WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
With a built-in rabid fan base from its five seasons on the Disney Channel it was only natural that Hannah Montana would find her way to theaters. And for the faithful it doesn’t disappoint. The plot for the movie version has Miley Stewart in over her head because her secret pop persona Hannah Montana is overwhelming every part of her life. When her father decides enough is enough and takes her back to their home town of Crowley Corners Tenn. she finds that it's not so easy to adjust again to country life. But with the help of some just plain folks and a budding romance Miley discovers there’s more to being successful than just show business fame and fortune.
WHO’S IN IT?
Miley Cyrus takes her wildly successful Hannah Montana persona to the movies fills it with heart and scores on the big screen. She’s sweet funny and beguiling in a role that of course fits her like a glove. With all or part of 13 songs and musical numbers she also proves her hit-making abilities are no fluke with standouts like a hip-hop hoedown and the emotive “The Climb ” which she socks home in a concert sequence near the end. Father Billy Ray Cyrus pretty much plays himself and seems comfortable in the role if nothing more. As her grandmother Margo Martindale is warm and always dispensing nuggets of advice. Lucas Till makes an awkwardly offbeat romantic interest as her childhood friend who sees the real Miley behind the Hannah mask and there’s nice support from Jason Earles as her brother and Emily Osment as a best friend. Vanessa Williams is also around bookending the film as Miley’s trusted protector and publicist. And look for quick cameos from Taylor Swift and Tyra Banks.
No one is going to win any Oscars but the Hannah Montana movie version goes down easy and makes a natural theatrical transition smartly returning the star to her country roots and giving the film a different flavor than the sitcom from which it emerged.
Like any homogenized Disney product it all seems a little too contrived and too pat at times but the enormous kid audience to whom it's aimed won’t care a bit.
They may be stealing one of the oldest gags in comedy but the dueling-dinners scene in which Miley and Hannah keep switching personas is amusingly played out and perfectly timed. Cyrus really gets to show her comic chops here.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
If you have a daughter it’s inevitably gonna be both.
As with any Tyler Perry movie in which he plays his alter-ego gun-totin’ grandma Madea there’s always the juxtaposition between the hilarity and the serious. Madea Goes to Jail is no exception. While Madea fights the law with every breath in her body -- and the law wins at least for a little while -- the more serious side of the movie sees the fast-track Assistant DA Joshua Hardaway (Derek Luke) come face-to-face with his past when his old college friend Candy (Keisha Knight Pulliam) now a drug-addicted prostitute shows up on his court docket. There’s some bad history there and Joshua wants to atone for his mistakes by trying to help Candy get straight. But it ain’t easy not with this girl. No worries Madea is on the case. When asked what happens to Perry when he puts on the wig he replies “She just comes. The minute I hear that zipper go up on the fat suit she comes.” It is truly an amazing transformation for the multi-hyphenate who created this character on stage. Perry’s skill at improvisation comes shining through not only when he’s playing Madea but also when he’s playing Uncle Joe Madea’s cantankerous older brother. You’re always wanting more of them but alas the meat of the movie revolves around Luke and Pulliam who both do an adequate job conveying their somewhat one-note characters. Viola Davis also makes an appearance as a reformed drug user-turned-minister -- an odd choice for the Oscar nominee but she certainly adds some weight. When Perry wears the multiple hats he must keep the behind-the-camera action as simple as possible. You can imagine him just whipping off the wig putting on a ball cap walking over to Davis and Luke to give them a few ideas and then start shooting. He also has an unwavering dedication to what he feels is the most important part to his movies: the messages about strong familial ties faith and redemption. But really for my money it's just worth it to see Perry as the side-splittingly hilarious Madea go toe-to-toe with Dr. Phil in a court-appointed anger management therapy session. Priceless.
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.