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Friday, November 30, 2012

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

from the Honolulu Weekly:

Buke Too Damn Good

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


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:

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


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:

Four More Years

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


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:

Sex and the (Chinese) City

Dangerous Liaisons slinks and vamps with abandon


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:

Hot Rod Lincoln

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


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.
.......spiking all things Governor Palin is what got Mitt in the LOSERS SEAT!
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 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 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.