Ep. 78 – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, SXSW recap, and how free McDonald’s turned into a frustrating ordeal

March 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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In this latest episode of the too-infrequent CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod discuss the unavoidable “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” They also recap their time at SXSW 2016 and talk about the most frustrating free McDonald’s food they didn’t even get to eat.

[00:00 – 32:51] Intro/SXSW recap

[32:51 – 1:07:22] “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” review

[1:07:22 – 1:12:50] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Big Eyes

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Danny Huston
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Ed Wood,” “Alice in Wonderland”)
Written by: Scott Alexander (“Ed Wood”) and Larry Karaszewski (“Ed Wood”)

A return to form effort from wayward director (and Johnny Depp enabler) Tim Burton might elicit more praise on the surface than it deserves when you really dig in strictly because of how long we’ve had to wait for something that wasn’t terrible. “Big Eyes” may, in fact, fit that description, but for now, bask in the refreshment a Burton movie with style and focus—and without gothic weirdness or Depp in a weird hat or even former flame Helena Bonham Carter—brings to the table.

As the film opens, Margaret (Amy Adams) flees an abusive husband and an “Edward Scissorhands”-esque treeless suburb with her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye at first, aging to Madeleine Arthur) in tow. Settling down in 1950s/1960s San Francisco, Margaret works on her artwork, using Jane as a model for a series of paintings featuring big-eyed children. After meeting and marrying fellow artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), Walter begins taking credit for Margaret’s work on the “big eyes” paintings, using his innate showmanship to turn the artwork into a kitschy sensation. As tensions escalate between the sidelined Margaret and the increasingly disjointed Walter, Margaret begins to regret the trap she helped build for herself and her art, looking for a way to escape.

For better or worse, the film belongs to Christoph Waltz and his charming-turned-dangerous performance as Walter. He owns every scene he’s in, at times leaving Amy Adams—the story’s protagonist—in the dust in her own story. Waltz as Walter becomes such a commanding presence in the film, you can hardly blame Burton, doing his best work since “Ed Wood,” for turning the film over to this convincing weirdo. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Burton re-teamed on “Big Eyes” with “Ed Wood” screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for another tale of a strange fellow on the fringes of stardom, clawing his way into relevance no matter the cost. While “Big Eyes” doesn’t have the whimsical spirit of “Ed Wood’s” love-letter to a purveyor of crap, instead diving into the darkness that comes from Keane being cornered by the idea of the truth being revealed, the film rekindles enough of that spirit to make you look forward to Burton’s next project with an open mind.

Her

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Directed by: Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “Being John Malkovich”)
Written by: Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are”)

The last decade of technological advances have irreversibly altered the way we humans communicate. Regular old cell phones were one thing—their ubiquity in the early 2000s led to a society where we were just a phone call away at all times. Smartphones, however, have created a culture wherein we’re connected every second of the day. From the dependable old text message to the messenger program Facebook shoved down our mobile throats to push notifications from apps like Instagram and Twitter, most people live their lives in a state of constant connectivity. Even as we go about our lives, we’re living another life online.

“Her,” from quiet genius Spike Jonze, imagines a not-too-distant future where such sought-after tech like artificial intelligence has become commonplace enough to be available for the average Joe’s personal computer. A lonely professional letter writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) downloads his copy, which boots up as a female and names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As Samantha grows and adapts, her relationship with Theodore deepens to the point of genuine love.

Writer/director Jonze could have easily made “Her” into an unsubtle indictment of the isolated way we live our lives today: noses buried in our smartphones, constantly communicating via Facebook and other social networks in lieu of real personal contact, to the point we’d be foolish enough to think an online relationship could take the place of real human interaction. Instead Jonze veers the other way and creates accepting and believable world wherein a lonely man can fall in love with an artificially intelligent operating system and have it be seen as the natural evolution of human relationships, not the laughable misadventures of a sad sack.

American Hustle

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams
Directed by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Eric Singer (“The International”)

As David O. Russell’s career trajectory continues to move upward, it seems he’s getting more freedom to make the films he wants to make. After the huge success of last year’s deeply personal “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered eight Oscar nominations and one win, Russell heads backs to the 70’s with the con-artist film, “American Hustle.”

“American Hustle” tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his accomplice Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after they are caught running an illegal business. As more prominent people become involved and things become more dangerous when they try to bring down a local mayor (Jeremy Renner), too many loose ends, including Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), could bring the entire operation to a head.

Much will be made of the cast, reuniting many veterans of Russell’s previous films and all principle actors being Oscar nominees or winners. As an admittedly impressive collection, the ensemble is certainly solid, but mostly unspectacular. Bale who gained nearly 50 pounds for the role is the best of the bunch, as a pudgy con artist with a terrible comb-over. As with many of his latest films, Bale disappears into the role and carries it with ease. Cooper is fine and Adams is hit or miss, with her fake but purposely imposed British accent becoming a little grating at times. For most of her career, Lawrence has been impressive at convincingly playing characters above her actual age. It might be the hair and costumes associated with the 70’s, or just her characters general life situation, but in “American Hustle,” Lawrence finally feels and looks too young for a role and is a little bit distracting.

“American Hustle” starts out with a bit of background on Bale and Adams’ characters and makes use of a dueling voiceover that bogs the film down and subsequently makes the film slow to get into. Once “American Hustle” gets going, Russell has a clear goal for presenting a playful and comedic tone, which is something that – for the most part – fails. Though the humor is a bit subtle, most of the jokes fall flat and there are only a few legitimate laughs in the film, mostly involving stand-up comedian Louis CK in a small role.

Russell does a few things right in the film. He nails the setting of the 70’s and there’s clearly an energy of filmmaking that transferred over to his actors. The issue here is that Russell appears to have had the intention of crafting something grander and more clever than what it actually is. Unfortunately for Russell, the film plays off as a by-the-numbers con movie and frankly, something akin to a second-rate Martin Scorsese film.

The Master

September 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”)
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”)

Pornography as a cultural influence in “Boogie Nights;” the squeaky sound of an abandoned harmonium in “Punch-Drunk Love;” frogs falling from the sky in “Magnolia.” The works of auteur director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson over the last decade and a half might be some of the most challenging films to dissect for the average moviegoer, but none have been as demanding, ambiguous, and dreamlike as his latest offering “The Master.” Inspired and loosely based on the early teachings of L. Ron Hubbard (although the word Scientology is never uttered), Anderson has once again proven why he is the most intelligent and distinctive filmmaker working today. This time, however, it does come at the price of alienating audiences with a drama not nearly as narrative-driven as his others and one that will easily take multiple viewings to pin down and decipher all of Anderson’s lofty and visionary concepts.

Coming four years after his full-fledged masterpiece “There Will Be Blood,” which earned Daniel Day-Lewis a decisive second Academy Award, Anderson returns with another bizarrely compelling character study of a man who has “wandered from the proper path” and found himself under the guidance of a leader he strongly admires and later questions. Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally unstable, alcoholic drifter lost in a tiresome post WWII existence. He finds solace when recruited by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to join his flock and partake in the unconventional therapies meant to help individuals expose their past lives by what seems like slow-burn brainwashing.

Hoffman’s performance is beyond words, as always, but it is Phoenix’s take on the animalistic nature of man that speaks volumes to the core elements of what makes the film such a devastating one to shake.

Trouble with the Curve

September 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Robert Lorenz (debut)
Written by: Randy Brown (debut)

What’s going to happen to the sport of baseball when all of the grumpy old men in charge, stuck clinging to antiquated traditions and practices, finally die off? Will there be a renaissance, allowing for such modern technological marvels like instant replay? Will those devil boxes (you may know them as “computers”) finally be embraced as a valuable tool in scouting players instead of as some doohickey the grandkids horse around on? Or are there new sticks-in-the-mud in training as we speak? Is baseball destined to be eternally ruled by old timers?

Like the elders of baseball itself, “Trouble With The Curve” hasn’t got time for any nonsense from you whippersnappers. The film stars the legendary Clint Eastwood (fresh off his real-life takedown of an invisible, chair-bound Barack Obama) as Gus Lobel, a veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves. With his eyesight failing and younger, computer-savvy members of the organization looking to put the old man out to pasture, Gus is given one last chance and sent to North Carolina to scout the latest high school hotshot. Concerned about his old friend, Gus’s coworker Pete (a magnificently-mustached John Goodman) convinces Gus’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to put her skyrocketing law career on hold for a couple of days and accompany her aging father on his trip.

While both the baseball and relationship elements are as well-worn as an old little league glove, the latter benefits from some fine performances. Say what you will about the real-life Eastwood, but the 82-year-old still commands the screen even as a grizzled old codger. And while the screenplay muddies up the father-daughter relationship with Adams by plopping some half-cooked backstory near the end of the film, both she and Eastwood deliver solid base hits. Also, despite a groaner of an introduction, Justin Timberlake’s friendly rival scout and romantic interest lays another sturdy brick in the wall separating his acting career from his boy-band career.

Directed by long-time Eastwood producer Robert Lorenz, “Trouble With The Curve” plays like the anti-”Moneyball” when it comes to how the game is managed and played. The sentimentality and tradition of baseball are held in the highest regard, while anyone who knows their way around a laptop or smartphone or online stat sheet is treated like a clueless so-and-so who oughta stop futzing around with those damn gizmos and get out there in the real world, God damn it.

The Muppets

November 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
Directed by: James Bobin (TV’s “The Flight of the Conchords”)
Written by: Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshal”) and Nicholas Stoller (“Get Him to the Greek”)

If watching actor/writer Jason Segel reluctantly trying to impress Mila Kunis by performing a song from his Dracula puppet rock opera in the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” made you wish all love was as eternal as a vampire’s, then you must’ve also been as intrigued as I was when news that Segel and Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller would continue playing puppet show by penning the script for a reboot to the famed Muppet film franchise.

After 12 years without a theatrical release (their last was the second-rate, Gonzo-centric “Muppets from Space” in 1999), there would finally be what the studio was calling a fresh take on the beloved cast of characters who first appeared as a group on “The Muppet Show” in the mid ’70s. If by “fresh” they meant “The Muppets” would feel like it was plucked from the days when Bob Hope and Milton Berle would cameo, then, yes, a lifelong Muppets fan like Segel should be proud of sticking to tradition despite original muppeteers like Frank Oz opining about the script’s lack of respect for the characters.

For people like myself, however, who grew up watching reruns of “The Muppet Show” in syndicate and trusted Segel and Stoller wouldn’t harp on homage so much and be brave enough to take some creative license, “The Muppets” is in many ways both a charming return to form and a surprising letdown. Sure, Judd Apatow humor, while usually clever, might be considered much too mean-spirited for the wholesomeness of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. But the new version is so far from modern that even Statler and Waldorf would deem parts of it all dried up.

Still, playing the nostalgia card is welcomed. We get a glimpse of the Muppets’ past at the beginning of the movie when we’re introduced to Walter, the Muppets’ No. 1 fan (and a Muppet himself) who grew up collecting their memorabilia and watching the old TV show with his human brother Gary (Segel). When Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams in an equally chipper role as “Enchanted”) invite Walter to tag along on their anniversary trip toLos Angeles, he jumps at the chance to go so he can visit the famous Muppet Theater. Now abandoned, the theater has caught the attention of wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to buy the building and bulldoze it so he can drill for the sweet crude underneath. The only way to save the theater: raise $10 million in two days by reuniting the now estranged Muppets for one last extravaganza show and telethon.

It sounds easier said than done, which makes Segel and Stoller’s decision to give Kermit, Gary, Mary, and Walter only 48 hours to track down all the Muppets, rehearse, and find a celebrity to host the event and TV network to air it, all the more ridiculously impossible. To help with the time constraints, the writing duo incorporate a few meta techniques to cheat their way through the narrative such as admitting to the audience that a musical montage would be used to skim happily through the Muppet hunt (or making sure said audience remembers they’re watching a movie). None of it comes off as clever as it probably did on paper, but Segel and Stoller stick with it nevertheless. Even the save-the-theater storyline itself didn’t rely on much thought. Whether it’s saving an orphanage in “The Blues Brothers” or a community recreation center in “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” or — get this — the Muppet Theater in 2002’s “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie,” originality isn’t a key element in the screenplay. Segel and Stoller would’ve had better luck coming up with something imaginative by filling in the blanks of a Muppet MadLibs.

Instead, “The Muppets” goes for quick and easy jokes like outdated references to “Dirty Dancing,” “Scarface,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Even more contemporary gags like chickens clucking to Cee Lo Green’s always-edited single “F*ck You!” will be overshadowed by the disappointment lingering after you realize another 12 years from now, the biggest cameos in this newest version (Jim Parsons, really?) will be just as memorable as Rob Schneider and Andie MacDowell’s in the last.

Leap Year

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott
Directed by: Anand Tucker (“Shopgirl”)
Written by: Deborah Kaplan (“Made of Honor”) and Harry Elfont (“Made of Honor”)

It might have been forgivable for a movie called “Leap Year” to be released during a non-Leap Year, but when screenwriters Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont put their heads together things usually get far too ugly and aggravating to let anything slip by.

Whether we’re talking about a musical comedy like “Josie and the Pussycats,” a family comedy like “Surviving Christmas,” or a romantic comedy like “Made of Honor,” there’s little Kaplan and Elfont have done in the last decade to prove they actually know how to write something with even a hint of humor. Instead, the writing duo falls back into the safety of their grab bag of clichés and scoops out a few to get them through the day.

While “Leap Year” isn’t as dreadful as the aforementioned films, it doesn’t mean Kaplan and Elfont are getting any better. They manage to take someone as adorable and talented as two-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams (“Doubt”) and wedge her into some middlebrow comedy that really is not befitting for her.

In the film she plays Anna, an upbeat apartment stager who decides that if her cardiologist boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott) is not going to propose to her after four years, she’s going to take it upon herself to pop the question. Anna has just learned that it’s supposedly a romantic Irish tradition for the woman to propose to the man on Leap Day, Feb. 29. As luck would have it, Jeremy is in Ireland on business. How very serendipitous!

After one diverted plane ride to Wales, Anna is stranded in the English countryside where her only chance to make it to Dublin to see her boyfriend is to hitch a ride with Declan (Matthew Goode), a cheeky local pub owner who could use the fare. Oh, he’s also charming and attractive and has the ability to sweep American women off their feet, go figure.

Of course, the drive to Ireland isn’t that simple. Kaplan and Elfont give us a few sitcom-worthy obstacles the predictable couple has to overcome if they want to get to their final destination on time. From flooded cars to missed trains to – gasp – renting a room with only one bed, romantic comedies can’t get any more formulaic and stereotypical than this.

The conventional story includes the idea that tossing a city girl into the great outdoors and waiting for something hilarious to occur is just about the greatest thing anyone has ever come up with since, well, last year when Renée Zellweger traveled to Minnesota in “New in Town;” Sandra Bullock trekked through the snows of Alaska in “The Proposal;” and Sarah Jessica Parker ran through the wilderness of Wyoming in “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Why screenwriters find these terrible fish-out-of-water tales so appealing is beyond comprehension.

While Anna and Declan frolic through the pretty scenery, director Anand Tucker (“Shopgirl”) doesn’t do much to build on the thin material. How do they become so infatuated with each other in the span of two days when half of their time together is spent fighting? Why is Jeremy made out to be a horrible boyfriend when he’s really done nothing to justify Anna forgetting the last four year of their relationship and reinventing her life on a whim?

It all makes little sense in “Leap Year,” an unrealistic and over-calculated mishap that won’t have legs past January.

Julie & Julia

August 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”)
Written by: Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”)

Whether you’re a glutton or a light eater, it would be difficult not to enjoy what director Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”) serves up in her double-biopic “Julia & Julia.” The film, which stars two-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep and two-time Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, is as tasty as a French Quiche Lorraine. Who says real men don’t eat it?

In half of the film, Streep plays American chef and French cuisine mastermind Julia Child before she actually knew how to even make an omelet. We watch Streep embody Child while living in Paris in the 40s and 50s and trying to find something to do to keep her busy while her husband (Stanley Tucci) attends to his work as a foreign diplomat.

With a love of French food, Child decides to take French cooking lessons at the culinary arts school Le Cordon Bleu after hobbies like hat making and playing bridge don’t fulfill her needs. There she finds the joy of cooking and proves to her all-male class that a woman has just as much right to run a professional kitchen as a man.
 
Working in harmony with Child’s biography is the story of Julie Powell (Adams), an insurance claims representative who wants more out of life than her monotonous nine to five job. A fan of Child, she, too, has a fascination for food, but doesn’t realize what a fantastic cook she actually is until she challenges herself to a “deranged assignment.”

The goal: to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s first book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which we also see Child undertake in her portion of the film. Not only will Julie cook boeuf bourguignon and bouillabaisse, she will also update an online blog about her experiences while performing such a demanding feat.

While Julia’s story is much more enjoyable to the cinematic pallet than her counterpart Julie’s sometimes irritable journey, the parallels between these women’s lives are sincere offerings from Ephron. Streep once again proves why she is arguably the best actress of her generation, while Adams’ starry-eyed disposition makes her a perfect choice for Julie. If you can get past her meltdowns and focus on the melting butter in a saucepan instead, “Julie & Julia” is as delicate and satisfying as the caramelized sugar covering of a crème brulee.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”)
Written by: Robert Ben Garant (“Balls of Fury”) and Thomas Lennon (“Herbie Fully Loaded”)

The entire original cast might be back for a second helping, but rehashing the same old jokes from the first outing is a bit overzealous even for Ben Stiller and his myriad of fictional characters in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

In the sequel, Stiller returns as Larry Daley, this time a former museum night watchman who has become a successful CEO of a company that produces a glow-in-the-dark flashlight. When Larry returns to the Museum of Natural History to say a quick hello, however, he learns that all the exhibits that came to life during his first adventure (and ultimately became his friends) are begin replaced with interactive displays and getting shipped off to the Smithsonian Museum for storage.

He also discovers the magic tablet that transforms the exhibits into living, breathing creatures is being pursued by the evil Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah played by Hank Azaria (“Along Came Polly”) and his henchmen, which include Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). New to the fray is also Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) who sticks with Larry during most of the battle and participates in the most interesting scenes of the movie when the two figure out how to jump in and out of famous works of art.

Any clever ideas, however, are easily diluted by lots of bad one-liners, obvious jokes (Yes, Napoleon Bonaparte was short, get over it), and tedious slapstick, which will only appease the youngest viewers. While there are slight highlights like Bill Heder as Gen. Custard, the humor is sketchy at best and gets it wrong most of the time.

Sunshine Cleaning

March 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin
Directed by: Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”)
Written by: Megan Holley (debut)

It’s no surprise first-time screenwriter Megan Holley fashioned the script for her dark comedy “Sunshine Cleaning” from a report on National Public Radio. It’s just the type of mildly off-beat story one would expect to hear on a show like “All Things Considered”: Two female friends from Seattle start a crime-scene clean-up company.

The inspiration itself might have easily ruined a feature film — characters written with sensitivity and humor usually don’t ride tragedy’s coattails — but Holley and director Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”) are able to detail the job’s unpleasantness with fake blood and synthetic brain chunks while still managing to create sympathetic characters and a strangely intimate world.

Relocating the women to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and rewriting the female duo as sisters, “Sunshine Cleaning” follows Rose Lorkowski (two-time Academy Award nominee Adams), a 30-something single mother who’s making ends meet as a cleaning lady. Once the popular head cheerleader in high school, Rose relives her glory days through an ongoing affair with married ex-boyfriend Mac (Zahn), who now works as a police officer.

Rose decides she needs a career change after she ends up cleaning the house of a former classmate. She’s also desperate to make extra money to send her eccentric son to a private school because his principal wants her to medicate the boy for his harmless, albeit peculiar, classroom antics (most recently, licking everything he can put his tongue to).

Taking advice from Mac, Rose begins mopping up the blood, and she recruits her burned-out sister Norah (Blunt), who has emotional problems stemming from (minor spoiler alert) their mother’s suicide when they were kids. Why these two would ever decide to start a company where suicide cleanup is part of the job is beyond comprehension, but the lazy parallel does most of the screenwriter’s heavy lifting, and the gals are fairly good at what they do, despite their initial naiveté concerning biohazard-disposal regulations.

Luckily, they receive a crash course in decomp (Tip Number One: You can’t just throw a blood-soaked mattress in a Dumpster) from Winston (Collins), a one-armed model-builder who owns a cleaning-supplies store.

Rose and Norah become haz-mat-suited cleaning women with support from their father (Academy Award winner Alan Arkin, who basically rehashes his grandfatherly role from “Little Miss Sunshine” minus the cocaine), and attempt to scrub away death’s aftermath. In one subplot, Norah searches out a woman named Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub of “24”), a suicide’s daughter whose photo Norah discovers while cleaning up the mess left behind.

It’s these small strokes of sincerity — away from the yellow police tape, decontamination suits, and a few standard pseudo-indie-film clichés — that make “Sunshine Cleaning” a bittersweet, honest, and well-acted gem.

Doubt

December 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley (“Joe Versus the Volcano”)
Written by: John Patrick Shanley (“Alive”)

Watching two acting heavyweights like Academy-Award winners Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman go head-to-head with material written for the stage can be seriously nerve-wracking. It’s simply impossible to grip onto each word they hiss at each other or catch every glance glared back and forth between them. There are moments in “Doubt” where – as cliché as it sounds – I didn’t want to blink.

It’s different when you use that sentiment with a film like “Doubt,” though. While most people would say they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the screen during a multimillion-dollar special effect, there are no bells and whistles in John Patrick Shanely’s opus. All it is is raw emotion and talent. It’s an actor’s showcase.

Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, who accuses one of the priests, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), of committing an impious act with a shy black student without any real concrete evidence. Sister Aloysius is an intimidating figure and feels if there is anyone that can get the truth out of Father Flynn, it would be her.

Amy Adams (“Junebug”) plays Sister James, an idealist nun who first takes suspicion to Father Flynn’s behavior toward the student before reporting it to Sister Aloysius. Her nature is not to be untrustworthy, but with Sister Aloysius certainty about what she thinks she knows, there is very little that can be said to change her mind. It’s actress Viola Davis (“Solaris”) who comes the closest to cutting Streep’s Aloysius down to size. She, along with Streep and Hoffman, are shoe-ins for Oscar nominations. (Adams isn’t far behind either).

In “Doubt,” Shanely has created a cinematic paradox. As each of these characters slice each other down, they all reveal their own moral shortcomings. It’s shocking how well a story like this also divulges what kind of thinkers we are. Do we think on impulse and what we know to be true in our own heart or is there always doubt without specific proof? “Doubt” won’t give you the answers you’re looking for, but you’ll be replaying the scenarios through your head long after the curtain falls.