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"Words and Pictures" (and also Sound and Popcorn)

A tale of rivalry and romance

"Words and Pictures" continues the ancient feud between written stuff and drawn stuff.

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A picture's worth a thousand words, or so the old adage goes; but who's to say, really? Maybe back in the Stone Age - when words were little more than inarticulate grunts and "Yabba Dabba Do!" - Og's cave paintings really were worth a thousand words as they were the most effective way of stating, "I say, chaps, let us take up our pointy sticks and go poke yonder woolly mammoths." Fast-forward 10,000 years or so, and both words and pictures have come a long way. For instance, now we can enjoy the seminal 1981 Ringo Starr vehicle Caveman in glorious 720p resolution, and the pictures even move! That's apparently worth 40 bucks on Amazon, but is it really worth a thousand words? Am I to believe words like antidisestablishmentarianism, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis and neologisms like "YOLO" are still only worth 1/1000 of a picture in 2014? Who's calculating for inflation on these things? Is either one really worth more than the other?

English teacher Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) try to figure that out In Words and Pictures, the latest from director Fred Schepisi (Six Degrees of Separation, Roxanne). As the heads of their respective departments' Honors programs at a prestigious New England high school, Jack and Dina are each convinced that their field of study is the superior art form. What starts off as an innocuous professional rivalry turns into all-out war as the teachers pit their students against each other in a competition to determine once and for all which holds greater power: the pen or the paintbrush.

Man, people get weird when they want each other, don't they?

Owen and Binoche give the performances you'd expect from an Academy Award nominee and Academy Award winner. Jack and Dina are absolutely brilliant at their craft, much like the actors that play them, and the appeal of watching two highly intelligent people quarrel with one another can't be overstated. True, the romantic subplot is a bit cliché, but it's almost obligatory in a story like this. Fortunately, the leads have all the looks and charm of Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, and they help keep a familiar plot device appropriately heartwarming.

Words and Pictures works on different levels for different people. It's an amusing romantic dramedy for the casual moviegoer, and for those looking for something deeper, it's a study on the viability and merit of various forms of artistic expression. Is one form superior to another? Can such a thing truly be determined? That remains unclear, but the words and pictures in Words and Pictures come together to create a piece of art that's greater than the sum total of its parts.

WORDS AND PICTURES, opens Friday, June 13, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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