A Serious Man


When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love?
– Jefferson Airplane, ‘Somebody to Love’

So goes the song at the center of A Serious Man, the extraordinary new film by The Coen Brothers, and those lyrics sum up the plight of main character Larry Gopnik quite nicely. Gopnik is a physics professor, a few weeks short of tenure, whose life begins falling apart around him through no fault of his own. A Serious Man traces his attempt to find a way out of the darkness. Anybody familiar with The Coen Brothers’ filmography can guess how that goes.

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Where the Wild Things Are

wildthingsWhere the Wild Things Are director/co-writer Spike Jonze has said his film is not a childrens’ movie but a movie about childhood. It’s a distinction that sums up what’s wonderful about this adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic book. This isn’t a crowd-pleaser; it’s an art film. But it should connect with anybody who knows a child, or remembers the restless emotional energy that comes with being a child.

Sendak’s book is famously brief, made up of about a dozen pages some of which have no words. In adapting the work, Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers smartly chose not to expand too much on the plot (which boils down to: a boy named Max gets in trouble, is sent to his room, imagines a fantastic journey to an island of scary-friendly “wild things,” then returns to the comforts of home). They have added a big sister who abandons Max for a group of her friends and they have interpreted the lack of a father in the book as a sign that Max’s parents are divorced.

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Whip It

whipitI was destined to rank this movie high for two reasons.

First, it’s a girl power film. As the parents of two young girls, my wife and I have been compiling a list of movies we’ll show them when they’re old enough… movies that take on gender stereotypes and present realistic, positive female characters in lead roles. Films such as Bend it Like Beckham, Bring it On, Ever After and Whale Rider (my favorite), to name a few. And of course we have seven whole seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer waiting patiently on the shelf.

Whip It might just be the most girl-power-y girl-power movie yet. It follows small-town Texas teen Bliss Cavendar (played by Juno‘s Ellen Page) as she is awakened from a malaise brought on by her job at a dead-end diner and her mother’s fixation on beauty pageants. What she falls in love with isn’t anything glamorous or fancy, and it isn’t a guy — it’s roller derby.

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zombielandIn the past week, I’ve seen two Jesse Eisenberg movies, one called Adventureland and one called Zombieland. I’m sensing a pattern here. Next he should try something in the middle of the alphabet… Neverland, maybe.

In the course of that week, Eisenberg has quickly become one of my favorite young actors. I don’t know how much of a range he has but like Michael Cera, to whom he is constantly (and understandably) compared, the comic sweet spot he hits is perfectly on target.

Columbus, Eisenberg’s character in Zombieland, is a more neurotic version of Adventureland‘s James. Isolated from human contact, he spends most of his time playing video games. Which turns out the be the perfect situation for somebody hoping to survive the zombie apocalypse.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

meatballsParking! Purchasing! Sitting! Watching! Laughing! Reviewing!

Sorry, got carried away there. Slipped into Flint Lockwood mode for a minute. He’s the charming hero (voiced by SNL‘s Bill Hader) at the center of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, one of the nicest surprises I’ve had at the movies in awhile. Lockwood is a wildly creative and misunderstood inventor whose mind is in constant hyperdrive as he flits around his homemade laboratory, accessible via hydraulically-lifted port-a-potty, barking out gerunds describing his activity.

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extractAbout ten minutes into the new Mike Judge comedy Extract, I realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen a really bad movie. I’m just not used to that feeling of “Oh my god… I have to spend another hour and a half forcing myself to laugh at something that isn’t funny.”

At one point I contemplated walking out, imagining that if I came across something this dull on TV, I would certainly change the channel. Even a DVD rental would likely get ejected before the halfway point. But when I pay my $20 and take my seat before the lights go down, it feels like I’ve entered into a contract. And my end of the bargain is staying until the lights come back up again. I might be forgetting something, but I don’t think I’ve ever left a theater mid-movie in my life.

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Inglourious Basterds

basterds[Note: If you have any intention of seeing Inglourious Basterds, I recommend you do so before reading this review. I will avoid major spoilers but it’s best to go in knowing absolutely nothing about the film.]

Inglourious Basterds is the first Quentin Tarantino movie I’ve gone into with relatively low expectations. And perhaps that is part of the reason I consider it, after my first viewing, to be right up there with his very best work. I was surprised by this film in a way that reminded me of my dizzy, ecstatic reaction after first seeing Pulp Fiction 15 years ago.

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