Video Verdict: ‘Biutiful,’ ‘Drive Angry’

Javier Bardem plays a man struggling with a terminal illness in “Biutiful.” He was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his work on the film.

This week’s home video releases include an over-the-top revenge flick starring Nicolas Cage and an Oscar-nominated foreign drama featuring Javier Bardem.

Biutiful

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for disturbing images, some sexual content, nudity and drug use
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

In “Biutiful,” Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a flawed Barcelona man coming to terms with the fact that he has a terminal illness. It’s a phenomenal performance, one that earned Bardem a best actor Academy Award nomination, but he isn’t the only selling point of the movie.

Co-written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel,” “21 Grams”), the Spanish-language drama is a moving portrait of a man attempting to provide for his family under the worst possible circumstances. Uxbal is raising his two young children alone because his wife (Maricel Alvarez) refuses to seek proper treatment for bipolar disorder, making her wildly unpredictable and flighty.

His own situation is far from ideal as well because the bulk of his income is earned through shady underworld dealings. Clearly, he has qualms about his profession, but he is so entrenched in the lifestyle that he doesn’t see many options, especially after he is diagnosed with cancer.

As the film progresses, Inarritu builds an increasingly intimate relationship between viewers and Uxbal, making it hard to distance oneself from his sad and desperate situation. Because his children are young, Uxbal knows he must find a way to support them even after he’s gone, but suitable surrogate parents are hard to find, especially when one works in the underworld.

Inarritu takes his time spinning the story. In fact, the 147-minute movie is a bit languid, particularly in the beginning. It becomes more and more engaging as it picks up steam, however, and Bardem’s performance makes it difficult to look away.

“Biutiful” takes its name from a misspelling that Uxbal’s daughter makes early in the film, but the adjective (spelled correctly or otherwise) is an excellent description of the entire project.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer. The film is presented in Spanish with English subtitles.

Drive Angry

1½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

It takes only a few minutes for “Drive Angry” to establish itself as a twisted, bloody grindhouse homage owing a huge debt to filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Then, the film plods forward, proving it would have been better if either of those directors had touched it.

“Drive Angry” is a revenge flick about a man named John Milton (Nicolas Cage) who literally escapes hell in order to free his baby granddaughter from a Satanic cult. It’s pure B-movie schlock, complete with beefy muscle cars, gratuitous nudity and oodles of blood. And, for a film steeped in such titillating material, it’s surprisingly tedious.

Co-writer and director Patrick Lussier (“My Bloody Valentine,” “Dracula 2000”) did a fine job with tone but skimped on the important stuff, namely plot. Essentially, John spends the entire movie tracking the nasty cult leader (Billy Burke). There’s nothing more, nothing less.

The journey requires lots of violence and, conveniently, the assistance of a beautiful woman (Amber Heard). Because John is a supernatural refugee, viewers also get a look at then guy assigned to capture him, a smooth-talking, suit-wearing fellow who calls himself The Accountant (William Fichtner).

The actors do a respectable job taking the overblown material seriously, and Lussier frames the scenes with style. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that there’s not enough going on story-wise. Despite the blood, guts and non-stop action, “Drive Angry” never shifts into overdrive.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary track with Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“True Blood” – The Complete Third Season: The fourth season of HBO’s popular drama about vampires and other supernatural creatures is set to debut in late June, and this collection will bring everyone up to speed. Available on both DVD and Blu-ray, “True Blood: The Complete Third Season” includes all 12 episodes from 2010, plus a host of special features. Among the latter is an in-depth look at the werewolf fight from the beginning of the season, minisodes that fill in backstories not seen in the actual show, and audio commentaries for several episodes. Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten and Rutina Wesley star.

“Rookie Blue” – The Complete First Season: Like “True Blood,” “Rookie Blue” is coming back for another season this June. If you missed the action the first time around, this set includes every episode. The hour-long drama follows the lives of five rookie police officers adjusting to their jobs in a big city. Missy Peregrym, Greg Smith, Enuka Okuma, Travis Milne, Eric Johnson, Charlotte Sullivan and Ben Bass star.

“American Graffiti” Special Edition: Universal is rolling George Lucas’ classic coming-of-age tale onto Blu-ray for the first time. If you’re yet to jump on the high-definition bandwagon, the movie is also being re-released on DVD. The 1973 feature focuses on high school graduates enjoying one last night in their hometown before heading to college. Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark and Harrison Ford star.

Stanley Kubrick collections: Warner Home Video is releasing nine movies by director Stanley Kubrick on Blu-ray as part of its Limited Edition Collection. Also, the same films are available in standard definition on Warner’s DVD-only Essential Collection. The included films are “Spartacus,” “Lolita,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“Hijos del Carnaval” – Seasons One & Two: Part of HBO’s Latin America Originals series, this show focuses on the patriarch of a Brazilian organized crime syndicate and stars Enrique Diaz and Rodrigo dos Santos. The DVD set includes all 13 episodes of the show’s first two seasons. Presented in Portuguese with English and Spanish subtitles.

“Passion Play”: Fanciful thriller starring Mickey Rourke as an aging musician running from a powerful gangster (Bill Murray). When the music man has a chance meeting with the star of a carnival attraction (Megan Fox), he hatches a plan to get himself out of trouble. Written and directed by Mitch Glazer, screenwriter of “The Recruit.”

“KA-BOOM”: Unrated sex comedy from indie auteur Gregg Araki. In this outing, the writer-director tells the story of a sexually confused young man (Thomas Dekker) coming of age under strange circumstances. Among other things, he discovers that his small college town is home to a dangerous cult.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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