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In the interest of full disclosure, I watched Fool’s Gold in an airplane, on the way to Vegas.  Also, I watched it in an airplane coming back from Vegas.  Neither of which found me in optimal movie-watching conditions.  Both in terms of my emotional state and my enviornment.

If you somehow missed the movie, it is a variation on your standard treasure hunting movie.  Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are a recently divorced pair who have been searching for a certain buried treasure.  They finally get a concrete clue to its location and are forced to team up with the help of the wealthy Donald Sutherland and his socialite daughter (Alexis Dzenia), as they try to beat a rival treasure hunter and former mentor (Ray Winstone), and I can see how this might possibly be construed as improbable, the bad guy is a rapper named Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart) who has the typical henchmen, including the not-so-typical Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

The movie wasn’t terrible, but it never really got all that exciting.  The story was incredibly linear, and any even slight tension was resolved within seconds or simply forgotten.  John Claflin, Daniel Zelman, and Andy Tennant’s script (Tennant directed and the story was by the other two) did manage to get in a few funny quips.  But mostly we were treated to a stale plot with generally undeveloped characters.

Since harping on the underwhelmingness of the film would be as boring as the movie was, let me run down a few high points.

Kate Hudson is rather fit.  Surpringly, she’s not in a bikini much.  Or at all.  Save for one scene that feels like…well, it feels like the breakdown in Do Wah Diddy (See 1:37).  Not unwelcome, just entirely discordant with the rest of the work.  I mean, it was a blatantly gratuitous mini-scene of Hudson and McConaughey cavorting on a beach shot entirely differently from the rest of the movie.  I’m hoping the studio made Tennant put it in and he was just showing his displeasure.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner is awesome.  Malcolm as a henchman with an vaguely-“Island”, mostly-indistinguishable accent?  Even awesomer.

You should watch Dirty Sexy Money.  Or, see the first season, and since the show was renewed, watch the second season along with me.  There and here Donald Sutherland excels as the rich old dude with a sense of humor and adventure.  A very entertaining character.

Alexis Dziena plays, unfortunately, a Paris Hilton type.  She’s A-OK in my book, and has upcoming roles in a Russell Crowe movie (Tenderness), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (which I’m really looking forward to), and is rumored to have a role in When in Rome.  So that’s nice.  I say “unfortunate” because her characters epitomized the movie’s flaws.  She’s perfectly set up to be part of a love triangle with McConaughey and Hudson, but while that’s hinted at when we first meet her character, we quickly move on to other things.  Dziena’s character has a relatively interesting background, and appears to play at being the pretty bubblehead while actually being smart.  But those characteristics are really only utilized when Hudson bluntly tell her she is capable of being intelligent, if she would just use it.  Aside from it being a subplot which goes nowhere, it is frustrating to have a potentially interesting character, capable of at least some development, robbed of all subtlety.

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I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass.

Okay, now that the perfunctory Philip Glass joke is out of the way out of the way out of the way out of the way out of the way, I’ll venture into a bit why I really enjoyed Australian director Scott Hicksdocumentary in twelve parts about the life and work of the extraordinary composer.

To be brief, Glass was a musical talent starting early on in his career, including his time at University of Chicago and Julliard. In the 1960s, he collaborated with Ravi Shankar, Chuck Close, and other artistic luminaries in and around New York City with experimental music. His monotonous style is best described by filmmaker (and frequent Glass collaborator) Errol Morris as “existential dread,” but intrinsic in so many of Glass’ pieces is the hope of a break in the clouds, a happy end on the horizon.

The twelve parts cover all aspects of Glass’ life, including his family, his youth, his summer home, his Taoist/Buddhist mash-up faith, his opera, his symphony, his film work.

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Film noir is ridiculous.  I have absolutely no idea why someone first thought creating a movie where everything is murky was a good idea.  “You have a problem with a mostly incomprehensible plot?  Oh, well, don’t worry, the dialogue will be highly stylized and rapid-fire, so viewers will be too distracted to notice what is happening.”  That said, film noir is genius.  There’s constant tension, almost by definition.  Nothing is as it seems, and as such, the movies tend to demand an engaged viewing.

Anyway, on my mom’s recommendation, I finally got around to seeing Out of the Past, which places at or near the top of just about every best-of film noir list.  There’s no real point in trying to describe the plot, since if it could be described, it probably isn’t film noir.  Basically, Robert Mitchum own a gas station in a small town in the southwest.  But one day his past catches up with him, as we find out he used to be a PI, and after accepting a case for a big time bad guy (Kirk Douglas) to find Douglas’s missing girlfriend (Jane Greer), he ends up running away with the girlfriend.  I’ll stop there, but the film contains pretty much everything you’d expect from a movie like this: love triangles, deaths, frantic phone calls, double and triple crosses, and so on.

There’s much to love about Out of the Past, but above all, I love the ending.  I’ll try not to spoil anything, in case anyone happens upon this post hasn’t seen the movie (or if I do, since me happening on this post may mean I’ve forgotten the ending).  But to me, the ending is what most screenwriters wish they had the balls to write.  The question Mitchum’s small town girlfriend (Rhonda Fleming) asks, and the response, coupled with everything else that happens just blew me away.

The snappy dialogue of Daniel Mainwaring’s script (imdb says Frank Fention and James M. Cain did uncredited work on it) is impressive.  Everyone who watches the movie has their own favorite line.  The plot is actually relatively intelligible.  If I had to change something, it’d probably be when Mitchum and Greer first meet.  It isn’t that I don’t believe they would get together, rather, I would have liked to see their early meetings written more cleverly, in a manner befitting the rest of the movie.

I’m no film noir expert; I’ve only seen a handful of films in the genre, so I can’t pretend to place Out of the Past on a list of some sort.  But I definitely enjoyed it more than The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, for whatever that is worth.

27 Dresses has a relatively standard plot.  Katherine Heigl is desperately in love with her boss (Ed Burns).  Her younger sister (Malin Ackerman) comes into town to visit, and a few weeks later, is engaged to Burns.  Meanwhile, Heigl is doggedly pursued by James Marsden, a first class wedding reporter.  The title comes from the fact that Katherine Heigl is a very very good bridesmaid, which might be expected after attending 27 marriages.

Movies of this sort typically depend on the success of a few key arcs.  One is the pain the lead feels at being so close to the man she loves, and yet unable to reach him.  This film executes this arc exquisitely, as Heigl not only has to deal with her dream man being with her sister, she has to plan much of the wedding, dealing with her sister’s Bridezilla routine.  The film does an excellent job of not laying it on too thick, and Heigl is great for just barely letting the pain show through as she soldiers on.  Well done on this front, 27 Dresses.

A second important arc, or moment, at least is the realization that the guy next door/best friend/dork you are helping out is actually the one for you.  Generally speaking, there are two main contributing factors here.  First, an established relationship with the guy next door/best friend/dork you are helping out, so the realization is believable.  And second, of lesser importance, is some sort of amusing event forcing the realization.  I’ll hold comment on the latter, which is a very minor spoiler.  My biggest problem with the movie was with the former.  Part of it is that Heigl and Marsden don’t seem to have much chemistry.  But the larger problem is that there’s no foundation for their relationship.  Granted, the characters have perfect backgrounds for each other.  But I didn’t find myself wanting them to be together.  It seems the only reasons they get together are Marsden’s stalkerish tendencies, one alcohol-fueled night, and an Elton John song.  And it is “Benny and the Jets”, for crying out loud.

There’s a few fun supporting characters, even if they don’t get much screen time..  The lovely Krysten Ritter (Gia Goodman from Veronica Mars) plays a “Goth” secretary at Heigl’s work.  Melora Hardin shows up as Marsden’s boss.  And sadly, the character is nothing like Jan.  Last, but certainly not least, Judy Greer is Heigl’s best friend/co-worker.  In a just world, Greer (the Love Monkey alum, as you surely remember) would get to be playing leads.  But I’m happy to take what I can get.

Aline Brosh McKenna’s script isn’t perfect, but it delivers.  McKenna also wrote The Devil Wears Prada, but don’t hold that against the movie.  I mostly admire the restraint shown.  Yeah, being a bridesmaid twenty-seven times is quite a lot, but it fits in with the story.  Even the slightly ridiculous things never feel over the top.

Possibly the the coolest thing about the movie, and I have an imdb.com commenter to back me up, is that Malin Ackerman’s ringtone appears to be Mikey’s music from Nickelodeon Arcade.  I mean, come on.  How cool is that?

The best thing about Hancock may be the Bond trailer which precedes it.  Granted, I may be just a wee bit pumped up for Quantum of Solace.

Will Smith seems just about incapable of making bad movies.  Probably because he’s ridiculously awesome.  No, seriously.  Go back and watch some episodes of Fresh Prince.  The man is a genius.  In Hancock, we get to see a different sort of Will Smith character, trading drunken misanthropy for the usual wisecracks and winning smiles.  It is fascinating to see his darker side, and I, for one, am rooting for him to play the heavy at some point.

The movie was well-publicized as a sort of anti-(super) hero story.  Really, though, Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan’s script plays just like a superhero movie, only the reluctant hero is a little more blitzed than usual.  So I guess I didn’t find it particularly unique, in that regard.  Which is disappointing, because I think given the premise and the actors, it really could have better broken away from the superhero norms.

Is it just me, or does Jason Bateman seem destined to go down the career path of Greg Kinnear or Dennis Quaid?  Maybe it is just me.  He gets to be married to Charlize Theron in this movie.  He got to be married to Jennifer Garner in Juno.  Jason Bateman is a lucky man.  Both his and Theron’s characters needed a bit more to them.  I don’t want to ruin the few twists in the movie, but there are a few key moments when the movie could have done more to explore these non-Hancock characters.

Speaking of not ruining things, look out for the Friday Night Lights characters.  I won’t say who they are, but one is likely one of your favorite, and the other may well be one of your least favorite.

The film is enjoyable, it just doesn’t always seem to hit the marks it should.  There are several potentially poignant moments, but the film fails to deliver.  Instead, we are left with a relatively average superhero movie.  Which, hey, isn’t a bad thing.

July 2008
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