Eastern Promises and the Best Discs of 2007

Eastern Promises Universal, $29.98 Though it's showing up on several 10-best lists for 2007, there's still a bit of the "Oh, it's only a genre film" condescension to what I think is one of David Cronenberg's very best efforts. No, he's not wrestling with the whole tradition of American cinema, like Paul Thomas Anderson in There Will Be Blood (whose bizarre final scene will have most viewers thinking, "Remind me never to go bowling with Daniel Day-Lewis"). But compared to this tale of Russian mobsters and baby snatching in London, how much less a genre film is the Coen brothers' more acclaimed No Country for Old Men? Eastern Promises also operates by the same sort of crime-flick conventions: Implacable evil meets vulnerable good, only with a less pitiless outcome. Also, Eastern Promises actually has female characters (Naomi Watts, Sinéad Cusack) and is set in the present-day cesspool of sex trafficking, rather than the historical cesspools of drugs or oil. The Coens and Anderson claim the Oscar-friendly weight of prophecy—look how bad things will become—while Cronenberg and screenwriter Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) immerse themselves in the Way Things Are Today. Those two, plus Watts and star Viggo Mortensen, show up in a pair of featurettes that contribute a paltry 15 minutes to the disc. Unfortunately there's no commentary from Cronenberg, who has admitted he was only a director-for-hire on this job. Perhaps, by the time they get around to a director's box set, he'll see how this one stacks up against eXistenZ and remedy the absence. BRIAN MILLER Interview Sony, $18.99 Two assholes sit at a table. One's a pompous asshole journalist, the other an entitled asshole starlet. They draw lines in the asshole sand and yell asshole things at each other. Co-written and directed by Steve Buscemi (who also plays one of the assholes), Interview is a remake of a movie by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was later murdered by Muslim fundamentalist assholes. It's surprisingly fun watching Buscemi and Sienna Miller be assholes to each other, at least for the first hour or so. Then again, potent performances and writing can't stop one from tiring of being the silent third member of a gigantic assholefest. But Buscemi slowly reveals the people inside the assholes (so to speak), creating something richer than, say, a Neil LaBute 100 percent asshole bonanza. JORDAN HARPER The Simpsons Movie Fox, $29.99 After what feels like 50-odd years on the air and a deluge of summer marketing, the question isn't whether the first Simpsons movie works; it's a question of How sick of the Simpsons are you? About equal to four solid episodes, the movie manages to inject new life into the characters, but can we wrap it up now? The DVD offers a mixed bag: There are fewer deleted scenes than you'd expect, though a commentary track from the creators and stars is one of the best in recent times. Pausing the movie for minutes on end to elaborate on a point, they touch on everything from the pleasures of collaborative filmmaking to the emotional impact of a 20-year show. Rare is the commentary that actually illuminates the film it talks about. This one would make a great requiem. JORDAN HARPER THE BEST DVDs OF 2007 Critics Jordan Harper and Robert Wilonsky have watched, paused, and spoken. Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Warner Bros.): Damned near every single version imaginable, plus a making-of doc almost as essential as any iteration of the movie itself. Nosferatu: Ultimate Edition (Kino): This gorgeous restoration practically made a new movie out of F.W. Murnau's Dracula prototype. Knocked Up (Universal) and Superbad (Sony): For Judd Apatow, theatrical releases appear to be mere excuses for the precious DVD extras contained here. Ford at Fox: The Collection (Fox): This John Ford set includes 21 discs, a hardcover book, and a well-made documentary. Ace in the Hole (Criterion): Billy Wilder cast Kirk Douglas as a loathsome, scheming journalist in this history lesson as cautionary tale. The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Anchor Bay): These previously unavailable, weird-ass, and bloody art flicks will freak you out and confound you in equal measure. House of Games (Criterion): The commentary pairs David Mamet with Ricky Jay for a freewheeling conversation on dramatic structure, fraud, and how to steal without a gun. Twin Peaks: Definitive Gold Box Edition (Paramount): The most uneven show in television history gets the full-bore treatment it deserves. The First Films of Samuel Fuller (Criterion): Three discs include 1951's The Steel Helmet, the first, best movie about the Korean War till M*A*S*H. Planet Earth (BBC): A high-def, three-dimensional trippy-trip, perfect for those who like to travel without getting any wetter than bong water. dvd@seattleweekly.com

 
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