City Lights Pictures via Everett Collection
Watching an NC-17 movie has a very strange effect on the psyche. First off, you feel beyond bad ass. Chances are you've been watching R-rated movies for a while now, but the first time you saw a NC-17 rating you probably didn't even know what it was. And if you asked your mom, there's a good chance she rushed you away from that big sign in the movie theatre so you guys could go watch Pleasantville. Well, you're all grown up now, and while there's nothing against Pleasantville (great flick actually), there's nothing quite like putting the kids to bed, turning on Netflix, tip-toeing back to the kids' room to make sure they're really asleep this time, going back to Netflix and picking a big, bad NC-17 flick. Here are a few you should definitely check out. And remember 1.) Kids to bed, 2.) turn on Netflix, 3.) double back to kids' room and confirm Zzzzs, 4.) pick one:
Harvey Keitel plays a coke-sniffing, gambling lieutenant (you know, the bad kind) who works to solve a nun's rape case. I'm not going to tell you what she was assaulted with, or what Keitel's body looks like in the nude, but suffice it to say, this movie really works hard to earn its rating.
Disclaimer: Descent is considered by some to be the worst movie... ever. But doesn't that kind of make you want to see it more? Rosario Dawson plays a college student who goes on a revenge rampage like no other after being assaulted.
Inside Deep Throat
Yes! A documentary with a NC-17 rating! Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato take us inside one of the highest grossing movies in film history, Deep Throat. The original 1972 pornographic flick (starring Linda Lovelace) introduced the world to porno chic and nothing's been quite the same since then.
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Maya (Dawson) is a smart 19-year-old college co-ed who seems to have everything going for her. But soon we discover that she's just out of a bad break-up which makes her a little leery of dating other guys in her classes. That is until handsome football star Jared (Chad Faust) makes a play for her at a party. When she falls for him their first date goes well until she says no to sex and he rapes her. Thus begins her dark Descent into a mire of depression alcohol drugs and sexual promiscuity. Slowly the seasons pass (we know that as they are noted as “chapters” of the story) and when classes start up again she is in a physical and moral quagmire barely keeping her life together. As the film ploddingly unfolds to its final disturbing sequence Maya finally takes the action that she is sure will make her whole again as she lashes out for revenge on her attacker. Descent is basically a vanity piece for Rosario Dawson (she also produced the film) and she proves what filmmakers like Spike Lee Barry Sonnenfeld and Oliver Stone have already noticed--she is a talented actress with an amazing face. As Maya Rosario Dawson believably transforms from a glowing young woman into a tormented and troubled person. Unfortunately despite her active involvement in the production the transformation is not particularly compelling nor does it offer any new insights into the emotional devastation felt by rape victims. Chad Faust (best known for TV's The 4400) is also credible as the cocky jock who blithely takes her by force and expects no retribution for his actions. He also proves that he is a fearless actor for Descent includes that taboo of American cinema: a full-frontal male nude shot as well as later physical degradations rarely seen outside of pornographic films. The problem with the film is not with the acting as the supporting characters are perfectly serviceable as well; the problem is with the writing and the direction the combination of a distasteful amoral revenge plot combined with extremely graphic sexual visuals (thus the NC-17 rating) that worst of all takes forever to unfold. First-time feature-film director-writer-producer Talia Lugacy stumbles with her freshman outing as a filmmaker creating a movie that only succeeds in making us wonder how she ever got it made. Shot mostly in dark rooms or shadowy nightclubs with often incoherent and disjointed action she has fashioned a story that moves in fits and starts with long stretches of boring dialogue paired with pointed silences. Combine that with a plot that centers around visually (and aurally) disturbing rape scenes and also condones the idea of a victim's choosing to take justice for a violation way outside the confines of the law and the end result is a movie that falters in every way. The only redeeming element of “Denial” comes in the last frames of the film and that moment comes as no surprise. Overall there's little here to recommend spending two hours of your life and $10 of your hard-earned money to experience it unless your love of Rosario Dawson is so strong that you will forgive anything just to see her perform.
Mary (Jena Malone) -- born again at the age of 3 and an unquestioning bible thumper ever since -- is about to start her senior year at American Eagle Christian High School and God is smiling on her. She and her pretty devout friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) are popular she has a handsome boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) and she religiously rocks out at Christian concerts. The first sign of trouble is when ice-skating chastity embracing Dean tells Mary he thinks he's gay. Determined to bring her man back to the Lord Mary makes a deal with Jesus: She'll seduce Dean if the Lamb of God then restores her "emotional" and "spiritual" virginity. Cut to a few weeks later: Dean-o's been packed off to sexuality rehab Mary can't keep her breakfast down and all of a sudden Jesus is looking a lot less like a pal and a lot more like a used car salesman. With the core of her faith shrinking as her belly is expanding Mary sees her peers in a whole new light -- "perfect" Hilary Faye has plenty of flaws and "bad girl" Cassandra (Eva Amurri) might not be the spawn of Satan after all. All of which helps Mary and company discover what being a Christian really means -- just in time for prom!
The cast of Saved! is almost as eclectic a mix as a real high school class. Malone Amurri (Susan Sarandon's daughter) Patrick Fugit (as alterna-cutie skateboarder Patrick) and Heather Matarazzo (as blunt hanger-on Tia) are all card-carrying members of the Hip Indie Actors club while Moore and Macaulay Culkin (as Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother Roland) come from the Much-Mocked Pop Culture Icon school. All acquit themselves admirably with Moore and Amurri as particular standouts. Moore has Hilary Faye's mix of smug self-entitlement and hollow concern nailed: This is one pop tart who knows how to play a sugar-coated bitch. Her showy piousness is particularly amusing when you contrast it with her PAX-worthy performance as a doomed preacher's daughter in A Walk to Remember. Playing American Eagle's token Jewish student Amurri expertly offers glimpses of tough-talking Cassandra's inner vulnerability and warm heart; her scenes with Culkin's wryly cynical Roland are some of the movie's best. Malone is occasionally a bit tepid but her sparks with Fugit seem real. The token adult actors -- Mary-Louise Parker as Mary's trashy widowed mother Lillian and Martin Donovan as principal Pastor Skip (whose insecurity almost overwhelms his own faith) -- also turn in strong performances.
Saved! made its debut at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and it's not hard to see why: Brian Dannelly's film has "indie" written all over it. Dannelly deserves credit for pushing the envelope as far as he has -- suffice it to say that Saved! probably won't go over so well in the heartland (or even the suburbs) -- but the film isn't a total success. Its mix of dark humor and sincere sentiment is a bit jarring; just when you're guffawing at Dannelly's send-up of "hip Christianity" in the form of Pastor Skip's unbelievably lame attempts to connect with his young flock ("let's get our Christ on!") or Hilary Faye's forceful attempts to perform a drive-by saving on the wayward Mary you land with a bump as Mary and her mom share a quiet moment or Patrick and his dad exchange some tense words. It's obvious that Dannelly didn't want Saved! to be dismissed as mere parody but the film strays too far into spoof territory to be a drama and vice versa.