Sunday, March 29, 2009


Someone give Clive Owen an award -- because he really REALLY deserves one.

I first saw Owen in Robert Altman's Gosford Park. And even though I watched it in a dark dorm room, on a tiny, stained, computer screen, from a pirated VCD with dark visuals and bad sound that rendered most dialogue incomprehensible, he was still a vivid presence. Gosford Park defined the way I've always looked at Owen since: as the brooding, swarthy, lethal guy, someone you don't want to cross. This is pretty much the persona he projected in his other roles: in Spike Lee's Inside Man and above all, in Mike Nichols Closer.

In Duplicity, which reunites Owen with Closer co-star Julia Roberts, Owen manages the feat of appearing dangerous, competent and goofy, all at the same time. His character, Ray, is a spy (or whatever it is that CIA operatives are supposed to be); a very competent one, we're given to understand, who, unfortunately, goes weak in the knees when he comes face-to-face with a certain woman. And since that certain woman is played by Julia Roberts, perhaps the star of our time, I found it entirely believable. No, actually, let me change that. Owen and Roberts make it entirely believable.

This time the roles from Closer are reversed: she is pretty much in charge and he is understandably smitten by her. (Or is he? It is a testament to Owen's brooding image that I expected him to pull one over her at the last moment -- after all, no one crosses Clive Owen like that!) Writer-director Gilroy gives them lines that ricochet off each other and Roberts and Owen make the most of it. Their banter is perhaps not quite of the same intensity as Hepburn and Grant's in The Philadelphia Story. The difference -- and this is what makes Duplicity a lesser movie -- is that the barbs they trade are for fairly low stakes: they are for our enjoyment and not so that the characters come to a better understanding of each other.

Which, I should add, is clearly intentional. Duplicity is not meant to be a comedy of remarriage. It is a sparkling romance, a nimble comedy, a delicious send-up of the corporate world and a fairly tense thriller (the next-to-last scene had me at the edge of my seat), all at the same time. All this means that you may not quite get your fill of Clive and Julia (I certainly didn't). But no matter: every actor in Duplicity is brilliantly funny (and someone please give the deadpan Paul Giamatti an award too!).

All in all, Duplicity is a wonderful movie, better, in my mind, than Gilroy's last (although Michael Clayton was pretty good too). I am not sure how Clive Owen does what he does, how he manages to be competent, and goofy and besotted with Roberts, all at the same time. And while it may not be fair to say that he is the reason the movie works so well -- it is definitely an ensemble piece, and Gilroy's script and the editing are all fabulous -- I will say this: I wish he'd gotten to do Bond. Daniel Craig has certainly re-invented Bond but he's taken all the fun out of it: it's now all deadly serious. Perhaps only Clive Owen could have made Bond more menacing and more fun. Sigh.

Duplicity is smashing fun!

I saw Clive Owen-Julia Roberts starrer Duplicity tonight: the most enjoyable romp I've had this year at the movies. I'll have more to say about it later but let's just say that I've added Julia and Clive to my list of romantic leads who had that mysterious thing called chemistry.

Here it is, just in case:

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in Duplicity.

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge.

Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient.

Ione Skye and John Cussack in Say Anything.

Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story.

Rachel Macadams and Owen Wilson in The Wedding Crashers.

Kate Winslet and Joachim Phoenix in Quills.

Isla Fisher and Ryan Reynolds in last year's Definitely, Maybe.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


This has got to be the most outlandish news item I've read in a while. The most remarkable graf meanwhile has to be this:
The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.
And this:
Still going strong, the operation continues to invade and monitor more than a dozen new computers a week, the researchers said in their report, “Tracking ‘GhostNet’: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.” They said they had found no evidence that United States government offices had been infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored by the spies for half a day and computers of the Indian Embassy in Washington were infiltrated.
I wonder what the Indian Embassy's response is going to be.

The Chinese response, meanwhile, is short and swift:
A spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in New York dismissed the idea that China was involved. “These are old stories and they are nonsense,” the spokesman, Wenqi Gao, said. “The Chinese government is opposed to and strictly forbids any cybercrime.”
Also don't forget to check out the accompanying photograph of the Toronto researchers, dressed up as if they were taking part in a photo shoot for a Robert Ludlum novel:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Amazon gives in

Sad, sad, sad day indeed.

Good movies coming out this weekend

A. O. Scott says Duplicity is "superior entertainment, the most elegantly pleasurable movie of its kind to come around in a very long time." Yay.

And David Edelstein says "Paul Rudd and Jason Segel redeem the bro-comedy in the hilariously inverted I Love You, Man." So what should I go watch this weekend?

On the other hand Christopher Orr hints that he found Duplicity "fairly disappointing" (his review doesn't appear until tomorrow).

Oh - and here's a profile of Tony Gilroy in the New Yorker (director of Duplicity and before that -- Michael Clayton).


I am not sure if this is the right place to ask this question -- but hell, I need to ask somebody and I might as well ask it here.

I suddenly started receiving weekly issues of Time Out New York -- turns out someone had deemed me eligible for a free subscription. But the issue wasn't addressed to me. Sure - it had my correct address on it but the name was a mixture, let's just say that the first name wasn't mine.

But anyway. I moved 3 weeks ago and like a good citizen updated my address at the post office, which then immediately started delivering my magazines to my new place. Today I finally looked at the 3 issues of Time Out that had piled up and decided to take pity on the PO; I would update my address at Time Out. So I went to the website and clicked on "Subscriber Services", put in my subscriber number -- and what do I see? My new address was right there! Where do these guys get the data from? (I have updated my address at the few essential services I do need: my banks,, etc so clearly its from one of those sources.)

But still -- isn't it strange that a magazine I didn't even subscribe to, that I started receiving out of the blue and which even spells my name wrongly, has a perfect information repository in place wherein they even update my address automatically? Whereas the magazine(s) I do subscribe to -- ha, now that's a whole new story.

Still - any guesses? What's Time Out's secret? Conspiracy theories welcome.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Random thoughts

So I moved to Summit, in North New Jersey from Red Bank and yesterday I went to the Summit Public Library to get an account. It all went fine but as I as going in I noticed that the library wasn't just called the "Summit Public Library" like the Red Bank Public Library or, more famously, the New York Public Library. Instead it was called the "Summit Free Public Library". Hmmm, I am not sure why the use of the word "free" upset me a little. I mean, the whole idea behind having a public library is that it is free. Public means it's a public resource, like a park, potentially open to everyone, with perhaps special privileges for residents of that town. Why would a town insert the word "free" into the name of its public library? One explanation could be perhaps that it wants to attract more people and one way to do that is to say that something is free - e.g. in schools and colleges, events are marketed by saying there's free pizza -- it's a situation we've all experienced. Perhaps this way more young adults, teenagers etc. feel like coming to the library. Or perhaps it's a way of attracting more poor people, who may be persuaded by the word "free". All good things, in my opinion. But it seems to me a worrying indicator that the fact that a public library is free needs to be mentioned. It seems to somehow signify a breakdown in the norms governing the public sphere, that a public library is public, open to anyone free of cost. (Plus it just sounds tacky.) Thoughts, comments, anyone?

On to other things.

I talked about Paul Tough's long piece in the New York Times before. If you haven't read it, go read it now -- it really is a well-written piece about that all-pervasive problem of equality, how do you minimize the gap between middle-class children and poorer children so that both have an equal chance of succeeding in life? After all, as Tough points out, the formative years that determine whether a child succeeds or not are the formative ones, before and during elementary school and middle-class children by virtue of having parents who coach them, tutor them, engage them, almost always get a head-start. Which is why I found this interesting:
At Sixth Street we do not assign homework. Research shows that homework does not increase student achievement at the elementary level. Since many of our parents do not speak English and have had only limited schooling, we believe that assigning homework is an issue of equity. If students require additional practice to master a standard, they should have the opportunity to practice it under the watchful eye of the classroom coach who can provide feedback and reteaching immediately when it is needed.
That seems right to me although I wonder why I hadn't thought of it before. No homework means middle-class children will have less chance of asking their parents for help. I wonder if middle-class parents of the "nurturing" type will like this though.