The Fault In Our Stars (2014) vs. The Spectacular Now (2013)

June 5, 2014 Arthur Tiersky

You fell in love with her in The Descendants (2011), and then you blinked, and suddenly Shailene Woodley was everywhere.

Just in the past nine months alone, she’s been in two horribly titled romances made from best-selling young-adult novels, both adapted, in fact, by the same writing team, best known for previous Smackdown challenger (500) Days of Summer starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was also the star of 50/50, which shares a theme with…

Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s get on with this week’s bout, as we pit last fall’s The Spectacular Now against current release The Fault in Our Stars. Because if Movie Smackdown didn’t do it, who Woodley?

(Sorry.)
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Her (2013) vs. Lost in Translation (2003)

December 20, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

We here at Smackdown have a soft spot in our hearts for movies about lonely, alienated mopes. This may or may not have something to do with some of us here in Smackland being lonely, alienated mopes, but in any case, we’re all about the Mopelecore movies, and when they’re about how the mopes learn to get out of their mopey shells and embrace the wonders of the world around them, even more so. And when they are brought out of their shells by the likes of Scarlett Johansson? Catnip. Heck, when it’s Scarlett, it doesn’t even have to be a mope, necessarily, it could be some shallow, womanizing, porn-addicted guido for all we care. What we’re getting at here: Consider us Team ScarJo.

But back to the mopes and this week’s Smackdown, in which two Mope-Meets-Jo tales will try to out-sulk each other, and as a special ultra-Smackdown bonus, the writer-directors of each are ex-spouses. Exes fighting each other! Little thing we like to call Ex-Box. (Eh? Eh?)

Anyway… Mopes to your corners! Let’s do this. […]

Don Jon (2013) vs. (500) Days of Summer (2009)

September 26, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

So adorable little Tommy Solomon from 3rd Rock from the Sun is all grown up and is now not only a major movie star but a writing/directing/acting triple threat! This can mean only one thing:

I’m very, very old.

Okay, it can mean more than one thing, such as that the intrepid Joseph Gordon-Levitt is once again stretching his boundaries, bringing him yet another step closer to being King of the Universe. I’ve been a fan of his film work from early on, after he delivered one fearless, commanding and utterly diverse performance after another in the likes of Mysterious Skin (2004), Brick (2005) and The Lookout (2007). Terrific films all, incidentally, which reflects another aspect of JGL that can’t be overstated: The guy has good taste in scripts. Even his more mainstream, bigger-budget projects are a cut above average: He lent valuable support to Inception (2009) and Lincoln (2012), held the center of Looper, one of last year’s highlights, and even his goofy bike-messenger thriller Premium Rush (2012) was way more fun than it had any right to be. […]

The Wolverine (2013) vs. The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)

July 25, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

Movie franchise sequels that send their characters to Japan have a long, honorable history going all the way back to the immortal classic, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978). Primary reason being that obviously, Japan is a timeless go-to source for sinister, evil villains who are martial arts experts.

Actually, I don’t think this was the case at all with The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, but there you have the exception that proves the rule. The point is, this week welcomes a new addition to the genre in the form of The Wolverine, the latest installment in the X-Men spin-off franchise featuring the eponymous Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the most bad-ass and bad-haired of all the lovable mutants, last seen front and center in the lamentable X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). […]

Admission (2013) vs. About a Boy (2002)

March 21, 2013 Lissa Coffey

Even the most intelligent, wealthy, successful adults can be pretty clueless about raising kids. Think about the living hell these folks must endure — all that time, freedom and discretionary income on their hands, but no one for their inner children to play with! Luckily, in the world of producer/director Paul Weitz, there’s always a chance that a kid might unexpectedly enter their lives and rouse them from their self-absorbed, myopic, world view.

Weitz recreates the formula that worked so well in About a Boy in his new romantic comedy, Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. Both movies have appealing stars playing characters who appear polished and competent on the outside, yet who are somewhat damaged and lost on the inside. In both, the protagonist’s world is shaken when a boy comes along to makes them question everything they hold dear. The experiences they go through cause them to change, which in turn causes the people around them to change as well.
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Les Miserables (2012) vs. The Fugitive (1993)

December 24, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Yes, I know, we could have put this operatic soon-to-be blockbuster, Les Miserables, up against any number of period musicals translated to movies, from The King and I to Sound of Music to Moulin Rouge. Or we could have matched it against any of the multitudinous other film adaptations of the Victor Hugo novel or even against the stage musical itself. Someone else with more academic credentials or film school training than we have can dissect those comparisons at another time. (If you can’t wait, there’s always Wikipedia.)

The thing is, as I watched and listened to the sincere musical emoting of the modern Les Miserables at a pre-release screening at the Pacific Design Center theater here in Hollywood, my mind kept trying to focus on the actual story. Namely, the convict Jean Valjean’s flight from the relentless Inspector Javert, who just won’t cut him a break, no matter how many good deeds he’s done or may still do if allowed his freedom. […]

This Is 40 (2012) vs. Meet the Fockers (2004)

December 20, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Comedy is a fragile thing, or so say the experts. One of the most delicate components to making someone laugh is the element of surprise. So what happens when the surprise is gone?

That’s the challenge for comedy sequels. The initial setup and the characters living in it have already been exposed to the audience. In order to even generate a sequel, the original had to be pretty widely seen. When the story is set around a family’s home life, filmmakers and audiences have to ask themselves the question that author Thomas Wolfe once famously answered in the negative: Can you go home again? […]

Life of Pi (2012) vs. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

November 19, 2012 Sarah Harding

Life, as they say, is a journey, and that’s never so clear as when watching a life story unfold in the hands of a masterful film director. In Life of Pi, the voyage is both literal and symbolic, as the title character is forced to traverse the high seas under Grimms’ fairy tale-like circumstances that must be seen to be — well, if not believed, then at least experienced at a deep level. At the same time, the young, Indian lead character, a devoted spiritual seeker, undergoes an intense inner journey as well.

Slumdog Millionaire, the multi-Academy Award winning 2008 film, similarly explores a young, Indian’s life journey as he navigates the Dickensian streets of Mumbai, constantly relying on his wiles to survive, while also seeking love and, ultimately, fabulous wealth and the respect he deserves. […]

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. […]

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