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.
Hollywood's advance radar system fizzled this weekend as "15 Minutes" failed to oust "The Mexican" from first place.
Although insiders were right in predicting a sharp second week drop for DreamWorks' R-rated drama "The Mexican," they were wrong about it losing top honors. "Mexican" held on to first place with a less sexy estimated $12.13 million (-40%) at 2,959 theaters (+8 theaters; $4,100 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.3 million.
"Mexican" reportedly only cost about $40 million since its two superstars worked for much less than their usual salaries.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, "Mexican" stars Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
New Line's R-rated drama "15 Minutes" kicked off in second place with a solid estimated $10.48 million at 2,337 theaters ($4,482 per theater).
"Minutes" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
Written and directed by John Herzfeld, "Minutes" stars Robert De Niro and Edward Burns.
Insiders had been talking about a $15-20 million opening that would have put "Minutes" in first place.
"The picture's got a message and the message was resonating with the older demo and obviously not with the younger one," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning.
"The tracking showed that it was going to open higher than (it did). Although, with the definite interest numbers (being lower), it sort of told you that (even with) the tracking numbers for first choice and all the rest of it, because of the (limited) interest it was going to (open) lower."
Warner Bros.' PG-rated family appeal comedy "See Spot Run" from Village Roadshow Pictures was still barking loudly in third place in its second week with an estimated $6.6 million (-32%) at 2,656 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,485 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.9 million.
Reportedly made for only about $15 million, "Spot" should be profitable in theaters as well as in home video.
Directed by John Whitesel, "Run" stars David Arquette.
MGM and Universal's R-rated thriller "Hannibal" fell two rungs to fourth place in its fifth week with a less delicious estimated $5.7 million (-44%) at 2,947 theaters (-325 theaters; $1,934 per theater). Its cume is approximately $151.0 million, heading for $175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore.
Paramount's PG-13-rated comedy "Down to Earth" dropped one peg to fifth place in its fourth week with a less amusing estimated $5.5 million (-30%) at 2,521 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,182 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, "Earth" stars Chris Rock.
"I think it's (going to get to) $65 million or so or maybe it might struggle to $70 million," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning.
"It held up really better than I thought. We're only off 30%. I was figuring a 35% drop with the De Niro picture coming in."
Miramax's PG-13-rated youth appeal comedy "Get Over It" arrived in sixth place to a calm estimated $4.4 million at 1,742 theaters ($2,525 per theater).
Directed by Tommy O'Haver, "Get" stars Kirsten Dunst, Ben Foster, Melissa Sagemiller, Sisqo, Shane West, Colin Hanks, Swoosie Kurtz, Ed Begley Jr. and Martin Short.
Sony Pictures Classics' Oscar-contending, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fell two slots to seventh place in its 14th week, still showing strong legs with an estimated $4.3 million (-12%) at 1,756 theaters (+5 theaters; $2,450 per theater). Its cume is approximately $94.6 million.
"Tiger" is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. Director Ang Lee won the Directors Guild of America's feature directing award Saturday night, making him the favorite to win the Best Director Oscar.
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"It looks good. Soon we're going to be at that Century Mark," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning.
When will "Tiger" hit $100 million? "I'd like to say next weekend, but most likely it's going to be during the week after that."
How far does it go if it wins the Best Picture Oscar and where does it wind up if it doesn't win? "Well, if it wins Best Picture, we're obviously going to be on the screen a lot longer -- probably, I'd say, another one or two months. It probably would go up to $120-125 million. If we don't win Best Picture, we'll still probably be on the screen because people still have a need to see the film.
"I was in Vegas this past week (for ShoWest) and talked to so many exhibitors who don't normally go to the movies, who are going two or three times to see this film and taking friends to see it. And then I've talked to people from all walks of life who have seen it three or four times."
Insiders see "Tiger" as having a strong shot at winning Best Picture, particularly in view of Ang Lee's DGA victory. But if it doesn't win, Prassis said, "It hangs on (but) obviously it's not going hang on the way it would if it did win." In that case, he sees it winding up with $110-115 million.
USA Films' R-rated, Oscar-contending drama "Traffic" dropped two notches to eighth place in its 11th week, still holding very well with an estimated $3.87 million (-11%) at 1,678 theaters (+40 theaters; $2,304 per theater). Its cume is approximately $97.5 million.
"Traffic" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
"It's the Academy Awards (benefit) -- down 11%. The drops in the Academy Awards trend continue to be impressive. Last weekend it was down 16% and the weekend before it was down 18%, so you can see the drops diminishing," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning.
"At the end of the week, we'll be at $98.5 million and Saturday we'll get there (at $100 million). Next Sunday morning, we'll be at $100 million and probably after the weekend we'll be at $101 million."
Asked for a best and worst case prediction -- winning or not winning the Best Picture Oscar -- of where the film's gross goes, Foley replied, "Because it's at $100 million within the next week, you have a nice little fit in there for maybe an accelerated run to the Academy Awards, which will deliver maybe $6 million. So that's $107 million. If it wins, it could be up another $15 million -- $120-125 million."
If "Traffic" doesn't win Best Picture, he added, "It will probably get to maybe $110-115 million. The dollar houses are in there. In the dollar houses, you can throw in another $3 million no matter where you are. So if it peters out at like $110 million in first run, then you're looking at $3-5 million from the dollar houses, so it would be like $113-115 million."
Miramax's PG-13-rated, Oscar-contending romantic comedy drama "Chocolat" fell two rungs to ninth place in its 13th week, holding better than any of the weekend's wide releases with an estimated $3.8 million (-10%) at 1,928 theaters (+71 theaters; $1,970 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
"Chocolat" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.
Asked where "Chocolat" is heading, Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning, "I think $65-70 million." If it should win Best Picture -- an upset victory that some Hollywood handicappers argue remains a possibility -- Kaminow added, "Why not $100 million?"
BR>Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was Buena Vista/ Disney's G-rated animated feature "Recess: School's Out," down two notches in its fourth week, with a less playful estimated $2.2 million (-44%) at 2,339 theaters (-164 theaters; $946 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.5 million.
Directed by Chuck Sheetz, "Recess" was produced by Sheetz and Stephen Swofford and executive produced and created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
OTHER OPENINGS Miramax's R-rated drama "Blow Dry" opened to a quiet estimated $0.25 million at 157 theaters ($1,600 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Paddy Breathnach, it stars Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett, Bill Nighy, Rosemary Harris and Heidi Klum.
Paramount Classics' PG-13-rated comedy "Company Man" opened to a poor estimated $0.078 million at 103 theaters ($760 per theater).
Written and directed by Peter Askin and Douglas McGrath, "Company" stars Alan Cumming, Anthony LaPaglia, Denis Leary, Douglas McGrath, John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver.
Shooting Gallery's unrated comedy "When Brendan Met Trudy" arrived to a dull estimated $0.038 million at 14 theaters ($2,715 per theater).
Directed by Lynda Myles, it stars Peter McDonald and Flora Montgomery.
SNEAK PREVIEWS MGM held 627 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13-rated comedy "Heartbreakers" from Davis Entertainment. The film, which was successfully screened for exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas last week, will be previewed again next Saturday night (Mar. 17) at about 1,000 theaters.
"We averaged 50% attendance," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning. "We had really good exit polls. 55% female, 45% male. 54% of the audience was over 30 and 46% were under 30. Definite recommend was 66%, which is a good number against a 50% average. And the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) were 78%. It's almost identical to the exit polls we had for 'The Thomas Crown Affair' in August of 1999.
"It's just what we wanted to do. We need to get the word out on the picture. So we're doing it again next week. We'll increase it to up to 1,000 (theaters) next week as per plan; and by the time we open in two weeks, we should be in good shape."
"Heartbreakers" opens Mar. 23 at about 2,500 theaters.
Directed by David Mirkin and produced by John Davis and Irving Ong, "Heartbreakers" stars Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Jeffrey Jones and Gene Hackman.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw Sony Pictures Classics go wider with its R-rated drama "Pollock," grossing in its fifth week an encouraging estimated $0.71 million (+7%) at 155 theaters (+51 theaters; $4,611 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.7 million.
"Pollock" received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Ed Harris) and Best Supporting Actress (Marcia Gay Harden).
Directed by Ed Harris, "Pollock" stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden.
USA Films' PG-rated drama "In the Mood For Love" continued to expand in its sixth week with a still encouraging estimated $0.26 million (-5%) at 73 theaters (+9 theaters; $3,563 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.6 million.
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, "Love" stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.
"'In the Mood' continues to do a nice amount of business," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "We're getting chunks of grosses, a quarter of a million dollars weekend after weekend. It's a surprisingly adorable picture for a small beautiful art film. I think we'll ultimately get to $3 million on it and that would delight me."
Universal Focus' R-rated thriller "The Caveman's Valentine" widened in its second week with a quiet estimated $0.19 million at 59 theaters (+43 theaters; $3,245 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, "Valentine" stars Samuel L. Jackson.
USA Films' R-rated reality TV satire "Series 7" added theaters in its second week with an okay estimated $0.027 million (-6%) at 4 theaters (+2 theaters; $6,700 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.070 million.
Written and directed by Daniel Minahan, "Series" stars Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Mary Louise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck and Merrit Wever.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $68.15 million, down about 16.65% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $81.41 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 17.94% from last weekend this year when key films did $82.69 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's opening week of "Mission To Mars" was first with $22.86 million at 3,054 theaters ($7,484 per theater); and Artisan Entertainment's opening week of "The Ninth Gate" was second with $6.62 million at 1,586 theaters ($4,176 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $29.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $22.6 million.