Tag Archives: C+

IN A WORLD…

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

C+

In a world in which Don LaFontaine, the universally acknowledged voice-over master, is no longer around to intone those three famous words at the beginning of movie trailers, the profession he ruled for so long in person and still does in memory receives satirical treatment in Lake Bell’s comedy, which she wrote, directed and stars in as Carol Solomon, a girl trying to break into the male-dominated business. “In a World…” is a good deal smarter than most big-budget romantic comedies, but its shrillness makes it less pleasurable than it should be.

Carol is the daughter of one of the stars of the business, honey-voiced baritone Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), who’s about to receive the profession’s lifetime achievement award. But she’s struggling to find any gigs, and to make her situation worse, Sam, with whom she’s lived for years, informs her that she’ll have to move out to make room for his young girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden). With nowhere else to go, she decamps to the apartment of her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), a hotel concierge, and her boyfriend Moe (Rob Corddry), a film editor working at home.

Meanwhile Louis (Demetri Martin), the chief engineer at the studio where she records the few jobs she gets, is obviously smitten with her, and encourages her to audition for the voice-over job on the trailer for “Amazon Games,” a high-concept adventure flick predicted to be the next franchise smash. The script will begin with LaFontaine’s famous phrase, and since her dad has excused himself from the competition, the odds-on favorite to get the gig is his arrogant protégé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), with whom—coincidentally—she’s just spent a night after a party at his pad. When Sam hears that his daughter is a serious contender for the spot, he jumps back into the running himself, unwilling to see her grab such a plum assignment.

It wouldn’t be fair to go much further, or to reveal the surprise cameo that accompanies the revelation of the victor. But it certainly doesn’t spoil things to say that in most other respects—romantic and familial—Bell’s script follows a fairly predictable upbeat trajectory. That’s true even in a curious subplot involving Dani’s almost dalliance with a smooth-talking Irish guest (Jason O’Mara) whose accent intrigues Carol, which leads Moe to take a hike. Nor is it a secret that there are briefer turns by other recognizable folk like Eva Longoria, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro and Geena Davis, with Longoria’s especially funny.

But ultimately “In a World…” is undone by Bell in her threefold capacity. As writer she overstuffs the screenplay, mixing in rather too many subplots for comfort; perhaps too much is better than too little, but the problem remains, especially since it means that as director Bell has to rush things along at times. And that affects her performance. She’s attractive, in a rather unconventional way, and is clearly up to progressing from the second-string work she’s done in big romantic comedies to this point. But too often she comes across as strident and pushy here, and as a result is a tad irritating. It’s a pleasure, though, to watch Melamed and Martin at work; both bring shadings to what might have been stock characters (something Marino doesn’t manage). Corddry is nicely laid-back—not an adjective one might think of regarding him—and Watkins is fine, and technically the picture belies its modest budget, with Seamus Tierney’s cinematography, Megan Fenton’s production design, Ashley Fenton’s art direction and Tom McArdle’s editing all quite good.

“In a World…” has so many things going for it—not least the fascinating, out-of-the-way corner of show business it’s set in—that it’s a pity that as a whole it comes up short. It should serve, however, as a first-rate calling card for Bell in the future.

PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

C+

Of all the wannabe Harry Potter successors Hollywood studios have churned out over the last decade, this is one of the few that have actually managed to get beyond a first installment. The first movie about Percy Jackson, the teen who discovered he was a “half-blood,” the son of the Greek god Poseidon by a human woman, and sent off to a camp where along with others of his kind he could be protected and trained, was subtitled “The Lightning Thief.” Based on the initial installment in Rick Riordan’s series of popular young adult books, it pitted Percy and his friends—brainy Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), a daughter of Athena, and the half-goat satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson)—against handsome Luke (Jake Abel), a son of Hermes, who’d stolen Zeus’ powerful thunderbolt with plans to use it to inaugurate a new era. It wasn’t just episodic but loaded down with tedious exposition, and it was stymied by director Chris Columbus’ leaden approach.

This second entry, “Sea of Monsters,” marks a few changes from the first. Anthony Head replaces Pierce Brosnan as Percy’s mentor, the centaur Chiron, and Stanley Tucci has been added as Mr. D—for Dionysius, the god of wine—as the head Camp Half-Blood (there’s a pretty good joke about how he’s being punished by Zeus for a previous indiscretion). Percy also gets a half-brother in the form of Tyson (Douglas Smith), a clumsy Cyclops who’s looking for a family. And while it’s similarly episodic, it has more action and moves along better, thanks to director Thor Freudenthal and editor Mark Goldblatt.

As to plot, the movie is basically a teen version of the Argonaut story, which begins when a group of nasty Cyclopes destroy the protective perimeter set up around Camp Half-Blood by a tree that Zeus created from the body of his daughter Thalia, who was killed trying to reach the place. After consulting the prophetess of Apollo who’s apparently kept in the attic, Percy decides that the only way to restore the Thalia tree to life—and bring the barrier back—is to send a mission to the titular sea (known to humans, we’re told, as the Bermuda Triangle) to find the Golden Fleece, which has life-restoring properties. Mr. D decides to act on this, but chooses a team led by Clarisse (Leven Rambin), a daughter of Ares who’s Jackson’s great rival for leadership among the students. But Percy and his chums, including Tyson, decide to take up the task as well, though without authorization.

The quest takes up the rest of the running-time. It turns out that Luke is once again behind all the mischief, seeking the Fleece in order to restore the Titan Cronos, the father of the gods, to life so that he can overthrow Zeus and allow a new generation to assume power. A series of adventures follow, involving a wild taxicab ride, a meeting with Hermes and some mild oceanic adventures—including a Jonah-like stint in the belly of a beast where some zombies also reside—before the crew winds up at an abandoned amusement park where a hungry Cyclops—and the tomb of Cronos—are to be found. There they have to face off against Luke and his army of the discontented.

This is hardly deep stuff, or a faithful rendition of the Greek myths: it’s more like a cross between Harry Potter and Ryan Gosling’s “Young Hercules” series. But it’s a reasonable modern equivalent of Ray Harryhausen’s cherished boys’ adventure movies, not just the mythological ones but the Sinbad series as well. Dads and granddads who remember those fondly will appreciate the nostalgia it brings. And the youngsters should enjoy it as well, since it features a passel of appealingly heroic teen types (a couple of them female for the girls), pretty good special effects, messages about the importance of family that aren’t too heavy-handedly transmitted, battle scenes that are fairly exciting without becoming overly nasty, and a few dollops of sentiment applied without much treacle. Lerman makes a pleasant if somewhat bland Jackson, and Daddario is an engaging partner for him. And while Jackson once again forces things in trying for laughs, Smith makes a nice addition to the crew. Among the others Abel is no more than a standard-issue young villain and Rambin shrill as Clarisse, but Tucci and Fillion seem to be having a field day in their brief appearances. Shelly Jackson’s cinematography is fine, with the3D providing some nifty moments, and Andrew Lockington’s score adds to the action without being at all memorable.

In all, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” improves on the first movie, making the obvious promise of another sequel at the end not completely unwelcome. As a boys’ adventure tale, it’s not awful, but not particularly wondrous either.