DVD Review: A Serious Man (2009)

May 5, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

I am admittedly biased when it comes to films by the Coen brothers.  After all, they are the creators of one of my favourite films of all time, Fargo, and plenty of classics such as The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men.

Their latest project, the black comedy A Serious Man, has received little commercial fanfare despite being widely acclaimed by critics as well as receiving multiple award nominations (including Best Picture at the Oscars).  I wouldn’t say A Serious Man ranks right up there as the Coen brothers’ best work, but I think it is certainly one of their better films, one that will almost certainly achieve cult status (if it hasn’t already).

A Serious Man tells the story of an ordinary, rather spineless Jewish man in the 1960s who is struggling with everything that is happening in his life, from his health to his family to his job as a physics professor.  It is supposed to be loosely based on the book of Job from the Old Testament.

Don’t let that rather dry description put you off this film.  To be honest, there isn’t all that much of a ‘story’.  A Serious Man is really more like a series of interconnected events that keep happening around the central character Larry Gopnik (played by the brilliant, but largely unknown actor Michael Stuhlbarg).

But somehow, the Coen brothers manage to make A Serious Man compelling and compulsive.  I couldn’t stop watching as one thing after another hits poor Larry, seemingly at random.  You simply don’t know what to expect.

I love the Coen brothers’ brand of humour — that insanely dark, quirky, random humour that pops out of nowhere and is equally hilarious and disturbing.  In A Serious Man, the laughs are somewhat sporadic, but they are always brilliant and strangely insightful.  My favourite sequences involve Larry and a Korean student named Clive (as well as Clive’s father), who is trying to reverse an F grade that would cause him to lose his scholarship.

As much as I enjoyed A Serious Man, I can understand if others hate it.  The Coen brothers often make such polarising films and it’s never possible to please everyone.  Parts of the film are slow, and on the surface at least, it sometimes feels like the narrative has no direction.  There is a very odd prologue set in the early 20th century at the beginning that has seemingly no connection to the rest of the film.  And if you thought the ending in No Country for Old Men was messy and unsatisfying, wait till you see this one.

Having said all that, I enjoyed every minute of A Single Man.

4.5 stars out of 5!

You dirty rat, you stunk up my house!

May 5, 2010 in On Writing, Uncategorized by pacejmiller

Master Splinter

Or not.

I just had a visit from the exterminator.  Over the last month or so, we’ve been smelling this strange odour emanating from my sister’s room (she doesn’t live here anymore).  Initially, it was just a whiff of something that would be gone by the time you went back to smell it again, but eventually it was obvious the source of the smell was the room.

It was unlike anything I had ever smelt before.  I wouldn’t necessarily say foul, but it was certainly unpleasant.  Coupled with the occasional scurrying noise in the roof and some black stuff that look like droppings out on the veranda, I decided we must have a rodent problem.  More precisely, a dead rat somewhere in the roof or between the walls that was decomposing and stinking up the joint.

Being the coward that I am, there was no way I was going to go up there and take a look around myself.  Having watched so many horror movies as a kid, there was always something hiding in the roof or attic.  It just wasn’t going to happen.

So I called around and got an exterminator/pest control guy to have a look around.  Usually, we try and air out the stinking room, but from yesterday I kept all the windows and the door shut to really give the guy a good whiff of the devil.

The dude, Sam, arrived a little late but he was friendly enough.  Asked me about what I was doing and said he was glad I’m doing something I’m passionate about.  It’s something he keeps trying to teach his kids.  I didn’t ask him why he was passionate about pest control.

Anyway, the first thing he said when he entered the room was that it wasn’t a rat smell.  According to him, a dead rat would smell “much, much worse”.

Nevertheless, he went through the tiny manhole in the ceiling and went up into the roof to scope things out with a bucket of rat bait.  After much rattling (no pun intended) and thumping around, Sam came back down and said there was absolutely nothing.  No dead rats.  No live rats.  Definitely no smell.  Tiny evidence that something has been up there, as there has been a bit of chewing of the air conditioning stuff, but he said it’s likely they were just visiting and nothing is living up there.

So the mystery of the smell continues.  I just went in like a sniffer dog for another look, but I still couldn’t pin point the source of the odour.  It’s just…everywhere….

Oh well, at least this whole debacle has given me a great idea for a short story.

[PS: When Sam left, I asked him about some of the worst stuff he has seen. He said that he’d never go eat at an Indian restaurant, and the cleanest place to eat is home.  His words not mine.]