Monday, April 16, 2012

A Reflective Review

Right now it's difficult to guess how 2012 will be remembered in terms of its contribution to the world of film. Especially this early in the year, there just hasn't been one movie that stood out so greatly as to make someone stand up and say that THIS is the year to be a film buff. Much as I loved 21 Jump Street, when the best film so far this year was a parody sequel to a 80's-90's cop drama you have to admit that there are serious problems in Hollywood so far this year. Despite the industry's inability to consistently put out a quality product, there have been some newsworthy events this year, the most noticeable so far being that two adaptations of the classic Grimm fairy tale 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' are getting released to the big screen. Universal Pictures' Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Young Adult's Charlize Theron, Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Thor's Chris Hemsworth, is a very adult take on the story, and is due to be released on June 1'st. Well before that however, is the more family-friendly Mirror Mirror, starring American sweetheart Julia Roberts and up-and-coming actress Lily Collins, released on March 30'th. While I hope 2012 isn't ultimately remembered for simply releasing two 'Snow White' films (as well as for a prophetic end of the world vis a vis the Mayan calendar; that's just obvious), I do admit a passing interest in seeing how Relativity Media handled their effort, and what the filmmakers would do to make this particular adaptation different from all the rest.

Your parents always warned you not to take candy from strangers... they never covered apples.
In a magical, far away land, vain Queen Clementianna (Roberts) rules her kingdom with an iron fist, spending the contents of treasury to the point of destitution on researching methods to keep her young-looking and beautiful. She has nothing but contempt for her step-daughter Snow White (Collins), who she keeps confined to the castle in order to control her and the kingdom. When handsome and rich Prince Alcott (Hammer) visits from a neighboring prosperous land, Clementianna hatches a plan to marry the young prince so that she and her rule can be kept afloat by his inherited wealth. This idea goes awry when Alcott meets and becomes smitten with Snow White, for which the Queen has her banished to the woods, left to die. Fortunately, she comes upon seven dwarfs, whom the queen cast out and who live as bandits preying on the nobles passing through their territory. They take in the wayward princess, and after a time they train her to become a bandit like them. With her new found allies, Snow White strikes back at the evil Queen, desperate to return the land to one of peace, prosperity and celebration, as it was when she was a child.

"I like Julia Roberts' films THIS much!"
Let's get this out of the way quickly and loudly: Mirror Mirror is the WORST movie I've seen in 2012. At first I wasn't quite sure of this prognosis; up to this point Ghost Rider had earned most of my enmity, and for good reason. As far as most superhero films go, a low threshold of quality is often necessary for enjoyment. But Nicolas Cage's film was a special brand of bad, where many of its worst scenes were unintentionally funny, and where the lack of believable plot, dialogue and acting were just on the cusp of becoming charming. Ghost Rider failed in that the main character had no good bad guys, no good allies, and no good representation in the starring role. That Mirror Mirror makes all of that look like genius really says how I feel about this fairy tale massacre.

"I win the prize for being tallest AGAIN? Oh, how wonderful!"
So what is so bad about this film? Well, let's go down the list. There's no reason Tarsem Singh should have been tapped to make this movie. Singh's career is one built on psychological thrillers like The Cell and little-known The Fall. His last entry, 2011's Immortals, was a fun if VERY adult sword and sorcery epic. So how does this guy go from mature fare to a PG-rated fairy tale adaptation? The answer in an honest world is that he doesn't; you keep directors like this as far as you can from family fare. Look at what happened when M. Night Shyamalan adapted the popular childrens' show Avatar: The Last Airbender to the big screen: even his most loyal fans abandoned him in droves, perhaps realizing just how much of a hack he had become. Singh is similarly ill-suited to making a film for the youth of the world, his eye for the story so poor that you have to wonder just where any studio executive thought he was doing a good job. From the poorly-conceived animated opener to a lamely-executed Bollywood-inspired finale, Singh proves that he should stick to the thrillers and action movies, leaving childrens' movies to those that know what they're doing.

"He turned it sideways! Kill shot! That's a kill shot!" (name that movie!)
The people around whom this film revolves are also nothing special. As this was something of a unique take on a classic tale, it would have been nice to see some genuine variation when it came to the makeup of the main characters. Instead we have Julia Roberts as a largely brainless tyrant whose grip on power seems completely illogical. She's bankrupted her kingdom solely through beauty treatments to keep her looking young, and the joke is that it hasn't. Of course it's not enough to make her vain; that would just make her like 90% in Hollywood. That's why she's also foolish, spiteful and her actions make her undeniably evil. If only a real actress had been put in the role; while Charlize Theron looks to be completely made of malice for the upcoming Snow White film, Roberts seems incapable of turning off her charm while playing the supposedly wicked stepmother here. The portrayal of the Dwarfs are not much better, as not one of the seven can stretch out of the narrow confines of their characters. The film at least wisely hired from the comedic side of the pool of small actors, and many will recognize faces such as Seinfeld's Danny Woodburn, Pirates of the Caribbean's Martin Klebba and Are You There, Chelsea's Mark Povinelli with ease. Still, despite hiring talented performers, the story does little to expand upon their roles and instead forces them down linear paths with no hope of deviation. But that's not the worst thing the film offers. The absolute lowest contribution Mirror Mirror can offer is to inflict upon us the overly-thick eyebrows of Lily Collins as the literally-named Snow White. The daughter of musician Phil Collins, Lily has gotten a reputation as an actress to look out for. I find myself agreeing, but for wholly different reasons; two of the worst releases of 2011 were the graphic novel-based Priest and Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction, films that also featured Collins in significant roles. Sure, you could argue that Collins had supporting parts in both of those films and cannot be held responsible for their failures, but when you combine those with her emotionless, dreadfully dull take on this film's main protagonist, she starts to look less like the second coming of Amanda Seyfried and perhaps instead the next Paris Hilton. She should stick to smaller roles in the future before attempting another shot at leading a major motion picture.

Whichever one wins, we lose.
It's not ALL bad, however, just mostly. A strong showing by comedian Nathan Lane helps liven things a bit when he is actually allowed to contribute, and while Roberts' charm is miscast it also does help make up for that fact by lightening the atmosphere of the film to a reasonable degree. But the best thing about Mirror Mirror is without a doubt Armie Hammer, playing the charming Prince Alcott. In yet another case of poor film choices, Hammer is once again the best thing to happen to a bad movie. Two years ago it was the good-but-overrated The Social Network. In 2011 it was the forgettable J Edgar. Next year promises his pairing with Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger. Once Hammer gets that great movie, he will be unstoppable. Until then, he's undervalued for the talent and class he brings to the big screen.

Dear lord, those eyebrows are just KILLING me!
Finally, Mirror Mirror portrays itself as a comical take on the classic story, but fails at being remotely funny. While some of Singh's changes were at least inspired (the trailers allude to Snow White rescuing the Prince instead of vice versa), the effort feels unrealized when all is said and done. Maybe it would have been better if the filmmakers had at least TRIED to expand upon those ideas instead of settling things as they did. Poor special effects seal the deal, and Mirror Mirror makes a name for itself as just the second film this year I would actually call "bad" in polite conversation (I have plenty of choice epithets for when I don't need to be so kind). Definitely not worth the effort it took to make and certainly not worth your hard-earned time and money, you'd be better off taking your family to the animated The Lorax or even Journey 2, which is still playing in some locations. See these twice if it means you don't have to watch Mirror Mirror. Trust me on this; you'll thank me later.


Richard J. Marcej said...

I hate commenting about a movie I haven't seen, but in my world this film had the ONE thing that would prevent me from seeing it and cement in my mind that the film would be a dog.

Julia Roberts.

She saves me $11+ every time she appears on screen.

Mr. Anderson said...

For much of the 90's and 2000's, that was the case for me too. Back in the day critics couldn't say enough about Roberts, in the same way they would adore Meg Ryan. Yet I've successfully avoided all of her big movies, including Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, Erin Brockovich, The Pelican Brief, Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding, Closer and Eat Pray Love. The only movies I've actually seen her in were Oceans 11 (good, but not for her), Hook (say no more) and Larry Crowne (meh). So far, I really don't get what all the hype about her is about, but unlike Ryan she keeps coming out with mediocre (at best) films.