Movie reviews

Holiday Movie Roundup Part III
By Tony Sheppard

Written and Directed by John Patrick Shanley

John Patrick Shanley adapted his own play and directed this story about suspicions in a catholic parochial school in 1964. Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a little more relaxed and modern than Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) finds suitable for her young charges. When the younger Sister James (Amy Adams) expresses some concerns about the priest's relationship with a young African American student, she (Streep) makes it her mission to remove him. The problem, however, is that she doesn't actually have any proof of any wrong-doing. The film's title reflects both the doubt that exists in many hearts and minds, including people of faith, and the lack of doubt in the eyes of those who see the world in more black and white terms.

It's easy to go into "Doubt" with preconceived ideas about the outcome, given the recent scandals involving the Catholic Church. But this is as much a battle of wits as a witch hunt. The strength of the movie is primarily in the acting, and in the characters that those actors help create. Already nominated for five Golden Globes and 5 Screen Actors Guild Awards, "Doubt" has also won the National Board of Review's Best Ensemble cast award and Best Breakthrough Performance for Viola Davis, who plays the mother of the student in question. Although she only appears briefly, it is in a scene that is phenomenally strong, disturbing, and thought-provoking all at the same time; she is excellent in the role.

Hoffman and Streep are predictably strong in the two lead roles, as is Amy Adams, who is still only three years removed from her own breakthrough performance in "Junebug" and perhaps most recognizable as Giselle from 2007's partially animated "Enchanted." If I am disappointed at all for the recognition that Adams is getting for "Doubt," it is only because I liked her even more in "Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day" which, released earlier in 2008, was one of the year's best executed movies.
"Doubt" is an extremely well-made film. It's no great surprise that it's garnering such recognition, primarily for the cast. That said, whether or not you fully enjoy the movie may depend on the extent to which you appreciate and are satisfied by the story as it unfolds. But if you're comfortable with the challenging subject matter and the equally challenging conversations that are likely to ensue, this one's a winner.

Bedtime Stories
Directed by Adam Shankman

"Bedtime Stories" is an interesting counterpart to this season's "Yes Man," but for a distinctly younger audience. Both rely on the comedic talents of actors who have many loyal fans but who also leave others feeling that a little of them goes a long way. In "Yes Man" it was Jim Carrey who was dialed down to about half speed Carryness. In "Bedtime Stories." it's Adam Sandler who is only half as Sandlery as he was in the relatively awful and sophomoric "You Don't Mess With The Zohan," also in 2008. Both "Yes Man" and "Bedtime Stories" benefit from that diluted measure of their respective stars' styles.

Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, who grew up in his father's motel and has dreamed his whole life of managing the luxurious hotel that was built on the same site. He works as a handyman at the newer hotel and has watched his dream job go to the well-connected Kendall (Guy Pearce), who also seems like a shoo-in for the top job at the even larger resort that is being planned nearby. When his sister goes out of town, Skeeter babysits his estranged niece and nephew, only to discover that certain events from the bedtime stories they improvise together appear to be coming true.

This is a fairy tale of sorts aimed squarely at kids, somewhat in the same age-appropriate range as films like "Jumanji" or "Night At The Museum" (Note: "Yes Man" is NOT as child-friendly!). It is fun while also packing the expected embedded message about doing the right thing. One aspect I enjoyed, as somebody who teaches in this area, was the depiction of hospitality management, and that service environment being presented to children as a desirable and challenging career path. I may be biased in this regard, but kids stories aren't especially broad in the professions they include, and they tend to leave kids wondering whether to become a teacher, a doctor, a soldier, or a prince or princess.

With pleasant supporting performances by Jonathan Pryce ("Leatherheads," "Pirates Of The Caribbean"), Courtney Cox ("Friends"), and Keri Russell ("Waitress," "Felicity"), "Bedtime Stories" is a fun outing for families with small children. But whether or not each member of the family likes Skeeter's niece and nephew's pet guinea pig will probably be related to their height – I think I was a little too tall.

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