John Patrick Shanley

Magnificently adapting his award-winning stage play of Catholic school guilt to the screen, writer/director John Patrick Shanley has retained its most unsettling questions: Who can we trust? Is morality absolute?

He invites us to judge, but then lays out reasons why our verdict might be wrong, even tragically so. He wants us to think, something that runs counter to blind devotion.

One of the two antagonists in the film is committing evil in the guise of good, or attempting to.

Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the priest at St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, is a beloved cleric and mentor. He may be sexually molesting one of his students, a troubled black child named Donald Miller (Joseph Foster).

Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the school’s officious principal, suspects that Flynn is a pedophile but she has no proof, only innuendo. She may well be wrong, and she may also be motivated entirely by jealousy and spite.

Every element of Doubt is in perfect balance. Shanley’s dialogue is economical but sharp, his direction completely assured, the production impeccably mounted.

Extras include an audio commentary by Shanley and several featurettes.

Yes Man
Peyton Reed

A recent career slump prompts Jim Carrey to put the clown shoes back on, via a movie that will remind you of his Liar, Liar smash of a decade past, only with fewer laughs.

On the upside, Carrey is every bit as eager as Carl Allen, his convert to positive thinking in Yes Man. On the downside, he strains at times for jokes that once came so effortlessly.

Carl is the loans officer for a small Los Angeles bank, who thinks his job is to say “no” to everybody who asks for money.

Then Carl meets a self-help guru, played well by Terence Stamp, who tells him that his life will change dramatically if he starts saying “yes” to everything.

Carl embarks on escapades that include learning Korean, taxiing homeless people and giving out reckless loans.

He also takes up with a daffy gal named Allison, played by Zooey Deschanel, who I believe is required by law to play the daffy chick in at least three movies per year.

Extras include several featurettes, a gag reel and music videos by gag band Munchausen by Proxy.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Director: Scott Derrickson

Klaatu barada no go!

I promise not to blow up your planet if you ignore this urgent warning to shun The Day the Earth Stood Still remake.

But it could make you feel like ravaging Hollywood. The rocket scientists behind this misbegotten makeover have managed to botch every aspect of this beloved 1951 film, from robot Gort (now a one-eyed Gumby) to the barely heard “Klaatu barada nikto” retort.

One scene deserves extra scorn as both the year’s silliest movie moment and most egregious product plug. It’s the one where alien visitor Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) takes his Earthling groupie Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) to the local McDonald’s for a meeting about his plans to scorch the planet. Want fries with that apocalypse?

Klaatu’s beef with Earth is now ecological. He’s like Al Gore with less charisma. Arriving in a glowing orb in New York’s Central Park (a pointless shift from the original Washington, D.C.), he tells us we have to stop polluting our planet or he’ll remove us from it and leave it a smoking cinder ball.

The kindest thing that can be said about this tragic waste of pixels is that director Scott Derrickson and screenwriter David Scarpa at least tried to pay homage to the original film.

But all of their updates look cheap and phony, especially the so-called special effects.

Depending on what DVD set you get, extras include several deleted scenes and featurettes, plus the full-length original The Day the Earth Stood Still from 1951 – but why not just buy that instead, and forget all this tomfoolery?

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