[REVIEW] ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’: Watch the Documentary and then See this Ok Movie

Sitting down to review the new film about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I fear I am going to come across as very negative, so let me state out front: this movie is perfectly amiable and pleasant to watch. I will give it a fresh review. Unfortunately I found the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers from last year to be outstanding. It was one of my favorites of the whole year, so I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed with this just ok narrative movie.

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I will be shocked if all the critics don’t at least agree that Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Mr Rogers and his scenes carry the film. However, he is not the lead character, which was a mistake. Matthew Rhys is fine as a the cynical journalist interviewing Fred Rogers for a column in Esquire, but he felt kind of like a case of generic bitter-man syndrome. I wanted to spend more time with Fred Rogers and was anxious to get back to his more layered and interesting character.

They were very careful to not cheapen Fred Rogers’ legacy or scandalize him in any way but the documentary was so much more profound in showing the impact Fred had on millions of children. It had one touching scene after another profiling how his decision to love created a movement of kindness, which blessed so many lives. In this film he seems more like a nice man who makes pies for a few select people. It’s not the same.

Chris Cooper is very good as Rhys’ elderly father. He has been a huge disappointment to his children, and he may be seeking forgiveness a little too late. (Nobody plays a bitter, angry father like Chris Cooper!). There are nice moments between Rhys and Susan Kelechi Watson who plays his very patient wife, and I loved a scene where Fred Rogers prays individually for all of the Vogel family members by name, even the little baby.

I also loved a scene where Fred Rogers is on a train and all the people sing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ to him and it seems to brighten everyone’s day. I wish there was more of Fred Rogers interacting with the people.

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In fact, there is a great moment in the documentary, which I was sure they would include, where Fred is testifying before Congress to get PBS funding and he is able to win over the heart of a crusty old Senator from his speech. It’s such a cinematic life-moment and would have been easy to include with a flashback or something.

I don’t know. Like I said. I am being harder on it than I probably should. I just think the documentary is much better. But A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a perfectly serviceable and amiable film. If people are opposed to seeing documentaries than they will probably love it. As for me, it’s fine, but not as great as I was hoping for.

Watch the documentary and then if you want more watch this…

6 out of 10

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You’ve Got Mail Podcast

Anyone who follows this blog knows one of my all time favorite movies is the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. I love pretty much everything about it especially Nora Ephron’s witty dialogue. It is perhaps my favorite remake ever and one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Recently my friend Christine sat down with me to talk about the film and why we love it and what it has to say about work, life, love and the human experience. It’s a really fun podcast that I think you will all enjoy. Give it a listen 🙂  You can also listen on itunes here.

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: Splash

This week for Hit Me with Your Best Shot Nathaniel over at the Film Experience has picked a nostalgic film from the 80s that was a lot of fun to revisit- 1984’s Splash.

It might seem obvious given my love for Little Mermaid that I would also love Splash but the mermaid movie has to be good to gain my approval. However, despite both having mermaids the two films are very different and I like both.

The Little Mermaid is more about Ariel’s journey and less about her relationship with Eric (at least to me). Splash is more about how Eric would have responded if Ariel had just kissed him the moment she first saw him!

As I was watching Splash I couldn’t help but think about the remake that is planned with Channing Tatum as the mermaid and Jillian Bell in the Tom Hanks role. I am very curious to see how this goes down because not many movies do you have a man being as aggressive in pursuing  a partner as Daryl Hannah is with Tom Hanks in the original Splash.

In fact, even in the original film I don’t think it would have worked if the two performers weren’t so likable and had such good chemistry. We need to instantly accept them as a couple. We need to believe that he would propose in the 6 day time frame she has. We need to buy her openness and his falling for her head over heels.

So for my best shot I picked a moment which exemplifies why Splash works. Madison has just bought Allen a giant water fountain (never mind how she got it into the apartment. It works…). He asks her why she did this and she says ‘because I love you’. He hesitates and says “I love this present” and then he can’t help himself saying “and I love you”. Then they kiss.

If I didn’t believe these two people this scene would be so groan inducing but I do so I like it. That’s why this has to be the best shot. It’s a girl giving a guy a giant water fountain in his apartment and yet I love it!!

splash best shot2PS. This may be the last episode of Hit Me with Your Best Shot as Nathaniel is considering stopping the series and this is the last of the season. I just want to thank him for encouraging me to see many movies like Safe and The Red Shoes. I understand if he decides to cancel the series but it has been a great experience participating when I could.

Bridge of Spies Review

bridge of spies2Today I had the chance to see the new Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies, and to be honest I was a little disappointed.  Maybe even a lot disappointed.

When you have a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, based on historical events, co-written by the Coen Brothers you expect it to be one of the best of the year but I found it kind of a dull procedural. In fact it was both a dull courtroom movie and diplomatic negotiation movie in one…The trailer is also very deceptive in making you think it is going to be a tense thriller when it really isn’t.

Tom Hanks is great as Jim Donovan who is assigned to represent a Soviet spy Rudolf Abel played by Mark Rylance.   Abel is a character that will either work for you and you will find charming or will seem false.  For me it was the latter, but I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the performance . I can see the Coen Brother’s influence particularly on that character. He’s very deadpan and funny, but I found him kind of one-note after a while.

ST. JAMES PLACE Hanks is normally an insurance lawyer and is hesitant (along with his wife played by Amy Ryan) to take the case but decides ‘everyone deserves representation’.  That brings us to the first hour of the film which is a fairly standard court procedural.  The acting is good and you see the pressure Donovan is under to help this guy that everyone hates.  The two form a bond but again Abel is so deadpan that I didn’t sense any closeness on his side, only sympathy from Donovan.

It’s a fine but fairly routine courtroom drama and Spielberg does a good job staging it but it wasn’t anything new or that different from say Woman in Gold earlier this year (there were a lot of things in this movie that reminded me of Woman in Gold, which really isn’t a good thing in my book).

Eventually Donovan argues before the Supreme Court and the resulting verdict ends the first half of the film.  It also reminded me during the courtroom sections of The Conspirator in its attempts to relate to modern issues but not as awful as that film did.  It’s fine if a movie relates to current situations but don’t beat us over the head with it.  There is a lot of speechifying in the first half of the movie mostly by Hanks but others as well.

bridge of spies3Spielberg is great at capturing little details. It almost reminded of Mad Men in that regard.  Like it is the only movie I’ve seen from that era where you see the flash bulbs littered around the photographers covering a story.

There are also segments that are picked up once and then never talked about again.  For instance, we get a little story about Donovan’s daughter going on a date with his assistant and then that is never talked about again.  We get little bits with his kids and at their school showing Doomsday videos but that is never really addressed again.  Someone shoots up Donovan’s house but we never hear anything about that or any further danger to the family or him again. Those kind of things bothered me.

The second half of the film is when 2 Americans are detained by Communists- one by Russia, one by East Germany.  The US Government recruits Donovan to work with Russia to get fallen soldier Gary Powers and they don’t want him to get the American student from the Germans.  However, Donovan believes in ‘saving the one’ and meets with reps from both countries until a prisoner swap is orchestrated (which is telegraphed by the opening scene of the film when Donovan is discussing a 5 motorcycle crash with another lawyer).

bridge of spies6There are some good things about this section.  Spielberg does a great job creating a sense of cold and Hanks feels very human as he is making these negotiations without any real experience as a diplomat.  You feel his fatigue and frustration.

But I think part of the problem is I didn’t really get to know either of the prisoners so I didn’t care that much what was happening to them.  It is kind of like Woman in Gold in that sense.  I loved Helen Mirren’s character but everyone else I didn’t really care about. Same here with Hanks and the prisoners. Also the other CIA guys seemed one note and predictable stick in the muds.

I also thought a section where a plane is shot down looked kind of cheesy.  I expected better special effects from Spielberg.

bridge of spies8It does end in a satisfactory way and over all it isn’t a terrible film, just disappointing.  I actually nodded off twice which is a bad sign in the movie (only for a few seconds).  It was nearly 2 1/2 hours and most of that is just people talking with little suspense or intrigue.

I know I’m in the minority on this one but perhaps this will be my 2015’s Birdman or Gone Girl where I disagree with the critical mass.  It’s not awful but I was let down.

Overall Grade- C

Pixar Review 6- Toy Story

toy storyWhat is the great human fear? I think it is the fear of being replaced or forgotten by those we love (or even the world at large). I propose to you that is the reason why Toy Story is such a great movie.  Yes it’s a game changer in the world of animation and yes it introduced the world to 2 of the most delightful characters in movie history but at it’s core is a message that we can all relate too.

Toy Story is of course Pixar’s first animated feature film and the first CG film from any studio. After getting Oscar recognition for Tin Toy the idea of a lost toy started with John Lasseter and crew and they were able to convince Disney to sponsor their project.  It took them 5 years to make and what they came up with is one of the most likable entertaining animated films ever made.

toy story1-2I asked on facebook and twitter- Any thoughts on Toy Story 1? What impact did it have on you? Do you love it? What do your kids think of it?

Will said

I love, love, love all of the Toy Story movies. They’ve been been very formative on my life. For one thing, they taught me that you shouldn’t abuse or mistreat anything whatsoever, on the off chance that they are sentient.

Jeremiah said

It completely changed the way I look at animated film. The script was so refreshing and the computer graphics blew me away! It’s still my favorite animated feature film. My girls are 18 & 19 and they grew up on Toy Story and they still love it today!
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Jeremy said

I loved it as a kid. I had a toy Woody and a toy Buzz who I played with a lot. I’m actually the exact same age Andy was in Toy Story 1 and 3, and I went to see Toy Story 3 on my 18th birthday the summer before I went away to college. Suffice it to say, many feels were had.

Megan said

I LOVE Toy Story. My 4-year-old loves it as well. I try to only get him hooked on movies that I don’t mind listening to thousands of times over again! Hahaha.

Gina said

kids (ages 5-9) love it. Buzz lightyear is still a hero, even though the movie came out a decade before the oldest was born

Terry said

I loved it!  Wish I was having lunch at Pizza Planet.

Kyle said

Like a majority of Pixar’s films, it’s a masterpiece. The impact it had on me? Teaching me how to do lean storytelling right

I particularly like that last sentiment.  Toy Story is such tight storytelling.

The beginning is all to build up the introduction of Buzz.  We see Woody as basically the CEO of the bedroom.  Everyone has their job and he is comfortable in his spot as the leader.  They even have a little staff meeting.

But suddenly this new seemingly better version of Woody comes along and just like any kid would do Andy is super excited; thereby quickly unraveling Woody’s world.  The posters are gone, the old west town cardboard is gone and a spaceship has replaced it and finally Woody’s spot is now a Buzz comforter and sheets.  At least for that moment Woody has been replaced.

toy story1-3Woody then experiences two of the most deadly sins but we can all relate too- envy and jealousy.  He’s envious of what Buzz has that appeals to Andy and the other toys and he is jealous of all that Buzz has taken away from him.

toy story1He handles these emotions sometimes being angry, sarcastic, sad, and depressed but it is always a response that at least I relate too when I’ve been faced with similar situations. We are also always given bits of joyous comic relief like the famous flying sequence.

The other thing that is so brilliant in the Buzz and Woody relationship is they are seeing the same things and yet in totally different worlds.  Buzz is a space ranger and is seeing everything through those goggles.  Woody is a toy and looking from his viewpoint.  How often in life does conflict come from 2 worldviews crashing into each other like that?  Again another reason why so many children and adults relate to Toy Story and love it.

Once Buzz and Woody get lost the story becomes a real journey.  This is perhaps one of my favorite scenes in all of animation. ‘You are a toy!’  Again it’s those two universes coming into conflict.

The design in these sequences is just beautiful.  The stars at the gas station and the fun of Pizza Planet. I agree with Terry I wish I was having lunch at Pizza Planet.

pizza planet2Then the story moves to our villain Sid who is actually a really creative kid in a lot of ways.  He isn’t just playing but creating; however, in the world of the movie he is basically an evil mad scientist who is murdering toys.  It totally works within the world of the movie.

toy story 1-7The brilliance of the sequences at Sid’s house is Buzz is not Woody’s competition any more but his only ally.  It’s kind of like you may hate a person in your sorority but if it is only the two of you walking down a scary street all the sudden you feel this bond.  Group dynamics work that way! Buzz also learns that Woody is right he is just a toy.  Surely we can all relate to that moment where we realize we are very small insignificant person in the grand scheme of things. That’s what makes this scene so powerful.

Randy Newman’s music is wonderful for especially the Toy Story movies.  He has a modern feel mixed with a Great American Songbook style.  It describes what’s going on without being too literal, poetic while still feeling marketable which is perfect for a movie about toys.  It just works.

As tension builds Buzz is tied to the rocket and Woody has to think of a way to save his once enemy now friend.  He realizes these creatures he once feared are really wonderful (another good lesson for kids) and they stage a little lesson for Sid.

But that’s not the end. No they have to get to the moving truck before Andy leaves.  This last segment is so great both plot, animation-wise and everything else.  It is such a triumphant moment for Buzz when he realizes he can save the day for the people in his life (again a very relatable emotion).

All the voicecasting is great especially of course Tom Hanks and Tim Allen who are just perfect for the roles.  Who would have thought Tim Allen when he was on Home Improvement would make a great space ranger toy but it works. Tom Hanks is more of an obvious choice but his experience in both comedy and drama make him the right pick for the part.  All the side characters are completely lovely with Potato Head Don Rickles probably being my favorite.  John Ratzenberg is great as Ham.  Annie Potts as Bo Peep and Jim Varney as Slinky Dog are all great.

toy story1-5They were so clever too with details like watching the Mr Spell or the Etch-o-sketch for little jokes.  It’s also brilliant to have a dinosaur that should be fierce be neurotic. Wallace Shawn is terrific as Rex. They all have accepted their place like in a business and work together well.  Even when they are ostracizing Woody it makes sense from their point of view.

Anyway, what more is there to say but Toy Story is not just the first CG animated film but it is one of the best.  The story taps into themes we can all relate too and taps into universal emotions.  It also gives us some of the best characters ever in film. The adventure is so much fun and it still looks great today.  I love it.  If it was the only Pixar film I would still be singing their praises.

Overall Grade- A+ (you’ll see that a lot in these Pixar.  It’s just the way I feel).

Toy Story was so well loved that the academy gave it an honorary award for special achievement and I think that was the catalyst for the Best Animated Feature Film category, so great films like Toy Story wouldn’t be ignored in the future or need special awards.  It’s really touching to hear John Lasseter talk about the films creation and team.

Bonus Review: Saving Mr Banks

saving mr banksJust for fun I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent live action Disney film, Saving Mr Banks.  For some reason I waited to see the movie even though it stars my favorite living actress Emma Thompson and an actor I really like in Tom Hanks, and it is about the making of one of my favorite movies Mary Poppins.  I guess sometimes you don’t want the illusion to be spoiled by a behind the scenes look, so I waited until it came out on DVD and watched it.  I was blown away. It rapidly ascended the ranks to a top 10 favorite movie ever list.

Saving Mr Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time.    Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  We also see Paul Giamatti in a wonderful, subtle performance as a the chauffeur Collin Farrel as Travers’ father, and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and BJ Novak as the Sherman Brothers and team.  Everyone is great in this film.

The story centers around Travers, an insufferable curmudgeon,,  and Disney, the master of whimsey, as Travers is forced to relinquish the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins.  She hates the idea of everything Disney stands for.  He is childish is and stupid and he wants to turn her masterpiece into a joke.

They do not pull any punches with Travers.  She is a jerk to the 9th degree and normally this wouldn’t work so well but with Emma Thompson’s warmth and her back-story along the way I totally bought it.  I was actually glad they didn’t soften her edges but had the guts to make a lead character so unlikable.  It made her change and the ending so profound.

Hanks is great as Disney.  I have no idea if it captures the man but even little details like the fact he had a nervous twitch from constantly smoking is integrated into the performance.  He seems like someone who would be almost impossible to resist, which is a perfect contrast to Thompson’s Travers.

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So like I said Travers is incredibly resistant to the idea of her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary) dancing about in one of his cartoons. Why?  Why?  Well, we learn about her father who was a whimsical man, much like Disney.   I won’t give it all away but he disappoints Travers, wounds her and she is never the same.  In fact, she becomes an entirely new person, accent and all.  Collin Farrell is excellent in the flashback scenes as her father.

Colin-Ferrell-in-Saving-Mr.-Banks-2013An aunt comes into Travers life at a moment of crisis and she is inherently practical which is what she needed to get by.  So Travers became practical and created a character that could rescue people in the same way her aunt had rescued her.  That’s why it meant so much to her.

But it is not a morbid or solemn film, much of it is spent on the mechanics of working over the script with the producer and the Sherman Brothers.  Travers has opinions on everything from the house, to whether Mr Banks has a beard.  She is absolutely against using music or animation (we all know how she came out on that debate!).  She doesn’t like Dick van Dyke as a choice (hard to believe but true).  She even at one point criticizes one of the Sherman brothers and says he earned his limp in the war.

At least to me this banter and back and forth never got too heavy or drawn out because it was interrupted with the scenes from Travers life.  The pacing works perfectly. A lot of that also goes to Thomas Newman who wrote a fabulous score- one of the best I’ve heard in many years.

So great performances, beautiful music and cinematography, engaging premise- all part of why Saving Mr Banks is special but there was something else that made it a top 10 all time favorite.  At the end Tom Hanks flies to London and talks to PL about forgiveness and it deeply moved me.  It captures the profound idea that every person has a moment where childhood is over, and most of us spend the rest of our lives either resenting who gave us that moment or trying to recreate the innocence we lost.  In the case of PL Travers she rejected the whimsey of her father to deal with the pain, in Disney’s case he embraced it so they are the ultimate contrast.  I bawl whenever I see that scene.  It profoundly moved me.

I have my moment where childhood was done.  I wasn’t the most whimsical kid to start with, far from it.  But one day at the apex of being bullied I was thrown into the drinking fountain with a line of children and my dress was put over my head so everyone could see my underwear.  All of this within a teacher’s observation.  I remember looking at her and all the kids and realizing they weren’t going to help me.  I don’t resent those kids/teachers but I do wish I could have that moment back.  Maybe that’s why I like animation and children’s movies so much?  Characters like Ariel and Belle gave me confidence to stand up for myself and find my own version of happiness.

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I know Saving Mr Banks isn’t a perfect movie but that scene in London was perfect to me.  I also love the behind the scenes of how a movie is conceptualized and developed.  It’s interesting that we never see a set or backdrop or anything like that.  It is all at the script, storyboard stage.  I loved the actors who played the Sherman Brothers.  They are just trying to do their jobs and make their employer happy, and Travers is making it very tough on them.

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I also loved Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur.  He is subtle and their friendship felt authentic.  I’m surprised a big name like Giamatti would take such a small part but I’m glad he did.

It is also true the film is fan fiction and PL Travers hated the movie and wouldn’t give any rights to anything after the experience.  She cries at the premiere and you feel for her.  For her work and all that it meant to her.  It is not a tidy explanation no matter how technically inaccurate it might be.

So, I loved Saving Mr Banks.  I loved performances, music, story, cinematography, and the message of forgiveness.  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do!

Content Grade- A-      Overall Grade- A+