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.

When It’s OK Not to Know the Ending

After recently watching the spy thriller, The Debt, I wondered what happened to the characters’ lives next – after the story ended.  With George Clooney’s The Ides of March, the follow-up from the abrupt plot ending is predictable, given the intrigue of politics, but who knows.  Those loose ends reminded me of  books that end without neatly pulling in the loose threads: did the heroine die or walk off into the sunset?  did that rotten guy get his due?  will the boy/girl grow up to find the cure, change the universe, fall off a cliff?

Without a firm ending, the story goes on in my mind – changing outcomes and possibilities…

A few classic ambiguous endings that come to mind:

  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  • The Dead by James Joyce
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

Can you think of any?

When Seeing the Movie Inspires Reading the Book

The American stars George Clooney, so if you don’t like having an image in your head for the protagonist while you are reading, seeing the movie first could be a problem – but, it’s George Clooney.

The movie turns around an assassin ready to retire with  a beautiful woman in the lush Italian hills.  The scenery has you in Italy, where it was filmed  – driving the death-defying mountain curves, stumbling along the rocky streets, climbing the steps of a walled village, dodging the motorbikes and Italian drivers.

Although the story is formulaic with the requisite guns and shooting,  the key character has a quiet quality.  An artist, Mr. Butterfly paints rare butterflies in the book; in the movie he can build a weapon from scratch and has a butterfly tattoo.  And that soulful yearning – deflected by the local priest who drinks brandy in both the movie and the book.

With visions of George still in my head, I read the book reviews and decided  –  Martin Booth’s  A Very Private Gentleman, the inspiration for the movie,  goes on my reading list.

The Tourist

Want to get a preview of George Clooney’s next movie?   Read the book first.    Clooney will star as Milo, CIA agent, in Olen Steinhauer’s spy thriller The Tourist.

With lots of energy and twists, counterespionage, double agents, cyanide pills to keep the secrets, and, of course, dead bodies – Steinhauer creates a page-turning story. Tourists are those agents who take on the worst cases, of course.

The twist  – after the first 50 pages, Milo is retired from the field, married, and has a 6 year-old stepdaughter when he’s called back into the fray to solve an old case. Now it’s after 9/11 and he has to contend with the interference of Homeland Security hassling his style and the old-school approach to finding and getting the bad guy.  Milo conveniently sidetracks this problem, and does it his way anyway.  After 325 pages, the story doubles back to the beginning, and you discover how Milo met his true love – a clever revelation in one of the many plots Steinhauer neatly juggles.

Clooney will be a great Milo. I can see him now, stripping down and jumping into the water to find the dead body.  Will Milo save the day? finally escape the Homeland Security agents? uncover the sinister plots against the country? have a life again?

Well, George will in the movie – that’s for sure.  Read the book to see how Edgar Award finalist Steinhauer does it.