Bob Odenkirk

Long Shot

First Hit: Although there some hilarious bits, I didn’t buy the premise of these two being their characters.

The storyline is for the audience to believe that Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the current Secretary of State for President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). The President is more interested in a movie career than being President, and so his staff is really running the country. Although the film makes attempts, Fields character as Secretary, isn’t quite established well enough for me. Something was slightly missing.

On the other side of the story, we have Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) who is supposed to be an independent journalist writing for an online publication. He only cares about what he perceives to be the truth and because he writes well and is willing to put himself in awkward positions, there is a self-righteousness to his character that comes across as a bit snarky.

To set up Flarsky as indeed someone willing to do anything to get the story, we find him in the process of becoming a member of a white supremacist group. In the induction meeting, he’s supposed to pledge hatred for Jews (although he’s sitting there - obviously a Jew) and gets goaded into getting a swastika tattoo. While getting the tattoo, one of the members finds out he’s really a journalist and is impersonating wanting to become part of the group. He escapes. This set-up is filled with both funny and vile setups and statements of hatred.

Fields is beautiful, smart, and powerful while Flarsky is schlubby, somewhat full of himself – regarding the truth as he sees it, and ill-mannered. Because of his self-aggrandizing ways, he quits his job when a tasteless publication company buys out the publication he works.

In his sadness and anger, he contacts Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) his longtime best friend who consoles him by inviting him to an upscale gathering after taking him to a few bars to imbibe him.

There Flarsky sees Field who he recognized as his old baby sitter when he was 12 years old. They liked each other then, but the storyline has him recall getting an erection when they kissed. The film spends a bit too much time talking about this and in the end, I’m sure it wasn’t needed for the overall story.

Fields hires him as a speechwriter (first to punch up her humor quotient) and as they work together, he becomes more of her full-time writer. As they work together, they grow to know each other, just as they did as children.

The other side of the slightly overdone plot was the President who spends his time running lines in his office and watching his past performances as a President on a television program. The flippant way in which the President, Secretary of State and the people who work for them acted became something that, in the end, didn’t work for me.

Many of the political aspects and situations portrayed in this movie were pointedly reflective of today’s political environment and current office holders. The story also points out how exploitive publishers act.

Some of the amusing bits include when Fields team discusses her strengths and weaknesses. Also what happens to the tattoo Flarsky got at the suprematist meeting. Another hilarious scene was when the Prime Minister of Canada James Steward (Alexander Skarsgard) shares with Fields how he’s had to learn how to laugh.

As everyone in the audience knows that having Flarsky and Fields falling in love is a Long Shot, the story does end up in its prescribed ending.

Theron is solid as a comedic actress in this role and is absolutely stunning on the screen. Rogen is Rogen. He’s the same character in every film, and my general dislike of his character or personality continues here. June Diane Raphael (as Fields assistant Maggie) is strong. I liked how she pushed her agenda on to Fields. Ravi Patel (as Tom, another Fields assistant) is good. His subservient nature to Maggie was funny. Skarsgard was really funny, especially when he’s showing Fields how he learned how to laugh properly. Jackson Jr. was solid as Flarsky’s black conservative motivational friend. Odenkirk was silly and hilarious as a President who wanted to be a film star. Tristan D. Lalla as Agent M, Fields bodyguard, was outstanding. His sly looks while doing his job were precious. Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah wrote this screenplay. It pushed the edge of being overtly gross more than it needed to be. Jonathan Levine directed the film. I thought many of the scenes were clever, but then when they are pushed towards being overtly overdone, it made me wonder.

Overall: The amusing bits outweighed the overtly unpolished parts.

The Post

First Hit:  A powerful film about the power of the press to share the truth to the American public and how a woman finds own her power and strength.

People who weren’t born early enough to experience the power of the press in 1971, as depicted in this film, may get a chance to witness this power with today’s political climate.

However, one of the most powerful parts of this film has nothing to do with the press, government secrets, or how the government lied to the public; it has to do with how a woman, Kay (Katharine) Graham (Meryl Streep), found her inner strength and resolve to make a decision that changed history.

Graham grew up privileged, pampered, and cared for. Her life was a world where men, for the most part, ruled the world and roost.

The film opens with her in the throes of finalizing a public offering of The Washington Post's stock. She’s doing this because she's in-charge and the company needs money to survive. When her father died, he'd given control of the paper to her husband who committed suicide which left her in control of the paper.

With a cadre of all male advisors, she is being coached through the steps to make The Post financially stable. However, she struggles to find her words while balancing her social duties as a well-to-do hostess of the Washington elite.

The scene where all the secretaries (that’s what assistants were called then) are gathered in front of the meeting room where she alone would enter a room full of male bankers and other investors, said it all.

As the film unfolds, we get a glimpse of the men she relied on to help her navigate the rough and tumble world of newspapers, the company, and finance. Among the men she works with were her Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who seems to hold Graham in high regard and encourages her to stand up and take charge. Additionally there was Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) who was Secretary of Defense in the lying Nixon administration and a very close family friend of Graham’s. Then there was Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts) the Post’s Chairman of the Board, in addition to a few others.

The issue that takes her to task and brings her to the forefront is that The New York Times has a headline written from the stolen Pentagon Papers. These secrets were taken from The Rand Corporation by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys). On the same day The Times headlines this information, her paper has Trisha Nixon's wedding as their headline.

Ellsberg had discovered that the government, through a recent study sponsored by McNamara, had been lying to the country about our involvement in Vietnam.

With this exposed, Nixon's Department of Justice sent The New York Times a cease and desist. In the background, Bradlee, hating to be scooped by the Times sent Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) to find out how to get a copy of the leaked papers. They contact Ellsberg and get boxes of the original papers and begin to write stories to publish.

The awakening and climax is: Will Katharine publish the papers and risk being shut down by the government? Will it negate the public offering? And, will everyone at The Post lose their jobs? This is where the film really is dynamically excellent. The conversations Katharine has with her daughter Lally (Alison Brie), Bradlee, McNamara, and Letts are beautifully constructed and powerfully executed.

Streep was sublime as a woman discovering and then using her power. The evolution of Graham during this film is exquisite. Hanks is extremely strong in his role of protecting the freedom of the press. Odenkirk is fantastic as the assigned Post reporter to find the papers and get The Post back in the fray. Rhys was excellent as Ellsberg for whom I bow to for taking the risk of losing his freedom to tell US citizens the truth of our government’s deceit. Greenwood was great as McNamara. Serving Nixon and being honest with Graham, his friend, was a difficult task. Letts was strong as The Post’s chairman. He wanted and supported Katharine's growth. Brie was perfect as Graham’s daughter. Her role in the bedroom scene added so much to Katharine’s growth. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer wrote an excellent, inviting, and movingly strong script. Steven Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch to create ways for the audience to become fully engaged with his films. The scenes (living room with the papers strung about, the corporate boardroom, the rumbling of the presses starting up shaking the upstairs desks) are typical Spielberg, full, complete, and excellent. However, it was coaxing excellent performances where his ability to work with actors that shined most.

Overall:  This film is perfect for the times; the growing strength of women and holding our government accountable.

Nebraska

First Hit:  Great acting in a very good story.

This is a story about an aging alcoholic man living in Billings Montana hoping to make a final splash for his family.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a retired auto mechanic, who sits around drinking his life away. His wife Kate (June Squibb) complains about Woody all the time. Clearly there is a long history and they must have loved each other, once.

Their sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) do their best to assist their parents with David doing the most because he lives close by. Woody is convinced that he is the winner of a million dollars from a magazine publishing group. He cannot drive any longer so he decides to walk to Lincoln Nebraska to collect his winnings.

After getting jailed for walking on the freeway, David decides to help his dad by taking him to Lincoln to learn that there is no such prize. The film is about Woody revisiting his childhood, his drinking, his family, and his life. In doing so he opens a window to his sons to see him more fully and despite her complaining, how their mother loves him.

Dern fully becomes Woody – there was no Bruce Dern – amazing and probably Oscar worthy. Forte was really wonderful as the son who helped his dad and in-turn helped himself. Odenkirk was strong as the older, more successful brother. Squibb was an absolutely amazing. Her turn as Woody’s wife was bold, pointed, and wonderfully funny. Stacy Keach as old friend Ed Pegram was very good. Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as Bart and Cole respectively were really great as two doofus relative brothers of his. Bob Nelson wrote an excellent script and Alexander Payne’s direction of this beautifully shot film was wonderful.

Overall:  This is a very strong film with top flight performances.