neil gaiman

Ten Books, a Thousand Pages: Part One

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Ten Books, a Thousand Pages: Part One

Over at the offices, there’s been a lot of talk about Holiday Gift Guides and presenting a list for every category of entertainment. As one of the book reviewers, I couldn’t make up my mind: do I list a bunch of great books I’ve already read, or do I review the new books that have everybody excited? I figured the second would be more fun, except for the fact that there’s no way I can finish reading enough books between now and Christmas to make a worthwhile list.

I read pretty fast, but I can’t read that many books in time. But I can certainly read parts of many books.

On that note I bring you “Ten Books, a Thousand Pages.” I’ve picked ten books and read the first hundred pages of each title. Some might argue that a hundred pages isn’t a fair assessment of a book (what if it’s a terrible book with a great ending?) but I think that far into a book, you’ll either love it enough to continue or quietly put it down and go find something you like better.

Read On

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I didn’t get to read Neil Gaiman’s novel on which this movie was based thanks to Michael Chabon’s latest novel gumming up the works, but after seeing this film, I am looking forward to it. Gaiman has a legion of fanboys for his work on the Sandman (and many other) graphic novels, his book with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, and his voluminous other works. Your average cinemagoer doesn’t really know who he is, though, so they hopefully rely on folks such as myself to urge you to check out this modern fairy tale for the ages. Like William Goldman’s Princess Bride 20-odd years ago, Stardust is a story that sounds like a children’s story but is really a lovely, adult fable. Stardust touches upon non-conformity, superficiality, selfishness, hiding one’s true self, and other human foibles. I saw Stardust with persons aged 8, 12, 25, 26, 29, 37, and 43 (you guess which one is me) and we all really enjoyed it. A woman I chatted with in a line said the young people in her Stardust audience just weren’t getting it, but she was laughing so loud she embarrassed her adult daughter. The premise is magical and fantastical, but the meat is a darkly funny tale of romance, adventure, maturity, and birthright.

I’ll tell you one thing right out: there is a scene between Robert DeNiro and Ricky Gervais that we could have watched for ages, it was so funny. Our charming lead, Charlie Cox (Tristan) has a fresh, sweet face: guileless, charming, and unhampered by the heavy ego of a better-known actor. He is the heart of the film and carries the burden of the character arc, even as all the other stories twine around him so elegantly. Claire Danes (Yvain) is his unlikely companion in a neighboring magical world (separated from Victorian England by a near-impassable Wall) with a complex mythos. The rules in the world of Stormhold are doled out with succinctness and delicacy, always leaving me wanting more.

I kept feeling that same tingling that I get toward the end of a Harry Potter book, that longing to know more about this world, to spend more time in it. I look forward to reading this too-thin novel, though I have heard that some were unhappy with this adaptation. Stardust’s story is of Tristan and Yvain but also witchy sisters, feuding princes, and a kidnapped princess, but it never feels overstuffed or contrived. The plotlines converge and knot and part, delighting in their economical serendipity and sweet comedy.

For years after the embarrassing forays into the fantasy genre during the 1980’s, studios refused to entertain any fantasy movie for fear of losing their Green Linen Shirts. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter made them fashionable again, but like all genres, they have to be good in order to play to profitably-sized audiences. Dragonheart and Eragon threatened us with how such films can misfire, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gave us hope. To me, Stardust belongs in the comedy category, using its magical world as just a place for its story to take place (like Princess Bride). It may just be its dark, dry Britishness that is its mass appeal downfall. I hope more people love it like my companions and I did, and not like the glazed-over audience of my line buddy. Give it a shot. It’s a funny movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/10/07
Time in minutes 128
Director Matthew Vaughn
Studio Paramount Pictures