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Seeing Lopez’s best screen work since her early heyday of Selena and Out of Sight isn’t the only reason to check out writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#260 September 2, 2015

Sheila writes: Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks died on August 30 at the age of 82. The obituary in the New York Times gives an overview of this man's extraordinary career and contributions. The site Open Culture has a small post about Oliver Sacks' final Tweet which was a link to a video of a flash mob orchestra gathering to play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" in a large public square. Sacks' Tweet read: "A beautiful way to perform one of the world's great musical treasures." His curiosity and appreciation of life in all its variety remained intact until the very end. Here is the video of that flash mob which is, indeed, "beautiful."

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Torture porn: Want popcorn with that?

May Contain Spoilers

Peet at NegativeSpace knows it when he sees it.

In the 1957 case Roth v. United States, the US Supreme Court held that the First Amendment did not protect obscenity, which Justice William Brennan characterized as a form of expression that was "utterly without redeeming social importance..." and which "... to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest."

In Jacobeliis v. Ohio (1964), Justice Potter Stewart wrote his famous description of pornography: I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case [Louis Malle's 1958 "The Lovers"/"Les Amants"] is not that.Nine years later, in Miller v. California, Chief Justice Warren Burger offered his famous definition of obscenity:The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.Today, of course, porn is made for the World Wide Interwebs, and so-called "torture porn" is mainstream multiplex fare. In a post called "The 120 Days of HOSTEL PART II" at The Exploding Kinetoscope, Chris Stangl argues that the phrase "torture porn" is simply a meaningless critical buzzword, "a non-position that allows a critic not to engage the work. It's critical name-calling." Stengl writes: "Any review, op-ed piece, or coverage of 'Hostel Part II' that includes the phrase 'torture porn' as if it were a meaningful genre designation, I will not finish reading. A line must be drawn. We all have our limits." (Thanks to The House for calling my attention to Stangl's site.)

I was about to disagree with this (after all, I happen to know torture porn when I see it!) -- but then...

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Raping Dakota: From the Sundance resumé movie to "Indie Guignol"

Raping Dakota and Feeling Minnesota: Despite all the publicity, "Hounddog" ain't nothin' but a dog, say critics. It's not dangerous, after all.

"As its poster and advertising remind us, "Quinceañera" won both the jury and audience prizes at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and those honors are strangely indicative of its dramatic and stylistic limitations. If there was ever a movie that seemed precision-tailored for a Park City reception, this is it -- the quintessential example of the festival's favored brand of hand-crafted, slice-of-life, youth-oriented filmmaking that expresses affection for a nicely captured American subculture. In other words, it's a Sundance specialty, right from the box.

"This is a shopping-list movie: A double coming-of-age story spiced with local color; a bittersweet portrait of a Los Angeles neighborhood in transition; a warm and soapy celebration of a Mexican-American community. "Quinceañera" is also a thoroughly predictable melodrama that's both kitchen-sink and 'After-School Special.'"

-- from my review of "Quinceañera" last summer

One of the debilitating side effects of the pop-culture "mainstreaming" (if I may use an ugly marketing term) of the Sundance Film Festival brand over the last 20 years or so has been the over-glorification of what I call resumé movies. These are films, cobbled together from familiar elements designed to appeal not only to a Sundance jury (or audience), but with an eye toward getting the filmmakers some "Hollywood" money for their next picture. And that, in itself, is fine. Nothing wrong with trying to climb the ladder of success. But I don't particularly want to watch somebody's resumé on a movie screen, particularly when it's sold to me as a "personal story" (or a "subversive thriller") and plays like pure Hollywood formula schlock.

John Sayles admits that "Return of the Secaucus 7" was just such a resumé picture. After years of writing horror and exploitation scripts for Roger Corman ("Piranha," "The Lady in Red," "Alligator"), he wanted to start directing his own, more personal stuff. The reason there's a basketball game in the movie was simply to show that he knew how to handle an action sequence. But Sayles was expanding his craft and moving from formulaic commercial genre filmmaking toward more personal projects, not the other way around.

Remember "Project Greenlight," the HBO (then Bravo) series, produced with good intentions by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, with the Weinstein Miramax? The deal was that they would choose an unproduced first-time script and give a novice director a chance to make the movie, which Miramax would finance and distribute. By the third (and final) season, they joined forces with Wes Craven and were making a horror exploitation film for Miramax's Dimension division.

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Ebert reviews Johnny Depp

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Just think: Johnny Depp could have had the career of, say, Richard Grieco. In 1988, they were both break-out stars, young TV cops working undercover as high school students in the fledgling Fox network's first hit show, "21 Jump Street."

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