Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) -vs- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)

December 8, 2011 Eric Volkman

This is not only a spy vs. spy, top-secret Smackdown, it’s a battle pitting a storied author against himself. John Le Carre’s compelling, plot-heavy novels have consistently provided raw material for movies since the mid-1960s, and if the budget of the latest adaptation, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is any indication, that trend is likely to continue for longer than the duration of the Cold War. […]

Contagion (2011) -vs- Outbreak (1995)

September 8, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Remember all the panic and fear about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic a few years ago? Now take that fear and double it, triple it — no, that’s not enough — increase it by a power of ten. Now, maybe, just maybe, you can start to appreciate what might happen if the real thing hits and the worst case isn’t just a scenario.

Or, if that’s too disturbing, you could just go see Contagion or watch Outbreak.

In the mid-’90s, Outbreak was the movie that won a rush-to-film game of chicken after the publication of the book The Hot Zone that had everybody freaking out about how the microbes could inherit the Earth by taking down humankind. It took the sheer paranoia of that scare and tried to amp it up with personal story lines, evil government conspiracies and chases. This year Contagion takes another path, turning its actors into cameo appearances in what looks like a documentary as much as anything. […]

The Debt (2011) -vs- Munich (2005)

August 29, 2011 Eric Volkman

Israel’s Mossad is one of the world’s most effective secret intelligence services. Its agents prowl the globe tracking any potential threat to their country, and keep their hands firmly on their triggers should it become necessary to kill in the name of national security. It’s an organization composed of smart and deadly secret operatives ready to give their lives to protect their nation. At least that’s what Mossad would have us believe.

Hollywood takes a more skeptical view. Are Israeli agents really so bloodless, calculating and effective? Possibly not. In both The Debt and Steven Spielberg’s expensive 2005 drama Munich, a Mossad team struggles with the practical and moral aspects of avenging an injustice done to their country and its people. Blood is spilled and punishments are delivered, but ugly complications ensue. […]

First Person: Going Viral Before Contagion

August 25, 2011 Bryce Zabel

While virtually everyone in the Internet world wants to go viral, back in the real world not everyone is so big on the concept. And for good reason.

Remember how lousy you felt the last time you had the flu? Now imagine that instead of getting better, well, that was it. The End.

The medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control think about such things all the time and, for over a year back in 2005-2006, we also obsessed about how a flu epidemic would change the world.

We came to the conclusion that it would be a pretty rough ride. Rather than expressing our opinions through a strongly worded letter-to-the-editor, though, we got to have our say in a multi-million dollar four-hour television miniseries.

Now, from what we can see of the new feature film Contagion, we feel like we were ahead of our time.

Although the final produced version of our project — Hallmark’s Pandemic — can’t compared to the brilliant production elements (fueled by studio cash and budget) that Steven Soderbergh brings to his version (written by Scott Z. Burns), our take Pandemic (written by Bryce Zabel & Jackie Zabel) won the Writers Guild of America award for “Outstanding Longform Original” in 2008. This means that multiple writers read our script that year and decided that, in our category, ours was the best of the bunch. We were pretty jazzed, we can’t lie about that one. […]

Takers (2010) -vs- The Expendables (2010)

August 27, 2010 Mark Sanchez

Coming back to the Smack is always a pleasure — sometimes eye opening, often inspiring. So what do I get now upon my latest return match? The summer rot. Juvenile comedies, more people biting my neck, or killing me some other way. In a way, it’s like I never left. Two summer action releases prove my point. Takers just opened, showing there’s no honor among thieves but yes, a sense of fashion. And very messy. It’s bound to do strong business in this summer’s soft box office. The Expendables arrived earlier with lots of advance word about its well-known, if not well-acting, cast of movie tough guys. Both films are what they are, without apology or distinction. It presents a different kind of Smackdown: Are these movie retreads worth leaving the house? […]

Piranha 3D (2010) -vs- Jaws (1975)

August 20, 2010 Sherry Coben

It’s summer time. Moviemakers bring out the big scary guns, intent on keeping us onshore and nervous, haunted and thrilled by the wonders of the deep. Monsters keep us coming back to the movies, real and imagined. Aliens from outer space, vampires from Transylvania, toxically enhanced city stompers from Japan. But ah, every summer we turn to the wicked wonders of the briny deep. Jaws started the trend and revisited the franchise until it ran out of teeth. This summer, in a slight, vulgar, and goofy variation on the go-to deep-sea exploitation template, French scaremeister Alexandre High Tension Aja brings us hordes of CGI Piranha. In 3D no less. Thousands of them. Time to break out the big bucks for the funny glasses or catch the 35-year old classic on DVD again? Secure that teeny bikini top. Suck it in for that Speedo. We’re going to the Beach.

In the first few minutes, thousands of prehistoric piranhas are loosed from their prehistoric underworld by a seismic event. Scientists and lawmakers are dispatched. Chaos ensues. In their relentless search for blood and food, these hideous predators terrorize scores of silicone-enhanced Spring Breakers and the pinheads and lunks who writhe with them. Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue plays single mom Sheriff of Lake Victoria. (Lake Victoria’s Secret? A prehistoric lake underneath and not much clothing above water.) Ving Rhames plays her giant deputy. Jerry O’Connell has way more fun than we do playing a super-creepy, tweaking version of Girls Gone Wild’s perpetrator/creator Joe Francis. It’s a whole lot of fun seeing Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss up on the big screen; one wishes they had some better material to sink their teeth into.
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The Most Popular Movie President of All-Time Is…

May 11, 2010 Bryce Zabel

It was Ford in a landslide. Nope, not Ford as in Gerald who lost to Jimmy Carter, but Ford as in Harrison who walked away with our Movie Smackdown presidential poll, taking 26.4% of the votes in a ten-man race.

Ford played President James Marshall in the 1997 film, “Air Force One.” Marshall has just gone to Moscow where he’s told the entire world he will not negotiate with terrorists. Then, on the flight home, Russian neo-nationalists hijack Air Force One forcing an ugly decision on Marshall: give in to terrorist demands or sacrifice not only the country’s dignity, but the lives of his wife and daughter. Well, there is one thing in his favor. He’s a military guy, a winner of the Medal of Honor, and he’s going to fight back.

Apparently we liked this version of the Marshall Plan a lot because when given ten of the top performances by an actor as a president to choose from, our Movie Smackdown voters gave a clear and convincing mandate to Harrison Ford. Here’s our results:
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The Ghost Writer (2010) -vs- Shutter Island (2010)

March 31, 2010 Sherry Coben

In the eyes of many Brits and other Europeans, Tony Blair played W’s lapdog for years, and this film presents a plausible (if a little harebrained and oversimplified) conspiracy theory in explanation. Pierce Brosnan plays the retired Prime Minister with his intellect on dimmer switch and gorgeosity and charisma on overload; it’s an effective and devastating performance and indictment. Echoes of a few other American actor/gladhanding puppethead-turned-politician types were surely no accident either. Olivia Williams plays his compelling Lady MacBeth, and Ewan MacGregor the ghost writer hired to finish the PM’s memoirs; he’s instantly and unwittingly entangled in political intrigue way over his level head. Eli Wallach delivers another terrific cameo; this guy just keeps on working and getting better with advancing age. Every time that now-ancient face appears onscreen, we’re sure it’s the last time we’ll see it, and yet he keeps coming back for more.
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Chloe (2010) -vs- Fatal Attraction (1987)

March 23, 2010 Bryce Zabel

If you’ve ever been loved by somebody too tightly, then you know how scary it could be to let someone in your life and then not know how to extricate yourself from their smothering grasp. The trick in erotic thrillers like “Chloe” and “Fatal Attraction” is execution. Too far on one side of the spectrum, they become cerebral. Too far on the other side, they become unintentionally comedic.

Although “Fatal Attraction” defined this genre back in the late 80s, it’s been re-visited over the years in films like “The Hand That Rocked the Cradle” and “Single White Female,” and now it gets brought to life again in “Chloe.” All I can say before we begin is that seeing these two back-to-back is enough to drive the average person to mandatory background checks on all potential lovers. Be afraid, be very afraid.
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Green Zone (2010) -vs- The Hurt Locker (2009)

March 16, 2010 Beau DeMayo

It’s not a good time for the American occupation of Iraq. The news from “over there” is that the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric who led the Shia insurgency against the American occupation, have emerged as Iraq’s equivalent of the 1994 Republican Party. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Americans voted about Iraq, too, refusing to give “Green Zone” any mandate whatsoever. And, keep in mind that the other Iraq film that just won the Best Picture Oscar, “The Hurt Locker,” basically was one of the worst-peforming winners in that category ever. Maybe it’s just the hot button political sensitivities, war-weariness, or that it is simply “too soon.” Other critics can decide that, however, because here at the Smack, we simply want to know which film about the Iraq War gets it most right, box-office be damned!
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