Movie:   LBJ

Rating:   4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   In 1960 the Democratic Party was in a state of upheaval, with several prominent figures such as Senators Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson), and former Governor Adlai Stevenson as most likely to come out of the pack to become the nominee for the presidency.  Instead, the youthful junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), became the nominee and went on to win the closely contested election over Richard Nixon.  In order to win the election, Kennedy realized he had to carry Texas, and so Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson was asked to be the vice president on the Democratic ticket.

Once in the Oval Office, President Kennedy and his brother Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) had reservations about bringing the vice president into the inner circle of their closest advisors when policy was being formulated.  While Johnson had been valuable to get votes in the election, he was seen as a southerner who was not part of the Camelot vision to improve the country, especially in terms of civil rights.  Johnson was aware of this stigma, and did his best to  corral support for President Kennedy’s policies by means of his many political connections and procedural savvy.  Then came that fateful day on November 23, 1963, when the oft maligned vice president was thrust into the office of the presidency.  How President Johnson acted in his time in office was to have a significant impact on the nation for years to come, especially in the area of civil rights.

This is a powerful film by director Rob Reiner, part biography of LBJ, and part historical drama relating the events behind the choosing of Johnson as vice president, and explaining Johnson’s success in maneuvering bills through the Senate and signed into law.  Johnson was often vulgar in his dealings with people, but the man possessed a shrewd intelligence that made him a master of negotiating within the political system.  One can only wonder why such individuals are not found in today’s Congress with it’s total gridlock on legislative action.  A powerful film that is riveting for anyone with an interest in history.  Woody Harrelson turns in a dramatic performance that deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Mini Trailers:  Johnson to Sen Dirksen – “Senator, can we bring this bill to the floor without our parties nipping at each other’s heels like a pack of rabid dogs?”

Johnson watching JFK on TV – “I have never seen a politician look that good on TV.”  Wife Lady Bird – “He’s not that handsome.”

Johnson – “If you don’t take me down in the first two rounds, you’re going to lose.”  Bobby Kennedy – “There won’t be a second round.”  Johnson – “You sound awfully confident.”  Bobby Kennedy – “I can count.”

Johnson – “I could walk across the Potomac River, and the next day newspaper headlines would say, “Johnson Can’t Swim!”” 

JFK to Advisors – “It is your job to placate the vice president.  I don’t care if you have to kiss his ass all over town!”

Johnson – “The southerners don’t speak Kennedy, and the Kennedys don’t speak southern.  I am the only one fluent in both languages.”

Bobby Kennedy – “Well Lyndon, if you are insistent on taking the oath right away, then take the damn oath!”

President Johnson Discussing the Civil Rights Bill – “This time they’ll be fighting two presidents.  Never underestimate the martyr’s cause, and the size of a Texan’s balls.”

President Johnson addressing Congress – “John Kennedy gave people hope.  We are going to give people results.”

LBJ Stuff – Lyndon Johnson was sometimes referred to as “Landslide Lyndon” in reference to his much disputed initial victory to a Senate seat by 87 votes.  He was frequently vulgar in his speech and habits with his aids and associates.  It was stated in David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest,” that Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon resigned his office after President Johnson insisted on conducting business while seated on the toilet.



Battle Of The Sexes

Movie:  Battle Of The Sexes

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   In 1973 women’s professional tennis was simply not getting much respect, especially from the tennis professionals on the men’s tour.  If anyone doubted that fact, the ladies on the tour would point out that the prize money for their tournaments were often 1/8 of what the men could earn for winning.  Morale could not be lower among the women on the tour trying to make a living.  To save money they had to drive in their personal cars to the tournaments, and share rooms with other players.  To add insult to injury, 55 year old Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) publicly announced that he could beat any woman in the world, and was eager to prove it.  Of course, prize money had to be involved.

Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), the Australian woman who was ranked #1 in the world at the time, accepted Riggs’ challenge.  In a much ballyhooed match, Riggs whipped Court 6-2, 6-1, much to the delight of chauvinists such as former professional tennis star Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman).   This loss was a severe blow to the fledgling new women’s Virginia Slims tour, and forced #2 ranked Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) to pick up the gauntlet thrown by Riggs, thus setting up the match forever known as The Battle Of The Sexes.  The match took place on September 20, 1973, and was watched by 50 million Americans, the most ever for a television event in history for many years.  The repercussions as a result of the match were dramatic, and changed sports and culture in this country.

This is an excellent film with a compelling story.  It is always tricky to do a movie about real events and people, and maintain a degree of accuracy and hold the interest of the viewers.  It helped to have great actors like Carell and Stone who actually looked a lot like their real life counterparts, and for the tennis scenes to be believable.  The movie was also rich in background, as we were able to see much of the man behind the Riggs extroverted showman persona as he dealt with his need to compete and be a factor 20 years after his professional tennis career was over.  Billie Jean had her own personal battles to deal with, from her sexuality to her drive to be the champion of equal rights for women.  There’s a lot going on in this movie, and all story lines converge in the Houston Astrodome in 1973.

Mini Trailers:   Jack Kramer – “The men are simply more exciting to watch.  It’s not your fault, it’s biology.”

Riggs – “I’ve got a great idea, Billie Jean.  You and me, 3 sets or 5, your choice.”

Riggs at Gamblers Anonymous – “My name is Bobby and I’m an addict.  You people are not here because you’re gamblers.  You’re here because you’re terrible gamblers!”

Jack Kramer on TV – “The thing about women is they find it hard to consistently handle the pressure.”

BJ King to husband Larry – “Call the bozo.  Tell him it’s on!”

Riggs to bookie – “Jimmy, put fifteen big ones on me to win.”

Girl Friend to BJ King – “Do you really intend to wear blue suede shoes?”  King – “If they are good enough for Elvis they’re good enough for me.”

TV person – “Any last words, Bobby?”  Riggs – “The male is king.  The male supreme.”

Tennis Play – For viewers who know something about tennis, the scenes where Riggs and King are playing look authentic.  Both Carell and Stone were given extensive lessons to become competent in the close-ups, but the clever editing allowed former top professional Vince “I ain’t afraid of ya” Spadea to play Riggs in the distant shots, and current pro Kaitlyn Christian filled in for King’s shots.  And yes, the film got the rackets right.  Bobby Riggs played with a metal Head racket, while Billie Jean had her trusty wooden Wilson racket.


Movie:  Mother

Rating:  1 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   In an old farm house in an isolated location, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) happily toils away renovating her house.  She obviously adores her husband (Javier Bardem), a writer and poet of distinction who may be going through an extended period of writer’s block.  One day a stranger (Ed Harris) happens by (or has he sought out the poet?) and is taken in for the night.  Mother is a bit put out that her husband has offered the stranger a room for the night, but he is an orthopedic surgeon and appears to offer no threat.  Nevertheless, Mother feels the equilibrium of the home has been put off kilter.  The next day the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) appears at the door, and suddenly the house seems to have residents that may be staying a while, much to Mother’s chagrin.  Something about the guests bothers Mother, something seems wrong, possibly even ominous.  Then more people show up at the house, unexpected things happen, and Mother loses control of her little world….

First off, as a reviewer let me say that Jennifer Lawrence is my favorite movie actress and is a major talent.  Javier Bardem and Ed Harris are top shelf actors as well.  The problem for me is writer/director Darren Aronofsky has attempted to make a film so artsy and riddled with allegories and high brow intellectual “stuff” that most viewers are going to be totally lost by the end of the film.  The first half of the film was actually quite interesting, and could have developed into a compelling suspense story.  But that isn’t what happened.  The plot came to the proverbial fork in the road, and Aronofsky put the pedal to the metal and took the “Schlossen Cutoff” and eventually went over the same cliff as Thelma and Louise.  The box office for the movie tanked, and cast and director felt the need to explain the brilliant allegories they were acting out, but viewers don’t want to sit through a movie with a copy of Cliffs notes to figure out what the hell is going on.  Sorry, this movie is a stinker.

American Assassin

Movie:  American Assassin

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) had some tough breaks in his young life.  His parents died in a car crash when he was just 14, and his fiancé, the love of his life didn’t fare too well either.  So when life handed Mitch lemons, he decided to make some sour lemonade.  He created a personal training program that included firearms training, martial arts, and a knowledge of Arabic and Islamic theology to make himself a one man bounty hunter of terrorists.  Not surprisingly, this crusade of Mitch’s does not go unnoticed by the counter-intelligence wing of the CIA, and Mitch is recruited by Deputy Director Irene Kennedy to become a legitimate agent for the CIA.

Soon Mitch is whisked off to a top secret training facility in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, where he and other wannabe agents are to be broken down and molded into killing machines by former navy seal and all around badass Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton).  Many are weeded out in the rough and tumble training site, but Mitch perseveres and is chosen for an overseas assignment.  The mission is a ballbuster, as terrorists are on the loose in the middle east putting together a nuclear device.  Complicating matters is the activity of a former CIA operative gone rogue known as the Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who has a grudge against his former bosses.  So team leader Stan Hurley leads an operation to stop the latest terrorist threat, assisted by his maverick protégé Mitch and the very fetching Annika (Shiva Negar).

This is a terrific action film with a good plot and fine cast.  Michael Keaton is at his best as a tough guy trying to keep a rein on the impetuous rookie operative.  The action sequences come often enough to hold your interest throughout the film, but thankfully without a lot of special effects.   This film is a good one, and welcome as we await the next batch of blockbusters in November.

Mini Trailers:  Mitch to Terrorist – “I am prepared to die a martyr.”

Dep. Dir. Kennedy – “You wouldn’t have made it there another 20 seconds alive.”  Mitch – “I guess we’ll never know.”

CIA Director – “This kind of psych file scares the hell out of me.”

Stan Hurley – “You go down out there you’re a ghost.  No one is coming back for you.”

Ghost – “Thousands of Americans are going to burn, Stan.  All because of you.  Enjoy the show.”

Mitch – “You shouldn’t have come back for me.”  Stan – “Don’t get used to it, Kid.”

Stan – “What the hell you looking at?”  Dep. Dir. Kennedy – “You look like a mummy.”  Stan – “Yeah, mummies don’t have to write up a report.”