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September 24, 2011

Movies You Missed 5: The Kennedys

Kennedys This week in new DVDs: Katie Holmes impersonates Jackie Kennedy. A nation doesn't bother to weep.

Each week I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.) And this week, with Netflix apparently poised to transform its streaming service into the new Blockbuster, distancing itself from customers who like to watch the broader selection only available on disc, may be a good time to appreciate your local video stores.

What You Missed:

Last Sunday was the Emmy awards. The "Breaking Bad" episode that followed obliterated my memory of every single thing that happened during that ceremony, save one: Controversial miniseries "The Kennedys" received a bunch of nominations. Barry Pepper, who played Bobby Kennedy, took home Outstanding Lead Actor.

This was kind of a surprise, since up till now "The Kennedys" has mainly been known for the controversy that got it kicked off its original network, the History Channel. A board of historians had pointed to factual inaccuracies in the screenplay for the eight-episode dramatization of the JFK presidency, produced by "24" creator Joel Surnow. Result: The History Channel, which we all know is scrupulously dedicated to historical accuracy, pulled the plug.

Had Surnow's right-wing sympathies prompted him to create a smear job on Camelot? Or — as some people involved in the miniseries alleged — had members of the Kennedy family told the TV execs in no uncertain terms that this portrayal displeased them? Here's a good account of the whole kerfuffle.

Why You Missed It:

When THC dumped "The Kennedys," the series ended up airing on a movie-focused network called Reelz. If you're a Comcast subscriber in Burlington — by way of example — this network isn't among your options. It's pretty obscure. So, unless you have one of those fancy satellites, this is probably your first chance to hear Holmes mangle a blue-blood Bouvier accent.

Should You Keep Missing It?

There are three fine reasons to watch "The Kennedys": (1) Kennedy completism; (2) You're curious to know if it is, in fact, a politically motivated smear job that depicts liberal hero JFK as the worst president of the 20th century and the root of all evils we suffer today; (3) You're hoping it will be enjoyably train-wreck bad.

Based on my viewing of just the first three episodes, which take us up to the Bay of Pigs, the answers to the last two questions are "no" and "no." "The Kennedys" reminds me of those movies teachers used to make us watch in high school when they were tired of actually teaching us things. Its tone is not campy or outrageous (or fun). Its dramatic devices are well worn. Its music is stirring. Its depictions of Jack, Joe, Bobby and Jackie are more sympathetic than not, though of course their foibles are on display as well as their achievements.

In short, if Surnow was trying to do a reverse-Oliver Stone on the Kennedy legacy, he did a pretty crappy job. (Other critics who watched the whole damn thing seem to agree.) On the other hand, if he was trying to make the turmoil of the '60s into a Lifetime movie, he succeeded. "The Kennedys" is the kind of family saga miniseries that might be fun to watch with your grandma on a rainy night, but edgy TV it is not.

Really, the best reason to watch "The Kennedys" is to rank the accents. Pepper sounds the most authentic to me. Greg Kinnear, who plays JFK, struggles mightily with his, though he turns in a decent overall performance. I'm not sure Tom Wilkinson was really trying, but he makes Joe Kennedy a compelling figure.


Based on the first three episodes, casting Holmes was the only unforgivable sin of this production. It's not that she can't act, exactly, but that she has trouble acting like an adult, let alone a poised style icon. She tries hard to repress the twitchy-teen mannerisms from her "Dawson's Creek" days, but doesn't have much to replace them. So, if you're a hardcore Jackie fan, approach with caution. You don't want to start seeing Holmes in your head when you think of those pillbox hats.

More new DVDs you may have missed:

Bridesmaids (OK, you probably didn't miss this one. It played for, like, five months. But I did, so I want to see it.)
Bride Flight (Dutch women immigrate to New Zealand as war brides.)
Circo (A Mexican circus struggles to survive.)
If a Tree Falls (Doc about the Earth Liberation Front)
Daguerreotypes (Rerelease of Agnes Varda's 1975 doc about her Paris neighborhood)
Star Wars Blu-ray (Once again, George Lucas pisses off fans by introducing CGI where CGI was not meant to be, and many of them buy this anyway. Hey, it's got deleted scenes!)

There's a Netflix ad to the right of this page (probably cause you mentioned it...). Kind of defeats the purpose of "go local". LOL

" A board of historians had pointed to factual inaccuracies in the screenplay for the eight-episode dramatization of the JFK presidency, produced by "24" creator Joel Surnow. "

The highlight of this series is when an enraged Bobby Kennedy ties Kruschev to a chair and methodically beats him into revealing the location of the Cuban missiles.

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