Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Review

I, like many kids over several generations, grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS, and hold very fond memories of it from my childhood. Fred Rogers’ ability to teach simple, everyday things (like getting a haircut) as well as teach complex grownup things (like the Vietnam War) in a calming environment captivated us all. Allowing for him to go down in history as an educational television anomaly.

Now, fifteen years after his passing, everyone can relive the magic of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with the latest theatrical documentary titled Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This wonderful movie takes us on a journey through the unique life and career of Fred Rogers. Particularly focusing on his beloved educational show for kids, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. From his testimony to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee that saved PBS funding, to his blatant display of opposition to racial segregation, no stone is left unturned in this thoughtful documentary.

I believe the greatest blessing of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that we’re given wonderful insight to Roger’s life behind the camera, which was strikingly identical to his television presence. Never letting fame detract from his passion to create children’s entertainment, he seemed to have a clear vision for what his show needed to be. His dedication to the show is established early in the documentary, and is displayed throughout his career and the film.

Unknown to us, Fred was also often full of self-doubt, unsure of how well his lessons were being communicated and acknowledged. We especially see this in a promo Rogers did for PBS regarding the September 11th terrorist attacks. A tragic event that occurred late in his life, Rogers felt as though all the love had been sucked out of the world, and that there wasn’t much hope he could give. A tragic, yet insightful view into a faithful person trying to make sense of all the bad and evil out there.

Overall, Fred Rogers was a gentle, genuine, and kindhearted man with the best intentions for his television show. He never manipulated the emotions of kids and was always honest and direct when communicating with them. The calm and patient demeanor he carried contrasted greatly from typical children’s media. Rogers never felt like he had to be a goofball to connect with kids or be loud and bombastic like modern cartoons. Cartoons that are meant to exploit and distract rather than educate and foster creativity.

Yes, despite the fast-paced world of television, Fred Rogers managed to captivate children with a quiet, soothing environment that lacked the constant white noise of media. On one particular program (highlighted in the documentary) he even sat silently for sixty seconds to show kids how long a minute was. What a nice guy.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a beautiful documentary that brilliantly captures the life works of Rogers and the impact he left on those around him. His enduring messages about unconditional love (propelled by his faith in God) are projected through the screen and onto the unsuspecting audience. Just watching this documentary and seeing Rogers on the big screen was heartwarming for me, as I’m sure it was for others who’ve seen it too. It’s one of the most delightful documentaries I’ve ever seen, and perhaps among the best films this year.

Fred Rogers always invited each of his guests and viewers to be his neighbor, and I recommend you seize that opportunity and watch this uplifting movie.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Born in China Review

This most recent installment of the Disneynature documentary series, titled Born in China, was directed by Lu Chuan and narrated by John Krasinski (The Office).

Born in China follows the interesting lives of various animals native to China. These animals include a Panda named Ya Ya, a Snow Leopard named Dawa, and a Monkey named Tao Tao. We the audience get taken on an adventure to see these animals at their highest, and lowest moments in life.

I was surprised at how well Born in China was able to tell a cohesive narrative with these animals. It seems that all the cards fell perfectly into place for the filmmakers, as these animals all live incredibly fascinating lives. They dealt with matters pertaining to family, growing up, death, and the struggle for survival. Overall, everything in the film flowed very well, and kept my attention easily.

Dealing with animals that live in remote parts of China, Born in China served as a good learning tool for the audience. We learn about the vast open landscapes of China, as well as the harsh realities that nature has in store. Having limited knowledge about these animals, I really enjoyed the educational aspect of the documentary.

There were occasional line deliveries from the narrator that came off as awkward and completely unnecessary. At times where we should’ve been just observing the animals interacting with one another, we had to listen to ignorant comments made by the narrator. These comments were cute once in a while, but for the most part just annoying.

Despite the issues in the narration, Born in China remains an atmospheric and educational little documentary. Just like the other Disneynature films, it was entrancing to watch and delightful to experience.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Room 237: Reel Quick Reviews

Recently on Netflix I was able to catch the film Room 237. Room 237 is a critically acclaimed documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, and all the clever things Kubrick may have hidden inside. Kubrick was known for putting hidden themes or messages in his films, and the people interviewed in this documentary think they have The Shining finally figured out.

Room: 237 is so blandly set up and executed I feel it somewhat insulting to even calling it a documentary. The film is basically just a compilation of people sharing their ideas of what they interpret The Shining as. We cut from person to person talking over footage of The Shining. That’s it. Many documentaries put in tons and tons of work to make what they are showing the audience visually interesting and different. Room: 237, frankly, takes the lazy man route. At one point you can here one of the interviewee’s children crying and screaming in the background. Couldn’t you try recording the audio one more time guy? It’s pretty pathetic to include that in the final cut.

Now Room:237 definitely has its moments of food for thought clever ideas. However the majority of the documentary is just crackpot people sharing crackpot ideas about The Shining. So many of these ideas are so outrageously crazy and stupid that Jesse Ventura would call them nuts.

Many of the thoughts expressed in Room:237 are purely and blatantly fictional, like how Stanley Kubrick had an IQ of over 200 (FYI, he did not). You’d think there would be some kind of filter for what they’d include and exclude, but even the most ridiculous ideas made it in the final cut.

If you like conspiracy theories surrounding films,than perhaps you will enjoy watching Room: 237. I for one thought this to be one of the worst documentaries I have ever seen. It boggles my mind to think that this “documentary” was loved by so many critics. The execution is very obviously lazy, and (I can’t stress this enough) the ideas are so stupid and far fetched that I found most of it painful to watch. From now on I think I’ll go ahead and stick to my own beliefs on what The Shining is really all about.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint