Stardust

  • Title:  Stardust
  • Director:  Matthew Vaughn
  • Date:  2007
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Mark Strong, Peter O’Toole, Ricky Gervais, Henry Cavill
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Nothing says romance like the gift of a kidnapped, injured woman!” — Yvaine

“I admire you dreaming.  Shop boy like me, I could never have imagined an adventure this big in order to have wished for it.”  — Tristan

“You know when I said I knew little about love?  Well, that wasn’t true.  I know a lot about love, I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen centuries and centuries of  it. And it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable.  All those wars.  Pain and lies.  Hate. Made me want to turn away and never look down again.  But to see the way that mankind loves…  I mean, you could search the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful.”  — Yvaine

Stardust reminds me of The Princess Bride, at times.  It is a very funny, enjoyable fantasy film, filled with romance in both senses of the word.  The film begins in the Victorian village of Wall, so named because of the brick wall separating the town from the nearby forest.  Part of  the wall has a hole in it, it’s fallen down, and this place is guarded day and night – no one crosses the wall.

One day a young man, out for adventure, crosses the wall.  There he meets a young woman, slave to a female merchant.  The young woman tells him she is a princess, tricked to be slave to a witch.  He cuts the silver cord binding her to the merchant’s wagon, but the cord grows back and re-seals itself.  The young man and the woman spend the night together, and the young man returns to Wall.

Nine months later, a baby appears on the now older man’s doorstep.  The story skips ahead again, and the baby is now a young man, Tristan.  Tristan is not a very successful young man in the traditional sense, but he works in a local shop and has fallen for Victoria.  His rival for Victoria’s hand is Humphrey, an upper-class fop, but nevertheless someone Victoria sees as a better catch.  Tristan convinces Victoria to go with him on a picnic.  He treats her to champagne (a new experience for Victoria) and rich foods.  Tristan tries to convince Victoria to accept his hand in marriage.  Learning that Humphrey is going “all the way to Ipswich” to buy Victoria a ring, Tristan vows to go to London to make his fortune. Then a star falls.  Tristan tells Victoria he will bring her the star, to win her hand.

Later, Tristan talks to his father, who tells him of his true origins, gives him a letter from his mother, which is wrapped in a candle.  The letter says the “fastest way to travel is by candlelight”.  Father and son light the candle and Tristan disappears.

Tristan lands in a crater.  At the center of  the crater is a beautiful blond woman, Yvaine, the star.  Tristan ties her to him with the piece of magical cord that was also in the baby basket, and intends to bring her back to Wall.  They begin a series of  adventures.

Meanwhile, the King of Stormhold (the magical kingdom beyond Wall) is dying.  He has seven sons, but three are already dead.  A fourth is killed, as the King deactivates his royal ruby necklace and throws it out the palace window.  It was this necklace that knocked Yvaine out of  the sky, and which she found and placed around her neck.  The ghosts of the dead princes, form a “peanut gallery” making comment and even fun of the actions of the living remaining princes.  The princes are also all named by their number: Primus, Secundus, Tertius, et cetera all the way to Septimus.  Septimus (Mark Strong) quickly dispatches one brother, and then Secundus is killed by a wicked witch.  So it’s Septimus who becomes the main villian, pursuing Tristan and Yvaine.

The other villains are three witches, who want to capture Yvaine and cut out her heart – for eating the heart of a star conveys eternal youth and life (though using magic uses up this “star power”).  Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the witch who eats the last of their previous star’s heart, becoming youthful, and goes in search of Yvaine.  Each time she uses her magic, she loses some of her youth and beauty… becoming old and wretched by the conclusion of the film.

Thus Tristan and Yvaine are pursued by two groups:  Septimus because he wants his father’s ruby necklace so he can become king, and Lamia because she wants Yvaine herself to kill her for her heart. Tristan thinks that he wants to bring Yvaine to Victoria, and thus win her heart with his gift.

The film thus follows the path of each of these three small groups.  And it is beautifully shot, in gorgeous countryside, with great costumes and sets, competent effects, and good storytelling.

After meeting a group of pirates, lead by Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) and their flying galleon, which captures lightening to sell, Tristan and Yvaine fall in love.  They leave the ship, have more adventures, and finally reach an Inn near Wall.  They spend the night together at the Inn.  Tristan wakes early, the next day, cuts off a piece of Yvaine’s hair and goes to see Victoria in Wall.  He speaks with Victoria, gives her his gift, but she rejects it as “worthless”.  Humphrey arrives, but Tristan scares him off with the swordplay he learned from Capt. Shakespeare.  Victoria they opens her gift, but is dismayed that it’s “mere stardust”.  Tristan, who’s already rejected Victoria because he loves Yvaine (he’d only gone there to lord it over her how successful he now was) realises that if Yvaine follows him across the wall, she’ll die.  He races back to stop her.  But everyone else is proceeding to the Wall too.  Septimus is there to take the ruby necklace from Yvaine.  Ditchwater Sal is there with her servant girl (who is really Tristan’s mother and Septimus’s sister), and Lamia is there as well.  Lamia attacks and kills Ditchwater Sal, freeing Tristan’s mother, but she captures Yvaine (thus accidentally saving her life, because she does prevent her from crossing the wall).  Tristan arrives after the battle of the two witches, as does Septimus, and they both head for the witches’ palace.

There, in a fantastic battle, Septimus is killed by Lamia; but Lamia’s two sisters are killed by Tristan. Lamia uses Septimus’s body as a sort of golem to fight Tristan.  Tristan finally manages to defeat him, frees Yvaine, and is nearly tricked and killed by Lamia.  However, his mother steps in, fills in Yvaine and Tristan as to who he is, and in the end, Lamia is defeated.  Tristan becomes the new king of Stronghold, with Yvaine ruling by his side.

Stardust is a wonderful film — fun, imaginative (as one would expect since it’s based on a Neil Gaiman novel), full of humor, magic, close calls, escapes, etc.  The peanut gallery of the ghosts of dead princes add a twisted, dark humor to the piece.  Again, the film is based on a novel by Neal Gaiman, so one would expect that.  All the actors are fantastic!  Robert De Niro plays decidedly against type, as a tough pirate captain, who is much happier helping Tristan and Yvaine to dress appropriately and teaching them both how to dance, and in Tristan’s case how to sword fight.  He’s very funny, yet sympathetic.  I highly recommend this film and I also think it’s very appropriate for children (aged, oh, about 10 or 12 and up), yet enjoyable for adults.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  Five out of  Five Stars
Next Film:  Star Trek (2009)

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Sherlock Holmes

  • Title:  Sherlock Holmes
  • Director:  Guy Ritchie
  • Date:  2009
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Action, Mystery
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“My mind rebels at stagnation, give me problems, give me work. The sooner the better.”  — Sherlock Holmes

“Holmes, you must widen your gaze. I’m concerned you underestimate the gravity of coming events. You and I are bound together on a journey that will twist the very fabric of Nature. But beneath your mask of logic, I sense a fragility that worries me. Steel your mind, Holmes. I need you.”  — Lord Blackwood

“It is a huge mistake to theorize before one has data. Inevitably, one begins to twist facts to suit theories … instead of theories to suit facts.”  — Sherlock Holmes

I loved this movie when I originally saw it, and it really loses none of it’s appeal upon subsequent re-watchings. Robert Downey Jr is playing Holmes as an action hero, as he should be played. And his relationship with Watson (Jude Law) is perfect! They complement each other perfectly, and one can see how they drive each other crazy but still have a strong friendship and caring for each other. Thrown also into the mix is Irene Adler (Yes, her name gets mis-pronounced — it should be “I–REIGN-ah”), but anyway — she and Holmes have known each other for awhile, and Watson tantalizingly says that Holmes and Adler ran into each other twice and she beat him both times. But Irene Adler still has secrets, and she’s working for a mysterious man. Even once she tries to get out from under his clutches — she is pulled back in, and can only warn Holmes about Professor Moriarty.

Meanwhile, Watson seeks to marry his Mary — and Holmes seeks to stop the wedding, since he can’t stand the thought of losing his friend, even to marriage. The Holmes and Watson relationship is intense; and on Watson’s side – you can see how he puts up with Holmes’ eccentricities because he truly cares for him, and he needs excitement in his life.

The plot of this film involves Lord Blackwood — who’s killing women in Satanic rituals. Holmes catches him in the opening act, and Blackwood is sentenced to die. He’s hanged and Watson confirms the death. Later, Blackwood seems to come back from the grave and continues his killing spree. But Holmes not only discovers exactly what is going on (all is not as it seems) but he stops a horrendous crime, confronts Blackwood, and insures he won’t trouble London again. To say more, would spoil the fun.

Director Guy Ritchie has Holmes talk through, in his head, what he’s going to do during a fight sequence (filmed in slow motion) then he films it at normal to normal/fast speed as Holmes takes action. This lets the audience in on how Holmes thinks and how fast he thinks. I also liked the scene of Holmes waiting in the restaurant for Watson and Mary, and we hear the over-whelming noise that Holmes hears. It’s almost as if rather than being a manic depressive as in the books or Jeremy Brett’s portrayal, this Holmes almost is an autistic savant. And, throughout the film there are visually stunning moments.

All in all, Sherlock Holmes, is a fun film. It sticks to much of the spirit of the original short stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though the plot is more bizarre. However, there were some bizarre plots in the later stories.  Also, the relationship of Holmes and Watson, always key to getting any interpretation of Sherlock Holmes correct was spot on. A highly enjoyable and well-made film.

Trivia:  Jude Law also appeared in an episode of Granada’s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett (as Holmes) for ITV. The series title was The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, and the episode title was “Shoscombe Old Place”, and Law played Joe Barnes.

Recommendation:  See it!  Highly recommended!
Rating:  5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Shrek