DVD Picks & Passes 12.06.2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Spectacular Spider-Man, Vol. 5 (2009)

Public Enemies (2009)

New this week on DVD, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the big-screen version of the penultimate book in J.K. Rowling’s series, but there are still two movies to go, since the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be split up (like the coming film adaptation of The Hobbit) into two films.

Continuing the series’ trajectory, Half-Blood Prince is darker, more tragic and more romantic than its predecessors, as it sets the stage for the final confrontation between the wizarding world’s forces of good and evil.

Two-time director David Yates does the best job by the characters of any film since The Prisoner of Azkaban, though with less magical eye candy. Bottom line: As with all the HP films, I enjoyed watching it once.

Spectacular Spider-Man — now that’s family entertainment I’ll watch again and again with my kids. The well-done animated series has completed two seasons; Season 1 was a “DVD Pick” in July, and Volume 5 is the first installment of Season 2.

You could wait, maybe, for the whole second season in one package — but I couldn’t! Volume 5 offers four seasonal episodes our family will enjoy over Christmas and New Year’s, including Spidey’s latest rematch with a rejiggered Sinister Six — scored to “The Nutcracker Suite” (ha!) — and a New Year’s episode featuring the return of Doctor Octopus.

The series is just plain smart. Never before has physics been so key in a super-hero series as when Spidey battles Electro in a used tire lot (rubber melts, but it’s sticky — and nonconductive!).

The dialogue is witty, the characterizations sharp, and Peter’s relationships with his friends and Aunt May continue to ground the series emotionally. Good stuff.

Also new on DVD this week, Public Enemies stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s critically respected but elusively unsatisfying adaptation of Bryan Burrough’s 2004 book.

Perhaps the problem is partly that while Burrough wrote about two rosters of very public enemies — his book was as much about J. Edgar Hoover and the incipient FBI as Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and their ilk — Mann’s film is really only about Dillinger.

Nor is there much insight into Dillinger, his times or his celebrity. The film seems all surface — a glossy updating of 1930s’ Hollywood gangster melodrama without much commentary or perspective.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Scary images, fantasy menace and violent magical battles; passionate kissing and a few suggestive references; the death of an important supporting character under morally ambiguous circumstances. Teens and up. Spectacular Spider-Man: Much fast-paced animated action violence, menace and scary images; romantic complications. Fine for all but very sensitive kids. Public Enemies: Much gangland gunplay, sometimes bloody and/or deadly; violent police interrogation of a female suspect; depiction of nonmarital sexual activity (no explicit nudity) and cohabitation; profanity, crude language and an instance of obscenity. Mature viewing.