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.
Shailene Woodley first hit my radar in the later seasons of The O.C., as the troubled sister of Mischa Barton's equally troubled Marissa Cooper. Little did I realize that for the past few years, she's been carving herself out a nice little career, starring in ABC Family's hit show The Secret Life of an American Teenager and landing a co-starring role in the George Clooney-starrer The Descendants. Not too shabby for the beginning of what looks to be a fruitful career.
Woodley shines in the movie, playing an angsty teen that manges to be ruthless and empathetic all at once. Even in her roughest moments, she's never grating (as so many "troubled teens" can be in movies) and she stands up to Clooney with all the composure of an actress twice her age. It's a great performance.
I had a chance to talk to Woodley about The Descendants, working in Hawaii and what to expect from the next season of Secret Life…
What was the transition between the show and stepping up and doing this movie like?
Shailene Woodley:There really wasn’t any transition to be talked about. Just kind of a different job and different atmosphere. The movie was life-altering.
In what way?
SW: I got to work in Hawaii for four months. The most magical island on this planet. I got to meet my top favorite human being in the world, Alexander Payne. I got to work with the most spectacular man I’ve ever met, George Clooney.
A lot of things going for it.
SW: So many things. So many things.
From talking to Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard, it sounded like Alexander casts actors who he remind him of the part. Your character Alexandra does a lot of wild partying on the beach and drinking. Connection?
SW: Yeah, no. Not at all. I never went down the whole drug and alcohol path.
SW: It’s funny. I’m a very optimistic human being in real life, and I’m very in touch with my demonstrative, cynical side. I never practice it, obviously. I never even think it. But I’m able to access it really quickly. Alexander, I think he saw the vulnerable…I don’t know what he saw.
Conversing with him about the character, what were you able to discover about the character?
SW: We never really actually discussed much about the character. I’m sure we did, actually. I don’t remember much about the discussion. I do remember his insights on the script. I never went to acting school or theater school. I took acting classes, but when it comes to semantics of breaking down the screenplay, I’m awful. I read it and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is just a great script. Moving on…’ And then he’ll be like, ‘Oh, so the reason why we say this is because it ties into this.’ And it’s a very poignant part of the storyline. He would blow my mind. ‘Oh, that’s what that means! Great! Thank you!’ So he kind of opened my eyes to a lot of different parts of filmmaking that I wasn’t exposed to.
You play George Clooney’s daughter in the movie and share almost every scene together—but the encounters aren’t always friendly. What was it like being on the attack against George Clooney?
SW: Sparring with him? It was amazing! It was phenomenal!
When you get to spar with anyone, I think it’s fun. I love to argue when you’re told to. And when feelings aren’t involved. And then to argue with a professional arguer like George Clooney—I mean professional as in professional actor—it was fun! It was the best time I’ve ever had on a movie set. George is a superhuman. He really is. He’s one of the most spectacular, down-to-earth, phenomenal, brilliant men I’ve ever met in my entire life. Humble. And I didn’t learn so much from him as an actor, he never really gave me advice, or preached things upon me. It was more of me observing him and his ways, as a human being, and taking more than I could have ever expected to take away from that.
In what kind of way? Is there something specific he did or said that fascinated you?
SW: In his generous way. In his professional way. In his grat…atouille? Wrong choice of words. In the way he approaches everything with gratitude.
He’s really grateful—he’s just as grateful to be on that movie set as I would be or as a transportation guy would be. And I think a lot of people lose sight of gratitude in life. And I think that’s why a lot of people are unhappy. ‘Cause they’re always searching for something more instead of realizing what they have. And he mastered the art of gratitude.
How do three strangers learn to interact like a family? I imagine you’re hanging out a lot on a movie set, but did you guys go off and try and do things? Hang out?
SW: Yeah. I think that’s a big thing with Alexander. I think he’s really big on authenticity. And he wanted us to know each other before he filmed, obviously to open up communication. So it wasn’t like we were thrown on a movie set, and, ‘Oh, hi, I’m your daughter. You’re my dad.’
George and I got there about a month ahead of time. Nick [Krause] came in two weeks ahead of time, and then Amara [Miller] came in one week ahead of time. And we all got to know each other really well, but in a very casual setting. It was never forced. ‘You go have lunch together so you can get to know one another! Bond!’ [laughs]. It was casual tours around the island, and getting to know the culture of being Hawaiian, and the indigenous parts of it. And that’s kind of how we bonded, just over time.
SW: Awesome. But as the movie teaches us, living on Hawaii is not a big vacation.
SW: People die in Hawaii. Shocking, right? It happens.
Do you feel like you’ve learned about Hawaii. Uncovered differences in how Hawaiians live then how you may have perceived life on the islands?
SW: I had never been to Hawaii, and I had never known anything about it. My body may have been born in LA. I might live in LA, still, but my heart is from Hawaii. My heart was born there. It’s one of the most phenomenal places on this planet. There’s an energy there that’s not tangible. It kind of grasps you. And it centers you as a human being, and it grounds you. And it moves you from the materialistic bubble that we so often get lost in.
And there are still indigenous thriving…I don’t want to say tribes, because they’re not tribes. But indigenous peoples living on the island. They were so recently colonized by America in a very illegal way, which is I guess how America took over everything. Or how the French and British colonies took over America to even begin with—the Indians. But yeah, there’s so much culture, and it’s all very indigenous still, when you get away from Waikiki. You start to feel the real vibe of Hawaii.
What are you moving onto next? I’m sure another season of your show on the horizon?
SW: Yeah. I mean, right now, who knows if another season will go? We never find out ‘til a week beforehand.
You mean it’s like, ‘Oh, we decided to make another season of the show! Just come by, if you don’t mind…’
SW: Yeah exactly! Be back in LA next week! Okay! I just cut my hair off! Yeah, but we finished the fourth season Thanksgiving weekend.
Awesome. That’s something you’ve been doing for four seasons. That’s a long time. Do you feel a real investment in it? Is it something that you still see growing? Are there places for it to go from your perspective?
SW: Yeah. I’m really grateful for it, and the writers are incredible…we are all getting a lot older. I’m the youngest one and I’m almost twenty. Everyone else is in their mid to late twenties, if not early thirties. So, there definitely has to be growing up.
Nature takes its call on the show’s direction.
SW: Totally. Those wrinkles are new.
The upcoming film The Descendants is a family drama (not at all devoid of humor) about a man (George Clooney) who, in the aftermath of his wife's boating accident, attempts to reconnect with his daughters and confront the man with whom his wife has been having an affair. In case none of this appeals to you, bear in mind that the film is directed by Alexander Payne, the earnest and sophisticated writer/director who created Sideways, About Schmidt, and, best of all, Election.
The below clip features Matt King (Clooney) meeting, without much enthusiasm, the new boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) of his older daughter (Shailene Woodley). Clearly, things are just beginning to "not go as planned" for Clooney's character in the clip. This small snippet of footage should give you an idea why the movie's already getting tons of buzz out of the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals.
The Descendants reaches theaters November 23.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Babe star James Cromwell has lashed out at the writers of his hit show Six Feet
Under for not warning him that his character would be descending into madness
when he signed up for the role.
The veteran thespian, who plays George Sibley in the drama, insists he had no
idea he'd be so challenged by creator Alan Ball and his staff, and feels the
writers were wrong not to tell him.
The actor fumes, "They didn't tell me what was going to happen to this guy--all of a sudden, he started to fall to pieces, and I had no idea.
"I'm not used to working this way. I like to know when I'm being led somewhere... I've been doing this for 40 years. I'm not a goof. It doesn't add any more life to keep actors out of the loop."
Ball admits he's surprised with Cromwell's outburst in TV Guide
magazine. He says, "It's funny that he has a problem with it, because I think he's done
some of his best work and he should be proud of that."
But Cromwell isn't the only Six Feet Under star who has issues with Ball. Cast member Peter Krause insists the writer is wrong to end the show after its upcoming sixth season.
He says, "When we got the phone call, most of us weren't anticipating this to
be the last season. We thought we'd do two more."
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Top Story: Jackson's Parents Offer To Adopt Children
In an interview airing today at 10 p.m. EST on ABC's 20/20, Michael Jackson's parents said he is innocent and have offered to adopt his children if they're taken away from him. "Some people are trying to accuse him of being a pedophile, and that is not true," Katherine Jackson. "Hhe said, 'Mother, don't worry, it's not the truth.' But I told him you don't know these wicked people, the people are just mean and wicked." Jackson, who was arrested Nov. 20 on suspicion of molesting a boy at his Neverland Ranch outside Santa Barbara, Calif., has denied the allegations. He was released on $3 million bail the same day and has not yet been charged. When asked whether they would try to adopt the two boys and a girl if that happens, Jackson's father Joe answered, "Well ... they're my grandkids. I have to."
George Clinton Files Innocent Plea
Funk musician George Clinton, who was arrested in Tallahassee, Fla., over the weekend and charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia, filed an innocent plea to drug charges Thursday, The Associated Press reports. No trial date has been set. Police said Clinton was sitting in the passenger side of a car at a gas station when they approached him and told them he had cocaine in his pocket. He was arrested, charged and later released on $2,650 bail. Clinton headed the funk bands Parliament and Funkadelic in the 1970s and 1980s and his 1983 solo album, Atomic Dog, rose to the top of the R&B charts.
It's "Sir" Mick Jagger Now
Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger received Britain's ultimate accolade Friday when he was knighted by heir to the throne Prince Charles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, Reuters reports. Jagger, 60, rejected suggestions that he had sold out to the same establishment that he had scoffed at for so long: "I don't really think the establishment as we knew it exists any more," he said, tossing his head slightly. Jagger, who attended the ceremony with his 92-year-old father Joe and two of his daughters, showed his rebellious streak by shunning the traditional top hat and tails and opting instead for a long black leather coat, purple scarf and sports shoes.
Deschanel and Gyllenhaal Host Sundance Awards
Zooey Deschanel and Jake Gyllenhaal, who played discontented discount store employees in last year's The Good Girl, will team up again to co-host the Sundance Film Festival Awards on Jan. 24. Playing at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, which is scheduled for Jan. 15-25, are The Woodsman, starring husband-and-wife team Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, and We Don't Live Here Anymore with Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts. Another film selection is The Clearing, starring Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe and Robert Redford, the festival's founder.
Will & Grace Creators Sue NBC Companies
David Kohan and Jason "Max" Mutchnick, creators of the hit NBC comedy Will & Grace, sued the network and its in-house production company, NBC Studios, Thursday, claiming the companies conspired to keep them from their fair share of the show's earnings. According to Reuters, the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty by the NBC companies. Kohan and Mutchnick say the licensing terms for the show were "insufficient even to cover a reasonable percentage of the series' production costs" and accuse companies of deliberately undervaluing the sitcom in the deal by which the production company licensed the show to its sister network.
Pharrell To Launch Clothing Line
Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes announced Thursday the launch of two new apparel ventures in partnership with Reebok: Ice Cream, a collection of men's and women's footwear, and Billionaire Boys Club, a men's clothing collection. According to MTV.com, the lines will launch next summer and feature a select run of five or six items available only in high-end boutiques and better department stores. Pharrell's Billionaire Boys Club T-shirts made brief appearances his Frontin' video and onstage during recent shows by his band N.E.R.D. The line will offer T-shirts, athletic clothing, jeans and button-down shirts.
Luciano Pavarotti To Wed Longtime Girlfriend
Opera star Luciano Pavarotti will marry longtime partner Nicoletta Mantovani in his hometown Saturday, the AP reports. Guests will include U2 frontman Bono, Sting, fashion designer Donatella Versace and soccer star Alessandro Del Piero. Giorgio Armani is providing the wedding gowns for Mantovani and the couple's year-old daughter Alice. Pavarotti, 68, has three children from his marriage to former manager Adua Veroni.
Sting Honored by MusicCares
Tony Bennett, the Black Eyed Peas, Elvis Costello, Dido, Elton John, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Dave Matthews, John Mayer and Rufus Wainwright will perform at the 2004 MusiCares Person of the Year gala in honor of Sting, the AP reports. Sting, 52, is set to receive the honor at a special tribute dinner, concert and silent auction Feb. 6 in Los Angeles. The gala is part of a weeklong festival leading up to the Grammy Awards, which will be presented Feb. 8. He was selected for his accomplishments as a musician, humanitarian and environmental activist by MusiCares, which provides assistance to music people in times of need.
Role Call: Haven Draws Bruckner and Cannavale
Blue Car's Agnes Bruckner and