Popular Posts

Friday, August 30, 2013

In a World

In a world... where there aren't enough realistic leading roles for women, a criminally under-utilized actress will take matters into her own hands, writing, directing, and starring in a movie that features her many talents. While she may make the sort of mistakes you'd expect from any first-time filmmaker, the result will leave you with a warm feeling and a desire for more.

You get the idea. Lake Bell is the woman in question, an actress who hasn't managed to make the A-list despite being funny, talented, and very good-looking. (Ok, maybe we don't need to feel too bad for her, but still.) I didn't really know what Bell could do until I caught a few episodes of Adult Swim's Children's Hospital. Here, Bell plays Carol Solomon, a voice-actor and vocal coach who longs to follow in her father's footsteps and make it in the highly-competitive (and pretty much exclusively male) world of narrating movie trailers. Her father (Fred Melamed) a near-legendary voice-over artist nearing the end of his career, does not support his daughter's dream and goes so far as to groom a male heir to his throne, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino).

Carol rises up the ranks of the insular voice-over world with the help of Louis (Demetri Martin), a sound-man with a puppy-dog crush on her, and a rag-tag group of technicians including characters played by Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro. Carol is also forced to deal with a crisis in her sister's marriage and nasty rumors about how she's managed to rise in the ranks of her profession.

For such a short movie (93 minutes) there is a lot going on, and frankly there is a bit of a slapdash, scattershot feel to In a World. Carol's struggles in the voice-over world happen mostly off-screen, only referenced by allusion, while we get a lot about Michaela Watkins's Dani and Rob Corddry's Moe. Watkins and Corddry are both impressive in the parts, but when combined with the barely sketched-out love story between Carol and Louis there's just too much in too short a time frame. A lot of In a World's stars are obviously Bell's real-life friends, and it must be tempting when you're making your first comedy to try and get as many recognizable and funny people in it as you can, but sometimes it really is true that less is more. Offerman and Notaro are particularly wasting their time here. Notaro has one funny line and Offerman is basically just part of the scenery. That's a shame, but perhaps cutting them altogether would have tightened up the focus and allowed more room for the interesting, offbeat story to be told.

All in all, In a World feels a little under-cooked. A lot of the jokes feel like placeholders that got left in because better jokes weren't written in time. (The epic movie our main characters vie to narrate is a Hunger Games take-off named The Amazon Games. Seriously.) Bell is an appealing presence and an especially gifted physical comedian, but her screenwriting needs to improve if she wants to keep writing movies for herself. Hopefully she'll be more confident with her next one, and trust the audience a little more. (There's a scene with a tape recorder that is very clumsily shot because Bell is clearly afraid the audience won't notice the tape recorder's presence.)

Still, In a World is a very admirable effort. The central idea is a good one, and it was fun seeing Bell explore a community that's never been seen on-camera before. I'll be looking forward to her next effort.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

14 Potential First-Time SNL Hosts for Season 39

Saturday night live returns one month from tomorrow, on September 28. This will be the comedy institution's 39th season on NBC. I know, I know. SNL? That show hasn’t been funny in years. Except…

There are always a few must see episodes of SNL a year, those few and far-between outings where a rock-solid, experienced host is at the helm, the writers know what they can handle, and the audience knows what to expect. No doubt we’ll see a few such episodes in SNL’s 39th season (Messrs. Baldwin, Hanks, Timberlake, and Hamm are standing by their phones) but which of Hollywood’s younger crowd will get their chance to surprise and amuse us on their first go-around at Studio 8H? Here are some possibilities:

Anna Kendrick

This seems like and obvious slam dunk pick, but unfortunately the suddenly everywhere Kendrick might not have much to promote, and her busy filming schedule might keep her out of New York on Saturdays at 11:30pm. That’d be a shame, because the Pitch Perfect star is quickly becoming one of the most engaging and charming celebrities around. If she can’t host can we at least get her as a musical guest?

Olivia Wilde

Kendrick’s Drinking Buddies co-star never seems to let her string of box-office disappointments get her down. In interviews this drop-dead gorgeous star is refreshingly down-to-earth and her quick wit and lively humor are perfect for SNL. If nothing else, her fiancĂ© could put in a good word for her.

Ty Burrell

The closest thing to a lead on Modern Family, one of TV’s biggest hits. His co-star Sofia Vergara took her turn last year, and now it’s time for Burrel to get a shot.

Mindy Kaling

I thought this would happen last year, but Kaling’s buzzed about sitcom The Mindy Project was greeted by tepid reviews. The show took some time to grow into itself, but it’s getting better and attracting some big name guest stars. If the ratings improve, Kaling’s star might shine bright enough for Lorne Michaels to notice.

Andy Samberg

The annual ritual: the return of the prodigal son (or sometimes daughter, cf. Wiig, Kristen last year). There are plenty of candidates for the slot this year (and personally I’d prefer Bill Hader) but Samberg is the one with a new sitcom, albeit on the FOX network.

Aaron Paul

Breaking Bad is ending, and I’m sure the cast and crew at SNL are big fans. They’ve already had Cranston on, perhaps they’ll give his co-star a chance?

Chloe Grace Moretz

This preternaturally talented young actress is starring in the Carrie remake and displayed her comedic talents in an impressive guest stint on 30 Rock.

Peter Dinklage

I can’t confirm this, but I’m pretty sure the Emmy-winning Game of Thrones star would be the shortest guest host in SNL history. He'd also probably be pretty great at it.

Sandra Bullock

I couldn’t believe she hadn’t hosted already, but it’s true. The Oscar winner could take the plunge in order to promote Gravity, the sci-fi action-adventure movie she’s starring in with George Clooney. Of course, it's extremely doubtful that she hasn't been asked, since she's been a box-office draw for 20 years already. Maybe she's shy?

Jake Johnson

New Girl's Nick Miller is officially the third of Drinking Buddies' star quartet that I've tapped as a potential host. (Sorry Ron Livingston.) New Girl started as a star vehicle for Zooey Deschanel (who hosted last year) but is not a true ensemble thanks to the talents of Johnson and Max Greenfield (who would also be a fine host.)

Kerry Washington

Scandal is a hit, apparently, and Ms. Washington is the first African-American woman to star as the lead of a prime-time drama in a period of time long enough to cause even network executives embarrassment. I have no idea if she can be funny, but it's probably worth finding out.

Just About Anyone From Parks & Rec (Besides Amy Poehler and Rob Lowe)

Poehler and Lowe get excluded merely because they have already hosted. But just about anyone else in the cast would make a great choice. (Except Jerry, of course.) Aubrey Plaza’s weirdness might make for a disastrous show, but it would be fascinating television. Chris Pratt’s manic hijinks would be lots of fun. Rashida Jones is smart, lovely, and would probably welcome the chance to play something besides Poehler’s straight-woman. Nick Offerman might not be a household name, but Ron Swanson should be. Retta probably isn’t going to get an invite, so we’ll have to settle for reading her live-tweeting of whichever co-star gets the gig.

Just About Anyone from Community

Donald Glover is leaving, but he'd be a phenomenal host, even if he'd want to quit halfway through and be the musical guest instead. Joel McHale would probably deliver a very good monologue at least, and who wouldn't want more Gillian Jacobs or Alison Brie on their television? Danny Pudi and Yvette Nicole Brown seem unlikely, but they can stop by for a walk-on during the monologue.

Tatiana Maslany

But only if they figure out a way for all six of her to appear live simultaneously. Honestly, Maslany is a long shot, but after being wowed by her performance in BBC America's Orphan Black, I'm curious to see more from her. Her Parks & Rec guest spot will go a long way to determining whether she can be funny.

So those are my wishes for SNL Season 39. What are yours?

Drinking Buddies

Recently, I watched and quite thoroughly enjoyed Drinking Buddies, a 90-minute indie feature from director Joe Swanberg and featuring an improbably high-quality cast for such a low budget movie. Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde play co-workers at an independent brewery whose strong friendship has been obscuring a powerful attraction for a long time. Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston play their respective significant others, who discover a shared attraction of their own during a weekend trip to a remote cabin.

Working largely without a script, this talented foursome is able to create a believably lived-in feel to their characters and their circumstances as they all try to seek out their own happiness without hurting the people they care about too badly. It's a quintessential example of the human drama that can arise between any two people anytime, anywhere.

Which is why it's so disappointing to read criticisms of the movie that basically boil down to the tired old "white people problems" canard. This pernicious idea that certain types of people don't have stories worth telling is surprisingly persistent, even in otherwise intelligent and perceptive people. The false idea it supposes, that money and privilege can render someone's life free of conflict, pain, and humanity is wrongheaded, harmful, and downright depressing in its prevalence.

Never mind for a moment that the characters in Drinking Buddies are not exactly upper-class (Johnson's job is the epitome of blue-collar, Wilde works in sales, and Kendrick is a teacher.) Even if they were spoiled rich kids, whose to say they wouldn't be interesting anyway? Shakespeare wrote largely about kings and nobleman and I don't see too many complaints about his subject matter.

The film itself nicely anticipates and addresses this criticism. In one of their many heartfelt, drunken conversations, Wilde's Kate tells Johnson's Luke, "That's the problem with heartbreak, to you it's like an atomic bomb and to the world it's just really cliche, because in the end we all have the same experience."

It's that kind of universal relevance, rendered particular by the story-telling and the acting, that I look for in movies, wherever they may come from.