It’s strange that A Serious Man has such a middling score at Metacritic considering the types of reviews it’s been getting. With a couple of bad ones, the film is picking up raves from the LA Times and the NY Times.
The LA Times’ Kenneth Turan calls it “pitch-perfect”:
Writer-directors Joel and Ethan have seized the opportunity afforded by the Oscar-winning success of “No Country for Old Men,” to make their most personal, most intensely Jewish film, a pitch-perfect comedy of despair that, against some odds, turns out to be one of their most universal as well.
Praise for the whole:
Doing their own editing (under the longtime pseudonym Roderick Jaynes) and working with such regulars as cinematographer Roger Deakins, costume designer Mary Zophres, composer Carter Burwell, co-casting director Ellen Chenoweth and production designer Jess Gonchor, the Coens have so exactly made the film they envisioned that it is hard not to be drawn in. Working largely with unfamiliar actors, their trademark blurring of the line between serious and comic has never been as artfully done as it is here.
High praise from Slate’s Dana Stevens:
A Serious Man is an exquisitely realized work; the filmmakers’ technical mastery of their craft, always impressive, has become absolute. The script reads like a novel, densely allusive, funny, and terse. The casting of near-unknowns in all the major roles (Michael Stuhlbarg is a renowned Broadway actor but unfamiliar to movie audiences) was a stroke of genius, and every performance is impeccable, as is the lambent cinematography by Roger Deakins (the Coens’ longtime collaborator). The costume design and set design (by Mary Zophres and Jess Gonchor) brilliantly evoke the staid and clannish world of semi-assimilated Midwestern Jews (a group for whom the new mores of the ’60s arrived much later than for the urban gentiles of Mad Men).
Recently, I kicked up the tinyest bit of fuss on the internets about the word “critic” used to describe what was a mix of a lot of different types of writers on a Toronto film poll. Many took that to mean, because I didn’t explain myself well enough, that I felt their writing was somehow sub-par. On the contrary, I never intended to insinuate that the best writing on film can’t be found on the internet – or that many a folk who starts up a movie blog can’t write better than many film critics. Most of the film writing I read these days are by people who aren’t technically “film critics” but who are brilliant writers. If they write exclusively on film perhaps that ends them up being film critics -but many out there have their fingers in several different pies – they report on the business of Hollywood, they do interviews with stars, set visits, etc. And that is their right and one of the best things about the internet.
Saying they weren’t film critics, as I said, wasn’t meant as an insult. Anyway, Ebert took some time out last week to single out his favorite commenters (“a distinctive readership of interesting people”) and their well-written blogs. If you look, you’ll find a great many writers out there — really, there have to be thousands. I’m wondering about the blogs you all read.
It’s time to look again at how the films are stacking up, critics-wise vis-a-vis the Oscar race.
|1||35 Shots of Rum||96|
|2||Hurt Locker, The||94|
|7||Beaches of Agnes, The||86|
|8||In the Loop||83|
Of these films, The Hurt Locker, Up and Ponyo are probably Oscar-bound, though In the Loop most definitely should be (I don’t think enough people will see it, unfortunately, but will catch up with it five years down the road).
The Broadcast Film Critics have it like:
The Hurt Locker – 93
Inglourious Basters – 91
A Serious Man – 88
But the BFCA have a difficult site to navigate.
Rotten Tomatoes is too all over the place to figure out anymore. And some of the films haven’t even opened yet so their score is still fluid and nowhere near fixed. ¬†But I pulled out a few high scorers:
The Hurt Locker – 98%
Up – 97%
District 9 – 90%
Star Trek – 95%
In the Loop – 94%
Ponyo – 91%
An Education – 89%
Inglourious Basters – 88%
500 Days of Summer – 87%
Bright Star – 84%
In a moving and involving piece of writing, Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir talks to the Coens about A Serious Man, but also talks at length about the film:
One thing is for sure: This story, which comes to us in the form of a movie called “A Serious Man,” is one of the subtlest, darkest and most deceptive ever spun by Joel and Ethan Coen, its writers, directors and producers. This is by far the most personal and revealing film the Coens have ever made, which might not seem like saying much: They’re known for creating mannered, sardonic fictional worlds shaped as much (or more) by film history as by real life. But in recapturing the vanished realm where they grew up — a self-enclosed world of Midwestern Jewish suburbia — the Coens have crafted perhaps their most original work, one that presents¬†itself, early on,¬†as middleweight middle-American domestic comedy before revealing a¬†strange and secret power that’s closer to magic or myth.
The truth is the film writing is more interesting than the interview. You know those Coens, like the Bob Dylan of film directors – they always have on their poker face.
Mixed Martial Arts fighter Gina Carano is set to star in Steven Soderbergh’s action thriller Knockout. Craig Kennedy pulls the best bits from the Empire story, so I’ll skip the heavy-lifting and simply quote the quotes from Living In Cinema:
Soderbergh describes Knockout as ‚Äúa combination of a Bond movie and Point Blank‚Ä¶more on the scale of From Russia With Love than, you know, Quantum Of Solace‚Ä¶ Something where the characters and the story are as prominent as the action stuff.‚Äù
He also addresses working once again with screenwriter Lem Dobbs and whether there would be a replay of the sparks that flew between the contentious pair on the DVD commentary track for The Limey:
‚ÄúOh, you can fuckin‚Äô bet the farm on that!‚Äù says Soderbergh, laughing. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs absolutely gonna give me a hard time. I‚Äôve already thought about that, like, Oh boy, you know, this is going to be round two. There‚Äôs no question. This is absolutely the rematch that people have been waiting for.‚Äù
[Full irrelevant disclosure: The Limey was the second DVD I ever bought (the first was The Abyss).] On another page from Soderbergh’s Day-Timer, he’s developing a story with The Informant! screenwriter Scott Z. Burns called Virus. Alex Billington at FirstShowing quotes that pitch as “Traffic meets Outbreak.”
New on the radar (for me, anyway), The Messenger gets our attention on the basis of an interesting cast (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone), and the two Golden Bears it won at the Berlin International Film Festival for Best Screenplay and the Peace Film Award. IMDb says it’s about, “an American soldier who struggles with an ethical dilemma when he becomes involved with a widow of a fallen officer.” Screen Daily says:
Ben Foster is a revelation here, carrying the film and delivering his first true adult performance after a string of youthful turns in 3:10 To Yuma, X-Men: The Last Stand and Alpha Dog. He plays Will Montgomery, a staff sergeant decorated for heroism in Iraq, who has three months left on his army contract when he is assigned to be a Casualty Notification Officer. Reluctantly paired with the colourful and salty captain Tony Stone (Harrelson), he learns the techniques and hazards of the job – encountering everything from rage to violence to vomiting in the unfortunate NOK (next of kin)…
Harrelson gives one of his best performances as the army lifer Stone, a likeable sort behind the bravado, and Morton is excellent as always as the gentle widow, although some of the dialogue Moverman gives them borders on the affected, such as Olivia telling Ben that her late husband‚Äôs shirt smelt of ‚Äòfear and rage‚Äô.
Kathryn Bigelow is already collecting an award at the Gothams, and now the 13th Annual Hollywood Film Festival and Hollywood Awards will honor Bigelow with “Hollywood Director of the Year. She will be honored alongside Nora Ephron, “Screenwriter Award” for her work on Julie and Julia. Disney/Pixar’s “UP,” directed by Peter Docter, will get the “Hollywood Animation Award,” and Paramount Pictures’ “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar will receive the “Hollywood Visual Effects Award.”
The ceremony will take place October 26 in Beverly Hills. If this isn’t the first time a woman director and writer took this honor, it is a rarity nonetheless.
What I found most provocative and disturbing about “Wanted and Desired,” though, was its depiction of the ways in which Polanski’s perverse playboy image, his work, and his lifelong proximity to horror, also weighed into his prosecution. His mother had died at Auschwitz. His pregnant wife was slaughtered by the Manson Family. Polanski himself was regarded by many as “an evil, profligate dwarf” (Polanski’s own words, from his autobiography) — looked upon with suspicion for having escaped death in the Holocaust (what kind of bargain with the devil did he strike to survive in the Krak√≥w Ghetto?) and openly accused of complicity in the Manson murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojtek Frykowski and Abigail Folger. Though Polanski was in London at the time of the killings, conspiracy theorists posited that he surreptitiously flew into LA for the evening, assisted in the butchering his wife and friends, then immediately returned to the UK undetected. After all, this was the man who had made “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Tenant,” “Chinatown,” “Macbeth,” “Repulsion”…
Only a few came right out and openly accused Polanski of forging an alliance with satan, but many more couldn’t help but feel he was somehow tainted by his association with death and depravity, on-screen and off. He had been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion years before he ever faced legal charges. The actual allegations of criminal conduct (and it was a crime in California, if not in France) seemed to confirm what many already felt they knew.
And he ends his piece this way:
“Forget it, Jake…”? Not likely. This is a spectacle, which requires an audience as much as the audience requires the spectacle. And American audiences resist ambiguous, unresolved endings. We demand moral clarity, even when it’s unlikely that any can ever be found. Those of a categorical philosophical bent will say that rape is rape, and that’s all there is to it. Utilitarians will say that the solution that would bring the greatest happiness to all concerned would be to drop the charges and let Polanski come and go freely to the U.S. whenever he likes. So, some are already alleging that Polanski got away with rape (at least for the last 31 years), and others claim he was unjustly persecuted because he was an outsider, a Jew, an artist, a celebrity. If some sort of reckoning is at hand, it’s going to be unsatisfactory for many, no matter how you slice it. Justice is rarely blind. And that’s not going to change, because all of the above can be true — and false — at the same time. Comforting, isn’t it?
This video is making the rounds — what’s funny about it, of course, is that Matt Damon isn’t the type to go nuts on anyone. And it’s Entourage-esque anyway.
Hat tip, JJ.
Speaking of Entourage, it has gotten off to a better start recently, after sputtering a bit at the beginning.
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