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.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Eddie Murphy is terrific in Imagine That as Evan Danielson an overworked financial advisor who is so immersed in his job he’s forgotten about Olivia his daughter from an estranged marriage. When he is given custody for a week and he gets too busy with work she retreats into her fantasy world imagining a group of princesses who as it turns out really know their way around big business. When Dad figures out his daughter’s special blanket and otherworldly friends have the magic touch for investment advice he becomes an instant superstar in his firm. But his newfound success soon sets up a confrontation with his chief rival Johnny Whitefeather whose presentations are often full of (Red) bull.
WHO’S IN IT?
From Dr. Dolittle to Daddy Day Care Murphy has carved out a solid alternate career as a star of family-friendly movies. But none of those previous works play to his overall talents as a comedian better than Imagine That in which he gets to merge his kid’s fantasy world with office politics for optimum laughs. The purely delightful premise in which Murphy faces off with skeptical business partners is perfectly toned to his talents and allows him to be widely appealing for both kids and their parents. As daughter Olivia newcomer Yara Shahidi won out over 3000 girls and is wonderful a real charmer who goes toe to toe with Eddie. Thomas Haden Church provides the perfect foil for Murphy as Whitefeather a guy who plays off a phony Native American heritage and spouts nonsensical advice like he’s E.F. Hutton. As bosses vying for Murphy’s newfound talents both Ronny Cox and Martin Sheen play it straight lending the appropriate gravitas to their roles. Nicole Ari Parker is winning in her few scenes as Olivia’s mom.
Murphy’s comedic tendency to go way over the top (i.e. Norbit) is kept in check with great results. He’s totally believable as a stressed-out businessman and his trip into his daughter’s imagination is handled realistically mined for the optimum number of laughs without sacrificing credibility. Credit for this goes to Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge) an animation director making his live-action debut for keeping cartoonish antics to a minimum and emphasizing heart and the father/daughter bond instead.
The scenes between Murphy and Shahidi are so effortlessly charming and real that you wish there were more of them. (One highlight is when father teaches daughter to sing Beatles songs which are heard throughout the film.) It’s the kind of thing Bill Cosby did so well on TV but could never pull off in movies. Murphy does.
Murphy is in top comic form all the way and is never better than when he berates Littlefeather’s hokey presentation then comes up with one based on his daughter’s doodlings that shows off the comic genius we haven’t seen in this actor’s comedy vehicles in quite a while.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Imagine That is a family film in the truest form and ripe for an outing with your kids. If you don’t have any rent one and go.
Boy band and pop heartthrobs 'N Sync will be performing the American national anthem at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony Sunday, accompanied by the biggest fireworks display ever seen in the U.S. The some 2,500 athletes will finally be able to party it up after surviving the tight security throughout most of the 17-day Olympics. They'll dance all night to the music of KISS, Gloria Estefan, Bon Jovi, Moby and Christina Aguilera.
"The tone of the closing ceremony will be completely different; it will be more of a celebration to entertain the athletes," producer Don Mischer told journalists on Saturday.
One hundred of the world's top photojournalists, armed with digital cameras, are canvassing 53 African states Feb. 28 to bring back photos for a book entitled A Day in the Life of Africa. The proceeds from the book will help fight against the AIDS epidemic, which currently runs rampant in the African continent.
Texas Ranger relief pitcher John Rocker will leave the mound temporarily to play a homicidal maniac in the upcoming slasher flick The Greenskeeper. The story focuses on a group of teens (who else?) who gather at a country club for a party and start getting bumped off by a greenskeeper armed with golf course tools. Can we say Caddyshack gone bad?
Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh, and soccer star husband David are expecting their second child in September. The couple have a 2-year-old son, Brooklyn.
Two thumbs up for Roger. Movie critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times is said to be recovering nicely after having his thyroid gland removed Friday after a cancerous growth was found. "He is expected to make a complete recovery," Ebert's doctor told The Associated Press.
Director Spike Lee will be directing three 30-second spots to help the financially ailing K-mart discount stores, which filed for Chapter 11 last month due to stringent competition from Wal-Mart and Target stores. The ad campaign will center on everyday family life with tagline: "K-mart. The Stuff of Life."
French actress Sophie Marceau (Braveheart) was attacked by muggers and had her car stolen in a parking lot of a ritzy Paris suburb, the Le Parisien reported Friday. Marceau, who is four months pregnant, was assaulted sometime early Wednesday morning by five men while she was trying to get into her Volkswagen Passat in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Now you know why mom used to say "Walk! Don’t run!" Five people were injured at a No Doubt concert when a crowd of 4,000 fans rushed the stage, crushing some of them against the railing. The incident took place at the Mesa Amphitheater in Mesa, Ariz., where the Orange County ska band was performing.
Three of the injured were taken to a nearby hospital and treated. None of the injuries were serious.
SINGING ‘SOPRANO’: He may be a "Soprano" on TV, but this Mob boss is really a tenor.
Dominic Chianese, who plays Corrado "Uncle Junior" Soprano on the HBO hit series, not only loves acting but apparently also has a knack for singing, too. The actor was recently in a Franklin, Tenn., studio recording his first album.
The project, which was recorded with studio musicians, includes standards such as "Ramona" and "For the Good Times," Dino Elefante, co-owner of The Sound Kitchen, told The Associated Press. Three of the songs are also Chianese originals.
A release date for the album is pending while Chianese shops for a record label.
J.C. Chasez of ’N Sync ROCKIN’ IN RIO: ’N Sync and Britney Spears are heading south, far south, to perform in Brazil’s third annual Rock in Rio for a Better World.
Spears and boyband members Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, J.C. Chasez, Lance Bass and Justin Timberlake will fly to Rio de Janeiro early next year for the weeklong music fest, which kicks off Jan. 12.
Organizers are expecting 1.5 million people for the weeklong celebration. Tickets go on sale in October.