Why “The Interview” shouldn’t be pulled

Several weeks ago cyber hackers infiltrated the computers at Sony Pictures and publicly released private emails, documents and even full-length movies such as the upcoming release, “Annie.” At first the leaked documents were fluff – emails about celebrity salaries, closed-door negotiations and future movie spoilers. Then things got serious. A group called the Guardians of Peace threatened moviegoers with 9/11 type attacks if they see Sony’s upcoming comedy, “The Interview,” which pokes fun at North Korea and is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day.

interview2“…Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. All the world will denounce the SONY.”

 

Despite reading like bad dialogue from an over-the-top villain out of a terrible B-movie, sounds pretty threatening, right? The big movie theater chains apparently thought so. As a result of the major chains refusing to show their film, Sony pulled the plug on the release of the film completely.

Bad move.

First of all, let me decide if a movie is awful, not a bunch of computer nerds. This sets a terrible precedent for any artistic work in the future. Now any individual or group can spew out similar threats against anything they don’t believe in and get their way. What if the KKK threatened terrorist action against the film, “Malcolm X?” What if Germans said “Nein!” to “Schindler’s List?” And would Hollywood take such action if obnoxious rednecks protested their portrayal in “Tammy?” Well, I actually wish they had on that one.

The point is we cannot let such threats jeopardize the artistic freedoms this country has fought so hard to protect. I realize this is an entertainment industry decision and not an Executive decision, so all that “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists” stuff doesn’t apply, but come on! There’s some really strong reasoning behind that rationale, and I wish people would stop pandering to the mindless masses just once and take a strong stand.

interview3And yes, I understand that any threat to take human lives should be taken seriously and safety always comes first, but let’s be real. If it truly is the North Koreans who are behind the Sony cyber-attacks and making these threats, it’s not like the decision to pull a silly movie out of theaters will make them love us all of a sudden. If someone has it out for you, they will take action sooner or later, and the North Koreans, as annoying as that crick in your neck that just won’t go away, so far have only tried to see if the U.S. will flinch, without any serious bite behind their bark.

But what’s done is done, and I fear what will become of Hollywood’s future. Some of the most memorable films in history were quite controversial upon release, and if Hollywood becomes too scared to approach such topics and strike a few nerves in the future, we can all look forward to a bunch of safe and dumb movies about superheroes, toys or imaginary characters such as elves and hobbits. Oh wait, I guess we’re already too late. Anyone have Dennis Rodman’s number? Maybe he can help.

No surprise Ben Jay is out

Photo from The Official Ben Jay Twitter (@HawaiiManoaAD)

Photo from The Official Ben Jay Twitter (@HawaiiManoaAD)

University of Hawaii Athletic Director Ben Jay resigned yesterday after serving just a little shy of two years in the position. Citing personal reasons, he will remain as AD until June 30, 2015. For many University of Hawaii athletics fans, including myself, the announcement was just a matter of time. There haven’t been many positive moments during his tenure, but many questionable decisions.

First, there was the indecisiveness regarding the names of the sports teams. After deciding to call all male sports teams simply “Warriors” as his first major move as AD, he then quickly reversed his decision and changed the name to “Rainbow Warriors.” He never was going to please everyone with either decision, so it was quite a revelation of his lack of fortitude that he didn’t stick to his guns.

Then the men’s basketball team fell under a still ongoing NCAA investigation. Knowing that the investigation likely involved former head coach Gib Arnold in some capacity, he offered Arnold an extension on his contract anyway. Arnold, along with assistant coach Brandyn Akana. was soon after fired “without cause.”

And we don’t really have to mention the miserable football team, do we? The tens of thousands of empty seats at Aloha Stadium scream of the community’s indifference to the failing program.

Jay gained few supporters during his brief stay and his departure will be viewed as a step in the right direction by many. It doesn’t, however, relieve the University of all of its problems. With the seemingly revolving door at upper campus, it’s apparent that there certainly are issues above Jay’s level. Stability is one word that the university’s higher ups are not familiar with. Whether Jay is truly leaving due to family issues or for other reasons, the UH fan base will probably never learn the real truth. UH has always been secretive of what goes on behind their closed doors, and I doubt that anything will change now.

As is the norm after each failed hire, all fans can do going forward is hope for the best. There will be a new AD in place by next July and fans throughout the state will immediately present that person with a wish list for the department, most likely leading with firing the football head coach Norm Chow, who will stay on as head coach for now as announced yesterday morning along with Jay’s decision to step down. Well, you all know how I feel about that. If not, here’s a post I wrote about Chow.

Who are the early Oscar contenders?

The winter season is upon us and that means movie studios will be releasing their hopefuls for all the upcoming awards, most notably the Oscars. Here are my reviews of the first batch of these films, along with prediction about which major Oscar categories they will be nominated for.

“Birdman”

Genius. Simply genius. Michael Keaton plays a washed up actor trying to escape his past as a superhero character (sound familiar?) by producing and directing a Broadway play to prove that he is indeed an artist and not a Hollywood sellout. Keaton delivers the best performance of his career, but as good as he is, Edward Norton absolutely kills in every scene he’s in, playing an arrogant, yet brilliant, theater actor. Emma Stone also reveals some real talent playing Keaton’s former drug addict daughter. Oh, and did I mention that the entire film is shown as one long, continuous take? Like I said, genius.

Will be nominated for:
Best Picture
Best Director – Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Best Actor – Michael Keaton
Best Supporting Actor – Edward Norton
Best Supporting Actress – Emma Stone
Best Screenplay
Best Cinematography

“Interstellar”

Director Christopher Nolan delivers his most ambitious project yet, and it’s one worthy of his already impressive resume. Matthew McCounaghey doesn’t waste his comeback to A-level status and is terrific and believable as both astronaut and father. The imagery is awe inspiring and the film successfully explains physics in a way that is easily understandable. It does run a bit long, but it’s forgivable since it’s so pretty to look at. Oh, and that score!

Will be nominated for:
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score

“The Theory of Everything”

Speaking of physics, who hasn’t heard of Stephen Hawking? We all know him as the brilliant mind in the fragile body with the mechanical robot voice, but what do we really know about the man? “The Theory of Everything” takes a look at the human side of Hawking’s life, but a little too much for me. Despite the brilliant performances by Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as the most supportive wife ever, I found myself wanting to learn more about his genius rather than his family life. The film reveals his brilliance by having others telling him often that he is, yet barely makes an attempt to explain why to the audience. The performances of the two leads are really amazing, some of the best of the year, but the film feels like a generic biopic overall.

Will be nominated for:
Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne
Best Actress – Felicity Jones

“Wild”

Based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, who hiked 1,000 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail to cope with a tragic loss, “Wild” has Oscar written all over it. It’s directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, who recently led Matthew McCounaghey and Jared Leto to Oscar wins for “Dallas Buyers Club,” and also stars another Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon in the lead role. Vallee has a bland, straightforward storytelling style and I walked out of “Wild” with the same feeling I had after seeing “Dallas Buyers Club,” with a general feeling of indifference. Both films are technically sound, but lack any true heart and passion. Witherspoon is obviously shooting for Oscar No. 2 with this role, but feels miscast as a former drug addict with a habit of sleeping around with literally any man who approaches her.

Will be nominated for:
None

“Whiplash”

Who would have thought that a little film about a rivalry between a music prodigy and his teacher could be so riveting? Miles Teller plays Andrew, a student at a prestigious music academy, who dreams of becoming the next great American musician. He knows that the first step to achieving that dream is to gain the approval and respect of the academy’s most renowned instructor, Mr. Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher is ferocious in his passion for jazz and expects the same out of all his students. There is absolutely no room for error in his classroom and any fault found will result in a literal slap in the face or a humiliating tongue lashing worse than you could ever imagine. Simmons’ performance is flawless, and he immediately is the favorite to win the trophy for Best Supporting Actor. “Whiplash” is by far my favorite movie of 2014 so far.

Will be nominated for:
Best Picture
Best Director – Damien Chazelle
Best Actor – Miles Teller
Best Supporting Actor – J.K. Simmons

Talking story with ‘Lava’s’ creators

"Lava's" writer and director James Ford Murphy (far right), with HIFF's Anderson Le, producer Andrea Warren and Napua Greig.

“Lava’s” writer and director James Ford Murphy (far right), with HIFF’s Anderson Le, producer Andrea Warren and Napua Greig.

Hawaii film fans were fortunate to get a sneak peek last week of the new Pixar-animated short film “Lava,” at the Hawaii International Film Festival. The Hawaii-centric film, about a volcano looking for love, is only seven minutes. But after the screening, the theme song — sung by Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig — stuck with me. I found myself singing it all the time; it’s just so catchy and sweet. Film fans will get their chance to fall in “lava” with “Lava” when it’s released in theaters nationwide on June 19, 2015 with the new Pixar film, “Inside Out.”

I had an opportunity to talk story with the film’s writer and director James Ford Murphy, who also played ukulele on the film, and producer Andrea Warren about “Lava” and their love for Hawaii.

How did you come up with the story about volcanoes falling in love?
JM: I wanted to do a story about something that really touched me emotionally. When my wife and I honeymooned here 25 years ago, I was just floored by all the beauty and the people, and I’ve always been fascinated with Hawaii since. Then about 15 years ago, I heard Israel Kamakawiwo`ole’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and I was blown away. I’ll never forget how profound it was for me, and I wanted to write a song that made me feel the same way and combine it with my powerful feelings for Hawaii. And as I started to think about it, I drew a volcano with a face on it on a napkin and wrote, “I lava you,” beneath it, and that was how it started.

Are you a frequent visitor to Hawaii now?
JM: I visit about once a year. I’m so inspired by the unique culture, the tradition, the respect to guests.

AW: Yeah, the aloha spirit here is so overwhelming. My husband and I have been here with our kids about eight times or so now.

lava1What are your favorite things about Hawaii?
JM: I love poke. And I’m a real nerd for the geology of the islands. I want to learn about it, about how many volcanoes there are and how old they are.

Andrea, what was your role as a producer on the film?
JM: Just yell at people (jokingly).

AW: I read in a book that producing is managing the people and the process. Collaboration and trust are so important in our relationship. My ultimate goal is trying to get Jim’s vision up on the screen. You’re always running into unexpected outside forces that you have to juggle, so you have to remain flexible.

Can you describe Pixar’s success in one word?
JM: People. Pixar hires the best people and creates an amazing creative ecosystem.

Jim, as a former animator, do you have a favorite animator or animation style?
JM: I’d have to say my favorite is Chuck Jones. My favorite cartoon is “Feed the Kitty.” What I love about it is all the humor comes from the emotional moments from the two characters. You watch it and just love it so much because of the relationship they have. It’s all about character interaction.

 Napua Greig (left) and Kuana Torres Kahele (center) performed last Friday evening as part of the "Lava" screening at the IBM Building

Napua Greig (left) and Kuana Torres Kahele (center) performed last Friday evening as part of the “Lava” screening at the IBM Building

There are online theories about connections between the Pixar films. Any truth to them?
AW: I’m still trying to understand the theory. There’s definitely Easter eggs in the films, but that’s all about all there is to it. There’s no deliberate attempt to connect all the films.

How did you find the vocal talent for the film (Na Hoku Hanohano award winners Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig) and get them on board?
JM: When I pitched the idea for “Lava,” I sang the entire song myself to John Lasseter (Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer). I told him that I intended to have the song sung by traditional Hawaiian singers, and he just ate it up. So I listened to Hawaiian music for the next year. Then we attended the Na Hoku Hanohano awards to meet all the talented musicians.

AW: It wasn’t a Hawaiian vacation. We literally spent all day at the convention center during the music festival.

JM: What I was looking for were voices that you’d believe would come from the Earth – strong and sweet. I needed that contrast, kind of like volcanoes, which are incredibly destructive, but so beautiful at the same time. Kuana is such a big guy with such a sweet voice, and Napua’s voice has so much gravitas that you just buy her as the character.

AW: They’re both so charming and delightful to work with. We could not be happier with them and learned so much from the both of them.

JM: They have the genuineness and honesty that we are looking for in our characters.

What will you be taking away from this trip to Hawaii?
JM: A sense of satisfaction and appreciation. The screenings were extremely rewarding.

AW: You work on a Pixar project for so long with the same people, so no one’s laughing at the jokes anymore. Now you get a fresh perspective from a new audience, and it’s so invigorating.

JM: I hope this exposes the Hawaii we fell in love with to the rest of the world.

HIFF Review Roundup

touseThe Hawaii International Film Festival kicks off Thursday, Oct. 30 and runs through Nov. 9 on Oahu and from Nov. 13-16 on Hawaii Island and Kauai. Once again, there’s a great lineup of films in all genres. If you didn’t see my earlier post about my must-see films, here it is. For the full HIFF lineup, visit HIFF.org

 

We’ll be reviewing some of the HIFF movies and rounding them up below. Here’s what we have so far:

“We Are Brothers”

Country: South Korea

Showings:

  • Sunday, Nov. 9, 2:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Sunday, Nov. 16, 12:00 p.m. at Waimea Theater Kauai

I’m a huge fan of writer and director Jang Jin. He has a great knack for writing memorable characters and his screenplays are some of the smartest in the Korean film industry. Jang, whose previous films include “Welcome to Dongmakgol,” “Guns and Talks” and “Someone Special” delivers another gem with “We Are Brothers.”

Jang has always been able to effectively mix together genres in his films and he continues this success in this film. “We Are Brothers” will have you laughing out loud in one scene then pull at your heartstrings the next. I’ve come to expect witty dialogue from Jang but even so, I was still amazed at some of the brilliant lines of dialogue in this film. There were at least a few moments where I thought to myself, “Now that’s a good line.”

If you are not familiar with Jang Jin’s work, “We Are Brothers” is a great way to introduce yourself to one of Korea’s best filmmakers.

Verdict: I want to have a drink with Jang Jin.

“A Hard Day”

Country: South Korea

Showings:

  • Monday, Nov. 3, 6:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Friday, Nov. 7, 8:30 p.m. at Koko Marina
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 7:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery

You think you had a hard day? Dirty cop Ko Gun Soo’s entire department is under investigation by Internal Affairs and his mother has just passed away. While driving to her funeral, he strikes and kills a man on a desolate road. Thinking that there are no witnesses, he puts the body in his trunk, intending to dispose of it later. When it’s revealed later who the victim is and how he’s connected to the police force, it’s the beginning of a crazy and wild ride as Gun Soo continuously has to cover his butt.

“A Hard Day” was not the film I was expecting but in a very good way. I thought it was going to be a comedy but in fact, it is an intense thriller that shows how far a man can go to save himself. Each time Gun-Soo think he’s in the clear, another clue shows up that can incriminate him and director Kim Sung Hoon and star Lee Sun Gyoon do a terrific job of building up the suspense and surprises along the way.

The Korean title actually translates to “going all the way” and that phrase is a perfect description of this film in terms of how far it will go to effectively tell its story. There are a few plot points that conveniently serve the storyline but overall, “A Hard Day” is a fun and thrilling ride.

Verdict: I’d go all the way again

“Haemoo”

Country: South Korea

Showings:

  • Monday, Nov. 3, 8:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery

The film’s trailer and title (“haemoo” translates to “sea fog”) led me to believe that it would be a natural disaster film but “Haemoo” is much deeper than that. In fact, the story of a crew of fisherman caught in a fog while trafficking illegal Korean immigrants from China is so crazy and intense that it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s based on true events.

Written and produced by Bong Joon Ho, the director of some of Korea’s modern classics including “Memories of Murder” and “The Host” as well as this year’s “Snowpiercer,” Haemoo” shares his knack for developing memorable characters. And while its script isn’t as sharp as Bong’s other films, “Haemoo” does succeed in building drama and intensity with each scene. The cast of stellar Korean character actors including the great Kim Yoon Seok bring the action to life and Shim Sung Bo, who wrote the brilliant screenplay for “Memories of Murder” shows that he also has a gift for direction in his first directorial effort.

“Haemoo” is South Korea’s entry in the Academy Award race for Best Foreign Film and it’s easy to see why. I just hope the rest of the world doesn’t think Koreans are crazier than we really are after seeing this film.

Verdict: Has strong sea legs

“Kabukicho Love Hotel”

Country: Japan

Showings:

  • Friday, Nov. 7, 7:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 1:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery

I usually like films about seemingly unrelated characters whose lives eventually intersect. It’s a great way to keep the viewer interested, especially for the modern ADD generation. “Kabukicho Love Hotel” uses this storytelling device effectively, with all of the action centered around a love hotel in the red light district of Kabukicho.

A love hotel is not a place where guests stay too long. Its purpose is to provide a nice and comfortable room for lovers to meet, and “Kabukicho Love Hotel” reveals the types of characters who visit and work in such establishments. Toru is the manager of the love hotel and in the course of a day, the hotel is home to a porn shoot with a surprising star; a prostitute working her last day before moving back to Korea; a man trying to con a young runaway teenager into becoming a prostitute; a pair of detectives having an affair and a cleaning lady on the run from a crime she committed 15 years ago.

It is easy to scorn those who visit love hotels, but the film’s greatest accomplishment is revealing that while they may not be as morally righteous as others, they are real people with genuine problems. Take a peek into this little known world and enjoy the show.

Verdict: Will keep you aroused

“Uzumasa Limelight”

Country: Japan

Showings:

  • Friday, Oct. 31, 6 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Tuesday, Nov. 3, 3:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 1 p.m. at Koko Marina

As a kid I watched a lot of the Japanese samurai TV drama “Abarenbo Shogun,” and of course the highlight of each show was watching the main character slicing away at the bad guys with his samurai sword. I gave little thought to the men he was killing, but after watching “Uzumasa Limelight,” I now realize that there was an art to dying onscreen.

Seizou Fukumoto stars as Kamiyama, a 70-year-old actor who’s made a career of getting killed off in samurai dramas. He is a highly respected actor, yet remains humble and modest. When his production company decides to stop filming samurai dramas, he’s left with a huge void in his life until he’s asked by a young female actress to train her to become a kirare-yaku, an extra who dies onscreen.

Fukumoto, a real-life kirare-yaku, gives a fantastic, yet quiet and subtle, performance as Kamiyama. He’s a man of few words but a simple smile or look from his deep set eyes can say so much. I was very impressed by his life-long dedication to his craft and how he always kept his emotions in check.

“Uzumasa Limelight” shines the light on a rarely thought about aspect of samurai dramas, and I am glad that I was able to see this film to appreciate them even more.

Verdict: Banzai!

“Yasmine”

Country: Brunei

Showings:

  • Saturday, Nov. 1, 8:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Sunday, Nov. 2, 2:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 3:00 p.m. at Koko Marina

I’m always in the mood for a martial arts flick, so I was pretty excited to watch “Yasmine,” which I thought would focus on the Southeast Asian martial art of Silat. Instead, “Yasmine” turned out to be a typical schoolgirl drama with boy crushes, resentment of the pretty girl, and yes, even the overbearing parent who doesn’t seem to understand their children. I’d never claim that the martial arts film genre was a deep one, but “Yasmine” never even attempts to dip its toes into the water.

The lead character is highly unlikable and selfish and not the underdog that audiences like to root for. And as for showcasing the art of silat, none of the masters featured in the film teach a single thing about the martial art. They are merely there as plot devices so that Yasmine can find her way to the silat championship, yet neither she nor the viewer has learned a thing about the art.

The action scenes are halfway decent, although highly choreographed and lacking natural rhythm and flow, but they are not enough to save this film.

Verdict: Opportunity wasted

“9-Man”

Country: USA

Showings:

  • Saturday, Nov. 1, 5:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Wednesday, Nov. 5, 5:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery

As a recreational volleyball player, I was really looking forward to watching “9-Man,” a documentary about a streetball game similar to volleyball played predominantly by Chinese men in the U.S. Like many other documentaries, “9-Man” introduces us to a handful of people passionate about the sport including players, coaches and even founders. The main storyline of the film leads up to the annual Labor Day championship tournament, but unfortunately there’s no true arc to any of the people featured. Their interviews are sprinkled in here and there, but never really go anywhere, and sometimes totally forgotten (so what happened to that half-Chinese kid from Canada?).

I did enjoy learning about the game and its history as I had never previously heard of it, and the racial politics regarding who’s allowed to play was also quite fascinating as players debated over how Chinese or Asian players were (an Indian player is not allowed to play, but black players who claim to have Chinese great grandmothers can). I also wish there had been more practice and game footage; I would have liked to have seen more on the sport’s strategy and gameplay. There is also an odd amount of time dedicated to Olympian volleyball player and local boy Kevin Wong, as if his participation in the sport validated its existence. Funny that after all the time interviewing him and talking about him, there’s no actual game footage of him doing anything significant.

Verdict: Bump, set, dink

“My Brilliant Life”

Country: South Korea

Showings:

  • Thursday, Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 1, 12:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 8:30 p.m. at Koko Marina

It wouldn’t be HIFF without a Korean tear jerker.

This year’s entry for the Korean Kleenex movie, “My Brilliant Life,” stars Gang Dong Won and Song Hye Kyo as the perfectly photogenic married couple Dae-Su and Mira, who are the young parents of a teenage boy Areum. Areum is 17, but looks 80 due to a rare genetic condition called progeria that produces rapid aging in children. While they are more known for their looks, Gang and Song are also good actors but the film’s plot doesn’t really give them much to do. Despite their financial shortcomings, they are portrayed as practically perfect parents. Areum’s story is also pretty straight forward. “My Brilliant Life” is one of the most predictable, what-you-see-is-what-you-get films I’ve ever seen, but I’m sure it’s bound to squeeze out a tear or two anyway.

Verdict: Empty tears