A Serious Man
Joel and Ethan Coen throw another wild curveball with this dark psychological comedy-satire. While their western No Country for Old Men dealt with physical punishment, their latest effort, A Serious Man, puts a pneumatic stun gun to the idea of faith.
At the center of the story is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a university physics professor who is very much into the proof of the certainty of things. He seems very capable and smart and is close to attaining tenure. But his life is a shambles. His son, while preparing for the bar mitzvah, smokes marijuana and owes money to a bully. Larry suspects his daughter is stealing money from his wallet to pay for a nose job. His wife wants a divorce so she can marry a family friend and widower -- a guy who's a hugger. A Korean student who's failed his class has offered him a bribe and he faces a lawsuit from the student's father. And there are many other problems. His eccentric brother is crashing on the family's couch. Financial woes are mounting. He's kicked out of his home. He's having nightmares. Worst of all perhaps, the Columbia Record Club is after him for non-payment after he received Santana's Abraxas as his first album-of-the-month selection. Larry swears he never received the album, which is understandable since it wasn't released until 1970. The story takes place in 1967.
Searching for answers, he looks to his rabbis for spiritual advice, but they have none. Like the characters in a made-up Jewish folktale presented as prologue, it seems Larry is cursed.
Set in St. Louis Park, Minnesota -- the hometown of the brother directors -- I have to wonder how much of their own lives are in this oddly unsettling and entirely pessimistic film. Were either of them actually stoned during their bar mitzvah? It might explain a lot.
In addition to the fantastic production design -- the Coens carefully searched out a suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul neighborhood that hadn't changed since their childhoods -- there's a 1960s rock soundtrack dominated by Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun" at a crucial moment.
It's a great film that will probably be overlooked at this weekend's Oscars ceremony. Critical reception is mostly positive. At the Lido and SF World CentralWorld. Rated 18+
Alice in Wonderland -- Tim Burton brings his lavishly colorful and Gothic vision to Lewis Carroll's classic tale. In this version, Alice (Mia Wasikowska ) is a 19-year-old runaway bride who disappears down the rabbit hole where she reunites with her childhood friends. For this adventure, she is chosen as the "champion" to slay the Jabberwocky dragon controlled by the Red Queen. Along for the ride are familiar Burton stars Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the evil Red Queen. Anne Hathaway portrays the White Queen, and the voice cast includes Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit and Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky. Critical reception is generally positive. It's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX. Rated 13+.
Daybreakers -- A world populated mostly by vampires and a blood shortage are the ingredients for panic in this film-noir sci-fi horror. Ethan Hawke stars as a vampire haematologist trying to develop a blood substitute. He forms an unlikely partnership with humans (among them Willem Dafoe) in the search for answers. Sam Neill also stars as the head of the blood-supply corporation. It's directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, German-born Australian brother filmmakers. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 18+.
Dear John -- A young shirtless surfing soldier on leave (Channing Tatum) meets an idealistic young woman at the beach (Amanda Seyfried) and it's true love. He soon ships out on dangerous missions, but the pair promise to stay in touch through letters. It's a melodramatic tearjerker adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Lasse Hallström directs. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative, but that didn't stop Dear John from becoming the No. 1 film in the U.S. when it opened last month. Rated 13+.
Hachi -- The master of weepy melodramas, Lasse Hallström, also directs this remake of a 1987 Japanese movie. It's the tale of an adopted stray dog who loyally waits at the train station for his master to return. Richard Gere stars. It's a fact-based tale -- a bronze statue of the Akita dog Hachiko sits in his waiting spot outside Shibuya station in Tokyo. The movie has only had a limited release in the U.S., so critical response is difficult to gauge. Singapore's A Nutshell Review holds that the original is better. Rated G.
Japanese Film Festival 2010 -- Seven films by six filmmakers are featured in this year's Japanese Film Festival, which puts the spotlight on "Emerging Japanese Female Directors". The fest starts at 8 tonight with the family drama Sway by Miwa Nishikawa. Friday's selections are Naoko Ogigami's vacation comedy Glasses at 4 and the social comedy-satire German + Rain by Satoko Yokohama at 7. That's followed by a talk with the director. Saturday has the romance-friendship drama The Cat Leaves Home by Nami Iguchi at 11am and One Million Yen Girl by Yuki Tanada at 4. Sunday's shows are The Mourning Forest by Naomi Kawase at 11 and Nishikawa's comedy Dear Doctor at 4. The fest is at Paragon Cineplex. All films have English subtitles. Tickets are free, but you have to line up for them one hour before the show at the information table in the cinema lobby.
Salty Video Day -- At Thammasart University Pra Chan on Sunday, Film Virus presents two Thai experimental features: The Cruelty of Soy Sauce Man and Colours of the Streets. Soy Sauce Man is a 2001 film by Paisit Panpruegsachart, who later went on to make the poetic historical drama/documentary Manus Chanyong: One Night at Talaenggaeng Road. Weerapong Wimuktalop directs Colours of the Streets (2009), which is shot from the viewpoint of a man wandering around Bangkok and then heading by train back to the last vestiges of countryside at the edge of the city. The show starts at 12.30 in the Rewat Buddanan Room in the Pridi Banomyong Library. This program is postponed from February 28 (organizers overlooked that the university was closed for the holiday weekend).