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The Post

Movie:  The Post

Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   By 1968 the United States was heavily committed to keeping a large military force in Vietnam to prop up the corrupt South Vietnamese government, and ostensibly to defeat the North Vietnamese insurgents.  Despite optimistic reports to the press of American progress towards victory, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) commissioned a detailed study by the Rand Corp. to assess the true picture of the war in Vietnam.  One of the people working on the document was a former marine officer and special assistant in the Defense Department Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), who had spent two years in Vietnam and was very familiar with how the war was proceeding.  In short, Ellsberg advised his bosses that the war was at best a stalemate.

By 1971 Ellsberg has had an epiphany;  his conscience dictated that he needed to take action to bring the war to a close, or at least let the public know the real truth of American involvement in Vietnam.  With access to the Top Secret 7000 page document that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg made copies.  Going underground and staying on the lam to avoid arrest, Ellsberg managed to get a portion of the Pentagon Papers to NY Times reporter Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain).  Rumors of this explosive story carried its way to Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), executive editor of the Washington Post, and Bradlee was determined to get the story as well.  Despite words of caution from Post owner and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), Bradlee’s reporters got themselves into the game with the rival NY Times, and stories about the truth of America’s involvement were published in newspapers for all the world to see.  Naturally the Nixon White House was enraged, and triggered the most important discussion and legal battles in history concerning the freedom of the press as defined in the First Amendment.

This is a milestone film.  It is a taunt, well constructed narrative depicting real events that are critical to American history.  It is both a suspenseful film, and an inspirational story without being preachy or heavy-handed.  The acting is top notch with an all star cast.  Besides Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, both likely candidates for Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar nominations, Bob Odenkirk and Matthew Rhys are major assets that upped the level of talent in this production.  The film is not only hugely entertaining to watch, it is a riveting story that needed to be told.  And yes, it has the additional merit of being timely, as once again government forces are assaulting the press with accusations of “fake news”.  Go see this movie.  For my money, it deserves to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Mini Trailers:  JFK Speech – “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.”

Bradlee – “Tell the other papers that the only way to protect the right to publish is to publish.”

Kate Graham – “The Nixon White House is nothing if not vindictive.”

Bradlee – “We are sucking hind tit in our own back yard.  Let’s do our job.  Find those pages.”

Nixon – “As far as the Times goes, hell, they’re our enemies.”

Graham – “If a federal judge stops the Times, I don’t see how we could publish, even if we get a copy.”

Post Reporter – “They’re going to lock you up, Dan!”  Ellsberg – “Wouldn’t you go to prison to stop this war?”

Bradlee – “If we don’t hold them accountable, then my God, who will?”  Graham – “We can’t hold them accountable if we don’t have a newspaper!”

Graham – “How could you do all these things and lie to us all?”  McNamara – “We were trying to drive Ho Chi Minh to the bargaining table.  Our decision making process was…”  Graham – “Flawed.”

Bradlee – “If we don’t publish we lose, the country will lose.  If we don’t publish Nixon will win, and he’ll win the next one and the next one.”

Graham – “This is no longer my father’s company, it is no longer my husband’s company, it is my company.  Anyone who doesn’t understand that probably shouldn’t serve on the board.”

Nixon – “I want it understood that no reporter from the Washington Post will ever be in the White House again.”

The Defense of the First Amendment:  Justice Black of the Supreme Court wrote the decision that vindicated the Post and the Times to print their stories:

In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. }The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. … [W]e are asked to hold that … the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws … abridging freedom of the press in the name of ‘national security.’ … To find that the President has ‘inherent power’ to halt the publication of news … would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make ‘secure.’ … The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.

The Post Movie Poster

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Molly’s Game

Movie:  Molly’s Game

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was on the U.S. Ski Team, pushed hard to succeed by a demanding father (Kevin Costner), and about to make it to the Olympics when her world crashed around her.  Smart as a whip with a 3.92 GPA in college with plans to go to law school, Molly decides to head to Los Angeles to figure out where her life should go.  Needing to make a living, she does the cocktail waitress thing, and attracts the attention of a rich developer who needed an assistant.  As a sideline, the dude was running a high stakes poker game in West Hollywood, and soon Molly was invaluable in helping him line up players and track the money paid on a computer spread sheet.  Molly, smart lady that she was, kept her ears open to the poker lingo, and observed how the men who consistently won played their cards, like card shark Player X (Michael Cera), and became an expert at Texas Hold ‘Em poker.

Fast forward a few years and Molly is the sole owner and operator of the biggest and most sought after poker game in Los Angeles.  Big name actors and producers were regulars, as well as millionaire athletes and titans of industry.  Players better have $250,000 on them, because that was the cost of a buy-in to play at Molly’s games.  Molly was making a bundle for herself, and even doing it legally.  And yet, it all came tumbling down.  Enter the FBI, criminal charges, and  Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), the legal eagle trying to keep Molly out of jail.

This film is a fascinating story, in part because it is based on the real life trials and tribulations of a real person named Molly Bloom.  The story veers away from a strictly factual plot in a few ways, but the gist of Molly Bloom’s travails are on the screen.  Jessica Chastain gives a powerful performance as Molly, and should be a cinch to get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal.  The movie as a whole is well worth your time, and anyone who is knowledgeable about poker will be enthralled with the action at the tables.  Go see this one.

Mini Trailers:  Molly – “I was about to land on my digitally remastered spine held together with an erector set.”

Molly – “I wanted to be young for a while, in warm weather.  My job was to get people to spend more money than they needed to.”

Molly’s Boss, Dean – “Tip Molly if you want to be invited back next week.”  Molly – “I just made $3,000.”

Jaffey – “You need a publicist.”  Molly – “I need a f*cking lawyer!”

Lawyer – “You’re not taking a percentage of the pot?  Then you’re not breaking the law.”

Player X – “I don’t like playing poker.”  Molly – “Then why do you play?”  Player X -“I like destroying lives.”

Molly’s Father – “I’m your father.  I could give a shit as to whether I am welcome in your life.”

Jaffey – “If you are saying that everything that happened to you was designed to make you plead guilty, you are correct.”

Molly’s Father – “Your addiction is having power over powerful men.  I’m going to do what patients have been begging for.  I’m going to do three years of therapy in three minutes and give you the answers.”

Nitnoid Info:  The movie mentions how casinos put scents into the air to increase the urge to gamble.  According to scenting experts, it’s smart to emphasize cleanliness in the development of casino scents because it has an effect on perception, especially in casinos where patrons spend days not hours within the service environment. Signature casino scents are all different as often each hotel is trying to invoke a different region of the world; The Mirage is Polynesian; Mandalay Bay is Southeast Asian and the Bellagio whispers of Northern Italy.
The success of defining these scents starts with understanding that the third sense as being very tricky. (It isn’t like a story with three different sides; his, hers and the truth.) Everyone takes in the aroma, whatever it is, exactly the same way. The difference in reaction lies in the memories associated with that aroma, which are different for everyone. That said, there are certain guides with which scenting strategists works; citrus aromas are refreshing; floral, cedar and other woodsy scents are soothing and relaxing as are herbaceous aromas which can also be invigorating, such as peppermint.

What Was Not In The Movie:  Molly Bloom was very careful to not reveal the names of famous people who played in her poker games.  Some names have slipped out, including Ben Affleck, Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Yankee star Alex Rodriguez.  Of yes, and that mysterious and ruthless Player X appears to be actor Tobey Maguire.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie:  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:    Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a driven woman.  Months ago her teenage daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) was brutally raped and murdered, and the police haven’t a clue.  Fueled by rage, despair and self loathing, Mildred decides to take matters into her own hands to shake things loose.  She scrapes together $5,000 to put a taunting challenge to police chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on three billboards in town, and then waits for the backlash.

As expected, Chief Willoughby is quick to react to the message on the billboards.  Problem is, he has no clues to work with, plus he has his own problems to deal with.  The rest of the Ebbing police force is not too happy with Mildred, especially hot tempered officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell).  Mildred soon finds out that the police can make life miserable for her and people close to her, but she can dish it out with the best of them.  All of which makes a small town like Ebbing boil over with resentment as tempers flair.  But Mildred cares not what anybody thinks of her, as she is hell-bent on finding a killer.  Perhaps folks in Ebbing should have heeded Confucius when he wisely stated, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

This film has been marketed as a dark comedy.   Forget that.  This is heavy duty drama like a solid punch to your gut.  This is story telling at it’s best, and will keep viewers in the audience glued to their seats, waiting for the next development.  Absolutely riveting acting, with a sure Best Actress nomination for Frances McDormand.  There could be two Best Supporting Actor nominations for Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.  For discriminating film fans who gripe about the lack of quality stories in movies today, do not miss this film.  It has Best Picture nomination written all over it.  See it.

Mini Trailers:   Mildred – “How much to rent for a year?  Here’s $5,000.  Here’s what the billboards should say.”

Chief Willoughby – “Do you really want to f*ck with the Ebbing Police Department?”  Mildred – “I guess.  My daughter Angela was abducted, raped and murdered.”

Officer Dixon – “You can’t say n*gger torturing no more.  You got to say person of color torturing.”

Priest – “The town is dead set against these billboards of yours.  Nobody is with you with this.”  Mildred – “Why don’t you just finish up your tea, father, and get the f*ck out of my kitchen.”

Mildred – “You ain’t trying to make me believe in reincarnation, are you?  You’re pretty, but you’re not her.”

Officer Dixon – “I don’t know what the compensation scheme is for throwing a guy out the window.”

Mildred’s Son – “Shouldn’t we call the fire department?”  Mildred – “F*ck the fire department.  They probably started it.”

LBJ

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.