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Claustrophia, phone sex and transvestites – the latest DVD releases reviewed

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Claustrophobic truckers, dirty phone calls and Muslim transvestites… Tom Leins reviews this week’s most interesting DVD releases.

Buried (Icon) is the gruelling story of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) a US contractor working in Iraq, who wakes to find himself wedged inside a coffin.

With nothing but glow-sticks, a mobile phone and an increasingly feverish imagination at his disposal, Paul must attempt to figure out how he has ended up in this predicament and how he can get out. As his mobile phone battery starts to wane, and his oxygen-deprived brain sends him to the cusp of delirium, Paul manages to get in contact with a hostage negotiator who assures him that his perilous situation is in safe hands. But can Paul trust the shadowy assortment of voices on the other end of the phone-line to look after his best interests?

Although the premise recalls Quentin Tarantino’s CSI guest episode Grave Danger, director Rodrigo Cortes’ execution couldn’t be more different, and the Spanish filmmaker bravely confines the entire narrative to the inside of Paul’s makeshift casket, allowing the audience to experience his nerve-wracking ordeal for themselves. Reynolds’ performance is undeniably over-wrought, but he never quite lapses into hysteria, and makes for a plausibly terrified lead character throughout. While Buried is too intense to rank as an ‘enjoyable’ viewing experience, it is impossible not to appreciate Cortes’ inventive directorial skills, and he imbues the narrative with enough twists and turns to keep you hooked. All in all, Buried is a bleak, gripping exercise in subterranean terror that marks director Rodrigo Cortes out as a talent to watch.

Inspired by a 2006 GQ article by Davy Rothbart, Easier With Practice (Axiom) tells the story of Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty, The Hurt Locker), an introverted writer who embarks on a cross-country road trip with his cynical brother Sean (Kel O’Neill) in an ill-advised bid to promote his self-published short story collection. While his callow brother trawls bars, picking up drunken college girls, Davy becomes accustomed to lonely nights in greasy motel rooms. His bleak, solitary existence takes a surprising turn when he receives a seemingly random phone call from a sultry-sounding stranger named Nicole, sparking an increasingly intense relationship, fuelled entirely by sordid late night phone-sex.

Lonely Davy is keen to take their relationship to the next level – and meet up in person – but Nicole refuses, citing a possessive boyfriend. Sick of her mind games, Davy breaks off the nascent relationship, only to realise that life without Nicole in is too bleak to contemplate. After a bitter row Nicole breaks off all contact with Davy, leaving him mired in despair. Next time she calls Davy is determined to meet her, but will she live up to Davy’s idealised perception of her? Boosted by an array of well-judged performances – not least from the unflinching Geraghty – Easier With Practice is a pitch-perfect indie gem, with a surprisingly affecting undercurrent. Recommended to any fans of nuanced indie dramas.

Any readers with long memories and kinky tastes in late-night television may remember Antoine De Caunes from early 90s sex show EuroTrash. In a bizarre career move, the former TV presenter has resurfaced as an actor in offbeat rom-com He’s My Girl (Network). Ostensibly a sequel to Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s 1998 movie Man Is Woman, He’s My Girl catches up with gay musician Simon Eskenazy (De Caunes) as he tries to balance family commitments (chiefly his long-lost son and his glamorous incapacitated mother) with his convoluted love life. The situation is complicated even further by the presence of Naim (Mehdi Dehbi), a bewitching Arab transvestite whose provocative behaviour unsettles the uptight Simon. Simon’s patience is stretched to breaking point when Naim befriends his unwitting mother and insinuates himself into the dysfunctional family unit.

Although the narrative sounds like it should be rich with Almodovar-esque possibilities, the execution is far more prosaic, and the aimless plot struggles to muster sufficient comedy or drama out of the chaotic premise. In truth, the most compelling aspect of the film is Mehdi Dehbi’s disarmingly convincing transvestite, and the newcomer is the undoubted star of the show. More Cillian Murphy in Breakfast On Pluto than Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire, Dehbi has undoubted star potential, and could easily become ‘one to watch’. In sharp contrast, He’s My Girl isn’t sophisticated enough to warrant crossover appeal and seems destined to languish in the ‘gay interest’ DVD ghetto.

Directed by Takashi Shimizu, the creative force behind The Grudge franchise Shock Labyrinth 3D (Chelsea Films) is a misguided attempt at fusing the ghoulish theatrics of J-Horror with the increasingly tiresome trend for grafting 3D visuals onto otherwise unspectacular movies. Sure enough, no one is ever going to refer to Shock Labyrinth as spectacular… Ten years after the mystery disappearance of one of their friends at a theme park near Mount Fuji, a group of teenagers are shocked to witness her inexplicable reappearance. Shortly after the bewildered-looking Yuki turns up on their doorstep, she collapses and the friends rush her to hospital. Unfortunately for them the hospital isn’t actually a hospital at all, but a nightmarish haunted house that bears an uncanny resemblance to the scene of her disappearance a decade earlier. The terrified youngsters are duly forced to confront their fears and attempt to escape from the diabolical building.

Considering Shimizu’s CV, Shock Labyrinth is a frustratingly inept piece of filmmaking, containing none of the shocks that you would expect from the film’s title. As labyrinths go, the titular Shock Labyrinth offers nothing to compare to Guillermo Del Toro’s sublime Pan’s Labyrinth. In fact, there is nothing in Shock Labyrinth that is as scary as David Bowie’s cod-piece in 1986’s Labyrinth! Even if you’re a sucker for 3D, don’t be fooled – this film is a disappointing waste of energy. A bland, childish excuse for a horror movie. Ugh.

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