Sunday, March 7, 2010

DVD Reviews - A Serious Man, Whiteout

A Serious Man - ***

Directed by:  Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring:  Michael Stuhlberg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick

Review:  This was a very interesting movie.  I was looking for a movie to rent and this was nominated for best picture so I thought I would give it a go.  The whole movie I wasn't quite sure what to think.

The movie revolves around main character Larry Gopnik and how one day his world completely falls apart and his life continues to unravel slowly from there on out.  His wife wants a divorce, his chance for tenure as a professor is in jeopardy, his kids are constantly disinterested, his brother (who lives with them) is getting in legal trouble, and he has no answers for any of this.

Larry loved the routine of his life before all this happened and he longs for that routine once again.  The status quo is comforting for Larry, even if everything wasn't quite right.  Even if it didn't feel right, as long as everything was chugging along, it didn't feel wrong either.  Larry was just doing what he was supposed to do, get married, get a job, have kids, raise kids, etc.  If he was able to fit in a few things he liked in there, that was good too, but mostly he just did what he was supposed to.  Further, he did what he thought was right and he thought of himself as a good man who was living his life the right way.

Naturally, when his world comes crashing down, Larry begins to question why.  He lives a good life, is a morally just person, etc., why is he being "punished" for this?  In order to find answers Larry chooses to go to faith.  As Larry is Jewish his first step is to go to the rabbi to ask for help in understanding his plight.  It is this point where we begin to see the parallels between Larry's story and the story of Job from the Bible.  Larry completely breaks down in front of the Rabbi but is still given no answers and only more questions.  The bad situations in his life will most likely continue to get worse and there will be no clear reason why.  It is up to Larry to continue to live his life in the best way possible despite of al this.

Let me tell you what I like about the Coen brothers.  When they make a movie, there is not a single frame wasted.  I had the same thought coming out of the extraordinary "No Country for Old Men" and the same thought while watching this movie.  Every scene, every prop, every character, every personality nuance, they are all carefully orchestrated in this movie for the greater purpose of the film.

They also do what I am assuming is a good job of portraying Jewish culture in this time period and the struggles that a man in Larry's situation would go through.  Larry struggles to keep himself together despite the rest of his universe crumbling.  It is Larry's ultimate reality that although his life used to be comfortable it wasn't enjoyable.  Perhaps now that the rest of his life has slipped away, this is his opportunity to start anew with his life and do what he wants instead of what he thinks he is supposed to do.  That's what this movie is about, realizing that even though nothing is "wrong" with your life, it doesn't mean everything is right.

My biggest complaint from this movie is that there is a lot of buildup, especially in the last 20 minutes and the movie just ends abruptly.  I won't spoil the ending by giving away details, but I came away feeling cheated.  I can understand a movie leaving some things open, but this movie seemed to be still building towards a climax and then...just...stopped.  Perhaps that was the whole point of the ending, that our lives are constantly building towards a climax and we all just "stop" before we get there, that we need to take a hold of our lives before we approach that climax so there is nothing left to resolve before it just...ends.

Whiteout - *

Directed by:  Dominic Sena

Starring:  Kate Beckensale, Tom Skerrit

Review:  Wow, this movie was stupid.  It took about a solid 20 minutes for me to want to turn this off; however, being the dedicated movie watcher that I am I finished it so I could tell everyone unequivocally how bad this movie truly is.

The movie centers around Kate Beckinsale's (all I can say about her is wow) character Carrie Stetko who is a ridiculously attractive US Marshall stationed at a random base in the Antarctic wilderness.  Why they have a US Marshall at this base is only partially dealt with but I am still not convinced it is necessary to have a federal agent spend all her time there.  But I digress.

Two days before Carrie is set to leave there is a murder that is discovered.  This means she will have to stay and figure out the murder, but if she stays past the day she is supposed to leave then she will have to stay for the entire winter which lasts 6 months without any sunlight whatsoever!  In investigating this murder it is determined that the murder is related to the cargo that was aboard a russian warplane that crash landed nearby in the '50's.

I am practically laughing while writing this review thinking about how horrible this movie was.  For instance, at the beginning of the movie when they show a far away shot of the base we are told two things:  (1) this is the coldest most desolate place on Earth (it literally says this on the screen) and (2) it is -55 degrees celsius.  They spend a good few minutes talking about how cold it is, how the winds are going anywhere from 60-100 mph and how it can affect you.  All this and yet they all go outside with nothing but a simple coat, half their face uncovered, and hoods that they don't even use.  The human body is subject to frostbite at 20 degrees faranheit and with winds at 20 mph.  This scenario is way beyond either of those and they don't even have their faces covered?!?!  They would get frostbite easily inside of two minutes, but everyone seems to be fine.

The movie also chooses to use the technique that instead of actually explaining how things happen, they just fade away and come back after the event in question has taken place.  For example, the crew at one point is trapped under 20 feet of snow.  They are able to clear a way out, but actually getting out is still a question but it doesn't show how they make that happen.  It just fades away and magically it is 30 minutes later and they are out.  Normally you could suspend disbelief for a good movie, but this just adds to the overall poor craftsmanship and bad-ness of the movie.

All acting in this movie was lifeless and not entertaining at all.  There was no character development and the dialogue was simply to move the pathetic plot.  At no point did it feel like these characters would actually be saying these words, rather, they are just saying what was in the script.  And the script wasn't even well written to begin with.  It amazes me that crap like this gets made.  The idea is decent, but in order to make it successful they would have to play on the right ideas, the claustrophobic aspect, the trapped with nowhere to go aspect, the nobody can hear you scream part.  But no, the filmmakers had none of these in mind and just wanted to make a movie that had Kate Beckinsale in it as much as possible (which I honestly cannot blame them for).  This movie provides no entertainment value.

So why did I even give this one star?  To be completely honest this movie secured one star from me because within the first 15 minutes the unbelievably gorgeous Kate Beckinsale strips down and has a shower scene.  Seriously, she is nothing short of absolutely amazing.  Other than that, this movie is in no way worth your time.

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