Blu-ray Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Each year, George Clooney throws his hat into the Oscar ring. This year, he’s thrown it in for several jobs on two different films. The superior film was “The Ides of March,” which he both directed and co-starred in. But not to be discounted is “The Descendants,” which earned him a Best Actor nomination.
The story behind “The Descendants” follows a Matt King (Clooney), one of the direct descendants of King Kamehahmeha in Hawaii. He and his cousins must dissolve a trust in charge of a huge area of pristine Hawaiian land that they have inherited. On the even of a decision to sell, Matt’s wife is involved in a boating accident, which leaves her brain dead. Matt has to break the news to his two daughters, and to work to foster his tenuous relationship with his oldest (Shailene Woodley). During this process, Matt learns his wife was having an affair, which gives him more to deal with emotionally.
“The Descendants” works precisely because of the people involved. The charisma of Clooney mixed with the balance director Alexander Payne strikes between drama and comedy make the film flow smoothly. Add to this some great supporting performances by Woodley (who was only mediocre in her series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) as well as underpraised acting by Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer, and you’ve got a solid film.
But “The Descendants” isn’t a perfect film in the least. On the whole, many of the characters were unlikeable and only seemed tolerable against the beautiful Hawaiian backdrop. Clooney’s character never really grows, in spite of the appearance that it does. He starts off the movie as an asshole who neglects his family. He ends the movie as only kind of an asshole who is dealing with his family because he has no other choice.
“The Descendants” is overrated, but it’s not a bad movie. It’s packed with great performances and beautiful locations. You won’t feel bad for choosing this movie to watch on a Saturday night.
The Blu-ray comes bundled with a DVD of the film and a Digital Copy disc for portable viewing. There’s also an impressive assortment of bonus features on the menu. Standard items include deleted scenes and music videos of “Honolulu’s Whisper,” “Will I Ever See You Again” and “Postcards from Paradise.”
Quite a few featuerttes are also included. “Everybody Loves George” heaps the expected love on star George Clooney. “Working with Alexander” offers similar love for director Alexander Payne. “The Real Descendants” examines the history behind the real descendants of King Kamehahmeha. “Hawaiian Style” looks at the local culture. “Casting” examines the process of choosing the actors. “Working with Water” looks at the challenges the production faced shooting on the ocean.
Additional features include “Waiting for the Light,” which looks at how hard it is to shoot in changing weather conditions. “The World Parade” is a vintage silent short film that profiles Hawaii. Finally, in “A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne,” the star and director chat about the movie for about 15 minutes.
Blu-ray Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
I’ve never been a fan of the overly artistic piece. I understand that not all cinema is straightforward, and the more beloved films require a degree of introspection and dissection to be fully appreciated. Personally, I’m not into doing that. Call me a low-brow elitist for that attitude, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Even my favorite award films with deeper meaning wouldn’t be classified as art-house fare.
Like “The Tree of Life,” Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” is one of those movies that was adored by many critics. And while I appreciated what it was trying to do, I wasn’t wild about it. In a strange way, I find myself talking more about other movies than directly about “Melancholia” when discussing the film.
The biggest comparison I make is to the aforementioned “The Tree of Life.” Both are mosaic pieces, though “Melancholia” is far more of a traditional narrative feature. But both films are to be respected and lauded for their fantastic cinematography. The plus side of “Melancholia” is that it is more coherent, and the special effects are more relevant to the film itself.
The story is about a woman named Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who torpedoes her marriage on her wedding night and falls into a deep depression. Mirroring her symptoms, the Earth itself is threatened by a rogue planet that has wandered into our solar system, causing mild but significant and strange changes to our world. Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is trying to be supportive of her melancholia, but as the end nears, she loses patience and touch.
The other film I often compare “Melancholia” to is the pretentious and dreadful “Another Earth.” Like my comparisons to “The Tree of Life,” I felt von Trier handled the planet angle much more realistically and interestingly. Instead of being a simple MacGuffin for the film, the rogue planet in “Melancholia” actually drives the story.
“Melancholia” is beautifully shot and can be appreciated on many visual levels, from the respectful adoration for picturesque cinematography to the rustic glee of seeing Kirsten Dunst topless. The movie is open to interpretation, but it also plays out as a story.
Unfortunately, von Trier can’t resist offering up an overture to the film, which includes gorgeous shots that lay out the entire plot before the film even starts. Sure, this shows von Trier’s perspective that the movie is not about surprise endings and has a bit to say about predestination. But I’d prefer a less spoilery beginning nonetheless.
The Blu-ray of Melancholia includes a featurette with the director, crew and cast talking about the film and its meaning. “The Universe” looks at the astronomical issues behind the film. “The Visual Style” looks at how von Trier achieved the movie’s look. “Visual Effects” deconstructs the not-overpowering but essential visual effects in the film. Finally, there’s the theatrical trailer as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette produced for HDNet.
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