Sunday, November 18, 2007

STARDUST MOVIE REVIEW














CAST: CHARLIE COX, CLAIRE DANES, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, ROBERT DE NIRO, MARK STRONG, SIENNA MILLER, RUPERT EVERETT, PETER O’ TOOLE
DIRECTOR: MATTHEW VAUGHN
RUNTIME: 127 min
RATING: ***1/2
GENRE: ADVENTURE, FANTASY, ROMANCE

Stardust isn’t a fantasy epic; it is more of a fantasy tale. Understandably so, for the source isn’t an epic bestseller for a change. Adapted to screen by Vaughn (Layercake) and Jane Goldman, this film weaves a simple tale with all the clarity of a childhood fable. It is never rushed, it is funny, it is romantic, stupidly sometimes and it almost takes you to another world. It isn’t Lord of the Rings by any means, and every fantasy film to come since is expected to be one. It is one of those fillers that make up for the duration we need to wait for another event like LOTR come by, and especially after a long day’s work refresh and entertain us like no other. No need to invest oneself too much, relax, and forget it the next day. Sounds pretty much like one of those childhood tales, doesn’t it?
Stardust tells the tale of a young lad Tristan (Charlie Cox), who to prove his immense love to Victoria (Sienna Miller), heads along to bring her a fallen star as a gift for her birthday. In another place, a witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) is also pursuing the fallen star, which would bring the beauty of youth back in her and her sisters. Far away in the land of Stormhold, a King (Peter O’ Toole) dies, thus setting his sons off in pursue of a stone that would decide the heir. Incidentally, and in a way obviously their fates and the other tales are interconnected, setting off the grand adventure.

Claire Danes feels like an inspired choice for the fallen star Yvaine. She isn’t a radiating divine beauty but as an unadulterated, innocent creation of the universe she is more than perfect. She always tends to bear mannerisms and expressions that are in effect showcases of inner goodness. I remember her brief turn in The Hours and how I thought at that time what an inspired casting choice she seemed. She isn’t a great actress, she is a good one sure, but there is an affable charm in her good-natured roles that is extremely rare. One can’t buy that charm can they for if yes everybody would have been Bill Murray and Tom Hanks. I wonder what made the makers think that fallen stars are not supposed to have eyebrows; Danes would have looked way better with them intact. She is at the core of this tale, both literally and figuratively, and is ably supported by a round of characters. Michelle Pfeiffer seems to be having loads of fun as the witch, unleashing her entire array of overacting on us. And I mean that in the best way possible, for actors (read beauties) like Pfeiffer come into their own in such roles. Young Charlie Cox (Casanova, The Merchant of Venice) is earnest enough. But what I felt really happy about was that for the fist time since I saw Ronin a good eight years ago, I didn’t feel embarrassed after watching a Robert De Niro performance. He has been setting new benchmarks in awfulness with all those poor excuses for comedies; but here he comes into his own as Captain Shakespeare. A tough pirate for the outer world, but on the inside a transvestite, best described by one of his men – “We always knew you were a bit of a whoopsy.” This isn’t the tired, one stupid expression-wonder De Niro of those awful Meet the Parents movies or those Analyze This trash; the man does have a lot of fun and that fun seems to be finally showing. Then there’s the inevitable participation by Sir Ian McKellen, this time as a narrator. Both he and Morgan Freeman are mandatory now for financing films, I guess.
Stardust is the sort of fantasy film that is so rare nowadays, a film that aspires to tell a story and not jump from one special effect to the next one. I was reminded of Terry Gilliam’s odd but underappreciated The Brothers Grimm, but more importantly the lucidity of the tale brought back The Princess Bride. I loved how they made Danes radiate whenever she was happy. Though I wasn’t exactly happy with that lame ending. Had Danes’ character not given me the reason, I would have very well doubted that a fission reaction of sorts happened. That brings me to the special effects which are tacky, somewhat. The cinematography is quite good, and that I guess is mandatory in this post-LOTR world. You simply need to have shots of landscapes as rousing score is played behind for you have that obligation to the tourist ministry generating some revenue. But it is just the effects. I advise that there’s no need to show us that you’re being stretched on your budget; if a film is made for a relatively lesser amount (this film is made for $65 million, considerably less than the $180 million of The Chronicles of Narnia and $100 million of Eragon), try and cut on the special effects. We’ll understand, and we’ll in fact appreciate. And in fact, the film is way better than any of those considerably higher-budgeted films; The Chronicles of Narnia almost made me check blood sugar level.
The movie isn’t exactly pure and unadulterated fantasy stuff for children; it has a couple of gruesome murders, transformations and a murder sequence bordering on black humor. I can imagine a few children getting scared. The film does make up for all that; it almost always is funny. I spoke critically a couple of weeks back about all the self-aware humor that was in Nancy Drew. As I said there, this is the way to do it. This film is almost the perfect blend of such a film – the climax in particular, which in other films would have been quite heavy on drama, is the lightest of light with the seven princes’ spirits almost keeping the spirits up. I liked that.
I was reminded of Solyaris and I’ll tell you why. The fallen star is supposed to be a girl, supposedly helps our young prince rule his kingdom for a good eighty years before they both return to the star-kingdom. There’s a deep psychology there for our exploration always is looking for races/species/celestial objects that are in the end “humans”. Guess our exploration is bound to fail.

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