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« Burning Questions: Lifetime Passes | Main | Yes, No, Maybe So: "People Like Us" »
Monday
Apr022012

Review: "Mirror Mirror"

This review was originally published in my column at Towleroad.

Once upon a time there lived a director with big canvas visual ideas. He would stretch them across just about any surface and start painting. Serial killer craziness (The Cell), muscle queen mythology (The Immortals), and uncategorizable period fantasy (The Fall) were all fair game. Any topic would do including a comic spin on Snow White because why the hell not? 

His name was Tarsem Singh or Tarsem or Tarsem Singh Dwandwar or Tarsem Dwandwar Singh because he could never settle on a signature. He would halfheartedly skim screenplays until inspiration struck. Once the spell was cast, he'd toss the script into the fire, chug absinthe, and speed dial Eiko Ishioka. He'd sketch until the last of the words had turned to ash and only his drawings remained*. The end. 

*not his real process.

Whether you live happily ever after from watching his movies depends on what you go to the movies for. [Continue]

For instance, if you pronounce the words "style" with a sneer and "substance" with reverence in the same sentence you are not the target audience. But if you go to the movies for the images, you've already seen or should see his work  - even the weaker efforts like Mirror Mirror.

The Evil Queen (Julia Roberts) introduces us to Mirror Mirror with a gorgeous zoetrope spin as the movie begins, reminding us that cinema is storytelling. She warns us that it's her story and not the young princess's but the images that follow in a glorious animated prologue tell us otherwise. The Evil Queen finds Snow White completely irritating and since Snow is played by Lily Collins who can blame her?

The comedy here is hit or miss with some of the anachronisms landing with a thud. At once point Prince Charming tells Snow he has to save her because the Prince saving the Princess has been 'focus group tested and audiences like it.' [Groan]. This modern winking wouldn't be a hindrance in a movie that wasn't so visually insane but here it's distracting. The prince and his valet really shouldn't be making jokes about how strange their outfits are. They are strange -- Julia is so immobile in hers that 75% of her performance is hand gesturing -- but it breaks the absurd spell.

Speaking of spells, the Prince is torn between the Queen and Snow White. He loves the young princess at first sight but the Queen has cast a love spell on him to win his heart. He's played by Armie Hammer and often shirtless, so you can't blame her. The love spell is good stupid fun both in the casting and the breaking. Mirror Mirror often comes up with clever reflections of the familiar tale rather than telling it straight but it undermines its own wit constantly by pointing out the revisionism in the bad "jokes" or dialogue. (If I ever watch it again, I'll turn the sound off.)

The Queen sees herself in the magic mirror which is a nice twist on the typical portrayals but it's a slightly altered version of herself. The movie is like that, too -just a little bit off though it's trying hard to be "on": Everything cheap-looking is thisclose to looking rich; everything beautiful is teetering towards hideously gaudy.Sadly, Mirror Mirror is the imaginative costume designer Eiko Ishioka's swan song. She died earlier this year. It's vaguely discomfiting then that Lily Collins wears an actual swan dress and delivers the closing song, an anachronistic Bollywood meets American dance song called "I Believe in Love." The lyrics are inane but Tarsem probably didn't read them. He was undoubtedly gagging over Eiko Ishioka's brilliant rethink of the traditional blue and yellow Disney dress Snow wears while singing it; it sure is something to look at.

 

Grade: C+
Oscar chances: There is an end credits musical performance but with what happened last year, the Original Song category is now on the Endangered Species list. The only hope is costume design as a posthumous thank you to the great Eiko Ishioka.

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Reader Comments (15)

I have to admit, reading these reviews has made me want to see "the Fall" (I've never seen any of Tarsem's films. Recommendation as to where to start?)

And I admit I get a kick out of the fact that in this instance "Snow White" looks pretty much like the fairy tales told us she did - skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.

Is this one of those films to which Michael's definition of "lifetime pass" is going to apply for some people (fans of Tarsem's previous work)?

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Janice -- The Fall is his best film I think. So that's where I'd go immediately. And good point on lifetime pass and how it applies here ;)

April 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

You talk about the sript a lot (and, naturally, the costumes) so I guess your low grade is because the direction didn't make you overcome or even appreciate what I gather to be awkward silliness of the movie?

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Great idea about listening to it with the sound off. I was startled by the color in Mirror, Mirror. I guess I had almost forgotten that film could have color and clarity. Now I'm interested in taking a look at The Immortals, which I'd missed.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Eh, I don't have a problem with a movie having the costumes as the "star." It was the only good thing about Dracula as I recall. I've sat through a few old Hollywood clunkers just to see what Cecil Beaton or Adrian could come up with next.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Nat thanks for the tip.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Ewww. How can you say that the incredible song "Love" written by Nina Hart in 1971 for Milos Forman's "Taking if of" is inane? Is a great song and the jewel of the magnificente soundtrack of Forman's film.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

And of course isn't original, because as I said was written for Forman's film.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I haven't seen Lily Collins enough to be irritated or annoyed by her. Seems like the younger generation of actors get shat on pretty easily without much actual work under their belt.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I stumble upon this blog and read your post;
it’s great to know that good people like you writing articles about the youth.
keep it up and more power to you…!

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpaulo messias

Janice -- I, too, would suggest checking out The Fall. I wasn't crazy about it but it's a beyond stunning film anchored by some good storytelling and lovely key moments. My favorite Tarsem film so far is still his first, The Cell. The story is simple and solid enough to let him work his magic and what he produces is equal parts deeply disturbing, stark and breathtaking. Definitely one of the more fascinating directorial debuts of the 00s.

Glad to hear Eiko Ishioka apparently shines one last time here, even as a 'showcase' of sorts. Will probably check this out in theaters before it heads out as a small tribute to her. And Tarsem was obviously in love with her work for him so it makes me sad to think he'll be forced to use someone else for next time. What their collaborations gave birth to seem like they will definitely be held as inspiration and referential points for years to come. Also, I can totally see their work used as a theme for an upcoming Met Costume Ball, it seems pretty perfect for that.

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Please review Frankenweiner.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

Loved "The Fall" and while I hardly remember "The Cell" (except for it's visuals), I didn't care too much for "The Immortals" besides the costumes/images. I still wanna see this because of Hammer, the visuals/costumes, and just for some fun in the theater.

April 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

Great review, Seen the movie free on down2load

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFree Movies

Hi, I was researching about modern fairy tale movies made during past 10 years and their effects on literature so I found your review.

These fairy tales are being retold with a feminist twist. The most recent example is 'Mirror Mirror', and the young snow white turns into a Robin Hood, fights with the wicked queen and is smart enough not to bite the apple.

And it is not all about fairy tales, even classic love stories is getting a feminist twist (Gnomeo and Juliet). I was wondering what is the effect on classic literature. Can we consider fairy tales as a genre in literature? Is it going to fade? Will our children or grand children remember the original ones or even be interested in reading them? Is it a good or bad thing?

I am curious to hear your opinion about this.

Thanks

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAzadeh
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