As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is trying to keep his small family together after losing his wife and the mother of their kids Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) in a tragic fire that left them homeless. Out of nowhere one enigmatic Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) wills Arthur a bizarre yet dazzlingly beautiful mansion made almost entirely of glass and filled with priceless antiques. There's not much that could go unseen behind the transparent walls except for perhaps 12 pesky ghosts of disturbed folks like onetime mental patients and a kid whose head got in the way of an arrow. It just so happens old Cyrus with the help of his psychic phantom-wrangler Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) has been summoning up a few restless spirits so he can open the Eye of Hell and take over the world or something. They just need one more spirit to finish the job.
All right who's blackmailing Oscar-winner Abraham into taking roles like this? The man should have thrown the script out sight-unseen and then fired his agent. Rah Digga yet another rapper-turned-wanna-be-actress is there to offer some sassy comic relief as the kids' nanny--she's fun in a usual sort of way. Shalhoub-ho hum. Elizabeth? Yawn. She's not even in half the movie. Lillard it can be said is about the only bright spot in this otherwise not-silly-enough not-cheesy-enough not-funny-or-scary-enough horror movie. He's got the right idea as he tries to camp it up as a borderline hysterical psychic who has guilt issues about being able to see everyone's secrets with his "gift." But worst of all is the usually great Embeth Davidtz (um Schindler's List?!) as a--get this--ghost's rights activist who thinks she's channeling Zelda Rubenstein from Poltergeist as she hisses the obvious: "This house is not a house!"
The only thing scarier than F. Murray Abraham taking a role in this movie is that it ever got made at all--then again we have the Dark Castle folks (the same ones who brought us that masterpiece remake The Haunting a few years ago) to thank. They forgot to hire a director and a scriptwriter instead putting visual effects guy Steve Beck behind the camera to show us some semi-interesting special effects (it is a ghost movie after all and you better score some points there). Unfortunately the movie is uneven makes little sense and strives for both laughs and scares but achieves neither with cornball dialog and silly stereotypes; it's wildly gory to boot. Everyone's gonna say the ultra-modern haunted house is the star of Thirteen Ghosts and with good reason. The production design in this movie is amazing and the idea of ghosts hiding behind clear walls is an intriguing if ultimately wasted concept.
It was bound to happen. Hot off her box-office hit America's Sweethearts, Catherine Zeta-Jones is set to begin work this fall on a new project with none other than hubby Michael Douglas. The project, slated for release in 2002, will be the first time moviegoers will get to see the real-life couple together on the big screen.
Though the two appeared in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, they had no scenes together, so it will be interesting to watch the chemistry between them. It will be even more interesting to see whether the film does well or flops like so many other husband-and-wife pics do. Remember Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman?
The Douglas/Zeta-Jones vehicle will be the Miramax period thriller Smoke and Mirrors, a story loosely based on the life of French illusionist Jean-Robert-Houdin who, with his lovely female cohort, was sent to Algeria in 1856 by Napoleon III to expose a religious sorcerer who was inciting attacks on French colonials. Douglas will play Houdin, the man considered to be the father of modern magic, and Zeta-Jones will play Collette, his young assistant and lover.
But Smoke and Mirrors will be more than just the first collaboration between husband and wife; it would also be a first for Douglas and his father, Kirk Douglas. Papa Douglas will make a cameo appearance as Bou-Allem, but details of the role are still sketchy.
Keeping it all in the family, Variety columnist Army Archerd reported in April that Michael's older brother Joel Douglas, who's producing Smoke and Mirrors along with Zeta-Jones' brother David Jones, was heading out to exotic Morocco, Tunisia and Israel to scout locations for the film. Also sharing producer credits will be Joel's future brother-in-law Kevin Brodie (A Dog of Flanders).
It seems the only kin left out of the negotiations is baby Dylan.
The original script, which was penned by Batman Forever writing team Lee and Janet Scott Batchler almost seven years ago, caught the attention of several studio honchos, including Steven Spielberg, who bid on the script. Disney's Cinergi Pictures ended up buying the screenplay at a $1 million gavel price.
Several big names have since been attached to the picture, including Aussie Mel Gibson and ex-secret agent Sean Connery. But like many projects in development, plans fell through and deals were never inked. Too bad--the resemblance between Connery and the real Houdin is uncanny.
As for a director, producer Frank Marshall (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sixth Sense) was originally set to direct, but had to pass because he was under contract by Paramount to direct the jungle adventure flick Congo.
Plagued with casting problems, the project was eventually shelved until last year, when Initial Entertainment Group (where Zeta-Jones' brother David happens to be vice president) acquired Smoke and Mirrors from Cinergi Pictures for an undisclosed price. The script was dusted off and rewritten by Leslie Dixon (Pay it Forward), and it seems that the little screenplay that never was made the leap out of development.
With a fresh script and new funding, director John McTiernan was recruited to direct the magical thriller. However, McTiernan bailed on the Smoke and Mirrors project last month, citing "insurmountable business differences."
Both Miramax and IEG declined to comment on the falling out, and there's still no word on who will direct the picture.
Regardless of who directs, the star power alone is sure to draw a crowd. People have been waiting for a Douglas father and son pairing for quite some time. And if the Zeta-Jones/Douglas marriage survives the pressures of Hollywood from now until the film's release date, fans will undoubtedly want to see them on screen.
Looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones will get to find out first hand the pressure her character Gwen faces in America's Sweethearts. Will this be a case of life imitating art imitating life? Stay tuned!
Off-screen couple Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones may hook up on screen as well in the planned action-adventure "Smoke and Mirrors." The Hollywood Reporter says the film is a potential starring vehicle for the soon-to-be newlyweds.
Initial Entertainment Group, which bought the rights to the script by "Batman Forever" team Lee and Janet Scott Bachelor, plans to make the flick a big-budget affair, possibly shooting in France or Algeria.
Although Zeta-Jones is pregnant with Douglas' child, she's still in talks to star as the beautiful partner of 19th century French illusionist Jean Robert-Houdin. Set during the 1850s, the story has Houdin and young Collette (the potential Zeta-Jones role) traveling to Algeria on a secret mission for the French government. Their goal: to expose a religious sorcerer who advocates the overthrow of French colonials.
Kevin Brodie ("A Dog of Flanders") has signed on to direct. He'll also produce with Joel Douglas (brother of Michael).
Michael Douglas, 55, and Zeta-Jones, 30, became engaged last New Year's Eve.
'BUFFY' GOES IVY: Actress-cum-"Vampire Slayer" Sarah Michelle Gellar will put down the wooden stake and pick up the books as a philosophy professor in James Toback's semi-autobiographical "Harvard Man."
The Hollywood Reporter notes that after five years in development, the project may start shooting this spring.
Toback ("Two Girls and a Guy") will helm the film, based in part on his experiences at Harvard in the 1960s, which included an overdose on LSD. The story is said to combine philosophy, sex, and (what else?) basketball scandals. Gellar plays a teacher who has an affair with a college hoopster. That character was once considered for mega-star Leo DiCaprio.
IT'S NOT NIKE, BUT ... Spike Lee won't be hawking shoes in his next commercial. He'll be throwing his clout behind Democratic presidential nominee Bill Bradley.
Lee will star in, but not direct, an ad that will air in the Big Apple before New York's March 7 presidential primary.
Lee reportedly is concerned that black voters are blindly supporting Vice President Al Gore based on their loyalty to President Clinton.
"Sometimes you just got to take the gloves off," Lee told reporters Monday. "It's for real now. Bill will come out smoking."
Lee's frequent commercial co-star, basketball great Michael Jordan, has already appeared in a Bradley ad.
NEW RECRUIT: After sparring with Denzel Washington in "The Hurricane," Vicellous Shannon is ready to go round and round in the Marine Corps as the lead in the Steven Spielberg series, "Semper Fi." According to the Hollywood Reporter, the hour-long show from DreamWorks and NBC will debut in fall. Shannon will star as Wade Maddox, a smart and cocky new recruit.
TAKING IT TO 'THE $TREET': "Saving Private Ryan's" Adam Goldberg, about the only young Hollywood actor not in "The Boiler Room," gets his chance to swim with the sharks as the lead player in the Fox pilot, "The $treet." The drama, about a group of Wall Street yuppies, is being developed by Darren Star, creator of "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Sex and the City." Variety says the show will begin shooting in mid-March.
The sequel to Charlie's Angels is looking to start shooting as early as spring 2002, producer Leonard Goldberg confirmed to Variety. "Depending on whether a strike happens, we should have the script in four to six weeks," Goldberg said. "We'll take it to the Angels for their perusal, and if they like it, Sony can sit down with them and make a deal." The film will reunite the girls--Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz-along with the director McG. Barrymore will co-produce with Goldberg.
"Halloween" take 8
Seems we just can't get enough of Michael Myers. Dimension Films is getting ready to start production May 9 on Halloween 8 and has enlisted the talents of Busta Rhymes (Finding Forrester), Tyra Banks (Coyote Ugly) and Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance). In the eighth installment of the ever-popular Halloween series, a group of teens return to the home of legendary serial killer Myers to launch a live Internet chat-and Michael is waiting for them to continue his killing spree. Dimension produced the last film, Halloween: H2O, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis, in 1998.
Trio gets "Scorched"
Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone and Rachael Leigh Cook are in negotiations to star in the comedy, Scorched for director Gavin Grazer. The story revolves around two bank employees (Harrelson and Silverstone) in a small desert town, each of whom makes plans to rob the bank on the same weekend, as does a third employee. The catch? None of them know the other's intentions. Cook plays a disgruntled clothing store worker who plans to seek her own revenge on a millionaire. Production is slated to start at the end of May.
Ledger creates a "Monster"
Australian actor Heath Ledger, fresh off the upcoming A Knight's Tale, will most likely be replacing Wes Bentley (American Beauty) in Lions Gate Films' Monster Ball. Bentley dropped out of the project for undisclosed reasons. Ledger will join costars Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry in a story about Hank (Thornton) and his son (Ledger). Both work for the local prison, which gives Hank the opportunity to fall in love with the widow of an inmate who has been executed. She is unaware that Hank knew her husband; complications ensue. Production is slated to start May 24.
J.Lo hears the "Tick Tock"
Hot Jennifer Lopez is in talks to star in Tick Tock for Columbia Pictures. The script focuses on an amnesiac who awakens in the custody of the FBI as a prime suspect in an L.A. bombing. Not sure if he is being set up to take the fall or the actual bomber, he must help guide a young FBI agent (Lopez) through L.A. as they race to disarm other remaining explosives. If an actors' strike does not happen, the project will start production early fall. Lopez will be seen in the upcoming Angel Eyes.
Rappers "Wash" up
Rap masters Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg will star in an urban comedy, The Wash, as incompatible roommates who work together at a busy car wash. The two will also serve as executive producers and provide the soundtrack. Dr. Dre's bad boy protégé, Eminem, is set to make an appearance. Production starts May 7.
A family affair
Both the Douglas and Jones clans have set their sights on making Smoke and Mirrors. Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones will star, with Michael's older brother, Joel, co-producing with partner Kevin Brodie and Zeta-Jones' brother, David, under the Pro Star Filmmakers moniker. Even dad Kirk Douglas may play a sultan in the story of French illusionist Robert Houdin set in the 1850s. Film locations are being scouted in Morocco, Tunisia and Israel.
A martial arts "Monk"
Jean-Claude Van Damme will star in the independent martial arts actioner The Monk, where he plays a Shaolin monk who comes to America in search of his father and must battle an evil crime lord. But of course he does. Shooting is slated for a Nov. 1 start date.
Irons chooses his "Ladies" carefully
Jeremy Irons will star in And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, an English/French romantic thriller. Irons will play a criminally minded yachtsman/thief who falls for a French singer. Director Claude Lelouch originally wanted an American-he had Dustin Hoffman in mind at first, then later reworked the part for John Malkovich, who became interested in the project. But when Malkovich had to drop out because his next film, Ripley's Game, was pushed up due to the possible strikes, the part was rewritten once again to fit Englishman Irons.