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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Movie Review: Seven Days in Utopia

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The unofficial end of summer is upon us and I was looking for something different to wrap up the season. One film in the listings caught my attention as I had not seen any previews for it but it was playing at both of the art house theaters in town. Not seeing any previews can either be a good thing or a bad thing. So with only that it was listed for the two theaters to go on, I got my QR code for one of the free one million bags of popcorn from Yahoo! and Regal Cinemas and headed out. During the course of the movie there were a total of six people in the theater for first show of the day.

Seven Days in Utopia Movie Poster
Seven Days in Utopia is based on a David L Cook's book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. The movie had some star power with Academy Award winners Robert Duvall and Melissa Leo. It also reunited Duvall with Lucas Black who starred with each other in 2009's Get Low. A golfer, Luke Chisholm (Black) after having a very bad round unexpectedly ends up in Utopia, TX where he meets Johnny Crawford (Duvall). Crawford had seen Chisholm's melt down on TV and tells him that if he stays in Utopia for seven days he can help him work through the situation. Chisholm takes up Crawford's offer.

So, if you take a bit of love of golf and the love of the purity of the sport from The Legend of Bagger Vance, some of Mister Miyagi's style of off beat training methods from the original Karate Kid and some of the elements of story telling from best selling self-help books' author Og Mandino, you have an outline of elements and devices of the story laid before you. Going into the 99 minute movie I had no idea what to expect, I took it on faith that it would be a decent movie. While the visuals which were actually shot in Utopia, TX were very compelling and from a production and acting stance were top notch, the story being told and therefore the editing to tell the story were a bit uneven. The attempts to give the back story via flash backs worked to an extent. The trust and openness between Crawford and Chisholm seemed really deep for two people who had just met. The people of Utopia, all 375 of them, seemed very warm and receiving of Chisholm which seems so unlike life today.

Ultimately, it is a feel good movie with a touch of a redemption story of sorts folded into the sports story script. At the end of seven days when Chisholm is about to leave town the connection between the characters is very tight given the time frame they had been together. The overall tenor and tone of the movie reminded me of a movie that I saw the better part of ten years ago called The Legend of Johnny Lingo. Chances are you didn't see that movie either. If you have a chance to find it via a streaming site or a DVD rental it also leaves you feeling good plus you'll love the views of the beaches and waters of the Cook Islands. Heading back up to the Lone Star state, Seven Days in Utopia will leave you feeling the same except for the very end of the movie. The move that I had never seen before in a movie was a very bold approach done by the marketing department. I'm like "WHAT! How could you do that in the movie!" It was very effective in that it had me thinking about the movie when I got home several hours later.

When you SFT, See, Feel, Trust, the positive and inspirational message delivered by Lucas and Duvall, you'll totally understand why the movie has a G rating for general audiences. There is no easter egg at the end of the movie, but there is a good song that plays during credits if you choose to stay.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network

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Fade into a dimly lit bar and observe a man and a women having a discussion that is scattered and yet very pointed. Eventually one walks away from the other and the relationship is over. When a women gets wronged the phrase "Hell hath no fury like a women scorned" is oft quoted. When a man gets scorned, specifically brilliant computer programmer and Harvard University sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg), the seed is planted for a software product that eventually evolves into a technological and marketing achievement that is Facebook. At least this is what we are shown in the opening for The Social Network. Chances are pretty high if you are reading this or listening to the audio versions of the Movie Monkey reviews that you use Facebook.

On July 21, 2010 Facebook hit their 500 millionth "friend". In October 2003, Facemash, the predecessor to Facebook was created in mere hours after Zuckerberg was scorned. (again, the movie version) The site is an instant success with over 22,000 hits in just a few hours. Eager to get their own social networking site going the Winklevoss twins Cameron and Tyler along with their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) contact Zuckerberg to code for their idea. Zuckerberg spins off their idea and with funding from his roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield who is to be the new Spiderman) launch on February 4, 2004.

Normally I mention the name of the actor or actress after the character's name is mentioned in the review. I didn't do that for the twins. Armie Hammer played Cameron Winklevoss and Josh Pense played his brother Tyler. But wait! They're supposed to be identical twins, you can't play identical twins with two non related actors! These roles were pulled off uniquely with the use of special effects. There were two bodies, but Armie's head was digitally imposed on Pense's body. Pretty cool stuff. I didn't catch it until I was doing some research for this review.

The timeline is laid out as we get to be flies on the wall in two separate depositions. Zuckerberg is being sued on one hand by the twins and Narendra for theft of what they claim was their idea and on the other hand by Saverin who was supposed to be his best friend and the CFO who has a substantial share of the company. The depositions reveal the time lines, players, interactions, the highs and the lows as this dorm room start up became the huge 800 pound gorilla on the Internet that everyone wanted a piece of including Sean Parker (Justin Timerlake,) the man responsible for Napster.

Facebook is a tech geeks dream. Taking the idea out of your head, start working on it in humble surroundings (I mean really, how humble is a Harvard student's room) to eventually transform it into a global phenomenon in just a few years. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg with this cold calm steeliness about himself but with a duplicity of "I know what I want", but "I don't know where exactly this is going to go" at the same time. With Timerberlake there is the irony of playing the man who forever changed the way that we consume and pay for music while himself being directly affected by what Parker did to the music industry.

The movie shines with the dialogue, pacing, editing and acting. At one particular point there was the use of tilt shift video which has been used in a number of viral videos and so much so that even Disney used it for some of their internet promotions. Tilt shift is when the movie frames are processed in such a way that the items as real as they are appear to be toy models. For me, it was the first time that I've seen it used in a movie. Coupled with the particular musical selection it gives a rather out of body like experience. Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing and Charlie Wilson's War fame was the screenplay writer based off of Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal.

The two hours for the movie was well spent and rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language. I mean really, can you talk about a college experience without touching on those topics? This movie is worthy of a movie theater viewing but if you can't make it out to see it on the big screen, make an effort to rent it when it becomes available.

The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Movie Review: Transylmania

Well, it was bound to happen. With vampires showing up in both the movies and on TV, someone was bound to make a spoof movie. Transylmania is that movie. I was expecting something along the lines of the Scary Movie franchise. Turns out they were trying to take themselves a little more seriously having a legitimate plot and some legitimate laughs. Neither were very consistent.

The basic premise of the movie is that Rusty (Oren Skoog) has met Draguta (Irena Hoffman), a hot looking Romanian chick on the Internet. He decides to study abroad in Romania in order to hook up with her. In the processes he has managed to convince a number of his friends to go with him. As they travel over they find out that the school, Razvan U, is located in a castle that has a vampire history in a book written about the school by one of the school's professors, a vampire slayer, Teodora van Sloan (Musetta Vander). Skoog gets double duty playing Radu, the head vampire.

So initially the movie starts of as a road trip, then a buddy movie with LOTS of buddies. Usually buddy movies are two friends, or maybe four with couple pairings; this movie had ten. Two of the students are stoners. There is the vampire lore set up at by the telling of the castle history and several love stories both with human and vampires included. Add in some of the physical and visual "humor" of a Scary Movie and mix well. Unfortunately, when the cupcaskets come out of this oven, some are topped very nicely and others are half baked.

The stoners are Pete (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Wang (Paul Hansen Kim) who are always looking for the good buzz. They add the Harold and Kumar element to this movie. Funny thing is Wang's hair is a tribute to Bride of Frankenstein. They were the funniest thing about this movie.

As the vampire slayer van Sloan, Vander does an OK job. Although watching her where she is out trying to kill Radu or teaching her students about self defense reminded me of Catherine Zeta Jones in The Legend of Zorro. Very feisty and sexy dressed up in all the leather. They just needed to add the soft light filter. Grrrr.

The cornerstone of the movie was about Radu and his love Stephania and a music box. This sets up all the conflict for the movie as Radu searches for the music box in order to get Stephania back. This by itself as the plot for a regular not satiric vampire movie would have worked on it's own. Vampire finds sorceress, vampire looses sorceress, vampire works to get sorceress back, a tale as old as time. The majority of the rest of the plot seems to be taken from recycled Scooby Doo scripts. "I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for those dang kids!"

With the castle, I'm not sure how much was stage and how much was real. In the credits they did thank various Romanian agencies. There were a number of scenes both inside and outside the castle where you could see the actor's breath. For this movie, I have to believe it was real. I couldn't see them visually adding this as a special effect especially since no one was complaining that the place was cold or uncomfortable that way. Think Jack and Rose as they became ice cubes, that was an added visual.

The movie has fart jokes (sorry, but do they ever get old? and a small tip of the hat to Young Frankenstein), getting stoned, buddy misunderstandings, good guy/bad guy look a likes, weird sex positions, bared breasts and vomiting that all earn this one hour thirty two minute movie its R rating.

Should you go see this? Well, if you have some loose change at the bottom of you pocket that adds up to the price of the matinee ticket and you really, really have to do something with it, eh, why not. If you're tastes are a little bit higher, I think Planet 51 is still playing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Movie Review: Princess Ka'iulani

The correct name of the Princess contains the 'okina or the glottal stop which is treated like a character within the Hawaiian language. For the Princess' name, it is between the a and the i. I don't have the correct font to do the Hawaiian language so for the rest of the review I won't be using any of the formal Hawaiian spellings for this formal Hawaiian picture. Why am I making this disclaimer? Because when the movie was shown at the Hawaii International Film Festival last year it was titled The Barbarian Princess and there was a big uproar within the Hawaiian community and I don't want that same uproar over my review for not having formal spellings of the Hawaiian names or places.

The movie Princess Kaiulani is not a documentary, but it attempts to convey some of the history of Hawaii's change from a Kingdom with its own sovereign rulers to that of an annexed property of the United States of America while focusing on the young ruler. Most Americans don't know about Hawaii's history like how the missionary families gained power in the islands or what led up to Hawaii being the last state admitted to the Union. Just last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary of the admission. I use the term "we" loosely as there were some people who protested what happened. Ultimately, President Clinton signed an apology resolution in 1993 for the part that the US government played in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893.

In the movie, Princess Kaiulani (Q'orianka Kilcher) traveled from England to Washington DC after the overthrow of the Monarchy to talk to President Grover Cleveland. The problem was she had to do it as a citizen and not a princess. She made an explanation to the President involving salt, pepper and cumin. It was a brilliant way to explain the situation to an outsider.

What I found great about the movie is that they used the actual Iolani Palace here in Honolulu for the movie. I've been into the palace a number of times on Kaamaina Sunday where residents are allowed to take the tour for free. The floors are made of Douglas fir so you're required to wear these booties, kinda like surgical booties over your personal footwear to protect the floors.

They have some of the furniture that was in the Palace at the time of the overthrow and they have attempted to give you a feeling of what it would be like in the palace. The last part of the tour is the Throne Room where they describe how the windows would be open allowing people to walk in and out to the lanai or patio and the overall atmosphere during a royal gathering. To even see actors in period costumes on the screen brought a whole new meaning to me of the palace. There were a number of other exciting shots were shown in the movie including the room where Queen Likiuokalani was imprisoned where you can go during a palace tour, but also the Chamberlain's Office in the basement that you can't enter but just view through a Plexiglas door or Kaiulani walking up the grand staircase from the first to the second floor which you are NOT allowed to do at all.

The costumes for the movie were magnificent. I was reading where Kilcher had 20 some odd pieces that were made for the movie. Apparently many of the costumes were made not only to look like the designs of the time but also the material itself was that of the last decade of the 19th century. The one part that would make for a hard time would be the corsets. They were part of the time and were part of the requirements to be the foundation of the dresses. Several pieces of jewelry were reproduced to form the complete package to showcasing the style of the time. If you visit the basement gallery at the palace on display are the Crown Jewels of the Kingdom of Hawaii where you can see actual pieces worn by Hawaiian Royalty.

Something that non Hawaii audiences will be exposed to is some of the culture like the language and hula. Most people know hula as the smooth swaying of the hips called auwana but it didn't start out that way. Kahiko is the older style with strong forceful movements done to chants in Hawaiian olelo or language. Kahiko is generally not shown when there are tv specials coming from the islands. Audiences will experience the olelo both in chant and as conversational language. There is a beautiful scene while the princess walking on the beach, she's presented with a haku or woven lei with an accompanying chant. What was once a dying language has been making a come back. I'm glad this exposure is showcasing what a beautiful and lyrical language Hawaiian is.

The one part of the movie that didn't completely work for me were some of the transitions between segments of the movie. This wasn't the cinematic transitions with fades or wipes, but the abruptness of jumps between locations or situations. If there would be one recommended change, it would be smooth out some of those jumps.

Something that I do find of interest is about the choice of Kilcher as the Princess. A number of people complained about the original title. When it was suggested that Duane "The Rock" Johnson play Kamehameha the Great there were rumblings over a Samoan playing a Hawaiian. Disney is building a resort on Oahu and the Hawaiian community is saying they better get it right with their depiction of Hawaii. Yet strangely enough, I don't remember hearing anything about a non-Hawaiian playing the Hawaiian alii or royalty.

Audiences at the Hawaii International Film Festival sold out five showings of this movie as well as awarding it the Audience Award. It brings to people a great period piece shining a light on an undeserved portion of Hawaiian and American history while spotlighting Princess Kaiulani. If you can find this film at your local theater, I highly recommend checking it out. It is rated PG for some sensuality, brief language, smoking, thematic material and some violence and has a run time of one hour and 37 minutes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife

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Wow, what a weekend in the movie theaters. At my local theater there was only one major movie release and three art house films, the earliest release from July and the latest on August 20. For the second time in just a few weeks, there was a re-release of a film which originally released back in June. Not only was there only one major release, it was in IMAX 3D, Real 3D and a regular version. My local theater in the Friday through Sunday time span showed this movie 14 times per day. You would think that with no competition and so many showings that the movie must be so awesome that it deserves the large number of time slots AND scare off any possible opponents. The movie in question: Resident Evil: Afterlife. So I bit.

This is the fourth movie in the franchise who's original genesis was a video game. Originally the game was released in Japan under the name Biohazard. Bringing it to America the name was changed to Resident Evil after it was discovered that the name Biohazard couldn't be copyrighted and protected. The movie opens showing the original infestation taking place at the world's busiest pedestrian crossing, Hachiko Crossing in Shibuya Japan paying homage to the original game. In an attempt to make sure that if number four is your first outing into the movie franchise, a voice over by our heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) gives the back story laying the foundation so we know why the she's fighting. Yeah...rah! Go kick the Umbrella Corporation's butt Alice! They're responsible for the virus that zombified the world.

All throughout this introduction you can see where they would use the 3D process to show depth and duck as bullets and weapons come out of the screen at you. Yawn! By attending one of the four non 3D showtimes I was able to keep the 3D upcharge of $4 in my pocket. Paul W S Anderson wrote and produced all four movies and takes another turn at directing the franchise after directing the original move back in 2002.

We see Alice fight and then head out to find any remaining humanity that may have taken refuge on the globe. Flashbacks to the previous movie, Extinction give us Alice's motivation. She goes to Arcadia and then eventually finds her way back to Los Angeles where she discovers more survivors. She ends up at a prison where she finds seven other survivors including Luther West (Boris Kudjoe) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller). If you're in a prison and looking to get out, wouldn't it be awesome if you had access to someone who is a prison break expert? You couldn't help but notice the irony of the task at hand and the actors in the scene.

The survivors battle within themselves, among themselves, the undead, the monsters within the undead, the Umbrella Corporation and even one giant. Where or how the giant came from, who knows? The giant carried a weapon that looked like a cross between a executioners axe and giant meat tenderizer. It seemed like the only reason this giant existed was to be able to give justification to use 3D. A couple of the people should have been wearing red shirts. Just like Star Trek, when the character wore the red shirt you knew they weren't long for screen time. Afterlife was no different with disposable characters. With one character think Shelly Winters from The Poseidon Adventure.

Just like the previous editions, the movie left off where the next movie in the franchise can easily pick up the storyline and action. With all the blood and guts while battling the undead, the movie was rated R for violence and strong language that pervaded the 97 minute running time. When the credits roll, don't leave right away, hang for a moment for some extra set up for the next movie and if you're a hard core Resident Evil fan, stay all the way to the very end for an easter egg.

The only thing that was exciting about this movie for me was the gas explosion that happened across the street from the movie theater during the showtime. To come out and see flashing lights on a police cruiser blocking the road to traffic and then seeing a fire engine with ladder extended and water being sprayed in the nearby field was a rush. That and the coupon from Regal Theater's facebook page that got me a small popcorn for free, a $4 savings. That was something to get excited about!

The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class

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Two weeks ago there was only one new movie to rule the weekend and this week there is only one new release, but will it rule the weekend coming after the long Memorial Day weekend releases. X-Men: First Class comes into the weekend with formitable foes including Thor, Captain Jack Sparrow, a furry panda and three guys trying to figure out what happened during their overnight bender. The mutants learned how to control their powers and be worthy adversaries!

X-Men: First Class Movie standup
Some people call this a reboot of the series and some people are calling it just a pure and simple prequel. I would agree with both. First off, it is a prequel. It brings us back to the day when a young Charles Xavier, Raven, and Erik Lehnsherr are first discovering their powers. Charles and Raven at the Xavier estate and Erik at the hands of the Nazis. These few moments in the life of each one sets them on a path that will both bring together and then divide them. Jump ahead from the 1940s to the 1960s where we meet up with the adult versions of Xavier (James McAvoy), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). These paths end up crossing in what is the real story of what caused the Cuban Missile Crisis, wink. In a sense, the movie is a reboot taking characters that we've already met and using them to tell their individual stories from their earlier lives. But because they are not telling us the same story again, is it truly a reboot?

Part of the fun of the summer movie season is the big block buster movies that spend a lot of money on special effects and effects that look good. This movie delivers on multiple detail levels whether it's the alterations they've made for locations to add extra features, tweaks to the appearances of objects or, for this movie specifically, the mutant powers which come alive before our eyes. The blue skin of Mystique or Beast along with his blue skin and additional fur or watching Angel's wings come from resting form to wings that can lift her aloft like a pixie are examples for the blending of art and science to make a believable story.

Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon...sorry no six degree of separation jokes here) feels that the mutants are the next stage of evolution brought about by the nuclear age causing the changes within the DNA of a human. Bryan Singer who directed and wrote the original X-Men and X2 ended up providing the story for First Class. Singer in his story tied actual history, that of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the formation of Professor X's X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants. Shaw's idea is to force the USSR and the USA to use their nukes against each other thinking they would take out the bad guy being of course, the other guy while not knowing the truly bad guy, Shaw, was the puppet master pulling the strings.

The movie runs 132 minutes and it's needed. Over the course of the movie introductions to about a dozen or so different mutants are covered. Along the way, if you've seen any of the previous movies, you'll be going "oh...that's why" or "ahhhh" as little pieces of the X-men universe, personas, devices, tie-ins or future mutants are put forth, some just as little nuggets, to be discovered or explained. By the time the movie ends you'll be left wanting for more.

The only part of the movie that was weak to me was the development of the relationship between Charles and Erik. Erik was a man with a chip on his shoulder with a task to accomplish due to his Nazi captors. It's understandable after being tourtured. Charles had the pampered life of privilege. When the two team up to accomplish an extremely difficult task, yeah, they are friendly. But in the end, when Charles says, "Killing will not bring you peace." to which Erik responds "Peace was never an option." you just know that no good will come from it. As the two "friends" diverge and Mystique chooses Magneto, she comments how Charles can never fully understand since his power is not betrayed by his appearance. She has a good point.

Now comes the question will they do a sequel of the prequel, or will they jump to somewhere else in the time line of the X-Men universe. We'll just have to wait and see. If they can keep the writing and action on par with this movie, I'll be there to buy a ticket as this was better than both X-Men: The Last Stand and the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movies.

The movie is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language. I was hoping there would be an Easter egg that would tie some part of the X-Men universe into the upcoming Avengers movie but you don't have to wait to the end as one wasn't given.

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

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Movie Review: Nine

Just as Rob Marshall took Chicago from the Broadway stage and directed the big screen adaptation, this Christmas he's taken Nine from Broadway which was based on Federico Fellini's film 8 1/2 to give us the big screen adaptation of Nine. Don't confuse this with the movie 9 that both sound the same when you say them but one is written as the numeral and the other is the word. On a scale of one to ten with ten being the bad side, the title fits about what I would rate this movie.

It's the story of fictional director Guido Contini, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. He's had some good films and the last ones stinkers. It's 1965 and he's about to start a new film in ten days without a plot or script. He's looking back at the women who have been his muses in the past, and there's lots of them. There is his Mom (Sophia Loren), a prostitute Saraghina (Fergie), his wife/actress Luisa (Marion Cotillard), the mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), the reporter Stephanie (Kate Hudson), the starlet Claudia (Nicole Kidman) and the costume designer/confidant Lilli (Judi Dench). Guido wants to be inspired once again for his new movie. Which one will do it for him? All of the women look hot. But then again, he's a successful Italian director, what other sort of women would you expect to be in his life?

He looks to the women one at a time for the development of the new movie named Italia. Some connections are in real time and some are visualized or remembered. For those women they tell their story on a set that sort of looks like architecture in the Coliseum that is supposed to be used in his new movie. Through flash backs and dreams each of the muses has played a part in his past directorial directions. Each told through a song and dance so there are seven in the movie.

Penelope Cruz looks like she got instruction from those new popular stripper pole community dance classes, or maybe it was Miley Cyrus, not sure. In any case, she does her best and her movements keep your attention. She kept mine for her story. Did I mention the women look Hot in this film? The best line in the film belongs to Carla as she sincerely wants Guido and to help him and will be waiting for him with....well, I won't spoil that here.

A young Guido gets taught about love with his young male classmates on the beach by Fergi told in flashback form. They pay her and she sings to him and the boys to "Be Italian". He's taught was is good and what is bad but ultimately, they'll know what to do "it is in your blood" because he's Italian. Fergie and a chorus of singers and dancers demonstrate on the Coliseum stage with sand and tambourines. She and the dancers looks Hot.

This goes on and on for each of the women. Several times during the movie I ended up closing my eyes. The use of color and at times black and white were used to help along the story line, but not enough to keep my attention. The music for the most part was forgettable but the women really looked good. Did I mention they looked Hot with a capital H? Sophia still looks smokin' hot at 75!

Speaking of smoking, there is more cigarette smoking in this movie than I have seen in a long time. Between that and some of the sexual content the movie is rated PG-13. Clocking in at one hour and fifty minutes, it seemed a lot longer. While I didn't look at the time, I did wonder when it would end.

One positive aspect of the movie for me was that it was filmed in Italy in several locations. I always like to see real locations and not just recreations or CGI mock ups. So if you want to see Hot women and beautiful Italian locations, this is the movie for you. If you want an engaging movie, well, maybe the other movie 9 with the numeral would be better suited for you.

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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

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For those people who are into Harry Potter, the complete book series may be out, but with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (HP7.1) it signals the start of the end for the visual depiction of J.K. Rowling's epic saga. With the complexity of the 784 page book, Warner Brothers made the decision to split the final segment of the saga into two movies. Some will say it was greed that made the decision, but in all fairness, with all the detail that the books provided and the complexity of the plot, book seven earned the right for the approximately five hours of screen time that it will receive between the two films. It's a shame Warner Brothers couldn't have provided books four thru six the same treatment.

At the end of the last movie, Dumbledore has died, He Who Must Not Be Named is regaining complete power over the wizarding world and our trio of heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione have been given a task to complete to try to defeat the Dark Lord. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, (Harry, Ron and Hermione) have grown up on the screen and developed their acting skills. They give us their best Harry Potter performances to date in this film.

David Yates who directed the previous two movies, Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Pheonix is at the reins once again. The editing was done differently this time really playing up the dark and sinister tone the book relays. I did have an issue with the tone that laid out via the color pallete. Overall it was extremely dark which was necessary to evoke and convey empathy for the feelings our characters are experiencing but visually it sometimes hid and obscured the detail of the finely laid out sets and costumes. This movie is far more intense and menacing than any of the previous ventures into the world of Harry Potter.

The movie moves quickly in its pacing. Each of the books is about a calendar year in length for the story line. At 146 minutes (2 hours and 26 minutes) we are taken on the journey from July just before Harry's 17th birthday until approximately February-March, the coldest part of winter and in the story, the lowest point when Lord Voldemort appears to have brought his magical powers to the strongest they could be. This is where the movie breaks for Part 2 which is expected to be released in July of 2011. Luckily for the length of this movie, my regular theater offered a coupon giving you a free small soda with a purchase of popcorn. The bad thing is that no matter what size of soda you bought, you were probably going to need to leave the theater for a few minutes to use the restroom.

Toward the latter part of the film when the tale of the name sake deathly hallows is told the film makers chose not to go live action. Instead the section from The Tales of Beedle the Bard used animation to give the origin story for the hallows with the whys and hows to great effect. The abstraction the animation provides is a wonder atmospheric backdrop for this crucial point of understanding to the entire series. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up as a separate short on the DVD/Blu-ray release.

The final set of Harry Potter movies had originally been promoted as being released in 3D. Warner Brothers announced in early October that HP7.1 would not come in 3D because they didn't have time to do the conversion process properly. It was noticeable in the film where they would have used the 3D on several points to jump out into the audience. By keeping the film 2D, I think they made a wise choice rather than upset the fan base by shifting the release date.

The movie is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. In some ways, I don't think it was intense enough. There were a couple of scenes that I was expecting from the book that had me with tears in my eyes and yet when they played cinematically they didn't carry the same power. I had fully steeled myself ready for the waterworks even bringing extra napkins from the concession stand but they sat on the seat next to me reaming unused. Does this mean it was a bad movie? No, in fact I expect it to break box office records. At the AMC theaters at City Walk in Universal Orlando Resort, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Islands of Adventure Theme park all 20 theaters were to be used for the midnight showing of HP7.1. It was reported that on the midnight shows alone, the movie pulled in $24 million making it the 3rd highest grossing midnight opening after two of the Twilight movies. If they had the 3D surcharge, it would have been greater and maybe have taken the top spot.

The question was asked if you needed to have read the books to enjoy the movie. Based on what has been shown so far they have written the movie in such a way that no, you don't. You should have seen the previous movies to know the characters and they build on that foundation. Although there are some scenes where if you have the book knowledge you'll know more about the names of some of the characters who appear in a shot but as presented there is enough to suffice.

Some people will stay away from the movie this weekend to try to avoid the crowds and watch it later in the release week or over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Will the numbers be caused by the number of Harry Potter fans? Probably but it stands on its own as a well made and very enjoyable movie. Just make sure that you hit the restroom before the movie starts and when it is over, you might want to stay through the main portion of the credits to see a glimpse of one of the deathly hallows before you run to the restroom for a second time! Based on what was given to us in this movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 should be very exciting!

The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team

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So I'm looking at Fandango trying to figure out what movie to see this weekend and I was very disappointed at the selection. The regular theaters have two remakes, one a big screen adaptation of an 80's TV show or the other a re imagining of a beloved 80's movie. The art cinema didn't look much better. Due to a State of Hawaii holiday, I didn't go to my usual first show of the day but went in the later afternoon. I was very surprised to see a huge line for people to get in and see Karate Kid. I on the other hand had chosen to see The A-Team. Even though I was in high school and college in the 80's, I didn't watch The A-Team.

The only thing I remember was Mr T's catch phrase "I pity the fool" which didn't even come from the series. I only had the previews and movie itself to go by. While I was not totally thrilled with it, it did make for a good popcorn movie.

The previews set it up, a group of soldiers was arrested for a crime they were wrongly accused of committing now they are out to clear themselves. We are introduced to each of the members of the A-Team and how they met. Introduced first is Liam Neeson as Col John "Hanibal" Smith. Funny now every time I hear the name Hannibal I think of a cannibal and not the place where Tom and Huck grew up. Next is MMA fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as Sergeant Bosco Albert B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracus. Joining them is Bradley Cooper's Lieutenant Templeton "Faceman" Peck and to top off the team is Sharlto Copley as Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock. This time instead of Vietnam, they are stationed in Iraq.

So we're treated to their origin. Next up, how they are wrongly accused. In Iraq , one of Face's old flames Lieutenant Sosa (Jessica Biel) tells him not to get involved with a plot to try to retrieve stolen money. This plan requires split second timing and in a country like war torn Iraq how they managed to get that timing down amazed me! Some of the set up and execution of the plan was both laughable and amazing to watch at the same time. But then again, we've already been treated to some of this beforehand. As the movie goes along it just gets more laughable and more amazing. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and someone dies. The A-team is court-martialed and sent to different penitentiaries to serve their time.

They manage to escape prison with the help of a CIA operative named Lynch who was also there in Iraq. Throughout the movie this became a running joke. But once Lynch helps Hannibal escape, it's like watching dominoes fall as the rest are sprung free to now fight and right that which has been wronged. Over the top action where physics don't seem to matter is the norm in this film. For example, you have a multi ton tank falling from the sky with a single remaining parachute hanging off the back end. In physics we know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Let's shoot off the big tank gun to slow ourselves down so we can survive the landing. While watching it on the screen we go "Cool!" but afterward go "huh?"

If you accept the whole movie with that attitude, it will be a fun movie. If you try to make sense of what is being burned into your retina, you won't have a good time. For the intense action, violence, language and smoking, the movie has a PG-13 rating. I personally think this is a little high. Yeah, there is violence, but it's not like you're seeing blood and guts everywhere. The only skin you get to see is Bradley Cooper's torso and none of Jessica Biel's. If this is a guy movie why don't we get to see more of her? Maybe that would have justified the PG-13 rating!

They left the movie in a place where if it does well in the box office, they could easily have a sequel pumped out in the future. OH Yeah, make sure you stay all the way to the end of the credits. There are a couple of good easter eggs there for you to enjoy.

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Movie Review: Hereafter

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Another weekend with lots of movie choices due to the Hawaii International Film Festival but due to working so many volunteer shifts, time has been limited. The only full program I saw was Short Program #3 which of the five shorts showed, Table 7 was the most entertaining. And I got to sit in on about 40 minutes of Old Damien Road which talked about the Hanson Disease patients on the island of Molokai. The anime movie, Welcome to the Space Show will be probably the one other HIFF film I'll see this fall showcase. When we go to the movie theater, what are we after? We're here after a good movie! Unfortunately, Hereafter was not what we were here after.

I don't know what got into Clint Eastwood. He's given us wonderful movies like Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Flag of our Fathers and Grand Torino; all are excellent films. Then he gives us Hereafter. It's the story of three people and their connection to death. After watching this film, you'll join their connection with this film that would bore you to death.

The first person we meet is Cecile de France who plays Marie LeLay, a french journalist who happens to get caught in a giant tsunami wave and sees the proverbial white light and then comes back to join the world of the living. They didn't mention specifically and even though the location looked like Maui to me (it was), they wanted to make it look like an area that was caught in the horrific December 26, 2004 tsunami that ravaged and devastated South East Asia.

The second person is Matt Damon's big role as George Lonegan, a psychic who can make a connection with the dead via a touch to a living person. He's the real deal as they show other frauds who tarnish the reputation of psychics across the globe! He's had enough of dealing with the dead but his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) thinks that he should rake in the bucks by doing readings for those that want to communicate with the departed.

The last are the 12 year old twin brothers Marcus and Jacob (George and Frankie McLaren). Jacob is 12 minutes older than Marcus and is unexpectedly taken into the hereafter. Marcus is searching for meaning to his brother's death when he almost falls victim to an event that happened in England in 2005.

Eastwood sets up a time frame for the movie with these two major events. Because of the mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language, the movie was rated PG-13. The time line in the movie is very deliberately set out but at 129 minutes, it could have and should have been trimmed down.

Many of the visual pulled you into the story, but then you got pushed back by the plodding of the plot. The set up didn't give you the pay out that you would have hoped. As you watched the tsunami happen on screen, there wasn't a sense of urgency or true helpless conveyed as we watched. Yells and screams for help or fear or anguish were absent. The same with Marcus' close call.

The plot was so slow moving that a guy in the row behind me fell asleep and started snoring. LOUDLY! The guy in my row sitting in front of the snorer woke him up not once, but twice during the course of the movie. Then Mr Alarm Clock took a call on his iphone and left the theater. He wasn't there to wake up Mr Snore Machine a third time and we spent the last 15 minutes of the movie hearing logs being sawed over the soundtrack.

Eventually the paths of the three end up crossing, but by this time who cared. There was no emotional investment in Marie, George or Marcus. When the movie ended there seemed to be a big collective yawn come from the theater. This would seem to indicate that the longevity of this movie is going to move very quickly into the hereafter. And in case you want to cure your case of insomnia and don't want to head to the theater, go to the official web site of Hereafter at and click SKIP for viewing the trailer. Make sure your speakers are on. When the main page comes up, I think you'll agree that music like this would cause a visit from the sandman so that you too can sound like you are sawing logs!

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8 (spoiler free)

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What appears to be the best kept secret for the movies happened this weekend. After seeing trailers for Super 8 you're left wondering just what is it braking out of the train car, scaring away dogs, putting fear into the towns folk and causing the disappearance of nine people. Usually weeks or months in advance there are clues as to what "it" is. Not this time around. I don't know, maybe they put some major damage clauses in contracts with everyone involved in the project that they wouldn't even dare risk it. The beauty was that walking into the theater I had no idea what to expect.

Super 8 Movie Poster
To ratchet up the hype, Twitter and Paramount teamed up. Two days before the advertised release they went through different venues to let people know that they could go to a special location for information about pre-release date shows. It happened to be showing at my regular theater in IMAX format. Regular 2D format would release on the scheduled date. Normally I would have waited, but this time I went: one because I was really interested and looking forward to the movie and two I had another M&Ms prize for $3 off a ticket. So for $7 I was able to see the IMAX version a day early.

Now here's where it gets tricky, reviewing without giving away any spoilers. It was directed and written by J J Abrams of Lost, the Star Trek reboot and Cloverfield fame with Steven Spielberg producing. Both men leave their fingerprints all over this movie. Right from the opening scene we're pulled into an emotional state. The slow camera movement and the minimal on screen action without words speak loudly tugging at the heart strings. From there the level of emotion is held tightly and pulled tight and then relaxed accordingly.

The emotional center is Joe (Joel Courtney). The year is 1979. Match Game is on TV, Disco is waning and the aftershock of Three Mile Island is weighing on the minds of Americans. Life events are changing rapidly for Joe. His dad who is a deputy for the small town of Lillian, Ohio doesn't think his friends are good enough given those changes. His friends are making a horror movie via a super 8 camera hence the name of the movie. While trying to capture a scene at the local train station, a train accident happens under mysterious circumstances. Afterward, strange things are starting to happen. Something on the train got loose but what is "it"? We don't know until about half way into the 112 minute movie. So like Cloverfield we don' t know what "it" is allowing the drama and action to build.

Speaking of "it", the lens flares are not "it". Abrams has used the lens flares before. We saw them used extensively in Star Trek. In Super 8, it was over done and became annoying. Any of the night shots had flares left and right and up and down. It would have been one thing if they were views through the camera the budding movie production team was using, but no it was from the mind of the director. Maybe he was using the flares as a type of misdirection to hide little clues in the background as to what was happening.

While we're talking about clues, there was a short clip that just recently started making its rounds on the internet. Abrams took a page from the Lost game book. Pierre Chang had orientation films for the Dharma Initiative that outside of the hour each week on network TV gave those little extra information nuggets to help explain what was happening in the bigger world expanding the little slices of story we were given. If you do a little poking around with Google, I'm sure you'll find the Super 8 "leaked" footage.

The emotional journey of Joe with his friends and family in dealing with the accident drive the story and keep our eyes glued to the screen and our minds scrambling to try to put pieces of the story puzzle together. The coming of age story has threads similarly woven within Goonies or even ET. While they didn't use quite the same language those 80s movies had it had its own to earn a PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some nudity. There were a couple of items that were introduced that didn't have a completely satisfying explanation or ending but the overall picture was well worth seeing.

When you go, do not leave as the credits begin. Take a moment to breathe deep to take in the ending and make sure that you stay through the credits. The bonus that you get gives the movie a satisfying conclusion tying together some of the loose ends. It is a great little treat for those that wait!

As a side note this week. Have you had the aggravating experience of someone who talks or texts throughout the movie? Or do they even pull out their phone to check texts or calls or try to use them as a flashlight during the show with the screen light shining as a bright high beam beacon in the middle of the dark theater? I had it happen while watching Super 8, a man having a conversation on the phone during the middle of the movie. The funny thing was that I had noticed that they didn't run the theater trailer telling people not to text, call or talk during the movie. The Alamo Drafthouse had that situation and they kicked out the patron who called back and left a nasty profanity laced voicemail for management. Alamo Drafthouse turned around and created a PSA (Public Service Announcement) using that voicemail. Here is the link to the censored version over at YouTube. If you want the uncensored version, check the suggestions on the side of the censored version. As I write this between the two versions it has about 3.5 MILLION hits in less than a week. AHHHH, if only all theaters would enforce their own rules in the same way! Oh, I did let my management know about the situation and not having the house rules before the movie. The manager said he would check with the projectionist because it was supposed to be there for the IMAX theater.

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The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

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Back in 1995 when Pixar released Toy Story, it changed the game for movie goers. To see what sort of images the computer could generate and get us to accept this world of toys in Andy's room could actually exist hadn't been done before. More importantly was the story. They got us to believe that Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys were real and to care what happened to them. Four year later along comes Toy Story 2 giving further refinement to the characters that we know and love. We are introduced to new ones like Jessie the yodeling cowgirl (Joan Cusack) and Bullseye. Then they were put on a shelf for eleven years. But now they are taken down, dusted off and back better than ever. The wait was worth it! It's great to be reunited with old friends.

My home theater is showing the movie in IMAX 3D, Real 3D and 2D. I was in the third show of the day, the first showing in 2D and the theater was packed. It's like schools and summer programs had made a field trip out of seeing this movie and packed the room. I couldn't get my regular seat about three quarters of the way up and in an end seat. I had to sit in the first row of the risers in a handicap seat knowing that if a wheel chair guest came in I might have to move to the front row and stare up at the screen. This movie will probably break some records this weekend.

Just as time had passed between movies in the real world about the same amount of time has passed in the world of Andy's room. He's now grown up and heading off to college. He has to clean out his room. What do you do with the toys that you loved as a child? Take them with you, throw them away, donate them or store them? The toys ponder their fate while reflecting what happened to some of their old pals that didn't make it up to this point. Inadvertently the toys end up being donated to a day care center.

Here our heroes plus Mr and Mrs Potato Head, Slinky dog, Barbie, Hamm, the three eyed aliens and Rex (Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Blake Clark, Jodi Benson, John Ratzenberger, Jeff Pidgeon, and Wallace Shawn) come to cross roads. In Toy Story 2 the relationship between Jesse and her owner Emily translated through the beautiful song When She Loved Me. Many of the same feelings were once again being expressed but not exclusively by Jessie. Their fears are put to rest by a new character Lots-0-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty) or Lotso for short, a pink fluffy teddy type bear that smells like strawberries who acts as representative for the toys who call Sunny Side Daycare their home. Other new toys introduced are Mr Pricklepants, Dolly, Buttercup, Sparks and Bookworm just to name a few. I'll have to drop by my local Disney Store and see if Mr Pricklepants comes in a plush. I find the idea of a lederhosen wearing hedgehog pretty funny and even funnier when he reveals that he wants to be a Shakespearean actor!

Their orientation is given by Ken (Michael Keaton) who for the first time discovers Barbie. The reaction and banter between the two is inspired creativity. They could probably have a spin off with just these two. Ken shows the newbies to the Caterpillar room where after recess the kids come in and the toys get played with....and HARD! Buzz makes an appeal to Lotso to move to the Butterfly room where there are children more age appropriate for the gang. Turns out Sunny Side isn't so sunny after all. Andy's toys decide to make a break for it, to get out from under the storm clouds of Sunny Side but to return to what?

Overall the tone of the movie is much darker than we've seen in any previous Toy Story movie. Although the movie has a G rating, there are themes here which are very grown up. The last twenty minutes of the movie you will need tissues. Friendship and loyalty versus responsibility and duty. Where is my place? Should I rust out or get worn out? Do I stick with what I know or venture into the unknown? All great questions that are presented to us through the eyes of a toy or a group of toys. Ultimately, the movie's conclusion is very satisfying as we watch the closing credits. The guys and ladies over at Pixar have not only given us great visuals to enjoy but a story worthy of watching.

Speaking of visuals, Pixar is known for putting easter eggs into their films. The little nods to inside jokes, running gags, past or even future films abound in this movie. The big one that I noticed was the Pizza Planet truck. The letters Y-O stuck out like a sore thumb. One blogger over at Slash Film counted about 60 hidden gems. Many are not as blatant as the truck but interesting on their own. Check out the blog post at: for the details.

Usually I give you the running length of the movie, but I forgot to look at the time. I've seen a couple of times reported on web sites, but don't know if that includes the short that is shown in front of the movie. It's entitled Day and Night and is very different than any of the previously released shorts like Boundin', Knick Knack or Partly Cloudy. It's a very ingenious presentation! I'm assuming that the short was about 8 minutes and the main feature about 90 minutes. In any case, it's time well spent.

The Movie Monkey

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Movie Review: Joyful Noise

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While she may have shown up on the small screen on Disney’s Hannah Montana as Aunt Dolly, it’s been a while since Dolly Parton has been up on the silver screen. She returned as G.G. Sparrow and co-stars with Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill who are two members of a small home town Georgia church choir competing in a contest which doubles as the name of the movie, Joyful Noise.

Joyful Noise Movie Poster
Typical of most choir or glee club themed movies and TV shows like Glee, Fighting Temptations or the Sister Act movies, a group is having problems getting started or having challenges reaching the next level. Along comes the new person, whether it's a director or a singer who challenges the status quo. Sometimes an unlikely candidate or candidates need to be added to round out the group. Of course this ruffles a few feathers along the way and can cause some great fight scenes. There is a particularly funny scene between GG and Vi Rose that takes place at a restaurant.

Vi Rose’s 16 year old daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) is one of the lead singers for the choir. When GG’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) appears, he’s the thorn in the queen lion’s paw on two levels; first, he likes Olivia and he wants to change up the arrangements a bit. So Vi Rose has the pressure of replacing the beloved previous choir director, dealing with alterations to the choir and it's dynamics, a boy who is making the moves on her daughter and trying to remain calm with her autistic son Walter (Dexter Darden) who has his own special needs of Asperger’s Syndrome that have to be taken into account.

GG is surprised by the church board when they appointed Vi Rose to take over as the choir director instead of her. Disappointed that she wasn't selected, surprisingly she doesn’t turn vindictive. The choir does well every year at the competition but the journey to nationals is stymied at the regional level when they come up against a power house choir which would be Glee’s version of Vocal Adrenaline. Vi Rose’s daughter Olivia takes the lead on many songs and gets told by her mom to let God work through her when she starts to belt out Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. Randy comes along and tries to put a little more musical Tabasco into the choir’s recipe book. Ultimately when they get to the big show down instead of a single song like the other competitors are doing, the group does a mash up giving each of the singers some time to shine in the spot light.

While the singing and the struggle of the choir for competition was the main focus, it wasn’t as far in the front as one would expect by the previews. There were other character drawn story lines given just as much weight during the one hour and 58 minute movie. Family troubles for Vi Rose with her special needs son and somewhat rebellious daughter, the relationship with the children’s dad, GG’s troubled grandson returning to hamlet of Pasachau which itself is having problems with the downturn in the economy and the loss of a loved one all allow interludes for the music to play and songs to be sung. What really stuck out was Dolly when they showed the choir and not for the totally obvious choice. Well, yah, they did mention that she took in her robe a bit to make it more form fitting. But really it was when asked what her favorite color was Dolly said Calirol 289 and you could really see that color stick out in the group shots of the choir when everyone else possessed brown or black hair!

On several occasions I asked myself what were they thinking of for the locations that were chosen and the flow of the scenes. Of course, being a “church” movie there were some scenes which contained some swears and sexual references to go up against the pious background to create some conflict within the plot and earn the movie a PG rating. It almost appeared that several bridging scenes weren’t rendered (the digital version of the cutting room floor) into the final cut. Despite the flaws, the comedy of the story (some at Dolly’s expense about things she jokes about all the time in real life) and the overall message and tone was meant to be uplifting and inspirational and it achieved that goal.

These Movie Monkey reviews have been about the movie going experience and lately, the experience hasn’t been all that fun. I don’t receive free passes to see the movies I’ve written about; the money has come from my own pocket and going the movies instead of being fun, has become a chore and I question if my $8.50 matinee pricing is being well spent. At the end of 2011 the news reports were about the US Box office being off half a billion dollars from the previous year. When you look at the quality of the movies and what happens when you go to the theater, for me, I understand why.

At my local Regal Theater I’ve really lost faith in them. They are supposed to be an art house location and yet the competitor in town ends up showing more art house films or even getting them before what I called my home theater, location 1828. For this particular movie, the 20 minute preshow had audio but no video. I reported it to the staff at the entrance podium just after the preshow started and it hadn’t been fixed before the preshow ended. Luckily I had my “Where’s my Water” app to keep me occupied during the preshow time. Then I and another person had to track down staff because after five minutes they still hadn’t started the show. With watching about a film a week and probably about once a month I was reporting some sort of technical problem to the staff: sound was off, scratches in the film, late starts or short stops…that would be a 25% failure rate.

During this particular show one person pulled out their cell phone FIVE times to do texting sessions and another started their vocal conversation in the theater. I will give them credit, they didn’t have their ringer on and they did leave the theater to finish the conversation. If I go to report them, I would have to leave the theater missing part of the movie and I seriously question if they would have done anything to the offending patrons unlike the folks over at Alamo Drafthouse who take talking and texting during the movie very seriously. I’ve sent comments via their contact us web page and via their Facebook page to either receive no response or have the posting deleted.

With that said, at this time I want to let you know that this will be the last Movie Monkey review that I’ll be doing as my movie watching will be severely curtailed. Whether you’ve been reading the reviews or if you’ve been listening to the audio versions on the blog page or via the podcast, I say mahalo (thank you) from the bottom of my heart for spending your time with me. It has been my honor and privilege to share my movie going experiences with you. As we say in Hawaii, a hui hou…until we meet again.

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The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Movie Review: Grown Ups

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It was another tough decision at the theater this week, Adam Sandler or Tom Cruise. I thought heavily of checking out the art cinema but timing didn't work out. So I choose Adam Sandler in Grown Ups and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, it had it's problems but it was better than I thought. BUT before I could get to the comedy gold (tongue planted firmly in cheek) of Sandler, I had to get through the previews. I'm really starting to loathe them. First there were five shown before the movie. I can deal with that, not a big deal. Two of the movies are "coming in 3D and in 2D at select theaters." Argh! That's starting to get annoying! Then there was this trailer, I won't plug the movie, but it stars Will Farrell. Why must I be tortured with Will Farrell? It was more of a Talladega Nights:

The Ballad of Ricky Bobby than Stranger than Fiction type of movie. By the looks of the preview, I think that he'll be up for a Razzie.

Will Farrell aside, Grown Ups was your standard Adam Sandler movie with some of the language and potty humor. Rob Schnieder showed up in this movie as usual but instead of the cameo type appearances he was one of the leads in this film along with Chris Rock, Kevin James and David Spade who play five life long friends. They've gathered back in New England after 30 years to attend the funeral of their beloved basketball coach, Coach Buzzer (Blake Clark) who lead the team to a championship when the boys were 12. As a reward they had a party at a gorgeous lake front house.

As the town gathers at the church for Coach's funeral the five are reunited Lenny, Rob, Eric, Marcus and Rob (Sandler, Schneider, James, Spade and Rock) along with their families. As they see each other the insults and one upmanships start flowing. Even during the service they take bets as to what one of the guys would do. It's like the five of them never separated and continued their friendship right where they left off many years ago. Lenny, a successful Hollywood agent, decides to rent the lake front property and have all the families, all 17 people: wives, children, pets, nannies and mother-in-laws stay under one roof for the Fourth of July weekend.

Each family has their own issues. Lenny has his successful clothes designer wife Roxanne (Selma Hayek Pinault) who needs to get to Milan for a fashion show and two very spoiled children. Eric has unique family issues with his wife Sally (Maria Bello) who can't seem to break their four year old son from breast feeding. Kurt is a stay at home dad with a successful bread winning pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph). Rob is a new age type of guy on his fourth marriage with kids from previous marriages and a new, rather unconventional wife. Pulling up the rear is Marcus, the single guy on the prowl for anything that moves, kinda like the same character he played on Rules of Engagement.

There are some funny scenes, there are some gross out scenes, there are some things that should NEVER be tried at home. They apparently tried, like the Wadsworth poem "I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth, I know not where." and make a game out of it. Kids, if you see this movie don't EVER try what they do with a bow and arrow. Something really BAD could happen. Actually, I shouldn't limit that just to kids....adults, this applies to you too! The movie has a PG-13 rating due to crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity, you know typical stuff for a Sandler movie.

Some of the editing was choppy. With some great comedic people together I'm sure they did some improvisation that the director Dennis Dugan (Don't mess with the Zohan and The Benchwarmers) had to try to stitch together in the editing bay. Some of the incidents and conclusions were just too contrived and easily resolved, but ultimately the story was about friendship and family and that part of the movie was enjoyable in the 102 minute running time.

The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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We are now into the dog days of summer and the big movies are starting to wind down as families across the nation start heading back to school. The Movie Monkey has been waiting all summer for this particular movie. Not because it was going to be a great movie, but because one simian should support another, don't you think? While not the top of the movie evolutionary chain, Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes in with a very solid upright position.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Movie Poster
While 2011 Academy Awards co-host James Franco, Oscar nominated John Lithgow and leading lady Freida Pinto from Academy Award Best Picture winner Slum Dog Millionaire received the top billing, in my opinion, Andy Serkis in his motion capture portrayal of chimpanzee Caesar should have had his name on top of the other three. As Caesar, Serkis' depiction of the primate with ever evolving intelligence was given through his eyes and body language, not through speech. This is when the acting skills need to be sharp and refined. Tied into the character were the good folks over at Weta Digital, the company started by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson who converted the digital plot points generated by the motion capture and rendered out the hairy bodies that became chimpanzees, gorillas, apes and orangutans.

The original Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston came before the public in 1968. The last in the series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, released in 1973. So it's been almost 40 years between the last time the series appeared on the big screen and lost to many younger people and now we're given the origin story. It would seem rather risky but at the same time not. In the original, it was never disclosed how the apes became the dominant species and humans below them. This unanswered question left the door wide open for exploration and didn't need to be rewritten or reimagined by Hollywood writers as seems to be the case for many pictures today.

In a number of cautionary tales of man creating something that ends up being his downfall the intent was with good and pure motivations. This origins story can be filed in the "good intentions gone wrong" folder. Dr Will Rodman (Franco) is working for a cure for Alzheimers which is afflicting his father Charles (Lithgow). Animal testing on chimps is going positively, especially on one chimp named Bright Eyes. When Bright Eyes goes on a rampage the program is shut down and all the animals are ordered to be put down but not before it is discovered that there was an off spring of Bright Eyes. In a moment of compassion, Will brings the baby chimp home and raises him. When growing chimp Caesar hurts himself and needs medical attention, it's at the vet's where Will meets Caroline (Pinto) and with prompting from Caesar through sign language the two start dating.

Will is able to hold onto his dad and Caesar for about eight years when things start to fall apart. Caesar was learning, reasoning and communicating from the altered genes passed down from his mother. While trying to protect Charles, Caesar injures a neighbor and ends up at a primate sanctuary where for the first time has interaction with other primates. Caesar is exposed to cruelty from humans and fellow apes. One of the handlers, Dodge Landon (Tom Felton) was a reference back to the original movie. If you saw The Green Mile, Percy and Dodge were cut from the same cloth. Both gave inhumane treatment to their charges and both ended up paying for that cruel handling.

In the third act, Caesar takes charge and leads the rebellion. He escapes from the sanctuary and sets free the other captives at the lab and zoo. Primates rampage through San Francisco using primitive weapons like fence spears and man hole covers to take out the opposition leading to the climatic battle on the ultimate icon of the city by the bay. King Kong had the Empire State Building and Caesar had the Golden Gate bridge...sort of symbolic as he crossed over from living in the world of man to living in the world of apes.

The movie runs for 105 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language. During the running time there are lots of nods to the original series of movies with names, lines and objects given. If you have seen any of the movies you'll appreciate the little tips of the hat. Don't immediately leave when you think the movie is over. Hang for a few moments as a bit of a set up for any possible sequels is given. After you leave the theater you can discuss with your friends some of the moral dilemmas offered ranging from animal treatment and animal experimentation to how far would you go for the care of a sick family member.

There are a few plot holes, but don't let that detract you from the overall experience. My biggest was were there really all that many of our evolutionary cousins located within the city limits of San Francisco? But still, the movie is a solid movie for the summer season praiseworthy of a bucket of popcorn and a cup of soda.

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The Movie Monkey

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