Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Never having read a Harry Potter book nor seen a Harry Potter movie, I was keen to see exactly how confusing this fifth installment in the wildly popular young-wizard saga would seem. Happily, this is the kind of movie where nearly every character is identified by name (and loudly!) as they make their first appearance on screen. It doesn’t take much knowledge about the complicated backstory to enjoy the cracking coming-of-age story about responsibility to your conscience, the importance of friendship, and the evil that can be done by corrupt bureaucrats. (Alternate title: Harry Potter Fights the Power.) The picture is derailed occasionally by that rushed, strait-jacketed feel associated with slavish adaptations, and the last reel is a bit anticlimactic, but this is still an engaging yarn with some gorgeous special-effects work. There’s also a special pleasure in seeing so many very young actors holding their own in scenes featuring their prodigiously gifted elders—Fiona Shaw, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, and Maggie Smith, just for starters. (Even Helena Bonham Carter shows up in a frightwig for what amounts to a cameo as a “Death Eater” named Bellatrix Lestrange!) Not a great film, but an ideal family matinée.

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