A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


August 16, 2010


We follow up Sunshine from yesterday with Stardust tonight. Of course this is no tense space drama. Instead it’s a great fantasy adventure full of magic, romance, good and evil. It’s based on a book by Neil Gaiman, which means that it’s the tale of somebody from our world who finds themselves in a land just outside of ours where they have a special destiny.

In this case it’s young Tristan Thorn. He’s grown up in the town of Wall, an English hamlet that guards a gap in an ancient wall from which it gets its name. On the other side of this wall it is not England, but a magical kingdom of fairie (here in the movie it’s Stormholm, though in the book it is a far more dangerous and tricky place.) In Stormholm the king is dying. He’s in the unprecedented position of having more than one son alive (he had already killed all of HIS brothers long before HIS father died.) To decide the succession, therefore, he casts his giant ruby necklace into the sky, telling his sons that the one who can restore it will be king in his place. The necklace hits a star, knocking it out of the sky.

Tristran is wooing his true love Victoria when the star falls, and tells her, in a fit of bravado, that to prove his love for her he will cross the wall and bring back the star. Little does he know that his father has a secret about his own origin, and that he is not the simple motherless peasant that he thought he was. His father, you see, once crossed the wall in a fit of bravado himself. So Tristran sets out on a quest which will change his life.

This is, in my opinion, one of the single greatest fantasy adventure films ever made. It has action, adventure, magic, danger, great love and great evil. It has moments of peril and moments of wit. The acting is superb too. Charlie Cox is fun as the earnest Tristran, and Mark Strong is great as Septimus, the most ruthless of the four surviving princes of Stormholm (It’s nice to see him here with his skin all on, as opposed to his roie in yesterday’s movie), but it’s really the female leads that make this movie. Michelle Pfeiffer, who you may recall I said made a great bad-guy in the musical version of Hairspray, is the evil witch Lamia, who wants the star that fell from the sky for her own nefarious ends. She does a wonderful job, working under a variety of heavy old-age makeup and even poking fun at her own apparent agelessness. Without the very real sense of menace that she brings to the film it would have a lot less power.

Then there’s Claire Danes as Yvaine, the star herself. (Yes, in Stormholm the stars are anthropomorphic beings apparently.) Without her powerful performance this movie would have no heart. I’m mesmerized once again every time I watch this with the way she’s able to capture emotion in her expressive face. Be it the disdain and eye-rolling disregard she has for Tristran when he first comes upon her or the radiant and pure love she is able to project later in the film. She has a lengthy speech at one point about how difficult it is for the stars, looking down and watching mankind with their wars and their hatred and their killing, and how the beautiful love that mankind is capable of is the only thing that makes it worth while. “So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing.” The delivery of this speech, the passion in her eyes, the wonder and the joy of it, never fails to move me to tears.

Add to the peril of the great evil in Stormholm and the beauty of Yvaine a healthy dollop of swashbuckling and humor and you have a mighty fine film. There’s plenty of laughs to be had from an ensorceled farm-hand named Bernard and a goat made to look like an innkeeper. And there’s the hilariously fearsome Captain Shakespeare played with scenery-chewing abandon by Robert De Niro.

And, oh, the soundtrack! To accompany the fantastic visuals, effects and acting Ilan Eskeri has composed a rousing and sweeping score that pulls my heart right out of my chest and raises it up to the heavens. Yes, it really feels that good to me, the music is as much a part of the magic of this movie as the great sweeping fantasy vistas or the huge collection of fantastic special effects.

My one complaint would be that there’s a little bit of playing with the timeline in the film. Through the power of a montage Tristran learns swordsmanship, gentlemanly etiquette and dancing within the space of what is probably two days aboard Shakespeare’s ship. It’s a little like the way that Luke learns all the ways of the Jedi in a single afternoon of training with Yoda. Ahh, the montage… the greatest form of film magic there is.

Still, that’s a very small quibble in an otherwise pretty much flawless film. This movie makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it fills me with joy. I don’t know any higher complement. I’d say that in my estimation this movie sits just above The Princess Bride, which in many ways this feels like a spiritual successor to. For any movie to top Princess Bride, well, you know it must really be something special.

August 16, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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