A Serious Man (Focus Features)
The Stab: Rich with style and substance. Moves slowly but holds strong. A must-see for serious filmgoers.
This darkly ironic comedy will make you go “huh” a lot more than “ha ha”—unless you are one to find humor in another’s misery. Larry Gopnik is steadily losing the reins on his life despite his own best intentions. He must care for his inert, socially stunted brother. His tenure hangs in the balance between weakening social stability and the bribes of a failing pupil. His wife Judith prepares to leave him for the pharisaical Sy Ableman, who continually assures Larry that he’s “going to be fine.” Sy echoes the urgings of Larry’s Jewish faith: that everything will work out and he should simply bide his time. But Larry feels imprisoned by inaction and uncertainty. The Coen Brothers hold back nothing as they simultaneously salute and skewer the Jewish religion. This is, perhaps, the most gloriously Jewish movie of all time. The characters, the artistry, the terminology (a dictionary for gentiles would be handy), the traditions—the entire atmosphere beams with authenticity, without ever resorting to stereotypes. This should feel even more special to those familiar with Jewish customs. Ultimately, Larry’s attempts to rebuild his life under religious advisement illuminate the absurdity of traditional Jewish mores. Indeed, they seem to act in direct opposition to the natural order of things. The film is dense with nihilistic meaning but lacks a clear sense of direction; perhaps narrative viscosity drags down the pace. Allurement and quirk provide enough momentum until everything draws together in the end for a powerful closing statement. • B (Rated R • 105 minutes)
I would say something about a plane crash, but I’ll spare you further cliché. Amelia provides more than enough on its own—and then some. When characters aren’t spewing platitudes, they’re engaged in ingratiating “dinner-party” speak, straining to seem knowledgeable or courteous while completely forgoing sincerity. The dialogue tries to channel a 1930s vibe; instead, it has the sloppy sophistication of a grade-school pupil emulating Shakespeare. Either Amelia Earhart lived a painfully uncomplicated life (and a movie about her should not have been made), or the script used here is painfully devoid of conflict (and this movie about her should not have been made). The film glosses over any potentially meaningful material—Earhart’s struggle against chauvinism, her frequently questioned sexuality, her extreme feminist ideology, her success amidst the Great Depression—in favor of cheaply mounted aerial shots and a tacky love triangle. We are denied the opportunity to explore Amelia as a person. Instead, her passions and traits are loudly declared and hurled in our direction. As the titled female flyer, Hilary Swank finds strength in emotional subtlety and physical foibles, but her character is crafted with little inspiration. The entire film, in fact, is lacking vitality. Director Mira Nair proves completely incompetent at offering any sort of memorable perspective: even a plane crash comes off as awkward and unexciting. Ironically, the film’s most absorbing moments come toward its expected conclusion, just before Earhart disappears forever over the Pacific. Or maybe I was just eagerly anticipating the credit scroll. • C- (Rated PG • 111 minutes)
Saw VI (Lionsgate)
Lionsgate did not screen the sixth installment of its sturdy torture-porn franchise for critics. That typically doesn’t bode well for a film’s quality—but no one is expecting quality here. Moviegoers should line up just the same for what has become a sick and stupid annual tradition. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you’re bound to get more of it for years to come (next season’s seventh chapter will even be in 3D). If you’re hoping for a fresh and interesting perspective on the Saw series, or even just a worthwhile cinematic experience, you should probably look elsewhere. (Rated R • 90 minutes)
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal)
In case you weren’t growing weary of vampires, here’s yet another project hoping to cash in on the world’s recent supernatural obsession. The story follows a 14-year-old boy named Darren who joins a traveling band of circus freaks after enlisting in the ranks of the undead himself. Darren’s powers intensify, and he is soon wedged between two gangs of warring vampires. Universal is surely hoping for a fantasy phenomenon of its own, along the same vein as the Twilight craze. But Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak book series has neither the popularity nor the mass appeal of Stephanie Meyers’ saga. (Rated PG-13 • 108 minutes)
Astro Boy (Summit Entertainment)
Astro Boy is a super strong and speedy robot-boy created by a scientist misplacing the grief over his son’s death. When mechanics and metal fail to fill the void, Astro Boy embarks on a journey to find his place in the world—that is, until an alien race threatens to destroy it, and the boy robot is our only remaining hope. The visual display is said to be quite stunning, but don’t expect the emotional or narrative textures of a Pixar production. Some of this is Summit experimenting with the extra Twilight cash. I wonder why it’s not in 3D. (Rated PG • 94 minutes)
I’m surprised you gave Amelia a C- after ripping it apart. Was there actually anything good about it?
I might go see the Serious Man this week. The Coen brothers make great movies and I really liked Burn After Reading last year.