Damning Docudrama Revisits Kennedy Cover-Up of Tragic Car Accident
On July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) hosted a reunion in a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick, a tiny island just 150 yards off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The gathering was in honor of the Boiler Room Girls, half-dozen women who had worked on his late brother Bobby’s aborted presidential campaign the previous year.
Around 11:15 p.m., Teddy left the party in his ’67 Oldsmobile with one of those young staffers, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). An hour or so later, the car ambled down a dirt road and off a wooden bridge, before landing upside-down in Poucha Pond.
Senator Kennedy escaped and swam to shore, leaving Mary Jo in the submerged automobile, wrongly assuming that she had drowned. Truth be told, she was still alive and able to breathe, thanks to a large air pocket.
However, instead of trying to save Mary Jo, Ted turned his attention to damage control. After all, he was already planning a run for the White House in ’72. So, while she remained trapped and terrified for hours, he convened the Kennedy family brain trust, rather than report the accident to the police and fire department.
In fact, the authorities only learned about the wreck the next morning when, at low tide, a couple of fishermen spotted the wheels of a car bobbing in the channel. Unfortunately, by the time divers arrived, Mary Jo had already run out of oxygen and died of asphyxiation.
Nevertheless, Teddy, with the help of his cronies, did his best to exculpate himself of any wrongdoing. At first, he claimed Mary Jo had been driving, so that no one could accuse him of driving under the influence. Later, he admitted being behind the wheel but concocted a tall tale about having tried to rescue his passenger several times before she expired.
Lucky for Teddy, his legal team was able to influence the inquest. Without performing an autopsy, the medical examiner concluded that Kopechne died of drowning. Consequently, the powerful senator would not be indicted by the grand jury or charge with a crime of any nature.
Directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), Chappaquiddick is a damning docudrama belatedly setting the record straight about what really transpired in Massachusetts on that fateful night back in 1969. Ironically, the elaborate cover-up didn’t enable Kennedy to become president, though it did at least keep him out of jail.
Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a crash which in one brief, shameful moment brought down the curtain on a dynasty known as Camelot.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for smoking, profanity, mature themes and disturbing images
Running time: 101 minutes
Production Studio: Apex Entertainment / DMG Entertainment
Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Sickly Teen Finds Soulmate in Bittersweet Romance Drama
The biggest takeaway from Midnight Sun is that Patrick Schwarzenegger has a bright future as an actor. Fair warning: he’s not a buff bodybuilder like his father, Arnold, so don’t look for him to play he-man roles any time soon.
However, in Midnight Sun he proves that he can hold his own as a leading man in a romance drama. So, he ought to have a certain appeal to females, between an endearing vulnerability and his rugged good looks.
Directed by Scott Speer (Step Up Revolution), Midnight Sun is loosely based on Taiyo No Ita, a Japanese tearjerker released in 2006. This English language version is basically the same story, except for a few tweaks of the script that don’t alter the arc of the basic plot.
The title hints at the sickly heroine’s affliction, Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), a rare skin disease that leaves her extremely allergic to sunlight. Consequently, Katie (Bella Thorne) is only allowed to leave the house after dark.
Otherwise, she’s your typical teenage girl. She enjoys music, keeps a journal, and has a crush on Charlie (Schwarzenegger), the tall, handsome neighbor who skateboards past her specially-treated windows everyday. They’re both seniors at Purdue High, but he has no idea she even exists, since Katie completed all her schoolwork online.
Their paths finally cross one evening soon after graduation when she was hanging out alone at the local train station, playing her late mother’s acoustic guitar. It’s love at first sight for Charlie, but Katie doesn’t want to frighten him off by telling him she has XP.
They start dating and everything is peachy keen until the night they stay out almost until daybreak. Katie freaks out and is forced to share her big secret.
Will Charlie bolt or stick around? That is the critical question at the heart of Midnight Sun. The movie earns such high marks for its sensitive handling of a seriously-ill patient’s heartbreaking plight, that I was willing to forgive its relatively-sappy portrayal of the star-crossed lovers.
A sentimental soap opera guaranteed to make you weep in spite of yourself.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for partying sensuality and mature themes
Running time: 91 minutes
Production Studios: Wrigley Pictures / Boies-Schiller Film Group / Rickard Pictures
Distributor: Open Road Films
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening April 6, 2018
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Blockers (R for crude humor, pervasive profanity, graphic sexuality, drug use, partying and frontal nudity) Prom night comedy revolving around three parents (John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz) who join forces to thwart their daughters’ (Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton and Gideon Adlon) plan to lose their virginity. With Ramona Young, Miles Robbins and Graham Phillips.
Chappaquiddick (PG-13 for smoking, profanity, mature themes and disturbing images) Historical docudrama recounting Ted Kennedy’s (Jason Clarke) summer of ’69 car accident that claimed the life of 28-year-old, campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Featuring Andria Blackman as Joan Kennedy, Clancy Brown as Robert McNamara, and Taylor Nichols as Ted Sorensen.
The Miracle Season (PG for mature themes) Inspirational true tale about a girl’s high school volleyball team that triumphed in spite of the tragic death of its star player (Danika Yarosh) in a moped accident. With Erin Moriarty and Oscar-winners Helen Hunt (for As Good as It Gets) and William Hurt (for Kiss of the Spider Woman).
A Quiet Place (PG-13 for terror and bloody images) Haunted house horror flick about a family that finds itself hunted by mysterious creatures who use sound to locate their prey. Cast includes Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
ACORN and the Firestorm (Unrated) Investigative post-mortem deconstructing how the country’s largest, anti-poverty organization was defunded after the dissemination of a damning, hidden-camera video shot by a couple of right-wing activists posing as a pimp and hooker.
The Heart of Nuba (Unrated) Reverential biopic about Dr. Tom Catena, the selfless, American physician who, for the past decade, has been the only surgeon available to a million people living in the wart-torn Nuba Mountains of southern Sudan.
Lean on Pete (R for profanity and brief violence) Coming-of-age drama, set in Portland, Oregon, about the bond forged between a 15-year-old stable boy (Charlie Plummer) and a retired racehorse slated for slaughter. With Steve Buscemi, Steve Zahn, Travis Fimmel and Chloe Sevigny.
Spinning Man (R for profanity and sexual references) Pierce Brosnan plays the title character in this whodunit about a philandering philosophy professor suspected of foul play after a student (Odeya Rush) he’s sleeping with disappears without a trace. With Jamie Kennedy, Minnie Driver, Alexandra Shipp and Guy Pearce.
Spiral (Unrated) An eye-opening documentary chronicling the recent rise of anti-Semitism in France.
Where Is Kyra? (Unrated) Michelle Pfeiffer plays the title character in this NYC saga as an unemployed woman whose life spirals out of control after the death of the mother (Suzanne Shepherd) she’d become financially dependent on. With Kiefer Sutherland, Babs Olusanmokun and Sam Robards.