HomeVideodrome: Gosling's Cool and Cunning 'Drive,' Plus a Forgettable 'Killing Fields'

This week on the HomeVideodrome podcast, Hunter reviews Liam Neeson’s death-obsessed wolf-fighting-fest “The Grey,” Jim discovers “Blubberella” and extols on the greatness of “Adaptation” and the week’s releases get the usual treatment. Head on over to The Film Thugs and give it a listen.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is the essence of crime cinema cool boiled down to its bones, combining the spartan feel of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” with the sheen of Michael Mann’s ’80s output like “Thief.” Throw in a protagonist reminiscent of Ryan O’Neill’s strong silent wheelman in Walter Hill’s “The Driver,” and you’ve got a shiny movie buff confection.

Ryan Gosling completely owns the nameless lead role, shiny scorpion jacket and all. The year Gosling had in 2011 effectively silenced his critics who wrote him off as a pretty face in “The Notebook,” with “Drive” standing at the head of the pack. His soft exterior makes his cool-yet-vicious character in “Drive” all the more potent whenever he has to stomp some poor henchman’s head in.

I love grizzled, masculine action heroes like Liam Neeson and Lee Marvin as much as the next red-blooded American, but Gosling steps up to the plate, points to the outfield, and knocks the ball straight into the spark-spewing lights. Don’t let his soft features or feathery surname fool you. Gosling brilliantly channels the brand of cool perfected by Alain Delon in Melville’s quiet heist & hitman sagas.

Another great turn is given by Albert Brooks, normally known for playing lovable characters with low self-esteem in “Broadcast News” and “Defending Your Life.” Any trace of Brooks’s natural likability is nowhere to be found in “Drive.” He completely embodies a truly frightening gangster heavy with a penchant for fileting his enemies with a razor. In a conversation with Gosling, he says, “I used to produce movies, in the eighties. Kinda like action films, sexy stuff. One critic called them European. I thought they were shit.” This makes me wonder if Brooks’s character isn’t a homicidal take on Menahem Golan or Andy Sidaris. Maybe both?

As my co-host on the HomeVideodrome podcast pointed out this week, “Drive” was snubbed at the Oscars this year, garnering only one nomination for Achievement in Sound Editing. There were only nine nominations for Best Picture, as opposed to the ten from last year. So it would seem one of the year’s most acclaimed movies was snubbed in favor of … nothing. Ouch. But “Drive” seems like too much of a weird, arty genre outsider to get a nod from Oscar.

Thankfully, “Drive” doesn’t need the potential for gold statues to boost its cred, as it’s already gained a fanatical following from movie fans (when I stopped by Best Buy to pick it up, the racks containing it were almost empty). Excuse me, but I’ve gotta crank Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall” while I write the rest of this article.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Speaking of Michael Mann, he produced a new flick that’s out this week, and his daughter, Ami Canaan Mann, took up the directing duties. The title is ridiculous and intriguing all at once: “Texas Killing Fields.” Being a man who has a taste for Texas-fried genre fiction by guys like Joe R. Lansdale, this sounded like a yarn that could be right up my alley. I love sweaty, southwestern noir like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Killer Inside Me,” and “Texas Killing Fields” promised some solid talent, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Grace-Moretz, and Jessica Chastain, who had the best year of any actress in 2011 (Sam Worthington’s in there too, but he ain’t really a “draw” for me). Shame what they served up was just a bland, boring mess.

“Texas Killing Fields” is about as dull as murder mysteries get, it’s characters are burdened by cliche, and the story lacks focus, and happens to be devoid of meaning to boot. A hothead small-town cop (Worthington) is paired up with an emotional detective from New York (Morgan) to solve a string of murders, and a bunch of stuff you won’t care about happens in the meantime. You know the drill, crime scenes procedurals, cliched cop dialogue, it all adds up to something you’ve seen done better a gazillion times before elsewhere.

It could only help the film if it could be called “formulaic,” because at least formula means it would at least hit the proper beats. Instead it’s a ball slow, muddy sludge, with fruitless subplots and a boring mystery. The story might not be such a drag if Mann’s direction added any flavor, but it just lies there on the screen like a dead fish. I would say it’s “television quality” direction, but doing so would be unfairly dismissive of the far more satisfying work in the genre that we see on TV every day.

It’s wildly disappointing when such a talented cast and crew cooks up a big fat nothing-burger like “Texas Killing Fields.” Even the most brilliant talents squeeze out the occasional turd, they are human after all. This is one of those movies that you might come across flipping through the NetFlix Instant Queue one night after you’ve had a few too many beers which might arouse your curiosity, but trust me, hombre, just keep flipping until you find something else.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Other Noteworthy Releases

Transformers – Dark of the Moon 3D: Michael Bay’s celebration of boys & their toys finally comes to 3D home video. I sort of admire Bay for making something as unapologetically vapid as this movie is, it’s pretty much a Bay’s trademarks blasted straight at your face without any hint of pretensions towards character and coherent storytelling. You can also grab the entire series in a deluxe box set, which should make for a remarkable tool if you’re into marathon S&M sessions.

Available on 3D Blu-ray

Star Trek – The Next Generation – The Next Level: I loved the Blu-ray releases that were put together of the original series, and it looks like they’re doing something similar with “The Next Generation”, offering re-created effects for high-definition. This three-episode set is a taste of what the full season sets will offer, serving three episodes that have been given the hi-def treatment: “Encounter at Farpoint,” “Sins of the Father” and “The Inner Light.” The beauty of what they did with the original series was they offered you a choice: you could watch it with the old effects, or the flashy CGI stuff, whatever floats your boat. Hear that, George Lucas? Choice. We like that. This release comes at an affordable price, but it’s a release for the impatient. If you’re gonna buy the whole shebang anyway, save your money and wait for the real deal.

Available on Blu-ray

In Time: Andrew Niccol’s stuff hasn’t ever really scratched my sci-fi itch, though “Gattaca” was pretty sweet. I love how Harlan Ellison sued the makers of this film for ripping off “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman”, only to drop his lawsuit once he saw the film. I guess he only likes to take credit for stuff that’s good.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

The Thing: Back when I would gobble up any horror film I could get my hands on, curiosity would’ve been a good enough motivator to see this one. It doesn’t seem like it’s sure whether it’s a prequel or a remake, so I’ll just stick with the John Carpenter one, thanks. Also, the Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks classic is pretty swell too.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

The Big Year: A film starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson about bird watching … which bombed badly at the box office. Given that my Father is an avid birder, I’ll be watching this one with him for kicks some day soon.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Dream House: Another bomb, this Jim Sheridan film starring Daniel Craig looks like a script someone dug out of M. Night Shyamalan’s garbage can. A sure sign a movie needs to make some fast cash after a bad box office draw: it’s available for rental on Amazon Instant the day it comes out, instead of making you purchase it for streaming. Not a rule, but it’s interesting how duds often come out of the gate accepting rentals there.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

The Double: In case you were wondering what Richard Gere is up to.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Outrage – Way of the Yakuza: A new Takeshi Kitano film?! Sign me up! Ever since I saw him terrorize high schoolers in “Battle Royale”, I’ve been a fan.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Magnificent Ambersons: Orson Welles’s half-masterpiece finally gets a stand-alone DVD release.

Available on DVD

Blubberella: I just wanted to point out that this exists. Of course, Uwe Boll is involved. Note how the titular character is firing off machine guns while gripping the clips in the cover art. Just sayin’.

Available on DVD

To Kill a Mockingbird: Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched this. Time to give it another look now that it’s got a Blu-ray dip coming out.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Instant

Adaptation: The best Charlie Kaufman creation, “Adaptation” is as brilliantly meta as it gets. Nic Cage haters need to remember that the man is great when he’s in the right movie. This one, “Moonstruck,” “Wild at Heart,” “Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas”… recognize.

Available on Blu-ray

Shakespeare in Love: It’s Oscar season, so a bunch of movies that got a bunch of wins/nominations are getting Blu-ray dips. I couldn’t ever muster up the will to force myself to watch this movie. Now that it’s on Blu-ray, I’m not shocked I still don’t care.

Available on Blu-ray

The English Patient: Anthony Minghella’s middle name was “Oscar” during his career. Another one of his movies, “Cold Mountain,” also comes to Blu-ray this week.

Available on Blu-ray

The Piano: When I think of tortured female-driven dramas, I think of Jane Campion’s “The Piano” starring Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel’s penis.

Available on Blu-ray

Frida: Being an admirer of Diego Rivera’s murals, I really enjoyed Julie Taymor’s biopic on his wife, Frida Kahlo, which covers her career, and their tempestuous relationship. Taymor’s such a visually-driven director that this Blu-ray release should look fantastic.

Available on Blu-ray

Malcolm X: He may have blocked my mouthy self on Twitter (hey, shameless plug time, follow me because you love me), but I do enjoy me some Spike Lee movies when he hits the right notes. “Malcolm X” is one of those times where he knocked it out of the park.

Available on Blu-ray

This article originally appeared over at Parcbench


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