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Descent (Original NC-17 Version)

City Lights
Movie C+
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 4.5 (out of 10)

Nothing can really prepare you for the final act of this movie. It is not something to be taken in while enjoying a fine meal or a movie night with the kids: It's about as harrowing and nasty of an experience as you will get out of an American-made film.

The brazenness of this film reminds me of Irreversible, a remarkable French film that came out a few years ago and made a lot of people sick. (Someone actually ran from the theater and vomited in a trash can outside the door while I was viewing it.) This NC-17 version of Descent contains two very explicit rape scenes, and if you are somebody who has no need or use for a movie about the horrors of rape, stay far away from this one. It smashes you in the face.

Rosario Dawson, in an excellent performance, plays Maya, a shy college student who has little use for the dating world and the party scene. Still, she attends the occasional kegger and eventually meets up with Jared (Chad Faust, playing an all-time-great movie creep). Jared gives her a convincing rap about how he's admired her from afar, and the two wind up on a date and, eventually, in Jared's basement. Jared commits an unspeakable crime, causing Maya to spiral into a murky world of drinking, drugs and dirty dancing.

Maya happens upon Jared later on, while working as a teacher's assistant, and she tells the creep that she wants to see him again. Jared happily obliges, and winds up in Maya's little torture chamber, where director Talia Lugacy unabashedly presents her film's second horrifyingly brutal scene.

While Dawson and Faust are incredibly good in their roles, Lugacy loses her way in the middle of the film. Maya's mysterious party life is a total bore, as far as movie presentations go.

As for the controversial scenes, they are brutal and unpleasant, as they should be--but the film around them isn't quite good enough to justify putting yourself through them.

Special Features: Lugacy and Dawson deliver an awkward commentary, which is appropriate, considering the awkward feel of the film. They also sit down for an amateurishly filmed interview. Two deleted scenes, one featuring Rachael Leigh Cook, could've fit into the film just fine.


The Apartment (Collector's Edition)

MGM
Movie B
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

Jack Lemmon, fresh off his comedic triumph in director Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, chose to reunite with the director for a comedy that had a serious angle and dark elements. As C.C. Baxter, a lowly corporate employee who lends his apartment to his bosses for sexual trysts, Lemmon got more than laughs: He created a character with depth, resulting in a significant career turning point.

The film came out in 1960, and while it's a little dated here in the 21st century, it was fresh and risqué at the time. Women are portrayed as bimbos and playthings, and the main romantic interest (Shirley MacLaine) tries to commit suicide. It's the suicide element that provides the film with a major tonal shift, giving Lemmon a chance to do something besides going for laughs.

Lemmon, who was nominated for an Oscar for this performance, already had a golden statue for his mostly comedic turn in Mister Roberts as Ensign Pulver. The Apartment was his bridge to dramatic roles that would shape the next phase of his career. While he would still do straight comedies, he would win another Oscar for the drama Save the Tiger, and would receive a series of nominations for other dramatic parts before settling into his Grumpy Old Men phase.

Special Features: There's a good commentary by historian Bruce Block and an excellent retrospective that highlights the film's significance in both cinema history and Lemmon's career.


American Gangster: Two-Disc Unrated Extended Edition

Universal Home Video
Movie B-
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

Denzel Washington plays heroin dealer Frank Lucas in this great-looking yet uneven period piece from director Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe plays Det. Richie Roberts, the man who wound up arresting Lucas and actually represented him as his lawyer in the future (though that's not depicted in the film).

Washington and Crowe are good here, but the film lost some kick in the ending process. The movie is long already, but it seems short when the credits roll. Ruby Dee got an Academy Award nomination for her role as Lucas' mom, and while I love Dee, she doesn't have enough time in the film to deserve a nomination.

Special Features: Scott delivers a commentary, and that's always a good thing for movie lovers. The extended version contains 18 minutes of additional footage, including an alternate ending in which Frank and Richie go out for fancy coffee. (The original ending is better.) Deleted scenes and decent documentaries make this a package worth the money, even if the film isn't the greatest.

More by Bob Grimm

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