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Charlie's vacation, staffers preview

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Charlie is off on a classical music binge in Portland this week so we've brought in Jay Herzog (who wrote "Battle for Boomer Jack" for us a few weeks back) as a guest reviewer — but diehard movie buff that Charlie is, he went to the opening of the latest Bruce Willis Die Hard flick before he left. Yours truly and staffer Heidi Walters wrangled the previews.

— Bob Doran


Previews

As noted by Charlie last week, July's "Based on the Book" classic film series on Tuesdays at the Humboldt County Main Library is 100 Years: A Celebration of Stanwyck , dedicated to the actress Barbara Stanwyck who was born in July of 1907. As one of the presenters, I have to admit I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect. My memory of the iconic actress is mostly from one stereotypical role: the domineering matriarch Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley . I didn't like her. But I saw that one of the films, The Lady Eve , was directed by Preston Sturges, and I love his work, so I signed on.

The Lady Eve is a great movie, a classic farce, which in Hollywood translates as screwball comedy. Stanwyck plays Jean Harrington, a conniving card sharp who teams with her father (a marvelous Charles Coburn) to con Charles Pike, a na?Øve beer heir played by a young Henry Fonda, who literally and figuratively falls for her like a ton of bricks, over and over. Jean is shrewd but lovable — then you fall out of love with her, then back in again. It's not hard to see where things are going, but the dialog is so pithy (almost to a fault) that the journey is a sheer delight. My intro to the movie begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 10. The Main Library is located at 1313 3rd St. in Eureka. Admission is free.

— Bob Doran


A load of new flicks were rolled out last week in honor of the Holiday Fourth, so this week there's just one new offering in local theaters: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix . Really, that's all that needs to be said. It doesn't matter what happens in this movie. Let the stampede begin.

However, there are some muggles who've never heard of this tale of the scarfaced boy with magical powers. So this preview is for you.

In HP and the O of the Ph , Young Harry has entered the deepest, darkest thicket of the teen years: His friends seem to have forsaken him, those darned Death Eaters are pestering him even in Mugglesville, his schoolmates, masters and the Ministry of Magic think he's a liar, his family still ignores him (no great loss, there), his hormones are raging, he's having nightmares, everyone but him and Prof. Dumbledore is in denial about nasty Lord Voldemort's return and, worst of all, a powermongering wretch called Dolores Umbridge — Senior Undersecretary to the Ministry — is the new and utterly incompetent and bigoted Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. In short, in the movie based on J.K. Rowling's fifth book in the Harry Potter series, all the world is against Harry — and he must, therefore, save it. And he must start a secret club. And he must — those hormones — passionately kiss Cho Chang. And he must drop his drawers on the London stage in a scandalous role as a man most lustily desirous of a pretty horse — oh, wait, that was all-growed-up Potter star Daniel Radcliffe's recent role in the play Equus . Never mind.

Anyway, critics are partly panning the new Potter flick because, like the book, it seems to be a lengthy but "necessary evil" of plot development to get us and Harry past that hazardous, befuddled transition zone called late adolescence and, well, plot development. This should, actually, mean the new movie is especially fun. But critics are whining that Harry's become cynical, and that the movie is too dark — or, contrarily, one critic complains it exists too much in the gray area and bemoans the loss of straightforward black and white, good and evil. You have to — dread — suffer doubt along with Harry.

But whatever — if you're a Potter fan, you'll love it no matter what, eh? Those moms over at The Motion Picture Association of America have rated it a teen-typical PG-13 "for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images." David Yates directs. 138 m. Opens midnight Tuesday July 10 at the Broadway and Fortuna, and Wednesday July 11 at the Minor and Mill Creek.

— Heidi Walters


Reviews

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD: If you're a fan of the TV series "24," imagine Jack Bauer without Chloe or any CTU backup, but he still has to save the world, or at least the United States, from terrorists, and you've got an approximation of Jack McClane (Bruce Willis), the NYPD cop who is the hero of the four Die Hard films. When we first see McClane, rescuing his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bobby , Grindhouse: Death Proof ) from a pawing Romeo, he already looks as if he's been around the block a few too many times, and he goes downhill from there. Live Free or Die Hard makes good use of Willis' age: He's up against tech-savvy terrorists but he's a complete tech dummy himself. But he sure uses his fists well, and his body seems to withstand anything. The plot is boilerplate: Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood ) intends to bring down the country by taking over all of the computer systems because the Defense Department rejected his plans to make them more secure. The FBI, Homeland Security, Defense and the local police are hapless. But McClane, with the help of very talented hacker Matt Ferrell (a likable Justin Long), takes his own route to save the situation. The action is non-stop, Willis perfect (and amusing) in the role, and you don't need to guess which side of the film title's equation will win out. Everything has multiple possible interpretations and I choose to interpret the film my way, as a sneaky anti-Bush allegory masquerading as patriotism. After all, we see a fighter plane destroy everything in its path going after the wrong target, and while we're fighting in Iraq the wolves are actually at our door, thanks to petty politicians and bureaucrats whose rigid ideology blinds them to the real danger. Plenty of that going around. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and a brief sexual situation. 140 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

— Charlie Myers


SICKO: Michael Moore's first film since Fahrenheit 9/11 takes on the sorry state of the health care system in America with his trademark mix of comic editing and sledgehammer polemics. As in all of Moore's films there are elements both inspiring and frustrating: The stories of those denied health care for which they were ostensibly covered are genuinely heartbreaking, but as usual Moore occasionally grandstands (though in this film he's wisely relegated himself mainly to the role of a narrator rather than on-camera participant). Ultimately the fact that Moore is on the side of the angels gives him a lot of leeway here, and his comic montages of found material are quite funny (a Ronald Reagan record sponsored by the AMA warning of the evils of socialized medicine; Moore's introduction of Hillary Clinton). It's also very savvy of him to concentrate on those who thought they were covered by insurance, rather than those not covered at all. It's harder then for anyone to just dismiss his argument by assuming it's someone else's problem. His final stunt of boating 9/11 rescue workers to Guantanamo to get the care they were denied at home makes a telling point but is also reminiscent of too many of his previous cinematic pranks, which are more than a little tired at this point. By now we know what to expect from Michael Moore, and in this regard he doesn't disappoint. If his portrayal of the socialized health care systems in Europe, Canada and Cuba seems a little rosy, he makes a valid argument that a free market fundamentalism that trusts only the bottom line when it comes to life and death issues is, well, sick. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 113 m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

— Jay Herzog


EVENING: I grant from the outset that this is not the kind of film that I'm the ideal audience for — a tony adaptation of a novel set in an upper-class WASP milieu is not usually my idea of a good time. I tried to give it a fair viewing anyway. The epitome of what used to be called the "prestige picture," Evening is packed with talented actors and beautiful cinematography, and it was made by a director, Lajos Koltai, whose previous films show a talent for adapting works of literature to the screen. Unfortunately, Evening is quite a bore. I've not read the Susan Minot novel from which this film was adapted (she herself wrote the script with novelist Michael Cunninghan), but on screen it essentially plays like a romance novel with literary pretensions (note to filmmakers: Having characters quote from The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick doesn't give you any extra points). The story spans 50 years as a bohemian singer on her deathbed (Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes in the flashbacks) reflects on the central love of her life, the hunky doctor Harris and those who fall for him. The modern storyline follows her two daughters (Toni Collette and Redgrave's real-life daughter Natasha Richardson) as they deal with her oncoming death and the fallout from their unconventional childhood. The film aspires to be a modern Technicolor romance a la Douglas Sirk, but this kind of full-throated melodrama is a tricky proposition in these post-ironic times, and what the film makers intend to be passionate just comes off as overwrought and cheesy. There's also an annoying tendency to turn up the syrupy music when we're supposed to be moved. Only in the subtle scene where the characters played by Meryl Streep and Vanessa Redgrave reunite do we see what this film could have been. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene and language. 117 m. At the Broadway.

— JH


JINDABYNE: Raymond Carver's short story "So Much Water Close to Home" was previously filmed as part of Robert Altman's Short Cuts , but here director Ray Lawrence ( Lantana ) takes Carver's story and transposes it to a small town in Australia. Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and three friends go on their annual fishing trip and find a dead body in the river where they set up camp. Rather than make the long hike back to immediately report the find, they decide to stay and fish. When they return, this decision has unforeseen repercussions, both on Stewart's wife Claire (Laura Linney), who sees a side of her husband she didn't know before, and on the local aboriginal community that the dead girl belonged to, who consider the four men not just insensitive but racist as well. Byrne is fine in his role as the gruff garage owner, but Laura Linney inhabits her mercurial character with a subtle intensity that in less capable hands could have easily been shrill and one-dimensional. The town of Jindabyne is in some ways a character itself in the film, and the expert ensemble cast makes it palpably real. This film is a rare case where extrapolation from a literary source actually adds to the depth and meaning of the piece — the husband and wife's relationship in Carver's original story are broadened to encompass racial relations in the small town, the fragile bonds between parents and children, and the dark side of male bonding. Well worth seeing. 123 m. Rated R for disturbing images, language and some nudity. At the Minor.

— JH


Continuing

1408: Haunted-house novelist checks into spooky hotel room; spooky hotel room unleashes writer's inner demons. Based on a Stephen King horror short story, so it's more psycho than icky. Rated PG-13. 104 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

A MIGHTY HEART: Angelina Jolie plays Mariane Pearl in a film based on Pearl's memoir of the kidnapping and beheading of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in Pakistan in 2002. Rated R. 115 m. At the Broadway.

EVAN ALMIGHTY: Unfunny Christian-lite treacle-comedy about suburban Hummer-dumbo who wants to pave over paradise. But Morgan Freeman — er, God — commands him to build an ark instead. Rated PG. 105 m. At the Broadway, Minor, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER: Weirdos with superpowers and tight-fitting costumes meet intergalactic surfer and — spoiler alert! — save Earth. Rated PG. 102 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

KNOCKED UP: In J. Apatow's latest comedy of manners, no-account schlub makes gorgeous TV star pregnant. They marry. Rated R. 126 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

LICENSE TO WED: The Rev. Robin Williams don't want them kids gettin' married till they've been through the pre-marriage ringer. Rated PG-13. 110 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

NANCY DREW: Adorable teen sleuth geek (E. Roberts) tackles cold case, mean classmates. Rated PG. 109 m. At The Movies.

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN: G. Clooney, B. Pitt, M. Damon, A. Pacino, D. Cheadle, E. Gould, B. Mac, E. Izzard, E. Barkin, etc., etc. Rated PG-13. 132 m. At Mill Creek and the Broadway.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END: The action moves to Singapore where Davy Jones (Nighy) and Capt. Jack (Depp) continue their battle, with the profession of piracy in danger of extinction. Rated PG-13. 178 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

RATATOUILLE: Remy, an ambitious, talented young foodie, wants to become a fancy chef in a Paris bistro. But he's a rat — eww . Discrimination et un pue de hijinks ensue. Rated G. 120 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

SHREK THE THIRD: When the lovable ogre is crowned King he tries to find someone more suitable for the role. Voices by M. Myers, C. Diaz, E. Murphy, A. Banderas. Rated PG. 102 m. At The Movies.

SPIDER-MAN 3: The web-slinger (T. Maguire) tussles with baddies and wrestles internal demons. Rated PG-13. 150 m. At The Movies.

SURF'S UP: Penguins surf, kids delight. Animated blockbuster. Rated PG. 85 m. At The Movies and Mill Creek.

TRANSFORMERS: Movie based on a toy and a TV series. Robots battle to the, um, fatal error, while a puny teen human tries to intervene and save Earth. Rated PG-13. 153 m. At the Broadway, Minor, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

WAITRESS: Pregnant working woman with abusive husband seeks a way out. Rated PG-13. 117 m. At the the Minor.

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