MARVEL v DC: The Ultimate Movie Smackdown

April 16, 2016 Bryce Zabel

Forget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Old news. In fact, forget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice v Captain America: Civil War. Soon to be old news. Those films are just the surrogates fighting when the real war is something much larger. We’re talking about universes in collision. This is really the one for the ages, “Marvel v DC.” […]

Nightcrawler (2014) vs. Zodiac (2007)

October 31, 2014 Arthur Tiersky

If we’ve learned anything over the years from movies about journalists, reporters and TV newspeople, it’s that theirs is a world of ethical and psychological pitfalls. One day, you’re an upstanding citizen doing your job, investigating and helping keep the public apprised of current events, and then, suddenly you’re Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole (1951), deliberately manipulating your story to create and prolong the media circus surrounding it. Or you’re Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005), befriending a convicted murderer but privately rooting for his execution. Or you’re Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), ingesting so many intoxicants that you miss the story entirely. Or you’re Hayden Christensen in Shattered Glass (2003) and just flat out making shit up. […]

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. […]

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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The Wolverine (2013) vs. The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)

July 25, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

Movie franchise sequels that send their characters to Japan have a long, honorable history going all the way back to the immortal classic, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978). Primary reason being that obviously, Japan is a timeless go-to source for sinister, evil villains who are martial arts experts.

Actually, I don’t think this was the case at all with The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, but there you have the exception that proves the rule. The point is, this week welcomes a new addition to the genre in the form of The Wolverine, the latest installment in the X-Men spin-off franchise featuring the eponymous Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the most bad-ass and bad-haired of all the lovable mutants, last seen front and center in the lamentable X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). […]

Man of Steel (2013) vs. Superman: The Movies (1978/1980)

June 13, 2013 Bryce Zabel

It’s axiomatic when discussing Superman to know that the only one who can give Superman a fair fight is himself, or a close approximation of himself. That’s why the comics, TV and film have consistently given us Evil Superman, Clone Superman, Bizarro Superman and, of course, Other Kryptonian Supermen.

The latter, of course, is what drove the Richard Donner-directed first two Superman films in 1978 and 1980, with the climactic arrival of General Zod and his superpowered villains, all of whom with the same powers as Superman, released from the Phantom Zone. Now, along comes Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder, who has taken the action of those Donner Supermans (Superman: The Movie and Superman II), smashed them into a single movie’s length, and filtered them through a dark prism.

It’s a fair fight then. Superman-vs.-Zod vs. Superman-vs.-Zod. By Krypton, let these games begin! […]

After Earth (2013) vs. Oblivion (2013)

May 31, 2013 Bryce Zabel

The latest trend in sci-fi seems to be returning to a post-apocalyptic Earth, trashed after a run-in with extraterrestrials, and still coming out on top. Both Tom Cruise with Oblivion and Will Smith with After Earth have taken a crack at it. As opposed to other apocalyptic visions from recent years, like The Road and Book of Eli, which basically say once things go south on us, we land in a shithole we’re not likely to recover from, these two new contenders in the realm of post-Earth survival manage to leap past tragic events to a time of return where the technology still works, people persevere somewhere else, and the home planet needs some serious saving.
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Oz the Great and Powerful (2012) vs. The NeverEnding Story (1984)

March 7, 2013 Eric Volkman

Let’s exit Earth for a while and travel to colorful lands distant from our own. Our contestants in this Smack are a pair of big-budget fantasy epics adapted from popular books. Hailing from storm-wracked Kansas is our challenger, Oz the Great and Powerful, a reimagining of one of the most beloved family films of all time. In this new version, our focus has shifted to the title character, a two-bit carnival magician with a grand stage name. He’s transported to the vibrant land bearing his name and gets thrown into a civil war among several bickering witches.

Flying in from Germany on a giant talking dog is The NeverEnding Story, in which a lonely young boy borrows and reads a book described by its seller as “unsafe.” And we all know what happens when a little boy reads an unsafe book, right? Of course — he gets dragged into the proceedings himself, which in this case means a fight between a fantasy kingdom and a scary black void that threatens to engulf that happy society. […]

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) vs. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

February 14, 2013 Eric Volkman

What’s better than an adventure movie featuring a rugged, two-fisted hero? An adventure movie featuring a father and son team of rugged, two-fisted heroes, of course. Today’s competitors are a pair of sequels, each of which brings either a progenitor or an offspring into the proceedings. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – the third Indy movie and last one before that set of films’ loooong hiatus and better-forgotten, 2008 finale – everybody’s favorite archeologist is joined by his grumpy dad Dr. Henry Jones Sr., played by Sean Connery (you did know that Indy’s real name is Henry, right?).

It’s a Russian family reunion in A Good Day to Die Hard, with the apparently immortal John McClane (Bruce Willis, if you’ve been living in a cave until now) journeying to Moscow to connect with son Jack (Jai Courtney), a visit which immediately triggers nearly two hours of Die Hardish firefights, chases and explosions. […]

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. […]

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