CATEGORIES DVDsIt's family week at your local video store, with four films that take a look at some very dysfunctional nuclear units. 'A Serious Man' (nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) follows one man trying to cope with modern life while dealing with a family in upheaval; 'Couples Retreat' is a screwball comedy about four couples attempting to salvage marriages in various states of disrepair; 'The Time Traveler's Wife' is a romantic tale that transcends time; and 'The Stepfather' turns the homily "father knows best" on its head. 'A Serious Man'
What It's About: Academy Award-winning directors-writers Joel and Ethan Coen return to their comedy roots with this original and darkly humorous story about faith, family, delinquent behavior and mortality. Michael Stuhlbarg plays a Jewish physics professor in suburban Minneapolis coming to grips with an unfaithful wife, a narcissistic daughter, a delinquent son, and the vagaries of religion, set against a backdrop of mid-1960s America about to confront political and social turmoil.
It's Kinda Like: 'The Big Lebowski' gets religion
What We Say: No slapstick here. This is a black comedy -- 20th century style -- take on the Book of Job, with Stuhlbarg's everyman facing up to all the afflictions modern society can throw at him. The devil is in the details here -- the lame TV shows juxtaposed against psychedelic music; a nude temptress next door; a bar mitzvah from hell. Put on your thinking cap for this one; it's worth the investment.
What It's About: Four Midwestern couples, each with a marriage in some state of dysfunction, head off to a tropical island resort for some fun in the sun. While only one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three soon discover that participation in the resort's therapy is not optional, and they have to trade jet skiing and spas for psychoanalysis and touchy-feely exercises.
It's Kinda Like: 'The Break-Up' meets 'Fantasy Island'
What We Say: This romantic comedy -- put together by and starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn -- has so many married-life stereotypes that we knew how it would end after the first 15 minutes. Sometimes the ride is worth the price of admission, but the silly "I'm OK, you're not" ethos here wears thin. We just wanted to slap some sense into the characters -- and hit ourselves for not fast-forwarding through the corny dialogue and stupid comedy bits.
'The Time Traveler's Wife'
What It's About: A young woman (Rachel McAdams) falls in love with a man (Eric Bana) who has a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to be a time traveler. Though the romance was meant to be (he pops in and out of her life from the time she's a child through young adulthood) his malady makes it difficult to maintain their relationship. But love knows no bounds -- or in this case, time restraints.
It's Kinda Like: 'The Time Machine' meets 'Love Story'
What We Say: The conceit here is promising: a man pops in and out of time, visiting his own past, present and future with no control over how or when. And he finds a beautiful woman to put up with his time traveling anomalies; she's willing to give up everything for a disjointed lifetime romance. But the film ends up wallowing in self-pity, and what could have been an uplifting story about the redeeming strength of love too quickly becomes a downer.
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What It's About: A single mother with three kids meets the man-of-her dreams: a charming nice guy who's a steady wage-earner and a caring stepfather-to-be. But there's a catch: He's a serial killer who's murdered two previous families when it turns out they're not the perfect domestic units. Remake of the 1987 thriller.
It's Kinda Like: A water-downed version of the original.
What We Say: This by-the-book thriller telegraphs each scary scene so far in advance that we can't be too shocked by the results. Killer dad Dylan Walsh is quietly malicious but mom Sela Ward is so opaque and older son Penn Badgley so self-absorbed that we almost hope the killer gets his way with them (but we hope he saves Badgley's luscious girlfriend Amber Heard, who spends most of her time in the movie in a bikini). And there's so many holes in the plot that the stepfather literally gets away with murder. For cheap thrills only.
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Other New February 9 DVD Releases:
'A Dangerous Man'
Check out other new February 9 DVD releases at OnVideo.