BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF MY ARTICLE BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING

I am kind of a homebody. I love staycations, contemplating a fire in our fireplace, watching a home movie and enjoying the ability to pause for a snack or bathroom break (even with TP being a growing scarcity), or just reading a book with a cat in my lap. BUT nothing makes me want to leave faster than being told I CAN’T leave. And our governor has decreed that there is now a MANDATORY requirement to VOLUNTARILY self isolate.  Putting aside the inherent oxymoron, I more than understand everyone else’s anxiety.

So I decided, rather than fret over this bizarre situation, to suggest a few movies about being stuck in one spot.

Now, as you peruse my choices, know that I am aware of other movies which might seem more obvious.

SPOILERS

Three I would NOT recommend at this time:

Saw invites a guy to hack his foot off.

Cast Away is an a-theized version of Robinson Crusoe. I’m not saying Cast Away openly advocates for an atheistic philosophy, but the original Robinson Crusoe, on which the writers draw heavily in concept, was about a spiritually damaged man who comes to realize his enforced isolation as Providence. Crusoe uses his time as an opportunity to rediscover his relationship with God. On the other hand Cast Away is just about Tom Hanks surviving on an island.

Buried is just too grim to talk about.

So without further ado these are what I think are five great movies that show BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING.

REAR WINDOW

This classic gem from Alfred Hitchcock stars the icon of cinema, Jimmy Stewart, in one of his historically memorable performances as a man with a broken leg, before the age of ubiquitous air conditioning, internet, cell phones or streaming movies, stuck in his apartment during a hot summer and bored out of his mind. The only things he has to occupy himself with are peeping at his neighbor across the way from his apartment and the occasional visits from his girlfriend Grace Kelly. Point of trivia and irony: One neighbor is played by Raymond Burr. Two years later Burr would become Perry Mason, the eponymous lead in an extremely popular courtroom drama TV show, in which this part brilliant lawyer part inquisitive detective, would weekly successfully and justly defend an innocent man who everyone else thinks guilty.

Stewart’s character peeps in on his neighbors and surmises from circumstantial evidence that Burr has murdered his wife. Getting anyone to believe him or prove it becomes a rather tall order as he is stuck in his apartment at a time long before the term handicapped access was even created.

The movie was later remade into a vehicle for the paralysed and wheelchair bound Chris Reeves, who, in an act of sheer inspiring determination, not only lead but, incredibly, directed the film. While I have not yet seen Superman’s version, it is on my bucket list.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE MIGHT HELP YOU SOLVE A MURDER!

APOLLO 13 (1995)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

This one has some profanity including blasphemy and a few instances of verbal sexual innuendo meant comically. Also, for those old enough to understand the jargon and circumstance, though the men involved face this grimmest of situations with calm and dignity, it is quite tense. So young teens at earliest, especially since younger crew who did not fully appreciate the gravity (or lack thereof) of the space hazards would likely get bored.

This is the telling of the historical and harrowing event which took place from April 11 through 17, 1970 known as the Apollo 13 mission, which was to have been the third lunar landing by the United States. When an oxygen tank catastrophically failed the mission parameters changed to simply trying to return the crew alive.

Even those familiar with the story will be on the edge of their seats as most of the movie is seen from inside the claustrophobically small cabin. Starring Tom Hanks (Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Sully, and many more terrific movies, many also biopics), Kevin Bacon (most famous for Footloose), Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump) and Ed Harris (The Rock, The Right Stuff) – these men portrayed those who really DID have The Right Stuff with a courage, patriotism and dignity which helped a new generation understand why the space race is worth the risks we take.

BEING STUCK IN ONE  PLACE CAN HELP DEMONSTRATE THE COURAGE, DETERMINATION AND INGENUITY OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Appropriate for the whole family.

This is a wholesome and inspiring CLASSIC Disney movie based on the Pastor Johann David Wyss’ book about a family, anxious to start a new life in a far away home, who become shipwrecked on an island. The story is of their ingenious survival for a decade with reliance only on their faith in God, each other, and the abundance of raw resources of the uninhabited land far away from any known charts. They tame wild animals, rescue a fair damsel, fight pirates, build a multistory home, and conquer their environment with a plethora of ingenious inventions.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE WITH THOSE YOU LOVE TO CONQUER CHALLENGES CAN DEMONSTRATE YOUR STRENGTH AS A FAMILY

PASSENGERS

I know this movie has gotten a lot of flack over the years for lionizing Stockholm Syndrome and I might have agreed except for one thing:

SPOILERS

Jim gave Aurora an out. He repurposed a biobed into a cyro chamber for her.

I have a full review HERE.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mid teens and up for mild profanities, some semi-comic bare buttocks, some stressful life threatening scenes, and an episode in which the main character becomes so depressed he contemplates suicide.

The story is about a colony ship that glitches 30 years into an 120 year trip leaving one passenger stranded and completely alone among hundreds of other people – who are all asleep in cryogenic chambers. Knowing he is condemned to die alone, after a year he becomes desperate and begins what can be looked at as a parable of marriage.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE CAN TEACH YOU A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF, BOTH GOOD AND BAD

AIRPLANE (1980)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

NOT FOR THE KIDDIES. Everything from bad language, fart jokes, crude humor and a pair of bare breasts almost LITERALLY thrown in for a moment JUST to achieve an R rating, it’s a classic but for adults only.

OK Let’s go full bore comedy here. This is the prince of parodies, the founder of funny, the superfilm of spoof. On the heels of a decade of airborne disaster melodramas, the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams wrote a movie which incorporated as many clichés, parodies, homages and pokes at this genre as they could possibly stuff into one film. Additionally it featured TV and cinematic legends like Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges (father of Jeff and Beau), Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver), and Leslie Neilsen, who had previously been primarily in serious roles, as well as a host of other very familiar faces from old movies and TV Land shows, NOT to mention the Zuckers and Abrahams, the writers. Especially for its time and place, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and/or were disaster movie afficianados, this was a recipe for rare hilarity. It also stands the test of time. Even if you don’t recognize any of the actors or references this will still tickle your funny bone with its outrageous dead pan deliveries, great timing, unexpected warping of clichés, and the wonderful actors totally committed to turning their comfort zones on their heads.

Many have tried to recapture this lightning in a bottle of mocking a very successful film genre, and many have met with a measure of success – Police Squad, Reno 911 (police TV shows), Disaster Movie (disaster movies), Vampires Suck (Twilight saga), Shaun of the Dead (zombies), Saturday the 14th (Friday the 13th), Spaceballs (Star Wars) –  even using and reusing Leslie Nielsen in some of the ventures. But Airplane was the grand daddy of them all – at least the ancestor with the most fame and clout for their efforts – leading the way with the guts to take on an established genre powerhouse and openly make fun of it.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE CAN BE JUST PLAIN OLD FUNNY

So enjoy your time at home. We usually never have enough of it.  And relish this, what I genuinely believe we will come to later understand as precious moments to:

Be alert, be brave, appreciate your family, learn something about yourself and…laugh.

MY OSCAR PICKS FOR 2020

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF: MY OSCAR PICKS FOR 2020

PART ONE

PART TWO

Well it’s that time again – tucked right between Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day – to hand out the Oscars! Some think of it as a time to recognize outstanding achievement in the art of cinema. Louis B. Meyer referred to it as a trade show. George C. Scott called it a meat market and refused to participate. But, however you think of it, the winning of this award confers a great deal of attention and is a heck of a resume enhancer for those on both sides of the camera.

Let’s start by identifying the categories. You can get your own ballot HERE.

Originally called the Academy Award of Merit, it was the brain child of Louis B. Meyer who thought up the idea in 1929, allegedly to forestall unionization, asserting: “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them.”

Sculpted by George Stanley, a native of Iota, Louisiana (significant to me, personally, as that is my home state), Stanley followed the design by Cedric Gibbons, the Art Director for such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gaslight, and Brigadoon.

The far more famous moniker for the Academy Award of Merit is, of course, Oscar – supposedly dubbed by a passing secretary who was alleged to have quipped: “That looks like my Uncle Oscar!”

The most anticipated awards are for best: Picture, Lead Actor and Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director, Screenplay and Song. But there are, all told, 24 standard categories plus the periodic endowment of a Life Time Achievement award and a variety of lesser known technical and merit based awards.

I’m only going to cover the areas on which I feel comfortable expositing – acting, directing, cinematography (with some assistance from my excellent photographer husband), writing, and music.

Below I offer some rules of thumb.

ACTING

Do you get to know the character? I think a good rule of thumb in evaluating acting is to ask yourself after having seen the performance – do you know this character? Has the performer put so much nuance and exposition into his filmatic creation that you could take a good guess as to how they might react in any given situation? Now limitations here are not always the actor’s fault. There just might not be enough pallet in an individual film to paint enough of a spectrum to allow this kind of extrapolation. But some actors can, with just a glance, body language, change of inflection or what they DON’T do or say, get into the skin of their character.

This becomes evident when noting there have been awards handed out for the smallest of screen time characters: such as Beatrice Straight’s 5 minutes and 2 second supporting actress performance in Network, or for Ingrid Bergman’s 5 minute continuous shot in Murder on the Orient Express.

MUSIC AND CINEMATOGRAPHY

Does it serve the film? Though, obviously, two different categories, music and cinematography have the same job – do they both “act” as performers in their own right AND blend in, in such a way that unless you are listening or watching for it, you don’t notice? Examples are the way Stanley Kubrick recreated the first significantly realistic cinematic experience of being in space in 2001: A Space Odyssey – astonishingly accurate for its time, especially given the limited technology with which to innovate. Watching it now the visuals seem natural – of COURSE this is what it would be like – the weightlessness of the floating pen, following Dave Bowman as he runs in the circular habitat. But if you step back and realize Kubrick did it without actually going into space with 60 year old technology you realize what a stand out performance the cinematography really is. Or how the music in Casablanca fits, enhances and captures the mood and time of the era and place of Vichy France during World War II, as well as reflects the personalities of the outstanding cast. The music buoys up the performances of Bergman and Bogey seamlessly, yet later you realize how enchantingly memorable the themes are.

WRITING

Was it done with a conscience? Is the story created within a coherent Universe which, depending upon the rules IN that Universe are: reasonably without holes, with believable characters, structured by a convincing plot and with a worthy theme that made the time you spent watching a good investment?

DIRECTING and BEST PICTURE

Is it timeless? Does the movie come back to you again and again, revealing layers you never saw the first or second or tenth time you saw it? Like: It’s a Wonderful Life, Groundhog Day, or Branagh’s Hamlet.

So armed with these admittedly somewhat shallow explanations for what is, fundamentally, an intellectually driven visceral response to the films at hand, I give you:

MY PICKS FOR THE OSCARS 2020

Of the ones I pick, I’ll do them in the order the Academy more or less USUALLY presents them. In full disclosure, I have only seen ALMOST all of the movies in play. I promise not to declare a vote for anyone/thing I haven’t seen. I also plan to see all the ones in the categories for which I’m voting – and if that causes a later change in vote I’ll do an update.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Hands down the most incredible performance of 2019 (See my review HERE) Hanks WAS Mr. Rogers. Every subtle vocal and physical mannerism, the kindness, the deeply spiritual charisma of Evangelical belief that was Fred Rogers, is all on gentle display with Hanks. In this movie I got to know Rogers as though he HAD been my neighbor.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

There are some terrific performances up for nomination this year. But my nod would have to go to Scarlett Johansson as Rose in Jojo Rabbit. Her presentation of a single mother leading a double life in the heart of Nazi Germany gives us a view of this woman in every possible light. She is shouldering the impossible task of protecting her son and trying to maintain the facade of a normal life while her country is under the thumb of psychopaths and soulless serial killers, all while harboring a heroic secret which could get them all brutally killed. We see the struggle in her eyes while admiring the courageously thrown up jaunty attitude with which she faces the world. Johansson reveals the beautiful soul of this woman all while operating within the confines of a supporting role.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Klaus (See my review HERE) Clever story, engaging and personable characters, delightful animation, unique take on an old traditional tale, excellent vocal performances, and a richly worthwhile theme make this my absolute favorite for this category.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Jojo Rabbit is one of the oddest films I have ever seen. Without diverting into “Springtime For Hitler” territory, it shows Nazi Germany near the end of the war through the eyes of a pre-adolescent boy forced into the Hitler Youth. We see through his naive eyes as he concocts an initially Tigger-like jovial bouncy Hitler (performed with bizarrely adorable exuberance by the writer/director Taika Waititi, whose unusual sense of humor reinvigorated the Thor franchise with much needed humor). We understand the child-innocent well meaning enthusiasm toward the Hitler Youth in general and Nazi Germany in general, the way children today might go to summer camp. He simply did not understand what was really going on. There is an unexpected lightness to Waititi’s script, based on Christine Leunen’s book Caging Skies, which darkens with the characters the more Jojo matures and comprehends. Jojo Rabbit is a profoundly moving piece of work which is both hard to watch and endearing to embrace as it demonstrates how the smallest of lights can illuminate so much even in the darkest of places. Waititi creates a world wherein decent credible people are trapped in the insanity of the Nazi death culture, who fight it with the strength of their courage and the beauty of genuine other-centered love.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I struggled a bit with this one because all of the entries are outstanding. Knives Out (SEE REVIEW HERE) is a funny and clever anti-mystery. 1917 captures the World War I era with a terrifying beauty. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a refreshingly unique take on such a horrific moment in history. OK Parasite is terrible. Had no trouble bumping that one.

But Marriage Story is the stand out winner – a brilliant, insightful, gut wrenching take of a marriage as it is torn apart piece by piece from the inside out in a way only Hannibal Lector could approve. Two perfectly nice, compatible people decide they have different goals and instead of DECIDING, against any other consideration, to work it out for the sake of their vows, their child, and their own sanity – they consult …. divorce attorneys. This is, of course, a bit like trying to wash a bloody wound in a river full of piranhas and expecting to get something back other than a stump. Written by Noah Baumbach, the gifted director/writer with unfortunate first hand experience of the subject, it is the most tragic love story I have ever seen. It is also one of the single most convincing expositions against seeking a divorce for anything other than abuse or something life threatening.

And yet the tale as written is also warm, funny and paints even the attorneys in ways which allow the audience to empathize with every character to a certain degree. Marriage Story is gifted writing with a conscience, at its best.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917. Honestly all the other contenders, as good as they are, should graciously bow out. There is no competing with this astonishing visual accomplishment, whereby we seamlessly follow soldiers for two edge-of-your-seat hours, during a desperately perilous mission, in what appears to be one uncut shot, through the Hellscape that was the front line in France during World War I.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Joker. (SEE REVIEW HERE). While I truly enjoyed all of the music from all of the movies (even from Little Women, which story I thought awful {SEE REVIEW HERE}), all but one painted “simple” enhancing atmosphere. All but one film had soundtracks which were: original, inventive, witty, romantic, tense, frightening and/or just lovely musical tapestries. But only one – only Joker – created an entirely different character just with sound. The Icelandic composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir wove, from the ephemeral air, music that did not just set a mood but companioned Arthur Fleck, giving tangible auditory representation to his descent into utter madness. While Phoenix’ performance was riveting, the presence of his accompanying soundtrack achieved a visceral connection with the audience which he could not have created from mere visuals, no matter how brilliantly wrought.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

I am not a big fan of the Frozen movies but I really think Kristen-Andersen Lopez and Robert Lopez’ “Into the Unknown” deserves special commendation. The haunting melody is far more complex than you might expect, especially for an animated feature. “Into the Unknown” is a gigue in 12/8 time (a very fast waltz time likely undanceable) in C#. While, unless you have absolute pitch or a music degree, the relevance of that won’t be obvious, suffice it to say it is a complex key signature using a TON of sharps. Choices like these are made by composers for almost subliminal reasons – to give a specific flavor and feel to music using a particular keyboard range, for example. There is also a psychological aspect to using all those sharps. As a “sharp” is a half step UP from a “normal” note, it LOOKS, on sheet music like it rises, so lends itself to a feel of spritely upbeatness. Since anything written in the key of C# would be bathed in a “sea” of sharps (“see” what I did there – sorry couldn’t help myself), this visual helps facilitate the intense  forward moving personality of the song.

This fascinating piece is sung with an irresistible rhythm and mystery which not only gives an arc to Elsa’s character, admitting her previous failures, but is written in a way that, performed independently of the movie, could be interpreted in a variety of ways. It could be someone holding back from an enticement to temptation or conversely, being compelled to accept a challenge. It could be someone trying to talk themselves either into or out of something and that is part of the song’s charm and fun. It has the malleability to be many things to many people and is enticing for that. In addition Idina Menzel’s performance is incredible. Ranging from hesitant ghostly whisper to wall rattling boldness, her portrayal is almost operatic in its execution. Not to mention it’s darned catchy.

BEST DIRECTOR

Has to be Sam Mendes for the sheer determination and vision he brought to bear in pulling 1917 into life. Aside from the experimental Russian Ark (which really WAS shot in ONE – one hour and 39 minute take – SEE REVIEW HERE) and Hitchcock’s faux “one shot” Rope, no other film has quite captured the intensity of the one take film as Mendes has, OR accomplished it with such appropriate purpose. Russian Ark was almost a stunt. Hitchcock used the technique as just another arrow in his quiver of quirky ways to create suspense. But Mendes’ worthy intent was to provide the viewer with a sense of camaraderie with these soldiers – not just to sympathize with them but to EMPATHIZE – To honor the memory of these brave servicemen by recreating the experience, walking with these men, almost as though in accompanying boots. 1917 bears the intensity and immersion of the 27 minute long landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, then carries it for another NINETY-TWO additional minutes, maintaining the appearance of a single shot, all while sustaining an entertainment value that will keep you glued to the screen for two incredible hours.

BEST LEADING ACTOR

This is a toughie. All the men in this category did a superb job. Banderas was as detailed and delicately understated in Pain and Glory as Joaquin Phoenix was wildly exubertant in Joker. Di Caprio was surprisingly delightful and funny as the washed up actor in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Adam Driver, especially to anyone mostly familiar with him as Star Wars’ Kylo Ren baddie, was heartbreakingly empathetical as the shut out husband and father in Marriage Story.

But my vote has to be with the incomparable Jonathan Pryce. Pryce let us in to the mind, heart and soul of Pope Francis, revealing in just a gesture or a double take, a hesitation in his voice or a quick Mona Lisa grin, the deep history of a man who had seen too much with a full heart and an aching to bring the love of Christ to a broken world. Watching Pryce we begin to understand the flawed, sometimes troubled, Cardinal Bergoglio who, by his own admission in this story, made grave, albeit well meaning, mistakes during his time as bishop in Argentina. We, the audience, can actually feel his humility and regret, as well as the hint of over confidence in his own opinions. We also get a glimpse into what compels the Pope who now occupies the Seat of Peter in a personal way rarely seen by outsiders, thanks to Mr. Pryce’s beautiful and respectful yet honest portrayal.

AS A SIDE NOTE – A WRITE-IN

BUT – according to my own parameters I would like to submit a write-in for at least a nomination. Given my rule of getting to know a character through the performance of an actor, I can think of no other cinematic creation we, as the viewing public have gotten to know better than this, my write-in. There has never been, and may never be again in cinematic history, a character quite this well fleshed out by a single actor over the length of time and movies involved here.

We watched the profound arc of an extreme narcissist who, through multiple traumas, sheer determination, strength of character, and support from friends and family, becomes the hero he incorrectly believes himself to initially be. Over the course of many trials and agonizing losses he finds: altruism, responsibility, an ability to genuinely love, and ultimately a willingness to sacrifice everything he has – wealth, brilliance, family, happiness, comfort, security, and ultimately his own life – to secure all those things for, not only his loved ones, but for humanity and generations he will never meet.

This character develops from puerile man-child to a worthy leader of heroes and yet never loses that certain spark of flawed playful arrogance which makes him easily relatable. It’s an incredible balancing act which this actor maintained throughout 11 years over the course of appearances in 10 out of 22 movies.

I am, of course, referring to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man aka Tony Stark, in the Infinity Saga, which both began and ended with Tony’s declaration: “I am Iron Man.”

Downey’s Stark’s legacy continues through flashbacks and archival footage in both Spiderman: Far From Home and the upcoming Black Widow. We knew this character inside out under every circumstance possible. For better or worse, like him or not, he became a very well known, unmistakable personality.

While the culmination of Stark’s arc was in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, admittedly the entire journey did not all take place during the course of this one movie. BUT if fictional characters could get life time achievement awards, this would be the one to give it to. Furthermore, Mr. Downey shouldered the majority of this somewhat Herculean task. Not only did he maintain a constant personality for Tony but allowed it to grow and struggle and expand, yet never lost the essential core that made Stark a magnetic fan favorite.

Others have tried this stunt and failed: Schwartzenegger’s Terminator, Depp’s Captain Sparrow. But those died of stagnation, audience fatigue, and lost of enthusiasm. In contrast, Downey managed to make Tony Stark thrive and mature and flourish with each appearance. It was an astonishing feat of creativity and it is a shame that it was not and likely never will be officially acknowledge by his peers. But the fans will remember and I suspect that is more than enough —- that and the gazillion dollars Downy earned playing Stark. As my Dad used to say: “I’m sure he’s crying all the way to the bank.” LOL

BEST LEADING ACTRESS

I admired all the performances I saw in this category. But the most outstanding one was Renee Zellweger’s Judy. Her complete transformation into Judy Garland, in the iconic star’s last, waning, rather pathetic months, both showed the open raw wound she had become, as well as retained a glimmer of the child star with whom we all fell in love while watching Wizard of Oz. In addition, Zellweger’s renditions of the famous songs by Ms. Garland were incredible. She reminded me both of Gary Oldman’s astonishing turn as Churchill in Darkest Hour {SEE REVIEW HERE}and Malek’s heartbreaking Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody {SEE REVIEW HERE}. This masterful accomplishment was all the more amazing given the poor quality of the film, Judy, in general {SEE MY REVIEW HERE}. But Zellweger’s performance was the stand out gem in the otherwise tattered coat that was Judy.

BEST PICTURE

Marriage Story – for all the reasons I chose it for Best Original Screenplay. This is a movie which will stick with you, help inform your decisions if you let it, and be worth sharing with those who desperately need it. It will charm you, break your heart and make you a wiser person for having seen it – IF you take the lessons it has to offer to heart.

SO THAT’S IT FOR NOW!!!!

Good luck to one and all! And may the best actor, actress, director, movie, screenplay, cinematographer, song, and music —- WIN!

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD – MATTHEW 22: 39

SHORT TAKE:

Matthew 22: 39

WHO SHOULD GO:

EVERYONE!

LONG TAKE:

Jesus, in Matthew 22:39, when asked what the Greatest Commandment was, replied that it was to love God with your whole mind, soul and strength then added that the Second was like the first: To love your neighbor as yourself. And I can think of few men whose lives have better served as a template for following these instructions than Mr. Fred Rogers.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, contrary to what you might think, is not about the life of Fred McFeeley (yes that’s his real middle name) Rogers. If you want to learn more about Mr. Rogers’ biography you can watch the wonderful documentary on him Won’t You be My Neighbor? (READ MY REVIEW OF THAT HERE)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is less about the life of the man than the effect his life had on others. Mr. Rogers began his show to teach children appropriate and healthy ways to deal with feelings – especially negative feelings: hurt, envy, anger, betrayal, loss. When children do not learn to deal with their dark parts they become adults who do not deal well with them either. And while the show successfully managed that in a way no other show even tried, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is about so much more.

The writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, and director Marielle Heller (sister to composer Nate mentioned below) of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood made some bold choices I had not expected. The movie starts as though you were watching the old children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood – with the spritely theme song, models of moving trolleys (and a plot appropriate addition of a flying toy plane), filmed in the period slightly fuzzy television low definition we grew up with, followed by Mr. Rogers’ appearance to sing his song, change from his jacket to a sweater and explain what the day’s show is to be about. In this case, he uses a picture board, opening little hand-made doors to remind us of a few of the show’s regulars: Lady Aberlin, King Friday the 13th, etc. He then reveals an uncharacteristically ugly photo of a bewildered and injured man who Mr. Rogers refers to as his friend Lloyd (Matthew Rhys).

As the movie segues into a more conventional format, we soon find out that Lloyd Voger (Matthew Rhys who is actually Welsh doing a fabulously authentic American accent) is an  ambush journalist who has been assigned a “fluff” piece on Mr. Rogers by his concerned boss Ellen (Christine Lahti – a former Blacklist frequent guest star) who believes Lloyd has alienated a few too many people and that this will soften his image. Suffice it to say Lloyd has issues with this assignment, himself, the world and life in general.

Although there is no real Lloyd, he is a composite and representative of the children of all ages who were aided by the gentle ministry of Mr. Rogers. The story was inspired by the existence of an anecdotal article about Fred Rogers written by Tom Junod for Esquire magazine in November 1998 called “Can You Say…Hero?”

The show within the movie even includes Mr. Rogers’ break of the fourth wall as he gazes directly and kindly at the camera in a stare both penetrating and non-threatening, the way your grandfather might encourage you to be completely honest with him about some problem you were having. Mr. Rogers used this technique to let children know that he was interested in each of them. And this wasn’t just a gimmick. When he met someone face to face he genuinely gave them his full and undivided attention in a way few people will or can. Hanks recreates this beautifully, making the audience members feel included in a personal comforting way.

The acting is Oscar worthy (at least measured against a time when the Oscars meant something). Tom Hanks (whose astonishing filmography ranges from the goofy adorable Big to the mesmerizing Bridge of Spies, iconic Forrest Gump AND the voice of Woody from the Toy Story franchise) has the look, nuance and gestures of Mr. Rogers spot on – every hesitation, the warm genuine smile, the playful shoe toss, the kind but perceptively intense gaze, the ingenuous attitude which masks the sharp analytical mind searching for a way to help that you don’t even realize you need.

Rhys gives a heartbreaking performance as an emotionally crippled man whose arc propels the narrative of the story.

Susan Kelechi Watson (another Blacklist alumna) is lovely as Lloyd’s supportive wife, Andrea.

Chris Cooper (whose resume includes everything from The Tempest to the Muppets and the Bourne franchise) does a solid job as Lloyd’s father, Jerry, with whom Lloyd has a complex and strained relationship.

The cinematography is extremely effective telling a subtext of the story by itself. The cameras employed for the scenes which recreate the shooting of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show are the same kind of cameras originally used for the real thing. The studio they filmed those Mr. Rogers Neighborhood recreated scenes were the original ones used in Philadelphia for the real show. This creates a nostalgic feel to those segments of the movie, especially as shots of Lloyd during cuts to him even in the same scenes, use a digital camera. This provide a notable visual contrast between the two men and the way they perceive the world: Mr. Rogers – through the gentle softer lens of a children’s show, versus Lloyd’s harsher view of the world and the people around him. It is this kind of thoughtful subtlety which makes A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood so deeply effecting as both a story and parable.

The music is both soundtrack (by Nate Heller – Can You Ever Forgive Me?) woven about the Mr. Rogers’ theme music and an eclectic collection of lovely songs which you would likely have come across as you cruised the radio dial from the 1970’s to 1990’s: “Northern Sky” by Nick Drake, “Road to Find Out” by Cat Stevens, “Down by the Bay” by Raffi, “The Promise” by Tracy Chapman – chosen either for the meaning behind the lyrics or for the sheer joy of the innocence of the song.

Not to give away too much but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not only about a man named Lloyd. It is about the reclamation of a soul and for anyone with leftover negative feelings from childhood with which they struggle – so, everyone. And the beauty of this Neighborhood is the solution which this lovely man demonstrated daily to the world.

So go see this gentle movie about the healing powers of a genuinely kind and loving man who performed miracles by simply taking Jesus’ instruction to treat everyone as their neighbor to heart and lived it every day of his life.

TOY STORY 4 – A PRIMAL LOSS

SHORT TAKE:

Despite a brilliant start, clever plot, continued great acting, wonderful cameos, and magical animation, the story abandons its own raison d’etre.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone can go but I can’t recommend it for the target young audience because of very dark imagery and multiple scenes of loss and childhood trauma involving being separated from one’s family and justifiable fears of a child losing her toys  which could seriously distress small children. And I can’t recommend it for the older crowd because of the final message.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE TOY STORY FRANCHISE

Full disclosure – this is a long post, even by my standards, but the Toy Story franchise has always been the beneficiary of some truly good writing, and the theme has always been that of family, so, it breaks my heart, but I have to make the case ….. against Toy Story 4, and that’s going to take some explaining.

In the first movie the question was the choice between ego or family, when Woody’s seniority and favorite status is threatened by Buzz Lightyear. Woody chose family by placing the needs of his fatherless owner, Andy, above his own wants and even risking his own life to rescue Buzz and incorporate Buzz into their group.

Toy Story 2 dealt with the idea of fame versus family when Woody has the opportunity to be admired from afar as a classic toy in a Japanese museum but instead chooses to return to Andy, even telling Buzz that he no longer fears Andy outgrowing him because he has the family of toys “for [sic] infinity and beyond”.

Toy Story 3 addresses the inevitable time when Andy, like Little Jackie Paper in the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”, does outgrow the magic and the toys are sent to another child.

This latest installment also involves the issue of family.

Aside from the amazing computer animation, the sterling voice acting of terrific actors, the astonishingly complex characters, the jokes both obvious and inside which parents and even the youngest can understand on a variety of levels and the complex and interesting plot lines, the real brilliance of the films has always been that the stories are really about parenthood – selflessly being there when your child needs you, even if they don’t know they do, even if you do it knowing the goal is for them to eventually not need you any more.

To be a good parent one must choose their children’s happiness, safety and sense of security over the expediences of the parents’ own wants, desires and even needs. Woody, the de facto Dad in each of the movies, chooses to protect his toy family for the benefit of his child. And this is the way to which the ownership is referred – that the toy has a child, which is always viewed as the ultimate and Xanadu of existence for any toy. And the lack of a child is always seen as a tragic circumstance and even one which can, like Lotso or Stinky Pete, lead to a bitter expression of their baser and negative personality traits.

Woody chooses to share the lime light in the first, to forego fame in the second, and accept when his child no longer needs him but accepts the responsibilities of another child who does in the third.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR TOY STORY 4 – SEROUSLY I AM GOING TO BE DISCUSSING THE ENDING SO IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN IT YET AND WANT TO LET THE STORY UNVEIL ITSELF IN THE MOVIE THEATER PLEASE BAIL OUT NOW.

ALSO SPOILERS BY IMPLICATION FOR IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS IN PETER PAN, LION KING, ALADDIN AND STAR WARS – A NEW HOPE.

OK FAIR WARNING WAS GIVEN

FIRST – THE GOOD STUFF

While I have rarely seen a franchise manage the same quality throughout all of its films, Back to the Future being the only one that springs to mind at the moment, Toy Story seemed to conquer that artistic challenge with grace and a strong sense of its own universe. The writers respect these characters and recognize the intricate personalities of each toy, especially the major players. Each has flaws and virtues. None are treated as black and white. They are very recognizably 3D humans. Part of the magic of these stories is that everyone in the audience, including the adults, can find a toy with which to identify, just as any child can, in real life, find a toy which speaks to them out of a well stocked toy box. And the one overarching and abiding principle which has provided the strength of backbone to all of the stories is that their child means everything to the toys about whom the tale is woven.

Toy Story 4 is no exception. At least not at first and not for most of the movie. Woody steps aside as Jessie and other toys are regularly chosen as playmates over him because that is what Bonnie wants. He is the only one who recognizes Bonnie’s need for a champion and secret guardian when she is taken to kindergarten for orientation. Not even her parents apparently fully wish to understand that the little girl is too young to be left at an institution when she is devastated by her separation from home. Woody sneaks into her backpack and secretly assists her throughout the day, proving abundantly that he was right. Woody then steps up to promote a “toy” given life by Bonnie’s imagination and love which is made from a spork and some art supplies. Forky’s determination to be trash instead and his constant attempts to throw himself away are played for laughs and every parent who has had to deal with a self-destructive toddler (but I repeat myself) understands what Woody is up against.

And for anyone who has raised a child to adulthood, Woody’s consistent leadership, even when not wanted, and loyalty even when not appreciated, are part of the definition of true parenthood. You want kids to grow up and not need you any more but it is a painful process. In Woody’s case Bonnie still needs him but doesn’t even know it.

They have brought to the acting table all of the previous actors: Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear, the ubiquitous Ratzenberger as Hamm, Wally Shawn as Rex, Joan Cusack as Jessie, Annie Potts as Bo Peep, Bonnie Hunt as Dolly, and even, using posthumous archival clips, the late Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, even dedicating the film to his memory. And in a delightful spate of celebrity castings they have added: TV legend Carol Burnett in a small part as a talking child’s chair named Chairol Burnett, the one and only incredible Mel Brooks as Meliphant Brooks, and Betty White as Bitey White, the infamous web-short duo of Key and (Academy Award winning) Peele as Ducky and Bunny, Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers as three action adventure versions of Combat Carl (possibly take-offs of real toys based on his role in Predator), the Shakespearean actor and former James Bond Timothy Dalton in a reprising role as Mr. Pricklepants, Carl “basically invented TV sitcoms” Reiner as the little pink Carl Reinerocerous , and saving the most surprsing for laughs – Keanu “John Wick” Reeves as Duke Caboom – a Canadian based (in honor of Reeves home country) daredevil toy.

As a small digression: for anyone who has read my review of John Wick will note, I have mentioned that, despite Reeves omnipresence in bloody action flicks might otherwise suggest, Reeves calling is comedian – and if this stint as the voice of the wheelie posturing motorcyclist doesn’t prove that, then not even Bill and Ted could.

NOW THE BAD – TO BEGIN WITH IT IS VERY DARK AND CREEPY

I wish I could tell you that the film makers took this final installment to the Toy Story adventure to a brilliant conclusion… AND THEY WERE sooooooo CLOSE… but in truth they stumbled and fell badly at the finish line – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they just quit the race altogether.

I won’t reveal the details of the plot journey in THIS part of the post, except to say this is a darker movie than the others. Even Toy Story 3 with the accidental abandonment of the toys and Lotso’s dystopian nursery is not as unsettling as Toy Story 4. Bo Peep reemerges but her porcelein arms have been broken, are held on by tape and occasionally fall off. Some time is spent in an antique store which might as well have been labeled “Haunted House” from the toys’ point of view. A band of shuffling, very creepy, perpetually smiling, voiceless ventriolquist dolls protect, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) the nemesis, providing jump scares and kidnapping and assaulting different characters. Worse, Bonnie is beset almost the entire film with having to face loss. Loss of her home to kindergarten, loss of security as the other children treat her with casual indifference and her teacher does nothing about it; constant and repeated episodes of losing Forky, a traumatic (and I mean for the observing audience as well) scene where she is beside herself over Forky’s disappearance on a trip.

I HOPE YOU’RE SITTING DOWN, BUT WOODY — LEAVES — HIS CHILD

But the darkest parts of this Toy Story is Woody’s decision to become a “lost toy”. By choice.

Our younger son who went with us, an adult now, but a child when the first one came out, mentioned he was glad they had not gone to the well again of making another toy the “bad guy” as they had done with both Toy Stories 2 and 3 with Stinky Pete and Lotso, respectively. In retrospect, I’m afraid he was wrong. And I’m not talking about Gabby who ultimately repents, but Bo Peep. like the song about the temptress Lola in Damn Yankees, whatever Bo wants she gets and Woody, little man, she wants you.

Bo even expresses bitterness at having never truly been played with but ultimately rejected and discarded as an eventually unneeded nightlight. She shows her true colors in the opening scene of TS4,  in a flashback event which took place nine years before, (and retroactively explains why Bo was not in Toy Story 3), when she tries to get Woody to abandon Andy, when Andy was still just a little boy. Woody wisely resists the temptation and stays with his child. But Bo finally gets her revenge through Bonnie, by enticing Woody to abandon his sworn responsibilities to Bonnie, his child now, to run off with her. It is a stunningly sad epitaph describing the fall of a once noble character.

The narrator in a famous Bruce Springsteen song defiantly declares: “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack, I went out for a ride and I never went back….” This is all we need to know about this manure ball – that he abandoned his family because he had a “hungry heart”. Sorry, but that’s a pathetic reason to turn your back on your kids – your KIDS! Never mind breaking the most important oath he will ever make – to his wife. This is an evil perpetrated that can never be fully healed.

In the end, and contrary to everything that has gone before in all four movies, Woody walks away from his heretofore all important vocation of being his child’s toy in order to stay with Bo Peep. Bonnie, his child, has not given him up. She plays with him sometimes, knows he’s around, obviously needs him whether she knows it or not, and will eventually realize he is gone.

In the somewhat realistic universe in which the Toy Story characters exist it is even possible that Andy, who gave Woody up with great reluctance at the end of Toy Story 3 and then only because he thought Bonnie loved Woody so much, that Andy might one day find out that Woody has been lost. So Woody’s abandonment of Bonnie is a betrayal not just of Bonnie but of Andy as well.

ALSO also, the toys live in a background of realism where their actions did effect the humans around them. Al from Al’s Toy Barn, for example, ended up near bankruptcy when he lost his valuable toys – but could be seen to deserve it because he had stolen Woody. Bonnie’s parents are stopped by the police when the van they are driving moves erratically because of toy hi-jinx. So, when in the end of TS4 the mission of Woody, Bo and company seems to be stealing from carnival barkers to give toys they do not own to children, this has a disastrous effect on the humans. From the horrified expression of the game attendant on which this scheme was perpetrated, this was not a good thing. His stall would not survive long and he might even be accused of stealing the merchandise himself.

If Toy Story is a reminder to parents to not let their ego get in the way of being good parents, if Toy Story 2 is a reminder not to let the lure of fame and attraction of money (presumably representing one’s job) keep them from being there for their kids, and if Toy Story 3 is a reminder to parents that one day they will have to take a step back and let their kids grow up but perhaps parent (read grandparent) a new generation , then what exactly is Toy Story 4 trying to tell us?

AN EXCUSE FOR THE ABANDONING, DEAD BEAT PARENT

Are the Toy Story 4 film makers saying one should put personal romantic attachments ahead of their family? Is this a subtle message to imply that a Dad who abandons his responsibilities for a girl friend is OK? Is this finally, an attempt at justifying behavior of the actual Hollywood culture which is responsible for the creation of this franchise, to say that it is acceptable to leave their children behind like goose droppings or unwanted furniture for a selfish fling? Yes, Bo Peep is an old friend, but this is still not reasonable. Woody’s behavior in the final moments of this four movie franchise flies in the face of everything Woody has said, done and believed up to now INCLUDING what he has said in this very movie – that a toy’s most noble cause and purpose is to help their child. Instead Woody, in a completely unexpected 180 degree turn around ABANDONS his child, who is still a little girl demonstrably in need of his aid, even if it is behind the scenes, for Bo Peep, a now wild toy who he has not seen for 9 years.

This is, frankly, an appalling and disappointing break in an established noble character –  What if Simba had decided to stay in his comfy hobo existence? What if Wendy had chosen to not leave Neverland with her brothers? What if Aladdin had decided to tuck Genie back into his lamp for a rainy day? I know I’m crossing universes here but Disney will eventually own everything, so what if Han had decided to book it out of town with the gold in the first Star Wars and never come back?

What if Woody left his child?

The Woody we know would not leave Bonnie. But he does. It’s a shame that the Toy Story franchise had to end with a tag line that should have read: And so Bonnie lived precariously, never knowing what loss she would suffer next … ever after.

WOODY LOSES HIS CONSCIENCE

Now all this being said, my husband made a VERY interesting point. A lot of  rather clever and playful reference is made about one’s conscience. Woody understands the abstract concept well but when trying to explain it to Buzz, Buzz mistakes it for his pre-programmed sayings, which actually end up being very appropriate. This was actually quite a cute way to broach this ethereal topic for a very young crowd and amuse the older people at the same time. Woody’s pre-programmed voice box works perfectly, but the voice box of Gabby Gabby, the antagonist, does not – because she was manufactured incorrectly.

Before the exchange near the end of the movie in order to save Forky, Woody’s spiritual conscience works with selfless clarity of purpose, while Gabby’s behavior stems from a desperate selfishness born of loneliness and a sense of never experiencing what non-defective dolls get – unconditional love (her  appropriately used term).

AFTER the transplant, though we never hear the defective version of Woody’s pre-programmed “inner voice”, we get to hear Gabby’s now much improved inner, pull string, voice. So we know the exchange was made, with Woody getting Gabby’s flawed “inner voice”.

We quickly see a subtle but significant change in behavior. Gabby gives up a sure home to risk helping a lost child, while Woody … chooses the vagabond life of a “lost” toy to be with his “honey,” Bo Peep, abandoning his fellow toys and Bonnie, the little girl who is SELF-DESCRIBED AS HIS CHILD. It used to be considered an abominably shameful thing to turn your back on the spouse to whom you promised fidelity and the child you produced, in order to engage in selfish pursuits.  Now, tragically, it is applauded and the children left behind are treated like old furniture at a garage sale to be shuffled to whomever might still want them.

IS TOY STORY NOW ADVOCATING IN FAVOR OF THE DIVORCE CULTURE ?

For more information on the devastation that divorce leaves, even decades later to adult children of divorced parents, you can buy at the Ruth Institute or READ ONLINE FOR FREE HERE THROUGH AMAZON KINDLE, a copy of Leila Millers’s Primal Loss – The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak.

And where were Jessie and Buzz? I can not fathom why the writers think we would accept either of them letting Woody go. But it fits in with the popular divorce routine where all the adult friends are supposed to rally around the abandoning parent and encourage them to “follow their heart”. I think if I hear that phrase used to justify another self-indulgently destructive behavior in a movie I’m going to stand up right there in the theater and scream in frustration. While they do not actually SAY it in TS4 Woody certainly DOES it.

Were the film makers saying they think it is OK to justify the “divorce” culture dad who leaves his child to start a new life with another woman (or less frequently but just as horrible, wife who leaves to be with another man) and we’re all supposed to be OK with it? OR – is this a subtle remonstration that those who behave in such a cruelly callous, irresponsible and self indulgent manner have broken inner voices – defective consciences? If the latter, it wasn’t nearly made clear enough … perhaps because the writers were afraid to ruffle a few feathers whose plumage was way too close to the guilty fire on this one.

I’m more than a little confused so can only imagine the perplexing message being conveyed to the youngest members of the family to whom these movies are primarily aimed.

The Toy Story we know and loved might have allowed Woody to be tempted but one of his most trusted confidantes would have slapped him, questioned his sanity, and made Woody recognize what a terrible mistake he was making. THAT would have been a good and fitting ending to this franchise. Anyone can be tempted. Even Jesus was tempted in the desert. It is what we fallen creatures do in the face of that temptation which separates the wheat from the chaff. And the film makers tossed every bit of good will the audience had invested in this character into the wind.

I would rather have seen Woody destroyed or fade into inanimacy from Bonnie’s loss of interest than see him betray everything for which he was created, everything he espoused and every principle he upheld for the last 24 years through the first three and most of this fourth movie.

The writers, lead by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, had so much going into this movie: a rich treasure of talent, an invested audience, well developed characters and plot back ground, and they gave it all away for a potage of politically correct propaganda to help justify succumbing to the lure of romantic adventure at the expense of a small trusting child. Shame on them.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR – THE STORY OF FRED ROGERS AND HIS NEIGHBORHOOD

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely, delightful and moving documentary covering the life of both Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Absolutely everyone. No really – unequivocally, no holds barred, universally, unabashedly, and without even the smallest reservation – EVERYONE!!!!

AND IF YOU LIKE THESE REVIEWS PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! THEN YOU'LL GET     EVERY NEW REVIEW SENT STRAIGHT TO YOUR E-MAIL!!

GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LEFT HAND SIDE AND TYPE YOUR E-MAIL IN – IT (SHOULD BE) THAT EASY. ANY PROBLEMS PLEASE SEND ME A COMMENT AND I'LL DO MY BEST TO RESOLVE YOUR ISSUE.

LONG TAKE:

When I was a kid, I had a brother and sister who were 9 and 10 years older, respectively, than I. Come to think of it, they STILL are 9 and 10 years older. Also, my Dad and I were buddies. I’d go to the hardware store with him, and I would hang around and “help” him with construction projects around our house. He was 40 when I was born. My point is that when we turned on the TV it was “Fractured Fairy Tales” on Rocky and Bullwinkle, Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes, Abbot and Costello, The Great Escape, Wagon Train and The Magnificent Seven. The quiet and gentle wisdom of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and his cardigan sweaters was just not on my radar. So later, when I had kids, while I respected the show, and thought he was doing something nice for kids, I just wasn’t that interested.

So I was surprised by my own emotional reaction to Won’t You Be My Neighbor. I realized then that Fred Rogers had seeped, ever so slowly, into my consciousness with his gentle, joyful manner over the last 50 years. He was simply a kind and decent man who both advocated as a motto of his show and lived by the personal  ethic: “I like you just the way you are.” Fred Rogers spent his life wisely, as the personification of Jesus' answer to the question which preambled the parable of The Good Samaritan: "Who is my neighbor?" There is no doubt in my mind that the name of his show was intended as an incarnation of that answer – that, to Mr. Rogers, everyone was his neighbor. And Fred Rogers' personal Inspired ministry was to bring God's Love to all people in a very practical, first hand way – by demonstration.

St. Francis famously advocated to: “Preach always, sometimes even with words.” Fred Rogers, through his actions, showed himself to be an avid disciple. Though the subject of Fred Rogers’ specific spiritual beliefs came up sparingly in the documentary, aside from the fact of his ordination as a minister, his adherence to the foundational Christian belief that all men are brothers, beloved of and equal in God’s eyes, comes out boldly and profoundly in everything Fred Rogers did, or said.

The documentary dips into the very deep well of video on which he appears. Not just the copies of almost 1,000 shows, but his personal appearances on interview programs, at schools, and even before Congress! There is no lack of documentation of Fred Rogers’ progress from his early philosophical musings before a piano on teaching children about serious issues, probably filmed by his wife, in 1962, all the way through the blooper video clips from his very last show in 2001 and his PSA in 2002 on 9/11.

The documentary interviews his wife, his sons, John and Jim, his co-workers, friends, associates, and other interviewers. They come from many walks of life, and life styles. But all people were equal in Fred Rogers’ eyes. Rogers maintained a tight ship, monitoring every aspect of the show, and required understandably scrupulous behavior, watching over the reputation of the show with care and affection for everyone involved in the production. Mr. Rogers, for example, forbade one actor from frequenting a particular bar and Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin) from appearing in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. However, Rogers’ fatherly supervision of his cast and crew did not discourage a certain level of good-natured juvenile behavior amongst those Mrs. Rogers remembered he called his “playmates”, such as practical jokes on set or a poster made from a tasteless but amusing photo clandestinely left on Rogers’ camera by a mischievous member of the crew.

SPOILERS

Back in the 1960's, there were topics, it was understood, that children’s programming just would not explore. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood’s stock in trade was the places where angels would fear to tread. He tackled issues head on that many adults avoided: death, divorce, lost children, serious illness, and disabilities. He had guest stars, wrote books, made appearances, did interviews, and performed puppet plays intended to translate these complex topics in ways which children could understand, talk about, and express their confusions and concerns.

The cast and crew were close and the show was very personal to everyone involved. Daniel the Tiger, the avatar most close to Fred Roger's heart and personality, according to those who knew him best, often spoke of insecurity and self doubt. King Friday XIII and his Queen dealt frequently with parental concerns. Everyone on the cast was known by a real name. Lady Aberlin's name was Betty Aberlin, Officer Clemmons was, in real life, the powerhouse singer, Francois Scarborough Clemmons, and the name Mr. McFeely, though played by David Newell, was Fred Rogers' middle name.

In the ‘60's, when black people were forced out of public pools, Fred Rogers pointedly invited Francois Clemmons, a black man portraying Mr. Rogers’ local police officer, to come join him on a hot day as he soaked his feet in a child’s plastic pool and to share his towel. Fred Rogers went out of his way to rinse Officer Clemmons' feet with his hose and offer him his towel. There is no mistaking the reference to Jesus' washing of his disciples feet nor of the point Mr. Rogers made. I couldn’t help but laugh as Mr. Rogers looked up at the camera from contemplating their cooling feet. There was an expression I'd never seen on the face of this usually sweet, impeturbable man –  just a glimpse of his righteousness anger at the injustices which inspired this demonstration, as though, for a moment, he was staring down anyone who would dare question his actions. I hoped those at the time, he was silently addressing, had seen and squirmed in shame. Mr. Roger and Mr. Clemmons re-enacted the event some years later.

When Bobby Kennedy was murdered, Fred Rogers’ show had Lady Aberlin and Daniel the Tiger discuss what the word “assassination” meant. When the Challenger blew up in front of millions of kids, Fred Rogers was there to confront the topic with his beloved puppets in ways small children could understand. When the horrific attack on our country was made by Islamic terrorists on 9/11, Fred Rogers came out of retirement, ill with only months left before he would pass away, to offer comfort to 33 years of children who had grown up watching him.

Mr. Rogers was the personification of kindness and the exemplification of Jesus’ instruction to his apostles as he sent them to preach, to be: “…wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Rogers  loved and put at ease everyone he met, but was uncompromising in his beliefs and could talk anybody into anything he believed was right.

Rogers’ powers of persuasion were legendary. Mr. Clemmons, during the documentary, explained that just portraying a police officer as a black man at the time was initially out of his comfort zone, because he had grown up afraid of police. But Clemmons put on the uniform and gave good example, portraying this character for decades. Mr. Rogers could reason anyone into doing the right thing, including convincing an extremely prejudiced and skeptical Congressman Pastore out of the 20 MILLION dollars needed in 1969 to keep a fledgling Public Broadcast System afloat, by simply being reasonable. See the Youtube of Rogers' appearance before the subcommittee here.

Mr. Rogers recognized what a force for good the power of the television medium could be and how its worth was being wasted on frivolous, violent and brainless assaults on children’s senses. His mind set was to minister to children of all ages by taking their feelings and thoughts seriously, and help them cope with the normal struggles of life. He featured everyone from the profoundly physically challenged Jeffrey Erlanger to a young Wynton Marsalis to the famous Julia Child to Koko the Gorilla. Yo Yo Ma, the famous cellist, not only appeared several times on the show, but was a friend, was interviewed for the documentary, and is credited by the director, Morgan Neville, as being the inspiration for the documentary. While interviewing Mr. Ma for a different project, Mr. Neville asked Mr. Ma how he dealt with fame. Ma's response surprised him – that he learned it from Mr. Rogers who, it turned out, assured Mr. Ma that fame was not an inherently bad thing, and mentored him on the appropriate ways to use this gift.

Like Colonel Pickering, who treated even a flower girl like Elisa Doolittle as though she were a lady, Mr. Rogers treated everyone alike, to be valued as a child of God. His love for every man was carried out in his prison ministry, and his outreach to adults, Old Friends, New Friends which aired during the hiatus of his Neighborhood during 1967-8.

He was a missionary of fraternal love to mankind and The Good Samaritan to the world. I am so glad his ministry lives on in his shows, in the memories of his friends, family, co-workers and those children, now adults, who watched him and were positively influenced.  The picture of humility, his wife remembered how on his death bed he wondered if he would be accepted into Jesus' sheepfold. Known world wide, recognized and admired by celebrities, all he thought of himself was God's unworthy servant.

In this, the 50th anniversary year of his show’s debut, not only will a commemorative U.S. postage stamp featuring Fred Rogers be released, but work has begun on a biopic of the legendary minister, starring Tom Hanks, planned for release in 2019.

Jesus said the second half of the greatest law is to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rogers was an ordained minister, so it was obviously not a coincidence that in the world of his “Neighborhood,Fred Rogers' declared, by word and action, daily, that he liked his fellow man, with a Christian love, just the way they were. St. Francis should be proud.

THE POST – SELF-AGGRANDIZING TREASON

SHORT TAKE:

 The Post is a lionization of the treasonous leaking of government secrets by members of the media in 1971.

LONG TAKE:

There are two ways to review this movie. One to just view it AS a movie – an entertainment and consider its conveyance of a story. The other is to examine the purpose behind its creation.

You judge a comedy by how much it makes you laugh. A drama by, perhaps, how much it makes you think. You see Mel Brooks, you don’t expect a serious analysis but broadly painted parody. And Star Wars is Star Wars. BUT when a movie holds itself out as HISTORY, then it is fair to assess its authenticity, consistency, and credibility. The Post has …. NONE.

As a movie, The Post is – OK. It’s an interesting view of life during the 1970's as seen through the eyes of wealthy aristocrats and their journalist syncophants who spend their days socializing with men of power, finding ways to insult conservatives under the guise of news, and holding exorbitantly expensive parties to pat themselves on the back for being protectors of the "little people."

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks who play Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee respectively, are accomplished actors and make their characters convincing and "nuanced," as they like to say.

But the going is very very slow in the beginning, pedantic even, as Streep's Graham stands around and does a lot of hand wringing and the writers try to set the mood and hammer the audience with 1970's references – from clothing to posters to hairstyles, "sit-ins," and street protests – dating themselves with hippies and posters of The Blob. BUT much is left out that is salient both historically and morally. The film makers positively assail us with reminders of the era. BUT for all that they do not include "inconvenient truths".

A minor example – smoking is ubiquitous but only shown to represent hard industrious work by "brave" dedicated people. For a movie promoting itself as a slice of history there is no realistic or accurate portrayal of the coughing, burn marks on furniture, the stink, the dirty ashtrays, the obnoxious breath. It’s a small detail but exemplifies the kind of disingenuousness of the entire movie.

In a VERY poor writing ploy we were are bludgeoned again and again and again with how "courageous" Katherine Graham is for planning to publish these confidential papers. If I were writing a romance and repeated over and over in the voice of no less than 4 or 5 different characters at no less than 10 times throughout the movie blatantly stating how much the protagonist was "in love," wouldn’t you not only tire of the assertion but begin to wonder if the "lady" doth protest too much? I suspect the writers knew d*** well that what Graham and Bradlee did was not courageous but perfidious, sleazy and traitorous. I wondered by the end of the movie if they were trying to convince me of the lie or themselves.

The entire film is shown as an idealistic portrayal of newspaper people bucking up against a "repressive" government. In fact, they revealed confidential information about an ongoing firefight against a hostile country in a way which ultimately encouraged the ENEMY to persevere against what was advertised globally as the weak will of the United States to win the battle.

There are many complaints about the tenacity of the Vietcong. Why SHOULDN’T they have carried on – KNOWING, thanks to our witless gutless Communist sympathizing press, that our government had concerns about America’s ability to win against them?

During World War TWO there were GRAVE doubts about either our or England’s ability to stand up to the Nazis. Does ANYONE think it would have been a good idea to ADVERTISE THAT??!!

In addition there is a disgusting pile of hypocrises and a blanket wrongness of plot and characters that are, in a quote from Hamlet – "rank…and smells to Heaven".

Just a few examples:

1. DID YOU KNOW (because it certainly wasn’t brought out in the movie) Bradlee committed perjury in 1964 to hide a document because it had "TRUTH" in it about Bradlee’s bosom buddy JFK? 

In one scene Bradlee and his then wife, Antoinette, wax nostalgic over a photo of them with Jacqueline and John Kennedy. What does not come up in the course of this movie, however, is that Bradlee was instrumental in the hiding of a diary belonging to his sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer. Her murder took place 10 days after the Warren Commission released its findings on the assassination of JFK. Meyer was murdered in a "random" act of street violence which has gone unsolved to this day. Bradlee found the diary soon after her murder, which implicated his buddy JFK in a prolonged affair with Meyer. The existence of and information in this diary was revealed years later. The prosecuting attorney, Alfred Hantman, for the only suspect they ever had – Ray Crump, a black man who had been fishing nearby – was horrified and stated that knowledge of this diary would "have changed everything". Bradlee committed perjury, LIED UNDER OATH, during the trial of the man accused of murdering his wife’s sister, about a diary which had material evidence to the case JUST TO PROTECT HIS GOVERNMENT FRIEND. He eventually admitted as much in a tell all biography years later in order to net himself more money and notoriety at the expense of our country. But he hid this relevant information during the investigation of his wife's sister's brutal murder.

So the people’s "right to know" about government scandals apparently stops at the door of anyone who is a Friend of Bradlee.

2. Bradlee and Graham committed treason during a time of hostilities with a foreign government.

He admits to his boss, Katherine Graham, that he can not be sure that revelations from the Pentagon Papers will not jeopardize the lives of soldiers in the field or our country’s safety.

Well I can guarantee you that it did. What Bradlee and Graham did was commit treason of the most heinous nature. They gave aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of open armed and hot confrontation. They assured the North Vietnamese – and BY EXTENSION the Russian Communist superpower with which we were a red button away from moving our cold war to a nuclear one – that our government was dispirited and convinced it could not win. Bradlee and Graham, as well as people of their ilk who carry on today with liberal journalism, single-handedly helped to assure our defeat at the cost of not only our soldiers lives but the lives of the citizens of Vietnam. Had Bradlee and Graham and others of their elitist inclinations sought to support our fight against Communism, Vietnam might be a democracy today and the war might have ended years before it did. Instead these high rolling socialites cozied up to the propaganda hype of the utopian society they think can be accomplished if only THEY were holding the reins of Communist power. In short, they helped Communist Russia’s puppet subjugate Vietnam under the crushing weight of Communism.

Instead of plaudits Graham and Bradlee should have been tried for treason and spent the rest of their lives in jail.

3. The movie is blatantly prejudiced against the Republican party.

The Pentagon Papers spell out that Truman covertly funded opposition to the Vietnam Communists. Eisenhower continued the support. Johnson committed troops to fight actively despite declaring he would never do this to the American public and expanded the war’s fronts. Nixon was the one who ended the war – which was what Bradlee and Graham were trumpeting needed to be done. But who gets the vast majority of opprobrium, distaste, comments and hate from these high minded "fair" journalists constantly and often gratuitously every 15 minutes of the movie? Nixon. The man who actually did what they said needed to be done.

Unless you like to be hammered with slanted inaccurate propaganda, give The Post a miss.