The Descendants – the movie

If you live in Hawaii, you will understand the first line of the movie in The Descendants – only a little modified from the book – as the camera scans the homeless on benches, the laundry hanging over the freeway, the houses crammed together, George Clooney’s voiceover reminds the audience that living in Hawaii is not as perfect as it seems.  The lines in Hemmings’ book are similar…

“…everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. {but} I think paradise can go f… itself.”

The sentiment echoes a recent scene from the popular television show filmed in Hawaii: McGarrett, head of 5-0,  is pontificating on the soothing sound of the ocean; Dano responds that to some who live here, the sounds are like Chinese water torture.  Some are living here in paradise; others are in paradise lost.

Of course, the land is breathtaking, and the movie justifiably includes some of the most beautiful scenes you can imagine, many off the beaten tourist track.  The story includes local lore: almost everyone knows everyone (it’s a small island) or is related to someone who knows his cousin; the haole, who hangs out at the Outrigger Canoe Club,  has or is about to ruin the land by building condos and resorts on prime property.  If you live in Hawaii, the treat will be recognizing familiar faces as well as places – a former newscaster as a schoolteacher, a local friend as tutu (grandmother), the goat on a front lawn in Nuuanu, the tree-trimmers in Kapiolani park.

George Clooney is the good guy in this film.  The plot has him discovering that his wife, comatose from a boat-racing accident, betrayed him with a greedy realtor who would profit from the land development deal that George controls.  As a trustee, George can decide whether to sell the land to feed the family’s emptying coffers, or preserve it.  In the story, he takes the high road – which makes this fiction.  The corruption of trustees in Hawaii – those descendants who inherited from the union of Hawaiian royalty and mainland missionaries/bankers/investors – continues to be documented; the latest in the book –  The Broken Trust.

I have not read the book (and probably won’t) but the movie is worth seeing.  After all, it has George Clooney with his soulful eyes, an insider’s peek at places you won’t find in the guidebooks, and panoramic views of some of the most beautiful oceanfront land – see it before it gets developed into condos.

The Help – the movie

When the movie is better than the book, I wonder if I missed something when I read or if the cinema version was that much changed.  David Denby in his New Yorker analysis, Maids of Honor, offered a clear comparison of the “The Help” in print and on the screen – with an explanation for why I liked the movie much more than the book.

Octavia Spencer as Minny

Stockett struggled with the language in the book, and was criticized for the “voices of the black women,” but Denby points out that Tate Taylor’s adaptation for film and the quality of the lead actresses infused Stockett’s words with authenticity in a way the book could not do:

“Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, both great actresses, have given Stockett’s words the shape, the rhythm, and the pitch of their own temperaments.  They sound right.”

The message is still the same, but the film goes further to reveal another truth.  The oppression and depression extended to the closed-minded white daughters of the South – Denby assures us that “they are victims too.”  Stockett offers Skeeter as the foil against her gossipy villains, but these women seem more pathetic than powerful when you see their lacquered hair, print dresses, and cold mindless expressions on the big screen.

On a continuum, I’d rate:

the book≈ good →→ the movie ≈ better →→→ Denby’s article ≈  best →→→↑

Have you read the book and/or seen the movie?  What do you think?

Read my review of book, “The Help” – here

The New Yorker Literary Guide to New Movies

If you haven’t read the book yet, maybe you’ll want to see the movie – first or instead.

Selection of actors for the characters can be disappointing, especially if your vision of the lead is different.   One reviewer commented that she only read the Harry Potter books after she saw the movies, so that Ron Weasley and Rupert Grind were the same to her.  None of the book covers depicted Ron, but he does match J.K. Rowling’s description:

“…all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles and more children than they can afford…”

If I see the movie first, I usually skip reading the book – how about you?

The New Yorker has a heads-up for books-to-movies for the summer:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (it’s been so long since the book release)
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (a good novel destination book)
  • Sarah’s Key – see my review of the book here
  • The Help – reviewed here
  • One Day  (I started this book, but could not get beyond the first 50 pages; with Anne Hathaway in the movie, the story has promise.)
For the New Yorker article: go to The Book Bench

The Hunger Games – Coming to Your Local Theater

Are you a fan of the Stieg Larsson trilogy – The Girl  With and The Girl Who – with suspense, murder, mayhem, thriller action?  Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games have the same exciting bent for intrigue with blood and guts, but for the young adult audience.  Collins wrote a trilogy too, but her first book in the series was the best – and now it will be a movie.

If you haven’t read the book, published by Scholastic, check my review of Hunger Games here.

With Stanley Tucci as Flickerman, the idiosyncratic host of the games, and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the perceptive (but drunk) mentor, the movie should be fun.  But, read the book first – so you can appreciate the action.  You have time; the movie is not due until March, 2012.