The Words 2012 Directed by Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal. Struggling writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper – well played), who could paper a room with rejection notices, finally takes a full time job in the mailroom of a literary agency. Wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) is consistently supportive, but he’s losing all hope. One night, Rory opens an old briefcase the couple bought on their honeymoon in Paris and discovers a post WWII manuscript of just the kind of beautifully written novel to which he aspires.
Just to bathe in it, he spends the night recopying its prose into his laptop. When Dora comes across it, she assumes it’s Rory’s writing. He kind of tries to tell her, then backs up. Published under his name, it’s a blockbuster. A scruffy older man (Jeremy Irons) follows then approaches Rory in the park. The manuscript was his. He fleshes out what happened, how and why it was written, the way it came to be lost. We see it unfold. Rory is horrified and, against his agent’s advice, tries to correct things. When he confesses to Dora, she moves out. He goes to see the old man, but…
The film is unnecessarily bookended by much too much time with successful author Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid) who’s written the book of Rory’s story – probably his own. This is a third layer after Rory’s tale and that contained in the manuscript. One too many. The other two hold us. Free with Amazon Prime.
Saving Mr. Banks 2013 Directed by John Lee Hancock. The mostly true story of author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) 20 year resistance to Walt Disney making a musical film version of Mary Poppins. In 1961, with royalties drying up, Travers is forced to reconsider the American offer and skeptically flies to Los Angeles. She’s icy and critical to Disney (Tom Hanks) as well as in-house songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak). Only assigned chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti) seems to connect with the author.
Travers is against sentiment that pervades the incipient film, something she feels goes against the essence of her heroine. Just when she seems swayed, she learns of an animation sequence. Furious, Travers goes back to London. Only when Disney arrives at her door with one last appeal and candid stories of his own childhood, does she relent. In reality, Travers never approved of softening Mary Poppins’ character, remained ambivalent about the music, and didn’t approve of animation. By contract, Disney had final cut. Admirably never gets saccharine. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Mr. Pip 2014 Based on the Lloyd Jones novel. Written and Directed by Andrew Adamson. An astonishingly unexpected and powerful film. 1989. Civil war rages in the extremely poor province of Bougainville, then the North Solomons of Papua New Guinea. Its black community live on home grown produce, pigs, and fish from the sea, inhabit rough-hewn, stilt-raised houses with plank floors and woven roofs, and turn to a small missionary church for anything resembling education.
A single white man, Mr. Watts (Hugh Laurie – marvelous) and his mentally ill black wife, originally from the town, also live there. When a blockade keeps a new teacher out, cultured, educated Watts volunteers. He teaches an all-age class, eventually drawing even parents, by reading from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The brightest student, Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi – excellent), begins to fantasize her own place in the Dickens novel based on an island town at the beginning of the 19th century. (The conceit is wonderful.)
Watts becomes a sympathetic friend. Matilda’s bitter mother Dolores (Healesville Joel) thinks the book is evil, that only the Bible is worthy of moral lessons. Her steadfast belief and tacit silence cause horrible consequences. The army captain thinks they’re hiding a rebel named Pip. The book, i.e. proof that Pip doesn’t exist, can’t be found. There’s a great deal of shudder-worthy violence in this part of the film, much of it thankfully just off camera. Social mores/traditions and suspicions credibly reign. History aligns. Painful, but worth it. Free with Amazon Prime.
Poison Pen 2017 Directed by Stephen Benedict, Lorna Fitzsimons, Jennifer Shortall. An agreeable romcom with a message. Booker Prize winning author P.C. Molloy (Lochlann Ó Mearáin) has been working on novel #2 for 15 years. His income derives from substitute teaching literature to a bunch of bratty, unappreciative freshmen. The writer is sarcastic about popular culture, quotes liberally in conversation, and holds classic authors as gods.
When the publisher that owns his contract is sold, April (Aoibhinn McGinnity), offers a deal: either turn over a finished manuscript, repay a fifty thousand pound advance, or come work for top magazine Poison Pen (tabloid) of which she’s editor-in-chief, Three agonizing (amusing) days later, P.C. checks into his new job a tweedy snob among amoral, hip young “reporters.”
In an effort to get fired, he turns an interview with a rock star (with whom he discovers rapport) into something human and literate. April loves it, other celebrities ask for him, his face is suddenly plastered on buses and billboards. The only other way out is to sleep with his boss defying rules of fraternization. On the way, he falls in love. There’s a jealous co-worker who prints something P.C. discreetly didn’t, misunderstanding with April as to motives, and a secret about his popular book. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Book Club 2018 Directed by Bill Holderman. A genial, formulaic get together for popular, older actresses: Diane Keaton as Diane, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Candice Bergen as Sharon, and Mary Steenbergen as Carol who start a book club to read and discuss “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (I hope the publisher paid well for the enormous plug.) Needless to say, neither sex nor love are finished for these hold-that-banner-high ladies.
Diane meets a dashing pilot (Andy Garcia), Vivian is pursued by Arthur (Don Johnson), a man she turned down 40 years ago, Sharon starts internet dating on a dare, and Carol tries to bring intimacy back to her marriage to now retired Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). Some pairs bloom, others end hopeful. You don’t have to know more. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Bookshop 2018 Based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Directed by Isabel Coixet. Young widow, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), takes her small inheritance and fulfills a lifelong dream to open a bookshop. She finds an abandoned house in the countryside of Hardborough, Suffolk and creates a charming shop. Unfortunately for her, town diva, Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), had plans for the structure she has no intention of giving up. Underhanded machination even includes involving a nephew who’s a member of Parliament.
Serendipitously, Florence finds a staunch supporter in recluse and best customer Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy). Still, Violet is powerful and this is decidedly not a rose-colored-glasses Hollywood film. Quietly charming and adult. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Booksellers 2020 Produced, edited and directed by D.W. Young. A fascinating and entertaining documentary for anyone who loves books. New York based rare booksellers of all types talk to the camera, from second and third generation dealers to others who caught the bug accidentally, occasionally as children, or came to it passionate about a niche; from those who’ve been in the field 60 years to auction curators, to a pair of young women looking enthusiastically forward to a future with which their elder peers disagree and a young black dealer specializing in Hip Hop.
We go inside shops, homes (sometimes Wunderkammers) where a multitude of shelves must be custom built to hold incredible weight and storage facilities (300,000 volumes); walk through Antiquarian Fairs and one of the largest private libraries in the country; watch foraging in dusty basements and attics. Argosy is able to stay open because the founder’s three daughters own the building as well as run the business. Nancy Bass Wyden, who inherited The Strand tells us about that invaluable treasure trove. The Gotham Book Mart, J.N. Bartfield, and Bloomsday share history.
Books, like art, fall in and out of fashion as do prerequisites for value. At first, paper covers were discarded, then their illustration and information became valuable as did inscriptions to known people. These books are venerated objects and/or investments. “You don’t spend $25,000 on a first edition `Moby Dick’ because you want to read it.” Author Fran Lebowitz intermittently adds wry, appreciative observations. Click to learn more about the film. Rent on Amazon Prime.