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Next to perfect

By Lady Liberty
web posted November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

**1/2 out of ****

Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireI suspect it's not overstating matters to suggest that Harry Potter fans have been waiting for this movie since they saw the last one (the excellent Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). I'm compelled to admit that I'm one of those fans. I've been waiting months for November 18 to arrive; thankfully, our tickets were purchased early in the day because, even before the first show had been cued, all of the Friday showings were sold out. I settled into my seat along with a couple of friends, and waited eagerly for the movie to begin.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire recounts the events of Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) fourth year at Hogwarts, a school for young witches and wizards. The movie begins slightly before the school year does when Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) takes his family and a few friends to the World Quidditch Tournament. Harry, and his best friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) are thrilled, especially when they're able to see the "world's greatest seeker," Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) play. But when the tournament festivities are attacked by Death Eaters, the fun and games quickly come to an end.

Harry and his friends leave the abruptly terminated matches directly for Hogwarts where they're thrilled to hear Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) announce that their school will be the site of the infamous Tri-Wizard Tournament this year. Students from two other schools — Durmstrang and Beauxbatons — will join those at Hogwarts for the contest which is strictly limited to those age 17 and older due to the inherent dangers involved. The magical goblet of fire spits out names from each of the schools: Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts, Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons, and the famous Viktor Krum himself from Durmstrang are to compete. But then the goblet spews forth one more name: Harry Potter.

Though too young to compete, the rules are clear: if the goblet offers up a name, that student must participate. Harry is terrified, and can only hope he survives the contests to come. He has some hope of doing so, but only with help from Ron and Hermione; groundskeeper and good friend Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane); the newest Dark Arts teacher, Alastor "MadEye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson); and, strangely enough, the incompetent-at-just-about-everything Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis).

If all this isn't enough, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his father, Lucious (Jason Isaacs) continue to plague Harry; Potions instructor, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is still no friend to Harry; and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) might just be making a comeback. Mix all of this with Harry's crush on a fellow student, Cho Chang (Katie Leung); a nasty falling out with Ron; and a true tabloid-type reporter for The Daily Prophet (Rita Skeeter, played by Miranda Richardson), and you'll begin to understand why Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was such a substantial book and such a disappointing film.

I could, I suppose, blame great anticipation for a bit of my disappointment. But I think it's probably more fair to blame the severe editing needed to squeeze a lengthy book into a two and a half hour time frame. As it was, the World Quidditch Tournament — which was an absolute delight to watch — was onscreen all too briefly. The unexplained attack by the Death Eaters would have been more than a little confusing to those who haven't read the book. And the necessity to pack so much into the film meant that favorite characters — such as the malevolent Malfoys, the acerbically funny Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and the delightful Weasley twins, Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) — were given short shrift.

The acting is just fine from all of the youthful cast. The acting is quite a bit better than fine from Brendan Gleeson and, in her limited screen time, Maggie Smith. The special effects, as is to be expected, were superlative (pay particular attention to a feisty Welsh dragon), as were the sets. The direction seemed to elicit everything it needed to from the actors, and the editing was largely well done. But so much happened so quickly that there was little opportunity to really become emotionally invested in the film, and that's unfortunate seeing as how this part of Harry's story marks a real emotional watershed for him and his nearest and dearest.

It seems to me that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire would have lent itself well to a two-part series or, failing that, should have been longer. Peter Jackson (the Oscar-winning director of the brilliant Lord of the Rings series) proved audiences would sit still for three and a half hour movies provided they're good ones, and the Harry Potter movies are among the few with stories that really are that good. Did I like the movie? Yes, I did. But it could have been better...

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is rated PG-13 for "sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images." I read one review where it was suggested that those too young to read the hefty book are too young to see the movie, and I'd agree. There are injuries, deaths, and other assorted nasty things that simply are not suitable for small children. Older Harry Potter fans (say 11 or so and up) will be fine, though, and will love seeing everything they've imagined (and then some) coming to life on the big screen. It's no small feat that even a movie that could have been so much better was still so good!

Walk the Line

***1/2 out of ****

Walk the LineI've never been a Johnny Cash fan. If not for him, I'd never have even heard of his wife, June Carter Cash. But there was so much attention being given to the biographical movie — including early Oscar buzz — that I felt almost obligated to see it. Although high praise from reviewers doesn't always mean a film deserves it, I'm happy to say that Walk the Line is every good thing we've heard it is and then some.

Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) grew up during the Depression and through the second World War as the son of a poor sharecropper (Ray Cash, played by Robert Patrick) on an Arkansas cotton farm. His father's distance and clear favoritism for his older son shaped the young J.R. (as he was called by his family) as much as did his mother's love for singing hymns. A childhood tragedy also contributed greatly to the make up of the man J.R. later became.

As a young man, J.R. joins the Air Force. The Korean War is ongoing, but J.R. is at a distance; he's stationed at a base in Germany where he fills his spare time learning to play the guitar, and trying to write songs. He's also obsessed with his girlfriend back home, the pretty Vivian Liberto (Ginnifer Goodwin). Though Vivian's father is no fan of the young soldier wooing his daughter, John eventually wins her hand and settles into a small apartment with his wife and a new baby. Trying his hand at door to door sales in Memphis with little success, he yearns for his music even as his young wife tries to get him to settle down and be more responsible by taking a job with her father in Texas.

John is finishing up another long day when he happens by a small recording studio where, for a few dollars, fledgling musicians can record their own songs. He has no money to spare for such things, though, so he begs owner Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) for an audition. John and a couple of his buddies have been playing casually in their spare time for months, and they head for the studio with high hopes. Unfortunately, the gospel music they play doesn't impress Phillips in the least, and he bluntly tells them so. Out of sheer desperation, John plays a song he wrote about a man doing hard time in Folsom Prison. Phillips is no idiot; he agrees to work with the earnest singer/songwriter, and Johnny Cash is born.

In those days, incessant touring was the only way that singers could both make a living and get the exposure they needed to ensure radio airplay and record sales. It's on one such tour that Johnny meets pretty June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Carter has been performing since she was a small child, and Johnny is new to touring so her calm advice is welcome. Eventually, traveling around the country, the entire troupe become friends. Waylon Jennings (who is played by his son, Shooter Jennings), a young Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton), Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne), Roy Orbison (Johnathan Rice), and more of the soon-to-be greats are among them.

Although Johnny is successful with his music, his wife is running out of patience. Her husband isn't often home and when he is, he's exhausted. She also worries about the growing friendship between Johnny and June. Eventually, Vivian can no longer hide her disdain. Johnny's disappointment in himself only grows when he's still unable to please his hard-hearted father. He escapes his unhappy home life by touring some more, and then by sliding into drinking and worse. Cash's career — and his life — might have ended shortly after that if not for his adoration of June. Though both are married, and June makes it clear she's not interested, Johnny's not inclined to give up though he runs into more than a few stumbling blocks along the way.

Joaquin Phoenix has already been singled out for high praise and for rumors of Oscar as a result of his performance as Johnny Cash. It's true that Phoenix is astoundingly good in the role. Making his performance even more amazing is the fact that he learned to play guitar just for this part, and that he does all of his own singing (both of which he does credibly, by the way). What you may not have heard is just what a stunning performance Reese Witherspoon gives. She more than holds her own as an actress in the face of Phoenix's formidable talent, and then goes beyond that with some terrific tunes of her own. When the two perform duets, not only is the music enjoyable but the on screen chemistry is such that you've no doubt in your mind whatsoever that Johnny and June were destined to be together.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Robert Patrick are both good, especially the latter. In fact, I loathed Patrick's character which is a good indicator that the actor did a fine job in the creation of a man who apparently knew little about love and even less about raising children, but who did his best despite it all. The supporting cast is also excellent.

James Mangold, the director of such films as the wonderful Girl, Interrupted and the woefully underrated Identity, did a fine job directing Walk the Line; as the co-writer of the screenplay, his vested interest in the movie was clear and likely enhanced his direction. There are some edits that seem abrupt and effectively interrupt the flow of the story; there are a few matters that are mysteriously skipped or glossed over (perhaps these are scenes that will be returned to the film in the eventual DVD version). But as a whole, the film is well crafted, and the music, by the way, is terrific.

The terrific performances alone are worth the price of a ticket, but the story, too, is something well worth telling. Johnny Cash really was one of the greats despite his personal flaws; that he overcame many of those shortcomings only makes him an even better man. And the love story between him and June Carter Cash is at once poignant and passionate, and will likely prove inspirational as well. Walk the Line isn't perfect, but it's awfully, awfully close...

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Walk the Line is rated PG-13 for "some language, thematic material, and depiction of drug dependency." Small children aren't going to enjoy this movie anyway, and even older kids may not enjoy it much thanks to the fact it takes place in a past they've never known and features people they've likely heard of only in passing. But for adults, Walk the Line has much to recommend it. I said I wasn't a Johnny Cash fan, and I wasn't. But Walk the Line was a film I thoroughly enjoyed, and as a result, even gained some appreciation for Cash's musical legacy. I recommend Walk the Line to movie and music fans alike. It truly doesn't get much better than this.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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