DUPLICITY (2009). Duplicity is a jet-setting romp that proves to be as bright as it is brainy. Writer-director Tony Gilroy, flush from his Michael Clayton success, retains that film's examination of corporate malfeasance yet replaces the sense of dread with a sense of style. After all, when a movie showcases a Caribbean hotel where rooms cost $10,000 per night, it's clear that the protagonists won't be cut from the same cloth as us po' folks who have to worry about trifling matters like soaring unemployment rates and obstructionist Republican Congressmen. Indeed, the leads are played by Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, the sort of high-wattage movie stars so glamorous that it's easy to believe even their bath tissues are Armani-designed. She's former CIA agent Claire Stenwick; he's ex-MI6 operative Ray Koval. Having both left their jobs to take lucrative assignments with rival corporations (the company CEOs are played in amusing fashion by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti), Claire and Ray end up pooling their talents in order to swindle both companies and steal the formula for a new cosmetic product that will revolutionize the industry. But all the time, they each wonder whether they can really trust the other person. If there's a fault with Duplicity, it's that Gilroy relies far too heavily on flashbacks to the point that the first half-hour is often impenetrable – telling the story in linear fashion would have still produced enough narrative twists to keep audiences happily engaged. Fortunately, as the movie continues, plot basics become more digestible, and it all pans out with a climactic "gotcha" that should invoke happy memories of The Sting.
The only DVD extra is audio commentary by Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy.
EARTH (2009). This feature-length spinoff of the BBC series Planet Earth has been playing Europe since the summer of 2007, yet it was only released theatrically in the U.S. on April 22, 2009 (Earth Day). Perhaps its British creators deemed it pointless to release such a pro-environment documentary in a country then ruled by a heinous Republican administration bent on the destruction of our natural resources? At any rate, the picture was finally released stateside by Walt Disney Studios under its new Disneynature label, a welcome throwback to the days when Walt himself would personally supervise such Earth-friendly fare as The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie. The film has now made its way to DVD, and while there's no denying that the magnificence of the images on display were even more impressive when presented on the big screen, they still look lovely on TV monitors, like a finely polished Discovery Channel show. With his majestic voice, narrator James Earl Jones introduces us to the animal protagonists of this globe-spanning piece – among them polar bears, elephants, humpback whales and a particularly scary shark – and discusses the various challenges most of them face, whether from other animals or from global warming. Earth is an enjoyable experience, but it would be wrong to simply digest the picture as a complacent couch potato. So here's my contribution to the cause: Wolves continue to be placed at risk by a much-maligned Bush administration plan approved by Obama's compromised Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Protest his actions at www.doi.gov/feedback.html or make a contribution at www.savewolves.org.
DVD extras include a 43-minute making-of featurette and several trailers.
THE INFORMERS (2009). The main problem with this awful adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel (co-scripted by the author himself) isn't that Ellis enjoys focusing all his attention on vacuous, detestable people – after all, cinema is full of great Feel-Bad Bummers about life's losers. No, the problem is that he makes his characters boring and their actions pointless, both unpardonable sins in any medium. Set in 1983, this follows the (mis)fortunes of various Los Angelenos whose paths keep crossing. Among the players are a movie executive (Billy Bob Thornton) who returns to his fragile wife (Kim Basinger) even though he still carries a torch for his mistress (Winona Ryder); a coked-up rock star (Mel Raido) constantly sleeping with jailbait (both male and female); a career criminal (Mickey Rourke, instantly squandering all that Wrestler goodwill) who kidnaps a young boy and plans to sell him to the highest bidder (read: wealthiest sexual predator); a lecherous father (singer Chris Isaak) who takes his disgusted son (Lou Taylor Pucci) on vacation to Hawaii, hoping they can tag-team young hotties; and a wealthy layabout (Jon Foster) who engages in risky threesomes with his girlfriend (Amber Heard) and his best friend (Austin Nichols). Director Gregor Jordan attempts to establish the time frame by occasionally showing '80s-era music videos in the background, but overall, the picture rarely exudes the aura of a past period. The script is equally clubfooted, filled with narcissistic twits who never say or do anything of consequence or interest. The only creative acting comes from singer Isaak, who seems to be the only one having any fun with this thin material. Unfortunately, that's a privilege that won't be shared by anyone shelling out to rent this desultory disaster.