The Hippo


Jul 21, 2019








Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

 Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (PG-13)

Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who wasn’t a big fan of commercial television, creates a TV show meant to spread decency in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary look at what feels like a shockingly kind, humane and loving bit of entertainment.
I have become acquainted with a fair amount of young children’s television in the last few years, from the gentle Curious George and Sesame Street on PBS to the zanier Paw Patrol and Blaze and the Monster Machines on Nick Jr. Even Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated show that features many of the same characters as the original Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is not as calm and thoughtful as Rogers’ original show. What this documentary really highlights is how amazingly adept Rogers was at slowing a moment way down, whether it was a moment spent with human children or puppets or putting on his sweater, while still holding his audience’s attention. We see him do this remarkably well, not just on his show but also in a senate hearing about PBS funding, where he basically stops a senator’s bluster in its tracks and then firmly holds his attention with quiet, respectful but insistent discussion of the purpose for his show. It is like watching someone hold back a tornado by holding up a hand and politely asking it to pause.
The documentary features interviews with many of the people in Rogers’ life — his wife Joanne, his children, cast and crew members from the show and even the parents of a child Rogers once invited on the show. Along with old interviews of Rogers and old clips from the show, the movie examines how the show came together and how he pieced together the show’s core mission, which was basically to instill in children a basic sense of their own decency and worth and therefore a sense of a basic respect for others. I like you as you are, you are special just for being you — as people in the movie discuss, these basic tenets are sometimes used, in our current time, as an example of how Rogers bred a sense of entitlement into X-ers or Millennials or whoever was being complained about. As Rogers and others explain, really what he is doing is making an argument, one he hopes will stick, for the intrinsic worth of every individual. This is, as someone points out, a pretty foundational belief of Christianity (and, for that matter, of America, for all that there have always been those trying to claim that some are less intrinsically worthy than others). And yet it was also radical, and Rogers was for all his mildness often doing very radical things, by acknowledging the emotions of kids. Rogers would examine and give space to kids’ fears after hearing about national events such as assassination or the shuttle disaster or to kids dealing with more personal calamities like divorce or a death. Or, Rogers radically but with little fanfare challenged the segregation of swimming pools by sharing the pool he was cooling his feet off in with Francis Clemmons, who is African-American and played police officer Clemmons on the show. 
What Won’t You Be My Neighbor? does masterfully well (in addition to making anyone with a memory of the show or Rogers or working emotions cry) is make a case for decency, in particular decency in public life and decency in how we deal with each other. We need to make goodness attractive, Rogers says at one point, and constantly displays how powerful honesty and decency can be, how much more powerful it can be than loudness, bullying and careless cruelty — in our families, in public debate and in entertainment. A
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language, according to the MPAA. Directed by Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is an hour and 34 minutes long and distributed by Focus Features.
Gotti (R)
Let’s all be thankful that instead of, like, FX giving John Travolta a peak TV miniseries all we have to deal with is not-quite two hours of Gotti, a weird vanity project delivered with the panache of a 1980s-style TV movie.
Let’s begin at the end of the movie, when title cards tell us all about the government’s prosecution of John Gotti Jr. (Spencer Lofranco), the titular Gotti’s son, in such a way that I think we’re supposed to feel sympathetic to poor John Gotti Jr. We also see real-life footage of John Gotti Sr.’s (played in the movie by Travolta) funeral, and all the people talking about how he kept the neighborhood safe. After a movie of eye-rolling scenes that felt like discount reenactments of better (but worn) scenes from Goodfellas and the Godfather movies, this ending for this movie felt particularly heavy-sigh-inducing. Are we really still trying to make these guys folk heroes? And if so, could we stop? 
With to-camera monologuing from Gotti and a few scenes of a dying Gotti and a middle-aged-ish Junior, both in prison, providing context, the movie otherwise is fairly straightforward, a 1970s through 1990s look at Gotti’s rise in the Gambino crime family and how he ultimately took control of the family to become the “boss of bosses.” There is probably an interesting story there about the organizational structure of the mob (which is portrayed here as being very strict and code-based, even if there is room for Game of Thrones-style usurpation) and why the organization, apart from the criminal enterprise and the money it creates, is so important to its members and revered and feared by others. That is to say, I’d be interested in that. The movie is not. The movie seems focused on hewing pretty closely to events in the broad way that news footage of this time delivers them and in providing Travolta with award-nomination-ready scenes and poignant moments. Except, of course, there is nothing about this movie that suggests anybody is nominating it for anything. (Well, maybe a Razzie.) It feels so much like the old style of TV movies, when the interest was all in the recreation of events — does the suit here look like the suit from the photo? Yes? Excellent, mission accomplished.
If you know anything about John Gotti Sr., you probably know enough that you don’t need to see this movie. And if you don’t know anything about Gotti, this is a very unnecessary, thin-soup introduction. D-
Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language. Directed by Kevin Connolly with a screenplay by Lem Dobbs and Leo Rossi, Gotti is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by Vertical Entertainment and MoviePass Ventures, according to Wikipedia. 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (PG-13)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz


Humans nonsensically try to save the dinosaurs abandoned in the “obviously a bad idea” theme park Jurassic World in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Isla Nublar, the home of the original Jurassic Park theme park and the souped up Jurassic World vacation resort, is abandoned, on account of its being overrun with man-eating, man-stomping dinosaurs. But a volcano that is there all of a sudden is threatening to destroy the island completely and with it all of the genetically modified dinosaur creatures. Which Is Fine! This is, as Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) testifies before Congress, the best possible outcome for a horrible idea that humanity made happen without really thinking it through. 
But no, “animal rights activists” (Is that a bunch that is historically big fans of genetic fiddling?) want to save the animals on the island. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former theme park manager and corporate sponsorship seller in the last movie, is now suddenly a person who cares oh so much about the dinosaurs. When obvious jerk Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), representative of witless rich guy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), invites Claire to the rich guy’s Citizen Kane house to tell her that he plans to save the dinosaurs, Claire buys his story with a big-eyed earnestness that doesn’t exactly fit with a woman who was trying to create a Verizon Wireless-osaurus branded dinosaur in the last movie. They’re going to track down as many dinosaurs as they can and bring them to a sanctuary where the dinosaurs can live out their days in peace and happiness and not at all mutate and breed and threaten the rest of humanity. 
Eli and a bunch of friendly neighborhood mercenaries need her help because her handprint can access the dinosaur GPS. They want her to bring along Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special relationship with Blue, the craftiest but most trainable of all the velociraptors. Though they appeared to be together at end of the last movie, Claire and Owen have broken up again for plot reasons but still basically like each other. So you have that fun to look forward to all movie long.
Also along for the ride are Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a sassy dinosaur veterinarian, and Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), requisite fidgety tech guy. The trip is also full of edible mercenaries, led by a mercenary (Ted Levine) who actually says “nasty woman” just to underline how happy we will be to see him get eaten. 
Back at Crazy Rich Guy Mansion, Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is very interested in the fate of the dinosaurs. She Harriet-the-Spy-s around, overhearing Eli make nefarious plans for the creatures, but can she get her grandfather to listen to her findings?
Everybody in Fallen Kingdom falls somewhere on the villain spectrum, with at least two characters legitimate candidates for “history’s greatest villain” (in the “big villain in the history of humanity” sense, not a good villain in the movie sense). Everybody picks the worst, dumbest possible option any time they make a choice, which didn’t just make me mad on a making-sense level but made me not care about any of this dystopian horror movie’s stakes. 
From the “flirting” (bickering) Owen and Claire to the plucky Maisie to the comic relief-y Zia and Franklin, I didn’t find myself rooting for anybody. I felt a kind of hard cynicism toward these characters and this movie throughout.
I’ll admit that I went in to this movie not expecting greatness. I only recently saw the 2015 Jurassic World and thought its only redeeming quality was Chris Pratt and his young Han Solo charm. And, avoid them though I try, I did see the headlines of not-so-great reviews start to trickle in in the days before I saw this movie. But still, I am always open to the idea of a fun movie, perfectly fine with a fun ride with some fun dinosaurs, but the movie didn’t deliver on either the thrills and adventure that I tend to associate with the franchise or the potential complexity and chills of the darker (even darker than the movie really acknowledges) story being told here. 
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom left me depressed. It is a sheer surface of a movie, leaving nothing for me to grab on to for either mindless entertainment or sci-fi thinkiness. It is loud, dumb and derivative without ever once trying to build on or reinvent or recapture anything that came before. It isn’t a fast-paced amusement park ride; it’s the endless, soul-sucking line you stand in before the ride. C- 
Rated PG-13 for financial reasons I’m guessing but also, according to the MPAA, for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. Directed by J.A. Bayona with a screenplay by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two hours and eight minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.


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