This week in new DVDs: Two prostitutes on the run — with split-screen effects!
Each week I review a brand new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.) Most of these movies never hit our big screens. Maybe they lacked broad audience appeal, or maybe they languish in what AV Club critic Nathan Rabin calls "Straight-to-DVD Purgatory." Either way, I hope they'll surprise me. Welcome to Vermont, where the art house and the grindhouse are our house.
What You Missed:
Seth apologized for the dearth of reputable releases this week as he handed over X, an "erotic thriller" (says the DVD cover) from Australia. Could any title be better tailored for a long run on Cinemax? Its tagline: "A jaded callgirl... a fledging hooker... the night from hell."
Plotwise, X is a twist on the old cop-about-to-retire formula. In this case, Viva Bianca ("Spartacus: Blood and Sand") is Holly, a high-class hooker who's about to retire at the age of 30. Her plan: to move to Paris, which she impresses on us by tossing French phrases into her conversation whenever she gets a chance.
While Holly regales a gathering of champagne-sipping matrons by sexing up a male model as Puccini (!) plays in the background, a 17-year-old runaway named Shay (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) is turning her first trick on the mean streets of Sydney. The two worlds eventually meet when Holly needs a partner for her last trick, entertaining a drug dealer in his hotel room. She spots Shay on the street and enlists her, but things don't go as planned. The john is murdered during a business deal, and the two women, both potential witnesses, flee the scene. At one point their flight from the killer takes them through a strip club, so if you're wondering about the film's quotient of gratuitous nudity, wonder no more.
Why You Missed It:
This flick has "straight to DVD" all over it. It's unrated in the U.S. and was only theatrically released in Australia.
Should You Keep Missing It?
X is one of those movies that filmmakers try to make as art and sell as exploitation. It's more substantial than you might guess from the description above, but not a whole lot.
Writer-director Jon Hewitt has pretensions: He clearly wants us to care about both protagonists and their dreams and struggles. In the early sections from Shay's perspective, he gives a gritty and fairly interesting view of Sydney street life and the perils of sex work. (These nighttime scenes were filmed on location at Kings Cross.) And he has a real fondness for visual gimmicks like split screens, or beginning scenes with extreme close-ups of weird lighting effects.
So, no, X is not your average Cinemax fare. (Does anyone even watch Cinemax anymore?) Both leads can actually act, and the film looks stylish. The script, however, is terrible. After the shocking crime that changes everything, Hewitt and cowriter Belinda McClory can't seem to think of any more plausible twists, so they just have the two women run around acting stupid and irrational. Repeatedly. As for the subplot in which Shay meets a young magician moonlighting as a cabdriver, it seems to be stolen from a bad indie film.
That subplot does, however, set up the film's last shot, which is pretty cool. I'm sure Hewitt will stick it in his reel.
Verdict: In the words of an Amazon reviewer who gave X one star: "The movie wasn't even explicit sexually or really nudity wise." So, if you're looking for that, move on. If you're trying to pass off an "erotic thriller" as a date movie, this one might work, depending on your date's tolerance for dark subject matter. If you want a gritty view of sex work and urban decay, a glimpse is about all you'll get.
Still, I think it's sweet how X presents Paris as a paradise where tired whores and criminals long to retire, just like an old Hollywood movie. It won't do as much for the City of Lights' tourism industry as that latest Woody Allen movie, but it's trying.
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