Monday, August 13, 2007

Movie Review: Stardust

I didn't know that Matthew Vaughn, the director of "Stardust", was also going to direct "Thor"!


Wizard Universe reports:

Newly announced ‘Thor’ director Matthew Vaughn uses ‘star’ power for a more-than-satisfying fantasy film

By Mel Caylo

Posted August 10, 2007 2:50 PM

There have been so many blockbuster films this summer that I was a little weary going into the month of August. Superheroes, pirates and big robots, oh my! And how many Part 3s have there been already? With the third installment of a certain Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker franchise opening today, I think that makes it, I don’t know, six Part 3s already?

So when I went into a screening of “Stardust,” at least I knew it was going to be fresh, original material, albeit with some borrowed elements from fantasy tales of the past. Having read the 1998 Neil Gaiman-Charles Vess illustrated novel on which it’s based when it first came out, I had an inkling of what to expect. By the end, I was moved to read the book all over again, having been swept away by the best fantasy movie I’ve seen since the “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

“Stardust” (Paramount Pictures, PG-13), opening today, is about a luckless, bumbling lad named Tristan (Charlie Cox) who pines for Victoria, the prettiest girl in his village (Sienna Miller), but all she’s interested in is which suitor can bring her the most extravagant gift. When a shooting star crashes (and in fairy-tale fashion, the star has a corporeal form, played by the enchanting Claire Danes), Tristan promises to bring it to her, and thus embarks on a weeklong adventure where he encounters evil witches (one of whom is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, a far cry from the last time she played a witch in “The Witches of Eastwick”), a couple of princes vying for their kingdom’s vacant throne (“Layer Cake’s” Jason Flemyng and “Syriana’s” Mark Strong) and a gruff pirate with a secret (Robert De Niro, who plays fabulously against type). Along the way, Tristan gains confidence and a new and improved look, but most importantly, discovers there may be more to love than a pretty face.

Director/co-screenwriter Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake,” and recently announced as helming Marvel Studios’ “Thor”) and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman took Gaiman’s work, weeded out a lot of the exposition and boiled the story down to its heart: a love story. Even with the third act tweaked to satisfy moviegoing audiences (Pfeiffer’s witch has a different outcome), Gaiman’s tale is still intact, and Vaughn successfully brings to screen a fresh, enchanting look at familiar fantasy themes, from an eccentric king (Peter O’Toole) to a happily-ever-after ending.

“Stardust” is escapism at its best, and the chemistry between newcomer Cox and rising star Danes (whose bleached eyebrows were a little disconcerting for me, but heck, it’s all subject to perception) is serviceable enough to empathize with their characters, but it’s the veterans who steal the show. De Niro is perfect as Captain Shakespeare (for those of you who haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil the twist, but trust me, you’ll love it because it’s De Niro), and Pfeiffer is a treat as a villainess, if only because her spectacular beauty throws you off and makes you think she’s as enchanting as a fairy-tale princess. British comedian Ricky Gervais (“The Office”) makes a—what else?—funny cameo as a shopkeeper who is a stop along the way in Tristan’s adventure.

“Stardust” is a fairy tale, but make no mistake: It’s PG-13 for a reason. Leave the kids at home because there are some violent moments, though not bloody. There’s implied nudity with Pfeiffer (calm down, boys) and a morning-after moment between a couple of characters (can’t tell you who!), so it’d keep me from recommending it to my brother and his 5-year-old son. But if you’re starved for a fulfilling fantasy movie, go see “Stardust.” It’s a refreshing alternative to the summer blockbuster fare.

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