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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Top Story: Madonna's Label Tagged Unprofitable
As part of an ongoing feud between Madonna and Warner Music Group, unsealed court documents revealed that the singer's record label, Maverick Records--which handles not only the Material Girl but Alanis Morissette and Michelle Branch as well--has lost $66 million since 1999, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Last month, Maverick sued Warner Music for $200 million, claiming breach of contract and fraud, but Warner retaliated by filing a preemptive claim asking a judge to find that the company had fulfilled its commitment to Maverick. The latest documents show that in order for Maverick to get out of its joint venture with Warner Music, which is up at the end of the year, Maverick will have to pay $92.5 million, in addition to the value of Warner's interest in the label. The price tag includes the $66 million in losses, a $20 million loan and $6.5 million in unrecouped fees, the trade paper reports.
AIDS Scare Fuels Calif. Porn Film Probe
The recent HIV infection of two porn stars has prompted local health authorities to seek unprecedented inspections of California's multibillion-dollar adult film industry and press for mandatory condom use during sex scenes, officials told Reuters on Tuesday. A crackdown of this nature, however, will not necessarily lead to safer sex, industry representatives told Reuters. More than likely, it will drive away many of the adult film production houses that flourish in Southern California and employ some 6,000 people, including about 1,200 performers, and/or force them to go underground and away from mandatory HIV testing. "If there is a mandatory condom law put in place, these people will scatter and go underground and we will not be able to test them," Sharon Mitchell of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare (AIM) Foundation told Reuters. "If you want to see an influx of disease that may affect the general population, then you put a mandatory condom law into effect…I've very concerned about government intervention in this respect."
Basinger Auctions Off Engagement Ring
Cha-ching! Actress Kim Basinger sold a 3.7-carat diamond engagement ring given to her by ex-husband Alec Baldwin to a Beverly Hills jewelry dealer for a hefty $59,750 at a benefit auction, Reuters reports. The Oscar-winning actress, a noted animal rights activist, auctioned the modern Tiffany & Co. ring and some other jewelry at Christie's to raise money for The Performing Animal Welfare Society.
Cannes Film Festival Announces Slate
The Coen brothers' comedy The Ladykillers will be among the 18 films competing for the Cannes Film Festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, The Associated Press reports. Others on the list include the Thai film Tropical Malady, the animated Shrek 2 and The Motorcycle Diaries by Brazilian Walter Salles. Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 2 will be among films shown outside of competition, and Tarantino will preside over the jury at this year's festival, which runs May 12-23.
Ex-Pogues Singer Attacked in London Pub
Shane MacGowan, the former lead singer of Irish rockers the Pogues, suffered facial injuries Monday after being assaulted by two men at a London pub, Reuters reports. London's The Evening Standard reported that MacGowan suffered a fractured cheekbone after being kicked, punched and hit with a metal bar. Police told Reuters they were not aware of any motive for the attack.
Scandal Strikes USA Today
One of USA Today's senior editors, Karen Jurgensen, handed in her resignation Tuesday in the wake of an investigation in which a former star reporter allegedly fabricated portions of major international stories, Reuters reports. Foreign correspondent Jack Kelley, who resigned from the paper Jan. 6, was found to have made up substantial portions of eight major stories from around the world, lifted material from other publications, lied in speeches given for the paper and conspired to mislead the team of senior journalists investigating his work, USA Today said.
Disney Tries To Jump-Start Struggling Network
In an effort to boost ABC's dismal numbers, parent company Walt Disney Co. has replaced the network's primetime programming chiefs and reorganized the television operations, Reuters reports. ABC cable networks group president Anne Sweeney and ESPN sports cable network president George Bodenheimer were named to newly created positions as co-chairs of the media networks unit that includes ESPN, ABC and Disney's cable operations. Disney president Bob Iger hopes the promotions will help ABC rise in the ranks, since falling to No. 4 in 2000 when Who Wants to be a Millionaire failed.
Kwame Is Sitting Pretty
Even though he may not have been chosen by Donald Trump as his Apprentice, that hasn't stopped The Apprentice runner-up Kwame Jackson from getting a rush of offers, AP reports. In a phone interview with AP, Jackson said he is weighing offers from another famous billionaire, Mark Cuban, as well as the KFC fast-food chain. He's also starting his own company. "[The Apprentice] was basically a chance to have NBC pay for a 15-episode Kwame commercial in a business environment," Jackson said. The ambitious businessman is starting an entertainment company, Legacy Communications Group, to produce films, video games and live events with a focus on concert series.
Starship Song Tops Worst Songs List
Blender magazine has named Starship's '80s rock song "We Built This City" as the worst song ever, AP reports. The magazine's "50 Worst Songs Ever!" list were were selected for their melodies, others "are wretchedly performed" and "quite a few don't make sense whatsoever," the magazine said. The list, which appears in the May issue, includes songs by New Kids on the Block, Meat Loaf, The Doors, Lionel Richie, Hammer and The Beach Boys, among others.
Role Call: Sonnenfeld's Heartbreak
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) is in negotiations to direct a remake of the 1972 comedy The Heartbreak Kid, which starred Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd, written by Neil Simon and directed by Elaine May. The story follows a man who hastily weds a local girl whom he thinks is perfect--until he falls in love with another girl during the honeymoon.
As reality and primetime game show programming booms, the networks are scrambling to fill their slates with the latest and greatest.
Not just because the shows pulls in the ratings. The networks need a final answer to the looming writers and actors strikes.
Each major network has made serious plans to include this relatively cheap but very popular form of programming in their schedules. This ranges from the tired and true shows, such as ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire and CBS' Survivor, to NBC's newest game show entry The Weakest Link and Fox's Boot Camp.
These shows will not be affected in the event of the strikes. The programming would easily fill spots left empty by sitcoms and dramas -- and television audiences can't seem to get enough of them.
Here's a look at what's coming up:
The Weakest Link This widely popular game show in Britain is finally getting its U.S. airing this week at 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The contestants play as a team in seven rounds of rapid-fire questions to win money. If a player is considered "weak," he or she is voted off. Only one contestant will walk away with the money.
The show's host, Anne Robinson, has been called a British Cruella De Vil because of her sharp tongue and nasty comments to the players. The marketing surrounding the show has been relentless, with half the nation already quoting, "You ARE the weakest link. Goodbye!"
Lost!: Three pairs of strangers are let loose in New York City with few essentials and little cash. They must find their way back to the starting point to win the game.
Jeff Zucker, NBC's new entertainment president, told the Hollywood Reporter that the Peacock network is ready to step up its reality and nonfiction development. Zucker and West Coast president Scott Sassa are aware of the need to deliver reality programming in keeping with the network's upscale image, he said.
"We're not going to do reality shows just because we don't have any on the air right now," Zucker said. "We're fully conscious of the network's profile."
Survivor: The juggernaut that is Survivor continues to build momentum as the second installment, surviving in the Australian Outback, repeatedly beats its competitors in the 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot. The network is nearing production on a third installment, its location still be announced.
The Tiffany Network also is developing several more reality-based shows, including an updated, more innovative version of last year's Big Brother. The show features a group of people who must stay in a house and be watched 24-hours a day.
According to sources close to the network, The Amazing Race also is in development. Eleven couples race around the world. The first to cross the finish line wins $1 million.
CBS is preparing for the strikes with reality programming, miniseries and made-for-TV movies. But based on a study conducted by New York-based advertising agency TN Media on how the strikes will effect television viewership, Stacey Lynn Koerner, the agency's vice president of broadcast research, told The Associated Press: "CBS is more of a mystery. It's hard to tell whether they're less prepared or whether [CBS president] Leslie Moonves is holding things close to the vest."
Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Even if the ratings are down overall, this popular game show with the tireless Regis Philbin remains ABC's top-rated program. Recently, it received a major boost in ratings when one contestant won more than $2 million, the biggest prize ever won on a television game show.
The Mole: ABC's reality show, which aired earlier this year, did not do half as well as Survivor, but did well enough to warrant a second installment. In the show, a group is stranded and must survive. At the same time, the group must discover who among them is a "mole," someone who sabotages plans.
ABC also is developing The Runner, an interesting concept loosely based on the sci-fi story by Stephen King. This would includes the use of Internet. The premise: a contestant who will win $1 million if he or she can travel around the country for 28 days without being caught. The catch is viewers can participate via the Web site by finding clues on the player's whereabouts. If a viewer becomes an "agent," by signing up on the Web site and help "catch" the contestant, they will win prizes.
According to the TN Media report, ABC looks the best at riding out the storm if strikes were to happen. With Millioniare on four times a week, plus the two reality programs and NFL's Monday Night Football, the network may not have to show as many reruns.
Boot Camp: Even as CBS is suing the show, calling it a Survivor rip-off, the ratings are strong. Regular folks are faced with extreme challenges, all the while berated by an irate drill sergeant. The third episode, which aired Tuesday, won its time slot. Expect a second edition of Boot Camp next year.
Temptation Island: The somewhat amoral but hugely popular reality program, which aired earlier this year, will return. The premise: couples are sent to a romantic and remote location to be "tempted" by strangers of the opposite sex.
Fox also could be sitting pretty during the strikes. It will not only have Temptation Island 2 but will be airing the baseball playoffs and World Series, as stated in the TN Media report. The network has stockpiled at least 55 episodes of new series.
Koerner doesn't anticipate a long strike doing lasting damage to the business as a whole.
"Viewers love television," she said. "They may get annoyed for the period of time that their favorite shows are off the air, but once they're back on the air, they will come back."
And viewers have the added bonus of watching a lot of regular folk doing outrageous things for roughly a $1 million to look forward to.