The Nicest Living Man Plays The Nicest Non Living Man

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Marielle Heller, 2019)

Tom Hanks, despite the recent revelation that they’re related, looks and sounds
nothing like Mr. Rogers. Yet that doesn’t matter much because within the first
few minutes, the nicest living man in the world convincingly embodies the
nicest non living man with winning grace and aplomb.

the real protagonist of this film by Marielle Heller (DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL,
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?) is journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys,
mostly known for his role as a Russian spy on the FX series, The Americans.

in the late ‘90s, Lloyd, who is a fictionalized version of writer Tom Junod, is
given the assignment by of profiling Mr. Rogers for an issue of Esquire about
American heroes. Considering it a “puff piece,” Lloyd is hesitant about doing
the piece on someone that “plays with puppets for living.”

editor (Christine Lahti) insists and soon the cynical scribe is the orbit of
the popular PBS children’s TV host with trips back forth from New York to
Pittsburgh (where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was taped), and many calls from
Fred Rogers to Lloyd, with even Lloyd’s wife Andrea (This is Us’s Susan Kelechi
Watson) getting some phone time with her childhood idol (Andrea: “Oh, God –
Lloyd, please don’t ruin my childhood”).

folks going in should not expect a dramatized version of last year’s excellent
documentary WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOOR?, there are some recreations of moments
from Mr. Rogers’ long-running show including the funny scene in which the host
struggles with setting up a tent. Also, FORREST GUMP-style, Hanks’ Mr. Rogers
is inserted into clips with Arsenio Hall and Oprah Winfrey.

downside to the whimsical, life-affirming message of the movie is a subplot
concerning Lloyd’s blustery estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper). It’s a
clichéd premise, done to death, with Cooper desperately trying to make amends
with his son, and us knowing that Mr. Rogers’ teachings will lead the way to

there are several nice touches that somehow make elements like that fit in the
framework like the use of miniature for nearly every exterior shot in the
tradition of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s colorful models.

edgy friendship which turns warm and fuzzy between Hanks’ Fred Rogers and Rhys’
Lloyd Vogel is endearingly well acted. They may be in the neighborhood of
make-believe, but there are some touching human moments even in the well worn
father and son side story.

its largely successful attempt to show how Mr. Rogers interacts from people in
the world away from his show, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a nice
companion piece to the documentary. It’s also a mediation on kindness, and how
much the world needs more of it now.

More later…

Full Frame 2018: Day Three

The third day of the Full Frame 2018 was a cold, and rainy mess but the first film I attended, Morgan Neville’s WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR warmed me and the sold out crowd in Fletcher Hall right up.

The biodoc lovingly lays out the life of the beloved children’s educator/entertainer Fred Rogers, with tons of clips from the long running (or runs since the show left and came back) PBS program, Mr. Rogers Nighborhood, and interviews with fellow cast members, family, and folks whose lives were shaped by the man’s teachings.

Mr. Rogers’ show, which started in 1968, may have had threadbare production values with cheap sets, and sock puppets, but it dealt with big issues like Vietnam, assassinations, and racism as filtered through the gentle sensibilities of the man, who was an ordained minister before going into children’s television programming.

One of the most stirring moments comes when Mr. Rogers appeared before the Senate to defend a proposed $20 million for PBS (Nixon wanted to cut the channel’s federal funding). Mr. Rogers heartfelt testimony, including the reading of the lyrics of his song “What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel?” wins over self described tough guy, Senator John Pastore, whose response I won’t spoil (you can look it up on Youtube).

A wonderful look at a sincerely dedicated man who helped many kids through the trials of childhood, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR is up there with RBG and HAL as being this Fest’s biggest crowd-pleasers.

I followed that with Hunter Baker and Jordan Fein’s THE BLESSING, about Lawrence, a Navajo coal miner, who is conflicted about working for Peabody Energy, because they are mining Black Mesa, a sacred mountain to his people. Lawrence is raising a teenage daughter named Caitlin, who has to keep it secret that she joined her school’s football team because her father would disapprove.

Lawrence struggles to stay spiritually strong after an accident on the job that fractured his vertebrae, and news that the company will close the mine in 2019. THE BLESSING is slowly paced, but that’s all the better to take in the beautiful cinematography, some of which was shot by Lawrence with a helmet-mounted camera. 

Baker and Fein’s film is a tale of hard times in the heartland that should be seen on the big screen. In one of his many poetic voice-overs, Lawrence reckons, “My job may go away, but my prayers for the mountain will always be there.” After watching the noble stoic bless everything from various household items to his new car, I don’t doubt him for a second.

Full Frame founder Nancy Buirski’s latest film, THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR, came next. 

Buirdki, whose previous docs include 2011’s THE LOVING STORY (basis for the 2016 drama LIVING), and 2015’s BY SIDNEY LUMET, uses “race films” (films made by mostly black filmmakers with black casts for black audiences), vintage footage, home movies, and old photographs to tell the tragic story of Recy Taylor, a 24-year old African American woman who was raped by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama, in 1944. 

Despite the South’s “culture of silence,” she went to the police, but no arrests were made. The story spread through the black press, and was reported to the NAACP, who sent Rosa Parks to Abbeville to investigate what happened. A trial was held in Montgomery but the all-white, all-male jury dismissed the case. A disturbing cycle of cover-ups, one-sided examinations, and dangerously dark nights follows, but the light that comes in
the power of public push back provides hope.

THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR resonates greatly in the era of #METOO, as it pays tribute to a woman who spoke out at great risk and inspired a campaign against all injustices faced by women. Taylor, who died last December, is only featured briefly in video filmed shortly before her death, but her visage looms large throughout the film as an inspirational figure and hero. Every aspiring activist should see this film.

A very, very different subject is tackled in Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, and Jeff Springer’s RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZENarrator Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) relays the story that he calls crazier than hell, about nutria, that is, big swamp rats with web feet, and long orange teeth that are invading the Lousiana Coastal wetlands. We meet nutria hunters, nutria control workers,  nutria meat makers, nutria pet owners, nutria fur wholesalers, and nutria fur-wearing Pageant contestants like Lousiana Fur Queen, Haleigh Willis: You would never expect a rat to be elegant, yet here we are, and half of us wear it every single day.

As the Lost Bayou Ramblers contribute an appropriately swampy score, the film amusingly visits with these earthy folks whose lives are profoundly affected by these 20-pound rodents, and we get a good glimpse into how nutria became a big part of Cajun culture. Downside is that, yeah, this movie which takes its title from a PRINCESS BRIDE reference, can be pretty gross at times. – if you don’t want to see nutria stripped and their tails being cut off, this might not be the doc for you.

Coming soon: Day Four of Full Frame 2018, which will feature write-ups of JAZZ PASSENGERS, 12TH AND CLAIRMONT, and I AM MISHA.

More later…