The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a comedic look at the voice-over industry from triple-threat Lake Bell, Woody Allen’s newest, and a documentary about SeaWorld’s most controversial killer whale.
In a World
Directed by Lake Bell
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Children’s Hospital writer and star Lake Bell makes her feature-film debut with In a World, a warm and funny look at the male-dominated wasp’s nest that is the voice-over industry. In addition to writing and directing the film, the multi-talented Bell stars in it as Carol, a vocal coach and aspiring voice actor who’s all but ignored by her trailer-narrating superstar father, Sam (Fred Melamed)—until, that is, she starts snagging jobs that he had lined up for his would-be successor, Gustav (Ken Marino).
Likeable as it is, this is a messy debut, prone to lengthy tangents, such as a marital dustup between Carol’s sister and brother-in-law (Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry, both excellent) and two possible romances for Carol, who’s a bit strangely depicted as an ugly duckling despite her irrepressible star charisma. That structural bumpiness aside, the film is an intelligent skewering of an industry that undervalues talents like Bell’s, and a brilliant showcase not only for her own formidable comic chops but also for those of her fabulous ensemble cast—many of them television actors relishing the opportunity to stretch in a film.
Directed by Woody Allen
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Though actors as established as Kenneth Branagh and Anthony Hopkins have fallen prey to Woody Allen’s tendency to write male characters as awkward surrogates for himself, it’s generally understood that the prolific filmmaker, now on his forty-third feature, writes plum parts for women. He writes neurotic female characters especially well, as Dianne Wiest’s two Oscars for high-strung supporting roles in Allen’s films can attest—don’t be surprised when Cate Blanchett starts claiming gold statuettes for her bold, theatrically grand performance in Blue Jasmine.
As many have critics have noted, Blanchett’s Jasmine owes a serious debt to A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois, a part the actress played on the stage as recently as 2009. Like Blanche, Jasmine is a faded aristocrat visiting the rude and crude world of her sister (a wonderfully nervy Sally Hawkins)—Jasmine’s husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been imprisoned for his role in a shady financial scheme and taken the family fortune down with him. Jasmine, though, is a tougher piece of work than Blanche —a babbling lunatic, yes, but one with unshakeable self-regard.
It’s to Blanchett’s and Allen’s credit that Jasmine never quite becomes likeable even as her situation gets increasingly dire. We understand her, and that’s enough, for us as well as the film. Blue Jasmine is at heart a modest character study of a child forced to grow up in her mid-forties, then left kicking and screaming on her fall all the way down from the finest Manhattan restaurants to her own personal hell: working-class San Francisco.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
The Royal (608 College Street)
If all you had to go by were their onscreen counterparts, you’d think killer whales led innocuous lives. (The star of the 1977 cult thriller Orca excepted.) Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish says otherwise, using a methodically charted, disconcerting psychological profile of a whale named Tilikum, one of SeaWorld’s prized captives despite his staggering body count: two human trainers and one wayward visitor.
Blackfish is a slick production, which is a drawback in the sense that it practically forces the film to check off a laundry list of documentary tropes—talking head interviews, ironic uses of archival footage, cheeky animated infographics—to little effect in the opening reel. As Cowperthwaite sheds these stylistic quirks, though, the film becomes an absorbing look at the ghastly living conditions of the killer whales forced to perform in marine amusement parks. More improbably, it becomes something of a horror movie about its star’s decidedly nasty temperament.
Cowperthwaite’s uncompromising stance against captivity will no doubt radicalize a few SeaWorld enthusiasts. But it’s her sensitivity to the emotional life of her subject, and her bold characterization of Tilikum as a psychopath bred by a horrific environment, that sets Blackfish apart from other activist documentaries, and puts it in the same league as Werner Herzog’s mesmerizing Grizzly Man, still the gold standard for tough films about morally ambiguous animals.