Saturday, March 14, 2020

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: In These Troubling Times, Is There a Better Movie for Families?

Movie Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
Version: Library Blu-Ray

If you are tempted to watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as a pleasant romp down your distant childhood memories, set that aside. Yes, there are many wonderful elements to that in this film. But A Beautiful Day is much more than that. It is an intricate and complex story wrapped around the very deep and dark background of Esquire magazine investigative reporter Lloyd Vogel, who facing challenging assessment at work receives a difficult assignment: a simple and seemingly unchallenging short interview with children's hero Mr Rogers. Vogel sees this as beneath his talents and skill level, but when his boss insists he take the assignment and make the most of it, Vogel relents. And so begins a voyage of personal discovery that will change his life.

This is a dual story. It is both about Vogel's relationship with his father and Rogers's relationship with his audience, which includes, surprisingly, not just children but many adults -- really anyone who hurts. And as Vogel tries to interview Rogers for his short hero biography, Rogers interviews Vogel to discover why he has a disagreement with his father. Vogel realizes his assignment really deserves much more space than the magazine is giving it, although his editor keeps telling him to finish it up, it's just a simple assignment. But pursue the full story Vogel does, and although he resists Rogers's probing, Rogers digs deeper, too.p

Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers with perfection. He is wise and caring while aware of his own foibles. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel effortlessly. He is edgy and angry while allowing a cheeky vulnerability. Susan Kelechi plays Vogel's insufferable but supportive wife Andrea. Maryann Plunkett plays Rogers's endearing and indulging wife Joanne. Enrico Calantoni plays Bill, the protective production company chief always at Rogers's side. Together, they breathe life into this amazing true story.

Your Mr Rogers whimsy will be well fed with the music, the set decoration, the puppets, references to show segments. Perhaps you will relate to the love of the man in scenes with groups of strangers joining in greeting him with his theme song, one in particular as Rogers and Vogel take a New York City subway car and children and adults alike sing "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood". He will inform you of his ideas on treating fear and anger and anxiety, and how he wasn't a perfect man by any means, but how he dealt with it. And you will fall in love with that same Mr Rogers all over again.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a wonderful film. Yes, it's dark and brooding in places, as was Lloyd Vogel. But it's also deeply caring and nurturing, as was Fred Rogers. In these troubling times, is there any better movie for families to gather around? I doubt it. See it together.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Motherless Brooklyn: Mystery, Suspense Done Right

Movie Review: Motherless Brooklyn (2019)
Version: Library DVD

Frank, Lionel, Tony, and some other guys grew up together in an orphanage and when they grew up, Frank looked after them. He started a detective agency and gave them all jobs. Frank (Bruce Willis) especially looked after Lionel (Edward Norton), who had a pronounced case of Tourette's Syndrome. They got along fine until one day Frank ran into a juicy case that got him killed, and Lionel became determined to solve the murder of his only real friend. That's the main plot behind Motherless Brooklyn, a steely, gritty, suspenseful mystery done up in the film noir style by also producer, writer, and director Edward Norton.

Also features superb performances by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura, the dame who always figures in a classic film noir, Alec Baldwin as Moses Randolph, the powerful big-city boss who clashes with the hero, Bobby Cannavale as Tony, one of the guys who we think is Lionel's ally, and Willem Dafoe as Paul, the guy operating in the shadows. Norton also puts in a fine performance, but I can't help but wonder if it would have been better if he had cut back on the Tourette's some. It seems a bit too put on, in the same way Dustin Hoffman's disabilities were seen as too put on in Rain Man (1988). Norton's Lionel apologizes throughout the story for his outbursts, but they seem robotic and I don't buy it. They just don't seem sincere. Nice try, though. Still, the film is a good mixture of mystery and suspense. Baldwin seethes with power and anger and danger. Dafoe sneaks around like a seedy little mouse that makes you want to squash him. Great cast!

If this film had been made in the heyday of film noir, it would have been produced in black and white; it would have been very dark and shot in stark night scenes. This was, of course, shot in color but in drab day tones and in seedy 1950s settings. You get this dank, musty, dangerous feel with each frame, and that's the way it should be. Kudos for the atmosphere.

On the whole, while I'm not a fan of film noir, I came to be a fan of Motherless Brooklyn. Norton done me right by it. He will do you right by it, too.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The Addams Family: So Much to See and Laugh at and Enjoy

Movie Review: The Adams Family (2019)
Version: Library borrow

Just took a trip on the wildly fun side with The Adams Family, the latest iteration of the decades-old but never tiring story of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, and the rest of the zanily macabre Addams family. This version is presented in 3D animation, featuring characters reminiscent of the original comic strip characters.

Here's the movie's take: The Addams family has soured on their dreary old "neighborhood" and so moves into an rundown sanitarium atop a hill outside a fashionable new neighborhood under development. That same fashionable new neighborhood is being developed by super remodeling control freak and TV host Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who needs to sell out the project for the TV special coming up, and the only thing standing in her way -- and in the way of her making millions of dollars and avoiding immediate bankruptcy -- are the creepy new neighbors. This sets up a conflict of interest and battle of wits between totally upbeat Margaux and totally downbeat Morticia (Charlize Theron) and Gomez (Oscar Isaac). Throw in a developing friendship between Margaux's daughter and Wednesday Addams (Chloƫ Grace Moretz), and the timing of the live TV special lining up perfectly with Pugsley's (Finn Wolfhard) family coming of age party, and you have a recipe for chaos, mayhem, and a lot of laughs.

All your favorite Addams Family side characters are there, too, including Lurch (Conrad Vernon), Thing (he doesn't speak but he sure can dance), and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll). And for the family coming of age party, a ton of new family members. The film is rich in puns and visual references and other jokes that keep you focused on the fun.

The Addams Family is great family entertainment in a punny, rib-tickling, yet macabre (while never-take-yourself-too-seriously) kind of way. If you think it may be a lot like the old TV series from the past, I'd rethink it. The filmmakers have freshened it up, it part by going back to its artish roots while modernizing its take on culture and society. There is so much to see and laugh at and, well, enjoy.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Gemini Man: Spot-on Special Effects and Stunt Work Make it a Winner

Movie Review: Gemini Man (2019)
Version: Library borrow

Oh, man, Gemini Man is a mind bender. Well, sort of. It's not going to alter your life. But the special effects of Will Smith playing a young clone of himself just might make your synapses melt. And the story line is pretty good, too.

The whole premise is that Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is a fantastic sniper for the government. But he sees that his skills and his persona are wearing down from all the killing, so he decides to retire. Only, the government still needs someone with his skill set. They have hired a private firm run by Brogan's old mentor, Clay Verris (Clive Owen), to develop a replacement, and Verris has unleashed that guy to knock off Brogan. Turns out, that guy is a much younger clone called Junior (also Will Smith) raised without Brogan's foibles, ready and willing to do what Brogan now finds harder and harder to do. Working with Brogan to help him find Verris and Junior is an agent caught in the middle, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a student with exceptional spy and organization skills. Also turns out Verris has been working on an even leaner model of Junior with even fewer inhibitions for use in the battlefield, and he might just need him when everyone comes together at the end of the film.

Gemini Man is a pithy action film as much as it is a steely sci-fi pic. Will Smith handles the dual roles of Brogan and Junior easily and moves through the demanding stunt scenes effortlessly in a seamless rough 'n' tumble chase scene through busy city streets. There are some other complex fight scenes where the two fight, too. Obviously, he's using stunt doubles, but the special effects work is spot on and the magic works great!

I'd say, sit back and enjoy. Don't work too hard to pick the plot apart. The opening scene sniper shot is a bit hard to take seriously, but if you can get beyond that, the movie is fun and the ending makes it worth suspending your disbelief to the end. Gemini Man is worth investing the time to be entertained.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

21 Bridges: Well Done, Tightly Wound Suspense Film

Movie Review: 21 Bridges (2019)
Version: Library borrow

21 Bridges is a thoroughly complex police drama/suspense/thriller where you can guess the problem, you just don't know when the crap is going to hit the fan. Superb cast, great setting, excellent editing, terrific writing. Well paced. A good time will be had by all!

Two thieves show up to hit a drug den on a rumor there's 30 kilos easy pickings. When they get there, it turns out to be 300 kilos -- uncut -- and they're interrupted by police not busting down the door but knocking politely at the back door. Then all hell breaks loose and the thieves shoot the cops dead to make their escape. Things don't add up.

The rest of the film is Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) trying to figure out why things don't make sense and trying to save the lives of the two thieves, before the real bad guys can snuff them out. Is it a cop killing? Is it a fouled up robbery? Is it a conspiracy? Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) is the precinct leader trying to protect the honor of the two cops who put their lives on the line. And Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) is the consummate insider assigned to work with Davis to make sure nothing goes south. The whole story line is tighter than a bank vault and dirtier than a backstreet alley. Tension pervades every scene as the bad guys try to seal off the city before the two thieves can escape and let loose their secret.

If you aren't entertained by this film, you don't like a good suspense film. 21 Bridges is great viewing.