Thursday, August 15, 2013

IN A WORLD... Review

Lake Bell. You may not know the name, but you do know her face. She's the one who plays the snarky sidekick in romantic comedies. To get the lead, she had to make the role for herself. "In A World..." was written, directed and produced by the actress, and to say this is a starmaking turn for her is putting it lightly. We may be experiencing the Lena Dunham's "Girls" movie-equivalent breakout.

Bell plays Carol who lives under the same roof as, and in the ever-present shadow of, her father, Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed of "A Serious Man"), whose sultry baritone is one of the leading voices in the voiceover industry. Carol, who aspires to break into the male-dominated world, instead spends her days vocal coaching Eva Longoria and practicing her accents. The aptly titled comedy gives us a crash course in the absurdly cut-throat industry where those epic, cliched opening three words rule. While very funny and cheeky, the film also treats the business of it with real sincerity.

When Sotto's groupie-turned-girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden) moves in, Carol gets kicked to the curb and shacks up with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her sad sack husband, Moe (Rob Corddry). While there she unwittingly becomes involved in a marital breakdown on top of the obvious problem of sleeping on her sister's couch. The couple brings an interesting dynamic to the script, which sometimes has a lot going on but is always nicely balanced. Other supporting players include Nick Offerman and Demetri Martin in the sound studio, the latter's dry, awkward humor complementing Lake's Carol perfectly. Ken Marino of "Burning Love" plays Gustav, a young hot shot voiceover actor gunning for Sotto's job.

Gustav, Sotto and Carol get in a heated three-way competition to become the next big trailer voice for an upcoming YA adaptation series -- a tongue-in-cheek joke that is so perfectly timed considering the onslaught of those adaptations we're experiencing now. This one is a playful knock on "The Hunger Games," called "The Amazon Games," a self-proclaimed quadrilogy.

"In A World..." is a blithe comedy that is far more insightful than its surface pleasantries lead on. It's a feminist story, one that takes a look at sexism in not only the voiceover industry but the entire studio industry in a real way. Geena Davis as a top producer delivers a line that brings the movie's message home without ever daring to become preachy. Lake Bell is a true original, and it'll be exciting to see what she does next in what hopes to be a long, fruitful career both behind and in front of the camera.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


This summer's last hope for a thought-provoking action blockbuster is an infuriating letdown. It boils down to becoming the same drivel we've been experiencing all summer long. And what's worse: it hails from writer/director Neill Blomkamp of the Best Picture-nominated "District 9," a stunning example of sci-fi filmmaking. Not only is his follow-up feature underwhelmingly derivative, but it's a brash squandering of creative potential. The intention here is political, but it doesn't follow through.

What could've been a cautionary tale of immigration and one percenters doesn't delve into nearly enough detail of this world and how it works to create a truly stirring real world metaphor. Instead, it devolves into a grand gloss-over opting for generic, conventional action sequences. Actors (Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley) are wasted, most notably the sorely underused Jodie Foster as a severe-looking secretary of defense to the privileged planet.

In a recent interview, Blomkamp said, "I'm not even sure I'm a director." Maybe it was the pressure of big-budget Hollywood or the obsession of franchise, but something has certainly gone awry. "Elysium" is garbage.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Apart from "The Spectacular Now" being -- dare I say it -- spectacular, it's so natural, unforced and wonderfully affecting. For a coming-of-age story of high schoolers with the usual tropes (hookups, prom and graduation), it feels nothing like your typical entry into the genre. Director James Ponsoldt's second film since his Mary Elizabeth Winstead showcase "Smashed" is a leap forward in craft and no less draws phenomenal performances from two central characters. Here it's Miles Teller of "Project X" and "Rabbit Hole" and Shailene Woodley of "The Descendants" who will both appear in the upcoming YA adaptation "Divergent." Their chemistry feels almost impossibly organic within long shots giving each scene an immediate intimacy and room for these actors to breathe. They, and this film, are a marvel.

The script comes from "(500) Days of Summer" scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who adapted from a novel by Tim Tharp. The story centers on Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), the most well known guy in high school whose reputation isn't exactly clean. He's fun-loving and endlessly charismatic but reckless and bordering on alcoholism. But he knows about every party and knows everyone at them. One morning Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) finds him passed out on a front lawn after yet another drunken night. He offers to help with her paper route because he needs to be driven around the neighborhood to find his car. So begins their mutually beneficial relationship, but as the film casually and soulfully moves them along, the line becomes blurred as to who's helping whom. 

Sutter believes he's doing Aimee a favor by paying her attention and inviting her to parties; he gets geometry tutoring in return. He gives her the courage to stand up to her mother and tell her she wants to go away to college; she gives him the courage to stand up to his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and ask to see his estranged father (Kyle Chandler). It's unclear whether Sutter is looking for friendship or courtship from Aimee, but she falls hard for the guy who always has a flask at hand. Sutter's ex-girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) watches as he takes Aimee in. "Have you turned her into a lush yet?" she asks him.

Sutter is sincere but indecisive and can turn on a dime. His motto is living in the moment, soaking up the ever-present now and not worrying about the future. But at such a pivotal life moment, that ideology keeps a person coasting in neutral -- the problem is that Sutter is complacent doing just that. Aimee has hopes for the future, and her relationship with Sutter transforms into something parasitic threatening to drag her down. Their complex push and pull is the driving force of "The Spectacular Now," a film which ultimately transcends its own high school confines. It's about being caught at the edge of growing up, taking responsibility and discovering whether you're going to land on the right foot when you cross to the other side.