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. […]

“Django Unchained” (Tarantino) Meets “Lincoln” (Spielberg)

December 18, 2012 Movie Smackdown

The body count in Django Unchained — given that it’s a Quentin Tarantino film — is way, way high. The film hits theaters on Christmas Day so we can consider “Peace on Earth” while amping up on slave-era violence. It will likely pack the theaters, Rotten Tomatoes has it with 100% fresh reviews as we write this. We wish we were smart enough to figure out what all of this means about violence in America and what should be done. We are devastated, like everyone else, by what happened in Connecticut, but doubt that a red carpet arrival for Tarantino’s spaghetti-western ultra-violence-fest has much bearing on it. […]

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2007) vs. Michael Collins (1996)

March 13, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Every St. Patrick’s Day, people worldwide celebrate the Irish by wearing shamrocks, marching in parades, even drinking green beer. It can be a ton of fun, to be sure, but the Ireland of fairly recent history was a very serious place where political battles were decided in revolution and civil war. Our Irish Movie Smackdown pays tribute to those days by putting a couple of films in the ring together that tell the story. These two classic films of Irish-rebellion — The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Michael Collins — were made a decade apart. Back in the Clinton years, Liam Neeson starred in the title role as Irish rebel turned Free Stater, Michael Collins, and a few days before St. Patrick’s Day in 2007, Cillian Murphy played a rebel on the other side of the bloody Irish Civil War in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. They each tell stories about the years when Irish eyes were definitely not smiling… […]

Game Change (2012) -vs- Recount (2008)

March 9, 2012 Movie Smackdown

Four years ago, John McCain named Sarah Palin, a self-proclaimed “hockey mom” as his Republican running mate and upended the 2008 election. He was looking for a game-changer to help him compete against the Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Now, the story of that move, and the blow-back from it all is a new HBO film, Game Change, from director Jay Roach who also helmed the HBO film about the tied 2000 election, Recount. […]

Arnold (2011) -vs- Arnold (1998) What’s He Thinking Now?

May 21, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Probably no one will admit to this in the future, even if it’s true, but I think confession is good for the soul.

I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Twice.

Honestly, I did it because I felt that his oversize personality allowed him to stand out from the stupid party animosities that were bankrupting California in their dance of mutually assured destruction. For a while he did, and he kept trying. So there’s that.

But, of course, it’s not enough, even if you’re an Arnold fan outside of the movies. Clearly we haven’t heard the end of the story cycle and more “shockers” will dribble out, but the whole thing feels icky. At least this happened when he was out of office. You can just freaking imagine the media circus this would be if he was still up in Sacramento. […]

The Most Popular Movie President of All-Time Is…

May 11, 2010 Bryce Zabel

It was Ford in a landslide. Nope, not Ford as in Gerald who lost to Jimmy Carter, but Ford as in Harrison who walked away with our Movie Smackdown presidential poll, taking 26.4% of the votes in a ten-man race.

Ford played President James Marshall in the 1997 film, “Air Force One.” Marshall has just gone to Moscow where he’s told the entire world he will not negotiate with terrorists. Then, on the flight home, Russian neo-nationalists hijack Air Force One forcing an ugly decision on Marshall: give in to terrorist demands or sacrifice not only the country’s dignity, but the lives of his wife and daughter. Well, there is one thing in his favor. He’s a military guy, a winner of the Medal of Honor, and he’s going to fight back.

Apparently we liked this version of the Marshall Plan a lot because when given ten of the top performances by an actor as a president to choose from, our Movie Smackdown voters gave a clear and convincing mandate to Harrison Ford. Here’s our results:
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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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Green Zone (2010) -vs- The Hurt Locker (2009)

March 16, 2010 Beau DeMayo

It’s not a good time for the American occupation of Iraq. The news from “over there” is that the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric who led the Shia insurgency against the American occupation, have emerged as Iraq’s equivalent of the 1994 Republican Party. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Americans voted about Iraq, too, refusing to give “Green Zone” any mandate whatsoever. And, keep in mind that the other Iraq film that just won the Best Picture Oscar, “The Hurt Locker,” basically was one of the worst-peforming winners in that category ever. Maybe it’s just the hot button political sensitivities, war-weariness, or that it is simply “too soon.” Other critics can decide that, however, because here at the Smack, we simply want to know which film about the Iraq War gets it most right, box-office be damned!
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