“LBJ”: Rob Reiner’s new film soft-pedals LBJ’s “accidental” presidency after Kennedy

I recall a drizzly late fall Election Day in 1964, after I had turned 21, when my father said, “Nobody can beat LBJ”.

And I remember the Sunday evening in Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, SC, March 31, 1968, a day I had cleaned a grease pit with a toothbrush, one of the lowest days of my life, hearing that LBJ would not accept a nomination for a second full term as “your president” in that year of “Medium Cool”.

LBJ” is a nice biopic by Rob Reiner, from Castle Rock Entertainment, with unusual distribution through Electric Entertainment.

The first half of the film walks through the day Kennedy was assassinated, with LBJ (Woody Harrelson) recalling earlier days in his career, when Kennedy needed him on the ticket in the 1960 election but then had to rein him in.   Johnson, while able to use the word “negro” with a bit of condescension, found himself moving toward Kennedy’s  (Jeffrey Donovan) thinking on civil rights, while fighting off powerful senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins), especially on deal to put a defense plant in Georgia and hire token blacks as engineers. Johnson also expresses his political cynicism to Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David).  LBJ’s own experience with his own housekeeper helps shape his views toward progress, while Russell makes phony arguments about “freedom”.

The American public was not told of Kennedy’s death for 38 minutes, while LBJ mulled being sworn in immediately in Dallas on the plane, out of fear of a bigger conspiracy.

The film bypasses the Cuban Missile Crisis completely, and makes only brief references to Vietnam, which would heat up in 1965, after the time period covered by the film.

LBJ was capable of being quite crude in his talk, like about his clothes and tailor (“Sartor Researtus” indeed), and Ladybird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) covers for him, even in bed.

Name:  “LBJ
Director, writer:  Rob Reiner
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/11/5, afternoon, good audience
Length:  98
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Electric Releasing, Castle Rock
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

“Being Charlie”: stereotyped rooting interest in another good kid with a fatal flaw

Being Charlie” is another manufactured comedy, by Rob Reiner, for the independent and DVD market, that tries to get a rooting interest for a recovering adolescent drug user.

Indeed, Charlie Mills (Nick Robinson) seems like a “good kid” and is likable enough.  We learn that his rich parents in LA had him kidnapped and sent to drug rehab in Utah about a year before.  When he returns home on his 18th birthday, his parents intervene and right back he goes.

But pretty soon we learn that dad (Cary Elwes) is running for governor of California (is he a Republican?).  In Charlie’s second stint, he deals with the idea of good-behavior passes, and being allowed out on his own.  No doubt, he soon discovers romance (heterosexual, although he admits do doing gay sex for drugs in the past) with the staff.  That generates a kind of plot.

Charlie’s redemption comes from his talent for spontaneity, and stand-up comedy, even if vulgar (no more so than Donald Trump’s). Staff member Travis (Common) helps him see that.  When with a male friend near the end of the film, he almost has a chance to play hero when the friend has an overdose, just as Charlie seems to have finally beaten his own addictions.

The whole idea of intervention and therapy brings back my bad old days, of my own college expulsion (William and Mary) as a freshman in 1961, and “therapy” at NIH in the fall of 1962.  In those days, society put homosexuality in the same category of vice as drug use. But of course, as an only child, my real problem was that I wouldn’t be providing my parents a lineage.

There’s a line in the film where Charlie is told (by Travis) “you have to have the serenity to accept the things we can’t change”.  An odd choice of a noun.

On my very first day as a substitute teacher in 2004, I was assigned a special education class, and the assignment for the day was to watch a 1968 Anchor Bay film “Charly“, by Ralph Nelson, about an intellectually challenged person (Cliff Robertson) made into a genius by an experiment, which eventually goes wrong.  I found the idea of showing it to this class rather troubling.

Name: “Being Charlie”
Director, writer:  Rob Reiner
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/7/1
Length:  98
Rating:  R
Companies:  Castle Rock, Warner Independent, Paladin, Anchor Bay
Link:  DVD

(Posted: Saturday, July 1, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)