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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Better Late: Film Review of A Late Quartet

from the Honolulu Weekly

Better Late

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


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:

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


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