“Won’t You be my Neighbor?”

Love; or the lack of, is at the Root of all things – Fred Rogers

I never expected to shed a tear watching a documentary about a popular childrens TV show from the past.  But one of the scenes from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” shown at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) touched a chord. And when I looked around me, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one crying.  Mr. Rogers Neighborhood hit a common thread in its most simplest form.  It reminded us of our innocence because we all grow up so quickly and the world has changed so much.  But really; we’re still kids at heart.

Our basic needs are the same no matter where we live, our religion, ethnicity, age, economic status or our jobs.  It is to feel safe, loved and worthwhile.  End of story.

Sorry; no skeletons in the closet found anywhere in this feel-good documentary  It’s almost impossible to not uncover even a little dirt on anyone nowadays, specifically the famous.  And you can imagine someone especially as likeable as Mr. Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers).  And by now they would have uncovered something from having interviewed many who knew him. For me, it was a case of not wanting to know any different. Because Fred Rogers was loved by millions of children, even though he was the unlikeliest role model. It is fascinating that he endured for so long.  This doc was a great character study.

We find out Rogers decided to go into television because he hated what he saw on TV.  So he created what can best be described as a landmark in children’s television.

But imagine being that likeable…

The thing is Fred Rogers, along with genuine spirituality…really, really cared.  And that is what is most admirable.  It was not only his persona, it was him.  No big secret.  Kids aren’t stupid; they picked up on his sincerity.  The show was a refuge for kids from all kinds of backgrounds.

Fred Rogers was a tireless children’s activist and advocate, bringing joy into our homes.  Can you think of any program like that now?

We certainly remember Eddie Murphy’s comical take with the spoof “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood on SNL.  It was pretty hilarious.

I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.

Rogers was an ordained minister who studied religion which most likely gave him the tolerance and the tools he used with or without puppets, to teach children about worth, unity, grief, racism, superheroes and…everything else that no other program on TV was offering.  It was a unique and needed niche which only he at the time was able to  recognize.  He even managed to get funding for PBS when they were going to cut programming based on his court appearance about the demand for this kind of educational platform.

There was a conversation afterwards with Director Morgan Neville (Oscar®-winner for Twenty Feet from Stardom).  I was already a fan of his work. This heartfelt portrait  more than does justice to the show’s beloved host. Expect to be surprised by the film’s relevance and deeply moved by its subject.  I know I was.

It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.

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“Walk to Vegas” – World Premiere

In the wonderful world of Poker you can’t even trust your friends.

If you’ve ever wondered about how much cheating goes on in the gaming industry, this movie will certainly enlighten you.

This is not the first high stakes gambling movie ever made. Maybe you remember “The Sting”, “Rounders” or “The Cincinatti Kid.”  But I must say, having just viewed the world premiere of “Walk to Vegas”at the 30th Palm Springs International Film Festival, it is certainly one of the most intriguing and one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It was refreshingly different.

These eccentric people will go to almost any length for money. 

Inspired by a true story about Hollywood big shots who will bet on anything, “Walk to Vegas” is about a friendly poker game with colorful, questionable characters which winds up turning into a walk from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a $5 million bet.

This independent movie by the Van Patten brothers (James and Vincent) was filmed right here in Palm Springs. Multi-talented Vince Van Patten, an ex-child star, former tour professional tennis player, and commentator for the World Poker Tour…wrote, starred and produced this captivating film.  His real life wife, the stunning Eileen Davidson, also stars as his wife in the film and helped produced it.

Real life actor & poker player Jennifer Tilly has a cameo as herself in one of the scenes. I’ve always loved Jennifer Tilly in anything I’ve seen her in.  She was amazing in Bullets Over Broadway – one of my favorite Woody Allen films.   In this role she plays herself authentically (I assume, not knowing her personally).  Anyway…

The energy of the sold-out crowd in the theatre was remarkable compared to other screenings I’ve attended.  The audience certainly showed their appreciation.  Many of the cast members were in attendance and got up on stage for a Q&A after the screening. It was superb.

Side note: turns out the father of one of my friends from Los Angeles is also one of the producers of this movie. Small world!

Bravo!

 

“The Upside”

Part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival,The Upside” is a heartfelt comedy starring Brian Cranston (from Breaking Bad).

Kevin Hart + Brian Cranston in “The Upside”

I’m not going to dissect this scene by scene, because sometimes you just need to laugh. This comedy/tragedy did the trick.

I didn’t realize at first that it is a remake of a French film called  “The Intouchables” from the Weinstein company which was an International success, shown here in 2013.  It was one of the most successful French films in the history of French cinema. Otherwise, I might not have chosen to see “The Upside” because I don’t understand the need to make Americanized copies or adaptations of original foreign films that have proven to be excellent.  One example: I loved “La Cage aux Folles”, the 1978 Franco-Italian comedy. Later in 1996, “The Birdcage” was a remake directed by Mike Nichols and starring Robin Williams. In most cases I find the original to be the best version. But since they continue to recreate these films reasonably well and with an excellent English speaking cast…

The Upside” stars Brian Cranston as a wealthy yet very cynical quadriplegia who is looking to hire a full time caretaker.  When he decides to hire a fast talking parolee, the fun begins.   Kevin Hart (who may or may not host the 2019 Oscars – it’s still up for debate) plays a down on his luck, wise-cracking guy trying to prove to his parole officer that he’s looking for work.  I would say this is an unlikely pairing except for the fact that it is based on a true story and confirms the fact that opposites do indeed attract.

Nicole Kidman plays  a humdrum  assistant. For such an amazing actress, this part does not do her justice.

Julianna Margulies has a small part as potential love interest which comes to an embarrasingly unfortunate ending in a restaurant.

Overall, this movie was entertaining and the characters were excellently portrayed.  It brought many laughs.  Sometimes I think that’s enough.

A little trivia: this was the first film production for Malia Obama, daughter of Barack  & Michelle Obama. She worked as an intern for The Weinstein Company during filming.

Originally to be distributed by The Weinstein Company in March 2018, the film was shelved and sold off following Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. It was eventually bought by STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment, who then scheduled it to be released in the United States on January 11, 2019.

 

 

“The Wife”  

Don’t portray me as a victim.  I’m much more interesting than that” – Glenn Close in “The Wife

From Images

“The Wife” was the first movie I chose to see at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.  There are over 200 movies and I’m only interested in seeing a handful (or two).  My process is to first skim through the titles of all the films, see if  I recognize any of the actors in the film, although it’s not a major deciding factor on whether I will go see it or not,  then read synopsis of shortlisted ones I think I’m interested in and finally…hope I made the right choices.  

“The Wife” was a good choice. The title appealed to me instantly, even before I knew what the movie was about.  You realize there has to be more behind a title that is as powerful as it is undermining.

With the film already playing in major cinemas, the fact that Glenn Close is up for another Oscar nomination and was here in person to talk about the movie, the character and other juicy tidbits were only icing on the cake.

Many of you may already know the storyline by now.  In a nutshell: Joseph Castleman, the husband played by Jonathan Pryce wins the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.  But Joan, his wife (the wife) is not totally satisfied.  As the story unfolds we discover her secret.  But it is her reticence and her facial expressions in closeups that unveil her true feelings.  It’s all about the closeups: they are the most revealing and “Glenn Closeup” is a genius at displaying her emotion… ever so subtle. You come to realize quickly why she is nominated for an Oscar.

This film has some similarities to another movie I recently saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival called Collette with Keira Knightley.  In the sense that both are intelligent, strong women who take a back seat to their writer husbands and let them have all the glory while they do all the necessary work to get them to where they are.  Clearly the writing motif is key.

What is also fascinating in this story is that the Nobel Prize people gave the go ahead to re-create an exact replica of what goes on behind the scenes when someone gets the prize.  It gives you more than a glimpse into the proceedings, some of which are grand, some of which are unbelievably nutty.

The Word according to Glenn:

In the backflash scenes, young Joan Castleman is perfectly played by Annie Starke who also happens to be Close’s daughter in real life.  She is very rightly proud of her daughter’s portrayal and did not want to be a part of her creative process, preferring to let Annie have her own space, not once coming into contact with her on set.

The movie took 14 years to complete, of which the last five she was a part of.  Being independent filmmakers, they could not come up with the funding.  Finally the money to put it all together came from across the sea in places like Sweden and England, but not America.

She was previously nominated six times for an Academy Award in: The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons and Albert Nobbs.  She said not to feel bad if she doesn’t win this time around – why ruin her track record.

She’s a bit naturally reserved preferring to read a book over partying.  But when she did the Big Chill she was coerced by co-star Mary Kay Place into partying in the room which Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Kline shared and causing a bit of a ruckus.  The girls played pranks like buying and hanging really large underwear & bras in the rooms of Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Kline by the fan so it would start to blow as soon as they turned it on.  Stuff like that.  Stuff you wouldn’t perceive Glenn Close with being a part of.

Close had a Canadian boyfriend during filming of The Big Chill who invented a game which everyone played to pass the time on set – a lot.  It was called “Trivial Pursuit.”  Heard of it?

In a nutshell… I really enjoyed this movie, thought all the performances were top-notch and have been thinking about playing TRIVIAL PURSUIT again.

Ringing in the New Year starting with….

I look forward to this time of the year. It always starts off with a bang.  The bang being fireworks for New Year’s Eve and after a day or so of recuperation (depending of course on how much partying I do)…..my favorite way to start the year is by viewing & reviewing a bunch of great films at the Palm Springs International Film Festival; one of the largest film festivals in North America.  It’s always an exciting time to be in Palm Springs.

  • On Thursday, January 3, the annual Film Awards Gala will kick off the festival at the Palm Springs Convention Center.  The gala honours the best achievements of the film year by a celebrated list of talents.
  • The screening portion of the festival will run Friday, January 4 through Monday, January 14.

The Festival welcomes over 135,000 attendees each year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries.  Produced by the Palm Springs International Film Society, the Festival offers 12 days of events and film screenings featuring over 200 films from 78 countries.

I don’t present myself as a movie critic or pretend to be one.  I only attend the films and documentaries that interest me personally and blog about it for this website.  So I am obviously hoping to “like” everything I see and am aware that what I like, you may not.  I’m looking to be entertained and learn something new.  And I feel privileged to be given media passes to premieres and special events.

YELLOW IS FORBIDDEN. Star Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei, the face of the “new China,” gave documentary filmmaker Pïetra Brettkelly an all-access pass for this fascinating — and occasionally troubling — behind-the-scenes look at Guo’s life and the run-up to her make-or-break Paris runway show.

See you at the movies!