Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Marriage Story and Short Takes on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We’re happy to announce this posting marks exactly 8 years since Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark launched, hopefully improving somewhat as time’s gone on.  We’re grateful for all you who’ve supported us, especially Nina Kindblad, Richard Parker, and Roger Smitter.
“Try to find the word for forgiving”
(Jackson Browne, “In the Shape of a Heart”)

Reviews by Ken Burke

I invite you to join me on a regular basis to see how my responses to current cinematic offerings compare to the critical establishment, which I’ll refer to as either the CCAL (Collective Critics at Large) if they agree with me or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) if they choose to disagree.

                    Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)   rated R

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Charlie, an up-and-coming NYC avant-garde theatre director and his troupe-actor wife, Nicole, have a young son, Henry, and a marriage clearly on the rocks as she feels he’s too devoted to his work at the expense of their family needs while feeling unfulfilled in her own career progress, so even as they’re emotionally moving farther apart she separates them geographically by taking a role in a TV pilot in LA, forcing Charlie to fly there when he can to see his wife and son, as he’s got a production headed to Broadway.  Despite initial intentions to work out on their own whatever disengagement might be necessary on their own, Nicole takes advice to hire a lawyer who’s determined to get this woman all that’s possible so she can start a new life away from Charlie, forcing him to look for an LA lawyer as well, finally choosing a more benevolent (but still aware of vicious divorce realities) option than the hard-driving shark he began with.  Despite attempts by this couple to keep it civil, not drag their son into their increasing trauma, there are nasty incidents both in court and between them in private which demonstrate how far apart they’ve now become while still maintaining some aspects of the love that brought them together long ago.  Further plot details would fall into the spoiler zone so if you wish to avoid that (even though it’s easily available just below) I highly encourage you to find this film wherever you can because it’s one of the very best of the year, likely to be competing in several Oscar categories especially the Best Actor/Actress ones for leads Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson; however, it’s playing in only a very limited number of theaters as its main availability is from Netflix streaming, easily worth a month’s small fee just to see this film (as well as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, also a worthy Netflix option [I get no Netflix kickback so please decide on such a purchase for yourself]).

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: Opening this film with parallel voiceover montages, each spouse in a troubled marriage lists the things they love about the other (illustrated with quick shots), in the process giving us useful backstory on both.  Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) says his recitation about Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson)* which we hear (see details of), but after we witness Nicole’s comments on Charlie the visuals cut to her handwritten notes in an office with her, Charlie, and a divorce mediator (Robert Smigel) where she decides not to read aloud, doesn’t want to listen to Charlie’s list, insults both men as she storms out.  In the process we learn he’s from Indiana, has no connection to his former family, came to NYC for a new life which blossomed into a successful career as a director of avant-garde theatre (but he devotes too much time/energy there rather than being more available to help raise their 8-year-old son, Henry [Azhy Robertson], a major source of conflict between them); she’s from LA where her mother, Sandra (Julie Hagerty), was a successful TV actor (encouraging such a career for both daughters [Dad apparently wasn’t much of a family-factor, first realizing he was gay, then dying] with sister Cassie [Merritt Wever] only making it to local, little-noticed stage work in southern CA while Nicole had an impact in a Risky Business [Paul Brickman, 1983]-type teen movie, All Over the Girl, her fame coming from revealing her breasts).  Then Nicole met Charlie, agreed to marry, move to Manhattan, become a mother while being the lead female in his Exit Ghost company, even as his career became more prominent than hers.  In an attempt to regain a sense of her own presence in the culture, she adds to the strain of their marriage by temporarily moving to LA, living with Mom while taking a part in a mediocre TV pilot— as Charlie stays in NY because his current project’s in preparation for Broadway but he flies out to see his wife and son as often as he can (Nicole’s the only one often at odds with him; Sandra’s always happy to see Charlie, although Henry’s now in school in LA, becoming quite comfortable with staying there).  At various times we’ve given reason to see Nicole as the demanding, bitchy one in the marriage, yet Henry’s also added problems by not taking an earlier job offer in LA for awhile (says his troupe/work in NY was more fulfilling), had an affair with stage manager Mary Ann (Brooke Bloom), which he tries to justify saying Nicole wasn’t having sex with him by that point anyway.  We learn a lot about Nicole’s perspective from a long, powerful monologue she delivers to a lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), she’s been advised to work with even though she and Charlie previously agreed to settle the matter themselves somehow, so when Charlie next comes to visit he’s served with divorce papers.  Suddenly, Charlie also needs an LA lawyer, so he tries aggressive Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), whose abrupt brashness is exceeded only by his expensive billings policy.

*You can see it here (2:56); Nicole’s version about Charlie is at the end of this review’s next section.

 This all intensifies when Nora calls Charlie in NY, tells him time’s almost up to respond to the divorce papers or he’ll lose total custody of Henry, possibly along with some of the $625,000 MacArthur “genius” grant he’s recently received, cash needed to keep his theatre group employed, keep his projects moving, pay his exorbitant lawyer bills, which are now somewhat reduced when he switches to kinder, gentler (although divorced himself, as almost everyone in this film seems to be), cheaper Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) who gets Charlie to rent an LA apartment so he can better claim CA residence, even as Charlie keeps arguing their family home’s in NY.  Frustrated with the bi-costal-travel (losing the Broadway project in the process) and Nora’s demands, they end up in court with Jay back on Charlie’s team where it all gets nasty quickly with charges against Charlie’s affair, his inadequate time with his son as he’s pursuing custody rights, implications Nicole’s entitled to half the MacArthur money vs. Nicole being accused of being an alcoholic (she—and Mom—do swill a lot of wine), criminally hacking into Charlie’s emails to get dirt on him (sound familiar?), so the 2 of them meet in Charlie’s apartment to try to sort it out in a long, emotional scene (see my So What? section to get links to it), but tempers flare, accusations fly, Charlie punches a wall before breaking down in tears with Nicole accepting his apology.  Charlie then has to endure a visit from an odd, court-appointed evaluator (Martha Kelly) to see what kind of parent he is, an overall tense scene as Charlie’s trying his best to be the ideal, yet firm, Dad with Henry barely cooperating at all.  Most of the problems (with neither of them getting much in the way of alimony) are solved out of court, although Nicole’s a bit annoyed Nora demanded Charlie only get 45% time with Henry when he flies out to LA as she’d asked for 50/50, but all’s basically well between these now-divorced parents, with Henry showing a preference for Mom.  A year later, Charlie’s had a successful Broadway play and has taken a 1-year residency at UCLA, Nicole’s got a new boyfriend and has been Emmy-nominated for directing an episode of her pilot-picked-up-as-a-series.  Charlie visits on Halloween, comes to Nicole’s home where he finds Henry reading that list of “Why I love Charlie” statements from way back in the film’s beginning, then Nicole, Mom, Charlie, and the boyfriend go trick-or-treating dressed as the Sgt. Pepper Beatles, after which Charlie takes Henry home for the night, with an ambiguous sense ... possibly ... he and Nicole … maybe … could connect again after all.⇐

So What? It’s not my original observation this film has echoes of Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) and Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Berman,1974), but both did come to mind when I was watching Marriage Story, with the former (a Best Picture Oscar-winner, many other top prizes) reminding me of similar travails of a couple breaking up over his over-devotion to work, her lack of self-fulfillment, their custody fight over a young child, the latter (like so much of Bergman’s work, an embodiment of what 5 star-cinematic-experiences for the ages are all about) cataloging how a romantic union once celebrated as Sweden’s best couple deteriorates to the point of divorce even though both former partners continue to have feelings for each other that aren’t totally blotted out by the hurt, anger, recriminations flaring up between them.  Not that Marriage Story seems to be borrowing from these past triumphs, just that it brings in similar elements, as many divorce stories likely would do as the final result’s (probably) essentially the same even when myriad details differ in numerous ways.  Another similarity for me right at the start with the divorce mediator is my own failed marriage (back in the early 1970s, when I was in my mid-20s)—lasted only 4 years, then after a few flopped attempts at trying to replace it a marvelous miracle named Nina Kindblad suddenly entered my life (well, I did speak first to her, although almost 3 years later she’s the one who asked me to marry; easy to accept)—as my ex-wife and I were seeing marriage counselors only for me (and them!) to learn after she moved out she was already having an affair (with a married guy who soon left his wife and child for her) so our “counseling” was about as useless as the scene we observe with Charlie and Nicole where she not only refuses to verbalize what she loves about her soon-to-be-ex but disrupts the entire process, refusing to accept the structure of mediation she’d previously agreed to.  Does this reminiscence lead to my embrace of Marriage Story, just because it feels familiar?  No, how this film’s content finds connection to previous aspects of my life (the fictional as well as the factual parts) simply enhances its credibility for me (just like with those other films, in that I found them to resonate with truth about how people in seemingly-solid-relationships often struggle to maintain/regain such solidarity, finding universality in these encounters, even—as Marriage Story does also, so successfully—with scripted situations delivered by talented actors; nothing seems overly-constructed about any of these cinematic-relationship-dramas, just a cluster of compelling events worthy of watching, even if some of their specifics may be a bit difficult to relive at times), allowing me to appreciate the interpersonal-trauma on screen as not only extremely well-performed (Golden Globe nominators agree, included both leads in their Motion-Picture Drama acting categories) but also organic to these characters as they’ve found substance within this story.

 I only wish such human-suffering-substance was taken more seriously in our society as there’s so much disillusionment, cynicism, disinterest in serious explorations of needed solutions to difficult problems due to the constant exaggerations, disinformation, blatant lies dominating so many forms of social media, cable news, Twitter bursts that there’s an ongoing tendency to make everything into a joke, a meme (a concept which I hardly know about as I’m [thankfully] not on Twitter nor do I encounter too many memes on Facebook), making a mockery of anything that might require focused thought, intense discussion, maybe even a hard-fought-negotiation-turned-to-resolution, a situation that’s already caught up with Marriage Story.  For those of you who haven’t seen the film yet or would like a reminder, here are 2 segments from the intense argument between Nicole and Charlie from late in their story at this link, followed by this one (the best evidence the producers of this film can offer to any voters who must decide whom they think were the best male and female actors of 2019 cinematic releases—I’m not saying this proves they should be the winners because there’s strong competition in both these categories [including, for me, Robert De Niro as Best Actor for The Irishman {Martin Scorsese; review in our November 21, 2019 posting}, even though he didn’t make the Globes’ final 5], but it’s certainly a showcase of their individual abilities), yet this master class in dramatic expression’s already been reduced to a cluster of trivial, comedic attempts in the meme world as explored here, illustrated here (note: these cited examples showed up [a bit slowly] as images on Safari for me but not on Chrome), turning this powerful confrontation (no flight of fiction, at least based on my own sordid memories) into a cluster of jokes, many of them based on Driver’s role as Kylo Ren in the final Star Wars trilogy (J.J. Abrams, 2015; Rian Johnson, 2017; Abrams, 2019), so I guess I’ve now earned “OK, boomer” denigration from the youth in my society (at Thanksgiving a couple of much younger relatives tried to explain the use/appeal of memes to the older crowd at the table, with the gap not fully bridged in the attempt or maybe it all comes down to how humor works for you as an individual, as even some of the “elders” in that group can’t agree on whether NBC TV’s 1990s Seinfeld is hilarious or not [count me in as “yes” on that]).  On a more neutral tone (moving beyond memes) about the contents of Marriage Story (I can already tell it’s on my Best of 2019 list, but the ultimate tally will have to wait a month or so for other screenings), here’s Baumbach’s anatomy of a scene, so you can hear directly from him what he’s "shooting" for in this (successfully) serious (memers, be damned!) exploration of Nicole’s opening montage of what she loves about Charlie (here’s the whole thing for reference [audio’s a little low for this clip]).

Bottom Line Final Comments: As with The Irishman—yeah, I know, I keep bringing it up, but so far it’s my top film of the year, so bear with me, please—I have little idea how many theaters Marriage Story’s been playing in over the past few weeks as it has no listing on either the Box Office Mojo or The Numbers tallies, so I’m still assuming such sites don’t count these limited releases (intended primarily for Oscar nomination-qualifications) of films mostly made for Internet downloads (Netflix for both, in this case).  I briefly considered that maybe Marriage Story wasn’t in enough venues, not bringing in enough cash to be cited, but given something called Mr. Klein (Joseph Losey, a French re-release from 1976) has been playing in no more than 6 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters for 14 weeks bringing in only $181.2 thousand, I can’t believe Marriage Story’s done worse than that so I have to assume its absence is a Mojo/Numbers blackball of some sort.*  Nevertheless, the CCAL’s raving about it, with Rotten Tomatoes proudly presenting 96% positive reviews while Metacritic’s average score almost matches them at 94%, their highest for anything both they and I have reviewed of 2019 releases, tied only with their score for The IrishmanGolden Globe nominators are impressed as well, giving it 6 total (the most of anything in their various races, so Netflix is honored of being the studio with the most cinema noms at 17 [The Irishman helping out as well with 5 more], 34 total including TV categories).  Nina and I watched Marriage Story via streaming (the minor cost easily comes in this month as less than buying 4 theater tickets for this film and our re-visit to The Irishman) purely for the convenience of not having to drive halfway across the San Francisco Bay Area to get to 1 of the few places where it’s showing (although I still open my wallet for the big-screen-option once or twice a week, hoping this full-blown-cinematic-experience can continue to thrive with all the cable/streaming competition it now faces) so I can’t even say anything about how well it’s doing in local venues, but I will say it’s well worth your time to locate Marriage Story however you can because it’s a marvelous combination of overall narrative (Golden Globe nominated for Best Motion Picture-Drama), precise directing, intelligent screenplay (Baumbach), premiere acting—Dern also Globe nominated for Supporting Actress (with unobtrusive cinematography [Robbie Ryan], a marvelous score [Randy Newman, another GG nom] to further enhance it) all of which will surely be recognized in some manner by various groups’ nominations and awards, with strong contention for major trophies into next spring. 

*However, here's a site claiming currently Marriage Story’s taken in about $1.7 million, now in 120 domestic theaters, while The Irishman’s made about $6.7 million, now in 320 theaters (you'll have to scroll down quite a bit to get to this info)in addition to whatever viewerships they’d had on Netflix.

 The content may be a bit difficult to watch if it reminds you too much of similar personal situations, but maybe at least it can offer helpful approaches of what to try to avoid when faced with such difficulties as explored with some commentary by actual couples therapists.  But, if you’re seeing this film with your lawyer rather than your distant-significant-other, you’re probably way beyond the friendly negotiating stage anyway so at least try to get some tips on how to keep the cruelty factor within reasonable restraint.  One means of confrontation-avoidance might be trivia-distraction-chatter such as you can find at this website listing the top-domestic-ticket-seller (worldwide a couple of times), Best Picture Oscar winner (after this award began in 1927), and the site’s comment on what was actually the best of the year (infrequently matches Oscar, although I see the value in many of their choices, can’t begin to agree with some others) from 1917-2007.  So, if you need a head-knocking-break during this hopefully-joyous-holiday-season, see what was happening cinematically the year you or anyone else was born.  (I doubt our blog has readers born after 2007, but, if so, you might look anyway to see what the forlorn geezers were so excited about.)

 As I explain much farther below, this will possibly by the last posting for Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark for 2019 (although I might sneak in another by New Year’s Eve; check back periodically if you like) so as I bring the review of Marriage Story to a close with my usual shtick of a Musical Metaphor—to add one final commentary to what’s gone before but now from the perspective of the melodic-aural-arts offering some insight (maybe?) on the audiovisual arts—I’ll be especially generous with my tune choice here because this film easily inspires me to offer songs that mean a lot to me from past experiences on the romantic battlefield (quite past, fortunately, as hardly anything within them relates to my ongoing marvelous marriage of almost 30 years [it hasn’t been roses all the way, yet the thorns have been resolvable], but before that … well, we all face our challenges at times, don’t we?), so I’ll start by switching up the order from the film’s opening montages, starting with how Nicole might characterize what led her to marry Charlie, realizing even then she’d likely give up a fairly sure thing in L.A. to move to Manhattan—“But you say it’s time we moved in together And raised a family of our own You and me”—as sung by Carly Simon in “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” (from her 1971 debut album Carly Simon) at https:// (a live 1971 performance) even as her sense of non-self-fulfillment pushes her toward divorce: “My friends from college They’re all married now […] Their children hate them for the things they’re not They hate themselves for what they are And yet they drink, they laugh Close the wound Hide the scar.”  Ultimately, this singer caves into convention, just as Nicole did even though it doesn’t turn out to be “the way I’ve always heard it should be.”  Charlie also realizes it’s not working how they intended (even if he doesn’t take enough responsibility for how it’s all evolved) so his painful frustration overwhelms him in that climactic argument scene as articulated so well by Jackson Browne’s “In the Shape of a Heart” (from his 1986 album Lives in the Balance) found at “There was a hole left in the wall From some ancient fight About the size of a fist Or something thrown that had missed And there were other holes as well In the house where our nights fell Far too many to repair In the time that we were there […] I guess I never knew What she was living without.”  Ultimately, both of them come to know what they might be trying to save can’t happen, if at all, without some fundamental changes leaving each of them in a state of sorrow reflected well in Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” (on his 1962 debut album … and then I wrote [plus some other compilation albums]) so I’ll have Charlie sing it through Willie at 0rM (a 1992 concert), then Nicole gets her turn through Patsy Cline’s hit version (on her 1961 Showcase album) at  (Unlike with my aural-overflow here, when you finish the review below you'll find I had only 1 appropriate Metaphor to properly conclude it so I added a seasonal song, which I hope helps tide you over into the new year; read down unto the end, feel free to sing along, especially in celebrating the Winter Solstice.)

SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                           A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 
                          (Marielle Heller)   rated PG

Based on the actual friendship developed between fierce, cynical journalist Tom Junod (here called Lloyd Vogel) and children’s TV personality Fred Rogers but enhanced with fictional additions/fanciful diversions, this is a simple, heartwarming movie about allowing joy back into your life even when it seems to have been burned away so long ago, because we're "precious" according to Mr. Rogers.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 Maybe it’s odd to consign a 4 stars-rated-movie to Short Takes, but (as I suspected before I even saw … Neighborhood, then realized in a different light once I did) we have a marvelous presentation not needing lots of verbiage to explain its warm-glow-impact because if you ever watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS anytime between Feb. 1968-Feb. ‘76 or Aug. 1979-Aug. 2001 (on hiatus by Fred Rogers’ decision for that gap) or saw the marvelous Won’t You Be My Neighbor? documentary (Morgan Neville, 2018; review in our Feb. 14, 2019 posting) you already know what a decent, charming, caring person Fred was (played here by delightful Tom Hanks at Oscar-nom-caliber but likely to be passed over with the assumption his depicted-decency’s not enough of an act) so you might think you don’t need further reassurance, an attitude holding me back from … Neighborhood quite awhile, choosing instead edgier fare even though I knew eventually I’d need some uplift provided by this sweet story; if fact, if you go to see it prepared with a cynical attitude—dragged in by a child or significant-other-adult* you’ll (hopefully) be transformed, just like award-winning-but-brutal Esquire author Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) was in this “Inspired By a True Story” (rather than “Based On …”), moving into realms of fantasy at times to make its points without having to rely almost solely (as many biopics do) on how events actually happened while trying to find the right occasions for drama to keep it all interesting (I noted in my exploration of Dark Waters [Todd Haynes; review in our December 4, 2019 posting—now showing in about 2,000 more theatres so I hope you can more easily seek it out] how that film struggled with a situation requiring audience tolerance of legal wranglings over 17 years, with no powerhouse-courtroom-resolution-payoff, yet still succeeds, so it’s a difficult task but not impossible when the history’s closely followed without resort to fictionalizations).  In the case of … Neighborhood you can consult this video (11:44 [ad interrupts at about 3:30]) to see the chief aspects shown correctly in this sometimes-enchanted-docudrama (primarily the name-change from actual Esquire writer Tom Junod to Lloyd Vogel, along with a few other minor points, but Junod ‘s lengthy bio of Rogers for an Esquire cover story, "Can You Say ... Hero?" is factual); for that matter, you might also enjoy this even shorter video (4:45) of a few things to know about Mr. Rogers’s life and work before seeing this life-affirming-movie, which I encourage you to do before the onslaught of holiday releases further consumes your allotted time.

*If you spew bile at the thought of a guy primarily performing for preschoolers, that special person of yours might be saying (or at least thinking)—just like Andrea Vogel in this story who begs of her frequently-hard-hearted-husband as he sets off to interview Fred Rogers—“Please don’t spoil my childhood.” Fred may come off as too kindly at first, but he's got a depth we'd benefit from sharing.

 In this rendition of the growing connections between Rogers and Vogel (Junod) we open with a 1998 episode of Fred’s show (imagery a bit degraded as if we’re watching it on 20th century video) in which he shows some photos of friends, including Lloyd (with cuts on his nose from a fight), indicating from the start this isn’t likely a real Mr. Rogers broadcast we’re seeing (although the set, the studio shooting at WQED, etc. all mirror the real thing), then we shift locations from Fred’s home base in Pittsburgh, PA to Lloyd’s home in NYC (with model buildings, rivers, bridges superimposing fantasy at times onto the rest of the movie’s photographed reality) where we also meet wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson)—juggling her legal career around the demands of a new baby—as they’re off to NJ for his sister’s wedding where tensions re-emerge between Lloyd and his Dad, Jerry (Chris Cooper), finally leading to a fistfight (not the entertainment sister Lorraine [Tammy Blanchard], new husband Todd [Noah Harpster] envisioned), after which Lloyd’s editor, Ellen (Christine Lahti), sends him to interview Fred for a mere 400-word bio to be included in their upcoming issue about heroes.  Lloyd, as an investigative journalist, is insulted by this (but no one else wanted to be interviewed by him, given his caustic approaches), travels to Pittsburgh, doesn’t get all he feels he needs because Fred’s busy on his set, isn’t ready to believe the guy’s as much of a saint as he seems to be, so he pushes for more time together which they later have in their respective cities; in the process Rogers (also an ordained Presbyterian minister) admits he was made fun of as a fat kid, still deals with anger and frustrations (by swimming fast daily, pounding the bass piano keys, praying) but also deflects some questions about himself to probe Lloyd’s rejection of his father (who had affairs while young Lloyd’s Mom was dying of cancer) to the point when Jerry collapses from a heart attack Lloyd leaves the hospital to return to Pittsburgh, needing more guidance from Fred.  Once there, Lloyd’s overcome by trauma, imagines himself as a puppet in Fred’s show, has his own collapse, recovers at Fred’s home, returns to NYC for apologies, reconciliation with Jerry.  During Jerry’s convalescence at his home, the whole family gathers for healing, Fred drives up to visit (even whispers to Jerry to pray for him, just as Fred does daily for those he knows are suffering, including Lloyd).  Soon after, Jerry dies, Lloyd’s lengthy article’s accepted by Ellen, praised by all who read it.  Lloyd, with Fred’s encouragement, has had a change of heart about a lot of things, volunteers to do more childcare so Andrea can better focus on her own career, then we’re back to that opening Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood episode where Fred wraps up his story about Lloyd, show’s over as he walks over to a studio piano, bangs those bass keys, then settles into melodic playing as the lights go out.⇐   During the credits we get a sample of the real Mr. Rogers’ show: Fred sings “You’ve Got To Do It,” as an inspiration to his young audience to face up to their fears, confront their challenges.

 OK, maybe this description sounds saccharin after all, just as some verbal recap of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood might if your inner cynic’s searching for something to dismiss (mine always seems to be on alert), but in watching this exquisitely-uplifting-story—where Hanks does a fabulous job of channeling now-gone-Fred (died of stomach cancer in 2003), constantly sharing sincere concern for those around him (whether it’s a Make-A-Wish kid visiting him on the set, forcing the crew to wait around much longer than planned, or bitter-in-the-beginning Lloyd who doesn’t want his own life probed while he’s trying to uncover Fred’s weaknesses), accepting his own flaws (struggles with setting up a tent during a taping yet insists they include this clumsy scene in the final show, demonstrating to his viewers how unexpectedly-difficult life can be)—you have to admit (hard as it is for those of us who are constantly appalled by the greed, dishonesty, egotism of government and business leaders) this is the kind of story we need to see, need to accept, need to believe in (a sort of more-factual-version of It’s A Wonderful Life [Frank Capra, 1946] where George Bailey—like Lloyd and Fred—faces anger, despair, even to the point of suicide before finding his time on Earth’s been meaningful after all, that a sense of self-forgiveness is possible [more so with Jerry Vogel than … Life’s Mr. Potter]) during this supposed season of charity, acceptance, connection (if we can push ourselves away from the commercialism corrupting this year-ending-hope) rather than the lies, bribery, rhetorical attacks so dominating our society today.  The CCAL’s also supportive of … Neighborhood, with an RT tally of 95% positive reviews, MC average score of 80% (high for them so far this year) although audience response's been somewhat muted—$43.1 million domestically (from 3,491 theaters) after 3 weeks in release (it’s been at #3, then 4, 5 during that period, but hardly anything else has mattered given the ongoing powerhouse of Frozen II), which isn’t bad but only #60 for the year, enormously-below how Disney’s got 6 of the top 10, with even Frozen II’s $338 million only at #7 overall compared to the true heavy-hitters in the top 4 spots with a domestic total of $2.26 billion, $6.6 billion worldwide (Frozen II’s up to "just" $922 million globally, but still packin’ ‘em in)see this site to explore more of these ongoing details.  Maybe the sense I previously noted of knowing what … Neighborhood’s about (largely an erroneous assumption) or the higher-anticipated-adrenalin-levels of other offerings are contributing to this limited box-office, but, please, don’t let that hold you back; this is such a delightful movie—uplifting without feeling it could rot your teeth—I can’t recommend it enough.  With that, I’ll close out on a most-appropriate Musical Metaphor at, the actual Mr. Rogers opening 2 of his many episodes over the decades singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” from his first (Feb. 19, 1968) and last (Aug. 31, 2001) broadcasts.  “Won’t you please Please won’t you be my neighbor?” is a request we all need to ask of everyone around us as often as we can, so let’s keep trying, OK?

 On a different note to end all this, Nina and I just re-watched The Irishman, this time via Netflix streaming (almost the only way you can see it now; according to the Nielsen ratings service it snagged 17.1 million viewers in its first 5 days on line, along with being chosen Best Film of 2019 by both the National Board of Review and the NY Film Critics Circle [related is this article about the de-aging process used on Robert De Niro and the other principal actors in this grand experiment]).  The quality remains high (still the best of the year for me too, but there are many others I haven’t seen yet), the sound clarity even in those whispering/low-volume-dialogue scenes was much better than at the theater (of course, having the option of closed-captioning helped as well for our aging ears), and the impact’s the same on a 47” screen as it was on a much wider one, so I continue to recommend it highly, even if you need to order Netflix streaming to see it.  2 critics at Variety have already named their Top 10 of 2019, although Peter Debruge didn’t put The Irishman within that group (his #1 is Waves [Trey Edward Shults; I haven’t seen it yet]; he did rate A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as #10); Owen Gleiberman chose The Irishman as his #3, Marriage Story as #2 (his #1 is Joker [Todd Phillips; review in our October 9, 2019 posting])—they’ve also chosen their worst of 2019, which, fortunately for me, doesn’t include too many I’d have had to pay for, although I don’t agree with Debruge on Dumbo (Tim Burton; review in our April 4, 2019 posting) and Yesterday (Danny Boyle; review in our July 3, 2019 posting) being on such a negative list for me (they're #1, #5 respectively for him) while I’d also reject Gleiberman’s inclusion of Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher; review in our June 6, 2019 posting), #4 of his losers, along with his curious decision to include the last ½ hour of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino; review in our August 1, 2019 posting) at #3 even though he chose this entire film as #7 on his 10 Best list (?).  Starting with my next posting (whenever that will be), as Two Guys enters our 9th year of Internet-infestation, I’ll resume ending my Related Links section with the ongoing tallies compiled by Metacritic of which 2019 releases have gotten the most awards/nominations along with how these films rate when combining various critics’ Top 10 lists (I’ll also note the Golden Globe nominees), but I think I’ve already given you enough already to plow through for this posting even as I could use a rest myself.

 In fact, as we get into this holiday season I'm taking a break from Two Guys reviewing, going away for a few days with incredible Nina to celebrate my 72nd birthday followed by other activities over the next few weeks.  I might get one more posting in before 2020 arrives, but, if not, I wish you the best as this year ends, followed by the dawn of a new, possibly much better one (as per "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" from John Lennon's 1975 singles-compilation-album, Shaved Fish).   Shalom!
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Marriage Story: (not much of an official site, though) (38:34 interview with director Noah Baumbach, producer David Heyman, and actors Scarlett Johansson [arrives late], Adam Driver, Laura Dern, 
Ray Liotta, Alan Alda [overall audio level’s low at times])

Here’s more information about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: (20:50 interview with Tom Hanks 
[ad interruption at about 10:30])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.  You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world.  I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game," offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come. 
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 34,000 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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