Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.

“Valkyrie” is a film about the famous July 20, 1944 plot by German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler. I would have been far more pleased with it if they had not cast Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. It is more like one of the Hardy boy’s joins the Royal Shakespeare Company to smite the devil incarnate. I am very familiar with the actual historical event and as Hollywood goes, this is pretty faithful to the facts. So kudos to them for that, but please, why did they use Cruise? For box office profits? Oh, please don’t say it is so. Putting such a bland, vanilla (albeit handsome and wholesome looking) actor with Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, Eddie Izzard and Tom Wilkinson is a casting crime. Cruise played Stauffenberg with all the personality of a guppy. “Valkyrie” comes off somewhat confused; it tries to be a WWII thriller and a historical tribute to heroes of the German resistance but it just doesn’t quite make it on either account. On the other hand, it will make a darn good movie for the History Channel ... probably for the 1:00 a.m. slot.

Valkyrie earns two and a half bow ties out of five

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Rated PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.

The “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is very, very, very loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is about a person (Brad Pitt) born the size of a baby but with a body of a 90-year-old man. He “grows young” in a nursing home (in New Orleans). The story is told in flashback. A sick, old woman (Cate Blanchett) is about to die in a hospital just as Katrina is to hit the city. Her daughter is reading a mysterious diary to her as she drifts in and out of consciousness due to her mother’s morphine drip treatment. The diary is Benjamin Button’s and basically tells of his love for a girl he meets while an old man/boy at the nursing home. Naturally the little girl is the old woman on her death bed. As he grows young, she grows old and they can only share a short time when they are “age appropriate;” two human lives passing each other in time. This is a quirky film. How could it be otherwise? And it could only be made with impressive CGI effects. However, it is a truly a ‘curious case” of a movie and film fans should see it for that sake alone. It is a gentle romantic story but with bittersweet sadness interwoven in every scene. Pitt and Blanchett are excellent, but the film is stolen by Taraji P. Henson. She plays the African-American adoptive “mother” of Benjamin Button. She is in only a few scenes, but each and every one is a jewel. This film is a kind of downer, but it reminds us that life is fleeting and we should grab our better moments and savor them. One of the lines in the movie reminds us that we begin and end life in diapers. Not something I want to have needle-pointed and framed on my wall, but it is a sobering thought when we reflect on our own mortality.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” earns three bow ties out of five.


Rated PG-13 for thematic material.

Doubt was a Pulitzer-winning play. I saw it performed on stage. It is one of those plays that was written to provoke deep thinking and heavy soul searching. Doubt takes place in 1964 in a Catholic church and parochial school in the Bronx. There is a storm blowing; a season change. A revolution is taking place in the “Church” and the “church,” if you catch my meaning. A new, young priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has some radical ideas about the Church. An older and conservative nun (Meryl Streep), who is the principal of the parochial school, does not approve one little bit. In fact, she suspects that the priest is a little too caring about the students, particularly the one and only black child in the school. She thinks he may be molesting the child and wants the priest gone. A young, perhaps innocent nun (Amy Adams) thinks the new priest is not guilty of such actions. The battle lines are drawn and a battle of wills commences. Is he (the priest) guilty or is he not? This film is for adults, not that there is nudity or profanity or anything like that; no, it is that this film is for people who want their drama served up with fire and brimstone. You will be thinking about this film for a long time. The acting is superb and the sets are artistically and cinematically spot-on. My Catholic parochial-schooled wife says that Streep’s Sister Aloysius’s disdain of ballpoint pens is eerily accurate. But this is not an anti-Catholic film. This is a parable, a sermon, a theological discourse that deserves serious attention and contemplation. A Disney film, it ain’t. It is as somber as an Old Testament Sunday School lesson: one that may not make us laugh or even be entertained. Instead it should make us look at our own soul and ask ourselves what doubt really means. “Doubt,” the movie, is like when we were kids and we would get a slap on the back of our head when we are not paying attention in church. We may not have liked it, but we deserved it.

“Doubt” earns four and a half bow ties out of five.

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