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Lights … camera … Maui!
October 20, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
A couple of years ago, after molding Willie K and Eric Gilliom into the Barefoot Natives and guiding the duo to two successful CDs, Brian Kohne found himself on the Mainland looking for work.
After a few setbacks trying to get a job, he sat down and wrote “Get a Job” instead. Kohne shared this story with an enthusiastic Honolulu audience Saturday where the culmination of his labors had just had its world premiere at the Hawaii International Film Festival, HIFF.
The rollicking comedy of “Get a Job,” reuniting Willie K and Gilliom in the starring roles, received a warm reception from the audience, including many of the film’s “stars” and crew members who had flown in for the occasion from Maui and elsewhere.
Casting Willie K as the hapless employment counselor, William, and Gilliom as a virtually unemployable manchild named Merton, Kohne took inspiration from vintage screwball comedies like “It's a Mad Mad World,” where chaos is the starting point and things get crazier from there.
After his boss (Vinnie Linares) makes Merton a test-case employment challenge, William spends a week sending his goofball client on one job after another, with increasingly disastrous results.
Willie K, better known for his musical talents — including his current Na Hoku Hanohano Award for best male artist — plays straight man to Gilliom's mugging slapstick caricature that invites comparisons to Jerry Lewis in the old days, or “Mr. Bean” more recently. Merton’s a surfer who surfs where there are no waves, a walking —or bike-riding —definition of arrested development, whose greatest pleasure in life is snatching papayas and pineapples as he cruises by on his bike, sometimes perched on the handlebars.
“Get a Job” will have a repeat HIFF showing at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at Dole Cannery Mall before a gala, star-studded Maui premiere to benefit the Maui Arts & Cultural Center the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28.
Maui audiences will get a kick from the easily recognizable locations in the production that was filmed entirely on-island.
Local folks may notice that the editing takes some license with the actual map — Wailuku, Lahaina, Kahului and Paia all blend into one not-so-urban corridor, for instance — but identifying specific locations is part of the fun.
So is spotting your friends and neighbors in the cast. Over the week, as William and Merton essentially trade places in the story — and in the relationship with William's fiancee (Carolyn Omine) — they’re supported by music stars like Jake Shimabukuro, Avi Ronin and Mick Fleetwood in comic roles; comedian Augie T as a not-too- swift cop; Amy Haniali‘i singing “Ave Maria”; Hawaiian rapper Kealoha doing his thing; and Willie Nelson, Pat Simmons and Henry Kapono in the wedding band.
Other key roles go to longtime theater performers like Kathy Collins, Marsha Kelly, Bill Hensley and Camille Romero; cultural figures like Alaka‘i Paleka and Charles Ka‘upu; newcomers Chelsea Hill and Yaemi Yogi; a scene-stealing dog named Oliver Rose; the film’s producer Stefan Schaefer in assorted women’s wear; and lots of close celebrities of the Maui kind pressed into service as extras.
In his new role as movie writer-director, Kohne pointed out that it was a first-time project for most of the participants. Producer Schaefer is a veteran who has guided several indie films to international festivals, and he brought some key crew members with him from his home in New York. But the rest of the production is homegrown.
There’s a definite “let’s put on a show” aspect of the whole thing, Kohne pointed out in his comments at HIFF.
But unlike live performances on stages at Baldwin High School or the Historic Iao Theater where many of the cast members got their starts, this one grew up to be a real-live movie — one that can travel, bringing its light-hearted, distinctly Maui outlook on life to screens around the world.
Just getting a film “in the can” is a minor logistical miracle, known to anyone who has ever tried. Getting one with this many locations and logistical challenges to look this good, on a budget of $200,000, is even more remarkable.
Sweetness, good intentions and its own goofy definition of “aloha spirit” make up for some of the first feature’s roughness around the edges. Some bits work uproariously; others, not so much. There are also a few raunchy moments that parents may not relish having to explain if they bring young kids along.
Local viewers in Hawaii will get added chuckles from scenes like the one where Gilliom corrects Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele playing. But the comic rapport between the film’s stars and the likability of their characters will be universal for audiences to relate to, far beyond Hawaii’s shores.
Made on a budget that wouldn’t cover catering on a typical Hollywood production, “Get a Job’s” thank-you credits roll on and on.
For those of us sucked into its orbit working for minimum wage (T-shirts for the extras), its rough edges quickly give way to a sense of ownership — the cheerful cooperation that made the film paid off every day on the set in aloha and laughter.
The test now will be to see if that spirit — the feeling that it’s our movie — rubs off on the audience. My guess is that it’s going to be pretty hard not to.
That same sense of ownership added excitement to a cast-and-crew premiere of Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” earlier this week, prior to the drama’s national opening Friday.
Warner Bros. had generously made the print available early, coordinating with Maui Film Commissioner Benita Brazier, as a thank-you gesture for three days of location shooting in Lahaina earlier this year.
With local talent Cyndi Mayo Davis, Lisa Griffiths, young Jessica Griffiths and Derek Sakakura landing speaking roles, the footage shot on Front Street footage opens the film.
Inspired by the tsunami that devastated portions of Indonesia in 2004, the scenes duplicate the sensation of a sleepy, serene paradise, ravaged in a few seemingly never-ending seconds into a vision of hell.
Brilliantly using special effects to make the audience share the experience of being caught up in the omnipotent wave with the film’s star Cécile De France, the terror is intensified for local audiences by being so familiar with the settings in the wave’s path.
Turning usual cinematic formulas upside-down, these opening scenes are practically the only “action” in Peter Morgan’s screenplay. Instead, the meditative drama concerns itself with the aftereffect of de France’s near-death experience. Her story is braided it into concurrent strands involving Matt Damon as a San Francisco man trying to escape his psychic powers, and Frankie McLaren as a London schoolboy, traumatized by his own encounter with death.
Venturing into such unknown territory and tackling a subject that is usually too terrifying to even be contemplated in our society, the film’s meditative pace and absence of definitive answers haven’t won praise from all reviewers.
They would from this one.
“Hereafter” offers occasional glimpses of the afterlife itself, complete with the prerequisite bright white light at the end of the tunnel, rendering the beings there as silhouettes casting long shadows. “Hereafter’s” concerns, however, lie less with the dead than with death’s effect on the living.
Instead of offering answers, it gives compassionate visions of our painful, lonely longing for them.
Beginning with Damon’s understated command as a self at war with itself, every performance is brilliant. Eastwood has unmatched gifts working with actresses —along with de France, Bryce Dallas Howard shines whenever she’s on screen.
“Hereafter” is a masterpiece of visual elegance and economy, with Eastwood adding subtlety and nuance to his filmmaking palette. Cinematically lovely, aided by Eastwood’s haunting musical score, there’s not a wasted word in Morgan's screenplay (half of which is in French, with subtitles), and not a wasted frame onscreen.
With all the pain and fear elicited by the subject matter, perhaps the most wonderful thing about “Hereafter” is its ending, as it strikes a beautiful grace note of hope worthy of the film’s title.
Being at “Hereafter’s” preview screening reminded me of another Eastwood premiere I attended more than 25 years ago.
It was when I still lived in Santa Cruz, Calif., and it was a cast-and-crew screening of “Sudden Impact,” much of which Eastwood and his Malpaso Productions team had filmed in our town.
It was the last of his Dirty Harry films, which had the vigilante detective trying to solve a string of apparent serial murders.
It was a cartoony cop-action ride, best remembered for adding the line, “Go ahead, make my day,” to Ronald Reagan’s — and the nation’s —vocabulary.
Few would have guessed then that its star would one day be regarded among Hollywood’s greatest, and wisest, filmmakers.
He was still early in his directing career then, still learning, still painting in the broadest strokes, still trying out new ways of connecting with the audience.
Kind of like “Get a Job.”
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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Young Maui actress Jessica Griffiths and star Cécile de France in “Hereafter,” photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.