Well, against my better judgment, I'm going to do this review now. Either now or never, because I just can't seem to review the movies I like lately. ¶ Well, first of all, let me start by saying that when the movie ended and the end credits started to roll, I think I blurted out "You gotta be kidding!" Yes, it seems the boys have played their hand this time. I'm on to you! Ambiguity! That's da t'ing! It's one of their recurring themes. For example, in No Country for Old Men, when Llewellyn hands a slightly bloodied 100 dollar bill to the musician, we see the musician reach for the bill, and then we cut to the next scene. Well, did he take it? Or did he refuse at the last minute? We'll NEVER KNOW!
Yes, for an obsessed, obsessive-compulsive Coen brothers freak like me, I revelled at some of the unconventional framing in A Serious Man. I forget what now, but maybe I'll pick it out on video. They pushed that 7 million dollar budget to the absolute limit. I'm not the budget fetishist that I used to be, but I think 7 million is about as low as they'll go now. Blood Simple apparently cost $750,000... okay, it's double that now. And Barry Sonnenfeld shot that one! Hard to believe there'd be people now who say the Coen films that Barry shot were better. Maybe it's the youth factor. Oh, they were young and green back then, and willing to take certain risks, but now they've got wives and families and are approaching their emeritus years. Personally, I think the film that Lubezki shot turned out pretty okay, but that's another review. AND it hit #1 for a change!
Where was I? Oh, right. There's ambiguity in the opening sequence of A Serious Man, but I don't want to give anything away. Also, it's separate from the main picture, but thematically related, one might say. We follow closely the lives of the Gopnik men: Larry and his son Danny. Danny gets stoned on his Bar Mitzvah day, giving Oscar-nom'd-up-the-Yin-Yang camera jockey Roger Deakins a chance to use the camera flaring trick from that Robert Ford dealy-bopper. Okay, ASC, this is your big chance to stick it to him this year. Wouldn't that be the ultimate irony? Deakins wins for such a small budgeted film as this? Why not, I say? The way cinema's going these days, there'll come a time when Pixar will win every year for cinematography anyway, so savor these days while you still can! And speaking of Oscars, I don't know if anyone else has said it yet, but Fred Melamed, man. Maybe it's just me, but I think he was channeling Francis Ford Coppola, if only via beard. Even if he doesn't win for Best Supporting Actor, he'll never want for work again. Someone else will have to make the film for him that is the Drop Dead Gorgeous for A Serious Man's Fargo... something like that. SATs? That matching exercise? Forget it...
As usual, the acting is top notch across the board, even the children. I dare say one of the kids was picked out for his similarity to Ethan, but I don't know which one it was. I'll let someone else make that connection. The daughter's pretty much introduced for the nose job line, and to slap at the son, but there are no small parts, right? But I will say that the neighbor woman's big scene was a little over the top, but she did what she was supposed to: not blink. She of course will also no longer be in want for work. Colonel Sandurz from Spaceballs, not so much. But, he's doing pretty good already. As for the main guy, Michael Stuhlbarg, who knows? Will he be able to shake this career-defining role? I think he just might.
But back to their inter-movie themes. For those of you like me who remember Burn After Reading pretty well, there's a reference to Tuchman Marsh here. And I and one of my viewing companions noticed that costume designer Mary Zophres was one of Gopnik's students (Better be careful, because someone's going to steal her from you; either Spielberg, Favreau, or the Farrelly boys!). Well, her name was the last name on the list, so the eye was drawn right to it. That, frankly, is just sloppy direction. Too many in-jokes do not a movie make. And another thing! There's a scene where Sy Ableman and Larry Gopnik are driving... it seemed like they were following each other! That's also just plain ol' sloppy direction. The final scene in Rabbi Marshak's study made me think of Herb Myerson's study in Intolerable Cruelty. Speaking of which, Adam Arkin channeled Miles Massey quite well, if I do say so myself. I made up a handy chart earlier, but A Serious Man seems to tie in with Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasn't There, all films about doomed protagonists. But like The Dude, Gopnik's a dreamer, and he gets one more dream sequence here than the Dude! Of course, the Dude's are much more elaborate, so perhaps it all evens out. And of course, the music. Not as lush or as desirable a soundtrack as, say, Pirate Radio, but they do what they can to redeem Jefferson Airplane. Their "Somebody to Love" acts as did the cover of The Monkees' "I'm A Believer" in Blood Simple. That's right, I'm a purist and I stand by the original cut, not the new, fancier, leaner version which replaced "I'm A Believer" with The Four Tops' "It's The Same Old Song." It is NOT the same old song, guys! Nothing against The Four Tops, mind you... Ooh! Just remembered another one. The story about the dentist obsessed with that one guy's freaky teeth. There's a scene where he's sitting in bed, unable to sleep... more than a little reminiscent of NCFOM? When Llewellyn's sitting in bed, unable to sleep? The Coens, they're ripping themselves off now!
Well, I could go on forever here so let me just end with this: between Frances McDormand's character in Burn After Reading and Stuhlbarg's name here, you're getting damn close to my own name, Joel and Ethan! You nailed it shut, guys. Four stars.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan