Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day One of the 38th/Then Day Two/Sneak #1/The Descendants Reviewed

Day One...short on film, long on hobbing and nobbing.

Telluride fireworks on July 4, 2011 (Larry Mallard)

First, A Big Thank You to everyone who came to "The Guide to the Ride, The Flow of the SHOW" at The River Club yesterday evening.  It was a lot of fun to get to chat with everyone about the festival,  film and the blog.  I t was truly a "hoot."  I was humbled by the kindness of strangers...paraphrasing Tennessee Williams and Blanche DuBois. 

Also a shout out to Eugene Novikov of who was kind enough to drop by and participate in the discussion.

And immense gratitude to my hosts (and former students) who so graciously make it possible for me to play this game every year: Mitzi and Larry Mallard of The River have no idea!

Really enjoyed getting re-acquainted yesterday with Alexandra and Mark Helfrich...very nice, kind and funny people...

And...Tilda Swinton sighted!


The plan as of 7:15 this morning:

Albert Nobbs
The Artist
A Dangerous Method
Sneak Preview (see below) or Clooney Tribute
Maybe Goodbye First Love


All signs point to "Butter" starring Jennnifer Garner, Hugh Jackman and Olivia Wilde as the first "sneak preview" and likely tonight.  Ms. Garner (Mrs. Affleck) has been reportedly sighted in and around town.  Looking forward to it.

As to the other "sneak"  I have no strong indicators...though...I still wouldn't be 100% surprised if it turned out to be Clooney's "The Ides of March" which TFF officials completely deny...
Or "Marilyn"
Or "Miss Bala"
Or...really...a lot of things...


• Butter G/ Sat 8:15 PM • C/ Sat 10:45 PM
In person: Jennifer Garner, Jim Field Smith, Ty Burrell
• 21 The Kid With a Bike L/ Sat 3:45 PM
• 2 Le Havre L/ Sat 10:45 PM
G = Galaxy
C= Chuck Jones
L= Le Pierre


Yes...I spoke with George Clooney.  He laughed at me (not with  me) and Alexander Payne...(he said "thanks"

Kristy, my wife, has the much better Clooney and Payne stories...see her...ask her...they are cool stories...

Here's my review...(pssst...I liked it):

“The Descendants” premiered Friday afternoon at the 38th Telluride Film Festival where it was greeted by vigorous applause at its conclusion.

To tell the tale, Payne needs a strong male lead that is capable of accessing intense vulnerability. In “About Schmidt” (2002) he needed the same abilities and found it in Jack Nicholson’s Oscar nominated performance. Two years earlier, in his sublime “Sideways” (for which he shared the Oscar for Best Screenplay with Jim Taylor) he split those duties in performances from Paul Giamatti and Oscar nominated Thomas Haden Church. In “The Descendants” Payne casts George Clooney who takes on the role and succeeds at every level.

Payne opens the film with a shot of a woman in a speedboat screaming across a bay with Hawaiian mountains as the backdrop. She appears to be very nearly at the verge of ecstasy. Fade to black. We then discover that she is Elizabeth King and moments after the fade out of the opening scene she has experienced a catastrophic accident that has left her in a coma. Her husband, Matt (Clooney) soon learns that her condition is irreversible and that her advanced directive leaves no room for doubt as to the course of action she desires…no heroic measures, pull the plug.

Matt is left to pass that news to friends and family including the two daughters for whom he admits he is the “backup” parent. In the process of breaking the news, Matt finds out that his wife has had a secret of her own and that secret propels the story forward.

All of this occurs against the backdrop of a potential sale of 25,000 acres of pristine Hawaiian countryside over which Matt is the trustee on behalf of the extended King family. His decision alone determines the fate of the land and the millions of dollars it is worth.

Alexander Payne hasn’t directed a feature film since 2004 (About Schmidt). He’s been away too long. Payne has created a moving, effective observation on family relationships and how they are tested, torn and re-structured in the face of sudden challenges in his latest film, “The Descendants” based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Payne co-wrote the screenplay with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash).

It is Clooney’s picture to carry and he masters the challenges at every turn. He was lauded in 2009 for stretching his acting chops in “Up in the Air” and has clearly continued to look for ways to explore his abilities with this role. Clooney’s willingness to allow us to see Matt’s naked vulnerability and the character’s struggles to make choices that he can live with form the spine of the film’s narrative. Payne and Clooney were on hand following the film’s presentation and in the course of the Q and A Payne insisted that Clooney had provided him with the best acting collaboration of any of his films.

Clooney is ably assisted with strong performances from Shailene Woodley as his eldest daughter and Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard as couple whose lives become intertwined with Matt’s. Also very effective is veteran actor Robert Forster as Matt’s father-in-law. Forster’s character is oblivious to reality, blinded by his love for his daughter.

Payne has opted to follow the same structure cinematically that he has used before in both “Schmidt” and “Sideways.” Payne uses a quiet first act that slowly pulls the viewer into the orbit of the characters but maintains an almost astringent stand-offishness and then, before you realize it, he’s managed to engage you emotionally. It’s subtle and effective as Payne balances universal moments, (the loss of a loved one, the love for a child, and the emotional pull of familial obligations) with the quirkiness that viewers have come to expect from an Alexander Payne film.

Thematically “The Descendants” asks to contemplate what we owe to those who came before us, what we owe to those who come after us and what we owe ourselves and how we assess those debts in terms of the choices that we make. One of the magical truths of the film is that those choices will differ depending on the lense from which they are viewed.

Gorgeously shot on location in Hawaii, Payne doesn’t shirk from contrasting the visual paradise and harmony of Hawaii with the disharmony and dysfunction that occurs in the King family after Elizabeth’s accident. The film is knock-out beautiful to look at.

Ultimately “The Descendants” is a family dramedy at its core and bolstered by Clooney’s solid performance, it’s a film very, very worth seeing. [A-]

No comments: