Bury the Lead

Last Vegas: written by Dan Fogelman; directed by Jon Turteltaub; starring Michael Douglas (Billy), Robert De Niro (Paddy), Morgan Freeman (Archie), Kevin Kline (Sam), and Mary Steenburgen (Diana) (2013): Relatively enjoyable, fairly tame senior-citizens’ version of The Hangover gets aided by its top-notch cast. A number of scenes play like ads for Las Vegas, LMFAO, and Red Bull (to name three of the most blatant). Coming off cancer surgery, Michael Douglas looks haggard and about a decade older than everyone else in the cast. Lightly recommended.

Stardust: adapted by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman from the novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess; directed by Matthew Vaughn; starring Charlie Cox (Tristan), Claire Danes (Yvaine), Mark Strong (Septimus), Michelle Pfeiffer (Lamia), Robert De Niro (Captain Shakespeare), and Kate Magowan (Una) (2007): Somewhat loose adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel originally and heavily illustrated by the great Charles Vess is a real charmer for those people looking for something to watch after watching The Princess Bride for the fiftieth time.

The cast is strong, and given enough decent lines and character bits to keep everything percolating in what may be a slightly too-long film. Michelle Pfeiffer is terrific as the arch-witch Lamia. Several transition scenes involving walking and riding are photographed pretty much exactly as these things are done in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies, possibly in the hopes of tricking some people into thinking they’re at a Lord of the Rings movie. The score also comes pretty close to Horner’s LOTR score at points. I do wonder whether these things were done at studio insistence — certainly the majority of the movie is lighter and cleverer than Jackson’s Middle Earth. Recommended.

The Fisher King: written by Richard LaGravenese; directed by Terry Gilliam; starring Jeff Bridges (Jack), Mercedes Ruehl (Anne), Robin Williams (Parry), Amanda Plummer (Lydia), Michael Jeter (Unnamed), Tom Waits (Uncredited) (1991): Gilliam and LaGravenese’s urban fantasy offers a sometimes sarcastic love letter to New York. Bridges, Ruehl, Williams, and Plummer all do terrific work, though only Ruehl (deservedly) won an Oscar.

Seen now, The Fisher King is a document of a much dirtier New York, one that hadn’t yet had Times Square turned into a food court at Disneyland. Williams manages to modulate manic and melancholy as he did in few other movies, and Bridges is his usual Jeff Bridges self, making the acting appear too effortless and invisible for him to be recognized for how good it always is. He’s probably the perfect fit for the role of a vain, self-centred, but potentially decent talk-radio shock-jock: he may be handsome, but he’s not afraid to look awful in a variety of ways.

This is probably Gilliam’s biggest commercial success (along with 12 Monkeys). He tones down his weirdness without ever losing it — his vision of New York suggests the medieval at the right points, and not the shiny medieval, but the crap-covered ground-level world we laughed at in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It isn’t Gilliam’s best film, but it’s certainly his sunniest. Highly recommended.

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