Thursday, October 29, 2009

Movie Review: This Is It

Four months after Michael Jackson's death we are being allowed to see what he was doing in those days prior to his death. This was director Kenny Orgeta's love letter to Michael. One should not expect to see the concert it is a documentary about that process. You will get to see what goes into the making of a multi-million dollar concert as conceived and executed by Michael.

For someone like myself who loves to know how things work, this was very engaging. Through out the movie the viewer is given snippets of the audition process, the lighting, stage set up, set transitions, dance preparation, special effects, props, pyrotechnics, and music arrangement. The announcement at the O2 Center in London was covered and the crowd was just wild about the possibility of seeing Michael Jackson's comeback concert. For the people who got tickets, if the show had gone on they would have been treated to a larger than life spectacle that would have been deserving of one called The King of Pop.

Michael is all about the process in this documentary. From the announcement of the concert, meeting the dancers, talking to the lead background vocalist, going back and forth with Kenny, trying different arrangements dance steps. It was an insight to Michael that we, the general public never really got to see.

The collection of video was taken during the start of rehearsal process and watching how it was stitched together while at one point with disconcerting, it showed the evolution of what would have been the final product. We see part of the rehearsal taking place in a room with black walls. We see them in the Staples Center where they were putting together the massive stage. First just a stage and some lighting. Then more lighting. Later we see the massive video screen in the back that would have added lots of dramatic effect to the concert. The clips are not shown in order. Some of the first musical sequences we get to experience are with the what looks like largely completed stage. Some of the songs at the end just have the minimal stage.

Michael himself. There were times during the movie where I got choked up. There is no denying that the man was born for music and entertainment. While the movie didn't get into anything outside of the concert we all know about the circus that surrounded his life. In my mind, I was hoping that these concerts would go well for him so that we could once again enjoy Michael the entertainer. With his death, this will never get to be proved out. He showed that he still had it. I constantly was drawn to his feet and what he could do with them to move around the stage held me spellbound.

With the rehearsal still in process we are treated to the what would have been moments. For Smooth Criminal we get taken backstage to see the taping of what would have been the background video. Combining live action, green screen, and the meshing with old movie footage. We watch as the movie cuts back and forth from what would be shown on the screen to what is happening on the stage. During Thriller we watch as corpse rise from their graves and are taped. Kenny and Michael are there giving directions for the dancers/actors as they watch on a special monitor using 3D glasses. In the last number we watch the background videos and then see a computer 3D mock up of what was to have played out on the stage.

What would have been if Michael hadn't passed away. Although I wasn't going to see the concerts there in London, I'm glad that I had a chance to see that Michael was as creative as ever putting this performance together. When you go to see the movie, make sure you stay through the credits. There are little bits added in there for you. Lately I've made it a habit to stay through what I call the "Blue screen or rating"

This movie is rated PG due to some of the crotch grabbing we've seen in Michael's choreography before and running time of 112 minutes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Movie Review: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

This was a fun movie! Went to the first show of the day at my local Regal Cinema. The complex had a lot of people for two reasons. One, the Hawaii International Film Festival was heading into it's last weekend. Two, the State of Hawaii due to budget issues had the public schools out on furlough Friday as well as many state departments. The theater was pretty packed for the first show of the day at noon time.

The movie starts and we see some interesting animations that were eye catching. In particular we see two figures that are treated like puppets that go through a number of events and situations encountering weird items. Once the live action starts we are introduced to two best friends. The good boy Darren (Chris Massoglia)and Steve (Josh Hutcherson)the bad boy. They find a flier inviting them to the Cirque du Freak that has been around for 500 years. In the conversations we learn that Darren has a thing for spiders and Steve has a massive interest in vampires.

At the show we are introduced to Mr Tall (Ken Watanabe) who heads up the Cirque and a number of other freaks like Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones) who has a waist no bigger than a softball, Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) who not only grows a beard but goes into trances to foretell the future, Evra the Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit) who while looking like and plays with snakes would rather be playing rock music and Lartan Crepsley (John C Reilly) who controls a rare spider thru flute music.

During the show Steve recognizes Crepley as a vampire and afterward begs to become a vampire but is turned down by Crepley saying Steve has bad blood. Steve is very upset at this. Due to an accident, Darren begs Crepley to save the life of his best friend Steve. Crepley agrees but only after Darren agrees to become part vampire to serve Crepley. Being part vampire allows Darren so be out during daylight. Steve later learns that Darren has become part vampire and is furious with him. He felt it should have been him while at the same time not knowing that Steve's deal saved his life.

We learn through Cepley about the Cirque, its inhabitants, and about factions within the world of vampires. He sets up the framework of what vampires can do (ie flit around very fast) and can't (ie turn into bats). Crepley and a few others including Gavner Purl (Willem Dafoe) have figured out how to survive in a non threatening way to the general population while many other vampires live in the old threatening ways. There has been a truce between the two sides. Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris) wants to see the two sides battle and devises a plan that pits the two sides of the vampire world which now includes having the two best friends go against each other.

The look of the freaks is impressive with their different powers/abilities/mutations. The plot was inventive and the special effects were wonderful. I was particularly impressed with John C Riley. Most of the time he plays a character that gets on my nerves very quickly. As Crepley he plays it smooth as a person who has been around the block a few centuries and really doesn't want to get caught up in other people's affairs. There was comedy, but he didn't come across as a buffoon. The part was wonderfully understated and the comedy was not over the top.

The run time of 108 minutes passed very quickly. It's rated PG-13 due to thematic issues and violence, death and dismemberment include in there.

The ending leaves it open for sequels and I will be looking forward to them as the saga continues. The movie is based on the first three books of a 12 book series. This should give them time to expand on some of the detail of the other freaks and explain why Mr Tiny wants the two sides to battle each other. Hopefully they keep the remaining movies as good as this one.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Review: Law Abiding Citizen

This is one of the movies where "The Man" gets what's coming to him. What is justice, what is revenge, what is right and what is wrong are questions that come up and are explored in this 108 minute R rated movie.

The movie starts quickly. A dad is tinkering on something while his daughter does some arts and crafts with letter beads. The door bell rings and the wife tells the husband to get it. As soon as the dad (Gerard Butler) gets the door, he gets clunked on the head by a baseball bat. The two bad guys tie him up, stab him and tape his mouth shut with duct tape and then clunk the wife when she enters the room. The wife then gets raped as the husband observes. Their daughter enters the room where the one criminal says that kids like him. You know that is bad and no good is going to come of it.

They jump to the court, the badder of the two bad men turns a deal with the prosecuting attorney Nick (Jamie Foxx). Clyde, the husband, doesn't want the deal and wants to go to court but Nick, afraid that his conviction record might not stay intact decides the deal is better. Clyde wants to see justice for his wife and daughter but is told that it's not what you know, but what you can prove in a court of law. No consolation for a deeply grieving husband. Nick is seen by Clyde shaking hands with the criminal.

Jump forward 10 years. The execution of the second criminal goes wrong and dies in agony. The first criminal has bad things happen to him too. This causes the police to suspect Clyde. He is arrested and taken into custody where is appears that his main target is Nick. While Clyde is in custody people associated with the original trial are picked off one at a time in some both brutal and high tech manners. How could this be since Clyde is locked up? Who is helping him and how is he able to pull them off? That's where the majority time of the movie takes place.

It was tough to watch at times due to the brutality. At times is was tough to watch due to the attitude of the legal system. I think at one point in time or another we all get upset with the system and the way it works whether personally or watching what happens with other people in the news. Law Abiding Citizen looks at some of the emotions that happen on both sides of the issue.

The movie didn't break ground in any of the cinematography, special effects or anything like that. The plot was intriguing and kept my attention as several twists and turns were presented and I didn't look at my watch once during the movie. There are scenes of severe brutality and blood and should be left to adults. A good first run movie.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

I didn't know what to expect from this movie and I got it. Having seen the previews for a few months, I checked out the book at Borders to refresh my memory. It was a short book, very short. There is a video on youtube that is narrated and uses the pictures from the book and it runs a total of three minutes. So this movie releases today with a PG rating and a running time of 101 minutes. How do you get from that short blurb into something so long? That is where director Spike Jonze with the help of Dave Eggers have to fill in the missing parts that weren't part of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book.

In the book, we know that when Max puts on his wolf outfit he creates mischief. In the movie we see Max played by Max Records that sometimes he wears the wolf outfit and sometimes he doesn't when he creates his mischief. It's not really clear why he's causing mischief, there seems to be several reasons, one of them being daddy issues which seem to be a common reason these days.

Instead of being forced to stay in his bedroom and have it turn into a jungle, Max runs away from his mom played by Catherine Keener. He keeps running and running until he finds the boat and sails for a long time to an island where he eventually finds the wild things. The meeting is rather interesting. The wild things have names, and voices and attitudes and attributes that weren't part of the book. Max reveals himself to them and they make him king after some chit chat.

The images of the beasts are right from the book. Created by the Henson Company, they look great. It's obvious due to the lip movement that these are not audio animatronic items like Mr. Potato Head who is the barker at Disney's Toy Story Midway Mania. The faces are computer generated. For me, they are memorable and I bought it.

The main beasty is named Carol, a guy voiced by James Gandolfini. He wants to be happy, but KW (Lauren Ambrose) left him. We don't know if they were married or dating, we just know that he's upset that she's spending time with Terry and Bob. You'll have to see the movie if you want Terry and Bob explained. Judith and Ira are a couple (Catherine O'Hara and Forest Whitaker). Alexander, Douglas and the one character without a name, the bull beasty complete the menagerie (Paul Dano, Chris Cooper and Michael Berry Jr). Through their dialog, it sounds like they all have issues from not being listened to, to loneliness, to insecurity and self deprecation. Quite a bunch of heady items for a "children's" movie.

The beasties except Carol aren't sure about making Max king, but they go along to make Carol happy. When Max declares, Let the Wild Rumpus start, they go through the forest and start destroying things. I'm sure down the road some environmental group will complain that the movie sets a bad example for kids. Doesn't matter that it was filmed in Australia, they'll complain.

Eventually after a few misadventures and bad decisions, it's discovered that Max really isn't a king. To avoid the emotions of the wild things and the possibility of becoming a snack to one of them, Max journeys back to his home where like all good stories his mom is waiting for him and embraces him heartily.

Some of the set designs are amazing. The look of the world had me going wow! In the previews you see an idea that Carol turned into reality and it looks awesome. The big home that they built makes me wish I could do something like that with branches.

Is this a kids movie? Not really for the small kids. It has a PG rating for a reason. There are fights, people and wild things get hurt. There is talk of eating Max. Some of the emotions that are shown both in the real world at the beginning of the film and those of the wild things themselves might need some explaining. Really. During the first part I thought to myself, this kid needs some anger management therapy. Would I call this movie a classic? No, not in my book.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Movie Review: Couples Retreat

Let me say up front, what attracted me to this movie in the previews was not the story, but the location. As soon as I saw the images, I knew this was filmed in Bora Bora which is part of Tahiti, French Polynesia. For over a decade I've had fliers from the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort hanging on my wall as a place that I want to go. The bungalows over the ocean with see thru floors and an outdoor lanai that leads down to the's BEAUTIFUL and this coming from a guy who lives in Hawaii! While not the BBLR, it was filmed at the St Regis Bora Bora.

So what's it all about? A group of four couples, three married and one dating go to Eden a luxurious resort in Bora Bora to work on their relationships. Well, actually only one couple, Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) wants to work on their relationship, the other three are there because the foursome were going to get an awesome Pelican Package pricing deal and are told they don't have to participate in any skill training aka relationship counseling sessions. While there they can enjoy what the island has to offer in the way that any world class paradise resort can offer.

The four couples fall into the stereotypes for these types of movies: Jason and Cynthia are having problems conceiving and wonder if they should call it quits and get divorced. Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman) have work, house remodeling and two boys to keep them busy in their daily lives. Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristen Davis) are the ones who have been together since high school due to a pregnancy and once the daughter is out of the house in a few months plan on getting divorced. Lastly is Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) a divorcee who is having trouble understanding why he's divorced and is now dating a 20 year old to fill the hole in his life.

Once on the island they discover it's an all or nothing deal for all the couples, all participate or all go home. After enjoying a delectable meal they decide that it can't be that bad and are willing to go through the skills training. In steps Jean Reno as Marcel, their training leader and his assistant Briggs played by Temuera Morrison of Star Wars Jango Fett fame. Marcel will help them explore their relationships and what is their animal spirit guide. Huh, what? Every other time we hear about animal spirits it's based on a person, not a couple. Weird mumbo jumbo stuff if you ask me.

The couples go through large and small group sessions and private counseling. We discover their hopes, fears, pains, loves, insecurities, and perceptions play out in the various settings. Several of the funnier moments of the movie are when Salvadore (Carlos Ponce) comes to train them in yoga. His long hair, chiseled body and speedo make the men uneasy and the women weak at their knees. With the beach scenes you do see the guys and they were not in shape...the women on the other hand were in shape for the movie and looked HAWT!

In the end the three married couples figure out their paths and the dating couple come to their resolution with an unexpected twist. The animal spirits are awarded and let the end credits run. Again, what with the animal spirits...did the screen play writers watch too much Brother Bear? Make sure you stay to the very end to get an easter egg.

Was it Was it Both sexes got some eye candy on the screen and the location shots are eye candy by themselves. I wouldn't pay full price, but I would pay a matinee price to go see it. It has a PG-13 rating due to some very awkward sexual scenes that you probably don't want to have to explain to someone who hasn't gone through puberty and runs for 107 minutes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Discovering Waikiki...still

I'm starting my 20th year of living in Hawaii, live 1/4 of a mile away as the crow flies and I still am discovering new things about Waikiki and haven't "done it all."

I had some time this afternoon and decided to go down to Waikiki to get inspiration for my Trapped in Paradise podcast. I got on the number 2 bus at the Kapiolani and Kalakaua intersection and took it all the way to the Kapahulu and Kalakaua stop. I usually don't take the bus that far down when I'm heading into Waikiki. Most of the time I walk into Waikiki.

After getting off the bus I was right in front of the Park Shore Hotel. I moved forward to walk into the lobby but then realized I passed two other hotels, the Queen Kapiolani and the Waikiki Grand. For both of those hotels, I don't remember being in either one since I moved to Hawaii. In the Queen Kapiolani I walked up to the 3rd floor where they have their pool.

There were only two people in the water and they were talking. I went over to the edge facing the road and looked out to see the famous Hawaiian landmark Diamond Head as I had never seen it before. It wasn't blocked by trees, I was looking over the trees at about tree level to view it.

The day was hot and humid with a capital H. On the pool deck was a soda machine. I was able to get a 20oz diet pepsi for a buck thirty five. Ho! That is quiet the deal, so I plunked in exact change and got my drink and headed out of the building.

Walking through the Waikiki Grand there was nothing special there. No special stores, art work, decor or furniture were to be found. The one big positive was that they had a door that entered Teddy's Bigger Burgers from the lobby. There I have eaten a number of times. They have good burgers!!

The original location, the Park Shore was next. I didn't go up to any other floors. The last time I was in there I was visiting a friend who worked the front desk. Outside there was an event going on and this person came in asking for the restroom. My friend Buddy said they were reserved for hotel guests. After the person left we both looked at each other and questioned who the person was. We realized that Buddy had told Michael Nakamura the Chief of the Honolulu Police Department that he couldn't use the Park Shore restroom. Not sure if he ever got scoldings for that one. I exited the lobby through the ABC Store. There used to be a long hall way that lead out to Kalakaua Ave but it has been long gone.

I walked along Kalakaua Ave past the Waikiki Beach Hotel, headed past the Marriott and then over to Saint Augustine's Catholic Church. At one time there was a Father Damien museum inside. In just a few days as I write this Father Damien will become a Saint within the Catholic Church. I couldn't get inside to see if that museum still existed as it was locked up with signs posting hours as they are doing renovations to the facility so access was restricted.

I headed over to the Pacific Beach Hotel. I used to go to that hotel every Sunday evening as my gym is located on the second floor and has a great view overlooking Kalakaua Ave and the beach. I'm still paying my monthly gym dues, I should probably start getting back there and enjoying the views! Anyway, in the back of the hotel they have a restaurant with a special fish presentation. Not cooked fish, but live fish. I was happy to see that it still exits.

From there I entered the lobby for the Waikiki Resort Hotel. This hotel caters more towards the Korean traveler. It's been over a decade since I've been in this hotel. The last time was before Ron, one of the bellmen that I knew, passed away from bladder cancer. I followed a set of stairs and found myself looking at meeting rooms and the pool. They had restrooms that weren't locked so I decided to use them. With all the humidity, I was really sweaty so I splashed myself with water. When I exited the door, what was right in front of me? A Coke machine. This was $1.25 for a 20oz bottle. Note to self, stop buying soda inside of the ABC Stores and use the vending machines. It's about a buck cheaper per bottle!

I passed through Waikiki Beach Tower, my first time in there, and headed to the Waikiki Circle Hotel. Walking up a ramp towards the registration desk on the wall next to the elevators was the story of the hotel. It was the first hotel on Waikiki owned by an Asian who was a female! The story told of how she came over from China, was in an arranged marriage, overcame a number of obstacles to own the hotel and how it is now owned by generational family members.

I cut through the Hyatt Regency before heading over to Kings Village. I haven't been there in years. In many ways the place looks the same, but it was different as they have had turn over in the shops. One hidden gem was a small museum that had memorabilia from old Hawaii. Two display cases had mugs from a number of old Waikiki hotels and restaurants as well at other locations in the US that were part of the Tiki pop that was part of the culture of the 50's and 60's. For me seeing an original mug from the Bali Hai in San Diego was exciting. In case you can't tell by the name of the blog, I like tikis.

The Princess Kaiulani was next. I had been in there last Christmas. Their chefs do an awesome Christmas Village made out of chocolate and having animated pieces including a train and chair lift that bring the village to life during the holidays. I exited the building out the side and took a short path back up to Kalakaua Ave in front of the International Market Place or IMP.

The IMP over the past number of years has been changing. It's full of carts that you used to haggle prices with the owners. Most of the owners are immigrants with their carts of trinkets, treasures, and some trashy tourist items. Today, the wares have a price tag...most of the time. In front of the IMP there was one guy handing out flyers for shave ice. Not a big deal but this one was different. He had a rig he was wearing around his chest. From the back side were two rods sticking up. Attached to the rods were a balloon that had a picture of shave ice. It had wires running between the balloon and the back pack so I'm sure at night it could have lit up to advertise the cold tasty treats.

At this point I decided to leave Waikiki. I was hot and very sweaty by this time plus I had another errand to run. Waikiki even when you think you know it, you don't and that's part of the fun of it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland

Zombieland....kind of reminds you of things like playing Candy Land, singing winter wonderland or dancing to Earth Wind and Fire's Boogie Wonderland, right? Well, sort of....

The world had been overrun by zombies. How? By a fast acting virus. These are not slow moving zombies, they move quick they too are fast acting! The narrator of the story goes by the name of Columbus played by Jessie Eisenberg of this year's Adventureland movie and he has his rules that he lives by in order to survive. Rule number one is Cardio! Once you see the undead, you understand why. Hmmm....I wonder if Jessie has any other "" movies coming up? He was good in Adventureland too.

Coming into the picture is Tallahassee played by Woody Herrelson who really, really wants to find Twinkies in and amongst all the quick moving dead. He meets Columbus and the two start traveling together and this is really what the movie is about, it's a buddy road movie just like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope on The Road to Zanzabar. The zombies are just obstacles preventing them from getting to their destination which due to running into two sisters, Wichata and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) ends up getting changed from east coast destinations to Pacific Playland in California where zombies haven't taken over. Or so they hope. Going back to the names for a second...why names of cities? Because that way it can't get personal. Between the sisters, guess which of the two was the older one?

Like all good road pictures there are trust issues that need to be overcome. Issues between Columbus and Tallahassee and the guys vs the girls. As they work out those issues they end up in LA where they take refuge in a celebrity mansion before they make their final destination.

Along the way we the audience are brought into the movie with little interstitchels that made the movie fun. Columbus' rules were constantly being brought up and the rule was displayed on the screen. While they don't show you all 32, they show a good sampling. Kinda like tapas table service. You got to both read the rule and get a practical demonstration as to why the rule was important. Talking about ways to kill zombies or really not talking so much as seeing demonstrations are handed to you the audience. The scene in Los Angeles was funny. Lesson learned there is watching zombies killings is fun while dealing with real zombies is NOT. Notice the capitalization there.

What surprised me most was not the movie itself, but what was going on in the theater. The movie runs for 80 minutes and is rated R. So why in a movie rated R were there so many kids in the theater? It never ceases to amaze me seeing (and hearing) kids in these types of movies. You would think more parents would be concerned with showing their 6-10 year old kids about human sushi. I don't know what's going on in their own gray matter.

Overall it was a fun movie and would give it a double thumbs up for the appropriate age groups.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kava Festival

Today I went up to the University of Hawaii for the now what appears to be annual Kava Festival. It was held on The Mall on the upper east side of campus running from the campus center circle down to Bilger hall. A number of booths were set up for kava products, food and other items relating to the festival while atendees were entertained with live music.

What is Kava? It's the root of the Piper methysticum plant. At least is should be just the root. There have been issues with kava pills that have been made that include other parts of the plant. The roots are peeled and ground up after being dried. The resulting powder is stored. To make the drink a fine cloth bag is used to contain the powder and water is run over it. The powder turns into a paste at this point. The preparer kneeds the bag while the water passing through is gathered in a container below. The resulting cloudy liquid is then drunk.

I've had kava in the past and wasn't interested in drinking any while I was there but most people were partaking in what was available. Different booths were set up where people could buy drinks. It was fun to see the different containers used to create the drinks. There were some plastic pails and pots but most were a specialy carved wooden bowl. Once scooped from the bowls people were drinking from regular paper cups, glasses and even cups made from coconuts. I saw one guy who's eyes were very red. I hope he wasn't driving.

In addition to the drinks available you could purchase the powder itself. I talked to one vendor who had some bags marked Fiji kava and Vanuatu kava. I asked what the difference is between them. She stated that based on where the plants are grown, on a hillside vs in a valley, it affects the potency. She recommended the Vanuatu powder.

One booth that I really liked had local fresh fruits. There was sugar cane sticks, pineapple, coconuts, coconut juice, mango, papaya, dragon fruit, star fruit and guava available. I bought a small container that contained a mixture of pineapple, mango, dragon fruit and coconut. It couldn't have been any fresher as it was prepared right there. It was wonderfully refreshing!

Another booth was preparing Portuguese bean soup. They had a big pot over a burner. The cook was taking premade bags of the various ingredients like onions and Portuguese sausage and dumped it into the pot. The smell was intoxicating.

I tweeted about one moment that happened. One of the entertainers was there on the steps on Snyder Hall singing while playing the guitar. She was singing about the bad white man. I often hear that position taken. People are entitled to their opinion.

It was interesting to attended. The festival's web site is
Click Here to check out some pictures that I took around UH and the festival.