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DVD Zone: January 2010

| January 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Public Enemies
Universal

We Chicagoans always get so stoked whenever Hollywood comes a-callin’ to shoot one of those fancy moving pictures in our hoods. Forget for a moment that in the early days Chicago was the center of the film-production universe before the industry packed up their toys and moved out west. We still harbor the feeling that anything that can be shot in Hollywood can be shot here just as well, especially when the events of the film in question took place on our turf.

So it’s a no-brainer that local boy made good Michael Mann would bring cast and crew to town for Public Enemies, which takes a look at the life and crimes of public enemy number one, John Dillinger. Making his way through the depression-era Midwest, Dillinger became sort of a folk hero for taking down what most people saw as the true villain of the times: banks.

As played by Johnny Depp, Dillinger comes across more Robin Hood than robber, and as such, there’s only rare glimpses of the violence of which he was capable. Of course, where there’re bad guys, there’re crusading G-men. Here, we have Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis — hand-picked by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to track Dillinger and bring him to justice. Bale’s Purvis will remind more than a few people of Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, as he resorts more and more to methods that run afoul of his ethics in his quest to bring down Dillinger.

While Public Enemies is a noble effort, we don’t really get any more insight into Dillinger and his motivations than we already know, and Mann shoots his ultimate demise outside the Biograph Theater in such a slow and languorous way that the much anticipated event falls flat. Depp is fine as usual, but his work here won’t make anyone forget his more memorable efforts. Billy Crudup’s Hoover is nothing more than stereotype, and it’s sometimes painful to watch French actress Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s girlfriend gamely trying (and mostly failing) to chew on an American accent.

Not a bad film, but everyone involved has done better. The two-disc set contains more than it’s fair share of Dillinger historical pieces and commentary from Mann.

Film: **1/2 Features: ***

Inglourious Basterds
Universal

For years, Quentin Tarantino has been trying, albeit sporadically, to live up to the standard set by his masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. Sure, he’s one of the best at combining over-the-top action and violence with sharp, literate dialogue, but more often than not he hasn’t been able to achieve the perfect balance. He’ll either weigh heavily on the violence (Kill Bill Vol. 1), or sink the thing with unbearable chattiness (Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 2.)

Luckily, he’s found the perfect blend again with Inglourious Basterds. Set in Nazi occupied France, Basterds finds Brad Pitt as the leader of a ruthless squad of Nazi hunters plotting to kill Hitler as he watches his latest propaganda film.

Yet anyone going into it expecting two hours of Brad Pitt dreaminess will be sorely disappointed. Instead, Basterds ranks as one of Tarantino’s finest ensemble pieces, with strong performances by Diane Kruger as a German film star turned double agent and Mélanie Laurent as the Jewish theater owner with a score to settle.

Despite the fine work all around, the film belongs to Christoph Waltz. With his performance as the S.S. bag man and “Jew hunter,” Waltz creates one of the best screen villains of the last decade, and it would truly be a crime if he doesn’t snag every award available in the coming months.

The two-disc set contains a surprisingly large amount of features, considering Tarantino’s previous releases have been fairly sparse.

Film: ***1/2 Features:***

Also Available . . . It’s great to see Chicago’s late, great Wesley Willis getting so much attention. First, the city renames its most iconic landmark after him, and now MVD Visual releases Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides, which looks at the life and times of the schizophrenic artist/musician. It’s a good insight into his last days, but if you’ve seen MVD’s previous Willis release, The Daddy Of Rock And Roll, there’s really nothing added here. Still, for the uninitiated, it’s a fine look at what a troubled individual overcame in the name of art.

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