OscaRank: The Kids are Alright…but the movie is better.

Everything's alright with wine

This movie wouldn’t have been made 25 years ago. It probably wouldn’t even had been made ten years ago.

The themes behind it can be found in countless movies throughout history…but the backdrop used here wouldn’t have been allowed to show itself so honestly in the era of “political correctness” of 2000-2001.

The Kids are Alright is a flick about surviving the dynamics within an unconventional family unit. More and more of these unconventional families are becoming the norm where it may come to the point where those currently deemed as conventional become unconventional.

But I take to task the stigma that follows the terms “conventional” and “unconventional”. Definition-wise: they are accurate. But realistically, one isn’t better than the other. Each can be as equally as supportive as the other in genuine and strong ways.

My point? The Kids are Alright is all about this.

A lesbian couple raises two children who were inseminated by the same sperm donor…the kids decide to track down their biological dad…and light-hearted hilarity ensues.

This is an ensemble piece where each are necessary to make this movie work.

The driving characters are the two kids, the eldest sister, Joni (Mia Wasikowsa of Alice in Wonderland fame) and her brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson a part of the Red Dawn remake…OH YEAH!) who go in search for their biological father. Not really because they need a father in their lives but more out of idle teenage curiosity. Both are extremely level headed children who were raised with solid morals with no real need of anything more than their Momses provided to them. Considering the pitfalls of society, they could’ve ended up much worse:

Mark Ruffalo as Paul stands out particularly as the twenty-first century hippy throwback biological dad. He’s one of those characters who are so laid back…so ready to roll with the punches…that it may leave some envious and even frustrated that nothing bothers him. He is so aloof that his ease of life can sometimes appear disconnected yet he is engaged fully at every moment. His reaction to meeting his kids? “Cool. Let’s see where this goes.” (My paraphrase. Not his.) Ruffalo deserves his Oscar nod here and is one of the strongest contenders for Best Actor.

Annette Benning takes up her role as Nic, who reminded me so much of the her role as mom from American Beauty that I can’t ignore it. So much so that I would bet if you could trace a lifeline from the American Beauty mom to this one, it could be a logical progression after…well, the end of American Beauty…I refuse to spoil it if you’ve never seen it. So what I mean is that with all the commitment that Benning played the other mom, she throws into this character as well. As a reminder, here’s a little snippet from that classic American Beauty.

Both Nic and her character in American Beauty are both control freaks who are replacing what they’re missing with unwarranted aggression. Benning was robbed from being Best Actress during that season of the Oscars sadly I believe she will be again this year.

Following the same theme of American Beauty, Julianne Moore plays Benning’s partner, Jules,  raising their kids together but Jules is a lost soul. She’s satisfied with who she’s ended up with but, like a wisp of cloud on a sea breeze, she wants to find her path in life. Her path leads her to Paul through her two children and she finds a momentary reprieve and appreciation in his arms.

Despite all of these serious undertones and themes, this is a gratifyingly light and funny movie.

I’d even wager that even though most people may not have experienced a same-sex marriage or don’t know their biological father, they will find this movie speaks to them on at least one level. These themes are universal and true.

And above all conventional…even in the most unconventional sense.

9.0 Hairs in the Shower Drain out of 10

Frozen sperm donation gone horribly wrong...in carbonite!


The Wizard of Oz vs The Rankatron

And this is a bunny rabbit.

When I first started this movie, I was tempted to pop in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of Moon to see how true this alleged myth is. Does the Dark Side of the Moon really place the happy-go-lucky Wizard of Oz in a warped light? I was thinking this because I was skeptical if a movie I loved so much as a child could still maintain my interest. The only parts I truly remembered where fuzzy scenes of dancing scarecrows, flying monkeys, catchy choruses, lions and tigers and bears. Oh My! But would that be enough to keep me going?

My apprehension abated when I realized, from the gravity that Judy Garland commanded on the screen, that I’d have no trouble being pulled into this amazing world.

First, let’s all take a walk through the Kansas cornfield of trivia before we take a whirlwind into Oz:

  • Based on the L. Frank Baum story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1900.
  • Directed by Victor Fleming (Gone With The Wind) and released in 1939 to only a modest reception.
  • Stars Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man and Frank Morgan as The Wizard.
  • Won two Oscars (Best Original Song, “Over the Rainbow”; Best Original Score).
  • Nominated for Best Picture but lost to Gone With The Wind (also on the Ultimate Rankatron list, I might add…or I did add).
  • Differences from the novel to the movie: The original novel called for Dorothy to wear Silver Shoes but, to take advantage of the new innovation of Technicolor, production changed them to Ruby Slippers. The novel treated Oz as a real place but the producers felt that the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to a straight fantasy tale and made Oz only a part of Dorothy’s dream.
  • Shirley Temple had been in the running for the role of Dorothy but when the director heard her sing, he opted for Judy Garland instead.
  • W.C. Fields was considered for The Wizard but negotiations fell through due to money before signing Frank Morgan.
  • One version of the script had Dorothy have a singing duel with a selfish Princess of Oz with Dorothy winning because of her jazzy tunes but this was later dropped.
  • Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies) had been cast as the Scarecrow and Ray Bolger had been cast as the Tin Man originally. But they swapped roles due to Bolger’s passion to become the Scarecrow to which Ebsen had no problems. At this point in filming, Ebsen had already recorded all of the Scarecrow’s songs. So Bolger re-recorded most of the songs except during “We’re off to see the Wizard” where the voice of the Scarecrow is Ebsen’s.
  • Ten days into the shoot, Ebsen suffered a reaction from the silver powder makeup which he had inhaled and coated his lungs. He had been hospitalized in critical condition. Jack Haley had been hired to replace Ebsen as the Tin Man. Though one scene in the film still shows Ebsen’s Tin Man when he, Dorothy, Scarecrow and Lion sneak into the Witches castle.
  • “Over the Rainbow” was almost cut from the movie as it was deemed to slow and serious for a movie of this nature and producers felt it was demeaning to Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard.
  • Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, did a sequel called Journey Back to Oz in 1974 but was received poorly. Also starred Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman.
  • Michael Jackson and Diana Ross starred in a really terrible musical remake called The Wiz in 1978.
  • Disney released a now-cult classic, Return to Oz, in 1985 which is surprisingly entertaining in that Tim Burton kind of way.
  • Sam Raimi is working on a prequel for 2013 called “Oz: The Great and Powerful” basing the story on how the Wizard made it to Oz. Robert Downey Jr is rumored to be the lead. Yes…this is all true.
  • Robert Zemeckis is in line for a possible remake to the Wizard of Oz for 2014. Some movies shouldn’t be remade. This is one of them. I for one hope this never happens.

As you can tell, this movie has had an amazing cultural influence. From the Simpsons, to Family Guy, to Lost, to Glee, to best-selling books, to cartoons and gay empowerment emblems, the Wizard of Oz is one of the upper echelon movies in history. Few others came claim this much breadth.

To this day, the movie plays in its original format with minor digital updating. The Wizard of Oz is treated more of a cherished heirloom instead of simply an amazing movie. And thanks to some smart deletion of some scenes like this really terrible dance routine by the Scarecrow we are left with a classic:

It seems as I watched that every scene has been spoofed or paid homage to in some form or another. I don’t mean this to be a cavalcade of videos…but look at this amazing video by Bobby McFerrin with his rendition of Over the Rainbow (then watch the rest of the silly video):

I found myself tapping along with every musical number. I felt like a kid again. Or rather…a juvenile adult.

Judy Garland was/is an amazing actress and singer and would still hold her own today. If she was one of the young starlets today, no one would be able to touch her level of talent and maturity. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else improving on Garland’s Dorothy. Of course, we all said the same thing about Jack Nicholson’s Joker before Heath Ledger came around. Perhaps improving on it would be near impossible but a different take might be more realistic. Don’t think it can happen? How about lil’ 6 year old Connie Talbot singing “Over the Rainbow” a couple of years ago? 92 million YouTube watchers can’t be wrong…

The Vaudevillian physical comedy definitely holds up over time. The simple yet engaging story is timeless. And the last half hour with the confrontation with the Wicked Witch and the Flying Monkeys is much darker and scarier than I remembered. Not in that horror way. More like in that Disney villain way. Dark enough to creep you out but not so dark that you’ll be trying to saw your arm off to get out of the room.

The Wizard of Oz is near perfect with little faults that could be overlooked because of film technology at the time. The special effects are equivalent to something you might see in a shadow puppet show…but does it really matter? For what was done, I forgive this little limitation.

Just as I hope you forgive me for the video explosion on this review.

So what are you waiting for? Reclaim your childhood and watch The Wizard of Oz, right now! I won’t keep you.

9.7 double rainbows out of 10

The Empire Strikes Back (At Promoting Plagarism)

Cloud City has never been so classy!

Oh…Lucas, Lucas, Lucas…you thought I wouldn’t uncover that Empire Strikes Back wasn’t an original movie. As the matter of fact, it got released back in 1950 as a B-Level space movie. Don’t deny it! I’ve got video proof!

Regardless, many Star Warriors feel that the Empire Strikes Back is far superior to the original Star Wars both in action, scope and plot. You’ve got enough unexpected double-crosses and plot twists that you’d think you’re watching an episode of Jersey Shore. (Random unfounded Fact: It’s no coincidence that Snookie and Wookie rhyme.)

Sure, you could argue that Family Guy made a far superior spoof pointing out some obvious flaws (such as why does Lando Calrissian wear the exact same clothes as Hans Solo when he’s flying the Millenium Falcon?). Or my own question: why does Lando’s co-pilot, Nien Nunb, echo another 1970’s character from Fat Albert, Dumb Donald? Was this a shout out to Cosby? Did Lucas even know how much Nunb’s make-up looked like Dumb’s?

In any case, let me hit you up with some Rank stats on Empire Strikes Back:

  • Released in 1980 and directed by Irvin Kershner (Robocop 2).
  • Composer of the original Star Wars, John Williams, used the London Symphony Orchestra for the score.
  • John Ratzenberger (Cliff Claven from Cheers if you’re over 35…Hamm, the piggy bank in Toy Story if you’re under) appears in a small part as Major Bren Drelin.
  • The original Emperor was voiced by New Zealand actor, Clive Revill, in the original 1980 release of this movie. When it was re-released in 1997, his voice was replaced by Ian McDiarmid (who played the Emperor in the new trilogy) for continuity’s sake. I like Ian’s take better.
  • Yoda was voiced by Frank Oz, of Muppets fame. Yoda’s face was based on Albert Einstein.
  • Mark Hamill had a car accident between Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back resulting in Luke appearing more scarred from one film to the other.
  • The scene where Luke escapes the Wampa cave was actually filmed during one of the worst snowstorms in Norwegian history. When he stumbles out of the cave, in reality, he stumbled out of the hotel’s front door where the crew had been staying at.
  • The famous ending where Darth Vader revealed that he was Luke’s father was buried in so much secrecy that the actors where given a script where Vader’s line was “Obi-Wan killed your father.” Before the premiere, the only people in the cast who knew the actual line was James Earl-Jones (who did Vader’s voice-over), Mark Hamill, George Lucas and Irvin Kershner.
  • The line “Luke, I am your father” never is uttered in the movie. The actual line is “No, I am your father”.
  • Awards? An Oscar for Best Sound and Special Acheivement for Visual Effects. A Grammy and Golden Globe for best original movie music.
  • In 1983, a radio adaptation of the movie was done for National Public Radio with Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels reprising their roles as Luke, Lando and C3PO. John Lithgow voiced Yoda…I’m not making this up.

I’ll leave it at that. Will the Empire truly strike back or will the Rankatron strike back at the Empire? Stay tuned!

Alright Beastie Boys…let’s hype up this mofo like Lando Calrissian. Take us out!

Star Wars: A New Hope…A Cappella!

The greatest version since the original.

I was originally going to go through my usual spiel saying something marginally clever about Star Wars and post some interesting vids about the movie I’m about to review…but then I stumbled upon this by a dude name Corey Vidal…I bow to his a-cappellaness:

Then I started to come to the conclusion as I sifted through all of the videos that are devoted to Star Wars…from the Lego Star Wars Symphony to the Star Wars Dance-Off to a hilarious Star Wars Gangsta Rap to actual bloopers from the first movie…the list is endless…when I realized this was my favourite one.

Some Star Wars: A New Hope stats:

  • Released in 1977, directed and written by George Lucas.
  • Was the original blockbuster summer movie. It set the scene for what we take for granted today over the summer months.
  • Nominated for 10 Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guinness) and won 7.
  • The original name for Luke Skywalker was Luke Starkiller…glad they changed that.
  • Lucas didn’t want Harrison Ford as Hans Solo…they almost went with Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken (SNL spoofed this with Kevin Spacey…I’ll wait for your brain to wrap itself around this), or Sylvester Stallone (yo! Darth!)
  • Lucas based Chewbacca on his Alaskan malamute dog.
  • Sissy Spacek almost ended up being Princess Leia over Carrie Fisher. Who’s Sissy Spacek? This is Sissy Spacek.
  • Orson Welles was originally slated to be the voice of Darth Vader but Lucas thought his voice was too recognizable and went with an unknown at the time…James Earl Jones.
  • The opening scene was a nod to the scene of Discovery One flying in space in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Became the highest grossing film of all-time until ET: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982.
  • Was on movie screens for over a year in some theatres around the world.
  • Lucas had bet Spielberg that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would outperform Star Wars at the box office. The loser had to pay the winner 2.5% of the proceeds from each film. Lucas lost the bet and Spielberg receives money from Star Wars to this day.
  • At its height, the atrocity known as The Star Wars Holiday Special was released. It was terrible. I’ve seen it. It’s worse than a train wreck. It actually boggles the mind on how bad this is. So bad, Lucas refuses to acknowledge its existence. Here’s the entire thing if you’ve got 2 hours of your life you don’t really care about.
  • Star Wars influenced James Cameron (Avatar), Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy), Ridley Scott (Alien movies), Kevin Smith (Clerks, SModcast) and countless other directors to go into film.
  • Darth Vader was voted as the #3 villain of all-time by AFI (behind Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates)
  • #2 Sci-Fi movie of all time behind 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So the critics, the influence and the general public all praised this flick that revolutionized the movie industry.

Will The Rankatron be so friendly? Will The Rankatron be a Jedi or a Sith? While you dwell on that, one last video by Bill Murray serenading you on SNL:

The Shawshank Redemption, yo!

I wanted to start this off right with a movie that’ll set the tone for the entire Ultimate Rankatron. There’s a few on the list I’ve never seen before so I didn’t want to begin with one of those in case it sucked and it tainted the Rank. You can’t taint the Rank! I might lose interest and get off on the wrong foot.

I wanted a movie that can surprise the uninitiated and that had held up well over time. A movie that has now been deemed under-rated in its day but has surpassed some other movies that came out at that time as far as impact.

I bring you The Shawshank Redemption.

Some cool stats:

  • Starring Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman.
  • Directed and adapted by Frank Durabont (he directed The Green Mile and is the executive producer of the amazing-looking AMC Zombie TV series “The Walking Dead” upcoming Halloween 2010).
  • Based on a Stephen King short story called “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”
  • The movie bombed at the box office that year (only pulled in $18mil to compensate a $36mil budget)
  • Nominated for 7 Academy awards in 1994 (Best Picture, Best Actor – Morgan Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing) but didn’t win a single one because of Forrest Gump…thanks Forrest!
  • The role of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) was offered to Tom Hanks but he turned it down because of his role as Forrest Gump…thanks again Forrest!
  • Other actors up for the same part: Kevin Costner (shudder), Tom “Show me the laundered money!” Cruise, Nicholas Cage (you’re not getting on my list!), and Charlie Sheen (meh.)
  • For the role of Red, consideration was given to Clint Eastwood (could’ve pulled it off…sort of), Harrison Ford (NO!), Paul Newman (try his salad dressing!), and Robert Redford (he’s got Red in his name) before Morgan Freeman earned it.

If you want to see the actual trailer, visit my original Ultimate Rankatron post and click on the movie title.

In the meantime, if you’ve seen the movie already or don’t mind being spoiled knowing the plot, check out this dope vid yo!

If you haven’t seen this movie anytime in the last 16 years, Family Guy will bring you up to speed spoiler free:

All I’ll say before I get started is that my original watch of this movie wasn’t in theatres. I got caught up in the Forrest Gump/Pulp Fiction hooplah of ’94 and this wasn’t even on my radar. I watched it for the first time a few years later and I was an instant fan. Like a fine wine, it ages well.

With that said I’ll put my foam critic hat on and try to find a chink in this movie armour, I’ll be back in a few days with my review.