OscaRank: Toy Story 3 (or Lotso’s List)

13 02 2011

The Toy Box got a little bigger.

What does it take to get nominated for Best Oscar?

Answer: A movie loosely allegorical to the Holocaust disguised as a kid’s story about toys trying to escape the confines of a daycare ruled over by an evil dictator. The Academy eats stories like this like breakfast mimosas. To all those children who rewatch this movie years down the road and realize this, I sincerely apologize on their behalf for tainting a piece of your childhood.

Toy Story 3 picks up roughly 12 or 13 years after Toy Story 2. The whole gang is back: Woody, Buzz, Jesse, Rex, Ham, Slinky (now replaced by Jim Varney quasi-imitator, Blake Clark), Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead, Barbie and the Planet Pizza Aliens (“The CLAW”) are all there. Their young protege, Andy, is about to move away to college and the toys are all dealing possible with retirement to the attic, trash or elsewhere. The movie takes them elsewhere. The Sunnyside Daycare centre…where things aren’t as sunny as they seem.

Lotso, the giant pink teddy bear (voiced by Ned Beatty), is easily one of the most evil characters to grace a silver screen. I’m sure Darth Vader used him as a cuddle toy when he was Anakin…or Hannibal chopped up a Cabbage Patch Doll to feed Lotso when he was a wee-one. Yet truthfully, Lotso became more of a byproduct of his upbringing than an actual devil-teddy spawn. And Lotso’s “muscle” is a creepy baby that you or your sister may have played with…a melancholic character who’s good deep down but doing Lotso’s evil-bidding because they’ve been together so long. The pair, along with their “hench-toys” rule over Sunnyside with a plush fist (including vocal talents of Whoopi Goldberg and Michael Keaton) . Some of the images are those of horror movies. The blank stares. The screaming cymbal monkey.

SPOILERY! CLICK WITH EXTREME CAUTION!

Besides the villains, we’re introduced to newer friends. Most notable are the Shakespearean hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), the worn out Daycare veteran, Chatter Phone (Teddy Newton), the sad clown Chuckles (Bud Lackey) and the down-to-earth Dolly (Bonnie Hunt).

And unlike any of the previous movies in this trilogy, some parts of Toy Story 3 are truly terrifying and you feel for the lives of the toys we all grew up with and loved. I’ve watched this movie a couple times since it’s come out and the climax still brings me to tears…but maybe I’m a softy. And the heroes are sometimes the most unlikely.

If only Best Actor nominations included animated characters, Woody should’ve been there. Tom Hanks’ vocal dexterity is mostly to thank for this. Together they should’ve been jointly nominated. Woody ranks right up there with Hanks’ Forrest Gump as one of his best performances in his career. Also, if I was caught in a tight situation, Woody would be the first character I’d call on.

Our heroes deal with harrowing situations with humour, goodness and innocence. They are a blend of child-like adulthood…sort of like Forrest Gump. They live and breath the mantra “No Toy Left Behind” even if it means they all go down together. Through thick and thin.

Yes, there’s a Lotso Third Reich feel to this (pun intended)…but Woody’s purity of heart shines throughout and because of this, I’d recommend this movie to anyone of any age. These adult themes are too complex (and ancient and subtle) for younger audiences. So there’s no fear to bring any lil’ ones.

Toy Story 3 is a movie about growing up and moving on. Things don’t have to end. They just sometimes need to change. Andy needs to go to college. Woody and his pals need to accept that they need to move on as well. Where do they move on to? I’ll let you watch the movie to see.

This is the best of the three folks! It’s a shoe-in for Best Animated feature and probably the best animated movie to be up for Best Picture ever. If you liked the first two, take some time out and watch Toy Story 3.

9.6 Ken costumes out of 10

 

The plot of Toy Story 4.

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OscaRank: This…is 127 Hours

9 02 2011

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhiznit!!!!!!!

Here’s a question no one’s probably thought of: Who’s more badass Jack Bauer of 24 or the real-life Aron Ralston? Could Jack Bauer amputate his own arm to save himself to fight for another day? Possibly but it takes a certain kind of person with the calmness of a mid-west plain on a summer’s evening and uber-kind survival instincts.

Not many people would have the gumption to saw off a limb to save themselves even if the alternative is death. But wasn’t that the whole premise of the original Saw?

The difference being that unlike these two examples, what happened to Aron Ralston is true.

The exuberant Aron Ralston is such a person who could. His 5-day ordeal of being pinned in an isolated canyon in Canyonlands National Park in Utah with nothing but what he had in his backpack in 2003 supports this. How he managed to keep his head during such a dire situation should be the model in which anyone should follow in an emergency situation.

This is your primer: DON’T PANIC (like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says), analyze your situation, take time to figure out your tools immediately in hand (dull knife…check!), take breaks to do something different (i.e. daydream mostly), imagine about something in the outside world that would inspire you to carry on (this could be your children, that hot lady or dude, your family, your passion to complete your first novel, getting the Top Kill on Black Ops…whatever), and if all else fails, you can always chop your arm off with a dull knife.

The multi-talented James Franco (Pineapple Express, Spiderman 3) is Aron Ralston who demands attention on the screen for the entire time he appears…and he should. He’s there quite a bit. Franco rides the Ralston emotional roller-coaster as he deals with denial, sadness, fear, hallucinations, ecstasy, love, pain, acceptance and relief. I’ve always seen James Franco as one of those Hollywood stars who just hovered right below the upper-tier. One of those actors who were always excellent in any role they played but often came across as not having enough gravitas to headline a movie.

Think Johnny Depp before Edward Scissorhands (pun partially intended but conveniently discovered). Sure, Depp was making waves on 21 Jump Street…but who back then could say anything more about him other than he’s an amazing tv actor before he did that movie. Franco is in this same position.

127 Hours is his Edward Scissorhands.

Danny Boyle (who hit a homerun a couple years ago with Slumdog Millionaire) throws every directorial trick in his bag into this flick. Quick cuts, flashbacks, beautiful scenery shots, action shots, slow motion, bright colours, hectic editing…you name it, you can probably find it here. At times, this comes across as a director’s Promo Reel and feel overdone and unnecessary. But most times it balances perfectly with Ralston’s emotions throughout the film.

And fair warning: when Ralston eventually decides to cut off his hand, it is extremely graphic, shocking, bloody and horrifying. I still shudder to feel what Ralston might’ve been going through during that time.

127 Hours is an extremely entertaining flick but I question how worthy it is in the current field of Best Picture Oscar nominees. Franco’s range is incredible and I get how he got nominated for the Best Actor nod. The movie itself as a Best Picture….meh.

Might be a good reason to go back to only 5 best movies next year at the Oscars.

7.8 reasons to own a satellite phone at all times out of 10

Little known fact: "127 Hours" was the first role for "The Thing" since his Addam's Family stint.





Kanye West’s “Runaway” and the flaming Phoenix

5 02 2011

Just like the video: Powerful and Beautiful, Ms. Selita Ebanks.

Concept albums are rare these days. Y’know those albums that tell a coherent story all the way through the entire length. Sometimes these kinds of albums are more of an artistic exercise of the artist who wants to see what kinds of limits he has than of actual general entertainment value. Other times you’ll come across one or two great tunes hidden in this ambitious and difficult undertaking. Rarely do you find one that speaks to most people all the way through. But one they do all have in common is that they are reflections of what’s inside of the artists soul. His or her most impassioned thoughts encapsulated in a thirty to sixty minute musical experience.

The most successful examples of these would be The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Green Day’s American Idiot.

Kanye West’s “Runaway” isn’t so much of a concept album than it is a concept song.

Found originally on his My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy album (2010), the narrative of this short 35-minute film is simplistic and engaging. It features the beautiful Selita Ebanks as the Phoenix with Kanye playing himself as her tutor to the “real world”. He teaches her the ways of the world while she teaches him how the ways of the world are flawed.

It seems that Kanye’s message is that too often on this planet, those with different plumage are plucked to become a cookie cutter dinner served on a platter for humanity to devour. Instead of enjoying those differences, the differences are too often snuffed out.

Kanye’s method of expressing this majestically epic concept by using this film shows how he himself is trying to break free of the molds of the world and become the Phoenix…rising from the ashes. To this I applaud his bravery and honesty to being himself. I also must acknowledge and appreciate his ambition when he directed “Runaway” written by Hype Williams (his amazing videography).

Most of the songs in this are beautifully choreographed and could easily be split into individual videos. The one stand-out would be the obvious Michael Jackson tribute (another artist who did things differently) at about the 7:30 mark in the video (full video below). There’s no name for this song other than the chorus has the words “All of the Lights“…so I’ll call it that. And this and the “Runaway” title song at the 13:30 mark would be the only ones I could see stand alone. As a combined entity, Kanye West proves that he’s not done producing quality music and admits that lately he’s been somewhat of a “douchebag”…as the title song says.

But this is only my opinion.

Feel free to enjoy the full 35-minute film and call me a douchebag if you don’t agree.

7.5 floating MJ heads out of 10





OscaRank: Black Swan/bulC thgiF

2 02 2011

Before I get into the review, play this in the back ground to get you in the mood. Just click play and read on .

(PS. It won’t allow you to listen to it on my site directly…so open when you click play, just click on the “Watch on YouTube Link…it’ll open in a separate window.)

So in the throes of Snowmaggedon, or the Snowpacalypse or Battlesnow Earth or whatever you want to call it, consider this your comfort reading while you cozy up to a fire…if you have power and viable access to the net. I know most of you are probably out shoveling right now. And to those our Southern Hemisphere brothers and sisters in Australia riding out/rode out Cyclone Yasi, I wish you well. This will still be here when you get back on your feet.

Black Swan, to put it succinctly, is truly a mindf*ck of Fight Club proportions. Anyone who hasn’t yet seen Fight Club but has already seen Black Swan, go and watch it. Those who’ve seen Fight Club but not Black Swan, do the same. If Fight Club has a younger cuter sister who was just as messed up as the main character of that Chuck Palahniuk movie, it would be Black Swan.

Natalie Portman plays the psychologically distressed Nina Meyers who’s self-imposed need for perfection drives her into insanity as she not only earns the lead role of the famous ballet piece, Swan Lake, but is fully engulfed within it. This mental degradation provides memorable and disturbing imagery as she experiences a world that may or may not be real. Her life parallels closely to the title character of Swan Lake in a subtle yet intriguing way. Listen carefully to the ballet director’s words when he gives directions to young Nina as she takes on the challenging role of the Swan Queen.

Natalie captures Nina’s youthful fragility as she slowly breaks apart with such delicacy that I finally understand why she’s been nominated for Best Actress this year. Natalie also devoted six months before filming to tone and strengthen her body for this role. All ballet scenes with the exception of a few long shot are herself which is amazing considering the technical expertise needed to pull off some of the moves of Swan Lake.

Mila Kunis stands out as the quasi-villain, Lily (that may or may not be a villian…yes, this movie makes you question everything) who unintentionally leads poor Nina down a path of destruction by introducing her into a darker version of Nina’s childlike world. Her performance is loose, seductive and honest.

Nina’s troubles are real to a lot of women and girls trying to make strive to be “perfect”. Too many women succumb to the insinuated (often blatant) expectations of beauty which leads to warped perceptions of oneself and one’s world. This is the real message of this powerful movie. Perfection can only be found in your flaws.

Nina’s technical perfection is mirrored by Lily’s truthfulness to herself. Lily accepts her weaknesses and tries to help Nina wrap her mind around that in an indirect way. Anything less than perfection is unimaginable to Nina and ultimately leads to her falling apart…but I’m oversimplifying this movie that really could take chapters to decipher. There’s so much in Black Swan that even as I write this more and more is coming to me.

So I’ll leave my impressions of female sexual self-expression, of bulimia, of mother-daughter relationships, of professional jealousy, and of single parenthood for another time perhaps. I’ll let Black Swan speak and dance for itself.

The beginning of Black Swan can by slow, predictable, and trying at points but the reward of the second half is worth the first. When it begins to pick up, you’ll not know which way it’s going to go even up to the final curtain call. Much like the last scene in Fight Club (sorry folks, I won’t spoil that for you if you haven’t seen the movie…and even if I did, you wouldn’t understand it without watching it), Black Swan takes unexpected turns. And remember I didn’t say it WAS Fight Club, I said it was LIKE Fight Club.

I feel that as time goes by, this movie will have a following very similar to Fight Club as appreciation grows.

And to those guys who fear losing their “Man Card” if they watch this, consider this scene: Clicky-clicky. Also, you can bring your Significant Others with you and win points for going to a really brilliant movie disguised as a chick flick. I’m only here to help…

Black Swan will have you wanting more after the closing credits and make you dwell on scenes long after you get home.

And if you haven’t paid attention to the song I told you to click at the beginning, go back and listen to the words.

You’re welcome.

9.2 bloody fingernails out of 10

So she's the one that drank the last of my milk...





OscaRank: Friend “The Social Network”

29 01 2011

Did my dad just poke my mom?

Sometimes people are just plain jerks. Sometimes people are misunderstood. Sometimes people are just at the right place at the right time standing upon a precipice of the Next Big Thing (right Brock Lesnar? Obscure Wrestling Reference Warning!).  And then sometimes people are just so socially awkward that they come across as misunderstood jerks because they happened to come upon an improvement to an idea at the exact right time. I’m talking about how Facebook took the MySpace motif and gave it enough of a twist to make it interesting.

It happens all throughout history. Houses became improvements to caves. Guns became an improvement to pointy sticks. Labradoodles became an improvement to the bulky Labrador and wimpy poodle. Pizza became an improvement to picking up scalding cheese in your bare hand. Blackberry Messenger is an improvement to ICQ. Firefox and Chrome are improvements to NetScape Navigator. The list goes on.

It’s not stealing an idea if it’s an improvement of an existing idea.

The Social Network is an improvement to an existing movie formula. It takes the silly competitive drama that’s only found in university and combines it with a story of potential stolen intellectual property. Then wordsmith Alan Sorkin braids a true story with large strands of fiction.

No. This isn’t a 100% factual account of how Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Savarin, Dustin Mokovitz and Chris Hughes founded THE most influential website in history. This is a Hollywood dramatization of that story.

Here’s a secret. Life is boring. 98% of people’s lives (mine included) would be one big test pattern or the original Slap Chop commercial like this:

What Hollywood does is this as represented by DJ Steve Porter:

I think I’ve made my point.

So let’s be fair and look at this movie as what it is: entertainment.

The real star of this movie isn’t Jesse “I’m not Michael Cera” Eisenberg or the constantly surprising Justin Timberlake. Yet, each of their performances are levels above anything else I’ve ever seen them in. Eisenberg plays the socially awkward Zuckerberg who introduced and updated the best version of a social network around today. Think about that for a moment…it’s like Carrot Top actually making of of his toilet seatbelt for Taco Bell toilets an improvement over a regular toilet seat. I might’ve just compared Zuckerberg to Carrot Top. I apologize to both…but regret nothing!

The real star in this movie is the adapted script written by the incomparable Alan Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Sports Night, The West Wing) from Ben Mehzrich’s nonfiction book “The Accidental Billionaires”. The story is honest in it’s portrayal of collegiate life as a young twenty-something. The hazing, the acceptance, the need to be different and break out of whatever shadow you may be under, the sex, the drinking, the parties, the embarrassments and the quick assumptions. Sorkin’s smart script deserves every accolades it receives.

The actors, as talented as they are, would’ve needed to be very bad to not be able to follow the nuances that were put into the script. Not to say the cast couldn’t have made it their own…my point is that like a great recipe, sometimes you don’t need to add another dash of cilantro for it to taste good. Sometimes the writer is just good enough with his creation that the actor just needs to say the words with a medial level of competence and they’d have a Bobby Flay entree. Other times, the actor needs to become Bobby Flay to make it work.

The Social Network is intelligent, funny, enjoyable and, in moments, cringe worthy in that “Kevin says something unintentionally stupid on Wonder Years” kinda way.

And with Oscar nominating it for 8 naked golden dudes (Best Picture, Best Actor – Eisenberg, Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Original Music Score, Sound Mixing, Writing -Adapted Screenplay), the Academy is expecting big things from this one. As of this writing, they are the buzz to win it all this year…but I disagree. Amazing movie but see my other reviews to see which ones I think are better…

…a-choo!!!!!…(King’s Speech and True Grit)…a-choo!!!!!!!!!

9 inappropriate Pokes out of 10

When Rankatron analogies go wrong....





Enter…the Oscars.

26 01 2011

O.S.C.A.R. - Only Some Can Always Reap

It’s that time of year folks.

A time where celebrities who worked so hard during the year can get some critical gratification from their peers. Sometimes this translates as great viewing for the average viewer…sometimes not.

It’s the 2011 Oscar Nominations.

Now, I’m not going to go down category by category and explain WHY my opinion matters on this. Nuh-uh. If you want this, go check out a billion other websites. But I may release my Oscar pool at a later time for you to peruse without comment…or you can comment. This is a free Blogiverse.

I will focus on what I do best: movies.

Here’s how it works. In years past, I’ve waited for the Best Picture nominations to come out and then proceed to watch every single movie on that list before the Oscars broadcast to see how wrong the Academy has gotten it. That would give me about a month to watch. In the pre-2009 days, this would be only 5 movies. Completely doable. But since they introduced 10 in ’10, I had to do some pre-research (presearch?) to anticipate who should be on this list so I can knock some of them off before hand.

Thankfully, this year I’ve seen 6 of the 10 nominees. I will be releasing blogs on my usual days with my reviews (Wednesdays and Saturdays) until all 10 have been seen. Then…I’ll make my pick in a final blog the Saturday before the Oscars broadcast.

This entry will stay at the top of my Home Page until after the Oscars as a means to reference the reviews. To find the reviews, just click on the “REVIEW” link beside the movie name and the magic of the Rankatron will bring you right there. If there’s nothing there, you can click on the name to see the trailer.

Now that you know the rules of Dis Game, here’s the list of Nominees for the Oscars 2011 and my preliminary impressions:

So there you have it…oh there’s a hand in the back…what was that? Yes. I’ll still be doing newer reviews of things in between all of this. I realize not everyone loves the Oscars.

All other questions will need to be reserved until the end of the proceedings after the Oscars.

Enjoy!

 

The Rankatron shows Oscar who's got really got the bigger "Awards".





OscaRank: Getting the Oscar takes “True Grit”

23 01 2011

Cross-examining Lawyer: Mister Cogburn, in your four years as US Marshal, how many men have you shot?
Rooster Cogburn: Shot? Or killed?
Cross-examining Lawyer: Let us restrict it to killed so we may have a manageable figure!

True Grit gets under your fingernails as a hard-riding Western full of well-defined and colourful characters. Every person in this film seems to be a slightly over-the-top caricature of some personality you’d see in a border town in the Old West. The over-zealous lawyer. The shifty trader. The posse of bad guys (who really could’ve stepped out of Back to the Future Part 3). The uber-confident ranger. But the two most memorable are the over-the-hill gritty Marshall Rooster Cogburn and the electrifying teenage daughter bent on avenging her father’s death.

Let’s start with the former: Rooster Cogburn played superbly by Jeff Bridges who may possibly be one of the most underrated and under-utilized actors in Hollywood. His movies are either home runs (like the Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, Seabiscuit), cult-like hits (TRON, Iron Man), or complete bombs (K-Pax). But one thing you can never take away from Bridges is that whatever character he’s given, he immerses himself fully so the only thing you recognize is that truly unique Bridge-esque rasp he’s perfected. Jeff Bridges pulls off a version of Rooster Cogburn that very well could be better than John Wayne’s version (and which won him the Oscar in 1969). I can’t 100% confirm this because I haven’t seen the original in ages and only barely recall it. Bridges probably won’t win the Oscar this year for Best Actor but it’s simply because of Colin Firth in the King’s Speech…but y’never can tell.

As good as Bridges was, the true star of True Grit is for 14-year old sensation (and unknown), Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the plucky Mattie Ross. She commands every scene she’s in…which is pretty much the whole movie. No actress I’ve seen this young has portrayed so much range since Ellen Page in Juno. It was a true crime that she didn’t get top billing in True Grit since she plays easily the second most important role besides Bridges. She falls behind Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. I know I have to think about this from the promoters POV where they have to decide before a movie releases if people will go see a Western starring Bridges and Steinfeld or a Western starring Bridges, Damon and Brolin. I give them that. What would be an even bigger crime would be if young Hailee didn’t get and Oscar nom AND the win for Best Actress.

I also realize I said the same thing after watching Juno while talking about Ellen Page.  Here’s that quote:

Ellen Page, for her range and her courage to take on such a role, deserves the Oscar. And even if the movie itself doesn’t win Best Picture this year, I will honour it by giving it my highest score ever, a perfect 10…take that Academy!!!

So I could be wrong. The Oscar eventually went to Marion Cotillard for her role in La Vie En Rose. In retrospect, Marion’s role was good but not great like Page’s. And Best Picture went to No Country For Old Men…it was warranted.

Back to True Grit.

Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf provided a slightly dim-witted but good-hearted foil to Rooster and Mattie’s sharp insights.

Most of the humour of True Grit comes from the no-holds-barred racism in the movie. It reminds us just how absurdly racist views were back then and by simply keeping to the realism brought forward intentional “unintentional” humour. For example, (spoilery but not relevant to the plot in any way) near the beginning, there’s a hanging about to take place with three prisoners: two white, one Native. The two white prisoners were allowed their soliloquies of humility and regret which each stretched a couple minutes before the black hood was placed over their heads. When we got to the third prisoner (the Native), he thought he would be given the same opportunity and went into his speech but was cut off mid-way through the first sentence by a hood before all three where hung. The pure lack of respect made me feel uncomfortable but felt incredibly guilty how juvenile folks really were back then. OK…so that description doesn’t sound THAT funny. But I never said this was a comedy.

True Grit is a snapshot of reality in the 1800’s. I’m sure someone watching a movie about our time concerning gay rights in a few hundred years will react the exact same way.

As the race for the Best Picture Oscar is beginning to take form and we’re finally seeing the possible horses up for nomination, it is difficult to know who will win. I think it will come down to a matter of preference in style for the potential viewer. But with the Coen Brothers at the helm (who won Best Picture for the aformentioned No Country For Old Men, friendo) and Stephen Speilberg as Executive Producer, this one may just have the edge.

9.7 half bitten tongues out of 10

True Blood Grit