Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Doubt, Debt, Dud

A nun is taken out by a tree limb and copes with oncoming blindness, a pigeon flies in church, rustling leaves abound, light bulbs pop and windows that were closed always seem to open during storms. The encroaching nature symbols come hard and heavy in John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” a film that my co-blogger Jessi screened last December. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) comments ‘the winds are changing’ and we know she is right. Set in 1962, the turbulent sixties were about to erupt and Vietnam was to be a war that divided the land. In the Catholic Church, Vatican II would ease the formalities and reform the mass to a more user friendly format. The hermetically sealed world of Sister Aloysius and her pious sisters was coming to an end and she is the General Custer of the old guard directing her wrath at the friendly new priest, Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) whose kindness must surely mask some ghastly secrets. I unfortunately didn’t see the original play but it looked like a scaled down “The Crucible” with “Our Town” staging, winning a Pulitzer Prize and several Tonys. This attracted the film adaptations' dream cast and made it prime Oscar bait, though it was closed out of all 5 awards. Being a 12 year Catholic school survivor I had no experience with evil old nuns but my older siblings did. So I am personally grateful that clergy like cool Father Flynn persevered. This film could have been overly pretentious and it is a bit stagy but it's also a great old fashioned movie. Viola Davis and Amy Adams provide strong support but it’s all about the battle of the two leads. As Jessi noted, seeing two of the greatest film stars of our time turn in strong performances is a blessing. Student vs. student, nuns vs. priests, conservative vs. liberal, authority vs. freedom, nature vs. man - Shanley seems to have distilled all dramatic conflict into the films' lean framework. Father Flynn’s great homilies on doubt and gossip also reminded me of those innocent times when good priests inspired me before puberty hit.

"I.O.U.S.A" is like “An Inconvenient Truth” in that it brings basically a fleshed out PowerPoint presentation with grave news to life. Regardless of your political leanings we must come to realize that debts do have to be paid and this film does a good job in describing and breaking down the complex jargon that is our economy. Citizens have sleepwalked as our economy has been sold out to foreign investors and now cry when billionaires are asked to pay their share of taxes- this is what will bring the country down without a shot being fired. To see the heavy hitters in banking and commerce agree on the problem is at least hopeful and former US Comptroller David Walker is a man on a mission: to get the word out on the impending problems of long-term unresolved debt. After last years economic crash this DVD’s release has pretty good timing. Like the sober lessons of oil production peaking in “The End of Suburbia”, this is another essential film tackling a key social problem which is a classic documentary tradition. These films aren’t the most fun to watch but the information they provide is critical.

Speaking of lessons, the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” warned humanity to shape up and behave. The remake has the aliens now on an extermination mission with a lot of flashy special effects. (Including the destruction of Giants stadium in NJ which means my old hometown would have been toast!) Keanu Reeves and Will Smith’s son Jaden along with Jennifer Connelly and Kathy Bates make some grocery money in this unnecessary remake. The new effects are kind of cool but still…Why don’t they remake bad films? Why would you remake a film that is an iconic classic? Why do I watch them? And does the earth have restless leg syndrome?

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