Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mirror Mirror

Tarsem Singh, the artiste musical video provocateur turned go-for-broke filmmaker, has never met a story, an idea, or an inkling of such without overpowering it with relentless art direction and costume design.  There's a silly splendor and artificial to his unnecessary re-imagining of the Snow White tale in Mirror Mirror, a production so candy-colored and over-the-top, it collapses upon itself multiple times only to give way to brief murmur to the possibilities of visual stylization.  Than, rather unfortunately, the dialogue, rote storytelling, and inconsistent acting comes back to haunt the exuberant fashion show.  With each film, it's decidedly harder to decipher Tarsem the filmmaker as someone of merit and value versus Tarsem the decorator, whose strange, but strikingly vibrant worlds come across alien, fun and a turn off in the same beat.  Whether in the dark Silence of the Lambs-on-acid thriller of his debut feature, The Cell, his beatific art house melodrama The Fall or his cheesy, swords and sandals-lite treatment of last years Immortals, it's hard to get a sense if he cares about story at all.  In Mirror Mirror, the sets and props and costumes have such a vibrancy, a buoyancy and playfulness, it's almost contagious...the problem is there's such an inert emotional connection to anything other than the colors on display.

Part of the problem may simply be the gonzo genius of his regular costumer and the sadly departed Eiko Ishioka (she passed away late last year to cancer), for her work is a creature upon itself demanding of superior writing and storytelling finesse to not upstage it.  Ishioka, who won an Oscar for the beautifully off kilter designs for Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stroker's Dracula has creations that have such personality, the strident and staid performers feel almost afraid of them.  This is especially true of the casting of the wan Lily Collins (The Blind Side) as Snow White, who makes the scantest of impressions, relying unjustly on her lily white skin tone alone.  Julia Roberts plays her the Evil Queen in her campiest performance to date, and while she hits and misses (and truly never appears threatening...she's still America's sweetheart after all), there's a nice give away to such a generous performer mugging away and clearly having a ball at it...there's even further proof that Roberts may become a looser and sharper comedienne once the veneer of her celebrity fades ever so.  Armie Hammer plays Prince Charming, with a puckish, aristocrat snide, but only appears to have get the joke.

The problem with Mirror Mirror is almost an identity issue from the start.  It begins with a strong prologue, visually sweeping in such an unique, weird, slightly dangerous way only to curtail into an endless game of self-referential jokes, third tier Shrek-style lampooning and shoddy slapstick.  The candy-colored palette feels market-tested to death, ridding the film of a distinctive sense of self.  Never too edgy as not to dismay the youngsters, soothed by the Disney notion of fairy tales, but never to sodden as to put their parents asleep, Mirror Mirror has such a strange combination of rotten and ripe, overdone but undercooked.  Tarsem may soon find his masterpiece, and it indeed be in the realm of fairy tales themselves, but Mirror Mirror has the bitter aftertaste of one of the Evil Queen's apples.  C

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