Priest (2011) -vs- The Book of Eli (2010)

May 15, 2011 Mark Sanchez

A Western is a Western, even if there are no trusty horses, Native Americans, brave pioneers, land barons or cowboy hats (or even cowboys).

These days we regularly construct our western mythology out of the apocalypse, looking to the dismal future and not the hardscrabble past.

Both our combatants today share a common set up: Catastrophe strikes. Society falls apart. The fight begins for the remaining pieces. This formula usually includes A Brooding Outsider and Someone in Distress. When you add monsters / mutants you have the rough outline of recent popular movies like I Am Legend, The Road, even The Road Warrior from 1982. The list is longer, but you see where I’m going.

What we have now is the hybrid genre of the Apoca-Western. This sturdy form is identifiable with or without those horses and a strong silent hero because it still showcases the sense of honor, justice and redemption that motivated John Wayne as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach (1939) and Clint Eastwood’s Bill Munny in The Unforgiven (1992). Those characters could just as easily lived in the world of the Undead as the actual living.

While there are no OK Corrals in The Priest or the Book of Eli, good still stands up to evil in every incarnation. Let’s see how they stand up to each other. […]

Easy A (2010) -vs- Election (1999)

September 19, 2010 Sherry Coben

Smart women are as rare on film as they are in life. Rarer even. Smart high school girls might be the rarest cinematic species of all. You can count them on your two hands. Cooler and wittier than any real girl in any real high school, they’re who we wish we could have been. The girls who say what we wish we had said. Smart girls who use their smart mouths to get into (and out of) considerable trouble. The adults in these films are unspeakably cool too; perhaps this whole smart high school girl genre is for us grown-up girls (and guys) who revisit our high school hallways every night in our dreams and nightmares, still trying to dot those old i’s and cross those uncrossed t’s, to redress grievances and beat down those bullies that haunt us still.
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The Last Exorcism (2010) -vs- The Exorcist (1973)

September 3, 2010 Mark Sanchez

Sometimes nothing is more than something. That truth is writ large this summer on the walls at the cineplex. So, Bryce searches the skies for UFOs, Sherry waits for something romantic, and I have time on my hands heading into the holiday weekend. Yikes. The Last Exorcism (I only wish) promises a scary ride about demonic possession and failed faith. It comes freighted with anticipation from producer Eli Roth (Hostel I & II) but this train comes in light, especially for audiences expecting to have their pants scared off. Or a less obvious touch. Nobody said this would be simple, or pretty. That’s why this Smack smells like a mismatch: Does The Last Exorcism stand a puncher’s chance against a double Oscar winning flick that really delivers the goods, The Exorcist? Swing away. […]

Angels & Demons (2009) -vs- The Da Vinci Code (2006)

October 12, 2009 Rodney Twelftree

The Catholic Church is beset with problems in these two films based on the best-selling novels by Dan Brown. On one side, a secret order threatening to uncover the greatest secret in the history of the world, and render the Church obsolete. On the other, another secret (and long thought extinct) brotherhood threatening to blow up Vatican City. Yep, somebody has it bad for the Pope, and it’s up to an American University lecturer to save the day. So settle back, say a few Hail Marys, and prepare to enter the world of Robert Langdon, the world’s smartest symbologist.
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Angels & Demons (2009) -vs- The Da Vinci Code (2006)

May 16, 2009 Mark Sanchez

Both films serve up clues in much the same way those police procedural shows unpeel that onion on TV: One piece exposing another and another. This imposes a certain predictability to the storytelling structure, if not the outcome.
That convention doesn’t help “The Da Vinci Code” very much, although it tries very hard. The story plunges into arcane church history, obscure alliances, shady characters and wide ranging speculation. This movie desperately needed to ratchet back the mystery because it hampered the storytelling pace. Director Howard handles this gamely, even creatively, but his bench lets him down. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou have their moments, but too often they are wooden together. So is the dialog. In spots the lifeless speechifying makes Hanks, a two time Academy Award winner, sound like he’s in “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”
Winning performances by McKellen, Bettany and Jean Reno as an obsessed police captain raise the interest level. So does the buzz surrounding “The Da Vinci Code” outside the theater.
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