Reign Over Me (2007) -vs- Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

September 6, 2011 Mark Sanchez

Many of us now mark time pre-9/11 and post-9/11. Horrific events that day took nearly 3000 lives and altered history. It’s been 10 years. Americans and others now regard their sense of national identity and personal security much differently. Films have stepped up to reinterpret that moment when everything changed. Dozens of movies, large and small, offer stylized reminders of events and their effects on people. Most tell us something important about a seismic shift we’ll never forget.

This Smackdown revisits 9/11 films sitting at either end of the heartbreak spectrum: One contender focuses on the big picture for all of us. The other dramatizes how those weighty events affect one person. […]

Exporting Raymond (2011) -vs- Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

August 1, 2011 Arthur Tiersky

Two very funny men – the co-creator/show-runner of one of the best sitcoms of the last two decades, and the writer/director/star of some of the best movie comedies of the previous two decades – are sent to seemingly unfunny countries on the other side of the globe, both in hopes that their humor is universal enough to withstand translation and jump cultural boundaries, and both in for a series of surprises, disappointments, and comic adventures.

Phil Rosenthal’s documentary Exporting Raymond, a wise-ass chronicle of his consulting gig on the Russian version of his iconic, long-running show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is now out on video (as of Aug. 2) after a brief theatrical run. Is it the exercise in whiny narcissism it probably sounds like? And more to the point, does it cover the same sort of gefilte-fish-out-of-water territory that Albert Brooks covered in his (fictional) Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)? Is this deja vu all over again?

Grab a bowl of borscht and a dish of saag paneer, and sit back and enjoy an international Smackdown about the wonderful universality of comedy. Or lack thereof. […]

African Cats (2011) -vs- Oceans (2010)

April 24, 2011 The FilmGuru

If Disney has learned anything over the years, it’s that lions are kings at the box office. So the House of Mouse has gone back to Africa this year to bring us a new documentary about the king of the beasts. But from a different point of view. Don’t expect to see any singing warthogs or meerkats. This is a true story of life on the Savannah.

A few years ago, The Walt Disney Company established a new film label called Disneynature — with a mission to distribute nature documentaries like the old “True-Life Adventures” back in the 1950s. In a stroke of marketing genius, they tied the film releases to coincide with Earth Day. The first, appropriately titled Earth, came out in 2009. The next year, they released Oceans. These films looked at our planet in a new way, and they examined our influence on our environment.

It has become a tradition with my family to celebrate Earth Day each year with an outing to the theater to see the latest Disneynature release. This year, we continued with African Cats, a film that examines the lives of the lions and cheetahs of the Kenyan wilderness. […]

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010) -vs- The September Issue (2009)

July 14, 2010 Sherry Coben

Joan Rivers has lived a long life full of public peaks and valleys characterized by a seemingly indomitable spirit that is more than matched with an undimmed, keen intelligence and canny rebound. This documentary follows this remarkable septuagenarian through a year of huge risks. It doesn’t even touch on her breakthrough QVC savvy or her single-handed revolutionizing of the celebrity fashion world; we see her stand-up, still remarkably raw and fearless and funny. We travel onstage with her; her non-stop schedule takes her to the most unfortunate dives in the remotest of towns and to huge venues more suitable to her stature. Through it all, she tells us everything and nothing; we learn much about her, but ultimately, the mystery of another person remains there just within and just beyond our grasp. We get hints as to what exactly makes this particular human dynamo tick so long and so loud, but like her very familiar and forever-morphing face, the secrets of her undeniable pain and struggle, while glaringly right there in front of us, remain hers. We want to reach out to her and thank her, to hug her, to provide her a moment’s peace, but alas…this life force goes it (unstoppably and perhaps unreachably) alone.
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Please Give (2010) -vs- Babies (2010)

May 14, 2010 Sherry Coben

Women’s breasts appear in a lot of movies. A lot. Usually, they’re gratuitous. Gratuitous, pneumatically enhanced and phony, fetishized dangling orbs meant to entice, designed for ogling. There. I’ve got your attention and I didn’t even have to unbutton my blouse. The breasts featured prominently in these two Smackdown contenders are all real and as far from exploitation as one could imagine. In the startling opening frames of “Please Give,” a series of disembodied, wordless and vulnerable milk glands get gently slapped, manipulated, and arranged under the harshest fluorescents. Readied for their respective mammograms, these random fleshy bundles of ducts and veins and possible disease are hardly ready for their decisively, definitively, defiantly unglamorous close-ups, and the tone is set. The bar is raised. In the remarkable French documentary “Babies,” mothers’ breasts appear frequently and utterly without the usual fanfare and sexual context. We’re on sacred ground, people. These movies weren’t made for teenage boys and the arrested men they’re destined to become. These films celebrate the human condition with honesty, integrity and very rare courage indeed.
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Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) -vs- The Hobart Shakespeareans (2005)

February 20, 2010 Sherry Coben

“Anvil! The Anvil Story” takes so many untelegraphed turns that it’s impossible to predict. The most unexpected thing is how inexplicably sweet the guys are, how truly touching their hopes and dreams, and how much we pull for them to make it on their terms. The filmmaker masterfully builds the narrative, adding salient biographical details and snippets of interviews captured on the fly, dropped like tantalizing breadcrumbs on our journey. I’m far from a metalhead; I’d never even heard of Anvil before seeing this documentary. Like another terrific metal band documentary, “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” this film doesn’t pander to fans. It goes deep and leaves us thinking about our own lives, our own relationships, and even – gulp – the meaning of life. Who’d a thunk it?
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