Buried is a nightmarish thriller. I mean – what could be worse than being buried alive in a creaky coffin in the Iraqi desert with only a Zippo lighter and a cell phone at your disposal? I know what could be worse – if you were put there by terrorists who are demanding $5 million for your safe return. And nobody on the other line is taking you seriously. And then — shit! — there’s a snake slithering down your leg! That’s the gripping scenario posed by Buried, the fantastic and diabolical directing debut of Rodrigo Cortes; how hasn’t he become more prolific? Ryan Reynolds is in practically every single shot of the film, and I think it’s his best work as an actor; he’s never not fully committed to this one-man show and it’s something of a tour de force for him as a performer. Never once does the camera leave the inside of the coffin; no flashbacks, no hallucinations, no easy ways out for the filmmakers to cut themselves some slack. Chris Sparling’s ingenious (and by the end totally insidious) screenplay is clever when it needs to be, tight and spare at all times, and never feels impossibly contrived given the schematics of the plot. How will this guy ever be able to make it out of the coffin alive? Will anyone he speaks with via his cell phone actually be able to help? Buried is gripping from its very first frame, due largely in part to the phenomenal, award-worthy cinematography by Eduard Grau (A Single Man). Shooting in full 2.35:1 widescreen with Reynolds dominating every frame and with what appeared to be only natural light sources, Buried is always visually interesting and frequently astonishing to look at, which is no small feat considering the solo location and cramped shooting space. Cortes and Grau’s ability to keep their audience guessing through strategic uses of pitch blackness from inside of the coffin is one of the reasons that the film is as riveting as it is. The dynamic use of sound also helps create a harrowing atmosphere. This isn’t a film for the faint of heart and it’s not what I’d exactly call a happy-go-lucky picture. But for people who liked to be scared just a bit and for those looking to be totally engrossed by a top-notch thriller, look no further than Buried.
I really enjoyed Map of the Sounds of Tokyo. It’s nothing brilliant but it’s very well done, extremely strong on atmospherics, textures, and surfaces, providing the viewer with a tremendous visual experience. Lots of rain, lots of steam, lots of neon colors. Very dream-like. Stony in many respects. You never quite know how things will play out and while the film is way more interested in style than it is story, it’s always involving thanks to the two central performances by two very different actors (Rinko Kikuchi and Sergi Lopez). The stunning, Wong Kar Wai-esque cinematography by Jean-Claude Larrieu is easily the best aspect of the movie and the explicit sex scenes (writer/director Isabel Coixet clearly has a thing for oral gratification) always keeps the vibe hot and loose. Like Enter the Void, there’s lots of cool-to-a-foreigner Tokyo-set imagery which always keeps things interesting. The tale that Coixet has cooked up, that of a hit-woman falling in love with her mark, is fairly predictable, but that didn’t bother me because I was always visually interested in what I was looking at. It’s a mood piece, and as such, it’s a rich success.
Dogtooth is one of the strangest films I’ve seen over the last few years. I’m convinced that the Academy DIDN’T ACTUALLY WATCH this film before nominating it for Best Foreign Language Film of the year. Not that it’s terrible; far from it. It’s just ultra deranged, totally whacked-out, and playing by its own set of twisted rules. And it strikes me as wildly unfriendly to the mostly blue-hair members of the voting branches. One thing is certain: this film is not for the easily offended. This is an uncompromising movie that feels completely like the product of a filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants, while also being a film that defies normal description. Certainly living in the world of satire with detours into black comedy and mixing graphic violence with explicit (and in some cases illicit) sex, Dogtooth is a film of many tones and much ambition. First time filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos won lots of awards for this debut effort and it’s easy to see why; there’s nothing else quite like Dogtooth and the originality of its vision, is ever present throughout the entire run time. When people, especially film critics, are presented with something like Dogtooth, something that is challenging and taboo-breaking and envelope pushing, there’s a tendency for extreme reactions — love it or hate it. Dogtooth sort of plays out like an extreme version of The Village; a father raises his children (two girls and one boy who are well into their early 20’s), along with the help of his wife, to believe that they should never leave their house/yard/property because of killer cats that live outside the gates. They are self-taught and home-schooled, totally oblivious to the outside world, comepletely uneducated in areas of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Everything changes when the father starts bringing a woman home for his son to sexually experiment with and it’s then that all of the dynamics in the house change due to a series of unforseen circumstances. Yes, the title of the movie is explained. No, the film doesn’t end all tidy and wrapped up with a little bow on top. Lanthimos is clearly interested in giving lots to his viewers to chew on and think about and discuss, and via the interview with him that was provided on the DVD, he stated that it was his intention to provoke debate with Dogtooth — it’s something that he feels should bother people and make them question what they’ve just witnessed. Honestly — if you want a blow by blow of what happens in this film — then go to Wikipedia and type in Dogtooth. It’s all right there. What I will say is that this is a film that will appeal predominantly to movie buffs, fans of outlaw cinema, and people who are looking for something different and offbeat. It’s a film that features pitch-perfect performances from an exceptional ensemble cast, it’s got terrific widescreen cinematography that subverts the very ideas that it is thematically posing, and the lack of a musical score in tandem with incredible Foley/sound work creates an unending sense of tension and unpredictability.