Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Serious Man

A Serious Man is seriously dark, seriously surreal, seriously twisted. The Coen Brothers film it reminds me most of is Barton Fink. Certainly, Larry Gropnick, protagonist of A Serious Man shares similar obstacles as Barton Fink. But whereas Fink suffered a severe case of writer's block, Gropnick is blocked by the stagnation and stultification of suburbia.

Gropnick is living the so-called American dream: married, two kids, up for tenure. But his wife announces she wants a divorce, his brother is a permanent fixture on the living room couch, and his tenure is being sabotaged by anonymous letter writer as well as a disgruntled student who simultaneously attempts to bribe and blackmail Gropnick into giving him a passing grade.

The stuck between a rock and hard place situation that Gropnick finds himself in with his student pretty much defines his life. Like a fly caught in spider web, Gropnick finds himself struggling unsuccessfully against an seemingly unceasing series of setbacks. Billed as a "comedy," the humor in A Serious Man is exceeding dark and painful. We laugh--but mainly it's a sense of relief that no matter how bad our own lives are, our troubles pale in comparison to the misfortunes of that poor putz, Gropnick, who desperately needs Anton Chigurh to put him out of his misery...

A Serious Man has its moments. Most of the cast, including Michael Stuhlbarg as the entirely luckless Larry, are fairly unknown. You might recognize a few characters: Richard Kind (Spin City, Mad about You) as Larry's even unluckier brother Arthur, Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory) as Rabbi Scott, Goerge Wyner (too many credits to mention) as Rabbi Nachtner and Adam Arkin as the divorce lawyer. My favorite character was dry and deadpan Mrs. Samsky: Larry's nude-sunbathing, pot-smoking next door neighbor played exquisitely by Amy Landecker.

Although this is far from my favorite Coen Brothers flick, it is definitely classic Coen Brothers in its sensibilities. The story is book-ended between a Yiddish fable and an ambiguous ending that leaves both its Job-like protagonist and audience to grapple with the messy and unfinished business that is life. As Larry's student's father says to him, "Please accept the mystery." And perhaps that is what the Coen brothers are saying to us with this film about life.

Please accept the mystery. You may not understand the beginning. Or the ending. Or anything that comes between. But that's okay.

It's life. It is what it is.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dear Whore of Lucifer

My latest favorite best of Craigslist post comes via Chicago:

I have recently enrolled in a 12-step program for people whose lives were decimated and finances ruined by lawyer bills when their spouses filed for divorce after finding someone else to fuck and run off with. I am currently up to Step 8: Willingness to Make Amends. As such, I apologize for the following recent transgressions:

Told the drunk at the bar who wanted a Red-Headed Slut that he's more than welcome to you if that general contractor douchebag is done with you.

Annoyed the staff at several hospitals by calling to see if they had any fresh organ donors on hand with a heart suitable to replace your cold, dead one.

Demanded a refund from Southwest Airlines because I tried to get you on one of their planes but they refused to let my bag fly free as advertised in their TV commercials.

Scrawled your cell number in the stall of the john of the bar at the American Legion post down the street with an offer of free prostate exams for all veterans 65 and older.

Told my neighborhood U.S. Marine Corps recruiter that I knew the exact location of the dank, hopeless cave Osama Bin Laden was hiding in and provided the GPS coordinates to your pants.

Lit several offering candles at your church with prayers that karma would hurry its ass up and come around to you while I was still alive to see it.

For these things, my dear handmaiden of Satan, I make my amends. I'd still love to see your head squeezed in a vice until your eyeballs squirt out of their sockets, but I have to go along with the program.

Nip/Tuck on DVD 10/6

One of the benefits of finally getting cable was experimenting with a wide variety of programming. One of those experiments was Nip/Tuck, an FX series about two plastic surgeons and the exaltation of image and superficiality and misogyny. The surgery scenes are grotesquely graphic, the sex scenes seem to be written by pimply male virgins whose only exposure to sex comes from downloaded internet porn.

But at the same time, the series is perversely addictive. It's hard to believe this sexist, cynical piece of work comes from the creator of Glee, Ryan Murphy. Nip/Tuck Season 5, part 2 came out on DVD on October 6th, documenting the continuing misadventures of Drs. McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Troy (Julian McMahon). The DVD contains eight episodes of the second half of season five as well as a fascinating featurette called "The Science of Beauty."

My favorite part of season 5, part 2 was the guest appearance of Richard Burgi (aka Karl Mayer of Desperate Housewives) as Christian's replacement, Dr. Logan Taper. Taper has a fetish that compels him to fornicate with furniture and strangely enough--although the Drs. McNamara and Troy consistently objectify their sexual partners--Christian and Sean are completely freaked out by Dr. Taper's behavior.

Season 6 of Nip/Tuck began last week and as disgusting as the scalpel and sexual escapes of McNamara and Troy are, it's like a train wreck you just can't look away from.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Zombieland was a much better vehicle for the charms of Jesse Eisenberg than Adventureland. Both films featured Eisenberg's geeky character pining for an unattainable female and amusement parks. But Zombieland has Woody Harrelson and zombies. Lots of zombies.

Inspired by Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland features the same cartoonish violence laced with dark humor. I'm no fan of horror flicks and even Zombieland had moments that made me squirm and flinch, but overall the movie was a fun ride.

Harrelson's Tallahassee is part Woody Boyd, part Mickey Knox--unrelenting badass zombie killer. Paired up with Eisenberg's anxiety-ridden Columbus (aka "Ohio"), Zombieland starts out as an unusual buddy film. The odd couple eventually meet up with sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) along the way and become a sort of dysfunctional family unit.

Yeah, it's pretty predictable plot-wise and our heroes always pretty conveniently manage to finding a working vehicle and plenty of ammunition, but if you're in the mood for a zombie killing spree (and who ISN'T?) this is the movie for you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Invention of Lying

With the votes split between Ricky Gervais and zombies, I choose the movie the started later. Yeah, that's how I make important entertainment decision. Given that I've been feeling more than a little zombie-like lately, the extra 45 minutes between showing times tipped the scales in Gervais favor.

Although one of my fellow movie-going patrons snickered hysterically throughout, I didn't find the film all that amusing. The premise of a world that is always painfully honest was interesting--albeit stretched thin over 100 minutes. Gervais plays sad sack Mark Bellison who discovers--or "invents"--lying. In a world of blind people, the one-eye man is king and this is Bellison's fate as the inventor and only person able to lie.

The only way the filmmakers could elicit humor was not only to create a universe where people didn't/couldn't lie, but also are incessantly forthcoming with their views--also with Tourette's style zeal.

I didn't find the so-called honest revelations all that humorous, but the film does raise some intriguing issues--for example how does advertising (which is basically lying..) work in a world that can't lie. The most provocative topic the film touches on is the "mythology" of religion. I wish it had been explored in more depth, but given that the movie was supposed to be a comedy--and a romantic comedy at that, that subject was merely glossed over.

The movie didn't even examine truth/lying in regard to relationships--which is unfortunates because it could have generated a lot of mileage on that subject. Gervais is unlikely romantic lead, but he somehow manages to pull it off. First in Ghost Town with Tea Leoni and now with Jennifer Garner. His awkwardness is made somehow endearing and truthfully (no pun intended) the best parts of the movie wasn't the lame humor but the few honest and poignant moments .

I don't recommend The Invention of Lying. Perhaps as a Netflix selection--but if you are jonesing for some good Ricky Gervais, rent Ghost Town instead...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Month - Sip for the Cure

It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month which means you'll be seeing a lot of "pink" products out there. One that I recently had a chance to test out was Republic of Tea Pomegranate Vanilla tea. The red tea (Rooibos) combines tangy pomegranate with luscious vanilla bean. It smells awesome and tastes great, too!

Pomegranate Vanilla is part of Republic of Tea Sip for the Cure collection which includes a Pink Grapefruit Green Tea, Pink Lady Apple Green Tea and Pink Lemonade Green Tea (see what I mean about the "pink"?). A portion of the sales get donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation--so you've got an anti-oxidant rich red tea that's good for you and for a good cause.

Y'all can commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness month by running for the cure or walking for the cure. Me, I'll just kick back with Republic of Tea Pomegranate Vanilla and sip for the cure...