Avatar (2009) -vs- Dances with Wolves (1990)

December 21, 2009 Beau DeMayo

Allegorical movies are tough. On one hand, the social messages are essential to keeping cinema relevant and meaningful. Yet I always grow wary of a movie made for the sake of a message and not for the sake of entertaining audiences. The best way to judge that may be to measure Avatar against another film that it shares some themes with: Dances with Wolves.

Both films, for example, discuss imperialism against the epic backdrop of human emotion and struggle — only one does it here on Earth, the other on a faraway planet. But what about the entertainment value? The story? The characters? Which film goes the farthest beyond preaching and instead involves its audiences in the big question: What would it take for me to go up against my own kind? […]

A Woman in Berlin (2009) -vs- Downfall (2005)

August 28, 2009 Bryce Zabel

Even as “Inglourious Basterds” and its fast re-write on World War II storms the theaters, let’s put a couple of extremely controversial German films in our gun-sights as they re-visit the gory days of April 1945 when the Russians ripped apart Berlin. It’s a twisted “Upstairs/Downstairs” Smackdown… “A Woman in Berlin” is a story nobody in Germany or Russia wanted to talk about in the fifty years since the book it’s based on was published — namely that the invading Soviet soldiers raped up to 100,000 German women turning Berlin into “one big whorehouse.”
[…]

Inglourious Basterds (2009) -vs- Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

August 22, 2009 Bryce Zabel

In the last two years, two high-profile directors, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, each gave a shot at putting their own brand on a World War II movie, no doubt because of the lure of working with badass villains and ass-kicking good guys, even though the risk for both was they had to operate under the suppressing fire of Steven Spielberg… incoming…
[…]

The Hurt Locker (2009) -vs- In The Loop (2009)

August 2, 2009 Sherry Coben

“The Hurt Locker” comes damn close to earning masterpiece status. Only in the scenes between the action does the film occasionally falter; in individuating the bomb squad crew, a few character choices and set pieces have the whiff of the war-movie generic about them, and we find ourselves itching to get back to the field, to escape the hackneyed struggles and occasionally overcooked drama of the base. Nothing matches the filmmaking of the utterly believable and wrenching missions, and we start to experience a little bit of the high, the tiniest sense of the drug of war. Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse hit hard in their well-wrought cameos. To criticize the weak parts would be nitpicking; perhaps the audience needs the break from all the breathholding, armrest clutching, tension. The craziness of the entire enterprise holds and fills the screen; insurgents and innocents watch impassively, impossibly, calmly, as their world is blown to smithereens. Images sear with the power of truth and horrible beauty – a scraggly cat limping among the ruins of a war-torn street, a little boy made into a bomb lying on a table, a nighttime cityscape scarier than anything you can conjure on your own. The heat, the firefights, the madness. “Hurt Locker” works like a fever dream, installing unforgettable memories directly into your brain. A work of tremendous power and focus, the film demands much of the viewer and rewards the effort tenfold.
[…]

Saving Private Ryan (1998) -vs- The Thin Red Line (1998)

July 1, 2009 Movie Smackdown

War is hell. And until Steven Spielberg got involved, we’d never really experienced war through the eyes of a soldier. We’d come close, with filmmakers as diverse as Coppola and Oliver Stone all giving us their interpretations, but it always seemed to be at a safe distance. The viewer was taken on a journey, but not our own journey. Unlike Ron Kovic or Ben Willard, who undertake a journey for us, Spielberg attempted to give us our own experience in war without having to leave the cinema. “Saving Private Ryan,” which graphically shows us the D-Day landings of a group of US forces in 1944, opens with an assault on the senses unlike any we’d ever seen. It thrust us into the heat of battle, the confusion and carnage of an assault that beggars description. It wanted us to know exactly what war is really like.
[…]

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) -vs- Crimson Tide (1995)

June 24, 2009 Bryce Zabel

People trapped inside the cold steel of big machines. Check.

Ticking clocks relentlessly counting down to disaster. Check.

Battles of will between A-list actors. Check again.

Director Tony Scott must have known he had a good thing in 1995’s Crimson Tide and was looking to repeat it with this year’s re-make of the classic The Taking of Pelham 123. As far as action directors go, Scott (brother of Ridley) is in the very elite. He makes movies that are almost always worth the price of a ticket at the cineplex. The best are tense, scary, hard-edged ones where his screenwriters give him high stakes and the dialogue to support them (often for Denzel Washington) and then he paces the hell out of the film itself. We have a real fight on our hands with some Scott-on-Scott violence. […]

1 2 3 4