Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: George Clooney, Shallene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard

Director: Alexander Payne

Genre: Drama/Comedy

There's a scene in The Descendants that pays homage (perhaps subconsciously) to Last Tango In Paris. It's where Honolulu attorney Matt King (George Clooney) is at the hospital bedside of his wife, Elizabeth--who lies in an irreversible coma as the result of a boating accident--giving her an earful of his pent-up emotions about everything from her infidelity, to leaving him in the lurch to raise their two problematic daughters by himself. I immediately flashed back to Brando's poignant, profanity-laced barrage unleashed upon the corpse of his cheating spouse, Rosa, in that classic film.

Anyway, it's quite tempting to 'ave a go at the old bird when she can't bite you back, apparently, which is just what Elizabeth's intractable teenage daughter, Alexandra, (Shallene Woodley) does as well. Even the wife of the guy she was screwing around with gets her licks in.

Yes... it's a drama. Yes... it's a comedy. And that's called a "dramedy" where I hail from, Mister. But one with a subtle touch, like the mixture of humor and pathos in everyday life.

Speaking of subtlety, that would be Clooney's performance for about the first half of the film. UNDERSTATED, I believe is the word. I wasn't sure if Matt King was supposed to be a guy who was just out of touch with his feelings, or if Clooney was mailing it in. Fortunately, our faith in George's acting ability is restored when the plot elements in The Descendants require him to get pissed off at friends who've been holding back the truth about his wife's shenanigans--then, with his young charges in tow, island hops over to Kauai to confront the erstwhile home wrecker, real-estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Ostensibly, Matt just want to inform Speer about his wife's dire predicament, but we know that he wants to get in the guy's face some too.

Speer ties into the subplot, as he stands to make a killing from the sale of 25,000 acres of pristine beach front property, previously handed down to King and his clan, of which Matt happens to be the sole trustee. A tangled web we weave.

All of it leads to Matt's eventual epiphany, about taking a stand in the face of overwhelming opposition. When it's all said and done, life goes on-- and The Descendants, gingerly groping its way along the darkened hallways of life, reminds us of that better than most.


Beau Bridges shines as Matt's cousin, Hugh.

Patricia Hastie, as the comatose Elizabeth, gives a stiff performance.

Grade: B

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Rated :R

Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

Director: Sean Durkin

Genre: Mystery-Suspense/Drama

Writer/director Sean Durkin had the opportunity to play up some of the more positive aspects of communal living--such as cooperative effort, family values, and...uhh...you never have to look far to find a babysitter! Instead, in Martha Marcy May Marlene he gives us the stereotypical cult with a charismatic, sociopathic leader--a la Charlie Manson--who lures wayward waifs away from their homes with a bunch of double speak and new-age mumbo jumbo.

When we join young Martha, (Elizabeth Olsen--who bears a striking resemblance to her famous older sisters, Mary Kate and Ashley, but with more meat on her bones) she is making her getaway from said commune in the Catskills. She calls her sister--the only family she has left--and in a halting conversation, is torn between wanting to return to normal society, or going back to the farm. And therein lies the crux of the film. When Martha moves in with sister Lucy, (Sarah Paulson) and her prickly husband, Ted, (Hugh Dancy) the emotional conflict she experiences builds into something progressively darker for the audience, as the events of her time with the clan are juxtaposed against the present in continual flashback/flash forward fashion. It's an effective device. Martha Marcy May Marlene is like a story of parallel universes, where similar kinds of events occur in very different ways.

Martha--who also goes by the other names in the title at one time or another--is a haunted and deeply disturbed young girl. Not only by what has previously occurred, but by the psychological hold the cult and its messianic leader (John Hawkes) still maintains over her.

A word of caution. Don't blink or you'll miss the ending. Some will no doubt be disappointed by it. But the more I think about it, it may be perfect. It's creepy and foreboding...I'll say that much.


Good performances all around, especially from Elizabeth Olsen in her first starring role. She strips her soul bare, and strips off her clothes.


And though I'm a little disturbed (but probably not as disturbed as Martha) that there may be an intended anti-naked hippie message here, (my roots, man...my roots) Martha Marcy May Marlene obviously wouldn't work without it. So I'm willing to forgive.

Peace, brother.

Grade: B +

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Genre: Comedy

On the raunch meter, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is on a par with Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses. But because the theme is Christmas, there are additional sacred cows to be sacrificed to the gods of gross-out humor. No one--and I mean NO ONE--is immune!

The plot here is to get the estranged buddies--Harold, (John Cho) who is now a Wall Street businessman, and Kumar, (Kal Penn) still a slacker and a stoner--reunited for another whacked out adventure. When Kumar receives a holiday package intended for Harold, he obligingly delivers it to his old friend's residence , and this is where the fun begins. The pair is charged with nothing less than to save Christmas, after they open the package to discover a gigantic joint which, after being lit, ends up burning down the twelve foot fir that Harold's father-in-law (the menacing Danny Trejo) has lovingly raised from a sapling to become this year's holiday centerpiece.

Their Christmas eve quest to find a replacement tree before the family returns home from midnight Mass will lead to encounters with belligerent, foul-mouthed teenagers (are there any other kind?) who get even for losing a game of beer pong by spiking the eggnog and sending our heroes into a scary hallucinogenic trip--depicted in claymation, no less; a harrowing run-in with a Russian mobster who has ordered them killed in retaliation for a suspected attempt to deflower his hot-to-trot teenage daughter; and accidentally shooting Santa Claus out of the sky.

How Harold and Kumar end up in the chorus line of a Christmas stage production with Neil Patrick Harris playing himself as an outwardly gay, but secretly heterosexual perv, is one of the most inventive sequences in the film. And there are generous holiday helpings of T & A, with a side trip to heaven and some lovely topless angels and nuns. If your sense of humor is irreverent enough to survive all this, we have an adorable toddler who inadvertently gets high on pot fumes and cocaine dust.

  • I'd classify A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas as a guilty pleasure--the kind of movie where characters give into their basest instincts in speech and behavior, like many would do if we didn't feel bound by social convention and political correctness. For that reason, this merry brand of madcap madness can serve as an exhilarating release...like the secret fantasies of Miss Manners--letting her hair down as she falls off the bar stool, muttering vague sexual innuendo. We're all a conflicting jumble of instinct and inhibition, otherwise movies like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas this wouldn't get made.

  • The first time I ever saw 3D--way back in the day--it seemed magical. Objects appeared to fly right off the screen and into your lap. I'd avoided the recent revival of this technology until now, because most of the films that employed it just weren't my cup of tea. For some reason, I'm not that impressed with it now. Was it the glasses? Did I have them on backwards? I'd go back and forth from looking with the naked eye, to employing the glasses, and, of course, there was some difference in depth perception, but maybe not enough for me to justify the extra three dollar surcharge. But don't let that stop you, especially if you're ready to get into the holiday mood. After all, you'll spend a lot more than that on a present for the jerky brother-in law you only see during holiday gatherings--the one whose name you can't quite recall.
Grade: B +