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.
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.
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…
Hello friends! So we have recently passed the half way point of the year in movie-going and I thought it would be fun to give you my picks for the best of 2018 so far. Around the Oscars I do something called The Rachies so you might just consider this a mid-year Rachies. Let me know what your favorites areBest Picture Live Action-
Paddington 2- As far as I’m concerned this film is perfectly executed. Funny, sweet, heart-warming and delightful.
Best Picture Animation
Incredibles 2– A delightful Pixar sequel that is both a well done superhero movie and a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Charlie Plummer for Lean on Pete– This is a film that has really stuck with me and Charlie Plummer is phenomenal as a homeless teenage orphan who is traveling America trying to save a special horse. There are scenes in this film that broke me and I haven’t been able to shake from my brain. Devastating but emotionally true and a lot of that goes to Charlie Plummer. He’s going to be a huge star.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Thomasin McKenzie for Leave No Trace– Teenagers are giving the best performances of the year (I could have also picked Elsie Fisher for Eighth Grade). I debated about picking Leave No Trace as my best of the year because it is a film I saw at Sundance and has stayed with me all these months later. I love everything about it and Thomasin is incredible in her role. It’s amazing to see her begin to lovingly question her father and make some very tough choices.
Best Supporting Actor-
Hugh Grant for Paddington 2- I was trying to think of another film I could showcase but there really was nobody else close as a supporting performance to Hugh Grant in Paddington 2. He is so funny and obviously willing to make fun of his own reputation as a bit of a foppish actor. In a near-perfect movie he was the stand out.
Best Supporting Actress-
Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place- this might be considered a lead by some but I’d say she is supporting to John Krasiniski’s lead. What she manages to do without making a sound is so impressive and when she is trying to birth that baby it is so tense my nails were digging into the arm rests. It was the most invested I’ve been in a horror performance in a long time.
Joshua James Richards for The Rider- I didn’t emotionally connect with this film the way I hoped I would but I still greatly admired it and thought it was stunning to look at. Richards and director Chloe Zhao have made the American prairie look both gorgeous and achingly lonely at the same time.
Best Production Design-
Adam Stockhausen for Isle of Dogs- I thoroughly enjoyed Wes Anderson’s quirky stop motion film but I loved the production design. The attention to detail was outstanding and I can’t wait to get the art book and find out how everything from the wall of glass to the Japanese political rallies were staged.
Sgt Stubby: An American Hero- This sweet little indie animated film about a dog in World War 1 I will continue to champion and try to get everyone I know to see it. It did so many things right that so many animated films fail to do. It doesn’t have the dog talk. It gets the tone just about perfectly down. It shows enough war to be meaningful without traumatizing children. It is not a ra ra America film nor is it shaming the troops in any way. It was so sweet and inspirational without being maudlin. I LOVED it!
Won’t You Be My Neighbor- In many ways the documentary about Fred Rogers doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It has talking heads who reminisce about the subjects life and his impact on the world like many have done before. However, in a world of Me Too where every famous man seems to disappoint finding out Fred Rogers was just about as great as you thought he was meant a lot. Watching this movie was a reminder to be a little kinder. To love a little bit more easily and to accept people for who they are. It was so well executed and just what I needed (I’ve seen it twice!)
Game Night- Maybe it is just coming from a competitive family that likes to play games but I thought this movie was hilarious. I loved all of the performances and thought the cast had great chemistry together. I loved Kyle Chandler playing this near-do-well but slick brother (I’m so used to him in dramas like Manchester By the Sea). I loved scenes like when Jason Bateman is trying to clean blood off a dog. It was so funny
(Game Night is rated R so it won’t be for everyone
Best Visual Effects-
Ready Player One- the best visual effects for my money go to the Steven Spielberg and the team behind Ready Player One. They made a lot of changes from the book (which I LOVE) but one thing they got right was the look and feel of the Oasis. It was so immersive and stunning. The kind of place I would like to go if I could with details filling up the screen. Each set piece contained surprises (and not just call outs but visually interesting and beautiful things). The segment at the Shining was incredible but the whole movie looked great
Some Other Quick Awards-
Most Overrated- Annihilation- looks pretty but is basically a creature scares movie pretending to be a pretentious treatise on life. It has no idea what it is trying to say as it lays one message down after another. Stupidity wrapped in smart clothing
(I also didn’t like Peter Rabbit, Upgrade, Set it Up, or The Party as much as most)
Most Underrated- I Feel Pretty- a throwback to Penny Marshall movies from the 90s that everyone took WAY too seriously. It had its heart in the right place, and I appreciated what it was trying to say. I laughed and thought it was overall very sweet.
Biggest End of Movie Letdown- Avengers: Infinity War. Most of this movie was pretty entertaining and well done but then they had the ending that tries to get me to believe that a major studio is actually killing off their brightest and newest talents. Give me a break. Most people were crying and it kind of ticked me off. I HATE when directors think I am stupid and I’m not stupid enough to believe that Marvel is killing off Black Panther. Ugh
(The last 30 minutes of Tully was also extremely disappointing and frustrating!).
Biggest Disappointment- Wrinkle in Time- I love the novel and Ava DuVernay had all the pieces to make something great but instead made something that was muddled, confusing and full of speechifying. All the spirituality of the novel is taken away in favor of sermons that looked like part of a yoga retreat video and Meg was told she was a warrior instead of figuring that out for herself and saving Charles Wallace from IT because she knew how important he was to God. What a waste!
(I was also disappointed in Early Man and Ocean’s 8 was just Ok when I was hoping it would be great)
Worst Movies So Far-
Lu Over the Wall- Made me physically nauseated. Spastic and all over the place. The parts that do work are a copycat of Ponyo.
White Fang- Exploitative animal violence in a film aimed at children was jarring and went on for way too long. Also the animation and voice acting was hit and miss.
Gotti- Terribly made in every way but also wants you to believe the mafia are the true victims of authorities who won’t stop hounding them!
Pacific Rim: Uprising- I hated every inch of this nauseating blockbuster full of stupid and irritating characters that would not shut up
Ophelia- the most ridiculous attempt to turn Hamlet into a feminist mantra you could imagine. I was dying trying to hold my laughter in.
For more of my thoughts on some indie films check out the podcast I did with my friend Orla Smith
Hi everyone! I know I’m woefully behind on writing reviews for all of you on what I have been seeing at the cinemas. Honestly all of my free time lately has been taken up with both of my podcasts- Rachel’s Reviews (we just posted our 6th episode of Talking Disney on Big Hero 6) and Hallmarkies (we have been keeping up 3 podcasts a week including amazing interviews like this one I did with film critic William Bibbiani). I am super proud of every last podcast I do and am working hard to continually improve.
I also had the incredible opportunity to interview Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit for rotoscopers.com. You can read the interview here. It was one of those moments where I pinch myself to see if this is actually my life! I actually got Nick Park to say “I’m a clay man myself.” How cool is that?
Anyway all of this is to explain why I am doing one of my classic ‘Current Mini Reviews’ posts. Not because I don’t love some of these movies because I do but I am just running out of time.
Lean on Pete-
Director Andrew Haigh is rapidly becoming one of my favorite current working directors. I loved his film 45 Years from 2015 and I loved his recent film Lean on Pete. It’s a simple movie that some will call boring but I found it to be pure truth. As we see Charley struggle to survive and save a race horse named Pete it is full of devastating moments and great character work. It reminded me of Hell of Highwater and I may even like this better. It’s a movie that has stayed with me and I just keep thinking about it. Charlie Plummer is tremendous in the lead role. If you can find it near you see it. It’s very special.
The idea of remaking Overboard is a very suspect one because it is a film that lives and falls on the chemistry and comedic chops of its leads- Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. It starts off a little awkwardly but it becomes a very sweet and funny film about family and unexpected romance. Now they have gender swapped it with Eugenio Derbez and Anna Faris and it is not the trainwreck I thought it would be. Derbez, in particular, gets as much as he can out of the material. However, they took out all the funny and replaced it with sincerity which didn’t work. It made it kind of boring and sitcomy. If you are dying to see it then rent it but it’s mostly a skip.
Tully is kind of a frustrating experience. We actually had the movie crash in the middle of the 2nd act and I was so energetic about the film up until that point. The acting by Charlize Theron and the rest of the cast was phenomenal and the struggles of taking care of an infant very lovingly portrayed. The script by Diablo Cody felt emotionally true and Jason Reitman did a great job with the direction. Unfortunately, they got the movie working again and the last act was a major letdown. Instead of just telling a slice of life, honest story, they have to Hollywoodify it up with a twist that did not work at all for me. I don’t know what is more frustrating a terrible film or a film that gets so close and then skunks it? Darn!
Still it’s worth a watch especially if you are a Mom for the performances alone
A Reluctant Smile Worthy
Won’t You Be My Neighbor-
I actually got to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor for a second time last week. I saw it first at Sundance and then at a special event for the Utah Film Center and the local PBS affiliate KUED’s 60th Birthday! It was a super fun event to be a part of but watching the movie again reminded me how much I love it. I used to watch Mr Rogers Neighborhood growing up and loved it. In the world of Metoo where every famous person seems to have a skeevy dark side to them how great to learn about how genuinely good Fred Rogers was. His crusade to make people feel loved and included is just what we all need right now. Even if you didn’t watch his show I think you will be moved by Fred’s story and the impact of his message.
The Rider is an impressive indie directed by Chloé Zhao starring untrained actor Brady Jandreau and his family telling a raw and intimate story loosely based on his life. You feel like a fly on the wall as Brady tries to put his life together after a devastating injury on the rodeo circuit. His real life father and sister try to give him advice as he debates going back to riding or trying to find a new passion where his life won’t be at risk. The cinematography and lighting is superb and Zhao does a great job getting performances out of her cast; however, there was something that kept me from emotionally connecting with the film. Unlike Lean on Pete, I never really cried in The Rider and I’m not sure why. So in the end I admired it more than I liked it but I still would recommend watching it if you get the chance.
I saw Upgrade because I had some time to kill before a free screening and I’d heard good things. It was definitely out of my comfort zone with the violence causing me to close my eyes on several occasions but I think it is good to push outside our comfort zones every now and then. Upgrade has a lot of interesting ideas with a mixture of Ex-Machina and Jason Bourne but the script felt amateurish and didn’t really work for me. It’s the kind of movie where it seems like if it had just one more rewrite it would be great. Still if you love scifi action than you will probably enjoy it.
Meh Worthy (if I have to pick Frown Worthy)
I love a good documentary and RBG about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a good one. I disagree with many of her positions personally but it doesn’t mean I can’t admire her tenacity and spirit. I especially loved learning about her long and supportive marriage.
TAG is an R rated comedy based on a true story about a group of men that have been playing tag for 30 years! Jeremy Renner is the friend who has never been tagged and the men go to try and tag him at his wedding. The trailers for this looked really dumb but I heard good things and it was pretty funny. It is not in the same league as Game Night but it will make you laugh enough to have a good time. It definitely earns its R rating and can be very over-the-top but the men had pretty good chemistry, which helps sell some of the shenanigans. I enjoyed it.