LBJ with Woody & Rob Reiner

 DATELINE: Sympathy for Lyndon

LBJ

Two of TV’s biggest personalities in the 1970s have managed to survive as two highly respected professionals today. These are Woody Harrelson who started out as a boy toy on Cheers, and Rob Reiner who was Archie Bunker’s son-in-law punching bag.

They team up as star and director of LBJ, an interesting and sympathetic portrait of a man who has fallen into disfavor among Kennedy fans and conspiracy theorists. It’s all the more interesting when you consider Woody Harrelson’s father was a CIA agent arrested as a person of suspicion in Dallas in 1963.

The ironies of history are not lost on this film in which Johnson is largely despised by Bobby Kennedy, almost with a pathological hatred, and mistrusted as a Judas figure by the Southern senators of which Johnson was often a key leader.

Under heavy (and impressive) makeup, Harrelson is an amazing likeness of LBJ. It’s matched by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird.

The movie jumps between re-enacted assassination scenes in Dallas and times before and after with the Kennedys. John Kennedy seems to laugh at the wit of Johnson, but nothing can save LBJ from Robert Kennedy’s disgust. This may be the most negative portrait of the Attorney General in movies. Bobby is played by Michael Stahl-David as a sourpuss.

LBJ quotes Shakespeare and one smarmy Kennedy aide notes that he is quoting Brutus. A little knowledge is dangerous.

The film dismisses Vietnam in one sentence in one scene, and though Johnson talks to J. Edgar Hoover in a one-sided phone call, there is nothing about the Warren Commission.

LBJ is devastated by the death of JFK and swears to bring forth Kennedy’s desire for a Civil Rights bill, even if it brings him into loggerheads with Sen. Russell of Georgia (Richard Jenkins). He calls his long-time friend a racist to his face.

Johnson’s crude humor and drawl contrasted badly with the debonair charm of JFK—but this film tries to go below the surface, and therein is the movie’s importance.

 

 

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Re-fighting the Battle of the Sexes

DATELINE: Gay Lib, Not Gay Lob

Bobby & Billie Truly a Doubles Match!

Many viewers may not know the story of Bille Jean King and Bobby Riggs and their ridiculously hyped tennis match of the early 1970s.

The earlier TV movie was called When Billie Beat Bobby. This new version is the Battle of the Sexes, but it’s more of a coming-out story.

Many may not know that an earlier cable movie effectively told the story with all the limitations of small screen propriety. If you wonder about the differences, there was no hint of gayness in Billie or her marriage. She had no bedroom scenes with a female hairdresser.

She did not have a gay best friend (marvelous Alan Cumming as Ted). She did not have a cantankerous relationship with Margaret Court in the first movie who is always holding a baby in the remake.

You did not see Bobby Riggs’ nude layout. You did not see his marital problems, or his hilarious attendance at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

You had a greater sense that Bobby and Billie were, above all else, “good sports” and actually remained lifelong friends.

The big screen smash has magnificent performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell, looking more like their real counterparts. Carell is making an industry out of playing peripheral sports characters (Dupont in Foxcatcher). There are some marvelous effects too, bringing Howard Cosell back to life to play himself.

This is a big budget film with a great music score, pictures of celebs of the times, and the Houston Astrodome itself.

We recall the match was a grand joke, only taken seriously by those who’d be willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Bobby Riggs. How could anyone think that old man could beat a young athletic woman?

Well, as we recall, yes, there were men crushed by the defeat. This movie brings it all back to us.