Positioned as a memory play When Did You Last See Your Father? attempts to explore the lifelong relationship between a father dying of terminal cancer and his son told through flashbacks and present-day scenes. Arthur Morrison (Broadbent) and his wife Kim (Juliet Stevenson) are both doctors in a small town in England. They have two kids Gillian (Claire Skinner) and older brother Blake (Firth) who is now an author in his 40s with two kids of his own. The story revolves around how Blake tries to come to terms with his father’s mortality and freely travels in time opening with a sequence in which the 8-year-old Blake experiences an embarrassing car incident as his father drives the family to an event. As the film hops and skips through the family’s life--past and present--we see sad and happy moments focusing on Blake’s teen years and early career where dad always seems to upstage him to become the center of attention. Played out against the drama of Arthur’s imminent death Blake grows to accept it--and all that has come before. Although there is a fine supporting cast the film is what they call in the business a two-hander--a searing drama focusing on the relationship between father and son as played by two of Britain’s finest Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. They are both superb and by the very nature of the film given great opportunity to show their acting chops. It is Broadbent’s film right from the beginning however as his Arthur spans 40 years while Firth’s role is shared by some other fine actors (Bradley Johnson Matthew Beard) playing younger versions of Blake. Broadbent gives one of those dominating over-the-top confounding portrayals of a proud man whose immense presence permeates every aspect of his son’s life. Against this kind of formidable competition Firth is wonderfully understated and particularly effective in the film’s final few scenes. Stevenson and Skinner along with Gina McKee as the grown Blake’s wife handle the less demanding female roles with skill and compassion. Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) doesn’t try to overpower the simple and literate story with any tricks instead letting When Did You Last See Your Father? live and breathe on its own powered by exceptional performances and a first-rate screenplay by David Nichols. Although the film is based on the actual memoir by the real-life Blake Morrison the story itself is universal and earns its laughs--and particularly its tears--by telling universal truths all of us can identify with. Tucker proves himself to be a fine actor’s director especially with Broadbent whose blustery character could have sailed out of control. Instead we understand this man even if we don’t always like him and much of that is due to the nicely nuanced command Tucker has over the proceedings. A small intimate film with numerous flashbacks like this one is trickier than it looks but ultimately it touches the heart and proves a worthwhile journey perfectly timed for Father’s Day.
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.