Sunday, September 30, 2007

For Your Ears Only: The Fantastic Voyages of Captain Jack Flanders: Tropical Hot Dog Night

You’re wondering why it’s been so long since my last radio theatre review, and the basic answer is that my new apartment has a very loud air conditioner, and the weather has only just now gotten mild enough for me to turn it off for a few hours at a time. Even then I can easily be distracted by reading things- I’m too visually centered to just stare at my sound system while it plays out (then again, those old-timey radios were cooler looking.) But I’m getting into the habit.

THE FANTASTIC VOYAGES OF CAPTAIN JACK FLANDERS: TROPICAL HOT DOG NIGHT is a production by the off-beat ZBS Foundation, and, as the long title might suggest, part of a series. I haven’t heard any of the others and basically picked the CD up at random, so I’m going in blind. It’s an odd, light kind of fantasy adventure, brought down a bit by structural problems and a bit of preciousness but ultimately enjoyable.

Captain Jack Flanders (Robert Lorick) is sailing a small yacht around the Florida Keys with his informal crewmates, Mojo (Dave Adams), Claudine (Pascale Poirier), and Dominique (Lindsey Ellison), when they come across the island of Key Milagro. By day it’s your typical small island community, but by night a strange mist descends from the swamps, sucking the color out of things, and making Claudine very ill. The crew escapes the island, but is intrigued by the mystery, and resolves to return, this time with friend Rose (Laura Roth) in tow. There are a lot of stories about Key Milagro, and somehow when the fog arrives it turns into a town out of a 40s Film Noir in glorious black and white...

I have to give credit to writer M. Fulton for going with a premise that, on the face of it, sounds like it needs visual representation, and managing to convey the idea and, in fact, have the characters describe what they see without making it too unnatural or contrived. Part of this may simply be the acting, which is enthusiastic and believable throughout; there’s a mood of everyone enjoying themselves to some degree. Sound effects are used sparingly but not too sparingly, and a jazzy score contributes to a laid back atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the way the story is built is at odds with the promise of its setup. The crew leaves the island at first before the fog can really take effect, and we don’t see what it does until well into the second half (and second disc) of the play. This leaves little time for the crew to get to the bottom of what’s happening, let alone solve it or even see if it needs to be solved. We do get an answer, but a lot of red herrings too, and a lot of things that aren’t followed up on. The answer we get is pretty vague, which on one hand seems to have been the point, but just a little more definition would be nice. After a while, there’s a certain lack of suspense; the story wanders astray, and we get some very over-hip public-radio moments like the characters quoting verses from the Captain Beefhart song from which the play’s title comes and discussing the nature of perception. There’s nothing wrong with being smart and quirky and casual, but it is all a little “inside”.

Without a strong structure, the production generally has to coast on charm and creativity, and make no mistake, there’s a lot of imagination on display. Producer and director Tom Lopez does a good job of keeping everything coherent; there were a couple of moments where I wasn’t clear on where a scene was taking place, but it wasn’t actually an impediment to understanding the story. And as said before, the acting is solid, with characters who are well defined and likable (though having two French Canadian women with slightly different voice registers on the crew does become confusing.)

This is a nice, pleasant listening experience which, though it could have gotten more out of its ideas, does at least have plenty to spare. It plays quite a bit with what’s possible in the medium, which is good (and inspiring as I’m trying to make a script of my own.) It is, needless to say, a much better radio drama than the one I started this feature with, and hopefully I’ll uncover more good’uns as I go through my haul from the workshop. Keep paying attention.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 29, 2007

In Theaters: Eastern Promises

Image from WorstPreviews.comDavid Cronenberg is pretty much my favorite all-time director, so there was no doubt that I would see EASTERN PROMISES as soon as it opened here. I saw the film at the local multiplex on a Saturday afternoon, with a good-sized crowd, mostly Plaza shoppers, including two in Chiefs regalia. For the first time since 1986’s THE FLY, Cronenberg genuinely seems to have gone mainstream. And that’s kind of surreal.

The good news is, he hasn’t compromised anything in the process. EASTERN PROMISES has the structure and underpinnings of a traditional organized crime thriller, but is more muted, more chilling, more disturbing than that. Cronenberg is more interested in the world of the criminals than in what precisely they do, and the way this world intrudes on the one the rest of us inhabit is really what the film explores.

The film is set in London, and begins with a teenage Russian girl dying in childbirth. The midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts), decides to look for the girl’s family so the baby won’t go into foster care, but all she has to start with is the girl’s diary, written in Russian. A card slipped inside directs her to an upscale restaurant run by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a highly respected businessman who is, at first unbeknownst to Anna, the head of his own Slavic crime family, known as Vory V Zakone. She also meets Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), who is the chauffeur, bodyguard and clean-up man for Kirill (Vincent Cassell), Semyon’s son and heir and unpredictable enforcer for the gang. Nikolai starts to shadow Anna as she keeps asking questions, and in the meantime her uncle has translated much of the diary. It seems that this girl, who died at 14, was held captive by the family and forced to work as a prostitute- and the baby, of course, is evidence.

Apart from the thriller mechanics, the central focus of the film is the relationship between Nikolai and Anna. It borders on romantic but never quite reaches that state, as they have a world between them, allowing only a strong tension and attraction as they pursue their separate goals. As Anna tracks down the girl’s past, which becomes almost as much about giving the victim rest as it does about finding the baby a decent home, Nikolai seeks to protect Kirill from the repercussions of a poorly thought-out hit on a Chechen bigwig, at the same time becoming more entrenched in and valuable to Vory V Zakone. The bond between Nikolai and Kirill is also important, and there’s the faint hint of a gay subtext, which is an interesting contrast to the explicit homophobia the gangsters often display (and of course, barring a few prostitutes, their world is exclusively male.) Cronenberg even manages to work in his old standard theme, transformation of body and identity; in the Russian underworld tattoos speak of gang affiliations and prison experiences, and membership in Vory V Zakone is signified by star tattoos on the chest and knees (the latter to signify that the recipient bows to no man). And of course, Anna is seeking to pin an identity to the girl who died in her hospital, and throughout people are concealing their true natures (making this an effective companion piece to A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE.)

Viggo Mortensen is becoming something like the next Clint Eastwood; a thinking man’s ass-kicker, who can generate fear and dread when he is utterly calm. Throughout he is charismatic and dangerous, with a seemingly straightforward working-man attitude concealing... something. There are not actually that many action scenes in the film, but the highlight, as just about every other critic has already noted, is an amazingly visceral sequence set in a steambath, as a nude and unarmed Nikolai faces off against two knife-wielding henchmen (guns are almost invisible in this movie.) It is raw, brutal, and more elaborate than anything I’ve scene Cronenberg put together while never seeming too neatly choreographed. He comes close to overshadowing everyone else in the movie, but Watts is never less than convincing, Vincent Cassell has some good scenes, and Muehller-Stahl makes his character all the more chilling for being likable.

Any other director, I think, would have exaggerated this material’s melodramatic side, and played it as a conventional genre thriller (which is not to say it wouldn’t have been good.) Cronenberg’s strength is in his restraint and his ability to bring a plain, unvarnished realism to fantastic situations, and he and screenwriter Steven Knight make this film less about its plot than about its characters and environment. This makes the film stand out from others of its type, and gives it an unusual staying power. There are many secrets to it, and you never feel assured that things will turn out a certain way. It’s an intense experience, slick with a rough texture, working both as noir entertainment and something deeper. One of the year’s best films, from a director from whom I expect nothing less.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Comics Page #16: Essential Dazzler

If there’s something innately appealing about the concept behind DAZZLER, it may just be that it’s so incongruous to the comics world. For at least the past few decades, superhero books have been mostly geared towards men and boys in some state at least close to adolescence. It’s a high-action, high-octane kind of crowd- a metal crowd, if you will. And Dazzler is a disco/pop diva who wears clothing from ABBA and uses her mutant powers to create laser light shows. You have to admire Marvel for trying to expand their audience, and this whole project was apparently cooked up as a cross-media promotion between the comics publisher and Casablanca Records (Casablanca wanted Marvel to create a “Disco Queen” heroine, and the label would put some unknown singer in the role- apparently they vacillated too much for the project to go anywhere). Reading this relatively new ESSENTIALS collection, featuring the retro-fabulous heroine’s early appearances in X-MEN and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as well as the first twenty-one issues of her own title, one senses the company pushing their new and glorious creation just a little too hard, but it’s a series of fun and vivid stories from Marvel’s flashiest period, and there’s a kind of sincerity to the whole thing too.

Dazzler’s origins are simple; Alison Blaire was born a mutant, and has long had the ability to turn sound waves into light. An aspiring rock singer, she mostly uses this to provide impromptu stage effects for her act; however, when supervillains and such roll around she can focus the light into laser beams and blinding flashes and so on. She’s not really interested in the superheroing game, but keeps getting dragged into it- first the Enchantress engages her in a singing contest to get the gig at a club which happens to have some cosmic significance, then Dr. Doom gets involved with a jewel exhibition tied into a UNICEF concert Dazzler’s performing at, then there are encounters with Nightmare, the Hulk, and even Galactus. Through it all, Alison is distracted by two major issues; her estrangement with her father, who wanted her to follow him into law, and her even greater estrangement with her mother, who left them both when Alison was very young and whom she knows very little about.

From the start one can very easily pick up that Marvel intends this character to be the Next Big Thing. Apart from the big-name guest stars (which is actually common practice when launching a new superhero title), you have a heroine who, in her first issue, sings more mesmerisingly than the Enchantress, whose powers are given no practical limit, and who comes with a ready-made catch phrase- “Go for it!”, which is ALWAYS uttered when she lets loose a giant blast of light energy in order to turn the tide in a crucial battle. Dazzler got a big push, but time was working against her. Though ostensibly a rocker, Dazzler’s look is much more disco, and by the time the series debuted in 1981 (after delays in dealing with the record company), the anti-disco backlash was already well underway, and the face of rock was in flux. Roller skates, KISS-ian facial makeup, and a disco ball necklace were so five seconds ago. Reading the stories now, the character’s wonderfulness is excessive, but the writers do their best to round her out.

You’ve got some of Marvel’s better talents on the early issues- Tom De Falco writes the first seven issues and John Romita, Jr. pencils the first three, and the switch to Danny Fingeroth and Frank Springer respectively is pretty smooth. At this point, buoyed by the success of X-MEN, Marvel had a reliable “house style”, one that was slick, hip, and emphasized the Marvel heroes as celebrities, mixing with the great and powerful (such as the Not Ready for Prime Time Players) and living lives that were slightly more glamorous but no less difficult. Dazzler fits right into this milieu, and personally I’ve always found that approach vaguely appealing- on a fundamental level I believe that superheroing should be fun, and even a reluctant heroine like Dazzler gets some satisfaction from her sideline. The Marvel Comics party needed a singer.

Apart from the general grooviness (and occasional cheesecake in issues wherein Dazzler meets up with She-Hulk and Spider-Woman), the series manages to work on a dramatic level more often than you’d think- Dazzler’s family drama heads towards a strong soap-operatic resolution, appropriately enough in the last issue of the collection (but not the last one of the series, which managed to run 42 issues.) As traditional superheroics go, Dazzler also has a couple of moody voyages across realities and into the center of a black hole. Finally, Dazzler’s love life has a few nice twists- she gets briefly involved with a few men, including the X-Men’s Angel, but she has trouble making it work with any one man, and with family troubles like hers, she really doesn’t have the time. There’s something about her travails that manages to ring true amidst all the glitz, which is nice.

Dazzler is one of those characters that I like precisely because she’s not that popular- which makes me sound like a pretentious cutting edge hipster, but it’s more an empathy with the underdog. I think she also appeals to the part of me that liked XANADU (and there’s a fanfic waiting to be written.) She’s just fun, and this is a fun collection. Dazzler’s still around, sporting a more modern and slightly blander look, but she may yet strap on the skates again. One can hope.

Grade: B+

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Random Movie Report #35: The Brother From Another Planet

In THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, an alien with a message of peace moves through our nation’s capital, standing up to the great and powerful with an ultimatum that they can’t deny. I was reminded of this while watching THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, which takes the polar opposite approach- it is the story of an alien who is also peaceful, but occupies the lower rungs on the social ladder. “Brother”, of course, is used in the slang sense, as John Sayles’ film is about a black alien (an escaped slave, no less) who crash lands in New York City and ends up in Harlem. It’s a very funny little film, one which takes effort to get into but is entirely worth that. With a miniscule budget and a mute protagonist, the film casts a unique spell and ends up somewhere between science fiction comedy, urban drama, and art house surrealism.

The Brother (Joe Morton) obviously finds life hard as he tries to blend in with society. (The fact that his feet have three toes and long talons on the end of each does not help.) Obviously he has trouble communicating- he can understand languages, just not speak them- and concepts like the exchange of money for goods take a while to sink in. Fortunately, the patrons of a Harlem bar take an interest in this strange fellow, especially when he demonstrates his ability to heal the local video game machine by laying on hands (he can do the same for physical wounds, even to the extent of regrowing his own foot after it gets chopped off in the crash.) He’s paired with a social worker, who gets him a job at the local arcade, and a home with a single mother. Despite this the Brother still has trouble fitting in, and to compound his troubles, two sinister-looking white aliens (David Strathairn and Sayles himself) have arrived in New York asking questions.

I’m oversimplifying the plot, mainly because there’s a lot of side business; there’s a subplot about drugs, another about him becoming infatuated with a down-on-her-luck singer, and throughout the basic problem is one of communication. The Brother can hear everything (even things which happened in the past on a certain spot- he jumps up from a barstool where someone was once shot) but express very little on his own; then again, being a good listener does have its advantages, and most of the people who come to know the Brother come to like him. The film’s structure is an odd one; it seems loose, but I’m not sure I should call it that because there may yet be an underlying pattern to it that I didn’t see.

I have to admit, I have not seen that many Sayles films. And by “not that many”, I mean that this is my second, the first being THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH. Both films deal with wildly different cultures, but Sayles seems to have a knack for capturing the atmosphere of a place and lifestyle, even if his filmmaking isn’t precisely realistic. It goes without saying that there’s a lot of racial and social commentary here, including some immigration parallels that are as relevant now as then. (And I will not go any further into that for fear of attracting the bad kinds of comments. I’m not THAT desperate for readership. Yet.) Sayles manages to pitch these elements in a way that they don’t seem preachy, just natural. There are a lot of bit parts and neat characters who help flesh out what is a pretty barebones production.

Joe Morton’s performance is excellent- not only does he have to carry the film, he has to do so without saying a word, but he has a strong presence and is especially good at conveying and reminding us of the alienness of his character- he never quite fits in any situation, always stands just a little off, sits a bit wrong, points up with his thumb, etc. There’s a distinct personality here, never really one-note; the Brother is an innocent, but he has his wants and desires and weaknesses.

The film ends with a twist that took me a few seconds to really figure out, but when I did, became absolutely perfect. THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET wanders a lot and sometimes risks losing its way, but when it comes together there’s something brilliant to it. It’s hard to imagine how this movie came to be made, let alone released, in the middle of the Eighties, a decade which, though featuring plenty of fine films, was not really kind to quirky low-budget indies. It’s a rare and wild picture, which works on more than a few levels and blends genres deftly. I can’t name a specific audience this is supposed to appeal to, and I don’t have to. Anyone who likes movies should give this a look.

Written and Directed by John Sayles

Grade: A-

Friday, September 07, 2007

Random Movie Report #34: Rock and Roll High School

Sometimes the cure for blog burnout is right under your nose. I’d had this DVD at my apartment via Netflix for quite some time, never quite remembering why I ordered it, and finally made the time to watch it, and lo and behold, it was weird and goofy and funny and lively enough for me to want to write about it.

ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is a very bouncy little picture characterized by a very bouncy performance by P. J. Soles, an actress who should have made more movies than she did. A surprisingly clean high school comedy- for 1979, for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and for a movie involving the Ramones- the film gets by on great songs, incredibly dumb gags, and enthusiastic acting. It’s the sort of film that’s better than you’d think, despite seemingly making no attempt to be good. Which, you have to admit, is pretty punk rock for a PG movie.

Soles plays Riff Randel, a student at Vince Lombardi High School and a rabid Ramones fan. She’s actually written several songs for the band, and hopes to give them to the group at a concert they’ll be having in a few days. But a new principal (Mary Woronov, having way too much fun) has performed some scientifically dubious experiments on mice proving the deleterious effects of rock and roll, and is intent that this sort of thing be discouraged among her students. So, when Riff takes a few days off to camp out for tickets (not just for her but for the entire student body), she goes on the warpath. Meanwhile, football captain Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten) has been trouble getting a date, and goes to school entrepreneur Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), who promises Tom a date with his love, who happens to be Riff. But in the meantime he sets her up with Riff’s friend Kate Rambeau (Dey Young), who as it turns out has been pining for Tom for some time. The two start dating under the pretense that this is “practice”, and complications ensue, just in time for the big concert.

This is a wilder high school comedy than most, relying on broad and stupid jokes that are nonetheless kind of funny. (Perhaps this is the reason why the film went for a PG- they didn’t want to cut out the target audience.) The IMDB lists Jerry Zucker as an uncredited director, and it’s known that Joe Dante (of GREMLINS fame) stepped in to handle a couple of sequences when Allan Arkush suffered exhaustion and had to be hospitalized. Despite multiple hands the film has a coherent feel, albeit a deliberately sloppy one. The high-school level gags are creative enough to be pretty amusing despite themselves, especially some of the bits involving mice (which include a man in a giant-sized mouse costume designed by THE HOWLING’s Rob Bottin.) Enthusiastic work by the cast sells it, and veteran filmmaker Paul Bartel is particularly good.

But it all comes back to P.J. Soles. She is perfectly cast here, displaying an energy and enthusiasm that pretty much lights up every scene the character is in. Watching her performance in this film, I get the feeling that the only thing which kept her from being a star was her actual decision to start a family instead of continuing with the acting game. I can’t fault her for her choice, but we the viewers are poorer for it; she makes Riff Randel so damn lovable that it’s impossible not to root for her to get everything she wants. (She also may be the one female protagonist in a high school comedy who has more or less no romantic inclinations whatsoever- her heart belongs to Joey Ramone.) As good a job as everyone else does, Soles walks away with the movie.

The music in this film is a lovely call back to the days when rights to popular songs did not cost millions of dollars apiece and even low budget filmmakers could load their soundtracks with whatever worked best for the picture. Obviously all the Ramones stuff was a package deal (presented in fun musical numbers, including one where Riff fantasizes about the band being in her bedroom), but we also have Chuck Berry, Devo, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Wings, the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, and Brownsville Station, among others. Since this film is sort of a musical, all this is important, and that the film pretty much stops the story in several places so the Ramones can play would be annoying if it weren’t for the fact that it’s damn good music.

This film was made at what may have been the height of American exploitation cinema- home video had yet to take hold, and so films from places like New World could still be assured of getting a look-in at some kinds of theaters more-or-less nationwide, and though budgets were low, a given Corman-produced film would still have a good explosion or two, actual crowd scenes, more than five sets, etc. You had ambitious young talents on the payroll and earnest attempts at making something watchable.

ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is a movie for everyone: Ramones fans, musical fans, people who like watching mice explode, people who like dance numbers featuring schoolgirls in gym outfits, people who like Clint Howard, etc. It really ought to be more well-known as a movie; it was an early example of the kind of MAD Magazine humor that had been introduced in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and would soon go mainstream in AIRPLANE!, it features a downright starmaking performance, and it may be the only PG-rated punk movie ever made. Fun for the whole family, really.

Story by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante
Screenplay by Richard Whitely & Russ Dvonch and Joseph McBride
Directed (mostly) by Allan Arkush

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 01, 2007

In Theaters: Stardust

Image once again yanked from Internet Movie Poster Awards
And with August over, I near the home stretch of my now-a-little-over-a-monthlong moviegoing marathon. I know Cinemark’s pre-show entertainment by heart, have heard every song they play, and still haven’t made sense of that Forrest Whitaker “Please Silence Your Cell Phones” spot. On my first attempt at seeing STARDUST, I was foiled by a hipster couple who insisted on supplying a running commentary and who, when shushed, explained “We can talk, it’s a theater. If you want quiet go home.” This kind of anti-logic left me without a reply (also, I’m not good with witty rejoinders), so I simply walked out after the first ten minutes and, to the theater’s credit, got a refund. I’m telling you, we need bouncers for these places. Or at least ads that don’t softpedal the whole “don’t talk during the movie” concept. My point is, when you watch a movie, shut up. Unless it’s ROCKY HORROR.

Sorry about that. Anyway, STARDUST. It’s a fun little movie, the kind of fantasy that isn’t a massive epic but instead zips along an adventurous path. It’s more funny than dramatic, more romantic than apocalyptic, and more agreeable than not. An adaptation of the novel written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, the movie captures some of Gaiman’s wit and supplies plenty of visual splendor. I realize I’m tempering my descriptions even more than usual (it’s a bad writerly habit I have to break sometime), but this is that kind of movie; it’s not superlative, it’s not terrible, it’s better than mediocre, and more than anything else I would say it is pleasant. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but there’s something to be said for pleasantness, especially coming at the end of a packed summer.

In the village of Wall, there is a large stone... barricade surrounding what townsfolk whisper may be the gateway to another world, which is dismissed as nonsense until one of them crosses over and not only discovers there is an entire magical kingdom on the other side, but manages to father a child with a kidnapped princess. Said child, Tristan (Charlie Cox), comes of age and tries to woo one of the lovelier, snootier village girls (Sienna Miller, looking like a young Elle Macpherson), which is a problem as she’s just about to get engaged to what looks like the richest snot in town. He manages to lure her out to the wall for a picnic, and that night they see a star fall. He says he’ll get it for her, and she says that if he does she’ll marry him instead. So he crosses the wall into the magical kingdom of Stormhold, where said star, like all the other stars in the sky, is a person, Yvaine (Claire Danes)- she was knocked out of the sky by a ruby sent into the heavens by a dying king (Peter O’ Toole, himself obviously out to make it perfectly clear that he is not yet dead), so that one of his squabbling sons can find it and thus prove himself the worthy heir. Meanwhile, a trio of witches (led by Michelle Pfeiffer) have seen the star fall, and for them a fallen star means a chance to renew their aging bodies (which is especially vital as every spell they cast puts them deeper into crone-hood.) So the witches want the star, the princes want the star, the star just wants to get home, and Tristan, having zapped himself to her location early by using a magical candle, is intent on taking the star back to his presumed true love- but despite his and Yvaine’s obvious conflict, the two slowly start to get along and a relationship forms. Somehow this inevitably involves a transvestite pirate played by Robert DeNiro.

It’s not the most elegant of plots, I’ll admit, and the pacing is pretty lackadaisical. Things don’t always happen for the clearest of reasons, while at other times plot elements pop together too conveniently. But it still holds together in a ramshackle kind of way, and in some ways that askew construction helps reinforce the feel of a lighthearted romantic fantasy instead of a full-on heroic saga. The individual elements are pretty entertaining, too, taking place in a well-realized fantasy world that’s obviously more detailed than we know about, and drenched with a very knowing, decidedly British kind of humor. The way magic works in the film is particularly entertaining, since it often relies on real-world traditions and superstitions, such as rune-casting and entrail-reading, the key difference being that these give very precise and reliable answers in Stormhold. At the same time, there’s some original stuff, like lightning literally held in bottles, candles that take you anywhere so long as you think clearly enough, the ghosts of murdered royalty waiting around in the state that they died until the new heir is finally found, and the way that the radiance of stars is determined by their happiness. There are a lot of neat little things to keep the viewer occupied even when the main story is slacking.

And there are the pirates- lightning pirates, to be specific, catching electricity from stormclouds in a flying ship (it’s not entirely clear why this is piracy- they don’t board other ships and steal their lightning, though they do apparently have to watch out for lightning marshals), led by a captain who puts on a gruff act to conceal his flamboyant interior. (This is one of DeNiro’s funnier performances, reminiscent of his role in BRAZIL. I’d like to see him tackle some heavier stuff soon, but this works.) It’s funny enough stuff, and provides great visuals on top of it.

Despite some structural weirdness, the film does handle its central romantic element rather well. Tristan and Yvaine have a troubled start to their relationship, what with his capturing her and trying to drag her back to the village, but they strike an agreement and begin to like each other. By the midway point we know that their relationship has a lot more promise than his with the village lovely, but to her credit Sienna Miller doesn’t completely overplay the shallow, materialistic side of her character- she shows some signs of human vulnerability and at least is willing to give Tristan a chance. There are a couple of decent twists on this front, and an exploration of just what being in love is all about.

STARDUST is slightly forgettable, but leaves a good impression; it’ll definitely age well on video, especially with the kind of crowd and demographics that made LABYRINTH and A PRINCESS BRIDE and so on cult hits after unspectacular theatrical releases. It’s always good to have another one of these movies, something offbeat, imaginative, quirky and agreeable. Not something you must see, but catch it sometime anyway.

From the novel by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
Screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Grade: B