This week on DVD/Blu-ray: "Drive," arguably the best action film of the year; Ami Canaan Mann's scorching debut "Texas Killing Fields"; the late Anthony Minghella's most beloved film; the Jamie Foxx-approved documentary "Thunder Soul;" and four Italian crime classics from master Fernando Di Leo.
1. Critic’s Pick: “Drive” (DVD and Blu-ray)
Sure, “The Tree of Life” was the big winner at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, but the film that got the pulses of the jury racing was “Drive,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s steely cool homage to the best action flicks of the ‘80s. He beat three of the most celebrated living auteurs (Terrence Malick, Pedro Almodovar and Lars von Trier) to walk away with the festival’s directing prize. And for good reason.
Upon catching the film on La Croisette, Eric Kohn wrote, “Combing a memorably gritty Ryan Gosling performance with the breakneck tempo of the getaway cars his character handles for hire, Refn churns out a hyperactive love letter to road rage with unapologetic glee. It's a total blast."
In case you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out this release before the 27th Film Independent Spirit Awards, where “Drive” is up four awards, including Best Feature and Best Director.
Extras: True fans might want to hold out for the rumored 'Queen edition" that Refn reportedly has in the works. Still, this release is pretty solid considering. What is included: “I Drive,” a short featurette on the film; “Under the Hood,” an 11-minute featurette on the cast; “Driver and Irene,” a six-minute look at the film’s central love story; “Cut to the Chase,” a four-minute look at the stunts; a 25-minute video interview with Refn; and some additional previews.
2. "Texas Killing Fields” (DVD and Blu-ray)
Ami Canaan Mann, daughter to Michael Mann ("Heat," "Public Enemies"), signals herself as a director to watch with her effective feature debut, “Texas Killing Fields.” A contender at last year’s Venice Film Festival, “Texas Killing Fields” tells a gruesome story inspired by true events: A local Texas homicide detective (Sam Worthington) pairs with a transplanted cop from New York City (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to track a sadistic serial killer dumping his victims' bodies in a nearby marsh locals dub "The Killing Fields." Chloe Moretz gives a powerful supporting as a local abused girl who goes missing.
Extras: With only the film's theatrical trailer and an audio commentary track from Mann and writer Donald F. Ferrarone, this is a pretty bare-bones release. But the commentary is worthwhile.
3. "The English Patient” (Blu-ray)
Fans of Anthony Minghella’s beloved and acclaimed (it won a whopping nine Academy Awards in 1996) romantic epic have reason to be excited. The classic WWII tear-jerker, based on Michael Ondaatje’s book, finaly gets the high-definition treatment it deserves in this stunning Blu-ray transfer.
Extras: All of the bonus features from the original DVD two disc release have made their way over to this Blu-ray release. Included: two audio commentaries featuring Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz and Ondaajte; a slew of featurettes that delve into the making of the epic; over 90 minutes of interviews with Minghella, Zaentz, Ondaajte and editor Walter Murch; a 20-minute ‘Master Class’ with Minghella; and a 50-minute ‘Making Of’ documentary.
4. "Thunder Soul” (DVD)
Winner of the 2010 Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at the SXSW Film Festival, “Thunder Soul,” directed by Mark Landsman, chronicles Houston’s inner-city Kashmere High School Stage Band, a funk powerhouse group who reunites 30 years after disbanding. Prior to breaking up, the band broke ground as an all-black high school group and toured their music worldwide. Directed with infectious energy and mad love for his subjects, Landsman weaves together a dynamic tale, as foot stomping as it is moving.
Extras: Audio commentary with Landsman and editor Claire Didier; some never-before-seen footage from a 1974 documentary about Prof and his band; and the film’s theatrical trailer.
5. Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection (DVD and Blu-ray)
If you like your gangster films garish, brazen and wildly violent and you haven’t heard of Italian director Fernando Di Leo, then consider this four-box set your crash course in all things Leo. RaroVideo, in collaboration with the Venice Film Festival, have digitally restored four of his classics – “Caliber 9,” “The Italian Connection,” “The Boss” and “Rulers of the City” – for this action-packed release.
Extras: The “Caliber 9” disc is the heftiest of the four, boasting three documentaries that clock in at around 100 minutes. Elsewhere, “The Italian Connection” disc boasts a 20-minute documentary; “The Boss” has a 25-minute featurette; and “Rulers of the City” offers a 15-minute piece.