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 a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The Chicago moviemaker accepted the Jason Robards Award at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Spring Gala, and during the event at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, he received tributes from many of the attendees including Gere and Julie Andrews.
Marshall also received messages from absent friends Alan Cumming, Sophia Loren, Marion Cotillard and Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as Dame Judi Dench and director Sam Mendes, who are currently filming the new Bond movie in the U.K.
The gala, which was hosted by funnyman Martin Short and featured performances of famous movie songs, raised more than $2 million (£1.3 million) for charity and some of the proceeds came from the night's auction.
Prizes included a walk-on role in TV show Smash, lunch with composer Stephen Sondheim, and a voicemail message from last year's (11) honouree, Alec Baldwin.
The 30 Rock actor joked about his auction prize by telling the crowd, "I know you're probably thinking I'm the last person you'd want to record the voicemail greeting on your phone," in reference to his infamous 2007 voicemail rant to his daughter Ireland.
Baldwin went on to persuade a number of other stars in the audience, including Julie Andrews, Jeff Goldblum, Vanessa Williams and Jane Krakowski, to also offer up voicemail greetings as prizes.
“My dick is going to get so wet tonight ” declares Costa the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens in the opening moments of Project X the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday Thomas whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X’s script co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset the party appears to be a bust. Soon however hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas’ house and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze drugs and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night’s festivities prematurely a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don’t buy them and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X’s natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair to be sure but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film’s most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips’ own library from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.
The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films but its utility in the service of comedy at least in the hands of Nourizadeh is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much Project X’s backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration and finally to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but like much of what precedes it almost entirely pointless.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
Clooney and Martin Sheen were among the first stars to sign up to star in the Milk writer's new play, entitled 8, which focuses on the Proposition 8 bill, which overturned the legalisation of gay unions in the state.
Now Pitt has added his name to the all-star cast, which will also feature Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly and Glee star Chris Colfer. The Moneyball star will portray a judge in the play.
Stand By Me filmmaker Rob Reiner will direct the production, which will be staged at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday (03Mar12). Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Proposition 8 has since been deemed unconstitutional by a U.S. appeals court.
The black and white film completed a weekend trio of triumphs after also winning gold at the Cesar Awards in Paris on Friday (24Feb12) and the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California on Saturday (25Feb12).
The Artist filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius was also triple weekend winner after claiming the Best Director honour at the Hollywood & Highland Center on Sunday, and the film also took home trophies for Costume Design and Score, while Jean Dujardin became the first Frenchman to pick up the coveted Best Actor award for his portrayal as silent film star George Valentin.
Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese's first 3D film Hugo picked up five of its 11 nominations in categories including Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
Other big winners at the 84th Academy Awards included Meryl Streep (Best Actress), Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress), Woody Allen (Best Original Screenplay), Alexander Payne (Best Adapted Screenplay), Christopher Plummer, who, at 82, became the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award, for his supporting role in Beginners, and A Separation, which became the first movie from Iran to win a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Billy Crystal returned to host the ceremony for the ninth time and kicked off the show with one of his famous movie montages, playing The Artist's leading man George Valentin in a silent torture scene and George Clooney's comatose partner in The Descendants.
The odd couple shared a kiss as the movie hunk and Oscar nominee woke the sleeping comic and told him he had to host the ceremony, joking, "The Academy has got the youngest, hippest writers in town."
Crystal also placed himself in scenes from The Help, Bridesmaids, The Adventures of Tin Tin, Moneyball and Midnight in Paris, where he doubled up as Sammy Davis Jr. opposite Justin Bieber.
There was also a cameo for Tom Cruise in a brief Mission: Impossible skit.
In his opening monologue, Crystal joked, "The movies have always been there for us... so tonight, enjoy yourself because nothing can take the sting out of the world's economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues."
The full list of 2012 Oscar winners is:
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Best Achievement in Directing
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Alexander Payne, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon (The Descendants)
Best Animated Feature Film
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
A Separation (Iran)
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Robert Richardson (Hugo)
Best Achievement in Editing
Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
Best Achievement in Art Direction
Dante Ferretti & Francesca Lo Schiavo (Hugo)
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Mark Bridges (The Artist)
Best Achievement in Makeup
Mark Coulier & J. Roy Helland (The Iron Lady)
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Ludovic Bource (The Artist)
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Bret McKenzie (Man or Muppet from The Muppets)
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Tom Fleischman & John Midgley (Hugo)
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Phillip Stockton & Eugene Gearty (Hugo)
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman & Alex Henning (Hugo)
Best Documentary Feature
Best Documentary Short
Best Short Film, Animated
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Best Short Film, Live Action
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards
James Earl Jones, Dick Smith & Oprah Winfrey
Clooney and Martin Sheen were among the first to sign up to star in the Milk writer's new work, entitled 8, which focuses on the Proposition 8 legislation which overturned the legalisation of gay unions in the state.
Organisers have now confirmed Clooney will be joined by Bacon and Colfer, as well as Chicago star John C. Reilly, for the one-off performance at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on 3 March (12).
The performance, directed by Stand by Me helmer Rob Reiner, will raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
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.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
George Clooney and Martin Sheen are to team up onstage for a one-night-only production of Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's new play about gay rights. Rob Reiner will direct the duo and co-stars including Jane Lynch, Yeardley Smith, George Takei and Jamie Lee Curtis in 8, which will hit the stage at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles on 3 March (12).
The Chicago moviemaker is close pals with Douglas as his late wife Mary Lea Johnson was the actor's cousin, and the Wall Street star was on hand with Zeta-Jones to stage the New York bash.
Robert De Niro, Rob Marshall and Steve Guttenberg were among the guests, who were greeted by Douglas and his partner at the party at the Rubin Art Museum.
Broadway legend Chita Rivera led the tributes to Richards, while Lilias White entertained the crowd by singing At Last to the producer, according to Showbiz411.com.