Dec 11

5 Messages in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

Last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was a tear-jerking documentary about Mr. Rogers (see previous post). This year’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is fictional, showcasing Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) through a based-on-a-true-story tale about his relationship with cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a guy with significant father issues.

As you can see in the trailer, some bonding occurs:

Five of the messages that stand out in this movie:

  1. The need for empathy and listening
  2. Feelings are meant to be addressed
  3. The importance of silences
  4. Mistakes happen
  5. Human sainthood isn’t a thing

Empathy

As reported by Ethan Sacks, NBC, the film’s director Marielle Heller was drawn to the idea of portraying the power of empathy:

“It feels like everyone is saying to me, ‘Oh my gosh, it feels like we need Mr. Rogers more than ever.’ We’re living in scary times and I think we all have that feeling that we’re losing touch with each other and we’re losing touch with the ability to listen to each other and empathize with each other.”

Feelings

As articulated by the subheading of an article by Mariana Alessandri, New York Times: “Fred Rogers’s belief that we should validate emotions, not suppress them, is wisdom for all ages.”

Through words and actions, Rogers demonstrates to both kids and adults that all feelings can be faced and that everyone can find his or her own outlets for dealing with the tougher ones.

Silences

Rogers not only listens in a way that allows meaningful silences in conversations, he also directs Lloyd at one pivotal point to share a moment of purposeful quietude. Joey Nolfi, ew.com, describes a scene that takes place in a busy diner:

…Rogers asks Vogel to take a minute of silence to consider the people who’ve loved him into being. For the next 60 seconds, Vogel and Rogers sit in quietude while the camera pans around the restaurant…before training on Hanks’ face as he shifts his gaze from Vogel to the audience in the theater, asking us to consider the most important people in our lives as well.

Mistakes

Richard Brody, New Yorker, on the filming of an awkward “Mr. Rogers” TV segment:

When a scene of Mr. Rogers assembling a tent comes to nought, Rogers, rather than retaking it or seeking another character’s help, completes the scene as is and makes his failure to assemble it the crucial theme, later explaining his decision to Vogel: ‘It’s important for children to know that adults’ plans don’t always work out.’

Sainthood (Is For Non-Humans)

Fred’s wife Joanne, now 91, was consulted before each of the aforementioned Mr. Rogers flicks. “’Just don’t make Fred into a saint.’ That has become Joanne’s refrain,” states Jeanne Marie Laskas, New York Times Magazine.

Joanne’s refrain has been adopted by people who spent their careers working with Fred in Studio A. ‘If you make him out to be a saint, nobody can get there,‘ said Hedda Sharapan, the person who worked with Fred the longest in various creative capacities over the years. ‘They’ll think he’s some otherworldly creature.’

‘If you make him out to be a saint, people might not know how hard he worked,’ Joanne said. Disciplined, focused, a perfectionist — an artist. That was the Fred she and the cast and crew knew.

Sep 19

Penny Marshall: New Memoir “My Mother Was Nuts”

When I first heard the title of the new book, My Mother Was Nuts, by actor/director Penny Marshall, I wondered, naturally, if her mom was actually “nuts” as in “crazy”—I mean “crazy” as in “mentally ill”—as opposed to “crazy” as in off-the-wall “looney”—“looney” as in crazily silly, that is, as opposed to…

How imprecise, confusing, weird, and inappropriate our language can be sometimes.

Well, I found my answer in an interview she recently gave for USA Today in which Marshall is asked, “After reading this memoir, I think the title should be I Was Nuts, by Penny Marshall. Agree?” She replies, “Yeah, I’m nuts, too, but it came from Mother. She ran through life. She was, like, on speed. She was crazy, but she was funny.”

Or did I?

Like many memoirs these days, Marshall’s apparently is filled with material about unstable relationships, drug use, mood issues, and such. Also, just a few years ago she was diagnosed with both lung cancer and a brain tumor—and she’s survived.

Another relevant question from the above interview: “Do you still have your depressed moods?” The answer: “I’m not so depressed now. I’m jet-lagged. I fall asleep. I have to be woken up for dinner. I’m still not a morning person. But I don’t take any anti-depressants anymore. Not that I’m a perky person, but I’m still alive.”

Not surprisingly, close friend Carrie Fisher has this to say about Marshall’s book: “If I hadn’t known Penny for the past 35 years, reading this book would make me want to. Also, I’m so glad she wrote it because it helps me remember things I forgot, which is a lot.”

And, here’s Tom Hanks: “Penny Marshall is a fascinating woman who has lived a life few of us could survive. Did you know she gave me two of the best jobs I’ve ever had? Of course not, because when she talks she is barely comprehensible. Read her memoir and you’ll come to love her as much as I do.”

True to form (or not, as you’ll soon see), Marshall gives us the following book trailer:

Feb 02

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”: A Critical and Personal View

I’d never read the 2005 novel on which the new movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) is based, but I’d seen theatrical previews several times and was eager for its arrival. Watch below, and maybe—or maybe not—you’ll agree:

From this trailer, I get that there’s a kid who knows he’s always been different from the other kids—but has the good fortune to have as his movie parents the loving Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. I see a kid who suffers a shocking and profound loss on 9/11—the death of his dad. Accustomed to doing various reconnaissance expeditions his dad had regularly directed for him, he then sets out on one of his own making to find the lock that a key of his father’s will open. He meets many strangers along the way, including Viola Davis and Max von Sydow, who also look like troubled souls.

Question for Some Research: Is this film really worthy of my attention or is the preview better than the movie itself?

A summary of problems I encounter:

For starters, many figurative tomatoes have been thrown at it on the popular movie review website—even by many of the “top critics.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, for example, calls it “Stephen Daldry’s extremely labored and incredibly crass adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel.”

Next, the title. Critics find it highly mockable. Extremely this and incredibly that. I need not repeat any of the multiple variations on this theme. As you can make up your own without even seeing it, how extremely easy and incredibly unoriginal.

Third, the number of critics who find it either manipulative, contrived, exploitive, or all three, would astound even Oskar Schell, the 11-year-old protagonist of this film who actually likes to count things.

Finally, Oskar himself, as played by Thomas Horn, a real-life TV Jeopardy genius/winner. Several reviewers make a stink about disliking him. I wonder, though, while reading their harsh words, what it actually may say about the critics themselves. For instance, are they missing the possible nuances about being a special kid who might have Asperger’s? Are they aware but insensitive, uncaring, intolerant?

After all of the above, I consider not seeing it after all. But what about the advice Oskar has shared with us in the trailer? “Dad said, you can’t be afraid. Sometimes we have to face our fears.”

I see the movie.

The title twist I now appreciate? Kelton SearsThe Spectator, calls it Extremely Honest and Incredibly Divisive. To his audience of college students who themselves were youngsters about Oskar’s age on 9/11/01:

For those who are ready to go back and take a second look at what happened, this film is spectacular and revelatory for the very same reason it is upsetting so many people. It takes the terrifying, upsetting, uncomfortable plunge, and it succeeds.

And, on the issue of manipulating your emotions, Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post:

If imagining a city where people open their doors (or don’t) to a boy with a key and a ton of questions is sentimental … then it is vitally, beautifully so.

And, Sears again:

…This film will rip your heart out—but it’s okay, because it finally gives meaning to a day that still hardly makes sense. This film reminds us that everyone has lost something.

But what about Oskar? Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly, for one, notes that there’s a mightily significant burden placed upon him:

…Here’s a tale that compacts the grief of an entire world, country, city, and thousands of loved ones left behind into the pain of one vulnerable, fictional boy.

And, Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times:

The filmmakers dive into the deep end as soon as we’ve gotten to know the boy who becomes the totem for our collective pain.

Then there’s Rafer Guzman, Newsday:

Horn delivers a star turn as Oskar, a child trying to make sense of a tragedy that still baffles us all.

And me? I watched this intense and highly intelligent and hyper-focused boy methodically and painstakingly work and work and work towards making sense of his unfathomable grief and loss—and I never ever tired of taking the journey with him.