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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Better Late: Film Review of A Late Quartet

from the Honolulu Weekly
http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/12/better-late/

Better Late

In A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken leads his cast on a memorable race against time

BY DON WALLACE | DEC 19, 2012

Nothing can save us from shopping at this time of year, but at least there’s a chance of ducking inside a multiplex while the mallrats we love most go wild. In desperate times, almost any movie will do, but if you’re a sensitive soul you pray for one of those rare Christmas-movies-for-grownups. Not Christmassy, as in red velvet and silver bells, but something on the quiet side, with some top actors working from a script distinguished by wit, intelligence and wry observation.

This week, we in Honolulu are lucky to have just such a refuge in A Late Quartet, about a famous string quartet that busts more than a few strings en route to its 25th anniversary season. If that sounds too quiet, fear not Pulp Fiction fans–Christopher Walken turns in yet another memorable performance as cellist Peter, the oldest in the quartet by a couple decades and newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His three prized students from a quarter century ago are now grizzled veterans, exquisitely attuned to each other’s playing. Walken’s tremors set off earthquakes.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert, sees Walken’s inevitable departure as his cue to finally break out from his role as second violin to Mark Ivanir’s obsessive, hollow-eyed Daniel, who has dominated by outworking everyone else. Catherine Keener, as Robert’s wife, Juliette, is violist and finds her emotional center in the Quartet–not Robert, whom she treats like a second fiddle. Their ethereal daughter, Alexandra (impeccable ingenue Imogen Poots) is also a violinist and student of Peter, as well as a lifelong student of the group that robbed her of her parents seven months out of every year. This does not prevent her from throwing herself at one of the players.

The film captures perfectly the fervid mood inside musical groups, and there’s even a surprise in store for those young-uns who think rappers and rock ‘n’ rollers have a monopoly on lust.

Passion is at the heart of the movie–for music, for composers, for instrumental technique and, not least, for hot sex with highly wrought performers. And then, as sometimes happens, lust grows into love. A Late Quartet is about that, most of all.

All the performances are very good, with new-to-me Mark Ivanir embodying the commanding persona of a first violinist. Hoffman has the hardest role, with the largest range of moods, and his humanity grounds the film. Keener is heartbreaking as a woman who sometimes feels she has never lived emotionally except through her instrument. And Walken–what can I say? As I watched him deal with his impending helplessness and death, I remembered seeing him tackle a similar theme on a snowy December day in New York City. He was Gabriel in a stage adaptation of James Joyce’s The Dead, and just as he broke hearts in that most elegiac of stories, he broke mine here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Veg & Mash: The Vintage Cave Restaurant and Downfall Parodies

from the Honolulu Weekly:
http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/12/veg-mash-of-the-year/


Paging Dr. Strangelove! Have we found a bistro for you

BY DON WALLACE | DEC 12, 2012


Before we get to Film of the Year . . .

Somehow it didn’t feel like coincidence that Honolulu’s ultimate luxury restaurant, The Vintage Cave, went into launch mode the same month that the grand old party of the One Percent crawled into a cave of its own. With memberships starting at $5,000 on up to $500K, and a meal for two costing about $1,000 in its underground bunker beneath Shirokiya, The Vintage Cave ought to fit right into Mitt Romney’s Recovery Tour. No view, but you get a couple of walls of Picassos and a triptych of an artwork called Hiroshima. Paging Dr. Strangelove!

Sometimes words fail. Sometimes I feel like Terminator’s young John Connor turning to Arnold and asking, “We’re not going to make it, are we?” But then the Cinema Gods whisper: “Just wait, the mashup will be along in a moment.”

As we all know, in just a decade the mashup has become a new art form. Digital editing technology and the internet are doing for film what the Fender Stratocaster and the Marshall amplifier did for popular music: blowing it up.

Today, the mashup ensures that good films, or at least great scenes, live on in ever-shifting forms. And in this shuffle, crazy truth emerges. We see Brokeback Mountain, and then, thanks to mashups of every buddy film ever made, we see gay cowboys everywhere. (And you know what? They are everywhere.)

The mashup is now not only an art form but a way of thinking. Instead of groaning when I read about Honolulu’s uber-rich partying like there’s no tomorrow in an underground bunker, I just followed my nose straight to a popular Election Day mashup. Based on a scene in the movie Der Untergang (Downfall), it takes place during the last ten days of WWII as Der Fuhrer and the Nazi elite live it up under the streets of a burning Berlin. When Adolf finally finds out he’s surrounded by Russians, he explodes in a memorable outburst, which in the mashup (“Hitler finds out Obama has been re-elected”) becomes a hilarious rant blaming New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Donald Trump and “that damn robot” Mitt Romney for the loss of the election.

And that’s why, before calling out my Best Film of 2012, I’m giving a special Golden Wally to an entire genre, for its contributions to world sanity.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The One State in the Union that Doesn't Have Schoolyard Massacres

People who say America has to live with mass shootings because "that's the way we are" may want to look at Hawaii, which has never had a multiple school shooting. Here is a description of the laws here, all of which are enactable elsewhere without violating anybody's civil liberties:

"Acquiring a firearm in Hawaii requires a permit to acquire, issued to qualified applicants by the county police chief.

There is a minimum 14-20 day waiting period for receiving a permit. A separate permit is required for each handgun(s) transaction to be acquired (valid for a period of 10 days), while a "long gun" permit can be used for any number of rifles or shotguns for a period of one year. In addition to passing a criminal background check, applicants must provide an affidavit of mental health, and agree to release their medical records. First time applicants must be fingerprinted by the FBI (fee applies).

When applying to acquire a handgun, a handgun safety training course affidavit or hunter's education card is also required.[8]

Firearms acquired within the state must be registered with the chief of police within 5 days. Firearms brought in from out of state, including those owned prior to moving to Hawaii, must be registered within 3 days of arrival. Registration of firearms brought in from out of state does not involve a waiting period, however a FBI fingerprint and background check will be conducted.

Registration is not required for black powder firearms or firearms manufactured before 1899.[9]

Carrying a loaded firearm, concealed or not concealed, including in a vehicle, is a class A felony. Unloaded firearms that are secured in a gun case and are accompanied by a corresponding permit are allowed to be transported in a vehicle between the permitted owner's residence or business and: a place of repair; a target range; a licensed dealer's place of business; an organized, scheduled firearms show or exhibit; a place of formal hunter or firearm use training or instruction; or a police station.[10]

Automatic firearms, shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long, and rifles with barrels less than 16 inches long are prohibited by state law. Also banned are handgun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and semi-automatic handguns with certain combinations of features that the state has defined as "assault pistols".[1

Friday, November 30, 2012

Buke Too Damn Good: Book Review of Boi No Good by Christopher McKinney

from the Honolulu Weekly:

http://honoluluweekly.com/story-continued/2012/11/buke-too-damn-good/

Buke Too Damn Good

Boi No Good is the novel Hawaii deserves--an unrelenting takedown of all our hypocrisies

BY DON WALLACE | NOV 7, 2012

George Orwell once wrote, “At age 50, every man has the face he deserves.” Here, in terms of the books written about Hawaii, we’ve had to wait 53 years for our face to be revealed to us. But boy, is that mirror cruelly accurate. Its name is Boi No Good and its author is Christopher McKinney, who’s already goosed the state’s conscience with four uncompromising works of fiction, including The Tattoo.

The story of three siblings of a meth-addict mother who are farmed out to foster parents, grow up with holes in their souls and reconnect violently and tragically, Boi No Good is our Hawaii Nei today. It’s the stories we read in the police blotter, the family members we tear our hair over. Boi ends up living on a rain-sodden taro farm worked by a ranting Filipino-Hawaiian who believes in revolution by any means necessary–including shamanism. Glory, the daughter, ends up with the briefly reformed mother, who turns back to her bad old ways and prostitutes her child for meth.

McKinney plumbs these lower depths in interior monologues that are hair-raising in their power and precision. But his story also scales the heights of Honolulu society. In a surprise development that takes the book from the sociological to a full-fledged expose of all our classes and ethnicities, one of the lost children, Shane, is adopted by a god-like old-school haole big-wave surfer, Charles Knotting, who is running for Governor on a slate that promises to barter welfare for voluntary sterilization.

This planinflames the permanently outraged Boi, who has put a juvenile jail stint behind him to join the Honolulu Police Department. Due to his brother’s inclusion in the Gov’s family, Boi witnesses one cynical power play too many (think rail, PRP, the PLDC and UH, then multiply by Caldwell over Mufi times Abercrombie). Subject to visions thanks to his foster father’s paranoid upbringing and his own Tasered psyche, Boi sets out to take revenge on the entire aloha-tourist-development-consumerist empire. That his attempt to take down Waikiki coincides with a hurricane blowing into town is the sort of coincidence, after Hurricane Sandy, that elevates this book from fiction into prophecy.

By way of disclosure, I first heard about Boi No Good from my own novel’s editor in Manhattan. He wrote me last year that he’d been asked to take a look at something extremely raw and so potentially controversial that he couldn’t see how it could get published as is. He wanted to know if half the stuff about Hawaii in the manuscript could possibly be true–like most mainlanders, he sees us through Mai Tai-tinted glasses.

I said I wouldn’t discount anything.

Much to my surprise, Boi came my way a few months later. Two potential mainland editors had turned it down (or been turned down by McKinney, after a trial edit). My editor had recommended me to Mutual Publishing, and McKinney and I ended up working together. On a first reading, I knew I’d been handed a special responsibility. That’s why, when even the Weekly’s reviewer suddenly dropped the book as too hot to handle, I was asked to write this essay. Boi No Good is one damn good book. The first proof is in those it’s already scared away.

Boi No Good,
Christopher McKinney

Mutual Publishing, 2012

Paperback, 400 pages, $15.95

America's Opium War: Book Review of Kiana Davenport's The Spy Lover

from the Honolulu Weekly:

http://honoluluweekly.com/story-continued/2012/11/america%E2%80%99s-opium-war/

America’s Opium War: The Spy Lover

A Chinese soldier and his mixed-blood daughter are at the center of this unflinching novel of the Civil War

BY DON WALLACE | NOV 7, 2012

Let us now praise the woman warrior. For too many years–centuries, actually–writing about war has been a man’s game. And for too many years, reading war fiction has been about as deep an experience as watching a couple of boys play with toy soldiers. Aside from the diligent recreation of Gettysburg in The Killer Angels, it’s usually only the anti-heroic stuff, such as Catch-22, A Thin Red Line, and the Waterloo sequence in War and Peace, that rises above the level of pulp. Americans like their war safely sentimentalized, or even better, played on a game console with plenty of cool special effects.

But merely having a woman author isn’t what makes The Spy Lover, a novel about the Civil War that follows the fortunes of a Chinese infantryman for the Union, Johnny Tom, his daughter Era and Warren, her Confederate lover and patient, so memorable. Sure, it may come as a surprise to her fans that our own Kiana Davenport, who made her bones on sweeping Hawaiian family melodramas like The Shark Dialogues, Song of Exile and House of Many Gods, has written a book steeped in gore, misery, death, drug addiction and bereavement. But the shock is in Davenport’s writing and material.

Like the best historical fiction, the book’s deep research is felt in every line and authenticates every character, no matter how strange or shocking, yet comes across as naturally as breathing. In this The Spy Lover easily joins and even surpasses Cold Mountain and our national real estate love triangle, Gone With the Wind.

Thus, when one-armed cavalryman Warren Davenport (based on one of the author’s Confederate relatives) rides into yet another battle that will resemble a charnel house, he swallows an opium ball to control his pain and his bowels, then “. . . feels the tightening in his buttocks and his testicles as war brings him into its full scrutiny.”

Thus, when his nurse and lover, the Chinese-Native American-Caucasian spy Era Tom, comes upon the mutilated corpses of two women murdered after a gang rape, “she moves closer and examines their fingernails. Under one woman’s nails she finds not skin but bits of cloth. The dark blue wool of Federal uniforms. It could have been the same troopers who escorted her here.” Yet she continues to spy for the Union.

Davenport has never been one to accept limitations, or abide by other’s people’s rules for what a part-Hawaiian, part-haole should write about. Her elan serves her well here, whether summoning the racial hysteria of the South coupled to its unyielding code of valor, or describing the endless carnage of the (painstaking recreated) battlefields. Her depiction of the lives of women during the war, as well as those of mixed race, goes some way towards remedying a century-long gap in the historical, fictional record.

The Spy Lover
Kiana Davenport

Thomas & Mercer, 2012, 300 pages, softcover, $14.95

Four More Years: Film Review of Middle of Nowhere by Ava DuVernay

from the Honolulu Weekly:

http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/11/four-more-years/

Four More Years

An African-American couple pay a high price for their dreams in Middle of Nowhere

BY DON WALLACE | NOV 28, 2012


The drama of a prisoner and the long-suffering woman/mother/child who waits for him was a cornerstone of the Depression–and Depression-era movies–when life was lived on the margins and the system created miscreants (see: Criminal, They Made Me A).

Indeed, my great-uncle, Robert Tasker, a convict at San Quentin in the early ‘30s, wrote chain-gang and jailhouse movies upon his release. Which sounds like a happy ending, but nobody was waiting for him when he got out; our family turned its back. Even in Hollywood he could never get prison behind him. He never got the credit and money he needed to be comfortable, and either committed suicide or was murdered at age forty-one.

With post-WWII prosperity, prison life became the stuff of subplots, character shading, even comedy. But now that we’re square in the middle of hard times again, here comes Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, screening at the Doris Duke Theatre [see Film Blurbs for showtimes]. With this elegant and emotionally resonant film, DuVernay became the first African-American to win Best Director at the Sundance Festival, an award well-deserved. She could well have taken Best Original Screenplay, too, from the way her story quietly but forcefully reverses expectations.

Pensively shot, quiet as a reverie in tone, Middle of Nowhere nevertheless doesn’t, ahem, take any prisoners. Derek (Omari Hardwick), the inmate/husband, definitely did something (we won’t know until the end). His wife, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), an exquisite beauty, believes in him and the Buppie life they once enjoyed. Over his objections, she gives up med school and works as a nurse, regularly visiting him in the penitentiary in desolate Victorville. Stretching herself to the limits of her strength, Ruby makes good on her promise for four long years, until the truth about where the money came from emerges in dribs and drabs that tell us as much about Ruby as they do Derek.

This is how it could happen to any of us, no matter what our skin color: the comfortable middle-class self-delusion, the overlooked infidelity, the easy decisions (Derek) and martyrdom (Ruby) we embrace to avoid having to choose our own future. But this is also an exacting portrait of contemporary African-American life. It’s not an inner city actioner like The Wire or Boyz n the Hood. Its maturity and steadiness bear comparison to L.A.’s great African-American cinematic poet, Charles Burnett.

Toward the end, when Ruby finds herself tentatively exploring life with a sensitive man who drives the bus on her route, she warns him she likes indie movies. “I can swing with subtitles,” he replies. Far from clashing with the previous scenes of barbed wire enclosures, pat searches and probation hearings, the affirmation of art in the lives of anyone, no matter what their social or economic status, lights up our understanding of what we see. It’s a daring moment that throws open the windows of the soul.

But the honesty of Nowhere ultimately asks a deeper question: what are our obligations to those we loved before the storm broke and tore our lives apart?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sex in the (Chinese) City: Film Review of Dangerous Liaisons

From the Honolulu Weekly:

http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/11/sex-and-the-chinese-city/

Sex and the (Chinese) City

Dangerous Liaisons slinks and vamps with abandon

BY DON WALLACE | NOV 21, 2012


A collision of West and East, the Chinese-made Dangerous Liaisons doesn’t run away from the -isms that typically imprison works of art in cages of politically determined rhetoric. With a wave of a cigarette holder, it pleads guilty of Orientalism, exoticism, Francophilism, gaze-ism and probably some others yet to be invented in the halls of academe.

Based on the fun-and-games epistolary novel of 1760s Versailles, since re-worked into a half-dozen plays and films, DL has proved enduringly popular. No matter what era the drama is set in–Versailles, 1950s suburbia, high school in Cruel Intentions–the girls and women of DL pop in and out of their corsets and underthings with the alacrity of quick-change artists.

This version, set in Shanghai in the 1930s, opens with Western music on the phonograph and Xie, a Chinese dandy (Jang Dong-Gun), standing before a mirror as his maid pops cufflinks through his ruffled French shirt. A young woman in Western dress arrives for what seems to be her first assignation with Xie, but there’s already a naked woman in his bed. While they fight he sips coffee and greets his grandmother, newly arrived with a pretty young widow (Zhang Ziyi) in tow. Next scene: a glamorous refugee relief benefit whose stunning society hostess, Mo, Xie’s friend-but-never-lover (Cecilia Cheung), asks Xie to sleep with the virgin fiancee (Candy Wang) of her last lover, who dumped her. I’ve left out a couple of romantic subplots here, but you get the idea. We’re on a carousel, the jaded are competing in seduction games and, eventually, that means they’ll get hurt, too.

Setting this version in Shanghai, however, is a stroke of genius. To Chinese patriots of the 1920s and 30s, whether Nationalist or Communist, Shanghai represented an ongoing humiliation by the West and Japan. The more vehement likened the city to a venereal disease on the body politic, which does give the sexual gamesmanship of DL a certain added piquancy. Previous versions of DL lacked a political context. This one plays smartly, showing how modern upper-class Chinese of the 1930s veered from Eastern to Western dress, culture and language.

In this case the tension that results makes this more than a very sexy story.

Hot Rod Lincoln: Film Review

From the Honolulu Weekly:

http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/11/hot-rod-lincoln/



Hot Rod Lincoln

Spielberg puts the pedal to the storytelling metal, recounting the race to end slavery

BY DON WALLACE | NOV 21, 2012


I don’t cotton much to biopics. Tuned into part of Gandhi once and thought I was watching a Speedo competition. And historical dramas I approach warily, because the actors all seem to be costumed from the same closet, the one filled with gowns and hose from Gone With the Wind–not just the gowns, but the puffed up, fruity accents. Mostly, it’s the actors. They exaggerate, they pontificate, they sound and look like a bunch of sixth-graders putting on Timon of Athens.

But then I remember The Last of the Mohicans and My Left Foot and realize: The cure for bad biopics and historicals is easy. Just cast Daniel Day-Lewis. That’s what Steven Spielberg has done for Lincoln, cut and pasted by playwright Tony Kushner from the archives of the most thoroughly discussed and annotated politician in history. (The credited source is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals.)

More politics may come as a surprise, but Lincoln is the perfect palate cleanser after the overwrought theatrics of the recent election. First, there are the coincidences, strong enough that Spielberg delayed release until after Nov. 6: a tall, skinny President from Illinois winning a highly contested re-election and immediately confronted with the necessity to take immediate action on a very unpopular piece of legislation–the Thirteenth Amendment, the one that outlaws slavery.

Second, there’s the authenticity, palpable as the Mannequin from Massachusetts was cardboard. Day-Lewis is Lincoln as recorded and reported, not some dry stick with a toothbrush beard walking on water on his way to a marble throne in the Memorial. That is to say, he’s revered–and reviled–as “Abe Africanus.” He’s a folksy storyteller whose shaggy dog tales always come to a succinct point, confounding more argumentative and (they flatter themselves) intelligent men. He’s conflicted–maybe freeing the slaves isn’t such a good idea if it prolongs the war’s slaughter and plunges his hysterically grieving wife into deeper depression over the prospect of their eldest son being killed in the field. He’s a president who declares martial law even while believing he may be doing so illegally, who suspends civil liberties and, when confronted with opposition in the chambers, can remind a wavering congressman that he is “mantled in the immense power of the executive.”

Day-Lewis embodies every creak and groan of a man holding himself together under inhuman pressures, yet who isn’t above getting on his hands and knees to put another lump of coal on the fire or let his youngest son climb onto his aching back for a ride up to bed. Best of all, we see Lincoln, not the actor within. For this they give Oscars.

The other star of the movie is Spielberg’s group portrait of the egotistical, invective-hurling orators and patronage seekers of our beloved Congress. Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson–talk about a team of rivals. At home in the White House, Sally Field gives it her Oscar-worthy all as the most controversial of all the First Ladies. Not least, grounding us, is the muddy palate and historically accurate vision of life under wartime in the Capitol and its environs.

Lincoln is meaty and yeasty, an ideal Thanksgiving entree for the whole ‘ohana. That it comes at a good time to reflect on the fragility of our precious union does not have to be said–but even so, here’s a nudge. Go with your favorite Tea Partier, the one who passes you the gravy even as he calls you a “taker.” Uplift never felt so good. It may even help you forget how much you ate.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Critique of Pure Unreason: The Republican Election Failure in its Own Words

A Critique of Pure Unreason: The Republican Election Failure in its Own Words



Sorry to see this election cycle come to a close? Hungry for one last fix? Then let’s saddle up for a ride into the valley of post-mortem analysis.

My right-wing friends and every conservative columnist of note had called for a Romney landslide in complete opposition to what the polls were saying. I didn’t think these opinions were sustainable on a carbon-based planet, but couldn’t shake that disquieted feeling that maybe they were right. Maybe, as they said, we were deluded, our brains weakened by dependence on the state for every breath and mouthful we take.

That’s why, like most, I found the quick calling of the election both surprising and yet still worrying. Like a lot of Democrats, I still recall that the moment the 2000 election was called for Al Gore a furious Karl Rove and the Bush team made calls to Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Registrar Katherine Harris ordering them to reverse the state’s announcement of a Gore win by any means necessary. Meanwhile, a mob of Republican operatives (which the news media called “outraged citizens”) from Miami-Dade County stormed the precinct and prevented any further vote-counting. We know how that turned out.

Revolutionary Commander Rove indeed made a sputtering, apoplectic appearance on Fox News when they joined the other networks in calling the election. Ohio would surprise, he insisted. Ohio would open the path for a Romney victory. And (we now know) Romney aides and lawyers were preparing to fly to various states, many with Republican governors like Jeb Bush, and to contest the results. But as state after swing state continued to show a persistent blue tint with urban centers still to report, the fear faded. Rove was shunted off the air—at Fox!

The morning after, like any fan of a winning team that has just won the big contest, I visited my own favorite media and websites first. But it wasn’t enough. So I visited the Facebook pages of my conservative friends, I suppose to gloat. There I found out just what they (and their like-minded friends who commented) thought of us Obama voters. Republicans on FB tend to vent without hesitation in ways that I would think twice about, if only because of what some future employer or troll might dredge up, or Drudge up, about me.

Not conservatives. It seems to me that they vent unedited because they think they are of the owner class, and that all owners think like them (indeed, how could they not?) and, by corollary, it doesn’t matter that we others read what they think of us--because we are employees, serfs, or worse, welfare queens. Who cares what we think? We in the gimme-gimme class are born of ignorance and venality (that is to say, of single Democratic mothers). Our main purpose in life is to serve Them and, at supper time, to sit on the floor beneath the table keeping our mouths open for any crumbs. And not to forget to say, “Thank you, sire!”

After awhile I wearied of lurking on my friends’ pages and ventured off into the conservative media. The Wall Street Journal was too bland, having already figured out that this Romney chap didn’t have the right stuff—on election morning they actually ran a front-page piece entitled “The World Will Not End...” You can bet it won’t, not until the stock exchange fails to open.

The National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, raised my hopes. We took it at home when I was a kid, and I read it cover to cover. Today I read it for what I do not know, but I was done gloating. I wanted a sense of this group of Americans so divorced from reality. As I scanned the lead articles and editor’s note I found a surprising concurrence of opinion, and even more surprising, an acceptance that they’d gone off the tracks somehow. The GOP had not run a reality-based campaign, but they weren’t shirking from the corpse on the table.

I was reassured. Wishing didn’t make it so: The NR now accepted this. They accepted the demographics of the vote. They concluded that they had to broaden the party and widen its base by rethinking some of their more extreme and off-putting positions. On the whole, I like my country to be rational.

But in the comments on these articles the true divide in the Republican Party surfaced. While there were many who accepted the blame for defeat on behalf of the more virulent social conservatives and Tea Party fanatics, the latter, however, did not accept at all that they shared any blame. No, the problem was, the party and Romney had veered too far Left-Center. If there was any blame, it attached to the American people.

So what kind of people are we, in the eyes of the Right? The following are cherry-picked from the comments page of the NR. In order of appearance, most recent first:

The GOP? We have nothing to offer barbarians and prostitutes and keep our standards.
**
The only solution maybe in moving to states like Oklahoma, becoming new Pilgrims, escaping tyranny.
**
Nobody has the courage to call last night what it really was.... a coup-de-etat.
**
No one is listening. Too many voters are venal, corrupt, or imbeciles. All the institutions that control information flows are run by Leftists. The schools turn out whole generations whose mental filters and vocabularies, if not attitudes, are Leftist.
**
It is a fact that Democrats appeal to the worst in people (greed, envy, sloth, etc.) while we have to appeal to the best (independence and self-reliance, plus an unwillingness to steal what our neighbors produce).
**
This is Zimbabwe. Just for your information, the Chinese believe that America will become a failed state. Not so long ago, a Russian author stated in an article that America will disintegrate!
**
Sad fact is that the deviants have taken over America. Yup, you heard me right. The social issues and fiscal issues are all tied up together. Deviants want to steal ... so they take my money for food stamps they don't need. Deviants want to destroy religion ... so they force religious institutions to fund abortion.

Deviants want all the sex they can have, with anyone they want, with not only no consequences, but also the approbation of the state. Thus, they push for free birth control, abortion on demand and gay marriage.

Deviants want to get high and feel no pain, again with no consequences. So they push for legalizing not only marijuana, but hard drugs.

Deviants want to lay around and be entertained by the idiot box. They want to collect a check for existing, while spending my hard-earned tax dollars on Nikes and fake nails. All the while, demonizing small business owners like me for earning something that they don't have.

Deviance is destroying America.
**
NATIONAL REVIEW CENSORS
.......spiking all things Governor Palin is what got Mitt in the LOSERS SEAT!
DEAL WITH IT
**
Message to Bibi Netanyahu, ALWAYS bet on Black...
**

The last comment, and the one about Zimbabwe, were the only ones to dwell on President Obama’s race in a way I found disgraceful. Many dwelt on the racial and gender composition of his support—nothing wrong with that. I would’ve extended an olive branch to the Right readers of the NR for their restraint after a four-year campaign of daily race-coded jocularity, except that I noticed a couple of commentators complained of the NR censors. Uh-huh. Somebody has to keep the brand clean for the next go-round.

So in the end, besides the tendency to believe in our home team, what was really up with the months of loudly proclaimed delusion? I believe I found the answer in the example of Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter who likes to appear to be the voice of reason, above the common fray, full of patrician benevolence until she goes for the jugular.

Noonan lost it this election cycle. Something about Obama, whom she greeted in a gracious column at his inaugural, fried her circuits. Maybe it was the way Democrats found Reagan so infuriating—remember the “Teflon President”? Maybe she just felt that after four years he was now safe to attack by any means necessary. But she lost control of her tone in several columns. She went on about his skin color, his personality, alleging the sorts of twitches and tics we associate with a nervous breakdown. Not very Peggy of you, Noonan! Maybe she’d heard criticism on the Right that she’d fallen for The Anointed One, as so many conservatives love to call Obama.

Anyway, her column the day before the election was a pure draft of delusion, wrapped in the kind of aspirational rhetoric you hear in catechism class: dreamy piety, angels singing, martyrs ascending. A big-hearted gift to the Mormon candidate, squaring him with the Catholic vote, if there still is such a thing. (There wasn’t—they went 50% for Obama.)

Think I’m overwriting? Here’s Noonan on Mitt in his last days: "In some new way he’s caught his stride. He looks happy and grateful. His closing speech has been positive, future-looking, sweetly patriotic. His closing ads are sharp—the one about what’s going on at the rallies is moving. All the vibrations are right."

“Vibrations”? You got to love that groovy turn of phrase from the squarest lady in town. But she knows you have to speak the language of the new generation to win their hearts and minds. She does it with a wink, though.

For the religious voters, evangelicals included, she speaks in a different tongue: "...what’s happening with them is quiet, unreported and spreading: They really want Romney now, they’ll go out and vote, the election has taken on a new importance to them. There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not."

Yes, and all good Republicans go to heaven. But that’s not all. It’s a secret among the faithful that while the Democrats worship the Golden Calf, the guy with the tablets is on his way down the mountain. As Noonan says, again in the language of pure faith and hence, unreason: "Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us."

Keep your eyes on God and heaven, children. She echoes the language of the Middle Ages, when the strategy of the Church was to keep the lower orders illiterate and unconnected to their fate, focused instead on the eternal life. Which is the language of Romney the private equity capitalist is you swap in “money” for “god”: Money is eternal, honoring Money (and Markets, the churches of Money) is the path, and there are no worries, mate, about your share of the Money as long as you let Mitt and his Disciples run the show. Just don’t question your lot. That’s class warfare. And Noonan and the upper classes really dislike that phrase. It tends to rile the servants.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Films to Try Our Souls: Devil's Dosh, Nuclear Savages, The Land of Em

http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/10/films-to-try-our-souls/ Lucky you live Hawai‘i, eh, and not Bikini, Eniwetak or the other Marshalls? Films to Try Our Souls Don’t miss two films about the Marshall Islands (and Hawai‘i’s latest immigrants) plus a short long on British traditional violence BY DON WALLACE | OCT 10, 2012 Location truly is everything: Need an island paradise just north of the tropics (to avoid that pesky mosquito-borne malaria) and accessible by Boeing 707, the first tourist jet aircraft? Here’s Hawaii for your profit and pleasure. Need a remote atoll to test atomic and hydrogen bombs, out of sight and mind? Try the Marshalls, just down the block and to the left. Don’t bother to knock: Just walk right in and make yourself at home. Of such twists of fate are tragedies, and documentaries, made. To find out what became of the poisoned Marshalls and their poisoned people after 67 detonations, Adam Horowitz began, back in 1986, to shoot film and take notes for his documentary Nuclear Savage. This is part of our local legacy now, thanks to the Federal Government expressing some shame at last and agreeing to give the Marshallese unfettered immigration and free healthcare. First stop, naturally, is Hawaii; and so, apparently, is last stop. (And the government appropriated no money for health care, after all, so the state is stuck with it.) A portrait of a Marshallese community on the Big Island, The Land of Eb is a fictional film by Andrew Williamson that uses real people, including lead actor/producer Jonithen Jackson, to create a documentary-like tragedy about one family’s life in Kau’s Ocean View Estates. Nobody gets off easy; and, by the way, that locally-sourced coffee you’re savoring is implicated, too. These films explain why, like it or not, our island fates are now entwined. (Showtimes: Nuclear Savage: Thu., 10/18, 9:15 p.m., Dole Cannery C; The Land of Eb: Sun.,10/14, 6:30 p.m., Dole Cannery B; 10/21, 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery D.) Another kind of savagery is on brilliant display in The Devil’s Dosh, which reveals the dark Satanic mill of the sex industry in charming old Liverpool. Notwithstanding that Zachary Guerra’s debut is, at 28 minutes long, one of the shorter films in the Hawaii International Film Festival lineup, it is one of the best made in terms of storytelling, cinematography and set design. Set in a slum bordello in a time that may be the early 1900s, it seems lit by gaslight, so that its scenes take place in cozy gold-hued snow globes. The characters are bordello types: the girls, the punters (as the English call johns), the cruel male enforcer, the even crueler mada and her cringing teenage son, Marcus, who takes the first step toward his destiny as an infamous crime lord. At the swirling, Dickensian start you might think you’re in for a risque Downton Abbey, sexy titillation spiced with a touch of Jack the Ripper. But what Guerra has written and directed with extraordinary panache is a nightmare of Bruegelian proportions, no sooner setting up our expectations for a little leisurely jaunt in a more golden age than bludgeoning them in one scene after another, so that there is no chance to catch your breath or change your mind before sensing the doors close behind you. What Guerra is saying about sexual exploitation and the society in which it thrives goes well beyond morality, approaching forensics. He makes his point through violence, but not the easy, ironic kind of a Tarantino or a slasher flick; he makes it sickening. But if we look away, it feels dishonest, as if we’re asking for a little sugar to sprinkle on our voyeuristic fantasies. The Devil’s Dosh is constructed as an invitation to financial backers or even Hollywood for the wherewithal to flesh itself out into full length feature. It deserves that; but delivers lethality in this smaller dose, perhaps a refraction of former Kaneohe-based Navy pilot Guerra’s experience in the Iraq War. (Screening Oct. 12 at 5:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery F.)

Argo: True Escapism - Film Review Honolulu Weekly

http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/10/true-escapism/ True Escapism Argo is the story of how the CIA created a fake movie company to spirit Americans out of revolutionary Iran BY DON WALLACE | OCT 24, 2012 After being surrounded by a mob of shouting protesters, a U.S. embassy is stormed and overwhelmed. That’s one real-life parallel the filmmakers didn’t intend for Argo, a sort-of-true story about six Americans escaping revolutionary Iran in 1979. But with the death of Ambassador Stevens in Libya still making news, the 30-year-old story leaps into relevance–although that same too-close-for-comfort vibe may cause moviegoers looking for Saturday night entertainment to pass. They shouldn’t. This is a taut, visually compelling and unexpectedly funny thriller that once again shows Ben Affleck to be a director of passion and panache. It’s surreal to think that, faced with a rapidly deteriorating situation in Tehran and 52 American hostages held for eventual trial and punishment, including possible execution, the CIA and Canada would come up with a plan to “exfiltrate” the six as part of a Hollywood film crew scouting a Star Wars-knockoff. But Affleck and writer Chris Terrio didn’t make it up, though they have streamlined the story into the familiar three-act formula. The Hollywood angle is a gift Affleck doesn’t waste, casting John Goodman as the make-up artist (whose work really did include Planet of the Apes and CIA disguises) and Alan Arkin as the real Hollywood producer who agrees to front the fake production. Throughout, their comic interplay is sublime, a pair of old pros pulling one over on the town where everyone is a liar and a charlatan. Affleck, as the CIA “exfil” specialist whose idea this is, gets a quick education in the film world; Affleck the director creates scenes that would test our credulity, if only this weren’t Hollywood. Argo is similarly scrupulous (in a Hollywood way) with its portrayal of the period and the crisis. The opening sequence sets the tone and deftly brings the audience up to speed, and once the mob storms the embassy, the pace never lets up. The film’s greatest flaw is, ironically, one that a Hollywood producer unconcerned with the truth wouldn’t hesitate to change–setting the climactic escape in an airport security checkpoint. Where are the black helicopters, the drones, the fireballs and SEAL Team Six? Then again, anyone who has tried to board an airplane these days will surely sympathize.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Gospel of Steve Jobs: Review of The Lost Interview

The Gospel of Steve Jobs The Lost Interview reveals Apple’s prophet on the eve of his greatest comeback BY DON WALLACE | AUG 15, 2012 THE HONOLULU WEEKLY Who is Philo T. Farnsworth? That few know or care to find out illustrates the difference between a technology prophet and a marketing genius who happens to work in tech. Raised in a log cabin in Utah, Farnsworth, at age 14, read a bunch of early electronics magazines and sketched out the principles and design of television. By his 21st birthday he’d produced a working version. His inventions and patents are still used, but he never got rich and died destitute. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was raised in affluent Palo Alto, bicycling as a boy past the labs of such technology powerhouses as Stanford University, Hewlett-Packard, Fairchild and Shockley Semiconductor and Xerox PARC. As a teenager he visited all of them. In high school he worked in an electronics store, where he ordered a kit computer (the only kind then available to the consumer) and with a pal decided to assemble the kits and sell them. It took Jobs awhile to figure out that you needed a markup to make any money. Once he did, though, the legendary founder of Apple was on his way to fame and glory and, upon his death earlier this year, virtual deification. The Lost Interview, so named because the master tape was lost after a single excerpt appeared on a local television screening in 1995, gives us Jobs explaining himself and his beliefs without mediation or talking-head translation. I approached it skeptically–why would the Doris Duke Theatre want to present what was basically an unadorned 72-minute TV show?–and came away provoked and unexpectedly touched. Here is the dethroned King, 10 years after being humiliated and forced out of Apple by the Pepsi-Cola CEO John Scully, whose boneheaded leadership has put the company 60 days away from bankruptcy. Nobody, including Jobs, has any idea that within a year he will return to Apple. The man speaking is Lear without his kingdom, Napoleon on Elba. Yet he’s not bitter (though his remarks about Scully are priceless examples of the gentle art of verbal murder). He’s inspired and wry and, as the show progresses, more and more mind-boggling. What drives him, even in exile, is not at all what you think–despite all the thousands of words and programs devoted to his life and achievements. Jobs was not a coder, not an engineer, and, despite having his name on over 300 patents (all shared with engineers and designers), not a true inventor. And he’s okay with that. What drives him, what emerges again and again, in his life and his words in this film, is coolness. Not wearing-the-right-jeans coolness. Not even gotta-have-the-It-gadget coolness, though that is what makes Apple products so popular and profitable. Jobs (and his partner, Steve Wozniak) simply had a yen for the way things work, particularly if they could be used in subversive and daring ways. They liked making things happen–even if it took breaking the law (as in their earliest product, a phone hacking device), especially if it meant disrupting and destroying an entire industry that wasn’t in your purview (the iPod). I won’t give away the single thing that Jobs says drives him, because it comes near the end of a very entertaining journey. If you want to start a company, create anything, raise kids for the 21st century, ponder where the future is taking us, you’ll want to take the trip. And when future generations ask the Philo Farnsworth question about Steve Jobs, the best answer will be found in these 72 minutes.

Films to Try Our Souls: Reviews of Devil's Dosh, The Land of Eb, and Nuclear Savage

FROM THE HONOLULU WEEKLY: Films to Try Our Souls Don’t miss two films about the Marshall Islands (and Hawai‘i’s latest immigrants) plus a short long on British traditional violence BY DON WALLACE | OCT 10, 2012 Location truly is everything: Need an island paradise just north of the tropics (to avoid that pesky mosquito-borne malaria) and accessible by Boeing 707, the first tourist jet aircraft? Here’s Hawaii for your profit and pleasure. Need a remote atoll to test atomic and hydrogen bombs, out of sight and mind? Try the Marshalls, just down the block and to the left. Don’t bother to knock: Just walk right in and make yourself at home. Of such twists of fate are tragedies, and documentaries, made. To find out what became of the poisoned Marshalls and their poisoned people after 67 detonations, Adam Horowitz began, back in 1986, to shoot film and take notes for his documentary Nuclear Savage. This is part of our local legacy now, thanks to the Federal Government expressing some shame at last and agreeing to give the Marshallese unfettered immigration and free healthcare. First stop, naturally, is Hawaii; and so, apparently, is last stop. (And the government appropriated no money for health care, after all, so the state is stuck with it.) A portrait of a Marshallese community on the Big Island, The Land of Eb is a fictional film by Andrew Williamson that uses real people, including lead actor/producer Jonithen Jackson, to create a documentary-like tragedy about one family’s life in Kau’s Ocean View Estates. Nobody gets off easy; and, by the way, that locally-sourced coffee you’re savoring is implicated, too. These films explain why, like it or not, our island fates are now entwined. (Showtimes: Nuclear Savage: Thu., 10/18, 9:15 p.m., Dole Cannery C; The Land of Eb: Sun.,10/14, 6:30 p.m., Dole Cannery B; 10/21, 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery D.) Another kind of savagery is on brilliant display in The Devil’s Dosh, which reveals the dark Satanic mill of the sex industry in charming old Liverpool. Notwithstanding that Zachary Guerra’s debut is, at 28 minutes long, one of the shorter films in the Hawaii International Film Festival lineup, it is one of the best made in terms of storytelling, cinematography and set design. Set in a slum bordello in a time that may be the early 1900s, it seems lit by gaslight, so that its scenes take place in cozy gold-hued snow globes. The characters are bordello types: the girls, the punters (as the English call johns), the cruel male enforcer, the even crueler mada and her cringing teenage son, Marcus, who takes the first step toward his destiny as an infamous crime lord. At the swirling, Dickensian start you might think you’re in for a risque Downton Abbey, sexy titillation spiced with a touch of Jack the Ripper. But what Guerra has written and directed with extraordinary panache is a nightmare of Bruegelian proportions, no sooner setting up our expectations for a little leisurely jaunt in a more golden age than bludgeoning them in one scene after another, so that there is no chance to catch your breath or change your mind before sensing the doors close behind you. What Guerra is saying about sexual exploitation and the society in which it thrives goes well beyond morality, approaching forensics. He makes his point through violence, but not the easy, ironic kind of a Tarantino or a slasher flick; he makes it sickening. But if we look away, it feels dishonest, as if we’re asking for a little sugar to sprinkle on our voyeuristic fantasies. The Devil’s Dosh is constructed as an invitation to financial backers or even Hollywood for the wherewithal to flesh itself out into full length feature. It deserves that; but delivers lethality in this smaller dose, perhaps a refraction of former Kaneohe-based Navy pilot Guerra’s experience in the Iraq War. (Screening Oct. 12 at 5:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery F.)

Monday, April 02, 2012

A BCS-style Rating for Short Story Publications Ranks Magazines, Quarterlies

The Bowl Games here being inclusion in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prizes and PEN/O.Henry Awards, the Barlow Literary Agency (who dat?) has come up with the following:

http://www.barlowliterary.com/?p=172

Unfortunately, this will likely cause the magazines here, already overburdened with submissions, impossible to crack for new authors.

I also think the sampling will turn out to be so random as to be meaningless or obvious to the point of meaninglessness.

But still, why not enjoy it for what it is?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Isn't It Good? Review of Norwegian Wood

This first appeared in The Honolulu Weekly:
http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/03/isn%E2%80%99t-it-good/


Watching Norwegian Wood and writing about it call upon two different and opposed parts of the brain.

Writing Mind says: A Japanese Love Story (with suicides). Yoko Ono’s revenge on Paul McCarthy. Coitus, Interrupted.

Art-Film-Watching Mind says: Look at the landscape. Bare winter trees. Lush parks with rain-showers that bring lovers together under willow trees. A remote sanctuary in snowy mountains reachable by a narrow goatpath. Oh, and chanting blue-helmeted student protestors who storm campus streets only to vanish like falling petals in the rain.

It’s better to split the difference. Give in to each influence, but don’t let either win out. Accept that Norwegian Wood is going to be personal, like a Rorschach test. Like an Escher print, it induces alternate-take perceptions throughout the course of its meandering, willfully passive journey.

The story starts off being about a trio of inseparable childhood friends but we’re quickly down to two. After a separation of a year the two who are left, Watanabe and Naoko, meet by chance and tentatively fall in love. But the departed one’s presence hovers. Not as a ghost, but as a symptom of clinical depression and sexual disfunction.

Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name, Norwegian Wood is directed by Tran Ahn Hung in a state of post-adolescent suspension in which voice-overs and time-frames overlap. Sometimes you catch the slippage into stylized tableaux–like the weeping willows, or the mountainous monastery/sanitorium where Naoko retreats–and suspect you’re being played for a sap by scenes that come right out of The Old Orientalist’s Playbook.

Other mood-shifts are more original, as in the moment I realized the same rock ‘n’ roll band had been warming up for a year in Watanabe’s college student union but we’d yet to hear a song. (The atmospheric guitar soundtrack is by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.) Protestors sweep past, but Watanabe in Love wanders unnoticing and unnoticed. In this story, the personal is apolitical.

Compared to Watanabe, the fierce uniformed brigades of student protestors, better regimented than the police they face, look like cowards for being afraid to be individuals. You know they can’t look inward, nor can Watanabe’s one male friend, a louche Don Juan. Yet Watanabe listens to his heart and takes the risk that doing so will ruin his life. Even when nothing makes sense to Watanabe and he has every right to feel that he’s being conned and abused, not to mention losing the universal 20-something’s right to wallow in sex, drugs and rock ʻn roll, he listens. Even when Naoko is obviously doomed, and he’s losing the other possible love of his life, Midori, he listens.

Unlike much of romantic literature, from The Sorrows of Young Werther to our current vampire franchises, Norwegian Wood courts unpopularity by addressing sexual and psychological issues in a frank and unglamorous way. What Hurakami and Hung are portraying is that shape-shifting time in our lives when we’re unable to quite grow up and, therefore, in danger of slipping back down into a bog of narcissism and “lovesickness.” They don’t think it’s grand that the doomed lovers are being called to complete the unspoken pact initiated by their departed friend. Unlike much Japanese literature and film, they quietly champion life over death.

If Watanabe’s choices in the film amount to a quiet “yes,” it feels like a win for us all.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Surfing: It's a Black Thing

This appeared in the Feb 29 edition of The Honolulu Weekly:
http://honoluluweekly.com/film/current-film/2012/02/surfing-it%E2%80%99s-a-black-thing/

“Charlie don’t surf!” was the mad Colonel’s cry in Apocalypse Now. Today, the same shorthand applies to African-Americans. Black people don’t surf. Or swim. Their bodies have less buoyancy. It’s a white people’s thing.

Of all these stereotypes, only the last would be hooted out of the lineup in multi-racial Hawaii. But for director Ted Woods and the team behind the 2011 documentary White Wash–premiering tonight at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts–demolishing such shibboleths is a crusade with benefits. White Wash is not just about surfing and not just about race, but about the joy-in-nature that is the genius of the sport.

White Wash’s message is that such joy is incompatible with hate, despite the localism that can shake a surfer’s faith on any given outing. The film’s swift pacing allows a stunning string of jarring juxtapositions: We leap from archival footage of brutal assaults on blacks at beaches to lush contemporary surf footage to funky North Shore hangouts, all underscored by a thumping good soundtrack by Black Thought and The Roots. Surfing’s brash challenge culture turns out to be a good match for the civil rights movement: Both share an impulse to call out bullshit where they see it. Having Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and surf historian Sam George making the calls, along with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., historians, sociologists and Bruce Wigo, president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, totally amp the righteous vibe.

But White Wash is much more than feel-good call-and-response. The history here is revisionist and risible: Surfing is a black thing (early slave traders reported surfing in Ghana, Hawaiians were classified as black in the American slave economy, Duke Kahanamoku was met with racial hostility on his tours). Black people did swim like everyone else (until slavers and plantation owners made it taboo, punishable by public drowning, to prevent escapes). Blacks do like the beach (but were banned from beaches all over the South and especially in Southern California, the birthplace of modern surfing, until the late 1950s).

The black surfers interviewed don’t make any predictions for a Michael Jordan of surfing, and more to the point, say they don’t need one. They just want to surf. But if the history of the sport tells us anything, it’s that a single champion can arise from any ethnic group despite statistical evidence of its impossibility. Arthur Ashe broke through in tennis, Tiger Woods in golf. The high-performance shredding approach to surfing owes a lot to Buttons Kaluhiokalani, who is part black. The Kahuna said to Gidget, “Girls don’t surf.” And so on. The moral? Don’t listen to experts. Especially when we live in a time when a Chinese kid from Palo Alto can make NBA history in two short weeks.

Elevate and Being Elmo also screen this week at the Doris Duke. The former follows a group of really tall Senegalese teens who are groomed at a special academy for entry into US prep schools. It’s easy to love the young men and to care about their fates, but the heart of the film is a celebration of a cynical meat market. Nobody questions a system that has corrupted high school and college sports beyond repair. Director Anne Buford includes scenes that infer the quid pro quo that produces an I-20 visa and a shot at the American Dream. But she never follows the money, or even pretends to care.

Being Elmo makes up for all that, brimming over with love as its namesake does. The puppeteers behind Sesame Street and The Muppets, who gave a kid from Baltimore’s “Chocolate City,” Kevin Clash, a chance to join their eccentric guild, love the young sock-puppet prodigy who invented Elmo’s cuddly persona; he adores and reveres them. Through cameos of the world of early children’s television, the film also serves as a testament to the best years of all of our lives. Pack extra-strength hankies.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Will Publishing End Up With Just 2 Houses: Amazon and B&N?

Well hell, the word is ending somewhere, for someone, every single day.

I just read articles in the NY Times, Bloomberg News, Harper's and The Author's Guild that tend to support the notion that This Is It For Publishing. The wolf is at the door and it's hungry. Those are death rattles you here, etc. Here's the link for Businessweek/Bloomberg:

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/amazons-hit-man-01252012.html

There's blame to go around, but Harper's traces it back to 1981 and Milton Friedman's Chicago School of Economics that gave us our free market/job destruction model, including trickle-down and privatization of basic things like water and transport. (So, thanks, Milton. Why didn't you just go run Chile with Pinochet?)

Okay, the takeaway: like newspapers. Yeah, look at the carnage. Feels familiar to where we were 10 years ago and the loss of classifieds to the internet hit the news industry like Dutch Elm disease.

Flash forward 10 years. Most papers are gone. Only one I read that's any good without a paywall is the LA Times and we know that won't last. But... Now the NYT paywall is working, sez NPR yesterday, hooray. The numbers are mingy, but at last the executives realize you can't give it away. The readers who will go elsewhere now have nowhere to go, unless it's to free cheap delights, which means they're not NYT people anyway.

Key observation: know your audience.

I can only find 7 things to read on the web--the NYT (restricted by paywall), WSJ (ditto), LA Times, Slate, The Atlantic and The New Republic (both thin online reads, but daily refreshed), and Tyler Cowen's economic aggregator blog, Marginal Revolution (he finds or gets great stuff). There's more out there, but I don't search for it or track it. The Guardian, Salon, etc. I do get an email blast from The Rumpus. He's got staying power, even if I need to take a shower afterwards.

Then there's my professional, ha, researches in the literary field. Not much going on in a daily basis at McSweeney's and its adjuncts. I keep forgetting the others, not a good sign. So where does this leave us?

And that was my last thought: B&N is now the distributor of traditional publishing, Amazon the rising Mafia that's snapping up all the channels and throwing nets of legal language around authors. Both B&N and Amazon are also publishers--but Amazon is going into it bigtime.

I think publishing is about to converge if the FCC will let it (who knows?). We will have two publishers left standing: B&N and Amazon. Just as the Big Six ate 40 imprints by 1983, we're heading to the Big Two. That will mean fewer authors-with-advances-and-marketing support, fewer new authors breaking out, and factories like James Patterson churning out more schlock with the help of hired elves.

Those of us who read the more literary stuff will be left on the outside looking in. To which the answer may be best borrowed from Billie Holliday:

God Bless the child that's got his own.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lost Kingdom by Julia Flynn Siler, Q&A and review

This appeared in The Honolulu Weekly:

The Queen’s Speech
BY DON WALLACE | JAN 25, 2012

As the principals of The Descendants prepare to stroll down Oscar’s red carpet, and the 119th anniversary of Queen Liliuokalani’s overthrow is observed, a major and masterful new book about Hawaii hits the shelves. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure, is big, scholarly and highly readable. In it, Julia Flynn Siler traces the shady land transactions, the snares of debt and the extra-legal maneuvers that strangled the Hawaiian nation in its crib. Scrupulously fair-minded, she also doesn’t spare the monarchy, the alii and the court advisors their follies, such as King Kalakaua’s attempt to seize Samoa with a one-ship navy. But the cool telling and preponderance of evidence leave no doubt in the reader’s mind where the blame, and shame, ultimately belong.


This is a deeply researched book, filled with illuminating details. Can you describe some of your discoveries?

JFS In the four years I spent researching and writing this book, I tracked down pages from the royal cashbooks detailing loans to King David Kalakaua from Claus Spreckels, the Gilded Age tycoon known as the “Sugar King.” The king’s indebtedness was one of the reasons that his sister, Liliuokalani, ended up in such a difficult position when she ascended to the throne in 1891. I also found letters and other documents that offered glimpses of Liliu’s personality–her moments of scolding her sister for being flirtatious and her wifely pique at her husband for not picking up the fish she wanted, for example, as well as her diary entries which recorded the hot anger she felt at the white men who held her captive in her own palace.

Any other surprises?

JFS At the Bishop Museum archives, I found a page that Liliu had torn from the Book of Psalms. She had written in pencil: “‘Iolani Palace. Jan 16th 1895. Am imprisoned in this room (the South east corner) by the Government of the Hawaiian Republic. For the attempt of the Hawaiian people to regain what had been wrested from them by the children of the missionaries who first brought the Word of God to my people.” Finding that yellowed page, which she had presumably torn out of the Bible and written on during the first night of her imprisonment after a failed counter-coup, gave me chicken skin.

What were other influential sources?

JFS Meeting David Forbes, who is a leading bibliographer of Hawaiian history, influenced the shape of my book. He’d recently finished a many-year project to collect and transcribe every letter and document he could find involving members of the Hawaiian royal family. He gave me early access to that collection, which he’d generously donated to the Hawaii State Archives. Some of those letters have never been published before.

In the Wall Street Journal, you recently wrote about the legal issues underlying The Descendants.

JFS The filmmakers reached out to University of Hawaii law professor Randall W. Roth and others to drill down on the legal issues underlying the plot. Roth provided guidance on trust law to the filmmakers, particularly on the somewhat arcane subject of the rule against perpetuities. It’s a key point in the plot. Matt King and the other descendants of a Hawaiian princess and haole banker have inherited a piece of land, which is held in trust. They must decide whether to sell it because the trust itself, under the rule, must be wound down by a set date.

Can you comment on parallels between 1893 and now? An economic depression. Gambling on the legislative agenda. The economy dependent on sugar then, tourism now. The American military presence growing.

JFS Interesting comparison. Do you think we’re heading towards a new “Committee of Safety”?

Maybe the fruition of the old one. Was Liliuokalani handed a similar bum set of cards to Obama’s in 2009?

JFS No doubt, they both faced serious challenges when they took power. The difference is that Queen Liliuokalani was set up to fail in almost every respect, while President Obama, who entered office inheriting two wars and a global economic crisis that threatened to topple the US financial system, also had powerful political momentum on his side and a strong electoral mandate. Although President Obama’s critics would surely like to stage a coup against him, he’s still in office and may be again for another four years.

When Liliuokalani attended Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee, you say she was influenced by the lavish spectacle and the power and respect accorded this tiny woman at the center of the world’s greatest empire. Did she recognize Victoria’s position as largely symbolic?

JFS Queen Liliuokalani combined a western view of the somewhat limited role of a constitutional monarch with the ancient Hawaiian reverence for the alii–the high chiefs who held absolute power over the commoners. The view of the kingdom’s largely white business class was that she should just be a figurehead. She hoped to restore some semblance of real power to her position by introducing a new constitution in January of 1893–a move that became a pretext for her overthrow.

Was there ever a chance Hawaii would emerge a sovereign nation from the colonial squeeze play between Great Britain, America and Germany?

JFS Sadly, I think that was unlikely, given its strategic position in the Pacific. It was only a matter of time before it was swallowed up by a superpower. As the prescient nineteenth-century Hawaiian historian, David Malo, predicted, “they will eat us up, such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been gobbled up.”

How disastrous was King Kalakaua’s military adventurism in Samoa?

JFS It was a public relations disaster for him–his enemies turned it into a propaganda victory against him and the Hawaiian monarchy. But considering the energetic empire-building that was going on in the rest of the world at the time, it was truly a small matter.

How significant was Liliu’s talk of beheading the plotters of the Overthrow?

JFS The challenge of writing history is that you can’t ask your subjects to explain themselves. In this case, her statement about having her enemies “beheaded” was in the form of a conversation she’d had with a US envoy. That envoy then wrote down his dialogue with the queen in a memorandum and Liliuokalani signed it, attesting to its truth. Here were her words as reported in the memorandum: “There are certain laws of my government by which I shall abide. My decision would be, as the law directs, that such persons should be beheaded and their property confiscated to the Government.” My guess is that she spoke out of anger because she later retracted what she’d said. However, just as her brother’s Samoan misadventure was used against him, Liliu’s angry words were used against her.

As author of a book about America’s first family of wine, the Mondavis, do you see similarities to the Spreckels sugar family?

JFS Both in their talent for business and their passionate disagreements with each other, the Spreckels were the nineteenth century version of the Mondavis.

Do you see a parallel between the Mondavi sibling rivalries and those among the Hawaiian royal lines leading up to the Overthrow?

JFS Yes, there are parallels. But I challenge you to name a single dynasty–royal or otherwise–where there aren’t sibling rivalries or succession issues. These conflicts just seem to be part of human nature, though they stand out more clearly in cases where the families are powerful.

The Flowers of War, film review

This appeared in The Honolulu Weekly:

Band of Sisters
Zhang directs a visual stunner
BY DON WALLACE | JAN 25, 2012


Set during the 1937 Japanese siege of Nanking, The Flowers of War pivots around two groups of very different Chinese women who must rely on the stereotypical drunken Western rogue male, played by Christian Bale, to rescue them from a fate worse than death. Given that one group is a band of famous whores, the Ladies of the Qin Huai River’s Jade Paradise, and the second consists of a dozen helpless convent girls, you might think we’re in for some mildly titillating banter, a scary moment or two, sealed by a chaste kiss.

Instead, this is one crazy kitschy bloody lollapalooza, comparable to Katherine Bigelow’s Point Break in its staging of can-you-top-this scenes. Filmed in High-Steven-Spielberg-Definition so that you experience battle in all its gory verisimilitude, Flowers raises the stakes by tackling its most disturbing issue head-on. The threat of gang rape hangs over the convent girls the entire time, and not every girl escapes with her virginity intact, or her life. Think of Madeleinethe Orpheline with a Dragon Tattoo vibe–if you can stand it.

So that’s a warning for the faint of heart. This reviewer was no stranger to the Nanking atrocity, having stumbled on photos in an old Time-Life book on my grandparents’ shelves when I was eight or nine. And my father, who was in Shanghai when it fell in 1947, used to hold me enthralled with tales of the “open city” panic. Like many of Chinese ancestry or those with a China Hand in the family tree, I followed the saga of Iris Chang as her 1997 book, The Rape of Nanking, rose to bestseller status and triggered a vicious backlash. Even so, I was taken aback by several of the scenes (the most gruesome of which is documented, with photos, in Wikipedia’s “Nanking Massacre” entry. Discretion advised).

But director Zhang Yimou is hardly throwing a pity party. In transmuting Geling Yan’s novel, The 13 Women of Nanjing, Zhang adopts an operatic approach to counterpoint the hyperreal detail: Imagine Tarantino doing the Holocaust. The result feels like nationalistic myth-making, and, while stunning, is less history than propaganda. In what might be read as an overture to the West, the PRC censors even allowed Zhang to pull out every Christian-themed stop: stained glass windows, bare ruined choirs, choral singing, a humble organ. Though party-line correctness is refreshingly absent in the details, it rules both outline and affect.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t see it. Visually and acoustically gorgeous, with flashes of Bollywood amidst the Grand Guignol, Flowers is on a par with China’s Olympic Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, which Zhang also directed. Those spectacles paired Busby Berkeley with Leni Riefenstahl, far removed from Zhang’s early tragedy of 1920s Chinese marital customs, Raise the Red Lantern.

As the male lead, Bale is a poignant reminder of his movie debut in Spielberg’s underrated film of China, Empire of the Sun. Back then he played the ingenue, and John Malkovich the rogue. Now it’s Bale’s turn to follow the redemptive arc. I wish I could say he pulled it off without a hitch, but he’s been saddled with anachronistic lines that sound like a loop from Spike TV. (Often the trouble with these international vehicles–the writers trying to sound hip in three languages.)

As the leader of the fallen women, Ni Ni is alluring (with her own arc to complete). Indeed, all the scenes with the Jade Paradise gals are infused with poetic and historic allusions to China’s courtesan culture. But the film’s true find is the 10-year-old boy played by Tianyuan Huang, who has been running the convent school since the death of the old priest. The power of his performance stems largely from the role he plays in the story, but like Bale in Empire, he’s made his mark out of the gate.

Lorrie Moore once wrote that opera is sculpted howling. That pretty much describes The Flowers of War. It’s mind-blowing, but that’s not entirely a compliment–we need our minds in these times. Still, if you can stomach the roller-coaster ride, it’s a helluva flick. You won’t want to ask for your money back.