Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Top Story: Mystic River Kicks Off Awards Season
Clint Eastwood's Mystic River has won the first major prize of this year's film award season. The National Board of Review on Wednesday named the drama best film of 2003 and its star, Sean Penn, was named best actor for Mystic River as well as the drama 21 Grams. Other honorees include Diane Keaton, who won best actress for her role in Something's Gotta Give, and Edward Zwick, who took best director for The Last Samurai. Some see the NRB's selections as an indicator of what to expect in the race for Academy Awards, although the board's choices have not usually mirrored the Oscars. The top 10 films named by the board were: Mystic River, The Last Samurai, The Station Agent, 21 Grams, House of Sand and Fog, Lost in Translation, Cold Mountain, In America, Seabiscuit, and Master and Commander. Best foreign film was The Barbarian Invasions, a Canada/France production.
Academy Taps Horovitz for Oscarcast
Preparations for the 76th Academy Awards are getting underway. According to Variety, Louis Horvitz is set to direct the Oscar ceremony, which will be held Sunday, Feb. 29, at the Kodak Theater. This will be Horvitz's eighth stint as director of the the Oscar presentation. Michael B. Seligman will be the supervising producer, marking his 27th year of work with the show, while Roy Christopher will come back to give his artistic touch as 15-time production designer.
Watch Star Wars With ... Princess Leia
Carrie Fisher, famous for her role as Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films, will hold a private screening of The Empire Strikes Back for up to 10 fans as part of a Hollywood costume auction this weekend by Fisher's mother, actress and memorabilia preservationist Debbie Reynolds. Five winning bidders and one guest each will be invited to attend the screening of The Empire Strikes Back, the 1980 sequel to the first Star Wars film, with Fisher. The screening will be held early next year in the Los Angeles area. Proceeds from the sale, held in Beverly Hills and on eBay Dec. 6, will go to the planned Hollywood Motion Picture Museum.
L.A. Judge Dismisses Streisand's Privacy Suit
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allan Goodman dismissed Wednesday Barbra Streisand's $10 million lawsuit against a multimillionaire who posted photos of her Malibu estate on a Web site documenting erosion along the California coast, Reuters reports. Streisand sued Kenneth Adelman in May, accusing him of violating California's anti-paparazzi law and her privacy rights, but Goodman ruled that Streisand lawsuit chilled Adelman's free speech rights on a matter of public concern, and ordered her to pay his legal bills. The judge also noted that Adelman had not tried to photograph Streisand personally and had not even known that he was capturing her estate on film when he snapped the photos from 2,700 feet away.
Ray Romano To Pen Children's Book
Ray Romano, the Emmy-winning star of CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, is writing a children's book, The Associated Press reports. Publishers Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers described Raymie, Dickie, and the Bean: Why I Love and Hate My Brothers as "the funny and true story of why brothers can be gross, disgusting and downright mean--but still love each other." Romano is writing the book, expected to be published next fall, with his brothers Richard, a retired New York police sergeant, and Robert, a New York City schoolteacher. "When my brothers and I weren't fighting with each other, we had a lot of fun growing up," Romano said in a statement. "Now it's great as adults to collaborate with them on this book and fight with each other again."
Ray Liotta Gets "Best Human" Accolade
Actor Ray Liotta has been honored with a unique award by Hollywood standards: Best Human. Liotta took home the award for "Best Performance By A Human" in the 2002 hit criminal adventure game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at the first Spike TV Video Game Awards held Tuesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Liotta gives voice to the lead character in the game, which was the best seller of 2000, Reuters reports. The two-hour awards show was hosted by comedian David Spade and will be broadcast Thursday night on Spike TV.
Record Label Drops "Murder" From Name
Record company Murder Inc., the label behind rap artist Ja Rule and singer Ashanti, announced Wednesday it had changed its name to The Inc., the AP reports. "Over the course of the years, it seems as though no one is really looking at the talent ... more so than that damn word 'murder,'" label founder Irv Gotti said at midtown Manhattan news conference. Gotti, whose real name is Irv Lorenzo, added that he had no intention of changing the nickname he shares with the late Gambino family boss John Gotti. "It's just a nickname, like any other nickname," he said. "I ain't going to change it."
British Actor David Hemmings Dies
An impressive list of potential U.S. blockbusters has been announced for the 45th London Film Festival, scheduled for Nov. 7-22.
They include Disney/Pixar's Monsters Inc., Novocaine, starring Steve Martin, and the John Woo-directed
Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater. The festival's opener will be Robert Altman's Gosford Park, the first film the director has ever shot in Britain, whose cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Ryan Phillippe, Alan Bates and Stephen Fry. Among other offerings, the festival will feature gala screenings of the British film Last Orders with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings and Ray Winstone; and Jean Luc-Godard's Eloge de l'amour.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 13, 2000 -- While the February sweeps generally adds up to TV putting its collective "best foot forward," it also means that the best shows of the year all run at the same time, so you'll still miss most of them.
It would be nice if the networks could spread the wealth throughout the year, but to make a long, complicated story that no one truly understands short, they don't -- and won't. So here's a heads-up for what's on the tube this week:
"HOMICIDE: THE MOVIE" (9 p.m., Sunday, NBC) is a curtain call for the recently departed series -- minus the goofy-sounding title "Homicide: Life on the Street." The original series stayed on the air by its fingernails for seven years, largely due to the fierce loyalty of fans who have undoubtedly already marked this one on their calendars. But for the rest of you -- those who might have heard about the Emmys, the Peabodys, the great cast and the rarity of a big-time filmmaker such as Barry Levinson doing a TV show -- this swan song is probably the last opportunity to see what you were missing. Levinson and the original writer/producers are on board, the cast is intact and while the two-hour movie will clear up a few lingering issues for loyalists, we're also promised that it'll work as a stand-alone for newcomers as well. "Homicide" has long been the TV version of that high-quality foreign film you heard so much about but never bothered to go see. Last chance.
Providing stiff competition for "Homicide" is part one of the CBS original mini-series "SALLY HEMMINGS -- AN AMERICAN SCANDAL" (Part 1 -- 9 p.m., Sunday, CBS; Part 2 -- 9 p.m., Wednesday, CBS). Besides being one of television's most important ratings periods, February is also Black History Month, a time set aside to acknowledge black contributions throughout history. This portrayal of the long-denied relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings might serve well for both causes. A black woman in the 1800s providing love, support and family for one of our founding father's, as unconventional and "scandalous" as it apparently was, is still a secret this country would have done well to publicize a long time ago. Sam Neill and Carmen Ejogo star.
"THE WEST WING" (9 p.m., Wednesday, NBC). When a new show comes along that looks like it has a chance to be something really special, it usually gets bumped off the February schedule in favor of a game show. That's what happened to "FREAKS & GEEKS" (used-to-be 8 p.m. Mondays, NBC), which was to be the subject of this paragraph, but what the hell. ... Also in its first season, "The West Wing" started out strong and just keeps getting better each week. For all it has going for it (and that's only great talent in every creative area from the producers to the cast), its most intriguing element might just be that we haven't seen it before. It's not about a law firm or a hospital or a police station. Writer/producer Aaron Sorkin (ABC's "Sports Night") presents us with a warm, human side to the most powerful people in the world. It's a strange notion -- that the people who run this country might not all be ruthless, power mad megalomaniacs -- but it's also strangely comforting.
Also on NBC, "JUST SHOOT ME" (8 p.m., Tuesday) and "FRIENDS" (8 p.m., Thursday) offer special one-hour episodes this week. "Shoot Me" eases the sexual tension a bit as Maya (Laura San Giacomo) and Elliot (Enrico Colantoni) finally succumb. And as buzzing begins anew that the end of the series might be just around the corner, "Friends" delivers an imaginative "what if?" hour, featuring, among the sub-plots, the return of Dr. Drake Ramoray and some network synergy cameos from the "Days of Our Lives" cast.
Rounding out the week, John Goodman returns in a flashback to the eminently watchable sci-fi adventure "NOW AND AGAIN" (9 p.m., Friday, CBS), adding to the already talented and eclectic cast. ... And while "WALKER TEXAS RANGER" isn't a regular on too many "best bets" lists (maybe if someone would tell Chuck Norris he shouldn't "sing" his own theme song), a good crossover stunt can be pretty cool. On Saturday, Walker shows up for an hour of ass-kicking with Sammo Hung on "MARTIAL LAW" (9 p.m., CBS), and then the casts of both shows go back to Texas to finish off the bad guy on Norris' show at 10 p.m. Cool enough. ... VH-1's popular "BEHIND THE MUSIC" counts down viewer-voted favorite episodes all Sunday. And The Learning Channel offers a full day of "GREAT BOOKS," leading up to the premiere of two new episodes on Saturday night. ... And finally, perhaps as some sort of "anti-sweeps" programming strategy apparently designed to give other channels a chance, the USA network is pre-empting the highest-rated weekly show in the history of cable television, the subtly nuanced "WWF Raw is War," in favor of live coverage of the "WESTMINSTER KENNEL CLUB DOG SHOW" (8 p.m., Monday, USA). That's either a very long-standing contract with the network, or those dogs are just that good!