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.
Stephen Fry is one of the coolest cats in Britain. Aside from being a wonderful writer, comedian and person, he's taken roles in some excellent films, including A Fish Called Wanda, A Civil Action, Gosford Park, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, V For Vendetta and the upcoming Sherlock Holmes sequel. Now he's found himself in business with Peter Jackson, both on the Oscar winning director's The Hobbit and his developing Dam Busters remake.
Jackson himself announced the addition to his Hobbit cast via Facebook yesterday, and released a full production update which also made public the hiring of Ryan Gage, who will play Alfrid, and Conan Stevens, who is set to play an Orc called Azog. Fry can only bring good things to a production as large and prestigious as this, and though I'm not personally familiar with Stevens and Gage, I am sure that if Jackson hired them, they must be right for their roles.
Read on below for the full release:
Some more HOBBIT casting news today. As we near the end of our first shooting block (we have a break in less than three weeks to get some editing and visual effects work done, plus prepare for very big scenes coming up), we are looking at characters featuring in sequences that take place a little later in the story.
We are thrilled to confirm that Stephen Fry will be playing The Master of Laketown. I've known Stephen for several years, and we're developing a DAMBUSTERS movie together. In addition to his writing skills, he's a terrific actor and will create a very memorable Master for us.
The Master's conniving civil servant, Alfrid will be played by Ryan Gage. Ryan is a great young actor who we originally cast in a small role, but we liked him so much, we promoted him to the much larger Alfrid part.
Last, and certainly not least, is Conan Stevens, who will be playing an Orc called Azog (Orcs are never called Roger or Dennis for some strange reason). And yes that's his name—Conan! Isn't that cool? Azog is played by Conan! Here's a photo of Conan and I together... I'm pretty tall, probably at least 6'5" or 6'6" I would guess, so that gives you some clue how tall Conan is!