My new film column, from this week’s Bullet. (Original version)
STARDUST, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE FAIRY TALE
Sick of the onslaught of new Harry Potter movies? Can’t watch Legolas flip his hair even one more time? Do you sometimes find yourself wondering what the world would be like if fantasy characters, instead of wasting wishes on true love, requested acting talent or better screenplays? In this age of inverse correlation between special effects and depth of plot, it’s refreshing to see at least one new movie that sacrifices neither.
Based on the book by wizard author Neil Gaiman, Stardust is a fairy tale in the most basic sense, though not at all predictable. And like many great stories, the trouble begins with the fatal combination of a girl and too much alcohol. Tristan Thorn (played by Charlie Cox) is so smitten with the beautiful Victoria (Sienna Miller) that, during an evening of wine and star-gazing, he vows to obtain a falling star in exchange for her love. Leaving home, he crosses the carefully guarded wall between his village and the fairy world. In a rather inconvenient plot development, Tristan discovers that the star he’s seeking is actually a girl, Yvaine (Claire Danes). Our hero, though taken aback, is not easily discouraged and sets out for home with Yvaine in tow. (“Nothing says romance like a kidnapped, injured woman!”) On the way they encounter evil witches, princes (both of the living and non-living variety), a unicorn, confused peasants, and one delightfully flamboyant pirate in the form of Robert DeNiro.
While Stardust has an occasionally inconsistent pace, a few missing scenes along with some invented ones, and even the occasional unexplained plot gap (challenging for those who haven’t read the book), it remains faithful to the basic story and spirit of Gaiman’s creation. Fantasy films aren’t taken seriously often enough and are generally relegated to the realm of childhood entertainment, but this film does a wonderful job of avoiding this trend of oversimplification. Most of all, Stardust is driven by its spectacular cast, which includes Ian McKellen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole and Rupert Everett. In fact, there are very few good actors who aren’t in this movie.
But perhaps the most magical thing about Stardust lies not in its actors or plot, but in its unwillingness to conform to standards set by recent predecessors like Eragon and Ella Enchanted. It’s funny, thrilling, multi-dimensional and surprising. And after all, who can resist Robert DeNiro in drag?
*For extra kicks, be sure to catch the laughably horrible trailer for Beowulf.
BRAZIL: NOT YOUR USUAL DYSTOPIAN CINEMATIC SCENARIO
What can you say about Brazil? This masterpiece about love, escape from reality, and bureaucracy gone horribly wrong has been confusing audiences worldwide since 1985. Perhaps we should examine its origins with director/writer Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame), who spent months struggling with the head of Universal Studios, who wanted the entire film re-cut and given a more marketable ending. Thanks to Gilliam’s persistence, however, Brazil (in its original, unaltered form) will continue to mystify filmgoers for generations to come.
So what exactly is this movie, this paragon of befuddlement? Jonathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry, an office worker living in a nightmarish world of inefficient technology, miscommunication, paranoia, government conspiracies, and ducts. Lots of ducts. In a dazzling juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, his dreams seem to provide the only outlet for escape. Yes, there’s a girl. Yes, Robert DeNiro and Michael Palin also star in this film. And yes, one of Brazil’s IMDB plot keywords is “Breakfast Machine.” If you’re not intrigued yet, consider this: you don’t even need to fill out a 27B/6. What more could you ask for?