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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Two movies Couldn’t Be More Different. (A Review of the Descendents and Haywire)

It has been quite some time since my last doubleheader. Of course I am referring to the act of seeing two movies back to back in the theaters. For those of you who are probably thinking that I didn’t pay for the second, you should know they were not even in the same theater so yes, I paid for both. It was a funny evening I spent with my friend BenDavis. The 735 showing of The Descendants at the AMC Empire 25 and the 1010 showing of Haywire (RPX) across the street at the Regal Cinemas. I was very excited to see both these movies for two very different reasons. The Descendants had been hyped for its directing, its script, and its superb acting. Haywire, the new Steven Soderbergh film, received much hype for introducing a new action star into Soderbergh’s unique film style. Unfortunately only one of my expectations was confirmed. Let’s begin with the good.
The Descendants is a “sometime humorous, sometime tragic journey” of a husband and his two daughters in the wake of the death of their wife and mother. The film, set on the islands of Hawaii revolves around Matt King (George Clooney) who re-examines his life after his wife is sent into a permanent coma after a boating accident. With her will’s requirement to let her pass imminent, King struggles to reconnect with his daughters, is involved in the biggest business deal of his life, and is then hit with the bomb that his wife was actually cheating on him before her accident. The film delves into the family dynamics, dealing with tragedy and how to pull through such events together. The film will have you crying as much as it will have you laughing. There is a subtle humor in the film that comes off beautifully. Directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), the movie engrosses you into every thought, word and action the damaged family members take. George Clooney, coming off his Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination, is amazing as the conflicted husband who is balancing this array of life changing events. Clooney gives King an emotion that we have not quite seen in a long time and can have him in-line for the Oscar. There are plenty of beautifully casted supporting roles such as Robert Foster as the father-in-law to the injured wife and Amara Miller as the younger of the two daughters. But the breakout actor/actress of the film is Shailene Woodley who plays Alexandra King, the elder of the two daughters. Dirty mouth and all, Woodley plays the role of troubled yet wise adolescent teenage girl perfectly. She is tough, disobedient, lovable and courageous all at the same time. It is a battle between her and Clooney in every scene.
The true star of the film in my opinion was the superb script. The script, emotional yet funny, allowed the cast to really express every emotion that these characters went through. When you needed a laugh to calm the awkward situation, it was there. The script keeps the audience engaged and yet it brings you in with these characters and makes you feel part of the family. I apologize for the cheesiness but the script was really quite good and it’s hard to put into words. I guess the best way to say it is that the worst scripts are usually the ones you remember. This script just simply flows (in contrast see Haywire).
Overall the film was quite enjoyable and definitely full of emotion. With the Oscar Nominations out already, there is no doubt The Descendants will be bringing home quite a few awards come February.

The Descendants
: None, just a few references in conversation
Language: Lots of strong profanity and the reason for the R rating
Violence: None
Drugs and Drinking: A little drinking and cigarette smoking
Length: 1 hr 50 min.
Rated: R
Rating: 5 Stars

On the complete opposite of the spectrum is Soderbergh’s new film, Haywire. You know there is a saying that nothing good happens after 1 o’clock. Well nothing good can come from going to your second movie of the night after 10 pm. The film has been getting rave reviews from critics which too be honest I don’t quite understand. Rotten Tomatoes describes as follows, “Haywire is a fast and spare thriller, with cleanly staged set pieces that immerse you in the action.” As always I will be very honest with you. The action was awesome. The fight scenes are clean and crisp, you can feel every punch and hit. The chase scenes are well filmed and have a comforting ease to them. There is no nauseating camera work and I promise you will be following and feeling every turn and roof-top jump. So the truth is that the in terms of action and high-speed chases, the film is extremely well done and entertaining. I would expect no less form Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven). With any really good action film in which the action is the core of the film, you simply hope that the script, the plot and so called “in-between” shots don’t ruin the rest the movie. The problem with Haywire is that these pitfalls may be just that. The second the film was over BenDavis and I looked at each and said “except for the awesomely insane action, this film sucked.” I hate to do it but I sincerely did not enjoy anything about this film other than the action, in fact, it almost ruined the action for me.
In the thriller Mallory Kane, an operative who works for a government hired private security contractor, must unearth a conspiracy. Kane is a hard nosed, kick *ss chick who doesn’t stand down from anyone. Kane is played by new-comer and MMA superstar Gina Carano. The MMA star was essentially a stunt double when spotted to become an action star. She is a beautiful and strong woman who exudes confidence and even performs her own amazing high-stake stunts. The film is a classic revenge story as Kane is double-crossed by her boss, and ex-boyfriend Ewan McGregor. The film also boasts an impressive cast including Channing Tatum, another gun for hire; Antonio Banderas, another independent contractor with his own agenda; Bill Paxton, as Kane’s loyal father; Michael Douglas, as a government agent who would love to get rid of the contractors for hire; and Michael Fassbender, British agent. Douglas, Fassbender, and Paxton are quite good in their supporting roles but I found myself asking what Banderas was doing in the film and don’t get me started on Channing Tatum. Ok, get me started. I want Tatum to succeed and I think he has a place in Hollywood but every time I think he plays his role well, something happens that really bothers me. I actually thought he was well cast as the operative/love interest working with Agent Kane until literally his last 5 seconds in the film. Spoiler!!!!!!!! If you don’t want to know what happens, skip to the next paragraph. Tatum is eventually killed in the film’s final shootout; but is he really dead??? You see, usually when a character in a film dies, he stops breathing. Unfortunately for Tatum, I was watching on the Regal Premium Experience which just may be the clearest non-IMAX theater out there. And right there in front of me as Tatum’s character is pronounced dead, you clearly see him clear his throat and clench his jaw in an attempt to not breathe on camera. Was this really the best take they took for this scene? I hope not.
Additionally, can I just say (and I said this going to the film and was proven right) I hate McGregor cast as a villain. I find him to be quite weak and always afraid as a bad guy. He lacks the confidence and bravado that villains should have.
Perhaps I simply had too high of expectations going into the film. The truth is that the action was really good and clean. I was thoroughly entertaining every time Kane put her hands on someone. So for you action junkies out there, see the film. But just be aware the script is choppy, hard to follow at times and quite uninspiring, while the plot is pretty standard and expected.

Sex: Some intense kissing and implication of sex, some references in conversation
Language: Some profanity but not so bad
Violence: A lot of close hand to hand combat violence with some gruesome deaths
Drugs and Drinking: Very little
Length: 1 hr 33 min.
Rated: R
Rating: 2 Stars

It was quite the night for me and my friend. These were two very different films which each had their redeeming entertaining qualities. But if there was one thing I took out of this was that the difference between a movie that is slightly entertaining and one that is quite good is a fantastic script and a good supporting cast. In a night full of popcorn, bunch a crunch and the same 6 previews over and over again, I realized how different two movies could be.

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