Dallas Buyers Club (2013) vs. Philadelphia (1993)

October 30, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

As the anniversary of the release of Philadelphia approaches, let’s take a moment to consider just what the apparent requirements were for a major studio to be bold enough to make a movie about homosexuality and AIDS back in 1993:

Both leads had to be played by huge stars, and the villain played by one of our most beloved character actors. The director had to have come off an enormous smash that had just swept the Oscars. The opening theme song had to be supplied by the ultimate blue-collar, all-American pop star. The protagonist could be gay, but only if counter-balanced by the other lead being a raging homophobe, and the protagonist and his lover (played by an international star himself) could not only never be seen in bed together, but could never be seen sharing more than a chaste slow-dance.

So admittedly, as envelope-pushing on this topic goes, Philadelphia may not be viewed on the level of, say, Brokeback Mountain (2005), but it’s entirely fair to say that Philadelphia made Brokeback Mountain possible, as well as the current release, Dallas Buyers Club. So what better way for the newborn to pay tribute to its spiritual grandfather than to throw them into the ring for a face-off?
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Captain Phillips (2013) vs. United 93 (2006)

October 10, 2013 Lynda Karr

What does Paul Greengrass have against public transportation anyway? In both United 93 and his new film, Captain Phillips, Greengrass puts the fear of God into anyone about to take a flight or sail on a cargo ship. And that’s not to mention the vehicles that come under assault in his Jason Bourne movies.

Greengrass got his start in horror and then documentaries, and those early skills are in ample evidence here. In the celluloid world of Paul Greengrass, clench your fists and swallow hard, because good guy or bad, the characters are very human, and you’re about to go through hell with them. As they make preparations for the day ahead, maybe planning a trip, going to work or saying a prayer, the scenes build on one another, and the ordinary grows more and more ominous. […]

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) vs. Finding Neverland (2004)

October 1, 2013 Sarah Harding

Ah, the holiday season. What better time to take in a couple of films brimming with magic, wonder and childlike innocence? Especially when one whitewashes the story of a Machiavellian anti-Semite who played a role in the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and the other glosses over some nasty allegations of pedophilia?

Of course, our two Smack opponents have more in common than just some behind-the-scenes ugliness. Both the newly released Saving Mr. Banks and Finding Neverland, a holiday offering from 2004, are also lovingly crafted odes to the transformative power of the imagination. Each sheds light on the creation of a brilliant and enduring children’s story, illustrating how the authors’ unhappy personal lives ignite their work. And both succeed so well on their own terms that they can be forgiven for their historical oversights. […]

Wreck-it Ralph (2012) vs. Toy Story (1995)

November 2, 2012 Joe Rassulo

When we Baby Boomers were kids, our toys had lives of their own to us. Now that our children are young, it’s their video game characters that seem real to them. So, having once cherished my Davy Crockett coonskin cap and toy rifle, it was easy for me to see poetry in Toy Story’s Woody, a child’s inanimate cowboy doll by day, and a fretting, insecure, full-blooded character, when no one was looking at night.

My 10-year-old son Jack never had a doll like Woody to play with, but he did grow up with video games and movie characters, including Mario and Luigi. So naturally, Disney, which teamed with Pixar to bring us Toy Story, has jumped into the breach with a similarly themed movie for the Millennials. The new film, Wreck-It Ralph is also about the secret lives of children’s play-things once humans are out of the way. And the same John Lasseter who skyrocketed to prominence as Toy Story’s writer-director is overseeing Ralph as executive producer. […]

Flight (2012) vs. Cast Away (2000)

November 1, 2012 Bryce Zabel

I’ve tried to warm up to the motion-capture films Robert Zemeckis has been drawn to recently (Polar Express, Beowulf, Mars Needs Moms) and failed, mainly because it feels as if they have not yet sufficiently warmed up to me. But despite his recent, animated Crapfest from the Uncanny Valley, these two live-action, survival dramas – Flight and Cast Away – are among my favorite films.

When it comes to drama about the human condition, they’re both a cut above. And they have something else in common too: Each tries pretty successfully to create the scariest jet crash ever seen on film, at the time it went before the cameras. […]

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. […]

Apollo 18 (2011) -vs- Apollo 13 (1995)

September 1, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Probably the only good way to look at NASA these days is in the rear-view mirror of past accomplishments, given that the agency seems to have lost its way. After all, it’s ended the manned space missions of the Space Shuttle program with no clear replacement in site. There is no grand new mission, like going to Mars, just the past-tense glory days of going to the Moon.

But before we get too nostalgic here, we have a Smackdown to remind us that space is not always a triumph. Sometimes that cold vacuum of nothing can force a human to look straight in the eye of death. And, as Elton John reminded us in Rocket Man, “It’s lonely out in space.”

The new Apollo 18 is a fictional story about a manned space mission to the moon that you never heard about. NASA officially pulled the plug on Apollo after 17 missions. So this one is right out there in conspiracy theory heaven. And the other film, Apollo 13, is about the NASA’s greatest near miss with disaster that could easily have landed the astronauts involved into the history books with the crews of the Challenger and Columbia or the doomed Apollo 1 mission. […]