Mirror Mirror

Wow. I am glad I waited patiently until the end credits otherwise I would not have been blessed with such a great surprise, and one that sums up the oddity of this film - but more on that later.
Still trying to find the fairest of them all

Mirror Mirror is a re-hash of the familiar fairytale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (feels like it's not PC to say that). This time Snow White (Lily Collins) is an orphan princess locked in the highest room in the tallest tower (yes, really), she is the rightful ruler of her kingdom but her wicked stepmother (Julia Roberts) is one hell of a vain, evil queen. A charming prince rocks up (Armie Hammer) and in a series of strange plot twists ends up not really saving the day.

Director Tarsem Singh has created a beautiful, fantasical world for this fairytale but there's a real clash when he tries to decide its genre. It's not weird enough for fantasy, not funny enough for comedy (though there are some feeble attempts) and it's not emotional enough for tweenie romance. So what is it? Some horrible mish-mash in between.

I get it, it's a kids film and the plot does jog on at a pleasing, predictable pace with a mix of action, romance and 'comedy' to keep boys and girls interested throughout the 90 minutes. There's some mis-en-scene stolen from the mind of Tim Burton, costumes that nod to the outlandish outfits of the Panem Capital, and some beautifully shot woodland scenes which seem like a Disney version of Game of Thrones. Everything has a convincing layer of 'fake' about it, the snow, the makeup, but sadly, also the performances.

Snow White is annoying. You'd be forgiven for expecting at any moment for a cartoon blue bird to land on her shoulder. Her movements are choreographed carefully to be like a true Disney princess and her voice so saccharine I got toothache. This is intended to be tongue in cheek as the queen makes several references to how irritating she is, yet sadly Collins is a vase - lovely to look at but pretty blank on the inside. So when Snow White gets all bad-ass half way through the film it's too far a leap of faith for the audience to take - it's just not believable, even in a such an obvious fantasy world. It's a pity too, as like with Snow White and the Huntsman, there was a chance to hop on the feminist band wagon and create a sassy hero from an insipid, beautiful zero. Blink and you'll miss the 'comedy' when she asks the prince not to rescue her 'but it's been focus grouped and it works' and sadly, in this case it would have done.

However. All of this was forgiven when 'No Beard, No Sword, No Bean' Sean Bean turns up with a beard and a beard (it must be in his contract) as the benevolent, dispossessed King. This gruff northern star races through his five minutes of dialogue to round up this fairytale in a very predicable ending... well is it. There is one surprise up Singh's sleeve. A Bollywood ending which comes out of nowhere! No-one was more surprised that Sean Bean who stands awkwardly in the background while the whole cast chant 'love' and shimmy around him. Genius.

V for Vendetta

'People should not be afraid of their governments;
governments should be afraid of their people"
Pick up a pitchfork and get ready to threaten the establishment, a revolution is a-coming!

I re-watched this the other day as I was inspired by a TED talk on the 7 deadly sins - this one focussed on 'greed' and it was an eloquent talk by an American plutocrat who had made billions during the dot.com boom. Even though he was considered to be in the top 0.1 percent of wealth worldwide, I'd never heard of him. He even made that point. How can a man who owns as much money as him, not be on the average person's radar? His talk was the antithesis of the famous Gordan Gecko 'Greed Is Good' mantra - he said it's bad, it's corrupting as it isolates people from each other. The opposite of greed in his mind was community. How can you be part of a community where the gulf between rich and poor is as wide as it was prior to the French Revolution?

After this man's talk I realised a film like V for Vendetta was starting to feel far more real and present than Alan Moore intended when he wrote the graphic novel during Thatcher's rein.

In light of the London Riots a few years back, and other bleak 'austerity' news reports since, the premise is alarmingly realistic. A lone vigilante known a 'V' (Hugo Weaving) is the sole voice of resistance against a fascist, oppressive regime ('Norsefire') headed by former Tory and now High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). This is sold to the people through toe curling propaganda by the 'voice of London' Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam) and enforced on the people by Peter Creedy 'the finger' and head of the secret police (Tim Piggot-Smith). Just to make the point that every fraction of the establishment is corrupt, the church is headed by sexually dodgy Archbishop Lilliman (John Standing). In this world where homosexuality is a crime and non-conformity results in a mysterious deaths and disappearances, is media worker Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman). On a night out, she rebels against the curfew to enjoy a night out, only to be caught and threatened with rape by the secret police. Saving her from the scene is V, and from this point her life is manipulated until she 'sees' the truth of the brutal world around her that has been normalised through years of not-so-subtle enforcement.

I love the iconography of this film: the fascist looking banners of the ruling party, the strong contrast of red and black in a hostile set of banners not too indistinct from the Third Reich; the Guy Fawkes mask; the dystopian, gritty streets of London; and finally, of course, the Palace of Westminster ripe for the talking, glittering against the Thames. These icons exaggerate the themes of the film especially the Guy Fawkes mask, which naturally harks back to the original historic revolution, but also allows V to be a social representative. As the protagonist he could literally be anyone, or everyone, who's disenfranchised by the establishment. Evey's final lines even state this when she states 'He was all of us'. It's a trick authors sometimes use; give away as little as you can about the main character, so your reader can imbue themselves into the role.

The main theme is of course about civil liberties and freedoms being usurped by the state for our 'own protection'. If you believe a lie and absorb the fear created by the media, then it allows for the most terrifying injustices to take place while the public apathetically sit by. Hence the Nazi symbolism. It was apathy that allowed Hitler to get in, but this London shows that it's unfounded fear that allowed Norsefire to evolve from the Conservative party. This totalitariast party fuels the fear fire with hints about disease pandemics, CCTV, media manipulation, religious hypocrosy, foreign threats, terrorism, internet surveillance, torture, intelligence gathering, profiling. Hmmm. Sounds familiar.

Call it serendipitous, but the reason this film has got under my skin this week is because I also watched 'Inside the Commons' which exposed the Palace of Westminster as a juvenile public school club where policy and public interest is second to antiquated traditions and subsidised drinking. Almost prophetic then that the director James McTeigue stated the film "really showed what can happen when society is ruled by government, rather than the government being run as a voice of the people."

Now... where's that pitchfork?


Drive

Oh my goodness me. It's been a long year away from blogging all things cinema - I blame a change of career and new life as an NQT.

So, let's start with one of my favourite films from the past couple of years - Drive.
Killer soundtrack 

Not just because of the ever so lovely, (everyone has a crush - yes, straight men too), Ryan Gosling, and not because of my favourite British actress, the understated Carey Mulligan. No, because it has been one of the few films in recent months which has hung about in my head - always a good sign.

First off its a cracking genre film, starting with that amazing hot pink choice of font which slashes boldly across the opening credits. Perhaps a metaphor for the way the violence in the film suddenly jumps out at you and smacks you across the face. Literally. And wow. I was not expecting that.

The scene in the lift is breath taking, not just for gosling getting those MTV award winning lips out to kiss Carey. No, just because you are not expecting it at all, and you really don't expect the way it continues. Oh right, you're kicking the guy... And now you're kicking in s head, and now his head is mush.... Oh my.

But as genre film it's an interesting metaphor, a kind of modern day fairy tale. Gosling is the hero, kitted out in white shining satin (armour) chasing the princess who needs rescuing. The problem is, The Driver, as he's only ever know, is stuck in a fantasy story of his own, one warped by his day job. I think the driver seems himself as a kind of knight, he's ultimately fighting to protect innocence at any cost. But just like a knight in a fairy tale the reality is warped. There isnt going to be a happyily ever after, as Mulligan's face confirms at ate end of the lift scene. The driver lives in a fantasy and his actions play out to prove this. Why else would he wear the mask to kill the evil Niño?

That scene at the beach stuck in my head for ages. Why does he go to the restaurant and look in the window wearing the mask? Why does he leave the car perched on the top of the cliff with the list shining? Why does he stalk the  dying Niño into the waters? I think because his mind as been lost - he cannot distinguish between what is real and what is a movie and by wearing the mask from his stunt scene, he literally becomes a superhero. He feels invincible. He is removed from his identity. The bad guy dies - the good girl lives - and he's at the centre of the action.

I love the detail of this film too. That statin jacket! What a great touch, like a suit of armour in a fairy tale it shines out thought the dark streets of LA, and like armour, through the film it becomes muddied with the evidence of battle. He never cleans it, it becomes a badge of honour. 

Also I like any director who hires Christina Hendricks to then blow her head up 10 minutes after she appears on screen. It seems like a waste, but then again, that's one point of the film: there's so much violence that we've resorted to treating it casually.