Seven years have passed since Alexander Payne's excellent Sideways, but now he's back with something that knocks that, well, sideways. The Descendants stars George Clooney as a Honolulu lawyer forced to grab life by the lapels after his wife suffers a powerboat accident that puts her in a coma. Not only must he, the self-proclaimed "back-up parent," learn to control his wayward daughters, but he must also deal with the shock revelation that his spouse had been cheating on him. Then there's the matter of overseeing the sale of his family's 25,000 acres of unspoilt Hawaiian real estate. How Payne guides you so elegantly through it all, knotting together family and history, keeping the drama heart-wrenching but never sentimental, the laughs hilarious but never over-the-top, is pure cinematic alchemy. Clooney is superb in a near-flawless picture - as warm and refreshing as tropical rain.
An Arab story funded by Arab money, Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black Gold stars Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong as two warring kings who agree a peace that sees one take in the other's two sons and the land between them, the Yellow Belt, left untouched. That's until a Texan arrives telling Banderas that lakes of oil sit under the Yellow Belt.
Also out this week, Silencio en la Nieve, directed by Gerardo Herrero, is set among soldiers in Franco's Axis-supporting Blue Division during the 1943 Soviet campaign. A group of horses are found encased in a frozen lake; on the back of one sits a Spanish soldier with his throat slashed and an odd inscription carved into his chest. Juan Diego Botto and Carmelo Gómez investigate.
Taking its name from a style of Japanese puppet theater, Bunraku is a comic-book and samurai-influenced action fantasy starring Josh Hartnett as a drifter cleaning up a town run by criminals Ron Perlman and Demi Moore, with a little help from bartender Woody Harrelson.
In Jack and Jill Adam Sandler is Jack, an L.A. ad exec whose life is turned upside down every Thanksgiving by the visit of his needy twin sister, Jill, also unfortunately played by Sandler. With Katie Holmes and - somehow - Al Pacino.