New on DVD: “The Artist,” “21 Jump Street,” and “Mirror, Mirror”

Posted on June 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

We’ve got something for everyone on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.  First, there’s the 2012 Oscar winner for Best Picture (and Best Director, Best Actor, Best Score, and Best Costumes), The Artist, the silent, black and white movie about a star of the silent films who has a problem adjusting to the sound era.  It is rated PG-13 for a “a disturbing image and a crude gesture” but is suitable for most middle schoolers and up.  Then one of the wildest, raunchiest, and all-around funniest comedies of the year, the very R-rated 21 Jump Street, inspired by the television series that made Johnny Depp a star and featuring Depp in an hilarious cameo.  The Blu-Ray has some great extras, including deleted scenes and features.  And one of the most purely delightful family movies of the year is Mirror Mirror, with Lily Collins as Snow White and Julia Roberts as her evil stepmother.

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New on DVD/Blu-Ray

Talking about Fairy Tales on WAMU

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

Many thanks to the Kojo Nnamdi Show for inviting me on to talk about fairy tales — their enduring popularity and their prevalence in today’s media — with two men whose books I have read and enjoyed, Jack Zipes and Beliefnet’s own Chris Epting.  Guest host Rebecca Roberts led a wonderful discussion, now available online via transcript or podcast.

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“I Believe” Dance Number from “Mirror Mirror”

Posted on March 30, 2012 at 8:05 am

Director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar grew up in India and began his career with music videos, and you can see the influence of both in this joyous musical number from Mirror Mirror.

The Huffington Post’s Katie Calautti has a fascinating piece on the song and how it came to be in the movie.

 

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Mirror Mirror

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar has found a story worthy of his ravishing visuals and the result is an enchanting update of the classic fairy tale of Snow White.

Julia Roberts is clearly having a blast as the evil queen whose hostile takeover impulse is so strong she tells us from the beginning that we are hearing her version of the story.  But we know from the first moment that our heroine will be the “pretentiously named” Snow White.  She does commune with a songbird as the movie opens, but this is not the Snow White warbling by the wishing well about waiting for her prince or sleeping until she is rescued with a magical kiss.  Sister is doing it for herself — sword fighting, leading a brave, if diminutive, gang of marauders, and doing some rescuing of her own.

Once upon a time there was a happy kingdom filled with music and dance.  But after the king remarried, he disappeared, leaving the Queen to impose higher and higher taxes on the burdened populace and lock princess Snow White (Lily Collins of “The Blind Side”) in her room.  When she timidly ventures out on her 18th birthday because there is to be a party in the castle, the Queen sneers, “Is there a fire in your bedroom?  Because that would be the only reason for you to leave.”

The Queen is broke and desperately need to marry a wealthy royal, and for that she needs to use all of her magical powers to continue to appear young and beautiful.  Prince Alcott (“Social Network” Winklevii-portrayer Armie Hammer) looks like the answer, despite his showing up without his clothes, having been robbed in the woods by seven mysterious accordion-legged marauders.  But at the costume ball, he sees Snow White in a magnificent swan dress (don’t think Bjork, think faaabulous) and instantly knows that she is the fairest of them all.

But Snow has other issues on her mind, after her first venture outside the castle shows her what a cruel and selfish ruler her stepmother has been.  She becomes an outlaw, joining forces with seven men short of stature but big of heart.  And the Queen, aided by her sniveling courtier (who better for that role than Nathan Lane) tries to use every bit of magic and old fashioned evil to ensnare the Prince before the magic mirror — with help from a very tight corset, a disgusting beauty ritual, and a love potion — are no longer enough.

As Tarsem and sometimes Tarsem Singh, the director has made ads, music videos (REM’s “Losing My Religion”) and  films like “The Fall” and “The Cell,” all filled with richly imagined images of striking beauty. Working with production designer Tom Foden and the late costume designer Eiko Ishioka, he has created a setting that is part Maxfield Parrish, part Richard Avedon, with gorgeous elegance and panache and with insight and meaning.  The mirror is wonderfully constructed out of liquid that leads to a room where the Queen consults another version of herself.  The costumes are not just splendid; they are witty and character-revealing, with the Queen a peacock and Snow White a swan.  Hammer is handsome and unexpectedly funny.  And Collins is luminous, genuinely magical as Snow White, sweet and brave, and it is a pleasure to watch her growing understanding of the world and her ability and responsibility to make it better.  He keeps the tone irreverent, but never snarky.  There are some funny lines (and one unnecessary and un-funny crude joke) and some modern twists, but the heart of the story in every way goes back to the original folk tales, especially a welcome new twist near the end.  The Grimm brothers might not recognize some of the details of their classic fairy tale and Disney might be surprised by a princess who does not wait for her prince to come to get things done.  But the themes of honor, justice, romance, and the search for a happily ever after ending are every bit as satisfying as the original.

(more…)

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Interview: Lily Collins of “Mirror Mirror”

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

Lily Collins was so gracious I felt I really was talking to a fairy tale princess.  The daughter of rocker Phil Collins appeared in “The Blind Side” and this joyous, gorgeously re-imagined updating of “Snow White” is her first starring role.  She talked to me about learning how to sword-fight and her favorite advice about acting.

 

We have to talk about the swan dress.

I know, the head and the wings were just the most beautiful little accompaniment to the outfit…I would forget, though, that I had them both on, and I would go to squeeze by people and forget that my span was much longer and I would sometimes knock things over with them, but they were so beautiful and intricately made, so delicate and absolutely like pieces of art, they were an honor to wear.

How does it make you feel different to look at yourself fin the mirror and see that? 

Well, it definitely helps get into character when you’re wearing a corset everyday, you truly do feel like the character, it makes all the difference in the world. But also, they were so emblematic of who Snow was—and in the tone of the movie it just amped up the feeling of the film..

The sword fights are amazing!  Tell me what kind of training you did and what that was like.

Armie Hammer and I trained including during the filming for about four months.  It was very intense, lots of sweating and bruises, but it was so much fun and I had never imagined that I would get to do something like that before.

This is the first time we’ve seen him in a comic role.

He’s hilarious! He’s kind of the perfect mixture of being goofy and aloof in the role, as well as being a gentleman, totally regal, and very, very humble. Armie is, as a person as well, just kind of great mixture of all these different attributes. Most of all, I didn’t realize how much of a jokester and how funny he is, he can make you laugh at the top of the hat.

What was the biggest challenge of filming for you?

I’d never done a film a big as this before, or worked as many hours as I did—and I think it was just making sure I maintained that balance of work and being able to rest and take care of myself, because I did do so many different new things on this film, and I was in a foreign place and on my own there, and it was really just making sure I kept a defined balance between having my time to be myself as well as the character.

This is a very different version of Snow White than we’ve seen before, and not just different in the plotline, but a very different version of the characters. So if her name was Snow Jones, who is she and how did you imagine her?

I really wanted to play her, not as a caricature of a fairy tale princess or as an animated character; I wanted to make her a real girl who was feisty, and who really was passionate, and learned throughout the process that she went through with the dwarfs and experiencing new things, she learned to believe in herself and found that it was what was inside her that made her able to conquer her dreams and go after what she believed in. Never once does she look in the mirror herself, because she’s never aware of what her beauty means, or that she is even as beautiful as everyone says she is. It was really what she found within herself through her new friends and experiences. So, I think she was someone who was very open to spontaneity and life and love, and someone who wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty at times, to go and fight, be on par with the prince and not allow the fact that she was a girl change anything.

I was very touched by the scene near the beginning where you leave the palace for the first time.. The look on your face was so radiant and luminous, and you became aware for the first time what was out there. Tell me a little bit about your process, what was it that you were thinking and how did you achieve that?

I try to put myself in the shoes of whatever character I’m playing and I guess I just imagine the idea of really what it would be like if I was locked away and not allowed to go out and really had the courage to step outside my comfort zone, and experience what was outside of the castle.  I thought about the idea of meeting a man for the first time and how it kind of made me feel something other than what I was used to, and the idea of being shocked at the reality of a situation, not really knowing was evil was, because Snow was kept away so long that she doesn’t really see what evil is.  So when she goes through the village for the first time, she’s so genuinely hurt by it that she can’t help but show her sadness and kind of the inner-child quality of pure disappointment and confusion. So, I try to just put myself in the character’s shoes, and because it’s the beginning of the story, she’s still very much a child in that sense, seeing everything for the first time. I think of how a child would react—children react in such a genuine way and they don’t think, really, how their reactions are going to affect people, they just let it come out; that’s how she was at the beginning.

What was the best advice that you got about acting?

To remember that you are playing someone other than yourself, and so when taking on a role, of course, it’s you taking on a role, so you’re going to add a bit of yourself, but it’s okay to separate your own beliefs and your own characteristics from this character, because that’s what acting is—you’re taking on another role. If you’re going to go for it, go for it, and dedicate yourself 100% to something, because if you’re fully in a character and you go for it, there’s nothing like feeling that feeling of accomplishing, something as someone else, if you’re really going to be a part of the story and be a different character, you should put your whole heart and soul into it, because once you’re dedicated to it, it really comes across.

 

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