DID YOU READ

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]

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

Janeane Garofalo and David Cross Riot LA

Comedy Riot

Catch David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Kumail Nanjiani and More Comedy Behemoths at the Riot LA Comedy Festival

Riot LA takes place January 29th-31st in Downtown Los Angeles. Catch Kumail Nanjiani on the 2016 Spirit Awards Feb. 27th at 5P ET/2P PT on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Riot LA / Instagram

Pity the comedy fan who isn’t in the Los Angeles area at the end of January, for they’re about to miss one of the most impressive lineup of comedians ever assembled. From January 29th through the 31st, Riot LA — the city’s premiere alternative comedy festival — will be hosting a slew of comedy behemoths in the downtown area.

Among the scheduled heavy-hitters are Todd Margaret’s David Cross, frequent Portlandia guest and 2016 Spirit Awards cohost Kumail Nanjiani, uber-nerd Patton Oswalt, dapper gent Paul F. Tompkins, and progressive firebrand Janeane Garofalo. (And we haven’t even mentioned Maria Bamford, T.J. Miller, Gilbert Gottfried, Natasha Leggero, Ron Funches, Anthony Jeselnik, Chelsea Peretti, Kyle Kinane, Jonah Ray, Brody Stevens, or the Sklar Brothers. Check out a full list of performers here.)

Tickets for this stand-up bonanza are available at the official website, both for individual shows as well as an all-inclusive Superfan Pass which grants you access to over 40 shows on Saturday and Sunday. (The $375 VIP passes are already sold out!)

Check out the trailer for Riot LA 2016 below. If you’re up for witnessing stand-up comedy at its very best, you really couldn’t do any better than this.

Fred Armisen on Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

Southern Gentleman

Here’s Proof That Fred Armisen Can Do Any Southern Accent

Portlandia returns for its sixth season this Thursday, January 21st at 10P.

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Portlandia star Fred Armisen may be a man of a thousand Pacific Northwestern faces, but he would also like you to know his vocal mimicry is just as impressive — and unbound to intercontinental region. To prove it, Armisen stopped by The Tonight Show to chat with host Jimmy Fallon and show off his impeccable mimicry. He cycled through each member of The Beatles — a feat that Fallon admits he’s only known Fred to do well — and toured the American South with state-specific accents. (Tip: Arkansas accents require a clipped “pull back” after each consonant and Tennesseans are always “thin-kin a-bout it.”)

Watch Fred Armisen demonstrate his Ozark assimilation in the video below.  For more Fred, check out his Facebook Q&A and watch a free episode from the new season of Portlandia right now on IFC.com or on the IFC app.

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