DVD Tuesday: ‘Buried’ and ‘Death Race 2’

by W. Andrew Powell

Ryan Reynolds in Buried

Ryan Reynolds in Buried

New DVD and Blu-ray arriving this week on store shelves include: Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds as a man trying to survive being buried alive; the prequel Death Race 2, starring Luke Goss and Tanit Phoenix; plus a look at Takers, Sugar Sammy Live in Concert, and season one of Dan for Mayor.

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ivana Miño
Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Rated: 8.5/10

If the experts are to be believed, January is the most depressing month of the year, so it almost seems like cruel and unusual punishment that a claustrophobic dramatic thriller like Buried, about a man who has been buried alive, should make its way onto home video as people are fighting the cold weather blues, but here we are.

Trapped in a rough wooden coffin, Buried continually hovers beside Paul Conroy, played by Ryan Reynolds, as we live through the 90 minutes of his life that he spends desperately trying to escape his small, dank prison. Rescue is perhaps not out of the question, but the film dangles the prospect in a way that suggests it’s unlikely at best, and Paul seems to know it.

Using the cell phone his captors left with him, Paul calls his family and everyone he can think of to find some sort of clue why he has been captured as he also looks for help. Unravelling his story, we find small answers along the way as minute by minute Paul starts to run out of oxygen, ideas, and hope.

Thanks to a very strong script by writer Chris Sparling, Buried is a daring, edge-of-the-seat thriller that frankly blew me away. The story moves deftly and earnestly to its finale, never quite letting on which way it will turn next, but just as importantly, director Rodrigo Cortés and cinematographer Eduard Grau turn 90 minutes inside a box into riveting cinema.

Paul is not alone in that box though; Cortés and Sparling find many ways of giving Paul a finger-hold on the outside world, and it’s that grasp on reality that tethers the character to life. As Paul tries to connect to that world, it’s his rise and fall that drives the entire story forward and makes Buried a powerful drama.

Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Buried was hands-down one of my favorite films of the festival, and it proves once again that great cinema works because of great stories. Period. Even in a depressing month like January, this film is well worth checking out for a change from the average, ordinary releases that are getting dumped in theatres and on DVD.

Death Race 2
Starring: Luke Goss, Tanit Phoenix, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean, Danny Trejo, Frederick Koehler, Lauren Cohan
Director: Roel Reiné

Rated: 6.5/10

Direct-to-DVD sequels are a funny business. These uncommonly lousy creations are never good enough to be released into theatres for a week, and yet we’re supposed to enjoy them? While the trend is for most of these sequels to suck, there are occasionally surprises out there waiting for us, and Death Race 2 was definitely a surprise to me.

Set before 2008’s Death Race remake, the film follows the events that would not only create the futuristic sport known as Death Race, but the rise of one driver who would eventually become known as Frankenstein.

Luke Goss plays Luke, a getaway driver for a local mob boss who can’t quite save the day when a bank robbery goes terribly wrong. Mistakenly shooting a cop as the robbery falls apart, Luke manages to flee cops for some time before he’s finally captured. At the same time a local television station, which owns the prison where Luke has been put away, decides to test out a brutal sport known as Death Match, where prisoners compete for their lives.

As the local mob boss Markus Kane, played by Sean Bean, worries that Luke will turn him in to police during his long wait in prison, Markus offers a pile of money for his problem to go away, but Luke manages to hold his own. Things get more dangerous for Luke though when ratings tank for Death Match and the television station decides to evolve the concept into Death Race: a deadly racing competition with the prospect of freedom dangling at the finish line.

Although the film follows the only moderately enjoyable Death Race, which was nothing special to begin with, director Roel Reiné creates some impressive action sequences, and the script by Tony Giglio is actually pretty good, as long as you can forgive some of the dialogue. The film is still unquestionably cheesy, but in the most watchable way possible, and it’s hard not to root for Luke and his beautiful sidekick Katrina, played by Tanit Phoenix.

For some extra appreciation of the film, check out the features that come on the DVD as well, which take a look at how Reiné shaped the bigger action sequences.

Also available this week…

Starring: Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Tip Harris, Chris Brown, Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, Jay Hernandez, Steve Harris, Johnathon Schaech
Director: John Luessenhop

In this high-octane heist movie, Matt Dillon plays a drunk and disorderly cop who is trying to stop a group of highly professional bank thieves from walking away with millions of dollars.

Following their latest heist, which goes off without a hitch, the group of thieves, played by Idris Elba, Tip Harris, Chris Brown, Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen, finds themselves with one more job they can try that could net them a cool $20 million.

Like a lot of heist movies though, the “last big job” could be the one that lands them all in prison.

Featuring a cast that is impossible to take seriously, Takers has largely been panned by most major critics, although it does look pretty slick to say the least.

“Even with all of the action, and with a few plot twists that are kinda cool, there’s really not enough to Takers to make it worth your time,” wrote Betsy Sharkey for the Los Angeles Times.

Sugar Sammy Live in Concert: Direct From Montreal
Starring: Sugar Sammy

Canada’s own Sugar Sammy toured across Canada in 2009, and to wrap up his tour he stopped by his home town of Montreal to perform at the Place-des-Arts theatre where he delivered his unique blend of comedy about pre-arranged marriages and relationships, to jokes about sex and drugs.

A hilarious comedian, Sugar Sammy is a lot of fun to watch whether you speak all four languages that he tosses about during his performances (including English, French, Punjabi and Hindi), or whether you only understand one of them.

Dan for Mayor: Season 1
Starring: Fred Ewanuick, Mary Ashton, Paul Bates, Benjamin Ayres, Suzanne Coy, Laurie Murdoch, Agam Darshi

When Corner Gas finally came to a close on CTV, you had two options for following your favorite stars of the defunct comedy: the rather unfunny Hiccups, starring Brent Butt, and Dan for Mayor, starring Fred Ewanuick.

While Hiccups simply had no appeal to make it work, at least in my mind, Dan For Mayor had a lot of fun little pieces that made it worth watching.

For one thing, the series is just way more whacky and engaging. During the debut episode, the mayor of the show’s fictional town is randomly hit by a bus, leaving Dan, played by Ewanuick, as the only other person running in the upcoming election. Meanwhile, Dan really only ran for office because he was trying to prove something to his ex-girlfriend.

Although the show is far from the yuck-fest that was Corner Gas, Dan for Mayor is worth checking out if you enjoyed Ewanuick or want to see a Canadian show with a little irreverent humour.

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