Now in Cinemas: Reviews for July 19, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Good Night

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

A dark and gloomy installment to the franchise, David Yates´ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contains fits and spurts of the magic of the previous films but generally underwhelms. The longest book in the series has become the shortest film (so far), and in many instances it shows; it´s plot-heavy and rushed, and the only film that can´t stand on its own – there are so many characters and references to past events that anyone who hasn´t seen the previous films or read the novels will be lost. The tone of the film also detracts; there´s a point where the darkness is appropriate to this Harry Potter film, but there´s also the inescapable fact that this is still a Harry Potter film. The gee-whiz attitude and awe-inspiring moments from the earlier films are completely missing, and the darkness seems forced; for a good while, the film feels oppressively gloomy without just cause. Though justification for the gloom comes at the end, with the death of a major character and Ralph Fiennes making for an effectively scary Voldemort, couldn´t we have had some fun in the two hours leading up to it?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Jason Isaacs, George Harris, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Katie Leung, Evanna Lynch. Written by Michael Goldenberg, from the novel by J.K. Rowling.
IMDb link
Attacked by Dementors, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is forced to use magic in the presence of Muggles, and the Ministry of Magic threatens to expel him from Hogwarts for this infraction. Though Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and a convenient witness bail him out, a member of the Ministry (Dolores Umbridge, played broad but effective by Imelda Staunton) is appointed Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, and immediately causes a rift by not teaching the students their magic. This makes for the bulk of the film: an internal power struggle at Hogwarts, and the politics between the Ministry of Magic and the school, with Harry sulking his way through with a nobody-believes-me mentality. It all resembles the recent Star Wars flicks: too much politics, not enough focus on individual characters, with Radcliffe´s Potter equaling Hayden Christensen´s Anakin Skywalker in attitude. There´s even some dark-side luring by Voldemort thrown in for good measure. And all of those characters that we´ve grown to know and love are lost in the background here; even Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are given next to nothing to do despite ample screen time. The talented cast of British actors and actresses keeps growing, and here many of them are wasted: Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, and even Alan Rickman are all sorely underused. Production is top-notch, as to be expected, though there´s far less eye candy this time around. Effectively, though perhaps misguidedly, directed by Yates; easily the least of the series. Hard-core fans are likely to be disappointed, though casual fans should enjoy. Non-fans beware.

NOTE: Czech-dubbed versions of the film will be playing in most Prague cinemas; catch it in English with Czech subs at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům or Village Cinemas Anděl.


The Good Night
Written and directed by Jake Paltrow. Starring Martin Freeman, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow, Simon Pegg, Penélope Cruz, Michael Gambon.
IMDb link

Debut feature from director Jake Paltrow, The Good Night is not without flaws but excels as a rare intelligent and realistic comedy-drama. Gary (Martin Freeman), a dour British musician living in New York and stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow), begins to dream of his, well, dream girl, personified by Anna (Penélope Cruz). Happier in dreams than reality, Gary begins to explore the possibilities of controlling his dreams with the help of low-rent dream therapist Danny DeVito. When he eventually meets Anna, the real-life representation of the girl in his dreams, she can only disappoint him; he soon retreats to his dreams, where he has more control. The fascination with dreams recalls the work of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry, while comedy-drama structure and dialogue borders on Woody Allen territory; none of it is fully explored or realized, but enough of the film entertains and tickles the mind to provide a worthwhile experience. Direction is surprisingly assured for a first-timer, though the inevitable ending doesn´t come as a surprise. Cast is good, with Freeman channeling Dudley Moore as the everyman lead; DeVito has a lot of fun as the dream therapist (his best role in recent memory), and Simon Pegg is a standout as Gary´s wisecracking, sleazy friend. Major flaw: Gwyneth Paltrow´s argumentative Dora, who comes off as thoroughly unlikable though late plot developments suggest that perhaps shouldn´t have been the case. Excellent original score by Alec Puro.

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