Saturday, July 31, 2010

Movie Review: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

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One of the "beauties" of art cinema is that sometimes you don't know if and when there will be a particular movie showing in your neighborhood since they generally aren't expected to be the big block busters. Every once in a while something will make that transition. This weeks movie, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work released on June 11 and just this weekend it showed up here in Honolulu. I found it an interesting movie although I don't think it will cross over into the block buster category.

The title "a piece of work" could be taken on a couple of different levels. Probably the most obvious would be the plastic surgery aspect of Joan's life. It's well known and documented that she's gone under the knife or botox needle a few times to keep her appearance up. The start of the documentary is close ups of Joan's face minus any of the makeup that transforms her lips, eyes lids and cheekbones into what we see on TV or stage. The second meaning would be the brashness of Joan and her life and comedy. Let me say here that I've been a fan of Joan's since I was in college in the 1980's. While I don't always appreciate the language, I can appreciate the humor. She stepped into areas that took guts in both thought and action. Of course with the language and sexual humor the movie is rated R.

The movie covers roughly a year of her life starting a little before her 75th birthday. We're brought into see everything. The work ethic is laid out on the table. She knows that she has bills to pay and sets out to derive the income to pay those bills. Pulling out calendars showing "these were good years" as page after page has each day filled and filled with multiple appointments. Then she jokes about needing to wear sun glasses to look at the current calendar because of all the glaring white spaces on each page.

The camera follows her as she gears up to have a play about her life called A Work in Progress launch in Edinburgh with eyes on London and even New York. The effort and rehearsals necessary to bring the production to life are given some time on screen. Joan also talks about her fears. Is she an actress or comedienne? She reveals her inner thoughts and what about reviews she could care less about and which reviews cut her to the quick leaving her hurt and what she'll do to avoid the pain.

We experience a Joan Rivers Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. Having a seventeen foot table brought into her house to have friends and family over for a Thanksgiving feast is for the evening. With her charity "God's Love We Deliver" she spends the morning delivering meals with her grandson Conner to people who are shut in due to HIV/AIDS, MS, cancer or other serious illnesses. One of the recipients is Flo Fox, a famous photographer who has been living with MS for twenty plus years. Joan realizes she is blessed.

Joan just seems to keep on going. Showing up for photo shots, traveling to do shows, heading to a hole in the wall in NYC to try out new material, being roasted or show up for a tribute to a fellow comedian each of these a pencil marking in that appointment book to dull out the glaring white. Several times she says she'll do anything. Maybe she should do a commercial with the energizer bunny as she seems to have boundless energy.

Right now Joan is back on top with her win on Celebrity Apprentice. Part of the narrative is about the ups and downs of show business. Starting with Johnny Carson declaring her to be a star, the loss of his friendship when she took on the late night show with FOX, the suicide of her beloved husband Edgar in 1987, the red carpets, the books, the jewelry, both her and her daughter Melissa talk about "the career" like it's another person in the room. In one tender moment she describes the recent loss of a friend and what that huge loss means to her.

She talks love, she talks loss, she talks career, she talks family. The movie is a quite frank observation of a woman who knows that she's not perfect. She says, "I've been told I look good, but never I look beautiful". After watching the 84 minutes, you determine, good or beautiful for yourself.

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Hawaii eye yai yai an!

I've been taking a beginning course in the Hawaiian language (olelo Hawaii) as an adult evening course over the past two months. The price was right as it was only ten dollars!! We've been meeting twice a week for two and a half hours a pop and it's been a ton of fun. This week marks the end of the course although for all intents and purposes it's done. The last class we'll be learning about mele or songs and having a pot luck so as far as I know grammar won't be on the table, just ono grinds! So what understanding have I gained and what's next?

It has been quite the learning experience. Language has never been one of my strongest suits. In high school I got tutoring for grammar. Sitting next to my bed I have Painless Grammar so I can look up "stuff" when I'm on the computer and when I need something to help me fall asleep. In college I was required to take two years of a language and I choose German. Twenty plus years later what do I have to show for it? Yeah, right. For one job I was exposed to some Japanese words and phrases for a retail environment. For a trip to Tokyo Disneyland I tried to expand my Japanese language knowledge but was soooooo successful that when I asked one cast member for some directions in Nihongo she ran away and came back with someone who could understand my English. Yeah, I really excel with the foreign language communication skills!

So I find myself sitting in a classroom with 21 other people the first night. While I wasn't the youngest, I was one of the younger ones. The teacher made us as comfortable as he could with the announcement that the class would be highly interactive with him asking questions and having us either repeat or answer his biddings. This is where the eye yai yai comes in. I signed up for the class so I can have a better understanding of the language with the spelling and pronunciation of the words for my Trapped in Paradise podcast. I wasn't planning on holding a conversation!

One facet that has amazed me during the class is the fact that Hawaiian was a verbal language passed down from generation to generation. It wasn't written down until the missionaries took it upon themselves to create the written form of this beautiful, melodious auditory language. With my very right brain thinking I can't imagine having to try to learn this by hearing only and not by seeing. With the different sounds of oh, oo, ah and eh and then sometimes you hold out the sound a little longer or cut them off and trying to differentiate them I had another eye yai yai pass in my mind.

I supposed that if I had never seen a written language and my ear drums had been exposed to the ahs, oos, ohs and ehs from the day I took my first scream while dangling upside down above my mother's deflating opu (stomach) things would be different. I remember in high school getting drilled because I couldn't hear the rhythm in iambic pantameter vs dactylic tetrameter. So you can probably already guess that based on the beats I don't get hip hop either. But, that's just me.

Luckily, the kumu (teacher, source) for the class has been very easy going. There are no tests or quizzes so each student can take away what they want and not have to measure up to a particular assessment standard. Me and another hoa papa (student) have joked around that we are soooooo glad that there will be no grades for the class. Much of the learning in the class hasn't been just the olelo (language, speech) itself. More so in this class and this language than what I learned in Japanese or German, the understanding of Hawaiian is more conceptual in the world view. The other time when I saw this was when an old girlfriend was showing me bits and pieces of American Sign Language.

Many times the kumu talks about subjects that from a western point of view were just radically different to my way of thinking but given the world view of Hawaiians, made perfect and total sense. Two areas that really stick out in my mind are relationships and time. Example, Hawaiian relationships are more generational for all people of that generation rather than the direct family tree relationships. For example, keiki kane means a younger male that could be either nephew or son. Again, my mind went eye yai yai because the meaning would be contextual to determine the son or nephew because my right brain is saying I need a direct one to one translation.

Then the kumu talked about time both in relationship to the moon and sun. During daylight you would have kakahiaka meaning morning; but is that early morning or late morning? Well, like I've learned, it's contextual because the sun would be in different positions from sunrise to sunset affecting the quality of light but during the year even that would vary as the days get longer or shorter as the Earth passes through the different equinox phases. When talking about the moon, it was readily apparent to me as my brain tied into the box jelly fish invasions that happen here in Hawaii about ten days after the full moon. It's not a day of week or a date in the month, it's the ten setting and rises of the sun after the moon is full. The brain signaled eye yai yai once more but on this occasion there was an ah ha moment.

So as my head swims with my sentence's po'o, piko, 'ami and 'awe my brain sends out the eye yai yai but again. Do I be happy with the beginning course or do I try to advance to the intermediate course? At this time I don't know. I'm glad that I took the course because it exposed some things to me that were in my third window pane. The class has definitely given me a better understanding of my surroundings in Hawaii for sure. Now it's up to me for the application of what I've learned so that I hope I can get rid of many more eye yai yais!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Movie Review: Salt

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Once again Angelia Jolie is jumping around on the screen like she's done in past films as Mrs Smith or Lara Croft. Luckily this is not in eye popping 3D so she didn't jump into our laps. It was a good movie to jump into a bucket of popcorn with this summer action flick and don't forget to add the Salt, Evelyn Salt (Jolie)

The tag line for the movie is "Who is Salt?" The movie starts off with Salt stripped down to her underwear being brutally interrogated by the North Koreans as a spy where she proclaims her innocence. Turns out, yeah, she was and worth enough that the US government was willing to do a prisoner trade to get her back. After being roughed up, she's picked up at the border by partner CIA agent Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber). This roughing up and other acts of violence and action earned the movie a PG-13 rating.

Cut forward two years. Salt and Winter are leaving the office. Salt is particularly excited to get ready to go out to dinner with her husband. No wait, I thought agents weren't supposed to have loved ones because they can be used to lure and trap agents by the bad guys. You would think these people would go to movies and know this stuff! Anyway, a Russian agent turned himself in and while being questioned by Salt he accuses her of being a Russian agent who will kill the Russian President. Whoa! Either she has had her cover blown or she's being set up. In either case, she just wants to get home to hubby. Her fellow agents try to stop her but she insists and follows through on getting her way to get back to her apartment.

Walking on ledges, jumping off moving trains, hopping between the roofs of trucks traveling down the interstate, we see that Salt has skills, mad skills that she's willing to employ to prove her innocence. She says she's being set up but her actions make her look all the more guilty. Agents Winter and Peabody (Chiwetel Eijofor) argue the point back and forth. You know there's more than meets the eyes when a blond dyes her hair black to try to hide her identity. Some of the action was over the top, but made more enjoyable and believable with the limited use of CGI.

Directed by Phillip Noyce who gave us Patriot Games and The Bone Collector he strings us along on the journey in one way straight forward action flick but using flash backs to help fill in back story. Is Salt being falsely accused or is she a double agent? Noyce leads us down the trail for 100 minutes. It didn't seem like that long of a journey so he did a good job keeping me interested in the character and plot. The story was left in such a way that a sequel is more than likely if it does well at the box office. In one way the timing of the movie couldn't have been better with the recent capture of Russian spies who had integrated into American culture and sent back across the globe in a spy swap. Movie meet real life!

Could Evelyn Salt be a female James Bond? I don't think this would be a bad idea. She's got the marriage thing out of the way just like Bond did. She's got fighting skills that are up there. Sex appeal, put a check in that box. The only thing she really didn't have was the equivalent of a Q to make her all sorts of gadgets and gizmoes galore. If you could get her out of locations like frumpy North Korea and boring New York City and Washington DC and drop her into places like Tahiti, Monte Carlo, the beaches of Sao Paulo, now that would be awesome! With fingers crossed, we'll have to wait and see!

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

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It is said that everything in the world today was designed twice, first in the mind and then in the real world. The mind controls everything, it can hide the greatest secrets and imagine and create beyond what we see and hear today. In our mind the laws of physics can be bent and played with in any way that we want. In Inception Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team must navigate through these challenges and obstacles to extract secrets locked in someone's mind. Corporate espionage was never so tricky.

In one last attempt that will finally allow Cobb to return home to his children, he and his team are being asked to implant a thought into the target's mind. The challenge is how to implant the idea in such a way that the target will accept it as something that germinated from their own mind and not be rejected as a foreign rogue thought? This hurdle is what Cobb and his inception team must overcome to pull off this daring exploit.

The movie is written and directed by Christopher Nolan who gave us the mind bending The Prestige and the action of The Dark Knight. Inception combines the two into this mind bending action movie. Visually the movie is stunning. Real locations in Japan, Morocco, England, Paris, Canada and the US were used so that even though were are supposed to be in dream worlds they seem very real. At times we were left trying to figure out what is real and what is the dream. During the two hours and 22 minute running time, some of this could have been trimmed down slightly as we listen to characters giving us exposition explaining to us what is happening in the different dream worlds.

In the end we are left wondering about our own world and what is reality and what is the dream just as Nolan leaves us wondering at the end for Cobb of what was his reality and what was his dream. The movie is rated PG for sequences of action and violence throughout.

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Movie Review: Despicable Me

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So for months now we've been seeing these enlarged mutated corn pops with either one or two eyes wearing goggles and overalls everywhere; certainly in the trailers for the movie. But in ads for different products, restaurants and even Best Buy...we'll talk about Best Buy in a moment. Well this weekend were were able to find out what they are all about in the release of computer animated Despicable Me.

Turns out these little yellow pills of humor are called minions who adoring love their boss Gru (Steve Carell)

and would follow him to the ends of the Earth. They listen to him, cheer for him and almost completely fawn over Gru as they carry out his plans. They truly epitomize the very definition of minion meaning a loyal servant of another, usually more powerful being. Did Gru find them somewhere and offer them a place to work like Willie Wonka did for the oompa-loompas? Were they the result of a genetic or radio active experiment on Twinkies gone wrong? We don't know and quite frankly we don't care. Watching them help Gru with his plans is funny.

And just what are Gru's plans? Well, after his stealing of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower replicas from Las Vegas, someone else stole the Great Pyramid from Egypt. Gru decides he wants to step up his game and steal the moon! Why the moon? Well, it's out there, it's big and everyone would notice if it was gone and maybe, just maybe he'd gain his mother's approval in the process. In flash backs we see Gru who has a dream constantly being nonchalantly dismissed by his mother (Julie Andrews). For a change of pace instead of daddy issues, this character has mommy issues!

Gru turns to Dr Nefario (a very subdued Russell Brand) to help design the necessary tools to carry out his plan. Gru is the idea guy dependant on hard of hearing Dr Nefario to fill in the details with the gadgets and gizmoes necessary for Gru's diabolical dealings. Due to a couple of misunderstandings between Gru's nondescript eastern European accent and Nafario's hearing issues, there are a couple of surprising creations made. Ultimately, Gru needs a shrinking ray and rocket to steal the moon. Luckily Dr Nefario doesn't need to make the shrinking ray gun, it already exists. Gru just needs to steal it from the new upstart Super Villain in town Vector (Jason Segel).

In come Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elise Fisher), three orphans who Gru will adopt and use to gain easy access to Vector's highly guarded contemporary and stylish lair. Does he care about the girls? Nah, they are just pawns to be used in the bigger picture. As the plans for capturing and ransoming the moon move forward, the girls manage to steal Gru's heart at the same time. He hadn't planned on that! Just like the Grinch didn't expect his heart to grow three sizes after his raiding of Whoville that fateful Christmas day.

Are there some laughs in the movie? Yup, there are some good laughs in there. One of the minions looks like he stole Ned Flander's mustache. Some minons have dual purpose functionality. Gru's totally un PC transportation would make SUVs seem heavenly in an environmentalist's eyes. What the story lacked was a cohesive plot to smoothly keep it all together. It was enjoyable to watch, but not a very memorable watch.

One thing you want to remember to do is to stay and watch the credits, especially if you are going to the 3D version. I saw the 2D version. The minions came out and were doing some pretty funny things and I'm assuming in 3D they would have been funnier and even funnier still if I had been able to understand what they were saying. This is where I now rip into Best Buy. There were promotional materials telling you to go to their web site to download a minion translator app. Goto this page, send a text to that number, even at the theater they had posters and stand ups with QR codes. Get the app they beg you. Turns out that the app is only good for iPhone, Androids, Blackberrys and Windows mobile phones. Any other type of phone and you're screwed. For all the advertising they put in for this promotion and how limited it was, I give Best Buy a big FAIL!

The movie ran for 96 minutes and was rated PG for some rude humor and mild action. They also received tax credits for making the film in France. I wonder if that's why the Eiffel Tower and a mime both appear in the film. I wouldn't be surprised that when Christmas rolls around you'll be able to go to your local big box or toy store and get a customizable minion for yourself or a loved one. I would also expect the Sleepy Kittens book to be there on the shelf next to the minions!

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Movie Review: The Last Airbender

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This was the week that the new Twilight movie, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse came out. I purchased my ticket and was planning on writing a review. There is something about the Bella character that just totally turns me off so I decided to try The Last Airbender and enjoyed it so much more that I decided to give the latter a review. I saw both movies in regular 2D format.

At one point in time the four elementals: air, earth, water and fire lived in harmony. There were respected people called benders that could control individual elements except one who could control all four. This special individual was called the Avatar who bridged between their world and the world of the spirits. The Avatar kept harmony in the world. But, the Avatar disappeared. With the Avatar not present, the Fire nation made its move to control all the nations.

So there's the set up for the movie. So far, so good. A century has passed and the Fire nation has expanded its control and this is where we pick up the story. A brother and sister from the southern Water nation find an ice sphere and inside is a boy and some large furry creature thingy. They take the boy back to their village where he is promptly kidnapped by the Fire nation. Just his luck, out of the ice sphere and into the fire! Aang (Noah Ringer) is now under the watchful eye of Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and his uncle Iroh (Shawn Toub). Zuko needs to bring Aang back to his father, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), to redeem himself for disobedience to dad. Katara (Nicola Peltz) who is the last water bender in her nation and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) set out to rescue Aang. Rathbone has an interesting weekend for himself as he is also playing the vampire Jasper over in Eclipse.

I sat in my seat thinking that I had seen some of this before. Finally it hit me, I was seeing part of The Never Ending Story! Here is a child with a destiny to fulfill with the help of a flying furry creature. Airbender's Appa kinda looked like a cross of one of the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are and a beaver then splice in some genetics of a insect so that you have this fuzzy round faced, six legged, long flat wide tailed creature that's broad enough to carry an open air howdah configured with a front section for a driver and wide enough to carry two or three passengers sitting side by side. Appa didn't have the dialog that Falkor had, but he, if it was a he, was cute in a weird pet sense of cute.

The fantasy aspect of the film kept my attention as well as the locations. Starting off in a glacial arctic area where Katara and Sokka call home, we then head to areas that look like jungles with buildings from Angkor Wat. Something that made me go "huh?" was the home of the water benders. Why would water benders live where the water is frozen instead of a nice lush tropical area like say Bora Bora or the Cooke islands. You know, some place where they could have created nice water action to lull themselves to sleep on sounds of waves crashing gently into a white sand beach instead of an area where they could freeze to death in a white out?

Another location that made me go "hmmm?" was the North Water nation. Here it was like Helm's Deep from The Lord of the Rings met the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz and had an offspring together. This massive city tucked away from the onslaught of the Fire nation was a fortress of protection that had the colorings in both architecture and the citizen's finery comprised of whites with blue tints and various shades of medium to dark blues. It was here that the large climatic battle takes place and where the sound in my theater went out. We're all sitting there in a perfectly quiet theater as we see what should be causing loud explosions and instead hearing someone slurp down their soda. So for several minutes I had to leave the theater to try to find theater staff to get the sound back on. Luckily they managed to get the sound pumping again just at the right moment within the battle.

One major flaw that I had with the movie was when people were being hit with dirt or water or fire, they didn't seem to really have the physics of the item being bended. Case in point, if you had a huge column of flame pass by you and then hit say a wall you would expect to see items react to heat like singes or burn marks and maybe steam when fire and water interact. That didn't happen. Then again, this is another world and fantasy so maybe our physics don't work there the same way.

The end of the movie left it set up for a sequel as the Avatar needs to move forward on his journey to once again bring balance to the world of the four elements. My theater did it again. As the credits were running they overlapped it with the preshow slides. But the manager did take care of me when I complained and now have a free readmission ticket sitting in my wallet. Based on some other reviews that I've read, any sequel might not happen. When I started this review, the Rotten Tomatoes meter was at a 9% and now as I finish, it's down to 8% and it's been compared to Battlefield Earth which won the Razzie this year for Worst Movie of the Decade. Ouch, that's really harsh! All in all, I still enjoyed The Last Airbender more than Eclipse.

The movie has a PG rating for fantasy violence and runs 103 minutes.

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.