Her (2013) vs. Lost in Translation (2003)

December 20, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

We here at Smackdown have a soft spot in our hearts for movies about lonely, alienated mopes. This may or may not have something to do with some of us here in Smackland being lonely, alienated mopes, but in any case, we’re all about the Mopelecore movies, and when they’re about how the mopes learn to get out of their mopey shells and embrace the wonders of the world around them, even more so. And when they are brought out of their shells by the likes of Scarlett Johansson? Catnip. Heck, when it’s Scarlett, it doesn’t even have to be a mope, necessarily, it could be some shallow, womanizing, porn-addicted guido for all we care. What we’re getting at here: Consider us Team ScarJo.

But back to the mopes and this week’s Smackdown, in which two Mope-Meets-Jo tales will try to out-sulk each other, and as a special ultra-Smackdown bonus, the writer-directors of each are ex-spouses. Exes fighting each other! Little thing we like to call Ex-Box. (Eh? Eh?)

Anyway… Mopes to your corners! Let’s do this. […]

American Hustle (2013) vs. The Informant (2009)

December 12, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

Who doesn’t love Matt Damon and Christian Bale?

(Okay, probably this guy doesn’t love Bale so much, and Minnie Driver still might be holding a grudge against Damon…But just go with me on this…)

And who doesn’t love when big stars like Matt Damon and Christian Bale ugly themselves up with bad hairpieces and weight gains and cheesy facial hair for a scruffy little indie role?

And who doesn’t love period offbeat indie comedies based on true stories in which the aforementioned uglied-up big stars like Matt Damon and Christian Bale play real-life dudes who started working undercover with the Feds to catch criminals, only to turn out to be unreliable and devious and driven by their own agendas?

And who doesn’t love when original mavericks of low-budget filmmaking like Steven Soderbergh and David O. Russell return to their indie roots and make…what I just said above? […]

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) vs. Philadelphia (1993)

October 30, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

As the anniversary of the release of Philadelphia approaches, let’s take a moment to consider just what the apparent requirements were for a major studio to be bold enough to make a movie about homosexuality and AIDS back in 1993:

Both leads had to be played by huge stars, and the villain played by one of our most beloved character actors. The director had to have come off an enormous smash that had just swept the Oscars. The opening theme song had to be supplied by the ultimate blue-collar, all-American pop star. The protagonist could be gay, but only if counter-balanced by the other lead being a raging homophobe, and the protagonist and his lover (played by an international star himself) could not only never be seen in bed together, but could never be seen sharing more than a chaste slow-dance.

So admittedly, as envelope-pushing on this topic goes, Philadelphia may not be viewed on the level of, say, Brokeback Mountain (2005), but it’s entirely fair to say that Philadelphia made Brokeback Mountain possible, as well as the current release, Dallas Buyers Club. So what better way for the newborn to pay tribute to its spiritual grandfather than to throw them into the ring for a face-off?
[…]

All is Lost (2013) vs. Gravity (2013)

October 26, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

Lost at sea.

Lost in space.

Adrift alone in a vast ocean, the helpless victim of a freak accident.

Adrift alone in the cosmos… same dealio.

Man vs. Nature.

Woman vs. Nature.

One of the top movie stars of the ’70s, holding the screen all by himself for an entire film.

One of the top movie stars of the last 20 years, holding the screen all by her… well, okay, she’s got help, so we’ll stop there, but the point is, these two thematically similar movies of survival are facing off at your local cineplex as we speak. One is a studio blockbuster on its way to being among the year’s biggest hits, the other is a modest indie seeking sleeper success, and both seem destined for Oscar attention and rivalry, but in the meantime, let’s sit back and watch Gravity and All is Lost duke it out, keeping in mind that here at Smackdown, movie titles are not necessarily spoilers. […]

Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas? (2013) vs. 11/22/63: A Novel (2012)

October 18, 2013 Alan Caldwell

The date is indelibly etched in the memories of everyone who was alive then: 11/22/63. Until 9/11, it was the most shocking, tragic, unimaginably ghastly national event we had witnessed. In the half-century since, what Boomer hasn’t wondered how the Sixties might have improved if President Kennedy’d had the opportunity to complete two terms in office, and not just 1000 days. Sure, we still got the Beatles and the Apollo mission, and on LBJ’s watch the Civil Rights movement blossomed, but then we got mired in Vietnam and Watergate and even more, horrid assassinations.

The assassination also produced a cottage-industry of JFK-themed films and books, ranging from memoirs to analyses of his life and legacy, but by far the most prevalent have been those that (like Oliver Stone’s JFK) have questioned the Warren Commission’s report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Many of these works also speculate about JFK’s second administration and how it would have changed history.

For this special, bonus-edition Smackdown, we’ve got heavyweight champion Stephen King going mano-a-mano with none other than Señor Smackdown himself, Bryce Zabel. What makes this pairing especially juicy is that, though both contenders are no strangers to producing award-winning popular film/TV entertainment — a remake of King’s Carrie, based on his debut novel, is once again rattling theatergoers — we’re taking a rare detour into the universe of literature. […]

12 Years a Slave (2013) vs. Django Unchained (2012)

October 17, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

One’s about a free man who becomes a slave, the other’s about a slave who becomes a free man!

One’s a searing historical drama, the other’s an intense but goofy action-comedy!

One’s a bona fide Oscar magnet, the other’s already won two Oscars!

One’s written and directed by black men, the other’s written and directed by a white man who’s spent his career trying to be a black man!

One is Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, the other is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained! […]

Captain Phillips (2013) vs. United 93 (2006)

October 10, 2013 Lynda Karr

What does Paul Greengrass have against public transportation anyway? In both United 93 and his new film, Captain Phillips, Greengrass puts the fear of God into anyone about to take a flight or sail on a cargo ship. And that’s not to mention the vehicles that come under assault in his Jason Bourne movies.

Greengrass got his start in horror and then documentaries, and those early skills are in ample evidence here. In the celluloid world of Paul Greengrass, clench your fists and swallow hard, because good guy or bad, the characters are very human, and you’re about to go through hell with them. As they make preparations for the day ahead, maybe planning a trip, going to work or saying a prayer, the scenes build on one another, and the ordinary grows more and more ominous. […]

The Drop: What’s New in Theaters, Disc and Digital? 10-4-13

October 4, 2013 Lynda Karr

Check The Drop to see what’s new in theaters, disc and digital each week. Click below for theater showtimes. If you’d rather stay home, check out Armchair Smack, where we suggest alternatives to each week’s theatrical releases. Choose one or see both, and then Smack us in the comments section below and let us know how they compare. […]

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) vs. Finding Neverland (2004)

October 1, 2013 Sarah Harding

Ah, the holiday season. What better time to take in a couple of films brimming with magic, wonder and childlike innocence? Especially when one whitewashes the story of a Machiavellian anti-Semite who played a role in the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and the other glosses over some nasty allegations of pedophilia?

Of course, our two Smack opponents have more in common than just some behind-the-scenes ugliness. Both the newly released Saving Mr. Banks and Finding Neverland, a holiday offering from 2004, are also lovingly crafted odes to the transformative power of the imagination. Each sheds light on the creation of a brilliant and enduring children’s story, illustrating how the authors’ unhappy personal lives ignite their work. And both succeed so well on their own terms that they can be forgiven for their historical oversights. […]

Don Jon (2013) vs. (500) Days of Summer (2009)

September 26, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

So adorable little Tommy Solomon from 3rd Rock from the Sun is all grown up and is now not only a major movie star but a writing/directing/acting triple threat! This can mean only one thing:

I’m very, very old.

Okay, it can mean more than one thing, such as that the intrepid Joseph Gordon-Levitt is once again stretching his boundaries, bringing him yet another step closer to being King of the Universe. I’ve been a fan of his film work from early on, after he delivered one fearless, commanding and utterly diverse performance after another in the likes of Mysterious Skin (2004), Brick (2005) and The Lookout (2007). Terrific films all, incidentally, which reflects another aspect of JGL that can’t be overstated: The guy has good taste in scripts. Even his more mainstream, bigger-budget projects are a cut above average: He lent valuable support to Inception (2009) and Lincoln (2012), held the center of Looper, one of last year’s highlights, and even his goofy bike-messenger thriller Premium Rush (2012) was way more fun than it had any right to be. […]

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