Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

To download to the audio version, right click here and choose "save as..." or "save link as..."

To listen, press the play button on the player below

This is the weekend of the sequels. Early weekend releases The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2 join last weekends Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The three movies will be battling it out to determine who will be the king of the long Memorial Day weekend box office. Two of the movies are available in 3D and one of them, Hangover, will rely solely on the ticket revenue from a 2D version.

With a special contest code from M&Ms that awarded me a $3 discount on a ticket I had my ticket money plunked down for the 2D version of Kung Fu Panda 2 instead of using the discount to pay the surcharge for the 3D version.

Kung Fu Panda 2 Movie Poster
A little shy of three years ago we met Po (Jack Black) as he went from an overweight, lazy, slacker panda to become the Dragon Warrior and join the elite kung fu fighters of the Furious Five: Tigress, Mantis, Viper, Monkey and Crane (Angelia Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and David Cross) under the tutelage of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

Now, the very existence of kung fu is threatened by Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) a pea fowl who has an axe to grind. Well, actually he has a cannon to shoot since he has learned how to use gun powder not for a beautiful display of fireworks but as a weapon for mass destruction and the conquering of China. What stands in way of Lord Shen's desires? According to the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) something that is black and white. Might that be a panda? AND...could that panda be Po?

The battle lines have been drawn and we know that Po and Lord Shen will face off against each other. Po's skills have improved, but if it wasn't for the assistance of the Furious Five, he would have been toast a long time ago. His aligning with the Five is just what he needs to be an effective team player until he discovers a secret which shakes him to his core and rocks his chi. His father, Mr Ping, the goose that makes a delicious noodle soup and one mean, hot, steamed bun is horror of all horrors, not his real father. Insert dramatic duh dah here. Apparently Mr Ping never had the birds and bees talk with Po for Po to figure out that he didn't come from an egg.

The revelation of adoption and its aftermath is the weakest part of the movie. In movies and TV too many times the characters are shown to loose all self worth and wonder who they are when they discover that their biological parents, usually the mother, felt that someone else could do a better job raising them. Po looses confidence and starts playing mind games with himself questioning the love and care that his father, the goose, Mr Ping has given him since he took Po in as his own. That self doubt interferes with his ability to fight Lord Shen.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie makes up for this short coming. The relationship between Po and Tigress has deepened; Master Shifu giving his masterly advice to Po; Po's working though the necessary barriers to once again triumph good over evil all work in the character development department.

The story really moves along due to the overall story development and the methods used to tell it. When the story opens we are given the back story of Lord Shen. It is told using flat animated, 2D paper cutouts almost shadow puppet in form. As Po has flashbacks those images are again a flat 2D stylized animation form. At the end of the 90 minutes the credits are multi-layer 2D renderings that are well worth sitting through to enjoy. I'm sure in the 3D version they did more with this section. Sandwiched in between are the traditional computer renderings using shadow and highlights to give the 2D figures the look of 3D. The colors were bright and vibrant and the textures were highly detailed. From the fine lines in Lord Shen's feathers to the applique embroidery and stitches in vests and robes to the growth rings in a ram's or water buffalo's horns the nuances add to the graphical details giving further life to the characters.

One last special detail mention is for the fireworks. These fireworks sparkled and shimmered at a particle level like I haven't seen before. Tie that in with the smoke clouds and trails and you sit in your seat and ooooooh and aaaaaah during those scenes.

There is no easter egg at the end but as already mentioned, the credits are worth sitting through for the visuals of this movie rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.

Movie Monkey Show badge
The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

To download to the audio version, right click here and choose "save as..." or "save link as..."

To listen, press the play button on the player below

Our favorite pirate captain is back for his fourth go around. Johnny Depp headlines Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides as Captain Jack Sparrow. He's back with Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally who reprise their roles as Captain Hector Barbossa and First Mate Gibbs. Those are the only returning characters from all three previous adventures. This movie should rule the weekend as no other movies are going up against it. And with releases in 2D, 3D and 3D Imax at my local theater it is taking up four theaters and 20 time slots therefore it should gobble up the movie money this weekend.

On Stranger Tides Movie Poster
At my theater, the first show of the day, I had a little issue happen. We started the previews. After the theater chain trailer finished a screen came up saying to put on the 3D glasses. I paid for 2D so it was a little shocking. Funny though, I did look around to see if anyone in the theater had 3D glasses they were putting on their head in case I might have gone in the wrong door. No yellow frames were to be found in the room. Luckily it was a digital projection theater and after notifying the theater management, it only took about 30 seconds to swap the 3D version back to 2D although we had to sit through the theater chain trailer again.

Film four harkens back to the original Pirates of the Caribbean film, Curse of the Black Pearl. Within moments we re-meet Captain Jack and very quickly we're off into the action. This time around the legendary Fountain of Youth is the desired treasure. Stopping Jack from getting there is a women from his past, the meanest of all pirates and Jack's arch frenemy. One of the fun aspects of the series is how the writers bring in parts of pirate and mythological lore that the average person probably knows or has heard of and twists them or brings in extra embellishments. Examples include how the fountain of youth operates and the backgrounds of mermaids. Ted Elliot and Terry Rosario were the writers taking elements from Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides and translating them for the big screen.

We're introduced to the love interest, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). After many years Jack and Angelica have a run in and end up aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge which is Blackbeard's ship. Blackbeard (Ian McShane) is heading to the Fountain of Youth. They're trying to beat Barbossa to the prize. But to capture the reward they also need a mermaid who turns out to be a different species from Madison in the 1984 Touchstone mermaid film Splash. So the take away is this: if you ever run into a mermaid, you need to ask them where they put themselves on the nice/nasty scale! That can make all the difference in the world!

On Stranger Tides Movie Poster
The adventure was filmed in London, Puerto Rico, and multiple locations in Hawaii including Oahu and Kauai. The Queen Anne's Revenge remained in Hawaii after the filming and is now "permanently" moored at the Ko Olina Marina. Not too long ago I had the chance to go out to the marina and see the ship in person and take some photos. If you would like to see them click here. It's amazing how seeing a prop like that changes your perspective when you see the movie and how it comes to life. And speaking of coming to life, just as they have done before there is a scene in the movie that pays tribute to the attraction at parks around the globe.

The two parts of the movie that disappointed me were two action set pieces. Theses were very similar to the staging in Curse of the Black Pearl, one towards the beginning of the movie and the other towards the end. The lighting, choreography and reasonings of the scenes were similar enough that when you see them you'll think that you've seen them before just as I did. There were other elements from Dead Man's Chest and At World's End that were included but they were more along the lines of traits and habits adding a consistency to what we expect from the franchise.

Hans Zimmer once again provided the soundtrack that adds the jauntiness, tension, heart pounding and fun that the film requires.

It was a good popcorn and soda movie. Just watch the size of the soda as the film ran for 137 minutes and you might need to dash out for a few minutes. It had a rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo. Finally, as with all of the other Pirates of the Caribbean movies, stay put after the credits for an extra scene.

Movie Monkey Show badge
The Movie Monkey

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aulani Photo Update for May 19, 2011

Aulani Sand Writing
To see the whole collection of pictures from today's shoot go here.

It's been two days of Aulani. Yesterday was the Job Quest event and today was another trip out to the resort to once again review what progress has been made.

First thing I noticed heading to the property was that the DVC kiosk had moved from the back of the property near the beach to the front corner of Olani and Aliinui Dr. It's previous location is walled up while they do construction behind a new wall.

On the side and towards the back of the resort, based on what I viewed on the Samantha Brown Aulani DVC video, they are building the spa area. I spoke with someone today who had applied for a massage therapist position and she was told that the spa will have 18,000 square feet indoors and 5,000 square feet outdoors. That's pretty huge!

More plants and trees are in place or being put in place including a big cactus. I have no idea what that is doing there and can't wait to find out why! Although, you will find cacti in several places including a large collection at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

Lastly the construction wall along the front of the property facing Aliinui Dr was being pushed back as I was taking photos. The part of the pedestrian sidewalk that was blocked by the construction wall is now showing AND the entrance driveway and its cuts are exposed and taking shape.

New Sidewalk

Driveway Out

Driveway In

Moving the wall

And the porte cochere as you'll see from across the street
Porte Cochere
To see the whole collection of pictures from today's shoot go here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cresting Wave of Disney's Aulani

As I write this there are 103 days left until the opening of Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa within the Ko Olina Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii. There has been a lot happening and as a local, activities to prepare for the opening are coming to a crescendo.

About a month ago I started to receive posts from friends on the mainland. Sam and Kimmy were making the circuit to appear on radio and TV stations to talk about Aulani as the locals would say "to activate the coconut wireless". He's in an aloha shirt and she's in lovely floral print dress. During the segment they would banter with the hosts. They would then end up with Sam playing Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride from the movie Lilo and Stitch with the title character, Stitch, coming out and dancing to the musical notes emanating from Sam's ukulele. Here's an example of when they visited the LA CBS affiliate KCAL9.

They have been working for sometime to staff the resort. Hiring for upper management positions has been going on for many months. Last November is when I saw them head out to the colleges. They were at a big local job fair which I posted back in January. They put posters onto the buses of Oahu's local bus service called TheBus about two months ago. I've been seeing posts on twitter and Facebook about people who have been applying online and getting to the next step of on-line interviews. Last week the BIG push has really started. The local TV stations and newspaper have been touting 800 job openings with the story even hitting Forbes and Business Week. Today had another Job Quest event in Honolulu at the Neil Blaisdell Center with Disney's Aulani as a big draw for the event.

I headed down and while the line outside was shorter than last time, the inside was still very crowded. You didn't see Aulani immediately as you went inside, but just off to the side once you got past the entry gallery. They used the same room and set up as last time for information sessions. This time the presentation was different. Upon finding a seat, Katie Mock, one of the recruiters came over and said Hi and thanked me for coming out. This time her and a returning local, Steve who has spent time with the company in Anaheim, Orlando and the past year at Disneyland Paris, gave the presentation. They didn't give much background information about the resort but almost went straight into the application process.

One item of note was the meaning of Aulani. When the resort was first announced Disney gave the translation of “the place that speaks for the great ones”. I noticed right away that when you look up aulani in the Hawaiian dictionary it says "messenger of the chief". The difference being place vs person. Steve gave the translation and he referenced person instead of place.

All in all, it was about a 10 minute presentation before we were dismissed and given a chance to get questions answered at the booth. Katie told me afterwards that the feedback from the last Job Quest was more pointed towards the application process and t was definitely evident this time! People interested in applying should go to

Steve did mention that new cast members would have a traditions class to teach people about the company. I forgot to ask if the class would be a half day, full or two day class. They would also receive special training to relay the story of Aulani. As a trainer, I wouldn't be surprised if Steve would run them to combine his local background and 16 year Disney career to really help get locals ready to delivery the Disney experience.

There were about two dozen people there staffing the booth and presentation room. The booth itself was about twice the size as last time. They had what they used in January but they remodeled and added an extension. In the back was an area with about half a dozen or so computers with counselors set up to allow people to apply on-line right there at the event. During the presentation people were told that the whole process starts via their web site.

I met and talked with a couple of others, Karen and Kimi for questions. Even with the opening right around the corner there is still a lot up in the air and most of questions that I had about the resort they weren't able to answer since they were more of the resort operation and trivia sorts of questions rather than the HR/employment questions. Totally understandable.

One big question that did get answered was that of the Disney Grooming Guidelines. Disney is going to enforce the Disney Look meaning short hair and no tattoos for the guys. They will be making special options with long and short sleeves available to help cover any ink. BUT, on a case by case basis they may allow exceptions to the rules. Two areas that may have more leniency than others would be for entertainment and the Olelo Room which would make sense. Entertainment is a show and in the Olelo Room, the primary language will be Hawaiian.

One of my ongoing concerns is about the bus going into the property. They don't have that issue worked out yet. The Ko Olina Resort people were there hiring for the resort as a whole and even they didn't know about the buses. I wonder if public transportation is not allowed onto the resort and if someone gets injured going across Farrington highway if they would try to go after the resort for damages.

I asked about having local produce on site for people to buy for cooking in their rooms. They didn't know about that specifically, but they did say that the company has made a commitment to use local supplies for the resort especially for the resort food locations. Maybe they could include a few local type recipes in the rooms and even have packages available. The guests could order say the lomi lomi package. They then have a box delivered to the room with all the ingredients and instructions to complete the dish right there in their own kitchen (the Disney Vacation Club units have a kitchen). Or what about making haupia! I want credit for this idea if used!!

The spa, now called Laniwai, will have a workout center for resort guests besides the areas for massage, nails and other such treatments. Guests will be able to use the Ko Olina Golf Club but don't' know at this time if they will receive a discount for a round.

When I asked if Disney was going to have a luau like Ohana at Walt Disney World's Polynesian resort, I didn't get a clear cut yes or no just that Disney will be providing first class entertainment.

On one of the forums that I am a part of some questions came up and I thought that I would mention them here and share the information. How far is it for grocery shopping? Across the street at Ko Olina Crossing is an ABC convenience store. Internal to Aulani itself, they are supposed to have a convenience store as well but no details at this time. For ABC they have some fresh fruits and vegetables as well as hot food but the price is convenience store pricing. Going into Kapolei proper is where you will find Target, Costco, Safeway, Longs (known else where as CVS) and other shopping. It's about 4-5 miles between Aulani and the Kapolei shopping areas. Also, there is a farmer's market in Kapolei on Sundays as well.

Another question was on insects. Around the resort, you shouldn't have a problem with mosquitoes and such. If you go hiking into the Waianae or Koolau mountains, then bringing some sort of bug repellant with you couldn't hurt! Although, let me give you a warning. We have some cockroaches that we call the B-52 or 747 roaches. They are BIG and they fly. They are like beetles in that you generally don't find a whole bunch at one time. BUT, they aren't anything that a good shoe or slippah can't take care of!

In regards to rain and weather. The leeward side of the island is called that because under normal trade wind conditions, the winds blow from the north east to the south west. The Koolau mountains block the clouds forcing them to dump their moisture so they can rise up and over the ancient volcanic peaks. By the time the clouds get to the leeward areas most of the moisture is gone so that area remains dryer. Do they get rain? Yes, just not as often as some other areas on the island.

Could I surf at Aulani? Not really. Lagoon 1 or Koloha on which Aulani is located is a man made lagoon which has a narrow opening. This small entrance helps to control the natural wave action that would prevent anything rideable from coming into the lagoon. On the outside of the lagoon, well, it's the Pacific Ocean! In regards to Disney offering surfing lessons and board rentals to people, they are still working out contracts for vendors.

If all goes right, I'll be heading out tomorrow to the resort to get more update photos so keep an eye on my Flickr collection for those.

In the mean time if you are looking to book a room at Aulani to receive a Military or Kaamaina Discount, contact Lindsey and let her know that Joel sent you!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Movie Review: Bridesmaids

To download to the audio version, right click here and choose "save as..." or "save link as..."

To listen, press the play button on the player below

Bridesmaids has been getting a lot of build up and positive buzz. I was excited to see it based on all that positive buzz. After watching the movie, I felt like I was stuck at the children's table at the reception. The movie fell flat on its face breaking its nose and I couldn't wait for it to be over.

Bridesmaids Movie Poster
The title of the movie is Bridesmaids. I'm expecting the focus to be on the antics of the group of bridesmaids for a wedding. Based on the trailers, both of them, I'm expecting a female version of The Hangover. The title was plural. I was sold a bill of goods. The main focus of the movie was on Annie (Kristen Wiig), the Maid of Honor for Lilian's (Maya Rudolph) upcoming nuptials. If they called it Maid of Honor or as one character said Maid of Dishonor it would have better represented what the movie was about. The group was window dressing for Annie's story.

Annie is having a hard time in life. She's being used as a toy by a guy (an uncredited Jon Hamm) as boy friend would not be an appropriate term to use to describe him. Her cake business has gone under due to the economy. She's in a job that she doesn't like. Her roommates are just all out weird. Her car couldn't pass a safety test. She's not having an easy time when Lilian asked her to be her Maid of Honor. Lilian knows this and that it's going to take extra finances to fulfill the role but she saddles the burden on Annie anyway. Where they talked about the economy in the opening scenes, it annoyed me that the bride wasn't thinking of the well being of her life long best friend but was caught up in herself.

As Annie meets the other bridesmaids there are personalities that get set up for the comedy and for clashing. It's obvious that there are two people who are going to have major issues with each other. Lilian has her new friend Helen (Rose Byrne) as part of the bridal party. Helen is her fiance's boss' wife and has money to boot! During the first meeting when Annie and Helen try to outdo each other with toasts to the bride, Lilian didn't step up and women up to straighten out things and set the expectations between the two women.

There were some moments of laughter. I don't mind toilet humor when dealing with bodily functions. After having lunch at a Brazilian churrascaria (a place where roasted meat is sliced off of a skewer right onto your plate) the bridal party heads to a super posh dress fitting where they start to develop symptoms of food poisoning. Stomach rumbling, belching and passing gas culminating with multiple people all dashing for the single toilet is the result while the hostess is yelling at them about the dresses and trying to get them to go use a restroom across the street. While you laughed at bodily functions the attitude of hostess and Helen had my stomach rumbling.

At one point Annie meets Officer Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd in a heavy Irish brogue) and a small relationship starts to develop. Annie is at such a low point in her life that she doesn't want to accept the friendship and encouragement that he offers to her. If this was an art house movie, great, wonderful. But this was supposed to be a comedy.

Lastly was the bachelorette party. Helen manipulates the ladies to have her way and hold the event in Las Vegas. It's the plane trip from hell for Annie. She doesn't like to fly and can't afford the trip in the first place, but Lilian seems ok with putting her best friend in such a bad position. Watching what Helen does overtly and as passive aggressive to Annie would earn her a spot in the Bad Girl's Club. Mixing drugs and alcohol on a plane is not a funny matter with current affairs.

I sat there for the two hours and five minutes of this R rated comedy for some strong sexuality, and language throughout cringing, upset and hoping it would be over soon. Many of the scenes shown in the trailers did not show up in the movie. While this happens quite frequently, especially with Will Ferrell movies, I don't think I've even seen as many scenes not make it into the final film as happened in this movie. If the shots had not been left on the cutting room floor, it maybe would have fared better as a comedy.

The script written by Wigg and Annie Mumolo who appears as Annie's seat mate on the plane could have given us much better work. The idea of Annie's downward plunge and hitting bottom then working herself back up or a more raucous comedy could have been developed from this script. It could evolved into two very different and workable scripts. What we got was a combination that instead of being funny or thoughtful was sad and at times self absorbed and mean spirited.

Regal Theaters Jalapeno Poppers and Soda
On a side note, this weekend I was able to try the jalapeno poppers at my local Regal theater. I ordered and they came out relatively quickly. Although the signage showed six poppers and no quantity with the description and price I received five pieces for the $4.50 price plus Ken's Steak House ranch dressing for dipping sauce. They also offered a discount coupon through Facebook that got a small soda for a buck. I upgraded to a large and for $6.50 I got what you see in the picture.

Back to the movie, make sure you stay through the beginning of the credits. There is some additional footage that is pretty funny. Finally, for me the star of the movie was Melissa McCarthy who played Megan. She's played Dena in Samatha Who? and plays the title roll of Molly in CBS' Mike and Molly. She's heavy set and tom boyish in the role. She's loud and somewhat uncouth but she showed more heart in her character than the rest of the bridesmaids combined. If anything, it would be interesting to see if Wiig could come up with a script for Annie and Megan to reprise their roles on the silver screen or maybe even a direct to DVD release.

Movie Monkey Show badge
The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

To download to the audio version, right click here and choose "save as..." or "save link as..."

To listen, press the play button on the player below

The big summer blockbusters have started this week with the release of Thor. I trekked out to my local Regal theater and based on the information I was given last week, I decided to try to new food offerings. I ordered the jalapeno poppers, paid my money and was moving over to the side when my cashier called over to order, an assistant manager barked out that he told them that they didn't have the new stuff. I took my refund and headed into the theater. It was one of the smaller theaters holding about 180 seats. When the movie started the theater has about half full of people including two babies and four cell phones without their ringers turned off. You probably know where I'll go with them later. I was happy to find out at least at this time prices didn't go up and the cost for my 2D version of the movie remained the same. The movie was not a great, but at least a very good start for the string of blockbusters due to roll out over the next couple of months.

Thor Movie Poster
The action starts off pretty quickly with scientists Jane Foster and Erik Salvig (Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård) out in the New Mexico desert when an anomaly in the sky occurs. They take their vehicle and rush to the disturbance which is now touching the ground and they hit something. When the dust clears they see a man laying on the ground. When Jane asks how did he get there we travel through space to a gleaming golden city into a huge throne room. On the throne is Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his sons Thor and Loki (Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston) are before him. So right off the bat we are treated to some action, superb special effects and backstory to kick off the origin story for our hero Thor.

Director Kenneth Branagh leads us through what caused arrogant and insolent Thor to be banished from Asgard and sent to earth. You would think if your Dad is an all powerful king and fighter and if he tells you not to do something, you'd think that you'd listen to him! In the process of banishment Thor is stripped of his powers and his special hammer Mjöllnir It's at that point where we go back to earth and pick up Thor laying on the ground after being clipped by Jane's truck.

We see that things back in Asgard aren't as rosey as they had originally seemed and Thor's pals Sif, Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral (Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano and Josh Dallas) realize they need to travel to Earth to retrieve their pal and bring him back to try to set the situation straight. In the mean time a nasty metal robot man called the Destroyer which shoots really strong beams of fire out of its widened eye sockets is sent to Earth too in order to stop Thor who has none on his special powers. He can use his battle training, but that's about it as his piercing blue eyes, big muscles and roguish smile only work on the ladies.

The movie works on most levels. There are great special effects. Asgard and Bifrost, the bridge aka worm hole that took Odin and his forces to other realms looked wonderful on the screen. The origin story is laid out neatly for us, pretty straight forward there. The love interest between a god and a human. Good vs evil. The foundation for SHIELD and the upcoming Avengers movie was referenced including a nod to Ironman and Tony Stark. There were some good moments of comedy some of it coming from Hemsworth and several times Portman.

Where the movie fell short was really setting up the dramatic moments that kept us on the edge of our seats. Three of the big fight scenes were good but were a little short of the extra umph that would make us go "YEAH!" out loud. Even the Easter egg with Nick Fury was worthy of sitting through the credits. What didn't work was the people who didn't turn off their ringers including the one person who had his set on the old fashioned phone ringer that went off four times and the two babies who didn't like the volume multiple times throughout the 114 minute running time. For that reason it was one of the toughest movies I've seen lately due to the crowd but not the presentation.

It was near Ironman good, but lacked slightly. Thor was rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action/violence and while the ladies got to enjoy a buff Hemsworth with his shirt off, the guys didn't get quite as much with either Portman or Alexander. Let's see if Green Lantern releasing in June and Captain America with its July release date offer the same level of story and excitement.

Movie Monkey Show badge
The Movie Monkey

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