Saturday, December 21, 2019


Having never watched Mr. Rogers as a child and never seeing a full episode of the show, I have the opportunity to provide an unbiased review of the film.  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.  The other major character in the film is Lloyd Vogel, a seemingly cynical journalist played by Matthew Rhys.  The two develop a peculiar relationship, and Vogel eventually writes an extremely complimentary piece about the television icon.  Getting to that point is what the film's plot is all about.

Invitations were sent out to a large number of celebrities to participate in an interview with Vogel.  However, due to his nasty reputation for writing unflattering profiles of those he interviews, the only one to agree to an interview is Mr. Rogers.  At the time the two meet, Vogel is going through an intensely personal conflict with his father, Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper).  Jerry is a heavy drinker who in the past abandoned Lloyd and his mother when Lloyd’s mother was extremely ill.  Lloyd cannot forgive his father for this.  Jerry’s clumsy attempt to patch up their differences results in a fight where Lloyd is on the receiving end of getting a black eye.  And with Lloyd not feeling good about himself, the last thing he wants to hear are platitudes from Mr. Rogers – the same platitudes Mr. Rogers likes to utter on his television show.

Yet something strange occurs while the two get to know each other.  Perceptions are deceiving, and Lloyd discovers that Mr. Rogers is more complex than he could imagine.  He discovers that Mr. Rogers has had his own struggles during his life.  However, unlike Lloyd, he cannot remain bitter about them.  Mr. Rogers does his best to abide by the feel-good philosophy that his viewers heard him describe for approximately 30 years.  As Lloyd begins to take Mr. Rogers’ teachings more seriously, he ultimately patches up his differences with his father (who by the end of the film is dying), his father’s longtime girlfriend, Dorothy (Wendy Makenna), and his sister Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard).  The other apparent benefit of Lloyd getting to know Mr. Rogers better is that he becomes a better husband to his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and also a better father.  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood at just 109 minutes is refreshingly short. Directed by Marielle Heller, this is probably the first notable movie she’s had while in the director’s chair. The film is original and quirky in its depiction of Mr. Rogers.  But the movie is notable because of the acting of Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers’ wife, Joanne (Maryann Plunkett), declines to describe her husband as a saint, but this film at times comes a bit too close as portraying Mr. Rogers as just that.  Still, while portraying a character who sometimes appears to be too good to be true, Hanks is at least able to convince viewers that Mr. Rogers is a believable human being.  

There is fortunately enough humor to keep this film, always on the edge of excess sentimentality, entertaining to viewers more used to seeing crassness on the screen.  Like Juno, filmed in 2007, and Forrest Gump, starring Hanks in 1994, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood takes enough chances to make this better than your average Hallmark movie.  And frankly, I believe it is better than either of these two earlier films.  It will make most people think a little bit more about their neighbors than they did before watching this movie.

December 21, 2019

© Robert S. Miller 2019

Saturday, November 23, 2019

INTERLUDE: Brief Comments About Our Current Culture

I haven’t submitted a post for a few months.  I haven’t been to the theatres to watch any new movies.  I’d rather be outside when the weather is nice.  As far as politics, with 18 Democrats and a couple of token Republicans trying to unseat President Trump (not to mention impeachment inquiries), what is going to happen in the 2020 election remains a mystery. 

Yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  My younger sister sent out a quote from our fallen leader that today seems apt: 

Too often, we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

I can’t better that quote.  I’ll be back hopefully in December, providing a list of my ten favorite movies from 2010 – 2019.   

Until then, I wish for everyone to have a good Thanksgiving holiday.  I hope everyone is grateful for something.

November 23, 2019

© Robert S. Miller 2019

Saturday, July 27, 2019

THE JERICHO MILE (1979): Quality Made-For-TV Prison Flick

The Jericho Mile contains a straightforward story about a complicated man.  This makes it one of the most difficult films to make.  To be successful, it requires realistic dialogue, good characterization, a grim and tough setting, and solid acting.  And as the makers of this movie went to the trouble to achieve these things, the final result is an honest film.

Larry Murphy (Peter Strauss) is serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for the murder of his father.  The way Murphy tells it, he killed him because he raped Murphy’s sister.  Murphy wants to now bide his time in prison not bothered by staff or the other prisoners.  Murphy only has one friend in prison – a young black husband and father by the name of Stiles (Richard Lawson).  He spends his time running around the prison yard trying to rid himself of his demons.  This earns him the nickname “Lickety Split.”  As it turns out, the pace he’s running during his very short workouts in the prison yard put him in the class of Olympic runner.

A Dr. Janowski (Geoffrey Lewis), who would like to reach and help Murphy, discovers Murphy’s ability as a long-distance runner.  He arranges for a trainer to coach Murphy on his running in hopes that Murphy will obtain an Olympic bid.  Murphy only reluctantly agrees to cooperate.  To him, it means dwelling on the possibility of achieving travel in the outside world and possible freedom – a freedom he knows to be a pipedream.

Stiles, honest to a fault, is unwittingly drawn into a drug-trafficking scheme by the prison drug king, Dr. D (Brian Dennehy).  Because Stiles thought he was going to meet his wife and child rather than one of Dr. D’s drug mules, he refuses to cooperate with the drug mule and ends up getting her busted.  Ultimately, this leads to Stiles’ murder at the behest of Dr. D.

As Dr. D tries to pin the blame for the murder on Murphy, neither black nor white prisoners will cooperate with prison authorities to complete a track that would allow Murphy to train and try out for the Olympics.  Eventually, the black prisoners figure out what is going on, that Murphy was Stiles’ friend, and they help complete the track.

Unfortunately, Olympic officials do not want a felon running on the Olympic team.  They devise a scheme that will keep him away.  Murphy than runs his own trial solo with no one to observe but the other prisoners, and it turns out that Murphy ran a faster time than any of the American athletes that do qualify for the Olympics.

Perhaps because The Jericho Mile was a television feature, maybe I’m the only one who remembers it.  Based upon a story by Patrick Nolan, Nolan also took on the role of co-directing the film with Michael Mann.  At 97-minutes in length, a tough storyline, an excellent cast, and the recipient of several Emmy Awards, the film deserves greater attention.  Too bad so few people will ever take the time to watch it.

The Jericho Mile is not a movie that follows a tried and tested formula like most of today’s blockbusters.  Whatever you say about Hollywood, its studios know how to bring in money.  They do it by spending money on special effects and advertising and have no interest in making a decent film that will fail to draw an audience.  And that’s the issue with The Jericho Mile.  The only way viewers knew about it was through perusing the TV guide.

Some of today’s movies often have budgets well over $100 million.  But I suspect it’s difficult to create a film containing character development when spending that sort of money.  Directors and producers are more concerned with showing off the special effects at that point.  Otherwise, why spend $100 million? 

This made-for-television film, on the other hand, probably had little budget.  Even in today’s dollars, The Jericho Mile might have a budget that is about one percent of the size of today’s typical movie.  But whatever its spending limitations, The Jericho Movie is a quality movie.  Thankfully, it is not typical in any way.  Filmed inside Folsom Prison, the atmosphere in the movie is real.  So is the emotion.

July 27, 2019

© Robert S. Miller 2019