Horror By Design

Before you proceed, a word of warning. You’ve probably seen said warnings on other reviews, but I cannot overstate this enough. If you have not seen The Cabin in the Woods yet, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, click that “Take a Leap” button. There will be spoilers aplenty, and believe me when I say, you do not want to be privy to any spoilers when you go into this movie. All you need to know is this. The Cabin in the Woods is sort of being advertised as your standard slasher flick where a bunch of teens do stupid things and get butchered, but hear me when I say that it is not! Cabin in the Woods is a smart, funny, scary, devilishly clever take on the horror genre that breathes new life into what was fast becoming one of the most predictable style of movies around. Boasting genuine scares and thrills, an instantly quotable script, and a premise too ingenious for words, Cabin in the Woods is one you cannot afford to miss. And that’s it. If you haven’t seen it, stop right here. Leave! Vanish!

Are they gone? Good. Now, all you who have seen it, click that button and let’s get into it.

This is the work of Loki!

Cabin opens with two scientists, Hadley and Sitterson, bustling around a high-tech complex, and preparing for… something. Then, we jump to five college kids, all of whom fill out your classic horror tropes to the tee. You have you hot hunk of man meat in Curt. You have his wild thing, hotter than the sun girlfriend in Jules. You have the seemingly innocent, cute but shy damsel in Dana. You have the bookish, do-gooder in Holden. And you have the perpetually stoned jokester in Marty. One afternoon, all five of these guys load up into the ol’ RV and hit the road, headed for a remote cabin that supposedly belongs to Curt’s cousin. Once there, strange things start happening, and people start to die. And it is all tied into what Sitterson and Hadley are doing in that high-tech complex. It is soon revealed that this is only one in a series of scenarios spanning the globe, and soon, I shit you not, the fate of the world is at stake.

Now, the trailers did hint at the whole “there’s someone controlling the strings” idea that this movie is all about, but it really only scratches the surface. You know how you always wonder why the people in these movies always act the way they do, going for a walk alone, or investigating the clearly dangerous basement? Well, Cabin comes up with a grand explanation for all that. See, those scientist guys really are pulling all the strings, and this includes flooding the area with gasses that cause the characters to behave in these dumb ways. And it’s actually that much scarier when you see how these characters really aren’t the typical horror archetypes at all. They are actually real people. Sure, Curt is a muscular behemoth with the supermodel girlfriend, but he’s also a smart guy with an eye for authors and a charming air. The seemingly innocent Dana is a bookworm and a shy one, but she’s also had an illicit affair with her professor. Nothing in this film is what you would expect. Tons of credit must be levied to writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.

The cast all performs admirably. Chris Hemsworth is a bundle of alpha male intensity as Curt, funny, touching, and totally ok with taking absurd risks to fend off the ghouls that come a’knocking. He’s looking a little thinner than usual, but since this thing was actually made before he picked up the thunder god’s hammer, it’s easy to ignore. Kristen Connolly is perfectly suited to take on the “female hero” role, but bringing more charm, grace, and sass to it than has been seen in eons. And Fran Kranz as the stoned, conspiracy spewing Marty is wonderful. Hilarious and heartfelt, he fires on all cylinders and really delivers.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are the two string pulling scientist, and they are quite the righteous hoot. While everyone else is running around screaming and getting dismembered, these two are busy flicking switches and buttons, all the while bickering about the state of things and how they hoped they would have had the chance to use certain tools. They are both fantastic.

Like the rest of this movie, the performances here defy your lowly expectations and turn out to be surprising and wonderful. Everyone does a good job, and is clearly having a great time as genre convention after genre convention is led to the chopping block.

All that guy wanted was a cup of sugar, you bitch!

Enough credit cannot be given to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, in his directorial debut. What they have done is simply marvelous. They have taken the horror genre, stripped it down to its bare essentials, added the ingredients of a clever premise, and then cut completely loose. What they have done is make a film that is equal parts horror and equal parts comedy, and never focusing on one element at the expense of another. Instead, the humor is deftly molded in, and the scares are genuine and truly chilling. As the teens slowly begin to die off, the level of suspense is ratcheted way up, so that when we get to the batshit insane finale, you have been taken on quite the ride.

And that finale really is insane. Where the rest of the movie was your standard horror flick, albeit with all the changes made, Act 3 is where things really get crazy and it’s that Cabin in the Woods transforms from a clever satirization of horror films into something truly special and admirable. The final sequence sees every single monster that has ever been conceived in nightmares or stories let loose in the facility, butchering everyone in their path. If you came to this movie looking for blood, that scene will leave you satiated and then still have torrents to serve you. And this mad gauntlet leads to final big reveal, which is of the “over the moon ridiculous with a capitol R” type, and that only makes it even more awesome.

It doesn’t hurt that this movie is hilarious! No doubt this has a lot to do with Whedon, who has a way with words that few people can hope to match. So, in between the deaths and the screams, you get scenes of two characters chatting about how annoying baby locks are, or how one character wanted mermen to be the ghouls that would terrorize the teens. But, it’s not just dialogue based. A lot of the humor comes from sharp and well thought out jabs at all the horror conventions we take for granted.

There’s a sequence where the scientists are observing how the scenario in Japan is going that leads into a hilarious back and forth that presents the differences between Japanese and American horror. At another point, one character is betting on what the monster to kill the teens will be. She picks zombies. She loses. What was actually picked to torment the teens was a “zombie redneck torture family”. Specifics, baby. And at another point, the teens run into that crusty old man who runs the decrepit gas station who offers none to subtle warnings about the cabin. You know, who I’m talking about. Every horror movie has that. Well, in this one, that guy is just an actor that the scientists have hired who really hates it when they put him on speaker phone. Priceless.

I really hope that if you haven’t seen the movie, you haven’t made it this far. I’ve given away a lot, and there’s still more I could have divulged. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, purge your mind of this article and go see it. Cabin in the Woods is awesome, truly excellent, with a loving care put into all facets of its production. Bloody scary and gut bus tingly funny, this is one you will regret missing. How it was sitting in the MGM vault for two years is beyond me. This thing should be let out to bask in glorious sunlight! And it deserves your veneration as well.


Wrath and Cheese

No one was really expecting anything from Wrath of the Titans. I mean, no one was really expecting anything from Clash of the Titans, yet that one still managed to disappoint. Regardless, a boatful of money can be very persuasive, and a sequel has befallen us underserving mortals. Boasting much of the same “talent”, but with the scale ramped way up, Wrath of the Titans sits poised to deliver exactly what I had hoped for from the first. A ridiculous, relentless, effects heavy action flick. The first one was one of the most boring films I can recall seeing that year. This one… not so much. Sure, Wrath of the Titans doesn’t have anything resembling a decent plot or a single well developed character. But it is so generous with the gonzo violence that I find myself strangely impressed by it. Though that could just have to do with my lowered expectations. Hm…

Whatever. Let’s get into it.

Take me back James Cameron!

Ten years after saving the world from the Kraken and casting Hades back into the underworld, the demigod Perseus is living the quiet life of a fisherman and caring for his son, whom he hopes will never follow in his father’s footsteps. Unfortunately, the mortals of Earth have finally turned their backs on the Gods of Olympus, whose power is all but drained. Seeking to regain his immortality, Hades, along with with Zeus’ son, Ares, makes a deal with the titan Kronos to deliver Zeus to him, and in doing so release him from his prison in the underworld. Upon hearing of his father’s capture, Perseus picks up the sword again and sets out to save his father and stop Kronos, as the titans are released and chaos reigns.

Now, doesn’t that sound pretty cool? I mean, hell yeah! It’s got gods and titans and power and family squabbles. To bad nothing is done to build on all this awesomeness. I mean, just think of the implications of a son rescuing his father from his uncle and brother, all the while attempting to stop his grandfather from destroying the world. It’s complicated as hell. I’m sure it would give Freud a migraine, let alone a lowly theater goer. But rather than plumb the depths of this concept, it goes pretty much unmentioned for the most part. Instead, the script is merely a series of set pieces connected by some pretty horrendous dialogue.

A critic I read brought up a good point about this. You know how some people say that a certain movie is like “a video game you can’t control”? Well, Wrath of the Titans is a video game you can’t control. Every set piece is just a huge gauntlet, full to bursting with obstacles, at the end of which is boss. Once Perseus dispatches said “boss” he moves on to the next set piece. It’s a terrible way to put together a plot, but it serves it’s purpose. That doesn’t mean I have to like it though.

Sam Worthington returns as Perseus. He does pretty much the exact same thing he did in the last movie… and every other movie he’s been in. Though he does make attempts at developing his character, (the stakes are higher for him here) most of the time he just comes off as a brainless meathead, being led from one monster to the next.

Rosamund Pike takes over for Alexa Davalos as Andromeda, who has been upgraded to the status of “warrior queen.” She is given literally nothing to do, and is so forgettable, you actually have trouble remembering that she’s even involved. Pike doesn’t really attempt to make anything of it. You can tell she did this for the check.

Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes returns as Zeus and Hades respectively. While Neeson struggles with his character’s plight, Fiennes as Hades does a rather excellent job. He’s betraying his brother, but you can tell he’s conflicted. It doesn’t come through in the script at all, but Fiennes is so good of an actor that he effortlessly presents it himself. Indeed, the arc between Zeus and Hades is the most interesting aspect of the film, and the only one that sees any sort of satisfactory conclusion.

The person who steals the show though is Toby Kebbell as the demigod Agenor. He seems to be the only having fun with his role, and offers a lot of witty line delivery and some welcomed heart. He’s the most memorable human in this thing.

I’m feeling that wrath, alright!

But performances and story are not something you’d expect when every single scrap of marketing focuses on the scale and the absurd amounts of destruction. No, action and effects are the name of the game, and thankfully, Wrath delivers where Clash failed to.

Director Jonathan Liebesman earned his stripes (in my opinion, and no one else’s) with the unrelenting Battle: Los Angeles a year ago. He, once again, manages to create a film that might be soulless, but damn is it exciting. The action never lets up. It takes all of twenty minutes for the earth to crack open and the demons to come pouring out, and then it’s just a never ending slog through chimera’s, cyclopses, minotaurs, and makhai. And that’s exactly what I wanted from this movie.

True, Liebesman does do the handy cam thing that he did with B:LA here, but while it worked there because he was trying to capture the chaos of shooting war in an urban environment, here, all it achieves is making the action hard to follow. Thankfully, he does take time to pull out and pan, showing all the juicy goodness, as luxury not allowed him with B:LA. 

And it’s never boring. For all it’s machismo, Clash of the Titans shot its load with the trailers, and everything else was just “blah”. Thankfully, the first big action scene here is ten times better than the finale of Clash, and the larger than life battle that makes up the final twenty minutes where gods, titans, and men all face off is pretty spectacular. Sure, there are points where you can tell that they added an action scene just for the sake of adding and action scene, as when Perseus faces off against what I assume is the minotaur. But that finale more than makes up for it.

It’s nothing to write home about, and I can almost guarantee I will change my tune if I’m ever bored enough for a second viewing. If you want gonzo, sword and sandals action, but with a better story and way cooler imagery, skip this and rent Immortals. But, terrible story, characters, and acting aside, Wrath of the Titans was alright by me. I didn’t hope for much, but what I did hope for, I got. Put yourself in my shoes. Would you completely bash something that did that for you? I didn’t think so.


This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Twilight

Dude, I cannot even being to tell you how relieved I am right now. A little over a month ago, I wrote up a piece detailing my crippling fears that The Hunger Games would squander it’s excellent source material in favor of appealing to the twihards. Perfectly legitimate concerns, mind you, as both Twilight and The Hunger Games are geared towards, more or less, the same audience. But where Twilight is boring, overly melodramatic, and soulless, The Hunger Games is tight, intense, and emotional, and it is with great pleasure that I can say that the movie adaptation of it is all those things and more! With unflinching loyalty to the source material, coupled with a practically perfect performance from the lead, The Hunger Games is the first big movie of 2012 that deserves your attention.

This is not a face you wave a flame in front of!

Decades after an catastrophic apocalyptic event tore through America, and a subsequent civil war decided who would rule and who would serve, the country of Panem has risen out of the ashes. Around the affluent and high-tech Capitol lie twelve, poverty stricken districts, inhabited by the descendants of the revolutionaries who rebelled against Capitol 74 years ago. In an effort to quell resistance where it usually starts, in the hearts of the young, the government mandates that, once a year, each district must offer up two tributes, one male, one female, between the ages of 12 and 18, to join with the other tributes in a fight to the death in a televised contest dubbed The Hunger Games.

Enter Katniss Everdeen, a strong willed, hard edged,capable young woman who harbors no love for the Capitol. When her younger sister’s name is drawn for the games, she immediately finds herself rushing forward and volunteering to take her place. Along with her district’s other tribute, a young man named Peeta Mellark (who may or may not be secretly in love with her), she is whisked away to the Capitol to prepare for the event. With the help of her prep team and her antagonistic attitude, Katniss makes an immediate impression on the viewing public. But when she enters the arena, everything changes, as she is forced to face and commit horrific acts of brutality in order to survive.

Ok, yes! I know! That sounds a lot like Running Man, and a lot like Battle Royale. Who was it who said that there are no original stories anymore? Who cares? I don’t, not when this particular version of the story is this good. Though the set up and universe aren’t the most unique, they way they are presented most definitely is. Entirely convincing in its portrayal, The Hunger Games is a harrowing, sometimes terrifying look at a bleak future, replete with violence, oppression, and despair. What makes the wheels turn on this story, however, is the character of Katniss. Put simply, she is the anti Bella Swan. Strong and independent, this is a hero that is deep, complex, and worthy of cheers! We see the story unfold through her eyes, and rather than bend to all the awful shit that happens (like a certain vampire lover is known to do), Katniss is the kind to face it down and (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) take it like a man! Without her, The Hunger Games would give off no more than dull glow. With her, it shines like a supernova!

Sharp dressed men!

It, of course, doesn’t hurt that the most talented young actress working today is playing Katniss, and let me tell you, if this is quality of work that Jennifer Lawrence puts forth in every single “event” movie she headlines, then I sincerely hope she ditches her indie roots and is cast in many, many more! Lawrence is incredible, imbuing Katniss with humanity, guts, and grace. Think of her character in this as Ree Dolly… if Ree Dolly were a badass killing machine when given a bow and arrow. There are stark similarities to both characters, not the least of which is the fact that Lawrence spends the majority of both movies trekking through heavily wooded forests. And believe me, she’s just as good here as she was in Winter’s Bone. Maybe better, I haven’t decided.

Though the rest of the cast is completely overshadowed by the goddess that is Jennifer Lawrence (Do I have a crush? I think I do.), they all leave there mark and create memorable characters. Josh Hutcherson breaks away from his Journey mold and fashions a sympathetic and romantic leading male. I have to congratulate him with how well he plays off Lawrence in this, especially when you take into account how much The Hunger Games messes with how the sexes are portrayed in movies like this. Here, Katniss is the capable hunter, ensuring their survival, and Peeta is the soul that makes sure they don’t lose their humanity. It’s refreshing change of pace, and Hutcherson does well with it.

Elizabeth Banks is completely unrecognizable as the flamboyant, pink haired Effie, Katniss and Peeta’s “manager”, so to speak. She offers up most of what can be considered comic relief with some impeccable line delivery. Woody Harrelson is superb as the tribute’s perpetually schwasted mentor. A role like that could have been played chiefly for laughs, but Harrelson inserts emotion into it, bringing forth demons from the character’s tortured past that wouldn’t have been seen otherwise. And Lenny Kravitz is pretty damn good in a small but pivotal role as Cinna, Katniss’ stylist, whose inventive and lavish costumes help her gain the approval of the crowd in a big way.

Wes Bentley (remember him?) is effective as Seneca Crane, the lead “Gamemaker”, who is getting a little disillusioned by the government rhetoric surrounding the games. Donald Sutherland is deliciously villainous in an expanded role as President Snow, the leader of the totalitarian Capitol. But it’s Stanley Tucci who steals the show as Caesar Flickerman, the “Ryan Seacrest” of The Hunger Games. With an incredibly expressive face, he demands your eyes in the few scenes that he’s in. He is also the announcer of the games, and provides a lot of helpful exposition.

Everyone is on their A game, but if they were all thrown into the arena, and their only weapons were their acting skills, Jennifer Lawrence would soundly destroy them all.

In my post expressing fears about this film, I made reference to the likelihood that the twisted levels of violence in the book would be toned way down in order to appeal to all the twihards that would flock to this thing. And while it is toned down to a certain extent to achieve a PG-13 rating, it really pushes it! There aren’t torrents of blood or guts, but this is still probably one of, if not the most violent “kids” movies ever made! Once the game begins, the tension is kept at a fever pitch, and never lets up. The opening scene, that sees some kids bolting for the trees, other attempting to grab supplies, is a literal bloodbath that elicited more than a few gasps from the audience. And then there’s the scene with the tracker jackers, which any fan of the book will tell you is downright sadistic, which is one of the most intense scenes I’ve seen in a whole hell of a long time.

Special mention must be made of Alexander Ludwig, playing a pitch perfect Cato, the main antagonist in the arena. In the book, he is a twisted, vile piece of work, taking pleasure in the killing like no one can, and mercifully, the filmmakers didn’t mess with that at all. There’s one scene that really hammers home how much of a monster he is. Katniss has dealt a blow to his group, destroying their supplies. Cato shouts at the kid who was supposed to be standing guard. When he isn’t satisfied, he simply breaks the kid’s neck. That they kept that scene in there, along with pretty much every other scene of murder, torture, and pain, makes me sooooooo happy.

I’m speechless on account of how ridiculous you look.

Helping the tension stay at such grand heights are some clever camera work and some sublime sound. The film is shot in shaky cam, a la Bourne, and while it isn’t as cool as it is in those films, it’s still effective. These are kids killing kids. It’s not going to be graceful. And though the shaky cam does hinder our viewpoint at times, it’s never a major issue. And then the sound in this movie. Holy shit, it is fantastic. When the games being, the score basically shuts off, and the ambient noises from the arena take center stage. It is consistently shocking when the low cannon signaling the death of another tribute booms in the distance. The gushing of blood, the snapping of bones, the screams of the dying; it’s all handled so well, and is so intense!

Liberties are taken with the book, to be sure, but they are, for the most part, welcome and do lots to flesh out the world. The characters of Seneca and Snow were barely there in the book, and here they have much more to do, providing insight into how Capitol functions, and showing that even the most devout servant of the regime could start to have doubts. It’s really fantastic. And then, in a different scene, it flashes back to another district right after the death of an important character and… well, all I’ll tell you is that’s it’s really powerful! Even Cato’s character is given more to do. At the end, he reveals a hidden depth and sadness that wasn’t in the books at all. It added another layer to the whole thing, making it that much more harrowing.

Yes, there are some things to nitpick. There’s a few flashes to a certain character that are supposed to be dramatic but are actually really hysterical, and the CGI can look a little shoddy at times, but it doesn’t really matter. The Hunger Games, for what it is, is brilliant! Director Gary Ross should be commended for making a tween blockbuster that is character driven, emotionally grounded, that also happens to include shocking levels of tension and violence for a PG-13 movie. This is one aimed at the tweens that everyone else can readily enjoy. Oh, Jennifer. You are amazing. Don’t ever change and may the odds be ever in your favor!


Hopped Up

Strange as it might be to hear coming from the… fingers of a person with somewhat refined taste in film, the fact remains that I dig the kind of movies that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor make. Though they have their names on some stinkers, I thought Crank was a fun, if formulaic flick. Crank 2, on the other hand, was the single biggest “fuck you” to mainstream action movies ever. Pretty much every single stupid thing you could imagine being packed into an action movie, Crank 2 had it. And I loved every single ridiculous inch of it. So, when I heard that Neveldine/Taylor were taking on the derided Ghost Rider franchise, my ears went all perky. Ghost Rider is the kind of comic book character that these guys were made for, totally insane and over the top. Now, the first Ghost Rider movie is one of the worst comic book films I’ve ever seen, so there wasn’t much in the way of expectations for this one. That being said, there are elements to enjoy here. They are few and far between, and even though Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t quite get a recommendation from me, it does so in a very half hearted manner.

This is me on a good day!

After accepting the fact that he can turn into a fiery demon death dealer at the drop of a hat, Johnny Blaze is sitting pretty in self imposed isolation in, where else, Eastern Europe. He’s brought back into the action when a drunk monk comes to him with a proposition. Stop the devil from using a young boy as the harbinger of the apocalypse, and Blaze’s curse will be lifted. What follows is whole lot of hammy acting and crazy violence. Along the way, Blaze finds himself getting attached to the kid and his absurdly hot mother, giving him more than one reason to see this thing through to the end.

Boring. So boring! The plot of this movie is so thin that to call it a plot would be an insult to plots the world over. The script only serves as a vehicle to shepherd the characters from one over the top action scene to the next. There’s not even an attempt at character development or anything like that. Johnny meets the boy and his mother one minute, and the next he’s willing to risk life and limb for them. And then, just like the first one, it ends rather abruptly and with no real resolution. Blah!

Nicolas Cage is Johnny. That should be all you need to hear. Truth be told, this is probably one of the better Nicolas Cage performances in a good while, but that might have to do with the fact that Cage is absolutely batshit insane in this! It’s your classic, over the top, ridiculous Nicolas Cage. It’s not necessarily a good performance, but it’s certainly a memorable one.

And that about does it for actors. No one else really cares at all to really try in this. Idris Elba is alright as the drunk monk who sets Blaze on his course, but he’s not in it enough. Ciaran Hinds is awful as the devil, and Violante Placido is eye candy and nothing else as the token female badass.

I will say that Johnny Whitworth is pretty good as the bad guy constantly hounding Blaze and Co, and when he gains some demonic powers of his own, he gets even more absurd. But it’s not enough.

A classic Nic Cage face!

There’s really no other way to describe it. This movie is on a lot of drugs. And when I say a lot, I mean every single kind known to man, and then a few yet undiscovered. Like the Crank films, Spirit of Vengeance is directed and shot in the most frenetic and crazy manner possible, even when there’s no action. And while this does do something towards covering up the lack of anything interesting happening outside of the violence, it’s also kind of nauseating. It also doesn’t really fit, because while Crank was all about the main character on all kinds of drugs and stimulants, Ghost Rider is all about a brooding anti-hero, so the coked up camera man thing isn’t all that appropriate.

Luckily, the action is pretty good. Now, any and all action is an immediate step up from the first installment; the first Ghost Rider is one of most the action-less superhero movies to come out in a long time. And while Spirit of Vengeance isn’t as relentless as other Neveldine/Taylor movies, what action there is pretty sweet. The highlight comes at the halfway point as the Rider turns a small army into bacon bits with a huge ass crane thing, and though the finale isn’t as cool, it’s still well done.

That’s what I really like about Neveldine/Taylor. Their camera work is all over the place and frenetic as all holy hell, but their action is always well shot, exciting, and easy to follow. This is most apparent in the finale, which sees the Rider singlehandedly taking on a heavily armored convoy. Though there are a lot of elements to consider, it’s always easy to tell what’s going on and where everything is in relation to everything else.

But, solid action and a ridiculous lead can only take you so far. It probably has everything to do with the Marvel brand and the PG-13 rating, but this thing is just tame for these guys. I’ve seen what crazy heights they will take their products to, and I’m sad to say that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance only scratches the surface of what these guys are capable of. But, it’s an improvement over the last one, to be sure, and Nicolas Cage is at his batshit best, so… whatever.

That SNL skit described this movie perfectly. It’s has the two elements of a classic Nic Cage movie. Every word is either whispered or shouted, and everything is on fire! Take it or leave it, but there it is!

Also a dude pisses fire. Awesome?





Sundance Review: The Words

Plagiarism is something that all writers struggle with, whether it be the urge to pass off somebody else’s work as your own, or when someone does it to you. It’s never a good feeling either way. If you get stolen from, you feel wronged that something you created is being taken credit for. If you do the stealing, you feel the guilt that comes with being a reasonable human being. This is the central dilemma in The Words, the star studded, closing night premiere at Sundance 2012. Unfortunately, The Words never rises above being more than a mildly compelling examination of the artistic ambition.

Rory Jansen is a struggling author who has good things to say, but lacks the talent or draw that is needed to get a manuscript published. While on holiday with his wife in Paris, he comes across a forgotten manuscript in a weathered attaché case, and immediately realizes he has stumbled on to something special. Since there is not author on the pages, he decides to pass it off as his own creation. He is hit with instant stardom in the literary world, and seems to be riding high. That is, until the true author of the book presents himself to Rory, plunging him into a moral quandary that forces him to seriously examine the man he has become.

The story is framed like this. Rory’s story is the subject of a novel that is being read before a crowd by the novel’s author. It’s easy to follow, but it’s kneecaps the movie where it shouldn’t. This sort of multi narrative structure is usually the setup for a big reveal, and, unfortunately, the big reveal in this one is painfully obvious from when the first character steps onto screen.

This is a loaded movie for a independent film festival. Bradley Cooper plays Rory with all the same smarmy charm that we associate with him, but he does dial it back a bit in the more serious moments, and flexes some dramatic muscles that we haven’t seen from him. Dennis Quaid is pretty blah as the author of Rory’s story, though he does deliver some great line readings. Zoe Saldana is just ok as Rory’s wife, and Olivia Wilde doesn’t fair much better as a college student who puts the moves on Quaid’s character.

The real stand out here is Jeremy Irons as the aged man who is the real author of the manuscript. A hefty portion of the movie is him telling the story of how he came to write the book, and it’s the only time that the movie transcends it’s lazy premise and becomes something truly memorable and heartbreaking. Irons is bloody fantastic here, and leaves all other floundering in his wake.

The direction by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal is well done; it’s clear these guys care about this material. They’ve only been working on it for ten years. And the score by The MARCelo Zarvos is very well implemented, giving off a sense of tension and stakes that the movie would be sorely lacking without.

Though it does pick up some steam as it hurtles towards its big reveal, the fact remains that The Words just didn’t do enough new things with the material to warrant any sort of overwhelming praise. Irons singlehandedly elevates the movie into a higher class; the whole thing is worth seeing just for him.