People Like Us (2012) -vs- The Descendants (2011)

June 28, 2012 Sarah Harding

Location, location, location. When it comes to dealing with broken families and the secrets that enshroud them, it makes no difference whether you live in La-La Land or blue Hawaii. Reconnecting with the family members you’ve ignored or the one you never knew existed is hard in either case, even if you’re Chris Pine. Yep, George Clooney, too.

While films centered around intense emotion and family dynamics are nothing new, they’re a rarity in these days of car chases, alien invasions and spandex-clad superheroes. Our contestants — People Like Us (2012) and The Descendants (2011) —are both about confronting those issues most of us would rather ignore. Both films are aimed at actual grown-ups — another rarity these days — and each looks at serious issues in distinctly different ways. […]

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2012) -vs- Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

February 29, 2012 Ben Silverio

My generation has been whining for years about our childhoods being collectively over, in light of the end of the Harry Potter series, the death of the creators of The Berenstain Bears, and countless other life-passages coming to a close. It’s good to know, with the theatrical release this weekend of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, that something important from our childhoods—and previous generations of childhoods—has survived and is still going strong. Though the good doctor himself, Theodor Geisel, has passed on, his legacy is still alive, well, and ready to be tested in Smackville.

If you want to get technical here, The Lorax should be the reigning champion, because his original movie debuted in 1972. However, he then went into a long hibernation, vacating his title. Now, the one who speaks for the trees has made a comeback, but times have changed. In the realm of computer-generated Seuss, the reigning king is Horton Hears A Who. Horton meant what he said and said what he meant, so when he says he’s coming for the guardian of the forest, The Once-ler chopping down trees for thneeds should be the last of The Lorax’s worries. […]

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 Switch (2010) -vs- The Kids Are All Right (2010)

August 23, 2010 Sherry Coben

It had to happen. Sperm Donor Dads: The Film Genre. Only slightly ahead of the zeitgeist culture curve, two relatively charming comedies duke it out for the hotly contested Smackdown title.

Mark Ruffalo’s shaggy roue blissfully ignorant seed guy of two (that we know of) takes on Jason Bateman’s neurotic and knowing father of one.

Lesbian moms Annette Bening and Julianne Moore up the ante just a bit on the A-List class-project The Kids Are All Right, and rom-com too-regular Jennifer Aniston depreciates indie-spirited The Switch a tad.

Jason Bateman plays Wally. Jennifer Aniston plays Kassie. With a K. That’s just about the most interesting thing about her. Wally loves her. He always has. But he’s her best friend. And her clock is ticking. And it would be too awkward to have a baby with her best friend. So — here comes the movie logic — hold onto your hats. She finds a married, too-good-to-be-true stranger and coaxes him into donating a cup of his best stuff. Not awkward at all. Are you with me so far? Because I know this sounds awful. But it’s not. Stuff happens to the stuff and paternity hijinks ensue. Here’s the thing though. You care. […]

Cyrus (2010) -vs- City Island (2009)

July 25, 2010 Sherry Coben

Summertime and the movie theaters fill with audiences seeking relief from all that heat and sun. Who needs 3D, tired franchises, vampires and werewolves, chases, aliens, explosions, and CGI? Not me. Gimme an indie film with a half-decent script, a well-chosen cast, a fresh point of view, recognizable human behavior and I’m there. I’ll always opt to bypass the long lines and head for the arthouse to spend a couple of hours watching a dysfunctional family as long as it’s not my own.
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Greenberg (2010) -vs- The Squid and the Whale (2005)

April 3, 2010 Sherry Coben

In Baumbach’s modern day Los Angeles, the disconnect continues and the rift grows wider between people. Love seems somehow outside the realm of possibility. Shambling through the wreckage of these wasted emotional lives, all these lonely people don’t even remember intimacy, don’t even attempt it. Everything is casual here; cruelty and thoughtlessness, abandonment, miscommunication and missed messages the currency of exchange. These characters are unsentimental, unceasingly critical, derisive, detached and deadset on avoiding attachment; sex is so casual and unfulfilling that it loses all meaning and pleasure. These zombie people slide in and out of beds, marriages, town, abortions, without registering anything much but a dull ache where real pain ought to be. Always on the lookout for something better, these narcissists seek pleasure and find only numbing activity; they fill their days somehow, connecting fully only with their dogs. Never far from an answering machine or a computer screen or a cellphone, these lost souls are drowning in their loneliness.
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