CAPTION: Michael Stuhlbarg, foreground, plays a physics professor whose life is suddenly falling apart in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “A Serious Man.” Alan Arkin plays his lawyer.

A Serious Man (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 106 min.). Writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen present a semi-autobiographical film, in tone if not detail, in “A Serious Man,” which is set in 1967 Midwest. Locations used were in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with the housing development in Bloomington.

Michael Stuhlbarg is physics professor Larry Gopnik, for whom a decision on his university tenure is due in about a week. A Korean student, begging to change an F so he can retain his scholarship, leaves an envelope on money, then denies it, but soon letters hinting of impropriety are being sent to Gopnik’s department head. He also is being bothered by calls from the Columbia Record Club (I love that bit) and his friend Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). He doesn’t return calls to either, only to find out later at home from his wife (Sari Lennick as Judith) that she wants a divorce because she is now with Ableman. Daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is saving up for a nose job and son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is studying for his Bar Mitzvah, as well as trying a little weed and, oh yeah, ordering records from the Columbia Record Club and not paying for them. And then there is homeless Uncle Arthur (Richard Kind) who lives on the couch and may be either a mathematical genius or a whack job. During the film, he manages to get arrested for both gambling and sodomy.

As much of a downer as all that may sound, the film is filled with humor. Plus, you get an 8-minute prologue in Yiddish about a dybbuk (animated dead person) who comes to visit a couple at their shtetl. My only quarrel with the film is it ends too abruptly, when portents of real doom are in the offing. DVD extras are skimpy: a 17:04 look at making the film; a 13:43 look at recreating 1967; and a brief video definition of Yiddish and Hebrew terms used in the film. Grade: film 4 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Couples Retreat (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 114 min.). This film never decides whether it is a comedy or a serious emotional ride and, as a result, falls flat, except for a couple of isolated moments. Stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, playing characters the opposite of their usual ilk, have no one to blame but themselves, as they co-wrote the film with a third writer and Vaughn also served as a producer.

Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) cannot conceive a child and now feel like their marriage is pointless, so they decide to go on a couples retreat at the island resort of Eden (the film was shot in Bora Bora, which looks spectacular in the Blu-ray version). However, they cannot afford the full fare and talk their friends into going as well for a half-price rate. There are happily married Dave and Ronnie (Vaughn and Malin Akerman), who have two children and a hectic life; Joey and Lucy (Favreau and Kristin Davis), who have taken to cheating on each other; and very large Shane (Faizon Love) and his new 20-year-old girlfriend (Kali Hawk as Trudy). The other three couples think it will be nothing but fun in the sun, but are forced into therapy sessions, which is where the film turns leaden, from 35 and 45 minutes in. The guru or “couples whisperer” is Marcel, played in an amusing change of pace by French action star Jean Reno.

The fun scenes involve Carlos Ponce as Salvatore, who is very physical in teaching tantric yoga. Oh yeah, the other half of the island is a singles resort, where the film ends with some one of the most unbelievable 10-second turnarounds in relationship history.

Extras are plentiful, including Blu-ray picture-in-picture video commentary by Vaughn and director Peter Billingsley. Two of the nine deleted scenes also are Blu-ray exclusives; the best one has the guys wander into a gay bar party. There is an alternate ending, back in Chicago; a 6:18 look at filming in Bora Bora; a 4:26 look at Ponce and the yoga class; 5:31 of therapy outtakes; three extended scenes; and a 3:22-long gag reel. Grade: film 0.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Additional reviews are available online at and include the action films “Ong Bak 2: The Beginning” (3 stars) and “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” (2 stars).