The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978) vs. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

November 5, 2012 Shelly Goldstein

Beatlemania didn’t just consume Baby Boomers; it defined them. When the band broke up in 1970, their split caused a seismic generational depression as powerful as the surge of joy that began the night of Sunday, February 9, 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show. So, it was no surprise that the Beatles’ already legendary status proved to be fertile soil for comic parody, inspiring a classic docu… excuse me, mockumentary, built around the greatest Fab Faux band that never was: the Rutles. In turn, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, opened the door for yet another fake documentary set in the music world: This Is Spinal Tap, the first feature directed by Rob Reiner.

The Rutles clearly took aim at the Beatles, whereas Spinal Tap focused on a band of mindless metal-head morons. Neither film was what you would call a hit when it premiered. One ran as a network TV special, finishing last in the week’s ratings, and the other was a theatrical comedy that most people didn’t realize was a joke. Yet both today are considered classics of their time, because they were able to capture the massive cultural energy surrounding the British Invasion of the ’60s, lovingly embrace it, and then turn it ever so slightly onto its ear. […]

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… […]

The Monkees: Image -vs- Reality

March 7, 2012 Brad Markowitz

But then again, maybe there’s another way to view The Monkees phenomenon — as a clever, self-referential parody that may have been as much of a road map to “Spinal Tap” and Sascha Baron Cohen as “A Hard Day’s Night” was to The Monkees. After all, it wasn’t just a show about a rock band. It was a show about a rock band trying to make it as a rock band. If you look closely enough, you can see little, veiled digs at the music industry’s shallowness, the glam world of Hollywood, and the hypocrisy of society — all artfully buried in the silly, comedic plots. […]

Joyful Noise (2012) -vs- Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)

January 19, 2012 Ben Silverio

As the Blues Brothers once learned, the Lord works in mysterious ways. But who would have thought that those mysterious ways involved sassy, singing ladies of a Southern black choir? Probably Jake, actually. He had some foresight. In today’s Smack, we hear the two veteran voices of Queen Latifah and Whoopi Goldberg, along with their choirs, going toe to toe… or rather, chord to chord. We have the new, gospel musical, Joyful Noise, taking on everyone’s favorite singing nun (suck it, Sound of Music!) in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. […]

Footloose (2011) -vs- Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)

October 17, 2011 Ben Silverio

Mixed Martial Arts is often used inside the squared circle to throw off an opponent in a match. It includes many styles, such as boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, kickboxing, karate, and judo. But for this Smackdown, in this ring, we get a whole new style of combat: dance.

Two titans of dance-flick franchises, Footloose and Dirty Dancing, are squaring off. […]

Get Him To The Greek (2010) -vs- Almost Famous (2000)

June 6, 2010 Sherry Coben

The world is getting worse. I realize that my perception is colored by my advancing age and my own inevitable glorification of the halcyon days past, but I think it’s also true. The world is less civilized, less kind, less gentle, and the vulgarization of popular taste is either an unhappy result or partial cause of the precipitous downslide. Judd Apatow’s films capture something in the culture that grates on me; they have heart, but they also try to deliver on a boyish crudeness, an acceptance of careless behavior with little to no consequence. It’s the having it both ways that rankles so much; I would pay no attention to these films at all if they didn’t try so hard to be sweet. But the sweetness is buried in so much profanity and offensiveness; not liking these films makes me feel like a prude, and that’s not a feeling I enjoy. I don’t think I’m being a prude when I object to portraying heroin use and trafficking as a comic convention; there’s nothing funny about forcing an employee to shove a baggie of heroin up his ass while in line at an airport. I’m sorry. That’s not okay with me. The fact that the movie makes that incident not just okay but just another story beat in its salacious, bawdy, saucy naughtiness concerns me. Forcing that same someone to use a cocktail of drugs including meth and heroin strikes me as even more appalling. Making light of such drug abuse is just plain wrong.
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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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Bright Star (2009) -vs- Impromptu (1991)

January 26, 2010 Sherry Coben

Ah, consumption. That most romantic and cinematic of slow fades. Think Camille. Two wildly talented love objects with fatally bad lungs compete for this particular smackdown crown. It’s Frederic Chopin versus Bright Star John Keats in a death-baiting battle of ill-fated geniuses, fighting for every breath, playing fast and loose with history, and winning lovely lady hearts as they struggle for ours. I dare you to find two more gorgeous grandees, two saintlier objects of obsession in all filmdom. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
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The Soloist (2009) -vs- Shine (1996)

April 26, 2009 Mark Sanchez

“The Soloist” tells a story about extraordinary gifts connected to a very compromised life. If this sounds like something straight from the headlines, it should. LA Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote about a man who changed his life, first encountered in a skid row plaza near a statue of Beethoven.
What follows is complicated like any messy life, and it will have you wondering: Haven’t I seen something like this already?
Yes. You have. Director Scott Hicks brought us “Shine” in 1996, earning Geoffrey Rush a Best Actor Oscar in a well-made, well-regarded film that touched many of the elements now reworked by “The Soloist.”
Both stories tell us about real people who inspire and piss off their friends in roughly equal measure. Both will open the eyes and heart. Does one create a more indelible portrait of dignity among people who are only too human? That’s our Smackdown.
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