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The International, The Seventh Seal among DVD reviews

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THE INTERNATIONAL (2009). The International is an action flick with smarts, but that's not to say the brain and the brawn always coexist easily. Clive Owen stars as an Interpol agent who, with the help of a New York assistant D.A. (Naomi Watts), tries to bring down a banking institution that's long been involved in illegal activities on a global scale (backing coups, purchasing weapons, that sort of thing). Although loosely based on a real-life scandal, this adheres more to cinematic conspiracy-theory conventions, thus emerging as a pale shadow of such great works in the same mold as The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate. Still, director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) keeps the film moving (Run Clive Run would have been an acceptable title, given how much mileage Tykwer gets out of his star), and there's one spectacular (if overlong) shootout at the Guggenheim Museum that's alone worth the admission price.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Tykwer and scripter Eric Warren Singer; an extended scene; a half-hour making-of featurette; and three short pieces on the film's locations.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **1/2

THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). Even with the phenomenal competition provided by (among many others) Kurosawa, Fellini and De Sica, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal earns my vote as the greatest foreign-language film ever made (and one of the all-time greats in any language, period). This undisputed masterpiece stars Max von Sydow as Antonius Block, a philosophical knight just returning from the Crusades. As both the plague and religious fervor sweep the countryside, Block finds himself seeking answers regarding the very existence of God; all the while, he plays a game of chess against Death (Bengt Ekerot), with his own life as the ultimate prize. Beautifully filmed, its iconic images are many, perhaps none more striking than Death leading a procession of victims along a hillside. It also stands as one of the most influential movies ever made, inspiring burgeoning filmmakers and aspiring critics alike for generations. In fact, I daresay that, as a youth, perhaps no other film opened my eyes to the wonderful possibilities of cinema as much as The Seventh Seal.

Criterion released a single-disc edition of the film back in 1998, and they're now offering a two-disc edition with additional bonuses. Among the extras are a 2003 introduction by Bergman (who passed away in 2007, at the age of 89); audio commentary by Bergman expert Peter Cowie; a 1989 Bergman tribute by Woody Allen (an enormous fan who occasionally offered his own comedic spins on the picture); a video filmography; an archival audio interview with von Sydow; and the 2006 documentary Bergman Island (which is also being sold separately).

Movie: ****

Extras: ***1/2

THE THREE STOOGES: VOLUME SIX (1949-1951). The fifth volume (released this past March) represented one of the transitional stages for the Stooges, with Curly Howard appearing in the first 10 shorts and Shemp replacing him (due to his brother's failing health) for the subsequent 15 pieces. This collection, on the other hand, is all Shemp all the time, with the sour-pussed comedian sharing the spotlight with fellow nyuksters Moe Howard and Larry Fine in all 24 shorts made within this three-year span. Various entries find the team tangling with a mad scientist in Dopey Dicks, getting caught between a Broadway producer and a theater critic in Three Hams on Rye, portraying bumbling exterminators who infest a ritzy home with mice and insects in Pest Man Wins, heading out West so Shemp can practice dentistry in The Tooth Will Out, and attempting to outsmart Arabian jewel thieves in the hilarious Malice in the Palace.

There are no extras in the set.

Collection: ***

Extras: *

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