An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


For young people, LBJ is history. For people old enough to remember, that history jumps alive. Director Rob Reiner, screenwriter Joey Hartshorne, and actor Woody Harrelson have caught the essentials of President Lyndon Johnson the raw boned, essentially insecure man who was always proving his power.

The filmmakers have done a remarkable job of filming Johnson in a very narrow time frame with great originality. The entire film unfolds between the 1962 convention when John F. Kennedy became the Democratic nominee and asked – to the disgust of his brother/advisor Bobby Kennedy – Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate. From that point forward, the story unfolds in an intriguing mixture of actual news broadcasts and scenes from the new movie.

Why did JFK want LBJ as his running mate? Perhaps because he had decided to focus on Civil Rights and he could neutralize Johnson by removing him from his power as Senate leader and tuck him away in the powerless vice presidency. The Kennedys underestimated their rival.

The footage of the Dallas assassination and Johnson’s ascendency offer a sharp look at the inner workings of his mind as he gains the job he had always wanted. We watch him battle Georgia’s Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) over the Civil Rights bill he has seized surprisingly as his major goal. The arguments between Russell and LBJ show us yet again the depth of the everlasting gulf between South and North.

The acting? It’s good. Woody Harrelson gives us Johnson’s raw, nasty nature despite being too short to lean over opponents with LBJ’s threatening battle stance. With his facial expressions nearly lost in heavy makeup, he is convincing as the man so famous for manipulating opponents. Standing beside him, Jennifer Jason Leigh is genuinely effective as she gives us Lady Bird’s odd combination of strength, affection, and loyalty to her unpleasant husband.

In a revealing scene, Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl) confronts Johnson after the assassination of his brother with “You’ve made me politically irrelevant.” LBJ’s telling reply: “You’re looking to ’68.” This was a marvelous one scene capture of Johnson’s constant preoccupation with politics as personal power.

The takeaway here lies in the skillful intercutting between the news broadcasts of Johnson’s ascendency in Dallas and his insistence – against all advice – on returning to Washington immediately. He is sworn in on the plane with Jacqueline Kennedy to his left and Lady Bird to his right. He has become president shortly after John Kennedy died in the hospital. The man tucked away in the vice presidency is in charge.

The short two year time frame here is designed, acted, and directed with skill. A presidency that lasted just two years had been filled with bright men determined to bring their young strength to government. When LBJ asked a devastated Ted Sorenson to write his inauguration speech, tears were shed in the audience by those who remembered. Those of us who do remember must realize this happened 71 years ago.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : LBJ
Word Count : 500
Running Time: 1:38
Rating : R
Date : 5 November 2017


The Divine Order

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Divine Order

The Divine Order is an absorbing look at women’s rights in Switzerland. That’s an understatement. The surprise here is that in a country so advanced in many ways, women couldn’t vote or work without permission from their husbands until 1971 as opposed to Americans who won that battle in 1920. The fun here lies in the story of life in the modern era. As we watch this fine movie unfold, we absorb the attendant frustrations and obstacles that ruled the lives of women as recently as the 1970s. They cooked, they cleaned, they served, and they lived within societal rules.

After Nora (Marie Levenberger) takes her husband to his bus stop and her children to school, she returns to her life of cleaning the house, doing laundry, preparing dinner, and vacuuming around her father-in-law who, with great generosity, lifts his feet so she can vacuum beneath them while he continues to read his newspaper.

The couple brings on an estrangement from their daughter by forbidding her to see her long haired boyfriend; they end up sending Hanna to a detention home. “We need to protect her from herself,” her father says. Though Nora is a capable, dutiful wife who resists the approach of the Women’s Liberation Group, the seeds of her frustration finally lead her to listen.

Nora begins to read and even to convince husband Hans (Maximilian Simonischek) who is afraid people will think he doesn’t earn enough to provide for her. She slips into the new wave of thinking offered up to her by a movement founder. She buys new clothes, gets a haircut, and applies for a job. Still uncomfortable, but now head of The Action Committee she joins the protestors in Zurich with banners proclaiming, “Women’s rights are human rights.”

Marie Levenberger creates in Nora an intelligent, if careful woman who awakens gradually to the prevailing injustices as she becomes a leader. Maximilian Simonischek’s Hans loves her dearly and in a quiet way represents the populace as he begins to understand the importance of her message. Marta Zaffoli is terrific as the persuasive firebrand who spurs the movement. Sibylle Brunner is the spicy older woman who knows they must win and Rachel Braunschweig – as Nora’s sister – all hit just right notes in a film with few flaws.

Two things make this movie jump alive. Petra Volpe has written and directed a strong description of a modern country late to embrace women’s rights while the cast hits a uniformly credible tone of waking a country from a deep sleep. In a marvelous addendum, we watch crowds of women awaken to what they have been missing in personal physical pleasure in a country devoted to propriety.

For a country that was late to the voting party, they were ahead of America in being willing to talk publicly about physical pleasure as a right for women. This brought the excitement of the voting booth right into the bedroom. Hats off to Petra Volpe.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Divine Order
Word Count: 500
Running Time: 1:36
Rating : PG-13
Date : October 29, 2017


This review was posted on October 29, 2017, in Drama.