Friday, April 13, 2012

Short Take: "Mirror Mirror", "Safe House", "Chronicle".

If ever a movie was victim to terrible, misleading advertising, this would be definitely be it. Tarsem Singh's retelling of the Snow White story is an exuberant, breathtakingly beautiful take on an old tale, that manages to update it without the forced quality of movies like Shrek. What the movie presents us with is a revisionist tale, in which the Evil Queen (a simply delicious Julia Roberts) doesn't hate Snow White (Lily Collins) "just because" but due to her insecurity (both fiscal and personal). Even the Prince (Armie Hammer looking positively dashing) in question arrives for an unconventional reason, as the Queen sees in him the opportunity to save her kingdom from bankruptcy as well as satisfying her sexual needs.
This is probably what the movie gets so well, Snow White and the Queen aren't stereotypes but actual "women" who crave different things and aren't afraid of expressing it. Like an inverse version of Tarsem's The Cell with less creepiness obviously, the film grabs a woman's psyche and expresses it through the lavish set design and costumes. Jennifer Lopez's character in The Cell was trying to hide and escape from the mind of a killer, the women here want their psyches to expand into the real world. What we get then is a battle between women trying to find their places in a world that suggests only one of them is fit to inhabit it. Whether they became enemies because of taxes, beauty or men, the honest truth is that they are all factors uncontrollable by them and demanded by society. Who knew you could gather such a rich post-feminist message from a children's movie?

Safe House is the kind of movie where the main characters spend 80% of the movie as moving targets for gangsters, CIA agents and honest but expendable police men, while barely missing bullets, yet they get shot at the last minute just in time to have an epiphany.
As usual Denzel Washington plays the "mentor" to a less experienced movie star who crosses his character's path. In this case Ryan Reynolds plays the goody-two-shoes' safe house guard who ends up trying to catch a suave criminal he was supposed to look after. We are never asked to really understand the characters' motivations, other than the fact that they are who they are and the action should keep us entertained without thinking. The problem is that Denzel has been playing the same character for more than a decade and this movie feels like it's the continuation of whatever train/plane/evil cop/martyred bodyguard movie he released last year. Reynolds holds no candle to Denzel's charm but he and we deserve much better than this by the numbers thriller.

The been-there-done-that feel of "found footage" films almost seemed to  have been refreshed at the start of Chronicle. Unlike most movies of its type where we spend the whole time wondering why the hell won't they drop the camera when they're being followed by ghosts, Blair witches or monsters, this one actually grabs the concept selfconsciously as characters question why is nerdy, unpopular Andrew (Dane DeHaan) carrying a video camera everywhere. This becomes obvious when we run into the film's major plot twist, after an encounter with a strange crystal he and two other teenagers gain telekinetic powers. The most delightful part of the movie has the young men try out their new powers in ways teenagers would, by pulling pranks on people or using them to hit on girls. For a while the movie feels like an FX-laden version of Jackass until the filmmakers found the need to be moralizing and show us that unrestrained power can bring disaster (something that, thank you very much, no other superhero movie has done as perfectly as Spider-Man). The movie then reveals its true colors and how in its search to be original, it just ended up turning "found footage" into an even more offensive gimmick. By the time we have two crazed teenagers destroying the city of Seattle and still not dropping the freaking camera, all you want is for the Blair with to come and be done with them.

Grades:
Mirror Mirror ***
Safe House *
Chronicle *

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Like any good new age literary critic, you're reading too much into it. Julia is delicious (her "say it again" is delightful), Armie does his best work (faint praise, but whatever), the costumes are lush but I'm blown away... but in the grander scheme of things that doesn't matter.

And, my nephew seemed to love it.