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Drive Angry 3-D is classic grindhouse trash, and Biutiful is Bardem at his best

by Mark Burger

Drive Angry 3-D may well be may be the best film that Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez never directed. Fastmoving, funky and frequently, intentionally, foul, it’s great fun in the grindhouse tradition — and Nicolas Cage’s best, most purely enjoyable film in a long while.

Indicative of the humor found in Todd Farmer and director/editor Patrick Lussier’s tongue-in-cheek screenplay, Cage plays John Milton, who has returned to the land of the living after cooling his heels (so to speak) in hell these many years. He’s on the trail of Jonah King (Billy Burke), a wacko evangelist who murdered Milton’s daughter and plans on sacrificing her infant daughter — Milton’s grandchild — as part of a Satanic ritual.

Clearly, the filmmakers were thinking Oscar when they polished this number off.

Joined by leggy, hard-luck waitress Piper (the luscious Amber Heard), Milton sets off in hot pursuit of King and his minions, but pursued themselves by an unflappable, urbane character known as “The Accountant” (William Fichtner), who has been charged with bringing Milton back to the hot spot where he belongs. Road rage has rarely been raunchier or more outrageous than with these crazy characters behind the wheel.

Not for a moment is any of this to be taken seriously. Drive Angry 3-D doesn‘t aspire to any great (or even significant) artistic heights, but amid the crashing cars, flying bodies and splattering blood — and there’s plenty of all three on display — there’s a spirited sense of play at work. With nods to many a past B-movie, the film’s energy and inventiveness rarely flag. There’s a certain special touch to making trash work, and Drive Angry 3-D’s got the right touch. The 3-D effects, some outrageously cheesy, are a perfect fit. This is one movie that should be in 3-D.

Cage plays it straight (more or less), leaving a lot of room for Fichtner and Burke to steal their fair share of scenes. Both actors are more than up to the task, with Fichtner’s droll menace neatly offset by Burke’s wild-eyed

Elvis Presley/Jim Morrison/Charles Manson smorgasbord. In smaller but no less enjoyable roles, David Morse, Charlotte Ross and Tom Atkins manage to keep straight faces throughout, which takes some doing given the giddy and consistent absurdities of the story.

Drive Angry 3-D has had some difficulty revving up interest at the box-office, but for true connoisseurs of schlock cinema, it’s an instant cult classic.

The eagerly anticipated collaboration between acclaimed filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and actor Javier Bardem has yielded Biutiful , a reflective, compassionate and unmistakably overlong character study that nevertheless affords the actor, who earned an Oscar nomination as Best Actor (the first Best Actor nomination for a role spoken entirely in Spanish), an absolute opportunity to command the screen, which he does with great assurance.

Bardem is such an eloquent, expressive actor that the role could seemingly have been in any language and the emotional intent would still come across. So too is it with Innaritu, whose previous films (including Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel) offer so thorough and penetrating an examination into the human condition that the emotions they portray are undoubtedly recognizable as to be universal. This film also received an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Language Film.

Unlike his earlier films, which tended to follow parallel and intersecting storylines, Biutiful remains focused throughout on Uxbal (Bardem), a small-time hustler and sometime clairvoyant trying to survive on the mean streets of Barcelona.

Upon learning he’s ill with cancer and that time is short, Uxbal attempts to put his affairs in order and do right by those around him, including his children and his business partners. But, this being the world of Innaritu, sometimes even the best, noblest intentions have a way of going awry, forcing his char acters to confront their own weaknesses and failings, often in painful, heartrending fashion.

Maricel Alvarez plays Uxbal’s exwife Marambra, a deeply troubled woman who still loves him (sometimes, at least) but who is at the mercy of her own demons, which Uxbal’s patience can’t assuage for very long, particularly when it comes to her erratic treatment of their childen (Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella).

Then there’s Uxbal’s older brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez), a corrupt cop whom he sees regularly — in order to give him his regular pay-off. These are the people closest to Uxbal, and only rarely do they notice that he’s behaving a little differently these days. (He never tells them he’s dying.)

Innaritu’s films are thought-provoking and frequently depressing — which certainly gives his actors considerable opportunity to shine, even in tiny roles — yet there’s always a sense of hope, that even the merest gesture toward making things better is worthy of note. With the bitter comes the sweet, and few filmmakers of late have mined that theme as consistently (and, it must be noted, as successfully) as Inarritu.

(In Spanish with English subtitles)

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