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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast:
Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Peter Breitmayer
Writing Credits:
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Synopsis:
Academy Award®-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to their comedy roots with this original and darkly humorous story about one ordinary man’s quest to become a serious man. Physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) can’t believe his life: His wife is leaving him for his best friend, his unemployed brother won’t move off the couch, someone is threatening his career, his kids are a mystery and his neighbor is tormenting him by sunbathing nude. Struggling to make sense of it all, Larry consults three different rabbis and their answers lead him on a twisted journey of faith, family, delinquent behavior and mortality in the film critics rave is “seriously awesome!” (Michael Hogan, Vanity Fair)

Box Office:
Budget
$7 million.
Opening Weekend
$251.337 thousand on 6 screens.
Domestic Gross
$9.042 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $36.98
Release Date: 2/9/2010

Bonus:
• “Becoming Serious” Featurette
• “Creating 1967” Featurette
• “Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys” Featurette
• Previews


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


A Serious Man [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 8, 2010)

Despite the film’s title, 2009’s A Serious Man provides an Oscar-nominated comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen. Given their track record, though, one shouldn’t expect a laughfest, as this one definitely falls into “black comedy” territory.

Set in the Midwest circa 1967, we meet Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor, husband to Judith (Sari Lennick) and father of teenagers Danny (Aaron Wolff) and Sarah (Jessica McManus). Danny’s bar mitzvah approaches, and that creates a significant event in Larry’s life.

However, plenty of problems intervene. Larry runs into ethical problems at work when a student tries to bribe his way out of a failing grade – all in the midst of Larry’s review to gain tenure. Larry’s brother Arthur (Richard Kind) lives with the family, and his presence creates stress. Judith falls in love with Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) and wants a divorce.

And so on – including a tenacious bill collector from a record club. This sends Larry on a downward spiral, and he seeks spiritual guidance. Throughout the film, he consults three rabbis and attempts to get help for his ever-intensifying problems.

See what I mean when I stated that Serious doesn’t fall under the umbrella of traditional comedy? Indeed, I’m not sure I would’ve regarded it as a comedy at all if the disc’s packaging hadn’t told me so; it touts the film as the Coens’ “return to their comedy roots”. So what the heck was Burn After Reading, a tragedy?

Serious is nowhere near as broad as that film, and it’s even more low-key than Fargo. The humor in Serious is usually so understated that it barely exists. The occasional chuckle results, but again, this isn’t a movie that’ll inspire guffaws.

Not that I regard this as a bad thing – I just think it’s weird that the film is billed as a comedy. Instead, it’s much more of a spiritual quest, one with obvious parallels to the tale of Job. Larry tries to live his life the right way, and yet he feels like God punishes him at every turn. This leads to a real gut punch of an ending, when Larry sees what conscious sin can cause.

It’s interesting to see the Coens get all Biblical on us, and it’s clear that this tale hits home for them more than others. It wholly embraces the Jewish culture, a fact that may make it off-putting for non-Jews. I don’t say that because it’s offensive to others; Serious simply lives inside such a specific culture that it may become harder for others to relate.

But its message/themes are universal, so it shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Serious definitely offers a thought-provoking experience, one that seems likely to stay with the viewer. It’s not a slam-bang piece of cinematic entertainment, but if you dig the Coens, you won’t expect that anyway. A Serious Man is unusual but compelling.

Anachronism alert! Although the movie takes place in the spring/summer of 1967, the record club sends Santana’s Abraxas and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory. Both didn’t come out until 1970. Oops!

Self-absorbed footnote: I got a kick out of seeing the 1967 calendar on the wall at Larry’s office. It features May/June, and I was born in May 1967. I don’t know if I’d ever seen an actual 1967 calendar, so it was kind of fun to visit the time of my birth.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

A Serious Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Only some minor concerns kept this one from greatness.

Sharpness usually appeared very good. A smidgen of softness occasionally crept into wider shots, but not to a substantial degree. The majority of the film was concise and accurate. Edge enhancement was absent, and neither moiré effects nor jaggies marred the presentation. Source flaws also failed to appear.

In terms of colors, the film went with a generally subdued palette that added a mild golden tint typical of period flicks. Overall, the hues looked good, as the movie featured tones that fit its design parameters. Blacks showed nice darkness and delineation, while shadows appeared clear and accurate. This presentation didn’t dazzle, but it satisfied.

Given the film’s subdued nature, I didn’t expect a lot from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of A Serious Man, and I didn’t get a lot from it, either. That said, a few sequences added some pizzazz. These included dream scenes, pot-induced stupors, and a storm at the end. Those all used the spectrum in a moderately active, involving manner.

Otherwise, the soundscape remained subdued. Music showed nice stereo presence, and environmental effects fleshed out the surroundings in a reasonable manner. Other than those exceptions I already mentioned, though, nothing much occurred.

Audio quality was pleasing. Music appeared full and rich, while speech came across as natural and distinctive. Effects remained acceptably accurate, and during the rare louder sequences, bass response kicked in with deep tones. All of this was good enough for a “B”.

Not many extras show up here, as the disc only includes three featurettes. Becoming Serious runs 17 minutes, four seconds and presents remarks from directors/screenwriters/producers Joel and Ethan Coen, executive producer Robert Graf, location manager Tyson Bidner, and actors Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Jessica McManus, and Aaron Wolf. The show looks at the film’s prologue and story areas, cast, characters and performances, real-life inspirations, cinematography and cultural elements, and the Coens’ methods.

Coen brothers movies always include a few supplements but never a lot, so programs like “Becoming” are about as good as we get. This one offers a decent overview of the production, but it never turns into anything especially insightful. Indeed, it mostly just makes me wish the Coens would actually invest in this area and record a commentary one of these days.

Creating 1967 goes for 13 minutes, 42 seconds and features Wolff, McManus, Bidner, Joel and Ethan Coen, Graf, costume designer Mary Zophres, special effects coordinator Larz Anderson, picture car coordinator Michael Arnold and production designer Jess Gonchor. The piece looks at costumes, production design, props, locations, visual effects and period details. Largely because of its specificity, “Creating” becomes the disc’s most satisfying program. It lets us learn a lot about the methods used to simulate 1967.

Finally, we find the two-minute, 13-second Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys. It shows snippets from the movie and translates them into English. I would hope the viewer could figure out most of them from context or simple cultural knowledge, but this is still a fun feature that gives us details we gentiles may not otherwise get.

If you expect a quirky Coen brothers ala Raising Arizona, A Serious Man will disappoint. It’s closer to the Fargo side of the fence, though Serious comes across as even drier and darker. The Blu-ray provides very good picture, solid audio, and a few decent supplements. Serious won’t go down as a crowd-pleaser, but it’s an intriguing, introspective flick that should withstand additional viewings and analysis.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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