Fred Rogers, who brought us “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” for so many years, is suddenly the subject of a great deal of cultural attention. Tom Hanks is playing the children’s television icon in a new biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, scheduled to be released later this year. And last year, there was a terrific documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a lovely piece of work that looked at his life and work that I caught up with this week.

I must admit that I found myself enormously and unexpectedly touched by the film, even though I’m too old to have watched Fred Rogers when I was growing up (I was more a “Captain Kangaroo” guy - one of the highlights of my life was meeting Bob Keeshan) and I don’t really remember my kids having much of an affinity for “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Fred Rogers was a force of nature in how he served as a passionate advocate for children and what he fervently believed was their best interests. Some of this was rooted in his faith - he was an ordained minister and some of it a simple conviction that too much of kids’ television was noisy and cluttered and filled with tumult, when he felt that they would best respond to gentility, quiet and a nurturing soul.

It is a terrific piece of work, and never more so than when Fred Rogers goes before a Senate committee during the Nixon administration that is resolute about ending all financing of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Facing off against some pretty rigid politicians, Fred Rogers - with a quiet, gentle voice that belied his deep concern for children - manages to turn the senators into jello … and PBS’s financing remained intact.

Great film. Totally worth watching.



Netflix has a three-part series, “The ABC Murders,” which is based on an Agatha Christie novel about her most famous creation, Hercule Poirot, in this case played by John Malkovich.

Unlike previous incarnations - Poirot has been played by Albert Finney (my favorite), David Suchet, Peter Ustinov and Kenneth Branagh (my least favorite) - the Malkovich version lacks the extravagant facial hair and the highly affected attitude; it is low key and almost anti-theatrical. Oddly enough, his portrayal of the Belgian detective reminded me of John Wayne in The Shootist - an elegiac movie about an iconic character type nearing the end of his run, trying to surmount various indignities and remain vital and relevant. For me, the portrayal works - the TV series, unlike the source novel, puts Poirot at the end of his career in 1930s London, out of sorts and increasingly out of place in a culture suspicious of anyone seen as foreign.

The mystery is not so great, and a lot kinkier than Christie envisioned. But I think it works, fueled by a terrific Malkovich, ably aided by Rupert Grint as a skeptical Scotland Yard detective.