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.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
On its first day of release in Britain, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone sold an astounding 1.25 million video and DVD copies, breaking the 1.1 million sales record set by Titanic in 1997. Some stores even opened at midnight Friday to sell the video and reported large crowds, The Associated Press reports. Harry Potter videos and DVDs, which are distributed by Warner Home Video, are set to go on sale in the United States on May 28.
Madonna made her West End debut in the play Up For Grabs at London's Wyndhams Theatre on Monday evening. While members of the press were not allowed into the auditorium, fans who saw the preview show commented that the pop star got off to a nervous start but that her performance improved as she went along, according to the BBC. The show opens for a 10-week run starting on May 23.
Nicole Kidman's camp is dismissing rumors that the Aussie star is dating Spider-Man thesp Tobey Maguire. "They hung out together some, a couple of weekends ago. End of story. No romance," a spokeswoman said. Funny--we never even heard of the rumor until now.
"It's all untrue." That is what ex-football star O.J. Simpson is saying about an article that appeared in Ohio paper Toledo Blade, which alleges he did illegal drugs, the AP reports. According to the article, admitted drug dealers told federal agents they snorted cocaine with Simpson as far back as 1999 and sold him the drug as recently as seven months ago.
Sylvester Stallone, Thandie Newton, Gabriel Byrne and Stuart Townsend will star in Damian Nieman's directorial debut, Shade, for RKO Pictures. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is set in the world of poker hustlers working the clubs and martini bars of Los Angeles. Production begins in Los Angeles May 30.
Friends star Matthew Perry has agreed to star in two films for Paramount Pictures, including One of Us, a drama in which he falls in love with an alien who's cloaked in human form, Variety reports. Perry will follow that film with a comedy. The deal comes after Perry filmed Paramount's Serving Sara, alongside Elizabeth Hurley, which hits theaters this August.
In the Biz
Paramount has more than the Friends star up its sleeve. The studio, along with MTV Films, has teamed up with Ludacris and Original Film to develop a feature film based on the rap star. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Skip Day will be a sort of House Party meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Ludacris starring as a teenager who is transferred from an inner-city school to an uptight suburban prep school.
Following the success of the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race, producer Jerry Bruckheimer is churning out four new shows for CBS this fall. The network has already picked up Bruckheimer's CSI: Miami and Without a Trace, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
A new Gallup Poll shows that Johnny Carson is ranked the best late-night talk-show host of all time, CNN reports. Respondents were asked to pick from six hosts, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Dick Cavett.
Richard Karn, who played Al on the successful series Home Improvement, will become the host of Family Feud, the AP reports. Karn will replace Louis Anderson.
U2 frontman Bono and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will begin a 10-day tour of Africa on May 20, the AP reports. The duo will visit Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Ethiopia to visit schools, AIDS clinics and various World Bank development projects.
Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford accepted an award from Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment on Monday, the AP reports. Ford was honored for his work with the board of Conservation International, in helping to save various plants and animals around the world.