“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” DVD, Blu-ray: The sixth film in the “Potter” franchise finds the actors possessing their best chemistry yet. David Yates directs from Steve Kloves’ script, itself based on J.K. Rowling’s book, and what they created is a fine segue out of most of the awkwardness of adolescence and into the throes of young adulthood. A good deal of the movie is unsettling and intense, more grounded and rich than any other film in the series. This time out, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must deal with not only the fact that romance is entering into their lives, but also that Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is increasingly giving himself over to a dark side that will threaten them all if he fully embraces it. While Ron and Hermione brood along the sidelines — her affections for Ron are revealed in this movie, in ways that are unrequited since Ron is involved with Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) — it’s Harry who naturally has the most challenges to contend with. First up is dealing with his feelings for Ron’s sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright). Second is the real core of the story, which focuses on how Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) needs Harry’s help to undo Lord Voldemort. Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid and Maggie Smith’s Minerva McGonagall continue to be shortchanged, but Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape finds himself at the center of the movie, his character realizing a depth it never has enjoyed. The same goes for Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, a wild toss of Gothic frizz who bellows through the movie and gives it a wild edge in those few moments she’s allowed onscreen. Even when she, Coltrane and Smith aren’t onscreen, the movie satisfies with new revelations and twists, one so dire it might leave fans motionless after fate reveals its cruel hand and the credits start to roll. Rated PG. Grade: B+
“Julie & Julia” DVD, Blu-ray: Nora Ephron’s winning movie is about the life of Julia Child (Meryl Streep, terrific in the role) and the young woman, Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who came to blog about her experiences of cooking — in one year — every one of the 500-plus recipes from Child’s iconic cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” What ensues is light, but not slight. The performances are so good, they make it easy to gloss over the script’s occasional lapses into cliche. The movie is made for those who love food, love Paris and who love Julia Child. Wisely, Ephron dips back into Child’s life long before she became a celebrity chef trained by Paris’ famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she was living in Paris with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, excellent), and trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her own life. Since she obviously can’t get enough French food, should she learn how to cook so she can teach? Ephron intercuts this story with that of Julie’s. Here, we’re in New York City, it’s 2002 and Powell, on the cusp of turning 30, is unsure what to do with her own life. With the help of her husband (Chris Messina), she starts her blog, breaks out the pots and pans, and gradually reveals herself to herself. And that’s the movie’s point. Throughout, these women find themselves, with Ephron maneuvering seamlessly through their lives. In spite of playing a self-centered character, Adams acquits herself as well as she can, but her story sags in comparison to the one Streep enjoys. The script allows her to stand tall — literally and figuratively — amid the funny moments audiences will expect, and the trying moments they may not have predicted. After all, success wasn’t handed to Julia Child — she had to work for it. In “Julie & Julia,” you feel her struggle and her disappointments, which makes the ending — and how Ephron pauses so perfectly on the final scene — such a satisfying moment to behold. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Ultimate Edition” Blu-ray: An imaginative, often entertaining journey into self-realization that’s well worth the trip. As the film opens, Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts to learn that evil is looming deep within its Chamber of Secrets. “Secrets” allows director Chris Columbus the opportunity to freshen the pot with several new characters, from Kenneth Branagh’s Gilderoy Lockhart to Jason Isaacs’ Lucius Malfoy to the bathroom-dwelling Moaning Myrtle (Julie Walters Henderson), a dead girl with a hot temper who steals each scene in which she appears. With Robbie Coltrane back as Hagrid, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, it’s Richard Harris’ posthumous performance as Professor Albus Dumbledore that gives the film its unexpected emotional weight. The actor, who died three weeks before the film’s theatrical release, effortlessly grounds the movie, balancing Columbus’ hysterical mood with the stalwart calm and reserve it needs. Extras abound on the three discs of this “Ultimate Edition,” the best of which is Evanna Lynch’s screen test opposite Radcliffe. Rated PG. Grade: B+
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Ultimate Edition” Blu-ray: Chris Columbus’ first film in the franchise plunges audiences into a world so richly atmospheric, it captures the tone of J.K. Rowling’s novel and brings it to vivid life. Given the film’s lengthy running time, moments do feel a bit long in the wand. But considering the alternative — removing key scenes at the risk of disappointing the book’s millions of fans — Columbus wisely respects Rowling’s vision and lets them play out. Daniel Radcliffe proves he’s tailor-made for the role of the young wizard Harry, easily resembling the books’ illustrations and Rowling’s physical descriptions. What’s more important is that Radcliffe captures the essence of what makes Harry Harry — his anxieties and fears, his sense of wonder and sadness, his courage, naivete, humility and heart. With then-newcomers Grint as Ron and Watson as Hermione, these three make an entertaining trio as they go about their adventures and try to keep the Sorcerer’s Stone out of the wrong hands. Their bond is one of the movie’s best assets, certainly the soul of the story, and it’s to Columbus’ great credit that their friendship seems to grow out of something genuine — and not something manufactured for the screen. This new “Ultimate Edition” features one must-see for fans — the documentary “Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 1: The Magic Begins.” On three discs. Rated PG. Grade: B+
Also on DVD and Blu-ray Disc:
Additional titles this week include the recommended “Public Enemies,” with Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, and Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard as his co-stars. For those seeking television titles, look to David Janssen in “The Fugitive: Season Three, Volume Two,” Denis Leary in “Rescue Me: Season Five, Vol. Two” and the fifth season of “Lost,” which finds itself on DVD and Blu-ray disc. From Disney comes a collection of three lazily conceived holiday DVDs in the “Disney Holiday Collection,” a good deal of which belongs in the business end of a blender. The first is “Disney Channel Holiday,” a cloying clump of dimpled good cheer that features a compilation of recycled holiday episodes from a number of Disney shows. “Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment” finds little enchantment, with Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney favorites gathering to look back at holiday segments of previously released titles. They shouldn’t have bothered. “A Very Playhouse Disney Holiday,” intended for very young viewers, digs into the Disney Channel archives to pull out holiday versions of “Jo-Jo’s Circus” and “Higglytown Heroes,” as well as two brief “Shanna’s Show” entries, each of which has zip to do with the holidays. For adults, expect a hallucinogenic experience. For kids, they’ve seen better material printed on a pack of gum.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.