12 Years a Slave (2013) vs. Django Unchained (2012)

October 17, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

One’s about a free man who becomes a slave, the other’s about a slave who becomes a free man!

One’s a searing historical drama, the other’s an intense but goofy action-comedy!

One’s a bona fide Oscar magnet, the other’s already won two Oscars!

One’s written and directed by black men, the other’s written and directed by a white man who’s spent his career trying to be a black man!

One is Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, the other is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained! […]

Django Unchained (2012) vs. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

December 23, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

Once upon a time, long before you were born, way back in 1994, a writer-director named Quentin Tarantino made a movie called Pulp Fiction. It was a low-budget, stylish and irreverent thriller so wildly entertaining, energetic and fresh that it became an instant cult classic, was a huge critical and box office success, won Quentin an Oscar for his script (story co-written with Roger Avary), and turned him practically overnight into the biggest celebrity director since Alfred Hitchcock.

The movie was so unconventional in so many ways — unusual length (two hours and forty minutes), non-chronological/episodic/multi-plot structure, long stretches of idle chit-chat, hairpin plot turns, extreme violence sprinkled with laughs, eccentric soundtrack selections — and Tarantino was so amply lauded and rewarded for it that he began to believe he could do no wrong, that he could be either as daring or as lazy as he felt on any given day, and we would continue to bow at his feet. The films that followed over the next two decades were… well, it depends who you ask. There are those who still worshipped at his altar, but many others didn’t quite take to much of it, grew tired of waiting for the old Tarantino to return, and viewed each new release with ever-decreasing expectations. […]

Killing Them Softly (2011) vs. True Romance (1993)

November 29, 2012 Eric Volkman

The players in our two battling movies this review are gun-toting rogues, so we’ll have to let them shoot it out across the room while we duck under the tables. Armed and lethal in the challenger’s corner is Killing Them Softly, a dark, moody crime drama featuring Brad Pitt as a hit man tasked with eliminating the crew that robbed an illicit card game. That film points its barrel at the breezily violent cult hit, True Romance, with Christian Slater as a comic book store clerk whose involvement with a hooker leads him to murder and a high-risk drug deal.

Both films rely on humanizing their criminals with generous amounts of tangential dialogue, and both also lean heavily on music and artsy cinematography to set a pop, breezy tone in counterpoint to some pretty brutal action by their principals. […]

Cloud Atlas (2012) vs. The Tree of Life (2011)

October 25, 2012 Eric Volkman

We at the Smack like a sprawling, epic movie about Big Themes as much as anyone else. So in this edition we’re throwing two big, brainy behemoths against each other in a ring-shaking Sumo contest.

In the challenger’s corner, weighing in at a few thousand pounds and nearly three hours in length, is a film so big it needed three credited directors: Cloud Atlas, essentially six movies in one, covering a range of genres, time periods and motifs. Our reigning champ is The Tree of Life, a thick, mood piece by Terrence Malick about a middle-aged man’s reflections on his upbringing and relationship with a tough, unhappy father. And, oh yeah, the origins of life and nature while we’re at it. […]

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) -vs- A River Runs Through It (1992)

March 26, 2012 Mitch Paradise

Books and movies have often used bodies of water and the creatures that live in them as full, rich metaphors, evoking man’s struggle to find meaning amid life’s shifting tides (Alert: the first of many body-of-water metaphors!). The examples in high culture are endless: Moby Dick, The Secret of Roan Inish, SpongeBob SquarePants… Here are two movies that carry on the tradition: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a Lasse Hallstrom-helmed, Simon Beaufoy-penned romantic dramedy, has made a splash in the indie world by dramatizing the Sisyphean task of introducing salmon fishing to a desert country best known today as the headquarters of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. It’s opponent is A River Runs Through It, a lyrical film based on Norman McClean’s semi-autobiographical novel that follows the maturation of two brothers struggling to create individual and conflicting identities under the watchful eye of their minister father. Set in the wild and verdant glory of rural Montana, everything about it is as precious as your grandmother’s wedding rings. […]

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) -vs- The Long Riders (1980)

March 20, 2009 Jay Amicarella

The saga of the real-life James Boys, their friends, the Youngers, Millers, and (hiss) the Fords has been a Hollywood staple for almost a century, and for every film, there has been a different interpretation of the legendary Missouri outlaw. Jesse has been depicted in wildly differing films as outgoing, stoic, easygoing, stern, voluble, and taciturn. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” dares to suggest that the man that newspapers of the day compared to Robin Hood was no more than a vicious thug, who may have been going mad from the stresses of being hunted 24/7.
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