Published on: December 2, 2011
I have two remarkable movies and a terrific book to recommend to you this week.The Descendants
is a hard film to categorize. It has one of George Clooney’s best performances, as a Hawaii lawyer who is a far cry from some of the smoothies he has played so well in the past; he is coping with a wife who is in a coma, two daughters who seem to be from an entirely different species, and an extended family pressuring him to sell off some of the last undeveloped land in the 50th state - a move that will bring them hundreds of millions of dollars.
But while this may sound like the stuff of melodrama, it is anything but. Alexander Payne, who also directed Sideways
brings a unique sensibility to the proceedings; he keeps the story just a little bit off kilter, so you don’t really know what’s going to happen next. He shows us a Hawaii that, while paradise-like in so many ways, also has more texture and depth than we’re used to seeing on film. And the actors he’s chosen are excellent at peeling away layers of character as the film progresses, surprising us, touching us, giving us a sense that these are real people in a real situation.
There is a business message at the core of the film - the notion that just because you can do something does not mean that you should actually do that thing. The Descendants
considers the whole concept of choice, turning it so it can be seen from different angles, through different prisms. It is a lovely film that whispers and nudges its audience as opposed to shouting at it. It was a pleasure to watch.
The only problem I have with Hugo
, the new Martin Scorsese film, is that it somehow has been defined as a picture for kids. Nothing could be further from the truth; it may be an appropriate film for families to see together, but Hugo
is definitely not for little kids. Rather, it is an illuminating work about loss and discovery that combines the moviemaking sophistication of one of our finest filmmakers with a a childlike imagination that embraces the existence of magic.Hugo
is the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan living in the bowels of a Paris train station during the 1930s. His father, a clockmaker, has passed away; his uncle, a drunk, used to keep the clocks in the train station operating on time, but has disappeared, leaving Hugo to run the station’s many clocks.
Hugo is obsessed with getting a broken automaton - a kind of robot - that his father brought home to work again, which brings him into conflict with a embittered old man named Georges who runs a toy store in the station. I won’t lay out the plot for you here, except to say that Hugo
is not just a celebration of the human spirit, but the magic of the movies, done in a way that is utterly heartfelt and superbly rendered. There even are business lessons in Hugo
, like the one about the importance of the front lines (what happens in a train station if you don’t have someone reliable to wind the clocks?). And the ultimate message is important to any business, as Hugo
considers the perishability of any business plan and the enduring place for core values in any business.
One other thing. I’m not a big 3D fan, but you absolutely must spend the extra couple of dollars and see Hugo
in 3D .... Scorsese actually shot the film in 3D (many 3D films are shot in 2D and then converted) and he makes this technology work for the story better than any film I’ve ever seen (including Avatar
). Some of the scenes and patented Scorsese tracking shots are positively breathtaking. This is a wonderful movie that deserves to be seen the way it was shot and called an instant classic.
I’m also not an enormous Stephen King fan, mostly because I don’t love the horror and supernatural genres. My favorite books of us to this point have been Misery
and the autobiography On Writing
, but I know that puts me in a minority. (“On Writing” is a wonderful book about his growing up and finding his voice...it is one of the three or four books I always recommend it to anyone interested in the writing game.)
His new book, however, is an epic page turner that I almost could not put down. “11/22/63” is a novel that poses a fascinating series of questions: If you could go back in time and prevent the Kennedy assassination, would you? Could you? And what would be the outcome of such a move in terms of American history?
The protagonist of the book is Jake Epping, a recently divorced thirtysomething Maine high school teacher, who discovers a kind of “rabbit hole” that allows him to travel back in time to September 9, 1958, at 11:58 am. He can spend as long as he wants there - a minute, an hour, a year or a decade - and when he returns to the present, it will always be two minutes later than when he left. (Though he will have aged the actual amount of time he was gone.) This offers Jake an opportunity - to put certain things right, things both personal and cultural, even though there is the risk that in doing so, he will be messing with forces that he cannot understand.
“11/22/63” is a roller coaster ride of a book - fast moving, compelling, told with a kind of conversational ease that makes it seem more like a great yarn than an epic. (Like a really great “Twilight Zone” episode.) King seems to have done a lot of research, so there is the appearance of veracity. But mostly, instead of tapping into the mysteries of time and space, King taps into the mysteries of the human heart. I was sorry when it was over.
(A quick note here. I read what they are calling the “enhanced e-book edition,” which is available from Apple as a iBook. I must confess that for reasons I do not understand, I prefer the Kindle application on my iPad to the iBook app. Not sure why, but it just seems smoother ... and it also gives me the ability to share the book on the Kindles we own, which means that other people in the family can read it.)
We tried a lot of different wines over the Thanksgiving weekend, and I think it is fair to say that the ultimate winners was the 2009 Martinelli Zinfandel, which was rich and smooth and perfect with the filet mignon and baked potatoes we had for our holiday dinner. (Apologies to my friends in the turkey business ... but the kids just asked for steak. I did make a small turkey on Saturday night, though...and it was great.)
Our other favorites from the weekend were:
• 2005 J. Bookwalter Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Columbia Valley
• 2010 Francis Coppola Director’s Pinot Noir, from Sonoma
• 2010 Ponzi Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley
• 2006 Vigneti La Selvanella Chianti Classico Riserva (which was particularly fabulous with spaghetti, meatballs and hot Italian sausage).
The Martinelli, Ponzi and Vigneti, by the way, are all available from Nicholas Roberts Ltd., which powers the MNB Wine club. Enjoy!
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.