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. […]

Lincoln (2012) vs. Thirteen Days (2000)

November 8, 2012 Arthur Tiersky

You’ve heard about all the Kennedy/Lincoln coincidences by now. Some of them are even true. But did you know that Kennedy and Lincoln both have had movies made about pivotal moments in their presidencies? Yeah, I guess you probably did know that. The long list of movie Lincolns includes such notable stars as Henry Fonda, Walter Huston and now, in Steven Spielberg’s new film, Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis, while Kennedy has been assayed by, among others, Cliff Robertson, James Franciscus and Bruce Greenwood, who played our youngest President in the true-to-life political thriller, Thirteen Days.

But did you know that I just happened to watch both Lincoln and Thirteen Days in the same week? […]

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 Tree of Life (2011) -vs- The Fountain (2006)

July 6, 2011 Mark Sanchez

The universe is full of mystery: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? If God exists, why does He allow evil? And perhaps most perplexing of all, how did not one, but two Hollywood productions in the last five years attract major financing for projects tackling those kinds of questions without linear stories that film critics, not to mention common moviegoers, could understand?

Well, the good Lord works in mysterious ways, and in the case of writer-director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (now in theaters) and The Fountain (2006), written and directed by Darren Aronofsky with help on the story from Ari Handel, we are arguably better off for it.

Reactions are all over the lot on Malick’s latest opus, and so is the film, which examines a Texas family’s extended life and reaches for an emotional link connecting it to all of creation. Aronofsky’s metaphysical missile, on the other hand, describes a parabola between life and death, attempting to shed light on life’s essence through a sort of tag-team narrative, part of which deals with a literal search for — wait for it — the tree of life. […]

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) -vs- Forrest Gump (1994)

December 25, 2008 Bryce Zabel

When “Forrest Gump” hit the theaters in 1994, it was a pure original: nothing quite like it had come before. Tom Hanks got the title role and basically hit it out of the park playing a man-child with an IQ of 75 who manages to be involved in every major happening in America between the 1950s and the 1980s. As directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film manages to move forward relentlessly in its narrative scope and, before it’s over, Tom Hanks has taught Elvis, made JFK laugh, been a hero in Vietnam, opened up China with his ping-pong skills, run across America and had a girlfriend die of AIDS. The bases are covered every which way but it’s Hanks’s dignified, down-to-Earth performance that sets it totally apart. It might be a comedy or a drama, I’m not really sure.
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