Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Review: The Rite

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Will the start of the year doldrums please hurry up and get over! I posted out via Twitter and Facebook whether I should see The Mechanic or The Rite. The response was to go see The Rite and Anthony Hopkins came up as a reason. OK, that's a good reason, he's a wonderful actor. It also had the earlier of the two show times which is always a plus in my book.

So movie begins and with the credits, any time there was a letter "T" they turned it into a cross except when the word had two. When that happened, only one "T" turned into a cross. So we get the idea that the movie is going to have something to do with religion. For the first quarter of the movie we don't even see Anthony Hopkins. We're given the back story of Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) a young man who has retreated to the seminary to get away from his dad and the family mortuary business.

Michael before final vows to become a priest is sent to Rome to learn about exorcism. The Pope wants to make sure that there are plenty of exorcists to go around. One of the justifications for sending him? Because of the family business he won't be squeamish like other candidates would be. The problem? He's not sure of his faith. So to help with his belief level Michael is sent by Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) who is heading up the teaching program to visit Father Lucas Trevant there in Rome.

So we finally get to see Sir Anthony Hopkins as Father Trevant. He's living in a run down villa surrounded by cats. He's not the crazy old cat man, but one has to wonder as you watch him. So the man of faith and the man of questionable faith meet. When a mother and her pregnant teenage daughter visit Father Trevant, Michael wonders if instead of being possessed she just needs a good psychologist. Michael was asked if he was expecting pea soup and the girls head to start spinning around as proof of possession, an obvious reference to the classic movie, The Exorcist.

Michael isn't sure what to make of everything. In class he meets Angelia (Alice Braga), a reporter who is covering the class. She's trying to make sense of what happened in her own family with her brother. Was it sickness or possession? The two seem to be in the same river at the same time paddling in the same direction just in different boats.

Eventually the good father himself gets possessed and it's up to Michael with Angelia's help to save Father Trevant. But does Michael believe? If you don't believe in the devil and his evil, how can you believe in God and his good? But if the devil exists that would mean that God is real too. When confronted will faith and belief step forward or will it be easier to turn and walk away?

As with exorcism movies you'd expect scenes contain disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images, and language including sexual references which earned the movie a PG-13 rating for the 112 minute running time. There was only one scene that made me jump in my seat. The rest of the movie was blase. As I told one person: been there, seen that, bought the t-shirt. So please have faith in me when I tell you to keep the money in your pocket for this one.

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Review: No Strings Attached

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Did you ever see the cartoon strip of Snoopy and how he feels on the days of the week? He's all happy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Monday he feels down and gets worse on Tuesday and then on Wednesday there is a storm cloud over head, the thunder and lighting are going while it rains on the dog laying there under the cloud getting soaked. The caption says "Please let me die." That's how I sort of feel this month with the selection of movies released this January. Only two releases this week and I was hoping this one would make me laugh with No Strings Attached!

It stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as directed by Ivan Reitman. You know, the guy who gave us Meatballs and the Ghostbusters classic comedies. Portman and Kutcher play Emma and Adam. A boy and a girl who met 15 years previous at summer camp and end up crossing paths a few times in the years after. It's now the present day and they run into each other in Los Angeles. He lives there already and she just moved out there for a medical residency. There's some chemistry between the two or at least that's what they want you to believe.

He wants her but she's not having any of it until they come to a compromise. They can have all the intimate relations they want. Oh, I used the word intimate. That's wrong. For some reasoning that we weren't privy to during the course of the 110 minutes of the movie, she's blocked out men from having any sort of meaningful relationship with her. She seems to be damaged goods but we're left scratching our heads as to why. She doesn't want the intimacy. Emma just wants the physical portion and nothing else. Both she and Adam can do what they want with others if they would like.

This works for a while. The obligatory montage with the different times, places and circumstances where the two meet just to show us the audience that they like as Austin Powers would say, "have a randy shag, oh yeah baby!" OK, we get it, they get it on quite frequently. In one scene the audience gets to see Ashton's butt, or was it a stand in. Don't know. Portman shows us what is the equivalent of a two piece bikini. As a result, the movie was rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material.

For his hang up, it was trying to make it in Hollywood. He's a production assistant on a what looks like it might be a knock off on the Disney Channel 's High School Musical. His father Alvin (Kevin Kline) is a former star for a sitcom. If this movie ever gets the Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment, make sure you bring lots of toilet paper with you because Alvin's moniker line is "Great Scott!" and it gets repeated quite a bit. Everyone assumes that Adam is hanging off of his dad's coat tails when in actuality he's truly trying to make it on his own without his father's help.

She's stone cold and keeps pushing him away. He's the good boy who really does want a relationship. A little different twist than most rom-coms. Does the boy get the girl? By the end of the movie I really couldn't have cared. They poked fun at doctors, camera phones, Hollywood and relationships. They all fell flat. Maybe if there were some strings attached they could have pulled together a better movie.

The Movie Monkey

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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The rising tide of Disney approaching Hawaii

Today was a big day in the world of Disney. Over on the East Coast the Disney Dream was being christened and headed out for its inaugural cruise. Hopefully one day it will come to visit Hawaii. All over there is buzz of the plans announced last night about the Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom which includes the removal of Snow White's Scary Adventure and the opening to the Seven Dwarfs Mine ride. Meanwhile Honolulu is all atwitter about the jobs that are coming to Oahu courtesy of The Walt Disney Company via Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa.

Several times a year there are these big job fairs at the Neal Blaisdell Center. I've been attending them for the past couple of years looking at what is happening in the market. I was totally shocked at what I saw when I got there. To get into the event you needed to purchase a $3 ticket. The line from the ticket booth extended all the way to the parking structure (see the picture). I have not seen a line this long to purchase tickets for this type of event. The staff worked hard to keep the line organized and moving which they did.

With my ticket in hand I headed to the main entrance for the hall. Within just a few feet of the turnstiles inside there was another line of people. It was about 30ft in length and lead to the Aulani booth. This line was going in the frontside. There was a second line about equally or slightly longer going in from the right side. The booth was staffed by about a dozen cast members wearing a mauve colored shirt with the Aulani logo and accented with their Aulani name badge. On the KITV 4 local news I had to chuckle at myself. They were showing the booth being set up the day before the show. The anchor said the booth was constructed at and shipped from Disneyland in Florida. As any good DF knows, Disneyland is in California; Walt Disney World is in Florida.

Nearby was a room set up for presenting Aulani to prospective cast members. In the program that people received when they entered Job Quest, Disney had a page informing people of the presentation times on the half hour mark while the show was open which was 10am to 3pm. The room had two large projection screens attached to a computer. There were about 80 seats set up. In the session I attended there were about 125 -150 people total in the room. Just moments before, these people were standing outside the presentation room. The talk was again given by Lianne Maeda and Katie Mock who I had seen last year at Leeward Community College. To start the conversation Lianne joked around about people standing in lines just like they would do if they were at Disneyland.

This session was not as detailed as the one that I saw at LCC. Katie and Lianne talked about the concept a little while. A couple of new points that emerged is that Elliot Mills is the Managing Director at the resort. The beach bar name mentioned was Off the Hook. Then Lianne made a big prediction. Since the last presentation that I saw, Disney hired Patrick Callarec as Executive Chef for the resort. This has peaked the interest of the foodies here locally. She didn't state Patrick's name, but predicted that 'Ama'ama will not only be THE restaurant at Aulani, but for Oahu as well. That's one exciting prediction!

The remainder of the presentation talked about the positions in general and the process that will be used. This is where a little confusion entered my mind. The news has been reporting 1100 jobs that will need to be filled. During the presentation the number 800 was given. In either case the web site was plugged and explanation of the process followed. Disney was not accepting resumes at Job Quest. People will need to go online to submit their resume and to make sure that they outline their passions in it. If the applicants makes the first screening, they will get an on-line interview. If the individual is selected to go further in the process, they will then, in the third step, talk with a live individual. Pay scales or benefits were not brought up during the approximately 25 minutes used. Everyone who entered the room was given a flyer as shown on this page.

Afterwards I did have a chance to touch base with both Katie and Lianne. Both remember me and Katie was excited in that she googled her own name and came across my previous posting. I asked them about parking. Cast members will have onsite parking but if they would be charged was not determined. For The Bus (the name of Oahu's bus system) going into the resort that was still not clear at this point in time. I had gotten that far when Todd Apo, Aulani's Director of Public Affairs needed to pull the ladies aside. I asked another CM some questions. The issue of unions has not been determined. When I asked about Disney Grooming Standards for Aulani, I was also told that was under review at this point in time. With more of a cultural representation at the resort, people with longer hair or tattoos would be in alignment with the focus of the resort. With that, I accepted a pen topped by being bent into a Mickey Mouse shaped logo on it and went off to other show booths.

This job fair was different than others that I had been to recently. The first was the numbers. There just seemed to be more people in attendance at this one. For the numbers, I don't know if it had to do with Disney and Aulani or that many people are now completely out of unemployment benefits and really have to buckle down to get a job. I also noticed that there were more people dressed professionally. By that I mean there didn't seem to be as many people in slippahs (Mainland translation, flip flops), shorts and t-shirts. More people seemed dressed up. Guys with ties, aloha shirts, long pants and shoes and ladies with dresses or pant suits. In talking to one staffing agency, the person behind the desk thought that both the numbers and the dress were due to Disney.

I tweeted and posted pictures while I was there. I had several people ask me via Twitter and Facebook if I was looking to get hired by Disney. I want to start my own business and be my own boss, but at the same point, I would love to be part of the start up. Following Disney the way that I have and being a former CM, I understand the company and the philosophies they practice. My other skills lie in that I have been with other mainland start ups into the Hawaiian marketplace and understand that although you may have been hired to do X, during a start up you may be required to go above and beyond. In my past experiences I'm not afraid to get out and do what is necessary including working on temporary furniture or handing out flyers or moving a room of computer equipment. Heck, I've been a manager with budget and hiring/firing responsibilities and yet going out once a month to pick up trash and clean streets as part a neighborhood community effort. Disney is going to have a huge and long lasting impact on the market here. I would like to see them come in and be spectacularly successful from opening day because it will be good for both them and the people of Hawaii.

Pictures from Job Quest featuring Disney's Aulani

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Review: The Green Hornet

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To get to today's movie was an event in itself. My regular Regal theater wasn't showing The Green Hornet in 2D, only the Real 3D and IMAX 3D. The previews didn't get me interested enough to pay the upcharge (47% price increase on a matinee show), so I ventured closer to home and went to Consolidated Theaters. BUT they start their shows later in the day and with a couple of other tasks and time management screw ups, I went to the second show that was at 3:55pm. Same ticket price paid but no loyalty program with Consolidated. The one plus was a special station where you text a code to Sprint. The resulting return message when shown to a special scanner allowed you to receive a discount coupon on a concession stand item. I chose to upgrade from a medium to large drink with my coupon saving me $0.50.

The movie itself was for the most part a yawner. It was co-written by, executive produced by and starred everyone's favorite hairy and curly haired fat stoner party guy Seth Rogen. Well, I'll give him credit, he did trim down to play Britt Reid who became the Green Hornet. Mr Party Boy who lost his mother at a young age and had a dad James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) who was more concerned about the 750 people working at the family newspaper, the Daily Sentinel, than worry about the upbringing of his son decides to fight crime after his dad passed away from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. We've seen Rogen play this sort of part before in other movies like Knocked Up, Observe and Report and Pineapple Express. Speaking of Pineapple Express, his friend and PE alum James Franco made an uncredited cameo in the movie where the big baddie of the movie, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is introduced and his bad guy thought process laid out.

Having Waltz play this part was such a waste of talent. This is the man who won the BAFTA and Oscar for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa in 2009's Inglorious Basterds. The running joke that was set up about Chudnofsky's attire and then the lame-o tag line he planned on using once he decided to upgrade his outfit to turn himself into a super villain were cringe worthy moments in the movie. For him to deliver those lines and keep a straight face proves the guy can act!

Why they would pay a big salary for someone like Cameron Diaz to play the younger Reid's secretary is beyond me. For what she brought to the part they could have gotten a Senior Theater major from USC or UCLA to do the same thing. If they had done that, maybe they could have found the next IT girl kinda like what happened with Diaz in The Mask. Diaz was a pretty face with a name where just a pretty face would have done. There was no chemistry between her character Lenore Case and Reid or the newcomer to American made cinema via Taiwan, Jay Chou who played Reid's Executive Associate Kato by day and by night the Green Hornet's valet, Kato.

Chou's martial art skills were one of the saving graces of the movie. He moved quickly, skillfully and sharply dispatching the bad guys one by one while party boy for the most part cowered, at least in the beginning of the film. Like all hero movies, at some point Britt must develop a back bone. Most of the dialogue scenes were boring. The start of the 118 minute movie was OK, the middle for the most part dragged on. When The Green Hornet and Kato started signing along to Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise while riding in a modified 1965 Chrysler Imperial, The Black Beauty, my eyes rolled back in my head. What kept my overall interest were the action scenes. That would include the ending sequence.

The action scenes were over the top. Guns going off in every direction possible. Lots of rockets and explosions and yet the bodies weren't hitting the floor just from the sheer volume of lead and shrapnel flying through the air. When someone was dispatched, they weren't afraid to show it. Several people were crushed. Blood didn't spatter all over the screen, but you could see the body or what contained the body going down. The movie was rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content. But what they considered drug content was they showed a meth lab and for sensuality, a man and a women were in the same bed because saying that you'd like to bang someone doesn't count as sensual. It was really the action that earned the movie the rating more than anything else.

For all the trouble that I went through to see the 2D version, it wasn't worth it. From what I could tell where they would have used the 3D were really manufactured moments like when Kato got excited forcing his heart to pump and change his perception of the world around him. Nah, not buying it. The closing credits were designed to take advantage of people wearing the special glasses while they got to hear Jay Chou crooning to the song Nunchucks which he co-wrote. Trying to see the 3D version could have been easier, but still wouldn't have been worth it. With everything that Rogen has gone through to get this movie to the big screen, it's obvious that it was a labor of love for him. Maybe he could show some love to future audiences by just releasing only the action scenes when the DVD/Blu-ray comes out and by not producing a sequel.

The Movie Monkey

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kamaaina Iolani Palace Tour

Hawaii has one of the most unique structures anywhere in the United States.  It resides at 364 South King Street in Downtown Honolulu.  It is Iolani Palace, the residence of the last ruling Kings and Queens of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  Thanks to The Friends of Iolani Palace, today you and me, a common person, can walk where royalty used to live. As a service to the community, usually the first Sunday of the month is considered Kamaaina Sunday when local residents and active military are offered tours of the residence at no charge.

I've taken advantage of Kamaaina Sunday on numerous occasions over the years that I have lived here.  People say to me, "You going on that thing again?"  I respond "Yeah!"  Each time I have taken the tour, it's a new experience.  I never come away from the tour empty handed.  I learn something, I notice something that I hadn't noticed before, I get to appreciate what gets passed by every day by thousands of people driving down King Street.

The first tours of the day start at 9am and I head down to arrive on the grounds about 8:30ish.  This usually gets me on one of, if not the first tour of the day.  I show my drivers license and am given a ticket that has a detailed and intricate design on it.  This is done at the Iolani Barracks which are to the left of the palace as you look at it from King Street.  As part of the barracks structure there is a room with a short film explaining some of the history of the palace, a restroom and locker location and the main gift shop.

The tour starts at the mauka or mountain side of the palace where we are greeted by the docents.  We are given special booties to place over our footwear which is necessary to help protect the floors which on the tour we find out is made of soft woods.  Most of the docents are women who are adorned in long flowing muu muus, the gentlemen in aloha shirts.  We are given the ground rules which include no cell phones, no gum, no candy, no liquids and no video or still photography.

To set the mood for the tour we're asked to step back in time to the late 1800's, 1882 to be exact, when the palace first opened and we've been invited to the palace for a royal dinner.  We're brought into the Grand Hall and shown the portraits of the Kings of Hawaii from Kamehameha the Great to Kamehameha V who reigned through blood lineage and then to Lunalilo who was elected.

We are then welcomed into the Blue Room which is where guests were received upon arriving at the palace.  Inside this room is the portrait of King Kalakaua who is responsible for ordering the construction of the building.  As the name implies, the room is done in a deep blue color contained in the curtains, furniture and the rug.  There are chairs and a couch for us to observe as well as a piano in the corner.

From the Blue Room we cross a threshold and are now in the State Dining Room.  Laid out in front of us is a table set up for a formal dinner.  This room takes up two thirds of the ewa wing of the palace.  The docent tells us of how they may have had forty five different items to choose from over the multiple courses of the meal.  The King's chair wasn't at the end of the table, but in the middle as he loved to talk with his visitors to invite conversation and hear news both locally and internationally.  Today the room is set up to seat eight guests joining with the King.

From there we are put on an elevator installed during the refurbishment of the palace in the 1960's to go up to the second floor where under normal circumstances, a guest of the King or Queen would not go.  There are dumb waiters to bring items from the kitchen on the ground floor to the State Dining Room and up to the private residences on the second floor.  We tour the rooms above where we were on the first floor.  This would include the King's bedroom, his office and the music room.

On the other side of the building we are bought into a room that has special significance with its darkened windows.  It was the room where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.  On display is the quilt that the Queen made during that time.  The docents give a brief overview of what happened.  I've been on tours where some of the people in the group want to go into more detail but the docents that I've had have managed to keep it to the high level overview and not get caught up in the passion that surrounds those events.

After being shown the other two large rooms we once again head back down the elevator to be brought into the final room of the formal tour, the Throne Room.  In here the docents give a descriptive story of what it would have been like to attend a party at the palace.  Outside on the lanai the Royal Hawaiian Band would be playing songs that would be on our dance card of which our ticket is a partial replica of what that dance card would have looked like.  The docent describes what the ladies and gentlemen attending would have been wearing.  A special note to the ladies: the King made an effort to dance with all the ladies in attendance.  As the tale of the evening is brought to a close, so is the tour as we are lead back the the doors we entered.  We take off the booties, but the tour isn't quite over.  We, as a group, are lead to the ground floor of the building and the galleries there.

For me, these galleries are amazing.  In this area are the main functional areas that were used for the day to day running of the palace.  If didn't get to the main gift shop, there is a small, and I do mean small gift shop located here.  Today, the crown jewels for the Kingdom of Hawaii are on display in a secured area.  To see the crown and royal orders that were both given and received put a new light on the monarchy for me.  Kalakaua was very progressive from his circumnavigating the globe to the installation and use of a telephone system to having hot and cold running water and having electricity installed in the palace.  Many firsts can be attributed to him personally.

After exploring the galleries, you can explore the grounds around the palace.  Take in the detail of the architecture from the outside or even imagine what it would have been like in the late 19th century when the ocean came up to approximately a block away where Queen Street currently is located.  On one side is located the sacred mound where past Hawaiian chiefs may be buried and on the other is the Coronation Pavilion.  Around a number of the trees near the pavilion are benches where if you brought or bought something to snack on you can sit here and enjoy the view and the sounds.

Iolani Palace is a place that should be visited by both tourist and residents alike.  For residents, there is no reason not to go especially since you can visit for free.  Click here to see the Kamaaina Sunday schedule. To find out more information about Iolani Palace, visit the Iolani Palace web site.  Don't be afraid to have repeat visits.  Changes do occur.  This last trip the crown was in the Throne Room instead of the gallery, a display of the past and present restoration was installed and we were told that in the next year, the Music Room up on the second floor will take on a new look as many items have been found, are being restored and will be put out on display.  I know I'll be making a trip back to see the additions.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Movie Review: Country Strong

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The first full weekend of 2011! At least we had two selections available unlike last weekend! Choices: Country Strong or Season of the Witch. It was a tough decision. Nick Cage and Ron Perlman looked kinda hokey in their preview. I'm not a super huge fan of country music either. So the deciding criteria this week was the earlier film and one that would earn me extra movie points which meant the country music was awarded my attendance!

Gwyneth Paltrow has been showing her musical chops over the past few months with her appearance at the Country Music Awards show and her role on Glee. This allowed her to play six time Grammy Award winning singer Kelly Canter. Like a lot of music superstars (and many not so super) she's in rehab after having an alcoholic meltdown in Dallas. James her husband/manager (Tim McGraw) decides to pull her out a month early. You watch the two look and talk to each other and you wonder why he pulled her out. While laying in bed next to each other she says to him "I got a Brazilian" and his response is "I just took an Ambien, see you in eight hours". Not the normal take on "not tonight honey, I have a headache." So why did he pull her out: for him, for her, for the music or for the money?

Befriending her at the rehab center was Beau, a local country singer/song writer who was an employee there. The formerly clean shaven Tron: Legacy star Garrett Hedlund is transformed into the scruffy looking orderly by day, local country singer heartthrob at night. Kelly wants Beau to come on her comeback tour as an opening act. James on the other hand wants the former Miss Dallas beauty queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) to be the opening act. So a compromise is hit and they both go on the three city tour with the final stop being Dallas itself. What better location to pick yourself up and dust yourself off other than the scene where you fell off the bucking bronco in the first place!

This is where the story gets messy. There are a number of cliches that follow. Both up and coming stars Beau and Chiles are making tough decisions about their future. The superstar who wants to remain on top but may be washed up but hoping for a come back. Wow, that last one sounds like Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, doesn't it? People around the star enabling them and their bad habits. Sleeping around in order to get what you want. These earned the film a PG-13 rating for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content. Was Beau there to get ahead in music, to save the old star or get the new one was murky at best. Same sort of questions with Chiles. Was her intention to get James, a career or Beau? There are too many more to mention. As I said it was messy.

The singing in the movie seemed good. Apparently Hedlund grew up around country music and was excited to play the part for the movie. McGraw who played Hedlund's father in 2004's Friday Night Lights let Hedlund stay on his ranch near Nashville in order to get Hedlund ready for the role. Meester also did a respectable job. After the big appearances last year, we know Paltrow has pipes that can do the country twang required of the role. What I thought was funny is that the one true country star among them, McGraw, didn't sing. I take that back, he did, but in the end credits, not as part of the film.

There was one major surprise in the film that I didn't totally see coming but for the most part, I sat in my seat for the 112 minutes, not really bored, but not excited about what was in front of me. Towards the end when Paltrow was giving a medley I wondered how many more songs I would have to wait through for the drama to start up again. Maybe if I was a big country fan my response would be different for the music and the movie.

The Movie Monkey

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