How I Won the War (1967) vs. The Magic Christian (1969)

October 28, 2012 Mark Sanchez

Because the Beatles both led their times and and lived with the creative and political expectations of them as well, the energy drain from Beatlemania had been significant. By the time these two films were made in the late 1960s, the cracks were already showing — definitely in society but even, now, in the Beatles who were, more than ever, four guys named John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The Beatles had had a mixed film run. Certainly A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965) were commercial and artistic successes for United Artists (see Smackdown here). But following them up with the barely conceived Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and an arm’s length involvement with Yellow Submarine (1968) hardly signaled that the Beatles had gone Hollywood.

All the Beatles toyed with Hollywood as solo artists both behind-the-scenes and in front-of-the-camera. The first to show individual interest, though, were John Lennon in How I Won the War (1967) and Ringo Starr in The Magic Christian (1969). They each acted in an establishment-tweaking, sarcasm-bubbling and sometimes cringe-inducing films that are certainly cultural artifacts.

Want to know which one of those films works so much better than the other? As Paul McCartney wrote in a song he gave Badfinger that went in his buddy Ringo’s film, keep reading and “Come and Get It.” […]

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) -vs- Reign Over Me (2007)

December 23, 2011 Arthur Tiersky

I’d imagine a screenplay or a novel about grieving families of 9/11 victims must have been quite difficult and risky to write in the first few years following the attack. Now, having boldly faced the task of writing a snarky column comparing two movies about 9/11 grief, I can entirely sympathize with those intrepid, suffering screenwriters. Hell, someone had to write this Smackdown, and if I didn’t, who would? (A: Probably one of the other Smackers. There’s like a jillion of us now.) […]

Battle: Los Angeles (2011) -vs- Transformers (2007) -vs- War of the Worlds (2005) -vs- Independence Day (1996)

June 1, 2011 Bryce Zabel

There are alien invasions and then there are alien invasions.

This Smack is about the ones where the aliens swoop in, lasers blazing, hell-bent on some balls-to-the-wall human ass-kicking. No demands, no negotiations, just straight-ahead mayhem where the Earth is torn up with no regard whatsoever. It’s as if they’re treating our planet like a condemned building that just needs to knocked down as fast as possible so the new construction can get started. I know some folks think we’re already doing that ourselves but let’s skip the politics and just define this as apocalyptical visitation.
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Micmacs (2009) -vs- A Very Long Engagement (2004)

June 28, 2010 Sherry Coben

An intensely visual director, Jeunet’s imagery remains consistently fresh and breathtakingly original, his fabulous fabulist’s palette uniquely his. Jeunet films have the urgency and half-remembered quality of dreams as they unfold. These tales exist in a rarefied and occasionally twee universe, timeless and with a winsome sense of fun and tricked-out grown-up child’s play even when the underlying subject matter gets serious. The subject at hand is war, and let’s just state the obvious up front – Jeunet’s against it.
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Dear John (2010) -vs- The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)

February 18, 2010 Sherry Coben

“The Best Years Of Our Lives” stands tall as the ultimate and still unsurpassed drama about WWII’s returning soldiers, made in 1946 by William Wyler from a pitch-perfect script by Robert Sherwood. Director Lasse Hallström enters the love-and-war fray with his effort “Dear John” based on a novel by the very popular (if slightly gooey) Nicholas Sparks. The war in question is a lot more confusing than WWII, and the story is a whole lot soapier/dopier, but the eternal questions remain the same. What does war do to soldiers and their families and the women they love?
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A Woman in Berlin (2009) -vs- Downfall (2005)

August 28, 2009 Bryce Zabel

Even as “Inglourious Basterds” and its fast re-write on World War II storms the theaters, let’s put a couple of extremely controversial German films in our gun-sights as they re-visit the gory days of April 1945 when the Russians ripped apart Berlin. It’s a twisted “Upstairs/Downstairs” Smackdown… “A Woman in Berlin” is a story nobody in Germany or Russia wanted to talk about in the fifty years since the book it’s based on was published — namely that the invading Soviet soldiers raped up to 100,000 German women turning Berlin into “one big whorehouse.”
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Inglourious Basterds (2009) -vs- Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

August 22, 2009 Bryce Zabel

In the last two years, two high-profile directors, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, each gave a shot at putting their own brand on a World War II movie, no doubt because of the lure of working with badass villains and ass-kicking good guys, even though the risk for both was they had to operate under the suppressing fire of Steven Spielberg… incoming…
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The Hurt Locker (2009) -vs- In The Loop (2009)

August 2, 2009 Sherry Coben

“The Hurt Locker” comes damn close to earning masterpiece status. Only in the scenes between the action does the film occasionally falter; in individuating the bomb squad crew, a few character choices and set pieces have the whiff of the war-movie generic about them, and we find ourselves itching to get back to the field, to escape the hackneyed struggles and occasionally overcooked drama of the base. Nothing matches the filmmaking of the utterly believable and wrenching missions, and we start to experience a little bit of the high, the tiniest sense of the drug of war. Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse hit hard in their well-wrought cameos. To criticize the weak parts would be nitpicking; perhaps the audience needs the break from all the breathholding, armrest clutching, tension. The craziness of the entire enterprise holds and fills the screen; insurgents and innocents watch impassively, impossibly, calmly, as their world is blown to smithereens. Images sear with the power of truth and horrible beauty – a scraggly cat limping among the ruins of a war-torn street, a little boy made into a bomb lying on a table, a nighttime cityscape scarier than anything you can conjure on your own. The heat, the firefights, the madness. “Hurt Locker” works like a fever dream, installing unforgettable memories directly into your brain. A work of tremendous power and focus, the film demands much of the viewer and rewards the effort tenfold.
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Deja Vu (2006) -vs- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

June 18, 2009 Bryce Zabel

If people from the future could travel back to the past, wouldn’t they have already done it? Would it be better to see into the past or into the future? Do they both exist simultaneously, along with the present, because time is relative to where you are? If you like these kinds of questions, we have a couple of films to really put your through Olympic-sized paces in the Suspension of Disbelief event. We’ve put a couple of major star vechicles in the in our time travel machine, both of them about scooting back through the years in order to change the future, both directed by major directors with reputations for getting the action up there on the screen. “Deja Vu” is the more cerebral — “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is the more literal — but both of them cause your brain to short-circuit if you think too much about twists-and-turns of time travel as they would have you believe it works. But this is an entertainment site, not a physics lecture, so let’s get to it.
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