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Holiday Downers 

Inside the week's pretty good crop of deep winter movies

Previews

The only film opening this week is The Reader, a post-WWII dramatic love story starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet. A young Berg (Fiennes) engages in a brief and passionate love affair with Hannah (Winslet), a woman twice his age, until Hannah disappears mysteriously. After years apart, Berg is stunned to learn that Hannah is a defendant in the Nazi war crime trials. Secrecy abounds in this Holocaust drama. Rated R for some scenes of sexuality and nudity. 123m. At the Broadway.

Reviews

DOUBT: For some, Catholicism and all of its glorious rituals induce the heebie-jeebies. Be advised that Doubt, the movie based on John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, might be a film that you should avoid if you can't handle Catholic doom. On the other hand, if your memories of those years spent in Catholic school haven't left you with church phobias that eternally haunt you, then this film is certainly worth the admission price at one of Humboldt's fine cinematic establishments.

The story is set in Brooklyn in the year following the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, a year filled with much doubt and fear for Americans. The viewer is taken right into the heart of St. Nicholas, a straight-up Catholic academy serving the neighborhood's predominantly Irish and Italian youth. Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!, Rendition) plays Sister Aloysius, the school's principal, and she is all that you could expect of a woman at the helm a religious school in the ’60s. Sister A. is one tough and intimidating lady who rocks some wicked hip pious gear. Unfortunately, all is not good in the sister's hood.

There's a new priest on the block named Father Flynn, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War, Capote). This New Age, debonair leader is a bit too cozy with the academy's young men for Sister A.'s liking. Sister A. warns the other sisters at the school about the new priest because she wisely knows that suspicions of this nature are not good to ignore. Sure enough, a young and innocent instructor dubbed Sister James, portrayed by Amy Adams (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), picks up on some abnormal and scandalous behavior going on with Flynn and the school's only black student. Sister J. tells Sister A., and it's on.

Sister A. is readily convinced that Father Flynn has in fact committed an act of molestation. She bravely takes on the touchy task of trying to prove, and subsequently deal with, the very real possibility that Father Flynn engaged in misconduct with the young male student. Given her position in society, the school, the church, etc., she is faced with quite a serious, not to mention uphill battle. For real. Her hunt for the truth brings up heavy themes of obedience, child abuse, homosexuality and sexism. Sister A. says that "in the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God," but that doesn't seem to stop her. She is one determined sister with a cause.

Her conquest to save the boy and the other young men of the school from the perceived, yet unproven threat leads to much unrest. Guess what. Doubt will stay with you throughout it all. Rated PG-13 for thematic material. 104m. At the Broadway.

-- Emily Hobelmann

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. To say this film is "based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald" is an exaggeration. All that's borrowed from the original very short story is the basic premise: Benjamin Button is born an old man and grows younger rather than older. The film storyline, crafted by Eric Roth (most famous for the screenplay for Forrest Gump), is completely different and since the film is almost three hours long there's a lot more to it. Of course Fitzgerald's Swiftian fable is a metaphor. The film adaptation is jam-packed with metaphors, aphorisms and life lessons (perhaps a few too many) all learned from a lifetime lived backwards. Director David Fincher, known for gripping dark stories like Fight Club, Panic Room and Se7en, is relatively relaxed unspooling an ambling story pulled along by twists of fate.

As a prelude we're given the tale of a blind watchmaker who builds a large clock for a train station. He's just lost his son in WWI, and creates a clock that runs backward to metaphorically bring his son back. We learn this via another framing story: A middle-aged woman (Julia Ormond) has come to visit her dying mother (a heavily made-up Cate Blanchett) at a New Orleans hospital, as Hurricane Katrina approaches the city. Mom has her read from a diary that tells the life story of the backwards boy.

It begins with Benjamin born as an ugly, wrinkled baby who looks like a very old man (Benjamin is mostly played by Brad Pitt, although sometimes it's his face digitally attached to some other body). His father (Jason Flemyng), distraught because his wife has died due to the birth, abandons the old man/child, conveniently enough outside an old folks home, where, with loving care from adoptive mom Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), he fits right in.

When Benjamin first meets Daisy (who will eventually be played by Blanchett) she's a pre-teen, and so is he, technically, although he appears to be 70- or 80-something, which makes their first encounters appear kind of kinky. The bulk of the picaresque plot follows their relationship: While she is growing up to become a luminously beautiful ballerina, he is growing younger, moving from old- to middle-age to strapping youth.

Benjamin is more observer than action figure. Aside from his high seas adventures on a tugboat piloted by tattooed Captain Mike (well played by Jared Harris), a dalliance with the wife of a spy (Tilda Swinton) and a bloody WWII sea battle, not a lot happens plot-wise. As time marches on Benjamin and Daisy reach a point where they match age-wise and they bond gloriously, but as she grows ever older and he grows ever younger, kismet pulls them apart.

Given the quasi-sci-fi nature of the story, a willing suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for enjoyment. (The seamless special effects help.) And while some will surely grow restless with the epic (or merely long) slow-moving story, I found myself pulled in and left the theater thinking about chaos theory, mortality and the nature of love. Rated PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking. 159m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

-- Bob Doran

Continuing

AUSTRALIA. Epic and romantic action-adventure, set on the brink of WWII. Rated PG-13. 166m. At The Movies.

BEDTIME STORIES. Stories told by hotel handyman to his young relatives mysteriously start to come true. Rated PG. 99m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

BOLT. Canine TV star depends on his delusions of grandeur to make unexpected journey cross-country. Rated PG. 96m. At The Movies.

CADILLAC RECORDS. Tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll set in Chicago in the ’50s and ’60s. Rated R. 109m. At The Movies.

DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Alien named Klaatu arrives on earth and triggers global upheaval. Rated PG-13. 104m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

FOUR CHRISTMASES. Couple forced to endure family gatherings when their exotic vacation plans are ruined. Rated PG-13. 89m. At the Broadway.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR. Teen couple lives up their senior year lest they end their romance for college dreams. Rated G. 112m. At The Movies.

MADAGASCAR ESCAPE 2 AFRICA. Penguins marooned on Madagascar jerry rig a plane and head to Africa. Rated PG. 89m. At The Movies.

MARLEY AND ME. Neurotic dog teaches family in the making about what really matters in life. Rated PG. 123m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS. Rodriguez family converges in Chicago for family Christmas filled with drama, stale dreams and heartbreak. Rated PG-13. 99m. At The Movies.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Latest installment in the line of James Bond movies. Rated PG-13. 106m. At The Movies.

SEVEN POUNDS. IRS agent with fateful secret makes journey of redemption by changing lives of seven strangers. Rated PG-13. 124m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

SPIRIT. Rookie cop returns from the dead as The Spirit, to fight crime in shadows of Central City. Rated PG-13. 108m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Brave and virtuous mouse seeks life of chivalry. Rated G. 94m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

TRANSPORTER 3. Ex-Special Forces stud faces action and adventure while transporting sexy human cargo ’cross Europe. Rated PG-13. 100m. At The Movies.

TWILIGHT. Teen girl gets swept up in unorthodox romance with vampire. Rated PG-13. 122m. At the Broadway.

VALKYRIE. Colonel uses Hitler's own emergency plan in attempt to overthrow Nazi government from the inside. Rated PG-13. 120m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

YES MAN. Man signs up for self-help program based on saying yes to everything and anything. Rated PG-13. 104m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

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