Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lady in the Wordplay 

Guess which two movies I saw recently?

It's a lot of fun, very light, and a perfect excuse to sit in an air-conditioned room for two hours to escape the heat. It's a really enjoyable documentary, but, as I watched celebrity after celebrity carry on about how much they love the New York Times crossword puzzle, I couldn't help but feel that this film was anything but cinematic. The competition in the second half of the movie never comes close to approaching the drama or resonance of the now classic Spellbound, but that was never it's intent. Wordplay never pretends to be anything other than fluffy and quirky. You can make plenty worse decisions on what to see this summer (more on that later). Also, I am still, four days later, having the most difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that former president Bill Clinton features in this documentary about crossword puzzles. For eight years, he was the most powerful man on Earth, and here, in the little film, he's articulating his fondness for crossword puzzles. Can you imagine any other former head of state from around the world granting such candid access for such a trivial topic? It's incredible. Really. It also hurts a little to hear Clinton express his thoughts so clearly and then think of who replaced him in office. Hurm...

Lady in the Water
To everyone in the "Hoping against hope that Shymalamadingdong isn't a total hack" camp, here's the good news: this movie is not completely awful. In fact, my expectations had been lowered so much, that in some twisted way, there is an illusion that the end result is somewhat passible. But in reflection, immediately upon leaving the theater, you realize that this is not the case. At all. As others have found out already, this movie is amateurishly bad. The first hour may be one of the clumsiest, most passive set-ups in recent memory. The third act? Well, there really isn't one, it's mostly just spill over from act two. The thing about Lady in the Water is that, given the nature of the film and the baggage that Shyamalan and his critics carry with them, it's incredibly easy (almost too easy) to hate. It's got a fairly undeserved bad rap. Don't get me wrong, it's still bad, but not to the vitriolic degree that the reviews would suggest. It really is infuriating, though, how all the action and plot is both lazy and passive. The side characters are all cheap jokes whose purpose for later in the film is telegraphed almost instantly upon seeing them. As for this being M Night's most pretentious effort, raising the level of pretentiousness to a whole new standard... I don't know. Aside from casting himself as an "important writer" and being cheeky about Bob Balaban's "scene" (I won't spoil it, just in case), I didn't find it that offensive. Incidentally, I've ruined Bob Balaban for myself. Be it in this movie, Capote, Seinfeld, Midnight Cowboy, whatever, my internal monologue just screams "BALABAN!" in the Henrietta the chicken from Return to Oz voice. So, to recap, it's absurdly lazy in every conceivable way (exposition, action, etc.) and a waste of Paul Giamatti's talents, however not uninteresting. It certainly held my attention far more than the nothingness of Pirates 2 and, despite it's predictability, was less predictable than Superman Returns. I'm tempted to say that you should give it a chance just to see for yourself that it isn't the worst movie in the world, but really, you don't have to do that.

**Bonus fun question for those who've seen this movie**
How long before someone "assassinates" Shyamalan?

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