Screening Room: ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Daniel Striped Tiger and his handler, Fred Rogers (Focus Features)

The truly heartwarming new documentary from Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) explores the unlikely phenomenon that was Fred Rogers.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

It says something about the oddball uniqueness of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” that almost nowhere in Morgan Neville’s magnetic, soulful documentary about Fred Rogers does anyone talk about what great television he made. In fact, one of his collaborators sardonically notes that the show was almost like a compilation of every element good television was not supposed to have…

Screening Room: ‘First Reformed’

Ethan Hawke in ‘First Reformed’ (A24)

In Paul Schrader’s latest, First Reformed, a minister finds more to believe in an eco-activist’s radicalism than his own pulpit.

My review is at PopMatters:

Ethan Hawke at his most pained plays the Reverend Toller. Minister for a tiny museum of a church in upstate New York that’s about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, he’s at the tail-end of a years-long spiritual crisis. By the time the movie catches up to this nearly cadaverous penitent, Toller has already lost his son to the Iraq War, his wife to divorce not long after that. He writes in a journal each night, bottle of whiskey at his side…

Screening Room: ‘RBG’

(Courtesy of CNN Films)

For anybody who hasn’t read The Notorious RBG or hasn’t been keeping up on their social media updates for the past couple years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the most buzzy octogenarian Supreme Court justice in the land. The new documentary RBG helps explains why. It opens this week.

My review is at PopMatters:

Here’s a fun fact to be gleaned from Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s breathlessly laudatory documentary RBG: According to her children, Ginsburg doesn’t know how to turn on her TV. This is a lifelong overachiever, a woman who made Law Review at Harvard in the ’50s when the number of the school’s female law students could be counted on two hands. Ginsburg is busy working out, attending the opera, and staying up until four in the morning working on cases and writing opinions. This is not a woman given to flipping channels looking for a Friends rerun…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Let the Sunshine In’

Juliette Binoche in Let the Sunshine In (Sundance Selects)

In the latest from Claire Denis (White Material), Juliette Binoche plays an artist who is unlucky in love but doesn’t let that stop her from trying again, and again, and…

Let the Sunshine In is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Not long after the awkward lovemaking scene that opens the movie, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) gets an unasked-for reality check from her occasional boyfriend, Vincent (the superbly seedy Xavier Beauvois): “You’re charming, but my wife is extraordinary.” If he had reached over and slapped her, the look on her face would have been about the same. She doesn’t keep mooning around after Vincent much longer. But while they don’t berate the staff or provide lectures on her inadequacies, the next men she ends up crying over aren’t much better…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The China Hustle’

My review of  the new documentary The China Hustle, playing now in limited release, is at Film Journal International:

Threaded with booming music, slashing scare-cuts, and talking heads throwing around phrases like “financial tsunami,” Jed Rothstein’s documentary The China Hustle is stylistically easy to dismiss as just another scare story for nonfiction junkies always on the lookout for the next catastrophe. It may read at times like an overcaffeinated Alex Gibney attack piece—and Gibney is in fact one of the executive producers here. But by the time Rothstein is done, many viewers will be yanking any money they might have in Chinese stocks out as fast as they can get to their phones…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Isle of Dogs’

Featuring all the usual suspects (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton) plus Bryan Cranston, a lot of dry canine humor, and truckloads of Japanese cultural references from taiko drumming to Akira Kurosawa flicks, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is, well, the sum total of all those parts.

Isle of Dogs is playing now. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Looking at Wes Anderson’s career arc is like flipping through the passport of one of your better-traveled friends. There are his stories of neurotically creative New York (The Royal Tenenbaums) and emotionally stunted New England (Moonrise Kingdom). Then you have his further flung locations ranging from the tripped-out sun-stroked Mediterranean (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) to a romantic postcard India (The Darjeeling Limited) and the imagined semi-historical locales of wartime Mitteleuropa (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and storybook British Isles (Fantastic Mr. Fox). Now, with his densely-layered but somewhat stillborn quasi-apocalyptic canine adventure fantasy Isle of Dogs, Anderson has finally crossed the Pacific to Japan. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to Australia. His kangaroos will most likely be highly droll…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’

Featuring a killer gathering of performers, from Mathieu Amalric to Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard, the new movie from Arnaud Desplechin, Ismael’s Ghosts, opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

If a person who had just seen Ismael’s Ghosts were asked, “Did you like the movie?” they could be tempted to respond, “Which one?” There is the romance between an acting-out director and the woman who calms him; the seemingly dead person who comes back to life, the other filmmaker losing his mind; the spy story being filmed by the first director; the biographical backstory to that story; and so on. The movie’s restless spirit slides and leaps from closely observed romantic drama to glass-shattering melodrama to bug-out farce and back again. About the only thing missing here is a music number…