A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by Marielle Heller
Produced by: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer
Written by: Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah Harpster – Based on the article – “Can You Say Hero?” by Tom Junod
Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti
Cinematography: Jodee Lee Lipes
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
“Hello Neighbour!” – Fred Rogers
I watch a lot of horror, thriller and drama films that you could say are “feel-bad” in nature. They may eventually have some form of happy or morally satisfying ending, but such cinema seeks to create a sense of danger, anxiety and emotional distress as entertainment. Now I enjoy watching films on the edge of my seat and having my nerves shredded, however, sometimes it’s great to watch something that is quite the opposite. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is one such “feel-good” film, profiling an American icon and arguably one of the nicest people who ever lived: Fred Rogers.
Rogers (Tom Hanks) was the creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood which ran for decades on U.S. cable channel PBS. The programme, while aimed at children, dealt with serious subjects like illness, divorce and death via puppetry, songs and Rogers’ wise and simple homespun philosophies. Over the years he became a household name and a staple of American family life. Yet, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), is not a standard biopic exploring Fred Rogers life from birth to death. In fact, he’s more of a magical mentor type of character for the lead protagonist, journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys.
Opening with a meticulously presented simulacrum of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood TV show with Tom Hanks in the hosting chair, the film immediately welcomes us into a positive and safe place. The audience are the children and we are about to be told a story about Lloyd. Because Lloyd is lost and troubled and needs help. Cleverly combining the TV show with flashbacks to Lloyd’s difficult family life is just one of the wonderful devices the film presents. Another is the use of models to emulate the locations within the film. Given the job of interviewing Fred Rogers for an Esquire piece, there’s a sense that Lloyd could well be looking to do a hatchet job on Rogers. However, he finds himself drawn to Rogers’ soft, magnetic and calming charm. The relationship between Rogers and Vogel’s character is superbly teased and developed by an excellent script.
While the drama is relatively low-key, the film is not without emotional impact throughout. There are several stand-out scenes where Lloyd’s negative and cynical worldview is airbrushed away by Rogers’ incredible goodness. As Vogel’s attitude to Rogers changes, so does his feelings toward his estranged father, his wife and child and the world in general. At the same time, Tom Hanks exceptional performance completely captured my heart. I’d never seen any of Fred Rogers TV shows before, but Hanks conveyed the inner peace and wisdom of this man perfectly. Moreover, my wife, who is American, was crying her eyes out with joy and nostalgia all the way through. Ultimately, this is another fine character and human drama from director, Marielle Heller. So, if you want a break from all the nasty unpleasantness in the world, you should definitely knock on Mr Rogers’ door. Everyone is welcome.
Story by: John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hales, Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Timothy Dalton etc.
Production company(s): Walt Disney, Pixar Animation
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I almost don’t feel qualified any more to review a sequel that was neither expected or necessary. After all, it’s a sequel to a film trilogy which was almost perfect in its’ delivery and execution. But, having paid big bucks for Pixar in 2006, I doubt Toy Story 4 will be the last unnecessary sequel of their products. After all, Disney are in show BUSINESS!!
I also don’t feel qualified as I am so cynical and jaded that the characters of Toy Story do not interest me anymore. In my mind their story is done. Plus, it’s really for kids, isn’t it? However, that isn’t to say that Pixar/Disney have not, once again, created an incredible technical tapestry of some genius. The colour, texture and attention to detail on show are incredible as usual. Similarly, the ultra-talented voice acting of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts etc. are joined by the brilliant Key and Peele, Christina Hendricks and Tony Hales for the latest release.
Hales offers the voice of potentially one of the worst characters Pixar have ever created: Forky. In fact I think they set out to invent one of the worst characters as a challenge to see if they could make it work. You know what? I think they did make it work. Forky is something the toys’ owner, Bonnie, creates on her first day of kindergarten and with the magic of make-believe he becomes, unknown to her, sentient. We then get the experience of watching a fictitious plastic spork suffering an existential crisis and attempting suicide-by-trash. That’s when good old Woody then tries to teach him his worth.
The sheer goofiness of all this strange plotting works for and against the film. It’s so surreal I thought David Lynch had a hand in the story. Having said that the writer and story credits almost number a football team, so the Frankensteinesque patchwork nature of the screenplay is unsurprisingly. The stitching that holds it all together is Woody’s character. Many of the other toys, including Buzz, are almost sidelined for Woody’s hysterical attempts to control everything around him.
There were a myriad of plots strangling the narrative of Toy Story 4, but the character of Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks, was arguably the most interesting. Echoing the villainy and bitterness of Lotso from the previous sequel, her ventriloquist dummy hench-toys were very creepy and her character added a dark heart amidst the kaleidoscope of wondrous colours. I could take or leave Bo Peep’s, Bonnie’s and Forky’s escapades, but Woody’s encounter with Gabby Gabby was my favourite. Oh, not to forget, Keanu Reeves hilarious little cameo as stunt-toy, Duke Caboom.
Overall, Pixar and Disney do this kind of film amazingly well. Once again one marvels at the technical quality of the animation on show. The story, themes and characters, however, felt a bit recycled and if they do more of these films I think they probably need to jump the shark and allow the toys to finally be seen and heard. How many times can the same joke work? I’m not sure. What is certain though, as long as it makes money Disney will have no issues selling it to the kids. I’m just so old and jaded I’m ready for the attic with all the other discarded and tired toys.
To accompany the list of my most entertaining films I saw last year I’ve also compiled a few nominations for best this and that!
**** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
BEST PHOTOGRAPHY – ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) What it lacks in plot it makes up with one incredibly designed scene after another. And the violence is something else!
MOST HEART-WRENCHING SCENE – FLIGHT (2012) The film opens with a tremendously staged plane crash. However, the scene where Denzil battles a miniature bottle of booze has almost more riding on it dramatically. Tension, suspense and the agony of human frailty are all in this scene. The moment we’ve all been through where we are battling our demons and trying to do the right thing is centre to the scene. Will Denzil pick up the bottle? Will the angels or demons win out?
BEST CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE – GRAVITY (2013) All I can say is wow! This film was just wow! Some have criticized a lack of plot and characterisation but this is a movie which just takes your breath away. As I said, wow!
MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENE – RUST & BONE (2012) Marion Cotillard’s Killer Whale trainer reconnects with nature in this serene moment from a compelling drama. It’s a beautiful moment for the audience visually and also the character.
BEST ENDING/BEST CAST – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) Whether the film is truth or fiction Tom Hanks’ acting throughout is superb. He’s none better than in the final scene when he reaches the medical bay. The way he releases the tension it so memorable. His co-star Barkhad Abdi has to get an Oscar nod too for Best Supporting Actor.
BEST MOVIE PLOT + TWIST – SIDE EFFECTS (2013) This film genuinely pulls the rug from underneath your feet! Fantastic storytelling! It starts seemingly as a critique of the pharmaceutical industry but then becomes a nasty, lurid Hitchcockian thriller with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara.
BEST BRITISH FILM – BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012) Both a tribute to Italian Horror and the Foley Artist this is a disturbing arthouse horror which generates its’ scares through the sound. You think you’ve seen something scary but haven’t. Incredibly constructed and recommended for cinephiles all over.
BEST GAG – ANCHORMAN 2
I couldn’t find a clip but Brian Fantana’s gag was the funniest joke I heard at the cinema all year. The News Team’s attempt at 24 hour News has seemingly failed and in the scene Brian is asked what he will do next. He replies:
“I’m going to cruise round with my friends O.J. Simpson, Robert Burke and Phil Spector. We call ourselves the LadyKillers!”
BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK – WORLD’S END (2013) Pegg and Wright’s highly entertaining apocalyptic comedy is touching, action-packed and amusing. It gets a bit silly by the end but there’s a great energy and some funny dialogue and physical humour throughout. The soundtrack is a cracker featuring the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Sisters Of Mercy and the Soup Dragons to name just a few. It’s like the perfect Indie Disco in the cinema!
BIGGEST MOVIE LET-DOWN – MAN OF STEEL (2013) A great cast and stupendous effects could not save the broken-backed Superman story crash and burn. Henry Cavill was a terrific Kal-El but the filmmakers ruined the whole piece by cramming too much into a few hours of screen time and not allowing the cast, characters or story to breathe. It was sensory overload and bogged down with too much exposition. The Batman v. Superman film under Zack Snyder’s direction could possibly signal the end of the comic book boom of recent time. The bubble is going to burst at some point I tells ya!
FILM MOST F*CKED BY THE CRITICS – LONE RANGER (2013)
This mega-budget update of the old radio/TV show from yesteryear was nowhere near as bad as the critics made out. It followed the ‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ template but perhaps the problem was Johnny Depp playing deadpan rather than drunken Pirate. The critics didn’t go for it and nor did the audience as it kind of bombed as well. However, Gore Verbinski directed with verve and energy and the final set-piece on the train is one of the best action sequences of the year.
BEST SCREEN CHEMISTRY – SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
I was tempted to say BREAKING BAD but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were electric in David O. Russell’s bipolar romantic drama/comedy. The whole cast were great in fact including Robert DeNiro as the bookie father and Chris Tucker as a friend of Cooper’s character. But Cooper and Lawrence made the film their own with their portrayals of damaged but very human couple finding each other in a crazy world.
BEST MOVIE WITHOUT A SCRIPT – WORLD WAR Z – (2013) Brad Pitt’s travelogue around the World avoiding a zombie plague was actually really entertaining in places with some great set-pieces but it had a lousy script with essentially no story or plot. They genuinely feel like they’re making it up as they’re going along. Having said all that I really enjoyed it at the cinema even though Pitt was miscast and this really needed a decent action-hero like Schwarzenegger in his prime to really boost the movie.
BEST FEMALE ARCHER – THE HOBBIT 2 (2013)
I love an action women especially one with a bow and arrow and this award came down to a toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence in HUNGER GAMES 2 and Evangeline Lilly. In the end I came down on the side of Tauriel the Elf in Peter Jackson’s behemoth production of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Jumping, spinning and diving about firing and killing Orcs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What a woman!
BEST DOUBLE ACT – RUSH (2013) RUSH was indeed a big rush cinematically but the casting of Daniel Bruehl as cool Nikki Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as fiery James Hunt motored this movie along off the track too. The characterizations dealt solely in binary but provided much entertainment along the way. Of course Ron Howard and his creative team served up some wicked action as well.
BAD-ASSEST REVENGE – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Tarantino’s fantasy Western saw Jamie’s Foxx’s eponymous hero rise from that of a chained-in-pain slave to a kill-crazy-bounty-hunting-dancing-horse-riding-bad-ass-mutha-fuKKKa! Everything about this film was a hoot and so entertaining! It also has arguably the funniest scene I saw all year too with the racists on horseback including Jonah Hill arguing about the quality of their hoods.
BEST VILLAIN – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) Calvin Candie was a horrific character and played with genuine charm by the masterful Leonardo DiCaprio. HE should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in my view as Christophe Waltz already had one! Candie’s character was not only a vain, insane, murdering slave trader but there was a sense of an incestuous relationship with his sister. He got his just desserts in the end but alas DiCaprio didn’t from the Academy.
BEST FRANCHISE SEQUEL – IRON MAN 3 (2013) 2013 was big on Franchise equals, sequels and prequels including FAST & FURIOUS 6, THOR 2, HUNGER GAMES 2, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and THE HOBBIT 2. They were all really really entertaining but my favourite was the ever dependable Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark. It had some cracking one-liners and decent villains plus a lovely little twist which had all the fanboys up in arms because of Director Shane Black’s irreverent treatment of the Mandarin character.