Movie Reviews: ‘Buried,’ ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,’ ‘Howl’ & More

Buried – Here is an abbreviated list of phobias that might be triggered by Buried, the first English language feature from acclaimed Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés: claustrophobia (fear of restriction and suffocation), taphophobia (fear of being buried alive), achluophobia (fear of darkness), autophobia (fear of being alone), and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes). Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), an American truck driver working in Iraq, regains consciousness after receiving a blunt blow to the head, only to find he’s been, yep, buried alive in a wooden coffin under several feet of desert sand. With only a cell phone, a lighter, and fuzzy memories of his convoy’s ambush, Paul attempts to lead rescuers to his grave through a series of frustrating calls to his government, his family, and the insurgents who put him there. A lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to carry the film, but Reynolds is sublime, conveying fear and resolve with every gasp of rapidly thinning air. —Victor Ozols

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – If New York is Woody Allen’s one true love, then London, at least around the release of 2005’s Match Point, was his oversexed mistress, a place where the legendary filmmaker was able to “recharge his batteries.” This is precisely the effect that Charmaine (newcomer Lucy Punch) has on Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who marries the young prostitute shortly after his divorce from Helena (Gemma Jones), his wife of 40 years, in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Predictably, the spark soon fizzles between Alfie and Charmaine, not unlike Allen’s brief but exciting European affair. At its best, the film is a pleasant morality play focused on a warring British couple (Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, as the Allen stand-in) and their extramarital conquests (Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto, respectively). At its worst, this grass-is-always-greener tale of ennui and moral vacuity is Anything Else with an affected accent. —Nick Haramis

Howl – Poet Allen Ginsberg once wrote, “It isn’t enough for your heart to break because everybody’s heart is broken now.” It’s a kernel of wisdom that most biopics—so often manipulative and pandering—should heed, and it’s precisely what makes filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl such a frenetic, charged piece of cinematic poetry. The film is divided by three caesurae: the much-ballyhooed obscenity trial centered on Ginsberg’s Howl; an interview with the poet, whose every tic and quirk is brought to life by James Franco; and an impassioned coffeehouse reading of Howl set to out-of-time animation that champions all of the beauty and filth of the American classic. By focusing, as the title suggests, on the poem rather than the poet, one actually gets further into the mind of the man for whom a generation was “destroyed by madness.” —NH

Never Let Me Go – Most film adaptations of great literary works don’t deserve to share a title with their source material. Fortunately, Kazuo Ishiguro’s haunting disquisition on the future of medical science fell into the capable hands of director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine). Centered on three students at a boarding school in England’s hinterlands, Never Let Me Go follows Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Kathy (Carey Mulligan) as they go about their seemingly charmed lives. From the onset, though, it’s clear there’s something unusual about the students, their school, and the mysterious squad of authority figures who monitor their every move. Ominous words like “donation” and “completion” are exchanged, and, as these living, breathing trial studies grow to maturity, we’re forced to examine exactly what constitutes a human life. With moving dramatic performances from the leads, the film humanizes a future that feels disturbingly, inevitably close. —Eiseley Tauginas

Enter the Void – For all its sweeping camera tricks and otherworldly lighting, Gaspar Noé’s latest orgy of muck and ire is hopelessly ugly. It will certainly draw criticism for its cheap, exploitative thrills: the first-person perspective in a head-on car collision, the unrelenting abortion scenes, and the inner-vaginal view of a penetrating penis. But despite its rampant adolescence, Enter the Void is also searching and soulful, a piecemeal memento mori of a young man’s troubled life after it is cut short during a botched drug deal. Wayward Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is told that death is life’s greatest trip—something he experiences firsthand, moments after being shot by Japanese police, when his spirit considers his strong (and possibly incestuous) bond with his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta). Flawed and perhaps ill-paced—the film runs long at 150 minutes—Enter the Void is also a lighting bolt of visual mastery, jolting and unlike anything that’s come before it. —NH

The Sundance Buzz Thus Far

So we’re five days in, and already a number of stand-out films are sucking up the lion’s share of this year’s Sundance glory. Here are the (figurative, not prize) winners so far:

(‘DiggThis’)The Runaways – Thank God this isn’t terrible—or at least, that seems to be the majority opinion. I’ll admit I’m still a little dubious about Dakota Fanning and the world’s most famous lip-worrier playing Cherie Curie and Joan Jett of seminal girl band The Runaways, but the advance word is that they acquit themselves admirably. Even more praise has been heaped on Michael Shannon, who plays the band’s manager Kim Fowley. As Kevin Kelly of Cinematical puts it, Shannon “takes this movie, straps it to his back, and walks away with it completely.”

Buried – This sounds like something done on a bet or a dare: a ninety minute movie that takes place entirely inside a coffin. Ryan Reynolds plays an American contractor in Iraq who’s been captured and subsequently buried by insurgents hoping to extract a ransom. Armed only with a flask, lighter, cell phone, and some glow sticks, Reynolds struggles to negotiate his escape. His performance has been called mesmerizing, and the film has already been picked up by Lionsgate for US distribution.

Winter’s Bone – Director Debra Granik came to Sundance six years ago with the woman-in-extremis picture Down to the Bone which effectively made Vera Farmiga’s career. Now she returns with an Ozarks-set, hillbilly noir that again showcases the talent of a promising young actress. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Ree Dolly, an impoverished 17-year-old girl desperate to track down her deadbeat of a father and drag him to court before their house (which he used to secure a bond) is taken away. Critic Patrick Z. McGavin has it that “Pretty much every single performance in Winter’s Bone feels absolutely right and note perfect.”

The Kids Are AlrightHigh Art director Lisa Cholodenko returns to Sundance with a dramedy about modern families that’s earning all manner of flattering superlatives. The film stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as the lesbian parents of two children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who decide to meet their biological father (Mark Ruffalo). Gregory Ellwood of HitFix touts it as potentially being “the most significant gay-themed film since Brokeback Mountain.

So How Good is Ryan Reynolds’ New Thriller ‘Buried’?

If the word out of Sundance is to be believed, then very. Buried is a thriller in which Reynolds gives the only onscreen performance. That’s because he plays a U.S. contractor who wakes up in a coffin, buried alive. He has a cellphone, a lighter, and 90 minutes of air left (which is coincidentally the film’s running time). Last week MTV hosted the teaser and a short clip, and yep—there was a freaked out Ryan Reynolds, lying in a coffin, talking on a cellphone. The average moviegoer might wonder how even the most gifted of filmmakers could stretch this concept out for an hour and a half, but what the average moviegoer doesn’t know is that Buried appeared on the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The film finally screened at Sundance over the weekend, and not only was it the subject of a studio bidding war (which Lionsgate eventually won for $3.2 million), but people are calling it a major achievement and a potential word-of-mouth phenomenon. Some choice words after the jump.

(‘DiggThis’)/Film: “the film features a few action sequences, all of which take place inside the coffin. The skill required to pull this off is incomprehensible to me. Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés has pulled off some many amazing technical tricks with this feature, that you can’t tell where one ends and the next begins. He will no doubt have a bright future in Hollywood.”

Film School Rejects: “The raw emotion delivered by Reynolds, combined with a fantastically creative array of shot selections, many of which are very intimate and very uncomfortable to watch, make the movie engaging. As in, you spend most of the film’s runtime on the edge of your seat, waiting to see this mystery unravel.”

First Showing: “There’s really no way to compare Buried to anything else because it’s such a unique film. It stands on its own as a piece of incredible filmmaking that will be talked about for years to come. See this the first chance you get.”

Cinema Blend: “Suspense junkies and aspiring filmmakers will be forced to marvel at how on earth these guys pulled it off, and even someone who comes into the movie hoping for something bigger will find their heart racing by the end.”