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Review: Duplicity, Adoration, The Spirit of the Marathon, The Merchant of Venice and Confessions of a Shopaholic

By March 29, 2009December 31st, 2013No Comments

Duplicity posterYou’ll often find me rail­ing against the Hollywood machine in these pages – the life­less and cyn­ic­al, the focus-grouped and beta-tested, the band­wag­on jump­ing and the shark jump­ing – so it makes a pleas­ant change to loudly praise a film whose strengths are a pure expres­sion of old-fashioned Hollywood virtues.

Duplicity is a star-driven caper movie, fea­tur­ing ter­rif­ic easy-going per­form­ances by Julia Roberts and Clive Owen – play­ing two former spies now in the cor­por­ate secur­ity busi­ness. They team up to play their two cli­ents off against each oth­er for a secret for­mula that will change the world, and dis­cov­er that big busi­ness plays for keeps.

It’s true that no one ever leaves the theatre hum­ming the struc­ture, but I must give cred­it to writer-director Tony Gilroy’s eleg­antly con­struc­ted screen­play and his (lit­er­al) ACE in the hole, edit­or broth­er John Gilroy. Duplicity is sharp, witty and very easy on the eye: great old-fashioned entertainment.

Adoration posterAtom Egoyan’s new art­house mys­tery Adoration is, how­ever, a huge dis­ap­point­ment. High School French teach­er Arsinée Khanjian manip­u­lates a stu­dent into pre­tend­ing he is the son of a failed aero­plane bomb­ing ter­ror­ist and the film is even more manip­u­lat­ive than that. Pretentious and not nearly as pro­found as it would like you to think it is, it isn’t the first time that a great dir­ect­or has tried to tackle the post 9–11 world and failed to find the appro­pri­ate vocab­u­lary or tone.

The Spirit of the Marathon posterIf you are a long dis­tance run­ner (or know one), you’ll get a kick out of The Spirit of the Marathon. It’s a straight doco about the people who run that 26 mile 385 yard race – from the élite run­ners with the freak­ish, zero fat, body shape to the aver­age Joe and Joanne whose achieve­ment is simply to com­plete the course. While the film ably show­cases a cross-section of the entrants to the Chicago Marathon, it lacks the high drama that would allow it to really break out to the a non-running audience.

The Merchant of Venice posterAl Pacino may be bet­ter known these days for his scenery chew­ing antics in films like The Devil’s Advocate and Scent of a Woman, but he made his name in the 70s as a screen act­or of rare power and con­trol (check out the newly remastered Godfather Trilogy for proof). His heart has always been with Shakespeare, how­ever, and his 1996 doc­u­ment­ary Looking for Richard was a great illus­tra­tion of how the Bard’s work can mean so much to a working-class kid from the Bronx.

Pacino gets to take on one of the great Shakespearean tra­gic vil­lains, Shylock, in Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice (made in 2004 but get­ting a better-late-than-never release around the coun­try now). Beautifully shot in crumbly Venice, this Merchant is a very well cut (only an hour and three quar­ters), well-spoken and quite grip­ping ver­sion of a play that is dif­fi­cult to pull off for mod­ern audi­ences (although the volume of bare bos­omry may pre­vent this sol­id adapt­a­tion from achiev­ing full cur­rency in schools where it would most nat­ur­ally dwell). The craggy ranges of Pacino’s coun­ten­ance are well-suited to the role and he inhab­its Shylock with great intel­li­gence and sympathy.

The Jews of Venice were not per­mit­ted to own prop­erty and were locked up in a ghetto every night. One of the few ways they could make a liv­ing was by lend­ing money – tech­nic­ally illeg­al but a blind eye was turned as they helped keep the wheels of com­merce turn­ing. Businessman Antonio fool­ishly lends money he doesn’t have to his ‘favour­ite’ Bassanio so that he can woo the fair Portia. He bor­rows the money from Shylock who instead of interest, or a fin­an­cial pen­alty for non-payment, insists on a pound of Antonio’s flesh as bond. Of course, Antonio’s ships sink, his for­tune is lost and Shylock (embittered by the loss of his only daugh­ter to a chris­ti­an) insists on his bond. It is typ­ic­ally Shakespearean that some of the most tricky leg­al and mor­al issues in drama should be resolved with the help of some cross-dressing.

Confessions of a Shopaholic posterIn Confessions of a Shopaholic, Isla Fisher is also pur­sued by a debt col­lect­or but, as you might expect, that is where any sim­il­ar­it­ies end. A hor­rible, shal­low, un-funny, rom-com with a mis­matched pair of leads Confessions tells the Prada-like fairy story of a journ­al­ist who wants to work at Alette (one of the great fash­ion magazines) but instead finds her­self work­ing for a fin­an­cial magazine on the floor below. There she meets a floppy-haired Englishman called Hugh (no, not that one – if only) and they fall in love. This Hugh is Hugh Dancy (The Jane Austen Book Club) and he’ll be bet­ter than this one day. Isla Fisher tries way to hard and she needs to see the Sandra Bullock trail­er (play­ing before this film) to see how this sort of thing is done.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 25 March, 2009.