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.
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
It was a tough sell, but New Line Cinema's supernatural drama The Butterfly Effect, starring Ashton Kutcher in his first non-comedic role, soared to the top of the box office this weekend with a colorful $17.1 million*.
The Butterfly Effect's ripples were enough to send last week's box office topper, Along Came Polly, to second place with $16.6 million, followed by this week's only other new wide release, Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, which won the No. 3 position with a rather trivial $7.5 million.
After weeks of close calls, Tim Burton's Big Fish finally overcame The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, defeating Peter Jackson's fantasy epic with a lofty $7.3 million. Return of the King, meanwhile, rounded out the Top Five with a still noble $6.8 million.
This week's box office also saw the reemergence of Mystic River. Warner Bros. decided to expand the film's release to approximately 1,194 sites Friday because of the critical praise it's received during the awards season. Since its release Oct. 10, Mystic has collected numerous nominations and awards for its director Clint Eastwood and the ensemble cast. This weekend, the film came in at No. 10 with $3.1 million, bringing its cumulative total to $58.5 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's R rated supernatural drama The Butterfly Effect kicked off in the No. 1 position with an ESTIMATED $17.1 million in 2,605 theaters, with a $6,564 per theater average.
In The Butterfly Effect, a college student discovers a way to travel into the past to access sublimated childhood memories. He soon realizes that in occupying his childhood body, he can stop the unsettling events before they occur.
Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, it stars Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Elden Henson and Ethan Suplee.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Along Came Polly, last week's box office champ, dropped to second place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $16.6 million (-40%) in 2,995 theaters (+11 theaters; $5,543 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.5 million.
Directed by John Hamburg, it stars Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Debra Messing.
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! debuted in the No. 3 spot with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million in 2,711 theaters with a $2,767 per theater average.
In the film, a grocery clerk in rural West Virginia wins a date with big-screen idol Tad Hamilton, much to the chagrin of her best friend and co-worker Pete, who is secretly in love with her.
Directed by Robert Luketic, it stars Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel and Topher Grace.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish dropped a notch to third place in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-29%) in 2,438 theaters (-76 theaters; $2,994 per theater). Its cume is approximately $49.1 million.
Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Lohman.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King fell three rungs to fifth place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-33%) at 2,558 theaters (-445 theaters; $2,678 per theater). Its cume is approximately $337.8 million.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen dropped two notches to sixth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $6.6 million (-27%) in 2,810 theaters (-215 theaters; $2,349 per theater). Its cume is approximately $122.7 million.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff and Tom Welling.
Miramax Films' R rated Civil War drama Cold Mountain fell one place to seventh place in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $5.3 million (-22%) at 2,802 theaters (unchanged; $1,892 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $72.9 million.
Directed by Anthony Minghella, it stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger.
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated actioner Torque dropped three pegs to eighth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million in 2,463 theaters (unchanged; $1,797 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.2 million.
Directed by Joseph Kahn, it stars Ice Cube, Martin Henderson, Monet Mazur, Matt Schulze and Jaime Pressly.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give dropped two spots to ninth in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-29%) at 2,143 theaters (-359 theaters; $1,913 per theater). Its cume is approximately $107.1 million.
Directed by Nancy Meyers, it stars Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand.
Warner Bros.' dramatic R rated Mystic River expanded again after 16 weeks of release to round out the Top Ten with $3.1 million (+851%) at 1,327 theaters (+1,194 theaters; $2,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $58.5 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
This week, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $83.4 million, down 12.21 percent from last week's $95.05 million, but up 4.39 percent from last year's $79.9 million.
Last year, Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated horror pic Darkness Falls debuted at the No. 1 spot with $12 million at 2,837 theaters with a $4,239 per theater average; Warner Bros. PG rated comedy Kangaroo Jack came in second in its second week with $11.5 million in 2,848 theaters (+30 theaters; $4,055 per theater average); and Miramax's PG-13 rated Chicago came in at No. 3 with $8.2 million in 2,848 theaters+59 theaters; $13,375 per theater).