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By midlandsmovies, Jan 30 2020 08:32PM

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Dir. Marielle Heller

When I heard about the film I honestly thought we were going to get a slightly seedy exposé of all-American nice guy and children’s television presenter Ted Rogers.

However, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a much more intriguing movie covering redemption, innocence and forgiveness from Marielle Heller, the director of one of my favourites of last year Can You Ever Forgive Me (our review).

Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a middle-aged man just about coping with his past demons who still carries the weight of the loss of his mother, his anger at his father and the difficulties faced by the arrival of a new born son.

Trying, and failing, to maintain a sensible work-life balance between his wife (an excellent Susan Kelechi Watson) and his award-winning job as a serious-minded magazine journalist, he is one day surprised by his editor. She sends him from his base in New York to Pittsburgh for what seems like a “puff piece” as he is asked to interview Mr. Rogers.

Ted Rogers is a beloved television icon, famous for his softly spoken words and imaginative puppetry which resonated across generations of American children. Played by well-known “nice guy” actor Tom Hanks, he channels every bit of sweetness from his past films to recreate the persona of a man who positively affected millions of young people’s lives.

After Lloyd is involved in a punch-up with his father (Chris Cooper) at his sister’s third wedding, Rogers identifies that Lloyd is struggling internally with his life. And through their conversations, roles are reversed as Rogers begins asking simple questions about Lloyd’s life, childhood and the current troubles he’s facing.

The film cleverly frames the story around an episode of Mr. Rogers and Heller’s direction is straightforward which allows all the actors to shine through during their illuminating conversations. Heller also uses city and airplane models in the style of Mr. Rogers’ TV set to show scene transitions revealing an appropriate fun and childlike aspect to the film itself.

Reconnecting with childhood is a big theme in the movie and Rogers’ kind, patient and gentle demeanour is the same whether he’s speaking to children or adults. The soft-spoken approach acts as a psychologist’s window into past traumas, with Lloyd unable to resist the comforting and thoughtful words of Hanks’ gentle questioning.

One of the only failings of the movie is its inevitability. Once the pieces are set up the film goes nowhere other than the expected. Will the bitter and jaded old journalist find some kind of peace and redemption through Mr. Rogers’ advice? Well (spoiler), does Bill Murray like to star in Scrooged and Groundhog Day?

Despite this set back the journey is one that’s well worth going along with anyway. The performances from the main and support cast are fantastic. Obviously, Hanks is a master of real-life imitations and here embodies Rogers’ soulful view of the world. But high praise should also go to Rhys as the haunted journalist dealing with his past issues who is understated in a role that could have easily been too melodramatic.

In the end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is well worth watching with its combination of fine actors delivering a slightly obvious redemption story. However, just like how Mr Rogers makes all the characters feel, it would take a hard-hearted viewer not to be truly affected by its honest sentimentality, leaving the audience at peace in this unashamedly feel-good and wholesome film.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, May 9 2019 05:59PM


Directed by Nicole Pott


“Who’s in control now?”

Kaleidoscope is the new 10-minute short from Derbyshire director Nicole Pott showing the preparation of a child’s party by his parents that unwraps a far more sinister side to this suburban family’s life.

We open on a brightly lit day where a child in a dinosaur onesie plays in his room. The camera lightly dances around the boy, Conan, (played by an excellent Harry Tayler) and along with a suitably whimsical piano score brings us into a world of childhood imagination.

As his mum (Cressida Cooper) calls him down to breakfast, he stops playing with his gun and goggles and we see his father (a burley Ian Virgo) arrive with a toweringly big present.

Whilst mother busies herself with phone calls and food preparation, we get scenes of father-son bonding. Conan and his ‘Papa’ pretend to be karate masters before he teaches his son to put on a tie for school and they leave.

Here the film cuts to later in the day with a distinct shift in tone as well. Director Pott subtly moves us from a place of childhood wonder to a darker drama as mother and father begin arguing.

Barbs fly about the father’s drinking habits and Conan moves himself away and retreats into his own world, returning to his steampunk goggles that help him hide from the noisy quarrel downstairs.

However, unbeknownst to the disputing parents, their argument moves into the bedroom he’s hiding in and he witnesses the argument become far more serious.

A verbal assault becomes a physical confrontation between them as their son witnesses the worst of family situations. Musically the audio turns much more melancholic and the film shows some stark realities of domestic violence.

As lonely Conan blows out the candles on his cake, the ending is far darker yet poignant than the frilly beginning. Kaleidoscope therefore leads audiences down surprising yet satisfying narrative paths and the short works tremendously well by contrasting these two extreme elements.

As Conan sees through dark lenses, the film’s kaleidoscopic nature consists of different parts, constantly blurring and fracturing your expectations.

With three strong performances, the actors are very believable during their interactions which move from heart-warming to dark warnings – especially when we get glimpses of a controlling and abusive partner.

Showcasing how domestic violence can be lurking very much beneath the surface of a seemingly fun-loving family, Kaleidoscope exposes a wealth of distorted domestic secrets using a wonderful narrative structure. Skilfully playing with expectations, the short is a great drama showing the unpleasant patterns of cruel perpetrators.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 2 2016 05:30PM

Finding Dory (2016) Dir. Andrew Stanton

Everybody's favourite forgetful blue tang fish embarks on a journey to find her long lost parents with more than the occasional bump in the road.

One year on after helping Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) out of their spot of difficulty, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) requires the favour returning. Although she forgets most things, one thing she can remember is that she was separated from her parents as a child. With the help of her adoptive family, Dory embarks upon an epic journey to be reunited with her mother and father, which leads them to the Marine Life Institute.

Dory's quest to get inside the institute results in her separation from Marlin and Nemo, but leads her to old and new friends along the way, and ultimately achieves the results that everyone was initially hoping for.

Thirteen years after Finding Nemo, we are presented with Finding Dory, and just as we all feared, it wasn't really worth the wait. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't awful - you could quite contently Sint in the cinema and watch it once through, but it certainly didn't match its predecessor. Not by a long way...

Ellen DeGeneres did a wonderful job of making Dory such a loveable character with her voice acting, however, which is possibly why it wasn't too tasking to sit through one showing of the film. In fact, DeGeneres' characterisation here made it feel as though it was only yesterday that Finding Nemo was being enjoyed for the first time. There is a forever familiar ring to the voice that made the thirteen years between the two films vanish. It was this performance that was single-handedly the biggest highlight of the film.

One part I well and truly fangirled over for all the wrong reasons was the introduction of the two sea lions, Fluke and Rudder, played by Idris Elba and Dominic West respectively. Part of me rejoiced massively at the small reunion of the cast members of The Wire - it was good to see McNulty and Stringer Bell back in action one last time (freak out over).

My fears, along with those of many other I suspect, were met with the plot. It was frighteningly similar to that of Finding Nemo - even small details which I won't mention for those of you yet to see it were very noticeably being used for the second time. I'm all for sticking to what you know, but this took the biscuit slightly for me. Whilst it wasn't too bad, and perhaps marginally comical during the first time viewing, I would say that this lack of originality could get rather tiresome when it comes to seeing Finding Dory for the second or third time. It definitely won't go on to become the timeless piece that its predecessor has.

As over-familiar as the story felt, however, it has to be said that some very heartwarming messages about family were delivered throughout the course of the film. In particular the moment where Dory is reunited with her parents was one moment I personally found very touching, and think it is one that everyone can relate to on some level.

Overall, Finding Dory is yet another Pixar sequel that is very much hit or miss. It lacks all the originality of the first film, and feels as though it really wasn't worth reviving the story more than a decade later for. It just about stays a float, but will surely start to sink with multiple viewings.


Kira Comerford

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