Reign Over Me (2007) -vs- Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

September 6, 2011 Mark Sanchez

Many of us now mark time pre-9/11 and post-9/11. Horrific events that day took nearly 3000 lives and altered history. It’s been 10 years. Americans and others now regard their sense of national identity and personal security much differently. Films have stepped up to reinterpret that moment when everything changed. Dozens of movies, large and small, offer stylized reminders of events and their effects on people. Most tell us something important about a seismic shift we’ll never forget.

This Smackdown revisits 9/11 films sitting at either end of the heartbreak spectrum: One contender focuses on the big picture for all of us. The other dramatizes how those weighty events affect one person. […]

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) -vs- Dan in Real Life (2007)

July 28, 2011 Jackie Zabel

Is it better to give than receive? Before you answer, the question’s not asking about sex or birthday gifts but relationship advice. Newly liberated Office-mate Steve Carell finds himself on both sides of that equation in our Smackdown between a couple of romantic dramedies, Crazy, Stupid, Love., opening this weekend, and 2007’s Dan in Real Life.

Crazy, Stupid, Love., with its period at the end that causes my auto-correct fits, is probably the most grammatically irritating film title since Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Carell portrays boring, straight-laced Cal Weaver, who gets dumped by his wife and taken in as a charity project by Ryan Gosling’s barfly/man/god, Jacob Palmer. In Dan in Real Life, it’s Carell’s Dan Burns dispensing the advice in a newspaper column with the same name as the film, while trying to raise three daughters in various stages of meltdown after the death of their mom and Dan’s wife a few years earlier.

Two depressed guys, two lost wives, two sets of three quirky kids, and two comedies based on a Steve Carell character’s ability to roll with the romantic punches. So it comes down to Cal versus Dan, and it should come as no surprise that no matter who’s giving the advice, love makes a fool of them both. […]

The Beaver (2011) -vs- Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

May 10, 2011 Bob Nowotny

Step aside Wilson and Harvey — here come Bianca and the Beaver in a couple of remarkable movies that feature inanimate creatures as key co-stars. Bianca and the Beaver — there’s probably a good joke or two there somewhere, but, surprisingly, these films are not comedies.

Both The Beaver and Lars and the Real Girl are each based on a highly regarded, original screenplay — the first was Oscar nominated, the most recent one once famously topped Hollywood’s “Black List” for best unproduced script. And neither movie relies on CGI — now that is remarkable.

Both films explore the complexity of extreme personal demons brought on by feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression. Each one has also been accused of being over-the-top: their lead characters certainly have the potential to come across not so much compelling as uncomfortable. And there is the Mel Gibson-factor.

So it’s a testament to the screenwriters, the directors and the actors that both motion pictures are also solid dramas with heart and soul. They are character-studies of two men seeking to re-discover themselves, their families and the outside world. […]

Going the Distance (2010) -vs- Swing Time (1936)

September 4, 2010 Sherry Coben

Money’s tight. Jobs are hard to find. Relationships disappoint. Such is the world as we know it. You say recession, I say depression. Let’s call the whole thing off. We go to the movies to forget our troubles, to drown our sorrows, to watch others make sense of this whole sorry mess. Romantic comedy provides a welcome refuge, a few hours in the welcoming darkness where we can rest pretty well assured that no one will die and nothing untoward will befall our hero and heroine, safe in the knowledge that they’ll wind up together at the end no matter how tangled the web of misunderstandings, regardless how high they stack the hurdles. We sit and wait for our happy ending and return again to our little lives at the end, sated and ready for the mundane and the stress life hands us. […]