Based on the prize-winning novel by Zoe Heller Notes on a Scandal is a case study in obsessive relationships. When Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins a London secondary school as the new art teacher fellow teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) who rules her young charges with an iron fist senses a kindred spirit—and perhaps salvation to her lonely existence. But as Barbara notes in her acerbic diary she is not the only one drawn to the luminous Sheba. She soon begins an illicit affair with one of her high school students (Andrew Simpson) and Barbara suddenly becomes the keeper of Sheba’s secret. Barbara could expose Sheba to both her husband (Bill Nighy) and the world but instead Barbara manipulates it for her own nefarious and selfish reasons. And in playing this dangerously compulsive game Barbara’s own secrets come tumbling to the fore exposing the deceptions at the core of each of the women's lives. Dench and Blanchett give tour-de-force performances yet again. Blanchett’s natural effervescence provides the beacon for all the wanted—and unwanted—attention Sheba receives but it’s her fragile emotional state that draws you in. Played like a wounded butterfly Sheba is too weak to either stave off a dalliance with the young gent—played with convincing lustfulness by newcomer Simpson—or tell the stifling Barbara to bugger off despite the consequences. Then there’s Dench as Barbara representing the opposite end of the spectrum as Notes’ driving force. She’s a bull dog whose withering glares stop her students in their tracks and cutting remarks slice her fellow colleagues to bits all punctuated by her caustic running commentary. Still when Barbara turns madly obsessive with her soft underbelly eventually exposed she crumbles with the best of them. And the best part of Notes is watching these two brilliant actress go toe-to-toe for the first time on film. The underrated Nighy also does a fine job ditching his Pirates of the Caribbean’s tentacles to play Sheba’s down-to-earth yet hapless husband. A top-notch cast all around. Director Richard Eyre is no stranger to crafting intimate pro-actor dramas having helmed such films as Stage Beauty and the Oscar-nominated Iris. He understands where to move the camera to best frame his players as they pour their hearts out on screen. And with Notes on a Scandal Eyre knows that besides his two leading ladies the real star of the film is playwright/screenwriter Patrick Marber’s superb adaptation of Heller’s introspective novel. Voice-over narration is always a tricky film device but for Notes on a Scandal it’s absolutely essential and Marber faithfully captures the inner-workings of Barbara’s skewed thoughts which she fervently writes down in her diary in such delectable ways. Then he entwines the twisty events around these two women. Much like his other work including the exquisite Closer Marber hands in another true gem. Combined with all this is another haunting pulse-pounding score from Philip Glass (The Hours) who sets the tone so perfectly. Notes on a Scandal is definitely one for the Academy Awards’ books.
Guy walks into a bar…and all hell breaks loose! In a saloon in Nowheretown USA the regular Joes and Janes are doing the regular deeds when “Hero” (Eric Dane)--introduced via freeze-frame as all characters are with vital statistics typed out including life expectancy--bursts through the door bloodied and warning that “These things are coming.” Well let’s just say his “life expectancy” was ambitious. Then his er widow “Heroine” (Navi Rawat) bursts through the door with the same urgency. The motley crew of patrons and employees (Krista Allen Balthazar Getty Judah Friedlander Henry Rollins Clu Gulager and Duane Whitaker) are all caught off-guard but soon have to take the threat seriously. The threat as it turns out comes from monsters--as they are technically known in the film--stalking them from outside the bar. Which is never good. Like any true campy horror flick Feast’s cast is decidedly C-list (to put it mercifully). In fact if you watched the most recent season of Bravo’s Project Greenlight show--on which Feast was greenlit and filmed--you’re more likely to think of this group as reality TV stars than movie veterans which isn’t a knock on their talent! Rawat (TV’s The O.C. and Numb3rs) scores the meatiest role but doesn’t always look like the right choice for it. Getty who is slowly creeping towards possible “It” status is likable but snagging all the good lines never hurts. Friedlander is Hollywood’s most notorious “Oh that guy!” guy whom you’ll instantly recognize once you see him. Predictably he plays the doofus but plays it well. (Talk about being typecast!) The beautiful Allen maybe best known as George Clooney’s rumored on/off girlfriend can act but is perhaps too pretty for her own good a la pre-Monster Charlize Theron. And Rollins the aging punk-rock icon who usually plays harder-edged roles cleans up nice here so to speak. Project Greenlight is so much fun to watch but for director John Gulager the televised fishbowl that was his Hollywood directorial debut must’ve been absolute hell. With so much quibbling on the set and in the offices to concoct a product that both makes for great TV and a profitable movie--its quality seemed of secondary importance on the show--is so far from what moviemaking is about; the filmmaker’s (a.k.a. “winner” of the contest) voice if not entire career is automatically stifled in the process. As expected the show also turned Feast into a mess. The intros for each character and their life expectancy are somewhat clever (thanks to writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) but not properly executed. From that point on Feast has moments that are fun in a sleazy way but most notably the director just seems absent or muted--there’s nothing distinctive which is where the director typically comes in. And the graininess hurts the film’s look often coming across as more of a student film than proper B-horror.
The thing is Pulse actually has a pretty compelling premise. From the furtive mind of co-writer Wes Craven it shows how our society’s utter reliance on broadband and telecom technology has come back to bite us in the ass. A college student trying to hack into a system inadvertently releases some massive malevolent virus from beyond that infects anyone with a computer cell phone PDA you name it. In other words there’s a whole lotta crack in that Crackberry now. Unfortunately Craven or whoever else tinkered with Pulse has to also adhere to the movie horror genre throwing in the same old scare tactics as we watch pretty young things Mattie (Kristen Bell) and Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) run around trying to stop the bad pasty-white ghosts before they too are infected. The one saving grace is the ending doesn’t cope out. Perky and blonde Bell (of TV’s Veronica Mars fame) is highly capable of convincing us she’s freaked out. As Mattie she witnesses her boyfriend killing himself watches all her friends turn into black ash; we certainly feel her pain. But there’s a determination there too and somehow you know she going to outsmart those nasty spirits--or at least outrun them. Her cohort Somerhalder--best known to Lost fans as Boone the show’s first major casualty--is right there with her every step of the way. It’s comforting actually to put hip young stars in horror movies because it makes it easier to root for their survival. First-time director Jim Sonzero--probably a little freaked himself making a big-budget movie AND dealing with the Weinstein brothers (who produced Pulse)--looks like he watched movies like The Ring and Dark Water over and over. Granted Pulse is also based on a Japanese horror film Kairo so it makes sense everything is so cold and bleak with rundown filthy apartments and lots of concrete. Creepy movies couldn’t be nearly as effective in a brightly lit environ I suppose. What’s interesting however is how some of the masters of horror of our generation are thinking alike. Craven isn’t alone in his telecom fears. Stephen King has also come out with a new novel called Cell which basically addresses the same issue but in a far more twisted way god bless him. In fact King’s end-of-the-world story starts with what he calls “The Pulse ” which is sent via cell phones and makes everyone who has one go crazy. Yep Craven and King are definitely on the same wavelength. Now that’s a scary place to be.
Part Mean Girls part Heathers—hell there’s even a little bit of Hilary Duff’s ridiculously stupid The Perfect Man thrown in there—John Tucker Must Die fits the genre nicely. But the word “die” is a little harsh. Actually when three high school girls—wannabe journalist Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti) and vegan activist Beth (Sophia Bush)—find out they are all dating the delectable John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) the school’s basketball star they decide to get even. After several embarrassing tactics backfire the girls come up with the perfect idea. They’ll recruit pretty but anonymous new kid Kate (Brittany Snow) doll her up and get Tuck to fall in love with her so she can ceremoniously dump him. Wow I can’t see anything going wrong with that plan. Not at all. Talk about some pretty people John Tucker has got them in spades starting off with the insanely handsome Metcalfe who literally had women weak in the knees as the hot gardener who woos Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. It’s not a big stretch to see him as the sexy Tuck the most popular er player in school. Then there’s the trio of revengeful hotties: tall lean and blonde Kebbel (Aquamarine) as the “smart” girl; curvy singer/actress Ashanti (Coach Carter) as the bring-it-on “cheerleader”; and luscious and exotic Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) as the “experienced” one. But really its the perky Snow’s (The Pacifier) show effectively playing the “invisible” girl no one knows or even cares to know who moves around a lot whenever her mother (Jenny McCarthy in a nice bit part) breaks up with a “John Tucker” herself. What’s wrong with these single moms dragging their daughters all over the place after their hearts get broken? Betty Thomas best known for her turn as Sgt. Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues doesn’t have the best track record in town as a director (I Spy is hers for example). But she’s helmed enough passable comedies (The Brady Bunch Movie Dr. Dolittle) to grant her admittance into the club. Problem here is Thomas isn’t teamed up with a sharp writer like Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey whose Mean Girls script simply zings. John Tucker is pretty standard fare taking bits and pieces from the already established high-school formula. Still the coveted teen market will more than likely enjoy all the antics in the film—especially the whole “thong” bit in which Tuck caught wearing a thong in one of the girls’ schemes makes it cool for guys everywhere to wear thongs. Yeah you get the picture.