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.
Total loser Gus (Rob Schneider) and his equally derelict friends Richie (David Spade) and Clark (Jon Heder) spent a lot of time in their school days sitting on the bench during baseball games. Now all grown up they decide to help a kid Nelson (Max Prado) from being bullied on the field. It turns out his father Mel (Jon Lovitz) is a billionaire who hires the guys to build confidence in his son. If they play in a tournament and help wage war against the bullies of the world Mel will promise the winning team the greatest stadium ever built. They call their team "Mel's Tournament of Little Baseballers and Three Older Guys" and hire Reggie Jackson to train them. But it turns out Gus was really a bully back in school and he now has to win the team's trust back. These guys make the Three Stooges look like Harvard grads the Dumb and Dumber dudes look like geniuses. If you thought Jon Heder was an amazing talent and Napoleon Dynamite was extraordinarily innovative then this performance may be a major disappointment wiping out any hope the actor can play more than one note. Sure he may have stretched a bit as the scene-stealing bookstore owner in Reese Witherspoon's Just Like Heaven but he's even more of a dazed dumb slacker in Benchwarmers. Schneider and Spade have already proven to be one-note talents--Spade's little bratty boy routine is running as thin as is Schneider's hairline. The only good acting comes from anyone under the age of 20 particularly Prado and the kid bullies. Even though Adam Sandler has personally moved on he still hires his old pals to do the silly movies he used to do through his production company. We have already be subjected to Grandma's Boy--and now Benchwarmers. This time around producer Sandler also drags director Dennis Dugan into the mix. He’s the guy who helped turn the comic actor into a superstar in films such as Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy. But by trying to create that old magic with the new hot-slacker-du-jour Heder and ripping off The Bad News Bears story Sandler fails. Benchwarmers is just a waste of time for anyone over 12. But hey if being humiliated smashing mailboxes and tossing hot potatoes makes you laugh then there's a seat for you on this bench.