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Movie Corner: A Serious Man & Tyler Perry: I Can Do Bad All By Myself

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A Serious Man

A Serious Man
**** 1/2 (rated four and a half out of five stars)
Focus Features
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Standing on the top of his roof, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) adjusts his television antenna after his pre-bar mitzvah early adolescent son Danny Gopnik (Aaron Wolff) had been complaining about stations not coming in clearly on the television. Danny stands on the roof as if on top of the world. Looking around he is transfixed by a pretty neighbor Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker) sunning in the nude in her fenced in backyard. But for Mr. Gopnik, being on the roof is anything but being on top of the world. He’s mired in a number of problems.

First, Mr. Gopnik, a physics professor at a fictional Judaic private school in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, has an Asian student, unhappy with his failing grade, who attempts to bribe him for a passing grade. Second, Larry is up for tenure. His boss notifies him that some unfavorable anonymous letters have been sent regarding his tenure. His boss assures Larry not to worry but that is no conciliation to him. Three, Larry is confronted by his wife, Judith Gopnik (Sari Lennick) who wants a divorce so she can marry a widower, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), a neighbor the Gopniks have known for 15 years. Four, Larry’s off the wall brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), and his convoluted mathematical text is living in Larry’s household. Five, Larry is hounded by calls from the Columbia Record Club. All these problems are pressing Larry not to be necessarily relieved coming home to spats between his son Danny and his older daughter, Sarah Gopnik (Jessica McManus), who is constantly complaining about Uncle Arthur’s prolonged stays in the bathroom or how much money Danny owes her.

The year is 1967, in quiet, quasi-bucolic St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis, where Yom Kipper, and Shabouth are sacrosanct in the name of Hashem (“the name” in Hebrew). And prior to 20th century, mid-America suburban angst, there is a short Yiddish drama of a folk tale of a tzadik (Fyvush Finkel) who may or may not be a dybbuk – a jolly old soul who may be a ghost and may have an unsettling touch in a future generation.

While Larry implicitly asks what God wants from him and is looking for answers to his current problems, (facing a divorce), he sees three rabbis – none of whom give him clear answers.

Threads of unresolved dilemmas are a common theme in many of the Coen Brothers movies: “Burn After Reading”, “No Country for Old Men” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, as examples. “A Serious Man” is for the serious moviegoer to see the serious work of the Coen Brothers.

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Tyler Perry: I Can Do Bad All By Myself

Tyler Perry: I Can Do Bad All By Myself
**** (rated four out of five stars)

The Tyler Perry Company

Kerosotas

Running time: 113 minutes
Director: Tyler Perry

“I Can Do Bad All By Myself” is Tyler Perry’s eighth film – each one sliced out of his plays. Tyler Perry’s Medea character is appealing to much of the African American, women and church-going audiences. If one can transcend the sometimes harsh and mindless humor (African American style) – there’s an eloquent morality play in each of his eight play/movies. “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” is the best of the movies that I’ve seen by Perry.

I encourage those with the willies about Tyler Perry to at least see “I Can Do Bad All By Myself”. It is not all humor, much of it is serious, even deplorable, with a nice touch of love without smaltz. That Perry’s movies appeal to African American audiences should be no surprise. They can relate to real experiences in either their own lives or someone they know. My paternal grandmother had some of Medea’s antics. Today Tyler Perry is a wide success. Early in his career, when he was denied at the white doors of Hollywood’s phony liberalism, he cut out a “window” in Hollywood’s side.

Three children, Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson) and her two younger brothers, Manny (Kwesi Boahye) and Byrce (Frederick Siglar) are caught by Medea (Tyler Perry) and her brother Joe (Tyler Perry) breaking into their house. The children are hungry and homeless but Medea, in old school African American discipline, threatens to whip them and then call the police. Joe in Red Foxx jester mitigates the situation by persuading Medea not to call the cops but rather prepare food for the kids.

We soon learn the children are motherless because their crack-addicted mother died and they are wandering the streets hungry and homeless. Sixteen year old Jennifer hustles and steals money for her brother Byrce’s diabetic medication. The children break into Medea’s house to try to steal her VCR, and get caught red-handed by Medea and Joe.

Medea’s next step is to find the children’s next of kin, who is the dead woman’s sister, April (Taraji P. Henson). April is a deadbeat, co-habitating with a married man, Randy (Brian White), while she, an alcoholic, works at a nightclub. April is not enthusiastic about taking in her niece and two nephews but Medea’s insistence causes April to cave in. April is a party girl, with a cantankerous live-in boyfriend. Children in the house are likely to be in the way.

Pastor Brian (Marvin Winans) makes periodic visits to April’s house to see how she and the children are doing. He also sends a handsome Latino immigrant, Sandino (Adam Rodriguez), over to April’s house to make some much needed repairs. Immediately, surly Randy takes a strong dislike to Sandino, insulting him with ethnic epithets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see these two men will clash at some point if they occupy the same spot for long.

There is less Medea in “I Can Do Bad All By Myself”. Her humor is present doing what she does best – Ebonics. Perry integrates a very serious, and sometimes dreadful series of events with a rich spiritual content as well. I cannot leave out the wonderful music –  R&B and gospel. Gladys Knight, as Wilma, character wife of Marvin Winans, sings to help bring the house down. Mary J. Blige, as Tanya, friend of April, sings periodically in the movie as well.

Tyler Perry is very gifted and rooted in Black American culture to which he’s dedicated in providing Black thespians work, both in his plays and on the silver screen. Talented actress Taraji P Henson (“Hustle and Flow,” “Baby Boy,” “Four Brother”), nominated last year for best supporting actress for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, join Tyler Perry for the first time.

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