Deja Vu (2006) -vs- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

June 18, 2009 Bryce Zabel

If people from the future could travel back to the past, wouldn’t they have already done it? Would it be better to see into the past or into the future? Do they both exist simultaneously, along with the present, because time is relative to where you are? If you like these kinds of questions, we have a couple of films to really put your through Olympic-sized paces in the Suspension of Disbelief event. We’ve put a couple of major star vechicles in the in our time travel machine, both of them about scooting back through the years in order to change the future, both directed by major directors with reputations for getting the action up there on the screen. “Deja Vu” is the more cerebral — “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is the more literal — but both of them cause your brain to short-circuit if you think too much about twists-and-turns of time travel as they would have you believe it works. But this is an entertainment site, not a physics lecture, so let’s get to it.
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Fire in the Sky (1993) -vs- Communion (1989)

June 14, 2009 Bryce Zabel

The truth about alien visitors may actually be different than what Hollywood has traditionally told you. On the one hand we’ve had the space brothers who have come to help us save the planet and ourselves (“Close Encounters,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still”). On the other hand, we’ve had the cosmic badasses who’ve come to create hell on Earth (“War of the Worlds,” “Independence Day”). The two films in our Smackdown ring each suggest another alternative. The aliens are here for a more unknown purposes. They’re not cuddly scientists like “E.T.” but bizarre and harsh. Both “Communion” and “Fire in the Sky” tell us that they’re here taking people out of their homes and neighborhoods in the middle of the night, tagging them like deer in a Lyme disease study, probing and poking them in ways that suggest rape as much as anything else. Possibly more unsettling is that these two films were both based on books which were based on true stories. You may scoff at the word “truth” here but, the fact is, the central characters in each — Whitley Strieber and Travis Walton — have both passed lie detector tests. Show me a Hollywood agent who could do that about today’s phone list and you’ll begin to appreciate the accomplishment. The questions — as we continue our film exploration of alien contact — are, which version comes closest to what might be the truth about alien intentions here on Earth, and which one is the better film?
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Angels & Demons (2009) -vs- The Da Vinci Code (2006)

May 16, 2009 Mark Sanchez

Both films serve up clues in much the same way those police procedural shows unpeel that onion on TV: One piece exposing another and another. This imposes a certain predictability to the storytelling structure, if not the outcome.
That convention doesn’t help “The Da Vinci Code” very much, although it tries very hard. The story plunges into arcane church history, obscure alliances, shady characters and wide ranging speculation. This movie desperately needed to ratchet back the mystery because it hampered the storytelling pace. Director Howard handles this gamely, even creatively, but his bench lets him down. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou have their moments, but too often they are wooden together. So is the dialog. In spots the lifeless speechifying makes Hanks, a two time Academy Award winner, sound like he’s in “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”
Winning performances by McKellen, Bettany and Jean Reno as an obsessed police captain raise the interest level. So does the buzz surrounding “The Da Vinci Code” outside the theater.
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The Prestige (2006) -vs- The Illusionist (2006)

January 17, 2009 Bob Nowotny

Over the hundred-plus years of cinematic history, there has been enough movie magic to create a worldwide love affair with film. Surprisingly, however, since the laterna magica first began projecting moving images, there have been remarkably few movies about magic.

The year 2006 was an exception, with the near-simultaneous release of two excellent films about 19th century professional prestidigitators — The Illusionist and The Prestige. For someone who loves magic and sleight of hand, this was a banner year worth sharing. While The Prestige made more money at the domestic box-office, approximately $53 million vs. $40 million, The Illusionist cost considerably less to make — $16.5 million vs. $39 million. Based on their return on investment, and the fact that The Illusionist was also the first to appear on the nation’s screens in 2006, we’ll give The Illusionist the designation of “Defending Champion,” and The Prestige our “Challenger” position. Now that our rivals are in their respective corners, let’s get out the wands and let the magic begin. […]

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