CATEGORIES DVDsPast, present and fantasy come together in this week's DVD releases. First up is the blockbuster 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,' which takes the wizard saga one step closer to its monumental end; 'Julia & Julia' transposes past and present as it explores the lives of two women who turn to cooking to find their way in the world; and 'Public Enemies' takes a look at a violent chapter in American history as it follows the bloody exploits of John Dillinger and the FBI. 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'
What It's About: This sixth installment in the 'Harry Potter' franchise ups the ante: Death Eaters are wreaking havoc in both the Muggle and wizarding worlds, Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was, Harry learns more about Lord Voldemort's dark past, teenage hormones run amok, the good headmaster Dumbledore meets an untimely end, and the nasty Voldemort tightens his grip on evil.
It's Kinda Like: 'Harry Potter: The Empire Strikes Back'
What We Say: This chapter in the saga is decidedly darker than previous entries and, for our tastes, more adult. Gone are the fun and games, replaced by fear and terror. The Hogwarts kids are getting older and facing the pains and angst of young adulthood. Is this a metaphor for growing up: The older Harry gets, the stronger Voldemort gets (the naivete of childhood gives way to the harsh realty of the world)? Naw, it's all a fairy tale.
'Julie & Julia'
What It's About: Likable comedy based on Julie Powell's book 'Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,' in which 30-year-old Julie Powell recounts how she conquered every recipe in Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' while living with her husband in a small apartment in Queens and blogging about it on a daily basis. The film juxtaposes Julie's travails with Julia Child's life in France as the wife of a post-World War II diplomat, her efforts to become a grand chef (at a time when women were not accepted as chefs) and her struggles to write and publish the ultimate cookbook of French recipes.
It's Kinda Like: 'Ratatouille' meets Neil Simon
What We Say: Nora Ephron, whose track record as a director has been overshadowed by her screenwriting, here crafts her best work since 1993's 'Sleepless in Seattle.' She has a feel for both women's struggles and joys, and the clever cutting between present-day Queens and 1950s Paris gives the picture a strong momentum. Amy Adams is endearing as Julie and Meryl Streep turns in a tour-de-force performance as Julia.
What It's About: Michael Mann takes on Depression-era gangsterdom with this rambling saga about the rise of the FBI and the demise of 1930s bank robbers John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. Mann chronicles the violent and bloody swathe Dillinger and his gang cut through the Midwest on their 1933 -34 bank-robbing spree; he alternately chronicles the equally violent and bloody rise of the FBI as J. Edgar Hoover empowers agent Melvin Purvis to capture Dillinger by any means necessary.
It's Kinda Like: 'Bonnie and Clyde' meets 'GoodFellas'
What We Say: Director Mann has a hard time making us like Dillinger (played by Johnny Depp) as much as the public did during his heyday (Dillinger's bravado and "Robin Hood" ways endeared him to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression). Equally unlikable is agent Purvis (Christian Bale), who hires psychotic ex-Western lawmen to hunt down the criminals. With no one to like here, the movie is fast-paced but uninvolving ... and, given the talents invested, disappointing.
Other New December 8 DVD Releases:
'World's Greatest Dad'