Double Feature

March 2015 - It's March, but I'm already looking forward to late summer when my new favorite TV show should return for a second season. Why am I talking about a TV show in a movie column? Because the show is How to Get Away with Murder and it stars the Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis.

Davis scored her first nomination for her supporting role in the PG-13 drama Doubt. The acting is great in this 2008 big screen adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's stage play of the same name. Shanley wrote the screenplay and directs an A-list cast that includes Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Those three and Shanley also received Oscar nominations for their work.

Streep plays Sister Aloysius, the no-nonsense principal of a Bronx Catholic school in 1964. Hoffman is Father Flynn, a younger man with progressive ideas. One Sunday, he uses his sermon to speak about doubt. The topic sets Sister Aloysius to wondering. She soon comes to the conclusion that Father Flynn has acted inappropriately with the only black boy in the school, the son of Davis' character. But did he? Sister James (Adams) has her doubts, but Sister Aloysius won't rest until the maybe-not-so-good father is gone.

Overall review: Liked it. Hoffman goes toe-to-toe with Streep and holds his own as their characters face off in a tense battle. Whether or not Father Flynn is a child molester is really beside the point. The bigger picture is the battle between man vs. woman, progressive vs. traditional, set within the confines of a church that gives men all the power but which is also very slow to change. It's riveting - right up until the very end.

Davis scored a second Academy Award nomination for her leading role in The Help. In this PG-13 film from 2011, a recent college graduate returns to her home in 1960s Mississippi and gets some help from "the help" as she embarks on a literary career. Emma Stone is the aspiring writer, Allison Janney is her mom, and Davis and Octavia Spencer are the maids. The supporting cast also includes Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mary Steenburgen, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain.

Skeeter Phelan (Stone) is a college-educated Southern woman who dreams of a literary career in New York City. But, first, she needs experience. So, she returns home to Jackson, Mississippi, where segregation is still the law and where well-to-do white families hire black women to keep the house and raise the kids. Soon, she hits on the idea of writing stories from the perspective of these women. Now, all she has to do is convince them to talk.

Overall review: Liked it. Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer each received an Oscar nomination. Only Spencer won as Best Supporting Actress. The great cast certainly helps this movie that, at times, seems unnecessarily long. But, it tells a story that, in some ways, isn't as far removed as many of us would like to think.