'Harry Potter' Is Running Out of Magic

'Harry Potter' | The Police | Warner Music Group | Madonna

Harry Potter' Is Running Out of Magic

I don't read the books, so I can't tell you if the fifth installment of the series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," is true to the book from which it's adapted.

Does it matter, though? "Phoenix" has got to stand as a film on its own, and it does — even though it seems much more wobbly than the preceding installments, a good deal darker and more plodding and maybe even more episodic.

That last part might have to do with the fact that director David Yates comes from British TV and the screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg, is a not very well-known playwright.

Of course, the biggest problem now is that the "Harry Potter" series can't seem to recapture Alfonso Cuaron's crowning achievements in "Prisoner of Azkaban," the third installment. Everything about that film worked so well that it's kind of hard to compare the subsequent films.

The follow-up, "Goblet of Fire," directed by Mike Newell, has faded by comparison. "Phoenix" may be a hit, but it teeters on being forgettable as well.

And yet, there are some great moments in "Phoenix." There's plenty of flying, which is always good. A spectacular indoor fireworks display also got a big reaction at Monday night's press screening.

And the whole final sequence in the Department of Mysteries — which looks like Harrod's London with the lights out — was surprisingly effective.

But Daniel Radcliffe, our Harry, comes off a little hardened in this episode, and older than his 17 years (18 in a few days). While Rupert Grint and Emma Watson — Ron Weasly and Hermione — still feel like kids, something about Radcliffe feels more mature and perhaps less conducive to playing a teenage wizard.

"Phoenix" does have surprises, however. Imelda Staunton is lots of fun as Hogwarts' headmistress Dolores Umbridge (great name) who takes, ahem, umbrage at everything and plays her part to the hilt as a delicious combination of Alexis Carrington meets Cruella de Vil.

Helena Bonham Carter may be playing herself at this point as the nutty Bellatrix LeStrange, but she's memorable. The real-life Phelps twins are also loads of fun as Ron's mischievous older twin brothers who sense that academics may not be their strong suit.

And, yes, Harry gets his first kiss. It's a bit anticlimactic, since Radcliffe has been naked on the London stage seducing horses.

For my money, "Phoenix" is all about Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, the heart and soul of "Harry Potter."

Director Yates is already signed on for No. 6, so we know what to expect. Maybe Cuaron can be convinced to return for No. 7. By then, we will really need him.

Live Earth CD Bounce: Police in the Lead

The Police got the biggest bounce on Amazon.com from their performance on Live Earth Saturday night. Their "Very Best of Sting and the Police" jumped 189 percent and landed at No. 3 on Amazon's "Movers and Shakers" after rocketing from 1,188 to 410. Not bad.

But what about all those other groups on seven continents? For them, there was little to brag about. The show did nothing for Madonna's sales, and other acts like Alicia Keys, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz simply came and went.

It's hard to say whether Live Earth did anything in particular for Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson or Smashing Pumpkins. They were already in the Top 10 and have stayed there.

The No. 1 Monday had nothing to do with Live Earth. She's Adrienne Young, a bluegrass banjo player with a folk-pop album issued on an indie label. So there.

Warner Music Bottoms Out

Warner Miscellaneous Group — uh, Music Group — bottomed out its stock price Monday at $13.89 before rebounding for the day to $14.43. Perspective here: WMG was at $30.59 a year ago. The company's stock has little value now.

Something interesting about the WMG releases: Unlike those of other companies, WMG CDs hit big on the first week out, then drop like stones.

Linkin Park, the White Stripes, etc., all had good debuts followed by slalom rides downhill.

By contrast, when a Sony BMG or Universal CD hits the Top 5, it hangs in there for some time. Maybe this is because WMG has laid off so many people there's no one left for follow-through.

Madonna Goes Green

Madonna took our story to heart on Friday, and has said through PR mechanisms that she will look into her many investments in polluting companies.

Now, maybe all the media outlets that took our story without credit or attribution will look into their own dark souls as well.

I particularly laughed out loud at the ones that reprinted our story word for word without credit, as if they had written it. That means you, British tabloids.