Toy Story 3 (2010) -vs- Toy Story 2 (1999)

June 18, 2010 Sherry Coben

Daring escapes and rescues are the linchpin of the series; the boundless imagination of children inspires the animators and screenwriters to expand the possibilities of play. The organic extension of pretend and our willingness to suspend any disbelief provide endless delights. As a child, I believed my toys shared a completely full and separate life that occurred in my absence or during my sleep. Perhaps the film’s true magic lies not in suspending disbelief but rather in the extending that simple and universal childhood belief that our toys are alive, that the toys we call our own love us back.
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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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An Education (2009) -vs- Say Anything (1989)

February 16, 2010 Bryce Zabel

Listen up, ‘rents. Being a father is never easy, but being the father of a teenage girl, and trying to get that one right is a true challenge. Both of these films — two decades apart in production dates and period settings — show fathers who, with the best of intentions, get it all wrong, but they get it wrong in exactly opposite ways.

You can care too little and you can care too much. When you’re in the middle of things, it’s not always so easy to see which is which. Believe me, as a father of girl who has just left her teenage years behind, these are matters I’ve thought a little bit about. I keep thinking of the famous Kenny Rogers’ song (“The Gambler,” written by Don Schlitz) that you gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Like that’s easy. Still, what we have here to consider are a couple of fathers who don’t know best, not by a long shot… […]

Precious -vs- Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

February 3, 2010 Bryce Zabel

Sorry. Just can’t do this any more. Can’t waste any more of my precious life energy writing it all out. So, here it is, one last time… all 38 blessed characters…

“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

Okay, we’re done here. From now on, it is the policy of this website to refer to this Oscar nominated film as “Precious.”

How did it happen that a film could be called by a title that sounds this unnecessary and pretentious? After all, all of the films in the “Adapted Screenplay” category could give themselves the same treatment. Then we’d be looking at films like “Up in the Air: Based on the Novel ‘Up in the Air’ by Walter Kim.” Or how would you have liked to see this on the big screen — “Star Trek: Based on the TV Series ‘Star Trek’ by Gene Roddenberry.” Ugh… […]

Extraordinary Measures (2010) -vs- Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)

January 21, 2010 Bryce Zabel

Both movies are all about overcoming the odds and a parent’s love that allows them to suffer anything to help their children. In “Extraordinary Measures,” this involves the Internet but “Lorenzo’s Oil” takes place in the world before all the answers were at your fingertips and, initially, it seems like a tougher problem. God knows it’s hard for an average guy to find venture capital and start a company but it’s not quite the level of problem as actually becoming a scientist and curing a disease. So, in set-up, “Lorenzo’s Oil” has more obstacles but it’s also way more daring with the characters. Although there are characters in “Extraordinary Measures” who aren’t saints (notably, the prickly scientist played by Ford), the parents sure are. “Lorenzo’s Oil,” in contrast, is daring enough to suggest that in this war to save a child that both parents become sort of, well, unlikeable because the stakes are too high to care about being nice. It’s a bold choice. Both films try to strike a balance in not stereotyping the medical establishment as unfeeling money-grubbers and to see them as scientists who are trying to solve a problem by being unbiased in their approach, something that a desperate parents can never really be.
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Up In The Air (2009) -vs- It’s Complicated (2009)

December 30, 2009 Sherry Coben

Finally, it’s awards season again, when the really big guns take aim for our hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. Coming out swinging for the bleachers are two movies made for adults of a certain (middle) age, the demographic that lopes through the rest of the year nearly forgotten, begging for scraps at a table set for callow youth and action figures. George Clooney and Meryl Streep both navigate the rough and increasingly muddied waters of love and commitment, and it’s a thrill to watch them struggle.
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Help Us Crown a Christmas Smackdown Winner!

December 10, 2009 Bryce Zabel

Two years ago, we asked ten of our SmackRefs to each recommend a Christmas film that they have a special fondness for, something that can stand the test of repeat viewing. That poll turned out to be a squeaker with an unexpected winner when the nostalgia-rama “A Christmas Story” edged out traditional favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life” with a strong third place by the relatively new “Love Actually.”
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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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Whip It (2009) -vs- Kansas City Bomber (1972)

October 5, 2009 Bryce Zabel

Roller derby is just one level up from the fake world of professional wrestling, but it’s still a real world. “Kansas City Bomber” isn’t as slick as its competition here, but it feels more real. Do teams really exist in Austin, Texas the way “Whip It” says? Probably not. Ellen Page is good as always, but she feels slight and miscast, seeming like someone who wouldn’t make it five minutes in the world of Raquel’s sport. And, speaking of Raquel, it’s the role of her career. She’s athletic, sexy, aggressive. Before you dismiss it, the uniforms in “Whip It” are far more teasing than anything in “Kansas City Bomber.” When it comes to physical action, it’s done better in “Kansas City Bomber.” Actresses in both films learned to skate, but it was Raquel who played it hard and rough, doing most of her own stunts and breaking her wrist in the process. On the other hand, “Whip It” has Kristen Wiig playing the Raquel single-mom role and she’s awesome.
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