Recently I saw two films from masters: Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man. While I can’t gush over either film as being in the canon of their best work, both movies are essential viewing for fans.

Shutter Island is very good. A solid ‘B’ that unfortunately feels like a ‘C’ because it comes from master Marty. In fact, if I didn’t know it was Scorsese, I wouldn’t have guessed it. The plot is interesting and the acting’s superb–Leo D. delivers, yet again, as does Ben Kingsley. But the visuals are uneven. Scorsese is a man of unique vision and typically his films have a look that is distinctive. In this case, there are some scenes that look too soundstagey. These visuals can take you out of the story, which is too bad. Although this is not one of his better films, it’s still worth spending some time in the dark with it. Just munch popcorn and go along for the spooky, mysterious ride.

A professor searches for answers to life's problems. Oy vey.

I confess a huge crush on the writing and filmmaking of brothers Coen. It doesn’t matter what they do, I will see it. While I didn’t get to see A Serious Man in the theatre (it wasn’t around long or on many screens), I did get the DVD delivered by Netflix with the help of postal workers. I liked the film a lot.

The buzz is that this film is very autobiographical: a Jewish family in the midwest, a son preparing for his bar mitzvah and a cast of quirky characters inhabiting groovy 1967 times. To bastardize DDB’s famous Levy’s Bread campaign, you don’t have to be Jewish to love this film, you just have to like plots that are not laid out to easily connect the dots for you. And to me, that was the purpose of the film– what’s it all mean? Like faith, whatever you want it to mean.

The characters are interesting, the action compelling and the mixture of drama to humor enjoyable. To make it easy for lusting eyeballs, the gorgeous cinematography of Roger Deakins never disappoints. For your ears, there’s a very compelling soundtrack by Carter Burwell mixed in with those kooky 60’s rock and roll tunes. And the acting, it’s all first rate with great performances by Michael Stuhlbarg as the physics professor looking for answers to life’s eternal questions, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Adam Arkin, Richard Kind and many more bringing home a quirky tale that’s well told, such as it’s told.