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.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
The weekend flew by with no signs of slowing down, starting with Saturday night's cocktail party at the Carlton Terrace, where wine started flowing early for everyone celebrating Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant's new film, Two Weeks Notice.
Also on Saturday, Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos hosted their après-midnight exclusive screening of Brian de Palma's Femme Fatale. Melanie Griffith, wearing a red-carpet shade of lipstick, accompanied her husband up the Palais steps.
Finally, Sunday: awards night! A full moon graced the Riviera, bathing the winners in a light the paparazzi couldn't rival.
A screening of Jeremy Irons's movie And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen coincides with the closing ceremony. In it, he plays an English gangster who meets a burnt-out jazz singer (played by real-life French pop star Patricia Kass) in Morocco.
David Lynch has quite a decorated history here in Cannes. In 1990 he won the coveted Palme d'Or for Wild at Heart, last year he won Best Director for Mulholland Drive, and last week he was awarded the French Legion of Honor while he was the head of the jury. On Sunday, everybody was waiting to find out from him who'd won what!
Martin Scorsese headed the short film competition with the help of fellow judge Tilda Swinton (Orlando) and others. Co-winners of the Jury Prize were The Stone of Folly, a story about a medieval-era doctor by Canadian director Jesse Rosensweet, and Very, Very Silent Film, by Indian director Manish Jua. Peter Meszaros of Hungary won the Palm d'Or of Short Film for Eso Utan.
The Camera d'Or is a prize that any first-time feature director in any part of the festival is eligible to win. This year two winners were awarded the Camera: French helmer Julie Lopes-Curval for Bord du Mar, about love in a seaside town, and Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas for Japon, a story about redemption. Both films were part of the Directors Fortnight.
Mulholland Drive star Naomi Watts presented Michael Moore with the 55th Anniversary of Cannes Award for the first documentary ever to win, Bowling for Columbine. Michael attempted to make his acceptance speech in very labored French, and it was unclear what the locals thought of his mangled repartee.
Andie MacDowell awarded Elia Suleiman the Prix du Jury (the bronze prize.) His Divine Intervention is the first Palestinian movie in Competition.
Paul Laverty won the Best Screenplay Award for his work on Ken Loach's latest, Sweet Sixteen.
For the second year in a row, two directors shared the Best Director prize. In 2001, David Lynch and Joel Cohen shared it. This year it went to South Korean director Im Kwon-Taek for Chihwaseon, about a painter, and Paul Thomas Anderson for his dark romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler.
The Best Actor award went to Belgian director Olivier Gourmet for his role in The Son from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Best Actress went to Finnish performer Kati Outinen in The Man Without a Past. The movie, directed by Aki Kaurismakis, won the Grand Prix. Perhaps the silver medal wasn't good enough for him, because when he fumbled onstage to accept the award, he said, "I thank myself," and returned to his seat!
The big winner? Diminutive Roman Polanski loomed large at the festival this year. He received The Palme d'Or for The Pianist, a movie about the life of the Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman living in the Warsaw ghetto, starring Adrien Brody.
…and that's a wrap! Catch you next year live from Cannes!
As the 300 guests at the Salon des Ambassadeurs dined on a Mediterranean fish plate with assorted mushrooms, Piper-Heidsieck champagne and a Palme d'Or strawberry delight, the 54th Cannes International Film Festival handed out its top honors Sunday.
Jodie Foster, who bowed out earlier this year as jury president, fulfilled her obligation as the closing ceremony's host. The awards were characterized as oddly conventional, with the 10-member jury sticking to more established filmmakers rather than the fresher talent from the 23 films in competition. In contrast, last year's jury came under fire for giving the top prize - the Palme d'Or - to Lars von Trier's controversial and divisive Dancer in the Dark.
The Italian film A Son's Room, about a family that is torn apart by the death of a child, took home the Palme d'Or, representing the first time that an Italian movie had taken the top honor since 1978. Its director and star, Nanni Moretti, raised both fists in the air in victory.
"I have often been told that this film represents a turning point in my career because it is a more adult, mature character. Maybe I'm not interested in caricatures any more," Moretti said in a news conference earlier this week, as reported by Reuters. Moretti has been nominated for the Palme d'Or four times and previously won the award for best director in 1994 for his comedy Dear Diary.
The other big winner of the evening was Austrian director Michael Haneke's film The Piano Teacher, a controversial tale about voyeurism and masochism. French actress Isabelle Huppert won the award for best actress for portraying a cold and sexually repressed woman who is titillated by one of her students, played by Benoit Magimel, who also won for best actor. The film won the Grand Prix award-runner up to the Palme d'Or.
"There are films that frighten you. You think they will take everything away from you, but they give you everything," Huppert said when she accepted her award. "I thank Bach, Schubert and Mozart."
It was not a stellar night for the Americans. The only big win for the United States was the shared award for best director by David Lynch and Joel Coen.
Lynch, whose 1990 film Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or, picked up the director's award for his moody, noirish drama, Mulholland Drive, originally penned as a TV pilot a few years ago. Starring a cast of unknowns, the story centers on a woman who loses her memory after an accident on the famed winding road in Los Angeles, and finds help in the most unusual places. The concept was a tad too bizarre for television.
"At a certain point you realize you're in with the wrong people," Lynch told the The New Yorker. "Their thinking process is very foreign to me. They like a fast pace and a linear story, but you want your creations to come out of you and be distinctive. I feel it's possibly true that there are aliens on earth, and they work in television."
Coen is a Cannes darling who has won two previous director awards, one for the 1996 Fargo and the other for the 1991 Barton Fink, which also won the Palme d'Or. He scooped up his third director's award for his moody, noirish drama, The Man Who Wasn't There. Starring Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Billy Bob Thornton, this tale, shot in black and white, revolves around a hairdresser whose life is fairly mundane until he discovers his wife is having an affair, and he decides to blackmail the lover. Things appropriately go haywire, as they tend to do in a Coen film.
"Curiously, almost everyone in the movie wears a wig, or a hairpiece," Coen said. "So Thornton, who plays the principal character, is wearing one, James Gandolfini wears one, Tony Shalhoub wears one, Jon Polito wears one ... So the overall effect is that it really transforms the appearance of the actors. You almost don't recognise them."
The opening night extravaganza, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, enjoyed major popular and critical success. As did the Dreamworks' animated film, Shrek, now destined to become an animated classic. Neither film was seriously in contention for the top honors.
If the Americans received little in the way of accolades, the Asian contingent at the festival fell flat on its face. Even though there were seven features alone in the Official Selection, only a technical award was bestowed on the Taiwanese sound engineer, Tu Duu-chih, for his work on the two Taiwanese entries, Millennium Mambo and What Time is it There?.
In fact, some festival attendees felt the best films were either made 22 years ago, the director's cut of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalyspe Now, or still in production, based on the 25-minute product reel for the upcoming Lord of the Rings.
Jury president Liv Ullmann hinted at some tough times during the selection process during her introductory speech at the ceremony, as reported by Variety. Noting that unanimity did not always prevail, her fellow jurors "fill[ed] me with anger." But she added, "we in the jury are still friends." It was reported that jury discussion sessions, which occurred daily, would last several hours, as each juror was required to elaborate on their interpretations of the films in competition.
Melanie Griffith won a lifetime achievement award, which took on a bittersweet quality when a few days before her father had died. In a tearful acceptance speech, she said, "It's hard not to see you out there the proud face of my father. Somehow, I know you're here, Dad, and I know your smile is big and, you old cowboy, I know you're up there saying, 'Why are you wearing that dress?'"
In the parallel Cannes awards, the French film Amour d'Enfance (Childhood Love) won the best film award for the Un Certain Regard sidebar and the Iranian film Zire Noure Mah (Under the Moonlight) won the Critics' Week Grand Prix. Sandrine Veysset's Martha … Martha won the Directors' Fortnight.
Cannes still remains a favorite of Jennifer Jason Leigh, at Cannes to promote her film, The Anniversary Party, in which she co-wrote, co-directed and costarred with Alan Cumming.
"It's the only time I think as actors today you get a sense of what it would have been like to have been a movie star back in the '30s and '40s, when the premieres were really big, and you walk up that red carpet or that blue carpet, and it's just incredible," she told The Associated Press.