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Sprinkling of romance in charming adventure; DVDs REVIEWS.

Stardust Cert PG, Paramount Home Entertainment

****

Shy and innocent Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) lives in the sleepy English village of Wall.

He is madly in love with fair maiden Victoria (Sienna Miller) but she only has eyes for bounder Humphrey (Henry Cavill).

In order to prove his love, Tristan agrees to bring Victoria a fallen star as a birthday gift and crosses into the magical realm of Stormhold, where conniving hag Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) also seek the fallen celestial body.

Tristan discovers that the star is in fact a young woman called Yvaine (Claire Danes).

Thus begins a quest to return Yvaine to the heavens.

Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, Stardust is an utterly charming adventure for the entire family with a generous sprinkling of romance and black comedy.

Matthew Vaughn's magical fairy-tale glitters with colourful performances, including Robert De Niro as an airship captain with a secret passion for couture.

Rising star Cox is an endearing leading man, sparking with the (literally) luminous Danes.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age Cert 12, Universal Pictures (UK)

***

In the sequel to Shekhar Kapur's sweeping historical epic, Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) has been on the throne for almost three decades but the winds of religious discord are blowing uneasily throughout the land.

Spain's King Phillip II (Jordi Molla) is preparing to despatch his fleet of ships with the intention of removing the Protestant queen from the throne and installing her cousin Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton) in her place.

Back in court, seafarer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) entertains the queen with his stories of daring.

Unable to pursue a romance, Elizabeth watches helplessly as Raleigh gives his heart to lady in waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish), then joins Francis Drake to repel the advancing armada.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a ravishing period piece, painstakingly recreating the opulence of the 16th century court.

As history lessons go, this is as sumptuous and dazzling as they come; the accuracy of William Nicholson and Michael Hirst's facts are, however, sometimes questionable.

Kapur's film is distinguished by another virtuoso performance from Blanchett.

Owen cuts a dashing figure as Raleigh and Geoffrey Rush is an insidious presence as spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, protecting his queen from traitors on both sides of the Channel.

Molla and his countrymen are pantomime villains writ large while Morton chews scenery as the scheming usurper.

Eastern Promises Cert 18, Pathe Distribution Ltd

****

Caring midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) inadvertently strays into the middle of a brutal gang war when she probes the personal history of a teenager who dies in her care.

Translating the dead girl's diary, Anna uncovers treachery in the Vory V Zakone, a notorious criminal brotherhood whose members sport tattoos reflecting aspects of their life.

Anna's enquiries lead to a restaurant run by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), leader of a clan overseen by impetuous son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and gruff chauffeur Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). The patriarch makes thinly veiled threats to Anna, determined to keep the past buried.

Opening with a gory sequence in a barbershop that gives new meaning to a close shave, Eastern Promises pulls no punches in its depiction of the brutality in London's underworld.

David Cronenberg's thriller is a tour de force of robust, assured direction and powerful performances.

Violence is used sparingly, but to devastating effect, like the bruising fight in a bathhouse between a completely naked Mortensen and two knife-wielding assailants that ends with the tiled floor and walls spattered in blood.

Watts taps into the vulnerability and loneliness of her caregiver, whose attachment to an orphaned baby stems from a doomed interracial relationship in the past.

Death At A Funeral Cert 15, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

***

Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) and his novelist brother Robert (Rupertt Graves) put their differences to one side to support their mother Sandra (Jane Asher) at their father's funeral.

Cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) arrives with her charming fiance Simon (Alan Tudyk), unaware that her long forgotten one-night-stand Justin (Ewan Bremner) is among the mourners.

Her drug-dealing brother Troy (Kris Marshall) misplaces a stash of pharmaceutical grade ecstasy while Daniel's hypochondriac pal Howard (Andy Nyman) is driven to distraction by cantankerous Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan).

The sombre mood is shattered when a stranger called Peter (Peterr Dinklage) discloses a shocking secret about the deceased.

But the resolution, like the copious cups of soothing hot tea served to the mourners, is excessively sweet.

CAPTION(S):

Claire Danes in Stardust
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 23, 2008
Words:748
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