Saturday, August 29, 2009

Movie Review: "Duplicity"

Starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti
Directed by Tony Gilroy

Official Web site

Caper movies can be, by turns, thrilling, funny, intense or just plain stupid. You can certainly leave that last adjective out of describing “Duplicity,” as the film keeps the brain working throughout. A bit too much, some might argue, which could be seen as a problem.

Director Tony Gilroy also wrote the screenplay, which includes so many crosses and double-crosses, you’ll lose count. Still, there’s an air of fun to the proceedings, featuring a game cast, led by the palpable chemistry between stars Clive Owen and Julia Roberts.

Having teamed up previously on Mike Nichols’ drama, “Closer,” it’s good to see Owen (who’s rarely seen in lighter fare like this) and Roberts (who’s been rarely seen on screen at all in recent years) back together.

Owen plays Ray Koval, an ex-MI6 agent, who runs into Claire Stenwick (Roberts) while on a job. While he instantly recognizes her, she feigns having ever met him. It’s for a good reason, as she seduced him while on an assignment for the CIA years ago, stealing some secret documents he was in possession of in the process.

She eventually admits to their less than picture perfect history, but Ray finds himself still drawn to her. The feeling is likewise, or is it? When you get two spies together who are deceitful for a living, can they ever really trust anyone?

That question is a central conflict in Ray and Claire’s relationship, as they decide to team up to steal a top secret formula that has been developed by the company for whom Claire works. Her boss, Howard Tully, (Tom Wilkinson, who also co-starred in Gilroy’s sensational “Michael Clayton”) has an intense and highly competitive ongoing feud with Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti). Richard, who is Ray’s boss, is paranoid that his rival is on to a hot new product and is desperate to steal the formula and reveal it at an upcoming stockholders meeting.

Neither of the bosses are aware of the history between their two employees, which allows Ray and Claire to each be privy of knowledge that could help the other side – and each other.

Although they get significantly less screen time than the two leads, Wilkinson and Giamatti both stand out in their supporting performances – something they’ve been doing quite well for much of their career. Both their characters are successful, powerful and undoubtedly wealthy, yet can’t help but obsess about the other. The opening scene of the film featuring the two men squaring off on an airport tarmac demonstrates their emotional maturity towards one another.

The screenplay is a bit too labyrinthine for its own good, which drains some of the film’s enjoyment. But if you can allow your mind to not overanalyze every plot twist (of which there are many), going along with this con game will seem like a no-brainer.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fall 2009 Movie Preview (Part 1)

With the summer movie season ending, the competition still seems to be fierce looking into the early fall releases, with few surefire hits on the schedule. Still, there seems to be a good variety of options for viewers. Here’s a few of the notable releases for September. October’s offerings will be coming in a few weeks.

Starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, Clifton Collins Jr. and Ben Affleck
Directed by Mike Judge

The writer and director of “Office Space” returns to the workplace with a comedy about a frazzled boss (Bateman) dealing with a potentially unfaithful wife (Wiig) and problems at his flavor extract company. If the finished product matches the portion I saw Judge screen at a film festival in March, this should be great. (Sept. 4)
Official Web site

“All About Steve”
Starring Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong
Directed by Phil Traill

Well, what do you know? It’s Sandra Bullock and another romantic comedy. This one has her as a crossword puzzle maker convinced that she’s met the man of her dreams (Cooper). She then sets out to essentially stalk him across the country to prove they belong together. Coming off of Bullock’s success with “The Proposal,” this could turn out to have been a good decision by 20th Century Fox to have delayed this movie’s release from its original spot in March. (Sept. 4)
Official Web site

“I Can Do Bad All by Myself”
Starring Tyler Perry, Taraji P. Henson, Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, Mary J. Blige
Directed by Tyler Perry

It would be hard to find a busier filmmaker than Perry, who is churning out movies at a steady clip, while also overseeing a pair of TV shows and his own production studio. His popular Madea character is back for some comic relief in this release, but the film would seem to have more dramatic overtones. (Sept. 11)
Official Web site

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”
Starring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

The popular children’s book gets a big screen adaptation that could only really be done in CG, as a live-action version featuring gigantic and copious amounts of food falling from the sky wouldn’t have played well. Kids should eat this up (pun intended). (Sept. 18)
Official Web site

“Jennifer’s Body”
Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris
Directed by Karyn Kusama

This horror/thriller hybrid should also have some dark humor contained, as it comes from Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning writer of “Juno.” Fox plays a high school cheerleader who becomes possessed, causing her to have the desire to off her male classmates. Seyfried is a friend who takes on the task of stopping her. Hopefully, Cody can bring some creativity to what seems to be a stale premise. (Sept. 18)
Official Web site

“The Informant!”
Starring Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Reuniting with one of his “Oceans 11” franchise stars (Damon), Soderbergh helms this darkly comic story about a corporation’s vice president who turns whistleblower for the government about reported wrongdoings. The trailer is great, and Damon would seem to be demonstrating he can headline a comedy just as well as an action film (the “Bourne Identity” series). (Sept. 18, limited)
Official Web site

“Love Happens”
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, Judy Greer and Martin Sheen
Directed by Brandon Camp

A widower (Eckhart) becomes a self-help guru about dealing with loss, but realizes through a developing relationship with a florist (Aniston) that he maybe hasn’t worked through the death of his wife. This is certainly a bit of a treacly premise for a movie, but the two leads are eminently likeable, so that can’t hurt its chances. (Sept. 18)
Official Web site

Starring Kay Panabaker, Naturi Naughton, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen

With the gigantic success of a show like “American Idol,” it was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided to throw some young talent on the screen in a big musical. Hence the remake of the 1980 film, which was a hit itself, garnering six Oscar nominations. Prepare to have that catchy title song stuck in your head all over again. (Sept. 25)
Official Web site

“The Invention of Lying”
Starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe and Tina Fey
Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

Having starred in the little seen and underrated “Ghost Town” last fall, Gervais is yet to catch on in movies as he has on television (the original BBC series of “The Office” and HBO’s “Extras”). But that could very possibly change with this comedy starring him as a man living in a world where everyone tells the truth. One day, he decides to lie, and things start changing rapidly. (Sept. 25)
Official Web site