In a World
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language and sexual references.
The directing/screenwriting feature for actress Lake Bell, this movie may be admired more for its message — women have a hard time being heard in this world — than for its lukewarm content. Bell plays the central character, a Hollywood vocal coach whose father (Fred Melamed) is one of the stars of the men’s club that owns the movie-trailer voiceover trade. The movie begins with documentary clips of Duluth’s own Don LaFontaine, the late, undisputed champ of coming-attractions narrators, then veers into lumpy fiction as Bell tries to make her way into the racket, winning the contract for an upcoming blockbuster.
Bell’s script won the top screenwriting award at Sundance in January, but it must have been a slow year. You can almost see the plot points being shuffled around like index cards as the movie unreels. There’s the hot/smarmy male rival for the big job (Ken Marino), and can you believe it, they accidentally fall into bed together. There’s Bell’s flirty minuet with a timid recording studio guy (Demetri Martin), which plays like a courtship between 14-year-olds. There are marital shenanigans with Bell’s sister and brother-in-law (Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry), a free-floating digression seemingly included to pad the running time. Most of the jokes are routine comedy-of-awkwardness material. Some is simply surreal. In one bizarre scene, Marino makes out with Bell by sucking her nose.
It’s hard to invest much emotion in Bell’s character because she doesn’t ring true. She’s working hard to be endlessly amusing, as if a film’s success relied on a nonstop string of jokes and zany incidents. She should have gone deeper, and not so fast. The emotional entanglements between the characters rarely range beyond soap drama and sitcom gags. Bell doesn’t entirely put her foot in her mouth here, but the movie doesn’t sing.
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action and peril.
From “The Blair Witch Project” to the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, the found-footage theme has been both wildly successful and widely replicated in horror films. Director Sebastian Cordero puts a smart spin on the device in this thriller about six astronauts whose mission to deep space goes haywire. Their destination is Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Scientists believe there may be water under its icy exterior — and where there’s water, there could also be life.
The film mimics a documentary as the mission's chief scientist (Embeth Davidtz) recounts the events leading up to the moment when Houston lost contact with the crew. Declassified video from the shuttle picks up the story from there. At first, the film is so engrossing and the images so arresting that it seems like an Imax documentary. But the film begins hopping around in time, which unnecessarily eases the tension. Long stretches feel bizarrely listless.
Even so, there are genuinely chilling moments, thanks in no small part to a talented cast that includes Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) and Michael Nyqvist (“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”). Their understated deliveries and the film’s impressive effects make much of “Europa Report” feel like real life.
Stephanie Merry, Washington Post
STUCK IN LOVE
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, teenage alcohol and drug use, and sexual content.
Theater: Eden Prairie.
If Bill Borgens, the prize-winning novelist portrayed by Greg Kinnear in “Stuck in Love,” resembles any bestselling author with literary cachet, it’s Jonathan Franzen, although Franzen would probably cringe at the comparison. Behind his designer glasses, the fashionably scruffy Bill wears a quizzical expression that signals the bemusement of a middle-aged man sadly watching the world go by. Every phrase out of his mouth is tinged with irony.
Bill is experiencing writer’s block in a beachside town and carrying on a casual affair with an attractive married neighbor (Kristen Bell), though he still carries a torch for his ex-wife, Erica (Jennifer Connelly). Bill has groomed his children, 19-year-old Samantha (Lily Collins) and 16-year-old Rusty (Nat Wolff), to be writers. Samantha is beautiful, talented, cynical and promiscuous, and Rusty, who idolizes Stephen King, is a dewy-eyed virgin in the young Robby Benson mold. Bill frets that his son’s literary development might be hindered by his lack of sexual experience. Not to worry.
Directed and written by Josh Boone, this semi-autobiographical film seems stuck in a fantasy of the literary life that feels more 1950s than 21st-century. To tune in to the messy psychological truth of people who live mostly inside their heads, see the films of Noah Baumbach.
Stephen Holden, New York Times