Saturday, March 31, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Mirror Mirror

Regarding fairy tales, there are traditionalists and rebels. Since I first saw most of the fairy tales via The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show's "Fractured Fairytales," I definitely fall into the rebel camp. Yes, I read Grimm's Fairytales and much of Hans Christian Anderson later. But, then I discovered the amazing anthologies by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling with fairytale retellings which have stolen my heart. It was a given that I'd be seeing Mirror Mirror the first chance I got.

Directed by
Tarsem Singh

Writing credits
Jacob Grimm (original story) and
Wilhelm Grimm (original story)

Melissa Wallack (screenplay) &
Jason Keller (screenplay)

CAST: (In Credit Order)

Julia Roberts ... The Queen
Lily Collins ... Snow White
Armie Hammer ... Prince Alcott
Nathan Lane ... Brighton
Jordan Prentice ... Napoleon
Mark Povinelli ... Half Pint
Joe Gnoffo ... Grub
Danny Woodburn ... Grimm
Sebastian Saraceno ... Wolf
Martin Klebba ... Butcher
Ronald Lee Clark ... Chuckles
Robert Emms ... Charles Renbock
Mare Winningham ... Baker Margaret
Michael Lerner ... Baron
Sean Bean ... King

The basic story is very similar to the Grimm tale. The King lost his Queen when she was giving birth to their only daughter, Snow White. The King remarries, believing he's doing right by his daughter. When a beast invades the forest surrounding his Kingdom, he goes out to slay it and never returns. The Queen takes over the Kingdom and shuts away Snow White until she discovers the girl is a potential rival for her vanity.

The modern retelling ups the mother-daughter conflict and adds some interesting twists. The Queen is initiates the narrative, believing the story is all about her. She's as vain and self-centered as we'd expect. In this case, she's bankrupted her kingdom. She's got an option--to marry a wealthy aristocrat, but he's old and unappealing.

On her eighteenth birthday, Snow White believes she can make her debut at a Palace Ball. When the Queen sees her, she banishes her back to her room. The servants advise the Princess that her Kingdom is in danger. She decides to go look and is horrified to see the conditions her people are forced to live in.

Enter Prince Alcott. Why a wealthy Prince is wandering through the woods with only one servant, I will never know. But he's come to the Kingdom as an emissary. On the way to the Palace, he gets robbed by the seven dwarves dressed as giants. Snow White happens along and rescues them, but disappears.

Prince Alcott arrives half naked at the Queen's court and she knows what she wants if she's going to have to remarry. But her magic mirror warns her she's going to have a rival.

Once more, Snow White slips into a ball and ends up capturing Prince Alcott's heart. The Queen realizes she has got to get rid of that girl. So she sends her faithful servant out to the woods with the Snow White...

Casting is impressive. This is the first film I've seen Julia Roberts strut her stuff as truly wicked. She's impressive. So is young Lisa Collins, who looks perfect as Snow White. Nathan Lane doesn't surprise me at all as a comic foil. And it always does my heart good to see Sean Bean in a film. He's handsome as ever as the king.

The cinematography is lovely. The palace, forests, and dwellings have a fairytale illustration quality.

Current political issues resonate in Mirror Mirror. Any power has its price and the Queen isn't paying too close attention to the debt she's running up both to magic and to her kingdom. She's used some powerfully disgusting tricks to keep herself young and beautiful. That blood magic has also kept the people in fear. And she's lived in luxury without a care to her people. Worse, she's discriminated so badly against the outcasts: the small, the ugly, the misfits, that they're easily turned against her.

But Snow's not your typical weak Princess, either. Despite having been trapped in a tower for eighteen years, she learns quickly to pick up a sword and defend herself. This girl's going to upset a lot of fairytale princess notions for the better of womankind.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. There was a fine balance between comedy and darkness and literally very little wasted time. (No pee breaks!) Mirror Mirror was well worth matinee price and I'll purchase the DVD when it is available. The only jarring moment for me was the closing, which was a big musical number with shadings of Bollywood. My husband enjoyed it, but I could just as soon have done with the ending and left it at that. When I have control of the remote, I'll do just that.

Why Snow White? NPR did a segment on just that question since there are two Snow White films in the can this year. Snow White and the Huntsman, which is a much darker retelling, will be following Mirror Mirror later this year. There are several suppositions: that Baby Boomer women are dealing with aging, that men are dealing with women's power since more of them are attending college and going into the workforce than ever before, or that today's tired-out women would just love to have a good long sleep. Here's the full story, so you can come to your own conclusions:

NPR Story

Thursday, March 8, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Reservation Blues -- Sherman Alexie

There are writers who inspire you to read and there are writers who inspire you to write. Sherman Alexie has a strange effect on me. Too often, I find it difficult to find a book that can follow his excellent prose.

Alexis is a personal hero of mine. He's an American Indian, mix of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene who was raised on the reservation. If you'd like to read his accounts of growing up, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an exceptional read for people of all ages. Alexie was born hydrocephalic (water on the brain) and underwent critical brain surgery that no one expected him to survive. He managed to do so, though he has seizures.

BOOK REVIEW: A Soldier's Heart -- Gary Paulsen (Spoilers)

When fifteen-year-old Charley Goddard heard about the Civil War through posters and recruiters, it sounded glorious. What an opportunity for a man to prove his worth. With people expecting the conflict to only last two months, he figured he better sign up or he'd miss all the excitement. Besides, he can send the eleven dollars a month he'd make home to his widowed Mother and help the family.

Charley lies to the recruiter and gets accepted to the Union Army. Initially, all his regiment is doing is drilling. They're so poorly provisioned, the soldiers are merely raising their rifles and pretending to fire because they don't have the ammunition to spare.