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 This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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This is how you know that the Obamas are a family of the people: First Lady Michelle Obama will be making a guest appearance on the Nickelodeon sitcom iCarly, which stars Miranda Cosgrove as Carly Shay, the young host of a popular web series. Mrs. Obama's presence on the series is not as out-of-nowhere as it may seem at first glance. The main character's unseen father is an Air Force colonel stationed perpetually overseas, and in the episode in question, Carly and her friends (Jennette McCurdy and Nathan Kress) will make an effort to extend their appreciation for Col. Shay via the web series. The sentiment of this episode is in concordance with the First Lady's Joining Forces movement, which is an initiative to afford gratitude, support and opportunities to military officers and their families. Joining the First Lady on the iCarly episode will be Saturday Night Live featured player Taran Killam, who will be portraying her no-nonsense Secret Service agent. The episode will air on Monday, Jan. 16, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon...and word has it, Mrs. Obama will be doing some dancing. -EW
Simon Cowell has made quite a mark on America, but his heart still belongs to the United Kingdom. Cowell will be returning to his homeland and to his judging position on Britain's Got Talent. He will assume his seat on the panel this Spring, beside Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Williams. Judges David Hasselhoff and Michael McIntyre will not be returning to the show for its new series. Cowell's reasons for returning are primarily personal: "I miss Britain and I miss the British public and I miss judging them. I want to find the next generation of talent in 2012...I came back because most importantly I want to change the perception of the show. I love originality, I love great singers, I love great comedians. I love things I've never seen before. Everyone thinks I hate magicians, well I hate bad magicians, but I'd love to find a great magician. I'd like to find the next N*Sync or the next Backstreet Boys, the next Justin Bieber. I've always dreamt about finding a dog who can play guitar. And we've failed. So I want talented dogs. I really want one that can dance or can play an instrument." Live auditions for the upcoming series of Britain's Got Talent will begin Jan. 22. -THR
Hot in Cleveland is upping its class with a new, particularly vibrant guest casting move: Liza Minelli will be joining Betty White, Wendy Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli on the TVLand sitcom. Minelli will be playing the agent of Malick's character Victoria, an aspiring actress. All generations should be glad to hear of this—Liza wowed the '70s with Cabaret, delighted the '80s with Arthur, and dominated the post-millenium as Arrested Development's Lucille 2. Hot in Cleveland airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TVLand. -TVLine
NBC is working on two new pilots that touch upon the elements of science-fiction. The first is titled Beautiful People, and is set in a world where humans and lifelike androids coexist in a world where the latter are abused and mistreated as functioning members of society. NBC has cast James Murray of Chaos and Patrick Heusinger of Royal Pains to star as a successful human and a "defective" Mechanical (which means he can feel certain "forbidden" emotions) respectively. The second pilot is a comedy/sci-fi project called Isabel, and will star young Sophia Mitri Schloss (Grimm, Ira Finklestein's Christmas) as the title character: a girl with magical abilities and the youngest member of a hostile middle-class family. -Deadline, Deadline
Shelley Winters, the outspoken actress, best known for her Academy Award winning turns in films The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue, has died, The Associated Press reports. She was 85.
Winters died of heart failure early Saturday at The Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills, her publicist Dale Olson said. She had been hospitalized in October after suffering a heart attack.
The actress sustained a long career. She started as a nightclub chorus girl, advanced to supporting roles in New York plays, then became famous as a Hollywood starlet. But as a devotee of the Actors Studio, she got more serious about her craft.
Winters received her final Oscar nomination, for 1972's The Poseidon Adventure. Among her other notable films: A Place in the Sun, Night of the Hunter, Lolita and Alfie. Still working well into her 70s, she had a recurring role as Roseanne's grandmother on the 1990s TV show Roseanne.
"Shelley was idol of mine--and many--an extraordinary woman with powerful charisma, enormous talent and a keen, perceptive mind," longtime friend and actress Connie Stevens told AP.
Winters was also known for her flamboyant lifestyle. Her stormy marriages, her romances with famous stars—including Burt Lancaster and William Holden--as well as her forays into politics and feminist causes kept her name before the public. She delighted in giving provocative interviews and seemed to have an opinion on everything.
Her first marriage was to businessman Paul "Mack" Mayer on Jan. 1, 1942. They divorced in 1948. Winters' second and third marriages were brief and tempestuous: to Vittorio Gassman (1952-1954) and Anthony Franciosa (1957-1960), both volatile actors.
Winters is survived by a daughter, Vittoria, from her marriage to Gassman.
You won't be hearing the name Steven Soderbergh at this year's Independent Spirit Awards.
Instead, try Miguel Arteta, Darren Aronofsky and Kenneth Lonergan -- whose "Chuck & Buck," "Requiem for a Dream," and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, have nabbed a field-best five nominations each at the 16th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
"Chuck & Buck" -- the second full-length feature from Arteta -- was nominated for best feature under $500,000, screenplay, director, supporting female (Lupe Ontiveros) and debut performance (Mike White).
Among "Requiem's" nominations are best director (Darren Aronofsky) and best feature. The drug-addiction flick will go up against "Before Night Falls," "George Washington," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in the best film column.
"You Can Count On Me" will run in the categories for best first feature, screenplay, male lead (Mark Ruffalo), female lead (Laura Linney) and debut performance (Rory Culkin).
"George Washington" and "Before Night Falls" garnered four noms apiece.
The nominations were announced at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The winners will be announced March 24, a day before the Academy Awards, at a ceremony held at a large tent by the Santa Monica beach.
Here's a list of all the nominees.
"Before Night Falls"
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
"Requiem for a Dream" BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon")
Christopher Guest ("Best in Show")
Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for A Dream")
Julian Schnabel ("Before Night Falls")
Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck BEST SCREENPLAY
Valerie Breiman ("Love & Sex")
Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House")
Robert Dillon ("Waking the Dead") Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Love & Basketball"
"You Can Count On Me" BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
David Gordon Green ("George Washington") Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther ("Tigerland") Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") Jordan Walker-Pearlman ("The Visit") Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") BEST FEATURE - UNDER $500,000
"Chuck & Buck"
"Everything Put Together"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Rory Culkin ("You Can Count on Me")
Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") Emmy Rossum ("Songcatcher") Mike White, ("Chuck & Buck") Ensemble -- Candace Evanofski, Curtis Cotton III, Damian Jewan Lee, Donald Holden, Rachael Handy ("George Washington") BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Pat Carroll ("Songcatcher")
Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream")
Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock")
Lupe Ontiveros ("Chuck & Buck")
Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire")
Cole Hauser ("Tigerland")
Gary Oldman ("The Contender")
Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift")
Billy Dee Williams ("The Visit") BEST FEMALE LEAD
Joan Allen ("The Contender")
Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Sanaa Lathan ("Love & Basketball")
Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me")
Kelly MacDonald ("Two Family House") BEST MALE LEAD
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls")
Adrien Brody ("Restaurant")
Billy Crudup ("Jesus' Son")
Hill Harper ("The Visit")
Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count on Me") BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lou Bogue ("Shadow of the Vampire")
John De Borman ("Hamlet")
Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")
Tim Orr ("George Washington")
Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas ("Before Night Falls") BEST FOREIGN FILM
"Dancer in the Dark"
"In the Mood for Love"
"A Time for Drunken Horses"
"The War Zone" BEST DOCUMENTARY
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
"Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Sound and Fury"
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.