Couch Potato Briefing: Harry Potter Special

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This week’s Global Spin round-up of rental movies to watch this weekend takes its cues from the release of the last Harry Potter film — here are five flicks from around the world all steeped in their own magic.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Hayao Miyazaki is a veritable master of fantasy, and his much-cherished oeuvre of animated films brims with whimsy and magic. Kiki’s Delivery Service tells of the travails and triumphs of a young girl, training to be a witch.

Valhalla Rising

There’s nothing glaringly magical about Valhalla Rising, which is on the surface a taut, mud and blood story of a doomed Viking expedition. But, with evocations of Herzog’s Wrath of Aguirre, it’s suffused with an eerie, oracular power, embodied most profoundly in its main protagonist — a one-eyed, mute fighter, who may or may not be the Norse god Odin.

Night Watch

Adapted from a popular series of Russian books, Night Watch, 2004, the first of a trilogy, is a frenetic, blood-pumping action flick, depicting the ancient Manichaean struggle between forces of darkness and light across the chrome and concrete of modern Russia.

House of Flying Daggers

The genre of Chinese wu xia is full of tales of fantastical swordsmen. Its complementary cinema, made famous in the West by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is all improbable action, balletic duels and shimmering silks. For the uninitiated, Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers isn’t a bad place to start.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Roger Ebert called it “a fairy tale for grown ups.” Amid the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, a young girl living at the forest headquarters of a brutal Fascist officer unearths a subterranean realm of sprites and monsters. Her journey into this land of make-believe has real consequences on the battle-scarred terrain above.