Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust (B+) is a whimsical adventure in the tradition of The Princess Bride. Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes and Robert DeNiro are standouts in this fantasy about getting over the walls that block our way to our dreams. Witches, pirates, unicorns, voodoo dolls and so much more are part of the journey ahead. This is a pleasant surprise of a movie that nobody seemed to see in theatres but that has enchanted folks who have seen it.
Sam Raimi throws in everything against his cinematic spiderweb to see what sticks in the overloaded, bloated and often irritating Spider-Man 3 (C-). It basically becomes the third film in a trilogy by default as viewers watch the oxygen seap out of the enterprise in a way that basically proclaims, “There’s really not much more to do or say in this universe of storytelling.” Continuing to breathe lifelessness into their performances, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst return to battle super-villains and the superego. Specifically, Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s celebrity is on the rise as Mary Jane’s Broadway career hits the rocks; and the jovial hero is blissfully oblivious of his girlfriend’s emerging depression (granted, it would be hard to notice, since Dunst’s acting is just the same when she’s happy or sad). Throw into this mix a black suit that turns Spidey into Jim Carrey from The Mask, a series of forgettable antagonists ranging from Sandman to Venom (did we learn nothing from Joel Schumacher’s Batman films about stuffing movies with too many villains?) and an undisciplined storyline and running time, and it’s like Raimi is simply begging to be fired from the series. Still, it’s not so drastically different in quality than its two predecessors; the trilogy is giddily middle of the road.
John Carney’s Once (B+) is a treasure box of a musical with an unassuming storyline showcasing a man and a woman who enter each other’s lives when they need each other most. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglova play the unnamed pair – he, a busking Irish guitarist and she, a Czech pianist, who find themselves “Falling Slowly” into the spell of making beautiful music together. Very much in the vein of Before Sunrise, the duo are fated to be together and bring out talents and insights in each other that they never could have found separately. In its simplicity and handheld look and feel, it celebrates the joy of discovery and the brilliant promises of second chances at love.
Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd (A-) is a monster musical. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, neither renowned for their singing voices, sink their teeth into Sondheim’s gruesome tale of a demon barber bent on revenge against humanity that wronged him and his skirted accomplice who makes meat pies out of the corpses from his haircuttery. Atmospheric London sets, lovely tunes and absolutely blood-spewed sequences don’t often go together seamlessly, but Burton orchestrates them quite nicely here, thank you very much. It’s one of the director’s best works in years.
Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (B+) pairs schlubby slacker Seth Rogen and career-minded Katherine Heigl as participants in a one-night stand who are now parents-to-be. It’s a modern-day comedy about reverse courtship as the parallel notion of falling in love while expecting a baby brings out the best and worst of all involved. Apatow’s writing style is taboo-smashing; and while he sometimes could use a self-editor, what he gets right, he gets really right in this fresh comedy.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men (A-) is a cat and mouse caper told by amazing artisans. When Josh Brolin’s character finds a satchel of money, he thinks he’s hit the mother load, until he finds that there’s a tracking mechanism, and the tracking is being done by super-scary hitman Javier Bardem. This neo-Western breaks lots of rules – no music, minimalist sound sculpture, weird ending and the like. But it’s a consistently entertaining thriller that tells its story in its own idiosyncratic way.