"Duplicity" Remixes Business with Pleasure

Duplicity *** 1/2

The latest entry in the double-crossing cons-in-love sweepstakes opens perfectly. An altercation between two corporate titans (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson) unfolds in ultra-slow motion and in silence; their mano-a-mano fight sets up the film’s action deftly without any exposition and without even telling us who the combatants are.

It hardly matters. These bitter business rivals are the reason our stars (Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) are running their tangled schemes. Owen—whose suave sexuality should have made him the current James Bond in place of that charmless Vladimir Putin lookalike Daniel Craig—and Roberts play corporate spies who may or may not be in love with one another and may or may not be playing on the same team.

The justly praised script (by writer/director Tony Gilroy) is handled with skill by Owen and Roberts, who sparred just as nimbly but much more viciously in Closer. Here, they show off their comic chops and generate some heat during their intermittent encounters in sumptuous hotel rooms in Dubai London, Rome, and Miami.

The atmosphere—in and out of the bedroom—is all about who’s conning who, and the plot twists are fresh and fun.

However, our current real-life flurry of corporate bad behavior makes it difficult to summon much sympathy for either side in the corporate war. And when we finally learn the secret they’re fighting over, it’s hard not to wish that something more socially important was at stake. But this is no Michael Clayton.

Viewers who insist on knowing precisely why the double-crosses are coming thick and fast, or on following each curve of the plot’s many twists and turns, may leave frustrated.

But for those for whom an invigorating ride is enough, Duplicity is honest entertainment.



Sci Fidelty 1117

Everybody wants to jump on the Grateful Dead “jam band” wagon, but the term is losing coherence. It used to mean spontaneous freeform jazz-like explorations of melodic themes; now it’s slapped onto any meandering musical breakout of indeterminate shape. The latest case in point is Mantis. Umphrey’s McGee can astonish, particularly with chirpy harmonies drenched in instrumental atmosphere evocative of The Beatles. Check out “Made to Measure” and “Cemetery Walk.” But then there’s stuff like “1348 in which the band assumes a Black Sabbath-like metal band persona. Fair enough, but the attempt to merge the two is a force fit. One of my students found the twelve-minute title track “epic,” but to my ears it’s more like three different songs, not so much of a suite as a smashed musical plate in need of thematic glue. Mantis has fabulous moments, but there’s too much jam and not enough bready structure to contain it.


"Wendy and Lucy": A Woman and Her Dog, or Just a Dog?

Wendy and Lucy **
For a film whose tag line is “On the long road, friendship is everything,” there’s precious little friendship on offer in Wendy and Lucy. Friendship, to the best of my recollection, involves emotion, and interaction, and, um, people.

Michelle Williams stars as Wendy, a young woman on the road to Alaska in search of work. And stars is definitely the right word, as she’s practically the only human in the film with a speaking role. The other lead is Lucy, her beloved mutt. But because much of the film revolves around what happens when the two get separated, Williams must carry the entire movie on her own narrow shoulders.

Williams was brave and moving in Brokeback Mountain, conveying volumes with a few words and glances. Too bad she doesn’t have the same impact here, when the camera is on her nearly every moment of the film. She ultimately draws our sympathy, but not our interest

The problem isn’t Williams’ performance really, it’s the plot. Too little happens in this film, and it happens much too slowly. Maybe a director who knows how to embrace minimalism (Jim Jarmusch comes to mind) could have made this riveting, but director Kelly Reichart (who also cowrote the screenplay) doesn’t have his touch. The glacially-paced “action” covers several days of Wendy’s life, and seems to unspool in real time.

To make matters worse, there is little dialogue and even fewer clues to who Wendy is and why she’s on the road (Is she a drifter by choice? running away from trouble? desperate for work?) So without information, dialogue, or even a voiceover to ground the what action there is, we really don’t care as much as we should whether Wendy’s beat-up Honda Accord gets fixed, whether she is reunited with Lucy, or whether she ever gets to Alaska. And that indifference turns out to be a good thing, since the film ends abruptly with many basic questions still unanswered.

Despite a nomination for best feature from the Independent Spirit Awards, Wendy and Lucy turns out not only to be the story of a woman and her dog, but also something of a “dog”



David Mallett is a lot like Maine, his home and muse—a force that can astonish you with a hard-edged beauty. Call it sentiment without sentimentality. As Mallett demonstrated before a half full house at the Iron Horse Music Hall on Sunday night, he knows that life deals as many hard knocks as nostrums.
At age 58 there are a lot of miles on Mallett’s voice but it’s still as warm and inviting as a wood fire on a cold night, even if it can’t always scale every peak and valley. Mallett’s guitar work was filled with dazzling cross picking and the timing between he and stand-up bass player Michael Burd was impeccable. The latter comments are all the more remarkable considering that just a month ago Mallett was still in rehab for rotator cuff surgery and couldn’t lift his arm above his waist.
Mallett sang 25 songs, mostly from his backlist, though a few less familiar songs unfurled, including one written for his daughter; “North Meets South,” his take on President Obama’s inauguration; and a spoken word reading from The Fable True, stories from Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods. If you never thought a description of trout could be beautiful, listen and learn.
David Mallett has earned his reputation as one of the finest songwriters of his generation. “Fire,” which he played just before his double encore, is a veritable template on how to transform a small tragedy into an epic, and “Inches and Miles”—the evening’s closing song—tells you all you need to know about a doomed relationship in three finely crafted verses. Along the way Mallett spun a host of other bittersweet tales—“Living on the Edge” cast a harsh light on the Ship of State by spotlighting a small town’s human fodder for battles from the Civil War on; “The Road Goes on Forever” raised the ghost of the youthful lover whose memory lingers; and “My Old Man” did the same for his departed father.
In “Phil Brown,” a personal favorite, Mallett told the tale of a down-at-the-heels painter who was a boyhood inspiration. He sang, “He was never much for roses/He’d sooner paint the thorns/’Cause he found a keener beauty there/That no one else could see.” It’s tempting to think that David Mallett has become Phil Brown.—L.V.


And Now for Something Completely Different

Wrase Records

Looking for something really different? Alive may not be the best pop album of last year, but it’s got to be the coolest. Twenty-five-year-old Sa Dingding of China brings Sanskrit, Mandarin, Mongolian, and Tibetan song into the age of electronica and sweaty dance floors. It’s the sort of album where high-pitched vocals slice through synthesizers, bamboo flutes battle electric bass, Asian gongs and Zildjian cymbals crash, and Chinese lutes sound as if Jimi Hendrix visited Beijing. Dingding often uses controlled quavers, chants, and voice modulation as counterpoint amidst the instrumental storm. Her unhurried pacing and penchant for building drama humbles lesser Western pop stars. The very idea of making Sanskrit prayer into pop is so audacious that some reviewers have compared Dingding to Bjork, but her goal is to build global bridges not push creative envelops. She’s also been dubbed a “psychedelic Bodhisattva,” a handle that fits much better.