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"A Serious Man"

Directed by The Coen Brothers.
Written by The Coen Brothers.
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick and Aaron Wolff.
Release Year:  2009
Review Date:  10/9/09


I'll be frank--I don't know what to make of the new Coen Brothers film "A Serious Man."  Something tells me I'm not going to be alone on this, either, because at least six people walked out of our free showing last night halfway through the film, and those that stayed until the end included two people who booed the ending and one man who told a theater staffer that the movie was "as cold as an iceberg."

At least I know what an iceberg is.

"A Serious Man" is about a man named Larry, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who has a family that appears to not love him, a job that isn't going so well, and a life that appears to be going nowhere.  It's sometime in the past--I don't think the year was ever spoken, so given the look of the film, maybe the 60s or early 70s--and Larry is a high school professor.  His wife (Sari Lennick, in her first film) is done with their marriage, in part because she's found a new love named Sy (Fred Melamed), and in part because Larry won't kick his brother Art (Richard Kind) out of the house.

This movie reminded me of the Coen boys' film "Intolerable Cruelty", mainly because like "A Serious Man", both are quirky comedies that are either too quirky or not that funny.  With "A Serious Man", though, I am guessing that for certain people, it might be great...and, many of those "certain people" are either diehard Coen fans, film critics, Jews, or old people from the Midwest.  In fact, if any of you know of older Jewish film critics, I'm betting they fucking loved this movie.  The film is so Jewish that even for me, someone who has a lot of Jewish friends and has a decent general knowledge of Jewish culture, I really didn't get some of the references to the Jewish faith.  Being Jewish and having a good handle on what some of this film covers would have been a HUGE help in understanding the film, whether I liked the material or not.

One thing that can't be argued--the film is simply a joy to watch in terms of its cinematography.  I mean, it's beautiful.  Location scouting would be a joy for the Coen Brothers; like "No Country for Old Men", "A Serious Man" gets a perfect shot in nearly all of its frames...the period (again, not sure what year it's supposed to be, but it doesn't really matter) seems to be captured just right, the casting guys have found another mix of people and costumes that fit just terms of look and feel, this movie might be my favorite this year.

Which makes the story/plot/mission bit of this film all the more confusing.  I really have no fucking idea what the goal here is, what the story is supposed to be, if this is meant to be a series of life vignettes or something tied together to be a story, why the prologue and the ending are so vague, and what this adds to the Coen canon.  I mean, I could understand why people were walking out when they were...what is this movie about??  And, at times, it's not even that funny, so the idea of it being a black comedy is a little absurd!!

I was hearing the term "Oscar buzz" before seeing this film, but now I have to admit that I think some critics might be smoking crack.  Please note that I still don't know how "Master and Commander" was nominated for Best Picture a few years ago either, so don't count on me for knowledge!!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 11/05/09