Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Descendants (Clooney, the modern Cary Grant?)

George Clooney has the charm and looks to play a typical ladies man, but he never does. He always chooses to play his roles with a dark sense of humor, a sly wit, as if he is winking at the audience. Clooney doesn't take himself too seriously and therefore creates an even more attractive character, a character that lets the audience in rather than alienating them to admire him from afar.  Another actor who had this ability and did it better than anyone was the immortal Cary Grant.  Never has this characteristic been more present than in George Clooney's role as Max King in director Alexander Payne's The Descendants.
Payne is known for dark comedies that border on tragedy: Election (1999, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick), About Schmidt (2002, Jack Nicholson), and Sideways (2004, Paul Gimatti and Thomas Hayden Church). His films deal primarily with men who are very very flawed and are somehow seeking, although not always successfully, some sort of redemption and peace of mind. Max King opens the film with his narration; " My friends on the mainland think that just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. We're all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we're immune to human life?"

Max King is a descendant of one of Hawaii's first white land owning families (his great great grandmother was Hawaiian and his great great grandfather, white). He faces a decision about whether to sell his land to tourist and condo development, therefore making his large collection of broke relatives rich, or hold on to the sacred integrity of the virgin land. While this is happening Max faces a traumatic crisis with his wife who, as of 23 days ago, has slipped into a coma after a tragic boating accident. He is faced with the realization that his wife is not going to recover, and that she has left instructions in her will to be taken off of life support.
Max is left with the task of informing all of their friends and relatives about her death. He recruits his two dysfunctional daughters Alexandre (17) played by Shailene Woodley and Scottie (10) played by Amara Miller to come along for emotional support.  As this task is set in motion Max finds out that his wife was having an ongoing affair right up until her accident. If it seems as though I am giving too much away, I assure you I am not. This is all set up very quickly and the rest of the film deals with what follows. There are so many great characters, including Alexandre's boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who accompanies Max and his daughters throughout the film. There are a couple of scenes where he steals the show.

 Hawaii plays a huge role in the film, not just as a back drop, but really as a central character. Max deals with the sub plot of his connection with the land as he deals with the loss of his wife, and his reconnection with his daughters. Much is to be said for Clooney's ability to work with younger, less experienced actors and really make them shine. He did it with Anna Kendrick in Up In The Air also. She spoke very highly of his coaching and supportive advice during filming. Another actor was known for doing this with his less experienced co-stars, once again Mr. Cary Grant.

Cary Grant made other actors look good, and no one knew what he was doing behind the scenes to accomplish this. Clooney is that kind of actor. We want to watch how everyone reacts to him and what they will do next. This is very rare when dealing with such a high profile celebrity. The relationship between Max and his daughters is adorable, but not simple. He is trying so hard but he just doesn't quite get what it is he is supposed to get from all of this tragedy. He wants to get it, he really does, but like many of us he fumbles awkwardly and blindly trying to figure out what "it" is. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Dog Walking Music. Dylan, Cats, and other Animals!

My favorite time to listen to music is when I walk my English Cocker Spaniel, Eminem. I named him after the white rapper because my dog thinks he is "too cool for school" - he has swag! He also thinks that lunging and barking is friendly and fun.  Any cd I download onto my phone must first pass the dog walk.  I live in a heavily populated neighborhood with tons of kids and cars and dogs and stray people, so if  I can walk my boy Em and this album keeps my attention it has passed the "Dog Walk Test".  These are the three that passed the test for October. Eminem likes them too...though he prefers Dr. Dre on any given day.

Bob Dylan - Tempest : Bob Dylan continues to surprise and amaze me. Here is an artist well into five decades of songwriting and is quoted in saying; "I still haven't found my sound yet, I am always searching." Wow. If only every musician had this attitude - music would never grow tired and stale! Tempest is Dylan's 35th installment to his already rich catalog of albums and it is a triumph. The title comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest, which is said to be his last written work. Dylan writes best in the dark. He writes about darkness better than perhaps any living songwriter because he writes about it with inspiration. Dylan is like Scorsese, sure we like his other  films but we like him best when there is violence and crime - he just shines. So with Tempest we get a dark tapestry of an album set to old school blues, jazz, country, and New Orleans ragtime. We get loneliness, broken hearts, unhealed wounds, traveling souls who will never be content, and an overall discontent with the state of things.  Dylan has not gone political on this album. He doesn't have to. It's all there.

Animal Collective - Centipede Hz:  I became a big Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) fan last year, and those of you who have read my past blogs know I really dug his 2011 album Tomboy. Now here comes Animal Collective's Centipede Hz, Panda Bear's band with fellow collaborators and solo artists;  Deakin (Josh Dibb), Geologist (Brian Weitz), and Avery Tare (David Portner). What is really cool about this album is that there are commercial hooks - like fun choruses you can jam to - but underneath that there are about three different instruments playing opposing melodies. So it's like a cheerful Radiohead. No song is straightforward. Maybe that's because these guys planned it that way. "We never wanted our albums to sound linear," Geologist says. "The bands we liked growing up never sounded the same from record to record." And these guys have managed to sound different from song to song. This is electronic music that is fun but does not get boring.

Cat Power - Sun:   Charlyn Mary Marshall (Cat Power), originally from Atlanta, GA, has successfully transitioned from punk to folk and with her latest album Sun is fusing those elements with electronic music. Marshall has been performing since 1992 and it is very obvious - this music could not have come from a newby. She has performed with Eddie Vedder, jammed with Dave Grohl and brushed shoulders with Sonic Youth. This lady is a legend and none of us know it yet. The track Ruin struck me immediately - after traveling all over the world , witnessing beauty and poverty of third world countries, she sings; "All the way back home to my town..bitchin and complainin... when people aint got shit to eat. What are we doin? We're sittin on our ruin." I for one am so happy to hear a strong female who isn't shouting, she isn't even talking, she is grooving and if you happen to get the point - good for you.