1972-74).
Cook, 20, is best known for her star turn in last year's surprise hit "She's All That".
HUNGRY FOR A SCOOBY SNACK? In other movie-toon news, the word from the New York Daily News is that Jennifer Love Hewitt could be up for the shagadelic role of Daphne in Mike Myers' planned live-action version of the canine cartoon "Scooby Doo."
KLEIN LACES UP FOR 'BALL': "American Pie" star Chris Klein is set to show off his skating skills in a remake of the 1970s cult hit "Rollerball." The Reporter notes that Klein is in final negotiations to star in the John McTiernan-helmed sci-fi actioner. The MGM/UA production could be the studio's major release for 2001.
Klein takes over a role originated by James Caan in 1975. The original futuristic pic, directed by Norman Jewison, featured Caan as the veteran star of a sport where groups of warriors in roller skates and on motorcycles battled to the death for corporate sponsors.
No word on the changes in scripter John Pogue's ("The Skulls") latest draft, but sources report that Jewison could be involved in bringing the new version to the screen.
IN 'MOTION': Reese Witherspoon, a Golden Globe nominee for her sharp work in the hilarious "Election," switches gears as the producer and star of the drama "Slow Motion." The Reporter notes that Witherspoon is set to work on the Sony-based Phoenix Pictures production, which is based on Dani Shapiro's 1992 novel "Playing With Fire."
The film's about a college student who is seduced by her roommate's father. According to the Reporter, it's a story about an "abusive relationship between two people blinded by love."
GOING TO 'TOWNIES'? Director Mike Figgis and Brad Pitt might be heading downtown on the project "Urban Townies." The Reporter has the filmmaker scheduled to meet with Pitt about the film, which the actor has been considering for a while.
The drama, produced by Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein, has to do with a man from the Midwest who returns to New York City to find his old girlfriend involved with his best friend.