RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: The Mechanic and ESPN's 30 for 30

Plus, some mediocre thrillers, another Natalie Portman film, and a classic kung fu flick.

by | May 17, 2011 | Comments

This week on home video, we’ve got a decent number of new releases, as well as some noteworthy reissues, which is a nice change from what we’ve been seeing as of late. The flip side of that is there are a few new selections this week that didn’t really do so well from a critical standpoint. With that in mind, we do have some good stuff, including ESPN’s documentary film series in its entirety, a kung fu cult favorite and a Paul Newman classic on Blu-Ray, and a new Criterion. Have at it, folks!

The Mechanic (2011)


Who knew when Jason Statham got his big break in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels that he would become such a bankable action star? Statham has emerged as one of this generation’s most reliable rock’em, sock’em actors, and even if his films weren’t always critically lauded, they always delivered the action in spades. While the original Charles Bronson-powered 1972 The Mechanic was slightly more pensive, this year’s remake opted to go with more high-octane action, starring Statham as hitman Arthur Bishop and Ben Foster as Bishop’s apprentice, Steve McKenna. Unbeknownst to Steve, Arthur has murdered his father Harry (Donald Sutherland) by order of the organization of killers that employs Arthur. When Steve is less than discreet on his first job, the organization takes notice, and a web of intrigue unravels as loyalties are tested and double-crosses exposed. Critics felt that the two lead actors were well cast and enjoyable to watch, but they were also disappointed by the mind-numbing violence and action thriller clichés, earning this movie a squarely middling 53% Tomatometer. If the negatives mentioned above don’t deter you, and you’re a fan of the actors, this may be a satisfying romp for a Friday night.

The Rite


Sir Anthony Hopkins has made a LOT of movies, and even now, in his mid-70s, he continues to be a prolific actor, lending an air of gravitas even to superhero flicks like Thor. But earlier this year, Hopkins headlined a supernatural thriller that, by most accounts, just wasn’t that thrilling. Inspired by true events, The Rite centers on a young, skeptical priest named Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) who is sent to apprentice under the mysterious Father Lucas (Hopkins), whose experience in conducting exorcisms leads Kovak to reexamine his own faith. Critics felt that Hopkins was solid, as usual, but also that the script itself lacked any immediacy, dawdling along at a snail’s pace without many chills to satisfy true horror fans. They also felt that O’Donoghue’s performance in the leading role left something to be desired. The end result was an unfortunate 19% Tomatometer score, a small box office return, and a transition to the home video market less than four months after its theatrical release. It might be worth checking out for Hopkins’s creepy performance, but then again, you might just be better off renting The Silence of the Lambs for that.

The Other Woman


Natalie Portman is so hot right now. Wait… That’s how we begun last week’s writeup for No Strings Attached. Well, to further reiterate, the Black Swan star has already been in five movies this year, and only Thor has been Fresh. Unfortunately, The Other Woman received an even lower Tomatometer score than No Strings Attached, so don’t look to this film to be one of Portman’s big resume-builders. Based on the Ayelet Waldman novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, The Other Woman stars Portman as Emilia Greenleaf, a recent Harvard Law grad who becomes the second wife of an older, high-powered attorney (Scott Cohen) and must learn to deal with her new husband’s ex-wife (Lisa Kudrow), as well as her new stepson (Charlie Tahan), after she and her husband lose their infant daughter. While critics praised Portman’s performance in the film, they unfortunately found little else to like, calling Don Roos’s direction clumsy and his script cluttered and overly melodramatic. If you’re on a Black Swan high, and you just want to watch Portman emote, then this will be a great pickup for you. Otherwise, probably not so much.

The Roommate


There’s been a little bit of grumbling going on about the recent tendency of studios to water down horror films and thrillers to a PG-13 rating, specifically in order to draw in younger — and therefore, much broader — audiences. When the film is good, however, the practice has little bearing on the outcome, and when the film is panned, some wonder whether or not it might have benefited from a bit more grit. According to critics, however, there’s very little that could have saved The Roommate, which was so devoid of chills, thrills, or even cheap titillation that it didn’t even fall into “so bad, it’s good” territory. With echoes of the early ’90s thriller Single White Female, the story centers on college freshman Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) and her new roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester), who, it turns out, is emotionally unstable and obsesses over Sara so much that she begins interfering in Sar’?s life, with drastic consequences. Despite featuring a handful of perennial “hottest girls of the year” in the cast and sporting a relatively broad premise with some potential, The Roommate fails to deliver on any level. But if you’re just interested in watching Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester on screen for an hour and a half, by all means, pick this up.

Vanishing on 7th Street


Director Brad Anderson proved his mettle with indie hits like Session 9 and The Machinist, as well as the critically acclaimed thriller Transsiberian, demonstrating he can craft a dark and effective psychodrama. So what went wrong with Vanishing on 7th Street? Critics felt that the film’s Twilight Zone-esque story was effective at times, but that it also lost its novelty ? and narrative thrust ? as the plot progressed. Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, and Jacob Latimore play survivors of a rapture-like citywide blackout that seemingly evaporates all of Detroit’s citizens, leaving only their clothes behind. As the four stragglers unite at a bar to plan their next course of action, they discover that the darkness itself is the culprit of all the supernatural goings on. While Anderson does an admirable job setting the mood and basking in the atmosphere of the movie, critics felt that too many questions went unanswered, leading only to an unsatisfying conclusion to a film they felt was more style than story. If you’re a fan of the director’s previous movies, this one may work for you, but at 51% on theTomatometer, it’s not going to please everyone.

ESPN Films: 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set

For fans of both sports and cinema, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is a godsend. To celebrate the network’s 30th anniversary, the Worldwide Leader commissioned 30 prominent filmmakers to each direct a one hour film about a particular sports-related subject. The result is a remarkable collection that should appeal to both sports fans and cineastes (a few of the movies played at prominent festivals). The series’ killer lineup includes new movies from Barry Levinson, John Singleton, Barbara Kopple, and even Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash; the films cover such fascinating subjects as Muhammad Ali’s late career, the rise of fantasy sports, and the colorful history of the United States Football League. ESPN Films: 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set contains all 30 films, plus deleted scenes, introductions from the filmmakers, and extended interviews.

Five Deadly Venoms – Blu-Ray

If you’re either a kung fu or hip-hop enthusiast, then you’re already familiar with the film that spawned a thousand Wu-Tang Clan references. Five Deadly Venoms is one of the classic Shaw Brothers martial arts films sampled in various places on the Staten Island rap supergroup’s iconic debut album, and for good reason: Five Deadly Venoms‘s focus on various kung fu styles fit perfectly with the Wu-Tang’s collection of eccentric personalities. The story is relatively straightforward: the master of the “Poison Clan” is dying, and he suspects that some of his former pupils, each one a specialist in a specific animal-based kung fu style, are planning to lay claim to the fortune the clan has amassed. To stop them, the master sends his last pupil to seek out the others and stop the masterminds behind the scheme. Now, did Five Deadly Venoms have to be put on Blu-Ray? Probably not, as part of the movie’s charm is its old-school feel. On top of that, there’s very little information on what special features, if any, are included. But if you simply want to own the movie in high definition, well, this would be the time to pick it up.

Diabolique – Criterion Collection


The work of Henri-Georges Clouzot is often compared to that of Alfred Hitchcock — a flattering association, to be sure, but one that doesn’t quite do this legendary Frenchman’s pitch-black, politically-minded thrillers justice. Quentin Tarantino name-checked Clouzot’s paranoid classic Le Corbeau in Inglourious Basterds, and The Wages of Fear remains one of the best slow-burn action flicks ever. However, Clouzot’s rep as a master of suspense was solidified with Diabolique, which featured a twist ending that scared the pants off international audiences six years before Psycho. In Diabolique, the wife and mistress of an autocratic boarding school headmaster team up to murder him ? but their plan quickly goes awry when they can’t find his body. The new Criterion Collction edition features a sparkling transfer of the film, plus interviews and commentary with Clouzot scholars and the movie’s original theatrical trailer.

The Hustler – 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray


Paul Newman won his one and only Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Fast Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese’s 1986 film The Color of Money, but the roots of the character were sown decades prior in Robert Rossen’s 1961 classic The Huslter, for which, ironically enough, Newman was also nominated for the same award. Based on the Walter Tevis novel of the same name, The Hustler, which co-starred Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott, was a commercial and critical success, and found its place among the most celebrated American films to date. For those unfamiliar, the story revolves around an ambitious pool shark (Newman) who challenges an old pro (Gleason) and loses everything he’s got, forcing him to strike out on his own, compromise his ideals, and learn some hard lessons about life in the process. It’s a darker role for Newman than many were used to seeing, but his nuanced performance in The Hustler displayed the kind of range that would make Newman a leading man for decades to come. The brand new 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray features many of the same extras found on the DVD Special Edition, but also includes Fox career retrospectives for Newman and Gleason, as well as a radio interview with Walter Tevis.

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