HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE:

Since Iíve seen this sixth movie installment about the exploits of author J.K. Rowlingís now adolescent wizard (Daniel Radcliffe), I feel itís high time to praise the casting directors. I wonder if even they could have foreseen almost a decade ago when they selected the trio of then-child actors (Rupert Grint, Radcliffe, Emma Watson) to portray the main characters in this franchise how well they would literally and naturally grow into their roles? Had they not done so, this popular film series would have never made it as far as it has. This episode finds Harry assigned by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to probe the memory of an eccentric potions professor (Jim Broadbent) to try to discover a secret vulnerability of evil Lord Valdemort. Thereís a growing darkness of tone with each new film in this series which is nicely and subtly reflected in the muted lighting of Hogwartsí dining hall in contrast to its brightly lit cheeriness in the earlier works. Iíve consistently been impressed with the art and set design of all the preceding movies and this entry is no exception. Another subplot involving the major playersí love lives never really takes off and the middle portion of Steve Klovesís screenplay feels weighted down somewhat by segments that I think may have been included to appease "Potterphiles" who would have been incensed at their omission. But even at two-and-a-half hours, PRINCE is imminently watchable because of solid supporting turns from Gambon (GOSFORD PARK) and Broadbent (See sidebar below) who may be the most underrated character actor on the planet. Simply put, the elements that composed the best of the previous Harry Potter movies are present in this one and a worthy bridge to the final two films to be released in November 2010 and July 2011, respectively.

EXCELLENT MOVIES STARRING JIM BROADBENT: LIFE IS SWEET (1991), ENCHANTED APRIL (1991), THE CRYING GAME (1992), BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994), TOPSY-TURVY (2000), MOULIN ROUGE (2001), IRIS (2001)*, BRIDGET JONESíS DIARY (2001), GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (2006), HOT FUZZ (2007)

* Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor