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Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

Whenever you hear about a film being on the shelf for a year or two, your mind tends to assume the thing is junk and probably not worthy of being released theatrically. But sometimes, a movie just gets caught in legal wrangling or in a question of who owns the rights when a studio or distributor falls apart. Thankfully, somebody out there realized that I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS was something worth fighting for, even if I can't imagine many people going to see it because of its overtly gay themes. But the movie gives us Jim Carrey's best and bravest performances since maybe THE CABLE GUY, and if it weren't largely true, I never would have believed any of what happens in this movie.

Steven Russell (Carrey) is a God-fearing southern police officer, husband to Debbie (Leslie Mann) and father. But after near-deadly car crash, Steven decides to stop living the lie his life has become, and he comes screaming out of the closet as a gay man. Somehow, this decision to be more honest about who is is also tied him wanting to live his life to the fullest. He takes up with a handsome Latin man (300's Rodrigo Santoro) and lives well beyond his means with a little help from fraud. Eventually breaking the law catches up with Steven, and he lands in jail where he meets the withdrawn but also openly gay Phillip Morris (a bleached-blond Ewan McGregor). The ever-wheeling-and-dealing Steven manages to bribe a few prison folks, and the pair are soon cell mates.

By hook or by crook, Steven manages to get them both free from prison and jumps right back into living a lie that results in him earning a lot of money at a job he is in no way qualified to have, but he studies up on what he's supposed to know and manages to pass himself off convincingly. He also finds a way to skim a whole lot of coin from the company to earn a couple million more. Carrey in con-man mode is something to behold, something he was destined to play. He blends right in with corporate America, or as the welcoming neighbor in his ritzy neighborhood, or as the center of attention in a gay club. There is no situation he can't manage. He's even stayed close to his ex-wife. But the driving force in his life is his devotion to Phillip, and this movie filled with outrageous behavior is very much grounded in their relationship. McGregor's Phillip just wants to be in a stable, loving relationship, and while he's happy to live in the lap of luxury, he also sometimes questions where all the cash is coming from.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS was written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, both of whom wrote BAD SANTA and the BAD NEWS BEARS remake, and they certainly bring a great deal of their dark-edged humor to their latest work. The gay jokes may put off those of you with sensitive natures, and that's too bad because I don't think that any of the humor is mean spirited or cruel. I was genuinely entertained and impressed at how much I laughed with and cared about these characters. In order to be with his beloved Russell escapes from jail three times, and each time he does so using his incredible intellect as his only weapon. Some of the film's best moments are the lengths the guy goes to to get out of jail, not that he ever makes himself that difficult to find once he is out.

I know the story sounds too far out for some, but I hope those of you committed to seeking out and watching original and wildly funny films give I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS a shot. Carrey hasn't been this good in a while, and this is a story worth being told.

When done well and by those who know how to make it work, films that rely on heavy doses of improvisation can be a great thing. Look at movies like HUMPDAY, GREENBERG, or CYRUS for proof. I knew nothing about writer-director-actor Lena Dunham (CREATIVE NONFICTION) when I sat down to watch her latest feature TINY FURNITURE, but learned a lot about her as a result of watching her movie. Dunham plays Aura, who comes home to her mother's Brooklyn home after college, where she spent four years on a film theory degree and a long-term boyfriend who dumped her to attend Burning Man. She, and many around her, view her 22 years of life so far as a failure. Before I dive into the rest of the film, I will say that Dunham's persona (which is probably a lot like her, since this film wasn't really scripted) takes some getting used to, but I did grow to be charmed by her openness and her naivety about how the world works.

She resists getting a job, but does get the easiest job in the world--as a restaurant hostess who answers the phone and takes reservations and nothing else. She basically only works when the restaurant is closed. I didn't know this going into TINY FURNITURE, but Dunham's real mother (Laurie Simmons) and younger sister (Grace) play themselves in the film, and I was especially amused by the verbal jousting the two sisters frequently engage in. Aura meets a true slacker in Jed (Alex Karpovsky), who she allows to stay at her mom's place while mom is out of town. The guy is a leaching douche, but by taking him in, Aura feels like she's making a better world, while all she's really doing is watching her mom's food and liquor disappear.

The film drifts from funny to more serious as Dunham's goes deeper into why Aura's life feels so incomplete. This leads her to engage in some behaviors that might be considered unwise or even dangerous (random, unprotected sex, for example), but TINY FURNITURE isn't trying to go too deep into the human condition, and that's probably wise since I'm not sure Dunham and her family (the film was largely shot in their home) would have been up to the task of heavier acting. The truth about Aura's situation is that she doesn't feel completely comfortable anywhere but home, and her mother doesn't really want her living there any longer and sucking up resources. I had strong but mixed feelings about TINY FURNITURE. I liked all of the performances a great deal. But I felt like I spent giant chunks of the movie grasping for, not so much plot, but meaning and purpose. And even if Dunham sat in front of me and explained the meaning, I'm not sure it's really there on the screen. Still, I always applaud someone who does something interesting, and this movie sure is interesting, and often quite enjoyable. This may not be my strongest recommendation for the week, but you could do a whole lot worse.

I wish I had more opportunities to say this in a given decade, but the latest work from cult director Philip Ridley (THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON, THE REFLECTING SKIN) will mess with your head. HEARTLESS makes a convincing case that truly terrible things don't happen randomly but occur as part of a necessary pattern to remind people that the world and society are fragile, and that they shouldn't feel too comfortable or secure in their lives because they could lose everything in an instant. And this message is delivered in a visually terrifying style that left me mildly rattled for a couple days after seeing it.

I'll be the first to admit, the film's star, Jim Sturgess, was one of those guys who just never really had me convinced he had anything to give the acting world. I wasn't a fan of either ACROSS THE UNIVERSE or 21, but then I caught his leading role in the IRA-themed 50 DEAD MEN WALKING and my opinion of him began to turn. I'm hearing very good things about his work in the upcoming THE WAY BACK, but nothing quite prepared me for what he pulls off in Heartless, in which he plays the reclusive Jamie, a photographer born with a heart-shaped, wine-stain birthmark across the left half of his face and parts of his body. Kids pick on him, women are turned off by him, but we're not always convinced it's the birthmark that's pushing them away. Jaime has an off-putting personality, cultivated after years of being picked on and ignored, certainly.

The only people who loved Jamie unconditionally were his late father (Timothy Spall, seen in flashbacks) and mother (Ruth Sheen). One night, on a walk home through some sketchy neighborhoods, Jamie sees shadowy, hooded figures running through the streets. He follows one of them and catches a glimpse of a face under the hood, that of a fucking scary demon ready to bite his head off. Jaime runs for his life and gets away.

But not long after, news reports tell of random acts of violence in East London, where roving bands of hooded and masked teens are throwing Molotov cocktails at random passers-by and watching them burn to death. The city falls quickly into a paranoid state, and someone close to Jaime is killed by what he knows to be gangs of demons. Deep in depression, Jaime is taken to meet Papa B (British TV mainstay Joseph Mawle), who might not be the devil, but he certainly is on a first-name basis with the dude. Papa B makes a deal to remove Jamie's birthmark if he assists him in his chaos-making ways by spray painting anti-religious messages when called upon. Jaime agrees, but soon realizes he was tricked into something much worse with the assistance of a "Weapons Man," played by the great Eddie Marsan. Jaime is also guided by Papa B's young helper, Belle, an Indian girl played by newcomer Nikita Mistry, who soon become Jaime's sort-of-adopted daughter, much to Papa B's anger.

All Jaime really wants is to take advantage of his now-gone birthmark so he can make a play for Tia (Clemence Poesy, best known as Fleur Delacour in the HARRY POTTER films), a part-time model Jaime met in his studio. Just when you think HEARTLESS can't get any darker or more depraved, that's exactly what it does. So much of what Jamie goes through occur due to rash decisions made at the most emotional times in his life, and we all know how reliable such choices always are. And as much as we're able to sit back and judge his poor decisions, I think it's safe to say, most of us probably would have done the same.

At its core, HEARTLESS is a horror film, but it could easily make you cry, especially the flashback scenes between a young Jamie and his father. The movie also has big ideas and interesting ways of tackling them. Its strong social commentary is fairly bleak if you buy into it. Hell, even the idea that some people might agree with Ridley's anarchist way of looking at the world is disheartening, but that makes the movie all the more powerful. The film is scary, beautifully acted, and I never knew quite where it was going. But once it got there, my heart started racing. And none of it would have worked nearly as well without Sturgess' fearless performance. I'm actually glad he is shunning the cutesy stuff right now, and challenging himself at every turn. But even I was shocked by what he achieves in HEARTLESS.

-- Capone

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Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 10, 2010, 4:07 a.m. CST

    Definitely support I Love You, Phillip Morris.

    by iamnicksaicnsn

    Absolutely worth seeing. I wish Jim Carrey could be this awesome all the time.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 9:55 a.m. CST

    It might help my interest in PHILLIP MORRIS if

    by Subtitles_Off

    you can clarify it nick...The real dude upon which this is based is as much "gay" as Frank Abagnale was an airline pilot. It was just another role he assumed as he faked his way through life, stealing pensioners' life savings. As his story been turned into one of those flamboyant-heroic "coming out" celebrations? Because that would be a fukken sham.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 9:56 a.m. CST

    As is not Has

    by Subtitles_Off

    Wish the edit button worked.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 10:58 a.m. CST

    Also, not just to be an ass, but

    by Subtitles_Off

    I hate it when AICN re-defines terms, so I'm gonna be assy. "Arthouse" doesn't mean "major motion pictures that can't get distribution." Arthouses exist to serve the part of the movie-going population that seeks out, um, art. The non-Blockbuster crowd. As much as Jim Carrey's latest can be described as "risky," it's a mainstream dramedy. HEARTLESS? That's a horror movie without a big studio push. In other words...WHITE MATERIAL, EVERYTHING IS FINE, BLUE VALENTINE...those are arthouse films. THE BLACK SWAN, though it might be hard to find in theaters right this minute --- it might even be artful --- is not.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 11:27 a.m. CST

    I have to click on every individual comment to read them all?

    by slone13

    WHAT. THE. FUCK? How about a "Read all" option?

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 11:34 a.m. CST


    by Subtitles_Off

    There's an "expand all" button at the top of The Talkback. You gotta click on it twice.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 2:33 p.m. CST


    by BadMrWonka

    I haven't seen the film, but the real Russell was as gay as they come. it wasn't an act. his impersonations, pathological conning, it was all for money. don't know how much of the love story has been exaggerated, but the guy was most definitely NOT acting gay. the only time he impersonated anyone else was to either escape from prison, get a job, or steal money. "pretending" to be gay would serve none of those, really. and the hoops he jumped through to get Morris transferred, to get him as his cell mate, that was a lot of trouble for absolutely no payoff (if he weren't really gay).<p>face it, the guy was gay.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 2:34 p.m. CST

    or "is" gay, rather

    by BadMrWonka

    since he's still very alive.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 2:53 p.m. CST

    Thanks - thoughtful reviews. AND...

    by Stunt Vocalist 709

    Please bring back the one click to see all the posts. It's really off-putting to have to click on every post.

  • Dec. 10, 2010, 9:31 p.m. CST

    I Love You, Philip Morris is

    by THT3000

    very, very good. It's a shame how it's been treated in the US.

  • Dec. 11, 2010, 12:14 a.m. CST

    Totally Awesome

    by mayorofsmpleton

    Really funny. I nearly peed my pants on several occasions. Deserves every bit of praise it has gotten. He is absolutely hilarious and this is a role unlike anything he's done -- the subtle way he gives each of his persona's the tiniest of traits, etc... vocal inflections -- it's a really amazing performance. The scenes with his wife Debbie are some of the funniest.

  • Dec. 11, 2010, 12:14 a.m. CST

    Totally Awesome

    by mayorofsmpleton

    Really funny. I nearly peed my pants on several occasions. Deserves every bit of praise it has gotten. He is absolutely hilarious and this is a role unlike anything he's done -- the subtle way he gives each of his persona's the tiniest of traits, etc... vocal inflections -- it's a really amazing performance. The scenes with his wife Debbie are some of the funniest.

  • Dec. 11, 2010, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Reflecting Skin is brilliant filmaking!

    by jah_kingdom

    Wish it was available on DVD. My VHS copy gave out long ago.