About Bob Nowotny
Bob is, without a doubt, the one SmackRef who really can pull off wearing a hat. Although his dream to wear the baseball cap of a major league player never materialized (he grounded out in his only at-bat in Wrigley Field against Hall-of-Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins), Bob has found solace in producing four independently-financed feature motion pictures and a number of successful television productions. His work includes The Legend of Billy the Kid — an Emmy Award-winning documentary for Disney.

Rush (2013) vs. Grand Prix (1966)

September 26, 2013 Bob Nowotny

If there’s anything more viscerally exciting than watching Formula 1 auto racing, it’s got to be seeing a great movie about Formula 1 auto racing. The thrill of victory, the agony of premature hearing loss – it’s all there, along with the life-threatening danger, the prestige, and the beautiful women lurking like speed-bumps behind every hairpin turn.

Trouble is, making a great film on this subject is an extremely challenging enterprise. For one thing, F1 is relatively unknown in the United States. There have been very few American drivers, and all of the exotic, outrageously expensive cars are made overseas. For decades, the gold standard for auto racing films was set by visionary director John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, which follows a fictional set of characters during the 1967 F1 season and which thrust James Garner’s impressive early career to an even higher level.

With the maturation of computer graphics and the changing economics of the movie business, which depends more and more on overseas box office, director Ron Howard’s Rush is poised to challenge Grand Prix’s 45-year lead on the Smackdown track. Can Howard’s brand new, true story Rush score the victory? Or does James Garner’s fictional battle for the F1 Championship still have the winning formula?
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Straw Dogs (2011) -vs- Straw Dogs (1971)

September 12, 2011 Bob Nowotny

Now, after a summer of sequels that did little to further movie franchises or the film business in general, comes a remake of Straw Dogs, the 1971 classic considered by some critics to be among the most visceral and memorable statements regarding violence ever put on the screen. Then again, what else would you expect from the maestro of malignant mayhem, the irrepressible Sam Peckinpah?

The updated remake is helmed by journalist/film critic-turned-director Rob Lurie. How does it compare? Can Lurie teach an old Dog new tricks? Like Westminster, this “best in show” is winner take all. […]

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) -vs- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

July 31, 2011 Bob Nowotny

It’s the Harrison Comparison – two big-budget, high-energy, studio-produced, action adventure yarns starring a Ford with enough miles on him to qualify not only for Triple-A, but AARP as well. I don’t know about you, but I love being taken for a ride (unless it involves a Mexican cartel), and this summer the silver screen is besotted with a plethora of eye-popping, CGI-infested mega-movies starring comic book heroes and video icons. But only one has its roots firmly planted in the wild, wild West – the two-genres-in-a-blender contender, Cowboys & Aliens.

And who better than Mr. Harrison Ford to lead the way? After all, with the Indiana Jones franchise, Ford has proven himself over and over again to be America’s reigning cinema swashbuckler. The fourth and most recent edition of that series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, serves as our Champion for the purpose of this Smackdown by virtue of its own alien storyline..

Two Harrison Ford genre-mashing period pieces, bothvfeaturing an other-worldly presence. They say the hat makes the man, so which one of Ford’s fedoras will prevail in this head-to-head duel? The 10-gallon Stetson? Or the wool felt homburg? […]

Wyatt Earp (1994) -vs- Tombstone (1993)

June 29, 2011 Bob Nowotny

A 30-second gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 propelled sometime-lawman Wyatt Earp to legendary status as one of the West’s toughest badges, but it wasn’t until the early days of the Clinton Administration that two films both took aim at each other at high noon to tell the modern version of his story.

Firing the first shot was Tombstone. Then, mere months later, Wyatt Earp rode into movie theaters throughout North America. The decision was split among movie critics and audiences: those who strongly prefered Tombstone and those who strongly maintained that Wyatt Earp was the superior product.

It had been quite some time since Hollywood had cranked out a big budget Western, much less two. The arrival of both these feature films was eagerly anticipated. What had once been among the most popular and durable of all film genres clearly needed a big boost. While both of these films experienced a similarly challenging road from development to the big screen, both were blessed with a solid cast and plenty of pistol-packin’ mayhem. […]

The Beaver (2011) -vs- Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

May 10, 2011 Bob Nowotny

Step aside Wilson and Harvey — here come Bianca and the Beaver in a couple of remarkable movies that feature inanimate creatures as key co-stars. Bianca and the Beaver — there’s probably a good joke or two there somewhere, but, surprisingly, these films are not comedies.

Both The Beaver and Lars and the Real Girl are each based on a highly regarded, original screenplay — the first was Oscar nominated, the most recent one once famously topped Hollywood’s “Black List” for best unproduced script. And neither movie relies on CGI — now that is remarkable.

Both films explore the complexity of extreme personal demons brought on by feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression. Each one has also been accused of being over-the-top: their lead characters certainly have the potential to come across not so much compelling as uncomfortable. And there is the Mel Gibson-factor.

So it’s a testament to the screenwriters, the directors and the actors that both motion pictures are also solid dramas with heart and soul. They are character-studies of two men seeking to re-discover themselves, their families and the outside world. […]

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) -vs- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

June 15, 2009 Bob Nowotny

Both films share the same basic underlying premise from the novel by John Godey. And Godey’s premise is a goody — four gunmen hijack a New York City subway train and demand a huge ransom be paid within the hour. The money must not be late in arriving because for every minute thereafter, one of the hostages will be shot. No exceptions. What ensues is a deadly cat and mouse game of verbal sparring between the leader of the highly armored gang and the unlucky transit official who must do everything possible to delay the inevitable. It’s said that Benito Mussolini kept the trains running on time. Does Tony Scott do the same for the New York Transit Authority? Or is the original the better ride? It’s time to get out the subway tokens — all aboard!
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The Prestige (2006) -vs- The Illusionist (2006)

January 17, 2009 Bob Nowotny

Over the hundred-plus years of cinematic history, there has been enough movie magic to create a worldwide love affair with film. Surprisingly, however, since the laterna magica first began projecting moving images, there have been remarkably few movies about magic.

The year 2006 was an exception, with the near-simultaneous release of two excellent films about 19th century professional prestidigitators — The Illusionist and The Prestige. For someone who loves magic and sleight of hand, this was a banner year worth sharing. While The Prestige made more money at the domestic box-office, approximately $53 million vs. $40 million, The Illusionist cost considerably less to make — $16.5 million vs. $39 million. Based on their return on investment, and the fact that The Illusionist was also the first to appear on the nation’s screens in 2006, we’ll give The Illusionist the designation of “Defending Champion,” and The Prestige our “Challenger” position. Now that our rivals are in their respective corners, let’s get out the wands and let the magic begin. […]

The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) -vs- The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

December 12, 2008 Bob Nowotny

A few years ago, Klaatu and Gort made their way back to the ‘hood, thanks to the mega-budget re-make of The Day The Earth Stood Still. The duo arrived, over five decades after the original, with every intention of forcing some extra-terrestrial “tough love” on us.

Keanu Reeves stuck his chest out and stepped into the lead role made famous in 1951 by Michael Rennie, joined in this go-round by Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, and surprisingly, John Cleese. Certainly, the overall production and effects budget makes possible images never even imagined back in near post-war filmmaking.

But can all this money and contemporary talent add up to make this new The Day The Earth Stood Still as enduringly memorable as the old The Day The Earth Stood Still that graced the world’s screens during the height of Cold War paranoia? […]

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