Stardust

“Stardust” is magic, and I urge you not to believe the naysayers. If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, a fan of Claire Danes, especially a fan of Robert De Niro, or a fan of love, life, and wit then a trip to the box office this weekend will reward you greatly. I have seen some ghastly reviews from critics that I actually respect — Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe to name one — and I am here to emphatically state that they’ve missed the whole point of this film, and missed it badly.

“Stardust” is a fantasy that isn’t afraid to take just about everyone along for the ride. Gaiman has been knocking down the walls between mainstream fiction readers, graphic novel stalwarts and science fiction buffs for decades now. Here, he actually begins his story in a town called Wall, and then takes us through a breach to the world of Stormhold. Director Matthew Vaughn proves an able successor to Terry Gilliam, and this film owes a sly nod to Gilliam’s masterwork “Brazil.” Curiously, in the same places where Gilliam recently fell flat on his face with “The Brothers Grimm,” Vaughn soars with his use of humor and flamboyance.

The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Costumes with nods to just about any century you want. Art direction that creates a sense of time and place equally rooted in fantasy and reality. As the hero, Tristan, Charlie Cox brings just the right amount of boyish goofiness crossed with pure-hearted romantic. He first must find a fallen star — and I mean a literal fallen star — Yvaine, played luminously (forgive me it’s the only way to describe her performance) by Claire Danes. She is just brimming with intelligence, whip smart but not cynical. Together this quirky couple begin a quest that both celebrates and tweaks the common themes of fantasy literature.

The supporting cast is phenomenal. De Niro steals the movie as a swashbuckling sky pirate with a secret. It’s a performance of pure joy and style. Like he did in Gilliam’s “Brazil” as a guerrilla janitor, De Niro creates a character that radiates panache on everyone around him. Michelle Pfeiffer also has the time of her life as an evil witch bent on eternal youth and eternal life. She’s terrific, even better than her other Cruella De Ville take this summer in “Hairspray.”

Throw in a Greek chorus of murderous princes, that actually has shades of “Harry Potter,” a goat turned innkeeper — named Billy of course –, a quirky old gate keeper with hidden ninja skills … People, trust me this movie is fearless force of nature.

“Stardust” is one of those films that will spawn plenty of debate, but I wanted to stake my turf early and unequivocally — it’s the true gem of the summer movie season.

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