Saw a Takashi Miike picture called The Great Yokai War. "Yokai" is a Japanese term for monsters from folklore, as opposed to the more familiar kaiju. It's a kids' picture, about a young boy from Tokyo sent out to live in the countryside with his older sister and his intermittently senile grandfather. When a vengeful spirit appears, the boy gets caught up in a war between warring groups of yokai and must find his courage to become the "Kirin Rider", the hero who will set everything to rights. It's not a bad picture - nothing deep, but an amusing story. Some of the yokai are really trippy, Japanese folklore can get pretty "out there", apparently.

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We saw Won't You Be My Neighbor? the documentary about Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It was a joy, especially in these times, to see a film about a genuinely good man.

Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, but decided early on that his path was not to graduate from seminary and become a pastor at a church. He saw that there was a great potential in television to reach people ... and most of it was being wasted on shows full of violence, cheap humor, and frenetic action. So he created his own show, in his own way. 

I confess, I didn't watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood a whole lot; it wasn't like Sesame Street, with the entertaining Muppets who reached kids and adults alike with their humor. But that's okay; it wasn't about trying to entertain the adults while the kids watched. It was about reaching kids directly, with a clear demarcation between the world in which Rogers welcomed them and the Land of Make Believe -- the documentary notes that Rogers never appeared there.

This isn't a warts-and-all documentary, largely because there aren't a whole lot of warts. It does gloss over Rogers' childhood and his life before he started the show, although it does note that he was teased as a kid for being fat. Consequently, he stayed fit as an adult, particularly enjoying swimming. He maintained his weight at 143 pounds, and the movie tells why that number was significant to him.

The movie shows how the longer Rogers went on with it, the more rigid he was about doing things his way, particularly during his second run on the show. He suspended the show and turned to doing a specials for adults, traveling the country and interviewing people about the things he found interesting. But he went back to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, in part in reaction to things like G.I. Joe and other animated shows featuring superheroes; he found their violent content offensive and bad for children. (The movie uses animation to show Rogers starting off being full of childlike wonder like the character Daniel Striped Tiger; by the end, he had become akin to the inflexible, pompous King Friday XIII.)

About the worst thing the movie says about Rogers is that one of the cast members, Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons, was gay. Clemmons is interviewed and he said Rogers was unconcerned about that. But when word got to the TV station that Clemmons was seen going to gay bars, Rogers told him he couldn't keep his job if he continued because sponsors would flee. Clemmons married a young woman as a beard, but the marriage didn't last. Clemmons still held Rogers in high regard, as he was always personally warm toward him. There is more than one moment when Rogers washes Clemmons' feet, just as Jesus did.

There is a striking contrast between Rogers' gentleness and the cacophonous world outside. The show debuted February 19, 1968 -- right in the middle of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, when the news was full of images of American troops fighting the war. Late in his life, some idiot commentator on Fox News complained that Mister Rogers Neighborhood ruined kids by telling them they are special and thus making them feel entitled, going so far as to call Fred Rogers an "evil, evil man." Even worse, after Rogers died, the Westboro Baptist Church protested at his funeral.

It's safe to say that Fred Rogers' kindness will be remembered long after that pettiness and ugliness is forgotten. 

Fred Rogers was a great man and the documentary is well worth seeing.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor was so refreshing.  He was human, with human foibles, but he was a genuinely sincere and nice man.  That is so refreshing when, time and again, we find out that people we once looked up to were really monsters.


While watching the Lost in Space season three episode “Condemned of Space” recently, my wife reminded me that she was out of town when I watched season one’s “War of the Robots.” We have seen Forbidden Planet together, but she had never seen Robby’s second movie, The Invisible Boy. I had it on VHS, so we decided to make a double feature of it (with “War of the Robots”). Unfortunately, my VHS was defective, so we ordered a DVD “two-fer” along with Forbidden Planet (which was okay, because my copy of that was on VHS as well).

The DVD had lots of extras, including an episode of The Thin Man featuring Robby the Robot. So we ended up watching The Invisible Boy supplemented by “Robot Client” and “War of the Robots.”

We caught up on some we'd missed:

Darjeeling Limited (2007) (and the weird short film with Natalie Portman that acts as a sort of prologue, made two years earlier)

Fruitvale Station (2013): Powerful, extremely well-acted, plays with the facts but so does every other film "based on a true story."

Watched Life After Beth, thanks to discovering Aubrey Plaza on Legion. I had a vague interest in it from the ad campaign when it first came out, which sold it as a black comedy.

But it's not. Despite the premise (girl comes back from the dead as a zombie, and everybody pretends she's not so as to not upset her) and the presence of comedian John C. Reilly, it's not funny at all. There are potentially funny set pieces, but they were played dead serious and came across as sad (vis-a-vis Beth) and a little scary (Beth not knowing her own strength and not being in her right mind). For example, Beth decides that a girl (played by a very young Anna Kendrick) is a potential romantic rival, and grabs her by the arm. The girl is terrified, and for good reason -- we just saw Beth perform wild acts of super-strength. It wasn't remotely funny -- the girl was in genuine peril, and it was played that way. And since the movie took time to let us get to like the girl, the audience was primed to fear for her, not laugh.

Perhaps it would have been funny if Plaza played Beth as wacky, instead of terrifying. But she didn't. Beth was a sort of enfant terrible, possessed of terrifying strength (and eventual hunger for human flesh) and the temperament of a toddler having a temper tantrum. Knowing how arch Plaza can play any given material, it's obvious that she chose not to here.

My wife liked it more than I did, so maybe if you watch the movie without preconceptions, you'll like it better.

We just saw The Post (2017), starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as, respectively, the owner and chief editor of The Washington Post when what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers were released to the public, proving that the government had known that the Vietnam War was unwinnable since they first sent ground troops there. All of the actors are terrific.* The White House trying to control the press certainly resonates today.  

* Bob Odenkirk from Better Call Saul, Matthew Rhys from The Americans, Sarah Paulson from just about everything, and many others. 

We just watched The Death of Superman. It's quite different from the original comics version. There are references to a previous romance with Wonder Woman, a recent thing that I thought they had dropped. I don't think the Justice League was as involved in the original story, at least not to the extent they were here. I also think Green Lantern was beaten too easily. I do like the fact that they had J'onn J'onzz as part of the League in addition to Cyborg.

The previews show enough finished portions of the second part (of two) called Reign of the Supermen, involving the Cyborg Superman, Steel, The Eradicator and Superboy, to make me look forward to it. Cress Williams (Black Lightning) plays Steel.

I may have mentioned somewhere that the new Death of Superman has to be different from the original, just because of who was available. In the original, most of the original League wasn't active for some reason, so the group that battled Doomsday was an ad hoc bunch of second bananas. I mean, Maxima, Fire, Ice, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Bloodwynd and Guy Gardner didn't last very long. In the new movie, the classic lineup is available. Also, in the original Lex Luthor was "dead" and had downloaded his brain to a clone that pretended to be Luthor's own illegitimate son, and Supergirl was the Matrix blob from another universe. So there's two more classic characters that weren't available for the original story.

My wife and I watched Pandorum. It's not an award-winner, but it's not a bad Alien rip-off with a nice twist at the end. A UK-Germany production, it has Dennis Quaid in a big role and a bunch of actors most of us aren't familiar with -- almost. The lead woman was played by Antje Traue, who went on to play Faora in Man of Steel. This was her first appearance in an English-speaking movie.

We saw Crazy Rich Asians, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The love story of Rachel and Nick has the common, universal theme: People who can never please someone else, no matter what they do, because the person rejecting them will never accept who they are. That cuts across all cultures.

Plus, the insane opulence on display is fun to look at. Like one member of the family who goes on a shopping spree at a high-end jeweler, and gets earrings at the discount price of $1.2 million (the jeweler is so glad for the promotional value of having this client wear them, he sells them at cost) -- and comes home with those AND so much stuff, she needs six people to carry it all! These people are CRAZY rich!

Kathy & I saw BlacKkKlansman last night, and man, what a tense and powerful movie that was. It's funny, it's terrifying and suspenseful, and by the end of it I was curled up in revulsion & horror in my big reclining theater chair. It's a hammer to the heart, and well worth seeing. 

Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

Kathy & I saw BlacKkKlansman last night, and man, what a tense and powerful movie that was. It's funny, it's terrifying and suspenseful, and by the end of it I was curled up in revulsion & horror in my big reclining theater chair. It's a hammer to the heart, and well worth seeing. 

We saw BlacKkKlansman, too. It's the best Spike Lee has done in years, even as it's full of all the Spike Lee-isms that, well, make a Spike Lee movie a Spike Lee movie.

There's so much outlandish stuff in there it left us wondering what was real and what was the scriptwriter's invention, but we've seen enough movies that we could pretty much tell what was there just to make a better movie. But Lee's bigger point -- the more things change the more they stay the same -- was hammered home pretty effectively throughout. 

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