5 Stars Movies Vintage

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

As we reach our teen years, world events start to play a bigger part in our lives in the classroom.

When I entered middle school back in 2000 (!), more people were talking about the election, only to be followed a year later by the 9/11 attacks. I can only imagine what the talks will be like with young people now regarding the COVID-19 pandemic (especially those like my brother Jackson who are in the graduating class of 2020). These were evident in my mind as I was watching Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants, a reflection of his own childhood during World War II in France.

5 Stars Movies Vintage

The Searchers (1956)

At the 92nd Academy Awards, when Bong Joon Ho was accepting his Oscar for Best Director (for Parasite), he paid tributes to each of his fellow nominees. The first (and most memorable) was toward Martin Scorsese, which prompted an unexpected standing ovation. It was clear that Bong Joon Ho was paying tribute to a mentor.

In the filming industry, perhaps no other career is more vocal of paying tribute to mentors than that of a director. Most (if not all) have stated they have been in total admiration of a certain director that came before them, often rewatching their films almost to a degree of pure obsession. Certain names come to mind: Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Scorsese, Eastwood, Coppola, Lucas, Tarantino, and Spike Lee, to name a few. However, all the big named directors seem to have one person they all agree on that had influenced their career. That name is John Ford. Famously, when Orson Welles was asked the directors he admired most, he said, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.”

2 1/2 Stars Movies

Onward (2020)

Coming up this November will be the quarter century mark of the release of Toy Story (1995), which was the birth of Disney/Pixar (though Pixar had done some of the animated shorts beforehand). Having seen all but two of their full length films (2015’s The Good Dinosaur and 2017’s Cars 3 got past my radar), the quality of the films of Disney/Pixar have nearly always been able to exceed all expectations, despite how high they may have been. With very few “duds” to their credit (most of the non-Toy Story sequels and Brave), the combined duo shows no sign of stopping, even if they make films of lesser quality. Which, sadly, brings us to Onward.

The brief history of magical creatures states that magic has been nearly lost and almost forgotten. While magic once thrived, scientific discovery had replaced it. Still, there are a few who still believe it exists, mainly the over eager Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). After the death of his magic loving dad (because this is Disney, so the one parent rule is almost always in effect), he tries his darndest to be somewhat of an influence to his younger teenage brother Ian (Tom Holland).

As the film begins on his 16th birthday, the somewhat introverted Ian tries to stay somewhat distant from his much more extroverted older brother. That is, until his mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in her second Disney/Pixar film since A Bug’s Life) reveals a present to be given to both her sons when they turned sixteen. It is a staff, which will be able to bring there dad back (with the help of a rare phoenix stone their dad gave them as well) for one day. Unfortunately, trouble with the spell brews (pun intended?), and only the legs of their dad appear. They must then set forth on a quest to find another phoenix stone if they wish to see their whole dad before the 24 hour spell is over. Along the way in his (somewhat) trusty van Gwinivere, Barley passes on his knowledge of magic to his brother (who we discover is the one with magical abilities).

Compared to other films in the Pixar canon, there seems to be fewer supporting characters that stick out. The ones that do include a manticore (Octavia Spencer), Laurel’s new boyfriend cop, Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), and some hard headed (and often funny) motorcycle pixies. And yes, we still get the Disney/Pixar treasured voice of John Ratzenberger, but it was so brief I admit I missed it.

There is also one (very minor) character, Officer Spector (Lena Waithe), who is officially the first openly gay character in a Disney/Pixar film. Sadly, this is more politicized than memorable. If you are going to include a homosexual character (in general, not just in animation), make it needed in the story itself. If Spector had not mentioned she was gay (though she does not use those exact words), I doubt it would make any difference to the outcome of the film.

The idea of being able to spend time with a dead loved one is indeed moving, but the way they established it seems just…awkward. I can understand the filmmakers wanting to add a twist of some kind, but just the legs? Yes, they find a way to communicate (somewhat) with them, but it just seems not as original or daring an idea that would expect from the studio.

Speaking of originality, when Disney/Pixar is at the top of their game, they give us worlds of endless possibilities. They have created countless universes with toys, bugs, monsters, cars, superheroes (even before the MCU), robots, emotions (!), and rats in the kitchen. Very few studios can say they have done something like that (save for Studio Ghibli).

That said, the universe of the creatures of Onward seems like it is from the minor leagues. Through out the film, I seriously had to remind myself I was watching a Disney/Pixar film, and not something from a lesser quality studio (I won’t name examples, but even the heads of other studios have to admit they have to almost always compete with Disney/Pixar).

Parents, the film is okay for kids provided you plan to have a conversation about the lesbian character, but I do admit I think the humor for the adults will be harder to find than it was in other Disney/Pixar films.

The deeper issues with being able to talk to a deceased family member did hit me at times (having lost my own dad a little less than a decade ago), but not as much as it could have. Consider the other great touching moments in the history of Disney/Pixar: Andy saying goodbye to his toys, WALL-E not recognizing EVE, Boo realizing (at the time) she won’t see Sully again, Miguel singing to Coco, the goodbye at the end of Toy Story 4, and, of course, the first ten minutes of Up. I would argue these (as well as moments which would produce “happy tears”) are groundbreaking moments for a child’s life as a movie goer (and some adults as well).

Disney/Pixar will, I am confident, still produce classics in the years to come (they have another film this year called Soul, which does look promising), but they need to remember to go Onward before going upward.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

5 Stars Movies Vintage

Apollo 13 (1995)

In the 2000s, one of my favorite review sites to go to was that of “Mr. Cranky”. It was a satirical site (now no longer available), in which the reviews would state how bad the film really was (the highest rated were for films deemed “almost tolerable”).

Of the many reviews I had seen, my favorite header came from the review of Apollo 13, which read along the lines of “Spoiler: They survive.”

3 Stars Movies

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

All of my interactions I had with Sonic as a 90s kid were from my friends.

After my older brother and I got the Super Nintendo (a landmark day in my life at the age of 4 or so), we would have to depend on friends to play on the Sega console and race with Sonic, Tails (being the little brother, I was always second player, so this was my character), and Knuckles. While the Nintendo library is undoubtedly more popular than that of Sega, it is clear the that Sega’s mascot would always be the blue furry Sonic going forward (even if some of his games, like the one in 2006, would come to a crashing halt). Sonic’s roller-coaster career in the gaming world is surpassed by the even more uneven history of movies based off video games, so mixing them together to make Sonic the Hedgehog definitely had me wary, to say the least.

Still, Sonic has a steady loyal fan club. When the first trailer of Sonic the Hedgehog came out, there was online protest that was heard by nearly all those on the internet: Sonic did not look right at all. This forced director Jeff Fowler and the rest of the needed crew to go back and change Sonic’s appearance to be more accurate to the games. As someone who only played one or two of the games, I cannot say how accurate Sonic’s “backstory” is. In the film, the baby hedgehog is born with incredible speedy legs, soon to only be matched by his speedy mouth. When his powers are discovered, he is told by his guardian Owl Longclaw (don’t ask) to use his magic rings to travel through the universe to Earth. He is ordered strictly not to be seen by anyone.

Flash forward ten years. Sonic is living in the outskirts of a small town in Montana called Green Hills. The town is looked after by the local sheriff (or “Donut Lord”, as Sonic calls him), Tom (James Marsden). He and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are in the process of moving to San Francisco. In the mean time, Sonic has caused an accidental black out of the whole town (if not more of the west coast), leading the government to (somewhat unwillingly) call in Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). Tom and Sonic team up and are on their way to San Francisco where Sonic has lost his bag of rings he needs to get to his next safe haven: a mushroom planet (“I hate mushrooms” is perhaps Sega’s commentary towards a certain plumber in the Nintendo canon).

No doubt the plot of the film is rather fast paced, yet full of questions. Here is the main one: If Sonic (who is voiced well by Ben Schwartz) is able to run as fast as he can, you would think he could just run to San Francisco and get the rings (though to be fair, the rings have ended up on top of a building). The movie does have one moment where Sonic does in fact run to the West Coast, only to go straight into the Pacific. The movie does its best to show that Sonic is in desperate need of a GPS. Of course, if he could just run there and get the rings himself, not only would there not be a friendship between him and Tom, but there would be no movie.

While I was not the biggest fan of Sonic growing up, I was a very big fan of Jim Carrey. From Ace Ventura to The Mask to (mainly) Dumb and Dumber to Liar Liar, he was the first real movie star I knew by name. His work as Dr. Robotnik is far from his best work (comedic or dramatic), but I would be lying if I said it did not bring back some vibes I had long forgotten about these past two decades.

Though the film does not get as deep as other family films (like those in the Disney library), young kids can still learn a good lesson or two. Sure, the idea of not being cruel to animals is there (Tom’s wife is a veterinarian), but most kids won’t look at Sonic as some kind of pet. He is indeed as human as most CGI characters (the CGI is actually very well done). The real lesson for kids is how to help those in need, regardless of if you know them or not (Luke 6:31). There is also a secondary lesson on life decisions (as shown in whether Tom should take his new offer in San Francisco or not.)

Parents, the film is fine for kids. There is may one minor swear word or two, and light kissing. The action has virtually zero violence in it. Add in some lightly peppered humor the adults might get, and the film ends up being fine for anyone in the family.

Even with the flimsy plot, Sonic the Hedgehog worked on me mainly due to the fact that I am, as stated before, a child of the 90s. The film is like a boxing match of two different bits of 90s nostalgia. In one corner, you have video games (Sonic), and the other corner has Jim Carrey. It is a match of nearly equal amounts of quirky, bizarre energy (both Sonic and Dr. Robotnik seem to clearly have some amount of ADD). While most movies based on video games are genuinely bad, Sonic the Hedgehog has set a nice pace for those to follow.

Here is hoping they catch up.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

1 Star Movies

Dolittle (2020)

As I get older and see more movies, I realize that nostalgia cannot always work for movies I liked as a kid. Sure, some movies are classics and speak to the child in all of us (The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, E.T., and a number of Disney films), but some are sadly ones we look back on and wonder, “What was I thinking?!?!”. I recently revisited the original first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies from the early 90s, and while the first one is still passable, the second one (the one with Vanilla Ice) is now just laughable. I predict kids who see Dolittle will say the same thing if they choose to revisit it as an adult, since any adults these days who are forced to see it will do what they can to forget it (even more so for the adults who were part of the film).

Back in 1967, the titular role of Doctor Dolittle (unseen by me) was played by theater great Rex Harrison. In the late 1990s, it was Eddie Murphy (the first was enjoyable to me as a kid, but I stopped caring after the second sequel). Now the role is in the hands of Robert Downey Jr. (in his first role after leaving the MCU). Set in the 19th century, we learn in an animated prelude (which was very well animated, and one of the few things of the film I actually was fine with) that his wife Lily (Kasia Smmutniak) is an adventurer who has died at sea. Understandably depressed, Dolittle has secluded himself in his mansion (that was once paid for by the Queen) in isolation. One day, a boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) is out hunting with his family, though very unwillingly so. When he purposely misses shooting ducks, he hits a squirrel. Rather than put it out of its misery, he stumbles upon the Dolittle mansion.

At this point, we encounter one of the films many problems. We first see Dolittle talking to the animals as any human would: using animal sounds. We get a close up of him, and it changes to him speaking normally to the animals who now speak clear English to him as well. There is no consistancy in the communication between the doctor and the animals.

At the same time that Stubbins drops in, we meet Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), who has been sent to deliver disturbing news: Queen Victoria (Jesse Buckley) has fallen ill. When the Doctor arrives, we discover the only known cure is from a mystical island that Dolittle’s late wife was looking for as she perished.

There is also a side plot involving Dolittle’s father in law, who blames the Doctor for Lily’s death. The father in law (named Rassouli, a name I don’t remember being uttered but it was on wiki so I guess it works) is played by the just recently Oscar nominated Antonio Banderas.

Wait, there is another side plot I forgot involving Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen). A former classmate of Dolittle’s, Mudfly is summoned by Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent, another wonderful actor who I had to find his character name on wiki) to make sure Dolittle & Company fail and that the Queen dies (not sure why they wanted the Queen to die, but whatever). There are no points given in finding out right away that Mudfly is the bad guy. In fact, points should be taken away if you did not know that.

If you thought the cast I have mentioned so far is a waste of talent, wait till you hear who the animals are voiced by. Emma Thompson is a wise parrot (as well as the films narrator). Rami Malek is a kind but not so confident Gorilla. Tom Holland is a loyal dog with glasses (for some reason). Octavia Spencer is a duck. Ralph Fiennes is a tiger. Selena Gomez is a giraffe. Marion Cotillard is a fox (with only a few lines). Finally, Kumail Nanjiani is the ostrich who becomes friends with Yoshi the Polar Bear, played by John Cena.

While none of these actors are untalented, they fail because of the script they are given (which is also mind boggling, when you remember that the film’s director and co-writer Stephen Gaghan wrote movies like Traffic and Syrianna, admittedly two vastly different films).

As stated, the film is set in the 19th Century, but the animals are all talking like they are from the 21st. I understand that it is to appeal more to children, but the theater I was in (which did not have many, thought it was a 5pm show on a thursday) had virtually zero laughs from the adults. As for the kids (maybe two or so in the audience), I think I heard three laughs tops.

There is actual detrimental material here for kids, because we have all encountered wild animals at one point or another in our lives. Whether it be a close pet we chat with or a squirrel we honk our horn at to move out of the way. We like to think we are talking with them.

When I get home from work, there is always a nice welcome for me from my dog, Molly (the newer dog, Charlie, is another matter). There is a weird sense of appreciation we get from pets that makes us want to talk to them. Animals (especially pets) help take us out of our daily lives and remember the natural elements of the world.

Parents, if all you are worried about is violence/sexuality/swearing, you are fine. There is none of that here (even the wounded squirrel, who took a shotgun blast to the chest, was not bleeding). The one exception is the post credit scene, where a character is surrounded by bats. While it is played for laughs, I think it would generally scare children.

Though I am not a parent, I would still argue that this movie is not engaging or smart enough for any child over the ages of 5-6. It is as if the filmmakers forgot that kids in a movie theater are actually smarter than they realize.

Dolittle also is unclear on its message. At first, I thought it would be on how to be kind to animals (after all, God did tell Noah to have two of every kind on the ark). The film just became about an adventure that no one asked for.

Somehow, Dolittle did give me a feeling I never expected.

A feeling of nostalgia.

…for the movie CATS.


Rating: 1 out of 5.

4 Stars Movies

Little Women (2019)

Except for the fact that it was a classic book that had been remade numerous times over the decades, my knowledge of Little Women was practically nil. Of course, as a kid, I would rather have been reading Robin Hood, Frankenstein, or Tom Sawyer over a book with a title clearly meant for the female audience. This left me entering the newest adaptation of Louis May Alcott’s beloved book mystified as to what I would experience, though I had some hopes since it was directed (and adapted) by Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig.

The result was, to say the very least, surprisingly heart warming, as Gerwig and the knockout cast deliver to both newbies (like me) as well as fans. While I may be wrong on some of the characters and their relationships, I will do my best (thankfully, there was an older couple two seats down the aisle from me, and I could here the woman explaining things to her husband.) The film is told in two separate times, seven years apart. The earlier days is during the civil war, where we meet the four march sisters. They are Jo (Saoirse Ronan, teaming up again with Gerwig after their 2017 film Lady Bird), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen).

Their father is off serving the North in the Civil War, so they try to make the best of things alongside their mother, Marmee (the wonderful Laura Dern). We also meet their neighbor, Mr. Laurence (the ever reliable Chris Cooper) and his grandson Theodore, aka “Laurie” (Timothee Chalamet, also from Lady Bird). And, of course, let us not forget Aunt March, played by Meryl Streep. There are many actresses who can proclaim they are “not always right, but are never wrong.”, but can you think of any you would want to have say that over Streep?

As is the case with all siblings (not just sisters), there is love, envy, forgiveness, resentment, and mischief. This is mainly shown in the earlier time, since the sisters are younger and less mature. Each sibling has their own unique strength: Meg (who I believe is the eldest) is drawn to the theater. Jo is a writer of stories. Amy is a painter. Beth is musically inclined on the piano. A good chunk of the film is how each sister (especially Jo) realizes that growing up means going down different roads. As Meg states,

“Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”

 They also have their different character traits as well (which I can only assume is true to the original material). While Meg and Beth are on the gentler side (especially Beth), it is Jo and Amy who are more head strong, which could explain why both are having feeling for Laurie. Jo herself states how she is amazed she was not born a boy. Even so, she is still prone to show her vulnerability.

One of the best examples of this is toward the end of the film, when Jo is talking to her mother about love (one of countless scenes of nearly impeccable acting). When asked if she loves a certain character, Jo responds,

“I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”

Marmee responds,

“That’s not the same as loving.”

As humans, we are all looking for love. As children, we look towards our parents (or guardians). As we get older, we enter the stage of wishing for a significant other (once we realize cooties are not actually a thing.) Yet we realize that actual love is not a one way street: relationships don’t work if the love is not reciprocal.

Jo also has a moment of trying to defy God (which is an action that sums her character up in detail). While caring for a sick family member, Jo is told,

“We can’t stop God’s will.”

Jo responds,

“Well, God hasn’t met my will yet. What Jo wills shall be done.”

Regardless of where we are in our walk with God, we have all tried to defy God and/or his will at one point or another. This is one of the most raw forms of pride we possess. Of course, when we have a loved one who is sick, injured, or depressed, we feel bad for them as well as ourselves. It is when we start thinking along the lines of “Well God, if you won’t do anything, then I will!” that we start going down the wrong path.

All the performers make their mark, but the two that stand out are Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh. As of this writing, both of their awards buzz has died down a little, but I would still not at all be surprised if they heard their names when the Oscar nominations are announced.

Perhaps the best part of the film, however, is how Gerwig (who clearly has a great film making career ahead of her) adapted the story. She balances the classical nature of the story with the right amount of contemporary energy that makes the film seem almost like a relic, yet still relatable.

Parents, this may be the family holiday movie that you don’t know your family actually needs (though I can see young boys not wanting to see this.) It is rated PG, mainly for the thematic elements. There is no swearing or violence, and only two kisses I can remember. I would guess a girl of any age would heart this film.

Little Women does have moments were it tends to drag on a bit, but very few times: I was basically enthralled the whole time. When you think of it, making this film was very risky. A PG family movie with mainly a female lead cast, no action or songs (basically, a film not steered by the Mouse House). Yet that does not take away from the films morals of life, heartbreak, romance, and all the little things in between. As one character states,

“Morals don’t sell nowadays.”

Little Women is nothing short of a delight.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
2 1/2 Stars Movies

Frozen 2 (2019)

Even those of us who are not parents did not have to make much effort to see how much of a cultural impact the original Frozen film made back in 2013. It came out just in time before the beginning of the live action remake wave that Disney is now on, gave a lot of kids (especially girls) life lessons to learn, and songs that were stuck in their heads (as well as their parents’) for so long afterward I feel we may have forgotten how good it was to begin with. The only true negative about the film was that it made Disney produce Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which would have been fine had it not been played before 2017’s Coco as a “short” (it was 20 minutes long), resulting in a theater experience I still am recovering from.

Still, we now come to Frozen 2, which (thankfully) does not reference anything to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. As children, Elsa and Anna are told by their parents (who we know died in the first film) that the people of Arendelle were once sent to the forest to make a form of peace with the dwellers of the forest, where the spirits of earth, wind, water, and fire would dwell (kind of like that film The Last Airbender, without the awfulness). In the present, Elsa (Idina Menzel) begins hearing voices, leading her to the forest where an immense fog has made the way completely impassable. She is joined, of course, by her little sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Kristoff’s loyal reindeer Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad), destined to go down as one of the best supporting comic relief characters in Disney’s long history.

As is the case with nearly all animated sequels (Disney or otherwise), the returning characters are accompanied with some fresh new faces, including Sterling K. Brown ( from This is Us) as a long-time loyal guard to Arendel. Other voice talents include Alfred Molina, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jason Ritter. My favorite new addition was that of a speechless and small (yet powerful) small toad that is befriended by Elsa.

The story is (mostly) solid, and kids can walk away learning about how we all play a part in the grand scheme of things, as well as helping out your friends/family. One thing I regret to say adults will not like is that the songs of this film are not as up to par as those from the original. That is not to say they are totally bad, but I for one did not find myself humming hardly any tunes from this film (unlike the first film, which made “Let it Go” one of the most overplayed songs in the history mankind.)

An example of this would be the song “Into the Unknown”, which is being marketed as the sequel’s “Let it Go”, sung by Menzel’s character Elsa. I recall the first feelings I had when I sat in the theater during the first film and got chills (so to speak) when “Let it Go” was performed. Vibes were sent through me that truly reminded me of Menzel’s true iconic song, “Defying Gravity” (from the musical Wicked). I did not get this sense here and would argue it is not even the best song of the film (I was more into Elsa singing “Show yourself” and Kristoff singing “Lost in the Woods”.) Matters are made even worse when the credits role, and “Into the Unknown” is sung by Panic at the Disco.

Even the solo song by Olaf is rather disappointing. In the first film, we truly believed that his character was certain to be having a future life “In Summer”. Here, he sings about how all things will make sense “When I am Older”. All well and good, but the song seems like the makers just said “Quick, we need a song for Olaf!”, and did not stop to realize it is not part of the story at all.

Parents, this is easily one movie you will probably end up taking your kids to, since I am certain many have been begging there parents for ages about it. There are some dark moments, but nothing most kids can’t handle.

Will kids enjoy Frozen 2? More than likely (at least those under the age of 7 or so). The little girl sitting behind me (around five or six years old) surely did, when she said at one point “I want that dress!”. Parents are another story (though Olaf does give all ages plenty to laugh about). The first film enthralled us with stunning animation, catchy songs, and intriguing new characters. No one would have predicted before the first film came out that it would become the entity it is today, which was mainly due to engaging the imaginations of all ages of the audience (something that Disney is arguably the best at doing in any form of entertainment).

For Frozen 2, the movie does try to go into newer territory, but it did not take as many original risks as the first film. It would have been a better film if it truly did venture into the unknown.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

3 1/2 Stars Movies

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

For one reason or another, I was very worried when I first heard that Tom Hanks would be playing “Mister” Fred Rogers, especially only a year after the superb documentary Won’t you be my Neighbor? (which I am surprised was not nominated for an Oscar). The great Fred Rogers was someone we all, to some extent, truly took for granted. A soul of pure kindness that everyone would have given anything to have called neighbor, and ended up being the host of one of the greatest children’s programs in TV history (probably second only to Sesame Street). Truly one of a kind, I did not even think someone like Tom Hanks could replicate the aura of Rogers.

Obviously, I was wrong. It is the best Hanks has been in years, even though he is not the true center piece of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. That falls on Lloyd Vogel (Emmy winner Matthew Rhys), a journalist known for writing profiles that seem to always bring the negative out in the subject. When asked to do a piece on heroes, no one wants him to do the profile. No one, that is, except Mr. Rogers. When he mentions it to his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson from the TV show This is Us), she begs her husband, “Please don’t ruin my childhood”.

It does not take long for the viewer to realize Lloyd’s own troubles, as he has a rather rocky (to say the least) relationship with his father Jerry (Oscar winner and always reliable Chris Cooper), resulting in some punches thrown at the beginning of the film (he assures others who see his wounds that it was a softball incident). This part of the plot does teeter a bit towards the mundane, if only because experienced movie goers will know the expected outcome. Thankfully, that does not mean it is not effective at times. This mainly occurs when Lloyd finally begins to open up about his feelings, first with Rogers.

One of the more interesting things of the film is how director Marielle Heller (who was at the helm of 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?) structures it like an actual episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I found this both effecting and sometimes perplexing. It is how we are introduced to the Lloyd Vogel character (who is based on real life journalist Tom Junod), as Rogers asks us if we know what it means to “forgive” (something all ages need to remember these days). I was okay with the fourth wall breaks that occurred, but some segments seemed almost superfluous, such as Rogers spending a few minutes showing us how a magazine is made.

There is no way for me to continue with the review without talking about Tom Hanks. It must have been truly inevitable that, when the time came for Mr. Rogers to be portrayed on screen, only Hanks could have done so. When looking back, perhaps I was worried about the casting because Hanks does not show much of a physical resemblance to Fred (my expectations can be high at times). Thankfully, I soon realized that did not matter, because the attributes of Mr. Rogers’ character were the crucial part, and Hanks has those in spades. The kindness. The smile. The heart. The unrivaled sense of decency.

There are very few (if any) celebrities who have been labeled as being one of the nicest people ever than Hanks. Think about it: When was the last time you heard Tom Hanks in the headlines for a scandal, or seen in the tabloids? His quality of the “every man” has resonated with him for years, similar to acting icon (and also acclaimed nice guy) James Stewart. This is not to even mention his highly underrated sense of humor (he is one of the funnier guests I have seen on late night talk shows). In a nutshell, my little brother Connor put it best: “When Tom Hanks dies, the world will be sad.”

Parents, the film is a rather soft PG rating. Along with the one brief early fight scene, I counted only a couple of the most minor of swearing, and nothing else. This is the type of film families are perfectly fine with seeing.

The film did not hit me in the feels as much as the documentary Won’t you be my Neighbor? (though few films have done so like that in the last few years), but the lessons are still clear (Rogers clearly is breaking the fourth wall when he asks Lloyd to take one minute to think of all the people who have helped him in life, something the real Rogers did many times). The lesson of everyone needing to give a little kindness. The lesson of how to forgive. The lesson of how (as Rogers says in the film),

“Fame is a four-letter word. What matters is what we do with it.”


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

4 1/2 Stars Movies

The Farewell (2019)

Whether it is the news of a loved one’s passing or the news that the passing is closing in faster than expected, we all process the information in different ways. Admittedly, I never thought of it being different for certain cultures, let alone different individuals. Whether it is a custom for Chinese people to not tell a family member they have terminal cancer, I am not sure, but that is surely the case for the family in The Farewell.

Raised almost entirely in the United States, Billi (Awkwafina, the highly affective comic relief sidekick in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians) is still at the stage of young adult life where she is being treated like she is ten years younger than she is. She has a rickety relationship with her mother Jian (Diana Lin), but does still love her as well as her less domineering dad Haiyan (Tzi Ma). Still, even though they live in New York, she still loves to chat with her Grandma Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), who still lives in China.

Billi’s world is thrown a curve when her dad (Nai Nai’s son) informs her that the Grandmother has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and is expected to live only three months at the most. The family decides to go, using her cousin Hao Hao’s (Han Chen) wedding to a Japanese woman (Aoi Mizuhara) as a valid reason to see her one last time, under the strict rule not to let Nai Nai know she will die soon. Despite her parents wanting her to stay, Billi arrives in China to attend.

Despite the obvious dramatic aspects of the film, The Farewell (which starts off by saying it is “based on an actual lie”) has more than enough moments of realism that make it rather comedic. Not laugh out loud comedic (though a moment or two may get you), but more in a subtle way. Consider the wonderful scenes where the family sits down to eat. Regardless of you ethnic background, every family has dynamic encounters (both positive and negative) when at the dinner table. There is laughing, squabbling, screeching, talking with your mouth full. Regardless, love is at the center of it all.

It is always wonderful when a comedic actor is able to show off their dramatic chops (and vice versa for dramatic actors). Here, there result for Awkwafina (who, last I heard, is going to be the seagull Scuttle in the Disney Live action remake of The Little Mermaid) is no different. There are truly times I had to remind myself I was watching the same person who was Peik Lin Goh in Crazy Rich Asians just a year ago. While I doubt it is going to be in the conversation for the award season, it is clearly proof that this is one actress with a wide range in the acting department.

Another standout is the director Lulu Wang (who based much of this off of her own experiences). While this is only her second full length feature since 2014’s Posthumous (unseen by me), the direction she uses here is powerful in how gentle and reserved it is. I was reminded of one of the cinema giants, Yasujiro Ozu, mainly from his masterful work Tokyo Story (1953). That film (which I would endorse highly) was also about parents in their twilight years seeing their children and grandchildren. Even though it was unique to its country of origin, it still spoke to us all on a universal scale. Though Wang is not as subdued as Ozu (who was known for hardly moving his camera, if at all), the technique she uses is rather imposing and proof of a filmmaker worth looking at in the coming years.

Parents, the film is PG, and has nothing here that should worry you as parents. There is little swearing, no sex (though some bare back nudity in one shot), but nothing else. It should be noted, however, that much of the film’s dialogue is in subtitles. If your kids are fine with that, then they can see this film.

One of the aspects of The Farewell that is also universal is how, regardless of the family life we have, we convince ourselves to lie to our loved ones when we think it is for their own good. Whether it be to cushion the blow, save them from details, or just because we don’t want to hurt feelings, we have all done it. When it comes to this film, I will do the opposite, and simply state it is easily one of this year’s best films.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.