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August Movie Reviews
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Starring: Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Ian McKellen, and Charlie Cox
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Run Time: 2 hrs 8 minutes

Stardust is about several different parties searching for a fallen star. Tristan (Charlie Cox) seeks the star in order to win the hand of the town beauty. The witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) seeks the star in order to recapture her youth... and to continue to live forever. Septimus (Mark Strong) seeks the necklace the star has in order to rule his kingdom. All parties encounter strange fellows along their journey, which prove to make the adventure more adventurous.

After I watched this movie, I scanned some reviews. For the most part, it's well received but not nearly as well as it deserves. Critics seem to not understand the wonder and merriment this film produces. They don't quite grasp the concept of fantasy. They seem to have a hard time embracing this movie, particularly because it is laden with such well known actors. They embraced Pan's Labyrinth, which is a similar movie in terms of incredible creativity and interesting characters (Note: I loved Pan's Labyrinth). Apparently to be worthy of a good review, that creativity must be dark and scary... and in another language. Pity. Because this movie is absolutely wonderful.

Sigh. I don't think I can say it enough: this movie is absolutely wonderful. I kept marveling at how unbelievably creative this story is. The interesting characters. The plot twists and turns. The stars watch mankind from the sky? A fallen star becomes human? A boat flying through the clouds captures lightening to sell as goods? A star's heart offers immortality? There's a wall in England that separates "real" life from imagination? I also loved the seven princes' names - Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus, and Septimus. I can't believe the writer actually kept the naming thing going. And their one and only sister restarts that trend - Una. And the princes must kill each other in order to be the last remaining prince alive to rule the kingdom - something their father the king encourages. And in death, the princes are bound to each other until the last one living becomes King. How funny was that? Particularly since they ruthlessly killed each other with the hopes of becoming King, only to have to spend the next years in death together as punishment. So funny.

It is a bit slow in the beginning... well, the third beginning (the one that finally introduces Tristan). I LOVED the opening... and the second opening. What was the writer trying to say about Dunstan's encounter with the slave girl? A bit risque! But the bit about the child asking about the stars looking down on him - and the response - was quite charming.

I was not expecting this movie to be as romantic as it was. I even had tears welling up in my eyes at the end! It was so touching. Overall, the movie is very funny. Very compelling. Very action packed. I kept wondering what would happen next to Tristan and Yvaine (the fallen star, played by Claire Danes). So many things kept popping up. And nothing was quite what it seemed. I will admit that it was a bit scary and a bit gruesome, particularly when it comes to how animals were treated. Nothing is shown on camera but it was still a little sad to have animals hurt. And those witches were big meanies!

All of the actors were fabulous. Septimus could have been a bit more evil but I forgive him for that. Shouldn't be too scary in a kids movie! Michelle Pfeiffer was an incredible witch. Robert de Niro was wonderful as the pirate... who wasn't as piratey as they come. Perhaps a little too flamboyant in the closet scene but nonetheless a wonderful pirate captain.

I can't say enough about this one. It was absolutely wonderfully creative. I was in amazement the entire time. So sweet. So imaginative. So good. Go see it!

One side note: I do have to share this tidbit that I read about how this movie got made. When Claudia Schiffer was pregnant, something fell on her foot and she was confined to bed-rest. During her bed-rest, she happened to read a book that she fell in love with. She turned to her director husband (who happens to be Matthew Vaughn, the director of this movie) and told him had had to make the book into a movie. So, if Claudia Schiffer hadn't hurt her foot, this movie never would have been made...

Death at a Funeral
Starring: Matthew MacFadyen, Rupert Graves, and Alan Tudyk
Directed By: Frank Oz
Run Time: 1 hr 30 minutes

Death at a Funeral is about a dysfunctional British family trying to bury their patriarch. Things don't go according to plan. The dysfunction unravels as the family tries to deal with the oddities that unleash at the funeral.

Don't be misguided with the words "death" and "funeral" in the title of this movie. It is not a somber movie. At first, the movie does start off slowly as each character and their dysfunction is introduced. I did find myself a bit bored until the wonderful Alan Tudyk (playing Simon) appeared on screen, sporting a British accent (he's American but a wonderful character actor). But then Simon's dysfunction with his girlfriend's father (the father will be attending the funeral, too) fuels the first spark of mayhem for the funeral. Instead of taking Valium, he mistakenly consumes acid (his girlfriend's brother is studying to be a "pharmacist"). As Tudyk's zaniness is unleashed, the movie gets funnier and funnier.

The dysfunction continues with the two brothers whose father is about to be buried. One is a successful novelist (Robert) living in New York; the other is a wannabe-writer (Daniel) still living at home, trying to take care of his parents (well, now mother). Daniel's wife is eager to move out from under her mother-in-law's kind-but-brusque verbal torment. Anyone who has ever felt shadowed by a sibling will love the pre-eulogy torment the family inflicts on poor Daniel, the struggling writer, who has been slated to give the eulogy over his writer brother, a fact that confuses the rest of the family.

As if family strife isn't enough fuel for a dark comedy, a guest at the funeral reveals a dirty little secret to the two brothers. And then things really start getting screwed up.

This is a wonderful movie about struggling to cope with family, which can be magnified at an emotional family gathering. It's funny and creepy and funny again. I had to shield my eyes at a couple of moments of creepy and gross hilarity - but those moments were funny. It's a good little romp that reminds us to not take life too seriously because even our death isn't taken that seriously.

The Simpsons Movie
Starring the voices of: Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, and Dan Castellaneta
Directed By: David Silverman
Run Time: 1 hr 27 minutes

The Simpsons Movie brings the TV cartoon sitcom to the big screen, with Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Homer, and everyone else in Springfield. This time, the town of Springfield must deal with the EPA (since they're the most polluted town in the world) before the EPA deals with the town of Springfield... permanently.

Just like the TV show, this movie is packed with satire and gags and witty pop culture references that only the quick will pick up on. It makes fun of itself, too. It's funny, not side-aching, belly laughs, but sudden bursts of "ha!" And it pushes the envelope with what it brings to the big screen. The Simpsons is normally just shy of risque and is a bit edgy for television. The movie expounds upon that edginess but doesn't go too far.

A couple of observations: 1). I've seen plenty of previews for this movie. Each time I thought to myself, "They're just pulling our legs. This isn't really what the movie is going to be about. It's just a gotcha! they're pulling. I wonder what the movie will really be about." I particularly thought this when I saw a black and white sketch preview on the season 9 DVD. It was about Homer polluting the lake with a silo of pig poo. I didn't think that was really going to be in the movie. It was.

Observation 2). The TV show is divided into three acts. The first few minutes rarely has anything to do with what the show is actually about. The first few minutes - act 1 - is a set up for act 2. Act 2 switches gears and the show becomes something completely different. Act three switches gears again and the show is finally has a resolve. An episode for TV keeps switching gears throughout the entire 23 minutes. The movie did not seem to have three different acts all tied together. It kept pace at one level throughout the whole thing. I'm not saying it's bad, just different.

I liked the movie. As I said, I laughed... a lot. It was quick, funny, smart, and most of all, Simpson-esque.

No Reservations
Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin
Directed By: Scott Hicks
Run Time: 1 hr 45 minutes

No Reservations is about a perfectionist chef (played by Zeta-Jones) whose life is devoted to food and her work, but is suddenly thrown out of her world of cuisine when her sister dies in a car crash, leaving her to take care of her sister's daughter Zoe (played by Breslin).

If you've seen the previews for this movie, you've seen the movie. There are no real surprises. It's formulaic. It's predictable. It's harmless. Uptight neurotic controlling chef meets goofy but exuberant counterpart. They clash... at first. And then they fall in love. Childless 30-something single woman suddenly left to care for a child runs into a few snags. Child mourns for her lost mother. Can't quite get over the loss. Adjustment is slow and painful. The two endure... with the help of the male quirky counterpart.

That aside, I really liked the movie. Yes, it was predictable and unsurprising, but it was sweet and charming, too. There could have been more development and struggle with caring for poor Zoe (the plot concentrated more on the food and life at the restaurant) but I was okay with less of the angst and more of the food preparation.

I found it amazing that Catherine Zeta-Jones does not cook in real life. She really convinced me she was a chef. She did a good job with the part. I'm not sure why I like Aaron Eckhart but he did a good job as the zany but lovable "just happy to be here" fill-in chef. His character was simply happy being chef #2. He had no real ambitions to take over the kitchen and I wish the movie went into why. As always, Abigail Breslin was cute and charming, even though she didn't have much character development. She was simply a child struggling with the loss of her mother and coping with her new life living with her aunt.

I suppose this movie appealed to me because it was about one woman's passion for cooking... and controlling her kitchen. I did impress myself by knowing the three key ingredients in French cuisine. I liked the movie. It did no harm.