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Notes from the back row

Cruise cruises, Sandler Sandlers and Helvetica rules



Some movies are smart and some are stupid. In the '80s it seemed like almost every big action/comedy movie was an opposites-attract buddy or romance flick (like 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, Romancing the Stone) and these days that overdone aesthetic is back en vogue because Hollywood is dumbing down.

This week the Village 8 is opening Knight and Day, a poorly titled spy-romance flick starring Tom Cruise as a suave secret agent spouting cheese-dick lines and Cameron Diaz as the girl next door counterpart who gets drugged a lot and doesn't know what's going on.

Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma remake) has no choice but to throw logic and plausibility out the window in this globe-trotting actioner that chooses chase scenes and shootouts over character development and anyone giving a shit what happens in the end.

As a mindless summer popcorn movie it works better than the similarly-plotted Killers, which came out two weeks ago and bombed, but Knight and Day still pales in comparison to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and not just because of the Angelina factor.

Tom Cruise struggles with his romantic lines as he always has, even when working with his own wife in Eyes Wide Shut - he just doesn't come across as a guy who can pull the ladies in a post-1992 world. Diaz does a bit better, perhaps because she is roofied half the time (date rape drugs are foreplay in this film) or perhaps because she simply isn't Tom Cruise.

Regardless, there is nothing new here. Chase scenes we've seen before, truth serum/sex jokes, and the old "okay, let's go on three... one... two..." joke. Rent Hitchcock's North By Northwest instead.

Also opening this week is Grown Ups, which Adam Sandler wrote with Fred Wolf (House Bunny, Stranger Wilderness) and is basically about five long-lost buddies who get together with each other's families for a vacation. Like pretty much all of Sandler's films this is a "smoke 'em if ya got 'em" movie and if ya got 'em then it's pretty damn good.

That the cast - including Rob Schneider, David Spade, Chris Rock and Salma Hayek - are friends in real life only helps sell the characters. My only gripe is Kevin James (Mall Cop). I hate that guy, and Chris Rock is drastically underused. But fans of lowbrow humour about pissing in pools, getting hit in the nuts, breastfeeding and juvenile camaraderie will be pleased. It's asinine and stupid, but in an awesome way.

I've mentioned before that we are currently enjoying a golden era of documentary filmmaking and the DVD of the week (or iTunes download if you're living that kind of lifestyle) is Helvetica, a killer flick about the font of the same name.

How could a doc about a font possibly be good? Fair question but this is one of those movies about some of the interesting shit that is all around us that we never even notice. Helvetica is THE font of advertising and communication and has been the hottest thing in graphic design since the Swiss invented it in the 1970s. "It's not even about the letters, it's the spaces between the letters," say a bunch of famous designers in thick euro accents.

Helvetica, the film, also provides a look at the history of typefacing and design but it's the font that is most intriguing. When Apple, Saab, Panasonic, American Apparel, the IRS, stop signs, The North Face, BMW, The Beatles, Jackass and Oral B all use the same font in their logos, you know there's a story there. Check out Helvetica, it's smart.



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