DVD Tuesday: ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ & ‘Public Enemies’

by W. Andrew Powell

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince debuts just in time to make onto your holiday shopping lists; Johnny Depp stars as bank robber John Dillinger in Public Enemies; plus a look at Julie & Julia, The Cove, and the fifth season of Lost.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent
Director: David Yates

Over the last twelve years the world has been following the adventures of a young boy as he battled against the dark power of one evil wizard and his minions. With each passing year, and each new book, the franchise grew and grew, turning it’s creator into a revered figure among her many, many fans.

The truth is though, that with the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, starring Daniel Radcliffe once more as Harry Potter, it is hard to overlook the fact that we have watched these characters, and the actors, grow up, which is something director David Yates takes keen advantage of this time around.

Picking up directly where Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix left off, the latest film starts with a shell-shocked Harry standing in the devastated Ministry of Magic after the battle with Voldemort ended and key members of the wizarding world witnessed the Dark Lord in all his glory. Standing in front of the wizardly press as they snap photos and yelled questions, we see Harry pulled away by Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, played once more by Michael Gambon.

This dark, and yet quiet moment opens the latest film appropriately enough, offering one of the more sombre notes that will of course book-end this otherwise comical drama. Throughout the rest of the film we see Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, played again by Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, dealing with school, and maybe more importantly, their feelings.

As Hermione hopes for something more with Ron, who is himself sidetracked into a relationship with the bizarre Lavender Brown, played wonderfully by Jessie Cave, Harry is slowly realizing how much he cares for Ron’s sister, Ginny Weasley, played by Bonnie Wright. Harry is also at the head of his potions class, thanks to a mysterious but seemingly tainted text book, which is marked by the unknown “Half-Blood Prince”.

Meanwhile, Hogwarts is under lock and key as the wizarding world feels the wrath of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Safe behind the walls of the school, Harry finds that he has a new task before him as Dumbledore starts revealing the true nature of the Dark Lord and his history at Hogwarts. This involves befriending the potions master, Horace Slughorn, played brilliantly and comedically by Jim Broadbent, a former teacher at Hogwarts who may be able to reveal an important secret about Voldemort.

On the bright side of the film, the entire cast deserves high praise, as Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Gambon, and all of the supporting cast worked their usual magic once again. There are three particular performances that stand out though.

Jim Broadbent is simply wonderful and entertaining as Slughorn, but I also can’t say enough about Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, and Tom Felton as Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy. This trio of actors deserve the highest praise for their work because they simply found wonderful layers within their characters, which brings a lot of feeling into each of their scenes.

The unfortunate downfall of the film comes with several omissions and within the final chapter of the Half-Blood Prince, where most of you probably already know that things fall apart at Hogwarts. While I praise Yates for wringing a lot of heart and wit out of the story, he and the screenwriters cut some serious elements that contribute largely to the relationship between Dumbledore and Harry, and a few omissions, as a friend reminded me, also could paint Voldemort as a simple, empty villain.

Worst of all though, the film stumbles at the end, and ruins what I can only call one of the most important scenes in the series. A key battle, which also raised the stakes in the book, has also been left out. These omissions and missteps cost the film dearly, at least in my mind, despite all of the film’s successes.

At two hours and thirty minutes the film is long, but I felt a few more minutes would have helped if it could have brought more of the important elements to the screen. I also can’t shake the feeling that this scene was an important test of Yates and the screenwriters, who will next need to bring a lot of equally emotional moments to life in the final two films for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which are due out in November of 2010, and July of 2011.

The Half-Blood Prince is still a marvellous film, and brings the heft of the book’s pages to life. The omissions, and missteps, are all-too noticeable, but that doesn’t change that this is a must-see for all Potter fans. Less ardent observers may not be as forgiving, however.

Public Enemies
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Jason Clarke
Director: Michael Mann

During the Great Depression, in 1933 to be exact, there was hardly anyone more admired and reviled than bank robber and known killer John Dillinger. While the United States suffered in the turmoil of a huge economic downturn, Dillinger was robbing banks, escaping from police, and being idolized as an anti-hero.

In director Michael Mann’s latest crime drama, following films like Miami Vice, Collateral, and Heat, Johnny Depp takes on the role of the infamous Dillinger, while Christian Bale plays FBI agent Melvin Purvis, hot on his trail and looking to take the criminal down for good.

Based closely on the real-life events, and even shot on-location in a few cases, the film delves into the extended manhunt that had the FBI searching the country for any trace of Dillinger. Meanwhile, as Purvis hunted for Dillinger, the famed criminal and his gang continued their crime spree, going as far as robbing a police station to get weapons and bullet-proof vests.

The GATE’s own Christopher Heard reviewed the film, and while he considers it one of the best films on Dillinger, he had a few issues.

“I was expecting a lush, richly photographed film like Mann’s Last of the Mohicans or Thief, or even Ali or Heat,” Heard wrote, “but what I was watching was a film that looked more like Collateral.”

He went on to write, “John Dillinger has been portrayed on film in a starring role at least five times and virtually all of them, as is the case with Public Enemies, focus on the eight furious weeks of crime and punishment that followed Dillingers release from a nine year prison term. Public Enemies, in my opinion, ties for the best of the bunch with the 1973 John Milius written and directed film called Dillinger.”

“Public Enemies is a solid movie made by a group of very talented people all at or near the top of their game. I just wished it looked as good as the sum of its parts.”

Looking at the Blu-ray release of the film, the picture quality is vivid, and there are a decent number of features looking at the making of the film, and all of the historical elements that went into retelling Dillinger’s story. The features are fairly short for the most part, but they’re interesting, especially in the case of On Dillinger’s Trail: The Real Locations, and Last of the Legendary Outlaws.

The Cove
Director: Louie Psihoyos

In this chilling thriller of a documentary, ocean preservation advocate Louie Psihoyos and dolphin expert Richard O’Barry work to infiltrate a secret cove in Taji, Japan where people are killing thousands of dolphins a year. Although horrifying, the film peers into the depths of brutality in the hopes of exposing this crime to the world.

The film is one of the few must-see documentaries of the year and stands a very strong chance of getting an Oscar nomination, and perhaps even winning the award. RottenTomatoes.com has The Cove rated at an impressive 95% fresh, which will invariably mark it as one of the best reviewed films of 2009.

Julie & Julia
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Director: Nora Ephron

Writer and director Nora Ephron, who made the classic romantic comedies You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, is back with an intriguing tale of two women, tied together by their passions, and their mutual urge to do something interesting with their lives.

In this unique story, Meryl Streep plays Julia Child and Amy Adams is Julie Powell, two women separated by over fifty years, but traveling a similar course. Based on Julie Powell’s real-life experiment, the story follows Julia Child’s rise to fame as a chef and author, and Julie Powell’s attempt, over the course of a year, to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s famed book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

While some critics have suggested Streep might earn an Oscar nod for her role as Julia Child, the reviews for the film suggest she’s the main reason the movie works at all.

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post wrote, “Meryl Streep makes such a tasty and larger-than-life Julia in a nostalgically evoked late-’40s Paris that it’s worth stomaching the pancake-flat sequences with her supposed early 21st-century counterpart, Julie Powell.”

Lost: The Complete Fifth Season
Starring: Matthew Fox, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Andrews, Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson

One of my all-time favorite television shows arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week, just in time for the holidays and to herald in the last season of the complex, brain-grinding series.

Created by Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, Lost needs no introduction for fans, and frankly, if you haven’t been watching since day one you really need to step back and start watching from the beginning. It’s a wild and bumpy ride, but it definitely pays off over time with some of the most clever, twisting, turning storylines I have ever seen on television, while also sporting a dynamic cast of actors that sell every moment of the unfolding tale.

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