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JFK, cinematic bit player.

JFK, cinematic bit player. (photo)

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If most cinematic biopics are missed opportunities to do something bold, the biographical TV mini-series tends to be inherently unsalvageable, with too much time to do anything but plod through and hit the high notes at cut-rate cost. So it’s hard to get too worked up about news thatJohn F. Kennedy’s life will be the subject of a new mini-series, no matter what the political talking points. Nevertheless, people are.

In one corner, you have “24” creator and conservative activist Joel Surnow, who also had a hand in the little loved 17 episodes of “The 1/2 Hour News Hour,” Fox News’ short-lived rejoinder to “The Daily Show.” In the other is Robert Greenwald, famed director of “Xanadu,” whose attention of late has been turned to preaching-to-the-choir type liberal activist documentaries (“Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price”). Greenwald charges that the JFK script is defamatory conservative propaganda, “political character assassination,” including a scene where JFK asks Bobby “What do you do when you’re horny?” Which is stupid, mostly because it’s hard to imagine JFK using the precise word “horny.”

There’s been action of late to reclaim JFK as, if not a conservative, at least not an antecedent of modern liberalism. (See, if you must, “An American Carol,” in which JFK emerges from the TV to smack the Michael Moore stand-in around.) It’s more interesting, though, that the charges center around the usual timeline compressions/inaccuracies and “sexual titillation.” Disputes over what happened when and sex: what could be more JFK-esque?

With rare exceptions, JFK’s presence on film and TV has been surprisingly small. Out of sixty-something on-screen turns credited by IMDb, he’s almost never at the center of things, either part of the big swath of history cut by the Kennedys as a whole (like 1990’s mini-series “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” with Steven Weber [!] as JFK) or the people whose paths he crossed (with appearances in mini-series and TV movies about RFK, J. Edgar Hoover, Marilyn Monroe and so on). Alternately, Oliver Stone’s “JFK” makes explicit that JFK’s assassination defines his legacy, not so much a president as a locus for various dark points of view about America.

02172010_thirteendays.jpgThe few exceptions aren’t much to write about: as Slant‘s Len Sousa notes, 1983’s “Kennedy” mini-series (starring Martin Sheen) is at least a little undermined by opening “each episode with an American flag fluttering in the breeze and suddenly freeze-framing it with some cartoon blood splattered over the image.” “JFK”‘s a terrific movie that has little to do with the man.

Probably best is 2000’s underrated “Thirteen Days,” a relatively dry and understated look at the White House’s internal workings during the Cuban Missile Crisis that smartly took much of its dialogue from JFK’s tapes of policy meetings. It’s probably the only film more interested in JFK as policy-maker and president than as a symbol of one kind or another.

Sex has always surrounded JFK on-screen (the sex and paranoia go hand in hand in last year’s ghastly “An American Affair,” where we’re supposed to believe that his affair with Gretchen Mol somehow contributed to his death). At times, that seems to be JFK’s greatest cinematic legacy, besides providing a well-known New England accent for overzealous actors to take as a model. I suppose this mini-series could push things further, but it’s no matter: it’ll be just another one for the slag-heap of movies more interested in JFK as a generically flawed human rather than a politician.

[Photos: “Kennedy,” NBC, 1983; “Thirteen Days,” New Line Cinema, 2000]

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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