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Film Clips

Hairspray, Sicko, others

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HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX Those who like their Potter black will find much to appreciate in the fifth and moodiest of the J.K. Rowling adaptations to date. Chris Columbus' first two entries focused mainly on fun and games, with the subsequent installments helmed by Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell taking on decidedly darker dimensions. The level of malevolence is raised even further here, thanks to the taut direction by unknown David Yates and a forceful performance by series lead Daniel Radcliffe. Villainy abounds in Phoenix, with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) haunting Harry's every move, a fluttering fascist named Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) taking over the Hogwarts school, and an escaped prisoner known as Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) arriving late to kill off a popular character. Add to those threats Harry's issues of abandonment and estrangement, and it's no wonder the lad can't keep those roiling emotions in check. In this respect, Phoenix operates not only as a story-specific fantasy flick but also as a universal teen angst tale, a far-flung Rebel Without a Cause in which the protagonist tries to comprehend the adult world he's on the verge of entering while simultaneously struggling to cut the umbilical cord of childhood. In many ways, the film echoes The Empire Strikes Back: The mood is grim, the heroes are reeling, and the villains are on the move. But with a little help from their friends, not to mention a strong belief in the "force" of good, these kids may yet save the day. ***

LICENSE TO WED The heir presumptive to last summer's You, Me and Dupree, this toxic-waste comedy, offensive in its idiocy, similarly places loathsome characters in absurd situations that are meant to give off a funky black-comedy vibe yet instead reek only of desperation as well as the limitations of comically challenged minds. Under the disinterested supervision of director Ken Kwapis, four writers (four?!) jerry-build a premise that finds newly engaged couple Ben Murphy (John Krasinski) and Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) forced to pass a marriage preparation course supervised by the Jones family's longtime minister, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams). Along the way, Reverend Frank, aided by his young apprentice (Josh Flitter, as annoying here as he was in Nancy Drew), bugs the couple's bedroom, embarrasses Ben in front of his future in-laws, and drives Sadie away from her fiancé. Sharp scripting could have given Frank the balance required to make him an apt comic foil, but here he's simply creepy, a problem expounded by the casting of Robin Williams. He's in his manic, whoring mode here, an approach well past its expiration date in terms of actually resembling anything funny or topical. (One bit finds Williams making a joke about O.J. Simpson; heck, why not cracks about the Pentagon Papers or Rosie the Riveter or even the invention of the light bulb?) Williams has made so many one-star comedies that it's impossible to keep count at this point. But rest assured that there's a multiplex in hell that screens them on a perpetual loop. *

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD Entertainment Weekly almost had it right when a recent cover story named 1988's Die Hard the best action movie ever made (but over Raiders of the Lost Ark? Come on ...). Bruce Willis returns to his signature role of John McClane for the fourth time, and the twist here is that the aging detective finds himself battling cyber-terrorists who threaten to shut down the entire United States with a few strokes of a keyboard. The movie's billing itself as the story of an "analog" cop living in a "digital" age, and we all know what that means. No mouse pads or monitors for our hero; instead, it's all flying fists, rapid-fire weaponry and explosions. Lots of explosions. Yet even director Len Wiseman and scripter Mark Bomback don't have complete faith in the cop's old-fashioned heroics since they saddle him with a sidekick (Justin Long) who's a genius when it comes to computers. An overlong running time allows matters to occasionally become stale (the blueprint calls for our protagonists to evade, fight, escape, repeat), although Willis does his part by tossing out those patented McClane quips with aplomb. And while there's no denying that the picture is packed with memorable action sequences, the film often collapses into a heap of silliness, with McClane surviving some encounters that would tax all sorts of leaps of logic. The appeal of the character has always been that he's Everyman, not Superman. Yet Live Free Or Die Hard blows that train of thought to smithereens; Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang can only wish they could do some of the things John McClane executes so effortlessly here. **1/2

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