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.
Tom Cruise thriller to open Urbanworld Film Fest
Tom Cruise's new thriller, Collateral, will open the eighth annual Urbanworld Film Festival Aug. 4 in Manhattan, The Associated Press reports. In the film, Cruise plays a contract killer who hijacks Jamie Foxx's taxicab. It also stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Mark Ruffalo. "Collateral is the perfect film to open this year's Urbanworld," festival founder and Urbanworld Films president Stacy Spikes said in a statement Monday. "This picture illustrates what the term 'urban' truly represents in 2004. Urban is about sensibility, not just ethnicity." lass="storylinks">Collateral opens nationwide Aug 6. The festival, which runs August 4 - 9, will include panel discussions and feature, documentary and short film screenings. It will also feature the Actor's Spotlight, with former honorees Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Dee Williams, Vondie Curtis Hall and Rosie Perez.
Zach Braff's film wins Maui Film Fest
In other festival news, Zach Braff's feature directorial debut Garden State was awarded best feature film at the fifth annual Maui Film Festival. According to the AP, a record 20,000 people who attended the festival. Braff, who plays Dr. John 'J.D.' Dorian on the NBC sitcom Scrubs, accepted the award as the five-day festival concluded over the weekend. The film, which opens in limited release July 30, revolves around a man (Braff) who returns home for his mother's funeral and breaks free of a lifetime of medication-induced passivity, striking up a relationship with a quirky young woman, played by Natalie Portman. Braff, 29, also wrote the screenplay.
AFI releases 100 best movie songs
The American Film Institute released a list of 100 best movie songs Tuesday, with the song "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz taking the No. 1 spot. The song made famous by Judy Garland as Kansas farm girl Dorothy was followed by "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca at No. 2, and the title tune from Singin' in the Rain at No. 3. The rest of the AFI top 10: 4. "Moon River" from Breakfast At Tiffany's; 5. "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn; 6. "Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate; 7. "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio; 8. "The Way We Were" from The Way We Were; 9. "Stayin' Alive" from Saturday Night Fever; 10. "The Sound of Music" from The Sound of Music.
Jessica Simpson cancels concert due to illness
Jessica Simpson had to cancel her Tuesday show in Providence, R.I., because of a kidney infection, Columbia Records spokeswoman Renee Pfefer told the AP. According to Pfefer, the 23-year-old singer is under a doctor's care and planned to resume her summer tour promoting her album In This Skin in New Hampshire on Wednesday. Simpson, who stars with her husband Nick Lachey on the MTV's reality series Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, was scheduled to go on stage before a nearly sold-out audience. Organizers hoped to reschedule the performance.
David Bowie gets sucker punched
A wayward lollipop hit singer David Bowie in the eye during a concert at Friday's Norwegian Wood Festival in Oslo, and although he wasn't seriously injured by the candy, the incident was enough to piss off the 57-year-old singer. "Lucky you hit the bad one," Bowie quipped to the crowd of 7,500, reminding them he only had one good eye since the other eye was damaged in a childhood fight. According to the AP, Bowie continued to joke about the occurrence throughout his performance. At one point, he threw one of his guitar picks into the crowd, and then asked if he'd hit someone in the eye. Norwegian newspapers tracked down the alleged culprit, who claimed it was an accident, but didn't publish her name.
Doris Day gets Presidential Medal of Freedom
Doris Day, who is being honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday in Washington, said her fear of flying will keep her from traveling to the capitol to accept it from President Bush. Day, who won an Oscar nomination for the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk and made several gold records, blames her fear of flying on too many overseas trips with Bob Hope entertaining U.S. troops. "I saw him on his knees many a time, " she said. "In fact, we were all on our knees. We flew in snowstorms, whatever, to get to the next show. When I hit the ground, I said, 'Never again.'" The entertainer has also been recognized for founding the Doris Day Animal Foundation, which has sponsored annual Spay Days to reduce animal overpopulation. The Medal of Freedom distinguishes service in a range of fields, including the arts, sports, business and science.
Lollapalooza canceled due to poor ticket sales
The 2004 edition of the Lollapalooza tour was canceled due to weak ticket sales, organizers said Tuesday. This year's Lollapalooza lineup included Morrissey, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey the Flaming Lips, Pixies and Wilco. But Pollstar magazine editor Gary Bongiovanni told Reuters Lollapalooza was also was a victim of a talent roster that appealed to an older audience. "I look at that lineup and I see a lot of acts that have been around a long time. They're probably not bands that are going to be in the top five acts that your average 15-, 16- or 17-year-old is going to be listening to," he said. "The older you get, the less inclined you're going to be to spend eight hours out in the sun with 15,000 other people." He cited the Vans Warped Tour as an example of a tour that has done consistently well because its heavy emphasis on the "skate punk" bands that are popular with young listeners.
B-ball beats Clinton in TV ratings
Despite all the hoopla over his new book and hour-long TV interview, basketball finals beat out former President Bill Clinton's appearance on CBS' 60 Minutes in the week's TV rankings. Here are the Top 10 prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research for June 14-20: NBA Finals Game 5: L.A. Lakers at Detroit Pistons, ABC, 21.8 million viewers; 60 Minutes, CBS, 15.8 million viewers; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.1 million viewers; CSI: Miami, CBS, 14 million viewers; Without a Trace, CBS, 12.8 million viewers; Law & Order, NBC, 11.8 million viewers; Cold Case, CBS, 11.4 million viewers; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.4 million viewers; Two And a Half Men, CBS, 11 million viewers; and Last Comic Standing 2, NBC, 10.4 million viewers.
Joan Rivers returns to Sin City
Joan Rivers will return to Las Vegas for the first time in nine years, appearing for four nights at the Stardust hotel-casino starting next Wednesday, the AP reports. "The last time I appeared in Las Vegas, they were wearing hoop skirts and Davy Crockett hats," the comedian joked. "But they say, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.' And as far as fashion is concerned, that's a good thing." Rivers will be performing her "Can We Talk?" routine, a candid discussion about everyday life. Rivers also will be hosting the awards ceremony for the Stardust's Red Carpet Celebrity Slot Tournament, which is scheduled for Thursday.
Moviegoers gave Steven Spielberg's A.I. an A-OK $30 million opening this weekend.
Warner Bros. and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy adventure A.I. Artificial Intelligence topped the chart with an enviable ESTIMATED $30.14 million at 3,242 theaters ($9,295 per theater).
A.I. 's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, it was produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Spielbergand Bonnie Curtis. Starring are Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson and William Hurt.
"I'm very happy," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "To open at the same level as Saving Private Ryan, which did $30.5 million, and The Truman Show, which did $31.5 million, (is very gratifying). All of these films were critically acclaimed and played primarily to adult audiences. And they all were released in the summer. So I've been watching these movies (box office numbers) carefully.
"In talking to the Spielberg camp, they're very happy. You know, it's a tribute to Stanley (Kubrick). This $30 million opening is the highest opening of any film in which Stanley had been associated. His biggest opening was his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, which did $21.7 million (and went on to gross about $56 million in domestic theaters). Full Metal Jacket, which was his next biggest, had a domestic box office total of $46 million."
Who turned out for A.I. 's opening weekend? "The film attracted couples. About 51 percent of the audience were males and 49 percent were females," Fellman said. "It was primarily moviegoers 25 years and older. Major cities played the strongest, of course, across North America. The three biggest grosses came out of New York -- the Lincoln Square in two days was about $82,000, followed by Broadway, which was $75,000 and the Greenwich Village, which was $65,000.
"Over 80 percent of the audience rated the film good to excellent, so I think we'll be around for a while. It's a very provocative movie. People continue to talk about it. I think they're surprised when they walk in. After they see the movie, it may be a little different than what they expected. But it's certainly the kind of film that people talk a lot about."
Asked where it's heading in domestic theaters, Fellman replied, "Well, I'm certainly looking for the $100 million-plus mark. But obviously the rest of it is based on how we hold. The Truman Show ended up at about $125 million. Of course, Private Ryan is in a class of its own (with) over $200 million. We will definitely be watching this carefully and see what happens."
Universal's PG-13 action drama The Fast and the Furious drove down one notch to second place in its second weekend with a still muscular ESTIMATED $20.0 million (-50%) at 2,723 theaters (+95 theaters; $7,345 per theater). Fast, which was made for a modest $38 million, has a cume of approximately $77.8 million and is heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG rated comedy sequel Dr. Dolittle 2 slipped one peg to third place in its second weekend with a still funny ESTIMATED $15.4 million (-38%) at 3,053 theaters (+4 theaters; $5,045 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
Directed by Steve Carr and produced by John Davis, it stars Eddie Murphy.
Paramount and Mutual Film Company's PG-13 rated action adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was still plunging in its third week, down one notch to fourth with a softer ESTIMATED $9.8 million (-50%) at 3,349 theaters (+37 theaters; $2,926 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.2 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Simon West, Tomb stars Angelina Jolie.
Columbia's R rated African-American appeal drama Baby Boy arrived in fifth place to a solid ESTIMATED $8.6 million at 1,533 theaters ($5,610 per theater). Its cume after 5 days is approximately $11.7 million.
Written, produced and directed by John Singleton, it stars Tyrese Gibson, Snoop Dogg and Ving Rhames.
"It's a good solid opening in a tough market," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Certainly, the weekdays look to be very good next week and it should be a great weekend next weekend, as well.
"It's a $16 million negative (cost) picture that we think should end up right where we hoped it would be in the $30-40 million range (in domestic theaters)."
Baby Boy faced competition this weekend for its core audience of African-American moviegoers from Paramount's Chris Rock comedy Pootie Tang. Pootie, which some media observers criticized for opening when it would fragment the African-American audience, only grossed an ESTIMATED $1.55 million and failed to crack the Top Ten (see OTHER OPENINGS below for details).
"I think initially in our movie world it was a little disconcerting when Pootie Tang landed on our date," Blake observed. "But the more we thought about it, (we realized that) certainly you wouldn't hesitate to counter program an inexpensive comedy aimed at white teenagers against a more ambitious project. So I think a bit too much was made of it in this case. And, obviously, I don't think it ended up being much of a factor."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire descended two levels in its fourth week to sixth place, making fewer waves with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million (-38%) at 3,030 theaters (-41 theaters; $2,573 per theater). Its cume is approximately $58.0 million.
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, its voice talents include Michael J Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy.
DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek dropped two rungs to seventh place in its seventh week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $7.1 million (-32%) at 2,704 theaters (-303 theaters; $2,605 per theater). Its cume is approximately $227.5 million on its way to $250 million or more.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 teen appeal drama crazy / beautiful arrived in eighth place to a not so beautiful ESTIMATED $4.5 million at 1,601 theaters ($2,815 per theater).
Directed by John Stockwell, it stars Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' PG-13 rated three-hour epic action romance Pearl Harbor fell two pegs to ninth place in its sixth weekend with a calm $4.4 million (-35%) at 2,305 theaters (-363 theaters; $1,918 per theater). Its cume is approximately $179.4 million, on its way to $200 million by late summer.
Directed by Michael Bay, Pearl was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Starring are Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R rated action thriller Swordfish, down four rungs in its fourth week but still in the box office swim with an ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-48%) at 2,225 theaters (-435 theaters; $1,798 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.5 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Dominic Sena and produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan Krane, it stars John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle.
This weekend also saw Paramount PG-13 rated African-American appeal comedy Pootie Tang arrive to a not so funny ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 712 theaters ($2,020 per theater).
Written and directed by Louis C. K., it stars Chris Rock.
Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet opened as a Miramax Zoe label release in New York and San Francisco to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.080 million at 4 theaters ($20,000 per theater).
Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque.
"This Friday we're adding another five markets, so we'll probably be in about 12 to 15 screens for this weekend," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
TriStar's R rated crime thriller The Crimson Rivers, opened to a slow ESTIMATED $0.035 million at 7 theaters ($5,000 per theater). Its theatrical run sets Rivers up for a home video release.
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel.
USA Films' PG-13 drama Pandaemonium opened quietly to an ESTIMATED $2,477 at 1 theater in Los Angeles.
Directed by Julien Temple, it stars John Hannah, Linus Roache, Samantha Morton and Emily Woof.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight's R rated critically acclaimed British crime thriller Sexy Beast continue to widen in its third week with a still hot ESTIMATED $0.72 million (+17%) at 109 theaters (+48 theaters; $6,580 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, it stars Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
"I feel very good (about its performance)," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "In many of the core urban markets -- Manhattan, L.A., Washington, D.C., San Francisco -- the film is holding extremely well. A number of the new regional markets actually did quite well in addition. Portland was quite good. It's good everywhere and some of them are actually outstanding.
"So we feel very, very good that we're going to continue to expand and play through the summer and hold for long runs. We're adding another 20 cities for an additional 25 theaters this week so we'll be in about 135 runs this coming Friday."
Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party went wider in its fourth week with a less lively ESTIMATED $0.42 million (-30%) at 103 theaters (+18 theaters; $4,110 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, its ensemble cast includes Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Alan Cumming, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly.
Lions Gate Films' PG-13 rated drama Songcatcher expanded in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.13 million at 37 theaters (+24 theaters; $3,390 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.27 million.
Directed by Maggie Greenwald, it stars Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $120.56 million, down about 6.22% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $128.56 million for the Friday-Sunday portion of the five day July Fourth holiday weekend. July Fourth fell on a Tuesday last year, which allowed for a five-day weekend. This year the holiday falls on a Wednesday and is not part of the weekend.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 12.47% from last weekend this year when key films took in $137.74 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of The Perfect Storm was first with $41.33 million (for three days) at 3,407 theaters ($12,129 per theater); and Columbia's opening week of The Patriot was second with $22.41 million at 3,061 theaters ($7,322 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $63.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $50.1 million.
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