video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Buried

(LionsGate Home Entertainment)

Ryan Reynolds is the whole show in this self-explanatory exercise in suspense, as Paul Conroy, an American contractor who is buried alive after being captured by insurgents in Iraq, circa 2006.

With only a cell phone and a lighter (good thing it’s a Zippo!), Paul immediately realizes he’s in deep trouble. Just how deep and where precisely, Paul isn’t sure. With time, air, and his cell-phone battery all running out, he’s determined not to give up without a fight.

Reynolds gives one of his best, most sympathetic performances as the endangered Everyman, and director/editor/ executive producer Rodrigo Cortes does a good job of sustaining the story’s tension — incorporating a few bits of dark, cynical humor along the way — ably augmented by Victor Reyes’ score and Eduard Grau’s appropriately claustrophobic cinematography. This isn’t necessarily a fun movie, but it is a taut and effective one. Rated R.

ALSO Available

“BIG LOVE”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment): Life goes on for bigamist Bill Paxton and his brides (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin), in all nine episodes from the 2010 season of the award-winning HBO series, which earned three Emmy nominations including two for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Sissy Spacek and Mary Kay Place). Also on hand: Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern, Amanda Seyfried and Melora Walters. This DVD boxed set retails for $59.99.

THE BRAZEN BULL (Virgil Films & Entertainment): Michael Madsen (who also produced) goes off the deep end as a sadistic squatter who kidnaps and tortures his victims in an abandoned warehouse. Cheap, unpleasant and dull.

DAMNED BY DAWN (Image Entertainment):

Writer/producer/director Brett Antsey’s debut feature sees an Australian family menaced by the evil minions of a banshee. Flying, scythe-wielding skeletons add some visual panache, but pokey pacing and risible dialogue are major drawbacks. Still, Antsey may be a talent to watch. Rated R.

“DARK SKIES”: THE DECLASSIFIED COMPLETE SERIES (Shout! Factory): A six-DVD boxed set ($44.99 retail) featuring all 19 episodes from the 1996-’97 (and only) season of the primetime NBC-TV science-fiction series about the UFO phenomenon in the 1960s. The cast included Eric Close, Megan Ward and the late, great JT Walsh. Two Emmy nominations with a win for Outstanding Title Design. Special features include audio commentaries, documentaries and more.

DISNEYNATURE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A series of feature-length documentaries chronicling the wonders of nature:

James Earl Jones narrates the award-winning Earth; Pierce Brosnan narrates Oceans; and Zabou Breitman narrates the award-winning The Crimson

Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos. Each film is rated G, and each one retails for $29.99 (DVD) or $39.99 (DVD/Blu-ray combo).

FIRE ON THE AMAZON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): This 1993 Roger Corman production is notable as an early lead for Sandra Bullock, cast as an American missionary who teams with photojournalist Craig Sheffer to save the rainforests in the Amazon. Loosely based on the Chico Mendes story, this is an odd choice for an exploitation thriller. Like Bullock, producer/director Luis Llosa went on to bigger things. Filmed in 1990 and then released to capitalize on Bullock’s subsequent fame. Fans of celebrity skin will want to check out Bullock’s nude scene, which may be one of the film’s main selling points! Rated R.

“FRANK SINATRA: CONCERT FOR THE AMERICAS” (Shout! Factory): The DVD debut ($19.98 retail) of the 1982 concert at the Altos De Chavon Amphitheatre in the Dominican Republic given by the incomparable Chairman of the Board, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Francis Albert Sinatra (1915-’98). Selections include Strangers in the Night, The Best is Yet to Come, My Kind of Town, Send in the Clowns and, you’d better believe it, Theme from New York, New York.

FRED: THE MOVIE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Lucas Cruikshank (also an executive producer) brings his popular “Youtube” character, quirky teenager Fred Figglehorn, to the screen in this dreadful comedy. A little Fred goes a long way. This much Fred goes nowhere. No stars GUN (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The career descent of Val Kilmer continues in this routine urban shoot-’em-up about gun-running in Detroit. Top-billed Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson also wrote, produced and contributed to the raphappy soundtrack. Other familiar faces on hand include AnnaLynne McCord, John Larroquette, Danny Trejo (of course!), Paul Calderon and James Remar, the latter a standout in the stock role of a world-weary cop. Rated R.

HOWL (Oscilloscope Laboratories): James Franco plays poet Allen Ginsberg in this evocative, award-winning dramatization about the 1957 obscenity trial regarding the title poem. The first narrative feature from acclaimed documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who wrote, produced and directed. A star-studded cast includes Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Jeff Daniels, Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola, Bob Balaban (as the judge) and UNCSA’s own Mary-Louise Parker. Great cinematography by Edward Lachman.

“IRON MAN — EXTREMIS” (Marvel Knights Animation/Shout! Factory): The Marvel Comics superhero takes on terrorists in this six-episode collection from a new animated series. This special-edition DVD retails for $14.97.

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A special edition of producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick’s splendid 1996 animated feature based on the classic Roald Dahl children’s book. The star-studded vocal lineup includes Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuyss, Simon Callow, David Thewlis, Joanna Lumley, Jane Leeves and Pete Postlethwaite. Randy Newman’s score earned an Academy Award nomination. Much overlooked and underappreciated, this was one of the best films of its year. The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack details for $39.99. Rated PG.

THE LAST EXORCISM (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A documentary film crew follows a latter-day evangelist (Patrick Fabian) as he travels to Louisiana to perform an actual exorcism. This atmospheric, low-budget chiller definitely has its moments, but goes haywire in the latter stages — and not in a good way. Nice work from Fabian and Ashley Bell (as the victim). Rated PG-13.

“MARVEL KNIGHTS ANIMATION: BLACK PANTHER” (Marvel Animation/Shout! Factory): The popular Marvel Comics character comes to life (as voice by Djimon Hounsou) in this sixepisode animated series broadcast on BET. The all-star voiceover talent includes Jill Scott, Alfre Woodard, Carl Lumbly and Kerry Washington. This DVD retails for $14.97.

SLEEPWALKING (Anchor Bay Entertainment):

A well-acted but dreary drama from first-time director William Maher, starring AnnaSophia Robb as a young girl who is abandoned by her mother (Charlize Theron) and then embarks on a road trip with her emotionally troubled uncle (Nick Stahl). Woody Harrelson and the late Dennis Hopper contribute some star power. Theron was also one of the producers. Rated R.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Sony Picture Home Entertainment): The conception, development and implementation of Facebook, as dramatized by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, with Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. One of the 2010’s smartest and most stimulating films, well worthy of its many accolades and awards. Eisenberg has never been better (or less sympathetic), nor has Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the fast-talking founder of Napster. A success on many levels. Rated PG-13.

STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): It’s the end of the world as we know it… and it all begins with Stonehenge. Alarmist sci-fi claptrap tries to keep moving but stalls (permanently, as it turns out) before too long. Rated PG-13.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger