film

Haole to You, Too!

Haole to You, Too!

A text conversation a couple of weekends ago had @aipohaku and me challenging each other to create lists of our ten favorite movies set in Hawaii. I, of course, am late by a full week.

Note that I’m going for movies set in the Aloha State, not merely filmed here, so Jurrassic Park and The Karate Kid II are out.

10. Pearl Harbor (2001)
kateOkay, forget about the hype surrounding Pearl Harbor, the Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale pic that followed in the wake of Titanic as some kind of love story set against awful, historic events, and just look at is as an entertainment, and you’ll find some good stuff here, including a great recreation of the attack. I realize this is no masterpiece, but there’s some excellent Hawaii period footage like you don’t really see anymore.

9. From Here to Eternity (1953)
kerrThere’s that famous kissing scene on the beach, which I suppose is pretty good, even if it doesn’t live up to its iconic status. The real value in this movie are in seeing the streets of downtown Honolulu in its still-rough, WWII days, before it was cleaned up in the 1990s and before it was the sleaze-pit it became in the 1970s and 1980s, and in seeing this great cast when the actors were vibrant, young, exciting. It’s a great cast while not being a great movie, and it’s entertaining enough to keep you interested on one of those bad-weather play-hooky days, which I think are the conditions under which I first saw this when I was a teenager.

8. The Castaway Cowboy (1974)
I seem to be the only one of my friends who remembers this Disney film with James Garner, and based on reviews I’ve seen online, I may be the only person anywhere who remembers it fondly. Garner is rescued after being kidnapped from San Francisco and then tossed overboard in Hawaii. He sticks around to help his rescuing family with its farm. There is a memorable scene where the cattle are lashed by the horns to the sides of boats and then guided, while they swim, to some new location. I’m afraid to see this one again for fear of its being not nearly as good as I remember.

7. Goodbye, Paradise (1991)
goodbye paradiseLong-time Hawaii news anchor Joe Moore stars in this film set in an old neighborhood bar that’s about to be shut down. Part nostalgia trip longing for the way things used to be, and part let’s-see-if-we-can-make-Joe-Moore a movie star, Goodbye, Paradise is not remembered fondly by those few of us who saw it, but I liked it. There’s a little bit of double nostalgia with memories of this film because it’s the last thing I saw at the old Marina Theater, which many years ago became Hawaii’s only Red Lobster restaurant. The theater by that time was as much a run-down dump as the bar in the movie, but I remember both fondly.

6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
milaBias alert: I love Kristen Bell. I expected very little from Forgetting Sarah Marshall even though I admire the Apatow team for its effort if not usually for its product, but what really makes this film memorable is Mila Kunis, who for the first time kind of emerges as a possible star. She’s the rare non-local who manages to be convincing as kind of a local, and she’s really the highlight of a so-so movie.

5. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
To say I had low expectations of Lilo & Stitch, whose animation style I found boring and whose plot didn’t sound like the stuff of a Disney classic, would be a gross understatement. I went in determined not to like it. And I couldn’t help myself: I was charmed. The title characters, despite having every reason not to, won me over, and I left with renewed hope in Disney. I have known young men and women, cynics to the core, people who find something to dislike in anything conventional, who admitted the same thing.

4. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
emily and adamPunch-Drunk Love, with Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is set in Hawaii about the way Say Anything is set on a jet to Paris, which is to say not really setin Hawaii at all. However, it would appear that I haven’t seen as many films truly set in Hawaii as I once thought, and I only have the faintest memory of some of them, so I had to loosen my restriction just a little and include this in the list. Sandler and Watson are excellent in a movie whose main character resonates more with me than any other, except Paul Giamatti’s Miles role in Sideways.

3. 50 First Dates (2004)
There are about fifty stupid things in this movie, things that should offend me as a resident of Hawaii, where 50 First Dates is set. And in almost any other movie, I suppose they would, but Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are just too good together, and there is a scene about midway through the film where we see Sean Astin and Blake Clark, as Barrymore’s brother and father, going to great, amazing, and genuinely touching lengths to make her amnesia.-like condition less traumatic. Sandler, at his most sincere and most earnest, does the rest, convincing us that he loves this happy girl in the saddest way. What’s good about the movie far, far outweighs what’s bad about it.

2. The Descendants (2011)
george and shaileneGeorge Clooney and Shailene Woodley are excellent in The Descendants, a movie that looks like Hawaii the way only people who live here can testify to. The story’s got some weird holes (which, it has been explained to me, are omissions from the source novel); however, they are easily overlooked when the rest of the film is so well done. This movie looks and feels like Hawaii better than any other, and that by itself should make it #1 on this list. Yet:

1. North Shore (1987)
niaFor about twenty hyper-subjective reasons, North Shore, for all its badness, is my favorite movie set in Hawaii (I actually like Punch-Drunk Love better, but it’s not set enough in Hawaii to count). For high-school crushes, Nia Peeples is only rivaled by Pat Benatar and Paulina Porizkova for duration and depth. For its many, many quotable bits of dialogue. For being in theaters the summer after my high-school graduation. For cameos by Makaha Sons of Niihau and surfers I actually recognize (because there aren’t many). I can’t help it. My head says a million things but my heart says, “You come back to the North Shore,” and then a second later, “Here on the North Shore, we treat our friends more better!”

—–

I had Ride the Wild Surf on this list before I remembered to include Goodbye, Paradise, so that would be my number 11 if there were a number 11. I would also like to re-see Aloha Summer and Goin’ Cocoanuts (the Donnie and Marie movie set in Hawaii) to see if they somehow could crack this list.

I promised myself I wouldn’t look at @aipohaku’s list until mine was done, so it’s time now for me to go do it. You are encouraged to do the same!

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Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Meme

Bunch of memes to end the weekend.

Sunday Stealing:

One Thing …..
that makes you smile:
Puppies.

that makes you cry:
Expressions of kindness.

that you love to do on the weekends:
Sleep in.

that you do for only yourself:
I’m going with swimming at the beach, even though I haven’t done much of that since the end of January.

that you have in your underwear drawer that’s NOT underwear:
Cobwebs. I don’t put my clothes in my dresser anymore; it’s only got clothes in it that I haven’t worn in years, plus a few spiders.

that you do before going to sleep:
Set the alarm.

that you do within the first 15 minutes after waking:
Check my phone for messages and notifications.

that’s in your purse:
I don’t have a purse, but in my backpack there is a phone charger, among a few other things.

that you actually LIKE to clean:
I like washing my hair after a swim.

that you DETEST cleaning:
Ah. Windows.

that other people would find odd about you:
I hate getting food on my hands, so I eat potato chips from the bag in a peculiar way: usually with chopsticks.

that you would buy if I handed you a $100 bill:
Food first, since this has been a Weekend of Extreme Frugality.

that you feel you HAVE to do before you die:
There’s one thing that leaps to mind but I think it’s inappropriate for this space, so I’m going with publish a novel.


I changed my mind. I feel like writing, but the memes don’t really interest me right now, and there isn’t anything on my mind worth jotting down here. Maybe I’ll just type whatever I’m thinking for a few moments.

My former boss gave me Season 1 of The Newsroom for Christmas and I finally got around to watching the first six episodes (of ten). It’s quite good. I’d seen Alison Pill in a few things before, but I had no idea she had this in her. She’s the frenetic center of a great cast, including Jeff Daniels and a surprising Sam Waterson. Looking forward to finishing the season, then watching it again with the commentaries. Then probably getting myself Season 2.

The new Yes album was scheduled to be released July 8, but Wikipedia says July 16, and Amazon says July 22. So darn. I’m really looking forward to it. The last album was great, one of my favorites, and this one’s got a new singer. Sometimes a thing like that is what a band of old guys like Yes needs in order to jolt it into something fresh.

I’ve had the same two Netflix DVDs in my possession since the middle of March. I decided, when I rejoined the service a couple of years ago, that I wasn’t going to stress about getting my money’s worth, because that’s what ruined the experience for me the first time. I don’t want this concept of getting my money’s worth to dictate what I will watch or when I will watch it. Just having access to the service is worth the few bucks per month it costs me, the way you pay for the availability of cable television even when you don’t watch it. Still, four months is kind of ridiculous. I finally just ripped both movies (Tiger Eyes and About Time) to my laptop and I’ll watch them sometime this week (then delete them, of course). Time to get past this stasis and get something new in my mailbox. Satisfaction (with Justine Bateman) and Winter’s Bone (Jennifer Lawrence) are up next.

I recently finished John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (I read Looking for Alaska a couple of months ago) and look forward to Shailene Woodley in the main character’s role in the film. Green is a good writer, but boy is his style ostentatious. I’m re-reading Lynne Rae Perkins’s Criss Cross, one of my favorite books, and it is reminding me of what I want to accomplish as a writer. It’s funny, because my writing partner made me read Looking for Alaska, so I made her read Criss Cross. Neither of us likes the other’s book nearly as much as the one we each recommended.

Almost 1:00 in the morning and the laundry is finally done. About to hit the sack. Here’s to a good week.

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Review: Delivery Man

Review: Delivery Man

Delivery Man (2013)
Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Pratt, Bobby Moynihan. Directed by Ken Scott.

deYou could tell from the trailer for Delivery Man that this was going to be a silly, sweet, sentimental, possibly manipulative movie, and it is all of those things. And I bought pretty much every machination, every plot device, every hug, every tear, and every cliche. Sometimes, in order to enjoy a movie, all you need to be is the film’s intended audience, and for some reason I had no problem being that audience.

The set-up is predictable. David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is kind of a screw-up delivery truck driver for his family’s butchery business. His brothers and father do most of the hard work, saying David has “the easiest job in the company,” but David still manages to let everyone down despite what seem like the best of intentions. His girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) is pregant with his child, but she is reluctant to let David be more than just the birth coach, unconvinced as she is of David’s reliability as a father.

liveryIt turns out that David’s family and girlfriend don’t know the half of it: David owes $80,000 to some shady men, and he finds out that a sperm bank he made over six hundred contributions to while in college kind of screwed things up, and he is the biological father of 533 young men and women, 142 of whom have filed a class-action lawsuit against the sperm bank to learn who their father is despite a confidentiality agreement between David and the bank.

The bank’s lawyer gives David a manila envelope with individual profiles of the 142 complainants. Curious, David spies on a few of them to find out who they are, and in the process finds himself intentionally and unintentionally a part of their lives, the truth of his identity still unknown to his children. In the process, of course, he discovers some of the joys and heartbreaks of being a parent.

manVaughn is cast perfectly in this, conveying his usual fratboy mischievousness but adding a very believable fratboy enthusiasm and joy. While most of the family dynamic is something we’ve seen a hundred times, there are manipulative scenes of family love, too, and every actor plays these scenes with utmost sincerity, and that sincerity is contagious. I was moved to tears a few times, a response amplified by David’s kids’ seeming inheritance of all the good things in David’s heart. The 142 complainants are brought together by an unbelievable circumstance, but their response to it, individually and collectively, is believable as heck, and their response to David, even before they know who he is, is believable, and when the plot asked me to laugh or cry along with them in this bizarre situation, I was nothing but eager to oblige.

There are twenty-five things the writer and director could have done better with Delivery Man, but they are so outnumbered by the strength of a good cast (including Chris Pratt as David’s lawyer and Bobby Moynihan as one of his brothers) that I almost don’t remember what they are. Vaughn the actor kind of accomplishes what David the character accomplishes, and all we’re left with at the end is a good feeling. There are worse things to say about a film.

7/10
77/100

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Review: Elysium

Review: Elysium

Elysium (2013)
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga. Directed by Neill Blomkamp.

elysium1On some post-apocalyptic future Earth, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) wears a locator device around his ankle as part of his probation for some unspecified crime. He has a job in some kind of robot factory, and he reports to a probation officer who is really a computer voice coming out of a plastic statue somewhat reminiscent of a Bob’s Big Boy figure. The peace, such as it exists, is kept by the robots Max helps build, who are governed from above the earth in a space station called Elysium, where all the wealthy Earthlings have fled, and where all illnesses and diseases are cured by MedBays located in every residence.

elysium
There’s an accident in the robot factory, and Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. His only hope is to get a fake ID burned into his arm and then to sneak up to Elysium and into one of the MedBays. Such a move is possible, but Spider, the guy who illegally helps people make it, isn’t just giving them away, and he has a special job that only someone of Max’s skills (and desperation) could attempt: stealing a backup of Elyisum’s operating system so it can be controlled by Spider.

Jodie Foster is Elysium’s defense secretary, and she’s got plans of her own for that system backup. She can’t afford simply to destroy Max, but she does need to stop him from accomplishing his goal. She’s got a lot of power, but who couldn’t use just a little more?

I thought this movie was going to be pretty awful, but I had a two-for-one rental code from Red Box, and I admire Damon enough to give him a shot, no matter how terrible the movie trailer looks. Through the first two thirds of the film, I felt pretty good about my Damon bias. For all his action-hero roles in recent years, his strength as an actor comes from a sincerity that allows him to connect believably with other characters. Damon is at his best when his characters interact meaningfully with other characters, and there’s just enough of that early in the picture to make this movie work. There’s some good buddy-buddy stuff, there’s some good rivals-who-need-each-other stuff, and there’s a little bit of one-who-got-away stuff, and it all pretty much works on the strength of Damon’s talents.

Where the movie stops working is where this film turns into a defeat-all-comers shoot-em-up, which is pretty much the final act of the film.

A few props for Alice Braga as the love interest who says more with her eyes than with her mouth, but she and Damon are the only ones who deserve some love. For some inexplicable reason, Foster is given this ridiculous accent that turns almost all of her scenes into some kind of clown show. It’s one of the worst performances by this good actress I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen Nell.

Elysium doesn’t show you much that other dystopian pictures haven’t already shown you, so there’s nothing groundbreaking there, and while I can’t point to a specific movie that’s given us the same heavy-handed message about the one percent vs. everyone else, all of that feels familiar too. Robots are on the humdrum side, and weapons are kind of cool but not cool enough to make anyone’s best-of lists, so the sci-fi aspect of this movie is kind of blah.

Not recommended.

4/10
41/100

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Review: Romeo and Juliet (2013)

Review: Romeo and Juliet (2013)

Romeo and Juliet (2013)
Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti, Lesley Manville. Directed by Carlo Carlei.

julietIf the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo and Juliet settled one thing for me, it’s that when it comes to Shakespearean films, it is the language that matters most. You can do almost anything you want with the sequence of events, the setting, the characters, and the themes, but keep the language roughly intact, and at the very worst, your production will at least carry with it the strength of the greatest writer of the western world.

romeoNow here is this 2013 adaptation, written by Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for writing the script for Gosford Park and also created Downton Abbey), directed by Carlo Carlei, and seemingly informed primarily not as much by the Shakespearean drama as by the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli movie with Olivia Hussey. In look and feel, it seems to owe just about every concept to Zeffirelli, going so far as to include the line, “The Maresca!” in the scene where Romeo first lays eyes on Juliet at the Capulets’ masquerade party, a line not written by the Bard.

laurenceIt stars a rather talented Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, Douglas Booth as Romeo, and Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence. As Juliets go, Steinfeld lacks the animal abandon of Olivia Hussey or the contemplative mysteriousness of Claire Danes, coming across instead as a pretty, possibly athletic, very personable girl next door. While Hussey would come over to your house after school and tear your shirt off with her teeth, and where Danes might come over to help you with your chemistry homework, Steinfeld seems the sort to come over and kick your butt in Halo. She delivers the lines well, and the way Carlei directs her is one of his better decisions. While some might call it a passionless performance, this Juliet is about as even-keeled as a Juliet can be, seeming to take things the way an infatuated teen of the 2010s might deal with the circumstances.

but soft!Booth as Romeo is flat and unmemorable, and Giamatti tries his best as Laurence, but with just about everyone around him underacting, Giamatti’s effort comes across as overacting, something that pains me to say. The actors who play Mercutio, Benvolio, Tybalt, the Capulets, and the Montagues are all not bad, but their scenes, even the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt, feel lifeless and kind of dull. I am not saying I long for the melodrama of the Zeffirelli picture or the audacity of the Luhrmann film, but some kind of electricity in a film like this seems a necessity, and I blame its absence on the unwise decision to rewrite Shakespeare’s words.

rosaline and benvolioIf you’re familiar enough with the play to recite certain important lines along with the characters, you’ll be pleased to discover that most of those lines are preserved, even though some are moved to unexpected places (Romeo’s “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” lines, originally near the beginning of the balcony scene, are recited instead at Capulet’s party), but it’s those spaces in between those key lines, where Fellowes tries to move the story along in some Shakespearean fashion but with fewer words, that hold this film down. Much of the dialogue sounds completely out of place, linguistically speaking, noticably absent the rhythm, flow, and poetry of the source material, as if the script were based on the modern pages of those side-by-side parallel traslations of the play. You get the gist of things, but the beauty is nowhere to be seen.

capulets homeThat is, the beauty is nowhere to be seen in the newly written lines. In this Renaissance-era Verona, there’s beauty almost everywhere you look. Many of the sets look like fresher, cleaner versions of the lovely interior shots in the 1968 movie, and this has perhaps the best-looking balcony scene yet. Even Romeo’s new digs in Mantua, after his banishment, look like the kind of place one of Verona’s wealthiest families might put up their only son. Costumes, surely inspired by Zeffirelli’s film, are also great,

If I were still teaching Romeo and Juliet to ninth-graders, I might show this film after a thorough study of the play, as I suspect today’s teens might find it less foreign than the other adaptations I’ve mentioned; plus, it would be interesting to hear their thoughts on the script’s deviations. It’s not a very good movie, but it doesn’t totally suck. No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve.

4/10
38/100

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Review: The Song of the Fishermen

Review: The Song of the Fishermen

The Song of the Fishermen (1934)
A silent film starring Wang Ren Mei, Han Lan Gen. Directed by Chusheng Cai.

songThe noble plight of the poor, filial piety, perseverance in the face of repeated tragedy, and the toll wealthy families take on everyone else: the familiar themes of Chinese cinema are here in The Song of the Fishermen, with a sympathetic rich man’s son and a mentally handicapped brother to make things a little different. Set first against a small fishing village and then a large city, the story of Little Cat (Wang Ren Mei) and Little Monkey (HanLan Gen) unfolds like many of the familiar stories.

of theYet there is an element here that I found engaging and new. Throughout this silent film from 1934, there is a tiny thread of hope that things are just one or two lucky turns away from getting better for everyone involved. A rich man’s son is nursed by a fisherman’s wife, who often suckles the young master rather than attending to the needs of her own infant son, so loyal is this hard-working woman to the house of her employment.

The kids grow up together, the young master chastising Little Cat and Little Monkey for repeatedly calling him “master” and often begging Little Cat to sing “The Song of the Fishermen” for him. But as years pass, the wealthy young man is educated in a distant city and the others experience the travails of life as a poor family struggling to get by.

fishermenYou know that extended section of The Good Earth where famine forces Wang Lung to pack up his family and head to the city? There a section of this movie that’s like that, and our main characters find a few different ways to scrape together some change, always a moment away from the next tragedy, yet the viewer clings to the hope that somehow, their connection to the rich family might somehow be their salvation.

The Song of the Fishermen played in Shangai theaters for eighty-four straight days, a record at the time, and is the first Chinese film to win a prize at an international film festival (Moscow Film Festival in 1935). While it suffers from a certain amount of overacting, the solid portrayal of Little Cat by Wang Ren Mei keeps it mostly believable, and if the strong, indefatigable women characters in The Good Earth and The Story of Qiu Jiu appeal to you, you may want to check this one out.

6/10
63/100

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