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Awesome: 35.14%
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9 reviews, 20 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Weird And Wonderfully Fractured Fairy Tale"
4 stars

Walking into the screening of "Stardust," I wasn't at all sure of what to expect. On the one hand, I knew that it was some kind of elaborate mystical epic and that it somehow combined the talents of Neil Gaiman (the author of any number of acclaimed novels and the screenwriter of the underrated film "Mirrormask"), Matthew Vaughn (who has produced such hard-edged British gangster films as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" and who also directed the hard-edged British gangster film "Layer Cake") and a cast consisting of relative newcomers (such as Charlie Cox and Sienna Miller), reliable veterans (Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Everett) and even a couple of genuine screen legends (Robert De Niro and Peter O'Toole). On the other hand, these are the kind of elements that may sound good on paper but which are not necessarily the kind that easily blend together into a consistent whole. To my surprise and borderline delight, "Stardust" not only brings all of these disparate elements together, the result is a fast, funny and sweet-natured fairy-tale goof that may not quite be the next "Princess Bride" but which comes closer to that title than anything else in recent memory.

After a prologue explaining the details of his entrance into the world, "Stardust" introduces us to Tristran (Charlie Cox), a young man who resides in the quaint little English village of Wall, a place that just happens to border the magical world of Stormhold. Not that this holds much interest to Tristran--the only thing he cares about in the world is winning the love of Victoria (Sienna Miller), a local lass who treats him cruelly and thoughtlessly and knows that he will keep coming back for more because. . .well, because she looks exactly like Sienna Miller. When Tristran learns that Victoria is planning to marry a local boor, he announces that he would go to any lengths to prove his undying love to her. Just then, a star falls from the sky and lands across the border in Stormhold and Victoria tells Tristran that if he wants to prove his love to her, he should find the fallen star and bring it back to her as a gift. After deftly avoiding the single Ye Extremely Olde Minuteman (David Kelly) protecting the border to prevent anyone from traveling from one world to the next, Tristran enters the world of Stormhold in search of the star and when he finds it, he is surprised to discover that it is in the form of the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes). Nevertheless, he ties her up and they begin the long trek home for her presentation to Victoria.

At this point, "Stardust" may sound like what the old "Fractured Fairy Tales" from "The Bullwinkle Show" might have been like had they been composed by the "Maxim" writing staff but things quickly become more complicated as several additional parties began pursuing Yvaine for their own nefarious reasons. For starters, the evil and ancient witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to find Yvaine in order to cut out her heart so that she and her two equally vile sisters can further prolong their youth. Then there is a battle for the throne of the dying king of Stormhold (Peter O’Toole) between the two heirs that haven’t already killed each other in their pursuit of the throne–alas, Primus (Jason Flemyng) and Secundus (Rupert Everett) seem intent on making up for lost time and when they discover how a falling star can help them, they set off after Yvaine as well. While trying to avoid their pursuers and return to Wall, Tristran and Yvaine undergo any numbers of strange adventures and encounter a number of colorful characters, including the shady Ferdy the Fence (Ricky Gervais), a character who deals in virtually anything found in this world or the next, a witch’s slave (Kate Magowan) who may know more about Tristran than she is letting on and the one and only Cap. Shakespeare (Robert De Niro), a fearsome sky pirate who roams the air in his jumbo-sized dirigible but who does not, as it turns out, come across quite as advertised.

Based solely on how I have described the plot of “Stardust,” many of you may think it to be virtually indistinguishable from any of the other elaborate fantasy films that have emerged in recent years to try to cash in on the massive popular success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy–it contains an elaborate quest, numerous fights scenes, true-blue heroes, hissable villains, lavish special effects and an array of top-tier actors getting paid zillions of dollars to stand around in strange costumes spouting mumbo-jumbo. That may be true but that doesn’t begin to convey the tone of the film and that is the aspect that separates it from the majority of its genre mates. I have never been the biggest fan of this particular genre and there are two main reasons for that. For starters, no matter how seemingly ridiculous the stories and characters may seem, these films are almost always incredibly portentous and self-serious–they almost seem afraid that if they show even the tiniest sense of humor, everything will be lost. The other problem is that most of them tend to follow the same pre-programmed quest template of temptation, betrayal and eventual triumph–it is hard to get worked up over yet another magical journey to the ends of the Earth to do whatever to whomever in order to save wherever from whatever.

“Stardust,” on the other hand, happily subverts these notions and the film is all the better for it. Although the ads don’t really suggest it, there is a lot of humor on display in the film–knowing winks at the genre and its conventions (such as having Ian McKellan, Gandalf himself, serving as the narrator) to moments of surreal silliness (if you are trying to escape from danger with a magic rocket that will take a person “home,” make sure that the person handling it has a notion of home that isn’t in the realms of darkest space). Even better, at least if you are the type of person who has seen all of the big fantasy epics of recent years, is the way that the story happily marches to its own drummer and goes of in unanticipated directions, such as the strange interlude with Capt. Shakespeare–even though the screenplay was based on Gaiman’s book, it has the cheerfully carefree spirit of a group of kids who are making things up as they go along in an elaborate game of dress-up. Sure, the special effects are nifty but it is the way in which Vaughn creates and sustains this peculiar tone–sustained whimsy is an attitude awfully hard to keep up for a few minutes, let alone 130–that proves to be the most spectacular and memorable aspect of “Stardust.”

The actors also have clearly captured that carefree attitude as well and while I doubt that “Stardust” will be heavily represented by clips when the various performers get their Lifetime Achievement Award tributes, they are all obviously having fun and for once, that fun comes across to those of us sitting in the audience. Although he is stuck playing the ordinary guy in a movie filled with oddballs and seems a little ill at ease in the early going, relative newcomer Charlie Cox is a perfectly serviceable Tristan and both he and his character grow in strength and stature as the film progresses. As Yvaine, Claire Danes may seem like an off-kilter choice at first glance but she takes what could have easily been an unplayable character–how would you go about acting like a star?–and does enough interesting things with it so that you actually believe that a.) she is a star and that b.) Tristran might forsake the likes of someone resembling Sienna Miller for her.

Despite their efforts, however, it is the veterans that wind up stealing this particular show. Solidifying her status as Comeback Star of the Year, Michelle Pfeiffer is a blast as the sexy and scheming Lamia–although she is one of those actresses who has in the past seemed a little uncomfortable with doing anything on the light and frothy side, she cuts loose here with a relaxed turn that is as instantly winning as anything she has ever done on screen. Although he only gets one brief scene early on in the proceedings, Peter O’Toole offers up a nifty cameo that provides more wit and gravity in just a few minutes of screen time than the entirety of “Venus.” However, the stand-out performance of “Stardust” comes from none other than Robert De Niro as the sky pirate Capt. Shakespeare. I know what you are thinking–another movie in which De Niro mocks his persona as a straightforward and highly dramatic tough guy for those who still remember the days when he was unhesitatingly called America’s finest actor (a period that I believe began with the release of “Taxi Driver” and ended with the release of “Godsend”). That may be true but for once, the joke is actually pretty funny and De Niro tears into the part with such obvious zeal that even the biggest cynics will find themselves going along with it,

“Stardust” isn’t a perfect film by any means–the prologue dealing with Tristran’s conception is a badly-handled mess that grinds things to a halt just as they are getting started, the film as a whole runs just a bit too long for its own good and while Vaughn does a good job of handling material far removed from the like of “Layer Cake” or his productions for Guy Ritchie, you can’t help but wonder at times what a truly gifted visual fantasist like Terry Gilliam (who, I learned from Vaughn himself, was offered the job a few years ago but declined it as he had just finished the somewhat similar “The Brothers Grimm” and wanted to do something different for a follow-up) might have done with the same material. These flaws aside, “Stardust” is still a hilarious, charming and strangely engaging fantasy that will charm even those who have been burned out by a summer filled with overstuffed epics like “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Those films may have had bigger budgets and bigger special effects but “Stardust” has the one quality that all the money in the world cannot buy and that all the visual effects technicians can never duplicate–a genuine sense of fun.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15569&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/10/07 00:25:38
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User Comments

9/25/20 Brian Ebert said it's not boring. He was wrong. 2 stars
5/14/20 Suzanne Not a fantasy fan, but I enjoyed this magical ride, especially with De Niro and Pheiffer. 4 stars
4/08/09 Justin I thought it was great. 5 stars
11/27/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
3/18/08 Me, why? A load of old fluff. Fairy tales tries to be more than a fairy tale. 1 stars
1/07/08 Dina Kind of weird, but interesting. It won me over - Pfeiffer & De Niro are a hoot 4 stars
1/04/08 Ellen Engrossing plot, beautiful sets, and a touch of humor made it a fun ride. 4 stars
11/14/07 Alice Yawn... 2 stars
10/14/07 Keystra Williams I thought it was wonderful. Too bad it tanked. 5 stars
9/17/07 Susannah Strange, sweet & fun! 4 stars
9/02/07 Greybird Every word seconded. Thrilling originality. Intricate plots give grist for brain and heart. 5 stars
8/22/07 robin wonderfully entertaining from start to end. a must have for my home library 5 stars
8/19/07 Meschelle Too much going on. 3 stars
8/18/07 jcjs trite but not, a story, wonderful images, fresh, acting, wonderful, humorous, beautiful 5 stars
8/16/07 Nessus All of the parts fit together well, good pacing, good balance of comedy and drama 5 stars
8/14/07 Dan Charming, magical and fun. De Niro and Pfeiffer chew the scenery wonderfully. 4 stars
8/13/07 kelly Best movie of the year, and i'm not a fantasy fan! 5 stars
8/13/07 BrianWilly It felt like someone made a movie out of an old Sierra game, and that's a good thing. 5 stars
8/11/07 Bill Gosse Pretty bad. If you like it, you hate actual whimsy. 2 stars
8/11/07 Ole Man Bourbon One of the goofier movies I've ever seen. The Princess Retard. 3 stars
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  10-Aug-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Dec-2007



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