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Double Feature: Playing with Words, and Time

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Double Feature: Playing with Words, and Time

Movies

Double Feature: Playing with Words, and Time

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

With school finally out for the summer, there are lots of movies opening this weekend. Enough that Bob Mondello opted to do his review as a double feature, half about a movie that plays with words, it's called Wordplay, and half about a movie that plays with time. It's called The Lake House.

BOB MONDELLO movie reviewer:

When Keanu Reeves moves into the lake house, he finds a puzzling letter in the mailbox from a woman claiming to be a previous tenant. So he writes back.

(Soundbite of The Lake House)

Mr. KEANU REEVES (As Alex Wyler): Dear Miss. Forester, I got your note and I'm afraid there must be some kind of misunderstanding. As far as I know, the lake house has been empty for several years.

MONDELLO: Miss Forester, played by Sandra Bullock, is actually Dr. Forester, and she's a little touchy about being corrected, especially by someone who can't even get the date right.

(Soundbite of The Lake House)

Ms. SANDRA BULLOCK (As Kate Forester): Oh, by the way, it's 2006. It has been all year. Ask anyone.

Mr. REEVES: 2006?

MONDELLO: See he's living in 2004 and they have, heaven help me, a magical mailbox. This being a romance, that is both a boon and a problem. Once they stop sparring, our two lovebirds can't just get together tomorrow night because tomorrow for her is two years away for him. But they do have their letters and that mailbox and some pretty convoluted plot twists to keep them company as they bob like corks on a stormy sea of time or something.

The Lake House is based on a Korean picture, is directed by an Argentinean and features supporting players with a variety of intriguing accents. And it's tempting to say that something's getting lost in translation, except that we are, after all, in the twilight zone here. And all those different influences are more interesting than the leads are.

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are attractive enough, but are almost never on screen together. So chemistry? Not so much. Still, the plot, if you don't question it too closely, does sort of parse, even when it doesn't make sense. And if you're willing to indulge a sappiness factor that's off the charts and you don't mind movies that just sort of tread water, The Lake House may be your kind of time waster.

Personally, I prefer playing with words and who better to do that with than a guy whose name is Shortz and who spells it with a final Z? Will Shortz, who is NPR's puzzle guy on Weekend Edition Sunday and who has a day job as crossword puzzle editor with some New York City daily, is our guide in Wordplay to a pastime that occupies some 50 million Americans every week, including some reasonably famous folks. Former presidents.

(Soundbite of Wordplay)

President WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Never on Sunday, starring Melina Mercouri. You have to be old like I am to remember it.

MONDELLO: Also Comedy Central newscasters:

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, The Daily Show): Main arteries? How can that not be aortas? How can it not?

Unidentified Man: No, it's not.

Mr. STEWART: Yes, it is. Come on!

MONDELLO: Also singers, like The Indigo Girls.

Unidentified Woman: Duel with crosswords.

MONDELLO: And documentarians like Ken Burns.

Mr. KEN BURNS: Duel, which is cross swords, which is also crosswords, so they're playing with us here.

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Patrick Creadon spends the first half of Wordplay not just with celebrity puzzleholics, but also with the puzzleheads who construct puzzles, even while driving down a highway.

Unidentified Man: Yeah, Dunkin' Donuts. If you put the D at the end, you get unkind donuts, which I've had a few of in my day.

MONDELLO: In the film's second half, the focus shifts to the annual crossword puzzle tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, where computer graphics, snappy editing and the decidedly odd personalities on display lend considerable tension.

Admittedly, the geek factor in Wordplay is every bit as high as the sap factor is in The Lake House, but if the choice is between a redesign of time or pitting nerds against words, I'd say make time for the nerds.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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