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.
Set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1940s—a favorite area of exploration for writer-director Guillermo del Toro—the story follows dreamy 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she’s uprooted and relocated to a remote military outpost when her sickly mother (Ariadna Gil) marries the wantonly cruel camp commander Captain Vidal (Sergei Lopez). With the compassionate but secretive housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) as the closest thing to a friend she has in the oppressive environment Ofelia escapes into a richly textured fantasy world. She follows a dragonfly she believes is a fairy into a landscaped but neglected garden maze she recasts as the lair of the goatish godling Pan (Doug Jones). He tells her she’s the last heir to a magical otherworldly kingdom and charges her with several tasks to help her reclaim her birthright. As her personal world grows more and more grim—the impending birth of her half-brother threatens her mother’s health her step-father grows colder and colder in his bid to crush the resistance and Mercedes’ hidden agenda places her in jeopardy as well—Ofelia soon finds herself tangling with hideous monsters both imagined and all too real often having difficulty distinguishing which is the more dangerous. The astonishingly real performance of the amazing young Spanish actress Baquero as Ofelia anchors the film firmly in both its real world and fantasy environments as only the convincing imagination of a child could. Lopez is an equally compelling discovery as the callous Vidal pitiless vicious and malevolent while still remaining believably human throughout. He’s unblinking in his depiction of a thoroughly vile and cruel man but avoids any aspect of cartoonish evil. And Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as Mercedes is a wonder as well with her remarkably expressive face unlimited by the film’s Spanish language barriers. Kudos too to Doug Jones a whisper-thin actor who specializes in “creature” roles (he’s played Abe Sapien in del Toro’s Hellboy and will be the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel) who somehow magically delivers fully-formed performances as both the faun Pan and the freakish Pale Man through layers and layers of latex. Pan's Labyrinth is unquestionably Guillermo del Toro’s finest film work to date as pure an artistic vision as is likely to be committed to celluloid. He wisely worked outside the Hollywood system in his native Spain to bring his dark tale to life. The story exists in that shadowy netherworld between childhood and adulthood innocence and awareness of the world’s more sinister nature and its characters and themes are explored in ways that no mainstream film would ever allow. On the surface the trappings are Tim Burton-esque but the dark corners Pan's Labyrinth peers into are grim and gloomy indeed; del Toro is never afraid to delve into the murkiest of directions that to audiences used to more conventional movies are heart-wrenching even gut-churning but ultimately emotionally honest and in unexpected ways as immensely satisfying as they are haunting. The film is the announcement of the complete arrival of a major filmmaker and we can only hope that the qualities del Toro brings to this work do not get lost in the maze of Hollywood for future films.
September 16, 2005 5:05am EST
The socially inept Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a workaholic doctor who never leaves the hospital. Her married sister Abby (Dina Waters) tries in vain to set up with a good man to no avail. But fate is about to intervene. On her way home from a long shift Elizabeth gets into a head-on collision with a semi-truck and suddenly the lines between life and death are blurred. Jumping forward we meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) a guy wallowing in self-pity from the death of his wife two years earlier who to find some solitude moves into a fabulous furnished apartment. What he doesn't know is the previous tenant hasn't left not really. That's right it was Elizabeth's apartment and for whatever reason (seriously they don't entirely explain it) Elizabeth--or her spirit I guess--hasn't grasped the idea that she is in well limbo. Only David can see her of course as she yells at him for leaving sweat rings on the coffee table but Elizabeth eventually grows on him. She elicits his help in finding out what happened to her and with a little help from the eccentric Darryl (Jon Heder) a bookstore employee who has the gift for sensing spirits David and Elizabeth find that heaven and earth are not really that far apart.
As our romantic pair Witherspoon and Ruffalo do an adequate job adhering to the staid romantic comedy formula. Witherspoon is one of the more consistent comedic actresses these days and has the sweet but controlling ingénue routine down to a science. But it may be time for her to take a break from the standard fare and head back to the indies getting down and dirty like she did in Election. Ruffalo does a pretty impressive job for his second time as the romantic lead. As he did with 13 Going on 30 Ruffalo at least tries to add some quirky twists to a boring character. Still he should also probably stick to showcasing his dramatic acting talent in cool indies much like he did in You Can Count on Me. It's Heaven's side characters who have all the fun. Waters (The Haunted Mansion) does a nice turn as the caring sister who's own hectic life as a mother of two rambunctious kids always seems to interfere with what she's doing. Donal Logue (TV's Grounded For Life) as David's therapist best friend too has a fun time yuking it up. But the real standout in an otherwise dull universe is Napoleon Dynamite himself Jon Heder in his second feature film. He's still a geek but at least this time he's a mystical one who knows a thing or two about wandering spirits. Of course he also gets the best lines: "I'm 99.9 percent parched here. I need a cola." I'm going to use that one from now on.
As the director of the satirical Mean Girls and the cutesy Freaky Friday Mark Waters may be out of his element with an out and out romantic comedy. The initial idea about a women whose stuck in the spirit world until she finds the true love she never sought after in life is somewhat intriguing. But rather than play with that the film just ends up your standard romantic comedy while also stealing from other films such as Ghost and The Sixth Sense. Just Like Heaven also has some serious logistical flaws. For example seeing how Elizabeth is supposed to be a ghost--that she can't touch anything tangible and can walk through walls tables and just about anything else--she is later seen laying on top of a table. It doesn't make sense as to how she can walk through it at one moment and be on it the next. And the fact you are paying attention to these inconsistencies means you just aren't caring that much about the rest of the film.
ABC and Ted Koppel sealed a deal that will ensure the future of the late-night news program Nightline for at least two more years in its 11:35 p.m. time slot, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Last month, ABC tried to woo David Letterman away from CBS to start a new late-night talk show in the 11:35 slot that Koppel has held for 22 years, casting doubt on Nightline's future. Meanwhile, Koppel still has four years remaining on his contract.
Manchester United soccer player David Beckham has bought his wife, Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham, an armored Mercedes with one-inch-thick windows that can withstand gunfire and floors that are reinforced to protect against landmine blasts. According to the This Is London Web site, the car, valued at more than $200,000, also has an airtight passenger compartment in case of a gas attack. Two years ago, Scotland Yard uncovered a plot to kidnap the singer and their son, Brooklyn.
Fashion designer Stella McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Paul McCartney, is causing a ruckus because of a rooftop shower she added to her multimillion-dollar house in west London's Notting Hill, Reuters reports. The Westminster City Council has launched an investigation about the wooden shower and pallings atop McCartney's home after complaints from neighbors. Because the neighborhood and its period properties are a conservation area, residents and council officials are sensitive to change.
Boxer Mike Tyson is denying allegations that he assaulted a stripper and her boyfriend following an argument at a topless bar in Phoenix, Ariz., Sunday morning. A Phoenix police spokesman told Reuters there were no visible injuries on either of the alleged victims and that witnesses gave conflicting reports of the incident. The investigation is ongoing.
In the Biz
Pre-production on the Fat Albert movie has stopped because of creative differences between the cartoon's creator, Bill Cosby, and director Forest Whitaker. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Whitaker is now off the project, and the search for a new director is on. A representative from Fox described the director's departure as amicable.
Australian thesp Russell Crowe may be teaming up again with Gladiator director Ridley Scott on a new film. Tripoli, a historical epic about U.S. soldier and diplomat William Eaton, who joined forces with an exiled king to overthrow the corrupt ruler of Tripoli (in what is now Libya) in the early 1800s, is expected to begin shooting this fall, Variety reports.
Universal pictures sealed a deal to pick up Robert Franke's intergalactic thriller Razors, Variety reports. Described as The Dirty Dozen in outer space, the film is set 600 years from now and follows mankind's terrifying expansion outward to fringe galaxies, including one that is inhabited by conscienceless superhumans.
Blame it on Lisa. Rio de Janeiro's tourist board is considering legal action against the producers of The Simpsons because of an episode that it says undermined a campaign to attract visitors to the Brazilian city, Reuters reports. In last week's episode, the Simpsons leave the cozy confines of Springfield and head to Rio de Janeiro to find a missing orphan whom Lisa has been sponsoring. They run across monkeys and rats, which is what the board found most offensive, saying it made the city look like a jungle.
The finale for Fox's hit television show 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland is being heavily guarded. According to Variety, anyone involved in the series' production will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising not to disclose any information about the script or season finale. Production is set to begin April 18 and apparently contains some surprise twists and turns that would be spoiled if they leaked out.
NBC's Today is launching an on-air book club in June, People reports. The news comes on the heels of Oprah Winfrey's decision to scale back on the books she will promote on her show. But rather than have hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer recommend books, the show will invite top-selling authors to suggest books by lesser-known authors.
OutKast appeared at a music festival in South Carolina despite a call from the NAACP for an economic boycott of the state, the Associated Press reports. OutKast performed the song "Rosa Parks" and told the crowd that it decided to perform because people working at the festival would lose their jobs if it didn't. The group said that it will continue to support the NAACP despite ignoring the boycott, which was organized to protest the continued use of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds.
Suzan-Lori Parks became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog, a drama about sibling rivalry and dreams denied, the AP reports. The play first debuted at the off-Broadway nonprofit Public Theater last July and made its official Broadway debut Sunday night to rave reviews.
Air Force Sergeant John Agar, who became an actor after marrying Shirley Temple, died Sunday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. He was 81. Agar met Temple in 1945 when he was 24 and she was just 16. They began a romance and were married later the same year. The two starred in two films together, Fort Apache and Adventure in Baltimore and, in 1948, Temple gave birth to their daughter, Susan. Temple filed for divorced in 1949, troubled by Agar's drinking and many flirtations, AP reports. Agar went on to star in mostly Westerns and war movies, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Along the Great Divide.
Mexican actress Maria Felix, known as a femme fatale throughout Latin America and the one-time lover of the painter Diego Rivera, died of heart failure Monday at her house in Mexico City, Mexico, Reuters reports. Described as the country's Marilyn Monroe, Felix appeared in 47 films, including La Generala and French Cancan.