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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, Oct 21 2019 02:23PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 6

This month we check out new releases DOMINO (from Brian De Palma) MEN, IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (from F. Gary Gray) & TOY STORY 4 (from Josh Cooley). Scroll down to read the reviews:

Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma

Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Carrie and heck, even Snake Eyes and kickstarting the Mission Impossible franchise, Brian De Palma has a pretty impressive film CV. Well, he did once. In the last 12 years he’s made just 2 (terrible) films and it’s sad to say he’s added another here with boring potboiler thriller Domino.

At just 89 minutes this crime thriller feels twice as long and stars Game of Throners Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten who are investigating the death of a Danish police officer. Stopping them is a dodgy CIA agent (Guy Pearce) and Eriq Ebouaney as a double agent acting on behalf of ISIS. Or is he? Well, who cares is the real question.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Domino but literally nothing happens. Combined with a troubled production and a star or two dropping out, this ramshackle made-for-TV level movie is lacklustre and dull. Sleepwalking actors deliver clichéd dialogue which is punctuated with the odd blandly-shot action/fight sequence. Flashes of De Palma’s fascination with Hitchcock sometimes comes through in a Vertigo-style roof chase and an ingenious shot here or there hinting upon the stylistic flourishes the director used in his more successful films from the past.

In the end though, it seems the director’s strategy of not caring at all about his utterly useless movie hasn’t paid the handsome dividends he might have hoped for. ★★

Men in Black: International (2019) Dir. F. Gary Gray

In a franchise of less-than-successful sequels, the Men In Black property gets a sort-of reboot in this new blockbuster flick from F. Gary Gray. Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant Agent H who is teamed up with new recruit (and his Thor: Ragnarok co-star) Tessa Thompson as Agent M to investigate more intergalactic shenanigans involving the destruction of Earth.

Emma Thompson returns as Head of MiB operations and the film follows the globe-trotting duo taking pot shots at a wide array of eclectic aliens and each other. However, the sad fact is that there’s little more to it than that. Any franchise that loses Will Smith (hello Independence Day) suffers from a loss of his comedy chops and charm – although it has to be said Hemsworth and Thompson do have chemistry which is one of the film’s highlights. Director F. Gary Gray brings none of the fun from his previous guilty pleasure flicks The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen or none of the bite/edginess from his Straight Outta Compton. So it ends up being rather bland.

The creatures are excellently designed though – especially “Pawny”, a tiny and loyal alien with a smart mouth – but the world-destruction/infiltrated agency story is instantly forgettable. That said, I don’t think it deserves the critical mauling I’ve also seen published. It’s miles better than the awful second sequel and for me it’s mostly harmless and relatively likeable blockbuster fare for children with two pleasant leads. Add in a handful of action set pieces and MiB: International provides an entertaining if ultimately unremarkable 2 hours of silly escapism. ★★★

Toy Story 4 (2019) Dir. Josh Cooley

After the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 (which has the honour of making me cry twice), the franchise was so brilliantly finished that no more stories of Woody and Buzz were surely needed given the satisfying send-off these animated characters deservedly got.

However, the toys were metaphorically and actually passed on from those who grew up with them and so Pixar have created a 4th film following the gang and their adventures with Bonnie (spoiler) the girl who is gifted them by Andy at the end of 3. Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip and cutting to the chase, the toys end up getting lost/left at a carnival. The group subsequently pull together and attempt to retrieve “Forky”, a quirky toy created by Bonnie herself from a, well, plastic fork and pipe cleaners. The first 30 minutes are pure this-should-have-gone-straight-to-video fodder and although the Pixar quality sheen and photo-realistic animation is all well and present, there’s not quite enough to justify this entry’s existence.

However, just under half-way through the film really hits its stride with excellent set pieces, a break-in at an antiques store and fantastically hilarious cameos from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peel as Ducky and Bunny. Plus Keanu Reeves as daredevil stunt-biker Duke Kaboom. These new faces slip perfectly into the fold and the film is perhaps the funniest entry to date with some surreal humour added to the usual family-friendly fun. Is it really worth it though? Hmm, ultimately I think not. BUT it does act as a great epilogue and it’s second half is classic Pixar from a voice-cast working at the top of their game. You’ve got away with this Pixar. But please, no more Toy Story. ★★★★

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, May 5 2018 09:47AM

The Post (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg

Is there anything worse than the comment “oh, it’s so the film we need right now”? I think not, and Spielberg doubles down on this statement and runs with it in his ‘analysis’ of the politics of 1970s newspaper journalists and their attempts to expose corruption, in his new flick The Post. In short, what we get is a few Oscar-worthy actors (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) idly going through their high-quality motions as they discuss the repercussions of the Washington Post publishing Vietnam secrets buried in the Pentagon Papers.

With Spielberg’s track record, you’d expect nothing less than a well-constructed film but I found its constant pandering to topical issues so heavy-handed that the obvious parallels with current concerns about the US administration were undermined by a rather obvious delivery.

Spielberg’s floating camera and long takes are noticeable as we follow the newspaper’s owner (Streep as Katharine Graham) who is shown having her words literally taken from her mouth by male colleagues at board meetings even though the newspaper is in her hands. Spielberg tackles sexual politics as well as governmental politics, as she is shown physically placed behind groups of males and pushed out of the picture. But once they get hold of these confidential papers, she rises to take a stand and prepares to defy the newspaper's lawyers and publish the damning documents.

Early on, the Washington Post are banned from covering the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter' which parallels Trump – who is another grandiose self-obsessed and ugly White House figure much like Nixon himself. A clever highlight for me was showing Nixon from a distance – literally spying on him – like he did on others, and was a great way to foreshadow Watergate along with the constant shady phone-calls throughout.

Alongside this, the actors are often framed in silhouette – with illumination coming from windows (a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel) – whilst Spielberg also uses slow zooms to echo the surveillance style of The Conversation and other political thrillers from the time. A 4-way telephone conversation hints at crossed-wires and the soundtrack has a mix of John Williams echoing his own JFK melodramatic strings with some of his Catch Me If You Can retro style.

Spielberg’s masterful control of the medium is without peer and his close-ups of the intricacies of the printing press were a beautifully staged montage of a technology long-gone. And the endless piles of paper the journalists sift through are here today in an aternative electronic format as seen on Wikileaks. Old fashioned but still powerful.

It’s just that my personal taste is predisposed to be wary of “topical” films like this obvious attempt. And The Post feels very by-the-book. The movie comes along with a well-respected filmmaker choosing the most blatant of tropes – “Hey, Nixon is like Trump! These secret papers are like Wikileaks! Journalists are being oppressed today!” Relevent? Yes. Rather tedious and obvious to all? Sadly I’d argue yes again. And hugely to its detriment.

For me, it is so representative of his two-trick pony current output – political allegories like Bridge of Spies, Lincoln and War Horse and his sub-par CGI heavy flicks like Tintin, BFG and Ready Player One - as films that haven't touched me in the way his past classics have. The Post therefore ends up going through the motions like a well organised print of a newspaper and this rag is ultimately disposable at the end of the day.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 4 2016 09:25PM

Sully (2016) Dir. Clint Eastwood

After recently reviewing Snowden, the current trend of turning VERY recent events into big budget biographical films seems to be the rage in 2016 with the “Hero of the Hudson” being analysed in this new movie from Clint Eastwood.

If you didn’t know already, Tom Hanks plays airline pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who in 2009 steered an out of control airline into the Hudson river in New York which resulted in all 155 passengers surviving with just minor injuries.

The film follows this exciting tale and the subsequent air crash investigation and Hanks gives a great performance as a skilled, intelligent and measured man who never once seems to consider himself a hero in the conventional sense. Harrowing fantasy scenes of Sully’s PTSD are recreated in nightmares as we are shown CGI-heavy shots of the plane taking a different path and crashing into New York’s high rise buildings. Echoing previous events in the city’s troubled history these images served to shock but at the same time clarifies to the audience the expertise of the pilot in guiding the plane out of harm’s way.

As the investigations continue to doubt Sully’s version of events, Eastwood takes the viewer on a heavy handed flight which despite his best attempts at creating drama only had one conclusion it was going to end with. A schmaltzy finale where the investigators say their findings have been wrong is followed by footage of the real crash as a montage of the survivors greet each other at a reunion which was the worst kind of syrupy gloop – and felt more part of a TV special than cinematic experience.

With the final act showing Sully’s assertion that the plane was downed by a bird strike, Hanks continues his understated performance with aplomb with great support from Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeffrey "Jeff" Skiles (who is nearly upstaged by his own ridiculous moustache).

Eastwood’s movie is pretty average on the whole and whilst he tries to extract drama from the investigator’s interviews with Sully and Skiles, it doesn’t quite work given that it was certainly clear from the outset this man was always going to be considered a hero no matter the why or how given the fact all survived.

With huge echoes of Robert Zemeckis’ fictional film “Flight”, Hanks is admittedly great but hasn’t got too much to work with and although I’ve enjoyed Eastwood’s simplicity in his previous works, I felt that aside from the tense plane crash scenes, the film’s outcome was pretty pre-determined. The need for additional drama was not attention grabbing enough and couldn’t overcome the inevitability of the well-known story. Therefore, Sully modestly sets the audience back down on a safe narrative landing in which you already know the conclusion.


Midlands Movies Mike

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