Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bad, bad girls!

Well, here's a double feature of bad girls: one set was bad, in a bad way. The other set were bad girls in a brilliant way!

First, let me get the vitriol out of the way. "The Dead Girl" (dir. Karen Moncrieff, USA, 2006, 85 mins.) features an unmissable cast: Toni Collette, Piper Laurie, Giovanni Ribisi, Mary Beth Hurt, Bruce Davison, Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden and Brittany Murphy. After the end credits rolled, I'm not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into. Karen Moncrieff seems to want to take a "Crash" like structure to weave together this incredible ensemble. Perhaps that was the pitch? However, her melodramatic handling of the material is only magnified by her sluggish pacing. Piper Laurie and Toni Collette are playing out "Carrie", but without the supernatural powers. Mary Steenburgen looks great in her 30 second scene with Bruce Davison. Mary Beth Hurt is saddled with a complete enigma of a character, whose subplot is unresolved, though I think it was just an attempt at 'art'. Brittany Murphy plays (another!) strung out hooker, but at least she's fun to watch. And there is another problem: The cast is so outstanding, that they made me laugh, however inappropriately! It was as if THEY knew how tiresomely dreary this was and couldn't help themselves but to subconsciously humor it up a bit. Well, except for Toni Collette, who is developing a trademark pout-of-misery that I am becoming a bit tired of.

Overall, the film is about a group of people sharing a miserable existence and experience, all connected by the discovery of a dead body. I have read some critics expound about how it reflects the degredation of women by society and themselves, however the women in the film are never given a real chance to give us an insight into how they became involved in their sad plights. We are dropped into these stories in mid-abuse as it were and therefore are not allowed any other reality to contrast their misery against. It is just so dreary that it is unrealistic and laughable.

"Notes On A Scandal" (dir. Richard Eyre, UK, 2006, 92 mins.) This made me laugh, too, but with sinister delight! Dame Judi Dench snarls, growls and lecherously stalks her way through this with such unabandoned glee, that it was great to see her just LET GO for 90 minutes! There is a great deal of narration, which is one of my pet peeves, but I will give it a pass this time, since it is Dame Judi doing it. Also, the tense and frenetic score by Philip Glass only supported the verbalization. (HOW he can make approaching a door knocker a Grand Moment of Suspense, is a moment of nearly campy brilliance!) Cate Blanchett gives a fine performance as Dame Judi's victim, though her 'Oscar Moment' seemed forced and totally unhinged. The real gem of a performance comes from Bill Nighy as Blanchett's husband. He anchors a domestic quarrel with such realism and passion that one is almost forced to laugh in recognition.

As for the Oscar races, it could have been a "Misery" like year for Dame Judi, had Helen Mirren not delivered "The Queen". I'm not exactly sure why Blanchett is in there, except for the 'unhinged scene'. Philip Glass is... Philip Glass! You either LOVE HIM (I DO!) or hate him! Patrick Marber's Adapted Screenplay is fine, though it's reliance upon narration will probably limit his chances. The egregiously ignored party though is Bill Nighy! Someday, he will get his due!

Maxxxxx says re "The Dead Girl": "Is it bedtime?" and re "Notes on a Scandal": "Such a good bird!! Woo hoo!"

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