Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Shining VS The Shining

                                                                 TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: The Shining                                                        Title: The Shining
               Tomato Meter: 88%                                                    Tomato Meter: n/a
                IMDB Rating: 8.5                                                        IMDB Rating: 6.0
               Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall                      Starring: Steven Weber, Rebecca De Mornay
               Director: Stanley Kubrick                                            Director: Mick Garris
               Box Office: $44 million                                                Box Office: n/a
               Academy: n/a                                                              Academy: n/a
               Year: 1980                                                                   Year: 1997

A classic film vs a made for tv remake clash in the ring as one of cinema's greatest directors and visionaries puts up a film that is panned by Stephen King purists. The television mini series is more faithful to King's story, but does it pack the same punch. We find out in The Showdown.

In Stanley Kubrick's Shining, audiences are treated to a horror masterpiece. One part ghost story, one part psychological thriller, the Shining becomes a compelling experience that explores the weaknesses of the family structure. In similar films, families come together against a common evil, but here we see the husband and father betray his family as he slowly slips into insanity brought on by the malevolent entity that torments them. Like a master sculpture, Stanley chips away Stephen King's more over-the-top elements such as animal shaped hedges that come to life or imaginary friends from the future, until all that's left is the complete piece. Incredible performances by Jack Nicholson, Scatman Crothers, and young Danny Lloyd propel this film forward at an unrelenting pace. Kubrick's use of music only adds to the overall theme of madness and isolation.

In1997, a made for tv mini-series with a television screenplay from Stephen King himself hit the small screen in an effort to "correct" all that Kubrick left out. Stephen King fans thrilled to the closer to the novel approach that made the Shining such a best seller. Less psychological, this film emphasizes the haunted house aspect of the story.

Sadly, a truth that Stephen King and his fans need to realize, is no novel of his should ever be adapted for television. It is an automatic disqualification. Television has three things that hinder any adaptation. 1) Censorship. Standards and practices will edit for content and incredibly hamstring artistic merit. 2) Commercials. Content aside, it will be edited for time restraints in order to push the latest technology in toothpaste. Plus, commercials just ruing the rhythm and tempo of a film, spoiling the intended experience. 3) Production value. Sorry, but if you're gonna attempt to trump the work of Stanley Kubrick, you have got to do better than pairing off Jack Nicholson against Steven Weber, the guy from "Wings." In fact, it's a wonder why Stephen King chooses to put his classic, and arguably best works, on television. The Stand and It, for example, were completely compelling novels that have been ham-stringed by the rigors and regulations of television adaptation. So for fans of King's vision of the Shining, they are reduced to accepting a sub par film in every respect.

When both fighters enter the ring, it is apparent that the 1997 Shining is way out of its league. With a shattered glass jaw, it goes down in the first round. 

The Winner: Kubrick's The Shining

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Batman (1966) VS Batman & Robin

                                                                 TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: Batman                                                              Title: Batman & Robin
               Tomato Meter: 83%                                                    Tomato Meter:13%
                IMDB Rating: 6.3                                                        IMDB Rating: 3.5
               Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward                               Starring: George Clooney, Uma Thurman
               Director: Robert Zemeckis                                          Director: Joel Schumacher
               Box Office: $13 million                                                Box Office: $107 million
               Academy: n/a                                                              Academy: n/a
               Year: 1966                                                                   Year: 1989

Once More, Batman slugs it out with himself here at Showdown. But before we engage in the epic rematch of Tim Burton vs Chris Nolan's vision of the Caped Crusader, we pair off arguably the two worst films in the Batman film franchises.

There is so much camp in Batman: The Movie, that one feels a need to build a fire and bring marshmallows.  Yet it works. The film is a wonderful adaptation of the popular tv show, and features four of Batman's top villains, the Joker, Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. While a film directed at the kids of the era, today it comes off as a comedy of MST3K proportions. With an aerosol can of Bat-Shark repellent, Batman is able to thwart a great white shark attached to his leg. Batman runs around with a loaded bomb and cannot get rid of it, running into sailors, nuns, ducks, and a marching band. Batman also points out to Robin, referring to the bar patrons, "They may be drinkers, but they're still human beings." Just classic cornball. And there is plenty of Pow, Zap, Ka-Boom action to go around. 

There is so much camp in Batman and Robin, that one feels like fleeing occupied Poland. With the popular villains such as the Joker, Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler already used up in previous films in this series, Joel Schumacher gives us Poison Ivy, sensually played by Uma Thurman, a cornballish Dr. Freeze, and a retarded version of a newcomer to Batman's rogue gallery, Bane. Everything that has made the Tim Burton films successful (atmosphere, pacing, dialogue, costumes) have completely been stripped down and restructured into what audiences can only guess as Joel exercising his passive aggressive disdain towards comic book movies. Either that, or he was clearly there for a paycheck.

As both fighters enter the ring, Batman & Robin clearly have the money on their side. But don't discount the poor, struggling fighter as they have the eye of the tiger. From the opening bell Batman:the Movie is clearly dominating with its unorthodox style. Batman & Robin, being all flash and no substance, can barely defend itself, let alone go on offense. Winner by KO in round 2, Batman: the Movie.

Winner: Batman: the Movie

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back To The Future VS Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

                                                                 TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: Back To The Future                                           Title: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
               Tomato Meter: 97%                                                    Tomato Meter: 82%
                IMDB Rating: 8.4                                                        IMDB Rating: 6.8
               Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd                Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter
               Director: Robert Zemeckis                                          Director: Stephen Herek
               Box Office: $210 million                                              Box Office: $40 million
               Academy: 1 win, 3 nominations                                  Academy: n/a
               Year: 1985                                                                   Year: 1989

Time travelling teenagers from the 80's go head to head. It's the irresistible force of the DeLorean meeting the immovable object of the phone booth.

Back to the Future, set in the then present day of 1985, see's Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) go back to the year 1955 in a time machine built out of a DeLorean by his friend and crack-pot scientist, Dr. Emit Brown (Christopher Lloyd). In 1955 he accidently interferes with a sequence of events that cause his parents to meet and fall in love. As a result, if he doesn't fix this issue, they never get married and he doesn't exist. To make matters worse, he has to get them to fall in love in less than a week or so, or he misses his opportunity to go back to his own era. Stephen Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment go out of their way to truly create a setting with the look and feel of 1955. Everything from props, costumes and dialogue create this illusion. Marty is truly the fish out of water when his 80's sensibilities conflict with 50's reality. He orders a drink "with no sugar" at a malt shop. His fashionable 80's orange vest is routinely mistaken for a life preserver. And the President of the United States is just an actor at this point in time. The writers adopt one of the many more plausible theories regarding time travel, the butterfly effect, and the grandfather paradox, into a cohesive story element that is presented in an easy to understand format for general audiences, as well as a water-cooler discussion piece for sci-fi enthusiasts. 26 years later, it is still regarded as the definitive time travel movie that blends considerable scientific theory regarding the premise, as well as comedic and dramatic moments that seek to entertain us. 

Bill & Ted are two underachieving slackers with delusions of becoming rock stars. However their dreams may be crushed under the weight of reality, as they are doomed to fail history class. What's worse, Ted's Father is threatening to send him to an Alaskan Military School if he fails. But don't worry, Rufus, played by George Carlin, arrives from the future with a time machine that looks a lot like a phone booth to help them with their history report. Rather than travel time and learn about history first hand, they decide to kidnap historical figures and bring them back to the 20th Century to help them with their oral book report. Unlike Back To The Future, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure doesn't concern itself with science, and goes straight for laughs. Napoleon becomes a water-slide enthusiast at a water-park coincidentally called Water-Loo. Billy the Kid and Genghis Khan tearing ass through a shopping mall is funny on an epic level. The plot to assist their history report may not seem as grand a plot as Back To The Future's, where Marty is trying to save his own existence. But through the course of the movie, it is Rufus who is trying to save his future society from non-existence. If Bill & Ted break up, the band never gets off their feet, and the future society, based completely off the music of Bill & Ted's Wyld Stallyns band, disappears. Yes, these two idiots become hugely successful. 

Both films are hugely popular, and retain a high level of re-watchability. The fight is a classic confrontation of two great competitors that split the audience down the middle. Both have spawned sequels and animated television series. But as the fight goes on, it becomes apparent that Back To The Future is outclassing Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. B&T is resilient though, never staying down for long, and hitting with some impressive combo's. In the end, Back To The Future wins with a T.K.O. in round 8.

Winner: Back To The Future

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Independence Day VS Mars Attacks

                                                                 TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: Independence Day                                             Title: Mars Attacks
               Tomato Meter: 60%                                                    Tomato Meter: 51%
                IMDB Rating: 6.6                                                        IMDB Rating: 6.3
               Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman                                Starring: Jack Nicholson, Pierce Bronson
               Director: Roland Emmerich                                        Director: Tim Burton
               Box Office: $306 million                                              Box Office: $37.7 million
               Academy: 1 win, 1 nomination                                    Academy: n/a
               Year: 1996                                                                   Year: 1996

In 1996, the Earth is invaded by beings from outer space, twice. But which alien race was the more memorable? We find out in this edition of Showdown.

Camp is the word of the day when it comes to Mars Attacks. Tim Burton directs this sci-fi spoof based on an old trading card collection is absolutely hilarious. Special effects are big budget CGI visuals painstakingly recreated to look like cheap, absurd props. Mars Attacks hosts as many stars as the Milky Way Galaxy itself, including a dual role by Jack Nicholson. Other stars include Glenn Close, Pierce Bronson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Christina Applegate, Natalie Portman, Danny DeVito, Pam Grier, Martin Short, Jack Black and Tom Jones. The martians are as adorable as they are hideous, and seem to have a quirky sense of humor. Their dialogue is essentially "ack, ack, ack-a-ack." This Earth vs The Flying saucers moitff is pure spoof. Critics have come down hard on this film, but they seem to judge it for something it's not. Those familiar with the trading cards will tell you they literally leap from the cards onto the silver screen. And Tim spoofs everything from government, patriotism, sci-fi, and capitalism, to greed, religion and television. In the end, the seemingly indestructable aliens are brought down by the music of Slim Pickens,.

Independence Day offers a more serious look at an alien invasion. It too boasts a large roster of stars, such as Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, and Brent Spiner. Where Mars Attacks goes for laughs, ID4 goes for thrills. Big Budget effects allowed us to see city after city devastated. Audiences took a private sense of joy seeing the White House get blown to splinters. The film does a good job of pulling these various characters from different locations together in one place. There's just enough comedy to break the tension, and plenty of balls to the wall action to keep you riveted. Will Smith makes a transition from straight comedy to action. In the end, the aliens are brought down by a computer virus that compromises their shields. A more modern day version of what brought the aliens down in the classic War of the Worlds.

Both films are excellent from start to finish. Both have some quotable lines, and have a high rate of re-watchability. Going into the ring both films come out swinging, looking for the early K.O. ID4 , taking itself too seriously, gets frustrated at Mars Attacks unorthodox style, resulting in ID4 kissing the canvas in the mid rounds. However, the fans are clearly behind ID4 despite Mars' colorful performance, spurring ID4 on, and ID4 scores the KO in round 9.

Winner: Independence Day

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe VS The Wizard of Oz

                                                                 TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: The Chronicles Of Narnia                                  Title: The Wizard Of Oz
               Tomato Meter: 76%                                                    Tomato Meter: 100%
                IMDB Rating: 6.9                                                        IMDB Rating: 8.2
               Starring: Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley                     Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan
               Director: Andrew Adamson                                         Director: Victor Fleming
               Box Office: $745 million                                              Box Office: $17.6 million
               Academy: 1 win                                                           Academy: 2 wins
               Year: 2005                                                                   Year: 1939

Two timeless children's classics leap from the pages onto the silver screen. Both stories center on children being whisked away into a fantasy realm where they are confronted with witches, magic, and the importance of home and family.

Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is the most popular, but one, in a series of Narnia books. Two others, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Prince Caspian, also were converted to film. Written by C.S. Lewis, this film is for children of all ages, but should be viewed with parents for the younger crowd. Issues of love, family, betrayal, war, hope, life and death are covered in this tale which sees 4 siblings, two brothers and two sisters, who enter a wardrobe and exit into a fantasy realm called Narnia. A White Witch has casted a spell keeping much of Narnia in perpetual winter. Those in Narnia await for the fulfillment of a prophecy, that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve will save their realm from the Witch, who calls herself the Queen of Narnia. The siblings are that prophecy, being the only humans in Narnia. Edmond, the younger of the two brothers, betrays his brother and sisters to the Witch as she preys upon his envy and resentment of his older brother, Peter. Lucy, the youngest sibling and the first to discover Narnia, learns of Mr. Tumnas's arrest by the Queen. Mr. Tumnas is a fawn, and the first friend Lucy met in Narnia. Edmund escapes the Queen and reunites with his siblings in the presence of Aslan, a guardian of the realm in the form of a lion. The Queen shows up to claim her right over Edmond, but Aslan enters into a negotiation that leads to Edmond's freedom, at the sacrifice of Aslan himself. With Aslan gone, Narnia turns to the four siblings to lead a battle against the Witch-Queens army and save Narnia.

The Wizard of Oz is a timeless classic about a young girl named Dorothy who runs away from her farm home in Kansas. Her beloved dog and friend Toto, as incurred the ire of a mean neighbor woman who orders the dog to be destroyed. So she runs off with Toto and meets a travelling fortune teller, and convinces her to return home. She arrive home just as a terrible storm shows up, and a tornado whisks her away to the land of Oz. There she must travel the Yellow Brick Road, meeting strange new friends, including a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a cowardly Lion. She is pursued by the Wicked Witch of the West who want's her ruby slippers given to her from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Along her adventures she learns about the values of friendship and home. 

Unlike Narnia, Wizard of Oz is told as a musical, with songs memorable to this day. It is a near flawless film that has endured over 70 years. With a young audience in mind, it still resonates with the kid in all of us. You cannot watch this film without coming away feeling better. Its magic is enduring.

Chronicles of Narnia is also a timeless children's story, but didn't hit the screen till just recently. C.S. Lewis tells a tale that is unflinching in its deeper, and richer, subject matter than Oz ever had. Still accessible to young audience, Narnia will elicit more emotions than other children's stories. With elements of sacrifice, family, and kingship, Lewis's Christian values and sensibilities are obvious, without being preachy or condescending to other faiths.

Wizard of Oz is more universal in its themes, and the talent of the cast is impeccable. It is ranked #131 in the AFI 250 movies of all time. Both films are set in the past, but clearly does not detract as both films contain subject matter that can be relatable to today's audiences.

Both competitors enter the ring looking strong. Wizards hits first landing several combos that tell of its enduring experience and longevity. Still, Chronicles stands strong and doesn't go down. By round 6, Chronicles starts flexing its muscle and begins unloading with some impressive combos of its own on the weary Wizard of Oz. Wizards gets knocked down twice, in rounds 8 and 10, but refuses to lay down and gets on its feet. Chronicles proves it has the heart and courage of its opponent, but Wizards still has the advantage of brains, out-thinking Chronicles in the final rounds scoring one knock down at round 13. Still, both films seem they will go the distance until before round 15 when the ref decides Narnia cannot continue and needs emergency medical attention. The fight is stopped. It seems as time goes on, the fans stopped caring for Narnia, and thus Narnia lost its momentum. Without an enduring fan base, the injuries became too much.

According to the judges, we see that Chronicles of Narnia, with its themes and deep narrative, is the better film. But The Wizard of Oz, with its long endurance, and continued impact on modern culture, with movie metaphors used in our cultural lexicon, proves that Wizards will go on. Narnia will become a fond, but forgotten film in decades to come. It's sequels haven't measured up, nor does it endure in the hearts and minds of society. A tragedy, really, since Narnia, a real contender, is forced into retirement. Could Narnia have beaten Wizards? We'll never know.

Winner: The Wizard of Oz

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ghostbusters VS Men In Black


                                                                TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: Ghostbusters                                                     Title: Men In Black
               Tomato Meter: 93%                                                    Tomato Meter: 91%
                IMDB Rating: 7.8                                                        IMDB Rating: 7.0
               Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd                              Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
               Director: Ivan Reitman                                                Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
               Box Office: $229 million                                              Box Office: $250 million
               Academy: 2 nominations                                            Academy: 1 win
               Year: 1984                                                                   Year: 1997

Out of this world Sci-Fi Comedies seek to annihilate each other with slapstick special effects in this Showdown match-up. 

Ghostbusters is a comedic juggernaut. Take a couple SNL alumnus, a fantastic screenplay, and comedy director Ivan Reitman, and you have a winning formula. Three 30-something Science Majors get kicked out of the university, and go into business for themselves. Their business? Catching ghosts. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis aren't just excellent in this film, but arguably put in the performances of their careers. The screenplay is so well written, not one line seems forced or artificial. The dialogue is organic, and probably improvised in places. Ivan Reitman balances this film between pseudo science and gadgetry that actually makes the plot believable, and farcical whimsy that generates one laugh after another. Special effects are top notch. What the Lightsaber did for Star Wars, the Proton Pack does for Ghostbusters. The interpersonal relationships are fully fleshed out, including the love triangle between Peter, Louis, and Dana. Egon is totally oblivious to the fact that their secretary Janine has a crush on him. Walter Peck, from the EPA, is looking to shut the Ghostbusters down. And Winston is just a blue collar joe that's hired on, looking for a decent paycheck. Things escalate as an inter-dimensional portal is opened, and a demi-god named Gozar enters our world looking to destroy mankind. Gozar chooses a form for itself to destroy us with that just have to see it.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play Agents J and K respectively. While chasing a thief through the streets of New York, Officer James (Will Smith) corners the thief who displays strange behavior and warns him that the planet is in danger, then leaps off the building. Agent K sees this and is impressed with James, offering him a job with the M.I.B. James soon learns that space aliens indeed walk the Earth and live among us, and the M.I.B. are here to police any and all alien activity. James takes the assignment and becomes agent J. Tommy Lee and Will Smith crank up the buddy cop, veteran/rookie relationship to a new level as J is introduced to dozens of alien races and unique devices like the noisy cricket and the "flashy thing." Like Ghostbusters, high tech gadgets and out of this world bad guys make up the bulk of this situational comedy. From day one, J's on the job training is a trial by fire, as he must do everything from an alien shakedown, to delivering a baby alien in the back of a taxi cab, to stopping a giant mad insect from starting an intergalactic war. Will Smiths obnoxious loud mouth persona first introduced in The Fresh Prince Of Bell Air complements Tommy Lee Jones' deadpan delivery and straight-man style comedy.

Both films come out of the gate strong, scoring several knock down blows. MIB pulls ahead during round 6 with its endless amount of aliens and cool gadgets that dazzle the audience. However, with deeper characterization, and a more satisfying ending, Ghostbusters refuse to go down and delivers a powerhouse uppercut scoring the Knock Out by round 13.

Winner: Ghostbusters

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Karate Kid VS The Karate Kid

                                                                 TALE OF THE TAPE

               Title: The Karate Kid                                                   Title: The Karate Kid
               Tomato Meter: 67%                                                    Tomato Meter: 90%
                IMDB Rating: 76.2                                                      IMDB Rating: 7.0
               Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith                           Starring: Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio
               Director: Zack Snyder                                                 Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
               Box Office: $176 million                                              Box Office: $90.8 million
               Academy: n/a                                                              Academy: 1 nomination
               Year: 2010                                                                   Year: 1984

An inspirational martial arts showdown to determine the best around. 

The 1984 version is a true classic, inspiring and heartwarming. It tells the story of friendship, courage, and integrity. Ralph Macchio plays Daniel Larusso, a 15 year old kid from Jersey who moves all the way to California with his Mother, who wants to make a fresh start for the two of them. Daniel, who comes from a family of little means, runs afoul of a group of high school seniors, all privileged kids and black belts. Daniel's only friends are Ali (Elisabeth Shue) and an old Asian maintenance man named Miyagi (Pat Morita). Ali comes from a wealthy family who aren't fond of her seeing Daniel, and it doesn't help that her ex-boyfriend is the head of the pack of bullies. Wanting to defend himself, Daniel goes to the Cobra Kai dojo, only to find out that the bullies train there. This only encourages the bullies to continue assaulting poor Daniel, who tries to hide his miserable existence from his Mother. On one occasion, as they are beating the tar out of him, Mr. Miyagi shows up to save him. The small unassuming Miyagi makes short work of these boys, despite their size and youthful energy. He then makes a deal with the Cobra Kai instructor to have his boys leave Daniel alone, and arranges for just one fight to be held at a tournament in three months. Miyagi then takes Daniel on as a karate student.

From this point we're treated to a wonderful story where they form a fond friendship. Miyagi's teachings are unconventional, having Daniel perform chores such as waxing cars, painting the house, varnishing the fence and sanding floors, each with specific methods he must adhere to. When Daniel threatens to quit Miyagi has him go through the chores and demonstrates the methods have indeed taught him a variety of karate techniques. He also expands his teachings from karate to life lessons, teaching him the importance of focus and balance. In the end, Daniel overcomes his bullies, and earns their respect. But more so, has earned a sense of self-worth and confidence.

The 2010 version is a bit misleading. The film borrows heavily from the idea of the Karate Kid, including the title. Yet it also distances itself from the original so much, its hard to tell if the filmmakers intended this to be a re-imagining or what. Jaden Smith plays young Dre Parker, a young 12 year old black kid plucked from Detroit and moves with his Mother to China. Like the original, this is about a stranger in a strange place, but amped up as China presents a complete culture shock. The original didn't go that far. Like the original, the boy befriends the maintenance man, named Mr. Han. We see the relationships are the same, but the characters are different. Falling for a classmate, this raises the ire of some bullies. Like the original, the maintenance man prepares him for a tournament to confront his bullies. Only this time, it isn't Karate, but Kung Fu. Which again is confusing since the film is called the Karate Kid. We see further parallels such as Meiying's Father disapproving of his daughters friendship with the Kara....errr Kung Fu Kid. We see Mr. Han put Dre through a single exercise involving hanging his jacket. Not as detailed as wax on, wax off, but noticeable. Characters names are also all altered. There is even a scene involving a fly and chopsticks, only this time using a flyswatter, as suggested in the original 1984 film. Much of the magic is lost in this translation. Jackie Chan beating up a few 14 year olds is not as impressive as a diminutive Pat Morita taking on bigger, athletic young men in the prime of their lives. Dre comes off less sympathetic than Daniel. Not to mention the martial arts demonstrated in the tournament are less believable than the original.

Still, the new Karate Kid isn't without merit. Jackie Chan really shows off his acting chops in this film, being more dramatic than comedic this time around. Jaden Smith puts in a fine performance, clearly demonstrating his bright future in this industry. Some of the scenes involving China's landscape is truly breathtaking. 

With both films in the ring, it is obvious that originality will win out. If the 2010 version had more courage to forgo the title and nod to "The Karate Kid", it would have performed much better. Sadly, it's knocked out by round 3.

Winner: The Karate Kid (1984)