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Darkness Rising

Darkness Rising (photo)

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From Bambi’s mother’s death to the destruction of Alderaan, every modern generation is cursed and blessed with its very own big-screen traumas. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth film in the series based on J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels, contains a doozy; that millions of readers know it’s coming won’t dim its power in the least. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, director David Yates and the familiar, still-sturdy cast play the grim moment and its aftermath for incredulous shock rather than raw sentiment, knowing viewers will supply the latter in spades.

As devotees know, this entry finds Hogwarts in a funk, its faculty and students still reeling from the death of Harry’s godfather and the “I am your father, Luke”-level revelation that the hero is, in fact, The Chosen One. Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) interrupts Harry’s holiday-among-the-common folks (even wand-blocking his flirtation with a star-struck coffee shop waitress) to whisk him across England and introduce him to a soon-to-be faculty member, potions professor Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, a master of scatterbrained enthusiasm and matter-of-fact venality who gives both modes a workout here). Slughorn once mentored a student named Tom Riddle, who would one day evolve into the dreaded Voldemort; then he tinkered with his (and the school’s) memories of that time, depriving our heroes of opposition research required to vanquish evil.

Dumbledore aims to place Harry under Slughorn’s wing — a double-agent scenario. Harry is game even though the plan’s a lot to ask of anybody, especially a depressive, hormone-addled teenager. The hero’s peers are as dazed and confused as he is; as the central plot unfurls through the movie like an immense, poisonous snake, revealed tail-first, the filmmakers set up and pay off secondary stories: the love troubles of Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), the jealous scheming of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton, who increasingly looks like he could be David Hemmings’ long-lost rotter of a son). Understandably, some characters get short shrift. Evanna Lynch’s kooky Luna Lovegood, who stole all her scenes in the last movie, gets only a couple of choice moments in this one, and I would have liked to have seen more from Alan Rickman’s Snape, who’s as cranky and droll as he is malignant and tortured. (Savor how this great actor delivers the simple line, “You just….know.” You could bake a pie in that ellipsis!)

But thanks to Kloves’ and Yates’ knack for compression and their frequently deft cross-cutting, this dense and deliberately slow film never feels overstuffed, and it never settles for being a parade of lavish bits. It coheres and hardens as it goes along; it’s a popcorn fugue. The remarkable opening image — the most unexpected creative choice in the movie — is a slow-motion shot of Harry facing an emblematic, expectant crowd, trying not to flinch against a volley of Scorsese-style assaultive flashbulbs. The remainder of “The Half-Blood Prince” never rises to that glorious, near-pulp level. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“A Very Long Engagement”) favors muted colors, borderline-Rembrandt lighting and extremely shallow planes of focus (a faddish choice that sometimes seems cell-phone-commercial slick rather than dramatically defensible; I’m not convinced, for instance, that close-ups of important documents should be photographed with most of their words blurred out).

07152009_harrypotter3.jpgBut the movie never quite falters, either; it settles into an appropriately gloomy vibe early, then sinks deeper and deeper into it. The heroes are so spiritually battered that they struggle to muster the energy necessary to carry on a simple conversation; in circumstances this dire, every exchange, no matter how fleeting, requires heroic concentration. Like “The Order of the Phoenix,” only more so, this one strives for gravitas, aiming to be “The Godfather” with wands and broomsticks. Muted conversations unfold slowly, with foggy line deliveries and tactically vague expressions intended to misdirect the viewer or conceal true motives — the better to put us in the position of Harry and his allies, goodhearted characters so exhausted by treachery that they don’t know what to believe or whom to trust. “The Half-Blood Prince” isn’t a note-perfect, deep-shallow blockbuster like “The Prisoner of Azkaban” or “The Order of the Phoenix” (both of which struck me as the only entries in the franchise that could succeed as movies on their own terms, without the viewer having seen the other films or read the novels). But it’s the most wrenching of the six films — the stuff nightmares are made of.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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