by Ken B.
Despite every internal feeling in its favor, she never says the word “molest”. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) will instead repeat time and time again, in growing degrees of feeling, that there is something very wrong about the direction of the interactions between Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), the first black child to attend the Catholic school that Sister Aloysius is the principal of. She will also not stop her case, despite the fact that there is no sustainable evidence to support her claims. The young nun and eighth grade teacher Sister James (Amy Adams) is convinced that it’s Father Flynn’s progressive and relaxed nature that concerns the uptight and intimidating Aloysius, but she won’t hear any of this. It is an evolving clash of wills between these three and Donald’s mother (Viola Davis) that makes John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt a compelling and riveting drama.
The events transpire in the Fall of 1964 in New York. Aloysius first begins to wonder if something is being hidden after Flynn gives a sermon on doubt, using references to the societal aftermath of the Kennedy assassination as part of a point in it being as effective as certainty. Wondering what would influence the want to speak on an uncomfortably ubiquitous subject such as doubt, she and Sister James begin to observe Flynn’s activity, and soon, the elder one begins to gather great suspicion between the priest and Donald, while Flynn says and Sister James believes that it is simply to protect the boy as the only black person in the school.
It’s second nature to see the character most prominent within a work as a protagonist, but it’s hard to find the necessary sympathy for Aloysius. Often, especially with students, she appears to be little more than a nasty, bitter authoritarian, not showing substantial ranges of very obvious emotion until the film’s final moments. This difficulty in understanding the character is done thanks to brilliant work from the always brilliant Meryl Streep. Amy Adams portrays Sister James with the assumed sense of the character’s sudden realization of those around her, taking a back seat to initial naivety, both professionally and personally. As the questioned priest, Philip Seymour Hoffman is masterful – a climactic scene with him and Streep is both compelling and terrifying as actors disappear and characters reign. The charisma and life that Hoffman gives Father Flynn now additionally serves as even more proof of a life concluded far too soon.
However, one performance that must not be overlooked is Viola Davis’, who rightfully earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance (as did Streep, Hoffman, and Amy Adams). Despite a minimal amount of screen time (less than twenty minutes), Davis fills her character with conflicted emotions – her want to find justice perhaps overlaid a rocky personal life, and the need for her son to graduate from the eighth grade at the school in June in order to get into a good high school. She has two major scenes, and in the second, an introduction of a deeply questionable viewpoint regarding the issues at hand casts even more doubt over the events. Doubt, indeed, is a fitting title for this story, as it manifests itself over every facet of this 104 minute film.
Doubt takes place in late autumn, with cold rain and wind summarizing the weather. The film’s aesthetic reflects this, with Roger Deakins’ stunning but understated cinematography focusing on a dull and dim greyish format, with often the most colorful thing being Father Flynn’s robes during services. As is fitting, there is also an absence of bombastic music, instead leaving most music in the movie to be highlighted by church organ music, which provides a chilling close as the film fades out.
Based on the play of the same name and written (both for the stage and the screen) by its director, John Patrick Shanley, Doubt leaves you without answering any questions definitively. This is one of those rare instances where such a choice is more wise than foolish. By leaving the door open for further speculation and discussion, Doubt reveals itself as a powerful allegory for tolerance, will, and morality. It arrives, presents, and departs, providing an open door for interpretation and the ideas to be collected.
by Ken B.
A dark, serious mood like some recent superhero movies hangs high over Man of Steel, which is the latest reboot of the Superman movies. Produced by Christopher Nolan, who directed The Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Zack Snyder, who’s done comic book movies before, starring a talented cast, and with dazzling effects, everything combines here to create an immensely entertaining film.
This is one of those origin stories, as if there is still someone who doesn’t know about Superman. Oh well. At least it doesn’t take up too much of our time. Of course it starts on Krypton, the imminent destruction of the planet, and the blasting into space of young Kal-El/Superman, by his father Jor-El (RUSSELL CROWE), due to the havoc is being wreaked by General Zod (MICHAEL SHANNON).
Man of Steel proceeds to jump ahead three decades on Earth, where Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent and played as an adult by Henry Cavill, is beginning to piece together his history. Finding the wreckage of a crashed spaceship encased within Arctic ice, he manages to speak with a ghost (or something) of his father. In the process, he runs into a reporter, Lois Lane (AMY ADAMS) who is covering the story of a giant spaceship in ice, however, after Clark/Superman uses superpowers to alleviate an injury that Lois receives, she begins to write about this mysterious man. However, her editor (LAURENCE FISHBURNE) at The Daily Planet refuses to publish it, so she leaks it to another source.
Suddenly, the army of General Zod invades Earth, threatening destruction if anyone who willingly knows of Clark’s true identity does not turn him over in 24 hours. This puts a few people on the spot, such as Lois and Clark’s earthly mother (DIANE LANE) (Clark’s father on Earth, Jonathan Kent (KEVIN COSTNER) died over a decade prior — 1997, to be exact).
This takes out about half of the 148 minute movie. After a brief period of transition into battle, the remainder (maybe last third, I’d guess) of the movie is devoted to a mind-numbingly loud fight between Superman and the minions of General Zod. Skyscrapers crumble to the ground, gravity is messed with, there are explosions to spare… and it’s really entertaining to watch. I use the term “mind-numbing”, but it’s not really a bad thing. While the fight does seem a little long at times, it’s still admirably executed, and I felt like I got my money’s worth when exiting the theater.
One of the major reasons Henry Cavill was probably cast is because he looks like a superhero – rugged and tall, just an overall heroic demeanor. He works in the part. Supporting roles, filled by the likes of Crowe, Adams, Fishburne, Costner, Lane, Christopher Meloni and Richard Schiff add other recognizable people to the game. There really isn’t an unsatisfactory performance to be had. Shannon’s Zod is perfectly over the top.
Visually, the third act of the movie – as I said before, composed nearly entirely of the climactic fight, is made up of a lot quick cuts, the status quo for the modern action movie. And that’s just the problem. During this event, there are times where it feels like just another action movie. Mind you, these lapses are thankfully never lengthy or terribly memorable, but it hurts the entire overview of the movie. Another problem is the way the story is told. Instead of progressing gradually through the growth of our hero on Earth, we are presented his history in a handful of flashbacks, which have the tendency to remove the viewer from the growing plot. Thinking about the creative team, as I have not seen a Snyder film before, I can’t comment on any type of consistency between works, but Nolan’s impact is clear from the start. The epic-style soundtrack is written by Hans Zimmer, a frequent collaborator of Nolan’s, and the screenplay is written by David S. Goyer, who wrote Batman Begins. (Nolan also co-wrote the story with Goyer).
I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, but it must be said that it is very important in the molding of the modern superhero movie (and I don’t believe anyone will beat Christopher Reeve at being Superman). I had a more immediately enjoyable time watching Man of Steel, but its significance will most likely be much less effective. However, this movie is well made and exciting. I have no problems recommending Man of Steel to anyone who’s a fan of contemporary (21st century) superhero movies. I saw this in 2D, as usual, and I ask you do the same. Rarely anything can be improved with tinted glasses over a bright action movie.