[#2020oscardeathrace] A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue

109 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role [Tom Hanks] [PENDING]

 

After the success of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, it seemed certain that we would see a Mr. Rogers biopic. I became surprised that we hadn’t already gotten one in the years following his death, but I learned that his estate was primarily concerned with getting it as accurate as possible, and so when it was announced that Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) would be directing the biopic with Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Toy Story 4) playing Mr. Rogers, it seemed to be perfect, but could Hanks pull it off?

In 1998, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, The Report, TV’s The Americans), a journalist for Esquire magazine, is tasked with profiling Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for an issue on heroes. Lloyd’s at a place in his life where he’s known for his cynical and scathing pieces of journalism, and he’s not too keen on writing about Mr. Rogers, but he begrudgingly accepts. Over several meetings, Lloyd and Fred learn quite a lot about each other, and Fred is determined to understand his interviewer and help him come to terms with his past.

I cannot begin to discuss the merits of this film without giving a whole lot of credit to Tom Hanks and his performance as Mr. Rogers. There are a few different ways that Hanks could have approached playing the iconic personality. The worst of these ways would have been to attempt an impersonation of Fred Rogers. Hanks avoids this by purely studying the mannerisms, inflection, and tone of the character and apply it to his performance. No one can be Fred Rogers, and Hanks plays the spirit of who Mr. Rogers is.

The decision made by the screenwriters, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The Motel Life), to focus on a single story of friendship instead of a straight-up biopic was a great choice. I’m so sick of by-the-numbers checklist biopics. I want to see a story. That’s what we get here. It also works since most everyone who has an interest in the life story can watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and get all that. Using Lloyd Vogel as the lens through which we view Mr. Rogers creates an accessibility that really works for understanding Fred Rogers as a human being.

Another benefit of telling a singular story is that director Marielle Heller is able to experiment and really let her artistry shine. She constructs a dream-like quality by creating a framing device that also lets us see Lloyd through Fred’s eyes as well. She also expanded upon the diner scene in the film, and I don’t want to get into the details of it, but that sequence because I want you to experience it for yourself, but it’s the moment that elevates this film to another level.A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is another outstanding feature from Marielle Heller that contains another stunner of a performance from Tom Hanks. This unforgettable film experience is well worth your time, even if you think you know the whole story…so sing it with me:

“Won’t you please, won’t you please,
Please won’t you see this movie?”

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, click here.

Little Women (2019)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Greta Gerwig

135 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.

 

I’m a major fan of Lady Bird, and though I disagreed with the decision made by its director, Greta Gerwig (Nights and Weekends), to adapt Little Women for her next project, I was interested enough in her as a filmmaker to see it. Truth be told, I do not care for the source material (I’ve read it two or three times throughout my schooling and it just never really got me), and I feel like the six other adaptations probably covered enough ground that making a new version really couldn’t do much to rise above. But, it’s Greta Gerwig, so I was going to support her as a filmmaker. With that, how did Little Women end up?

Little Women follows the March sisters as they navigate growing up and pursuing their dreams. Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna, Mary Queen of Scots) wants to be a writer, and she doesn’t have any interest in love. Meg (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and the Beast) falls in love and is perfectly happy raising a family. Amy (Florence Pugh, The Falling, Fighting with My Family) has talents with her painting, but she has trouble controlling her jealousy. Beth (Eliza Scanlen, Babyteeth, TV’s Sharp Objects) is a musician at heart, but health problems have stayed with her throughout her youth. Through it all, these women try to remain together, even as life attempts to drift them apart.

Like The Irishman, Little Women‘s best attribute is its performances. Across the board, everyone in the film is engaging and powerful and layered. I was primarily interested in Florence Pugh’s take on Amy, a character I am not alone in loathing. Amy is a very difficult character because she’s not a likable character, she makes some truly poor choices, and her growth is slow. With that, though, I cannot give enough credit to Pugh’s take on the character. Pugh is worth seeing even in films that I don’t like, as was the case with Midsommar earlier this year.

Saoirse Ronan is also quite spectacular, as expected. Ronan has a lot of Jo in her already, and she capably steals the screen in every scene. I connected with her mostly because of my career choices, and I understand the troubles she deals with. Jo’s got the most screen time in the film, and we see the scenes that Jo chooses to write about, and it elevates her narration quite well. I particularly like that Gerwig focused Jo’s character on being more work-driven as well.

I think Gerwig, between her screenwriting and directing, packs a lot into such a small run time, and she manages to make a book I didn’t care for into a film that I actually liked. I still didn’t love the film in the same way that I hoped to, having been such a huge fan of Lady Bird. I wanted to love it, but the story, for me, was still lacking. I don’t fault any of the elements for this reason. It’s more the source material that I didn’t care for.

Everything else in the film is so technically well-done also. I was very impressed with the film overall, and I wish that I had loved it in the same way as some of my colleagues, but I overall liked it just fine. It’s just not a film I feel like revisiting.

Little Women is very well-done, and it’s a film that deserves to be seen by fans of the novel or people who haven’t even read it. I don’t think it will win over those who didn’t like the source material, but I would say that I think this is an adaptation that is better than the novel it is based on. Fight me.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, click here.

 

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 25 – The Ring (2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

115 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references.

 

I don’t know if you remember (I sure didn’t), but fifteen years back, The Ring was one of the first big films to explore viral marketing. In fact, the first “trailer” for The Ring was just the cursed tape from the movie with no credits or title card. Viewers had to look online for insight or wait with anticipation for a month to find out what the hell was going on.

Seattle journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts, King Kong, TV’s Gypsy) is tasked with uncovering the truth involving her niece’s death. When her investigation brings her to an old shack and a strange videotape with disturbing images, she receives a phone call telling her she is going to die in seven days. Now, in a race against the clock, Rachel and ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson, Everest, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) must find the origin of the tape and learn how to keep themselves alive as time slowly runs out.

The Ring is the first in a long string of Western remakes of Asian horror films, and it is arguably the best one. This writer has found that it isn’t really a classic of the genre, but director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, A Cure for Wellness) weaving an expertly crafted experience and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ghost in the Shell) turning in a well-written albeit severely bloated screenplay, The Ring holds well.

I think, in addition to the gorgeously-striking visuals on the screen, Verbinski is blessed with a force of nature in lead actress Naomi Watts, who elevates this genre film with a nuanced, layered performance as Rachel. Rachel is flawed, instinctive, smart, and cunning.

My biggest frustration with the film is the ending. I think The Ring ends on a confusing and unexplained note. It doesn’t really tell you what’s going on, and if forces a lot of inference. There was a bookend of scenes with actor Chris Cooper that sounds like it would have helped here, but test audiences didn’t respond well to it, but I think that was a mistake.

The Ring is fine genre horror and very creepy when taking its PG-13 rating into consideration. It’s an entertaining but somewhat crowded narrative and its characters are interesting and engaging. Overall, it’s a staple for many even if I found its ending to be heavily flawed.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of F. Javier Gutierrez’s Rings, click here.

 

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