Movie Reviews: Stardust and Michael Clayton

Sometimes you have to wonder what Hollywood is thinking. That was our reaction after watching two dissimilar and yet equally frustrating films.

Stardust may be the worst corporate thriller we’ve ever seen. From the swelling music to the broad acting, not to mention the rich color scheme, it just doesn’t work in that genre. The gratuitous inclusion of a kind of airship, a gay pirate captain, and three corporate “henchwomen” dressed more like witches, detracts mightily from the tension caused by the protagonist’s attempt to get beyond a wall to find the files that might expose those behind the poisoning of some small-time farmers. In an equally baffling move, the opening narration begins by talking about the stars and the moon, providing absolutely no context for the intense action to follow. The addition of unnecessary special effects to what is supposed to be a realistic movie just had us wondering, “Why?”

Michael Clayton, billed as a light romantic fantasy, disappointed us for opposite reasons. Shot in shadows and grainy realism, the movie features a raving wizard whose display of nudity and multiple baguettes falls outside of the realms of “eccentric sorceror.” This guy is really insane. The protagonist is dour and tight-lipped, with a gambling problem, and he spends way too much time talking indoors instead of pursuing the quest on the outside. When he finally does get outside, to pet some horses, he doesn’t ride off into the sunset. Instead, the movie gets even more serious. The pacing is completely off for this kind of fantasy, and the ultra realistic violence completely ruins the mood of the few lighter scenes. Indeed, the lack of any magic to speak of had us scratching our heads.

If the filmmakers had only switched projects, they might each have produced good, interesting entertainments. As it is, it’s all a muddle.


  1. says

    Heh. I caught Stardust yesterday, to escape the heat. It was great fun, although Tristan bemused me much the same as in the book. Never quite made the step from protagonist to person.

  2. says

    I thought it was fun. I thought the opening was muddled–I never did ever figure out where the heck anything was in relation to other stuff. I haven’t read the book, but I rather think the book probably did a better job of that. But it was a harmless romantic fantasy with a few cool performances. Rather surprised it tanked, because the problems I did have with it are the kinds of things I usually see in big Hollywood blockbusters that have gotten huge audiences.


  3. says

    Haven’t caught STARDUST yet, but I do plan on renting it when it come out. I’ve never gone for a movie double feature like you guys did. it’s rare that there’s two movies out at once that I want to see. Most of it’s my fault. I can’t stand people who jabber on their cellphones and talk during movies, and I get too irritated to enjoy the show, so it’s got to be something I really, really want to see to get me out there. I’ve told my wife that I’m going to start taking a couple of preemptive shots of whiskey before I get to the theater so maybe I can mellow out enough to ignore the egregious lack of manners most moviegoers demonstrate.

    On a related note, I saw “30 Days of Night” this weekend. It was a serviceable horror thriller, heavy on the action, not much suspense. Similar similar to the book in that the visual element was the real draw. Makeup and special effects were good, and as long as you watched it with your brain in low gear it was fun enough.

  4. says

    If you can, Matt, go see movies during the day. The theatres tend to be emptier, here at least. Helps if you have a day job that isn’t a day job.

    I was going to hit up 30 Days of Night, but given the unanimous panning the internet has given it, I’ll pass. Don’t really need another knock-off vampire flick in my head.

    Also, Michelle Pfeiffer makes a damn hot ugly witch.

  5. says

    I caught Stardust back during the Edinburgh Film Festival (it has only finally opened on general release in the UK now after several months, despite a Brit writer, screenwriter, director and location – sigh…) and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It isn’t as layered as Neil’s tales normally are, but I recall him saying way back when the book was first launched that he was deliberately aiming to make a fairly simple fairy tale adults could enjoy. Went down very well with the Film Fest crowd, big grins all round – not a challenging film but I thought it was delightful. And I like the idea of Michelle Pfeiffer aging as she uses her magic since that lady doesn’t seem to age very much in the real world (how does she do it?)