INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Between its freewheeling exploits and its liberties with historical veracity, Quentin Tarantino's World War II excursion is a celebration of film as its own entity, beholden to nothing but its own creative impulses. One would be correct in assuming that Inglourious Basterds is a remake of 1978's international production Inglorious Bastards, but except for the similar title, the films have nothing in common. The joke is that Tarantino's film isn't even primarily about the Basterds; rather, Tarantino pulls his story this way and that, to the point that marquee star Brad Pitt, as Basterds leader Aldo Raine, is MIA for long stretches at a time. In screen minutes, he probably places third under Melanie Laurent as Shosanna, the lone survivor of a massacre that left her family members dead, and Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the so-called "Jew hunter" responsible for the aforementioned slaughter. All three are fine, and it's easy to see why Waltz won a Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Like the best Tarantino flicks, this one is more talk than action, and the auteur also continues to be as big a film fan as he is a filmmaker, evidenced by how the movie is marinated in an unequivocal admiration for cinema. For all its attributes, the film does make a couple of miscalculations. The stunt casting – exploitation director Eli Roth as Raines' right-hand man, Mike Myers as a British officer – doesn't work at all. And after 2-1/2 hours of leisurely storytelling, the ending feels disappointingly rushed, the sort of abrupt conclusion sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of countless viewers. Truth be told, another half-hour wouldn't have damaged Inglourious Basterds; it moves so quickly anyway that it's (to quote a famous line about another movie) "history written with lightning" – even if these particular chapters exist only in Tarantino's feverish imagination.
Extras in the two-disc special edition DVD include a half-hour roundtable discussion with Tarantino and Pitt; three extended/alternate scenes; an 8-minute look at the original Inglorious Bastards; a 7-minute interview with Rod Taylor (who briefly appears in the film as Winston Churchill); and the movie's domestic, international and Japanese trailers.
JULIE & JULIA (2009). Working overtime as writer, director and producer, Nora Ephron has taken a pair of books – My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme, and Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell – and combined them into one irresistible motion picture. It's a film that rises two stories, on one hand focusing on the legendary Julia Child (Meryl Streep) as she begins her journey toward becoming one of America's greatest chefs, and on the other following Julie Powell (Amy Adams) as her idea for a blog – cook all 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days – eventually leads to fame and fortune. The Julia Child segments of the film are magnificent, and as the towering, exuberant cook, Streep delivers another astonishing performance, never lapsing into mere caricature but steadfastly making sure to capture all facets of the woman's personality. The best parts of the picture focus on the marriage between Julia and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci, reuniting with Streep on the high heels of The Devil Wears Prada). Movies aren't normally where we turn to watch happily married couples in action, but the Julia-Paul relationship is one of the most blissful seen in years, and Streep and Tucci dance through their interpretations with the grace and ease of an Astaire-Rogers routine. When compared to the Julia Child portions, the Julie Powell chapters aren't nearly as compelling, but they're far from the drag that others have suggested. And as in Babette's Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman and Big Night (another foodie flick with Tucci), the camera gazes so lovingly on each prepared dish (even the burnt ones!) that it's virtually impossible to turn off the DVD player without wanting to head immediately to a gourmet restaurant. That, then, is one of the beauties of Julie & Julia: While other ambitious movies are content targeting the heart and the mind, this one adds another palatable layer by also going for the stomach.
Extras include audio commentary by Ephron; a half-hour making-of featurette; and nine theatrical trailers of other films.
PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009). A classy motion picture whose individual moments are greater than the whole, this period gangster saga may be filled with exciting gun battles yet can't deliver the firepower in ways that matter the most: empathy, originality, and a willingness to burrow beneath the legend. Writer-director Michael Mann does capture what's most important about bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp): his folk-hero appeal, and the way many Depression-era citizens would have found it possible to cheer an outlaw who spent his time sticking it to the banks. Depp possesses the right demeanor for the role, and if he doesn't register as powerfully as we would expect, that's the fault of Mann and his co-scripters, who make Dillinger more of an enigma than necessary. Still, the actor fares better than his two co-stars. FBI agent Melvin Purvis is supposed to be the dynamic point-counterpoint to Dillinger, but the role is so thinly written – and Christian Bale tackles it with so little interest – that it's hardly a fair fight. Then there's the case of La Vie en Rose Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, who, as Dillinger's girlfriend, has little to do but fret and fuss over her man's line of work. Yet what Public Enemies lacks in complexity, it makes up for in artfulness. Elliot Goldenthal's soaring score, Dante Spinotti's camera angles, and the sound team's snap-crackle-and-pop approach (gun shots are frequently delivered with stunning clarity, a far cry from the sonic overkill of that infernal Transformers sequel) support the costume and set departments to fully immerse us in an era in which a man's best friend is his weapon, and the manner in which he tips his fedora is as important as what's on his mind. That's a remarkably shallow outlook, but with Public Enemies, that's usually about as deep as it gets.
Extras in the two-disc special edition DVD include audio commentary by Mann; a 20-minute making-of featurette; a 10-minute look at Dillinger and other gangsters; and a 9-minute piece on the era's weaponry.