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Tuesday: The Descendants

The acting is marvelous and the script has its moments.

The Descendants
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The Descendants There are specific films each year that critics believe will be nominated for one, if not multiple Oscar nominations. The Descendants is one of these movies. The movie has received nonstop buzz from all sources of media. Whenever these reports are released, audiences set expectations regarding the screenplay, acting, and visuals. With many perfect scores for this drama/comedy, I set my expectations quite high, as I hoped this film would carry me away into one of the greatest forms of escapism.

With his wife, Elizabeth, on life support after a boating accident, Hawaiian land baron Matt King, takes his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront the young real estate broker who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her misfortune. The Descendants is adapted from a novel by the same name. It offers characters and focuses on developing them above all else. However, instead of allowing viewers to develop feelings towards the characters, it feels as if the filmmakers are forcing us to think a certain way about each character. Each role has such a one-sided way of thinking that there isn't much room for our own interpretation. I guess that's Hollywood. The screenplay writers have mixed drama and comedy quite well. I would primarily classify this as a drama, although it has light humor sprinkled throughout. The humor is spot on, although I have some issues with the drama towards the third act. Quite a large portion of the dialogue comes across as cliché and made me feel a bit pulled out of the story. They're lines that everybody would expect from a Hollywood film attempting to make the audience shed some tears. Just like any other film, The Descendants has its ups and downs.

While the script has some problems, the acting is great. I'm not George Clooney's biggest fan, but he does very well as Matt King. He still provides the charm that many moviegoers enjoy from him, but is believable. Shailene Woodley is incredible as Alexandra King. She delivers dynamics very well. Woodley is just as good during the tranquil moments as she is amongst emotional chaos. She deserves the recognition she has been receiving for this role. This is the first time I have seen her in a film, but I would be glad to see her in more upcoming projects. The supporting characters are just fine in the roles, but Clooney and Woodley will be who audiences will be remembering after the credits are done rolling.

The location is meant to be a bit ironic. This disaster occurs in Hawaii. People from all over the world travel there due to vacationers believing that it's paradise. At first, this paradise isn't seen by Matt King. Even the color of The Descendants represents this notion as many of the vibrant colors often found in films taking place in Hawaii have been drained. The tone of the visuals certainly mirrors that of the screenplay.

This character study isn't for everybody. While The Descendants certainly has its moments, I found the film to drag on several occasions. It's a slow paced film, so viewers should be prepared for that. The Hollywood cliché is ever-present as the film never manages to escape it, although the comic relief mixed into the movie works quite well. A little bit of the film could have been cut down in order to move the pacing along a bit faster. The Descendants is for a specific audience and I suppose that this simply wasn't my cup of tea. However, I can appreciate that the acting is marvelous and the script has its moments.

My Rating = Three Stars

Next movie: Kidnapped

Thursday: Kidnapped

If it continued in the correct direction as the beginning implied, this film could have been an incredibly unsettling and creepy piece of cinema.

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The home invasion sub-genre certainly has its audience. However, it appears that not many of these movies are thinking outside the box. These movies could be absolutely horrifying as a home invasion could happen to anybody. It's much more realistic than a hockey-masked killer with a machete chasing after us or a burned man who attacks us in our sleep. Home is the place we feel safe and secure, although it's quite eerie to think of when people can break that safety. Unfortunately, the clichés consume any room for many of these invasion films to be any good. The Strangers was hit and miss for viewers, but I found it to be tense as it kept me at the edge of my seat, although the characters do things no human with common sense would do. If we look back decades ago into cinema, there are some masterpieces in the home invasion sub-genre. However, they aren't always very easy to find. Kidnapped is a Spanish film that sparked the interest of many as the positive hype spread like wildfire.

On the day they're celebrating their move into a beautiful new house, a Madrid couple and their teenage daughter become the targets of a brutal home invasion by a masked and violently determined trio of criminals. The family struggles to resist even after the gang separates the father from the two women. Their defiance leads to a brutal, bloody drama in what had been a peaceful middle-class setting. The first act of Kidnapped builds well and kept me on the edge of my seat. However, it certainly lost its steam rather quickly. The clichés pour in as each plot 'twist' is extraordinarily predictable. To be honest, none of the protagonists are likable. The husband is a wuss, the wife is quite irritating, and the daughter is infuriating. Similar to other generic home invasion flicks, the characters are dumb. I'm surprised that there aren't more viewers yelling at the screen in shock of how stupid these characters act. Once the first portion of the film is over, the tension died down very quickly. The dialogue isn't convincing. While the thought of this situation is rather terrifying, the film itself falls flat and never picks itself back up. The final few minutes of Kidnapped are excruciating as the credits begin to roll before you know it. I genuinely am curious if Director Miguel Ángel Vivas was trying to make us gain even the smallest bit of sympathy towards any of these characters. I certainly had none.

Fortunately, the acting is at least a small improvement over the screenplay. Fernando Cayo is good as Jaime. He's had much stronger performances in other roles, but does fine with the material he was provided. Even though the character is annoying as hell, Manuela Vellés does a good job with Isa. All three of the antagonists are horrible. None of them are in the least bit believable or convincing in the roles. When it comes to a home invasion film, it's crucial for the villains to be believable and intimidating. I never felt this way towards any of them. I never expected ground-breaking performances from Kidnapped, but I hoped to at least believe the cast in the roles they received.

The film continues to switch back and forth between two separate events. The two women are left alone in the house with two of the criminals. The other occurrence is that the husband has been taken by one of the invaders in order to give him money from the family's cards. Both of these ongoing events take place at night and remain dark throughout. The further into the running time Kidnapped gets, the more violent it becomes. Everything from rape to bashed in heads are depicted on screen. The audio is actually well-created. The track isn't as aggressive as I had hoped, but it's clear and never difficult to understand dialogue. The surround channels are used very well and used primary for directional effects.

A lot of work is still needed on this sub-genre. Unfortunately, Kidnapped never is able to deliver the tension I search for in movies such as this. The characters don't have to be rocket scientists, but I expect them to be believable in his or her actions. The screenplay is the weakest link here as the film has a good start, but doesn't go anywhere with it. This is yet another missed opportunity in cinema. A few viewers went as far as to call this film 'a new genre classic' and that is a false statement. Those who enjoyed The Strangers will find that they felt more tense during that film than they ever will during this. Kidnapped is below average, which is such a shame. If it continued in the correct direction as the beginning implied, this film could have been an incredibly unsettling and creepy piece of cinema. Unfortunately, it ultimately feels cliché and predictable.

My Rating = Two Stars

Next movie: Puss in Boots