Alice in Wonderland (2010) -vs- Avatar (2009)

March 16, 2010 Sherry Coben

I confess I’d happily watch Johnny Depp read a phone book, but even accounting for my extreme prejudice, his performance as the Mad Hatter is the linchpin of the piece. He is its heart, its Scarecrow, its Tin Man. Acting through crazily tinted contacts and a crowning frizz of unfortunate and unearthly ginger, Depp somehow manages to play a compelling leading man, a romantic lead, and an action hero. (His promised triumphant Futterwacken is a dire misfire and huge disappointment, a limp noodle of a magical victory dance.)
The rest of the cast performs admirably enough. Anne Hathaway Glindas it up as the White Queen, Crispin Glover plays the Knave of Hearts as elongated creepy courtier, and Helena Bonham Carter goes ghostly pale once again, this time a vain and giant-noggined Red Queen. She’s delicious and mordantly funny, and her decapitated head-filled moat provides enough nightmare food to keep kiddie nightlights burning for a good long time.
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The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) -vs- Twilight (2008)

November 25, 2009 Rodney Twelftree

In the battle of the varied mythological creations, Vampires have for centuries captured the imagination of people around the world. Novels, films, theatrical productions and poorly-decorated costume shops have enjoyed success based upon their existence, proven or not. Likewise the Werewolf, natural enemy of the Vampire, whose moonlit howl still sends a tremor down the back of even the most hardened myth-lover. Bringing these two epic creatures together in one film franchise has most of the female population of our planet all in a tizz. Why? Are the men they encounter in the real world really that bad?
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Where The Wild Things Are (2009) -vs- The Wizard of Oz (1939)

October 18, 2009 Sherry Coben

Both films adapt difficult and brilliant works of children’s literature and manage to exceed any expectations, evoking and exploring themes only hinted at in the original texts. Both films achieve a technical excellence and rare beauty that thrills and ignites our passion for storytelling on the silver screen. Both films accurately capture the complicated and often overlooked dark sides of childhood; adults see what they want to see and recall what they want to recall. Children can seem to them simplified little people, easy to control. Children feel their feelings deeply and powerfully though; the less they are seen, the more powerfully they ache to be seen clearly. Attention deficit is the usual diagnosis when children misbehave; children want to be seen and heard and attended.
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Inglourious Basterds (2009) -vs- Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

August 22, 2009 Bryce Zabel

In the last two years, two high-profile directors, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, each gave a shot at putting their own brand on a World War II movie, no doubt because of the lure of working with badass villains and ass-kicking good guys, even though the risk for both was they had to operate under the suppressing fire of Steven Spielberg… incoming…
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The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) -vs- Crimson Tide (1995)

June 24, 2009 Bryce Zabel

People trapped inside the cold steel of big machines. Check.

Ticking clocks relentlessly counting down to disaster. Check.

Battles of will between A-list actors. Check again.

Director Tony Scott must have known he had a good thing in 1995’s Crimson Tide and was looking to repeat it with this year’s re-make of the classic The Taking of Pelham 123. As far as action directors go, Scott (brother of Ridley) is in the very elite. He makes movies that are almost always worth the price of a ticket at the cineplex. The best are tense, scary, hard-edged ones where his screenwriters give him high stakes and the dialogue to support them (often for Denzel Washington) and then he paces the hell out of the film itself. We have a real fight on our hands with some Scott-on-Scott violence. […]

Up (2009) -vs- Wall-E (2008)

June 22, 2009 Stephen Bell

A year ago on this very site, a small, garbage-collecting robot named “Wall-E” dethroned the king of computer animation, Pixar’s beloved “Toy Story.” The film found gigantic success, being hailed by critics, winning the Academy Award for best animated feature and receiving a nomination for Best Screenplay. “Wall-E” transformed the genre and pushed the limits of innovation and creativity. Now, a year after its historical upset, “Wall-E” stands ready to defend its title against the newest of Pixar’s animated giants, the high-flying adventure story “Up.” Headlining opening night of the Cannes Film Festival, a feat never before accomplished by an animated feature (let alone an American one,) “UP” and its cast of elderly men, children and talking dogs (you heard me) have entered the world of cinema at full steam, their focus fixed solely on taking our favorite robot’s crown. Will “Wall-E” have enough strength to put down its first challenger, or will his reign prove a short one? Let’s find out!
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Contact (1997) -vs- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977 | 1980 | 1998)

June 20, 2009 Bryce Zabel

If you’re old enough to remember the marketing campaign for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” then you’ll remember the goosebumps you got when you heard the phrase, We are not alone. What was great about that simple sentence was that it promised a movie about aliens that was about wonder and mystery and wasn’t about the same old Hollywood treatment of life in the universe, namely that if it bothered to interact with humans it was for a nefarious reason, like “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds.” Twenty years after “CE3” came another film that promised to make first contact a matter of humanity’s growth out of the cradle and not some intergalactic cage match. Both “CE3” and “Contact” were aliens for smart people brought to you first by the immense talent of Steven Spielberg and later by the immense intellect of Carl Sagan. In my Hollywood career, I’ve had the good fortune to discuss UFOs and extraterrestrial life with both of these men and found them to have some very different visions of the subject. They each have used film to express their views about life as it might exist “out there.” The question is, which version comes closest to what might be the truth about first contact, and which one is the better film?
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