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. […]

Life of Pi (2012) vs. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

November 19, 2012 Sarah Harding

Life, as they say, is a journey, and that’s never so clear as when watching a life story unfold in the hands of a masterful film director. In Life of Pi, the voyage is both literal and symbolic, as the title character is forced to traverse the high seas under Grimms’ fairy tale-like circumstances that must be seen to be — well, if not believed, then at least experienced at a deep level. At the same time, the young, Indian lead character, a devoted spiritual seeker, undergoes an intense inner journey as well.

Slumdog Millionaire, the multi-Academy Award winning 2008 film, similarly explores a young, Indian’s life journey as he navigates the Dickensian streets of Mumbai, constantly relying on his wiles to survive, while also seeking love and, ultimately, fabulous wealth and the respect he deserves. […]

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. […]

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012) -vs- Foster (2011)

August 13, 2012 Sarah Harding

When I first saw the trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green, it seemed so quirky and original that I was surprised to learn it had a perfect Smackdown opponent waiting in semi-obscurity to face off against it. Foster, released in 2011 but only seen by a handful of people — most of them probably in London art houses — is so similar to Timothy Green in concept that I began to question the latter’s provenance. (As it turns out, Timothy is not a recast Yank version of Foster but an original script by director Peter Hedges, from a story by Ahmet Zappa, one of Frank’s kids.) Both films are gentle fairy tales that examine family relationships. Both involve children, who magically appear when they are most needed and manage to teach their troubled adoptive parents a thing or two about love and parenting. Both fathers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs, which the magical children in their lives are also able to help them address. And both are full of hokey life lessons, yet surprisingly are able to touch audiences in a genuinely heartfelt way. […]

People Like Us (2012) -vs- The Descendants (2011)

June 28, 2012 Sarah Harding

Location, location, location. When it comes to dealing with broken families and the secrets that enshroud them, it makes no difference whether you live in La-La Land or blue Hawaii. Reconnecting with the family members you’ve ignored or the one you never knew existed is hard in either case, even if you’re Chris Pine. Yep, George Clooney, too.

While films centered around intense emotion and family dynamics are nothing new, they’re a rarity in these days of car chases, alien invasions and spandex-clad superheroes. Our contestants — People Like Us (2012) and The Descendants (2011) —are both about confronting those issues most of us would rather ignore. Both films are aimed at actual grown-ups — another rarity these days — and each looks at serious issues in distinctly different ways. […]

Brave (2012) -vs- Mulan (1998)

June 21, 2012 Sarah Harding

Once upon a time, animated princess movies were populated by passive heroines waiting to be rescued by noble but bland princes. Disney has made strides toward addressing this anachronism, giving us, among other notable efforts, Mulan (1998), which features a different kind of female lead, one whose strength, cleverness and courage — not her looks or brawny boyfriend — save the day. Of course, the company has long relied on female protagonists of every stripe, dating back to its first animated feature, Snow White, and running the gamut through Bambi, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and on and on. Rival studio Pixar, on the other hand, has never featured a girl or woman in a lead role — until now. […]

John Carter (2012) -vs- Avatar (2009)

March 8, 2012 Sarah Harding

In the genre of 3D outer space shoot-’em-ups, there are two ways to go: Either you’ve got your humans ruthlessly exploiting oddly shaped locals on some distant planet, or vice versa. John Carter chooses the less common scenario, an Earthling being used and abused by aliens for their own purposes, while the defending champion Avatar presents a classic story of corporate greed morphing into cultural affinity. […]

The Grey (2012) -vs- The Edge (1997)

January 27, 2012 Sarah Harding

When it comes to high profile, scenery-chewing actors lost in the wild, Mother Nature sure can be a bitch. In The Grey and The Edge it’s Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and Actors vs. Script. It’s survival of the fittest, Smackdown-style. […]

Red Tails (2012) -vs- Men of Honor (2000)

January 21, 2012 Sarah Harding

A 1925 Army War College study concluded that “blacks are mentally inferior to the white man, by nature subservient… cowardly… and therefore unfit for combat.” The men on whose lives Red Tails and Men of Honor are based set out to disprove that, but they need a leader, someone like Cuba Gooding Jr., who if he wants to, can gleefully shout, “Show me the equality,” and get people to take notice. Damned if Cuba doesn’t take the assignment to make those old, white, Army and Navy dudes look like racist fools! […]

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