Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

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— Anthony Hopkins, The Edge

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Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Sometimes really good movies get overlooked at the box office. With an anemic $11 million in the North American till, the blood-thirsty revenge flick Drive Angry is not one of them.

Hell on Earth

Drive Angry starts in Hell. It’s a massive compound that looks part concentration camp and part refinery, an imposing cityscape with iron bridges spanning a lava stream. The opening frames set the mood with hard rock riffs and cool visuals of a hot place. The action then cuts to slightly more idyllic Laughter, Colo., where a vicious gunfight plays out. Three creeps are blown away by a fourth creep.

That fourth creep turns out to be a guy named John Milton (Nicolas Cage, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). He died some time ago, but he’s back to exact revenge on those who killed his daughter (in Loveland, no less) and are now planning to sacrifice his granddaughter to Satan in an abandoned prison in Louisiana. Subtlety, whether in themes or character names, is not on the itinerary for Drive Angry.

As the story goes, there’s some significance to conducting the sacrifice in a prison because Hell is the ultimate correctional facility. But it turns out Hell’s warden, Satan, might not really be all that fond of people who sacrifice babies.

Well, that’s kind of a clever little twist.

What ensues is an over-the-top road trip of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, murder, mayhem, and destruction.

Yeah. This is the kind of movie in which the protagonist multi-tasks by smoking a stogie, swigging whiskey, and having sex while in the midst of a brutal gun/axe/whatever’s handy fight. Of course, he’s fully clothed and she’s fully nude (aside from her cowboy boots) because that’s the kind of misogynistic world in which the depraved characters live.

The Devil Wears Hugo Boss

Things go to Hell in a Chevy Chevelle
Things go to Hell in a Chevy Chevelle

In this digital age, surely the days of old school schlock are numbered. Yes, there’s a small market for cheesy exploitation flicks like this, but as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez can attest, it’s a hard sell to get people to plunk down the bucks at the multiplex, even for a double dose of retro style. In the case of Drive Angry, junky visuals (including too many clunky greenscreen scenes that prove crummy 1970s technology is even more crummy in 2011) mar the experience of seeing hands blown off by shotguns (how awesome that must’ve been in 3D!) and other scenes of morbid muckety-muck.

The biggest problem is that this revenge flick serves up no sense of satisfaction when the baddies get their well-deserved comeuppance.  For all the brutality on display, it’d be nice to feel a sense of release and relief when the bad guys bite the bullet, sometimes almost literally. Throw in the ultra-sexy Amber Heard (Zombieland) as an ass-kicking hottie named Piper, who beats up her cheatin’ boyfriend before becoming Robin to Milton’s Batman, and there’s the possibility for a hot and heavy ride through Hell on Earth.

Alas, most of the entertaining bits involve a member of Satan’s administrative staff. Dubbed simply The Accountant (William Fichtner in an apparent promotion from his role as a gun-slinging banker in The Dark Knight), he’s a creepy auditor with a nose for nastiness. But don’t be fooled by the nice suit. He can wreak havoc with the worst of them.

Blu-ray Extras

Given the movie was released theatrically in 3D, it’s worth noting there is a 3D Blu-ray available. This review covers the standard 2D Blu-ray edition.

The primary supplemental feature shared across the Blu-ray and DVD releases is a running commentary with director/co-writer Patrick Lussier (enduring a case of laryngitis, he sounds freaky; at least he explains the laryngitis right up front) and co-writer/actor Todd Farmer. They offer no apologies for what they’ve done here and go so far as to boast about the big nude scene, with their goal being to top the nude scene in their My Bloody Valentine remake. There are some interesting tidbits here and there, such as the notion that Milton was originally going to be a 70-year-old man (freeze framing on his driver’s license indicates he’s 60) and Cage made the decision that his character would not swear while everybody else does. More could have been said about the considerations and compromises made in regard to filming in 3D; it’s mentioned only a couple times on a superficial level. As a whole it’s a decent, if not pretty standard, track.

Milton’s Mayhem is a funny little widget in the right top corner of the screen that gives Milton points for each violent act (100 points for a kill, each kick or punch earns 25 points; a miss with the God Killer, though, deducts 1,000 points. Ouch.).

There are also two deleted scenes (totaling 1:36), with optional commentary from Lussier and Farmer. You Made Me Cheat simply shows Piper quickly packing before storming out on her boyfriend. The other, Morgan Girl, is a silly clip involving The Accountant, a hot chick, and a hotter car.

Blu-ray Exclusives

Access: Drive Angry turns out to be quite a surprise. It’s a really well done split-screen picture track that serves up scene-specific snippets with filmmaker and cast interviews along with behind-the-scenes footage. It also dishes out a text box of trivia covering references to other movies and pieces of reality, like the frequency of full moons, the lack of a Stillwater prison in Louisiana, and the weight of window-mounted air conditioning units.

Overall, the feature is an excellent device to tie all the typical supplemental featurette elements into a broader package of trivia and, yeah, Milton’s mayhem tally widget. It’s unfortunate, though, that Cage doesn’t participate directly in any of the supplemental footage; based on comments from other crew members, it sounds like he contributed a lot of ideas.

On the technical front, the inclusion of navigation to skip directly to the next supplemental bit is a much-appreciated option.

Picture and Sound

First off, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is excellent. It’s of the caliber that pretty much requires turning down the audio system for a change.

Also available is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

The picture quality, presented in full-screen 1.78:1, overall is excellent, albeit somewhat inconsistent. At times it presents an awesome amount of detail, right down to the pores in Cage’s face, and at times there’s a nice film grain appearance. But there are a couple instances where the picture seems out of sorts and a wee bit murky. The movie was actually filmed in 3D, as opposed to the all-too-popular post-production 3D conversion, so perhaps the image quality is a fair representation of the original theatrical exhibition; consideration also needs to be given to the extremely low budget constraints of the production.

Subtitles are available in Spanish and English (an SDH option for the deaf and hard of hearing).

How to Use This Disc

Don’t watch angry. Place the brain on the dashboard and enjoy the scenery.