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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Village Idiots by Don Wallace: vignette "Oh, Well" -- the story of our contested source du village

You wouldn’t guess it to look at it, but that’s a highly contested piece of village real estate there, under the hat of green leaves. It’s our well. Well, it was our well. Hell, it’s still our well, but we don’t want to fight about it, so we let the neighbor across the lane tell people it’s his well. But we and he and the village know full well whose well it is. Ours. Before us, Jeannie’s. And as nobody would’ve ever dared to claim Jeannie’s well as theirs, we’ll rest our case here. Except to add: it’s beautiful to stare down, a tunnel of dripping moss and rock edges, with darkness where the water should be, darkness and a faint plop-plop-plop.

—Village Idiots

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hawaii Survival Guide by Don Wallace

from the Honolulu Weekly


Hawaii Survival Guide

The Lazy Guy’s guide to staying alive in paradise


1. Hawai‘i Survival Guide
2. Like Seeing Your Name In the Paper?
3. Avoid Hawai‘i’s Top Three Killers
4. It Can Happen To You: Stupid Ways To Go

Most people in Hawaii have a system for surviving our state’s unique temptations and hidden dangers. A surprising number of people I’ve met never go in the water. Others never go into the hills. In my mind, these aren’t acceptable answers–they’re reasons why you should move to Nebraska. Come on. This is Hawaii. Enjoy the place. Just don’t die doing it. Or buy a used car without using CarFax.

And that’s the theme here: stuff that will save your life, save you money, save you the hassle. Where did The Lazy Guy get this 411? From you. Yes, he prefers to learn from your mistakes–instead of making his own–one reason why he’s called lazy. He even listened to those folks who are, shall we say, one scoop rice short of a full plate lunch–because almost everyone can boast of that one thing they’ve got totally wired.

In my case, it’s where to get the cheapest and best arugula at the KCC Farmers’ Market. “Arugula?” you ask. “Where’s the hazard in that?” The hazard, I reply, is that if I tell the world which stall, then it will be sold out before I get there.

The rest, I give you here, and for free.

Yes, it’s great to be brave and get all the attention. But it sucks to be hospitalized. So, don’t be the first to: drink the worm, pet the pit bull, jump off the waterfall, dive into the reservoir, surf the new monster swell, take the stranger’s pill, plank the cliff, skateboard the Pali, run across six lanes of traffic, etc. In fact, it’s better to be the last guy, the one who begs off with the excuse, “Eh, somebody here has to be conscious to call 911.”


Jellyfish, that is. Don’t underestimate our monthly invasion of jellyfish, usually after the new moon. Reactions are unpredictable. You can go for years getting a little itch or sting from a box jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-war, then a fresh one wraps its loving arms around you and–paralysis, shock and off to the ER you go.


In 1990 I pitched an article about a spate of local shark attacks (3 fatal) to a national travel magazine. They bought the piece and spiked it in the same day. With the Hawaii Tourist Bureau spreading around an average $30 million a year in magazine advertisements, why kill the golden nene? At least they admitted it, in a rare case of editorial candor.

Twenty years later, a wiser man, I realize they were onto something. We really don’t have a shark problem. You’re at worse risk on a bike, a moped, a skateboard, a car, a bus… The sharks, though, they have a people problem. We’re exterminating them.

Sharks are dangerous, just not here.Watch out in Florida, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, Brazil and the Red Triangle off San Francisco.

In Hawaii, only two places seem to draw enough action to be labeled “sharky”: West Maui and Waianae/Makaha/Yokohama Bay, all of which face west and are lightly populated, heavily fished and “lonely” (that’s your Mother speaking).

The Fix: You can reduce your risk to zero here by avoiding sunset and sunrise surfing, offshore swimming, swimming in bays (especially to and from boats) or across channels or stream mouths, swimming after a rain, scuba diving at 100+ depths, spearfishing and, especially, falling in while fishing or picking ‘opihi from rocky coasts. Note about the latter: as with most pleasure boat-related drownings and disappearances, the male compulsion to urinate while standing up is often suspected, especially where beer is also involved.


Dengue and West Nile: The former is also known as “break-bone,” has always been around, but is no longer rare. The latter hasn’t arrived officially, according to the Department of Health, but we had coqui frogs for two years before the state admitted they were on Oahu. If it isn’t here already, West Nile will arrive via container ship, as do most of our invasive species these days. Don’t leave empty flower pots and spare tires lying around to collect water and attract mosquitos. And stop to thank the gecko on your wall: It eats skeeters.

Swine Flu: Somewhere in the Far East, probably on the border of Hong Kong or Canton, there’s a pig with a bug that’s getting ready to jump the species barrier. When it does, and mutates into another kind of swine flu, we’ll be in its flight path as it moves around the world. Hawaii may be isolated, but we aren’t safe. We may even be first.

Disco Fever: Sorry. But looking at Lady GaGa and Alicia Keyes lately, I get worried.


1. Yoga is all the rage now, which means there are lots of non-certified people teaching yoga, or what they call yoga. Not surprising, then, there’s an uptick in yoga-related injuries. Even if you know what you’re doing, take it easy with those head-stands. We know a dancer whose career ended thanks to a slipped disc. And we’re getting tired of seeing our friends with their heads on sideways because, frankly, it gives us a pain in the neck to talk to them.

2. Stand Up Paddling (SUP) is the bomb now, too, which means a lot of people who don’t know one end of a board from the other are heading out into the water. Two types of injuries are trending: people struck by loose SUPs in the surf and sea, and SUP operators with broken shinbones, jammed fingers, concussions and torn rotator cuffs (from toting the 60-pounders around). Our take: We don’t care what you do to yourself, but unless you’re Laird Hamilton, keep your damn SUP out of our lineup, okay?

3. Surf Kayaking: All we can say to you, wave hog, is ditto, ditto, ditto…


It’s such a rich subject that we promise a longer version at some point, but here are the basics: Use Craigslist. Fix a price, narrow your picks, pick up the phone and ask pointed questions. Use CarFax. Hawaii is full of bad cars, clown cars, junkers and clunkers and repurposed chop-shop specials. Often just the words “CarFax” will scare away the scammers. Use your mechanic. Not the owner’s. Get the car sussed out. Use common sense. Bring a wingman. Meet in public places. Don’t carry cash.


Like Seeing Your Name In the Paper?

Go hiking. Just head into the hills without directions or a map, wearing slippers instead of good shoes and a half-charged cell phone–preferably starting off late, in the afternoon, so you can be sure of getting stranded overnight. We’ll be reading about you for the next day or two and, best of all, the State will bear the cost of your rescue ($1,000 per hour) and helicopter flight out. Of course, you might die falling off a cliff before then or the chopper could crash. (See Helicopter Tours.)

Hiking (and trail-running) is the source of daily emergency calls. One look at our mountains explains why: vertical, steep-sloped, covered in dense vegetation and clouds, they offer some of the worst footing I’ve ever encountered. You’re always a couple feet from plunging down a ravine, so take it slow and easy.

Places to avoid if you want to live

McDonald’s at 3 a.m. Because it’s the last well-known place open after Waikiki closes down, Mickey D funnels drunks, methheads and wannabe UFC fighters into one well-lighted space. “Nothing good happens at McDonald’s at 3 a.m.,” said a cop after the APEC shooting. Not sure if he meant the Big Mac with fries, but Mickey D gets you one way or the other.

Parking Lots After Dark: Why would you go to a parking lot after dark? For most of us, because we got lost. For some other people, to engage in criminal behavior and, just maybe, to prey on those who get lost. We vote for the Pearlridge Shopping Center in Aiea as the scariest, because it’s easy to get funneled into a cul-de-sac filled with loitering zombies and nightstalkers.

The Iron Triangle of Kuhio Avenue: Mama, don’t let your sons and daughters hang around anywhere near The Shack and Club Zanzabar and the aforementioned McDonald’s, just a block away. These places may change their names, but you can bet new venues will open and the fighting, drugging, stabbing and hassling will just go on.

Fantasy Island: Like Miami, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, Waikikidraws sexy glamour from the idea that bad boys and girls are waiting to whisk you behind closed doors and fix you up. The fantasy is true enough, but the downside can be expensive–those $12 Cosmos, darling, do add up–when it doesn’t get nasty. Trouble can range from those boors who won’t take no for an answer and follow you out to your car, to Ecstacy-fueled cardiac arrest due to dehydration from too much dancing, to having your drink spiked with GBH. If the latter sounds too much like a recent episode of 5-0, you should know that it does happen and the HPD finds it almost impossible to prosecute. (The evidence often passes from the body before the stunned victim thinks to request a test.)

The thing about GBH is, to cite a Honolulu case in which a jury failed to convict, you can wake up having sex with somebody but no physical ability to resist. Or you wake up on the street with no memory of what happened and bruises where the sun don’t shine. So, girls and boys, who could be the bartender or server, never go clubbing alone. And to prevent someone (including the bartender) from slipping a colorless, odorless dose into your drink, order bottled water or beer and have it opened before your eyes.


Avoid Hawaii’s Top Three Killers

No. 1 Danger: The road.

Solution: Your inner auntie.

The leading cause of death in Hawaii, after illness, is the common traffic accident. In 2006, Hawaii ranked 18th for fatalities; in 2007 we had 138 deaths (statistics, USNHTSA).

Yeah, yeah, cars kill a lot of people everywhere. But there are signs that Hawaii drivers are worse, and maybe meaner, than in other states–else why have pedestrian deaths doubled in both 2009 and 2010? In the last week we’ve had a couple of hit-and-run fatalities that seem particularly callous and, even worse, normal. As I know from covering the first couple of Ironman Triathlons, a major reason the event was moved to the Big Island in 1982 was our drivers were intentionally crowding the bicyclists off the road, when they weren’t throwing beer cans in their faces.

Who are these drivers? Take a look in the mirror before you answer. We all are guilty of going too fast, cutting in or out of a crowded lane, taking a blind turn too tightly. The fact that we have some of the worst traffic in the nation certainly feeds road rage and dangerous haste. Add frequent rain and the shortest onramps in the nation, and our chances of losing control, physically and/or emotionally, goes way up.

The fix? Slow down, and show some aloha. As they said in Driver’s Ed, leave plenty room ahead and behind. Shine on the loser in the monster Tacoma giving you the finger and riding your bumper. When it’s wet, drive like your auntie so that everyone arrives alive.

No. 2 Danger: The sea.

Solution: Avoid the impact zone.

The other day I saw two parents leave their small kids wading alone at Makapuu, despite the shorebreak and repeated warnings from the lifeguard. These are the kinds of people responsible for the second leading cause of accidental death in Hawaii: our surf. We have the best lifeguards and water safety program in the world, but did you ever see how many of those guys and gals have gray hair at 30? Did you ever wonder if you gave them some of those gray hairs?

Lifeguards save us when they can see us. Most drownings and disappearances take place in areas without surveillance. Surfers are rarely victims, if they know how to judge a wave and what to do. Snorkelers die because the less experienced often don’t look up to notice they’ve cruised into an impact zone. Tourists on dry land die from standing with arms full of cameras and brains on idle until they’re swept away. Fishermen and ‘opihi pickers die, caught by waves on rocks and reefs. Currents are part of the equation here, created by surf and equally dangerous, because they’re less detectable. They have no respect for paradise, claiming beauty-bedazzled hikers on the Kalalau Trail who’ve gone for a swim at Hanakapiai. When I was there in the mid-‘90s, a warning sign’s death tally was around 60. Now, it’s at 82.

In a new FEMA-sponsored book, Natural Hazards, the Environment, and Our Communities, the team of authors, led by UH professor Charles Fletcher, reveal that high surf accounts for 50 percent more fatalities than the next category. Due to our lack of a sheltering continental shelf, Hawaii’s waters can get nasty anytime–and fast. Our shorelines get particularly dangerous in winter, when North Pacific Swells and Northeast Trade Waves come driving in, and when the trades falter, Kona Storm Waves.

The fix? Never swim alone. If in doubt, don’t go out. Never turn your back on the sea. If the area around you is wet, retreat to where it’s dry. Keep your children behind you, not in front. If you’re fishing, drop the pole and run. Don’t snorkel outside the reef.

No. 3 Danger: The rain.

Solution: Look uphill. Often.

The third leading cause of deaths and the leading cause of weather-related fatalities, is the rain. How can that be? Are there really 20 to 30 people a year who don’t notice that, like, the water is rising up to their necks?

Actually, that can happen in as fast as three minutes. So what you’re really asking is, “Am I alert enough to notice that this low place in the road, this swimming hole where I’m messing around, this waterfall I’m blissing out under–is 180 seconds away from sweeping me away?”

Our steep-rising mountains are cloud traps that turn our ahupuaa into rain gutters. So if the water is brown or disturbed, look uphill. If you see clouds up in the mountains, pack it up. If the water begins to rise, run. Uphill. If you’re in a car, don’t cross that stream when you come to it. Even if it means spending the night sleeping in the back seat, stay on higher ground.


It Can Happen To You: Stupid Ways To Go

Waterfalls are both beautiful and dangerous. High in more sense than one, people drawn to dive end up hurt, paralyzed or dead. But waterfall swims are hazardous, too. Not only do they expose you to water-borne disease and parasites, but to flash floods and dislodged rock and debris. Even the hiking is sketchy, as evidenced by tourists who recently plunged to their deaths while searching for falls in Kauai. The lucky twist ankles and get ear infections. But five have died at Kipu Falls in the recent past, many have gone missing at the Seven Sacred Pools over the years and a rockfall at Sacred Falls in 1999 killed eight and injured 50.

Blowholes exert a similar fatal attraction. Snapshots from a holiday gone wrong: a man lies across Halona Blowhole. A man leans over and looks down inside. A boy wades in the waters pooled around an entrance. So, what do you get when you put the male gender and a blowhole together? A Darwin Award? (Meanwhile, the families are suing the state.) Take a picture, not a risk.

Lava makes some people go gaga. The eruption of Kilauea is a marvelous sight to behold, as long as that fiery lava doesn’t end up cooking you, hitting you with an eruption-flung rock, collapsing the ground beneath your feet or spewing gasses that send your lungs into spasm. It seems so obvious. Yet there are those who, down where Pele greets the sea, just have to get closer, closer, closer…

Riding in the bed of a pickup truck is the most common and, in my book, absolutely least excusable cause of injury and death in the Islands. The other morning we followed three long-haired beauties riding with their backs to the tailgate, while a smiling Dad drove them at 40 mph down busy Beretania. If the gate fell open, or if he had to stop and someone rear-ended him, or if he swerved and hit a curb and overturned, those girls could’ve ended up dead or paralyzed. So stupid and pointless. But, you know, we love our trucks. More than our keiki, evidently.


Rat Lungworm Disease: Raw food enthusiasts, hippies and vegans may feel singled out by this, an affliction worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, which comes of accidentally eating slug and snail slime trails on unwashed lettuce, vegetables and papaya. So much for dining straight from the garden! The culprit? Rats, which host and excrete parasitic roundworm eggs, and snails and slugs, which carry around the evolving worms which, when you eat them, swim to your brain. Can we get an OMG? Nine people were infected last year, most on the Big Island.

Falling in the Ala Wai: When a main sewer line broke in 2006, then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann ordered the flow directed into the canal, which already had high bacterial counts and no tidal flush or filtration system. Authorities tried to hide the size of the 480,000-gallon spill, but after a man who fell into the canal died, by all accounts horribly, the cat was out of the bag. Though there was a clean-up, you won’t catch me paddling my canoe there after a rain.

Flesh-eating strep and antibiotic-resistant staph: Yes, Hawaii had its very own case of that favorite of The National Enquirer and the poor victim had no preconditions. Drug-resistant staph is more prevalent, increasingly found in hospitals and among sports teams and in locker rooms. The locus of infection centers is around nicks and turf burns and the usual sport-culture intimacies. The real culprit is promiscuous prescription of antibiotics for the last 30 years, as well as their use in animal feed. Go organic, avoid artificial turf, shower alone and don’t trade towels or socks.

Leptospirosis: Hawaii leads the US in this bacterial infection, usually acquired while swimming in fresh or brackish water. (Yes, those waterfalls again.) Animal urine is the culprit. Symptoms are like a bad flu and fatalities are rare, but documented.

New Disease On the Block: Surfers last winter reported several mystery disorders. One particularly vicious fever and infection put my neighbor in the ICU in a coma for 10 days after a four-hour rainy day session; my wife ended up in the ER. Whether it’s tiger sharks or disease, the advice is the same: Stay out of the water after it rains.


Nobody wants a nanny state, but at the same time, Hawaii’s extreme or adventure attractions are basically unregulated. For the right price the state will give operators a piece of paper, but it doesn’t mean anybody actually cares enough to check up.

Waikiki Trolley: These have no seatbelts, and nothing between riders and a crash. Because most riders are Japanese, we never hear about most mishaps. But an elderly man was killed this year–flung off–giving a preview of more disasters waiting to happen.

Helicopter Tours: This November, a helicopter crashed in Molokai, killing all five aboard, and nearly missing an elementary school. Be honest: Were you surprised? In 19 years chopper accidents have killed more than 40 people here. Why? Helicopter tours are unregulated, for one thing. Anyone with a certified pilot and chopper can get into the business of ferrying tourists to their deaths. Overpacked schedules accommodate honeymooners who want to ensure that they’ll never look a day older than this, the happiest week of their short happy lives. But even if the FAA stepped in, they couldn’t change our treacherous Hawaii conditions.

Ultra-Light Flying and Para-Sailing: I remember my 75-year-old grandfather’s story of being dragged face-first over the reef and shallows when his tow-boat couldn’t accelerate fast enough. Grandpa was a tough hombre, but still… it’s a wonder anyone would consider doing this. Same for those cliff-defying pterodactyls you see skimming the heights. Motorcyles, mopeds, skateboards: No nagging. Just don’t stick your next of kin with the hospital and ER costs. Get yourself insured.

Ziplines and bungee jumping: Be my guest. Just don’t, you know, lose your head when the stoned 19-year-old dropout to whom you just entrusted your life gets the math wrong.

Scuba Tours: All you need to know was in that movie of a few years ago: although someone has the job of doing a head count, gosh, sometimes they forget. The worst culprits are mass introductory dive packages, called “cattleboats,” operating under time pressure described as “fast and furious.” That’s a description from the one that left a Japanese tourist to die off Waikiki.

Party Boats: Another disaster waiting to happen is those tourists boats that head out every sunset. Not the small catamarans that skirt the reef, and not bona fide cruise ships, although I have nothing good to say about them on cultural and aesthetic grounds. But the proliferation of larger party boats is worthy of scrutiny, because when an accident happens, it usually is catastrophic–witness the 20 senior citizens who drowned when a Lake George, NY party boat capsized in calm weather in 2005. As an old salt who’s taken his share of booze cruises in ports all over the world, I’m not afraid to generalize: Most of these mid-size party boats are unfit to go to sea.


Powerful surf, nasty shorebreak, bad currents and lonely stretches without lifeguards or emergency responders make these our most dangerous beaches. Source: Natural Hazards, The Environment, and Our Communities.
• Sandy’s
• Hanakapiai
• Lumahai
• Makena
• DT Fleming
• Hapuna
• Magic Sands

Too Many Mangoes?

Is it really possible? That there can be? Too many mangoes?

Our exclusive interview...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Ghost of Gatsby Will Rise Again: Book Review of The Dream Merchant by Fred Waitzkin

The Dream Merchant haunted me. A sort of modern Nick Carraway revisits his friendship over the years with one of those scary, seamy characters that Florida and the Keys seem to generate like waterspouts. In this case the buddy, Jim--met on a remote cay, bonded with on his yacht while warding off drug smugglers at night--is a master of business, able to recover from devastating failures to reinvent himself again and again. But it's a horrifying, not a heroic, tale--Jim is a mad spieler, a marketer of pyramid schemes, and he needs a woman at his side. So the story is of serial businesses and serial marriages and serial failures in which the woman is discarded so the man can start anew. It's so vivid it hurts to read sometimes.

This is a book written with fire and verve--it's as thrilling as a thriller, but a work of literary substance that refuses to weigh itself down with fancy writing, indulgences and failure of nerve. Can't say enough about it, but can end by saying: If you want to see how Jay Gatsby would be like in today's go-go world, this is your book.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

One Sexy Mashup: Review of Brayden Yoder's short Breakdown by Don Wallace

One Sexy Mashup

Breakdown is a sizzling Indian intrigue by a local director.


A squeal of brakes. A thump. A white face behind a Plexiglass visor appears in the darkness. An angry crowd forms around a dead man, an old man, in Pune–surely someone of no consequence in an Indian city of three million. And, in fact, when an English-speaking nightclub owner, Rajesh, appears at the elbow of Shane, the American whose motorcycle hit the man, the price he offers to clean up the mess seems downright reasonable.

Shane is afraid, disoriented and surrounded by an angry mob. He allows Rajesh to guide him into his nearby establishment and into even deeper trouble. Breakdown, the 24-minute film by Kailua-born Brayden Yoder, similarly escorts us through the chaos of India by using the tropes of genre film.

“It’s a big mashup of a Hollywood noir and a Bollywood film,” says Yoder, back home in Hawaii after five years in Pune and now teaching summer school at Punahou. “So there’s song, there’s dance, quite a lot of regional flavor, also the American protagonist and some of the noirish elements we think of when we see Chinatown or the films of the 1940s.”

The film’s start goes noir one better by immediately going meta with some sharp dialog that points up the reality of being a First Worlder in a Third World country. “They don’t care that I’m an American,” says Shane. “They should care. That I care.” Well, guess what, Shane–empathy and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of chai these days.

Similarly, his response to the nightclub owner’s brisk, “What are you doing here?” is our national whine: “It’s not my fault.” Whatever, Shane.

It was at this point that I had the thought: Folks, we’ve got a movie on our hands. And: We’ve got a talented new local director on the scene.

Played by Rob Tepper, who recently made the most of an auxiliary role in Argo, Shane is only beginning his journey when he leaves the scene of the accident. With those magic words, “I’ll pay you,” he’s headed down the rabbit hole. And so is Breakdown, as Yoder ushers Shane into a magical, seedy, musical grotto of swaying women–the Bada Bing Room without a pole and nary a Soprano in sight.

The moment Shane lays eyes on Janki, the featured dancer, he can’t stop looking; and neither can we, as film and television actress Amruta Sant embues her role with steam and style. Without a single word in English she evokes a complex character, on the one hand a powerless sex worker held in thrall by her birth, gender, poverty and marriage to Rajesh–but also someone who’s determined to make the most of the situation that Shane has created.

Yoder’s path to Pune is fascinating and follows in a directing tradition forged by military veterans Samuel Fuller and Oliver Stone. A history major at Santa Clara University, Yoder accepted an ROTC scholarship to pay for his studies. He was stationed in Germany when 9/11 changed everything, and ended up in Iraq in the second wave of the 2003 invasion. For 15 months he was a supply officer, often exposed to attack while moving materiel for Coalition forces in temperatures that reached 140 degrees. “I remember thinking, ‘If I survive this, I can do whatever I want to,’” he says.

With money saved from his service, Yoder took a masters in writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. “I decided to go into directing because I wanted to be the author of my own films, which meant learning the language of films, which meant going to film school,” he says. Following the advice of East Asian friends he made in Sydney, he enrolled at the Film and Television Institute of India. He’s only the second American to do so; the first, an actor, plays all the villainous imperialist/colonialist roles in Bollywood.

Part-Indonesian, Yoder bears a resemblance to the young Obama (a comparison he must hear often, judging from his cringe). But to judge from Breakdown he’s a unique and driven talent. A garden of forking paths, the film’s story cleverly leaves us guessing about the shape that Shane and Janki’s lives will take. It’s an ideal strategy for a short film intended to lure backing for a full-length feature. If the rest of the story follows through on the first 24 minutes, Breakdown will be Yoder’s breakthrough.

Yoder will host a 30-minute Q&A after screenings at Coffee Talk’s Film Friday series on June 14 at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Admission is free, the gingerbread recommended.

Coffee Talk, 3601 Waialae Ave., 737-7444

NOTE: This will be my last movie review for the Honolulu Weekly until further notice, as it has suspended publication. Thank you for reading these posts.

Here's what you write the moment after you finish your book

He wrote the last words, took a deep breath, scattered sand over the still drying ink and called for a candle and a tankard of ale. When the ancient old retainer tottered into the room he gestured to a bench by the fire. "Have a beer yourself, Old Stew. We've done it."

"That would be the book, sir?"

"It would."

"Much joy to you."

"And to you."

They clinked tankards, and drank deep. When he was done, he wiped his lip with a filthy sleeve and sighed heavily. "And now, for the morrow--we must discuss the marketing."

"We have been to the market only this morning, sir."

"Ah. Of course. Old Stew--may I ask--pray be frank--have you heard of this thing--I believe they call Twitter?"

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Barnes & Noble Closing in Honolulu leaves a community in the lurch: Article by Don Wallace and Donovan Colleps

Every Reader for Himself

Closing Kahala’s Barnes & Noble leaves a community in the lurch.


Confirming rumors, Barnes & Noble’s (B&N) Kahala Mall bookstore will close when its lease expires in January 2014. There are no current reports concerning B&N’s Ala Moana location, but it’s probably a matter of when, not if, management installs a T-shirt store. It’s also likely that our competitive real estate market will prevent any return of a new big bookstore.

Summing up the general reaction was the Ka Palapala Pookela award winner for The Queen and I, Sydney Lehua Iaukea: “Well, I think it sucks.” A recent UH graduate’s regret touched on the paradox at the heart of B&N’s fate: “I used to spend hours in there reading books without buying them,” said Will Caron, assistant editor at the Weekly. “In all those years, I never once felt pressured by an employee to move. They love books and love people who read books.”

The loss of a place for those book lovers affected a B&N employee, who chose to remain anonymous: “Our store has regular, longtime customers. We have a community here. Even authors come here to write.”

Community was the overriding concern of Island readers and writers. Where do we go from here? How will local enterprises pick up the slack? Is it going to be every reader for himself, fighting for table space at Coffee Talk and Starbucks?

Indies r forever

Local booksellers, not surprisingly, stressed that they aren’t going anywhere. “It’s a sad thing that Barnes & Noble Kahala is closing only because they’re not making money,” said Maile Meyer, owner of Na Mea Hawaii/Native Books. “It filled, like all bookstores, a real community need. But Native Books was around before big-boxes appeared, and we’re still around because we’re so intertwined and intermeshed with community. Communities need places to gather, and [to acquire] knowledge and to exchange knowledge.”

Local publishers tended to agree–up to a point. “Independent bookstores are amazing resources; I wish there were more small bookstores,” said Susan Schultz, editor and founder of local publisher Tinfish Press. She noted that larger stores rarely sell books not part of a distributor’s catalog, making the Kahala closure not as harmful to Tinfish’s local editions, such as the recent Jack London is Dead anthology. “Big-box stores tend to be destructive in places where there are also independents”–coming in, selling books the smaller stores sell, and at discounted prices, until those stores go under–“but in Hawaii, they’ve been a good thing.”

An employee at Costco’s Iwilei branch explained their “local books are purchased from local book distributors Booklines and Island Heritage by our corporate buyers in Issaquah, Wash. We do offer suggestions on what local titles to carry in our stores, but it’s pretty much up to the buyers in the corporate office.”

Having the buying decisions of one of the few remaining big-box stores made off-Island only increases the anxiety of authors and publishers. According to Bennett Hymer, his job just got harder. “We will have to work more intensely with the many places that still sell books and find it rewarding to do so,” said the publisher of Mutual Publishing, whose author Chris McKinney won the Ka Palapala literature award for his novel Boi No Good. “We feel for the devoted personnel who have to find employment elsewhere.”

Indie bookstores such as Revolution, Bookends, Jelly’s, R/D at Interisland Terminal and Covenant Books & Coffee can hope for an uptick in sales, but Meyer sounds more interested in the long haul: “Native Books carries on as a place for books about Hawaii and the Pacific, written by Hawaiians and people of Hawaii, and I am only going to recommit to that, and expand that concept of how we exchange knowledge in the year 2013 and beyond, because there will always be a place for Native Books in Hawaii.”

App happy

Is it reductive to lament the loss of free Wi-Fi and cafe tables when we’re writing an obit for a bookstore? Not really; people forget the revolution that B&N and Borders wrought by providing a safe, smart social space.

Could the stubborn ingenuity of Hawaii’s readers, writers and literary impresarios invent a substitute? We can’t count on the library system, extensive though it is; the hours of your friendly public library seem to have been designed to discourage the creation of future readers.

Could a nonprofit entity such as the Honolulu Museum of Art or Hawaii State Art Museum step up and add a few walls of books to go with the stock in their gift shops? It would fill a cultural need–and maybe bring in a few more patrons.

Of course there are those who say that as long as we have screens, there will be readers; the worry is that they will demand a literature of 142-character novels. For now, we can be grateful for the attractive []. Curated by Misty-Lynn Sanico, it’s a site where you can find many books published in Hawaii, as well as links and reviews. But you can’t get coffee there.

Nor can you sip from the free new Honolulu Book & Music Festival (HBMF) app, available year-round on Google and Apple. A brainchild of HBMF event coordinator Amy Hammond, the app has been created by wizard-like David DeLuca, a new HBMF board member as Director of Bess Press and President of the Hawaii Book Publishers Association. “Our intention is for [our app] to become a portal for all book and music news in Hawaii,” emailed HBMF executive director Roger Jellinek.

The app impresses as a way of extending HBMF’s weekend into a 24/365 service. But it’s also a way of combating the virtualization of virtually everything. “We see it as a potential response to the digital revolution in publishing that has severely eroded the one advantage Hawaii’s geographic isolation used to give local publishers,” Jellinek wrote.

What’s missing is the human element. Among the memories that co-author Donovan Colleps has of working in bookstores both in Hawaii Nei and the mainland are the plea of a single mother wanting to find a book on how to help her handle her at-risk teenage son, the quiet request of a disabled man wanting a literal hand to grasp that oversized book about watercolor techniques on the top shelf and the young woman who wanted to find books about lauhala weaving. Her grandmother had passed away a few days before. “Tutu was a great basket weaver,” she said, “but she never got to teach me how to make one.”

Colleps still remembers how it felt to place a large red book in her hands–the weight of it, the design, the way the pages felt between his fingertips. These things still matter, yes?

We must be careful how we answer, because it really is up to us. We already know what the practical people mindful of our tourism economy feel about the matter. To them, reading is best limited to two or three silk-screened words or, even better, a wordless logo.

For us, that’s not a world, that’s a prison.

Q&A with Paul Theroux by Don Wallace: A Traveling Light

A Traveling Light

A writer talks trust, foreign aid and the shield law.


We were out at Tongg’s surf break when the world’s best-traveled writer paddled past in a kayak. I said, “Paul Theroux?” Mindy nodded. Indeed, Theroux was using Hawaii as the staging area for 1992’s superb The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific. To us, the celebrated author seemed out of place. How wrong we were.
You first went to Africa when you were in the Peace Corps in 1963. Why go back now?

My intention was to revisit places in Capetown that I had visited in 2002 and to write an extension of Dark Star [the book about that trip]. Then I just wanted to go until I got to the end of the road. One way or the other.

You basically headed north into some very non-tourist places: the bush of South Africa, Namibia, Angola.

The way that I travel, I don’t have any contingencies. I didn’t know whether I’d actually make it. I was just hoping. In ’63, I learned Chichewa and [I] speak Swahili; that’s the way to get to know a place very well instead of just parachuting in. I travel alone. Just a very small bag that I can carry. And that’s it. I have money. When I first started traveling, I didn’t have any money. That’s a change.

You’ve done this in Patagonia, Siberia and China, among other places. Always alone. Unlike the reality shows such as Man vs. Wild, there’s nobody to save your ass. Except your fellow man, usually a complete stranger. Thoughts on trust and travel?

You need to trust. To a certain extent, you have to be very wary. But if you’re not somewhat trusting, you won’t go anywhere. I just need to keep my wits about me. Avoid circumstances that will sink you. You cannot walk around at night in big cities in Africa. You’re easy. You’re alone. You’re conspicuous. You’re a haole. You take a taxi to go two blocks to a restaurant, if someone local warns you not to walk. You listen.

In the bush: no taxis, it’s a very humble place. You have to listen to people. I’ve got an old watch, a $20 watch, a $30 pair of sunglasses. When I meet someone, I immediately ask myself, “Are there points of communication?” You need to be a kind of interior detective, look for certain signals. I find that even if you’re in a bad situation, you can make a friend, just by talking to the person.

It’s harder for women. An older guy–leave out the white–is invisible in some places. No matter what age, a woman is always visible. A woman alone has high visibility and will be followed.

You are less than charitable about foreign aid.

I don’t want to be the person who says no foreign aid. I would like people to be accountable. So much money has been poured into a rathole, and nothing has happened. The first thing to understand is, a lot of the countries we’re trying to help are wealthy countries. Yet we give them aid. South Africa? It’s full of multimillionaires. It has loads of resources. Yet purely from ego Oprah Winfrey builds a school. South Africa is completely able to build a school. There are agencies such as the HALO Trust that remove land mines. A great thing. But why is a British organization required to remove land mines from Angola, which is a wealthy country? The reason is, if you can get somebody else removing land mines, you can spend the money on yourself.

That’s the corruption from aid. Aid weakens people. The Gates Foundation gives medicine to people in Sierra Leone, and they end up selling the medicine. Gates runs health agencies all over Africa. Why, when these countries have a ministry of health? Why have a ministry of health when Gates is running your health service? It’s a weird thing, foreigners running the health service so people don’t have to do it.

One of your first transcendent moments was with the San, the people from the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. You then discover they’re acting out their vanished culture for tourists. I felt conned by the film. Your response is more nuanced.

It’s not any different from going to an Indian reservation or a place by the side of the road in New Mexico or Arizona, and you have people dressed as Indians selling handicrafts. In some cases, it’s the only way to make a living for some people, to dress up and act in ways that are culturally coherent. There are still fragments of belief clinging to these people, but the logic has been left behind.

But you are less forgiving, even harsh, about many of the African societies you revisit. They haven’t improved in 50 years; in some cases, they have gotten worse.

There’s no point writing if it’s all sweetness and light. No point in writing unless you’ve got something new to say. It’s like Hawaii: People come to write about gentle breezes and the sunset and the Mai Tais, and we know that’s not Hawaii. The truth of any place is often unflattering and difficult. But that’s the only stuff worth writing about.

If they let you. We just had our media shield law dropped, after some people in government tried to reshape it to target us and bloggers.

I think the Weekly is great. An alternative paper is what lets you know what other people are thinking and what you don’t hear from the powers that be. The kind of writing you do–talking about the Weekly and the First Amendment–you might as well give up if you can’t write the truth. But you have to write it well. It can’t just be the litany of abuse. This book was not just scribbled. It’s a public service, the Honolulu Weekly. Tell Mindy.

She’ll be thrilled. [Editor’s note: Yes.]

For Theroux’s 2012 Smithsonian Magazine article on Hawaii, see []

Hawaii by Mark Panek: Book Review by Don Wallace

Panek Point

Book Rips Cover Off Hawai‘i!


Calling this big fat novel Hawaii was bound to raise eyebrows. Hey, come run to the schoolyard to watch Mark Panek throw down! Pow! Right in the kisser of that other big fat novel named Hawaii, by whatsisname, the one everyone loves to put down (not literary! not local! haole! old fut!) that for better or worse (worse!) became the siren call for mainland millions to take a jumbo jet to Waikiki.

The author of two well-regarded books about sumo, Panek (not local! haole! but young! ana’UH-Hilo’professa!) shoulders his way into the ring, throwing a handful of salt over his shoulder. I edged forward in my seat. This was going to be good.

Now, James Michener’s Hawaii was not a bad book, as general midlist fiction goes–it just happened to be clumsy and patronizing and earnest. Its best moment, on the bestseller Richter Scale, was to introduce the good-sex-will-get-you-killed trope–mainland girl does it with beach boy and then they’re both nailed by a tsunami. The same trick later opens Jaws and serves as a plotline for later entire film franchises (Scary Movie!).

Panek’s sex is by hot young Japanese American professional women, in K-bars with gangsta Hawaiians and Samoans, last flings before joining “…the same I-married-a-dentist-or-attorney world where many of them were headed, cashing in on that flesh right around age 28 while it was still worth something in the Ewa Plantation Villages homeowner-and-two-kids-at-‘Iolani range.” Yes, he writes sentences like that–lots of them, all honed sharp as a Chinatown duck-shop butcher’s knife. Bam-bam-bam! He nails everyone. (Equal opportunity!)

Panek’s tsunami is money, development money. His theme is the utter corruption and democratic paralysis of Hawaii as the Great Wave finally sweeps away all objection and resistance to paving the island with second homes polka-dotted with casinos. This is not some half-hearted Occupy diatribe: His research and detail, and its delivery (important! gotta keep eyeballs on the page!), is entertaining and forceful. I kept slapping the book down and shaking my head.

The peak, literally, of the author’s vision comes when a young Japanese American fixer is taken to a private overlook, soon to be developed by an under-the-table partnership between what is obviously Turtle Bay and Envision Laie, and sees the future before him: a vast carpet of Mormon spec homes, intended for white retirees from Utah and Pacific Islander converts, one pure voting block, like the settlements that Orthodox Jews are erecting on the West Bank right now to force the Palestinians off their land permanently. Is young Sean dismayed? No. He’s panicked that he can’t get bars on his cell so he can call to make sure the deal goes down.

Now, about those parentheses and exclamation marks. As Panek declares in his intro, he’s proud to belong to the Tom Wolfe school of meticulously researched (deep tissue! no happy ending!) realistic fiction, and his details and characters (true to life! roman a clef!) are what gives Hawaii its heft and its aura of telling the One Forreal No-B.S. Truth. So am I saying this is our Bonfire of the Vanities? Yes.

But Panek also adopts Wolfe’s typographical tics. Be forewarned. There will be “Whrrr! whirr! whirr! whrrr! A-h! a-h! a-h! a-h! Ooooh-wEE! ooh-wEE! ooh-wEE!” which is a representation of the mental gear-shifting of a Professional Academic Hawaiian, Makana, as he sits in another department meeting, thinking how UH was ruined when it was “. . . overrun by California carpetbaggers who immediately added layer upon layer of administration positions for their carpetbagging friends.” That’s not Makana’s problem, though. He’s witnessed a murder, a Hawaiian-on-Samoan gang hit, payback for the book’s boldest stroke and opening gambit: the throwing of UH football games by a star player (with the coaches looking daoddaway!) which results in the heavy-betting Senate president getting in deep to the Samoan mob, which . . .

Do I need to say more? Get this book. Read it if you care at all about what really goes on in those Legislature back rooms, in the bedrooms of hot young Japanese Americans (Hello Kitty figurines! porn star moves!), in the Native Hawaiian and anti-development councils. Get it before the post-Inouye island power players figure out a way to ban it.

Mark Panek
Lo’ihi Press, 2013
Softcover, 551 pages, $16.95

Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux: Book Review by Don Wallace

Last Train to Ho’opili?

A journey through Africa illuminates our plight


One paradox of TheLast Train to Zona Verde, Paul Theroux’s 46th book and his latest about Africa, is that it’s also one of the best meditations on Hawaii you’ll ever read.

But first, why Africa? Because, writes Theroux, as a 1963 Peace Corp volunteer, “I was free in this great green continent, liberated from my family and its paternalism just at the time that many African countries had liberated themselves from the paternalistic hand of colonialism.” Sounds like many a haole, surfer-hippie, self-described adventurer in Polynesia, doesn’t it?

He’s been back to Africa since–and seen the promise of that liberation slide into tyranny and repression and worse, a loss of hope. But this trip is his summing up. At age 70, he will go as far as he can with just a credit card, a throwaway cell phone and a duffel bag: an old white man in shabby clothes, hopefully “invisible.” Maybe he won’t come back.

In fact he wonders if he isn’t asking fate for an ending, whether “I was setting off to suffer and die.” Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Theroux goes alone from Cape Town, South Africa up to schizophrenic Namibia–99 percent miserable, but with an ultra-rich elite, an Angelina Jolie-funded celebrity birthing center and an Okavango Delta elephant reserve fantastic in price and exquisite in irony. From there he pushes on into war-torn and distinctly unfriendly Angola. Throughout Africa he sees populations of “. . . drunken men, idle boys and overworked women.” (A little too close for comfort, that one.)

One irony he will revisit often is how rich these “poor” countries are–in gold, diamonds, oil and minerals like rare earths–but how nothing trickles down. (See D.H. Horton, Ho’opili land grab; Parsons Brinckerhoff, rail and now the aiport; Hawaiian lands ceded and “gifted” to shopping centers, developments and the military.) Yet the U.S. federal government spends $67 million a year on building tourism in Namibia–and none, he notes, on Hawaii, Louisiana or Mississippi, places where poverty is just as real.

Aid, what Theroux calls “the virtue industry,” comes in for a scathing dissection. (See Q&A with Theroux is on page 23.) So does tourism. So does our willful blindness, preferring the mythic and totally wrong belief that the Bushmen in The Gods Must Be Crazy really exist in a state of nature, as if “Saving the Children” doesn’t sap communities of self-respect and self-government, in addition to ruining local economies and substituting ones built on bureaucrats and warlords distributing sacks of rice and cans of Spam. (Just as in Samoa, Guam, Tinian . . . and places closer to home.)

A low-profile resident of Hawaii for 23 years, Theroux writes not for sensation but for seeing. He goes places. He shuns the heroic pose and the weepy cri du coeur. As a result, we are all the wiser.

The Last Train to Zona Verde, Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
Hardcover, 368 pages, $27

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Party Animal: Film Review by Don Wallace of The Great Gatsby

All unhappy families party alike.
Party Animal
The Great Gatsby is a rave-up.

I have an M.F.A. and I approve this message:

Director Baz Luhrmann had it in his grasp. The Great Gatsby, at last done right for the screen, is the equivalent of capturing lightning in a jar.

It does come close, and you might end up grinning ear-to-ear at some of the stuff in the party-filled second act. I love the music and dancing in the film and, what’s more, think they convey both the period and the personalities in a rare, inventive way.

If I hadn’t seen the recent documentary on Josephine Baker, I might not have recognized how deftly Luhrmann weaves into the story an entire short film about the Harlem Renaissance and black entertainers in white society. And he does it without a single spoken interaction between a black and a white person, underscoring the racism that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters never would’ve questioned.

But Gatsby isn’t about racism. So no matter how acute this part of the film, no matter how exciting Jay-Z’s soundtrack, this can’t be what saves it.

What hurts is that splashy-trashy Luhrmann is done-in not by his forte, going over the top, but by trying to do justice to the words.

Oh, fatal error.

It starts where Fitzgerald ends, with the green light at the end of the pier. (No, Baz, no!) But the second scene is magic. The third, oh dear, oh dear . . . a flashback? The genius of the novel Gatsby–one of the genii–is that there are no flashbacks, old sport.

But the music . . . You’ll see what I mean, because you will see it–if only to hear it. The music and the choreography are modern, not retro, yet in sync with the ’20s.

Carey Mulligan is deeply affecting in the film version of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel Never Let Me Go, but I was less than enthralled here. Her Southern accent grated; it sounded like something you’d hear in a West End production of The Glass Menagerie. In three of the big scenes she’s first-rate–as is the movie–but for the finale her Daisy Buchanan just misses the important, heartbreaking lie in her character: She didn’t love Gatsby the way he loved her, like a heroine in an epic poem, and so, as Dylan once sang, “She breaks just like a little girl.”

So maybe it’s not her fault, but Luhrmann’s, for how he films this key scene centered on Gatsby’s intransigence–it’s not enough that he have her, he has to have her repudiate the last five years of her life with Tom, to erase it, by lying if necessary. This is a powerful point, the key to Gatsby’s failure, but somehow feels rushed and un-set-up by what came before. We don’t see it coming, despite Leonardo DiCaprio’s best “big” role in a long time.

Instead, Luhrmann weakens DiCaprio’s magical and natural performance with a series of stylized poses intercut like music video freeze-frames. Add in one-too-many “old sports” and the show gets as PowerPointed as a lecture by an associate professor of English literature. In the end, blame a script that doesn’t get granular when it has a chance, in the last third, to finally bring these dreamers closer and closer until they get their noses rubbed in reality.

Instead the story (and camera) hovers. Like a photo-drone. Too bad.

The tea scene at Nick’s cottage is so good. The DJ’d soundtrack and Lana del Rey, Florence + the Machine; songs by Bryan Ferry, Jay-Z and Andre 3000; jazz and orchestral numbers–all are genuinely thrilling. It may be a modern equivalent of Gershwin’s ode to the Jazz Age, Rhapsody in Blue, which it smartly samples. I’ll say it again: This is why you must see Gatsby, to properly hear it.

I would see it again. I will, though I could do without the 3-D glasses. I mean, really, old sport.

Mama's Boy: Film Review by Don Wallace of Pieta from the Honolulu Weekly

Mama’s Boy
Pieta critiques Korean capitalism, but Mom steals the show.

In a way it’s a shame that M.R.C. Greenwood, president of the University of Hawaii, didn’t get a chance to see the new Korean shocker Pieta before the recent unpleasantness up in Manoa. Then she’d have understood where Donna Mercado Kim, state senate president and lately Greenwood’s personal nemesis, was coming from when she called to ask about her son’s law-school application. Greenwood might have better gotten the point, that Kim is a mother first and foremost. And if she’d seen Pieta (or 2009’s Mother, an equally jolting Korean valentine), she would’ve understood that you mess with mamacita at your peril. And maybe she’d still be UH president, instead of a lame duck.

The wrath of Mommy–slow-fermenting, duplicitous, Oedipal–is what drives this most brutal film about filial duty, maternal revenge and directorial irreverence. The story: Gang-do (Jeong-ji Lee) is a debt collector for a loansharking operation specializing in the mom-’n’-pop machine shops that fuel the Asian Tiger economies. You borrow, you miss a payment, the rate jumps 10,000 percent in a week and then Gang-do comes by to cripple you, often using your own machinery, in order to clear your debt through health insurance reimbursements. The expression “give an arm and a leg” is literal here. (Let’s hope Sarah Palin doesn’t hear about it.)

Luminous small-screen newcomer Mi-soo Jo is the chic femme fatale who appears at Gang-do’s side in a slimy alley and follows him home. Gang-do is a throwaway baby, emotionally stunted: no better than a beast (and perhaps worse). Beauty turns out to be his mother, who gave him up and now has come to make amends. Director Ki-duk Kim is cruelly masterful in setting this up, and it’s an impressive feat to keep us watching. But then this is Kim’s 18th film, and he’s tutored a new generation of filmmakers who’ve given K-film its pop-violent sheen since the 1990s.

Once my shock over the film’s first five minutes had subsided, I found I could stomach the twists and turns, and even admire, albeit with a shudder, Kim’s vision. Conscience and sympathies newly awakened by the appearance of his mother, Gang-do begins to rue his career. He softens, which incurs the ire of his scary three-piece-suited boss. We anticipate a showdown and then, just as the story is beginning to feel like a bloody Christmas Carol, Mom gets down.

Helping to put this over are two leads giving breakout performances. Jeong-jin Lee as Gang-do impresses the most as a lankier Lee Marvin, with a similar blank expressiveness and barely controlled menace. Obviously he’s grown up since his 2004 TV series, Love Story in Harvard. In fact, the plot samples that defining Lee Marvin teeth-grinder, Point Blank. Psy he’s not.

In the last analysis, the film has a lot more than blood on its mind. On his rounds, Gang-do is taking us on a surreptitious tour of the underbelly of East-Asian capitalism. We’re seeing what causes events like the recent Bangladesh factory collapse and Apple’s Chinese employee suicides; only these are the maimings that we never hear about.

In keeping with the theater of cruelty motif, we also experience the flipside of our worship of street-eating and food-discovery programs like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Yes, Pieta is a locavore’s nightmare: Snout-to-tail doesn’t begin to describe the coolly ruthless food-prep scenes. Admirers of food stalls and traditional cuisine may squirm at the implication that a good chef is, by skillset and psyche, a good torturer.

If you’re squeamish, this may not be the film for you. But if someone you love wants to test his or her blood pressure, you can always buy a ticket for Lore at the adjacent theater at Kahala 8. It’s got a more uplifting, and bankable, emotional impact (über-Aryan German refugee family roaming after WWII saved by Jewish camp survivor) and has earned very good notices.

Pieta succeeds in living up to its name because it embodies a character of utter repulsiveness and yet, as the title hints, engenders pity.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Flesh or Famine: Don Wallace film review of Renoir and Therese Desqueyroux

Flesh or Famine
Renoir is a feast, Tatou as Therese a cleanse

Like the tasting menu of a fine restaurant, there are a lot of subtle pairings at the Doris Duke’s annual Francophile festival this week, including Francois Truffaut’s 1962 Jules and Jim and Ilmar Raag’s 2012 A Lady in Paris. Both feature the great Jeanne Moreau, one at the very beginning and the other near the close of an iconic career, and if you pick your screenings right (hint: May 12 and 15) you can even see them back to back. (For complete listings and showtimes of all films, visit [])

Another spicy pairing is of the headliner, Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir, which moves to the Kahala 8 May 10 (and features, as you might expect, the heroic painter of fleshy, naked, pink ladies), and the closing-night entrée, Renoir’s son Jean’s rousing French Can-Can, the one with all the high-kicking chorines of the Moulin Rouge. Both films go down well with a glass of champagne, which the Doris Duke offers, but not the Kahala 8.

But Renoir actually makes an equally complementary match with a chillier, rigorously unsentimental version of Francois Mauriac’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, a study of a depressive would-be 1920s murderess. Yessir, these are two movies that couldn’t be more different in sensibility and subject. Yet both begin with the most familiar, and comforting, image in French cinema: a girl on a bicycle on a country road.

What’s to become of the girl? That’s the question, isn’t it? And it gets us every time.

In the case of Thérèse, she’s the daughter of a rich owner of a forest in the southwest of France, a region of flat, sandy pine barrens. At age twelve she hears of her fate: to be married to Bernard, the older brother of her best friend. His family owns the adjacent forest. It’s a joining of estates and Thérèse goes along with it, mostly to quiet the “disordered voices” in her head. In another age, the local doctor might’ve given her a Paxil, or she could’ve scored some Ecstasy at the rave. Instead, she grows strange and distant. Even after a baby arrives, she shows little interest in anything except the bottle of arsenic.

Like Thérèse, the movie refuses to engage. It spurns storytelling conventions; there’s tension, sure, but it comes from the conflict between rigid society and the one woman who can’t or won’t conform. Only murder offers a way out of the psychic bind. What follows is Yeats’ “negative capability”–and a work of art as flat as any canvas in a frame.

Renoir is the complete opposite: The very old painter, hobbled and in pain, brushes tied to his hands, demands a diet of fresh young pink things: “Flesh!” he cries. “Skin!” Set in the unspoiled SoCal-like beauty of the South of France during World War I, the film is a three-way between Renoir, his latest model, Andrée, a strawberry blonde (the luminous Christa Theret) restless to climb above her station, and Jean Renoir, only 21, wounded in the war and home to rehabilitate. Andrée inspires père Renoir (Michel Bouquet) and rehabs Jean (Vincent Rottiers) with her personality as well as her body. She gets Jean to thinking of what he might become other than the second son (he already is fascinated by primitive moving filmstrips and buys odd reels of movies from the traveling junkman).

With Andrée as his muse and lead actress, in real life Jean went on to make such classics as Grand Illusion, French Can-Can and The River. Then, just as his father did with his models, he discarded her when she went the way of all flesh.

In the end, both Andrée and Thérèse yearn to break out of a patriarchy. Which one succeeds I’ll leave for you to decide.

from the Honolulu Weekly:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gonzo Geezers: Don Wallace film review of Storm Surfers

from the Honolulu Weekly:

Gonzo Geezers

In Storm Surfers, older chaps drop in on some very big waves


This is a movie for boys. Big boys. Fifty-year-old boys, 15-year-old boys, even, to judge from my wife’s reaction to Storm Surfers, women-who-are-boys-at-heart. It’s in 3D, which my wife generally hates on principle, and yet she kept those goggles glued to her face as Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll tackled the giant ocean surf of and off Australia. But then, she’s a surfer.

I’m not a surfer, though to fit in socially I often dress and talk and disport myself as one. Bodysurfer, yes. But that’s not quite the same thing, is it? Bodysurfing isn’t going to get you Red Bull sponsorship and 24/7 documentary camera coverage, including 3D photography and helicopter shots and teams on Jetskis and charter boats to go 75 miles offshore in search of waves. Or girls in thongs (which my wife refuses to wear, on principle, I guess).

These guys, Tom and Ross, 50 and 45 respectively, are lifelong friends from grommet days in Australia, famous for contests (Tom the former King of Pipe, Ross an Eddie Aikau winner). They’ve sown their wild oats; the film’s one departure from the quasi-documentary style is a hilarious recreation of Clarke-Jones’ party years. Both can still generate waves of girls in thongs on demand (which is, I suspect, why my wife encourages my interest in gardening and not surfing.)

Where is this heading? I’m towing you into a half-assed documentary full of big-ass waves and the ballsy men who ride them–against your will, probably, your better judgment, surely. But go see it anyway. There are a couple of very funny scenes as the boys mess around with a radio-controlled toy helicopter. The rest is beautifully shot, as you would expect, and the fragile plot is evidently real, not “reality”–Tom Carroll’s gotten too old for this big-wave gonzo stuff, he’s got the smell of death around him, as Lynyrd Skynyrd would sing it, but for this film and Red Bull and 3D is willing to gamely give it one last shot. He nearly dies, too.

Which is strangely real and touching. It helps a lot that in several scenes Tom is shown tying his 8-year-old daughter’s shoes. And the ocean and surf shots are, of course, incredible. You won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We're Going Wrong: a film review of The Gatekeepers

from the Honolulu Weekly

We’re Going Wrong

Six heads of Israel’s spy agency come out.


You read the papers; know what this movie is going to be about. Some retired heads of Israeli intelligence talking about the Palestinian stalemate? You can write this is your sleep. The obligatory expressions of concern and empathy, then the tearful outrage at suicide bombings, then the twinkle in the eye and the chuckle in the voice as the old pros reminisce about their favorite coups–the bomb in the cell phone being a real crowd pleaser. And that indeed is what we get in The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh’s documentary, which brings six men who’ve never spoken about their work, the successive heads of Shin Bet, before the tribunal of a microphone and a movie camera.

Only it’s not what you expect. All of the above does happen (and that cell phone is still enough to make you want to switch back to a landline), just not in service of justifying the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Eloquent, serious men who can barely muster a smile among them, the Shin Bet spymasters have independently come out as–well, as one says with a snort, “retirement has made me a liberal.”

Any satisfaction this admission may give is counterbalanced by The Gatekeepers’s distillation of the last 45 years of tit-for-tat provocations, killings, bombings. Israel was supposed to return the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 War. It didn’t. Instead, it gave itself custody of a million Palestinians and a moral abscess that has now poisoned the country.

Visually, the film is better, terser and less “video-gamey” than Zero Dark Thirty, which pales into insignificance against it. What the Mac Guff studio and Moreh can do to a single photograph, taking us inside it and reenacting a rescue attempt on a hijacked bus, putting us in the first-person-shooter seat, will give you the creeps.

Way over here in Hawaii our existential worries are about potholes and North Korean mushroom farms. The whole Israel-Palestine thing at times feels like a snub of the Pacific Rim; but it should not deter you from checking out this film, because it’s really about us as well as them.

Consider the drone. Consider the solo console operator sitting in a darkened trailer in Henderson, Nevada, who has to decide whether to take out an Afghan in an SUV. He’s doing this in our name. For us, by us, so we shall–I guess–not perish from the face of the earth. And so he obtains clearance over a fiber-optic hookup to the Pentagon, and, with the National Security Advisor listening in from the office next to the Oval Office where they do these things, releases the hellfire. Scratch one family. Punch the clock, go home for a dinner with your own spouse and kids, then a little TV and so to bed. Where, thanks to the vigilance of our protectors, the only thing we have to fear is our nightmares.

Friday, April 05, 2013

BFF Beatniks: A Film Review of "On the Road"

from the Honolulu Weekly:


Kristen Stewart makes up for Twilight, Garrett Hedlund gives good Gosling.

BFF Beatniks

YOLO Neal Cassady pushes On the Road into a groove.


Going in, the main question in my mind was “How long before the alt music kicks in and a bottle of Budweiser and a Ford 150 show up?” Product placement, I figured, would be where this noble attempt at getting Jack Kerouac right would meet its fate. How can Hollywood resist the mother of all road movies?

That was before the first orgy, or let’s just say threesome, between the Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady character (Garrett Hedlund, who makes a quantum leap from Tron), the proto-gay Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg character (poorly written, then underplayed by Tom Sturridge) and that adorable Twilight girl, Kristen Stewart, as Marylou, who keeps stealing scene after scene with her tousled hair and good-girl-gone grin. On the outside looking in is poor wistful Sal Paradise (Kerouac via Sam Riley, whose caved-in expression recalls, in a good way, Kyle McLachlin’s in Blue Velvet).

Even if you don’t know who Neal Cassady was, or Allen Ginsberg, or, God help you, Jack Kerouac, this could still be a movie for you. You might have had your own Dean Moriarty in your life–the kind of no-rules no-fear YOLO BFF who lives and loves without a care for what society thinks and takes you along for the ride. He’s a sociopath, but such a fun guy you forgive him again and again–until the day you grow up and leave him behind, just like that, and he’s the one out in the cold. For you and your now-bourgeois friends, he’s that dude you talk fondly about, knowing he’s out there living on the street, sleeping on a cardboard box over a subway grate.

Even if your tolerance for self-absorbed silly-sounding young men is low, you can still gorge yourself on this Franco-Brazilian venture, produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Zoetrope after a 34-year-journey and a couple of collapsed productions. What we have here, in addition to a cast of committed Kerouaceans (Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen as William S. Burroughs) is some extraordinary cinematography, profound American landscapes as you’ve rarely seen them, a couple of nice recreations of the bebop jazz scene ca. 1949, lots of early-adopter drug abuse and lots more sex–straight, bi and even, Lordy, a glimpse of the famous buggery scene editor Malcolm Cowley and Kerouac decided to cut from the published manuscript. That takes balls, so to speak.

So there’s something for everyone. The first 20 minutes feels shaky, not helped by what feels like the obligatory voice-over of the future famous writer. It could be John-Boy Walton. Then something happens to the rhythm and we realize this was Brazilian director Walter Salles’s (The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara’s own On the Road) intention all along: to let us feel the callow yearning for Real Experience of the inexperienced, brave-talking Columbia students (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lucian Carr). Enter Professor Moriarty: con man, thief, automobile ace, sexual decathlete. The roman candle is lit.

Look, folks, go see this for the Neal in your own life. Without Cassady, there might not have been any Beat movement, hence no Hippies, no Summer of Love, no Grateful Dead bus road trip (a Cassady-led replay of On the Road, well captured by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), no counter-culture, no Barry Obama playing cool jazz riffs on political discourse to the maddened hepcats in the crowd. Neal gets his movie here. And it’s now our movie, too.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Today I was asked to apply to the NewYorkerTimes

Yes, you read right. Not one but two of the most famous names in journalism and belles lettres read my DonWallaceFranceBlog on Tumblr and pinged me on Twitter. Not bad for a first post, not bad at all…

Only problem? The site isn’t either one of them. Quel domage. As Conrad Melville said, Oh, the chutzpah.

Herewith the site’s own requirements for an editor in chief and associate. I admit I was still intrigued about being invited to apply until I read this fine print:

Writers that aspire to become chief editors are expected to submit an average of one-and-a-half articles per day. In addition, a chief editor and his/her team must accumulate an average of 1 million page view each month. Though the task may appear difficult, those that aspire to this lofty goal will be taught and assisted by a Frackle member that has consistently accomplished this task. Writers, honored as Chief Editors, receive compensation above the industries standard.

But wait: I could still apply to be an associate editor…

associate editors are expected to submit an average of one-and-a-half articles per day. In addition, an associate editor and his/her team must accumulate an average of 500,000 page view each month. Though the task may appear difficult, those that aspire to this lofty goal will be taught and assisted by a Frackle member that has consistently accomplished this task. Writers, honored as Associate Editor, receive compensation above the industries standard.

Think I'll stick with DonWallaceFranceBlog and this one, for now.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Night and Day: What changes the moment you sell a book: VILLAGE IDIOTS

I was deleting emails while sitting on my son's futon at midnight in New York City. Really, I was waiting for Rory and his fiance Kaitlin to say goodnight so I could hit the futon and sleep, only I wasn't, really, because we all were prolonging the moment, sitting side by side, squeezed in tight, on laptops or smartphones, on my last night before heading back to LA and then Honolulu.

So onward marched the keystrokes, deleting the newsletters and announcements I'd mindlessly signed up for and never unsubscribed from because I get lonely not hearing from anybody in, like, the last five minutes of any given time period.

And in-between I read and stored for later reply the condolences over my mother's death a couple of weeks before. Also moved to folders a couple of bills. And after about 100 emails I came across the first true surprise: a subject line that read: EXPECT OFFER SOON.

I'd been getting a bunch of emails from friends whose Facebook accounts had been hacked, so I took my time before opening it. We all know the Nigerian scam, though in Honolulu there are newspaper reports every week of old folks who are still falling for it. (The "last fool" in every scheme must live in Hawaii Kai, an entire retirement home filled with semi-conscious plungers whose children have been unable to separate them from their bank accounts.)

Even though the sender name was my agent's, I hesitated. Even though I always open hers instantly. I guess, somewhat ingenuously, that I slowed down my usually flickering fingers because there had been no news on that front for a long spell. But this is about the nature of now and then, Night and Day, the instant between the Shadow and the Act. And because of that subject line and because, well, she's my agent, I knew that it had changed.

It = life. So I stopped and waited before opening the email. Those 30 seconds were the most enduring reward for having spent years on a manuscript. There's no point in hoarding the emotion, or videotaping your bugged-out eyes and O of the gaping mouth. 30 seconds over Tokyo. And then the finger descends on the key and all suspense is eliminated.

The emotions and calculations that follow are many, but not really important. The huge anxiety is surprising. I thought a weight would be lifted. But that's not how it is with books, I should've remembered. There is no closure, no final judgment, in writing a book. Even if it's acclaimed, you know where the cracks are, where the seams are showing. But that's okay. Living with that anxiety keeps you on your toes for the next book.

The takeaway? As it turned out, Casey had one more at-bat in him. And a few days later Publisher's Weekly ran the following item, everything boiled down and spoken out of the side of the mouth in terse, squint-eyed publicity agent Broadwayese:

"Journalist and author of One Great Game, Don Wallace's VILLAGE IDIOTS, of how a ruin they couldn't afford on a tiny French island too far from home renovated the lives of this American family, to Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks, by Laurie Fox of the Linda Chester Literary Agency."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Downton Abbey Blockaded by Hawaiian Royals

from the Honolulu Weekly:

What happened that dark and stormy night Downton Abbey was invaded by members of the Hawaiian royal family? A true story...

Sovereignty Moment

A new PBS mini-series collides with Hawai‘i’s sovereignty movement.


Perhaps it truly was an accident. But something real intruded on the third season premiere of the PBS hit mini-series Downton Abbey two weeks ago. Hours before the screening at ‘Iolani Palace, to which a select guest list had been summoned by faux formal invitation, the event moved to the PBS Hawaii offices. Some didn’t get the word in time, and had to be re-routed from the Palace, but not before seeing the reason why: a solid line of protestors, said to be from Kauai, chanting and holding signs in support of Hawaiian sovereignty. And, it must be said, pakalolo.

It was explained before the screening that the protestors were actually scheduled (that’s our Hawaii!) for that night. But something about the mood of this group–“the same monarchists who blocked the Superferry,” one PBS official said–led the station to hastily reconvene.

Although we do love our royals (Lady Di, Kate and William, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier), America, in its provenance and rhetoric, is an anti-aristocratic country. But not in Hawaii, the one state with a monarchist movement and several contenders for a royal throne and court (some of whom have actually occupied said throne, if only for a stolen moment or two). These royals we fear. We reschedule royal palace screenings to avoid them.

So inconveniently inconsistent, humanity.

If you haven’t seen it, Downton Abbey is heir to Masterpiece Theatre’s crown jewel, Upstairs Downstairs. Both shows portray the masters and the servants of a grand house during 30 years of war, class war, suffrage, stock market crashes and social change. The show’s allure comes from watching characters grow from callow to sophisticated (or crushed) in an arena of sniping, snobbery and entitlement–a great manor house as high school. We love these stories. My grandmother wept over Scarlett O’Hara and Tara, her antebellum mansion, in Gone With the Wind. (So did Chinese audiences in Shanghai, where the movie ran for an entire year in 1947 as the Communist 8th Army closed in.)

When we enjoy these shows, we don’t think about the labor that supported the aristocratic system: the Caribbean slave plantations behind the fortunes Jane Austen wrote about, the factory labor and colonial conquests that propped up Great Britain. Here, a Victorian-American-Hawaiian aristocracy ran up huge deficits, which necessitated an economic transfusion from contract labor for plantations, i.e., human beings sequestered in barracks by race and ruled by whip-wielding lunas.

Which brings us back to the protest at the Palace. Were they there to decry the well-dressed (some in vaguely Edwardian style) guests occupying the symbol of the stolen Kingdom of Hawaii? But since the alii and royals of Hawaii patterned their government, clothes and diction after the British model and not the American, shouldn’t the protestors have been happy to see a finely drawn portrait defending (so it is said by critics) a class-and-birth stratified way of life?

Perhaps it was all a misunderstanding.

Or, perhaps they were, consciously or not, asking for a Downton Abbey of their own, created in the crises and contradictions swirling around ‘Iolani Palace, telling their story in such a way as to gain the sympathy and admiration of the world.

So admirably inconsistent, humanity.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Crazy Love: Film Review of Silver Linings Playbook

from the Honolulu Weekly:

Crazy Love

Count the ways to love Jennifer, Bradley, De Niro, DeSean and the Eagles.


Call me a cynic, but I am so over the romcom–the will-he-get-her-in-the-last-shot kiss. Also, I am done tearing up. Well, almost. I admit to wiping away some grit in my eye at the conclusion of Silver Linings Playbook, but that wasn’t due to this peculiar, quite good comedy’s shameless manipulation of my emo gene. It was mostly the joy of seeing something I’d never dreamed would translate to the silver screen actually and surprisingly materialize before my amazed eyes: a psychoanalytic celebration of American football fandom.

Yes, yes, I know that romantics will go to the movie for the celestial mating dance of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. They’ll get their money’s worth. And film lovers will love how it scans as a mix of Hamlet and Mamet, Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted. Even the flaws are endearing–Robert De Niro, our national loveable lug, again plays an obsessive eye-popping motormouth.

But this movie’s fast pulse comes from painting a solid portrait of a blue-collar Philadelphia Eagles-loyal neighborhood. The spot-on rants and dialogue make real poetry out of the unexpected: Mom churning out gameday “crabby snacks” and “homemades” (cheese steaks), the running joke about the Eagles’ most splendidly arrogant player, DeSean Jackson, who is to the NFL what Alcibiades was to Socrates’s famous dinner party on love, The Symposium.

People who don’t care about football or even hate it don’t have to worry–there are no semi-tough on-field scenes a la Jerry Maguire. David O. Russell’s direction and script make clear that this is a story about grief and mental illness. We live in a medicated age, and the riffs here on the lives of OCD and bipolar characters aren’t sidebars to the narrative. They are the story, in the sense that love only makes sense as a glorious disorder.

The plot opens with the release of Pat (Cooper) from the nuthouse, sprung by his mother (Jacki Weaver, who has a wonderful repertory of reaction shots). He’s obsessed with getting back with his estranged wife, who has a restraining order. Everyone tries to reason with him, but as we soon see, reason isn’t this family’s strong suit. Dad (De Niro) has lost his business and is making book on football games. He’s also florid OCD when it comes to the Eagles. Pat goes on a fancy set-up date with Tiffany (Lawrence), whose cop husband was killed by a drunk driver. After Pat (wearing his DeSean Jackson jersey) and Tiffany (in black lace goth) spend five minutes talking about their meds, they leave the dinner and are heading for a hookup when Pat defiantly announces, against all evidence, that he’s about to save his marriage–to the wife he caught in flagrante, which precipitated his assaulting her lover, which led to the nuthouse.

Romcom vets will recognize the second act complication–but plot is just the hoagie roll. Between the bread, the sandwich filling is salty and savory, veering from the antic to the nerve-wracking: Tiffany’s history of one-night stands, a ruinous bet by Dad, a dance contest, an exasperated cop who really doesn’t want to lock up Pat. Toss in a wacky fellow inmate from the asylum, well-played by a mercurial Chris Tucker, and a couple other sharply drawn supporting characters, and the result is practically effervescent. Amidst the fizz, Pat’s mental illness is actually kind of grounding. As are the Eagles.

Ever since Hamlet, madness and mental illness has been sucker bait for actors, screenwriters and directors. It all works just fine here. And as a bonus, Silver Linings Playbook offers up a sneaky way to suggest to your sports-addict Dad/Brother/Boyfriend/Husband that he really does need help.

*Author Note: I am inordinately proud of myself for getting all the way through this review without mentioning that DeSean Jackson and I went to the same high school, Long Beach Polytechnic. I mean, how cool is that? Pretty cool, huh? Wow, huh? Uh, hello? Do you know I even met him once, when he was only fourteen? Oh, well...

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

How to Catch (and Cook) a Giant Squid

I'd recommend a Whopper Stopper Fliptail Lizard modified with tentacles (easily done using your basic rubber worm ) run out on a downrig to about 400 fathoms with a 200 lb lead sinker. Give it some light action. Don't yank to set the hook: it's a squid, for Christ's sake. Let him take the Kirk Douglas mannequin all the way into his gullet. Then slowly increase the rpms on your diesel and slowly, gently tow him toward the 28-foot-diameter frying pan you've seasoned with garlic, butter and a dash of white wine. Invite lots of friends, there's going to be plenty to go around.


Elusive giant squid caught on video for the first time
For centuries the giant squid has been the stuff of legend, but now, for the first time ever, scientists have collected footage of a giant squid, ( Architeuthis), in its natural habitat, thousands of feet below the ocean's surface.