I, TONYA: we can laugh, but must not judge

Margot Robbie in I, TONYA

The riotously funny docucomedy I, Tonya relives the tawdry story of figure skating star Tonya Harding, brought to disgrace when her supporters injured her competitor Nancy Kerrigan.  Margot Robbie (significantly glammed down) is exceptional as Tonya Harding.

Harding, of course, came from scruffy working class roots in Portland.  With disadvantages of class and poor education,  Tonya was unequipped to navigate a world dominated by middle and upper classes.  In I, Tonya, she refers to herself as a redneck and acts like trailer trash – really unapologetic trailer trash.

But I, Tonya adds another level to Tonya’s story.   In I, Tonya, Tonya’s mother LaVona (Allison Janney) is more than a driven, severe stage mother – she’s unrelentingly abusive, both emotionally and physically.  To make matters worse, Tonya escapes LaVona’s perpetual nastiness by running away into the arms of Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and his chronic domestic violence.  At one point, Tonya reflects, “All I knew was violence“.

The beauty and effectiveness of Steven Rogers’ screenplay is that we can laugh at misadventures of these folks while deeply sympathizing with Tonya – scarred and shaped by abusive experiences.  The characters all break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience – very effective here.  Rogers and director Craig Gillespie maintain a perfect balance between the laughs and the abuse – sometimes at the same time.  This is the Aussie Gillespie’s best work.

Alison Janney in I, TONYA

LaVona’s spiteful bile is so extreme that it’s darkly funny.  Allison Janney, who is superb as this poisonous woman,  is probably America’s least vain actor. And nobody has ever had a better sense of comic timing.  She made me laugh out loud the first time I saw her, in 1998’s Primary Colors, and she keeps the audience guffawing in I, Tonya.

Jeff’s friend Shawn (a brilliant Paul Walter Hauser), who “masterminds” the attack on Kerrigan,  is so catastrophically stupid that he is unable to comprehend the profundity of his own stupidity.  In the closing credits, we get to glimpse the real LaVona and the real Shawn.

Julianne Nicholson is excellent as Tonya’s hyper-polite coach.  In a very brief role, Ricky Russert brilliantly brings out the glorious combination of panic and idiocy of “hit” man Shane Stant.

Once Tonya has been hounded by the media and suffered complete public humiliation, she faces the camera and says to the audience, “you have been my abusers“.  It’s not preachy or overdone, and this brief moment is crisp and unforgettable.  We have been laughing at her, but who are we to judge this survivor of family violence?

I, Tonya is captivating combination of sympathy and hilarity – and one of the year;s best films.

DARKEST HOUR: certainty in a moment of uncertainty

Gary Oldman in DARKEST HOUR

A less-remembered moment in human history makes for a great story in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, which takes place entirely in May 1940, the period after the German blitzkrieg through the Low Countries on the way to Paris and just before the Dunkirk evacuation.

It’s not always easy today to remember that there was a time when it appeared that Hitler would win WW II. In May 1940, the Nazi empire had swallowed essentially all of Central and Western Europe except for France, which was teetering on the verge of imminent surrender. The entire British Army was trapped, surrounded on a beach across the Channel.

The UK was both damaged and entirely isolated. Stalin had split Poland with Hitler, and it was over a year before Hitler’s invasion of the USSR. It was also 19 months before Pearl Harbor brought the US into the war.  With no hope of external help, Winston Churchill even publicly contemplated the war being carried on by the Commonwealth nations after the German conquest and occupation of the island of Britain.

in Darkest Hours, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman in a superb, Oscar-worthy performance) has just become Prime Minister. At the time, Churchill was a 66-year-old who had peaked at forty.  He had been a superstar daredevil in his twenties who squandered his celebrity in a career dotted by Bad Gambles, where he had repeatedly gone All In and lost all of his chips. By 1940 he was well-known for engineering a horrific military disaster at Gallipoli in WW I and for a series of political party changes. Not the confidence-inspiring figure we think of today.

So in this situation, what to do? One option was to embark on what one could rationally conclude would be a suicidal course of waging aggressive war and risking obliteration. Another option would be to negotiate the most favorable surrender with Nazi Germany. No good choices here.

If Churchill begins trash talking the Germans just before their invasion, is that delusional or intellectually dishonest? Or a moment of inspired leadership?

Churchill’s selection as Prime Minister was forced on the former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his top foreign affairs expert Lord Halifax, and the two were understandably concerned that Churchill might be leading the nation to its (literal) ruin. They lay a trap, but great politicians like Lincoln and Churchill do not let themselves be trapped.

The core of Darkest Hour is Churchill probing for a solution while under the most oppressive stress and pressure. In Darkest Hour, his outsized personality and eccentricities sprinkle the story with humor. Churchill, well-known for consuming a bottle of champagne with both lunch and dinner and working, slugging down brandy and whisky,  late into the night, is shown having breakfast eggs with champagne and whisky. When the King, at lunch, asks him, “How do you manage drinking during the day?”, Winston replies, “Practice”.

Oldman is as good as any of the fine actors who have played Churchill.  Kristin Scott-Thomas is especially excellent (no surprise here) as Churchill’s wife of then 32 years, Clementine.  Lily James (Lady Rose in Downton Abbey) is appealing as the fictional secretary through whose eyes the audience sees the private Churchill. Ben Mendelsohn is very good as King George VI, who has watched Churchill’s career to date askance. Stephen Dillane is particularly good as Lord Halifax,

There is one especially touching, but wholly phony scene with a “poll” in the Underground, but, other than that, Darkest Hour is very solid history.

Joe Wright is a fine director, and, here, has selected a moment in history that has sparked an exceptionally good movie. I saw Darkest Hours with a multiplex audience, which erupted into a smattering of applause at the end.

BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY: the world’s most beautiful woman and her secrets

BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is the riveting biopic of a glamorous movie star who invented and patented the precursor to wireless technology; that’s amazing enough, but Bombshell delves deeply into how Lamarr’s stunning face, her Jewish heritage, and mid-century gender roles shaped her career, marriages and parenting. Top notch.

In the last few years, one totally unexpected aspect of Lamarr’s life has become more well-known.  She was a tinkerer/inventor who co-invented a radio guidance system for submarine torpedos, which she donated to the US military.  The US Navy used this technology in WW II.   Modern blue tooth technology stems directly from her innovation.  Today her patent would be worth billions.

Bombshell adds layer upon layer to this tale of beauty and brains, as it traces Lamarr’s remarkable life.   Hedy Lamarr had no control over being born a woman, being born to Jewish parents and being born to be a beauty.  These three accidents of birth set the parameters of her journey – granting her access to some professional opportunities and stunting others, even threatening her life.

She burst into celebrity – and notoriety – at age 19, as the star of the film Ecstasy.   Not only was Hedy the first actress filmed in full frontal nudity, she was the first screen actress to portray female orgasms.  She was soon the young trophy wife of an Austrian industrialist, a formidable and fearsome supplier of munitions to Hitler.  Hedy’s life seemed headed along the Bimbo Track, but she realized that her husband was powerful enough to keep her trapped in the marriage, but not powerful enough to protect her from the Nazis.  At this point, she orchestrated an international escape that is the stuff of thrillers.

At age 24, often nominated as the most beautiful woman in the world, she launched a Hollywood career.  Professional ups and downs, marriages and affairs and children followed, along with her work in technology.

Her beauty was often a blessing and sometimes a curse, but always affected her trajectory.  Someone that beautiful is just different – the rest of us can’t help our reactions to her. But how many times can you be a trophy wife?

She was a person who survived troubling times, which left scars on her.  How Hedy handled her Jewishness, how she raised her kids and how she was treated by the military are unsettling.  Documentarian Alexandra Dean, Bombshell’s writer-director brings us witnesses, including Hedy’s children, to deliver an inside peek at a real life that would not be believable as a work of fiction.

I saw Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story this summer at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF).  It’s coming to theaters this week.

LBJ: a Cliff Notes portrait of LBJ, traced through three relationships

Woody Harrelson in LBJ

Woody Harrelson captures the essence of Lyndon B. Johnson in Rob Reiner’s LBJ.  The best thing about this movie is the main character – probably the most complex and self-contradictory in American history.

LBJ was amazingly talented, aspirational, mean, charming, vulgar and surprisingly needy. LBJ was so masterful and tough and powerful, yet extremely thin-skinned for a politician.  His eternal grasping seems rooted in personal desperation.  LBJ had the need to dominate others and get everything he wants all of the time, and still needed to be loved (which is impossible when you are running over everyone else).

With all of his personal flaws, no American Presidents (except maybe Lincoln and FDR) have been able to roll up a record of legislative accomplishments in two short years to match the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start.  Yes, this was a guy who was able to end legal racial segregation and systemic repression of voting rights and to bring medical security to the elderly and the poor.  (And then be capable of an equally huge policy mistake – the escalation of the Vietnam War.)

How do you tell the story of a larger-than-life character in only 90 minutes?  LBJ focuses on an eight-year period of LBJ’s career.  We first see him in 1956 as Senate Majority Leader, at his most energetic, masterful and powerful.  We then see him in his period of frustration and weakness as Vice-President.  The JFK assassination makes him President, and the film concludes after the enactment of Civil Rights Act in June 1964.

LBJ shows us the many sides of LBJ by tracing three of his personal relationships:

  • Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins), the leader of Southern segregationists and one of LBJ’s most important mentors.  LBJ rose to power with Russell’s guidance and loyalty, but LBJ, to find his own place in history, needed to destroy everything Russell stood for.
  • Lady Bird Johnson (a superb Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only person who could handle the vulnerable, needy, whiny, disconsolate LBJ.
  • LBJ’s nemesis Robert F. Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David). Because RFK was a martyr, the public tends to forget about his nasty and “ruthless” side, which did exist.  LBJ and RFK took an instant dislike to each other in the early 1950s, a situation which built into a profound and fundamental mutual hatred.
  • Bill Pullman plays Senator Ralph Yarborough, a very minor character in history, but one who serves here as a composite for liberal politicians and for those bullied by LBJ.

The highlights of LBJ are found in that fateful week in November 1963.  At Dallas’ Love Field, it’s clear that JFK’s star power has eclipsed the weakened and resentful LBJ even in Texas.  Then we see LBJ just after the assassination, taking command and plunging into action, taking command and knowing exactly what to do when everyone else was paralyzed by shock.

The history in LBJ is very sound.  I’ve read and re-read the over three thousand pages of Robert Caro’s four-volume biography of Johnson.  Much of LBJ’s dialogue is word-for-word historically correct; I’ve even heard the real LBJ himself utter these words on phone calls that he taped himself.

Woody Harrelson is excellent, capturing both the human tornado and the vulnerable sides of LBJ.  The fine actors Randy Quaid, Rip Torn, Michael Gambon, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber and Tom Wilkinson have all had their cracks at playing LBJ on the screen.  Woody is significantly better than all of those guys, but I still prefer Bryan Cranston’s LBJ in All the Way.

Yes, it’s a Cliff Notes version, but LBJ, with its top rate performances by Woody Harrelson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, is a fine historical introduction and pretty entertaining, too.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Woody Harrelson in LBJ

Paul Manafort ripped from the headlines in GET ME ROGER STONE

Roger Stone in GET ME ROGER STONE
So this week’s biggest news has been the indictment of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort.  The indictment comes out of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe of the Russian hacking of last year’s presidential campaign.   Earlier this year, Netflix released the documentary Get Me Roger Stone, and IMDb bills Paul Manafort third in the “cast”, right behind Roger Stone and Donald Trump.

Get Me Roger Stone is an insightful look at the career of political consultant/provocateur Roger Stone, one of the most outrageous characters on the American political scene.  What’s especially relevant today is that Roger Stone and Paul Manafort together invented a new model of lobbying – where the political consultants who help get a candidate elected to high office, then sell their influence over said elected official.

Even without the Manafort angle, Get Me Roger Stone is an entertaining watch, although you might find Roger Stone himself too loathsome to watch.  Stone will do anything – no matter how duplicitous – to win a political campaign.  He will do anything to bring public attention (i.e., notoriety) upon himself.   And he is utterly unapologetic about both.   Stone is the political world’s version of a pro wrestling villain.

Roger Stone is the unmatched master of high jacking a news cycle with a preposterous smear.  The man has a tattoo of Richard Nixon’s face on his back, which tells you a whole lot about him.

Get Me Roger Stone also chronicles Stone’s decades-long quest to get Trump to run for president, and then Stone’s role as an unofficial/official/unofficial Trump strategist.  The documentary also touches on a Roger Stone sex scandal.

Anyway, it’s ripped from the headlines, and you can stream it from Netflix Instant.

A CLASSY BROAD: “Done. Next!”

Marcia Nasatir in A CLASSY BROAD

The delightful bio-doc A Classy Broad chronicles the amazingly resilient life of Marcia Nasatir, the first woman production vice-president at a major Hollywood studio.   Nasatir is now 91 years old and still pitching movies.

Nasatir has lived a singular life.  I won’t spoil her hometown, but it’s not a place that is known for producing Jewish Hollywood execs.  As a young single mom in New York, she started at the bottom of the publishing trade, and climbed to a position selling the movie rights of literary properties.  She moved to representing authors as an agent, which resulted in the motion pictures Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Chinatown.  

Nasatir burst through the glass ceiling as a studio exec at UA, where she greenlit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Carrie and Apocalypse Now!  Dumped by the other suits, she became an independent producer and brought The Big Chill to the screen after it had been rejected by seventeen other companies.

Nasatir’s legacy is a huge chunk of Hollywood’s auteur era of the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  The “classy” in the movie title references an episode where she got fired when the moguls thought her movie taste was too elevated to make money for the studio.

Nasatir demonstrated enormous confidence for a woman of her era, and is the very paragon of resilience.  She met every challenge with her two-word slogan (and epitaph-to-be): “Done. Next!”

A Classy Broad screens three times at the SFJFF:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Saturday, July 22 3:50 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Sunday, July 23 1:35 PM
  • Albany Twin (Albany), Sunday, August 6 12:15 PM

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

A QUIET PASSION: she was unhappy and so are we

A QUIET PASSION
A QUIET PASSION

Cynthia Nixon plays the 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson in the biopic A Quiet Passion.  Even though the Dickinson family was free-thinking for its era, Protestant New England society was severe as the women’s hairstyle.   As I watched these characters navigate their world, the words “forbidding” and “stern” kept coming to mind.  It was an age where the groom kisses his new bride on the cheek, and a euphoric outburst is “Reverend Wadsworth’s sermon took my breath away.”

That’s a bad time and place to be innovative or iconoclastic.  And a horrible time for a woman to seek recognition for her art.  The Quiet Passion’s Emily Dickinson is in a constant state of social rebellion and always unappreciated as a poet.

She clearly appreciates the sexism of the era and is enraged by the injustice.  She sees through the unnecessary constrictions of the religiosity of the day and is disgusted. Unfortunately, she also holds everyone to impossible standards.  She suffers emotionally, and then begins to suffer physically.  All of this makes her very unpleasant and difficult to live with.

Cynthia Nixon is a fine actress and vividly conveys Dickinson’s unhappiness.  Nixon, of course, is known for playing Miranda, by far the most interesting character in Sex in the City. Nixon gets to showcase her wit when Dickinson and her sister (Jennifer Ehle) repress laughter during a hilariously awkward tea with Reverend Wadsworth and his abstemious and anti-social wife.

All of the cast in A Quiet Passion is good, with the exception of the hammy Duncan Duff, who plays Dickinson’s brother, who apparently was known for tightening his brow and popping his eyes.  Catherine Bailey gets to sparkle as she pops off the wicked bon mots of Dickinson’s super ironic friend Vryling Buffam.

The British director Terence Davies is a critical favorite, and generously employs arty touches like static shots of long duration and the subjective view.  But I have never warmed to his films.

Davies often follows scenes from Dickinson’s life with a voice over of a Dickinson poem on the same subject.  So Dickinson’s poetry comments on Dickinson’s life.  The problem is that The Quiet Passion is a daisy chain of unlinked anecdotes.  For a linear story, the whole thing is distractingly disjointed.

The Quiet Passion is a dreary and ponderous film.  I was actually rooting for Emily to die so the movie would be over.

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE FOUNDER – moneygrubbing visionary

Michael Keaton in THE FOUNDER
Michael Keaton in THE FOUNDER

In the enjoyably addictive The Founder, Michael Keaton brings alive Ray Kroc, the man who created the global corporate superpower that is McDonald’s. It’s both a vivid portrait of a particular change-maker and a cold-eyed study of exactly what capitalism really rewards.

Speaking of capitalism, it’s hard to imagine a truer believer than Ray Kroc, not even Willy Loman. When we meet Kroc, he is grinding through small town America selling milkshake mixers none too successfully. Each night he retires to yet another dingy motel for heavy doses and Early Times bourbon and a motivational speaker on his portable record player.

Then Kroc stumbles across the McDonald brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). In their Riverside, California, hamburger stand, the McDonald brothers invented the industrialization of food service, their achievement being “fast food” as we know it today. One the most fascinating sequences in The Founder is a flashback of the McDonald brothers designing the most efficient fast food kitchen possible with chalk on a tennis court. The brothers are passionate about their business, equally devoted to their product and their customers.

Kroc falls in love. Having driven through every town in the country as a traveling salesman, he can appreciate the untapped market. He persuades the brothers to let him take over franchising McDonald’s restaurants. It turns out that that the 50ish Kroc is well-equipped for the job because he’s driven, absolutely ruthless and always on the verge of desperation. He HAS to succeed. Kroc is hungry, perpetually hungry, and learns to identify potential franchisees who are not complacent investors, but are who are also driven enough to accept his discipline and run each franchise by the numbers. Egotistical as he is, Kroc is also smart enough to adopt a brilliant idea from someone else – the key to making McDonald’s his.

John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman in THE FOUNDER
John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman in THE FOUNDER

Dick McDonald is a humorless detail freak with brilliant ideas; Mac is the conflict-avoidant, supportive brother, always unruffling Dick’s feathers and keeping their options alive. Both are proud and true to their values. The McDonald brothers are authentic American business geniuses, but are they too principled to fight off a double cross by Kroc?

In much of the movie, Dick is on phone with Mac listening to Dick’s side of the conversations. Both Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are superb, but Lynch’s performance is Oscar-worthy. There’s a “handshake” scene where WE know and MAC knows that he is going to get screwed, and Lynch’s eyes in those few seconds are heartbreaking.

As far as I can tell, The Founder is very historically accurate. Thanks to screenwriter Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) and director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), we also meet some other historical characters – Harry Sonneborn, Fred Turner, June Martino and Joan Smith Kroc – and appreciate their contributions to the McDonald’s business.

The Founder’s Ray Kroc is shitty to his wife (Laura Dern), shitty to his partners and, basically, shitty to his core. But we HAVE to keep watching him. Do we root for him because only HE can build this empire? We Americans have a heritage of empire building. And the idea of someone building something so big and so successful with only his smarts, persistence and opportunism is irresistible to us.

This is a good movie. I’ll even watch The Founder again. And I’ll have fries with that. You can watch it on DVD from Netflix and Redbox or stream it from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO: searing thoughts in elegant words

James Baldwin in I AM NOT A NEGRO
James Baldwin in I AM NOT A NEGRO

The documentary I Am Not Your Negro centers on the American public intellectual James Baldwin.  It’s a searing examination of race in America through Baldwin’s eyes and through his elegant words.

Those words are voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, and there is no third-party “narration”.  The spoken words are Baldwin’s, either voiced by Jackson or spoken by Baldwin himself in file footage.  Baldwin’s associates Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. are heard in file footage, but that’s it – the rest is all Baldwin.

The content of those words is about the African-American experience in America and Baldwin’s insistence on understanding and acknowledging the grievance and the moral imperative for remedy.   The very last thing that Baldwin cared about was the comfort of his readers and listeners.

I Am Not Your Negro is an important film because Baldwin’s words today, stripped of their relation to temporal events, are stirring as we hear them again, naked and with urgency.  Lest we fail to connect the dots to our current situation,  snippets of current day events (Obama, Black Lives Matter, etc.) make it clear how relevant Baldwin’s thinking still is today.

The choice to present Baldwin’s thinking through only his own words, unadorned by talking heads is very successful.   Director/co-writer Raoul Peck gets the credit for that, and the film that he has constructed with editor Alexandra Strauss is compelling.

It occurred tome that we really don’t have “public intellectuals” (thought leaders who were authors and columnists) as we did before cable television and Internet.  Today we must make do with Talking (or Yelling) Heads on cable TV and bloggers (hey, I’m one of those); the current focus is more temporal and focused on instant reaction instead of presenting a coherent body of thought.

But, in the Good Old Days, book and newspaper publishers and network television producers were the gatekeepers of public discourse.   Those gatekeepers in Baldwin’s time were older white heterosexual men, and even the well-meaning could not have shared his experiences.  Given that, it’s surprising and fortunate that Baldwin’s words were able to become accessible to a wide audience.

Baldwin was living the life of an ex-pat in Paris until he watched the newscast of Charlotte, North Carolina, school integration with a lone African-American girl walking thru agitated and abusive racist mob.  That’s what motivated him to return to his country and to try to fix it.

THE FOUNDER: moneygrubbing visionary

Michael Keaton in THE FOUNDER
Michael Keaton in THE FOUNDER

In the enjoyably addictive The Founder, Michael Keaton brings alive Ray Kroc, the man who created the global corporate superpower that is McDonald’s.  It’s both a vivid portrait of a particular change-maker and a cold-eyed study of exactly what capitalism really rewards.

Speaking of capitalism, it’s hard to imagine a truer believer than Ray Kroc, not even Willy Loman.  When we meet Kroc, he is grinding through small town America selling milkshake mixers none too successfully.  Each night he retires to yet another dingy motel for heavy doses and Early Times bourbon and a motivational speaker on his portable record player.

Then Kroc stumbles across the McDonald brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch).  In their Riverside, California, hamburger stand, the McDonald brothers invented the industrialization of food service, their achievement being “fast food” as we know it today.  One the most fascinating sequences in The Founder is a flashback of the McDonald brothers designing the most efficient fast food kitchen possible with chalk on a tennis court.  The brothers are passionate about their business, equally devoted to their product and their customers.

Kroc falls in love.  Having driven through every town in the country as a traveling salesman, he can appreciate the untapped market.  He persuades the brothers to let him take over franchising McDonald’s restaurants.  It turns out that that the 50ish Kroc is well-equipped for the job because he’s driven, absolutely ruthless and always on the verge of desperation.  He HAS to succeed.  Kroc is hungry, perpetually hungry, and learns to identify potential franchisees who are not complacent investors, but are who are also driven enough to accept his discipline and run each franchise by the numbers.  Egotistical as he is, Kroc is also smart enough to adopt a brilliant idea from someone else – the key to making McDonald’s his.

John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman in THE FOUNDER
John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman in THE FOUNDER

Dick McDonald is a humorless detail freak with brilliant ideas; Mac is the conflict-avoidant, supportive brother, always unruffling Dick’s feathers and keeping their options alive.  Both are proud and true to their values.  The McDonald brothers are authentic American business geniuses, but are they too principled to fight off a double cross by Kroc?

In much of the movie, Dick is on phone with Mac listening to Dick’s side of the conversations.  Both Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are superb, but Lynch’s performance  is Oscar-worthy.  There’s a “handshake” scene where WE know and MAC knows that he is going to get screwed, and Lynch’s eyes in those few seconds are heartbreaking.

As far as I can tell, The Founder is very historically accurate.  Thanks to screenwriter Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) and director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side),  we also meet some other historical characters – Harry Sonneborn, Fred Turner, June Martino and Joan Smith Kroc – and appreciate their contributions to the McDonald’s business.

The Founder’s Ray Kroc is shitty to his wife (Laura Dern), shitty to his partners and, basically, shitty to his core.   But we HAVE to keep watching him.  Do we root for him  because only HE can build this empire?  We Americans have a heritage of empire building.  And the idea of someone building something so big and so successful with only his smarts, persistence and opportunism is irresistible to us.

This is a good movie.  I’ll even watch The Founder again.  And I’ll have fries with that.