Buried is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Buried (2010) – Rated R

“While on a job in Iraq, civilian contractor Paul Conroy is attacked and kidnapped, then awakens to find himself buried alive in the middle of the desert with nothing but a lighter, a candle, a cell phone and a knife.”

“Nobody’s gonna pay $5 million dollars for me.” – “We take less. $1 million money. “

There are plenty of high concept films in Hollywood. Most end up failing by being ludicrous and/or boring. For every Phone Booth, there are a dozen ATMs and Man on a Ledges. As you might guess, Buried works quite well, actually exceptionally well. There are three reasons for this.

First, writer Chris Sparling creates a wonderfully plausible scenario, ripped from today’s headlines. The twists are well-chosen and, apart from some ill-advised nonsense with a snake, do not strain credulity, at least not to the breaking point. Honestly I can only think the snake was added to stretch running time a bit. Yes, I could sit here and pick apart the entire film – especially the whys – but I never once felt that way while watching it.

The riveting nature of the film must be credited to factor number two, the director Rodrigo Cortes. Cortes wisely avoids making this a roomy coffin and every shot of the film feels claustrophobic yet different. It is clear that Cortes is heavily influenced by Hitchcock. That Cortes can make a feature film about the interior of a coffin compelling is a real testament to his direction.

Of course the final ingredient is Ryan Reynolds. If you hang an entire movie on a single actor, that actor had better be up to the challenge. Prior to Buried, I had found Ryan Reynolds to be amusing but had not thought much of him beyond that. His performance in Buried is outstanding. He completely sells a desperate man running out of time.

The film opens in complete darkness as we hear Paul Conroy breathing. We discover Paul’s predicament just as he does. Wisely there is no pre-situation set-up. We do not see how he got there and that is something Paul himself must figure out. Sparling’s creation of the company CRT seems very realistic and the ending (no spoilers) was, in my opinion, wonderful.

People Watch: Samantha Mathis plays the voice of Paul Conroy’s wife, Linda. Back in 1990, she played a kidnapped girl who was buried alive in 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn.

Broken Arrow – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. Broken Arrow is currently available on instant Netflix.

Broken Arrow

WATCH: Broken Arrow (1996) – Rated R.

“When rogue stealth-fighter pilot Vic Deakins (John Travolta) deliberately drops off the radar while on maneuvers, the Air Force ends up with two stolen nuclear warheads — and his co-pilot, Riley Hale (Christian Slater), is the only hope for getting them back. Traversing the deserted canyons of Utah, Hale teams with park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) to put Deakins back in his box. But can they pull it off?”

“I dont know what is scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there is a term for it.”

“You assured me everything would go smoothly.” – “I assure you – everything is going smoothly.”

“Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?”

First, I have to admit that I love director John Woo. His Hong Kong films were great. The Killers, Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow are all classics and gave a much needed shot of adrenaline to the action genre.

John Woo was not the first filmmaker to feature a two-gun hero but he was definitely the one who popularized it. Many of his action signatures like that one have been endlessly copied by Hollywood.

Unfortunately when John Woo came to the U.S., he hit a triple wall. None of his American movies have matched the dark poetry of The Killer or the adrenaline rush of Hard-Boiled.

Star interference hurt him twice. For his first American feature he was given the notoriously difficult Jean Claude Van Damme as his star. Worse, Mission Impossible II was a Tom Cruise film. When Tom Cruise is in a film, he has the power to film and edit to feature himself (not the film) to best advantage.

MPAA interference meant that his ballets of violence had to be severely toned down. The worst damage however was that John Woo was used to a great deal of autonomy and that did not sit well with the studios. He also liked operatic endings which do not go over well with American audiences.

Broken Arrow, while not one of his Hong Kong classics, is a quite entertaining film. There are several signature Woo Mexican standoffs here as well as a dual gun-wielding hero.

The action setpieces are great. A mine shootout is a particular standout as is the train assault.

Woo has a wonderful time with transportation themes in this film. With helicopters alone, we have helicopter vs. person on foot, Helicopter vs. jeep, and helicopter vs. train. The film starts with a stealth flight and later features jeep chases, boats, and even a train.

One of the nice things about the film is the give and take. Sometimes our villain outsmarts the hero, sometimes the hero outsmarts the villain. As with most Woo films, the hero and the villain have a close personal relationship.

John Travolta has a ball here. His brand of broad stroke acting wonderfully fits the villain for this film. His performances around this time (Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty) are marvelous but sadly they have devolved into self-parody (Battlefield Earth, Swordfish). John Travolta chews up the scenery here and the film is almost worth watching for his performance alone.

Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis play our heroes. They handle their roles capably but do not appear to be having nearly as much fun as Travolta. Football player Howie Long plays the evil sidekick. He does not have much to do but look imposing but he seems to enjoy himself.

I recommend this as a  Watch for an admittedly hammy yet quite enjoyable performance by Travolta and for some wild action scenes. Keep in mind while watching that this is indeed watered-down Woo.

People Watch: Look for veteran character actor Kurtwood (Robocop, That 70s Show) Smith as the Secretary of Defense. After a disappointing last decade, John Woo returned to China to film Red Cliff, an adaptation of the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is supposed to feature some amazing battle sequences.