The Descendants, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, is adapted by writer-director Alexander Payne but without his usual morbidity and nihilism. But in losing these qualities, there are many ways in which this film feels conventional, like the Hawaiian-inspired soundtrack reminding us of the paradise that the source material may be trying to subvert.
There’s the acting, especially from George Clooney, playing the protagonist, a Hawaiian-born and bred man named Matt King, over-narrating the story’s sociopolitical ‘undertones,’ but more on that later. In one of his voice-overs, he asks his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), in a coma after a boating accident, to ‘wake up,’ even if his deadpan delivery of those words inadvertently suggests that it doesn’t matter to him either way. The acting has strong points, especially when each character is reacting towards news that Elizabeth won’t recover and has to be take off life support. When Matt hears the news from a doctor, the former surprises us with glazed puppy dog eyes. Then his older, vulnerable, seventeen year old daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) submerges her head in a leaf-littered backyard swimming pool. Then it’s someone else’s turn, Matt taking on the duties of breaking the news to her family and friends. I’m fully aware that my indifference towards these characters in a time of need makes me seem like I have a heart of stone but the fault is how the movie presents it. The repetition makes me focus on the ritualized state of mourning as opposed to the emotions within the said ritual. Either Payne or the source material doesn’t have a handle on how an event like this affects the story’s many characters, and not enough variation with the who and the how.
These road trips and rituals allow Matt to be around people who think differently on what Elizabeth, a woman with many friends, means to them. But at the same time, it’s as if these people carry the burden of Elizabeth’s loss without any of that emotion transferring to him. A stranger case is Alex’ boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who stays within Matt’s posse because Alex demands that she’ll be more civil throughout the ordeal. Despite of what Sid says to aggravate Matt, the former stays a few days longer to conveniently redeem himself, telling Matt his approach to take life in stride despite its difficulties and defends the old man against an older man, Elizabeth’s father (Robert Forster). It’s as if Matt’s self-described ‘back-up parent’ disposition is an excuse to keep characters unnecessarily close to him.
Elizabeth’s accident also comes within bad timing, as Matt and his cousins, friendly with each other on the outside, decide on whether and whom to sell 25,000 acres of untouched property inherited from their ancestor, King Kamehameha. This part of the story interests me more, especially with how Matt distances himself from the decision, despite being the land’s trustee. One cousin thinks the transaction is ‘sharing the land with the world.’ Matt also talks condescendingly about the need to sell because of the poorer cousins, personified by Cousin Hugh, who is played by Beau Bridges, using a cheaper version of his brother Jeff’s ‘acting intoxicated’ playbook. He and his ‘pro-sell’ cousins treat this situation smugly because his generation can get rid of a land that seems useless to them. The only dissenting voices against the sale are some cousins who aren’t given lines – those cousins are from experience, the kind who will make a bigger fuss than the placid movie allows them – and Matt’s younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) who, when hearing an anecdote from Alex about camping in the property, tells her ‘I want to camp too!’ The movie’s ending awaits for his decision that isn’t really accounted for by his reactions to the voices around him. In both family matters, Matt doesn’t seem to learn anything or change, not because of an outright refusal but because the writing doesn’t give him an option to do so.
The are instances when the movie isn’t lukewarm, the first of which involves the supporting characters talking to Elizabeth. They’re having sincere conversations with someone who can’t talk back. She’s shown in close-ups, her face wan with liver spots, her mouth wide open, the image unavoidably disconcerting yet honest. Everyone says goodbye, including a nice stranger named Julie Speer (Judy Greer). Matt’s farewell is the most poetic yet surprisingly least sincere out of all of them. The other kinds of scenes show a more realistic, Islander’s perspective of Hawaii and its roads, skyscrapers and overpopulation. A last scene shows the family on a small boat, supposedly on a Arcadian ritual until the camera switches to Matt – even from afar they can’t escape the islands’ skyscrapers. Nature is lost and so is the family’s mother, but only if these images were captured by a director and a movie that cared more about them.
“I’m YELLING because of a SCANDAL!”
“I’m yelling BACK because YOU are yelling and the scandal is BS!”
“I’m crying because everyone around me is yelling and the world that I know is deteriorating.”
That’s pretty much how the TV spots advertise George Clooney‘s new film The Ides of March, making it look like your yearly typical awards bait. It’s better than that.
Despite trying to resist temptation, assistant campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) takes a phone call from rival Democrat campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). This makes his supervisor Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) unmercifully fire him from the campaign of boss, Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Morris’ (Clooney).
Hoffman, by the way is an alumnus of this kind of movie and I would have it any other way. This, by the way, is based on the play “Farragut North.” The Ides of March is a more dramatic title but the original feels more right, showing that businessmen like Stephen and Paul control and groom the politicians who are supposedly running a country.
Clooney as a director always hints on style but never fully delivers mostly because they echo previous decades, this film particularly relying on political and urban paranoia from the sixties and seventies. Stephen’s silhouette stains a large, draped American flag, symbolic of him partially desecrating American politics. A scene when he makes a call through a pay phone, noticing a man taking a photograph in his direction. Or another when Paul enters Mike’s SUV and the camera stays outside for a minute or so. Other earlier and better films have tackled these images but they’re still competently unsettling today.
The film’s number of flaws seemingly grow when I think about them – the most minor and crass one being that night with Stephen is so sensual that his new lover, intern/daughter of the DNC Chairman/teenager Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) looks like she just got out of the salon the morning after. And that she as well as Mike are Catholics west of Boston, those characters by the way going against the doctrine more than twice. Anyway, it biggest yet easily refuted flaw is Stephen’s supposedly unshakable morality. Throughout the film, he says that he doesn’t have play dirty anymore because he has Morris or that he believes “in the cause.” He also boasts that at thirty years of age, he has worked more campaigns than anyone ten years his senior so why would he make such a rookie mistake? But then again, lesser scandals have disgraced older politicians.
Anyway, he recites his words about Morris like a mantra that’s learned as opposed to felt. And he’s not as much the idealist that he wishes. In the first scene, we get to know a bit about Stephen. He mockingly rehearses for his boss’ speech (‘Don’t vote for me if I’m not tall enough. Don’t vote for me.’) and refers to the latter as a hobbit – God forbid, he found a flaw within George Clooney! From then on, I can imagine the audience realizing that it would be a waste of emotion to sympathize with him. He does a lot of slimy things especially when his affair with Molly gets out of hand. His career in jeopardy, he does desperate things to keep his career afloat, in turn harming the people he’s supposed to worship or love.
His eyes look like an angered anime character in the film’s final scenes and I’m probably not alone in saying that his expressions are just like that of the Driver. Which means that yes, we can joke that the similarities between the two characters mean that Gosling’s comic turn in Crazy, Stupid Love is him stretching. The problem with ubiquity like Gosling’s is that we can see the same mannerisms in different films but at least his tics are less distracting than the actor who is supposed to play his role – Leonardo di Caprio. Gosling is the film’s pivot, capably bringing across the arc that his interesting character takes. 3.5/5
Clooney’s directorial piece Good Night and Good Luck begins, the stars of this film as glamorous as they would be on an awards show in reality, the saxophone playing in the background. A man introduces 1950’s television news anchor Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn). He makes a speech towards his colleagues and people who work in the television industry, but when the camera cuts to them, it doesn’t look like he’s preaching to the choir. But that’s not such a bad thing.
And fine, while we’re at it, I’ll admit that my first encounter of the film is through the “Simpsons” parody, Kent Brockman becoming our century’s Murrow as Lisa eggs him on. This is probably how we first experienced other movies, knowingly or otherwise.
Did you know that the real Edward Murrow looks less Strathairn, and more like Harry Dean Stanton. Murrow would have been a perfect role for Stanton in the 70’s. But surprisingly, I don’t remember any anti-McCarthyism in films, not even with Hollywood class president and lefty extraordinaire Warren Beatty making controversial films like Reds.
The double threat taking Beatty’s place is George Clooney, and don’t worry guys, I’m heading somewhere with this tangent/segue. There was this CINNSU/ Bloor Cinema alum who once told me that Clooney wanted to direct a remake of Network. The word ‘remake’ seems like a pariah even to people who aren’t film geeks, but as the alum said something like, ‘Paddy Chayefsky’s like Shakespeare, why not?’ I wish the rules of cinema bent like that too. I suppose the closest we can come to seeing a remake of Network is Good Night and Good Luck, the story of Murrow combating McCarthyism and its abuses through televised journalism. And we’re back!
There are many differences between this film and its predecessor. The man in front of the camera is sane even if the world or the institution controlling it isn’t. Howard Beale is a deluded puppet while Murrow is a leader who still writes his pieces. Strathairn, in his best role yet, delivers perfectly, mastering the elocution that the real Murrow and gentlemen of his time might have had. Here, the fictional Murrow goes head-to-head against the real Joseph McCarthy, the menacing figure on the upper left side of the screen, the latter’s own words and pictures used to defame him. He gets criticized by some newspapers as ‘selective,’ but Murrow’s integrity stands strong.
In this scene, both Murrow and McCarthy quote “Julius Caesar” like many do with the Bible, choosing lines to further their cause. The Shakespearean play is about an unnatural shift in power, deceit and constancy, that latter quality being something that McCarthy doesn’t have.
CBS begins an investigation piece on the firing of US Air Force Officer Milo Radulovic – who is Irish, apparently – because of his father’s suspected Communist affiliations. The film uses authentic newsreels of the accuser and the accused, this one being rough looking but eloquent. Murrow, then, and CBS seems to have chickened out by doing celebrity profiles. An insipid few minutes with Liberace becomes subversive once we remember that ‘he doesn’t intend to marry soon.’
But don’t worry, the Air Force will retain Radulovic.
‘I’ve got my eyes on you/I’ll set my spies on you/Keep your eyes on me.’ As if she’s agitating the enemy, whispering sweet aggression to his ear.
The racial politics in Good Night and Good Luck are muted, the black woman doing her numbers in between the skirmishes where the white men fight for her constitutional rights. The actors doing the fighting, however, seem to be suppressing the outrage they would normally have if their names and the names of their friends are stained by Cold War paranoia. This film’s tone is less bombastic and more quiet. No dramatic music, no hammy speeches, nothing. But instead of a breathtaking experience that most great films should give its audience, its tone is its own, feeling like a last slow dance in the middle of the night.
The Coen Brothers offer in Intolerable Cruelty characters who like to deceive except in the scenes when they’re introduced. We first see Miles Massey (George Clooney) talking on the phone to get messages from his assistant, the cutthroat lawyer that he is. There’s another scene shortly after when he talks to his colleague about the intricacies of the legal system and the real functions of marriage, a conversation they should have had years before but exists in the film for purposes of another introduction. Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta Jones) is sad but has great resolve while watching surveillance video of her husband Rex cheating on her, and we know that she’ll survive and probably has ulterior motives. Both eventually meet – Miles becomes the lawyer representing Rex – and fall in love and try to, as private dick Gus Fetch (Cedric the Entertainer) says, nail each other’s ass.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins find ways to play around with colours and images in a supposedly light comedy like this. The blues – the light while Miles is getting his teeth whitened, Gus’s aquarium, the swimming pools, Vegas at dusk – standing out in within the browns and reds of the res t of the film. The white lights, both the ceilings of the court scene and the lamps used both in Miles and Marilyn’s first date and at Miles’ boss’ office, are echoed in more prestigious films.
This is probably the second film of Zeta-Jones’s that features a courtroom when a woman feigns innocence to a scandal devouring public. This time around, it’s Jones’s Marilyn that does the pretending, in pink. I didn’t know Bill Blass designed in pink.
The doesn’t prepare its audience to its own style of humour, but there are some scenes that work because of its surreal comic style, the writing for the film is both tight, sprawling and wordy at the same time. One is the scene when Miles tells his client a defense story that helps her even if it’s absurdly untrue. There’s also Marilyn’s second marriage to a Dallas oil heir named Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), officiated by a priest marching down the aisle playing Simon and Garfunkel in his acoustic guitar. The third scene is Marilyn’s court scene with its many movements. Rex being in contempt, Miles and Marilyn throwing Shakespeare at each other to try and fail to admit the other’s guilt, the scandalous Baron von Espy testimony.
Miles is the best role I’ve seen Clooney do. He strikes that note to evince a charming but slimy regular person. The Coen Brothers always allows him to be kooky, culminating in a scene near the end that’s hilarious in an old school sense. Jones allows herself to go through the inconsistencies of female characters but she’s very lively here. Her character’s consummation with Miles happens late – less than an hour into the 95 minute film – but she’s the stronger end of the romance department. In the stage of her character being a ‘sitting duck, ‘ she shows great passion and vulnerability
- Will Self considers the Coen brothers (guardian.co.uk)
(Finally saw this after putting it off for three months.)
I hope my opinion on this movie doesn’t stem out of a bias towards kids’ pictures, and that if by chance I hated this movie I would have been like those people who hate children and have no souls. At the same time this might not be considered a kids movie because Wes Anderson’s voice seeps it movie so much. At the same time adult themes seep into other media targeted for children (Flintstones), and as my old-enough-to-be-parents friends can attest, sarcastic language and tones have been prevalent in children’s media in the past decade.
The first moments of the film did delightedly overwhelmed with cuteness, but nonetheless, the Wes Anderson influence within the narrative was distracting in the first half (I have yet to read the book, and apparently it’s better for someone who writes about film to read the source material). I wanted something universal, and I wanted to see if he could make a film that has different themes from what he’s used to. I couldn’t see both aspects of kids movie and Wes Anderson movie together.
What probably convinced me to were the performances. This movie probably has George Clooney’s best performance of the year. He’s familiar with the heist-y, witty, fragmented masculinity and he’s familiar with these spins on the genre (Soderbergh). Behind the animation is someone perfectly conjuring a character with explosive excitability.
And his leading lady comes to task. I can’t believe I’m admitting this to the internet, but Meryl Streep almost made me cry in that movie. Her character and performance is more motherly and isn’t as fierce and combative as the other female characters in Wes Anderson’s movies (Anjelica Huston comes to mind). She even comes off as motherly in the first scene when she and Clooney portray a younger couple. But she does scratch his face, and it’s hinted that her character has a mysterious past.
Michael Gambon is also enjoyable as always, and Willem Dafoe disappears into his Rat character. And if you’re wondering why animals in n English countryside are speaking with American and Southern accents, I let it go.
What also caught my eye was how textural and sculptural the film is. The hair and the fur on the foxes’ faces, the detail of every set created and the gorgeous scene in the sewer waterfall added to this movie.