‘Kuleana’ — writer/director Brian Kohne’s made-on-Maui, film-festival award winner — is headed to more festivals in Oklahoma, Kentucky, California and Guam in coming months. But it’s not the only movie with strong Maui connections on theater screens these days.
I caught two of them, “The Glass Castle” and “Logan Lucky,” at Ka’ahumanu Theaters last week, enjoying $7 “Mahalo Days” ticket prices celebrating Consolidated’s 100th anniversary of showing movies in Hawaii. Consolidated is running a short film featuring folks including Henry Kapono talking about the experience of going to the movies here in the islands.
The experience of “going to the movies” — sitting in a dark, high-ceiling theater surrounded by strangers, sharing the powerful emotions emanating from the screen — feels like it’s on borrowed time. But no matter how much technology, distribution strategies and changes in human behavior shrink the images to fit on your phone, for some of us movies will always be larger than life, a wonderful, powerful fantasy shared with strangers in a temporary community that one film professor likened to going to church.
In Hawaii, the Consolidated trailer — the one with the hula dancers, the torches, the rocky beach and the drumbeat at dusk — is an integral signature of it all. I saw that clip for the first time at Ka’ahumanu Theaters’ grand opening — how many decades ago now? Consolidated boss Phil Shimmin, who had created the trailer, flew over from Oahu for the premiere, and Nina Maxwell’s halau danced live to the powerful Jon de Mello-produced music outside the lobby.
The young, lithe dancers in the hula trailer — those still alive — must be grandparents or great-grandparents by now. The message card that followed them on the screen politely asked people to refrain from talking during the film. If the message had requested no texting during the show — as it does now — no one would have had a clue what that meant.
“The Glass Castle” has its own ties to Maui. Its bright, compelling star, Brie Larson, was a 2013 Maui Film Festival honoree before going on to win a best-actress Oscar a couple of years later. Co-star Woody Harrelson is a longtime Maui resident who was also a Maui Festival honoree in 2004.
And “The Glass Castle’s” director and co-writer, Destin Daniel Cretton, was born and raised on the island where he graduated from Maui High School before heading for college, then launching a stellar career in the film industry.
He masterfully directs and co-wrote this adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ brutally honest, best-selling memoir of growing up dysfunctionally in a poor family led by a charismatic dad with big dreams and a big alcohol problem. It’s a cautionary tale of the collateral damage of following your bliss.
Harrelson and Naomi Watts, as his self-styled Bohemian artist wife, play two of the most irresponsible parents to ever find their way to a movie screen. The kids bear the brunt of their parents’ free-spirited selfishness in scenes often difficult to watch. Fueled by dad’s delusional fantasies — and his drunken abuse after sundown — the family station wagon is never far ahead of the bill collectors, crossing the map through a series of unlivable shacks with no food in the fridge, which is usually turned off anyway.
That Jeannette and her siblings not only survived but thrived is one of the film’s wondrous surprises, along with the love, forgiveness and humor it finds. Between the powerful, vulnerable performances of Larson and especially Harrelson, and the depth of Cretton’s understanding and empathy, “The Glass Castle” feels shattering in the early going, but finds its way to redemption in a powerful third act.
Across the hall, “Logan Lucky” is a quirky caper comedy revolving around North Carolina’s hapless Logan clan and their plans to rob Charlotte’s famed NASCAR Speedway during a big race.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it’s a redneck version of his “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise, prompting the studio to brand it “Ocean’s 7-11.” Everyone in the ensemble (including Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” star Channing Tatum; Daniel Craig cast hilariously against type; Hilary Swank; Seth MacFarlane) looks like they were having a blast. The Logans’ supposed dumbness compared to the intricately convoluted plot is the biggest joke of all.
Adam Driver plays one-armed bartender Brother Clyde in LOL deadpan fashion. Adam was honored at the Maui Film Festival two years ago in a memorable tribute interview that felt more like an Abbott and Costello routine.
So 100 years later, going to the movies in Hawaii remains a thrill . . . especially if you feel like you know the people up there on the screen, one way or another.
* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.