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

Appreciate or Apologize: Woody Allen’s ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’

Like any rabid Woody Allen fan, I’m both an apologist and an appreciator of the director’s contemporary work. Surrounding some lovely dromedy gems—Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point—is an endless sea of…not dross, not garbage, but fatally flawed, if still enjoyable, films: Hollywood Ending, Melinda and Melinda, Cassandra’s Dream, Whatever Works. So the question everyone asks when a new Allen film is about to come out is, which category will it fall into? Will it be a beauty of a film or another challenge for us Allen apologists? Where will You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger fall? The first trailer just debuted and I’m just not sure.

The film looks…okay? Light comedy. Some typical Allen upper class relationship drama. It seems like it was shot well. But, will it gel?

Critics who’ve seen the film have submitted reviews ranging from reasonably kind to absolutely vicious. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter writes:

…the comedy is more amusing than most, though it lacks the vibrant spirit of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” This is Woody in a bemused mood, devilishly complicating his characters’ lives with follies and foibles of their own making until he ties each protagonist into a comic pretzel.

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly writes:

The film is notable, if that’s the word, for being the first movie Allen has made in London that is every bit as bad as his most awful New York comedies, like Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda.

We’ll have to wait until the film comes out later this fall (September 23rd) to find out, but for now it looks like we might have another acceptable, if not brilliant, minor Allen film to enjoy.

Naomi Watts on Starring in Woody Allen’s New Movie

New Woody Allen! New Woody Allen! New York’s best-loved nebbish is about to start working on Midnight in Paris, a movie starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates and … Carla Bruni? Production on the romantic comedy will begin in Paris this summer. It follows, according to the press release, a “family traveling to the city for business. The party includes a young engaged couple that has their lives transformed throughout the journey. The film celebrates a young man’s great love for Paris, and simultaneously explores the illusion people have that a life different from their own is better.” This is all well and good — and, well, slightly aspirational if Wilson is meant to portray a young Woody — but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There’s another Allen movie to contend with first: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, scheduled for a late-2010 release. We recently spoke about that one with its star, actress Naomi Watts (whom you’ll be seeing more of on this site shortly).

How you did get involved with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger? I really wanted to work with Woody. I’d actually been offered parts in two of his other films, but couldn’t take them because of scheduling.

What were the other ones? Melinda and Melinda and … the one with Colin Farrell [Cassandra’s Dream]. I can’t remember the name. I didn’t even get to read that one. But I read Melinda and really wanted to do it. I so badly wanted to work with him but I figured, after turning down two offers, I wasn’t going to get invited back. But he came back a third time! Someone brought over the script for me to read right away. His writing is just so good. I got to the set and loved it — talk about star-struck! There are projects here and there that I get kind of giddy over and that was definitely one of them.

What is this movie about? It centers on Josh Brolin’s character, my husband in the film. He is a writer and things aren’t going well for him and our relationship. I want a baby and he doesn’t. There’s one twist in it that I don’t want to go into, but he’s trying to try to find a way to start his second book. He’s written one and he’s kind of scared of being a flash in the pan. I’m like, “Okay, if you’re not going to give me a baby, I’m going to get my career back. I need something in my life.” I’ve got this mother who is sort of crazy and into the whole New Age-y thing. She can’t stand my husband because, basically, we’re living off her money. Everyone’s doing mean things to one another. There’s no massive plot.

Had you met Woody prior to working with him? Maybe for five minutes at a function, but otherwise, no. We met on the set when I came to do a camera test. It was so bizarre. Normally, you have an e-mail or a phone conversation. But with this, nothing. Nothing.

Was his demeanor what you expected? People had told me that he doesn’t give you any direction. But Sean [Penn, who starred in Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown] was telling me a different experience. Scarlett [Johansson; Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona] was telling me something different than that. But Woody and I talked all the time. I was like, “What is this thing about? This reputation you’ve got that you don’t speak to people? That you don’t direct?” He said, “Sometimes, I get nervous that I’m giving an actor too much to think about.” And that’s true, because we did a single shot for almost each and every scene in the film — four or five pages of the script with almost every character. You had better not fuck up because its going to take an hour to re-set and do the whole thing again. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but if I mess up the last line on a six-page scene, everybody has to do it again because of me. Woody said, “I don’t like to break an actor’s concentration. There are certain actors I’ve never spoken a word to, but I’ve worked with them five times.”