Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movies: Hookers, Spies and Grifters

The Economist looks at the current state of home video and finds IFC Films “miles ahead of the big studios” in terms of video-on-demand. Currently available through their IFC Midnight series is X (2011), which offers additional proof that the best genre films are coming from Australia. Holly (Viva Bianca) is a veteran Sydney call girl who vowed to get out of the life by age 30. On her birthday, she’s determined to make good on that promise. Needing a partner to work one of her last appointments with her, she approaches young runaway Shay (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence). Then the job goes horribly wrong, and a very long night begins.

The thriller plot is perfunctory – the villain too broad to be truly scary, the underworld too small – but the film is obviously more interested in its two lead characters. Both actresses are terrific, offering different portrayals of female resilience. The street scenes have an authentic desperation; an encounter with heroin addicts nails their spiteful neediness. Shay’s reasons for running away are laid out in a single, beautifully brief flashback. Director/co-writer Jon Hewitt keeps the action taut and the violence brutal. A tough film with sex placed front and center. In other words, the kind of movie that’s unlikely to be made in America. Here’s the trailer.

While I’m at it, some DVD recommendations. Two recent releases that are better than the Oscar bait films that stole their thunder late last year.

Fair Game. Maybe the wrong-headed belief that we already knew everything about l’affair Valerie Plame et Joe Wilson contributed to this film’s getting lost in the awards season noise. But the script, co-written by sweary playwright Jez Butterworth, wisely keeps the focus on their marriage. The scenes set at the CIA are beautifully deadpan, The Office meets Le Carré. Director Doug Liman channels his typical pell-mell energy into a frame that’s calm but never static. Sean Penn captures Joe Wilson’s self-righteousness, which never mitigates the fact that he was, well, right. And Naomi Watts is magnificent as Valerie Plame, her reliance on traditional American values of loyalty and keeping one’s own counsel painting her into a corner. As strong a performance as I saw in 2010.

I Love You Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey is utterly fearless in this movie – his hairline is proof of that – as a secretly gay cop turned flamboyantly gay con artist. With Ewan McGregor as the fellow convict who makes an almost-honest man out of him, and a very funny Leslie Mann as the ex-wife who finds ways to remain in his life. The movie, based on a true story and co-written and directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa), is consistently surprising and frequently moving. Featuring a two-word line of dialogue that’s one of my favorites of last year. You’ll know it when you hear it.