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Moneyball (2011) -vs- The Social Network (2010)

September 22, 2011 Eric Volkman 5

Every once in a while, we have a Smackdown decided purely on brain power and wit rather than muscle. That’s the case with this edition, which pits the new baseball drama, Moneyball, against the Facebook origin saga, The Social Network. The heroes of both films, the Oakland Athletics’ intellectual general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in the former, and hyper-ambitious computer wonk Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in the latter, are portrayed as iconoclastic eggheads introducing disruptive new concepts to their respective fields. […]

The Chameleon (2011) -vs- Changeling (2008)

July 9, 2011 Ben Silverio 3

“Based on a true story” is where the real world and the cinematic world collide. Whether it be a romantic comedy, a micro-budget horror movie, or a courtroom drama, a film with that label carries weight vicariously, intriguing viewers with the promise that the story, or something like it, actually occurred and in fact could have happened to them.

Both The Chameleon and Changeling explore cases of unexpected reappearances of missing children and the dark secrets surrounding their returns. However, the two films take different approaches in point of view. In The Chameleon, the story is about a professional liar assuming a missing teenage boy’s identity, while Changeling focuses on a mother who, after her nine-year-old son is kidnapped, must deal with the trauma when police return the wrong child and insist he’s her son.

These stories involve what Hollywood sometimes calls “difficult subject matter,” which may be why Changeling, despite an A-List pedigree and considerable critical success, performed only modestly at the box office. The fact that it was based on a true story may have helped in some ways and hurt in others. Now viewers have the chance to experience two nightmarish family dramas, their attention heightened by the knowledge that both films hew more or less closely to true events. For those who can only take so much family angst, clearly a Smackdown is in order. Accept no substitutes. […]

The (True) “True Story of Blackbeard”

May 18, 2011 Bryce Zabel 2

There’s just something about that name — Blackbeard — that Hollywood loves. It doesn’t matter what the real details are since nobody in the audience knows them anyway.

What’s important is that Blackbeard, whoever the hell he was, was definitely the biggest of the badass pirates in a world populated by badass pirates.

Even in those days, the early 1700s, hype always exceeded reality. Pirates were feared, but tavern gossip in coastal communities inflated their stories into mythic proportions. They may have been scurvy dudes with non-existent dental care and sexual diseases you don’t even want to know about — just like everyone else of the time — but they were more than that. They were celebrities with great names like Captain Kidd and Calico Jack. And they operated with impunity from the Caribbean to New York in a decades-long orgy of lawlessness. […]