A Woman in Berlin (2009) -vs- Downfall (2005)

August 28, 2009 Bryce Zabel

Even as “Inglourious Basterds” and its fast re-write on World War II storms the theaters, let’s put a couple of extremely controversial German films in our gun-sights as they re-visit the gory days of April 1945 when the Russians ripped apart Berlin. It’s a twisted “Upstairs/Downstairs” Smackdown… “A Woman in Berlin” is a story nobody in Germany or Russia wanted to talk about in the fifty years since the book it’s based on was published — namely that the invading Soviet soldiers raped up to 100,000 German women turning Berlin into “one big whorehouse.”
[…]

Inglourious Basterds (2009) -vs- Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

August 22, 2009 Bryce Zabel

In the last two years, two high-profile directors, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, each gave a shot at putting their own brand on a World War II movie, no doubt because of the lure of working with badass villains and ass-kicking good guys, even though the risk for both was they had to operate under the suppressing fire of Steven Spielberg… incoming…
[…]

There Will Be Blood (2007) -vs- Citizen Kane (1941)

August 21, 2009 Beau DeMayo

I recently got into a friendly debate with a close friend about “There Will Be Blood” and its quality. Of course, I couldn’t discount its quality. However, having only seen it once, I promised him I would check out the film when I had some downtime since he seemed to be building his very own church to the film’s sanctity. That promise lead to this review.
Let be outright and proceed from there: “There Will Be Blood” is clearly a better, more resonant film than “Citizen Kane” could ever hope to be. Should people consider “Citizen Kane” the best film ever made, then I suppose it so follows with “There Will Be Blood”…
Most of the time when we do a Smackdown, we take into account the factor of time and technology. It’s hard to compare “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” or Abram’s “Star Trek” when the technology in both — the cinematic techniques — have so vastly improved between films. Even films such as crime thrillers or horror flicks benefits from evolution in craft and technology.
[…]

Julie and Julia (2009) -vs- Julia (1977)

August 21, 2009 Sherry Coben

Nora Ephron cooks up more than Beef Bourguignon in this deceptively slight comic biography; there’s more food for thought than I ever expected. I knew that the magnificent Streep would deliver another masterful tour de force, and that she certainly did. Her performance percolates and bubbles, her laugh wells up like water from a spring, an indomitable and slightly ungainly life force inviting us in to share her electrified air. Her Julia Child is vocally impeccable, but her eloquently wordless moments tell us more than any others. A moment shared with Tucci after her sister’s letter arrives stands alone, saying everything about the Childs’ childlessness with no dialogue needed. Streep inhabits this giant among women (and men), her quick mind and undauntable spirit burning brilliant with deeply felt life. Streep’s performance lights up the screen and nestles somewhere in the chair beside you, making you realize how much you love food and Julia Child and being alive. There simply aren’t enough glowing adjectives in my usually adequate vocabulary to praise this national treasure. She and Stanley Tucci portray an unusually loving marriage that inspires and amuses, capturing something true and real, a human connection well beyond biopic’s usual parameters. And the food is beautiful; it’s food porn, not quite “Big Night” caliber but up there with the rest of the genre. And, yes, the Julie sections of the film are nowhere near so compelling as the Julia story for reasons so obvious as to be almost unworthy of listing, but list them I shall for they’ll serve my greater purpose later on in this little rant.
[…]

District 9 (2009) -vs- Alien Nation (1988)

August 20, 2009 Beau DeMayo

You have to wonder if we’ll all still be so interested in aliens after the aliens finally arrive — assuming we’re alive to care. Typically, Hollywood believes in the existence of two types of aliens: lovable little critters who love moonlit bike rides and carnivorous monsters intent on humanity’s destruction. Both “Alien Nation” and “District 9” propose a third option, both using aliens as metaphors for socially-conflicted minority groups. With “Alien Nation”, the Newcomers are a vague avatar for homosexuals, blacks, and women. In District 9, the prawns most definitely represent the oppressed Apartheid-era Africans as well as the growing number of refugees in third world countries (i.e. Darfur). So, today, we throw these socially-conscientious sci-fi flicks against one another to see which one U2’s Bono would most likely write a title song for…
[…]

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) -vs- Adam (2009)

August 18, 2009 Sherry Coben

Both films are perfectly dreadful/wonderful in entirely different (if entertaining) ways, and it’s going to be difficult coming up with a clear winner; however, it will be delightful deciding which guy would make the dreamier husband. The women on hand provide no contest whatsoever; Rose Byrne’s performance is whiney and borderline creepy while Rachel McAdams’ baby blues shine with love and mysteriously undying affection, unearned and bizarrely inexplicable as that devotion may be.
(A side note/rant: We’re up to our necks in foreigners playing Americans, something of a regular occurrence when it comes to romance on film. Either we Yanks don’t like our fantasies homegrown or perhaps the insistent inclusion of the British Commonwealth incrementally expands the international audience. Whatever the reasons, Aussie Rose Byrne fumbles a bit as an utterly unconvincing New York Jewess named Beth opposite always adorable Brit Hugh Dancy who plays the Asperger’s afflicted Adam with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed and only slightly bogus earnestness. Aussie hunk Eric Bana scores as genetic anomaly Time Traveler midwesterner Henry while as his wife, Canadian Rachel McAdams manages a reasonably convincing (if geographically vague) Chicago WASP-y rich girl. Like Gerard Butler in “The Ugly Truth ” and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road,” they all affect flat and frustratingly unspecific American accents, rendering them a tad generic, creepy and alien. I’m sure critical denizens of the UK experience similar difficulties with Renée Zellweger (Bridget Jones) and Michelle Pfeiffer among many others. This accent stuff isn’t for sissies; one wonders why romantic leads can’t hail from their countries of origin and skip this pseudo-Middle Atlantic guff altogether.)
[…]

District 9 (2009) -vs- Cloverfield (2008)

August 17, 2009 Rodney Twelftree

It’s that time of year again: the American blockbuster summer season, and again, we are under attack. Yeah, okay, so Katherine Heigl has inflicted some cinematic travesty yet again, but instead of being attacked by simpering, romantic fluffery, it’s the good old Hollywood staple: aliens. Thank God, because if I have to sit through another “He’s just Not That Into You” or “The Ugly Truth” I might just have to invent my own giant green death ray and obliterate something important. Last time round, the big monster tore shreds out of the Big Apple, gave the viewing public a real scare, and brought back vivid memories of “The Blair Witch Projects” vomit-inducing cinematography. This time, the extraterrestrial interlopers have been given a suburb of Johannesburg to inhabit, with typically human racist attitudes again becoming the most prevalent problem they face, as well as our desire to develop their technology into weaponry so we can destroy each other more effectively. So which one of these two modern alien blockbusters would have the upper hand in pitched battle? Read on to find out more. Oh, and if you’re an alien, please discontinue reading now. This computer is being monitored.
[…]

The Hurt Locker (2009) -vs- In The Loop (2009)

August 2, 2009 Sherry Coben

“The Hurt Locker” comes damn close to earning masterpiece status. Only in the scenes between the action does the film occasionally falter; in individuating the bomb squad crew, a few character choices and set pieces have the whiff of the war-movie generic about them, and we find ourselves itching to get back to the field, to escape the hackneyed struggles and occasionally overcooked drama of the base. Nothing matches the filmmaking of the utterly believable and wrenching missions, and we start to experience a little bit of the high, the tiniest sense of the drug of war. Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse hit hard in their well-wrought cameos. To criticize the weak parts would be nitpicking; perhaps the audience needs the break from all the breathholding, armrest clutching, tension. The craziness of the entire enterprise holds and fills the screen; insurgents and innocents watch impassively, impossibly, calmly, as their world is blown to smithereens. Images sear with the power of truth and horrible beauty – a scraggly cat limping among the ruins of a war-torn street, a little boy made into a bomb lying on a table, a nighttime cityscape scarier than anything you can conjure on your own. The heat, the firefights, the madness. “Hurt Locker” works like a fever dream, installing unforgettable memories directly into your brain. A work of tremendous power and focus, the film demands much of the viewer and rewards the effort tenfold.
[…]

Funny People (2009) -vs- Punchline (1988)

August 2, 2009 Mark Sanchez

Both make you laugh, and one lets you feel better about it. “Funny People” connects aspects of Judd Apatow’s life with his one time roommate, Sandler. For his part, Sandler gives another of his hybrid performances, not exactly funny or convincingly serious. Rogan and Hill play roles just like the ones performed in their recent movies. They offer no surprises. Leslie Mann is affecting as the old flame who is uncertain — for a time — about what she wants. The film showcases nice cameos of working comics, real Funny People: Paul Reiser, Charlie Fleischer, Sarah Silverman, Norm MacDonald, George Wallace (he even appeared in Punchline). There are some great moments with James Taylor, and inside the office of George’s Swedish doctor. At 146 minutes, I won’t be the first person to suggest “Funny People” may be a half-hour too long. There’s also the humor: After awhile I wasn’t laughing so much at the sex jokes. As for Sandler’s character, there’s no personal growth. He remains the same schmuck throughout.
[…]