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Entries in jeremy irons (2)

Friday
Sep072012

The Words

The Words is a movie that gets by on its idea alone. It comes from Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman, first time writers/directors, and therefore is a little rough around the edges—even its talented cast comes off like first time actors who have finally caught their big break and are unconvincingly trying way too hard, a problem which hearkens back to the amateur directors—but where it lacks polish, it more than makes up for with an engaging story and an interesting, if somewhat obvious, twist. A movie that seemed so simple at first suddenly becomes surprisingly poignant. It’s an Inception like narrative that is weaved together in a way that creates a character parallel that is difficult to explain, but is immediately apparent when watching. It may be a stylistically rough movie, but thematically, it’s quite beautiful.

The movie stars Dennis Quaid as Clay Hammond, an author who is reading his latest book to a crowd of fans who have gathered around to hear him. As he reads, we’re pulled into his story and meet his character, Rory (Bradley Cooper), an author himself who is struggling to get his first book published. He’s put three years of work into his novel and despite his admittedly excellent writing, he is turned down by every publisher he submits his book to. One day, while on vacation in London, he finds a worn down valise that contains a manuscript that is among one of the best he’s ever read. He begins to type it into his computer, not with intent to plagiarize, but, as Clay the narrator says, to feel the words flow through his fingers. However, his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), soon stumbles upon what he typed up and begs him to shop it around, not knowing every word of it is stolen. In order to not disappoint his wife, he does just that and the book is immediately bought. It quickly becomes a hit and Rory finds himself among the top authors in the world. A few years later, an old unnamed man played by Jeremy Irons appears and begins to tell his own story (which we also see onscreen) about a man who wrote a story back near the end of World War II, but then lost it. Rory quickly realizes that the old man is referring to the story he stole.

The Words, a story about an author reading a story about a struggling author stealing a story that another author wrote many years ago, may sound confusing, but it isn’t. It somehow manages to balance the accessibility of the narrative with complex themes and meanings. It never dumbs itself down for fear of isolating some audience members (aside from a few tiny narrations from Quaid as he reads from his book) and if nothing else, it should be commended for it. It doesn’t always succeed in what it sets out to do, but The Words is unique, taking a basic foundation made popular by 2010’s Inception and tweaking it to fit within the context of a dramatic story.

Nearly every aspect of the movie, from its performances to its looks to everything in between, is a give and take. For every one thing I would fix, there’s something else I wouldn’t touch. Some scenes work wonderfully while others fall flat on their face. The best example of the latter comes when Dora tells Clay that reading his novel was more honest, true and passionate than anything else he’d ever written. She tells him that the book contained all of him, even the parts she didn’t know existed. Of course, the book wasn’t written by him, so while she thinks she’s giving him a compliment, she’s really crushing him on the inside. The scene is a catalyst for all the events to come, but it’s more amusing than it is dramatic and more worthy of laughs than it is tears.

As far as visuals go, The Words is, like everything else, a mixed bag. For example, there is some awkward framing prevalent throughout the entire movie—sometimes it’s too uncomfortable to see these actors that close up, especially given their by-the-numbers performances—but once again, it’s strengths outweigh its flaws. Interestingly, the directors opt to shoot their movie using both the digital and film formats, the former for the current time settings and the latter for the World War II setting. This gives the movie some much needed style that is missing elsewhere and it creates a distinct feeling for each time period, keeping them separated before their thematic relation is finally revealed.

It’s a nice touch in an otherwise bland looking movie. In fact, the whole thing could essentially be summarized like that. The remnants of a bad movie are there, but there is enough thought and care put behind its creation that it comes out as much more. While I hesitate to hype it up more than it’s worth, The Words is nevertheless a surprising, underrated gem that is definitely worth a look this weekend.

The Words receives 3.5/5

Friday
Feb182011

The Last Lions

Nature documentaries are a dime a dozen. It may not seem like it, but they pop up rather frequently across film and television, though they rarely get the exposure big budget films (or even other documentaries) do. I suspect the reason for this is that if you’ve seen one on a particular subject, you’ve seen them all. Case in point with National Geographic’s The Last Lions. Although not without merit, this film’s subject matter, lions as they struggle to survive in the harsh lands of Africa, has been seen before in movies like The Desert Lions and it is likely to be done again in the form of Disneynature’s upcoming African Cats. Because of this, the movie finds itself in a sort of conundrum. Those who enjoy this sort of thing have most likely already seen it in other various forms, so there’s really no need to see it again. However, though derivative, one must respect the craft that went into the making of The Last Lions and in that regard, I give it my recommendation.

When watching a story driven nature documentary such as this, authenticity is always questioned. Who knows how much of this thing is authentic and how much unrelated footage was cut together to create the illusion of events unfolding, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s entertaining and informative. The Last Lions is both, even if it fails to stand out from the crowd. The story as presented here follows a lioness that has just lost her mate to an invading pack of lions and is on the move with her three young cubs to avoid the same fate.

Nature is inherently dramatic and that’s the beauty of The Last Lions. Most of the suspense and emotion comes from what’s unfolding onscreen. You’ll clinch up as you watch the momma lion and her cubs wade through crocodile infested waters and you may even feel a tinge of sadness when tragedy strikes, as it so often does in the wild. The only problem comes from the sometimes histrionic narration from Jeremy Irons, which takes the natural drama of the circle of life and ramps it up, making it much more dramatic than it really is. It’s not easy to watch a bloody, battered lion take his last breath and die, but this type of behavior is not out of the ordinary for these creatures. It is everyday life.

The filmmakers use this tactic to try to tack on a feeling of humanity to these lions, to mixed results. It works because it helps to make things more personal—many of us know what it’s like to act as protector and provider for our families—but it also takes away from the true nature of what is happening. Certain lions are presented in the film as villains, but they are doing nothing any other lion wouldn’t. They are fighting for their survival. Instead of simply presenting the footage and information, the film skews it and makes us essentially choose a side, which misses the entire point.

However, I must commend the filmmakers for dialing down the cutesy narration so many other nature documentaries insist on having (like another one of National Geographic’s films, Arctic Tale). Conversely, it’s actually quite grim, which I appreciated. These animals live in an environment that is dangerous and unforgiving so the sugarcoating that persists in other similar films does a disservice to them. The Last Lions, in this regard at least, gets it right.

At the end of the film, the narrator ominously mentions that the remaining lion could be “one of the last wild lions on Earth,” as if the preceding story of a lion going through the motions of your typical wild animal somehow makes a statement on the dwindling lion population. Although it is true that only a small fraction exist today compared to 50 years ago, you wouldn’t know it from watching this film. Aside from the opening and closing words, there’s no true message here, though the filmmakers would like to believe there is.

With so many problems coexisting beside more positive traits (including the as yet unmentioned stellar cinematography), The Last Lions is polarizing. Love it or hate it, I understand both sides. Although I personally think it’s worth a look, it is better suited for lovers of nature documentaries. Everybody else should steer clear.

The Last Lions receives 2.5/5