BOP 25 of Summer 2007: 5-1

April 27, 2007

Wow! JK Rowling's ego has gotten huge! 5) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

July is Harry Potter month. As the frenzy toward the release of the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, builds in advance of its July 21st release date, fans will be able to have another Harry fix as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix hits theaters on July 13th. Based on the fifth book in J.K. Rowling's ludicrously popular series of children's novels, Order of the Phoenix pushes forward the story in the aftermath of the horrible events that closed out the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire.

In Harry's world, things are all out of whack. Not only has he been ordered to appear before the Ministry of Magic for performing underaged magic outside of Hogwarts (he was defending himself from Dementors), but while attending this hearing, he sees known Death Eater Lucious Malfoy in a conference with Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge. Harry is allowed to go on to start the year at Hogwarts, but things quickly go downhill. Their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, is a horrible tyrant who refuses to allow the students any practical application of what they are learning. The students come to realize that she is at Hogwarts for little more than to spy and take control of the institution. Soon, she is appointed High Inquisitor, which is designed to protect the students from the evil of Voldemort, but is actually quite a nasty little Orwellian power position. And this, of course, just scratches the surface of things to come over the course of the students' fifth year.

All of the usual suspects are back for Order of the Phoenix, with the key newcomers being director David Yates (who has mainly worked in television in the past, including the wonderful The Girl in the Café), Helena Bonham Carter as Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange, and past Academy Award nominee Imelda Staunton as the cruel Umbridge. There is generally a fair amount of consensus that Book 5 struggled under the weight of Umbridge. She was a cartoonish character, far too mean and ill-intended to be a fully effective character. With that said, Umbridge was always a character who seemed ready-made for the movies. While she's overly one-dimensional to read about for several hundred pages, her super dislikable traits will easily translate over to the big screen. And with someone as skilled as Staunton in the role, it won't feel like a caricature, either.

In many ways, Order of the Phoenix feels like a bit of filler that bides time until we get to the big finish that encompasses Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. That's not to say that it's not filled with important happenings. A key character dies and Harry learns a lot more about the role he will have to play in the future. Even if it does mostly fit the "middle of the series" definition, any film in the Potter series is reason for celebration. Between the effects, the magic and the connection we have come to feel for the characters, the Harry Potter world is one that we always love to immerse ourselves into. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
He's cleaner than most of the employees at Denny's. 4) Ratatouille

Aardman Animations tested the water for rats as featured players in animated film with the CGI film Flushed Away. After opening to a decent $18.8 million, it struggled along to a domestic total of $64.5 million. With middling reviews, too much focus on toilets and a departure from Aardman's traditional clay animation, it simply proved to be a hard sell.

Pixar will try its hand at rats next with the great-looking CGI flick Ratatouille. There are a lot more reasons to be optimistic about this particular project. To begin with, Pixar has really never let us down. Their high points - The Incredibles, Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. - are exceptional, and even their worst-received film, A Bug's Life, is still a wonderful movie-going experience. The various previews for Ratatouille have been nothing short of fantastic, with amazing looking animation and plenty of laughs. The pump is definitely being primed to drive audience interest and intrigue.

Perhaps the greatest reason for optimism for Ratatouille's quality, though, is the presence of Brad Bird in the director's chair. For those who might be unfamiliar with the Pixar oeuvre, Bird is the genius behind the Academy Award-winning The Incredibles as well as the delightful (and under-rated) 2D animated The Iron Giant. With his deft touch, Ratatouille has a chance to be something really special.

The story certainly has plenty of opportunity for fun. Ratatouille follows a young rat named Remy, a little fellow who harbors dreams of becoming a chef. He is constantly risking his life as he wanders through an upscale French restaurant, seeking out delectable dishes and expanding his taste buds. All of his aspirations have a chance to come true when he meets a young boy who works at the restaurant. This boy struggles with his cooking ability, but desperately needs to keep his job. Remy partners up with the young man as the two of them strive to create the greatest ratatouille in all of France. Along the way, they'll have to stay out of the way of a crazy chef and help Remy's friend win the heart of a young lady. We'll be in theaters on opening night to see just how it all plays out. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Penetration does not mean what Spidey thinks it means. 3) Spider-Man 3

What is left to be said about the Spider-Man franchise? In the first week of May of 2002, Spidey web-slung his way into theaters with a record-shattering debut of $114.8 million. The record stood for over four years, an eternity by by North American box office standards. Spider-Man is one of only seven movies to have earned over $400 million in domestic receipts.

Almost equally impressive is the fact that the sequel it spawned, Spider-Man 2, wound up earning almost as much with $373.4 million. It's rare to see a follow-up to a blockbuster earn over 90% of the total of the prior film. Generally, the pattern is a larger debut followed by a dramatic decline. Spider-Man 2 did the opposite. It opened to $88.1 million, roughly 77% of what the original did, but the sequel kept hanging in at the box office. It showed some of the best legs of any blockbuster in recent memory, with the key being that people very much enjoyed the movie.

Spider-Man 2's usage of Doc Octopus as a mentor for Peter Parker as well as a mortal enemy created a unique dichotomy for the genre. Director Sam Raimi has proven himself to have a deft touch with regards to humanizing bad guys and thereby making them more interesting. This additional layer of complexity is what separates the Spider-Man franchise from much more basic comic book movie adaptations such as Blade, Superman, and Fantastic Four.

BOP is particularly excited about Spider-Man 3, because the movie promises more of the same intellectually driven action. As we learned in the climactic events of the last movie, silver spooner Harry Osborn has gone over the edge since discovering that his best friend is the man he holds responsible for his father's death. Meanwhile, Parker's would-be girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson, has discovered his secret identity. As if these two complications were not enough for the web-slinger to deal with, there are two new bad guys in town. BOP fave Topher Grace joins the cast as Eddie Brock, a bad seed with an even more dangerous costume. And then there is Thomas Haden Church's Flint Marko, a man whose sudden ability to create beachfront property wherever he goes allows him to secure medication for his sick daughter.

If we have any concerns about Spider-Man 3, it's that this many sources of drama and conflict might spread the storylines too thin. Raimi's solution is to create the longest Spidey movie yet, a two hour and 20 minute opus that concludes with a sequence receiving a ridiculous amount of hype. Apparently, all of the major characters wind up in the same place at the same time, creating a climactic five-way brawl the likes of which has never been filmed before. Raimi has delivered the goods with Spider-Man twice already, so our staff trusts that he will not mess up in this, his presumed final effort for the franchise. As the conclusive story in the first Spider-Man movie trilogy, Spider-Man 3 promises satisfying resolution to a number of Shakespearean plots and a few box office records along the way. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Pirate fashion makes a comeback on the catwalk. 2) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Jack Sparrow should be celebrating. His last movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, broke Spider-Man's record as the largest domestic opener of all-time. Dead Man's Chest made $135.6 million over its first weekend, meaning it beat Spider-Man by 18% (!). The pirate action flick didn't stop there, either. It went on to make $423.3 million domestically, the sixth largest total of all-time. Even better, it became one of only three movies to earn over a billion dollars worldwide, winding up with $1.06 billion. So, why isn't Jack Sparrow on top of the world?

That pesky Kraken ate him.

Like Empire Strikes Back and The Matrix Reloaded before it, Dead Man's Chest was a bridge film to the finale of the trilogy. While the movie offered several brilliant sequences including the Calvin Awards-nominated Waterwheel fight, there was little by way of resolution at the end. In fact, the last thing viewers saw was the return of a character presumed to have been dead. At the time, this turn of events was frustrating to many, but the good news is that we didn't have to wait long to see the rest. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End comes out only ten months after Dead Man's Chest, giving those of us who wait to watch things on DVD an opportunity to catch up before the linchpin Disney franchise makes a run at more box office history.

What we have seen with many entries in the BOP 25 of Summer is that a lot of major franchises have staked a claim to a summer release. Out of all of them, Pirates of the Caribbean has the strongest current pedigree based on the success of the last project. In our annual Top 10 Film Industry Stories piece for 2006, we voted the film's performance as THE most impressive of last year. That's a tough act to follow for At World's End. Given the twists in the climactic moments of Dead Man's Chest, we are highly optimistic that the finale of the Jack Sparrow trilogy will offer a satisfying dénouement. And we will give huge bonus points if Jack gets the girl in the end. Otherwise, Keira Knightley is stuck with useless Orlando Bloom. (David Mumpower/BOP)
He doesn't wanna say anything, but he really doesn't feel like watching Grey's Anatomy. 1) Knocked Up

We're guessing you're surprised at the number one film on our list. After all, Seth Rogen isn't really an A-list star, and when the glossy magazines mention the big movies of summer, Knocked Up isn't exactly in the top ten. Theoretically, it just looks like another sex comedy.

For our part, though, we are simply thrilled to see Rogen potentially breaking through to the big time. We've been huge fans since he was a mere 18-years-old and working his first acting job as the wry stoner Ken on the marvelous television series Freaks and Geeks (which also featured Linda Cardellini, now of ER, How I Met Your Mother's Jason Segal and James Franco, who is a key player in a little summer movie known as Spider-Man 3). We followed him to the short-lived comedy Undeclared, where he grew up a little as he played college dude Ron Garner. Next up was a small role as "Eager Cameraman" in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Jeremy. And finally, Rogen had his first major movie role as he portrayed one of Andy's three co-worker buddies in the subversive, hilarious The 40 Year-Old Virgin. The common denominator between all these projects is one Judd Apatow. Apatow was the executive producer, co-creator and key writer of both Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared before moving on to be a producer on Anchorman. While working on Anchorman, he made the acquaintance of Steve Carell, and together they conceived of and wrote The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which Apatow would also direct. He wrote and directs Knocked Up as well. If you've been paying attention here, Apatow and Rogen have been involved in a lot of projects that we love. You might say we're fans.

Knocked Up is a raunchy sex comedy in the tradition of The 40 Year-Old Virgin, but skews to a slightly younger age demographic (Rogen had his 25th birthday just a couple of weeks ago). Rogen plays a slovenly young guy named Ben, who meets a career focused girl in a bar one evening. They have a one-night stand, and he puts her out of his mind. Eight weeks later, however, she tells him that she is pregnant. Even though they have next to nothing in common, the two decide to forge ahead with a relationship for the sake of the baby. If the trailer is any indication at all, much hilarity ensues.

In addition to having a fantastic preview, Knocked Up is a veritable paradise for those familiar with Apatow's work on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Jay Baruchel, the aforementioned Segal, Martin Starr (who played my personal favorite F&G character, Bill) are all featured (and for Firefly/Serenity Fans, Alan Tudyk will also appear). Knocked Up has a fantastic chance to achieve American Pie heights, and we're refreshing Fandango regularly to see when we can buy our advance tickets.

On a sidenote, Rogen fans should also note that he appears in and co-wrote the screenplay for this summer's Superbad, which also happens to look hilarious (and stars Arrested Development's Michael Cena and "Ask Me About My Wiener Guy" Jonah Hill). (Kim Hollis/BOP)



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