Mirror Mirror (PG): Visually splendid but uneven take on Snow White fairy tale
Mirror Mirror is the first of two Snow White films hitting cinemas this year. Arriving in June is Snow White and the Huntsman, which will put an epic fantasy action adventure spin on the Grimm fairytale.
In the meantime, this more comedic effort targets family audiences during the holidays and should offer moderate entertainment as long as you're not demanding anything too memorable.
A handsomely animated prologue tells us Snow White is the king's daughter. The queen died in childbirth and the king re-marries to Julia Roberts then disappears. Snow grows up and we join the story as she turns 18 and, played by Lily Collins, is intent on leaving the castle for the first time.
Meanwhile a prince looking for adventure (Armie Hammer) has made his way into the kingdom, but falls foul of a group of bandits who turn out to be the Seven Dwarfs. He and Snow meet in the forest and fall for each other, but the queen has other ideas.
A sarky Roberts has some fun, presiding over her unhappy snow-covered kingdom with acidic one-liners. She's broke, taxing the people to the hilt to pay for her luxuries, and reckons a marriage to the prince is what she needs to revive her ailing fortunes.
She's also concerned about her ageing, and is using magic to keep herself looking young. The "mirror, mirror on the wall" stuff is limited to a couple of scenes but in these moments we get to see the full extent of the visual splendour that defines the work of director Tarsem Singh.
His eye for plush opulence provides most of what is interesting in a shaky first third, when his imagination is allowed to run riot, like the accordion stilts the dwarfs use to attack their prey. Lavish sets and very impressive computer-enhanced locations are a feast for the eyes, but it's strangely rather lifeless and staid for all its sumptuous trappings.
It aims for a light and airy tone akin to something like The Princess Bride, but has nothing close to the wit or charm. Categorised by silliness instead of genuinely clever writing, it's more zany than funny, with exaggerated sound effects often used as a substitute for a decent line.
But a far stronger second half goes some way towards saving the day. The dwarves are great value as Snow teams up with them against the queen, and it's largely thanks to them and the surprisingly good Hammer that Mirror Mirror ends up being a perfectly presentable slice of family fun.
Running Time: 106 mins
Director: Tarsem Singh
This must be the place (15): Penn is a delight but the plot is a real oddity
Cheyenne (Sean Penn, above) is a former rock star living out his retirement in Dublin with his devoted wife (Frances McDormand).
Caked in makeup that makes him look like a cross between Edward Scissorhands and Robert Smith, he's a sweet and shambling rich eccentric, and this nutty comedy drama initially seems like it will be a bunch of silly sketches about his life.
But when he's called to New York to visit his dying father, it takes a thoroughly unexpected turn into Nazi hunting, as Cheyenne meets a man who has been tracking down Auschwitz war criminals and who persuades him to search for the man who persecuted his father. It's not much of a hunt, skipping the details of how Cheyenne gathers the clues to pursue his quarry, and mostly showing him just meeting quirky people in kooky ways, resulting in what may well be entirely random interludes.
Visually striking but impossible to pin down, it strives for the wit of the Coens combined with the weirdness of David Lynch and is amusing courtesy of its sheer oddness as much as anything.
Penn proves his versatility yet again, and his spaced out, Truman Capote-voiced Cheyenne is a delightful creation who deserves to be in a more disciplined movie.
Running Time: 112 mins
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
See it if you liked: Il Divo, The Big Lebowski, Paris, Texas
titanic (12a) Still a stunning spectacle if you ignore the cheesy dialogue
Marking both the centenary of the Titanic disaster and the 15th birthday of the film, this is a timely re-release for James Cameron's iceberg epic that stood proud as the biggest box office hit of all time, at least until the arrival of his own Avatar.
It's the film that turned Leonardo DiCaprio into a superstar, as his poor rogue romances Kate Winslet's rich English rose on the doomed voyage to New York. As ever with Cameron, the script is the weakest link, and the soapy antics that make up the first half of the film can border on cringeworthy. But that's mitigated by spectacle on a level previously unseen, at least in 1997, and the hour or more it takes the boat to sink (spoiler alert) provides a showcase of visual effects and technical brilliance that demands to be watched on the big screen. It's still a stunning achievement, as long as you ignore the characters talking.
Running Time: 195 mins
Director: James Cameron
le havre (PG) Gentle drama is a little too cute
In the titular French port, a middle aged couple live close to poverty, though they appear content enough. But their lives are disrupted by the wife's sudden illness and the husband giving refuge to a young Gabonese illegal immigrant who is trying to make it to Britain.
This gentle drama creates a nice sense of place and community but causes consternation in the way it never really settles into a dependable narrative structure or offers believable characters.
If you're familiar with director Kaurismaki's style you may not find that such a problem, and as the deadpan, sometimes absurd events amble along without fuss, there are many charming moments. But more often than not, it's just too cute for its own good.
Running Time: 93 mins
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Headhunters 15 Slightly bonkers thriller delivers plenty of tension and surprises
Based on a novel from bestselling Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, this potty thriller centres on Roger, an Oslo art thief looking for a big score who learns about a possible jackpot target in an associate of his wife, a dangerous ex-military guy who happens to have a 100m Krone painting in his apartment. Interestingly the audience is not expected to side with Roger as we would if he were Thomas Crown, not at first anyway, but as he gets further in over his head, we slowly start to warm to him. While not concerning itself for a moment that it's pulp nonsense of the highest order, Headhunters delivers what a good thriller should in tension and surprise, smart developments and a steady escalation in the danger and scale of events. Though piled high with contrivance and ridiculousness, and seriously lacking a moral core, as a slick potboiler it's a triumph.
Running Time: 100 mins Director: Morten Tyldum