Posts Tagged ‘review’

Just before my wife and I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I read Ken Levine’s review.

It begins: “Full disclosure: I was not a fan of MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD when it aired. My kids watched it, but I found it oddly creepy.” Next paragraph: “I am now one of those people recommending WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”

That’s the point: you don’t have to be a fan of Fred Rogers’ long-running children’s program on PBS to appreciate the wonderful individual he was who did appeal to very many kids. Adults didn’t get him because he generally wasn’t talking to them.

Although he pretty much single-handedly secured funding for Public Broadcasting in 1970 through his direct plea to a Congressional committee chair.

The thing about his show was not designed to entertain the parents but to create that one-on-one relationship between the host and every child. It was because he understood child psychology and remembered some of the more painful aspects of his own childhood. Someone suggested that what Fred did was to take the formula of every other idea in children’s programming and do the opposite.

Fred was trained as a Presbyterian minister and was a lifelong Republican, back in the day when there were moderate Republicans such as Governor William Scranton in his native Pennsylvania. But he addressed big issues, such as race relations and violence, while not being preachy, just genuinely good and kind.

I really related to Mr. Rogers’ use of his puppets. I know that the use of inanimate objects can sometimes express ideas and feelings more easily than one can do directly.

The movie touched on some reportage that suggested that suggested that millennials are whiny because Fred Rogers told them they were special. I thought it was nonsense at the time, and the film only reinforced my view.

The Mr. Rogers message was/is that we ALL are special, worthy of being loved. In doing so, he taught them/us we need to be thoughtful and considerate to others. That seems to be an effective representation of what ministry should be.

My wife and I thought the same thing, separately: when African American performer Francois Clemons shared a wading pool with Fred Rogers for the second time in the film, it felt like the narrative of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. I can’t explain why.

Whether or nor you liked MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD, or even heard of it, you should watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, who also also directed that great documentary about backup singers, 20 Feet from Stardom.

Given all the other tomes on my bookshelf, I surprised myself by checking out from the library, The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (2015), the author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, about Thomas Jefferson.

The subtitle, Orchestrating The Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, informs how George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, along with others such as Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris (not related), got the thirteen colonies, who had fought off the British, came to accept another centralized government.

A lot of reviewers noted, and it was my experience as well, that our American history courses in high school presented the narrative of the last quarter of the 18th period woefully incompletely. There was the revolutionary fury of the Declaration of Independence and the war, which was reasonably well laid out. The Articles of Confederation -they failed, but why? – followed. Then the Founders came up with the Constitution – but how? – including the Bill of Rights.

In fighting the American Revolution, the colonists were cohesive in that limited battle against the British. However, the notion that these 13 nation-states would then relinquish their independence to accept the creation of a powerful federal government was no guarantee. Certain visionaries diagnosed that structure created by the Articles of Confederation was doomed to fail. They suggested conventions, purportedly to amend the Articles, but ultimately to throw them out.

As Newsday noted: Ellis’ account of the run-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the subsequent state-by-state ratification process is so pacey it almost reads like a thriller. New Yorker Hamilton, fearful that anarchy was looming, developed a national vision first; Madison was just a bit behind. Jay, serving as foreign affairs secretary, was trying to fashion coherent foreign policy. But all agreed that if their efforts were to succeed, a reluctant Washington, who had retired to Mount Vernon, had to be on board. Washington’s revolutionary credentials were unassailable.

“In 1780, most Americans, having thrown off the fetters of a faraway central power, would have thought the kind of national government envisioned by Washington and Co. as peculiar in the extreme. Some historians have viewed the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution by a cabal of elites who crushed an emerging democracy. Ellis, however, reminds us that democracy was viewed skeptically in the 18th century; he prefers to see the efforts the quartet as ‘a quite brilliant rescue’ of revolutionary principles.”

I totally agree that, for a topic that could be very dry, I found the book surprisingly engaging. Ellis explains how the Founders, even those opposing slavery such as Hamilton, essentially ducked the question for the cause of federalism, hoping the topic would be addressed down the road, which it was, decades later.

I should mention that I got the large-print version of The Quartet because that happened to be the edition near the checkout. I didn’t NEED it, but I’m not complaining about it either.

Watching RBG, a documentary about the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the parallels among her being an aspiring law student at Harvard and Columbia, the cases she took on as attorney, and her role on SCOTUS are quite striking.

She tended to be dismissed out of hand at Harvard, with her and the handful of other students being asked directly why they were taking spots that could have gone to a man. Decades later, Virginia Military Institute was essentially making the same case, but the argument was met with withering criticism by RBG.

This is a wonderful film, helped by some amazing archival video showing the development of the great love story between Ruth and Marty Ginsberg, who were married from 1954 until his death in 2010. He was gregarious, while he was quiet, goofy when she was serious. Ruth is a notoriously awful cook, while Marty had kitchen talent.

Moreover, he recognized her great legal skills. Arthur Miller, their great friend, said that Marty was the greatest tax attorney in New York City, yet he left his job to follow his wife when she was appointed to the federal bench by Jimmy Carter.

During her confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court in 1993, she felt that many of the men on the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t “get” it, didn’t understand the effect of being dismissed out of hand. Yet she was confirmed 96-3 after Bill Clinton recommended her, recognizing her stellar mind.

As she became more the liberal voice of dissent, social media dubbed her The Notorious RBG with a Tumblr page, pictures on Pinterest, T-shirts and a book describing the an unlikely recent obsession in our culture: an octogenarian Supreme Court justice.

Ruth has learned to embrace the phenomenon. She laughs at Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live while acknowledging that it is nothing like her.

Meanwhile, she is passing down wisdom to her grandchildren, including one granddaughter who was in a class of lawyers that’s about 50% female.

The film, which my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, is touching, and educational, and, based on my laughter at the latter sections, occasionally quite funny.


Has ANYONE seen the movie Black Panther for the first time in a theater later than I? Taking off a day from work, I finally trekked out to the Regal Cinema in Colonie Center, near Albany on April 30, three days after the new Avengers movie, Infinity War opened.

I so seldom go to the mainline theaters that I had forgotten how many commercials there were, BEFORE the seven movie trailers, including for the aforementioned Avengers film.

Seeing it so late, after it had recorded $688 million domestically and $645 million overseas, I’m not sure what I’d add to what my friend Alan David Doane wrote: “Millions of African-Americans and others… found in the recent Black Panther film an inspirational culture in which they could see themselves and their own history.”

I will say that I spent time collecting articles that remained unread until after I saw the film. Check out a couple articles from Medium, 5 Lessons from Black Panther That Can Save Our Lives — and Transform Black Politics and Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America. From the latter: “Ryan Coogler’s film is a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries — Africa as a dream of our wholeness, greatness and self-realization.”

So naturally, when black people are feeling that, as Democracy for America put it, the flick is “a refreshing reminder of the power of representation in media,” some other folks feel somehow threatened. I mentioned this some weeks ago, and people seemed genuinely surprised; they don’t read enough right-wing literature.

I highly recommend reading The Tragedy of Erik Killmonger. The article contains major spoilers, none of which I will post here.

“Black Panther is a love letter to people of African descent all over the world. Its actors, its costume design, its music, and countless other facets of the film are drawn from all over the continent and its diaspora, in a science-fiction celebration of the imaginary country of Wakanda, a high-tech utopia that is a fictive manifestation of African potential unfettered by slavery and colonialism.

“But it is first and foremost an African American love letter, and as such it is consumed with The Void, the psychic and cultural wound caused by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the loss of life, culture, language, and history that could never be restored.”

The subtitle of the Atlantic article is: “The revolutionary ideals of Black Panther’s profound and complex villain have been twisted into a desire for hegemony.” That’s how certain people, certainly not I, chose to view it.

I am hoping that, even though it came out with a the non-prestige February release date, it gets some Oscar love. As others have noted, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger (Creed), and the lead women, may have more screen charisma than Chadwick Boseman (42) as the title character, T’Challa.

Before Black Panther, I had seen only one Marvel Cinematic Universe movie since 2011, Ant-Man (2015). Seems that I probably need to catch up at some point.

Sometime this summer, the family went to the nearby Madison Theatre to see Night at the Museum (2006). It must have been August, because we walked, my wife’s foot having sufficiently healed from her operation.

It was an interesting experience because The Daughter had seen it before, on DVD, but her parents had never seen it at all. I guess it’s not a great movie, but I enjoyed it anyway. And I think it was partly because I got to laugh in places that just confounded the Daughter.

One involved some wordplay, near the end, which I no longer recall. But one moment is a scene with the late Anne Meara as Debbie, an employment counselor trying to get Larry (Ben Stiller) a job. Larry thought he felt some connection, but Debbie dashes that. Anne was, of course, Ben’s real-life mom.

Part of it is remembering Ken Levine’s odd antipathy towards Kim Raver, who plays Larry’s ex Erica. Or some comments Jon Stewart made about preternaturally young looking Paul Rudd as Erica’s new boyfriend Don.

Maybe it was seeing the three former guards: the late Mickey Rooney; Bill Cobbs, who I loved in I’ll Fly Away and other projects; and Dick van Dyke, who was then a pretty spry octogenarian, and is now an amazingly spry nonagenarian.

There’s a line the late Robin Williams says about him not really being Teddy Roosevelt but a wax figure – an odd self-awareness in this wacky film.

I may be one of 16 people who remember Carla Gugino (Rebecca from the museum) in some 2003 cop show called Karen Cisco, which lasted maybe 10 episodes. And I was the ONLY one in that very theater, to see a showing of Spy Kids 2, some years back.

Ricky Gervais, as the museum director, was not as annoying as he would later become.

And yes, I’ve felt like a complete loser and have been in situations of complete chaos. So, yeah, the movie likely lacked a “consistent inner logic”, but I didn’t care; I liked it for what I got out of it.

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