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Notes on a Scandal

20th Century Fox Home Video
Movie B+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 6.25 (out of 10)

Four Oscar nominations went out to this dark little film about a shrewish schoolteacher (a creepy Judi Dench) and her unhealthy attraction to a young and confused art teacher (Cate Blanchett). Both actresses were nominated, but the deserving Billy Nighy was overlooked as Blanchett's confused and eventually very angry husband.

Blanchett's character has an affair with an underage student, much like Nicole Kidman in To Die For, and the Dench character basically blackmails her. The story is a bit farfetched, but the performers are so high caliber that they elevate the level of the film. Nighy's breakdown when he realizes what his wife has been doing is powerful beyond belief. His was perhaps the most impressive overlooked performance from last year.

Special Features: Director Richard Eyre gives a commentary, and the cast participates in many featurettes.

Spider-Man 2.1

Sony Pictures
Movie A-
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

I'm not a fan of Spider-Man 3. That said, the second chapter in the franchise was very good, and this slightly extended version is pretty cool. Eight minutes of new footage is introduced into the film. The changes aren't dramatic, often just little adjustments that pump up scenes or add some nuance.

Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) was a better villain than all of the creeps in Spider-Man 3 combined, and Maguire's "aw, shucks" approach to Peter Parker doesn't grate as much as it does in the third chapter. Kirsten Dunst actually supplies joy in this installment, rather than being a stick in the mud as she is in the latest flick.

Many regard Spider-Man 2 as the best comic-book movie ever made. It certainly is one of the best.

Special Features: Along with the additional footage, there's a feature commentary and looks behind the film's special effects and score. There's also a sneak peak at the inferior Spider-Man 3.

Little Children

New Line Home Video
Movie A-
Special Features F
DVD Geek Factor 5 (out of 10)

Kate Winslet got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a neglected wife having an affair in this beautiful-looking, yet startlingly bleak, suburban drama. Patrick Wilson, one of the best actors on the scene right now, deserved an Oscar nomination for his work as a philandering husband going through a crisis that leads him to attempt ill-advised skateboard jumps.

While the two performers mentioned above are enough for any movie, this one also has the return of Jackie Earle Haley (also Oscar-nominated) as a pedophile recently released from prison and living with his mother. Haley was a hero of mine when I was a kid (he played the immortal Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears), and seeing him back on the screen acting his heart out was one of last year's greatest surprises.

As far as disturbing movie moments are concerned, nothing tops Haley's car-date moment. It's real nightmare fuel. Nearly as bad would be his dip in a public pool. I bet that moment boosted home-pool sales last year. Lots of holes are being dug in backyards as I write this.

Special Features: Hey, quit it with this movie-only crap! What is this, the Dark Ages?

Dreamgirls: Two-Disc Showstopper Edition

Paramount Home Video
Movie B+
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 6.5 (out of 10)

It appears the Academy stiffed the mighty Eddie Murphy for acting like an arrogant prick at awards shows and for inflicting Norbit upon the world. The heavily favored actor lost out to Alan Arkin in the Best Supporting Actor category, and that was sort of wrong. If Murphy was going to lose, he should've lost to Mark Wahlberg of The Departed.

The movie itself is a lot of fun. In this thinly veiled account of the rise and fall of The Supremes, Jennifer Hudson is a standout in her Oscar-winning performance as Effie, singer of "I'm Not Going." While Hudson delivers this song with much power, I thought Jim Carrey did a better job with it on The Larry Sanders Show, and Jake Gyllenhaal delivered the all-time-best rendition on Saturday Night Live.

Murphy is terrific as a James Brown-type singer struggling with career troubles, not the least of which is his drug problem. It's the first "real" performance from Murphy in a long time, possibly ever. Beyoncé Knowles shines as the film's overshadowed lead. Her character gets plenty of screen time, but Hudson got most of the glory.

Special Features: Loaded, as opposed to the cop-out Little Children disc. The two-disc set features extended musical sequences, including an unseen moment with Jennifer Hudson. Building the Dream is a documentary on the making of the movie, and it includes a look back at the original Broadway show. Additional features focusing on the costuming and screen tests are fun. One audition screen test leaves no doubt as to why Beyoncé got her role.

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