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Alexander Payne
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Patricia Hastie, Grace A. Cruz, Kim Gennaula, Karen Kuioka Hironaga, Carmen Kaichi
Writing Credits:
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel)

A high-powered Hawaii real estate lawyer (George Clooney) finds his ordered existence shattered when a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma, leaving him in charge of the young daughters (Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller) he barely knows. After finding out his wife was having an affair, he drags the girls along on his hunt for the other man, making for moving revelations along the way.

Box Office:
$20 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.190 million on 29 screens.
Domestic Gross
$81.454 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 3/13/2012

• Deleted Scenes with Director Introductions
• “Everybody Loves George” Featurette
• “Working With Alexander” Featurette
• “The Real Descendants” Featurette
• “Hawaiian Style” Featurette
• “Casting” Featurette
• “Working with Water” Featurette
• Music Videos
• “Waiting for the Light” Featurette
The World Parade – Hawaii Silent Film
• “A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne”
• Previews and Sneak Peeks
• DVD Copy
• Digital Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Descendants [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 16, 2012)

Surprising realization of the day: 2011’s The Descendants offered Alexander Payne’s first big-screen directorial work since 2004’s Sideways. Even more surprising realization: Payne – the creator of subtle, low-key character pieces – used some of his time between directorial efforts to co-write the 2007 Adam Sandler abomination I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

With Descendants, we get something much more “typical Payne” and a lot closer to the tone of Sideways or 2002’s About Schmidt. Set in Hawaii, middle-aged lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) needs to deal with a mix of serious issues. Part of a family that owns tons of extremely valuable land, various relatives debate what to do with it, but Matt gets the final choice whether to sell it or keep it in the clan.

In the meantime, Matt deals with the imminent death of his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie); injured in a boating accident, she’s left comatose and without no hope of survival. His estranged/rebellious teen daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) tells him that Elizabeth cheated on him, and this sets Matt on a quest to find out more and gain some closure before his wife’s death. Matt needs to keep his immediate family – which also includes 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) – together while he deals with Elizabeth’s fate, the property issues and other complications.

All of that makes Descendants sound a lot more plot-driven than it really is. Yes, the film throws out a slew of story threads, but characters remain the focal point; the narrative issues motivate the roles but can be borderline irrelevant at times.

Instead, we’re concerned with what happens to the characters, and that’s where the film shines. Above all, Matt acts as the focal point, and he certainly offers a different role than the typical Clooney part. George abandons his usual easy-going charm and charisma here. While he doesn’t turn Matt into a schlub, he also backs away from the standard glib, gleam in the eye turn that dominates the Clooney catalog. The actor creates an open, vulnerable performance that hits close to the core.

As does the movie as a whole. While Descendants tosses in just enough comedy to keep it from becoming a drag, it mostly emphasizes its emotional side. Don’t expect it to offer a maudlin weeper, though, as it tends toward the low-key and personal side of the street.

Which makes it more effective. Descendants sneaks upon you, as it doesn’t overwhelm you with its sentiment. Instead, it builds as it goes and comes with an enormous emotional punch by its end.

Well, for me, at least. I admit I find it tough to make it through movies in which mothers die. (That’s not a spoiler – the film makes it quite clear early that Elizabeth won’t live.) Without covering my own past in too much detail, let’s just say that the scene in which the family says goodbye hits extremely close to home – and seems absolutely true.

All of these components contribute to a rich character piece that offers a neat balance of drama, comedy and emotion. It almost never strikes a false note as it winds its way through its events. I don’t think it’s Payne’s best movie – I’m really fond of Sideways - but Descendants creates a fully-realized work.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The Descendants appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Overall, the image looked quite good.

Sharpness was usually solid. A few wider shots showed a little softness, but those instances remained minor. Instead, the majority of the movie seemed accurate and concise. I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. Source flaws were a non-factor, as I witnessed no specks, marks or other debris.

Colors were a strong point, as they seemed consistently accurate and well-saturated. The movie featured a warm palette that looked vivid and full, Black levels were appropriately deep, but shadows could be a little off. That occurred primarily due to some ugly “day for night” photography; those shots tended to be somewhat opaque. Nonetheless, the image was strong the majority of the time and worked well.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack suited the movie pretty well but won't win any awards. The soundstage appeared nicely broad at the appropriate times and could be moderately engulfing on occasion. It's a talky little film, so the focus is mainly up front, but the audio expanded when necessary. This occurred mostly via gentle environmental Hawaiian ambience, so the surrounds didn’t have a lot to do. That said, the imaging made sense for the story.

Sound quality seemed fine. Dialogue always appeared crisp and natural, and I had no trouble understanding it. The low-key Hawaiian music that acted as the score was warm and distinctive. Effects also seemed realistic and adequate for the tasks at hand. Descendants won't be anyone's demo track, but it worked well for the film.

When we head to the disc’s extras, we start with two Deleted Scenes. We get the creatively-titled “Scene 41” (1:36) and “Scenes 92-93” (4:14). (Note that the running times include text introductions from director Alexander Payne; in these, he tells us a little about the sequences.) “41” simply adds a little from the dorm supervisor at Alex’s school; it’s minor and not especially interesting. “92-93” gives us more between Matt and Alex as they discuss her status in the face of her mother’s crisis; while this gives Alex a bit more dimensionality, I think it’s ultimately unnecessary.

A slew of featurettes follow. We find Everybody Loves George (7:27), Working With Alexander (13:34), The Real Descendants (12:06), Hawaiian Style (16:47), Casting (8:11) and Working with Water (10:58). Across these, we hear from Payne, co-producer/unit production manager George Parra, director of photography Phedon Papamichael, author Kaui Hart Hemmings, producers Jim Taylor and Jim Burke, Kualoa Ranch president John Morgan, Hawaii descendant Patsy Wilcox Sheehan, associate producer/second unit director Tracy Boyd, production designer Jane Anne Stewart, stunt coordinator Brian L. Keaulana, various members of the Hawaiian Water Patrol, underwater cinematographer Don King, King’s assistant Jai Mansson, and actors Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause, Judy Greer, Mary Birdsong, Rob Huebel, Matthew Lillard, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges, Matt Corboy, Todd Bradley, Robert Forster, Laird Hamilton and Patricia Hastie. The programs cover cast and performances, Payne’s work processes, some history behind the film’s story/characters, shooting in Hawaii and reflecting the culture on film, and filming on/in the water.

“Loves” lives up to its billing and offers little more than a fluffy Ode to the Greatness That Is Clooney; other than a few decent shots from the set, it’s a waste of time. “”Working” veers into puffery at times too, but it’s definitely meatier and more worthwhile. “Real” looks at the inspirations for the flick and gives us a nice take on the facts behind the fiction.

With “Style”, we get another fairly fluffy piece, as it’s essentially just a love letter to Hawaii; though it throws in a few good notes – such as an insight about a blanket used in the flick – it’s pretty superficial most of the time. “Casting” focuses on supporting roles, which makes it intriguing and one of the disc’s better featurettes. Finally, “Water” throws out useful notes about the challenges of dealing with liquid sets. It’s an effective end to an inconsistent collection of featurettes.

Three Music Videos appear. We get videos for “Will I Ever See You Again”, “Postcards from Paradise” and “Honolulu’s Whisper”. All of these offer instrumental music accompanied by footage of Hawaii. From start to finish, they’re dull as can be.

Waiting for the Light runs two minutes, 52 seconds and shows footage from the set as the cast and crew… wait for the light. It’s a modest pleasure but a mildly fun look at the shoot.

We hear more from the director and star via the 11-minute, 58-second A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne. They discuss other films/influences and experiences, aspects of creating Descendants, Clooney’s character and performance, and some other production elements. Payne and Clooney show an easy connection here and make this a likable and delightful chat; it’s too bad they didn’t do a full commentary together.

A silent movie called The World Parade – Hawaii lasts nine minutes, 55 seconds. This offers a little travelogue reel that shows us Hawaii circa the 1940s, I’d guess; it’s undated but doesn’t look like it came from the silent film era. It’s a decent slice of history.

The disc opens with ads for We Bought a Zoo, Fox World Cinema and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. These also appear under Sneak Peek along with a clip for My Week With Marilyn; the disc tosses in the trailer for Descendants as well.

A second disc adds some value to the set. It delivers a DVD copy of the film as well as a digital copy of Descendants.

The Descendants was my preferred pick of the nine Oscar Best Picture nominees, and a second screening didn’t change my mind. Rich, involving and heartbreaking, it creates a low-key but convincing drama. The Blu-ray delivers very good picture, more than acceptable audio and an erratic collection of supplements. I wish the Blu-ray came with a stronger roster of bonus materials but this is still a fine release for a winning film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.807 Stars Number of Votes: 57
3 3:
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