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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.