Dir: Alexander Payne - Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller
Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is another of his explorations of middle aged men in crisis and, like Sideways and About Schmidt, it is both funny and touching. This time it’s George Clooney’s somewhat disconnected businessman who assembles the family after his wife is critically injured in a boating accident, only to find out that she has been having an affair.
The set-up, taking place in Hawaii, may have been banal in other hands but I defy anyone not to be charmed by the honesty, humour and humanity on display here. Clooney’s lawyer eventually heads off to confront his wife’s lover, at the same time trying to bond with two teenage daughters who clearly regard him as coming from another planet. There’s also a stoner boyfriend, possibly stretching credibility but likable and funny in his own way.
I really enjoyed this. It is moving and beautifully made (this is a side of Hawaii you rarely see) and Clooney is again magnificent. For such an established star he is admirably free of ego. On hearing of his wife’s infidelity he runs to a friend’s house to find out details. Only he’s wearing jandals, making for the most undignified dash in recent cinema. It’s a lovely moment and somehow sums up the left-field appeal of this delightful film.
Chronicle mixes a couple of genres and does a pretty impressive job of it. Firstly it’s a ‘found footage’ movie, supposedly assembled from video tape etc (see Blair Witch, Cloverfield et al); secondly it’s a ‘kids discover alien artefact which gives them super powers’ flick. And while many may be sick of the shaky-camera look this obviously entails, there are enough new twists and turns here to keep things interesting and the not altogether original message that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ is efficiently handled. Think of it as a big screen version of UK TV show Misfits.
Young Adult, along with Bad Teacher and others, is the latest in a seeming series of ‘girls behaving badly’ films, turning typical rom-com tropes on their heads. Except that this pretty much pushes the envelope as far as it will go, just about annihilating anything ‘rom’ or even ‘com’ (unless your tastes run to the very black). Charlize Theron heads back to her small-town roots, bonding with an old friend (a boy) but intending to snag her old boyfriend. So far, so predictable. But this is the evil twin of similar Hollywood outings, kicking expectations in the teeth, with Theron fearlessly unlikeable in the lead.
Denzel Washington may have cemented his place as Hollywood’s most popular mainstream black actor but he does seem stuck in unremarkable pot-boilers. Safe House is the latest in this stream of bland thrillers and finds Ryan Reynolds’ frustrated CIA rookie wanting action but stuck looking after the titular facility. All that changes when Denzel’s ‘most dangerous terrorist in the world’ comes to stay closely followed by many bad men with guns. The pair are quickly on the run and bond while dodging bullets, with the film hoping the regular gun-play will disguise what a flimsy vehicle this really is.
Timing counts for a lot. One year an idea can seem fresh, the next we’ve seen it all before. Such was the fate of The Darkest Hour at cinemas, coming in on the heels of last year’s Battle Los Angeles and Skyline. This time the story is viewed from the perspective of some young Americans (and one currently obligatory Aussie) who find themselves in Moscow when pretty lights in the sky turn into deadly invisible aliens. Yep, invisible. This is something of a mixed blessing. While it’s good for building tension, it ultimately proves frustrating – it’s an alien invasion movie, damnit: you want to see aliens!