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Reviews for November 22nd, 2019

Documentary Round-Up

      Shooting the Mafia is a documentary biopic on Letizia Battaglia, an Italian photographer and photojournalist who took a wide range of photos during the 1970's. She had the courage to photograph the Sicilian mafia which included grisly murders. Kim Longinotto combines contemporary interviews with Battaglia along with archival clips and Battaglia's many black-and-white photographs. Unfortunately, Battaglia doesn't provide enough revelations about her past. You do at least get to know her personality and to recognize how brave to she was as a photographer. It's too bad, though, that you merely get a glimpse of her thoughts and feelings because she doesn't seem to open up emotionally on camera. Perhaps deep down inside she's a very shy person and feels uncomfortable/shy in front of the camera, but feels less shy in front of it. Perhaps she's the kind of person who doesn't like to explain her work or perhaps she's scared of the consequences of being 100% candid. All of that is open to interpretation because you never really get a chance to get to know Battaglia, so she remains enigmatic throughout the film. It's clear that she's an interesting, intelligent woman who's been through a lot and probably has a lot to say, but she doesn't say enough in this doc. Shooting the Mafia is stylishly edited and never dull, but it's ultimately a shallow and intellectually underwhelming portrait of a provocative subject that has much more to her than meets the eye. If only it were as brave, candid and illuminating as Battaglia's iconic photographs. Cohen Media Group opens Shooting the Mafia at Quad Cinema.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Directed by Marielle Heller

      Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), an investigative reporter for Esquire Magazine, lives with his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), and their newborn baby boy. When his editor, Ellen (Christine Lahti), gives him an assignment to profile famed TV personality Fred Rogers, he accepts it hesitantly. Mr. Rogers gradually helps him to overcome his childhood trauma and to heal the bond between him and his estranged, abusive father, Jerry (Chris Cooper).

      A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn't a straightforward biopic of Fred Rogers. Director Marielle Heller along with co-writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster avoid convention by telling a story of two people with different personalities who form an unlikely friendship. It could also be seen as a love story--a deep, platonic one. Lloyd has more in common with Mr. Rogers than he thinks he does. They both suffer from an emotionally traumatic childhood and struggle to cope with a wide range of human emotions ranging from anger to sadness and regret. Mr. Rogers becomes like a surrogate parent to Lloyd as he helps him to navigate through his emotions while becoming a more compassionate and empathetic human being. Fortunately, there's nothing contrived nor cloying about the way that Mr. Rogers heals Lloyd both emotionally and psychologically. The screenplay treats everyone as human beings, even Jerry who's trying his best to be a good father even though his best isn't quite good enough. Mr. Rogers is infallible as well with a lot going on beneath the surface. You learn just enough about him to understand why he befriends Lloyd and affects him so profoundly. There's just enough light touches of humor to balance the serious tone without going overboard in either direction. You'll also find a few inventive surprises with offbeat humor along the way which elevates and invigorates the film.�

      Tom Hanks gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Fred Rogers. He looks like him, acts like him and feels like him. It's quite remarkable for an actor with such a high star power to disappear into a role so that you forget that you're watching an actor playing the role, but believe that you're actually watching Mr. Rogers. Bravo to the always-reliable casting director Avy Kaufman for choosing such a talented, charismatic actor who's a humanist at heart. It takes a humanist, after all, to portray humanism so convincingly. Hanks grasps the nuances and subtleties of the role as he brings it to life.� Matthew Rhys gives a solid, natural performance as does Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper. No one overacts nor under-acts which only enhances the film's naturalism even further. Amazingly, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbor doesn't overstay its welcome and avoids preachiness as well as tedium. At a running time of 108 minutes, it's warm, wise and wonderful. It's a perfect treat for the holidays that will nourish your heart, mind and soul. Anyone�who wants to feel more alive in this cold, humanizing world will appreciate the film the most. It's a triumph!

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by TriStar Pictures.
Opens at nationwide.

Frozen II

Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

      Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), the Snow Queen of Arrendelle, hears a mysterious voice that beckons her to the Enchanted Forest which her parents had forbade her to go to. She initially ignores the voice, but eventually decides to travel to the forest to learn about the dark history of her family. Her sister, Anna (voice Kristen Bell), joins her quest along with Olaf (voice of Josh Gad), Sven the reindeer, and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Anna's boyfriend.

      �Writer/director Jennifer Lee and co-director Chris Buck try their best to captivate both younger and older audiences, but the result isn't as effective this time around. The beloved sidekick Olaf returns to provide much of the film's attempts at comic relief like he did in the first. Little kids might find him to be funny, but he's too silly this time around and the humor becomes repetitive and too infantile for adults. If you haven't seen the original, you need not worry because Olaf very quickly summarizes the original's plot in way that's amusing without being weighed down by the fact that it's exposition. The new character of Gale, a force of wind, isn't a particularly interesting one; she's just there as a plot device essentially. Unfortunately, the songs aren't nearly as memorable nor as exhilarating as the songs in Frozen, especially "Let it Go" which, to be fair, is hard to top. The amalgamation of comedy, drama, action/thrills, musical numbers and romance feel uneven more often than not. At least at its emotional center, there's still the bond between Elsa and Anna which does indeed feel palpable while Elsa following the voice works well as a metaphor for following one's inner voice or calling. �

      On an aesthetic level, the CGI in Frozen II looks gorgeous and, at times, even almost photo-realistic. It's very clear that a lot of time, effort and money was spent on the visual effects. How the CGI manages to capture the warmth of its characters is a feat in and of itself. When the dialogue fails to be engaging, there's always something for your eyes to feast on when it comes to the animation. That visual spectacle would probably be somewhat diminished on the small screen, so it would be ideal to experience Frozen II on the biggest screen possible. At a running time of 104 minutes, Frozen II is a mildly entertaining sequel that's heartwarming and breathtaking, but lacks the freshness and catchy songs of the original. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for a post-credits scene.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens at nationwide.
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