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.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Today marked a sunny day for The Dark Knight.
Also for a guy who grows younger as he gets older and a kid who beats all odds to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
The Producers Guild of America has announced its nominations for best movies, documentaries and TV shows. Nods in this movie category often foreshadow what’s to come by way of Oscar later on.
The 20th Annual PGA Awards will take place Jan. 24 at the Hollywood Paladium.
The complete list of nominees is as follows. First, for theatrical movies:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall
The Dark Knight
And for documenaries:
Man on Wire
Standard Operating Procedure
Julie Bilson Ahlberg
Trouble the Water
And for animation:
Kung Fu Panda
And for episodic TV/comedy:
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Lori Jo Nemhauser
And for episodic TV/drama:
David E. Kelley
Mark A. Baker
Todd A. Kessler
Robert Lloyd Lewis
Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
And for "nonfiction" TV:
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List
Lisa M. Tucker
This American Life
And for "live and competition" TV:
Bertram van Munster
Hayma “Screech” Washington
The Colbert Report
Stephen T. Colbert, DFA
Real Time with Bill Maher
And for "long-form" TV"
Bernard and Doris
A Raisin in the Sun
Finally, honorary awards and recipients:
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard
David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television
MySpace founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson
The Stanley Kramer Award
Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen
MORE NEWS: It's Dolly and Charlie Romijn-O'Connell!
Mike Myers and DreamWorks have inked a unique feature film production deal dubbed "film sampling." Film sampling is much like music sampling, in which an artist reworks an existing song with new lyrics. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the idea is for DreamWorks to acquire the rights to existing motion picture hits and classics, write new story lines and--with the use of digital technology--insert Myers and other actors into the film to create an entirely new piece of entertainment. "Film sampling is an exciting way to put an original spin on existing films and allow audiences to see old movies in a new light," Myers said. "Rap artists have been doing this for years with music, and now we are able to take that same concept and apply it to film. Think of me as the Puff Daddy of film or 'M. Diddy' or 'M & M' or just 'M,' or maybe when you sample movies you don't need a special name." Myers collaborated with DreamWorks on the Oscar-winning animated feature Shrek and the upcoming Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, set for release Nov. 21.
Stacy Keach, Sr., best known for developing, producing and directing the radio and television series Tales of the Texas Rangers, died Thursday of congestive heart failure, Reuters reports. He was 88. Keach had battled heart illness for 14 months and died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, California. Keach also had parts in a variety of TV shows spanning six decades, from The Lone Ranger in 1949 to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in the 1990s. He also played the inventive Professor Carlson in 1960s James Bond spoof Get Smart.
Judi Dench is in final negotiations to star opposite Vin Diesel in Universal Pictures' highly anticipated sequel Riddick, while Colm Feore has come aboard to play the lead villain. The film is a follow-up to the 2000 film Pitch Black, about an intergalactic prisoner named Riddick who has the ability to see in the dark. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the sequel finds Riddick in the middle of two opposing forces in a major crusade. Feore will play Lord Marshal, a warrior priest who is the leader of a sect that is waging the 10th and perhaps final crusade 500 years in the future. Dench will play Aereon, an ethereal being who helps Riddick unearth his origins. Production begins in Vancouver in April.
Barbershop director Tim Story will helm Society Cab for Universal Pictures, a drama based on the real-life exploits of the last black-owned, black-run taxi company in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Story told Variety the appeal of the script was its larger-than-life characters who drive the unsafe area, minding residents' children and even policing it themselves, knowing the cops will show up long after they do. The film follows a newspaper reporter who becomes a cabbie to write a feature story for the Miami Herald. Tom Hanks' Playtone Prods., the company behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding, will produce the picture.
Japanese director Hideo Nakata will make his English-language feature debut with the MGM supernatural thriller True Believers. The film is an adaptation of the Doug Richardson novel about the intersecting paths of a senator with White House aspirations, a woman who wants to have a child and a death row inmate who thinks he is a messiah whose bloodline must be carried on, Variety reports. Nakata directed the 1998 Japanese film The Ring and its sequel, which inspired the Gore Verbinski-helmed 2002 DreamWorks film of the same name and its sequel, The Ring 2.
The proposed merger between CNN and ABC News is off, AOL Time Warner executives said Thursday. A statement from AOL TW said: "After careful review, it was determined that although there are great merits and possibilities to a merger of CNN and ABC News, for us, the potential problems associated with the completion of such a transaction and the integration of these two distinct and great cultures was more than we wanted to pursue at this time." The statement seemed to leave open the possibility of future talks, but insiders were not optimistic, saying the issue is dead, with little or no chance of revival. "There will be no merger between ABC News and CNN in our lifetimes," one executive told The Hollywood Reporter.
Grammy-winning singer R. Kelly, who was arrested on child pornography charges last year, seems to be on a roll, despite being arrested on additional child pornography charges last month. Kelly has written a No. 1 song for the teen boy band B2K and scored his own hit with the sexually charged "Ignition." In fact, the video for his song is one of the most requested on BET and has been on MTV, he's up for a Grammy, and his record label, Jive, is releasing the CD Chocolate Factory on Tuesday, The Associated Press reports. "He's probably more popular now than during 'I Believe I Can Fly' (in 1996)," Kedar Massenburg, president of Motown Records, said.
Police in Sydney, Australia, recovered reel-to-reel tapes reportedly recorded by the Beatles and believed stolen from the band's Abbey Road studios in London in 1969, the AP reports. Detectives raided a home early Friday in western Sydney and seized tape recordings of the Abbey Road album and The Beatles, better known as The White Album. Police said the recordings have been turned over to a musicologist to determine their authenticity. The raid stemmed from a British investigation into a suspected piracy racket that led to the recovery of 500 tapes believed to be original Beatles recordings during a raid in Holland last month.
Besides the elbow-rubbing and power mongering, let's not forget that the Sundance Film Festival is also about the films.
With that in mind, the annual indie film fest announced today its partial list of films for the 2001 powwow.
The lineup for three categories -- dramas, documentaries and the American Spectrum -- have thus far been announced, and other areas such as premiere, international films and short films will be announced Wednesday.
Films at the festival only compete in the dramatic and documentary categories. Top films coming out of Sundance in previous years include Ed Burns' "The Brothers McMullen" and last year's "Girlfight" from director Karyn Kusama.
The Sundance Film Festival takes place Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Utah.
In the meantime, here's the complete list of Sundance films in competition and in the American Spectrum.
"30 Years to Life," directed by Vanessa Middleton "American Astronaut," directed by Cory McAbee "The Believer," directed by Henry Bean "The Business of Strangers," directed by Patrick Stettner "The Deep End," directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel "Donnie Darko," directed by Richard Kelly "Green Dragon," directed by Timothy Linh Bui "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," directed by John Cameron Mitchell "In the Bedroom," directed by Todd Field "L.I.E.," directed by Michael Cuesta "Lift," directed by DeMane Davis & Khari Streeter "MacArthur Park," directed by Billy Wirth "Memento," directed by Christopher Nolan "Scotland, PA," directed by Billy Morrissette "The Sleepy Time Gal," directed by Christopher Munch "Some Body," directed by Henry Barrial
"Chain Camera," directed by Kirby Dick "Children Underground," directed by Edet Belzberg "Dogtown and the Z-Boys," directed by Stacy Peralta "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic," directed by George Butler "Go Tigers!" directed by Kenneth A. Carlson "Home Movie," directed by Chris Smith "Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton," directed by Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson with "Albert Maysles Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind," directed by Stanley Nelson "The Natural History of the Chicken," directed by Mark Lewis "Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey," directed by William Greaves "Scout's Honor," directed by Tom Shepard "Scratch," directed by Doug Pray "Southern Comfort," directed by Kate Davis "Startup.com," directed by Chris Hegedus & Jehane Noujaim "Trembling Before G-D," directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski "An Unfinished Symphony," directed by Bestor Cram & Mike Majoro
"Acts of Worship," directed by Rosemary Rodriguez "After Image," directed by Robert Manganelli "Dancing in September," directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood "Diary of a City Priest," directed by Eugene Martin "The Doe Boy," directed by Randy Redroad "Haiku Tunnel," directed by Jacob Kornbluth & Josh Kornbluth "Invisible Revolution," directed by Beverly Peterson "Jump Tomorrow," directed by Joel Hopkins "Manic," directed by Jordan Melamed "Margarita Happy Hour," directed by Ilya Chaiken "Miss Wonton," directed by Meng Ong "Raw Deal: A Question of Consent," directed by Billy Corben "Roof to Roof," directed by Ara Corbett "Women in Film," directed by Bruce Wagner "Tape," directed by Richard Linklater "Wet Hot American Summer," directed by David Wain.