Les Miserables (2012) vs. The Fugitive (1993)

December 24, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Yes, I know, we could have put this operatic soon-to-be blockbuster, Les Miserables, up against any number of period musicals translated to movies, from The King and I to Sound of Music to Moulin Rouge. Or we could have matched it against any of the multitudinous other film adaptations of the Victor Hugo novel or even against the stage musical itself. Someone else with more academic credentials or film school training than we have can dissect those comparisons at another time. (If you can’t wait, there’s always Wikipedia.)

The thing is, as I watched and listened to the sincere musical emoting of the modern Les Miserables at a pre-release screening at the Pacific Design Center theater here in Hollywood, my mind kept trying to focus on the actual story. Namely, the convict Jean Valjean’s flight from the relentless Inspector Javert, who just won’t cut him a break, no matter how many good deeds he’s done or may still do if allowed his freedom. […]

Django Unchained (2012) vs. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

December 23, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

Once upon a time, long before you were born, way back in 1994, a writer-director named Quentin Tarantino made a movie called Pulp Fiction. It was a low-budget, stylish and irreverent thriller so wildly entertaining, energetic and fresh that it became an instant cult classic, was a huge critical and box office success, won Quentin an Oscar for his script (story co-written with Roger Avary), and turned him practically overnight into the biggest celebrity director since Alfred Hitchcock.

The movie was so unconventional in so many ways — unusual length (two hours and forty minutes), non-chronological/episodic/multi-plot structure, long stretches of idle chit-chat, hairpin plot turns, extreme violence sprinkled with laughs, eccentric soundtrack selections — and Tarantino was so amply lauded and rewarded for it that he began to believe he could do no wrong, that he could be either as daring or as lazy as he felt on any given day, and we would continue to bow at his feet. The films that followed over the next two decades were… well, it depends who you ask. There are those who still worshipped at his altar, but many others didn’t quite take to much of it, grew tired of waiting for the old Tarantino to return, and viewed each new release with ever-decreasing expectations. […]

Jack Reacher (2012) vs. Collateral (2004)

December 20, 2012 Eric Volkman

Thankfully, Tom Cruise has never gone the Evil Twin route, facing off against himself in a movie. But that doesn’t mean he can’t do it in a Smackdown.

Here we pit two of the actor’s star turns against each other: He’s the would-be savior in the just-released Jack Reacher, while he plays a nasty contract killer in Collateral. Both are hard-edged, violent dramas featuring brooding anti-heroes. And if Collateral faced a challenge by casting America’s favorite boyish grin as a cold-blooded assassin, Jack Reacher ups the stakes by coming out a week after Sandy Hook and featuring the aftermath of a broad-daylight massacre whose victims include a nanny accompanying a small child. This one’s a reacher all right. […]

This Is 40 (2012) vs. Meet the Fockers (2004)

December 20, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Comedy is a fragile thing, or so say the experts. One of the most delicate components to making someone laugh is the element of surprise. So what happens when the surprise is gone?

That’s the challenge for comedy sequels. The initial setup and the characters living in it have already been exposed to the audience. In order to even generate a sequel, the original had to be pretty widely seen. When the story is set around a family’s home life, filmmakers and audiences have to ask themselves the question that author Thomas Wolfe once famously answered in the negative: Can you go home again? […]

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) vs. The Hurt Locker (2008)

December 18, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

Not quite satisfied with making history as the first female Oscar winner for Best Director with The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow, working again with screenwriter Mark Boal, is back with Zero Dark Thirty, another topical and suspenseful Middle East adventure that’s already a serious contender for this year’s top Oscars. The new film expands far beyond the modest scope of its predecessor, taking on one of the biggest stories of recent years, the decade-long, multi-country search for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and how it eventually found closure, a mere 19 months ago (maybe you heard about that part). […]

“Django Unchained” (Tarantino) Meets “Lincoln” (Spielberg)

December 18, 2012 Movie Smackdown

The body count in Django Unchained — given that it’s a Quentin Tarantino film — is way, way high. The film hits theaters on Christmas Day so we can consider “Peace on Earth” while amping up on slave-era violence. It will likely pack the theaters, Rotten Tomatoes has it with 100% fresh reviews as we write this. We wish we were smart enough to figure out what all of this means about violence in America and what should be done. We are devastated, like everyone else, by what happened in Connecticut, but doubt that a red carpet arrival for Tarantino’s spaghetti-western ultra-violence-fest has much bearing on it. […]

Stalking the Wild Hobbit

December 4, 2012 Bryce Zabel

I have seen “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and at the risk of bringing down the wrath of dwarves, elves, orcs and even Gandalf, I have to say that I prefer our own Robert Anglim’s Smashup version, “Wild Hobbits” (below).

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a brilliantly mounted film that from a production standpoint must have been a terribly complicated thing to accomplish. But it seems to be too much — too many stunts, too much wall-to-wall swelling music, too many hangs from the cliffs, etc. I agree with the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy who called the film “a bit of a slog.” […]