QuickTakes

“A Serious Man”

Landmark’s E Street Cinema (Comedy; R)

The Coen brothers’ latest project is a comedy of biblical proportions – literally. Their new film, “A Serious Man,” is molded around the plot structure of the book of Job.

For those who have been remiss lately in their scripture studies, the tale teaches that mere mortals are not meant to understand the complexities of their existence, their hardships and their experiences.

The Coen brothers provide a similar message, with some minor adjustments. Job is replaced with Larry Gopnik, an ostensibly good, middle-aged Jewish-American physics professor. Seemingly at once, Larry discovers that his wife is leaving him, his children are indifferent toward him, his land is being “invaded” by his redneck neighbors, and an anonymous source has begun writing letters to his superiors advocating that Larry not be granted tenure. As legal fees pile up, he turns to religious leaders in search of understanding.

This is not a tedious adaptation; the Coen brothers weave into the primordial work their definitively wry sense of humor. They also incorporate some apropos commentary on physics, a science that aims to understand the behavior of the universe. Naturally, the Coen brothers still manage to take the audience to a markedly similar conclusion as that of the biblical work, albeit one that is newly distinguished by contemporary cynicism and misanthropy.

See this movie and then, in the words of a character blackmailing Larry, “accept the mystery.”

This film is recommended for fans of Burn After Reading.

“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”

Georgetown Loews (Family, Animation; PG)

In recessionary times such as these, there is an awful lot to be said about greed. “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” proves that the best was said a long time ago.

The animated feature extends to viewers a sensible dose of moral simplicity that should be especially well-received as the holiday season begins. Director Robert Zemeckis has spruced up the Dickens’ tale about the avaricious Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghostly visitors who teach him to have a little Christmas spirit.

The aesthetics of the film are notably successful and the characters are smartly conceived and drawn so that their every element appears to complement their famous personalities.

For the most part, Disney has left the story unspoiled, trusting the merits of the original. Unfortunately, however, it seems that Zemeckis was not able to avoid a noisome trend in family flicks to include a “roller-coaster element.” That is to say, at one point an animated Scrooge is taken on a digital trip that is conspicuously designed to resemble an amusement park ride; this is a feature that appears in the Polar Express – another Zemeckis feature – and a number of other movies marketed toward kids. Occasionally, such scenes can seem a little too clever: consider them Rube Goldberg machines for getting a character from point A to point B. Most often, though, as in the case at hand, they are tedious distractions from what are otherwise fully enjoyable films.

This film is recommended for fans of Polar Express and Scrooge.

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