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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.