The Descendants (2011)
Writer/Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodly, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges.
Verdict: 5/5 (Classic!)
Great movies that are similar: Ordinary People, Sideways, A Separation.
Damn, my job is easy.
Nah, just kidding.....
My first surprise upon seeing this film was a pleasant one. This movie is rife with contradictions: the protagonists are physically beautiful but often emotionally ugly, the plot is suburban and every day, yet it feels at times like a Greek tragedy. And, then, its the setting.
Hawaii is a place of such staggering beauty, and appears to be a paradise. Hawaii's opulent, untouched acres are central to the The Descendants premise. Yet, the first thing this movie does is to annihilate any hope that this will be a feel-good beach-bum movie. Amidst the gorgeous afternoon sun, a woman suffers a fatal accident on the open surf. To quote George Clooney's Matt King: "Paradise can go fuck itself."
Yup, I don't think anybody has ever located such an effective tragedy in an upper-class paradise...
Oh, oh wait...
Okay fine, so the tragedy in paradise thing has been done. So, what has this thing got left?
Nah, just kidding again. Firstly, lets welcome back the wonderful Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt, Sideways). "Payne" by name and "pain' by nature, this urban prophet has been carving suburban America a new stink-hole without fault since 1999. Much has changed in that time (from Y2K to Justin Bieber), but family hasn't.
Melodrama-a genre that gets you where you live. melodrama illuminates for us the notion that something as well meaning as love can turn into anger, resentment, and even hate when people are too close and too involved for too long (think A Streetcar Named Desire or Magnolia).
Of course, that doesn't mean that people aren't just plain crazy. here are a list of things that happen in The Descendants:
-Man screams at his wife's comatose body, accusing her of cheating on him.
-Daughter screams at mother's comatose body, tells her that she has been selfish.
-Teen girl gets drunk, wears scandalous bikinis.
-Teen laughs at senile old woman.
Yup, family can be crazy.
And, yet, there is poetry and even sweetness. This movie never felt like it forced me through the emotional gauntlet, I liked the characters and my empathy came of my own accord. Amidst his frank photographic portrait of the Hawaiian islands comes an even more Frank portrayal of character. I mean, lets not forget, this is the writer/director who let the obnoxious girl get her way in Election, the old man die alone in About Schmidt, and the cheating fiancee get away with his infidelities in Sideways.
So, Alexander Payne is a realist, and so are his characters. I concur with Red Letter Media (http://redlettermedia.com) on the notion that these characters are unusually real by movie standards. George Clooney's Matt King really just wants to get by-he's boring and non-heroic in every way. He is accepting that his relationship with his dying wife was fading anyways, totally lackluster when forcing an apology out of his foul mouthed youngest daughter, and takes the whole movie to summon up the gumption to confront his wife's lover. This man makes statements not with a cry, but with a whimper.
Then there's the dude from Jackie Brown
"I have cheese on my face"-Robert Forrester
Who hilariously beats the arrogant dimwit friend of the eldest daughter Alexandra:
This may or may not be the obnoxious boyfriend.
So, these characters are unflinchingly normal. But hey, doesn't that make their fate and resolution are the more moving? I mean, if they're real, then their ultimate hero stories are relatable to us. Towards the end of the film, Matt King (George Clooney) makes an important decision regarding the future of Hawaii. he makes the right decision for his children's generation, not because he is a hero but because he is a logical, human character. The family of the story don't work because of a perfect harmony, but rather because of a shared history and respect, their descendancy. At the risk of sounding corny (cringe), this film makes us think of paradise in a very different sort of way.
Even the obnoxious boyfriend finds his catharsis!
...but if you feel compelled to experience the work of an auteur allergic to cliche and a cast teeming with the effortless efficiency of their craft, then feel free to laugh and cry with one of the year's best family dramas.
Did I mention that this stone-cold player is in it?!
Friday, 27 January 2012
J Edgar (2011)
Dir. Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts.
Great films that are similar: The Manchurian Candidate, All The President’s Men, Nixon.
There is both a major loss and a major gain that one may take from a viewing of Clint Eastwood’s new biopic, J Edgar. Unfortunately, both the loss and the gain are inextricable...
Actually, you know what? Let’s begin this review in a simpler fashion. I suspect that neither Clint nor the good people at the Beareau would be into using words like “inextricable.”
Okay, here goes, let’s get honest...
Let us take a moment or two to fuss over film form like Hoover fussed over clandestine Communism. At the risk of being as uncouth as a fart at the dinner table-Clint Eastwood isn’t even trying anymore. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel as though Clint the director has definitely descended into an unpleasant semi-retirement. The visual nature of this film screams of a lack of effort and forethought. True enough, Clint has always chosen a lucid, effortless visual style for his directorial outings. However, beneath the velvet reassurance of the easy-to watch photography usually lay a certain magic. Think of the “that says it all” breathtaking opening shot of Unforgiven, or the dreamlike hope of Maggie at the punching-bag in Million Dollar Baby. Sure, the days of the hearth-throb Eastwood of Play Misty for Me and Dirty Harry are long gone, along with the exploitation-redolent, dynamic camerawork. But, hey, we were happy as long as Clint kept us misty-eyed.
Fig 1 & 2 Hello, Mr. Oscar? Clint will see you now.
And yet, effortless has now become, well, careless. Towards the start of J Edgar there is a sequence in which a young, idealistic Hoover cycles (yup, cycles) to the scene of a bombing at the home of Senator CantRemeberHisNameCouldntFindItOnGoogle. The scene is lit so badly we barely see the figures in the din of the nightscape. Shadows linger over key figures in the scene. Furthermore, this is the crucial sequence which actually establishes Hoover’s pioneering ideas regarding forensic science; the birth of an eccentric genius. In the hands of David Fincher the crime scene would have been a blazing dystopia of Dante proportions, in the hands of a vintage Oliver Stone Hoover’s mad genius would have been portrayed via black and white/colour and digital/celluloid contrasts like a film students E Harmony video. Seriously, even a wildy inappropriate for the job Tim Burton would have made the scene a little goddamn intriguing.
Fig 3 Tim Burton’s J Edgar
Instead, huge moments are poorly blocked and edited. Eastwood is notorious for only shooting a handful of takes for any given shot and, like was the case with Hereafter, it really shows for the worse here. There is a hasty trip to a library that ends in a marriage proposal. The scene should look vast and ornate and the human element at work within the scene should feel tender. Instead, it seems done without care and achieves neither aesthetic beauty nor emotional resonation. Only the discovery of Lindberg baby, with its roots anchored firmly in the style of the horror genre, seems to stand out to this viewer as adequately planned and executed with care. Basically, this film is every bit as lazy as Joe-Cinephile, escaping his mom’s basement just long enough to dust off his least-finest wife-beater and slacks to go your movie theatre, munching popcorn so loudly John Goodman would blush.
Fig 4 Capitalism.
Of course, there are other chinks that we have come to expect in the Eastwood armour. Specifically, when it comes to his characters, he isn’t exactly subtle. Many (me) wondered if Danger ( the goofy kid that couldn’t fight) from Million Dollar Baby was about as subtle as the love child of Forrest Gump and the “purrdy mouth” rapist from Deliverance. Even the great Dirty Harry Callaghan was played by Clint with such ludicrous bombast that he basically seemed like the least professional guy since Monica Lewinski’s dry cleaner.
Fig. 5 It’s been a long time, I can make fun of this..
And, then, there is age approximation. Clearly, the 81 year old Clint is more comfortable with those who are too old for their jobs. Judi Dench, four score and upward, plays J Edar’s mom from the beginning of the film. Frankly, though a great actress, I don’t believe the 78 year old Dench as the mom of a ten year old. Sadly, at this stage in her great life, Dame Dench is now closer to Golden Girls than she is to Desperate Housewives. Furthermore, the 40-plus Naomi Watts is cutting close to scepticism as a preppy young secretary barely out of high school.
Of course, when they’re too young, Clint makes them look like this:
And, yet, I didn’t hate this movie. As a matter of fact, I was enthralled in moments. And, yes, at the film’s conclusion I will confess that I almost teared up for a moment in true Eastwood-blockbuster fashion. Why am I recommending this, in spite of so many faults? Because of that wimpy guy from Titanic of course!
Fig 7 Ugliness fail.
That’s right, Leo, you’ve done it again. Having diligently worked towards crafting a newfound macho image in the 2000s (Blood Diamond, The Departed, Inception), DiCaprio has once more gone tender. And, man, what a result! Leonardo DiCaprio makes us empathise with and invest ourselves in a man who blackmailed 6 Presidents, fired the guy who shot Dillinger, and sported a bizarre crew cut for over 70 years. Yes, this is a biased account of Hoover, but DiCaprio reminds us that moments of innocence can be captured in even the most misguided of moments. Whether it be a young Hoover doing push ups in his office, or an aged Hoover asking his secretary “Do I destroy everything I love?”, we realise that few actors could have played Hoover like this. Towards the end of the film, Hoover kisses the hand of his lifelong partner Clyde and wishes him goodnight. We feel the distance that these men have travelled and the pitiful finality of the moment. DiCaprio is the film’s principle achievement, by the time he was done I was ready to salute Old Glory with the rest of them.
So, if you're so inclined, watch this silly film for him.
Otherwise, he’ll punch you like he did those feathers