Biutiful (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
Nothing brings life’s loose ends to light like being told you have only months left to tie them together. But that’s the reality for terminally ill Uxbal (Javier Bardem), whose ends — two young children (Guillermo Estrella and Hanaa Bouchaib) to feed, an estranged wife and unfit mother (Maricel Álvarez) who wears him out faster than his illness can, a not-quite-above-board “profession” of helping (for a cut) undocumented immigrants get work with unscrupulous employers — aren’t merely loose so much as split, frayed and as erratic as an unmanned garden hose firing at full blast. “Biutiful,” by comparison, is significantly more in control — able to convey both Uxbal’s pains and epiphanies with an expertly effective mix of poignancy and subtlety. Surprisingly, it pays similar respect, with similar skill, to the kids and other characters — and not just the major ones whose development is to be expected. At 147 minutes, “Biutiful” isn’t short, and the sheer number of scenes that show more than tell may be to the movie’s detriment if you lack its patience. But the words left unsaid have as much effect as those we hear when a movie is this good at conveying emotion that’s unmistakable but never brazen. “Biutiful” starts strong, it stays strong, it takes viewers on one seriously intimate journey, and it closes things out with one of the best instances of coming full circle that you’ll ever see. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, interviews.
Drive Angry (R, 2011, Summit Entertainment)
Say what you want about Nicolas Cage, his range and the mannerisms that occasionally turn him into a human cartoon character. If “Drive Angry” is any barometer, he at least appears to get the joke. Conceptually, “Angry” is both simple and deliriously scattered — simple in that it’s just a story about a dad (Cage as Milton) bent on avenging his daughter’s murder and rescuing his granddaughter, but scattered insofar that Milton’s undead, his enemies (William Fichtner, Billy Burke) are undead, and the mission coincides with the potential advent of a literal Hell on Earth. The contradiction trickles down to the execution, which finds “Angry” alternately mixing fundamentally raw action, supernatural powers and some absurdly, darkly comic attempts to combine the two and lob curveballs whenever possible. By the standards set forth by the checklist of staid movie criticism, it’s an awful mess. But “Angry” carouses in its awfulness with a spirit that’s beautifully true to the Grindhouse method, and it doesn’t deserve to lose points simply because it doesn’t sprinkle in phony film artifacts and make the whole thing obnoxiously self-aware. If it’s OK to love those movies, then there is no crime in reveling in “Angry’s” revelry. And if you don’t like Cage so much? It doesn’t matter, because Fichtner, and his ability to steal a scene with nothing more than a twitch, is the real star attraction here.
Extras: Writers/director commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, a montage of Milton’s greatest hits (complete with scoreboard).
Undertow (NR, 2009, Wolfe Video)
You’ve likely heard a story before that sounds somewhat like that of fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado), who is awaiting the birth of his first child with wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) while secretly carrying on a love affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona). But things prove slightly more complicated when “Undertow” reveals just how small and gossipy this Peruvian seaside village is — to the point where “The Painter,” as Santiago is derisively known, is effectively the village leper because of his sexuality. But even that really is no match for what happens a half-hour into the proceedings. It won’t be spoiled here, but it changes the parameters considerably, and it transforms “Undertow” from a movie about uncomfortable secrets to something with enough gravity to leave its characters completely emotionally paralyzed. Though a slight suspension of disbelief is needed to go where “Undertow” wants to go, it isn’t an unreasonable request. For your trouble, the movie simultaneously tackles the themes you see coming and those you didn’t see coming with an enviable level of grace — nuanced without overstating its points, heavy without losing the smile it brought to its opening scenes, and flashing a heartfelt spirit that’s unquestionably genuine and never cloying. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, Mercado/Astengo interviews.
Never Apologize (NR, 2007, Warner Bros.)
“Never Apologize” is 111 uninterrupted minutes of actor Malcolm McDowell on stage telling stories. But this isn’t so much McDowell’s story as that of his relationship with director Lindsay Anderson, with whom he collaborated on “If…” and “O Lucky Man!,” among other projects. “Apologize’s” spartan production — some archive footage, but mostly just our emcee standing alone on a nearly bare stage — places the full sink-or-swim burden on McDowell’s back. But if you mostly know him from his work in character, this is a terrific opportunity to see him in a startlingly different light — humble, self-depreciating, heart-on-sleeve genuine, mournful, and as masterful at forming unforgettable sentences as he is at delivering them. “Apologize” is considerably better enjoyed by those familiar with McDowell, Anderson and especially the work they did together. But if you don’t count yourself amongst that crowd, know that this isn’t exclusively for them. Anyone who enjoys the process of writing, acting, creating or just reaching for a star and catching it will find some common ground in McDowell’s stories, which are as much an affirmation for dreamers and doers as they are a tribute to Anderson and all he did. No extras.
Passion Play (R, 2010, Image Entertainment)
Sometimes, a movie is best enjoyed for what it accidentally becomes rather than whatever it set out to be. That, somewhat unfortunately, is the only play “Passion Play” really has. “Play” tells the story of Lily (Megan Fox), who, depending on whom you ask, is either a real-life angel (biologically-attached wings and all) or nothing more than beautiful fodder for a carnival sideshow. The latter opinion belongs to two competing gangsters (Bill Murray and Rhys Ifans), while the former is the domain of Nate (Mickey Rourke), a washed-up jazz musician who falls for and sets out to rescue Lily almost from the moment he meets her. If a Rourke/Fox love story sounds weird, you don’t know the half of it. “Play” boldly wears its heart all over its sleeve and down its leg, but in terms of telling a story, it’s kind of a mess — a wholly straight-faced saga that’s chock full of melancholic music montages, thousand-mile stares and more self-indulgence than most can tolerate in the span of a single film. The cast plays the self-indulgent card to the nines, and between all the ham and the bizarre peaks and valleys the story ventures down en route to an ending that’s both crazy and predictable, there’s a lot about “Play” that’s easy to enjoy on some fascinating (and most likely ironic) level. There’s no way that’s what the filmmakers had in mind when they put it together, but if it has to completely miss the mark, at least it isn’t dull in doing so. No extras.
Worth a Mention
— More Malcolm: In addition to “Never Apologize,” Warner Bros. is celebrating the 40th birthday of “A Clockwork Orange” (R, 1971) with a new Anniversary Edition Blu-ray that includes a new 25-minute behind-the-scenes documentary and a new feature in which McDowell reflects on working with director Stanley Kubrick. The set also includes a digital copy of the film, three additional documentaries (“Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures,” “Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange” a
nd “O Lucky Malcolm!”), commentary with McDowell and historian Nick Redman, and a shorter behind-the-scenes feature. It also comes bound like a book, with a 40-page photo booklet providing the set’s centerpiece.
— More Kubrick: And in addition to standalone “Clockwork Orange” set, Warner is releasing the nine-movie “Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. Everything from the 40th Anniversary edition of “Orange” is included in this set, which also includes “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Shining,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Spartacus” and the Blu-ray debuts of “Lolita” and “Barry Lyndon.” The set comes accompanied by (and packaged within) a 40-page book that explores Kubrick’s career in pictures.
— More reissuing: Albeit with less fanfare, Universal is releasing a special edition of “American Graffiti” (PG, 1973) that includes a remastered transfer, a new commentary by George Lucas and the feature-length “The Making of American Graffiti.”
— More false hope: Because it wouldn’t be spring without one, there’s a new documentary about the Chicago Cubs and the tortured fans who continue to root for them. “Chicago Cubs: The Heart & Soul of Chicago” (NR, 2011, Questar) won’t make you understand if you don’t already, but if you’re a fan, the roster of interviewees — the late Ron Santo, Kerry Wood, Dutchie Caray, Bob Costas, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Corgan and more — is impressive. Extras include director commentary, a feature about the 1908 Cubs, footage of the Banks statue dedication and a Wood profile.