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The Descendants

Mar 14, 2013


DVD

A theme, or perhaps the method, of Alexander Payne’s films has finally become clear to me: He takes appealing, charismatic actors and directs them in performances that allow them to deglamorize themselves. This is what the dashing George Clooney does in “The Descendants.” He abandons the Hollywood grin and becomes, more or less, the sort of guy you’d expect to see played by Paul Giamatti.

The premise is depressing ­— his wife lands in a coma that clearly will end with a slow, unplug-the-life-support death. But as in his other films (like “Sideways,” which does star Giamatti), Payne finds humor in pathos. As Clooney faces his wife’s looming death (and a surprise plot development I won’t reveal) with two daughters, he is wrestling with the fate of a huge tract of virgin Hawaiian coastline, left to him as the descendant of one of the island state’s first land-owning families.

“The Descendants” is Midlife Crisis Lite. It’s a pleasant Saturday night diversion, serious without being oppressive, and amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny. Payne doesn’t seem to be doing anything he hasn’t done before, but it’s really Clooney’s film, and he shows once again that he is not merely one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive. Also, if you have Blu-ray, get that: The Hawaiian scenery is stunning.

“The Descendants” (2011) Directed by Alexander Payne. Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer and Robert Forster. 115 minutes. Rated R for some language, sexual references.

ALBUM

Amid the abundance of indie rock and Americana folk that (somewhat) defines Portland’s music scene these days, Spirit Lake has emerged to offer the sweat, the swagger and the fuel of popular rock ’n’ roll spiked with a range of other genres.

The group’s debut full-length album, “Uncle Walker’s Amber Restorative,” has a foundation in the the proto-punk sound of the late 60s and early 70s. It’s arty, but primitive. It swings with a combination of blues, pop and rock like The Rolling Stones (especially “My My My” and “Walk Back to L.A.”), then slowly grinds countrified distortion into its melodies.

The band toes the line between psychedelic and country on the ballads “Hold Your Own” and “Risk/Reward,” like Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Elsewhere, the band injects moments of grunge, metal and T-Rex-ish glam into the mix, creating a blend that’s smooth but with a kick, much like the album’s namesake (a Johnny Walker product).

Overall, it’s an eclectic set of Brit and American influences that Spirit Lake laid down on its debut. But as the songs course over a multitude of terrains, you realize no matter the components in this blend, in the end it goes down like good rock ‘n’ roll should.

Spirit Lake plays with Wes Phillips on Saturday at the Wildwood Hotel in Willamina. Music begins at 9 p.m. For more info, call 503-876-7100.

“Uncle Walker’s Amber Restorative,” self-released by Spirit Lake, 2012.

BOOK

“The Famous DAR Murder Mystery” is a delightful book, not so much because of the mysterious body that turns up, but because of the way author Graham Landrum builds his characters. With gentle good humor, he lets the ladies of the fictional Old Orchard Fort Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution speak for themselves as the relate how they discovered the body and solved the crime — something local law enforcement officials would not and could not do.

The women, all in their 50s and older, are the nicest, most patriotic souls on earth, but they’re not above being snippy (they would say honest) and, therefore, unintentionally hilarious.

Here’s a report from Harriet Bushrow, 86, who contributes to the effort by keeping watch on one of the suspects through a telescope set up on a fellow DAR’s back porch.

“If anyone thinks we are just a bunch of nosy old women to set up an ‘observation post’ — that’s a good thing to call it — they don’t know what they are thinking about. People talk about what is wrong with our government and communities and all that; but if they don’t do anything about it, they are just as guilty of tearing down our country as the people they object to. Our patriot heroes did something about the things that were wrong at the time; and if they hadn’t, we’d still be paying a tax on tea. (Come to think of it, I believe we still do, only they call it the sales tax.)”

Harriet, though a bit frail, was along when the DARs visited a remote cemetery on the Virginia/Tennessee border. They had been looking for the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier, but the man they found was much more recently deceased.

Regent Helen Delaporte quickly spotted a discrepancy: While the body wore ragged clothes, the hands were soft and neatly manicured, with calloused fingertips. Could it be a musician? Why was he there? Who killed him, and why?

What happens next is quite a romp, one that readers will enjoy whether they have ties to the DAR or not. And I know DAR members love it — members of the local Yamhill Chapter, DAR, recommended it to me.

 “The Famous DAR Murder Mystery,” by Graham Landrum, 1992, St. Martin’s Press.

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