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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: A Serious Man



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#1 of 19 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 13 2010 - 10:17 AM



A
SERIOUS MAN
 
Studio: Universal
Year: 2009
Length:  1 hr 46 mins
Genre: Dark Comedy/Jewish Comedy/Coen Brothers
 
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
 
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 25 mbps)
Color/B&W: Color
 
Audio:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.0 mbps)
French DTS 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
 
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
 
 
Film Rating: R (Language, Some Sexuality/Nudity, Brief Violence, Coen Brothers)
 
Release Date: February 9, 2010
 
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind
 
Written, Produced and Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
 
Film Rating:    3/5  
 
A Serious Man is the latest production of the Coen brothers, following 2007’s No Country for Old Men, and 2008’s Burn After Reading.   This time around, they’re on familiar territory, trapping their main character in an inescapable mousetrap and tormenting him for the duration of the movie. The film’s ironic title aside, the film’s lead, Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is an ordinary physics professor whose life is inexplicably crumbling around him. Without spoiling any details, I’ll just say that anything that can go wrong tends to do so, and Larry’s responses to these problems range from ineffectual to bizarre to truly wimpy. (And given that this is a Coen Brothers movie, that’s par for the course.) I’ve read some discussions that the film is really the Story of Job, transferred to the film’s 1967 middle America setting, and I can see some indications in the movie. On the other hand, the movie tries to make the most out of the Judaism that is crucial to the characters and the setting. (The central event of this film is the buildup to Larry’s son’s bar mitzvah.) I suppose you could see this as a more personal film for the Coens, given that it draws a bit on their own background and family history, but the characters are so arch that it’s hard to find anyone to identify with. The film’s basic theme, starting with a seemingly unrelated folk tale of sorts, appears to be to tell its characters to “embrace the mystery.”    Given that I’ve already had at least three arguments with friends of mine about this movie, I’ll allow that fans of the Coen Brothers will likely have a great time here. Fans of Jewish culture, particularly as portrayed in film, will probably also have a good time here. More casual viewers may be completely thrown, and if they aren’t incredibly patient, I have a feeling the disc may get thrown too…
A Serious Man has just been released on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD, at the same time that it’s been nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The Blu-ray release has all the same extras as the standard definition DVD, except that the featurettes are presented in 1080p high definition and the movie itself gets high definition transfers in picture and sound.
 
 
VIDEO QUALITY   3 ½ /5
A Serious Man is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that shows off a lot of period detail and deep, deep blacks for the many scenes set in dark rooms and environments.  I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
 
 
AUDIO QUALITY   3 ½/5
A Serious Man is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish.   Much of the film is actually pretty quiet, in that the emphasis is on the dialogue, with some strains of the musical score coming through the rear speakers. But there are moments where things get a bit more interesting. One scene where the characters are smoking marijuana has a subwoofer heartbeat that is very subtle, and very effective.
 
SPECIAL FEATURES      3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of A Serious Man comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, in addition to high definition versions of the featurettes from the standard definition release.
 
Becoming Serious – (17:04, 1080p) WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS FEATURETTE. DO NOT WATCH THIS UNTIL AFTER WATCHING THE MOVIE. This featurette gives a surprising amount of insight into the Coen Brothers’ intentions here, and into the process of making the movie. The Coens admit right away that the folk tale which opens the movie is completely invented by them, and along with the cast, they discuss the kind of story they are trying to tell here. The featurette of course shows the contrast between the Coens saying that they aren’t laughing at their characters and the on-set footage where they are clearly giggling away. 
Creating 1967 – (13:43, 1080p) WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE FOOTAGE SHOWN IN THIS FEATURETTE. This featurette examines the work that went into getting the period look of the film, from the costumes to the locations to the cars. There’s some great stuff here about ladies’ wear in the 1960s and about the cars chosen for each character.
Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys – (2:14, 1080p)  WARNING RE SPOILERS – IT’S NOT SO THICK WITH THEM HERE, BUT IT’S BEST TO WATCH THIS AFTER YOU SEE THE MOVIE. Here we have a quick assembly of clips from the movie where characters say phrases in Hebrew or Yiddish, and at each occasion, the clip goes to a freeze frame and an onscreen definition. Personally, I think this could have worked better as a U-Control feature within the movie, but it’s a nice thought.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.
 
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
 
The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film and the special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French.
 
One other note:  When you first put the Blu-ray into the player, the disc shows a screen saying that it is loading BD-Live trailers from the internet. This puts to rest a question I have had for some time about the random nature of the trailers I have been seeing on the various Blu-ray releases. What I believe is happening is that the disc connects with BD-Live and pulls down different trailers at different times. So you may get a trailer for the now-airing Olympics on NBC. Or you may get the general Universal Blu-ray trailer. Or you may get trailers for individual movies. The level of definition varies. In some cases, they are 720p high definition, and in others, they are 480p standard definition.
 
IN THE END...
A Serious Man is a movie that will appeal to fans of the Coen Brothers in a big way, as well as to fans of Jewish cinema. I don’t know that it will reach those not initiated in the ways of the Coens, but I cannot deny that it is impeccably made, and that the picture and audio here will not disappoint. And the featurettes do let you see a little of what goes on under the hood of a movie made by the Coens. Fans of the Coens likely already own this title. More casual viewers are advised to embrace the mystery when they rent it.
 
Kevin Koster
February 13, 2010.


#2 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted February 14 2010 - 07:24 AM

Kevin: 

Those 3 1/2 out of 5 scores for audio & video make it seem like you're dissatisfied about something...but your written comments don't seem to reflect that. 

Does the disc presentation seem to represent the film well?  Thanks for the review.  I'll be giving this one a chance.  Ya never know with the Coens! 

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#3 of 19 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted February 14 2010 - 07:36 AM

Originally Posted by Mike Frezon ">

Does the disc presentation seem to represent the film well? for the review.  TI'll be giving this one a chance.  Ya never know with the Coens! 

#4 of 19 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 14 2010 - 08:45 AM

The disc presentation seems to me to show the movie in the way the Coens would like you to see it.

I wasn't jumping up and down and going to 4's or higher in the visual or sound areas because it didn't feel to me that the movie really asked that much out of those departments.  For me, 3 1/2 is a solid score, it gets the job done and it looks and sounds good.  I start going higher when things get more inventive or really make me sit up.  For example, the DVD release of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly got a 4 from me for sound because they put the first person narrator's voice in the surround channels, while the onscreen characters spoke from the front channels.  Other mixes have gotten higher scores from me, just for having more activity and more of a feeling of atmosphere.  This mix is a fairly quiet one, which is appropriate for the movie, although I did note the subwoofer heartbeat in the pot smoking scene, which I thought was a nice touch.

I would say you should rent the disc first if you're not sure yet.  You may find that you really like the movie and the transfer a lot.  Or you may find yourself as frustrated as I tend to get with the Coens.  Neither reaction is wrong in any way.  As you said, you never know with these guys.  Sometimes the Dude abides.  Sometimes the Dude appears to have left the building...

#5 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted February 14 2010 - 08:51 AM

Understood, Kevin.  Thanks for the explanation. 

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#6 of 19 OFFLINE   David Wilkins

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Posted February 14 2010 - 11:39 AM

This impressed me as being one of the most oblique and perplexing Coen works to date, especially for those who have little or no familiarity with Jewish culture. During early viewing, I wasn't sure that I cared for it, but grew more fond of it by the time the credits rolled. Appreciation has increased to the point of wanting to watch it again. I thought the BD presentation was excellent (70" projection), given the genre and intent.

The references to the Meshbesher law firm will tweak the humor of any viewer from the Twin Cities who've seen the firm's TV ads over the years. Who would have guessed that Ron Meshbesher would end up with a Wikipedia entry?




#7 of 19 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted February 16 2010 - 06:43 AM

The video quality struck me as just barely above DVD quality.  Pretty disappointing transfer, and I wish I'd just gone with the regular DVD. 

#8 of 19 OFFLINE   David Wilkins

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Posted February 16 2010 - 06:53 AM

I'll never cease to be amazed at the disparity of opinions regarding BD image quality. I know...there are many factors, but still.

Ralph Potts at AVS gave it a 94/100, and called it near reference quality. And he doesn't have an overly generous reputation; average maybe, but not overly.

I'm not trying to start an argument. We've read plenty of those over the years. Let's just say that I'm endlessly amazed at the often radical differences of opinion.  

#9 of 19 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted February 16 2010 - 06:58 AM

Originally Posted by David Wilkins 

Ralph Potts at AVS gave it a 94/100, and called it near reference quality.  

I can see giving it a 93 out of 100. But 94 out of 100? That's too high.

#10 of 19 OFFLINE   David Wilkins

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Posted February 16 2010 - 06:59 AM



Originally Posted by TravisR ">



I can see giving it a 93 out of 100. But 94 out of 100? That's too high.

#11 of 19 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted February 16 2010 - 07:29 AM

This was my favorite film of the  year and I can't wait to see it again.  Like another poster mentioned, I'm not very familiar with Jewish culture, so I'm sure that I missed a ton of jokes, but I still found myself rolling on the floor.  My sense of comedy and the Coen's sense of comedy are nearly identical.  Their only film that actively disliked to date was "The Lady Killers", which was an absolutely horrible remake.  I had the DVD in my collection, but couldn't bear it and finally sold it off.




#12 of 19 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 16 2010 - 08:55 AM

I agree that there's a pretty wide range of opinions about video and sound quality, many times with everyone disagreeing about the quality of identical items.

That said, I did not think this Blu-ray looked bad or inadequate.  I think it's a fine high-def transfer that reflects the image the Coens would like you to see.  It didn't knock my socks off the way, say, Dreamgirls did, but that's not a slam on the transfer.  Not every transfer is a "Wowee".  Many are simply good transfers that don't jump up and down to advertise themselves.  They get the job done - and I think this one does.

#13 of 19 OFFLINE   David Wilkins

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Posted February 16 2010 - 09:11 AM

 Kevin,

My intent wasn't to criticize your assessment. There are many valid opinions, as well as different ways and degrees in which to express them. I'm the oddball who spends too much time poring over varied opinions and wondering why.

The assessment of PQ and AQ is relatively simple compared to criticism of content, and it baffles and entertains me to a much greater degree. I love to pick peoples brains over why they react as they do, given a particular film. Must be the underlying psychological complexity of it all.   


#14 of 19 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted February 16 2010 - 11:45 AM

I thought that what we want is for the blu to emulate the theatrical look as close as possible, does this blu do that?
So even if it only loooks slightly better the the dvd, maybe this is what it is supposed to look like.

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#15 of 19 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 16 2010 - 03:47 PM

David, I agree with your reaction.  I find it interesting that two people can look at an identical picture and come away with completely different internal images of that picture. Tony, I believe that this blu-ray does provide the look intended by the Coens and Roger Deakins. But I don't think that the disc is only slighly better looking than a standard definition DVD.  This is a solid high definition picture transfer, at least as far as my 40" HDTV will show me.

#16 of 19 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted February 16 2010 - 04:21 PM

I watched both dvd and blu in the week before it was released and I thought the blu was an improvement in fine details over the dvd.
I wasn't real impressed by the dvd, it was just ok.
The scene that was easy to compare was when he was on the roof and peeking at his neighbor.
on the dvd she was fuzzy on the blu she was very clear and there were details that could not be seen on the dvd.
Also looking at the fence in that part you could see a distinct upgrade on the blu.

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#17 of 19 OFFLINE   Hollywoodaholic

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Posted March 19 2010 - 01:13 AM

Can someone explain this to a hapless goy? Here's what I've got:

Life is a big cosmic joke. There is no formula for uncertainty. The moment you think you've pinpointed the reason you have a shitstorm raining down upon you and that you might gain some degree of control (or change an F to a C-)... the shitstorm gets worse. Don't try and figure it out. Better just to 'find somebody to love.'

Am I close at all?

Disclaimer: I've seen most of the Coen brothers' ouevre, and it's hit or miss. I'm still adjusting the antenna on this one.

#18 of 19 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted March 19 2010 - 01:48 AM

I only heard about this one during the Oscars, looks like a rental for me!


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#19 of 19 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted March 21 2010 - 04:42 AM



Originally Posted by Hollywoodaholic 

Can someone explain this to a hapless goy? Here's what I've got:

Life is a big cosmic joke. There is no formula for uncertainty. The moment you think you've pinpointed the reason you have a shitstorm raining down upon you and that you might gain some degree of control (or change an F to a C-)... the shitstorm gets worse. Don't try and figure it out. Better just to 'find somebody to love.'

Am I close at all?

Disclaimer: I've seen most of the Coen brothers' ouevre, and it's hit or miss. I'm still adjusting the antenna on this one.
I don't think you're close. More 'life isn't always easy, and the answers you seek aren't always spoon fed to you. God (at least in the movie) does certain things for reasons we don't know, even if we're arrogant enough to think we know, or need to know.' But to each his own.


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