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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

If you think Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is aimed only at children, think again. Audience conversations after showings of this film are studded with adults who are stunned by its relevance to their own lives right now in the present. It is a lovely biography of a man who years ago wanted to talk with children to help them discover who they really were in a world where the opinion of their peers often prevented exactly that. This documentary is a compelling study of Fred Rogers himself as well as a look at his influence on children. Add to that the relevance of his questions to all ages.

In 1967, Rogers found he could reach children through the new medium of television. He was not looking for TV success; he was looking at the new medium as a path to children in their young confusion in a way that would help them learn who they actually were inside, not who they were in relation to their peer groups. According to people who knew him and worked with him, Rogers was being his own self to a degree that made children talk openly. All who spoke here said he had not an ounce of wanting TV celebrity. He looked at his exposure only to the degree it helped him reach children. He reached them through 900 television shows.

The movie is filled with memorable scenes. A crippled young boy in a wheel chair in a visit with Rogers turns up years later as a confident adult, still wheelchair bound. He uses a film of Robert Kennedy’s assassination to answer one child’s question, “What is assassination?”
He doesn’t explain himself or his goals; he answers the questions that come from the children who trust him, and he uses deep concepts in simple words. Gently, he makes them understand they don’t have to do anything that troubles them to make people like them. How about that for all of us?

Silence is Rogers’ delight and as we watch him with children, we understand it was his way of reaching them. He stepped into their lives gently, and they began to talk. Their connection with each other is so unforced, so real, that many in the audience begin to translate Roger’s quiet wisdom into a lesson for themselves. He is a very different person from other TV personalities. He is so much himself, so real, that the audience absorbs his nature and comes out of the theater applying it to all ages.

The wide impact of this film may well be rooted in the anger that has rolled over our society right now, long after Fred Rogers’ death. Why is everyone so unable to let others believe what they want without wrapping it all in rage? Why are we so divided and so angry? Have we all become children again reacting so strongly to each other? This portrait of a fine man is a perfect message for its time.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 1:34
Rating: PG-13
Date: July 15, 2018

Final Portrait

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Final Portrait

Final Portrait is one slice of the life of renowned artist Alberto Giacometti. It is a compelling look at the inner life of a man possessed a study not of his art but of the man himself that lingers long after we leave the theater.

James Lord (Armie Hammer) is the American author who will write a book about the few days he spent with Giacometti (Geoffry Rush) at the end of his own trip to Paris. When he arrives at the painter’s studio, Lord announces he has a short time before his flight home to America and wanted to say goodbye. Giacometti announces that he wants to paint his friend’s portrait, an undertaking he promises will take only a few hours.

The hours turn into two weeks for Lord who calls home frequently to report his delay. During the prolonged and frustrating work sessions, we absorb the details of Giacometti’s studio, his unfinished paintings, his personality, and the possible truth that everything about Giacometti is unfinished. Is that the cause of his deep frustration?

The studio is in an unassuming, quite rundown part of the city, no fancy address for this famous man. As we are brought inside, we see a large room cluttered with the tools of his trade. Scattered on tables and counters, unfinished sculptures and paintings wait for his hand. Or are they finished? That’s the thought that comes to mind as we watch the painful passage of time as Giacometti paints his portrait of James Lord. He starts, covers his beginning with a light gray paint – it’s not right – and starts again. It’s the primary message of the film – Does this brilliant artist ever know exactly what he wants to produce and is he ever satisfied?

As we follow Giacometti’s tortured process of creating a painting or a sculpture, we realize he is surrounded by unfinished work. Director Stanley Tucci wisely assumes that he can’t read the artist’s mind. He just shows us the unfinished result. As Giacometti paints, thinks, and erases repeatedly, we in the audience try to imagine what inner turmoil is causing all the changes. When that question falls short of any answer, we accept that this is what sets his work apart. His mental process is his alone. We have learned that his work springs from his mind to the canvas as if it were uninvited and suffers his own rejection nearly every time.

Clemence Poesy plays Giacometti’s resident prostitute/lover. Tony Shalhoub is the artist’s brother, Diego. Armie Hammer is wisely restrained as the understanding friend, and Geoffrey Rush becomes the focus for everyone in the audience as well as in the movie. His Giacometti is astonishing in a state of silent frustration with his own work. He seems to be daring himself to fail by not knowing his own goal. Director Stanley Tucci gives us not a finished portrait of the famous artist, but a portrait of the chaotic mind and surroundings of a brilliant man.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Final Portrait
Word Count: 495
Running Time: 2:07
Rating: R
Date: March 18, 2018