The night Gecko Books bought out “Batman”

BatmanWaikiki3There’s a black and white photo hanging near the doorway in Gecko Books. It’s of a crowd in front of the Waikiki 3. “Batman” is on the marquee. It looks timeless, which seems antithetical for the ’80s. I always wondered what the story behind that photo was.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tomorrow has been officially named “Batman Day” by DC Comics to celebrate 75 years of the Dark Knight. Consolidated Theatres will be joining in the celebration with a screening of the Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson classic, “Batman,” for its monthly Hana Hou Picture Show.

I remember seeing “Batman” in high school. A gang of us went to Sizzler Waikiki before the show. Two of my friends challenged each other to an “All You Can Eat Shrimp” battle. One ended up barfing in the bushes outside, the other groaned through the entire film like he was giving birth. When I think of “Batman,” I’ll always think of that night. Which brings us back to that photo.

Ted Mays opened Gecko Books on Waialae Avenue in 1986. Originally, it was a used bookstore, but today, at its new location on 12th, it’s a geek treasure trove. It’s a place to get your hands dirty and unearth graphic novels, action figures and all sorts of fanboy magic. Now I’ve been going to Gecko’s since I was sporting fuschia and neon HIC slippers, so I felt comfortable asking Ted about the photo.

Sometimes movies have backstories that are even better than the films themselves. I talked with Ted and we took a ride on the DeLorean back to 1989…

Ted Mays, owner of Gecko Books.

Ted Mays, owner of Gecko Books.

It’s the summer of 1989. Paint the picture.
We were kinda riding high in ‘89. We opened a second store in Kailua. Comics were booming. Cards were doing pretty well. So it was a big event and I was a big Tim Burton fan. I loved “Beetlejuice.” I thought he’d bring something cool and original to the movie.

Tell us about that photo and what you did that night at the “Batman” premiere.
The logic was, this was a big event and this is the first time they’ve devoted an element of respect towards the medium. And there were a few indicators that this thing was going to explode. There were kiosks in Kahala Mall that just had Batman merchandise.

Everybody was wearing that black corduroy Batman hat.
It was all just selling really well. The excitement level was insane.

How many tickets did you buy?
I can’t remember. I had $2,000 cash. Back then you couldn’t just reserve one screening like you can nowadays. You could only buy tickets the day it showed. I figured I’d just go buy out one of the shows. I could afford it – not that I could afford to buy all the tickets and give them away (laughs).

I think ticket were $3.50 or $4. I remember getting something like 25 kids tickets and 500 or so adult tickets. It was more than half of the theater, but I don’t know what the capacity was. I went down in the morning. And that was kind of surreal too. When I got there about a half an hour before the box office opened, there’s like one person in line. The guy in front of me wanted one ticket for the very first show. Then I step up and ask for over 500 tickets.

CONS-23499_BATMAN-5What was the ticket person’s reaction?
(Laughs) It wasn’t anything comical. So I went back to the store. I gave each of my employees 10 as a gift then we just sold the rest at face value at the counter. The tickets were long gone. I sent everyone down ahead of time, locked the door at 8 o’clock, had a cab waiting and bolted down to Waikiki for the 8:15 show.

Some of our younger readers may not even remember the Waikiki 3. What was it like?
It was gigantic. It had 1,000 seats at least. It was built in the ’30s. It was THE showpiece theater. It had a beautiful entryway with stairs that you can barely see in the picture. Very ostentatious kind of vibe to it. On the weekends it had an organist that would come in a half hour before.

What was the energy like with the place packed with fanboys?
It was exactly what you’d hoped. There was no context. There was absolutely nothing to compare it to. That’s one of the reasons why I forgive it – it’s not one of my favorite movies. But I did understand, Batman is different things to different generations and they’re constantly revitalizing him in some way. They went from science fiction, detective Batman in the ’50s, to campy, silly, anything-can-happen Batman because of Adam West. What’s been proven, I guess, is that Batman can withstand even nipples on the Bat Suit (referring to the “Batman and Robin” film).

What was it like at the end of the movie?
Very much enthusiastic. I remember having a good time, enjoying myself. I was swept up by the good things. Not agonizing over the silliness. It obviously captured the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. I definitely felt like the king of the castle or whatever. More than half of the audience was our crew, our friends, probably quite a few more because the word was out that we were targeting that one show.

BatmanPoster-Bat1Many believe “Batman” was the beginning of the modern superhero tentpole film. Did it feel significant?
Oh, for sure. I would rate it as world-altering. In comic history there’s basically before Batman ‘66 and after. Before Tim Burton, Batman ’89 and after.

Favorite Batman: West, Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney or Bale?
I would say – since I met Adam West. It was humbling. I made a point to tell him I had a comic store in Hawaii and I said that I could’ve been a doctor or a lawyer, probably, but because of you I sell comics for a living (laughs).

So what did he say?
(Adam West voice) I will take that as a compliment.

When you look at that photo what do you think of?
Intense nostalgia for Waikiki. It’s sad, I don’t ever go there anymore. When I first came to Hawaii, I had very fond memories of being down there. It’s a lost era in so many ways. The big marquee. Classic theaters. I grew up in the Bay Area and I’ve seen lots of them go away over the years. That was a boom year for us. I guess, bitter sweet in so many ways.

“Batman” screens at Consolidated Theatres Ward on Wednesday, July 23 at 7 and 10 p.m. as part of the Hana Hou Picture Show.

Also, celebrate “Batman Day” on July 23 at Gecko Books. They’ll be giving away Batman masks, comic books and they’ll have special Batman merchandise on sale. Visit the store at 1151 12th Avenue or call 732-1292.

Movie poster courtesy of MVNP

“Batman” Trailer

12½ questions: Adam Braff, ‘Wish I Was Here.’

WishIWasHereDesktopIt was a good night for Adam Braff.

Last night at Consolidated Theatres Kahala, a packed house was treated to the Hawaii premiere of “Wish I Was Here.” Braff co-wrote and produced the film with his brother, Zach Braff, who also directs and stars in the film.

It’s been a little more than a year since the movie was funded on Kickstarter by 46,520 backers, raising 3.1 million dollars of the film’s budget. Then there was an ambitious 25-day shoot, a selection at the Sundance Film Festival, and numerous Kickstarter screenings. Finally, Braff—who lives here on Oahu—was home. And last night, he sat with his friends, family and hometown crowd to see his first feature on the big screen.

There were laughs (Zach Braff delivers on the quirky humor that made “Garden State” so unique), tears (Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin give moving performances), and full-blown weeping (the guy in front of me really needed a tissue). For Adam Braff, it was a fitting end to a remarkable journey.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Braff to ask him 12 random questions (and one, clumsy attempt at a joke) about writing “Wish I Was Here,” Kickstarter and sibling rivalry.

AdamBraffHow does a Hollywood writer wind up living in Honolulu?
My wife grew up here and always dreamed of moving back. We met at UCLA and lived and worked in LA for 25 years. We needed a change. What we didn’t know was how much I would love it here.

Where did the idea for “Wish I Was Here” come from?
Zach pitched an idea about a struggling actor, who is forced to home school his kids when he can no longer afford private school and who’s wife works full time to support the family. That situation was dangerously familiar to my own.

It’s a great title. How did you come up with it?
Years ago, spitballing on the old, postcard cliche. I always thought it would have been a good title for “Garden State.” I pitched it to Zach for this and it stuck.

Music is practically a character in “Garden State.” With “Wish I Was Here,” did you or Zach have specific songs in your heads that set the tone for your writing?
Zach has a gift for finding great music and he won a Grammy for “Garden State.” I stuck to the writing (the “tone” usually “set” by screaming kids).

What do you love most about living in Hawaii?
A lot of things. After living in LA for so long, Oahu has a small-town atmosphere for me. I actually see people I know walking around. There is something about island living that gives me a “we’re all in this together” feeling. I love how the whole “Uncle and Auntie” system keeps us one big family. And let’s face it; if I have to drive somewhere to pick up my kids, I’d rather it be Manoa than Culver City.

What do you miss most about LA?
Trader Joes.

“Wish I Was Here” and “Veronica Mars” were pioneers in using Kickstarter to fund major motion pictures. Tell us about your Kickstarter experience.
The Kickstarter experiment and windfall has been remarkable, but I had very little to do with it. It was about my brother putting his hard won brand on the line. I was concerned for him, but when I saw that contribution number grow – I knew we were making a movie. The Kickstarter backers made this movie happen. All of us are deeply grateful and indebted to them.

AdamandZachBraffWhat are some of your creative influences?
Linklater, Peter Weir, Terry Gilliam… it’s a never ending list.

What’s on your DVR?
Homeland, True Detective.

How often do you get asked “What’s it like working with your brother?”
A lot. By my Dad.

What’s it like working with your brother?
Writing together can be a conflict of egos, but I think Zach and I have reached an age where we were both able to trust each other more and do what was best for the story. On set, we worked very comfortably together and I always felt it was nice for him to have a trusted voice in the chair next to him.

Give aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers a piece of advice.
If possible, always have a celebrity brother with international recognition and a broad Internet presence.

Tenacity.

What are you writing next?
I’m working on a couple of new movie ideas, but features are a hard sell these days. I’m planning to pitch a cable show; my contribution to the apocalypse genre. I just hope they don’t make me move back to LA.

“Wish I Was Here” is now playing at Consolidated Theatres Ward Stadium 16.

“Wish I Was Here” Trailer

Movies that mean summer

FrolicSummerMoviesFor me, summertime means movies. But sometimes, those movies have meanings of their own. Movies are time travel. Like hearing your favorite summer song, films can uncork a flood of memories from the past. Does that mean in 20 years, some tween will rewatch “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and be transported back to the summer of ’14? Let’s hope not. But I can’t blame them if it does.

To prove my point, I asked four of my most esteemed film nerd friends what movies defined summer for them: Anderson Le, director of programming for the Hawaii International Film Festival; Matt Spencer and Ryan Senaga from The Red Band Project and Frolic movie reviewer Myong Choi. Are our alpha summer films better than “Transformers 4”? Maybe not. But hear us out:

Anderson Le’s pick: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” for me, is the most impactful film in the quadrilogy of Indy films. It’s not necessarily the best (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) or the most fun (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), but “Temple of Doom” is the Indy film I saw multiple times at the theater. Why? Because it was at the beautiful and majestic Cinerama Theatre, formerly on King Street, and I went to summer school at Washington Intermediate that fateful summer of ’84.

Being barely a 9-year-old kid, “Temple of Doom” was a cornucopia of things that little boys loved to see, from evil guys who rip out still-beating hearts from the chest cavity of a person, to a dinner scene where monkey brains are the main delicacy. And this all happened in a PG-rated film! Because of parental uproar, the MPAA soon created the PG-13 rating.

Aside from “Temple of Doom,” that summer of ’84 saw releases at various Honolulu cinemas that are no longer around. Highlights include “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” at the Waikiki Twins. “The Karate Kid” at the Varsity. “Purple Rain” at the Kapiolani. “Cloak and Dagger” at the Marina Twins. They’re all gone now.

Ryan Senaga’s pick: “The Dark Knight”
As we rapidly computer generate ourselves into the middle of the second decade of a new century, the film that screams summer blockbuster for me is the relatively recent “The Dark Knight.”

For a film released only six years ago, we already feel nostalgia for it. “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” blend into our perceptions as well, but it’s the middle chapter of this trilogy that left us devastated smack in the middle of the summer of 2008, and we were already disappointingly crushed by “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Batman’s sacrifice, Rachel Dawes’ death, Harvey Dent’s descent into villainy, and The Joker’s unstoppable reign of anarchy that correctly illustrated some men just want to watch the world burn. Purposefully or not, the film symbolically tapped into our post 9/11 times as well as our cinematic cynicism: If Spielberg could mess up so badly, our summer flick season was no longer safe.

Why do we react so strongly to Bat-Fleck? “Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of the Justice League” has studio, star power, and money behind it and yet, it still can’t rise from behind the lessons we learned from “The Dark Knight.” It wasn’t the comic book movie we expected, but it was the epic we deserved.

Myong Choi’s pick: “Breakin’”
“Breakin’” doesn’t necessarily define the term “summer movie” for me, but is definitely my fondest summer movie memory. I must have been around 10 or 11 at the time it was released. I remember waiting anxiously in a long line in front of the now gone Kapiolani Theatre on opening night to watch it.

Why was I so excited? Because it was the first time I was at the movies without my parents. To my surprise, my protective Korean parents trusted me to go watch the film with my friends and I felt so much like an adult that night. I even had my own money to pay for popcorn and soda. I wasn’t even a breaker (although I secretly practiced at home), but I was a great fan of the music and couldn’t wait to watch the first real movie about break dancing.

At the time I thought the adventures of TKO (Turbo, Kelly and Ozone) was cinematic genius. I’m still a fan of the film to this day but nothing beats the memory of experiencing one of my first grown-up moments.

Matt Spencer’s pick: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I remember the summer “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” came out. I walked out of Waikiki 3 after seeing it for the first time and was just blown away. All I can remember thinking was, “Man, I can’t wait to see that again!” This was a time when action movies WERE action movies. When explosions were real, stunts were performed on location, and when Arnold Schwarzenegger shined us all with “hasta la vista, baby” (you know, before that whole “Batman & Robin” thing).

To me, “Terminator 2″ epitomizes what an epic summer movie should be. It should have a strong lead protagonist, a villain that’s truly evil, and action that you don’t just see—you feel it as well. It should also have a couple of great (not cheesy) one-liners, life and death stakes, and it should transport you to a world where you feel like you’re in mortal danger, but you want to be there just the same.

Back then I would’ve given anything to have a T-100 of my own.

My pick: “The Karate Kid, Part II”
Pure puberty. For me, it smells like Liz Clairborne and Aquanet. Drakkar and Right Guard Sports Stick. It sounds like “Papa Don’t Preach,” by Madonna and “Crush on You” by the Tongan supergroup, The Jets. And in the summer of 1986, it looked like “The Karate Kid, Part 2.”

To me, LaRusso and Miyagi in Okinawa is summer. Maybe it’s because the movie was filmed here on Oahu. Maybe it was Tamlyn Tomita’s messy bangs. Maybe it was Chozen’s passionate, “You keep for your correction!” But mostly it was because I was working as a YMCA Summer Fun Jr. Leader that summer. I remember our “Karate Kid II”-themed teen dance, complete with little inflatable pools filled with floating lantern lights. We slow danced to Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love,” on some mix tape playing on some boom box, elbows locked and hands clammy, in the dark of the YMCA mat room.

This sequel wasn’t crane-kick-to-the-face amazing like the original film was. And there were far better blockbusters that summer including, “Top Gun,” “Aliens,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” But “Karate Kid 2″ takes me back to a simpler time, just before things got a lot more complicated.

Anderson Le is the director of programming for the Hawaii International Film Festival. He’s also a founding member of the Asian American pop culture blog YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily, which is celebrating its 5th anniversary this summer. Follow him at @ale808.

Ryan Senaga is the former arts & entertainment editor at Honolulu Weekly and writes about movies for The Red Band Project. Follow him @ryansenaga.

Matt Spencer is just your average cinephile who worships at the altar of the Alamo Drafthouse and occasionally gets paid to watch movies in the theater (though it’s not as great as it sounds). He rants about movies over at The Red Band Project. Follow him at @yoda808 or @redbandproject.

Summer binge-watching guide

Daenerys-Game of ThronesAh, summer. For most in Hawaii that means sun, sand and sunburn. But for some (I know you’re out there), it means something else. This one goes out to the pale ones. The ones who ask: Why lie on the beach, when you can lie on the couch? Why dine in when you can take out? Why go to a bon dance when “The Karate Kid II” is on HBO2? For the binge-watcher, summer is a time to catch up on some of pop culture’s most talked about TV shows.

So forget the summer reruns and WNBA. Stock up on some snacks. Unroll the Snuggie. Keep a few mason jars handy in case of emergency. Here are my picks for some of TV’s most binge-worthy shows, conveniently ordered from longest watch times to shortest for optimal binging.

“Game of Thrones” (HBO GO)
4 seasons, 40 episodes
Roughly 60 minutes/episode
40 hours (One full work week)

I’ve figured out George R.R. Martin’s secret recipe for “Game of Thrones.” 1) Take all the expected, happy-ending tropes of sword and sorcery fairy tales… then do the exact opposite. 2) Make the outcome 100 times worse. 3) Throw in some boobs. The most talked about show on television has its season four finale this Sunday night. So if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of this brutal fantasy filled with dragons, ice zombies, giants, a little bit of incest and a whole lot of murder, get off social media (you WILL be spoiled) and make yourself comfortable.

“Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
2 seasons, 26 episodes
roughly 60 minutes/episode, 90 minute season 2 finale
25 hours, 1 minute (One all-nighter and change)

Season two of this critically acclaimed show just made its debut last weekend on Netflix and the buzz has been seismic. Full disclosure, I’ve only seen the pilot of this show, but I thought it was funny, smart and sexy. For women, it’s a transformative story set in a women’s prison. For men, it’s a story set in a women’s prison. Nuff said.

“Sherlock” (Netflix)
3 seasons, 9 episodes
90 minutes/episode
13 hours, 30 minutes (about how long my wife was in labor with our first child)

I’ve covered my feelings about “Sherlock” for its season three premiere here. In short, the show is brilliant. And just in time for summer, Netflix just added the third season to its queue last week. So put on your thinking caps, anglophiles and Sherlockologist. The game is on.

“Freaks and Geeks” (Netflix)
1 season, 18 episodes
44 minutes/episode
13 hours, 12 minutes (the wait for one original Ramen Burger)

This 1999 show about misfits surviving high school in the ’80s is ground zero for comedy nerds. Created by Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) and executive produced by Judd Apatow (“This is 40”) it stars a who’s who of today’s biggest talents: Seth Rogan (“Knocked Up”), James Franco (“Pineapple Express”), Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), Linda Cardellini (E.R.), Busy Philipps (“Cougar Town”) and Martin Star (“Silicon Valley”). To this day, it’s still one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen.

“Firefly” (Netflix)
1 season, 14 episodes
44 minutes/episode
10 hours, 16 minutes (Not much longer than all three “Lord of the Rings” movies)

If you’re a single woman and you want to date a nerd, just watch “Firefly.” Created by geek god Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Avengers”), the clever characters and inventive story lines of this western/sci-fi hybrid hit its stride in the latter half of the season. Perhaps that’s why there’s so much love for this short-lived show—Whedon created a big, fun, fantastic world, full of what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.

“True Detective” (HBO GO)
1 season, 8 episodes
roughly 60 minutes/episode
8 hours (Call in sick to work. You deserve it.)

Television > movies? “True Detective” makes a strong case. This hard-boiled, neo-noir is a cross between “Se7en,” “Silence of the Lambs” and that weird philosophy teacher you had in state college. Expect Emmy nods for Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, director, Cary Fukunaga, and creator, Nic Pizzolatto. The McConaissance will continue for Matthew McConaughey, who’s a smart bet for an Emmy win. And stay tuned for the epic gunfight in episode four. It’s a six-minute long, uninterrupted take that’s up there with Orson Welles’s opening for “A Touch of Evil.” It’s one of the most cinematic scenes I’ve seen all year—in or out of a movie theatre.

So what are your most binge-watchable shows? Well, pass the popcorn and kakimochi. We all have some catching up to do.

10½ questions: Kaui Hart Hemmings

Photo courtesy of Kaui Hart Hemmings

Photo courtesy of Kaui Hart Hemmings

It’s hard to believe this is only the beginning for Kaui Hart Hemmings. Her critically acclaimed first novel, “The Descendants,” was adapted into an Oscar-winning film directed by Alexander Payne. She walked on the Oscar red carpet. She had dinner with George Clooney. Saying this Punahou grad had an auspicious debut is an understatement. Hemmings won 2011.

In her new novel, “The Possibilities,” Hemmings writes about another tragedy in paradise, but this time the setting shifts from sandy beaches to snow-white slopes. Set in the resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado, “The Possibilities” is the story of Sarah St. John, a woman struggling with life after her son tragically dies in an avalanche.

ThePossibilitiesHemmings is in top form. Her writing, which draws from her experiences living in Breckenridge after graduating from Colorado College, is spare yet cinematic. It’s sharp in its wit and blunt in its honesty, blurring the lines between comedy and catastrophe. It’s no wonder director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up In the Air”) has already optioned the film rights to the book. When it comes to Hemmings’s future, “The Possibilities” is aptly named.

Hemmings took some time to answer 10 random questions (and one poorly conceived yes/no question) about the novel, her writing, her DVR and townies.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It’s not something you can really declare like a major, or apply to, like a job. After college I just wanted to take a stab at it. I didn’t know I wanted to be one until I was one.

What is it about the theme of family that’s such fertile ground for you?
It’s not so much a theme as it is this thing that we all have, a small container in this big, big world. I guess I like to tackle the small stuff.

Biggest difference between Colorado and Hawaii besides the weather?
Pot is legal. And you can take road trips. There’s a feeling of boundlessness there.

What’s the first book that really made an impression on you?
“The Story of Ferdinand, the Bull Who Just Didn’t Want to Fight.”

Courtesy of Kaui Hart Hemmings

Courtesy of Kaui Hart Hemmings

Give me three summer book recommendations (besides “The Possibilities,” of course).
“Astonish Me” by Maggie Shipstead. “Bread and Butter” by Michelle Wildgen. I’m looking for a third.

I’m a townie. How would you convince me to move to the Windward side?
I’d rather not convince townies to move to the Windward side.

Touché. What’s on your DVR?
I don’t have one. But I’m into Fargo the series. I love what television is up to these days.

What’s your most surreal Hollywood moment?
The best ones I’ll keep to myself, but tweeting about the Artist and upsetting the entire country of France was pretty weird.

I used to love your hilarious “How to Party with an Infant blog.” Ever think of resurrecting it?
No.

Fair enough. What are you writing next and will you be returning to Hawaii?
My next is a young adult novel set on Oahu.

Give all the aspiring writers out there one piece of valuable advice to improve their writing.
Read, and don’t write about your feelings.

“The Possibilities” is available in stores and online now. You can follow Kaui on Twitter at @kauihemmings, on Instagram at @kauiharthemmings, or like her on Facebook.