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DVDs In Brief: December 9, 2009 

A warm-up for the big finale—to be divided into two separate films, for maximum profit—the sixth entry in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) is a movie in limbo, a necessary tone-setter for bigger things to come. It’s all buildup, backstory, and plot sidebars signifying nothing, but it’s a mighty artful nothing, an ominous mood piece that finds Harry trying to draw out information about his arch-nemesis Voldemort. The unhurried, deliberate pace is a stark reminder of how far the series has come since the bright, kid-friendly mayhem of Chris Columbus’ first two entries…

With Julie & Julia, writer-director Nora Ephron simultaneously adapts Julia Child’s autobiography My Life In France and Julie Powell’s blog-turned-memoir Julie & Julia, about her yearlong efforts to prepare every recipe in Child’s 1961 classic Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. It’s half a great movie, half a terrible one. The scenes with Meryl Streep’s Childs are infectious and perfectly capture her outsized personality; the scenes with Amy Adams’ Powell, however, suggest a blog at its most irritatingly narcissistic. The two halves make an awfully lumpy whole…

Much of Michael Mann’s career has been devoted to expanding or exploding myths and archetypes, and he does it again with Public Enemies, a chronicle of John Dillinger’s last days that aggressively favors the man over the historical legend. It’s a subtle piece of a filmmaking—a big relief in the midst of a typically bombastic summer—but it could stand to be a little more emphatic; only a brilliant shootout in the Wisconsin woods really resonates, and Mann botches Dillinger’s assassination outside the Biograph Theater. But as with all of Mann’s film, time may well be kind to it…

The shocking, highly cinematic documentary The Cove (Lionsgate) exposes the widespread slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese fishing community. Director Louie Psihoyos gets access to moments the fishermen would not have liked his camera to witness, and the covert images of dolphins killed and the ocean filling with blood would shake even the hardest carnivore. Psihoyos is guilty of ignoring arguments from the opposition that might have strengthened his own, but as a piece of agitprop and a piece of entertainment, the film succeeds…

Bobcat Goldthwait’s follow-up to Sleeping Dogs Lie, his icky but sharply observed comedy about a couple coming to terms with a startling confession, World’s Greatest Dad (Magnolia) confirms his talent for gleaning insights out of hair-raising premises. Robin Williams stars as a grieving father who tries to spin the autoeroticism death of his monstrous 15-year-old (Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara) into something more poetic, via a forged suicide note and fake diary littered with revisionist history.