Video Verdict: New DVDs for April 7

Meryl Streep portrays Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn in the Oscar-nominated drama "Doubt."

Meryl Streep portrays Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn in "Doubt."

This week’s DVD releases include new outings from Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, but it’s a haunting, Oscar-nominated drama that is the true must-see.

 

 

Doubt
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for thematic material
Miramax
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Writer-director John Patrick Shanley took his Tony winning play and converted it into a fine, Oscar-nominated movie boasting one of the greatest acting ensembles you’ll ever see.

Meryl Streep stars as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a harsh and demanding Catholic school principal who comes to suspect the new parish priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), of wrongdoing. So, she warns her nuns to stay vigilant, and when she notices Father Flynn spending an inordinate amount of time around the school’s first-ever black student, she attacks the man.

Trouble is, Sister Aloysius hasn’t actually seen Flynn abuse the boy, and he is as charismatic as she is disagreeable. Still, her suspicions seem well-founded enough to make even an innocent new teacher, Sister James (Amy Adams), form doubts about Flynn.

The title of “Doubt” refers not only to what the characters are feeling but to what the audience experiences because Shanley takes care not to offer a shred of certainty about anything. That means the story is left to viewer interpretation, and there are many viable possibilities. Sound frustrating? Not really. The movie is wonderfully crafted, and it’s as much fun to talk about afterward as it is to watch.

Streep, Hoffman and Adams are fantastic, as is Viola Davis, who portrays the mother of the schoolboy. All four actors received Oscar nominations for their work. Although they didn’t win, their performances are unforgettable.

DVD extras include several making-of features and an audio commentary by Shanley.

 

Bedtime Stories
3 stars
Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mild language
Walt Disney Pictures
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Adam Shankman follows his winning musical, “Hairspray,” with another film that should delight both children and adults.

In “Bedtime Stories,” Adam Sandler stars as Skeeter Bronson, a fun-loving handyman who has toiled for decades at a hotel that his father founded but was financially unable to maintain. Skeeter lives with the dream that he will someday run the place, but he is always one-upped by a smarmy management sort (Guy Pearce) engaged to the boss’ Paris Hilton-like daughter (Teresa Palmer).

Skeeter’s luck begins to change when his sister (Courteney Cox) asks him to watch her kids while she takes a short trip to Arizona. Not only does he meet one of his sister’s attractive pals (Keri Russell), but Skeeter notices that the bedtime stories he tells the children are beginning to come true … and he is benefiting from it.

“Bedtime Stories” isn’t deep, but everything about it is charming and fun, and viewers benefit from Shankman’s terrific visualizations of the stories Skeeter tells.

The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a Blu-ray release that also includes standard DVD and digital copies of the film. Extra features vary.

 

Yes Man
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“Yes Man” is the type of goofy, lightweight comedy that’s enjoyable despite being unremarkable.

The premise — a lonely divorced guy (Jim Carrey) agrees to say “yes” to everything for a year — is good. Carrey and his co-stars — Zooey Deschanel and Terence Stamp — deliver plenty of laughs. And most folks should finish the film feeling cheery.

Despite this, “Yes Man” just doesn’t stick in the brain. But maybe that’s OK. Not every movie is meant to leave viewers contemplating its artistic merits for weeks at a time. Some flicks are simply meant to make people smile, and if that’s what director Peyton Reed was going for, he succeeded.

“Yes Man” is so silly and sprightly that it’s the perfect pick-me-up after a long day at work or the perfect mind-number when it’s time to put the brain on hold.

The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 

The Tale of Despereaux
2 1/2 stars
Rated G
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The computer-animated “Tale of Despereaux” boasts sequences that seem lifted straight out of a picture book, but as pleasing as that is, labored storytelling knocks the project down a notch.

Adapted from the Newbery Medal-winning children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, the action is centered on the title character, a mouse who is tiny even by the standards of mice. Despite his stature, Despereaux is independent, brave and inquisitive, and that makes him an outcast. Folks in his mousy society expect him to cower and scurry like everyone else, so he is eventually banished.

Not one to give up, the brave and tiny fellow finds himself on a wild adventure involving a misunderstood rat, a depressed princess and a servant girl who longs for a more glamorous life.

“Despereaux” encourages its viewers to be honorable, courageous and clever, and that is admirable in a children’s film. Unfortunately, the inclusion of so many characters slows things and sometimes blurs the focus.

If directors Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen had made their movie longer or simply streamlined the script, they might have produced an animated great. As is, “Despereaux” is good enough to please its youthful target audience, but it falls a tier below the best of its breed.

DVD extras include a making-of feature and a couple of games for kids.

 

The Day the Earth Stood Still
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Robert Wise’s original, black-and-white version of the “The Day the Earth Stood Still” invaded theaters in the 1950s and made a mark that will be remembered forever. Director Scott Derrickson’s remake will do well if it’s remembered next year.

The new picture starts with scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) being whisked from her home by government agents who plop her in New York’s Central Park. A spacecraft has landed there and Helen promptly encounters a humanoid extraterrestrial named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves).

While examining the being, Helen decides that the U.S. government is a danger to him, so she helps him escape captivity. Her actions lead to a massive manhunt and increasingly paranoid actions by the military. Although Derrickson keeps Klaatu’s motives intentionally unclear for the first act or so, anyone who saw the original film knows where all this is going.

The plotting retains the spirit of the original, and this new version is slow but certainly watchable. It’s just tough to see the point of a clumsy remake when Wise’s film is widely available on video.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a three-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Not Easily Broken”: Relationship drama starring Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson as a long-married couple who find their vows being tested physically and emotionally. Directed by Bill Duke.

“I.O.U.S.A.”: Director Patrick Creadon’s documentary film examining America’s national debt and the unstable position it has put the country in. The movie features interviews with former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker, Concord Coalition Director Robert Bixby, businessman Warren Buffett, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and others.

“Road to the Big Leagues”: Just in time for baseball season, this documentary considers the Dominican Republic’s love for the sport and follows a number of hopefuls as they vie for professional careers. The film includes interviews with Dominican baseball stars David Ortiz and Vladimir Guererro.

“Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword”: Seventy-four minute animated feature that puts the Mystery Inc. gang in the middle of a new mystery. This time they’re in Asia and if Scooby and Shaggy aren’t careful they might just learn the way of the samurai.

“No Country for Old Men”: Miramax is offering new, revved-up releases of Oscar’s 2007 best picture winner. Buyers can choose between a three-DVD set and a two-disc Blu-ray release, each featuring more than five hours of previously unavailable bonus material.

Walt Disney Animation Collection: Three new DVDs featuring classic animated shorts from the Disney vaults. Titles include “Three Little Pigs,” “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and “The Prince & the Pauper.”

“Snoopy’s Reunion”: DVD release of the Peanuts television special in which Charlie Brown tries to cheer Snoopy up by reuniting him with his siblings. The DVD also includes a second animated short, “It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.”

 

— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose bylines have appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

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