Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, and Imelda Staunton
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Release Date: December 11, 2007
The book series may be complete, but there are still two more movies and a lot of Hogwarts excitement to go around. This fifth movie in the series is a well-crafted film about Harry and his rebellion against the Ministry of Magic when they refuse to believe that Voldemort is back in action. While most of the usual suspects like Hermione and Ron have been sentenced to supporting roles for the sake of time, the performance of new evil headmaster Umbridge is beautifully played by Imelda Staunton and she steals every scene she is in. This two-disc set has some hits and misses. The deleted scenes should have been vanished, but there is an editing section that teaches you about film making and then allows you to edit your own scene. You also get a chance to follow Tonks around the studio in order to discover how Harry comes to life.
No Country For Old Men A-
Starring Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo)
Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language
Appropriate for ages 17+
The Story: When a hunter (Brolin) stumbles upon a heroine deal gone bad in West Texas, he grabs the bag of money left on the scene and heads out of town. Unfortunately for him, a sociopath that loves to kill (Bardem) is hot on his trail.
The Good: The Coen Brothers have always told their own stories, so to see them take on this novel by Cormac McCarthy is very different for them. If you hadn’t read the book, or at least known the source, though, you would have thought it was their tale. As a pseudo-narrator and sometimes participant, Tommy Lee Jones provides for a laid back view of the evil that men do, but the real power here lies behind Javier Bardem – the killer with the chili-bowl haircut. Bardem is one of the scariest villains since Hannibal Lecter and I will predict that many a trophy will be added to his mantle come awards time. For the first 90 minutes of this film, I was certain that I was watching the best film of the year.
The Bad: It’s not that the third act is a disappointment, but there is an artistic choice made here that took me out of the film. I won’t reveal the ending, and I’m not sure if they were just trying to be true to the source material, but the brothers Coen make a decision that I second guess. I’m sure that they really don’t care if I act as a backseat driver here, but I’m also sure many will wish that this fantastic film could have ended on a different note. Imagine, if you will, that you are on an amazing vacation. One for the ages. Then, on the last day – you are mugged. No matter what transpired before, the trip is tainted. That’s the feeling No Country gave me.
The Summary: Regardless of the strangely uncharacteristic third act, No Country for Old Men remains a powerful and horrifying psychological thriller.
Superbad 2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition
Starring Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Seth Rogen
Unrated for excessive language and sexual situations
Appropriate for ages 17+
Release Date: December 4, 2007
Two friends attempt to score liquor for their high school graduation party in the the hope of possibly hooking up with their respective dream girls. One bad incident follows another and the two end up on an absurd adventure that they will never forget. This huge sleeper hits DVD this week with a phenomenal two-disc unrated set. Caution to the young and easily offended: there is some really raunchy stuff on this disc, even more so than in the raunch-filled R rated theatrical release. The second disc proves to be almost as funny as the first, containing tons of extras like a Taxi Cab Confessions spoof titled Cop Car Confessions and Everyone Hates Michael Cera – The Unfortunate True Story. Also included is a junket meltdown that looks a little too real to be faked. All in all, I laughed hard for almost four straight hours with this set. If laughter really is the best medicine – this DVD could cure cancer.
Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, and Susan Sarandon
Directed by Kevin Lima (Tarzan)
Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo
Appropriate for all ages
The Story: Cartoon princess Giselle (Adams) is as happy as she can be. She has met her prince Edward (Marsden) and they are to marry. The queen/witch (Sarandon) has other plans however, and casts the simple princess into the real life world of New York City. When a young attorney (Dempsey) rescues her thinking that she is just a pretty young woman that has lost her marbles, it is up to the prince to head to New York and rescue her before he loses her.
The Good: The first half of this film is just pure joy. Every minute will make you smile and laugh and cry. There are some very memorable moments here that can only be described as brilliant. I am so glad that Amy Adams is finally starting to make a name for herself (you might remember her from her Oscar nominated role in Junebug). She is so perfect for Giselle that you can almost feel that she might be a real princess trapped in a New York wonderland. The rest of the cast performs solidly as well and the production is top notch.
One of the best aspects of this film is it’s appeal for adults. Because of the real human (and animal) nature presented here, the tale has an adult feel that is still kid-friendly. The innuendo will escape most young minds and make most grown-ups laugh wickedly.
The Bad: I have a feeling that Disney had a great premise but couldn’t figure out how to get the story to end right. Sarandon’s queen/witch/dragon wasn’t convincing and pretty nonsensical. Because of this ending dilemma, the film drags a bit and then ends after a confusing finale. But never fear, even with this problem, you will still walk out of the theater with a smile on your face.
The Summary: Disney knocks yet another fairytale out of the park.
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, and Olga Kurylenko
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+
The Story: A trained-from-birth assassin finds himself in a pickle when a confirmed dead target turns up alive. Since he is the scapegoat, he attempts to go after the people that have set him up in order to make a cleaner escape from the authorities possible.
The Good: If you are fans of the game, you might enjoy this minor thrill ride. There is lots of violence and nudity which might excite the target audience appropriately. Olyphant, while not as good as usual, is still fun to watch for most of the film and gives his all to make this another Bourne Identity.
The Bad: The acting by the rest of the cast is simply atrocious. Of course the script doesn’t help the film’s cause. The writing and directing are both novice and make this film very forgettable. It might have helped to give the hero a real back story, rather than a jumbled montage opening credit sequence, but overall, this film is pretty much an unfixable mess from the start.
The Summary: This video game based pic should get assassinated at the box office.
The Mist A-
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Toby Jones
Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Rated R for violence, terror and gore, and language
Appropriate for ages 17+
The Story: The day after a major storm, a mist rolls into a small New England town. Collecting post-storm supplies, many of the townsfolk find themselves trapped in a grocery store after they discover that there are deadly creatures in the mist that kill those that might venture outside.
The Good: You want scary? You got it here. Both psychologically and physically frightening, The Mist delivers big chills and keeps the goosebumps a’bumpin. While the monsters are truly terrifying, much of the frights arise from the dialogue of the great Darabont screenplay. The ensemble acting by the entire cast is very good and the directing is just what you would expect from someone such as Darabont trying to make a horror flick.
The Bad: Earlier this week, Stephen King commented “Frank wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.” That being said, the end of this film is super bleak. Many will not like it. I won’t give it away, but will merely say that it is very disturbing and sickening. I guess it’s just what the King ordered.
The Summary: This pic is scary enough to make you think twice before setting foot in the fog again.
Starring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Jolie
Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity
Appropriate for ages 15+
The Story: Loosely based on the epic poem that most of us were forced to read in high school, Beowulf follows the adventures of the titular hero as he fights his way through medieval Denmark. First he must battle the powerful demon Grendel, only to find Grendel’s mother is an even more difficult foe.
The Good: Director Zemeckis uses here the same style of motion-capture animation he used in his Christmas tale Polar Express. The years have been good to the technology and the look of the film is stunning. If you really want to see the best possible version of the film, take the 90-minute drive to Houston and see it in 3-D IMAX at the Marquee theater on IH-10 and Silber (just get your tickets early on www.fandango.com as it certain to sell out all of it’s showings over the next ten days). The production, overall, is truly excellent and the whole experience is very entertaining. The dragon fight scene at the end of the film is one of the most amazing and breathtaking action sequences I’ve ever laid eyes on.
The Bad: I wasn’t so sold on the story, and while it’s not bad, the screenplay drags a bit at times and two hours seems a little long for the material. Also, while it might be a fun film for teenage boys, it is violent and sensual enough to have garnered an R rating. While blood was spared to achieve a PG-13, I would have given the flick a stronger rating and advise parents of small children to take them to a different movie.
The Summary: While the pacing could have been better, Beowulf still turns out to be a fun-filled action pic with eye-popping visuals.
American Gangster A
Starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Josh Brolin
Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator)
Rated R for violence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+
The Story: Based on the life of drug-kingpin-turned-informant Frank Lucas (Washington), American Gangster tells the tale of the infamous drug lord’s rise to to power and the police officer that wants to take him down (Crowe). Responsible for most of the early heroine trade in Harlem, Lucas became a multi-millionaire by personally traveling to Vietnam to buy the drugs, and then having them shipped back to the states in the coffins of American soldiers. By doing this, he became more powerful than even the mafia during this dark chapter in American history.
The Good: Not since the 70s have we seen such a gritty and intense crime drama. Throw Scarface and The French Connection in a blender and you might come up with something that looks like American Gangster. Washington and Crowe are so good here that I can see both being brought up for Oscar nods for best actor. The supporting cast is just as good. The script by Shindler’s List scriber Steven Zaillian is a tremendous piece of work that gives the actors and director Ridley Scott an easy road map to work with. While almost three hours long, the pacing makes the time go by fast, although I would recommend the small drink so that you don’t have to take a bathroom break and miss any of this great film.
The Bad: This movie is almost perfect, until the last five minutes. If I could have left five minutes early, I would already be declaring my best film of the year choice in October. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that I was very disappointed in the way the ending was handled.
The Summary: In the world of crime thrillers, American Gangster will go down as a classic.