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. […]

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. […]

Skyfall (2012) vs. The Bourne Legacy (2012)

November 8, 2012 Eric Volkman

Two determined superspies, two venerable movie franchises. The more venerable one, James Bond – by some standards, the longest-running film series in history – fattens its library this weekend with the release of Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig, who plays the suave secret agent for only the third time. Fighting in the defending champ’s corner is The Bourne Legacy, featuring a lead character so new, he’s not even named Bourne. Jeremy Renner plays the genetically enhanced secret warrior Aaron Cross, outrunning various government creeps who are trying to assassinate their own man to protect their black-ops program. […]

How I Won the War (1967) vs. The Magic Christian (1969)

October 28, 2012 Mark Sanchez

Because the Beatles both led their times and and lived with the creative and political expectations of them as well, the energy drain from Beatlemania had been significant. By the time these two films were made in the late 1960s, the cracks were already showing — definitely in society but even, now, in the Beatles who were, more than ever, four guys named John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The Beatles had had a mixed film run. Certainly A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965) were commercial and artistic successes for United Artists (see Smackdown here). But following them up with the barely conceived Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and an arm’s length involvement with Yellow Submarine (1968) hardly signaled that the Beatles had gone Hollywood.

All the Beatles toyed with Hollywood as solo artists both behind-the-scenes and in front-of-the-camera. The first to show individual interest, though, were John Lennon in How I Won the War (1967) and Ringo Starr in The Magic Christian (1969). They each acted in an establishment-tweaking, sarcasm-bubbling and sometimes cringe-inducing films that are certainly cultural artifacts.

Want to know which one of those films works so much better than the other? As Paul McCartney wrote in a song he gave Badfinger that went in his buddy Ringo’s film, keep reading and “Come and Get It.” […]

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. […]

Help! (1965) vs. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

October 20, 2012 Shelly Goldstein

Four Working Class Heroes, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, landed on our shores on February 7, 1964, exactly six weeks to the day after an assassin’s magic bullet claimed the life of President John F. Kennedy and threw the U.S. into mourning. America needed to party and try to forget, and these longhairs from Liverpool provided the soundtrack.

Hollywood wanted the “mop-tops” onscreen, and fast! The result was two United Artists films over two years: A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Both were devoured by legions of fans, spawned must-have albums and brought America and rock music, back to life.

Hollywood knew there was big money to be made putting teen idols onscreen and selling the finished product to screaming fans. The film studios had already castrated the King of Rock Elvis Presley after he came back from the army, by cramming him into a series of forgettable romps, re-traced more than they were written. The bar of quality wasn’t exactly high.

But the Beatles managed through talent, pluck and timing to rise above the sheer craven commercialism of the enterprise and make a couple of gems that are still well worth watching today. Our Smackdown then: Which one — A Hard Day’s Night or Help! — packed the definitive pop punch for the ages? Read on… A splendid time is guaranteed for all… […]

Taken 2 (2012) -vs- Taken (2008)

October 4, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

So I mean, if it were me, and I’d just gone on my first vacation to Europe and gotten targeted by the first person I met in France and subsequently kidnapped by sex slave-traders and basically had the most harrowing experience of my life, I probably wouldn’t be going back to Europe any time soon. I don’t care how bad-ass my dad is, or even that he’s played by Liam Neeson. But then, I’m not perky teenager Kim Mills, nor am I Maggie Grace, who has now co-starred as Kim Mills in two movies, despite being more than ten years the character’s senior, so what do I know? […]

HULK SMASH! — The Incredible Hulk (TV Series) (1978-82) -vs- Hulk (2003) -vs- The Incredible Hulk (2008) -vs- The Avengers (2012)

September 4, 2012 Ben Silverio

Back in 2008, the jade giant known as the Incredible Hulk wreaked havoc in the Movie Smackdown arena in a battle that pitted that year’s The Incredible Hulk, featuring Edward Norton, against 2003’s The Hulk, starring Eric Bana. Since then, a new Hulk has emerged on the scene, thanks to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and Mark Ruffalo, so we’re revisiting the battle and kicking it up a notch by throwing Bill Bixby, the first man ever to embody David Bruce Banner on screen, into the mix as well. You might think Bixby has the advantage, since he has Lou Ferrigno in his corner, but don’t count out Bana, Norton and Ruffalo from this fatal four-way just yet.

This fight is so big that we need two Smack refs to officiate over the action. After all, one Hulk destroyed Las Vegas, overthrew an alien planet’s government and became their king, and beat the crap out of his fair share of Earth’s mightiest heroes, so imagine the destruction these four Hulks might cause! […]

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