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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The publication of the new Harry Potter novel is only days away, but for those who can't wait, Hollywood comes to the rescue - with the movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is no stand-alone film or even a constantly reinvented franchise, like the James Bonds. It's a cog in brisk, well-oiled machine, the fifth in a seven-film series that unfolds like chapters in the world's longest-running serial.

Though director David Yates hasn't brought any overpowering directorial style to "Phoenix," he does have some advantages. As the terrifying wizard Voldemort grows in power, Potter's world noticeably darkens and gets more involving.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix")

Mr. DAVID THEWLIS (Actor): (As Remus Lupin) Now, fear makes people do terrible things, Harry. The last time Voldemort gained power, he almost destroyed everything we hold most dear. Now he's returned and I'm afraid the minister will do almost anything to avoid facing that terrifying truth.

TURAN: Yates and his team handle the film's visuals well, including the impressive sets for the atrium of the Ministry of Magic and it's endless Hall of Prophecy, as well as fine flying sequences involving equine creatures called Thestrals. The director also works well with the film's juvenile leads, which is important because these are the raging hormone years at Hogwarts School. As played by Daniel Radcliffe, Harry comes off as more Grumpy Potter than the bright light of the wizarding world. In fact, Harry looks so disgruntled in his gray hoodie, I was afraid he might start rapping.

There are reasons why Harry seems to be headed for his 19th nervous breakdown. His great protector, Dumbledore, won't give him the time of day. His romantic life is a shambles. And the anti-Voldemort fighters think he's too young to be a full-fledged warrior.

Even worse, the phlegmatic Ministry of Magic appoints the sinister Dolores Umbridge as Hogwarts' new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Impeccably played by Imelda Staunton, the star of Mike Leigh's very different "Vera Drake," this pink-clad presence comes off exactly like Miss Piggy's evil twin.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix")

Ms. IMELDA STAUNTON (Actress): (As Dolores Umbridge) Your previous instruction on this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you'll be pleased to know, from now on you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic.

TURAN: Phoenix may be thinned down from the series' longest book, but it can't shake an episodic feeling that makes it difficult to develop momentum. Though many of its elements are strong, it can't transcend being a weigh station in an epic journey, a journey whose cinematic conclusion is several years in the future.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: The movie is "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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