This week’s new releases find big stars seeking to reframe our impressions of them — one a movie star reminding us he’s a movie star, the other a movie star reminding us she’s an actor. Over on Netflix, you’ll find a disturbing new documentary about the sex industry and the breakthrough film of one of our most exciting directors. And in the catalog releases, we’ve got an entertaining early look at two actors who’ve seen more lows than highs in subsequent years.
Hot Girls Wanted : Netflix picked up this documentary following its Sundance debut earlier this year, and it’s a scary, upsetting, and occasionally visceral eye-opener. Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (Sexy Baby) dive into one of the seamier corners of Internet pornography: “amateur” porn, a subgenre contrived to appear homemade, which feasts on young, fresh faces. But if they’re not new, they’re through, and the film provides an unvarnished look at the effects of the stuff — on the viewer and on the performer.
Middle of Nowhere : Three years before dazzling us all with Selma , director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, and cinematographer Bradford Young teamed for this tender, honest, and emotionally complex story of a young woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the jailed husband (Omari Hardwick) to whom she is dedicated, and the kind bus driver (Oyelowo) who comes to represent another life. It could’ve played like soap opera, but DuVernay’s direction is sharp yet sensitive, and her dialogue often works on two or three levels at once. This one comes and goes from Netflix; catch it while it’s there, because it’s not to be missed.
Focus : After a few years off the radar, Will Smith positioned himself for something of a comeback, entering George Clooney territory at the front of this stylishly entertaining caper from directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love). As a peerless con artist, Smith hits all the right notes: he’s funny, he’s quick-witted, he’s cool as a cucumber. And he works up a considerable smolder opposite Margot Robbie, who confirms her turn in The Wolf of Wall Street was no fluke. Make no mistake, if you’re prone to resistance to the fake-outs and change-ups of such pictures, you’ll find Focus plenty annoying. But for those of us who love the con flick, it’s pure catnip. (Includes featurettes, deleted scenes, and alternate opening)
Camp X-Ray : Now that Clouds of Sils Maria has pretty much put the whole “Kristen Stewart can’t act” notion to bed, we’re finally seeing the rather tardy DVD/Blu-ray debut of her first real starring role of note. In last year’s modest drama, she plays an army private stationed in Gitmo who befriends a detainee (Peyman Moaadi) who brings her out of her shell — and opens her eyes a bit in the process. The theatrics are sometimes a bit much, but it’s a helluva strong performance, and a sharply reactive one; the character’s entire transition (particularly after it basically becomes a two-hander) is seen in the way she listens to him and the way she looks at him. In those quiet moments, both the picture and the actor approach greatness. (Includes featurette and trailer)
The Pope of Greenwich Village : There was a time when Eric Roberts and (to an admittedly lesser degree, post-Wrestler) Mickey Rourke weren’t C-movie regulars and go-to punch lines, but two of the most exciting and charismatic young actors around. This 1984 character drama (making its Blu-ray debut via Shout Factory, paired with the lesser, later Rourke vehicle Desperate Hours) finds them at arguably the height of that period, as a pair of vaguely related neighborhood guys trying to pull a big score and fumbling pretty much every step. They create a believable push-pull, love/hate relationship in the Mean Streets vein (Rourke is even named Charlie); the film itself is a loose, hanging-out affair, full of vernacular dialogue, loose scenes that add color instead of plot, and some of the best New York character actors around. And Stuart Rosenberg’s direction nicely captures the intersection of old New York and its scuzzy, ‘80s iteration. (Includes featurettes, interviews, and trailer)