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DVDs In Brief: February 10, 2010

The Coen brothers have made a habit of alternating between goofball larks and weightier, more personal dramas. True to form, they followed the defiantly silly Burn After Reading with the quietly philosophical black comedy/drama A Serious Man (Universal), a ’60s take on the story of Job that has the curious quality of being simultaneously profound and goofy, serious and smartass. In a star-making turn, theater actor Michael Stuhlbarg carries the film as a good man who goes looking for answers as his world unravels, only to discover that life is one big cosmic joke without a punchline…

The title of Couples Retreat (Universal) would be much more descriptive with a comma and an exclamation point added. The film strands a reasonably talented cast in a resort paradise that doubles as couples’ therapy. The Fiji locale is easy on the eyes, but the script only occasionally interrupts the lamest spitballing session in history to focus on the premise. Four words: Running potty-training jokes…

Love it or hate it—and there are plenty of people on each side of the divide— it’s hard to deny that Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel is a highly specific vision, full of detail and passion as well as incident. So why is New Line’s film adaptation, The Time Travelers Wife (Warner Bros.), so phenomenally bland? It’s as though a perfect storm of mediocrity hit, with star Eric Bana and the director, writer, and composer all working overtime to produce a blah, flavorless piece of treacly sentiment. No wonder the finished product was shelved for a year before release…

The well is running bone-dry on remakes of ’70s and ’80s horror schlock, but it’s still a special shame that the genuinely clever Reagan-era satire/slasher The Stepfather (Sony) should be up for a crass, PG-13 neutering. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to fill Terry O’Quinn’s shoes as a serial killer on a perpetual quest to find the perfect family, but the filmmakers didn’t even bother trying to update the cultural metaphor, or honor its satirical slant. What’s the point?…

Under the pseudonym Charles Bronson, professional inmate Michael Peterson punched and beat his way from a seven-year armed-robbery sentence to a prison term that’s now 35 years and counting. The searing biopic Bronson (Magnolia), taking more than a little inspiration from A Clockwork Orange, reveals his violent tendencies to be a form of performance art. And as the performer in question, Tom Hardy plays the role with delicious élan.