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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A timely reminder of the power of kindness.

Fred Rogers was an unlikely television sensation. Sets were cheap, puppets shabby and the host refused to wear silly costumes or pander to young children. Yet Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood became a beloved staple of PBS programming. Feeling his genuine interest in them, children connected with Rogers. Parents appreciated that the show dealt with real topics, like assassination and divorce. People flocked to his neighborhood.
    An ordained minister and a lifelong registered Republican, Fred Rogers believed in kindness and decency. He abhorred the consumerism of children’s television. Instead of encouraging kids to buy a toy, he believed in teaching valuable lessons and letting children know they were seen and heard. Children felt as deeply as adults and should, along with adults, get respect and consideration.
    Mr. Rogers was there for every major event of his television lifespan. When blacks were banned from pools and lunch counters, he invited a black man into his home. He talked children through the assassination of Robert Kennedy. He brought the sick and wounded onto his show to share their stories. He testified before Congress in support of PBS programming. He talked a generation of children through the terror and the fear of the September 11 attacks.
    Fred Rogers has been off the air for more than a decade, but his effects linger.
    The sentimental documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a fantastic cinematic experience likely to have you sobbing.
    Director Morgan Neville (Abstract: The Art of Design) interviews the friends, family and cast members of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to piece together this emotional portrait of a man who wanted to make a better world. Using archival footage and rare behind-the-scenes glimpses, he shows how determined and dedicated Rogers was to reach the younger generation. It’s a moving tribute to a man who dedicated his life to loving everyone he encountered.
    This is no hard-hitting documentary. It’s shamelessly sappy with nary a negative, more tribute than inspection. How refreshing in a time when many public figures are being revealed as monsters to see a movie about a beloved childhood icon who remained a wonderful person when the cameras were off.
    The audience at my screening sobbed loud enough to obscure the dialogue. Be prepared to bond with fellow moviegoers as you pass tissues back and forth.
Great Documentary • PG-13 • 94 mins.

~~~ New this Week ~~~
Ant-Man and the Wasp
    After helping Captain America fight the government, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) learns that being a hero has consequences. He’s jailed in a secret prison and may never see his daughter again. When he’s finally released, Scott downplays his crime fighting.
    Until mentor Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) seeks Scott’s help. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) is on a mission to stop a new baddie and uncover the truth about her mother’s fate. The pair outfit for the job in bug-themed suits that make them able to bend particles to shrink or enlarge them.
    Ant-Man and the Wasp is a popcorn-munching comedy light on darkness and angst.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 118 mins.

The First Purge
    After the revolution, the New Founding Fathers of America had a goal: to reduce crime in the country to under one percent. Their psychologist (Marisa Tomei) advises a simple solution: Allow all crime for 12 hours to help the nation purge its violent impulses.
    Can the government train people to embrace racism and hunt down the minorities they want to eliminate? Or will innate goodness override violence?
    A prequel to the Purge series promises a pulpy action flick with plenty to say. A series that started as satire has become frighteningly prophetic.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 97 mins.

Sorry to Bother You
    Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) needs to make some money. He’s got a great girlfriend, but he’s broke and living in a garage. When he takes a job at a telemarketing company, he discovers a secret: If he uses his “white guy voice,” he can make tons of sales.
    Cassius’ success leads to promotions and money beyond his wildest dreams. While he embraces his success, girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) finds her changed boyfriend disturbing.
    One of the most talked-about films of the festival circuit, Sorry to Bother You is a biting satire about race and poverty in America. Stanfield, who was a standout in Get Out, shows off his range in this leading role.
Prospects: Bright • R • 105 mins.