Friday, June 29, 2018

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the Mr. Rogers documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" as well as DVDs "Thoroughbreds" and "Flight 7500."  The Book of the Week is "Janet, Jackie and Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss, and her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill." I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" with "The Hills Have Eyes."]

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

A documentary about the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers.

Growing up, I wasn't a Mr. Rogers kid.  I was more of a Romper Room kid, because by the time Fred Rogers started his children's TV show, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," on PBS in 1968, I was already in college.  So over the years I didn't have much reason to take a look at the show or know much about it or even Fred Rogers, other than Eddie Murphy's parody on SNL, which I thought was hilarious.  

I didn't know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister; that he almost single-handedly saved PBS (the government was going to cut off funding); that he was profoundly dedicated to children and their feelings; and that he sent some pretty deep messages to the nation's children via his half hour children's show.  For example, when black people were being kept out of public swimming pools, Mr. Rogers shared a foot bath with Officer Clemmons (Francois Clemmons), the black policeman on the show. He taught children what the word assassination meant after Robert Kennedy's assassination and helped children deal with the Challenger tragedy.  He was dedicated to acknowledging that children had feelings just like adults and that those feelings needed to be acknowledged, and children needed to be assured that they were safe and special.  I learned all of that in this wonderful film.

"The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they're loved and capable of loving."

He is portrayed in the film as a wonderful, gentle man who truly cared about children and used his show to help raise moral, compassionate and confident adults.

But he also had his detractors.  Because he was such a gentle, mild-mannered and caring man, many thought he was gay.  He also took heat for causing those children to grow up to be entitled young people because he told them they were special just as they were instead of earning "being special"  in some way.  And then there was the rumor that he was covered in tattoos and that's why he wore cardigan sweaters.

And you know what I say to all of that?  

Crap.  Since when is being mild-mannered, gentle and caring attributes only a gay person might have? And his message to children about being special creating entitled adults?  He meant that they were loved just as they were. If anything, that would help create a confident and compassionate adult who would pass on that sentiment to others.  My experience has been that entitled adults are usually hiding deep insecurities. As for the tattoo rumor, I just don't know how to even deal with that one.  But the film shows him swimming and I didn't see any evidence of tattoos.

Despite the low-budget production values and some raggedy little sock puppets, Fred Rogers brought humanity to television and fought against the Saturday morning cartoon milieu of violence, indignity and consumerism.  It's ironic that Fred Rogers was even on television since he didn't really approve of it.

Written and directed by Morgan Neville (who won an Oscar in 2014 for another documentary "Twenty Feet from Stardom" which I reviewed back in 2014), the film includes animated segments depicting Daniel the Striped Tiger, one of Rogers' sock puppets, that was also thought to be his alter ego as well as interviews with Fred's wife and others he worked with and knew.  

Margaret Whitmer was one of the producers of Rogers' shows and said:

"If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood". Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. Yet, it worked."

Though this film is a celebration of Fred Rogers and his legacy, Neville doesn't completely let him off the hook.  Rogers was also a bit of an eccentric who probably used little Daniel the Striped Tiger to mask his own insecurities.  He also had an obsession about weighing 143 pounds and every day that he weighed himself he crowed in delight when the scale said 143.  But then we find out that 143 for him also spelled love because those three numbers were the number of letters in "I (1) love (4) you (3)."

Rogers died in 2003 but one can't help but wonder what he would do and say now about the divisiveness and lack of caring that seems to be rampant today.

And of course the filmmakers couldn't help but wonder the same thing but then they turned it around on the viewer - What are YOU going to do and say? 

Fred had said once, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

In this scary time, for me the message of this film is that we should all try to be the helpers.

This film captured the warmth and the calm, reassuring presence of Mr. Rogers, and showed why so many children loved him. Watching this film, I had tears welling up in my eyes for the whole 94 minutes.  I thought about my own childhood and the impact Mr. Rogers might have had on me as a little girl, and at the end, when the filmmakers asked those who were being interviewed to think for a whole minute of someone who had affected their lives for the better, I lost it.

I would guess that Fred Rogers affected many, many lives with his message of love.

Rosy the Reviewer of the most poignant films I have ever seen, it is sure to get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature and I predict it wins.  Don't miss it, but bring tissues.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Thoroughbreds (2017)

Childhood friends Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) reconnect after growing apart over an issue that unites them and brings out their most destructive tendencies.

Lily and Amanda couldn't be more different but they have a history. The two were once childhood friends but have gone their different ways.  Lily is the preppy rich popular girl at a boarding school and Amanda is the outcast in overalls and no make-up.

Lily has been hired by Amanda's mother to help Amanda with college entry tests but it turns out she has basically hired Lily to be Amanda's friend again and to help her get over her Dad's death and her impending animal cruelty trial. You see, Amanda euthanized her crippled horse with a knife.  As they rekindle their friendship, we get to know the girls.  Lily comes off as a nice, normal young woman, while Amanda seems a little nutty. Lily tells Amanda that she seems to have no feelings to which Amanda replies "I just have to work a little harder than everyone else to be good."  But the two finally break down barriers and Lily tells Amanda what she really feels.  That she wants to kill her stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks).

The two plot to get rid of Mark and commit the perfect crime.

Enter drug dealer, Tim (Anton Yelchin, who died tragically in a freak accident - the film is dedicated to him), an older kid, who works at an old people's home.  They ask him to help them and then blackmail him into killing Mark. Funny scene when Tim goes to Lily's house and is blown away by the opulence.  We know he is blown away because as he looks around we hear the strains of "Ave Maria."

So the girls give themselves alibis and wait for Tim to do the deed.  When he fails, the girls decide to do it themselves, and as the plot plays out, the tables turn.  Initially Amanda comes off as the nutty one - I mean she killed her horse with a knife, for gods sake - but then Lily shows her true colors.  So who is really the girl with no feelings?

The title of the film evokes a horse theme, and yes, there are horses in the film.  The girls grew up wealthy and horse mad. Amanda also killed her horse (and gives a very gruesome description of the event, I might add), but the title could also certainly be an ironic metaphor for rich girls whose breeding is deemed worthy because they are products of boarding schools and money but who underneath are really untamed wild horses.

Writer/director Cory Finley, in his feature film debut, has produced a dark film that was all about class and the darkness behind beautiful mansions and manicured lawns and how little rich girls who loved horses and had the best of everything can grow up to be murderers. Money can't make you a good person if your real nature is evil.  It's Hitchcock for teens.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I may be a woman of a certain age but even though this is about teenage girls, I love anything Hitchcockian and I know a really good movie when I see one...and this is one.

Flight 7500 (2014)

As a flight makes its way to Tokyo from Los Angeles, supernatural forces take over.

What better to do when you are afraid to fly than to watch a horror film that takes place on a plane? I think I am drawn to this stuff because if it's in a movie, it can't be real, right?

Have you also ever noticed that in the old days when they showed movies to all of us at once on airplanes (and it's still probably true in some instances) that they never showed movies about plane crashes?  Makes sense.  I actually wrote a post back in 2014 called "Movies You Will Never See on an Airplane..."  I mean, who wants to be on a plane and then see a film with Samuel L. Jackson fighting off snakes ON A PLANE!

Anyway, in this movie a flight from LA to Tokyo encounters severe weather and then some supernatural stuff starts happening.  And nothing can be scarier than scary stuff happening on a plane, right?  Because first of all, some of us on the plane are afraid the plane is going to fall out of the sky because we don't understand how a plane even flies but, second, if something really bad happens we are stuck up there in a small space with a bunch of strangers, an equally terrifying prospect.

So the movie starts with something bad happening and then does a flashback to four hours earlier when we get to know the flight attendants and the passengers.  One strange and frightening thing was the fact that this 747 appeared to have only TWO flight attendants because Laura (Leslie Bibb) and Suzy (Jamie Chung) were literally the only flight attendants who seemed to be taking care of all of the passengers on a 747. Gosh, what a nightmare THAT would be!  And, uh, cough, Laura is also taking care of one of the married pilots too, if you catch my drift.

So anyway, the passengers.  We have a foursome - two couples looking forward to their vacation, who were able to upgrade to First Class. Unfortunately, one of the couples is actually planning on getting a divorce but hadn't told their friends yet. OK, I am going to digress again about something that bothered me.  One of the guys says the first round of saki is on him.  Uh, First Class - EVERYTHING IS FREE!  

OK, back to the passengers. Then there is a racist woman who also doesn't like babies, fat people or much of anything.  She is constantly complaining. Other passengers include a young tattooed girl with spiky boots and a young guy who doesn't want to follow the rules.

And then, dun-dun-dunnnnn...the nervous man with the mysterious box (Rick Kelly).

So now we're back to the turbulence. After the turbulence, the nervous passenger with the mysterious box dies and, now I have to digress once again, because here is yet another thing that didn't particularly ring true.  The pilot decided to continue on to Tokyo with a dead body on board!  So everyone is told to leave  the upstairs First Class cabin and the dead body is deposited up there with a blanket over his head.  But later, Laura and Suzy go back upstairs and discover the body is not there, so let the supernatural havoc ensue!

Leslie Bibb (who is currently starring in "Tag") and Jamie Chung are appealing but overworked flight attendants (because there are only two of them!) and the rest of the actors are fine and do what they can with the material.

Yes, the characters are overdrawn and the film appears to be paying homage to that "Twilight Zone" episode starring William Shatner with the gremlin out on the wing -  "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."  And in case we don't get that, we even see someone watching that on the plane, which like I said earlier, wouldn't happen.  But I kept wishing there actually was a gremlin out on the wing, because at least then I would have known what was going on because most of the time I didn't.

Written by Craig Rosenberg and directed by Takashi Shimizu who gave us the "Grudge" movies, there is a bunch of mumbo jumbo about dying too early and needing a death doll to go to the other side and a twisty ending, but basically I had no idea what the point was, but like I said, I am drawn to these horror films on planes.  This one just needed some snakes! 

Rosy the Reviewer says...when all was said and done, I never really did figure out what was actually happening on that plane or what I was supposed to think at the end, but despite that little thing - not knowing what the hell was going on - it was still kind of fun.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

137 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

This is one of those horror films where seemingly ordinary (and usually kind of dumb) people have a car breakdown and find themselves somewhere they shouldn't be.

I like watching horror films at home on DVD because then I can fast forward through the really scary and gory bits. I had put off seeing this one because I dreaded what I thought would be very gory.  I do that when I anticipate blood, gore and perversion.  But then I finally gird my loins and make the jump, watch the film and wonder why I worried and that's what I found with this.  It wasn't as bad as I had anticipated but it was about cannibalism - eek.

This is a very early work by Wes Craven (he wrote it and directed it) who went on to do the classic films "Swamp Thing," "Scream" and "Nightmare on Elm Street."  It also stars a very young Dee Wallace.

Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) and his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent) are on a trailer trip with their two daughters, Lynne (Wallace) and Brenda (Suze Lanier-Bramlett), son, Bobby (Robert Houston), Lynne's husband, Doug (Martin Speer), their baby and two German Shepherds, Beauty (Flora) and Beast (Striker), to see a silver mine that was left to Ethel. The Carters are an all American family - well, for the 1970's anyway. 

They stop first at a gas station where they encounter the grizzled Fred (John Steadman) who warns them not to go any deeper into the desert but they don't listen and of course they find themselves in a remote part of the desert that is closed to the public because it is used for military maneuvers and then their car pulling the trailer breaks down.  Big Bob is a retired cop.  Bobby, his son, is notable for wearing very tight and very short short shorts.  Did men really wear tight cut-offs in the late 70's?

But they are not alone.  There are hill people living up in the rocks and they have a particular predilection - human flesh.

First Beauty races up into the rocks and what happens to her isn't pretty.  Then Bobby in his short shorts makes his way up there despite the fact that I was screaming at the screen: "DON'T GO UP THERE!"  And then Brenda stupidly goes off IN THE DARK to find Bobby.  Meanwhile, Big Bob has hiked back to Fred's gas station and finds Fred trying to hang himself.  You see, Fred has an unholy connection to the hill people and so tells Big Bob his story.

According to Fred, in 1929 this place was great.  Fred had a wife and they were happy until their second child was born. He was some kind of huge mutant - a 20 pound baby. His wife died in childbirth and the son started killing his livestock.  When he murdered his sister, that was apparently the last straw so Fred took his son out into the desert to fend for himself.  And he, Jupiter (James Whitworth) appeared to fend for himself just fine. He found a girl and they had four kids - Mars (Lance Gordon), Mercury (Peter Locke), Pluto (Michael Berryman) and Ruby (Janus Blythe) - and they all turned out just like Jupiter - wild cannibals. 

It's funny what scared us back in the 70's and how we have had to up the ante over the years.  These early horror films are more about implied horror than graphic horror but the implications are pretty bad.  Our imaginations do more damage than what we actually see, though this one does deliver some gruesome stuff.  

Using the horror trope sex=death, while Lynne and her husband are having sex, one of the bad guys comes into the trailer and ends up setting Big Bob on fire, raping young Brenda and eating their parakeet raw.  But when he goes for the baby, he doesn't realize what he is up against. Good thing one of those German Shepherds is still alive.  And now the tables have turned and the hunted become the hunters.  Those bad guys may be cannibals but they have literally bitten off more than they can chew by messing with these seemingly goodie-goodie white middle class folks from middle America.  A war between two very disparate families ensues.

A case can be made for a deeper meaning here.  The racism and arrogance of the Carters makes them prime targets for victimization but also the capacity to then turn into bloodthirsty monsters themselves after getting a taste of blood as they fight off Jupiter and his clan.

I'm sure in its day stealing a baby to eat was shocking stuff but I think horror films today have gone way beyond that now.  But if the cannibals had eaten the baby, well...

Why it's a Must See: "Arguably, Hills warrants consideration as one of the richest and most perfectly realized films of Craven's career."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...don't fear this one.  It's more weird and gross than scary.

***Book of the Week***

Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill by J. Randy Taraborrelli (2018)

We all know a great deal about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis but little about her sister, Lee, or mother, Janet, both of whom also had interesting lives.

J. Randy Taraborrelli is my favorite biographer.  I have read most of his books and the reason I keep coming back for more is his ability to take the facts of a life and weave them all into a very good story.  And this biography of two sisters who achieved fame and their formidable mother is no exception.

"Do you know what the secret to happily after is?" Janet asked her daughters.  "Money and power."

And that's how Jackie and Lee were brought up. And Janet had no problem sticking her nose into their romances if the men were deemed unsuitable. She was a no nonsense woman with many opinions and was not shy about giving advice. When Jackie asked her mother about her very expensive china - pieces that cost between $500 and $1000 each - and how she avoided guests breaking any of it, Janet replied that she did her research and invited people accordingly.  If she suspected that someone might be careless with her expensive things, he or she was simply not invited.

"Never have anyone in your home that you can't trust with your good china."

Sounds like my Mom.

The "secrets" in the title alludes not so much to secrets but more probably things you didn't know about these three women, especially Jackie and the the role that her mother, Janet, played in teaching her the decorum and etiquette of being a wealthy woman and later the First Lady; that Jackie's sister, Lee, was very competitive with the already self-assured young Jackie; and that from the get-go, Jack Kennedy wasn't a very good husband, staying on a holiday with friends rather than being at his wife's side when their newborn baby died.  He only went to her when his father told him women wouldn't vote for him if he didn't act like a concerned husband!

Other juicy "secrets:" the family rumor that Lee had sex with Jack Kennedy within earshot of Jackie; that Lee had a relationship with Onassis before he married Jackie; and that Jackie suffered from PTSD from the assassination and later felt that had contributed to her marrying Onassis.

Taraborrelli also covers Jackie's romances that followed the assassination, Lee's marriages, Janet's struggle with and eventual death from Alzheimer's Disease and much, much more.

Though Jackie was by far the more famous of the three, don't think that Jackie is the only interesting character in this collective biography.  Janet and Lee are in fact perhaps more interesting because living in Jackie's shadow, little is known about them...until now.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a riveting, juicy and complete account of the lives of three very fascinating women by my favorite biographer.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of the Netflix original

"Ali's Wedding"

now streaming on Netflix

The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 
I Die Project." 

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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

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