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Film

Frank J. Avella’s
Film Column

Meryl Mania and More
April film column

 

Written by Frank J. Avella


Opposite Photo:
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 would disagree.

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 more.

Doubt preserves the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.



Dark Matter


Dark Matter

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 Spirit

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 department.

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 is about.

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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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