Video Verdict: ‘Buried,’ ‘Animal Kingdom,’ ‘Lebanon’

Ryan Reynolds finds himself in a tight spot in the thriller “Buried.”

The kids will have to watch something from the archives this week, as the most noteworthy home video releases are all for mature audiences. Leading the way is a terrifying thriller starring Ryan Reynolds.

 

Buried
3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for language and some violent content
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, digital download and on demand

Every year a handful of great performances get lost during awards season. This time, Ryan Reynolds seems to be among those slighted because too few people are talking about his outstanding turn in “Buried.” Reynolds’ portrayal of American contractor Paul Conroy is noteworthy not only because he disappears into the role, but because he is on screen for all of the film’s 95-minute run.

The setup sees Conroy awakening to complete darkness then making the horrific realization that he has been buried in a wooden coffin somewhere in the Iraqi desert. Conroy surveys his cramped quarters using one of the only tools available to him, a lighter. Then he begins a desperate attempt to escape using a cellular phone that his tormenters left behind.

Through Conroy’s increasingly frantic phone conversations, including incoming calls from the people who buried him, viewers learn that his civilian motor convoy was attacked by Iraqi insurgents who are demanding a ransom for his release. The entire movie takes place within the confines of the coffin, and most of the images are bathed in darkness.

It’s a tribute to both Reynolds and director Rodrigo Cortes that they were able to take such a claustrophobic, one-actor situation and turn it into a movie as intense as most big-budget action flicks. “Buried” also gets points for making interesting observations about American corporate and political culture, but it doesn’t bog down in sermonizing. Through 90 percent of the film, Cortes keeps the focus where it should be: on Reynolds.

As critics’ groups and movie trade associations talk up the best of 2010 in anticipation of the Academy Awards, they would do well to cast their net a little wider, bringing Reynolds and this exciting thriller into the conversation.

Extra features are limited to a making-of bit titled “Unearthing Buried.”

 

 

Animal Kingdom
3 stars
Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “Animal Kingdom,” Jackie Weaver plays the doting mother of several notorious Australian criminals, and her work has made her a frontrunner for an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. Weaver’s powerful performance is not the only noteworthy thing about the film, however. It won the World Cinema Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival thanks to its disturbing portrayal of life in a crime family.

The focus is on Josh Cody (James Frecheville), a 17-year-old Melbourne boy who turns to his grandmother, Janine (Weaver), after his mother dies of an overdose. Janine takes Josh in and treats him kindly, but she doesn’t shelter him from the violent, criminal lifestyles of his three uncles (Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton) and their close friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton).

Almost out of necessity, Josh finds himself embroiled in the criminal scheming of his extended family, and that puts him in a dangerous position because the Melbourne authorities have become as corrupt as the criminals. As Josh tries to negotiate his way through the frightening family dynamic, he becomes the target of a detective (Guy Pearce) who thinks he can use the boy to bring the family down.

Writer-director David Michod does a fine job with the pacing, and the entire cast steps up, giving viewers an intense and satisfying crime drama.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature, an audio commentary with Michod and a Q&A session featuring Michod, Weaver and Frecheville.

 

 

Lebanon
3 stars
Rated R for disturbing bloody war violence, language including sexual references and some nudity
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “Lebanon,” Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz puts viewers inside a tank manned by a four-man rookie crew during the first Lebanon War. The action takes place entirely within the confines of the armored vehicle, with viewers seeing the world only through the periscopic sites the soldiers themselves use. This gives the film a sense of menace and claustrophobia, much like that created in the previously mentioned “Buried.”

The tank crew’s first mission is supposed to be simple. They’re to mop up a city that has already been decimated by the Israeli Air Force. But when they arrive, everything goes wrong.

Presented primarily in Hebrew with English subtitles, the film doesn’t have any American stars, yet the performances are very good. Particularly noteworthy are outings by Oshri Cohen, who plays the tank’s loader; Itay Tiran, as the tank commander; and Zohar Shtrauss, as the major in charge of the military operation.

Occasionally, Maoz allows his pacing to lag and, because of the limited setting and restricted point of view, the action sequences are often confusing. Although this gets frustrating, the latter issue seems by design. After all, war is just as confusing as it is frightening, and “Lebanon” conveys that.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary by Maoz.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Takers”: Drama about a group of veteran bank robbers planning their biggest heist ever. Trouble is, a hard-nosed detective is hot on their tails. The ensemble cast features Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen and Matt Dillon. Directed by John Luessenhop.

“The Virginity Hit”: Teen sex comedy about a guy named Zack (Zack Pearlman) who decides, along with his buddies, to make a documentary film about losing his virginity. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who teamed for “The Other Guys,” “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman,” are among the producers.

Samuel Fuller on Criterion: The Criterion Collection is releasing two of writer-director Samuel Fuller’s films from the mid-1960s. The first, “Shock Corridor” (1963), focuses on a journalist (Peter Breck) who commits himself to a mental hospital in hopes of solving a murder. The second, “The Naked Kiss” (1964), is about a former prostitute (Constance Towers) determined to fit in with mainstream society.

“Paper Man”: Comedic drama about a struggling novelist (Jeff Daniels) who befriends a precocious teen (Emma Stone). Lisa Kudrow and Ryan Reynolds also star. Written and directed by the husband-and-wife team of Kieran and Michele Mulroney.

“Dark Skies” – The Declassified Complete Series: Fans of this short-lived science-fiction drama have been hoping for a home video release for years. Finally, it’s here. The show, which ran on NBC in 1996, is set in the 1960s and centers on John Loengard (Eric Close) and his girlfriend, Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward), two Americans who learn that aliens have been secretly living on Earth for years.

“Top Shot” – Season One: History Channel reality show in which marksmen compete in events inspired by actual situations using weapons from various eras. The four-disc boxed set includes each episode from the first season.

“Dallas” – The Complete Final Season: It’s been two decades since this nighttime soap completed its lengthy run, but the show still has fans. “The Complete Final Season” has plenty of drama focused on J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and other members of his wealthy Texas family. Patrick Duffy, Barbara Bel Geddes, Howard Keel and Charlene Tilton also star.

“Sins of My Father”: Documentary film that looks at Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar from the perspective of his son, Sebastian Marroquin. The film also details Marroquin’s attempt to atone for some of his father’s crimes by reaching out to the sons of two of Escobar’s victims. Directed by Nicolas Entel.

Roger Corman films: Shout! Factory is releasing two more titles in its ongoing Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series. One, “Sci-Fi Classics” is a triple feature disc with “Attack of the Crab Monsters” (1957), “Not of This Earth” (1957) and “War of the Satellites” (1958). The other is a double feature disc containing “Up From the Depths” (1979) and “Demon of Paradise” (1987).

“El Superstar – The Unlikely Rise of Juan Frances”: Musical mockumentary about a Scottish boy raised by Hispanic parents. Although clearly European in descent, he lives a typical Latino lifestyle until he hits it big as a singer. Spencer John French, Danny Trejo and Lupe Ontiveros star.

 

 

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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