Jonathan Poritsky

Review: Duplicity

Duplicity opens qui­etly at an embassy soirée in Dubai. Clive Owen barely approaches Julia Roberts at the margherita table when we are thrust into this svelte lit­tle caper. Director Tony Gilroy, still glow­ing from the suc­cess of Michael Clayton, returns with his crack team (we’ll get to them) to cre­ate what this hum­ble critic believes is the best major release of 2009 so far.

Mr. Owen and Ms. Roberts play Ray Koval and Claire Stenwick, two for­mer state spies who take cor­po­rate intel posi­tions at com­pet­ing house­hold prod­ucts firms, Equikrom and Burkett & Randle (B & R). When B & R leaks the exis­tence of a top secret project, the game is on to see who can get to the spoils first. That is really all I can put down here to keep the film inter­est­ing for you, so let’s dive into the meat of it. Keep Reading at the can­dler blog.

Netflixing: Blood Diamond

This film was added to the queue in antic­i­pa­tion of Ed Zwick’s Defiance, which I ended up see­ing and hat­ing enough to add a few dozen other DVDs to the top posi­tion in the mean­time. I’m pretty tough on Mr. Zwick, espe­cially after the dis­as­ter of The Last Samulrai, but Blood Diamond, which is flanked by those two ter­ri­ble releases, is some­thing else entirely. Certainly, the movie is full of his own bom­bas­tic style: things blow up, women bring redemp­tion to men, and there are plenty of tears and soppy music. However, this is a film with a true heart, and a mes­sage that is seem­ingly more vital than most polit­i­cal drama­ti­za­tions that are released while a con­flict rages on.

The story fol­lows two men, Daniel Archer and Solomon Vandy. The first is a white dia­mond smug­gler and self-proclaimed sol­dier of for­tune played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The sec­ond, played by Djimon Hounsou, is a black fish­er­man who becomes entan­gled in both Sierra Leone’s civil war and the inter­na­tional dia­mond trade when his vil­lage is attacked by rebels. They are both African, and that is the point.

It seems as though Mr. Zwick sets out to make Gone With The Wind on every out­ing. He finds sin­gu­lar bits of schmaltz amid nations brought to the brink of armaged­don and uses them as his macguf­fin to, well, blow a bunch of shit up and teach us all a les­son by the end of the pum­mel­ing. If ever this tac­tic works, it works best in Blood Diamond. Most of where this film stands apart is in the actind. Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Hounsou bring a great deal of heart to the table. Archer as the cold hearted cynic who, sur­prise, light­ens up a bit by the end, and Vandy as the lov­ing man-child who dreams for a sim­pler world, where he could live in peace with his family.

My favorite moments in this film is a scene where Archer must pre­tend to be a jour­nal­ist and Vandy must pose as his cam­era­man so that they may get a free ride towards the giant dia­mond around which the film cen­ters. Bear in mind, at the point, Vandy has lost his fam­ily, his home, and he has very litt­tle to gain by find­ing the dia­mond any­how. Still, he pulls Archer aside and yells at him “I can­not do this!” He is refer­ring to lying. The scene is both heart-warming and heart break­ing, but in the end I found myself chuck­ling. The film would be bet­ter with more of this, but that is all we get.

I absolutely rec­om­mend giv­ing this one a view­ing if you haven’t yet.

People Really Want to See Duplicity

I’ve been look­ing for­ward to Tony Gilroy’s fol­lowup to his incred­i­ble Michael Clayton ever since I hot wind of it. Apparently, I’m not alone. The 6:30 show I tried to go to was sold out, as is this 7:35 show. It’s packed and there was a line when I got here at 6:50. I’m going into this blind ( haven’t read any reviews) so I’m really excited. Congrats Tony Gilroy. Now let’s just hope I like this one, I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Netflixing: Margot at the Wedding

Unfocused, uncom­fort­able, and uncon­trol­lable are words that come to mind when describ­ing Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding. However, the things that keep this film from mak­ing very much sense (no dis­tinct plot line, char­ac­ter arcs that land all over the map, wholly unex­plained bits of per­sonal his­to­ries) are exactly what raise it above so many films of a sim­i­lar ilk (and there are many) to become some­thing won­der­fully brutal.

I’ll para­phrase what hap­pens with as many cliches as I can fit. The film fol­lows a despon­dent Nicole Kidman as Margot, an emo­tion­ally detached middle-aged somewhat-well-known Manhattanite author, who heads to the Hamptons to her sister’s wed­ding. Pauline, her sis­ter, is more the didn’t-whiddle-their-depraved-childhood-into-gold I’ll-marry-any-guy-who-will-take-me-before-I’m-too-old type. These char­ac­ters may be very close to Mr. Baumbach’s expe­ri­ence, but it’s clear he has seen Hannah and her Sisters many many times. Anyway, Pauline is mar­ry­ing lazy-guy extra­or­di­naire, Malcolm, played with incred­i­ble nuance by Jack Black.

The film mean­ders around in search of a plot, never quite find­ing a hook on which to hang the story. Instead, Margot plays like a series of heart­break­ing scenes whose goal is to bring the emo­tional meat of each char­ac­ter to the sur­face. In this respect, Mr. Baumbach achieves some­thing quite spe­cial. At points appalling, like when Margot and Pauline recount their sister’s rape by the horse trainer while gig­gling and cack­ling, each character’s per­sonal his­tory is out­side of our realm of under­stand­ing. Attention is never paid to fill­ing in the gaps or explain­ing away the most dis­turb­ing bits. However, our con­fu­sion as an audi­ence makes some other scenes wholly enjoy­able, such as the few times Margot finds her­self cry­ing. We never feel sorry for her, but rather that we get relief from the pain of wit­ness­ing how ter­ri­ble she can become if she sees fit. Or, with­out spoil­ing any­thing, when Mr. Black, as the child­ish Malcolm, finds him­self under attack on the beach. There is no ques­tion that he has got­ten his come­up­pance, but he is so bro­ken, so psy­cho­log­i­cally ill-prepared to deal with adulthod, that we almost for­give him his transgressions.

I don’t believe that Mr. Baumbach is a very good sto­ry­teller, but that doesn’t make him a bad film­maker. It is refresh­ing to see a film that is so explo­rative of human emo­tion with­out let­ting things like lin­ear­ity and logic fum­ble up his direc­tion. I’m sure that we will see even bet­ter films from him, but for now, I will take as many of these as he has to offer and lap them up.

Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is great, but that doesn’t mean I was wholly blown away by it. Sparse lan­guage and stark apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scapes aren’t exactly new ter­ri­tory, and that sort of stuff doesn’t exactly get my noo­dle going. It’s a par­lor trick of sorts that Mr. McCarthy has pulled off grace­fully. The plot and style are sim­i­lar to any comic book or pulp novel or B-movie from a bygone era, but the author has imbued this thin palate with a lit­er­ary cog­nizance that raises story out of the muck and grime of a post-apocalyptic landscape.

The story fol­lows a man and a boy walk­ing down a road, search­ing for sus­te­nance and dodg­ing evil-doers, after the end of days. How and why the earth has been scorched into obliv­ion is never explained because it doesn’t need to be. Mr. McCarthy has kept as much infor­ma­tion out of the story as pos­si­ble, even going so far as to do away with con­trac­tions and other for­mat­ting niceties, like quo­ta­tions marks or chap­ters. The mes­sage is clear: show only what is needed, noth­ing more. I’ll fol­low suit, and offer you noth­ing more of the plot, it would ruin the expe­ri­ence of read­ing it.

According to IMDb, Mr. McCarthy’s books have been adapted into four films so far, includ­ing last year’s Best Picture win­ner No Country For Old Men. The Road rep­re­sents one of three more films com­ing out adapted from his work. I doubt the film will be very good, but it’s obvi­ous why it would be made. The novel’s stripped down nature reads just like a screen­play. Action, action, dia­logue, scene. This for­mula lent itself extremely well to No Country, which fol­lows the book almost to the letter.

But this book is very dif­fer­ent. There is no chase. There is noth­ing to strive for. Ultimately, there seems to be no rea­son to live in this non-world that the author has drawn up for us, which is why this book has mys­ti­fied read­ers since its release. Is it a great read? Yes. Is it any­thing more than that? No. Do I rec­om­mend it? Hell yes.