“Mirror, Mirror”—(Lily=White)

“Mirror, Mirror” is a sweet, funny retelling of the “Snow White” story. There’s much to like here, including seven small people who add huge amounts of charm.

“Mirror, Mirror,” is a live action film that has the look of an animated film. Many of the characters look like real people but could pass for animated characters. Many of the cartoon-like settings obviously were created with a bit of computer help. And the movie contains some ridiculous situations and one-liners that could’ve been borrowed from a “Shrek” script.

Lily Collins as Snow White is impossibly gorgeous, resembling young versions of Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Despite her delicate beauty, she readily jumps into action scenes. Her faceoff with Prince Alcott, played by Armie Hammer, is a wonderfully staged scene that mixes flirty romance with artful swordplay.

Hammer, best known for playing the bitter Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network” and Clyde Tolson in “J. Edgar,” shows he can deliver physical and verbal humor. Appearing shirtless in several scenes, he also provides eye candy for the ladies.

Julia Roberts is The Queen, who drops a few funny lines, while maintaining her evil wickedness. Nathan Lane is Brighton, another character with a cartoonish look, the Queen’s attendant, who is not quite evil enough to be a henchman.

The real spice for this movie comes from the little people who play the Seven Dwarfs. Here are more real people who have cartoonish characteristics. They’re likeable. They’re funny. They’re bandits. And they are good fighters—an important factor as the film approaches its climax. Don’t try to match them up with the Disney Dwarfs; these have more personality. Their names, in no particular order, are: Half Pint, Wolf, Grimm, Grub, Chuckles, Butcher and Napoleon.

This is a family friendly, PG-rated film, which is perfect for moms and daughters. There is a scary beast that appears during the final battle, but the depiction is not overly frightening.

The costuming is impressive. The tempo is consistent. And, once again, good overcomes evil.

After a winter with little snow, spring brings a really good Snow.

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“The Hunger Games”—(Reality TV Bites)

It’s a reality TV show producer’s fantasy/nightmare: a televised competition in which those eliminated are not merely voted off the island. Instead, in “The Hunger Games,’ they die.

Could society devolve enough to allow a televised spectacle in which 24 youthful contestants fight to the death, until there is only one left standing? Check back in 50 years and see. In THG, the competition is an annual punishment meted out to each of 12 political districts for a failed rebellion in this near future state/nation, Panem.

The best player in “The Hunger Games,” is Katniss Everdeen. Or is she? Katniss, played wonderfully by Jennifer Lawrence, is a strong young woman whose sister is chosen in a random drawing to be part of this annual death match. Knowing that her weak sister would quickly be killed, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

As preparations for the games begin, Katniss becomes a favorite: A favorite of those who watch and wager on the games. A favorite of TV host Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci (who sports some very weird hair). A favorite of mentor Haymitch Abernathy, played by Woody Harrelson.  A favorite of fellow “tribute” Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson. But not a favorite of President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland.

Having watched reality shows on TV for many years now, I have often suspected producers of manipulating outcomes via physical competitions that favor certain players, vote totals that appear questionable and judges who keep less-talented but more attractive players. It happened in the early days of TV when quiz show contestants who audiences liked were given answers so they would stay on week after week.

Manipulation by the TV producer and his crew occurs often during “The Hunger Games.” Rules are changed. Fires are set. Wild animals are unleashed. Medical supplies are shared from beyond the game area. But even as producers are working their trickery on contestants, so do Katniss and Peeta work theirs on the producers.

THG delivers a compelling screen character in Katniss along with a story that keeps the viewer totally engaged. (The only time I checked my watch during the screening was to note that the actual competition begins at the movie’s halfway point, about 70 minutes in.) Whether this is “the movie event of the year” is debatable, but “The Hunger Games” is a well-crafted movie. Director Gary Ross tells the story clearly without calling attention to himself via cinematic stunts.

“The Hunger Games” presents a chilling vision of a future not too far removed from 2012. Moviegoers who have watched TV shows like “Survivor,” “The Real World,” “American Idol,” “The Bachelor” and “Big Brother” will see elements of those shows and others in “The Hunger Games.”

Because “The Hunger Games” is based on a “young adult” novel which has been embraced by teens, adults may fear that THG has some Twilight-like tendencies. Nope. If you are a grownup, you can see and enjoy this movie. And you should.

“Jeff, Who Lives At Home”—{He Needs to Obsess About Kevin}

I like this movie a lot but I especially like Jason Segel in the title role.

“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is a 30-year-old stoner who thinks everything in life is connected. He is always looking for a sign. In fact, one of his favorite movies is “Signs.”

On one particular day, he thinks a wrong number phone call asking for “Kevin” is a sign, so he acts upon it and things begin to happen. Meanwhile Jeff’s brother (played by Ed Helms) and their widowed mother (played by Susan Sarandon) have things happening in their own lives on this particular day.

This movie about two brothers was written and directed by… two brothers! In JWLAH, Jay and Mark Duplass have an annoying habit of zooming in and out just a smidge during many of their shots. Instead of being stylistic, it is distracting. (Not sure if they’re trying to give it that “found footage” look with this trick, but it is not something to keep in their repertoire.)

Also, in a movie that is set in Louisiana, there are no noticeable southern accents—what the what? Except for one sequence shot on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the film could’ve been set in Evansville or Topeka.

JWLAH has many good laughs and nice stories tucked into its brief 80 minutes. Yes, it’s an indie kind of movie, but has nothing offputtingly arty about it. It’s rated R, but, except for language, doesn’t feel particularly R-ish.

Small movie. Big entertainment.

“21 Jump Street”—((Fun Times at Sagan High))

“21 Jump Street” is funny and fun. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a worthy combo because of the many contrasts they bring to their pairing. And, because both have good comedy chops.

The characters played by the two were high school classmates: Tatum, the good-looking dumb jock, and Hill, the less attractive smart nerd. When they find themselves classmates at police academy, Hill shares his smarts with Tatum and Tatum helps Hill get fit.

They become teammates on the force, but they make mistakes and are sent to 21 Jump Street. At that address is a Korean Christian church, in which Ice Cube commands cops on undercover assignments. Tatum and Hill are sent out as high school students in an effort to bust a drug ring. (Never mind that they are 30 and 28, respectively, in real life.)

Adding to the absurdity is the mixed-up identity plot device, through which Tatum is assigned to egghead classes and Hill is sent to run on the track team.

When they finally locate the drug connection at school, he will only sell them the tabs if they will ingest the drug right then. The ensuing drug trip provides some goofy fun.

Each has romantic inclinations at school. Hill has eyes for a cute drama club classmate, who he ends up inviting to the prom. Tatum has the hots for his science teacher, played by St. Louis’s Ellie Kemper. The Tatum-Kemper thing merely smolders, until the closing credits. (Do stick around after THE END.)

“21 Jump Street” has three good chase scenes, including the first one with our two rookie cops on bicycles. There’s a fair amount of violence and a heaping helping of R-rated language.

It has been reported for almost a year that a megastar who kicked off his career on the old “21 Jump Street” TV show has a cameo in the movie. Without sharing details, I will just say I love the way the filmmakers presented it.

Could Tatum and Hill have a future together in action comedies? If “21” hits the jackpot, bet on it.

 

 

 

 

 

John Carter—\Meh\

Disney spent a ridiculous amount of money on the production and marketing of “John Carter.” Sorry to respond with general indifference. This movie is not horrible, but it reeks of ordinariness.

The things I like about “John Carter”:

  1. The flying machines. Their “steampunk” era design fascinated me. They don’t look like they would be airworthy, but they do look really cool.
  2. The domestic pet creatures on Barsoom (Mars). They have faces and bodies like Jabba the Hutt, but they are extremely fast. They act like dogs, even if they don’t look quite like them.
  3. The language difficulties that result in John Carter repeatedly being called “Virginia.” (Silly, but mildly amusing.)

Things I do not like about “John Carter”:

  1. A lack of charisma by the title character. I had a hard time really caring about him. Not that Taylor Kitsch is a bad actor, but the engagement was not there.
  2. The creatures on Barsoom that are a cross between the Na’vi in “Avatar” and JarJar Binks. The best word to describe them is “derivative.”
  3. A setting and CGI effects that repeatedly make me think of the three recent “Star Wars” movies (Episodes I, II and III).
  4. Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris as the movie’s designated “babe” is gorgeous, but brings nothing new to the table.
  5. 3-D. Yes, there are a handful of scenes that are enhanced by 3-D, but overall it’s not necessary. (Except to add to box office figures.)

For a movie that had such a huge budget, one would expect something special. For a movie that Disney apparently wants to turn into a franchise, one would expect something mind-blowing.

Expectations are not met with “John Carter.”

We Need To Talk About Kevin—((Kid Shock))

WNTTAK is not a “feel good” movie. It’s just the opposite. But if you miss it, you will miss Tilda Swinton delivering one of 2011’s best acting performances.

Tilda plays a woman for whom motherhood is not a happy experience. Baby Kevin makes noise. Child Kevin is a pill. Teenage Kevin is not unlike how one might imagine Rosemary’s Baby would’ve turned out.

Is Kevin a mental case or just a bad person? Did Tilda’s mothering cause him to turn out the way he did? OR did Kevin’s demeanor trigger something in Tilda? Is she brave or a fool for staying in her community after Kevin commits a violent act? These are among the questions the movie asks but does not answer completely.

John C. Reilly stars as Kevin’s father, but does not share the deep anguish that controls Tilda’s very being from the moment of Kevin’s birth.

Director Lynne Ramsey creates tension and signals alarm with her not-at-all-subtle use of the color red.

WNTTAK will not leave you unaffected. You are likely to be more greatly affected if you are a parent. Tilda’s character’s pains and frustrations are immense. Most parents have had similar feelings, but never on so grand a scale. Let Tilda Swinton show you—in her great performance—just how bad it can get.

Irrelevant trivia note: WNTTAK is the only movie I have ever seen with a credit for a “guinea pig costumer.”

Project X =Party On!

Try to remember the most outrageous party you went to when you were younger. Now remember the loudest party the high school or college kids in your neighborhood have thrown. Add them together, multiply by a hundred (or a thousand) and you’ve got “Project X.”

It’s a situation we’ve seen before in movies: the parents go away, leaving their teen(s) at home, and a wild party ensues. In “Project X,” a trio of generally uncool high school kids—the instigator, the reluctant host and the chubby super nerd—invite an army of partiers to invade the host’s backyard to celebrate the host’s birthday. (None of the film’s actors are well-known.)

Things get out of hand in a hurry. Our trio alternately worries about the consequences and takes part in the mayhem. Of course, the prospects of sexual activity are continually looming. The reluctant host takes the relationship with his longtime platonic girlfriend to a new level and decides to go for more action with a previously unobtainable babe.

You’ll laugh and you’ll cringe, no matter your age or perspective on the situation.

“Project X” will likely become for the class of ’12 what “Superbad” was for the class of ’08. The language is pervasive, as is the drinking and drugging. Sexual content consists mainly of numerous bare boobs on pool-jumping girls and one sabotaged would-be hookup. “X” is “R,” but I’m guessing there will be some theater-jumping in the cineplex by the 14-16 year-olds.

“Project X” is shot mostly in “verite” style by “Dax.” “Dax,” showing great dedication to his craft, remains an observer, not a participant, throughout the whole episode.

Should parents be concerned about leaving their high school seniors home alone overnight after the kids have seen “Project X?” “Project X” is so over-the-top that your kids could never even come close to matching it. Having said that, I know from personal experience that you should never leave your high school kids home alone overnight—whether they’ve seen the movie or not.

“Project X” does a good job of chronicling the whole (fictional) event and gives us some likeable characters. Despite the overload of f-bombs, I like it.