By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — People often ask me: “Where are all the good movies? Why don’t they make better films?”
My reply is always the same, “good movies are being made, you’re just not going to see them.” Americans are overwhelmed with hype about studio features promoted with multi-million dollar publicity budgets. The purpose of all of that television advertising is to make you think you’re going to miss out on something if you don’t see the latest exploding fire rocket of a picture. More often than not, especially this summer, these over-blown entries in the march to cinematic madness are uninteresting, copycat dreck.
Audiences need to seek out smaller films, which are usually better than major Hollywood blockbusters. When they do, they realize that very fine works are being made and released on a regular basis.
“In A World” and “Blackfish” are little pictures that deliver the goods. They are as different as night and day, both movies telling clear-eyed stories with simplicity and strength. The former is about a group of voiceover artists and the latter is a searing documentary about whales kept in captivity in theme parks.
Lake Bell is an American actress who understands that there is strong bias against women working behind the camera in Hollywood, Kathryn Bigelow notwithstanding. Crews are still predominately male. Bell, who has acted in some television series and played sidekicks in lightweight Ashton Kutcher comedies, has taken the bull by the horns and has written, directed and produced “In A World,” in which she also stars.
Bell plays Carol, a voiceover talent for motion picture trailers (those previews of coming attractions that often give away too much of the plot). Carol’s problem is that she can’t find work in her field. How many female voices have you heard narrating a trailer? So, she earns some money as a vocal coach, helping actors and actresses work on their voices, learn lines, and develop foreign accents.
Ironically, Carol’s father Sam (Fred Melamed) is the reigning king of voiceover artists and has been king since the death of the legendary Don Fontaine. When Sam wants his young girlfriend to move into the house he shares with his daughter, Carol has to move out and really find a job. Complications result and brushes with romance abound.
“In A World” is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. It’s certainly the best surprise of the waning summer movie season.
Bell, whose debut directorial feature this is, has a true understanding of how people speak and react. And as the film’s primary actress, she brings a delightful and endearing quality to her role.
As the beautifully-acted movie unfolds, you realize how much you’re enjoying all of the characters because they are written with genuine honesty. Carol’s luck seems to be turning when she has a chance to land an important voiceover job, narrating the previews for a four-part fantasy film series. But there are snags. Her father is also up for the gig, as is the flirtatious Gustav (Ken Marino), an up-and-comer who dearly wants Carol to be his one and only girlfriend.
“In A World” is about folks on the fringe of the motion picture community. Bell has created a loving and funny portrait of usually happy people who, with a little bit of luck, would find themselves on the right side of the stucco studio walls that separate the stars from those peering in from the outside.
In “Blackfish” we learn there is no certified record of a killer whale attacking a human in the wild. So much for “Moby Dick.” But to be fair, that was fiction. This is director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s thought-provoking look at the treatment of whales at water parks. The story isn’t pretty. Whales kill in captivity because they go mad from being forced to live in tanks that are much too small. Whales will attack each other, and often go after their trainers.
Science tells us that whales exist in family groups, have a strong sense of self-esteem, and communicate using a sophisticated language. Cowperthwaite begins with the 2010 death of Sea World lead trainer Dawn Brancheau, an employee who was dragged underwater and killed by a whale. The movie builds its argument against keeping whales for entertainment value by exposing their suffering and keying in on the abuse inflicted on the mammals. We learn that whales are captured as babies and that the parents scream out after they are separated from their calves. The riveting movie reveals the workings of corporate conspiracies to blame human error for every death or mauling in a park.
“Blackfish” is filled with fascinating and surprising information about whales, their treatment as clowns, and how truly sentient they are. This is a genuinely great documentary.
Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.