Monday, September 30, 2013

The Spectacular Now

It's possible that I am a traitor to my generation. At the time, I found a huge number of the popular teen films of my youth flat-out gross. Not just vulgar, crude and artless, but morally appalling. By the time Say Anything... closed out the '80s teen-flick-fest, I was just singularly unimpressed with the canon.

I still watched Ferris Beuller with my kids, but about the mid-'90s, the casual ease with which he lied to his parents started to make me really uncomfortable. (I didn't have the kind of parents you needed to lie to to take a day off, and I am not that kind of parent, so I can't relate to a lot of the teen angst, admittedly.)

What I'm getting at is that the modern flicks seem to be far better. Young actors, as I've noted, are leaps and bounds better than they were before the proliferation of cable created a crucible for them to hone their skills. Production values are phenomenal.

Also, since it's (roughly) my generation who are the parents now, we're more-or-less complete washouts. Less "square" and more burnt-out losers—actual drags on their children. And not in the abstract off-screen way of The Breakfast Club—although I guess all kids are Bender now—but in a more in-your-face Harry Dean Stanton way, where they're stealing your paper route money for booze and crack and whatever.

(Have you noticed I'm digressing longer and longer before getting to the actual movie these days? I have. I assume it's my transition into old age where I tell long, meandering stories that don't go anywhere.)

Anyway, The Spectacular Now is the story of charming drunkard high school senior Sutter who breaks up with his fun-loving girlfriend, Cassidy, and ends up hooking up with bookish, unpopular Aimee.

Aimee is played by Shailene Woodly, who would not be out of place on a "top 100 hottest" list of a men's magazine, but they have her without any makeup and her hair back in the early scenes so...sure, why not. (Acting plays a part here, too, snark aside.)

Miles Teller plays the likable buffoon, Sutter, who has a Live For The Now philosophy (hence, the title) and a lot of pent up anger toward his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh, herself a starlet of '80s teen flicks) regarding absentee dad (ultimately played by Kyle Chanlder, Zero Dark Thirty).

The movie follows Sutter and Aimee through their rather sweet relationship, which is marred only by Sutter's alcoholism and adherence to his "live for the moment" philosophy. And if Sutter was originally using Aimee as a rebound, he becomes increasingly attached to her, as she sees in him the potential to do greater things.

There's actually a very interesting perversion there, as Sutter has a job that he does well, but it's actually a sign of irresponsibility, since he's using it as a way to never have to do anything more challenging in his life. It's not Molly Ringwald working at the record store in Pretty In Pink. It feels more like Glengarry Glen Ross.

Anyway, you have a substance-dependent and an enabler, and there's not a lot of plausible ways to end this story happily. I understand the book ends unhappily, in fact. There are some scenes of near crushing despair toward the end of this movie, but it does at least allow for the possibility that our hero is not hopelessly screwed for the rest of his short, brutish and nasty life.

The Flower was okay with it, though hoping for something funnier and lighter-hearted, which I guess is one thing the teen movies of my youth had over these newer ones. The Boy liked it as did I.

The characters are likable and have some depth and their own arcs, and a lot happens in the space of 90 minutes. In a big picture sense, if the teen movies of the '80s were all about people living in the now because their futures were bright (because they were bright, young and full of energy), this movie contrasts that with a picture of someone who really does live totally in the now.

And even though he's a very decent fellow, he's not wearing shades because his future's so bright. It's because he's hungover.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Heat

The post-summer days are often among the worst for dedicated moviegoers. Anything the studios thought had any promise was dropped in the summer. Pre-holiday fall is for movies they didn't want cluttering up the summer docket but aren't likely award winners. And horror flicks.

When I first started taking The Boy with me to the movies pretty much whenever I went, it was October 2006. We saw Pan's Labyrinth, Flags of our Fathers and a great French film that I can't remember the name of. (The Boy thinks it was Indigenes but that didn't actually get released widely in the US until the following February.)

Anyway, it was a great fall. And memorable. 'cause you gotta go back seven years to find one that good.

Mostly you have your choice of dregs or second runs of films you avoided seeing during the summer.

Which brings us to The Heat. From director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and "MadTV" writer Kate Dippold, we have a comedy buddy cop movie starring Sandra Bullock as the uptight one and Melissa McCarthy as the slovenly one who doesn't play by the rules.

And, yeah, it's exactly as clichéd as it sounds but that's not a bad thing, necessarily, since it's primarily as a vehicle for jokes. Of which there are many, and even some that land.

The term in the critical canon that probably best applies here is uneven. Not in terms of which jokes land and which ones don't, but in terms of how seriously you're supposed to take things. Sometimes it presents itself as quasi-realistic, in that movie sense, while other times it's so absurd, you just can't take it as more than riffing on a set of a movie.

"Hey, wouldn't it be funny if stabbed her in the leg?"
"Yeah! Let's do it!"

At the same time, it's not an Airplane!-style movie, where the characters themselves are strictly gags. There are some tender moments. The girls, after hating each other, of course, finally bond, of course. They even lampshade it. Then later they bond again, for realsies. And then again at the end.

Lotta bonding.

I couldn't drag The Flower to see it. The Boy went in with very low expectations and so was pleasantly surprised. ("I didn't hate it.") It was, more or less, exactly what I thought it would be.

And that's okay.

It kind of reminds of Kevin Smith's Cop Out. It's not that uneven, but it still has that perfunctory paint-by-numbers feel, which in Smith's case was meant as an homage to the '80s buddy cop movie, while here is (as mentioned) just a device for joke delivery.

Like most of the summer's flicks, it's fine if you're good with turning your brain off.

When Comedy Went To School

We were so looking forward to this new documentary about Catskill comedians, right up until it came out and the ratings (audience and critic) were so poor. The trailers are hilarious, which all these great old comedians doing one liners that are still funny, even when you've seen the trailer over and over again.

But it's not unusual for a documentary to have stellar source material which it then handles poorly. It presents a problem for the reviewer and the careless reader when the reviewer must say "I hated that handicapped documentary" or (in the reverse) "That Nazi documentary was fabulous!"

But the ratings are pretty dead on. 2/3rds of the movie is centered around great material by classic comedians. But the remaining third, and the stuff that isn't the comedy, is unfocused, weirdly self-important and, yes, schmaltzy.

It can't really live up to its title. That could be because of the material, of course. Maybe Jewish comedians weren't really very influential in post-War America. (Heh.) But it's more likely that, beyond the low-hanging fruit of having great comedians-emeritus relate stories, the producers felt like they had to set the stage (why were Jews going to the Catskills in the first place?), then they wanted to talk about the culture surrounding the Catskills-type summer vacations, then they wanted to talk about the hotels and industry that rose, then they wanted to talk about how things changed in the '60s, and then they wanted to talk about how things are there today.

This mission creep, if you will, subjects the film to a few of the frailties common to the genre.

It's instructive to consider the very first movie I reviewed on this blog six years ago: The King of Kong. This is a documentary about something supremely trivial (playing arcade games) but it's so tightly focused that it becomes compelling, and the humanness emerges in such a way that you can't help but become invested.

And it does so without the director (who's gone on to work on high profile projects like directing Identity Thief and the new TV series "The Goldbergs") trying to force you to care.

WCWTS meanders like an old man telling a story. And it suffers from the "Well, this one period of time was just the most awesome thing ever and now it's gone" seen recently in Casting By and 20 Feet From Stardom. But, sort of weirdly, it's doing the nostalgia thing on its own. Apart from a hotel heiress with a waning empire, you don't really see the people interviewed (all of whom enjoyed popularity the likes of which cannot be appreciated today) talking it up.

Then there's the '60s which were a weird time for everyone, I guess (although my parents barely noticed them, apparently), but which really signalled the end of the Catskill era. Doing the math, that means the Golden Age was about 20 years long (the youth of, that's right, the Baby Boomers).

Let's turn over the camera to noted Catskill comedian Dick Gregory!

Wait, what?

So bizarre. There wasn't enough to talk about so the civil rights movement has to make an appearance?

Another funny thing happens in the '60s: The comedy changes, and the movie by-and-large stops being funny. It's not entirely deliberate, I don't think. It's that the comedy of what's essentially the post-Catskills era (Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, et al.) were less about straight-up joke telling and more about story telling and, of course, transgressing.

Transgressions, of course, are more dated than Groucho glasses in the world of comedy, and I thought it telling that my teenaged kids laughed at and enjoyed the old-school humor of Rodney Dangerfield, Henny Youngman, Jackie Mason and those guys than they did the later stuff. (And I did, too, even though my nostalgia factor is much higher for the later comedians.)

One of my tweeps, @Crevek, was watching Ralph Bakshi's American Pop the other night and was hating on the post WWII parts. "It goes to hell in the '60s," I told him. And that's a remarkably applicable statement to many things, including this movie, where the little focus it had scatters to the four winds, and its start talking about comedians who were never in the Catskills, TV shows (Seinfeld!) from the '90s and, you know, whatever.

It's not that the connections aren't there, mind you. (You can learn about them from other great sources on the history of comedy at your local library! Or the Internet, I guess.) No, it's just that the movie doesn't make those connections effectively, or even at all sometimes.

As a result, this sub-90 minute film feels strangely long.

If you really want to get a sense of the thing, it's probably epitomized by two things: The use of "Make 'em Laugh" to open the film (and punctuating stock footage rolls throughout), and to close the film—I am not kidding—"Send In The Clowns", with narrator Robert Klein lugubriously addressing "Mr. Sondheim" as to the presence and/or absence of said clowns.

I can't believe someone wrote that. Someone said it. And someone filmed it. And then, someone edited the film, and left that stuff in.

Despite my numerous grievances aired here, we were glad to have seen it, but we probably would've been happier with a Catskills highlight reel.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The World's End

Jason The Commenter (@BXGD) mentioned, when he saw The World's End, that it's best to go in not knowing anything about it, and there's some truth to that. So if you like going in blind, you might want to stop reading after the next sentence, which is: My caveat to that is that if you're familiar with the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright oeuvre (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and "Spaced!"), you can't be too surprised by what happens.

Nonetheless, the movie has a bravura first act ending which hooks you into the rest of the film. Then, as @JulesLaLaLand noted, it kind of falls apart at the end of the third act. (Shaun and Fuzz suffer similarly, though not nearly as badly, from this Need For The Big Finale syndrome.)

Anyway, the premise of "The World's End" is that loser Simon Pegg gets his old teenage gang together for one night of epic pub crawling called "The Drunk Mile". Wait, no, "Golden Mile." (I think "Drunk Mile" would be both more honest and less gross.)

Of course, even as he wears the same clothes, hairstyle (sorta, he's bald-y now), and drives the same car, his friends have moved on and had real lives. So the comedy aspect is tempered with a kind of poignancy of a life wasted.

But that all changes soon enough and the movie goes off in a completely different and amusing direction that keeps the second act popping.

I can't really say much about it without spoiling it, but if "Shaun of the Dead" recalls classic Romero zombie movies and "Hot Fuzz" is basically a fun update of "The Wicker Man", this movie strongly recalls—well, again I can't say, or it'd spoil it.

But you'll see it, if you look.

We enjoyed it but I was inclined to think it was the weakest of the so-called "trilogy" (Caveat: No actual narrative connection to Shaun or Fuzz)—but it's the sort of movie I'll watch again to see how I feel later on. I think I felt slightly let down by Fuzz after Shaun, but on multiple viewings I think it's the strongest of the three. (Definitely best, and lowest-key, ending of the three.)

What I particularly enjoy is how the actors change characters from movie-to-movie. Nick was a gross loser in Shaun and a childlike naif in Fuzz and a no-nonsense businessman (though still somewhat idolizing Pegg) in World. And he doesn't even consider himself a real actor. (How English!)

Similarly, Pegg plays a low-ambition retail manager in Shaun, a super-cop in Fuzz and a burnout in World. And basically I think they didn't use much makeup, so he looks all of his 43 years and then some.

Even Edgar Wright, whose signature cuts and camera moves powered the hilarity in "Spaced!" and Shaun hearkens to these techniques here without leaning on them. These are not one-trick-ponies. They have a style but they're not limited by it.

Bill Nighy has a fun voice-over only role.

Thing is, if you like these guys, of course you're going to want to see it. And if you don't, you won't. But if you don't know, it's really hard to say if you will. There's really nothing quite like the stuff these guys put together.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thérèse

Oh, ennui! Where would French films be without it! Well, this movie'd be absolutely nowheresville. What movie, you ask? Well, the original title was Thérèse Desqueyroux, being the main character's last name, but by the time it got to us, the last name had been dropped, and only the accute and grave accents remained: Thérèse.

I will not be honoring those accents for the rest of this post, however. Honestly, hard as I tried, I could not hear anything resembling "Theresa" when the characters spoke. Not "Teresa" or "Teraysa" or "Teress" or even "Tere". The nearest I could approximate the pronunciation was something like "T" followed by the sound of rolling your tongue out of your mouth, like "T-huwaaa".

What's it about? Well, remember the beautiful, charming, quirky but adorable Audrey Tatou from Amelie? Yeah, she's dead now. In her place is a 37-year-old woman who probably smokes too many Gaulois and isn't entirely convincing as a 19-year-old. (Not to be catty but, as well documented here, I'm generally a fan of aging French actresses.)

Well, look, she's an actress. And this character is the anti-Amelie: A woman who, for no apparent reason, indifferently marries a man for the good of their families. (Both families are wealthy with—and no, I don't get this—acres of pine.)

All is well and good until her younger sister-in-law discovers love. Not really love, but some pretty intense lust. Thérèse (I lied, "Thérèse" is still in my copy-paste buffer, so I'll use it for a while longer) is affected by observing this relationship, apparently never having experienced lust before.

When I say "affected", I mean she decides to kill her husband.

The trailers set this up kind-of Anna Karenina style, with an abusive, domineering husband who drives his poor wife to drastic deeds but, no, in fact while perhaps being a bit of a boor, a rube, an unimaginative sort who's more physical than the modern man, he's not really a bad guy.

As the movie wears on, he sort of begins to take on the character of a clueless saint.

Whereas Therese is probably best described as a sociopath. Even that's not quite right, though. It's that she has a blunt or flat affect. There's no malice apparent, even when she's trying to kill her husband (in a truly awful way).

So. Yeah. The movie has basically set us up for a series of events which have an arc, but which have no purpose or meaning. We can't ever find out Therese's motivation, because she doesn't know it. She doesn't even seem to have one, really.

This is the last film of French director Claude Miller, though not regarded as one of his better films, it certainly shows skill and a sure hand. It avoids feeling completely flat by letting the characters grow and change, even if it is swamped in a near nihilism. The ending is almost upbeat, sorta. It's not as bleak as one might expect from a movie that is otherwise pretty damn bleak.

The Boy was unimpressed, though he has an appreciation for French ennui and so did not hate it.

Tatou, in the final analysis, is quite good, even if she doesn't look at all 19. Gilles Lellouche (Point Blank) also has a nice turn as the loutish husband.

Still, it's weird to look at such a heavy drama and think, "Did she not know anything? Was there no way of finding out about the rest of the world and life and potential experiences? Could this drama have all been avoided with an issue of Cosmo?"

That was kind of the feeling I had, though.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Patience Stone

Even though The Patience Stone has a dozen or so cast members listed in the credits, it is basically a one-woman show, and that one woman has a name I can't even begin to pronounce. Golshifteh Farahani. Doesn't exactly roll off this Yank's tongue.

This is a movie in Afghani Persian (that's a thing!) about a woman whose husband is in a coma after he got into a squabble with a compatriot over...I forget what, exactly, I think it may have been a slur leveled at the man's mother.

And so it falls to the woman to care for him in the ruins of the little village where they lived, as various warring factions fight around her.

If there's a takeaway from this film it's that the Afghanis are barbarians, though that may not be the intended message. At one point, The Woman (as she is styled) must tell some soldiers that she is a whore in order to keep them from raping her. (Muslim "honor" would prevent them from sullying themselves with a whore.)

But most of the movie is just The Woman talking to her comatose husband, with whom it seems she had never previously spoken. And so she begins pouring out her feelings, and then finally confessions to him. The confessions become increasingly...confessiony, even though the general gist of the Big One at the end is pretty obvious right off the bat, at least to these jaded westerners.

The details are a bit surprising, though. Indeed, the whole movie presents a complex portrait of being a woman in a rural Muslim community. (I can't recommend it.)

Ms. Farahani is up to the task though if you're not into the heavy-acty kind of stuff, you're not gonna enjoy this. On the other hand, if you have a hard time with let's-call-it "woman with a grievance" type movies, it can be kind of refreshing to see actual patriarchal oppression.

So, of course, you probably haven't heard of this movie, won't hear of it, and certainly won't see it, at least not while there are Christian Republicans #WarOnWomen-ing.

We liked it, though I think it was quite difficult for us to relate to, which meant the heaviness of The Woman's oppression was hard to endure. It felt a lot longer than the 1:40 running time. We would recommend it, though.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

If you remade Bonnie and Clyde, only realistically, you'd probably end up with something like David Lowery's (director of nothing you've ever heard of, 'cept this, yet) new flick Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Apparently connected somehow through funding with the similarly low-key, low-budget Drinking Bodies, this movie stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a couple separated after a bank heist.

Now, when I say "realistic Bonnie and Clyde" I mean: After a bank robbing spree, young lovers Bob and Ruth are captured by police. Bob takes the fall and Ruth pulls the damsel-in-distress routine, sorta, so Bob goes to jail and Ruth goes home to have their baby.

This movie is about Bob trying to get back to Ruth and the daughter he's never met.

In other words, it's basically all denouement. There's a subplot of sorts, with some money that Bob's hidden, but the real thing is his getting back to Ruth and their daughter, and so there's never really a question of—well, of anything, really. This isn't really a movie of suspense or mystery, it's mostly just a dramatic acting workshop.

Which, you know, is a thing. And if it's your thing, this is one of those things that is your thing.

It didn't grab me, particularly. But that could've been my mood.

The acting is fine: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara (whom I found more appealing in this than the Dragon Tattoo remake or Side Effects), Keith Carradine and especially Ben Foster, who plays a good-hearted sheriff who's attracted to Mara's character. Ben Foster and Nate Parker, who plays a friend to Casey Affleck's character, struck me as the most interesting.

But, look, this is a low-key dramatic workshop. Even Bob's struggle to get back to his wife and daughter seem almost perfunctory. There's an intensity to Affleck's demeanor (as always) but this is one of those movies that seems to regard as sorcery the sorts of camerawork and pacing that would give the intensity a Bigger Than Life feel. Lots of stretches without music, though as I recall it, the music there is is good.

Couldn't quite place the time period. Early '70s, I thought, though apparently the ambiguity was deliberate. So, there's that.

The kids were not greatly impressed. Didn't love it. Didn't hate it. Interested but not enthused. I think this is the kind of movie most people are going to be "meh" about but some people are really going to adore it. I couldn't even swear that I might not be one of those people, under different circumstances.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Monsters University

Look, if you've read this blog at all for very long, you know how I feel about Pixar. If we overlook the tragedy that is Cars 2, they have a flawless track record (and I'll defend A Bug's Life and Cars to the death). Brave was under-rated, I think partly because the misfire of Cars 2 allowed a lot of people room to attack them, and you know there was a pent up eagerness to do so.

So, look, I'm gonna gush.

Best. Prequel. Ever.

Don't believe me? Can you think of a better one? You're wrong. Or lying. Look, here's a Telegraph article on the top 10 prequels of all time. It includes Prometheus and The Phantom Menace, besides being padded out with Batman Begins and Casino Royale (both reboots), Godfather II (not a sequel), and so on. X-Men: First Class was pretty good, granted.

Basically, though, prequels suck. The amount of retconning that must be done because they weren't really thinking about what came before in the original film, combined with the awful tendency to repeat the things that made the original story good until they're no longer good, and destroy the original film in the process is overwhelming.

And yet?

This one is great—and under-rated. The consensus seems to be that the first two thirds are good, if standard kiddie fare, in a college-movie template, with the third act rising hitting it out of the park. And the part about the third act is certainly true.  But the set up to the first two acts far exceeds "standard".

And there are a couple of messages you just never see in kids' movies.

The story is about young Mike Wazowski, an upbeat, chipper little monster that isn't popular, but who gets it in his head that he's going to become a scarer, the most impressive and important job in the Monster World. And he works hard and manages to get into the premiere university to train scarers, too!

But, wait: We know, for a fact, that he's not a scarer. We've seen Monsters, Inc.! Already, you can see that there's a potential retcon catastrophe in the making. How the hell do you make a good kid's movie about failure?

There isn't a lot of overlap between the characters in the original movie and this one. Only Mike, Sully and Randall have prominent roles and they're substantially different. Mike is the hard-working, diligent student, clever and capable, though largely ignored, while Sully is a lazy, arrogant jerk who coasts by on his name and natural talent.

Randall's not even a bad guy! He's more a nerd who wants to be popular.

What we get in this movie is how they came to be the characters from the first movie.

Look, if this were made by Dreamworks (see Madagascar), we'd have seen the 2319! alerts a dozen times, the Academy Award Winning "If I Didn't Have You" would feature prominently, they'd have figured out a way to get a Boo character in there somehow (ruining the original), and above all, the characters would be identical to how they were in the first film.

And I'm not (exactly) picking on Dreamworks, here: If animation has a weakness, it's that the characters tend to be or become caricatures, fixed in amber. Even Pixar, with the Toy Story series, didn't show a lot of character change.

It's actually kind of disturbing to see Sully be a jerk with questionable ethics. And it even enhances the original to see Mike as the more admirable character whose bossiness stems from actually driving the lackadaisical Sully.

And then there's the movie's powerful message: If you want something more than anyone else in the world, and you work very hard at it, you still might not even have a chance at it because you just aren't cut out for it.

This is the dialogue I had with the Barbarienne on the way to the movie:

"I think you can be anything you want to be."
"No, I can't."
"You can't?"
"OK, if I can, I'm going to fly."

Which is kind of the point, in a nutshell. Almost all children's movies assume that what you want is compatible with who you are, and when it's not, well, that's society's fault (see Mulan).

This movie says, "Well, maybe you can't live your dream, but that's all right, because there is lots of good you can do." (There's also another message about college maybe not being the be-all end-all of achieving your dreams, which I've seen exactly never in a kiddie movie.)

It also has Pixar's typical message of teamwork and group dynamic being critical to success. Not just lip service, as in most kid's movies, but woven into the plot.

This may be a better movie than the first, though it's definitely enhanced by knowing the original. If there are any weaknesses, relative to the first movie, it's that the supporting characters aren't quite as strong. (And, as I said, the original movie's supporting characters aren't in this at all.) It's also probably not quite as funny.

The real standout new character in this is Dean Hardscrabble, a dragon/centipede voiced by Helen Mirren. Although she is the foil of the movie (in the time-honored tradition of college movies), she's more interesting and deeper than Mr. Waternoose (James Coburn).

And so far, this is just about the story, which is really the thing. Of course, it's technically breathtaking. The level of detail is staggering to contemplate. There's a scene in the human world (reminiscent, at least to me, of Friday The 13th movies) that looks realer than most non-CGI movies. And they manage to portray humans in a way that's just enough cartoon-like to avoid the Uncanny Valley.

But the things that might make you smile, if you have a chance to notice them, are things like Sully being thinner with darker spots and hair, and Mike being more elliptical than round, and a deeper green.

Well, look, I saw it with The Boy and The Flower at a late night show ('cause they don't like being bugged by the little kids), then again with The Barb a week or so later—and The Boy joined us to re-watch, and was maybe even more taken with it the second time.

We agreed we could see it a third time just to marvel at the technical artistry. But it's not just that, either, because all Pixar films are like that (even Cars 2). It's that there are so many little nods and echoes to the original without using the original as a crutch. The end of Monsters Inc is foreshadowed subtly here, such that  you could watch this and it wouldn't be a spoiler, but you'd go "Oh, of course, that makes complete sense."

It's really one of those movies that, the more you think about it, the better it gets. Given the number of movies for grownups that practically require you to turn off your brain, it's pretty cool to have a kid movie that makes you think.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In A World...

I know the name Lake Bell but I don't really know why. I've never seen her in a movie or TV show that I recall. She's been in quite a few, but none that I've seen. "ER" but long after I stopped watching. Never saw "Boston Legal" or "Miss Match" or What Happens In Vegas. Never even heard of most of the rest of it.

Saw an episode of "Children's Hospital", I think. Parts of one.

But, you know, that's PR in this wacky biz they call "show". She's been working for over ten years, being the best friend in chick flicks or TV shows (I guess) and now she's decided to break out and write, direct, produce and star in her very own movie In A World...

We really, really liked it. Maybe even loved. Certainly like-liked anyway.

Bell plays Carol, a voice-over actress who's struggling to make it in the biz, and teaching young women not to talk like idiots—and in a nice cameo, helping Eva Longoria not sound like an idiot doing a Scottish (?) accent.

Wait, I should set the scene: It's modern day, and the movie trailer universe is still recovering from the 2008 loss of the great Don LaFontaine, the guy who created the legendary "In a world..." opening that's been so cliché. And the buzz in the industry is that a studio wants to bring back "In a world..." for their new Mutant Amazon Warrior trilogy (amusingly modeled after The Hunger Games).

Carol wants the job, but her father (the Serious Man himself, Fred Melamed, Fred Won't Move Out) is an old-time sexist who is particularly dismissive of her talents. He's not going after the part, mind you. He's backing up-and-comer Gustav (Ken Marino, who's also been on "Children's Hospital") instead.

But Carol kind of catches on fire, getting a number of good VO gigs, including a cartoon character, and suddenly it looks like she may turn her life around. I'll leave it there, because there's a nice element of discovery along the way. Not exactly twists but interesting developments.

I should note that while there's a lot of humor, and a nice brisk pace to the proceedings, this movie hangs on the charisma of Ms. Bell which probably will elude some people. She convincingly plays a woman who is somewhat insecure in a lot of ways, but confident at least in her professional abilities and good-at-heart.

I found her, and her movie, appealing.

There's a subplot involving her sister, played by Michaela Watkins (who's also been on "Children's Hospital", and her sister's husband/boyfriend, played by Robb Corddry, who plays the clown doctor on "Children's Hospital" and whom we recently saw in The Way, Way Back, and who's in danger of getting typecast.

But what's nice is that this, the relationship that develops between Carol and her (let's-call-them) suitors, the father-daughters relationship, are treated with a degree of humor but not carelessness. Speaking of typecasting, Melamed's character is a complete old-school, sexist ass, and some have objected to that.

But his character, while buffoonish in many ways, isn't one-dimensional. He's objectionable in a way that some (though hopefully not many) people are. Completely ego-driven, terrified his children—a daughter, no less—might possibly overshadow him, and starting out the movie by kicking out his daughter so he can shack up with a groupie, he is truly awful—but not incredible.

Even the groupie, played delightfully by Alexandra Holden, proves to have more depth and isn't just a prop for laughs.

Jeff Garlin has a small role as an MC at the VO award show.

Cameron Diaz has a cameo as a Mutant Amazon Warrior.

Geena Davis has small role. I didn't know how old she was. I didn't know she'd had so much work done to her face, either. I think she's considered a plastic surgery success story, too, but don't be fooled.

Stop messin' with yore faces, folks. It's...uncanny.

Comedy writers Tig Notaro and Demetri Martin have supporting roles.

Anyway, we all laughed and had a great time. It's not Citizen Kane, but it's not trying to be.

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