“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” film review

Outstanding motion picture that celebrates the power of kindness in a real tangible way. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Matthew Rhys as the skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel. While you may think that this is a movie about the beloved children’s television host, Mister Rogers is a supporting character in this move that is truly about Lloyd Vogel’s personal journey through grief, forgiveness, and learning kindness. It’s a portrait about being human, and all the struggles and obstacles that come with it. Perhaps there has been no greater (non-documentary/bio pic) motion picture that has so accurately captured the human kindness at its best. Mister Rogers was not only an influential children’s television host, but he left a powerful legacy for everyone. And as the film points out, he was not a saint. He struggled with some of the same things that many of us struggle with, but he knew how to work at overcoming those negative feelings, thoughts, and reactions. Didn’t come naturally, he has to work at it just like you and I have to every day. What this film and last year’s No.1 documentary (IMO) Won’t You Be My Neighbor? have in common is just how genuine, how authentic Fred Rogers was. The man in front of the camera was the man behind the camera and at home. He never saw himself as playing a character on TV, he was himself. His almost uncanny emotional intelligence and ability to counsel the young and old alike is incredibly consistent. And it’s that consistency on and off camera that truly testifies to his heart and the legacy he left behind. Based on the real article in Esquire Magazine titles “Can You Say…Hero” by Tom Junod, this film can be categorized as historical fiction because the background is incredibly real but the foreground story is a fictionalized account based on the real-life interview and relationship between once-skeptical journalist Junod and Fred Rogers. Just as Mister Rogers would have wanted it, this isn’t a movie about him, it’s a movie about one of his neighbors and friends.

A journalist’s life is enriched by friendship when he takes on an assignment profiling Fred Rogers. Based on the real-life friendship between journalist Tom Junod and television star Fred Rogers.

Bring tissues! You are going to need them because this movie will undoubtedly touch you. And not just if you grew up (like I did) watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood on PBS. Even those who have no frame of reference beyond knowing his name will be touched. That was certainly the case with the friend that went with me to see this (and then Frozen II). He told me going into the movie that he has no idea who Mister Rogers was, but I assured him that he would enjoy the film. Occasionally, I would look over at him to see if he was an emotionally invested in the film as I was, and I couldn’t tell. It wasn’t until after the movie ended, and I was writing a tweet, that he told me how impacted he was by the film. That’s a powerful statement since this could have so easily been a film that connected best with those whom watched the show and others may have missed the emotional connection. I chalk that up to the timeless message of kindness, forgiveness, and emotional candidness of Mister Rogers. As important as his message was during the run of his show, it seems that it is needed even more greatly today in the tumultuous climate we now live in. Albeit fictional character, each of us either is currently or has been a Lloyd Vogel, hence why his character is highly relatable to general audiences. The help Mister Rogers provides Vogel transcends the screen into our own minds and hearts.

The film opens with a brilliant 4:3 recreation of the opening of Mister Rogers Neighborhood with Hanks in the title role. From the gentle piano music, camera sweeping over the miniature neighborhood, traffic light, and Mister Rogers opening his door to us with the iconic song “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine, could you be mine…” You may even find yourself singing along with Fred Rogers. I absolutely love how much this film ostensibly feels like a feature length episode of the beloved show. It begins and ends with a throwback to his brilliant show. The spirit of the television show can be felt throughout this film. I greatly appreciated the miniature recreations of “the neighborhood,” as well as New York City including Vogel’s neighborhood, Pittsburgh, and Vogel’s father’s neighborhood. Instead of showing us establishing shots of these places, Marielle Heller chose to use the same techniques employed by the set builders and production designers of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. And the wooden and cardboard miniature buildings, electric trolly, and planes suspended by (keyed out) dowel rods remind us of a simpler time when story and message were the most important parts of a picture. Using these models was an excellent way to transition from location to location.

While Mister Rogers Neighborhood favorites like Picture Picture, the trolly, Mr. McFeely, and the characters of the Land of Make Believe are all in it, none of these elements seek to steal the screen from the central character of Lloyd Vogel. He remains our central character for the entire time, because–quite simply–the film is about him, not Mister Rogers and his neighborhood of friends. Vogel has never forgiven his father for being a drunkard and philanderer; furthermore, he holds a strong disdain if not hatred for his father for leaving him, his sister, and their sick mother. While his father was out having an affair, Llyod’s mother died in the hospital. For these reasons, Llyod has a lot of emotional baggage that includes a general distrust for anyone whom is supposed to be a “good guy.” After receiving as assignment to profile Fred Rogers instead of his usual hard hitting, provocative, investigative pieces, Llyod goes into the cheerful WQED PBS studio in Pittsburgh with the intention to uncover Mister Rogers dark side and skeletons in the closet. It’s no spoiler to know that truthfully Fred Rogers did not have any buried scandals. He was the man you saw on screen. Lloyd is profoundly impacted by Fred’s authenticity and genuine desire to help people deal with their feelings. There are many moments that the table is turned and Fred becomes the interviewer and asks Lloyd some hard questions that initially upset Lloyd. It’s through Fred’s kind persistence and non-judgmental attitude that he breaks through to Lloyd in a way that Lloyd can do that hardest thing he’s ever done: forgive his father. It’s a real testament to those who may be carrying heavy burdens of grief, unforgiveness, or many other negative emotions, and how we can grow to deal with them and overcome to develop as a human being who can then help others. What we have here is a powerful, personal redemption story.

Tom Hanks was born to play Fred Rogers. Simple as that. Much like Mister Rogers, Tom Hanks also has the demonstrable reputation of being the nicest guy in Hollywood whom cares deeply for his family, friends, and fans. He’s even known to regularly help out on set between takes. There are literally dozens of stories of Hanks helping the grip guys, production assistants, and other below the line people on set. I cannot think of anyone else who could’ve played Fred Rogers more perfectly. Hanks performance successfully portrays Rogers as a real person whom, for all the wonderful things Rogers says and does, is–to paraphrase Roger’s wife–“an ordinary sinner just like everyone else…he just works diligently to overcome his vices.” This is one of Hanks best peformances because of how much he transformed into Fred Rogers in a way that you could almost swear that you were watching Mister Rogers on screen. Hanks and Renee Zellweger (in Judy) have both given us the best performances this year.

This movie challenges us to become better humans, whom care for those around us by listening, empathizing, and making the intentional decisions that will help us grow and develop. The movie also reminds me that I should pray for people by name every day. To be honest, that isn’t something that I do regularly. Another powerful line in the movie comes as Fred responds to Vogel in an initial interview question “what is the most important thing in the world to you?” And Fred responds with “…for instance the most important thing in the world to me is talking to Lloyd Vogel right now.” That line reminded me that when I am with my friends or family (or anyone for the matter), the most important thing in the world to me should be the conversation that I am having at that very moment. That’s going to be a hard one for me since I am constantly tweeting or “multitasking.” The life and legacy of Fred Rogers makes me want to be a better person. If Lloyd can change, then so can I.

Do not miss out on one of the most powerful motion pictures of the year. Definitely make it a part of your Thanksgiving next week, or even better, see it this weekend!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Zombieland: Double Tap” horror comedy mini review

Worth the wait! Whereas some sequels try to imitate the original, Zombieland: Double Tap functions as a hilarious companion piece to the original. Perhaps the plot isn’t as compelling, and lacks the social commentary of the original, but you will undoubtedly have a fantastic time watching this movie. Personally, I enjoyed it even more than the first one. Believe me, I was as shocked as you are right now. If you loved the chemistry between all the characters in the first tone, you will be delighted to know that the characters are just as strong thanks to the return of the original writers and director! To be fair, this doesn’t function as a stand-alone movie, and needs the relationship with the original for much of the humor. However, as I mentioned, this is a companion piece to the first one. There is demonstrable growth witnessed in our ensemble case of central characters, but they aren’t the only ones to have developed off screen over the last decade. Hoards of new zombies have evolved that pose quite the threat to our favorite zombie hunters. In addition to encountering new zombies, we are introduced to some new human survivor characters as well. While this movie may not be as deep as the original, it does a great job of driving home the message of the importance of family. Even when your family is make-shift, the needs for love, acceptance, and even independence are still the same. Highly recommend for fans of the original! Be sure to stay for the end credits scene featuring Bill Murray.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” brief film review

Now THIS is the amazing Spiderman! Eat your heart out Tom Holland and move over Incredibles and Ralph for the best animated feature of 2018. Even if you do not care for comic book or superhero movies, by in large, but love excellent motion pictures (animated or live-action), then I can almost guarantee that you will thoroughly enjoy and greatly appreciate Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Although there have been a handful of animated films that I have liked in recent years, I have not felt emotionally and physiologically engaged with an animated feature to this degree since Kubo and the Two Strings. What both these animated features have in common is groundbreaking artistic precision that typifies the art of animated visual storytelling. Not only does Spider-Verse blow all other animated films out of the water this year, in terms of its contribution to the art and science of motion pictures, I put it on par with Kubo. The attention to production design details and mindblowing editing set the bar incredibly high for animated features moving forward. While the visuals have been likened to an acid trip, do not allow that to dissuade you because never once did I find the avant-garde artistic expression dizzying or obnoxious. It was completely immersive. There was genuine, tangible emotion felt in every frame. And the Stan Lee cameo was priceless. Underscoring everything on screen is the phenomenal screenplay upon which this mesmerizing animated feature is built. Undoubtedly, you will find yourself emotionally invested in the central character of Miles and the chief supporting cast, including the fantastic villain King Pin. There is so many layers to this story, and it works on several levels such as: family, love, self-sacrifice, and more. Highly recommend this film!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Searching” Spoiler-Free Full Review

Remarkably spellbinding! Searching takes the concept of “screen life” movies to impeccable levels. Although the concept of a film relying entirely on computer screens is not new, this is the first time that it has been executed perfectly. The first wide-release film to take this approach was 2015’s Unfriended, and it was quite the pioneer in its approach to essentially adapting Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with the end result being pretty good. The following films to take the approach, including the more recent Unfriended: Dark Web, failed to tell a coherent story. Learning from the successes and failures of this cinematic concept of the past “computer screen” films, writer-director Aneesh Chaganty, along with co-writer/producer Sev Ohanian, crafts a suspenseful thriller that truly understands the power of the internet and how it enables and affects our actions. There is genuine emotion felt in this film. You will truly care about the lead characters and remain hooked for the entire film. Chaganty seems to have taken a page right out of the Alfred Hitchcock playbook for suspenseful storytelling that relies upon character development, twists of the everyday, and only use on-screen violence or graphic details to supplement the story. This tension-filled voyeuristic crime drama is successfully created–not through viruses, the supernatural, dark web or illegal activities–but through the mundane things we do everyday. Perhaps this film uses modern technologies to tell the story, but the soul of this film is brilliant old-fashioned suspense. And that solid foundation is why this film will do incredibly well.

Following the tragic death of wife and mother Pam, David (John Cho) and his daughter Margot are forced to move on with their lives, doing their best to cope with the loss of their loved one. Over the couple of years since his wife’s death, David and his daughter have drifted apart but still maintain a relationship. Loss of a mother and wife has a major impact upon a family. After Margot fails to return home after a study group session at a classmate’s house and repeated unreturned texts and phone calls, David fears that something terrible has happened to his daughter. When another classmate informs David that Margot never showed for a trip on which she was invited, David reports her as missing to the police. Detective Vick (Debra Messing) heads up the investigation into the whereabouts of Margot that immediately leads nowhere. Lead after lead leads the investigation to believe that Margot may have simply ran away. Convinced that his daughter did not run away, because of so many elements of the investigation not adding up, David turns to the one piece of evidence that was initially overlooked by the police, Margot’s laptop. Following the cookie crumbs left in the seemingly mundane websites visited by Margot, David begins to connect the dots that will hopefully lead him to what happened to his daughter.

No spoilers here. In fact, I urge those who have seen it to NOT spoil it for everyone else. In a manner of speaking, this film feels very much like Psycho must’ve felt when it was released. Hitchcock mandated that no one be allowed to enter the auditorium after the movie began; and furthermore, he insisted on an adherence to strict show times. In fact, much of how our modern cineplexes are run today are a product, in part, by the release of Psycho. The closest I will get to spoiling is informing you that there is an amazing twist ending. Just when you think the story is coming to a close, watch out! Taking what Unfriended (the original, not crappy indirect sequel) did well, and learning from what Dark Web failed to do, Chaganty’s Searching provides audiences with a fantastic experience visually, and anchors the plot with strategic, effective emotional beats.

The story is just as much emotional as it is visual. Possibly even more emotionally and psychologically-driven than the images the frame can capture. Whereas other films that rely upon what we do on our computers fail to have genuine, authentic characters, Searching depicts everyday, real life people doing what millions of others do. How often have many of us been able to talk to complete strangers about something that we are uncomfortable talking to our family or closest friends about? That is precisely what Margot does. Providing additional commentary on the mediation of society through digital media, Chaganty highlights our digital selves versus our actual selves. This is evident in the healthy social life Margot was leading her dad to believe she was experiencing; when in actuality, she was quite alone and simply focussed on school work and little else. David realizes that he didn’t know his daughter at all.

Previous “computer screen” concept movies pretty much involved never leaving the primary computer screen–easily becoming visually exhausting. Chaganty’s thriller chooses to switch from iMac, to iPhone, to PC (with Windows XP), to online news footage. These changes prohibit the setting from ever becoming too familiar or boring. The minor changes keep the senses heightened. Hitchcock earned his moniker by consistently delivering suspenseful cinematic excellence; and this suspense was executed with visual precision coupled with strong emotion. Chaganty very much patterns his modern suspenseful crime drama after the exemplary work of Hitchcock. Different from previous films using real-time on a computer to allow the plot to unfold, this film takes place over a week–closer to more traditional “movie time.” One may be inclined to conclude that the tension feel less intense because of not watching the plot unfold in real time, but that is definitely not true with Searching.

From the moment Margot’s missed facetime and phone calls fail to waken her father to the heart-pounding conclusion, the tension is in high gear. Hitchcock describes suspense as the having to do with the audience having sympathy for the characters and an intense need for something dramatic or shocking to happen. While the audience does not want something bad to happen to the lead characters, they are still at the movie in hopes that something terrible happens. Ironic, isn’t’ it? Much like Hitch delivered suspense through information, Chaganty does the very much the same with Searching. Another way Hitch delivered and ensured a suspenseful atmosphere in his films was having two important events happing concurrently. With David and Vick very much leading their own investigations respectively, we often experience this dichotomy. And Hitch is certainly famous for his twits, and this film contains some fantastic red herrings and twists to the tension-filled plot.

Presently in a limited release, with the film opening everywhere August 31st, Searching is a phenomenal whodunit build upon effective suspense and visceral tension. You will be glued to the plot and feel the emotional rollercoaster experienced by David as he searches for his daughter. Chaganty has proven himself through demonstrable evidence that he understands suspenseful storytelling. Because the film exists in the everyday world we live in, it may get you thinking twice about the degree to which your own life is mediated by technology. The social commentary in the movie also reminds us to be ever vigilant who we correspond with through live video and chats. For you never know to whim you are really speaking.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, be sure to check out all my past ones! You can search for a film by title to see if I’ve written on it. Don’t forget to follow my blog by clicking the blue button in the upper left!

“Alpha” full film review

Visually stunning! You’re missing out if you do not choose to see Alpha in IMAX this weekend. The experience of many movies does not significantly change between standard and IMAX screenings, in my opinion; but because of the sweeping landscapes in Alpha, you’ll certainly want to experience it IMAX. However, I do not recommend watching it in 3D. The advanced screening to which I was invited was 3D, and I feel strongly that the cinematography is better appreciated in 2D. Alpha is one of those films that flies under the radar because it is quite niche in nature. Ordinarily, I am just as excited to see the smaller films as the big ones; but this is even a film that I wasn’t thinking much about. The power of visual storytelling is felt in this film that is set shortly after the last ice age, for there is minimal dialogue. And the dialogue that is in the film, is found in the subtitles because the film is in an unfamiliar language. Neither the foreign tongue nor the subtitles take away from the film. In fact, the absence of English and the minimal dialogue enable the audience to focus on the action. If you’re a dog lover or simply interested in anthropology, then this is a film for you.

Alpha tells the story of how the wild dog (or wolf) became man’s best friend. Taking place at the end of the last ice age, a northern European tribe of men is making the arduous journey across the tundra to the sacred hunting grounds where the bison roam before the first snow. On his first tribal hunt, Keda, son of the chief, is put to the test to evaluate his ability to provide for himself and his family, and eventually his tribe. While he “leads with his heart more than the spear” as his father notes, he father believes that he will make the tribe proud. Following a tragic accident during the hunt, Keda’s father and tribe fear him dead and must return to the settlement before the blistering winter sets in. Waking from a coma on the side of a cliff, Keda is determined to make it back to his home. Facing a perilous journey, he must pull on all the lessons he learned from his father in order to survive the vicious frontier. Along the way, Keda encounters a lone wolf left for dead, abandoned by his pack, with whom he develops a friendship after many weeks, and both help each other, against all odds, remain alive in the treacherous wilderness.

If you can make it through the first act, then you will greatly enjoy this intense film. Thankfully the first act was edited in such a way that is does have a hook at the beginning, but the remainder of the first act is relatively slow compared to the rest of the film. Acts two and three, provide audiences with a gripping story of survival against the elements and unforgiving landscape. Diegetically, Alpha is pretty straight forward high concept plot that is simple to grasp. Survival. However, due to the simplistic plot, the film is able to dive deep into character development. Simple plot, complex characters. Much like with A Quiet Place earlier this year, Alpha is a testament to the power of visual storytelling. The juxtaposition between the vast open vistas, hills, and valleys and the intimate story between Keda and Alpha, is fantastic. Quite the contrast. The stories of Keda and Alpha parallel one another, as both were left for dead by their respective tribes. In the tribes’ defense, both were genuinely thought to be dead. Alpha must work though wild instincts to trust Keda, as Keda is working to rehabilitate Alpha; likewise, Keda must work through his own weaknesses to teach himself how to survive and trust Alpha. Overcoming adversity and establishing trust are themes through the story. Even though the end is predictable, your attention is still captured for the duration of the film to witness just how Keda and Alpha are going to survive. The ending does hold a surprise for the audience, and for the characters I might add.

For lovers of anthropology or our canine friends, this is definitely a film that you will enjoy. Although the film has a PG-13 rating for intense moments, I would rate it PG. The film also possesses an inspirational nature about it, because we have all found ourselves in the wilderness trying to survive. Maybe we haven’t been stranded in the unforgiving tundra, but metaphorically we have been there.