'We've got Harry Potter and Bond, two of the most successful
franchises of all time and all that money goes to Hollywood.
Yet it's a British idea, British, crew, British cast. That's one
of the reasons I did "Stardust". I was like, "Guys, we can
do this." It's got half British money. I could've done fully
British, but it would've been a little too conservative.'
Matthew Vaughn, director, jacking up the Union Jack
I keep wondering what he meant by "too conservative..."
Pandering to commercial interests? Not 'magic' enough? It
is not often you come across a 'big' film that is so charming,
so knowing and yet so captivatingly innocent. I have not
enjoyed myself on the simplest and purest level in front
of anything remotely as good as Stardust for quite a while - and it has something in it that's been
missing in cinemas for many years - a superb performance
by Robert De Niro. Let's be bulls-pizzle-frank here. Bergman
this isn't - but if all would-be blockbusters had this sort
of flair, this lightness of touch and this wit, then I'd
be far happier under the canvas (happy campers, all).
witty wag once observed that it takes a very smart actor
to play dumb. Taking the essence of this observation I'd
come up with something like "It takes a hell of a lot
of great work by talented people to produce something that
feels bidden by magic." Stardust feels
twinkled into existence and that is not to belittle the
immense amount of work that went into it - I hope my comment
celebrates that work. And it also feels British (half the
money certainly won't have been and neither will - probably
less than - half the profits) in that wry and accepting
way that has become a cliché of our national character.
the decidedly more 'adult' and graphic Neil Gaiman novel, Stardust guy-ropes a few fantasy ground
rules into our heads. One: a magical land exists next to
the village of Wall (surrounded by a Hadrian-like guess
what?) in the English countryside in the 18th century. Two:
stars (yes, celestial ones) are people like us (not gaseous
giants, 93 million miles away and beyond) observing our
planet and occasionally they land on Earth and are highly
prized. Three: Who knew that Michelle Pfeiffer could convincingly
love and juvenile, our hero seeks to prove his love by bringing
back a fallen star to his favourite, Victoria. He accepts
that the star is, in fact, another beautiful girl and drags
her back to Wall - but alas. Princes are after her to claim
their right of sovereignty and witches are about, sharpening
their knives with which they intend to pluck out the heart
of the star to grant them eternal youth. I won't even mention
the sky pirate(s) because he and they are joys to be discovered
at the cinema.
it is to the film's credit (all kudos to writers Jane Thompson,
Matthew Vaughn and Gaiman's source material) that the movie
never insults the viewer and making an almost played for
straight fantasy romance (in 2007), this takes balls of
steel. Yes, there are many bulging cheeks of tongue but
it's not in that awful smug Shrek knowingness,
that Dreamworks' animation DNA of smart-arsery that now
officially makes me squirm. No. I sat there, thoughts of
William Goldman's and Rob Reiner's Princess Bride lay-bying in my brain and only after research did I unearth
director Vaughn's vision for the movie: Princess
Bride in the overtone of Midnight Run.
I think he got that right.
cast is a dream team, each name ricocheting with bullet-thoughts
of "Oh, it's him/her from So and So"! Back after
a significant leading lady absence is Michelle Pfeiffer
(you know, the beauty from Grease 2 / The
Fabulous Baker Boys / What Lies Beneath - pick your era) and she's as glacially gorgeous as ever
(it's all in the top lip and I don't know why). Her Witch
is wonderfully inhabited by a woman who traded on her beauty
for an entire career (how could she not?) and irony aside,
now wants that beauty back at the price of a few cut out
star hearts (don't worry, it makes perfect sense when you're
watching it). Claire Danes (or Juliette as she's known in
this household) plays the star Yvaine, as if beautiful women
drop out of the sky most evenings - slightly aggrieved she's
there and more aggrieved that a moron has just smashed into
her. She melts accordingly during the running time. Buffy
herself, Sarah Michelle-Gellar, turned down the role to
spend time with hubby, Freddie Prince. A career mistake,
methinks but then I'm looking at it from the other side.
What would I do to avoid spending time with Freddie Prince?
I'll leave that unanswered as I have no reason to be mean
as far as Stardust is concerned.
way the characters accept the ground rules of the fantasy
so effortlessly promotes us to do the same. The biggest
'arc' (ugh!) is lived through by the hero, Tristan (in the
novel 'Tristran' and I wonder what it is about that little
'r' that the movie makers felt it needed excising, a nod
to Wagner?) Played wonderfully by Charlie Cox, he goes from
romantically obsessed geek (and to be a geek in the 18th
century, you really had to work at it) to long haired romantic
hero takes some doing over the running time and that he
does it with such aplomb is an added bonus. The second Peter
O'Toole performance in as many films reviewed one after
the other by yours truly, is as cruel and heartless (more
irony!) as a leader of Stormhold's magical kingdom has to
be. His many greedy sons, all eyes on the prize, are invited
to slaughter each other (as the first is - at the hand of
the dying king himself). It's our good fortune that the
feuding brothers return as ghosts and that a significant
number of players in this light epic have been picked from
Channel 4's sublime and surreal Green Wing.
Sarah Alexander (Tasmin Grieg's doctor room-mate) partners
Pfeiffer's witch oddly playing the entire movie in heavy
old age make up and yet in the trailer, there she is as
gorgeous and (albeit wrongly) dark headed as she appears
in real life - whatever that is. In just over a single second.
Cutting room decisions are sometimes cruel ones.
off and as far away from his insufferable TV creation, David
Brent, that he can manage, Ricky Gervais appears as a fence
(Ferdy the Fence actually). Carving himself a Hollywood
career niche as the affected Englishman, Gervais does well
here as a comic throwaway who's violently despatched. When
fellow scribe Slarek conveyed some cynicism about Sky's
relentless plugging of his Simpsons' written/co-starred
episode, Gervais was defended trenchantly by a friend of
mine who's close to the actor/writer ("He's a lovely
guy!") and I for one have no reason to doubt my friend's
opinion. That's the problem with stars. The bigger they
are, the more target to hit but take 'em down the pub and
they're probably as normal and self effacing as the rest
of us. Unless the rest of us are John Lennon.
if the central section of the film belongs to anyone, it
belongs to a certain Robert De Niro. I can't really impress
upon you how glorious his turn as Cap'n Shakespeare is.
There are a number of reasons why. Here is a man - a movie
God to some of us who still worship at the Travis Bickle
altar. He said of his early success (Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, Raging Bull) that he was fortunate to make
good choices. In the middle of his varied and variable career
he made choices that strayed so dramatically from the wisdom
he showed as a young actor, you almost felt his early stardom
was a fluke. "Are you talkin' to me?" Uh, OK.
And that was a quote from the hard to watch Rocky
and Bulwinkle movie... He obviously thought it
was funny as he must have also thought about his post 9/11
guest spot on Saturday Night Live. But
mid-career, De Niro disappeared from my own radar because
his work was simply workmanlike. It failed to command attention
(or I was older and less inclined to sympathise with his
different choices). In Stardust, the old
bastard shines as brightly as the eponymous heroine. He
captures and sells lightning - as you do. For your enjoyment,
I will not reveal why De Niro is such a joy in Stardust.
Just go and revel in his Obi Wankinobiness.
Eshkeri deserves a vigorous nod as the talented composer
of a score that takes the movie and its characters and milieu
seriously. It's a twinkling Albert Hall rousing work that
really sweeps you up in the story. In fact I am revelling
in it as I type. There are some perhaps unintentional musical
quotes from the Hammer inspired re-workings of Wojciech
Kilar's score for Coppolla's ünter-masterpiece Dracula,
but that aside, it's a joyous paean to fantasy romance.
Stardust has its fairy cake and eats it. Vaughn's epic directorial
sweep sidles up to any shot Michael Bay may have storyboarded
and because of humour, warmth and wit, makes us care. Vaughn
is a father and is well aware (as am I) how priorities change
once offspring spring up. Not as dark and practically graphic
as the source material, Stardust the movie,
pitches itself so perfectly that it's extremely hard for
me to dent it - just revel in its joyous entertainment value.