Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>A Serious Man</em> or <em>The Invention of Lying</em>

<p>The Coen brothers' latest, <em>A Serious Man</em>, tells the story "of an ordinary man's search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and F-Troop is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is leaving him." Most critics are seriously digging it, and David Edelstein at <em>New York</em> <a href="">writes</a>, "The fourteenth feature of Joel and Ethan Coen, <em>A Serious Man </em>is the first that seems vaguely personal, which means just outside their ultracontrolled comfort zone: I got the feeling they had little idea what they would end up with when they sat down to write. Is it a comedy? A tragedy? It’s right on the border, a broad Jewish joke that morphs into a jeremiad, a tale of woe—that keeps you wondering if the punch line, when it comes, will make you laugh or want to kill yourself, or both.</p><p></p>"<em><strong>A Serious Man</strong></em> is not only hauntingly original, it’s the final piece of the puzzle that is the Coens. Combine suburban alienation, philosophical inquiry, moral seriousness, a mixture of respect for and utter indifference to Torah, and, finally, a ton of dope, and you get one of the most remarkable oeuvres in modern film."

<p>Comedy <em>The Invention of Lying, </em>starring Ricky Gervais, takes place in an alternate reality where lying—even the concept of a lie—does not exist. But when a down-on-his-luck screenwriter discovers prevarication, everything's turned upside down, ha ha. <a href=",33595/">The Onion's Keith Philipps</a> says the movie doesn't "settle for easy laughs in portraying a world of absolute truthfulness from its advertising ('Coke: It’s very famous') to its institutions, as when Gervais visits his mother at A Sad Place For Hopeless Old People. The film doesn’t traffic in drollery for its own sake. Between laughs, 'Lying' uses its skewed reality to comment on our own need to create useful fictions to wallpaper over the abyss... Matching humor with ambition, it takes on an even bigger topic when Gervais, unable to watch his dying mother suffer, tells her about the Big Man In The Sky and the happy place awaiting her while happily aghast onlookers beg him for more details on this great news."</p>

<em>Whip It</em>, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, stars <em>Juno</em>'s Ellen Page as a small town beauty pageant queen who gets mixed up in the "rowdy world" of roller derby. Time Out's <a href="">Joshua Rothkopf writes</a>, "A ray of sunshine onscreen, Drew Barrymore isn’t going to suddenly make a grungy roller-derby movie. (Even the naughtier ex-Drew who once flashed David Letterman couldn’t swing that.) So she’s done something harder: made an intensely sweet roller-derby movie about letting your kids grow up happy."

<p>Woody Harrelson and <a href="">Jesse Eisenberg</a> star in <em>Zombieland</em>, another undead comedy from first-time feature director Ruben Fleischer. <a href=",33597/">Nathin Rabin at The Onion calls it</a> a "winning new road movie/horror-comedy." Eisenberg plays "a meek young man whose preternatural cautiousness allowed him to survive a zombie apocalypse," who joins forces with a "gun-toting, Twinkies-obsessed roughneck (Harrelson) whose badass exterior belies a sentimental side... Though Eisenberg’s excessive voiceover narration bogs down the first act, the film quickly evolves into a crackling zombie romp powered by a clever script, goofy physical comedy—the filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of Harrelson’s amusingly over-the-top means of dispatching the undead—and the yin-yang comic chemistry of the eternally adorable Eisenberg and good-ol’-boy Harrelson."</p>

<p>Documentary <em>After the Storm</em>, <a href="">screening at MoMA</a> from the 5th to the 11th, follows three Broadway actors' struggle to stage a production of the Hurricane-themed show <em>Once on This Island</em> in New Orleans post-Katrina, as an act of volunteer community service. <a href="">Time Out's Nick Schager</a> writes that "director Hilla Medalia’s unadventurous structure interjects cursory individual portraits of the cast into its show-rehearsal narrative.<strong> Nonetheless, such shallow snapshots don’t diminish the raw emotional potency of this inspiring tale, in which art provides in-need kids with both an escape from daily hardship and a vehicle for restoring confidence in themselves and the future."</strong></p>

<em>Afterschool</em>, made when director Antonio Campos was just 24, concerns an underclassmen at a posh prep school who accidentally captures on camera the fatal drug overdose of two girls, and is tasked with memorializing their lives in a film. <a href="">Neil Genzlinger at the Times</a> calls it "a slow-evolving tale, especially since Mr. Campos has yet to learn when such gimmicks wear out their welcome and plain-old storytelling is required. But it sure does build ominousness...In truth there isn’t much story here, or much insight either; the kind of alienated teenagers wandering through this film exist in movies far out of proportion to their number in real life. <strong>But those with the patience to wait out Mr. Campos’s overindulgences will definitely leave <em>Afterschool </em>unnerved, which is probably exactly what he had in mind."</strong>

<p>Through Tuesday, <a href="">Film Forum is screening</a> <em>An American Journey: Revisiting Robert Frank’s "The Americans"</em>, a documentary about the making of Frank's hugely influential book of photographs, published in 1958. Director Philippe Séclier’s film demonstrates, according to <a href="">Mike Hale at the Times</a>, a "funny disconnect between the intuitive, snapshot aesthetic of Mr. Frank and Mr. Séclier’s checklist approach. When he does include in his film something shot on the spur of the moment, it’s the easy visual joke of a roadside Statue of Liberty. <strong>Transitions are bridged with footage shot from his moving car in a dark, grainy style that’s presumably meant to evoke the atmosphere of 'The Americans' but just looks blurry."</strong></p>

<p>Bronx-born <em>Bad Lieutenant</em> director Abel Ferrara has directed his first feature-length documentary, <em>Chelsea on the Rocks</em>, about the troubles roiling that legendary landmark in recent years. The Village Voice's <a href="">Nick Pinkerton calls it</a> "the first Ferrara film that doesn't congeal: Contrasting the mostly middle-aged tenants/talking heads are flashes of youthful Dionysians and re-enactments of legendary celebrity dissipation on the Chelsea's premises, including the death of Sid's Nancy Spungen (Bijou Phillips, looking and sounding considerably better than the real thing) and Janis Joplin's near-collapse (also resurrected in stock footage, sitting in with the Grateful Dead). </p><p></p>"And how to justify the abrupt interjection of 9/11 and the disconcerting musical contributions from Ferrara and Ethan Hawke? <strong>Usually, the weaving eloquence of Ferrara's filmmaking suffices to draw one in. Chelsea rambles—and in a way that makes you want to move down the bar."</strong>

<p>NBA star LeBron James is the star of <em>More Than a Game</em>, a documentary he appeared in when he was one of five players on a seven-year journey from Akron's inner-city courts to a national high school championship. <a href="">The Village Voice's Nick Pinkerton</a> says "the ostensible director here is Kristopher Belman...but final cut belongs to LeBron, Inc. The recent PR flub of Nike henchmen confiscating footage of James getting gently dunked on in a pickup game testifies to the powerful trust authoring his legacy...<strong>Good game footage, a few clear looks at the kids behind it, but mostly as processed as <em>Space Jam</em>."</strong></p>

<em>Where is Where?</em>, an experimental film that quarters the screen to unspool four different scenes simultaneously, is described as "a meditation on the Algerian war that culminates in a brutal killing." The Times's <a href="">Jeannette Catsoulis says</a> it's "inspired by a true story about two Algerian boys who murdered their French playmate during the Algerian war of independence in the 1950s... And though chopped-up images are now nearly as common on our television screens as in our movies, their use is mostly just wearying trickery; <strong>here they form a trellis for ideas to merge, expanding our understanding rather than dislocating our attention.</strong><p></p>"Experimental filmmakers have a tougher time than most reaching wider audiences, but in the right hands, nontraditional styles can provide new windows onto familiar problems. Ms. Ahtila has exactly the right hands."

<p>This weekend at midnight <a href="">the Sunshine screens</a> Sidney Lumet's 1978 film adaptation of soul musical <em>The Wiz,</em> starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Richard Pryor.</p>

<a href="">The IFC Center screens</a> <em>Ferris Bueller's Day Off</em> this weekend at midnight.