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.
For years Coppola tried to get Megalopolis off the ground. When he failed to nail the sci-fi epic’s script he turned his attention to Romanian author Mircea Eliade’s novella Youth Without Youth. After years of doing Hollywood’s bidding to pay off the debts stemming from One From the Heart Coppola clearly felt an emotional connection to a story about a writer trying to complete his life’s work. When we first meet Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) in pre-World War Two Bucharest the 70-year-old professor has resigned himself to never finishing his book about the origin of language. He’s even contemplating suicide. Then he’s struck by lightning. Burned beyond recognition and initially unable to talk or move Matei stuns his doctor (Bruno Ganz) by making a full recovery. He’s also now looks and feels like a man 30 years his junior. But Matei is forced into hiding when the Nazis take an interest in his renewed youthfulness. He spends the war years in Switzerland where he works on his book with renewed vigor and uses his newfound powers to make money. But he’s not alone. Matei’s philosophical quandary--will he employs his powers for good or evil?--results in the manifestation of a double with whom he debates everything. He does find himself flesh-and-blood company when the war ends. Matei and Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara) meet cute--he finds her in a cave hours after she too has been struck by lightning. Only his newfound soul mate now possesses the transmigrated soul of a 7th century Indian woman--and “Rupini” holds the key to Matei finishing his masterwork. Thank goodness Tim Roth dispenses with the aging makeup quickly. He wears it worse than Javier Bardem does in Love in the Time of Cholera. Once Roth’s out of his hospital bed he makes a masterful physical transformation from old man to young buck. Slowly but surely he loses his shuffle straightens his shoulders and begins to walk with all the energy and purpose of a man half his age. While finding much delight in Matei’s miraculous recovery Roth also delves into the frustrated writer’s subconscious to convey the fears suspicions and contradictions that come with being placed in such a unique situation. More important Roth never resorts to unnecessary theatrics to portray a “strange superman of the future” occasionally at odds with himself. There’s a playfulness and confidence to the double that’s missing from Matei but Roth communicates this in a subtle but powerful manner. Lara though is awfully blank as Veronica and Rupini. Yes Veronica and Rupini exist only to push Matei to his limits morally and professionally but Lara fails to at least make either woman vaguely interesting than their defined roles. As Matei’s doctor Ganz stumbles through Youth Without Youth with a look of astonishment plastered on his face. Andre Hennicke is all business as a Nazi scientist determined to get his hands on Matei. Alexandra Pirici is suitably seductive as a German spy who does get to put her hands on Matei—and inevitably pays the price for preventing Matei from becoming “a valuable human specimen.” Unlike Tucker: The Man and His Dream Youth Without Youth never draws you into its long-suffering protagonist’s plight or pursuit of excellence. It’s not because things get too outlandish. Francis Ford Coppola quickly establishes this is a Twilight Zone-ish portrait of how much a man is willing to sacrifice to complete his life’s work. Matei’s condition offers many avenues to explore. What would you do if you had 30 years shaved off your life? Unfortunately Matei is so wrapped up in his work that it’s impossible to concern yourself too much for him or his goals. Coppola never shows through Matei’s eyes how the world changes and fails to create a sense that his resurrection has any great meaning. Coppola doesn’t even examine the full extent of Matei’s powers. Matei’s initial transformation from suicidal failure to “living dead man” is compelling but that’s mostly because of the wartime intrigue to be found early in the film. Once hostilities end and Matei meets the verbose Veronica Youth Without Youth immediately becomes pretentious and protracted. And as it plods toward its inevitable conclusion you’ll not care what decision Matei will make when he must choose between Veronica and his book. And that’s the worst thing to say about a film that marks the emancipation of a true original. While this misspent Youth is not a disaster like One From the Heart Coppola needs to make better use of his newfound artistic and financial freedom. The last thing anyone wants is for him to have to whore himself out to Hollywood again.