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Hulu Miniseries is a Time Trip to Save JFK
February 15, 2016  | By Ed Bark  | 1 comment

A handsome, divorced high school English teacher seeks to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by time-traveling through a mysterious, secret portal in a retro Lisbon, Maine diner.

OK, perhaps this isn’t quite as far-fetched as some conspiracy theories. But it’s certainly a different way of yet again revisiting that very dark day in Dallas.

Partly filmed in and around Dealey Plaza but mostly shot in Canada, Hulu’s eight-part 11.22.63 is adapted from Stephen King’s 2011 bestseller, 11/22/63. The entire miniseries was made available for review, and yes, it’s quite a trip. A satisfying and surprisingly sweet payoff arguably trumps some meandering side trips and preposterous plotting (even within the context of this overall oddball premise). Unlike fellow streamers Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hulu subscribers will be fed one episode per week rather than the whole thing at once. The extended opening chapter, subtitled “The Rabbit Hole,” arrives on Monday, Feb. 15, which not coincidentally is also President’s Day.

James Franco, still very much known for his sleepy co-hosting of the 2011 Oscars, invests himself fully in the role of Jake Epping turned Jake Amberson after he’s transported back to Oct. 21, 1960 (for some reason the one and only date available). So he’ll have to bide his time before tracking Lee Harvey Oswald to the night of April 10, 1963, when he allegedly tried to kill conservative activist and former general Edwin Walker. Epperson’s directive, from grizzled, dying diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper, with Franco, right), is to kill Oswald if in fact he fired at Walker with the same rifle used on Nov. 22, 1963.

Templeton previously tried to accomplish this mission on his own, but all of his back-and-forth efforts failed. There’s this, too. Once you return to the present, anything changed in the past will be erased if you make a return trip to Oct. 21, 1960. Also be wary of the “past pushing back” rather than idly letting itself be manipulated. It’s always something, isn’t it?

After landing in Lisbon, Franco’s Jake slowly makes his way toward little Jodie, Texas and a new high school teaching job. But first there’s a side trip to Kentucky, where he hopes to avert another murder that came to his attention during 2016. This enables Jake to pick up high-strung wayward teen Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) as a problematic sidekick.

The requisite love interest is blonde, beautiful Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon, with Franco, top), who’s also new to the Jodie High faculty. Unfortunately she has a very troubled past that comes to the fore in a gratuitously gruesome Episode 5. This is the point where 11.22.63 almost goes entirely off the rails.

Meanwhile, Jake and Bill keep managing to move into or very close to the multiple residences occupied by Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald (Daniel Webber, Lucy Fry). Their primitive spying equipment is used to overhear both the Oswalds and frequent visitor George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne), a real-life, older Russian emigre who suspiciously has befriended the couple. Is he part of a conspiracy to kill the President?

(This is the same guy who committed suicide in March, 1977 while Bill O’Reilly claims to have heard him do it while outside the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s Palm Beach, FL home. O’Reilly, a reporter at the time for Dallas-based WFAA-TV, re-told this anecdote in his 2012 Killing Kennedy bestseller. And he’s steadfastly stood by this thoroughly discredited story after his colleagues at the time say he never reported anything for WFAA on the suicide and in fact was in Dallas when it happened.)

11.22.63 sprinkles in other real-life characters. Jack Ruby (Antoni Corone) is briefly seen in Episode 3 when Jake and Bill visit his Carousel Club. And the late FBI agent James Hosty (Gil Bellows) is portrayed as a demonic, evidence-manipulating interrogator in the climactic Episode 8. It all makes for a wild, careening denouement that both strains all credibility and then regroups to tug at heart strings. It’s tempting to get more specific, but let’s pull back. Save to say that those who haven’t read King’s book yet should be prepared for anything and everything.

King and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) are the principal executive producers of this concoction. It originally was planned as a feature film directed by Jonathan Demme, but King reportedly clashed with him over content. The resultant miniseries is buoyed by an effective performance from Franco, whose character’s frequent hard-core profanity will be included in both the commercial-free and commercial-interrupted versions available to subscribers, according to a Hulu spokeswoman.

Whether cursing, welling up with tears or being beaten to a pulp, Franco is game to go the distance in a thoroughly tall tale that also has a solid performance from Gadon in the key role of Sadie. Together they persevere toward Nov. 22, 1963 in hopes of saving that day and thereby making the future a much better place. Story-wise, this turns out to be a very bumpy ride. But despite its flaws, 11.22.63 ends up closing the deal in a way that for the most part makes it a long, strange time travel worth taking.

Read more at unclebarky.com

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The "prevent the JFK assassination" was one of the treatments for the first "Star Trek" movie Gene Roddenberry submitted to Paramount way back in 1975. Of course, it never got off the ground.
Feb 17, 2016   |  Reply
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