guppy's film reviews

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Playing catch-up! Also reviewed this week: Knocked Up, Transformers and The Simpsons Movie

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Notable Actors: Ian McKellen, Peter O'Toole, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Ricky Gervais
Score: B+
Summary: Charming fairy tale provided you enter with the right expectations.

Stardust is Neil Gaiman's second "real" film project, a follow-up to 2005's MirrorMask (reviewed here). It's a fairy tale, and provided you know that going in, it's one very much worth seeing.

Stardust is a story set principally in two locations. The first is the English country town of Wall, so named for the large wall nearby. The second is the magical kingdom of Stormhold, located on the other side of the wall, unbeknownst to most of the world.

Without giving away too much of the plot, a star has fallen. Our protagonist promises his love, Victoria, that he will cross the wall and bring the star back as proof of his devotion; unfortunately, others are vying for the star as well. Also in pursuit of the star are a trio of witches and several princes, sons of a dying king; the star represents longevity for them. All of them are rather evil, conniving sorts. It's difficult to go into to much more detail without spoiling the story, which would be a shame.

Stardust has a rather, uh, star-studded cast, if you'll excuse the pun -- but mostly they're in the supporting cast, with the exception of Claire Danes' Yvaine (who is excellent, by the way). By far Robert De Niro will be the fan favorite for his turn as Captain Shakespeare; I felt the role was a little too over-the-top and silly, meant to appease a wider market, but De Niro does handle the role terrifically and charismatically. Ricky Gervais is excellent in a bit part as a shady merchant, and the entire cast of princes, too numerous to name here, contribute an excellent humor to the film. I was stunned to see Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia the witch; it's nice to see some of acting's old school players lending their support to what will probably be a cult project. Peter O'Toole's cameo is worth noting as well, and while I know it's a minor part Ian McKellen serves admirably as the film's narrator.

I'm sorry to say that I did not pay particular mind to the music, but neither did it rub me the wrong way, so I suppose it was serviceable. The visuals are well in keeping with a fantastical story like this one, although they aren't nearly as exotic as previous Gaiman project MirrorMask, and there are some good effects on show here, although the witches' fire was a tad overused.

I saw Stardust with a group. On our way out, one of the people I saw it with commented that the movie was going to suffer because it "didn't know who it was aimed at." His point was that it looks very much like a children's story, but also contains all kinds of death and sex and what-have-you. This is probably important for you to know if you are considering taking your children to see it, although I don't think it's anything most kids would have much trouble with.

I want to clarify what I mean when I describe Stardust as a fairy tale, because that's critical to your evaluation of whether or not you'll like the movie. There's a lot about it that is fantastical or even illogical. If you're going to get any pleasure out of the film at all, you're going to have to suspend your disbelief. If it bothers you, think about how logical gingerbread witches' houses or bears eating porridge are. If you can handle that, Stardust is a wonderful time that I recommend highly.

The Simpsons Movie

Playing catch-up! Also reviewed this week: Knocked Up, Transformers and Stardust

Director: David Silverman
Notable Actors: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria
Score: B+
Summary: Definitely enjoyable, but basically a triple-length episode of the show.

The Simpsons has been running for almost twenty years now. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that there would be a movie at some point, and fans by and large were cringing in fear that when it was made it would be spectacularly bad, especially since for the last several years fans have considered the series in decline. I'm happy to say that the movie is enjoyable.

The movie's staff appears to be largely the same as the TV show's staff, including the voice actors, so things will pretty much look and sound the way you're used to them. The only notable difference is the inclusion of some CGI, which is used well and fits with the rest of the film's visuals.

The show's voice acting has always been one of its strong suits despite a large cast being voiced by a relatively small set of actors. Since the cast here is the same, the usual high standards are in evidence.

The pacing is the film's biggest issue. While consistently entertaining, the opening act is definitely the strongest. It peters off somewhat for the middle act before coming back for a stronger finish in act three.

The Simpsons Movie is a very entertaining if unambitious package. Provided you don't go in with overly high expectations I think it's a worthwhile experience.

Transformers: The Movie

Playing catch-up! Also reviewed this week: Knocked Up, The Simpsons Movie and Stardust

Director: Michael Bay
Notable Actors: John Turturro
Score: C-
Summary: Trite and tired in virtually every way, but that was to be expected, really; way too long. Does feature lots of things blowing up.

A lot of us have been awaiting the Transformers movie. We saw the show when we were kids and we have a lot of nostalgia invested. The good news is that Transformers does a lot of what the show did. The bad news is that the show doesn't hold up very well either now that we're grown up.

If you slept through the '80s, or weren't born yet, Transformers are big robots. That, uh, turn into other things, mostly cars. There are two main factions: the Autobots (the good guys) and the Decepticons (the bad guys), who are at war with each other. Transformers deals with their first contact with humans.

To understand the film's problems, consider the source. The Transformers television series is based on a line of toys. I want to emphasize that -- the toys are not spinoff merchandise from the show. The toys were the genesis of the property.

If you were expecting to see a lot of things blow up, and not much else, well, congratulations. You'll like Transformers. The rest of us will be dissatisfied with the hackneyed plot, unlikeable characters and inane take on Transformer technology.

The plot I can almost forgive. No one really expected this movie to have any substance. But for some reason, the filmmakers opted to write truly terrible dialogue, especially for the Transformers themselves. No one wants to hear Optimus Prime say things like "my bad." It's shameless pandering that should not be rewarded. Big fans of the series will, however, mostly be pleased with the inclusion of some of the most popular Transformers, including Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.

The movie's pacing is another major source of problems. The first action scene was a long time coming, and it was the first enjoyable part of the film. While that scene was excellent, viewers should not be subjected to the tripe presented up until that point in order to reach it. Later action scenes went on far too long, such that I was bored even with things blowing up all over the screen. The film drags overall as well.

It pains me to say that Transformers mostly reaches the goals it was aiming for. Unfortunately, those goals weren't worth aiming for.