Thursday, December 30, 2010

Movie Review: The King's Speech

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The last Friday in 2010 and there wasn't a single new release to any of the theaters in my area. There are the carry over films from Christmas but why not take the weekend when lots of people have time off to release something? Anything new would probably have claimed the top spot for the box office. So instead of a major release I went back looking for some of those more cinematic/art films that released in December to meet the deadline requirements for Oscar consideration. This will also keep them fresh in people's minds before the nominations to be announced bright and early on January 25, 2011. So since there were no Friday releases, I decided to go on Thursday hoping to avoid the altered bus holiday schedule AND get the extra Regal Theater bonus points for a Thursday viewing. BINGO! Movie plus bonus points pushed me over for a free movie ticket! Plus I'll get an extra 5 points down the road for seeing a cinema art film! Made more bonus points on this film than the regular points. Whoo Hoo!

My choice was The King's Speech. The movie released back on December 10. When I walked in for a 2pm show on a Thursday, there were already ten people in the theater. When the movie started it had gotten to the point where it was that uncomfortable time looking for seats because you know that either you'd have to ask someone to move or there wouldn't be that buffer seat between you and your neighbor and you'd have to share the armrest. Granted, it was one of the smaller theaters out of the 18 where I usually go but that says something about the quality of the film.

Colin Firth played Albert Frederick Arthur George, the second in the line of ascension to the throne of England. Being a royal he's caught between a rock and a hard place. The House of Windsor has duties and responsibilities to the people of England that "Bertie" as he is known must fulfill. The challenge is that he has an awful stammer which severely impedes him from those duties and responsibilities.

His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out help for Bertie from an Australian, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) a speech therapist. The meeting of the royalty and the commoner is a highlight throughout the movie. Here is a man who could be king receiving assistance from an everyman. Lionel sets the rules and many times Bertie objects. Lionel has to balance what he needs to accomplish while trying at the same time to respect, but not be swayed by the man in front of him. Rush presents a gentleman, a father, a husband someone who cares, a somewhat different picture from what we've been seeing him as on the big screen for the past few years as Captain Barbosa.

Firth really stands out in the title role. Portraying a man who is torn because he loves his country, his wife and family but has a giant wall placed in front of him because his mouth can't get the words out the way that he wants. You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in the body. As an actor, to be able to have the words flow is part of your craft and yet here Firth has to not only hold back the words but have the body respond to the those blocks.

After Bertie ascends to the throne of the King of England as George VI, England enters into World War II. It's up to Bertie to speak words of wisdom, authority and comfort to his countrymen and women. In the movie title, the word speech has a double meaning, not only communication by word of mouth, but the act of delivering a formal spoken communication to an audience. This is the moment that the movie hinges on.

I found myself laughing at the right times and at times with a lump in my throat, that's how compelling this movie turned out to be. The movie runs 118 minutes and has an R rating. I totally understand the need for the R as there were two scenes where Logue pushes Bertie to get him mad and have him start swearing to see where the the issues of the stammer may be occurring or to run an exercise to get the words out. The use of the F and the S words happen about two dozen times but they are not uttered against people just as vocal exercises. If it wasn't for that the movie probably would have received a G rating. Well, maybe not G since they were smoking cigarettes throughout.

There is a lot of buzz on this film for the Oscars. Suggestions for best picture, best actor (Firth) and supporting actor and actress (Rush and Bonham Carter) have been put forth. They are worthy of the nominations for Oscar and have already received a slew of nominations for the Golden Globes. I would also suggest that it is worthy of a viewing if playing at your neighborhood cinema.

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Movie Review: Little Fockers

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It has been ten years since we originally met male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) when he wanted to marry Pam Byrnes(Teri Polo) and had to get past the meeting of the families in 2000's Meet the Parents and 2004's Meet the Fockers. At this time we're on good grounds of knowing who the characters are and their relationships. With a name for the latest installment of Little Fockers you'd think that the focus of the story would be the children of Greg and Pam, but you'd be wrong. The focus is still on the relationship between Greg and his nosey ex-CIA agent and head strong father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro).

Little Fockers movie poster
Part of the humor of the series has been just how controlling and tightly wound Jack is. Putting a future son-in-law on a lie detector or trying to help raise a grand son by wearing devices allowing a normal situation that should take place between a mother and son is over the top. Now approximately six years into Greg and Pam's marriage and family rearing, Jack has become worried about who will run the Byrnes clan once his time is up and he gets deactivated from the big CIA operative list in the sky.

Another ingredient in the series humor recipe is the reaction and relationships between the hodge-podge of adult family members. Pam shows her love for her mom Dina (Blythe Danner) who somehow has managed to find the right balance between raising the family and keeping Jack on keel. Or what about the more hippyish, free love and very free spirit Focker,s Rozalin and Bernie (Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman), coming up against the straight laced Byrnes. Throw in the dash of craziness added by one of Pam's former boy friends Kevin (Owen Wilson) to keep situations interesting and people on their toes.

But when you come down to it, the vast majority of the humor comes from the embarrassment of Greg Focker. If it wasn't for the positions that Greg finds himself, sometimes of his own doing, sometimes not, there wouldn't be much humor in the series. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, missed cues or botched actions provide the type of laughter that generates the PG-13 rating for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content. While the scenarios aren't meant to be malicious, many are cringe worthy. Inside you think, "just tell them the truth, don't hide it! If you do that you'll save yourself in the long run!" But then again, if that actually happened, you wouldn't have a comedy movie now would you?

Greg seems to have struck a balance with Jack. But with Jack considering his own mortality the balance is thrown out of whack. Putting extra pressure on Greg ends up being a germination point which sprouts forth with the aforementioned cringe moments. Having some money issues due to remodeling a home leads Greg to become a paid advocate for Sustengo, the equivalent of a little blue pill but is safe for heart patients. The company rep is Andi Garcia played by Jessica Alba. So of course, what writer could pass up the opportunity to play around with erectile dysfunction medication and the looks of Jessica Alba? Obviously, not returning series writer John Hamburg.

The film is produced by Tribeca Productions, a company that is partially owned by De Niro. You look at this and wonder why they would produce something like this? At the heart of the film, it's about family love. Even with as ludicrous as events become between the parties involved, each in their own crazy mixed up way tries to show what love for one another is about. All 98 minutes showcase that love as awkward and unbalanced as it can sometimes get.

When the movie is over, don't leave right away. There is some added levity and a huge missed opportunity during the credits. Once the credits take up the full width of the screen you can leave without a gnawing feeling that there will be more funny to be delivered. Where they missed out is during the last laughs of the movie Jack goes online to do research. Instead of creating the actual material so that you and I at home could Google and get the same search results, they let the results languish as just props created for the movie. It could have been so much fun to see the result on our own computer! They made it for the film, it wouldn't have taken a whole lot more to move it onto the internet!

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Movie Review: TRON: Legacy

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When the original TRON released in 1982, it wasn't a huge box office hit but it made its money. More importantly is that it managed to work its way into tech boys hearts as a film that put an idea into their head of what the digital realm of the inside of the computer would be like if they could live there, to live on The Grid. The effects used in the movie were eye popping. Now, 28 plus years later director Joseph Kosinski brings us back to The Grid with effects that are just as eye popping. The real world has evolved and so has The Grid in TRON: Legacy.

Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprise their roles as Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley in the real world and CLU and TRON on The Grid. Not much is done in the way of showing detailed close ups of TRON, but CLU is shown. With the computer technology available today Bridges 60 year old face was recreated as a 30 year old for CLU as a program inside a computer wouldn't age. Bridges has to play against himself as both the good and the bad guy. This is not a walk in the park mind you, but it didn't seem for him that it was hard to do.

Flynn's son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has been missing his dad for twenty years. At that time, the elder Flynn told his young son that they'll go play video games on the following Saturday but the older Flynn disappears. No one knows what happened to him. When Bradley informs the younger but now grown Flynn that he received a page from his dad's old arcade, Sam checks it out. He finds out what happened to dad as he does like father, like son and gets digitized and placed on The Grid. When Sam is almost derezzed meaning digitally destroyed, he is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde who was Thirteen on Fox's House TV show) a friend and student of his dad's. It's up to both Flynns and Quorra to prevent CLU from taking complete control of not only The Grid, but the real world as well.

Right now if you're trying to find a copy of the original, good luck! Disney has allegedly pulled all copies for purchase and current rentals. Maybe if you have a friend who purchased the DVD or VHS tape or scour eBay or Craig's List you might be able to see it. The prevailing theory is that Disney didn't want people to see what by today's standards might seem like a poor movie but for the time that it released was state of the art. For three years starting at Comic-Con 2008 this film has received huge promotion even following the foot steps of Avatar by releasing a 23 minute advanced preview during TRON night to drive buzz about the new film. I went to Tron Night here in Honolulu and was surprised that most of the theater was empty. With so many empty seats, it might seem that there wasn't interest. Apparently Disney didn't follow the rule that when you offer something for free, you must oversell the event in order to fill all the seats. When people came out of the theater there was excitement.

The digital world of The Grid is familiar if you had seen the original TRON but evolved and changed. The suits worn on The Grid are similar but developed. The special effects necessary to bring The Grid to this new life are impressive. The world as defined within the evolution of The Grid between the input and influence of Kevin and CLU will wow the senses. As a note here, I saw the 2D version of the movie. But the effects alone don't carry a movie, there has to be a great story that makes us want to boo the bad guy and cheer for the heroes. From Pixar Studios, Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt, and The Incredibles director Brad Bird were brought in to help tighten up the screenplay. What we got was not a great story, but it was a good story. Most of the points of the film moved the plot forward. There were a couple of times I was scratching my head because I seemed to miss point B on the way to connect points A and C.

The film had a PG rating for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language and ran 127 minutes long. I didn't find myself looking at my watch and there were no easter eggs at the film end. Of special note is the score done by Daft Punk. The music went hand in glove with the imagery and tone of the film and the duo even got parts in the film as masked DJs at the End of the Line club.

There was a lot of visual imagery to take in for this film and I'll probably make the effort to see it a second time to absorb those details.

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie Review: The Tourist

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This week's movie selection is The Tourist staring Johnny Depp and Angelia Jolie. These two are some of the most beautiful people in the world. Director and writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck hoped that by putting these two in a film together they would produce a beautiful offspring in this spy action thriller intrigue film. Maybe if you put in the beautiful mind coming from Paul Bettany and add the gravitas of a former actor with a license to kill Timothy Dalton you'd have one kick butt movie. Well, sort of.

The action picks up in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Paris, France. Elise Ward (Jolie) is under surveillance by the French police under the direction of British Financial Crimes division's Inspector John Acheson (Bettany) who reports to Chief Inspector Jones (Dalton). Ward is not the mark, Alexander Pearce is. He has money they are trying to get back. She is the link that they need to get to Pearce. They trail her from Paris to Venice where along the way she meets Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math teacher, on the train. Elise befriends Frank and as a result the police confuse him for the real target as does a Russian mobster. Pearce stole money from the mobster and he too wants it back. Things get complicated when there are sparks between Elise and Frank, but are they real or fake?

Jolie looks absolutely stunning throughout the entire movie. She had a high class wardrobe with designer ware, shoes, jewelry, make-up and hair. The camera loves it and so do we. For a spy movie, this was the lady who played Lara Croft, Mrs Smith and Evelyn Salt so who could be jumping around and kicking the opponents butt better than her, right? Not in this film. She didn't get a single sweat stain on any piece of clothing. The most action was, hmmmm...what was it? She engaged in what was a waltz but then again she didn't dance the whole song. Oh, wait, it was when she picked a set of handcuffs? NO, it was when she was in a boat and pushed it to full throttle! You get the idea. Not much in the way of butt kicking! Speaking of butt, I don't think von Donnersmarck missed a single opportunity to focus on Ms Jolie's curvaceous backside as she either turned or walked away from the camera. That's not a complaint mind you, just an observation.

For Depp, he didn't have the chance to show off for the camera the same way that Ms Jolie did. Frank was from Wisconsin and pulled out a full set of men's pajamas and at one point was running around the tiled roof tops of Venice trying to get away from the Russian thugs in said pajamas. It was good to see him act without guyliner or pancake makeup. Although there were a couple of times where he said lines and smiled that reminded me of Captain Jack. In this movie he provided the action on screen that we didn't get from Jolie.

The story moved at a fair pace over the 102 minute running time, but it never got extremely tight. Showing off Paris and Venice were nice eye candy. We were left wanting for the relationship to get a bit more heated and steamy as well as the action to really get cranked up. At no time was I biting my nails with either of the protagonists getting into a tough spot that looked completely hopeless without a miracle intervention of some sort. With the meh level of action and romance, the movie has a PG-13 rating for violence and brief strong language. If they could have gotten the action and romance up to the beauty level of the stars, it would have been a much better movie.

Going back to Ms Jolie's backside for a moment. I think it would make a funny video if when the movie is released to Blu-ray and DVD someone made a single video of all the times they showed off her curves. Put to the right music it just might be the right recipe for a viral video. I just might have a project to put on my calendar come the late spring/early summer time frame next year!

The Movie Monkey

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

That time of year!

It's coming up on the second Sunday in December so that can only mean one thing! No, not just two weeks left in Christmas shopping, but the annual running of the Honolulu Marathon!

This will be my fifth sign up and fourth running. Missing the race in 2007 was a good thing with the bad weather and the timing chip problem that plagued the event that year. Helping at the starting line in 2008 gave me a different perspective on the race.

This year I'm excited in that with the help of Nike+, I've been keeping tabs on my running over the past year and seen improvements. While I don't expect to run the full course, I have done up some longer runs. Something amazing happened, at least amazing in my book, once I hit the 250 mile total run distance I noticed that I wasn't gasping for breath. I would loose energy but not have a heaving chest gasping to try to make up for the shortage of O2 entering my system. The clothing should be better with the socks and running shoes. The coconut hat will rock the course again this year!

Today I picked up my runner's packet at the Honolulu Marathon Expo. Disney was there promoting their Walt Disney World and Disneyland marathons. Had a good conversation Katie who was working the booth. I dropped the hit that since they are launching Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa next summer that it would be really cool if they would be one of the race sponsors. Hopefully they'll be on the sponsor list next year.

My bib number is 3282. On Marathon day, December 12, if you'd like to follow me, and my exploits, that number put into the web site will give you my times as I pass main check points along the course. The starting time is 5am so that would be 10am east coast and 7am west coast time.

To the people who have made comments on my different social networking sites with words of encouragement, Mahalo! I'll try to post pictures and updates along the course so keep an eye out. Afterwards I'll give an update. The main goal this year is to beat 7:51, my best time to date but I would really like to make it under 7 hours. We'll see!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remembering Pearl Harbor

I remember the 50th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor when President Bill Clinton came to O'ahu to be part of the recognition ceremonies. I had the TV turned on to watch the event unfold. I heard and then saw fighter jets streak by outside my window. The sound outside the windows disappeared but a few seconds later the roar appeared on the TV as the cameras caught the fighters as they made their fly over with the missing man formation at Pearl Harbor about ten miles away as the crow flies from the Apt in Paradise. It was a total chicken skin moment.

Today I did something that I've thought about doing ever since I moved to Hawaii. It was the 69th anniversary of the attack that happened at Pearl Harbor. I visited the USS Arizona Memorial on the anniversary date of the surprise attack that forced the US to enter into World War II. I wasn't fully prepared for the days events.

I know they have a remembrance in the morning with emphasis around 7:55am, the time of the first bomb drop at the harbor which began the attack of the US Pacific Fleet. I figured that it was probably for the survivors and special guests. I arrived at 8:45am and found that the ceremony was still going on. It turned out that I got the every end of the ceremony that was culminated with the dedication of the new visitor center.

In my location at the back of the crowd there were lots of uniformed military personnel. After the ceremony concluded many of the survivors and their families started to move about the facility. It hit me that with the 69 years since the attack and on the lowest side, these men and women were 18, that makes Pearl Harbor Survivors around the 90 years old. Unfortunately it won't be long before there will be no more first hand accounts on a one on one level.

The last time I was at the memorial was about three years ago when I visited with a friend from the mainland. The place looks so much better now with the new buildings and expansion. It's not cramped like before. I was exploring one of the new galleries and saw their videos from survivors telling their stories from both the American and Japanese perspective as well as military and civilian. For artifacts there was one blood stained uniform on display. In another a picture shows a dead person whose lower extremities were severely burned and charred to the boe due to a fire from a vehicle they were laying near. While it may have been tough to look at, it helped to bring out the horror and humanity of what happened that December morning.

It then got interesting as park and security staff started to push people back and close the galleries. Apparently someone had left a package unattended. This disrupted the day, but they kept the shuttle running over to the memorial. They were having survivors, families and organizations go over to the memorial for presentations.

The schedule got off. My 12:15 time approached and past. Luckily it wasn't too much after that when they reopened the secured area. I got to see the film about 20 or so minutes late. The new film is good, but I'll never forget the one that opened with underwater shots of the decaying hull of the USS Arizona. In the background you hear these faint whispers saying the names of people who had died. The voices disappear and the narrator outlining a scene comes on. It then goes back to an underwater shot and the whispering of names. Another one of those chicken skin moments. The film uses real footage of the attack and includes the explosion that sunk the USS Arizona. After the film we proceeded onto the shuttle boat to the memorial.

On board the memorial there were wreaths everywhere. In one area there was a basket filled with names and ranks of people who perished that day along with orchid blossoms. You were encouraged to take the single bloom and a card and to think about that person and release the flower onto the water above the remains of the battleship. The ship that became the tomb for the men of the USS Arizona.

You board the memorial on one side and on the other side is a room with a wall that is inscribed with the names of the 1177 people that perished on the ship that morning. A survivor from another ship was pushed up to the front line of wreaths in his wheelchair. He sat there for a moment. I don't know what he was contemplating or remembering. When he was turned around one lady in the crowd said "Thank You" and the crowd broke into applause. Even before the clapping started the man had tears in his eyes.

A number of times from when I arrived until I left I too had tears. Looking at the people and having a small glimpse into what they endured that Sunday morning. These former soldiers and seamen and airmen have made it back to a place that changed their lives forever. Some of them standing on their own, but many of them with support of others or using canes, walkers or wheelchairs and they came. It was worth their time, effort and money to come back to remember even when some of them looked very frail. That brought tears to my eyes.

I have a Flickr set called Pearl Harbor Remembrance 2010 where you can see more photos from the day.

Old Location of the USS Arizona anchor

New Location of the USS Arizona Anchor

Friday, December 3, 2010

Movie Review: The Warrior Way

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The life of a warrior is always a lonely life. They train by themselves or are trained by a mentor for that one moment in time. They travel down a road forsaking everything else geared for the event that they are destined to fulfill. Sometimes they know the specific event and often times they don't. They just know when the time is right their head and heart will come into alignment to complete the solitary task presented to them. But life couldn't be that simple, could it? An obstacle appears and a decision based on new information or tug of the inner voice will present itself: accomplish the task or divert from the road they've been following to go onto a path who's outcome will play an ever greater significance in their life or destiny. Such is The Warrior Way.

First time writer Sngmoo Lee gives us the tale of Yang (South Korean actor Jang Dong Gun) who is seeking to become the greatest swordsman in the world. He must wipe out his enemy but comes the decision to kill the last member of the rival clan or show mercy and compassion. Of course, without some sort of conflict there would be no movie, right? So Yang shows mercy and compassion with the result being that he must flee Asia because he has betrayed his own clan. He knows he'll be chased so he goes to America because he has a friend there.

In the opening sequence I feel like I'm watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Wire work, tall bamboos, mega slashings and accentuated sword work fill the screen. Once Yang arrives in America to the town of Lode it starts to look like a Terry Gilliam film containing this imaginative western town that has a circus with its performers and a ginormous unfinished ferris wheel at the end of main street of this run down town out in the middle of this wide open plain. Yang is welcomed into town where he attempts to start a fresh new life.

The town has its own issues as its ambassador, a little person ring master, Eight Ball (Tony Cox) tells Yang of the story of Lynne (Kate Bosworth) and her encounter with their own merciless bad guy The Colonel (Danny Huston). She survived his unwelcome advances many years earlier only to loose her family in the process. She wants revenge and eventually wants to learn from the greatest swordsman in the world how to use knives to extract her retribution.

Her past and his past collide at the same time. The Colonel and his men show up in town at the same time as the ninjas who have tracked down Yang. The battle scenes were over the top with the amount of blood spatter or mist earning the film an R rating for strong bloody violence. It was fun to watch wire work and computer graphics tied into your standard middle of the dusty main street gun fight. They weren't totally cliche as I didn't see any tumbleweeds cross the street while waiting for guns or swords to be drawn. Next year Cowboys & Aliens comes out and they will have a similar type of battle. We'll have to compare which battle is better in the old west, aliens or ninjas.

In the hundred minute running length you'll be thrown a gambit of visuals and emotions. The visuals will be strong, the emotions not so strong. Bosworth does a respectable job of a women out for revenge. Geoffrey Rush as the town drunk Ron gets top billing but I don't know why as it was Yang's story not his personal story although he did narrate. This was my first seeing Dong Gun in a movie. Physically he captured the ninja swordsmen well, but he didn't have all that many lines. Most of the other people were telling his story while he did the action part.

Was it a great movie? No. Was it a bad movie? No. If you're into either ninjas or westerns, you'll probably find this movie interesting. In case you're wondering, there were no easter eggs. As a little piece of trivia, there was a South Korean actor battling Japanese ninjas in the old American West town filmed on a sound stage in New Zealand. Pretty good way to represent the Asia-Pacific Rim!

The Movie Monkey

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Preparing Hawaii for the coming wave of Disney

As I write this it's nine months until Aulani a Disney Resort and Spa is due to open in Kapolei at the Ko Olina Resort. To the best of my knowledge I'm the only Disney podcaster living on island and have been following the resort from the announcement back in the fall of 2007. This week I attended a presentation at Leeward Community College sponsored by their Job Prep Services people. So far just about everything that I've seen about the resort has been given by Disney management that's been from the mainland. Katie Mock from the College Program and Lianne Maeda the Aulani Recruitment Manager headed up the session. Lianne is a local and it was good to hear from and talk to her in person rather than just seeing a recorded face on a video screen.

One point that Katie and Lianne wanted to impart to the audience is Aulani will not be a theme park, but a luxury hotel that will be right up there in quality with the Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian at the Walt Disney World resort or the Grand Californian at the Disneyland Resort. This is reflected in the fact that the price point for a room will start at $399 per night. The 21 acre property will have 359 regular hotel rooms and 481 Disney Vacation Club villas. As they gave specifics to the resort, I was getting more excited. Many of the details for the resort are in place, but there is still some of the experience that needs to be ironed out.

The story of the resort starts as you come in off of Alii Nui Drive. The Kanaka Maoli, the indigenous Hawaiians, tell in the creation chant the story of how kalo (taro) came to be and how it has sustained them from the dawn of civilization. Kalo will be right there at the entrance in a lohi to begin the story of your stay. The main lobby will show Hawaii and Hawaiians via artwork created by local artists. Running water will be on each side of the lobby. The name of the lobby is meant to symbolize what they hope the guests will do: Maka'ala, eyes wide open, eyes to absorb the beauty and tales on display for all to see including a time line that will go from ancient to modern times.

The resort is laid out to represent the division of land given out in ancient times called an ahuapua'a. These divisions contained swaths of land from the mountains running down to the ocean that allowed the residents to live and thrive on what the natural resources provided to them. The rooms are laid out like the ridges on the side of the mountain extending mauka (mountain) to makai (sea) with the valley in between. Disney has named the valley Waikolohe meaning rascally waters. This relates to the lazy river and and other water activities within including a rainbow reef water diving experience where people can dive in and interact with live salt water animals. Seven acres will be devoted to the valley.

They stressed another area called Aunty's Beach House. Aunty's will be a place where kids can go to play. Who knows, maybe Stitch will show up there! Two weeks ago for the taping of a The Travel Channel's Bert the Conqueror at Wet'n'Wild Hawaii I met a person who had been hired by Disney for a Youth Activities Counselor role. He is going to head over to Florida in January to spend four or five months on a Disney cruise ship to get trained. I'm hoping he'll get to go on the new Disney Dream which is to have its inaugural cruise on January 26, 2011. Lianne pointed out how important these counselor roles will be.

Several food locations will be available for the guest to experience during their stay: Makahiki and 'Ama'ama. Makahiki is the time of the new year from the old harvest to the new planting. This restaurant will represent the bounty of the harvest time. 'Ama'ama is a type of mullet fish. This restaurant will be like an old fishing house that was found and renovated to bring in guests. The last location is called 'Olelo meaning language. During the session it was said that the style of the location could be changing but the idea of having items labeled in their Hawaiian terms will be accentuated to help guests with learning.

As part of the name people looking for a spa experience will not be disappointed. Guests could get a spa treatment in one of fifteen rooms or the outdoor hydrotherapy within the 18,000 square feet of the spa facility. The selection of services is still to be finalized. Something unique to this area of the resort will be the reflecting pool with water dripping into it from the ceiling reflecting the light off the surface of the water onto the walls and ceiling for visual excitement.

Something on my wish list which I hope they can put into the resort, especially since Imagineering Creative Senior Vice President Joe Rohde is involved with the project is an Adventurers Club like setting. To have a club where guests can interact with club members of a South Pacific adventuring society would be incredible. When the original Adventurers Club closed in 2008 it left a big hole in the heart of many in the Disney fan community. The devoted would come to Hawai'i to experience it again! Local talent could very well provide the improvisation and musical skills necessary to put together a great time for prospective club members. Having a South Pacific Adventurers Club here with Samoans yelling "chee whoo" and drinks being toasted with "okole maluna" would be a welcome addition to Aulani!

Integrated into the resort will be technology some of which has been talked about for the new Disney Dream cruise ship and the Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom in Lake Beuna Vista, Florida. Between the Mahakiki restaurant converting looks between lunch and dinner service to the use of specialized "windows" that will change to create an immersive experience, it will be unlike any other resort on the island of O'ahu.

Of course you'll find Mickey and Minnie with some of their friends. But keep in mind that they too will be enjoying their vacation time in Hawai'i. Aloha shirts and muumuus will probably be standard dress. I wonder if Mickey will be able to shed his shoes and wear rubbah slippahs around the resort?

For myself, I've heard from both locals and fellow Disney fans asking lots of questions about the property. One of the major concerns has been regarding what sort of vibe the resort will have. More so for the locals is will Aulani be like the Polynesian Resort or The Enchanted Tiki Room. The attraction and resort are based off of Polynesia as a whole, not focusing on one particular culture. The Enchanted Tiki Room when it was developed came at a time when the trend of Polynesian Pop was in vogue. Looking at the designs, seeing the videos and talking to Lianne in person it is very apparent that Disney is really looking to take the resort experience to a new level while showcasing the Hawaiian culture. I hope by my descriptions you can see the extreme distinctions between Aulani and anything that came prior.

To make this experience come fully alive, Disney is going to need people who embody the Aloha Spirit. The main purpose of the presentation was to talk to the two dozen people in attendance both about the resort and spa and what they are looking for in people that apply and at the same time pointing out some of the more unique positions that will be available. If you work for Disney you are not called an employee, but a cast member since you are part of a show. Ever since Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1955 this has been the case.

Disney has been hiring management staff now for some time. According to Lianne, come January 2011 they will be at the Job Quest job fair. At that time they will start to accept resumes for hourly positions and general talking to people. Interviews, including web based interviews, will start in May and June with people starting in July and August with test runs on the resort and spa in August with the opening date of August 29, 2011 for phase one. Lianne talked about the hiring process and to make sure that you let them know more about yourself than just the work history. Let them know about your interests and hobbies. This goes against what you're normally told to do when you apply, those topics are usually reserved for the interview and when asked.

Both Lianne and Katie pointed out that because Aulani is not your typical resort, people with all sorts of varied skills and trades will be necessary for the resort to run properly. They will need entertainment people, seamstresses, youth counselors, marine scientists and water specialists in addition to your standard housekeepers, front desk, clerical and back office staff. Disney is looking to draw upon the local talent pool to fill these positions putting multiple hundreds of people to work. Eventually the resort will have an area dedicated for weddings and convention space in addition to the rooms and restaurants.

To see what jobs are currently available go to the Disney Careers website.

Walt Disney once said "You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." That is true of any Disney property anywhere on the globe but I think especially true here in Hawaii because of the intricate details and distinct location with language and culture to be embodied in and through Aulani.

Check out Aulani construction update photos here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Movie Review: Burlesque

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This week's movie was a little bit of an education. Heading into Burlesque, I'm expecting I'm gonna see *something*. I get in there and after the one minute shy of two hours length movie, I walk out not seeing *anything*; well, I didn't see anything that I wanted to see if you know what I mean. I wonder what happened. I hadn't checked my ticket to see the rating was PG-13 (sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material) and not an R. I then looked up burlesque on Merriam-Webster online and found that burlesque is not strictly striptease, but "theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits, and sometimes striptease acts" and that it involves caricature and comic imitation. I did enjoy the movie, but once I got the definition of burlesque, the story made a whole lot more sense!

Watching Burlesque, I couldn't decide if I was watching Chicago, Moulin Rouge or Showgirls. Element from all of these releases ended up in this movie written and directed by Steve Antin. Ali (Christina Aguilera) leaves small town Iowa to follow her dream in Los Angeles. She starts looking for a job as a dancer. By accident she ends up visiting a lounge of the name Burlesque and is immediately enthralled by what she sees. She strikes up a quick conversation with the guyliner and bowler hat wearing bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) and the two hit if off. He tells her to talk to Tess (Cher) the club owner. Both Tess and the stage manager Sean (Stanley Tucci) dismiss her. With determination in her eye, Ali using her Iowa waitressing skills picks up a tray and just starts waiting tables. She does it well and Jack gives her a job. Ali now has her foot in the door.

We are treated to the elaborate dance numbers through out. The girls, except for Tess, lip sync as they strut their stuff across the stage. Jack and Ali develop their friendship. Eventually Ali is given a chance to dance. When the boozy lead dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell) shows up late one night Ali is given her chance to lead. Nikki's mean girl act of pulling the vocal track to sabotage Ali backfires as Ali then belts out the song live, not Memorex and everyone is wowed! Tess decides to make Ali the headliner and redesigns the show around her using real vocals and not the lip sync. Karma Nikki, remember karma!

Marcus (Eric Dane) a developer who wants Tess' theater starts to date Ali. That's right, Tess is having problems behind the scenes and is trying to figure out how to save theater from bank foreclosure. So you can add in the element of theater rescue from most of the Muppet movies with the other plot lines. Ali's relationships between the regular guy bartender Jack and the powerful, loaded, know what he wants mogul Marcus is reminiscent of the love triangle of Moulin Rouge. That and their own rendition of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.

Within the story there's nothing really new. Lots of cliche's and standard formulas are used. What did surprise me is how upbeat the tone of the movie kept itself. It could have gone down some places of dirt, raunch or nastiness but it didn't. There could have been a lot of drug use, drunkenness, sex as a promotion tool, sex just for the purpose of getting it on. It took the higher road.

What sells the movie are the musical numbers. Two powerhouse voices of Aguilera and Cher combine to make the soundtrack something that I'm probably going to buy. Cher does the title song of Burlesque and a surprisingly powerful song called You Haven't Seen the Last of Me. This ballad will probably be nominated for a Best Song Oscar. Aguilera's song But I am a Good Girl is both an enjoyable listen and visually, very cute within the movie images. The dancing and the costumes along with the theater set up of the stage and the use of mirrors kept my eyes open and facing forward the entire time.

It's good to see Cher back on the big screen. She does a wonderful job as the been down in the trenches and golden hearted Tess. It seemed like every time she was on screen they used the soft glow filter! I don't know why that did that. She's 64 years old and still looks great. Aguilera does a respectable job for her first go in a feature length movie. She'll get better with more gigs. The standout performance for me was Tucci. He shows up on screen and you can't help but pay attention to him whether it's delivering a command to the dancers or a snarky but subtle response back to his boss.

At the end of the movie, there are no easter eggs. But, if you like what you see as the credits start to roll, stay in your seat and get treated to the light show.

The Movie Monkey

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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.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Review: Skyline

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Sometimes a movie trailer shows promise and looks interesting. But then you go to the movie and realize the two are very different items. This is one of those times when you got sold a bill of good. Skyline was really flat lined.

The audience is dropped right into the middle of the action right as the movie begins. We meet Jarrod and Elaine (Eric Balfour and Scottie Thompson) who are staying with friends Terry and Candice (Donald Faison and Brittany Daniel). As they sleep, blue lights start falling from the night sky of Los Angeles. They are awoken by rumbling to discover people are being taken away by the blue lights. We are being invaded by aliens ala Independence Day. Creatures are coming out and taking people ala Cloverfield. We watch the military try to take out the alien ships like the military attacking Godzilla all to no avail.

Ho Hum. For the main players we are never given any reason to cheer for them and hope they live. Just like a typical slasher horror film, one by one by one they are taken out in a cliche manner. The acting is very wooden, the scenes are very choppy. The special effects of the ships could have been impressive, but as we look at some of the ships and creatures which appear to be part mechanical and part living organism, there are either heat or cloud or dust or some sort of distortion obscuring the intricacies. Certain plot details are shown but aren't given a pay off or are ignored or even worse, contradicted. They try to use a time line of events, but what for? It doesn't make sense.

When you discover what the aliens want and how they go about getting it you wonder how this could be happening. It doesn't make sense, repeating to emphasize the point and the ending is just horrible. It could be set up for a sequel I guess but hopefully, mercifully it won't happen. This movie wasn't given advanced screenings for review usually indicating you have a stinker on your hands. As I write this, on Rotten Tomatoes it has an 11% fresh rating.

The movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language, and brief sexual content with a running time of 92 minutes. My suggestion would be if you start heading towards the light of this movie, turn around and make a bee line away from Skyline.

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 5, 2010

Movie Review: Megamind

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Alright, I admit it. I don't like Will Ferrell and I went to see a Will Ferrell movie. Luckily it was only the voice of Will Farrell and not the man boy Will Ferrell that drives me nuts! But just like many of his man boys who had big or over inflated egos, so too was the ego of Megamind.

The story is a superhero story but at the same time, not. We get the origin story of a superhero and his archenemy as told from the archenemy point of view. It also calls into the question of nature vs nurture. Are superheros and archenemies automatically superheros and archenemies by birth or are they created because of their environments, their living conditions or the people that exerted influence on them. And then, the big "What If" question. What if the superhero was destroyed by the archenemy? What then. All questions brought to bear in this movie.

Brad Pitt voices Metroman who is the yin to Ferrell's Megamind's yang. Roxanne Ritchi voiced by Tina Fey was the constant target of Megamind for Metroman to rescue. But she's a reporter with spunk and a camera man, Hal (voiced by Jonah Hill) who has a crush on her too! He follows her like a little puppy dog but she doesn't get the clues that he likes her.

The last main character who didn't get recognition in the trailers was David Cross who played Tobias on Fox's Arrested Development and now plays Andy Weeks on Running Wilde. He plays Megamind's side kick, Minion. He's a fish that has his bowl attached to a body that looks like a mechanical ape with a ghost buster proton pack like attachment on his back. Weird stuff. And what is it about Minions with animated films lately. First you have the little yellow pills helping Gru in Despicable Me and now an adroit furry mechanized body with a fish brain. Very odd coincidence that they would use the same word in both movies!

Then a number of questions are begged: What sort of goals does a bad guy set when the good guy is no longer around? What if the good guy gets tired of it all and just wants to get away and chill for a while? Can the bad guy ever get the girl? Interesting hypotheses for a PG rated for action and some language computer animated film. And as we saw in The Social Network ladies, watch how you burn your guy because that unrequited affection may come back to bite you in the butt!

The universe of these superheros didn't collide with the superhero and villain universe from The Incredibles. Otherwise things would have looked a lot different for our heroes and villains. Edna Mode would have had a cow dahling. Fringe on Metroman's costume, puhleez, it was a hobo suit. AND everyone had capes! Edna would have read them the riot act! Too much of it Dahling...NO CAPES!

The 2D version looked fine. I can't see where the 3D would have been any super improvement. With the computer generated images, there were a couple of background details that I noticed like small waves of water washing over pavement or the way buildings were crumbling showing attention to some of the finer points. Ultimately, we want a movie that looks good and has a good plot too. We got a little of both in this 96 minute movie. Don't leave the theater right away when the credit start to run. There is an extra scene before the main credits roll and it's sort of cute in what it revealed.

The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Movie Review: I Want Your Money

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The weekend of the political documentary continues! As I write this mid term elections are three days away. I was waiting in line for TRON Night at my local Regal Cinema when I saw the movie poster. It was staring me in the face about five feet away with a giant caricature of Barack Obama as Uncle Sam pointing directly at me. How could I not pay admission to see this when the large font words tell me I Want Your Money!

Writer and Director Ray Griggs presents the audience with information about some of the relationships between Presidents their fiscal policies and the economy starting back with Roosevelt running up through the current administration. We get some charts and graphs showing us numbers as well as archive footage and interviews like you'd find in any documentary. One of the cute points of this movie was the use of computer generated caricatures of Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, the Bushs I and II, Nancy Pelosi, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the Gubanator, Ahhhnuld to help tell the story and illustrate points along the way. There were also a lot of jokes cracked by the caricatures which helped lighten the mood of an otherwise serious topic.

Griggs points to policies and how the economy either rose or fell. He points out that while many people thought Roosevelt's New Deal was a good thing he points out the numbers that would state otherwise. He pointed out while many people point out Reagan's tax cuts were for the rich he emphasizes that the cuts were across all levels of income. He does spend a lot of time on Reagan and often uses the Gipper to stress main points either through the computer character or archive footage.

What I thought was compelling is when Griggs had footage of Reagan and Obama run back to back. You can see the difference in attitude of the two men and how they feel about government's intrusion or lack thereof into people's lives. The one part that I had questions about was his use of a story about a college professor using a socialist grading system where all the students would get the same grade. Ray Griggs responded to a twitter saying I was seeing the movie with a thank you. I replied back to him asking where he got the story. In the half a day since posing the question, I googled and the story almost verbatim showed up on Snopes as a legend. Griggs looses points there for the moment unless he can authoritatively post a reliable source.

Overall it was a good movie looking at who is best at spending money, the individual making decisions for themselves or the government making decisions for them. While some things may look good for one person, the affects on another and the Law of Unintended Consequences should not be dismissed with the wave of a hand. In the end he encourages us to go out and vote on November 2. Unfortunately, I don't think enough people will be able to see this movie in the weekend before the elections to make a real impact on the electorate.

The movie runs for 92 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements, brief language and smoking.

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 29, 2010

Movie Review: Waiting for Superman

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This was the weekend of the political documentary. Today was I Want Your Money talking out the taxing and spending cycles that have gone on in the USA for nearly a century. Yesterday's movie was Waiting for Superman and of the two this one got me more riled up. Although they are both good, I would not wait and recommend seeing Waiting for Superman as soon as it becomes available in your area. It released on October 8, 2010 and released in Honolulu on the 22nd, two weeks later!

Coming from the director of 2006's An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim takes a look at the public school system in the US. Back in 2001 he looked at five teachers as they started their teaching career in The First Year. He saw first hand the effort these teachers put into their classrooms. Even with this extra insight to schools, he admits right at the front of the movie that he has made the decision to send his kids to private school. That's a good disclaimer to know right away and kind of lets you know where he's going to head with the narrative of the movie.

The title of the movie came from an interview with Geoffrey Canada, an educator and administrator from Harlem. With archive footage of the old Superman TV show with George Reeves he says that the day he learned there was no superman he cried. He cried because he realized there wasn't someone there as a backup to help people. In his own way, he has become a superman in the Harlem area with the school Harlem Children's Zone. Canada, the man not the country, has shown that low income students can perform when the environment is right.

Guggenheim follows five children in different parts of the country: Los Angeles, Washington DC, Bronx, Harlem and Silicon Valley. There is a traditional family, two single moms, a household where mom works instead of dad and where grandma has stepped up to take care of her grandson after his dad passed away. We see the hopes from both care givers and students and where they are at and where they want to go in regards to schools. Not all schools and instructors are created equal and the families know this. Guggenheim shows why.

Through the use of interviews, media clips and cute graphics, the problems are laid out and explained with details and numbers. What was telling were clips of each of the past Presidents saying that they wanted to be the Education President. Even though more money, even when taking inflation into account, has been poured into education, we as a country aren't showing improvements and in some ways are going backwards. National, state and sometimes local mandates create a system of land mines that teachers, parents and administrators must walk through.

I watched this film transfixed by the information presented and when the 102 minutes was over, I have never walked out of a theater so angry, mad, frustrated, helpless and sad at what I had seen. This would include watching The Cove! Part of the story hit home after what happened in Hawaii with what was called Furlough Fridays. Due to budget restrictions, instead of the union allowing cutting pay for all the teachers evenly across the board, the decision was made between the executive branch, the Department of Education and the Board of Education to take every other Friday off. Many parents were upset about this and rightfully so. Unfortunately, I think their anger was directed in the wrong direction.

Michelle Rhee was highlighted in the movie where as Chancellor of the Washington DC school District she tried to make an improvement. With pay as an incentive, she tried to get rid of tenure and pay those that performed a six digit salary. Because the union wanted to participate in a form of communism (my words) where they didn't want to have levels of teachers, but each was paid the same, the union wouldn't even bring the proposal to the teachers for a vote. It was demonstrated how district after district in the US can't get rid of bad and under performing teachers and instead shuffles them around. The politicians and administrators know what the problem is but because of contracts they can't fix it. It was announced earlier this month (October 2010) that Rhee would be resigning from her position at end of the month.

Through all of this, the kids should be foremost. I have to give it to the parents that showed they were concerned and wanted the best for their children and were involved in their child's educational process. But to get into the schools that proved they could educate the children coming through the door when the number of requests exceed the number of seats, it's left up to chance. A randomly computer generated number, a pulled piece of paper or even a bingo ball decided the fate of these kids. One comment was made in the film that it wasn't about the kids, it was about the adults.

It was heart wrenching to watch the lottery process. One of the kids, Daisy from LA, really knows that she wants to be a nurse, doctor or veterinarian. To see the look on her face as the numbers were being pulled showed that she knew fully well that her future would be determined by that lottery process. Just like pulling scratch tickets from the local 7-11 (except Hawaii and Utah as they don't have state lotteries) there are winners and losers but instead of a few dollars, we're talking about affecting someone's life for either the positive or the negative.

As I review what I wrote I can see that I've gotten a bit out of experience/review mode and into preachy mode. That's the impact this film had on me. I believe if you watch it you'll have a similar reaction. It was rated PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking. The closing credits were creative and informative. While no easter egg at the end, I'd suggest watching the credits the whole way through.

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, October 15, 2010

Movie Review: RED

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This weekend has a lot of choices, at least for me. The Hawaii International Film Festival is this weekend running thru October 24, 2010. They are celebrating 30 years of motion pictures with almost 250 movies to choose from during the Fall showcase. I'm doing a number of volunteer shifts working at the theater and in Waikiki at the hospitality suite so I'm not sure what I'll have time to see with my vouchers. If you're reading this and you're in Hawaii, HIFF could always use more help, check out and look under GET INVOLVED and then volunteer at HIFF. In the mean time the general releases this week consisted of two offerings: Jackass 3D and RED. Since I generally don't do 3D and I didn't watch Jackass on MTV, I was left with just one selection: RED.

Now you're probably wondering why the name RED is in all caps and not proper case with a capital R and lower case e-d. That's because it's an acronym meaning Retired, Extremely Dangerous. The name is very appropriate. Right off the bat we meet Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and we can see that he is leading a very boring life. It's around Christmas time and the whole neighborhood is all decked out expect for his house. The one spice in his life seems to be conversations with Sarah Ross (Mary Louise Parker) who he talks to repeatedly after making up excuses to call her at the US Government Pension Services Office in Kansas City. So there is the retired in RED.

While walking to the bathroom in his own house at 4am he's attacked by three men dressed in black. He very swiftly and deftly takes them out without breaking a sweat and barely messing up his house coat. More guys show up and he dispatches them in short order. Extremely Dangerous needs to be explained no further after seeing this. By this time you know that the movie is going to be over the top with action. His home is riddled with bullets punching so many holes in the wood that even a block of Swiss cheese would have more material in it than what was left of Frank's house siding. With that level of intense action sequence in the movie and some brief strong language the movie earned a PG-13 rating.

So starts Frank's adventure. He realizes that someone from inside the CIA is out to kill him. He also realizes that the interest of his attention, Sarah, could be in danger. Let the road movie began! With postcards flashing on the screen showing us where Frank is going he goes to get Sarah and then to old and also retired black op friends Joe, Marvin and Victoria (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren) to solve the mystery of why he's trying to be taken out. With the gang along we now have the buddy movie.

As already mentioned the action was over the top with bullets, bazookas and bomb blasts. Each of our agents with unyielding and resolute calmness approach the mission stages with a mischievousness joy and delight as they get back into the game after being retired for so long. This is what they were born to do and know that they are good doing it. The level of comedy was unexpected but thoroughly enjoyed. You know you got a good one when the people in the movie make noise, cheer and yell "OH Snap" at the action on the screen.

They have some great characters to build upon if they decide to do a sequel, but they better move quickly. Of the main characters, Willis is the youngest at 55 with Malkovich at 57 and Freeman at 73. And I must say at 65, Helen Mirren still looks great and in the white gown used in the movie, very shapely and sexy. The run time of 111 minutes kept my attention and according to some tweets and Facebook posts that I've seen appeared to have kept other peoples attention as well! This was a very well done popcorn chomping action flick!

The Movie Monkey

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Movie Review: Life as We Know It

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Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel play Holly Berenson and Eric Messer, two people who move in different middle class social circles and if it weren't for their personal close friends, would never have met each other. They don't like each other, they tolerate each other only because of their mutual close friends who are married. When the couple is suddenly and unexpectedly killed in a traffic accident Life as We Know It is forever changed for Holly and Eric.

In their will, Peter and Alison Novak being of sound mind, as far as we can tell, name Holly and Eric to be guardians for their one year old daughter Sophie. Although after seeing Holly and Eric together we wonder about that sound mind clause. Instant and unanticipated parenthood are thrust upon them. Eric laments that even though he's been with a number of women and always used protection, he still ends up with a child! They come to an uneasy truce that Peter and Alison trusted them enough with the number one aspect of their life, Sophie, that they would do their best to try to raise the toddler.

From here the movie falls into a formula. Two people forced together who by spending time together learn to appreciate and love each other...come on you've seen this before. Can you say Disney's Beauty and the Beast? I knew you could! Take aspects of Modern Family and make them the neighbors. The homosexual couple, the regular couple and the Southern Belle (the story takes place in Atlanta) with her husband add to the assortment of characters that Holly and Eric look to for child rearing advice and babysitting services. Overlay the arc with the standard boy finds girl, boy looses girl and boy regains girl. This completes the story.

The movie didn't stand out, but it didn't lay an egg either. There were no easter eggs in this 112 minute movie that was rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and some drug content. It was a non ground breaking, predictable connect the numbers movie that would be good for a stay at home night with a DVD or download rental.

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 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.