Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas? (2013) vs. 11/22/63: A Novel (2012)

October 18, 2013 Alan Caldwell

The date is indelibly etched in the memories of everyone who was alive then: 11/22/63. Until 9/11, it was the most shocking, tragic, unimaginably ghastly national event we had witnessed. In the half-century since, what Boomer hasn’t wondered how the Sixties might have improved if President Kennedy’d had the opportunity to complete two terms in office, and not just 1000 days. Sure, we still got the Beatles and the Apollo mission, and on LBJ’s watch the Civil Rights movement blossomed, but then we got mired in Vietnam and Watergate and even more, horrid assassinations.

The assassination also produced a cottage-industry of JFK-themed films and books, ranging from memoirs to analyses of his life and legacy, but by far the most prevalent have been those that (like Oliver Stone’s JFK) have questioned the Warren Commission’s report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Many of these works also speculate about JFK’s second administration and how it would have changed history.

For this special, bonus-edition Smackdown, we’ve got heavyweight champion Stephen King going mano-a-mano with none other than Señor Smackdown himself, Bryce Zabel. What makes this pairing especially juicy is that, though both contenders are no strangers to producing award-winning popular film/TV entertainment — a remake of King’s Carrie, based on his debut novel, is once again rattling theatergoers — we’re taking a rare detour into the universe of literature. […]

John Kennedy vs. The Conspirators

July 10, 2013 Eric Estrin

What really would have happened next if John Kennedy survived the ambush at Dealey Plaza?

That’s the intriguing premise of this ambitiously researched novel by award-winning TV writer/producer Bryce Zabel, who just happens to be the publisher of Movie Smackdown. In his new book out soon, Surrounded by Enemies: What If Kennedy Survived Dallas?, Bryce boldly reimagines a post-1963 political scenario that focuses on what we now know about the secrets of the Kennedy presidency in a way that shocks readers without resorting to sci-fi gimmicks. […]

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) -vs- A River Runs Through It (1992)

March 26, 2012 Mitch Paradise

Books and movies have often used bodies of water and the creatures that live in them as full, rich metaphors, evoking man’s struggle to find meaning amid life’s shifting tides (Alert: the first of many body-of-water metaphors!). The examples in high culture are endless: Moby Dick, The Secret of Roan Inish, SpongeBob SquarePants… Here are two movies that carry on the tradition: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a Lasse Hallstrom-helmed, Simon Beaufoy-penned romantic dramedy, has made a splash in the indie world by dramatizing the Sisyphean task of introducing salmon fishing to a desert country best known today as the headquarters of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. It’s opponent is A River Runs Through It, a lyrical film based on Norman McClean’s semi-autobiographical novel that follows the maturation of two brothers struggling to create individual and conflicting identities under the watchful eye of their minister father. Set in the wild and verdant glory of rural Montana, everything about it is as precious as your grandmother’s wedding rings. […]

Dark Skies vs. Dark Skies

March 1, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Our “Dark Skies” has established itself in the minds of a significant number of science fiction fans as a gripping piece of conspiracy drama set in the world of UFOs and abductions. It anchored NBC’s Saturday night “Thrillogy” concept in the 1996 season premiere and starred Eric Close (“Nashville”) and the late film character actor J.T. Walsh (“Sling Blade”). Its main title design won the Emmy award and its pilot screenplay received a Writers Guild nomination. The Syfy Channel aired the entire series multiple times. Since 2010 there’s been a Facebook page where thousands of fans from many different countries push Sony for a TV revival. […]

Albert Nobbs: A Cross-Dressing Downton Abbey

February 14, 2012 Bryce Zabel

The film Albert Nobbs — a cross-dressing version of Downton Abbey — features Glenn Close dressed as a man the entire movie. She plays the title character, a 19th-century Dublin woman who passes as a man so she can work as a waiter. I’ll bet confused waiters all over the world are racing off to check the movie listings even as we speak.

The look is so bizarre that my daughter who attended the screening with me expressed her fear after the film that she’s going to have nightmares about the character. But the voting members of the film Academy gave Close an Oscar nomination. . […]

The Ides of March (2011) -vs- Primary Colors (1998)

October 11, 2011 Bryce Zabel

The list of more-than-decent films about political campaigns is a short one. Nobody will ever forget Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson in The Best Man or even The Candidate with the Kennedy-esque Robert Redford. During the Years of Lewinsky, Primary Colors took us into the thinly-disguised 1992 Clinton campaign. Now we have The Ides of March, proudly wearing its cynicism on its sleeve at a time when Obama gets pilloried for being practical. In the most recent films, the candidates have that certain problem we mentioned earlier. (Redford is famously remembered in The Candidate as muttering, after winning, “What do we do now?”, but there’s also a quick moment of a campaign worker leaving his room in the morning earlier in the film.)
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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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Get Him To The Greek (2010) -vs- Almost Famous (2000)

June 6, 2010 Sherry Coben

The world is getting worse. I realize that my perception is colored by my advancing age and my own inevitable glorification of the halcyon days past, but I think it’s also true. The world is less civilized, less kind, less gentle, and the vulgarization of popular taste is either an unhappy result or partial cause of the precipitous downslide. Judd Apatow’s films capture something in the culture that grates on me; they have heart, but they also try to deliver on a boyish crudeness, an acceptance of careless behavior with little to no consequence. It’s the having it both ways that rankles so much; I would pay no attention to these films at all if they didn’t try so hard to be sweet. But the sweetness is buried in so much profanity and offensiveness; not liking these films makes me feel like a prude, and that’s not a feeling I enjoy. I don’t think I’m being a prude when I object to portraying heroin use and trafficking as a comic convention; there’s nothing funny about forcing an employee to shove a baggie of heroin up his ass while in line at an airport. I’m sorry. That’s not okay with me. The fact that the movie makes that incident not just okay but just another story beat in its salacious, bawdy, saucy naughtiness concerns me. Forcing that same someone to use a cocktail of drugs including meth and heroin strikes me as even more appalling. Making light of such drug abuse is just plain wrong.
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The Ghost Writer (2010) -vs- Shutter Island (2010)

March 31, 2010 Sherry Coben

In the eyes of many Brits and other Europeans, Tony Blair played W’s lapdog for years, and this film presents a plausible (if a little harebrained and oversimplified) conspiracy theory in explanation. Pierce Brosnan plays the retired Prime Minister with his intellect on dimmer switch and gorgeosity and charisma on overload; it’s an effective and devastating performance and indictment. Echoes of a few other American actor/gladhanding puppethead-turned-politician types were surely no accident either. Olivia Williams plays his compelling Lady MacBeth, and Ewan MacGregor the ghost writer hired to finish the PM’s memoirs; he’s instantly and unwittingly entangled in political intrigue way over his level head. Eli Wallach delivers another terrific cameo; this guy just keeps on working and getting better with advancing age. Every time that now-ancient face appears onscreen, we’re sure it’s the last time we’ll see it, and yet he keeps coming back for more.
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