Mike Kueber's Blog

May 10, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies #71 – Monster, The Thorn Birds, and The Kennedys

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:03 am
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Monster is a 2003 true-story movie starring Charlize Theron as a prostitute-cum-serial killer.  I added the movie to my Netflix queue because a good friend assured me that Theron’s Oscar-winning performance was the best he had ever seen.

My decision-making process was flawed because I don’t watch movies to see Academy Award winning performances.  As I recently blogged, I want a movie to stir me intellectually or emotionally, and a critical component to that is caring about the character.  That is where Monster fails.  Charlize Theron is not only unlikeable; she is also uninteresting.  As one older lady in the movie succinctly pointed out, you can’t go through life attributing all of your bad conduct to a bad mother who didn’t talk to you.    

With respect to Cheron’s acting performance, I was thoroughly unimpressed.  Instead of seeing a realistic portrayal of an emotionally-scarred woman, I saw nothing more than a female version of Johnny Drama Chase from the HBO series Entourage, with eerily similar gaits and facial expressions.  The difference is that Kevin Dillon’s character is mostly a cartoonish caricature, whereas Theron’s character is supposed to be realistic. 

The Rotten Tomato critics score Monster at 82% and the audience gives it 77%.  I give it only two and a half stars.

The Thorn Birds is a television mini-series from late March 1983.  I viewed it back then and enjoyed the series immensely, but what I remember most about it was that it revealed the politics and ambition that is endemic to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  This revelation might have been reinforced by my reading of the 1984 book on Cardinal Spellman titled The American Pope.  Until then, I naively assumed that the most Godly priests were elevated, not those with those from rich families who went to the best schools and had the best connections.

Watching The Thorn Birds again 30 years later on two Netflix DVDs didn’t disappoint me.  Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward are stunning, especially considering that they age from kids in their prime to doddering oldsters.  Their story begins in 1919 with a parish priest and a young girl in Australia and ends with him a cardinal in Rome and her the matriarch of a large Australian sheep ranch, Drogheda.  They were lifelong soulmates before the term was fashionable. 

Unlike most mini-series, this one had only two characters worth caring about – the others are mere accessories to telling the love story of Meggie Cleary and Ralph de Bricassart.  Inexplicably, several supporting actors won nominations and awards, while Rachel Ward’s performance was mostly panned.  That’s ludicrous; she was superb.  Or perhaps I was enchanted.  Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t rank mini-series, but I give this one four out of four stars.         

The Kennedys is an eight-part 2011 miniseries that recreates the Kennedy dynasty from 1938 when Joe, Sr. is the ambassador to Britain to 1968 when Bobby is assassinated.  I’ve read a lot of books on the Kennedys, most recently The Patriarch by David Nasaw, and I believe this mini-series accurately reflects that history as well as can be done.  The leading actors are outstanding, with Greg Kinnear as JFK, Barry Pepper as RFK, Katie Holmes as Jackie, and Tom Wilkinson as Joe, Sr.  Plus, Don Allison is a spitting image of LBJ. 

For some reason, the modern-day Kennedys were unhappy with the $30 million production and opposed its release in America, and this opposition resulted in the miniseries being shown in obscurity on ReelzChannel.  Fortunately, it is now available on Netflix streaming. 

This obscure fate is not deserved because the characters are wonderfully nuanced.  JFK starts as a callow young man cowed by his father, but his common sense and good judgment eventually come to the fore.  Joe, Sr. is portrayed as a good, albeit fabulously wealthy, American with a healthy, albeit outsize, ambition for him and his family.  RFK is the family loyalist with a mix of practicality and sanctimony.  The battle between RFK and LBJ, with JFK mediating, seems fair to both.  Only Ethel and Jackie are perhaps too good to be true.    

As I started watching this miniseries, I thought it was a good history with nothing new, but at least it was factually accurate.  As I continued watching, however, the characters and the story became more and more attractive and interesting.  Despite their obvious flaws, Joe, Sr., JFK, and RFK are three-dimensional characters worth caring about.

The Kennedys received mixed reviews.  I disagree.  It is excellent history and excellent drama.  I give it four stars out of four.

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