Saturday, March 26, 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch

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If you got out to the web and look up the definition of sucker punch you'll find the following, "A sucker punch is a blow made without warning, allowing no time for preparation or defense on the part of the recipient. It is usually delivered from close range or from behind." Zach Snyder who gave us 300 and The Watchman gives us this green screen computer animated fable called Sucker Punch. The question is whether a sucker punch was pulled on the characters in the story or on us.

Sucker Punch Movie Poster
The story stars Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a girl who has long blonde hair and doe eye just like Amanda Seyfried who was also considered for the role. Baby Doll has lost her sister and mother and in a twist from a typical Disney story she has an an evil wicked step father. He commits her to the Lennox House for the mentally insane in Brattleboro, Vermont as shown in two lingering shots of the signage. Why showing these signs was so important, your guess is as good as mine. Once inside she is to receive a lobotomy so he can get his hands on the family wealth.

Of course the incarceration is illegal. Dad has paid off one of the staff, Blue (Oscar Isaac) for the committal. In a special type of therapy given by Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino with a really bad Russian accent) the patients are given theater therapy. The patients will act and dance out on a stage to try to get to the root of their problem.

When Baby Doll dances, it mesmerizes everyone. Actually when Baby Doll dances she creates an alternate reality for herself where she meets a wise man (Scott Glenn) who guides her in a plan to get four known and one unknown item in order to escape before she is to be lobotomized. Each time she dances she goes into a new world and with fellow patients Sweet Pea, her sister Rocket, Blondie and Amber (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung). Battling in a Japanese temple or against futuristic robots, a dragon or steam punk soldiers the girls attempt to get the objects that will unlock their future.

There is no question that the visuals are incredible on such a large scale. The term visually stunning was pointed out on my Facebook page as being "waaaaay overused description" in reference to this film. But they were. And I can understand where if you saw the 3D version of the film the effects could have been used positively. For the guys, having the ladies running around kicking butt in midriff bearing outfits and thigh high socks was an added bonus. Ladies, you get a few moments of Jon Hamm screen time.

The sound track was pumping and thumping with versions of Sweet Dreams are Made of This originally from the Eurythmics and a mashup up of Queen's I Want it All and We Will Rock You. If you stay to the end of the movie, all 109 minutes you'll receive a music video of Love is the Drug as performed by Carla and Oscar.

So you have a good sound track and great visuals. But the story was lacking. When the plot sucker punch was delivered I asked myself, did they really have to do that? I won't say what it was but the base premise really angered me. Since we're talking about lobotomies in this movie, it was rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language. Personally, I think with a bit more clean up of the plot it could have been a much better movie. In the mean time I'll head off to the doctor and have him make sure that my kidney is ok from the blow that Sucker Punch delivered.

The Movie Monkey

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March notes about Aulani and the Ko Olina Resort

The opening of Disney's Aulani A Resort and Spa in Ko Olina on Oahu is just about six months from opening. Here are some notes and thoughts about what's happening from my last trip out to the resort.

I take TheBus, Oahu's public bus system, out to the site to take update pics. I called their customer service to see if/when they would have bus service go into the resort. The representative told me that the Ko Olina resort will not allow buses onto property as they are private property. She didn't know if they would maybe do like the military bases and allow buses through the property for limited hours. With the worker demand and the expectations of the restaurants, hopefully an agreement will be worked out between TheBus and Ko Olina before the resort opens. Let me reiterate another post that I did about transportation, DO NOT use TheBus to get to Aulani from the airport due to the distance to walk in and having to cross Farrington Highway!

Queen Anne's Revenge in Hawaii by coconut wireless
My last trip a friend who lives there took me around on a golf cart and pointed out parts of the resort to me. The first stop was the Ko Olina Marina which is next to the Barbers Point harbor, a place where a Disney cruise ship could dock if a terminal building is built. Disney filmed Pirates of the Carribbean 4 here in 2010. Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge is docked at the marina for the foreseeable future. This would be similar to Disney's island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, where the Flying Dutchman from the earlier movies is moored and visitors can see it for picture taking.

Currently there are a couple of chapels on the property for weddings. About twenty five weddings per week happen within the Ko Olina grounds. Disney will be entering the wedding market. Disney had room models for prospective buyers set up near the beach. They have been removed to make way for what will be the wedding area overlooking the shoreline. The view will be beautiful.

With the removal of the models, prospective buyers will now go into the actual buildings to take tours. I was going to take a tour and contacted one of the friendly cast members to set it up with her. She was going to be off and unfortunately wasn't able to get the tour scheduled before she left. While she didn't have access to the scheduling system she did multiple e-mail follow ups away from the kiosk to try to make it happen. Thank you for the effort. She gets Disney customer service. I will try again in the future.

For those that want to golf while visiting Aulani, the Ko Olina Golf Club club house is a very short walk from the resort. It's basically right across the street off to the right slightly from the front of the property at the corner of Aliinui and Kamoana. By the club house is a workout facility and tennis courts for the Ko Olina residents. I forgot to ask if Disney Vacation Club owners will have access to these facilities.

Hawaii Railway passing thru by coconut wireless
The day that I went the Hawaii Railway Society had one of their trains going through the resort. I heard horns and didn't think it was the train but then the engine came into view. I was very excited to see this as:
  1. I haven't ridden the train or seen the train in person before today.
  2. They usually don't run the trains on a weekday when I go out for my visits.
  3. I had a blog post about using this train for the opening of Aulani.
I really hope my idea gets traction.

The Marriott next door is getting ready for competition. The last time I was out the Pro Bowl was in town and I couldn't get into the Ihilani to take pictures. This time, the couple of floors I went to, could not have been in use. There were large rolls of new carpet on the top floor blocking access around the elevator bay. On another floor, the the elevator bay wasn't blocked but they had rolls on other parts of the floor. On that same floor, the window was completely covered with dirt making any pictures I took unusable. I'm sure if there were people occupying that floor the window would have been a LOT cleaner!

I talked to some of the merchants at Ko Olina Crossing, the couple of stores across the street from the resort. They are very excited for the opening.

When going by the front of the resort I had to walk in a part of the street. They had put up barriers to help protect pedestrians as the construction walls were pushed right out to the street. In the break of the wall you can see the porte-cochère taking more shape than in the past visits. There are a lot of plants and trees that have been put in place to allow them time to take root and fill out before opening day.

In the back of the resort, the regular pathway was blocked off. It too had a temporary walkway in place as about twenty feet from the normal walk way was taken up. My assumption would be that they are doing grading and other landscaping to make a bit of a smoother transition between the main property and the Koloha lagoon.

The DVC Cast Members now have a full blown kiosk on the beach. In the past they have had signs and an umbrella. It's not as fancy as what is at Ala Moana Shopping Center, but it looks much better than what was there before.

For hiring, there have been many more posts put up on the web site. Many of the regular hourly positions are now listed. I've been seeing a number of twitters and Facebook posting where people have said they have been hired or have moved beyond the initial screening. I'm sure that Lianne Maeda and Katie Mock are very busy right now!

One of my facebook buddies has informed me that there will be military rates and a kamaaina rate for residents. When I heard the discount percent I was very surprised. It's a good one! To take advantage of these rates, contact Lindsey and let her know that Joel sent you! In a similar vein, I wonder if non guests would be able to buy a single day admission to Waikalohe Valley. At the Walt Disney World's Yacht and Beach Club's Stormalong Bay they use room keys and other control methods to keep other resort guests from pool hopping. I wonder what they will do for the Valley since it's located right new door to a public beach.

Lastly, as I was being shown the resort via golf cart, I was being told that the resort itself is looking at a number of changes. This would include rebranding itself and its logo (they currently use a lady bug) as well as physical changes. Most of the physical changes would be improvements to the sidewalks and walk ways including walkway lighting.

Special thanks to my friend for the tour of Ko Olina and information about the resort. It was a fun morning!

To see the latest collection of construction update pictures, go here

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Movie Review: Paul

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Are you the type that believes in conspiracy theories? Do you listen to Art Bell and George Noory late night on Coast to Coast AM? Do you have different colors and styles of tin hats as part of your permanent clothing collection? Have you even remotely thought of trying the Klingon dish gagh, going to Comic-Con, or chuckling at Galaxy Quest? If so, then Paul is the movie for you!

Paul Movie Poster
Just as Galaxy Quest pokes fun at the fans of Star Trek writers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg poke fun of both people who believe and don't believe in extraterrestrial life. Frost and Pegg also take the lead roles as science fiction writer Clive Gollings and illustrator Graeme Willy. The blokes are best friends from the UK who have come to America to be part of the greatest geek fest going on planet Earth, Comic-Con. For any red blooded geek male they had to have the shots of a group of ladies dressed up as slave Princess Leia. Be still my foolish heart!

Where were we? Oh yeah...So Comic-Con was the first part of the big journey. The next part was renting a mobile home RV and doing a road trip to hot spots of alien folklore like the Extraterrestrial Highway, Groom lake and the Black Mailbox , Little A'Le'Inn, Area 51 and of course, Roswell, New Mexico. Something that surprised me was two guys from England driving this big vehicle sitting in the left side and heading down the highway in the right side lane. They seemed to pick that up pretty easily!

Of course the story wouldn't be funny if the total believers in aliens don't come across a real alien. All of a sudden they now really have to believe in aliens. This one is named of all things, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). Turns out the government has known about him since 1947 and he's been helping them thinking that he was their guest. He made a run for it when he discovered he was not a visitor getting the star treatment, but a prisoner who is now trying to escape and get back to his mother ship. He enlists the two nerds to help him out and they agree.

What worked is that Rogen didn't play the part over the top vocally. What the animation of Paul did with his behaviors was a bit over the edge. Between his need for food, sleep and smoking pot Paul is just one of the guys. The movie parodies and skews so many parts of the alien genre you can get in a few good laughs. Crash landings, mother ships, body probes, mind melds, healing abilities, snacks, men in black, cover's all there. There are numerous references to all sorts of movies within the genre. See if you can pick them out. There is even one special scene where Paul is talking to a certain someone (wink) on the phone. Turns out that someone (wink) was actually on the other end of the line.

The one part of the movie I didn't like was the language, it went over the top for no reason. It seemed like they were trying to have a swearfest to see who could come up with the most nonsensical combination of words to try to describe things. That just didn't work. It became a distraction rather than an addition to the movie. For the language including sexual references, and some drug use the movie received an R rating.

The ending was not what I was expecting. The actresses selected for two pivotal (well, as pivotal as you can get for a parody movie) were great choices. The 104 minutes passed quickly. Don't leave the theater before the credits start to roll, once they do then go ahead and leave. While I might need to wash out my ears with soap, there was a smile on my face as I walked out of the dark into the light. Between the movie and the free small popcorn that Regal made available via a coupon on their Facebook page, it was a good movie day!

The Movie Monkey

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Movie Review: Battle Los Angeles

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Every week I battle in my head as to where to spend my $8.50 for a matinee show of the movie that I will review for the week. The preview for this week's cinematic presentation had me intrigued and had me hopeful. It's fun to watch a city taken out by a volcano, earthquake or Godzilla. Unfortunately, I lost the war in seeing Battle Los Angeles.

Today's Movie
Let me point out right up front that I wasn't even sure of the title of the movie. I saw the title with the name Los Angeles spelled out and in the abbreviation of LA. I also saw it with and without the colon between Battle and the city name. Since my title already includes a colon, I decided not to have a double colon in there!

When I walked into the theater, I had some hope. Due to the tsunami that hit Hawaii earlier that morning, many people had the day off and the theater for a 2pm matinee show was at the point of getting uncomfortable. You know the place where there really aren't those extra seats between you and your neighbor to give you that zone of protection. There were only a few of those spacer seats left.

Once again Los Angeles and the world is in trouble. We're being invaded by aliens. If you've seen Independence Day, War of the Worlds, Battlefield Earth, Cloverfield or Skyline, you've pretty much seen this movie. Nothing new was covered here. Just offshore of major cities around the world "meteors" have crashed into the ocean and the hordes of technically advanced invaders come ashore.

To rescue civilians behind enemy line, Marines from Camp Pendelton including SSgt Michael Nantz (the square jawed Aaron Eckhart) are sent in. They battle the enemy not knowing anything about them. In the background we have snippets of news reports to help us fill in information gaps.

Camera shots are shakey. They are very shakey. It was harder to watch this movie than Cloverfield. Towards the end the camera shots did settle down a bit, but it was still tough to watch.

Like Skyline, there were some impressive computer generated images, but the detail are hidden between the quick shots, looking through view finders, or heat plumes. Lots of things go boom!

Even though Nantz was the main focus of the story, writer Christopher Bertolini had too many extra characters between civilians and marine. The 116 minutes wasn't enough to give meaning to the stories of the rescuers or rescued. While battling to get to a safety zone the question remained, can these invaders be taken out by a virus or bomb or something the enemy underestimated?

With the battles and dealing with marines, the movie was rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language. I would dare suggest that this will be a Razzie nomination in 2012 for worst picture. Let's just hope they don't plan on Battle Washington DC or Battle Rio de Janeiro.

The Movie Monkey

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

Friday, March 4, 2011

Movie Review: Rango

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Gore Verbinski is back with Johnny Depp. They worked together on the three live action Pirates of the Caribbean movies and now they team together for the computer animated Rango. Depp provides the voice for the main character, a chameleon. Verbinski wears multiple hats including director, producer, writer AND voice talent. From the pirate genre to the western. Dusty main street, high noon show down and the rolling blowing tumble weed going across the screen set the stereotypical western scene after a slight detour from reality. The whole 107 minute movie was a nice little departure from reality!

Rango poster by coconut wireless
As Rango, Depp with the voice and the animated actions reminded me of the Don Knotts movies, specifically The Ghost and Mr Chicken although not quite as high strung. A chameleon who wants to be more than he is, just as Luther Heggs wanted to be more than he was. Chameleons by nature want to blend into their surroundings and here he is wearing a bright red aloha shirt with a vibrant yellow hibiscus print. The result, he sticks out like a sore thumb!

Right from the start, the visuals are detailed and eye popping. The little pits and bumps of chameleon skin, smooth plastic, water fluidity, desert dirt and cacti pins are rendered with great details. Our story tellers are a mariachi band of owls playing the trumpet, accordion, guitar and violin. The visuals of the birds, the instruments, their colors and the outfits make the cuts to their narration a joy to watch.

Once our protagonist heads into the desert town of Dirt, yah, that's right the name is Dirt, not a euphemism meaning unclean, broken down and not worth much the eclectic collection of towns folk spy through their building doors and windows the stranger that has rolled into town. As we meet rabbits, moles, horny toads, gila monsters, desert spiny lizards, hawks, bats, tortoises, rattle snakes and coyotes, we see details of both the animal and the detail that make them unique like eye colors, hair textures, skin lesions and clothes that bring the character to life and give them personalities.

When the stranger arrives in town he bellies up to the saloon bar. Through a series of unintended actions and some pretty bold stories that get rid of the bad guys who have been pestering the simple town folk of Dirt, our now hero is asked his name. He declares it is Rango and becomes the new sheriff in town. But something is unclean in Dirt and it's more than just the main street. Can the new law man clean up the town when the water supply is drying up?

There weren't many people in the theater with me, maybe twenty for a noon time matinee showing but that didn't stop the space from being filled with laughter. All throughout there were some good laughs generated both by visual jokes and funny dialogue. The movie is rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking. There were a couple of small children in the theater and the scene with Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) for them was a little too intense causing them to cry. Here's a giant snake with giant fangs dripping with venom moving quickly shooting with a Gatling gun of sorts on his tail, you can understand why they might have gotten slightly frightened.

The one point of the movie that I did catch as an error, sort of was Rango's eyes. His head was basically a Jackson Chameleon's head set on a skinny neck. Their eyes are orbital eyes meaning that they work independently of each other. One eye can be looking forward and the other backward or one up and the other down. His eyes were too human. They would both look in the same direction at the same time, which after owning a Jackson, having the eyes work together felt wrong. But, given the scope of the entire movie, that was a minor point.

I plan to go back and see it again using my free movie coupon. It was fun to watch and listen too and filled with a lot of visual detail which I'm sure I missed more than I caught.

The Movie Monkey

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