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Thinking about catching the new Bradley Cooper vehicle, “Aloha”? My mom says you’d be better off waiting until it’s out on Netflix.
That should be pretty soon, judging from the reviews and the box office take.
“Meandering and insubstantial, ‘Aloha’ finds writer-director Cameron Crowe at his most sentimental and least compelling,” is the critics consensus, according to the film-ratings website.
Meanwhile, the opening-night box office was $3.6 million, ranking it sixth, well behind the No. 1 film, “San Andreas,” which pulled in more than $18.2 million and stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The headline in Variety on Saturday was “‘San Andreas’ Set to Rock Box Office with $47 Million Debut, ‘Aloha’ Left in the Dust.” The article forecast “Aloha” to earn “a modest” $10 million to $11 million by weekend’s end.
I took my mom to the 10:15 a.m. Friday showing at Kahala Theatres, and that was fortunate, because the Consolidated chain always shows that dramatic hula performance before the featured film — the one with the torch-bearing dancers that Denby Fawcett once wrote about for Civil Beat. (Denby’s column was so popular it has been shared 3,700 times.)
If the hottest actor in America can’t save a movie, then it probably can’t be saved.
After the movie, my mom — Patricia Blair, for all you readers who troll through the comments section following Civil Beat articles — told me she liked the hula clip better than “Aloha,” even though she’s seen it multiple times.
Still, there is something of value in watching “Aloha,” and even better in talking about it. There have been complaints in certain circles that the film has too many white actors in a state that is 70 percent nonwhite, and that it misappropriates Hawaiian culture, especially naming the film “Aloha.”
I’ll first review the film, and then I’ll talk about the talk.
If the hottest actor in America can’t save a movie, then it probably can’t be saved. Bradley Cooper, after all, starred in the most popular (and controversial) film of 2014, Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” and was nominated for an Oscar for his work.
So was Emma Stone, Cooper’s co-star in “Aloha,” who was part of the stellar cast of the movie that did win Best Picture earlier this year, “Birdman.” Throw in Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray and an appealing turn by Rachel McAdams, and you’ve got a heck of a lot of star power.
But “Aloha” is just OK, intriguing in some spots, incoherent and awkward in others. It’s a poorly scripted film with pretty scenery and pretty people, feebly stitched together by a soundtrack and enriched with just a few funny bits.
Here’s a brief plot setup:
Cooper plays a once hotshot military contractor who returns to Hawaii for a new job involving a space program. He runs into the love he’s still carrying a torch for (McAdams) but also falls in love with a spunky Air Force captain (Stone). Murray plays an Elon Musk-meets-Larry Ellison-type character using his billions to enter the outer space business for mysterious reasons, while Baldwin plays a grouchy Air Force general.
I should state here that I am not the biggest Cameron Crowe fan. I loved “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which he wrote after going undercover at a California high school, but I didn’t care for “Jerry Maguire” or “Almost Famous.”
I did enjoy “Say Anything,” though, which features the famous scene of John Cusack holding up a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” to win the affections of Ione Skye.
Nothing in “Aloha” rises to the level of authentic romantic angst or charm that Crowe captured in “Say Anything,” and it’s no wonder that executives with Sony were freaking out about the film’s lameness long before its release.
Even Crowe’s touch for great soundtracks (he used to write for Rolling Stone magazine) is suspect here. While there are a lot of Hawaiian songs (and a nice vignette where Ledward Kaapana leads a round of “Waimanalo Blues,” during which my mom started humming along), I can’t figure out why he also chose to play “Factory Girl” by the Rolling Stones. It just didn’t seem to fit or add anything.
I also wish I had “Aloha” on Netflix right now, because I would have liked to hit “pause” and “replay” a couple of times to review what I think I saw.
I could be wrong, but it seemed like Cooper and Stone were driving through Waikiki one second and then along the Koolau Range in Windward Oahu the next.
In another scene, Hawaiian sovereigntist Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele — who plays Hawaiian sovereigntist Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele — is looking up at the sky from his Waimanalo compound during a downpour. Next thing you know, the rain has cleared. And I swear I saw a snippet of Hawaii being referred to as the 49th state, rather than the 50th.
(Comment trollers: Feel free to correct me on this below. Also, see if you can tell me what was the setting for the fictional Hotel Royal Aloha in the movie. Mahalo.)
Bumpy is actually one of the best things about “Aloha.” He has a natural screen presence, and he wears a black T-shirt that reads “Hawaiian by Birth” on the front and “American by Force” on the back.
Bumpy Kanahele wears a T-shirt that says “Hawaiian by Birth. American by Force.”
That’s another worthwhile thing about “Aloha.” While it never goes too deep, those who do venture to see the film will learn more about the Hawaiian independence movement than they could possibly have anticipated. I wonder what the Hawaii Tourism Authority might have to say about all those upside-down Hawaiian state flags in the film.
Crowe also deserves kudos for trying to at least illustrate Hawaii’s critical role in the military-industrial complex, one that extends beyond our atmosphere. Oahu is one of the most militarized places on Earth — a “footprint in the Pacific,” as is noted in the film — with bases and other facilities on some of the most prime, beautiful real estate. The scenes shot on the Air Force base at Hickam capture some of that.
As well, I can’t remember the last time I heard the words “mana” and “Menehune” and the deities “Lono” and “Pele” repeated so many times in a Hollywood picture. That was sorta cool, although I squirmed when a character in “Aloha” suggested that Cooper’s contractor is the resurrected Lono.
Finally, for my $8.75, the best scene in “Aloha” involves hula and the Arts and Marks Garage. (Sorry, I won’t give it away.) John Krasinski is also terrific as McAdams’ quiet husband while Danielle Rose Russell, who plays McAdams’ daughter, is a young actress to keep your eye on.
Which brings me to the matter of race. (Full disclosure: I am a haole-American.)
My younger Civil Beat colleagues, who spend a lot more time than I do using social media and so know what memes are, passed along a version of the “Aloha” promotional poster that substitutes the word “Haole” for the word “Aloha.”
It’s pretty funny (it’s reproduced here), and it’s also accurate. I think it’s important to raise the question about whether it is inappropriate to have white actors in all the lead roles. But, instead of just having Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders take some of those roles, I would have also cast more blacks and Latinos.
The reason is that “Aloha” is filmed mostly on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Having spent a lot of time there, as well as on other Oahu bases and being a military brat myself, I can tell you that many of the leadership roles in the U.S. military are indeed held by Caucasians. But there are a lot of blacks and Latinos serving in our military, too.
The U.S. military is increasingly diverse, and it’s worth pointing out that the new head of the U.S. Pacific Command is Asian-American.
Also disconcerting to me is that Cooper’s love interest, Stone, is 14 years younger than him, which continues another unfortunate Hollyweird casting pattern.
Our president is black. Our next one may be female. Our governor is Japanese-American (half-Okinawan) and our congressional delegation has been among the most diverse of any state. But we’ve still got a very long way to go in this country toward pluralism, let alone an entertainment industry that is more reflective of the society it purports to depict.
The careers of the blue-eyed Cooper and the perky Stone will survive “Aloha.” Hawaii will move on too, just as we did from Ben Affleck (“Pearl Harbor”), Taylor Kitsch (“Battleship”) and, way back in the day, Max von Sydow (“Hawaii”).
This latest brouhaha will soon pass. Hollywood is not going to change its casting habits.
This latest brouhaha will soon pass, too. Hollywood is not going to change its casting habits (although we’ll likely see more Latinos in top roles, reflective of the country’s changing demographics). Steve McGarrett and Danno will still be played by white guys.
As for Crowe, who calls his movie a “love letter to Hawaii” (one in which he forgot to stamp the envelope), he just became a lot less bankable.
Oh, one more thing: What is a Kamehameha Iced Tea? Maybe it’s something that really is served at the Hickam Officers Club, as seen in the film, and maybe it tastes like an Arnold Palmer or something.
Regardless, it got me thinking about Kamehameha, who united the kingdom and who once was the topic of a possible film treatment. Dwayne Johnson was bandied about as playing the great man. Objections arose, noting that Johnson is Samoan and black.
I think there would have been another problem, however. Kamehameha was said to be over 7 feet tall. Johnson is only 6-foot-5.