In a World

August 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Ken Marino
Directed by: Lake Bell (debut)
Written by: Lake Bell (debut)

Satirical comedy is such a challenging genre to write, which is why when someone actually gets a tight grasp around their ideas without having to strain too much to make it funny, said writer is due some credit.

So is the case with actress Lake Bell (“It’s Complicate”) and her directorial debut “In A World,” a creative and often witty film that starts off strong before pumping the breaks midway. Before its slow descent into a more ordinary narrative, however, Bell is able to introduce audiences to an intriguing world very few people get the chance to see. It’s a clever look into part of the entertainment industry that literally speaks for itself.

In “In a World,” Bell stars as Carol Solomon, a struggling vocal coach who gets a break in her career when she books a gig to do a voice-over for a movie trailer. It’s a close-knit industry her father Sam (Fred Melamad) and the real-life (and now deceased) Don LaFontaine have monopolized for years, but one that is looking for a fresh new voice to lead a new generation of professional narrators. Hoping to be that voice, she must find a way to prove to her father (and studio honchos) that a female voice can flourish in a business just as well as any man.

As a writer, Bell’s script is filled with crafty cynicism and a sweetness that fits in well with a story that really doesn’t try be offensive in any way. More often than not (especially in the first half), the subtle jokes hit their target and Bell and company deliver their lines with a sort of awkward charm. Actors including Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, and Nick Offerman (all of whom have worked with Bell on the TV series “Children’s Hospital”) add to the gawkiness of the roster and do it effortlessly. As Carol’s father, Melamed is perfectly cast as the bass-voiced legend that is fine with the way the good-old-boy industry works.

While the voiceover industry and the struggles Carol faces are the most interesting aspects of the film, Bell tosses in a secondary storyline that follows her sister’s marital problem, which doesn’t quite work in the grand scheme of things. The subplot is funny, but takes away from what should have been the real focus of the story. Still, Bell and her cast have some hilarious one-liners and there’s enough social commentary about the way cutthroat Hollywood works to keep the film from sputtering out completely in the final act.

A Serious Man

November 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
 
If there ever was a film to support the theory that no matter how bad things may seem, there is always someone worse off than you, it’s “A Serious Man.” Academy Award-winning directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) take that central theme and create their best dark comedy since 1996’s brilliant, accent-filled “Fargo.”

In “A Serious Man,” the Coens feature their most defeated film character in Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Jewish physics professor who’d feel on top of the world if he could just make it back to rock bottom. It’s almost as if Larry is cursed. The film’s opening scene, which is set in 19th century Eastern Europe, supports that idea as we see a Polish couple invite what may or may not be a “dybbuk” into their home for soup. A dybbuk is a harmful spirit in Jewish folklore.
 
While the Coens leave the fate of those characters to interpretation, Larry appears to have met his fair share of dybbuks in his lifetime. Set in 1967, he is disrespected by his soon-to-be bar mitzvahed son (Aaron Wolf), who smokes marijuana and listens to Jefferson Airplane, and his ungrateful daughter (Jessica McManus), who is saving money for a nose job. Larry’s troubles start at home but hemorrhage into his work environment.
 
Along with an aggravated wife (Sari Lennick) pushing for a divorce so she can marrying family friend Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) and a slouchy brother (Richard Kind) camping out on his couch and spending most of his time in the bathroom draining the cyst on the back of his neck, Larry’s job also has him wound in knots. One of his students is trying to bribe him for a passing grade and someone has been sending defaming letters about him to the panel in charge of granting him tenure. Slowly but surely, everything Larry has worked for is being pulled away from him.

Despite his problems, Larry is determined to get his life together and to be taken seriously. His longsuffering disposition, however, tells a different story. Larry is pushed around by everyone and accepts it as second nature. His only hope is to find spiritual guidance by setting an appointment to speak to an always-occupied senior rabbi.

“A Serious Man” is an obscure piece of work that very well may be the most provocative film to hit theaters this year. While it is painfully funny, the Coen brothers have also conjured up some uncomfortable questions about faith and religion and dragged them into an unremorseful parable that’s sure to ruffle the feathers of all God-fearing men.

In Coen fashion, the duo controls the film in every aspect. They allow you to see only what they feel is vital. While they may shroud the surface, the emotional intensity still penetrates through each character and scene in both aggravating and mesmerizing ways. One could almost see the Coens winking at each other during the making of “A Serious Man.” It’s all so outrageous, yet so personal. It’s the type of film that will have you talking about it long after the credits roll. Why do bad thing happen to good people? The Coens might not offer answers, but enlightenment is overrated. For them, it’s the tormenting that conveys the most though-provoking ideas about man’s place in the world.