How I Won the War (1967) vs. The Magic Christian (1969)

October 28, 2012 Mark Sanchez

Because the Beatles both led their times and and lived with the creative and political expectations of them as well, the energy drain from Beatlemania had been significant. By the time these two films were made in the late 1960s, the cracks were already showing — definitely in society but even, now, in the Beatles who were, more than ever, four guys named John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The Beatles had had a mixed film run. Certainly A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965) were commercial and artistic successes for United Artists (see Smackdown here). But following them up with the barely conceived Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and an arm’s length involvement with Yellow Submarine (1968) hardly signaled that the Beatles had gone Hollywood.

All the Beatles toyed with Hollywood as solo artists both behind-the-scenes and in front-of-the-camera. The first to show individual interest, though, were John Lennon in How I Won the War (1967) and Ringo Starr in The Magic Christian (1969). They each acted in an establishment-tweaking, sarcasm-bubbling and sometimes cringe-inducing films that are certainly cultural artifacts.

Want to know which one of those films works so much better than the other? As Paul McCartney wrote in a song he gave Badfinger that went in his buddy Ringo’s film, keep reading and “Come and Get It.” […]

Chasing Mavericks (2012) vs. North Shore (1987)

October 26, 2012 Sarah Harding

Earnest young hero struggles to master a sport and is aided by a gruff and/or reluctant mentor. Yeah, we’ve seen it before, again and again, from Rocky to Hoosiers to Karate Kid. But there must be something we love about the formula, right? Something that speaks to the human spirit, embodied in a young athlete trying to rise above his limitations to achieve something greater than anyone thought possible.

Here, the sport is surfing, which means each of these two competing films, Chasing Mavericks, which premieres this weekend, and 1987’s semi-cult-classic North Shore, has the opportunity to inspire and humble us with nature’s awesome beauty. Of course, it’s just as likely that each might drive non-sports fans like me crazy by drowning us in a tidal wave of movie clichés. […]

Cloud Atlas (2012) vs. The Tree of Life (2011)

October 25, 2012 Eric Volkman

We at the Smack like a sprawling, epic movie about Big Themes as much as anyone else. So in this edition we’re throwing two big, brainy behemoths against each other in a ring-shaking Sumo contest.

In the challenger’s corner, weighing in at a few thousand pounds and nearly three hours in length, is a film so big it needed three credited directors: Cloud Atlas, essentially six movies in one, covering a range of genres, time periods and motifs. Our reigning champ is The Tree of Life, a thick, mood piece by Terrence Malick about a middle-aged man’s reflections on his upbringing and relationship with a tough, unhappy father. And, oh yeah, the origins of life and nature while we’re at it. […]

Help! (1965) vs. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

October 20, 2012 Shelly Goldstein

Four Working Class Heroes, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, landed on our shores on February 7, 1964, exactly six weeks to the day after an assassin’s magic bullet claimed the life of President John F. Kennedy and threw the U.S. into mourning. America needed to party and try to forget, and these longhairs from Liverpool provided the soundtrack.

Hollywood wanted the “mop-tops” onscreen, and fast! The result was two United Artists films over two years: A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Both were devoured by legions of fans, spawned must-have albums and brought America and rock music, back to life.

Hollywood knew there was big money to be made putting teen idols onscreen and selling the finished product to screaming fans. The film studios had already castrated the King of Rock Elvis Presley after he came back from the army, by cramming him into a series of forgettable romps, re-traced more than they were written. The bar of quality wasn’t exactly high.

But the Beatles managed through talent, pluck and timing to rise above the sheer craven commercialism of the enterprise and make a couple of gems that are still well worth watching today. Our Smackdown then: Which one — A Hard Day’s Night or Help! — packed the definitive pop punch for the ages? Read on… A splendid time is guaranteed for all… […]

Argo (2012) vs. The Last Shot (2004)

October 11, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

So let’s talk about movie movies.

First, you’ve got your movies about movies, which range from the beloved classics (Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain) to the cult oddities (Barton Fink, The Stunt Man) to the amusing trifles (Bowfinger) to the less-said-the-better (Hollywood Ending).

Then you’ve got your movies that sort of know they’re movies, i.e., meta-movies, a diverse genre that includes such intriguing experiments as Adaptation and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

Then there’s the movie-within-movie movies, notable entries being Kiss of the Spider Woman, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Almodovar’s Bad Education. […]

Taken 2 (2012) -vs- Taken (2008)

October 4, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

So I mean, if it were me, and I’d just gone on my first vacation to Europe and gotten targeted by the first person I met in France and subsequently kidnapped by sex slave-traders and basically had the most harrowing experience of my life, I probably wouldn’t be going back to Europe any time soon. I don’t care how bad-ass my dad is, or even that he’s played by Liam Neeson. But then, I’m not perky teenager Kim Mills, nor am I Maggie Grace, who has now co-starred as Kim Mills in two movies, despite being more than ten years the character’s senior, so what do I know? […]