Meryl Mania and More
April film column
Written by Frank J. Avella
Meryl Streep in Doubt
Meryl Streep was a busy little
legend last year. Not only did she star in one of
the biggest hits of the summer, Mamma Mia!,
she also played Sister Aloysius in Doubt and
grabbed herself a record-continuing 15th Oscar nomination.
Most people weren’t even aware that a third
Meryl movie was also released in 2008 titled, Dark
Matter, but more on that a bit later…
The DVD release of Doubt
enabled me to reevaluate the film; something I’ve
wanted to do since I saw it back in December.
I was among many who had many
doubts about Doubt, especially knowing
author and Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley
had decided to direct as well as adapt his powerful
play. When I saw the film I was incredibly disappointed.
Shanley’s decision to only slightly open up
the story felt misguided. He should have re-imagined
the work for the film medium. On stage the intellectual
debates about gossip, faith, trust and, yes, doubt,
as well as the ambiguity of whether Father Flynn
(Philip Seymour Hoffman) had indeed done the deed,
proved captivating. On screen, one yearns for more.
So many opportunities that could have been explored.
Why not give us a scene with Flynn and the mother
of the boy (a stirring Viola Davis)? And since we
now get to meet the boy, why not explore his home
life…and his relationship with Flynn? I realize
Shanley’s looming question would probably
have to be sacrificed but it could have made way
for so much more than a dramatic meditation. Perhaps
those that did not experience the play on stage
Shanley’s direction is pedestrian
and obvious with endless ominous shots of wind and
leaves blowing as well as heavy handed moments of
lightning, thunder and light bulbs bursting. He
tilts the camera for no apparent reason and uses
close ups randomly and never feels the need to reel
in his actors even when they go way over the top.
In the hands of a real film director, Doubt
may have soared.
And while all four performances
were Oscar nominated, Hoffman’s shout-happy
turn is downright annoying and proves he’s
one of the most overrated actors in films (actors
would disagree with me since they keep nominating
him for everything!) Adams is really the only actor
allowed an arc of any sort and she delivers a strong
and understated performance.
Streep is a joy to watch, although
I would not count this as one of her best performances.
Her Sister Aloysius is a larger-than-life caricature
right out of old Hollywood. It’s a titanic
performance, but hardly a subtle one. And this may
not be what Shanley had in mind but part of my enjoying
the film more the second time had everything to
do with it’s camp value. This does not mean
there weren’t potent and riveting moments
in the film but overall the film is a mixed bag.
The visuals enhanced by the exceptional
camerawork by Roger Deakins, are quite arresting
and the audio quality is excellent.
What makes Doubt truly
worthwhile on DVD are the four featurettes including
a very comprehensive exploration of making of the
film titled From Stage To Screen, where
everyone is allowed to share their fascinating opinions.
Streep on seeing the stage play: “Cherry Jones
delivered a blow to my solar plexes!“ In addition,
The Cast of Doubt, while too short, allows
the ensemble their pertinent insights. And Shanley’s
commentary makes the viewer appreciate the film
Doubt preserves the original
1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is presented
in Dolby Digital 5.1.
Streep’s mystery film, Dark
Matter, explores the inner world of a Chinese
cosmology student (Ye Liu) who comes to the US with
bold dreams of winning the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking
work on dark matter and is, instead, held back for
not playing the assimilation game and kissing ass.
Streep plays an Academic benefactress
who believes in the boy. Here Streep is quite subdued,
yet incredibly effective and affecting.
Based on a true story the film
seems to float along nicely and then we are sucker-punched
with the startling finale. Director Chen Shi-Zheng
should have given more time to developing the inner
torment of the protagonist since the ending seems
to feel like it’s been spliced in from another
movie. Regardless, the film is provocative and definitely
thought provoking and I do recommend it.
The film looks striking on DVD
and with rich colors and haunting shadows. Audio
quality is good. As far as special features go,
there’s a menu that says DVD Extras but clicking
on it only takes you to “Spanish subtitles.”
Now available on BLU-RAY: The
Frank Miller’s screen adaptation
of Will Eisner’s popular comic book is one
of the most visually stunning films to make its
way to Blu-Ray. It is truly amazing to look at in
high definition. The sharpness of the images creates
a mesmerizing allure, even when the film disappoints,
as it often does, in the content and storytelling
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
allows for a real aural treat. At times I found
myself looking around worrying that bullets were
flying around me!
The enjoyable special features
include: a fascinating making-of piece titled Green
World; Miller on Miller which is exactly what
you’d expect it to be; an Eisner homage titled
History Repeats; Miller’s masturbatory
audio commentary as well as an alternate ending.
No matter what you think of The
Spirit it is the perfect film to show to folks who
don’t understand what all the Blu-Ray hullabaloo
The Thirteenth Floor
On the 13th floor of a futuristic
mega-corporation, Douglas Hall (a sexy and mysterious
Craig Bierko) portals his way into a 1930’s
virtual world. After his boss is discovered murdered
he becomes the prime suspect and must enter this
cyberworld and find the truth.
The 13th Floor, released
theatrically in 1999, is another extraordinary visual
feast of a Blu-Ray and this time the movie’s
plot isn’t just dense, it’s downright
overflowing! Audiences did not appreciate the film
in ’99 and many called it confusing. It was
probably just too clever for most people!
The crazy story intricacies and
clever ending make this a must see for sci-fi fans
and the fact that the film looks seriously spectacular
on Blu-Ray is another reason to recommend it to
anyone who wants to escape into a master blend of
good storytelling and hypnotic visuals.
Special features include an interesting
director commentary by Josef Rusnak and production
designer Kirk Pertucelli (from the original DVD
release) as well as a music video by the Cardigans.
Marley and Me
Also out on DVD:
Marley and Me
Okay, up front admission here:
I am NOT a dog lover. Not at all. They don’t
make me oooh and ahhh and go all silly. They don’t
do much for me at all. All that said I found Marley
and Me to be quite an entertaining little film
that works better on the small screen. Part of the
endearing magic has everything to do with the hilarious
and heartbreaking Owen Wilson who not only carries
the film but allows us to give a damn about Marley
even when the dog is busy chewing and humping everything
onscreen (including a very underused Kathleen Turner
who deserves so much better than what happens to
her in the film!).
The movie is based on the true
reflections of journalist John Grogan (Wilson) and,
considering the pedigree (pun intended) should have
been better since it is directed by Devil Wears
Prada helmer David Frankel and written by Scott
Frank (Out of Sight) and Don Roos (The
Opposite of Sex). Bottom line is that dog lovers
will adore it. The rest of us, not so much.
The DVD transfer is adequate with
good 5.1 audio quality. Special features include:
26 minutes of deleted scenes, which are fun to watch;
a few standard promo featurettes; a few animal lover
mini-docus and commentary by Frankel.