The Words

I first noticed Bradley Cooper in The Hangover as the wisecracking but loyal Phil.  It wasn’t too long before Cooper got his chance at top billing, starring alongside Robert De Niro in last year’s Limitless.  He proved in that movie that he could be relatable and endearing, and I knew that I’d be seeing much more of him.  Similar to his role in Limitless, Cooper once again portrays a struggling writer in The Words, a very thoughtful movie from writer Brian Klugman in his directorial debut.

The first thing that struck me about The Words was its interesting and novel structure.  Inception introduced us to the concept of a dream within a dream, within another dream.  Perhaps Klugman was inspired by that format, because The Words featured the unconventional concept of a story within a story within another story.  The movie begins with a narrated look at an ostensibly successful, award-winning author, Rory Jansen (Cooper).  Jansen has penned a critically acclaimed work of fiction called “The Window Tears,” a book that took him from obscure writer to literary sensation.  Rory has an adoring wife Dora, ably portrayed by Zoe Saldana (Colombiana).  When we first meet them they are off to an awards banquet, of which Rory is the guest of honor.  They are a beautiful couple, young and glamorous.  Rory is at the pinnacle of his career on what should be one of the happiest nights of his life, but there is a self-deprecating hint of sadness in his eyes that belies his staggering accomplishments.  It turns out that Rory’s conscience won’t fully allow him to enjoy the spoils of success, because his gains were ill gotten.

Any aspiring writer can tell you that their existence is characterized by a constant battle between their ideal and actual selves.  Am I good enough?  Will I ever be?  These are the perennial questions that plague any artist who struggles with finding inspiration or handling rejection.  Before releasing “The Window Tears,” Rory was beset by doubt and frustration, as the rejection letters mounted.  But his life would be forever changed by his honeymoon in Paris.  While strolling around a Parisian backstreet, Rory and Dora happen upon an antique shop where Rory finds a charming old leather briefcase.  Weeks later he discovers an old manuscript in one of the briefcase pockets and begins to read.  It’s an enthralling tale, and Rory is pained to know that he’d never be capable of producing such a work of art.  Deeply frustrated by his own limitations, he lashes out at Dora.  She believes in him but is wounded by his apparent dissatisfaction with his life, of which she is a huge part.  He begins to transcribe the manuscript verbatim, living vicariously through its anonymous author.  The tale is one of love and loss, set against a post-war Parisian landscape.  At first Rory’s actions seem harmless, but that all changes when he comes home one day to find Dora in tears.  Fearing the worst, he implores her to tell him what’s wrong.  It turns out that she read the manuscript, naturally believing that Rory wrote it.  She’s deeply moved, more than she has ever been by anything he’s written.  She unwittingly sets the stage for an incredible act of cowardice, as Rory takes credit for the story.  Eventually he publishes the manuscript under his own name, calling it “The Window Tears.”

The Words was a unique, emotionally rich movie.  It featured a wonderfully unconventional, non-linear storytelling approach about which I am purposefully not elaborating.  The layered approach made the movie fresh and intriguing, although the concept faltered a bit in the movie’s final act.  Additionally, I would have preferred more concrete resolutions to certain plot points, but these were only minor detractions.  One of the more successful aspects of the movie was its cast, who sucked me into their worlds.  Bradley Cooper was both endearing and compelling as the morally conflicted writer.   His scenes with Zoe Saldana were rife with chemistry, and she was picture perfect as his doting, supportive wife.  Jeremy Irons was wonderful as the Old Man who confronts Rory for stealing his story of love and loss.  He explains in vivid detail the life that inspired such a wonderful tale, each memory a piercing indictment of Rory.  His character was resolute but broken, having been robbed of everything that Rory now enjoys: notoriety, happiness, and true love.  The Words probably won’t make a big splash in theaters, but I thought it was a touching and original drama well worth seeing.  Grade: B+

This article first appeared here at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.

The Hunger Games

I didn’t read the book, ok? Hopefully you still find my thoughts on The Hunger Games relevant.  I’m not one of those people that must read the book before I see the movie. Movies are my passion, and I haven’t been a voracious reader since adolescence. I think all of this higher education dulled my ability to read for pleasure, and I’m working on getting that desire back.  But who cares, let’s talk about The Hunger Games.  When I was a kid I read a short story called “The Most Dangerous Game,” about a man who was hunted like an animal by another man.  It was a fascinating look into man’s most sadistic urges.  The Hunger Games promised to touch on a similar theme of self-preservation, and it presented an interesting portrait of a bleak future – a striking cultural dichotomy.

In a fictional future, the country has been fractured by civil war.  The rebellion was quelled, but now instead of states, American territory is divided into twelve districts.  As penalty for their uprising, the citizenry must offer a periodic sacrifice, or “tribute.”  Each district must randomly select one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 to compete in The Hunger Games, a televised battle pitting the 24 contestants against each other in a fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen (Jessica Lawrence, X-Men: First Class) lives in District 12, and here’s the dichotomy I was talking about.  Although the movie depicts a futuristic world, District 12 looks like it’s straight out of The Great Depression.  Known for coal mining, the residents of District 12 are covered in soot, both downtrodden and hungry.  Food is a precious commodity, doled out in parsimonious fashion.  People barter for food by agreeing to submit their name into The Hunger Games lottery.  If you’re starving and don’t have any currency, you bargain with your livelihood.  At least that’s what I managed to glean from the cinematic version.  If you literary enthusiasts need to correct me on that point, feel free.  Katniss has an adorable little sister named Primrose, who at the age of 12 is newly eligible for the Games.  She’s understandably petrified at the prospect of the competition, but Katniss reassures her that the chances of her being selected the first time are slim.  Turns out the odds are not in young Primrose’s favor, and her name is pulled for The Hunger Games.  Fiercely protective of her sibling, Katniss offers herself as tribute in Primrose’s place.  The male contestant randomly selected is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right), Katniss’ childhood friend.

That’s the basic gist of the plot, which you probably already knew. Most of the movie takes place in a faux wilderness of sorts, the setting for The Hunger Games.  The contestants compete in a controlled environment, manipulated by the producers of the show.  Katniss is a skilled huntress, deft with a bow and arrow.  She uses this to her advantage in the savage game, one that allows for the possibility of a twelve year old girl fighting an eighteen year old boy to the death.  Talk about the deck being stacked against you.  Recently the movie has come under fire from the omnipresent vocal minority of racist idiots that call the internet home.  Again, I haven’t read the book, but one of the characters named Rue (Amandla Stenberg, Colombiana), has been criticized for not living up to the lily white image some viewers were expecting.  I thought she was adorable, and I’m not going to entertain any criticism of her performance, which was flawless.  The nubile Ms. Lawrence was equally impressive in her role, both stoic and compassionate as the reluctant warrior.

The film was a provocative exploration of the human desire for bloodlust.  It’s just a movie though, right? We’d never have something like The Hunger Games in real life…or would we?  I think the idea of a random drawing goes against the very cornerstone of American freedom, but don’t tell me there isn’t a deep dark part of human beings that loves blood sport.  Gladiators used to battle in a Coliseum while people laughed and pointed and had a grand old time.  And how many people love MMA fighting?  Oh sure, it’s not quite the same, but you get my point.  Google Faces of Death.  People got quite a kick out of that.  The Hunger Games was rather intense for the average little kid, and I wouldn’t take my first grader (if I had one).  Otherwise, I thought it was a treat, and a definite must-see movie.  Grade: A-.