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View From the Couch

Stardust, Two-Lane Blacktop, others



HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007). Those who like their Potter black will find much to appreciate in the fifth and moodiest of the J.K. Rowling adaptations to date. Chris Columbus' first two entries focused mainly on fun and games, with the subsequent installments helmed by Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell taking on decidedly darker dimensions. The level of malevolence is raised even further here, thanks to the taut direction by unknown David Yates and a forceful performance by series lead Daniel Radcliffe. Villainy abounds in Phoenix, with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) haunting Harry's every move, a fluttering fascist named Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) taking over the Hogwarts school, and an escaped prisoner known as Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) arriving late to kill off a popular character. Add to those threats Harry's issues of abandonment and estrangement, and it's no wonder the lad can't keep those roiling emotions in check. In this respect, Phoenix operates not only as a story-specific fantasy flick but also as a universal teen angst tale, a far-flung Rebel Without a Cause in which the protagonist tries to comprehend the adult world he's on the verge of entering while simultaneously struggling to cut the umbilical cord of childhood. In many ways, the film echoes The Empire Strikes Back: The mood is grim, the heroes are reeling, and the villains are on the move. But with a little help from their friends, not to mention a strong belief in the "force" of good, these kids may yet save the day.

Extras in the two-disc DVD edition include 17 minutes of additional scenes, a piece uncovering clues in all the films that point to Harry's ultimate fate, and a tour of the set.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

THE KILLING KIND (1973). Before turning to TV to direct episodes of such hits as Charlie's Angels and Dynasty, Curtis Harrington primarily made a (cult) name for himself directing faded Hollywood actresses in thrillers (including Shelley Winters in Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and Gloria Swanson in the dreadful made-for-TV movie Killer Bees). Here, it's former Golden Age glamour queen (and '50s TV star) Ann Sothern, cast as an overbearing mother whose relationship with her 21-year-old son (John Savage) tends to get a little too touchy-feely. Savage, a few years before fame struck briefly with The Deer Hunter and Hair, plays Terry, who, upon returning home from serving jail time for his reluctant participation in a gang rape, is pampered by his mother even as he plots his revenge on the two women he feels are responsible for his incarceration. All the while, he's being pursued by a perky wanna-be model (a pre-Laverne and Shirley Cindy Williams) and a sexually repressed neighbor (Luana Anders), neither of whom grasp the extent of his psychotic tendencies. The movie's tagline nails the premise even more succinctly – "He loved his mother ... He loved pretty girls ... ALL DEAD!" – and connoisseurs of uncompromising, early-70s terror tales will want to give this one a spin, though even some tense confrontations between characters and Sothern's bravura performance can't quite compensate for cheesy, outmoded techniques and a fuzzy psychological profile of a disturbed mind that's far beneath, say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The only extra on the DVD is an interview with the late Harrington, who passed away in May at the age of 80.

Movie: **

Extras: *1/2

THE NAMESAKE (2007). If color didn't exist, then Mira Nair would have to invent it. The director of Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala locates not only the visual schemes in her material but the thematic and emotional ones as well; this in turn results in films that examine both individuals and their cultures from a variety of revealing angles. The Namesake, based on Jhumpa Lahiri's best-selling novel, is her most recent triumph, marred only by a frenzied attempt to pack too much story into one two-hour movie. Set over the course of several decades, the film begins with the arranged marriage of Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irrfan Khan), who leave Calcutta for a new life in New York. They eventually have a son, who's named after Ashoke's favorite author, Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. But as Gogol (Kal Penn) gets older, he struggles not only with his name (which he comes to loathe) but also with the differences between his parents' traditional ways and his own decidedly Yankee sensibilities. Bollywood stars Tabu and Khan are excellent as Gogol's concerned parents, and the filmmakers' devotion to their shared story is so compelling, in fact, that it's disappointing when the couple starts to lose significant amounts of screen time to Gogol's odyssey. This isn't intended to diminish Penn's work – on the contrary, the Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle star ably demonstrates that his dramatic chops are as finely honed as his comedic ones. But the material involving culture and generational clashes isn't nearly as fresh as the love story being related through foreign eyes.

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