Skip to main content

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

(SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettling and perverse monstrosity of a movie.

Who knows Hanks’ motives for playing Mr Rogers. The adreno-angle was not yet widely broadcast, but his degenerate fetish for photographing items of clothing at road sides, his response to accuser Isaac Kappy’s demise, and his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel had all been duly noted. Perhaps he thought someone so universally beloved would clear up any “misconceptions” through osmosis (hey, it earned him a Golden Globe nomination – he even managed a subsequent Oscar nod – although the debit was Ricky Gervais accusing the entire assembly of being paedos). Or perhaps he actively intended to besmirch the legacy of Mr Rogers, presenting him in exactly the manner he appeared to me here (many do genuinely seem to adore the movie, so go figure). Sully – ahem – those Godfearing, ultra-benevolent values, burying them beneath a smog of gimlet-eyed insincerity and the kind of impression of the man that could doubtless be bested by any diligent seven-year-old. Or their pet turtle.

I first became aware of Mr Rogers, ironically enough, due to Joe Dante’s classic The ’Burbs, a tale warning how we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about very public creeps until it turns out our suspicions are entirely justified. Hanks gives possibly his best performance in the movie – it’s a comic performance, so he naturally nurses no fond memories of the experience – and at one point, he awakes from a Satanic nightmare (hmmm) to the dulcet crooning of Mr Rogers. Latterly, I saw the very good 2018 documentary on the man, Won’t You Be My Neighbour? Which, as documentaries often do, made entirely redundant any inclination to dramatise the subject matter and simultaneously spurred Hollywood on to do exactly that.

Besides the difficulty of attempting to mimic genuineness – since acting is itself artifice, you need a very fine thesp indeed to reproduce something so mercurial and inimical to the medium, or simply a very nice one – Hanks, who is nothing if not plump, has been made up to resemble The Hood off Thunderbirds. I can’t stress this enough, but rather than attentive warmth, Hanks exudes clipped, reserved vacuity: a hollow shell. Mr Rogers’ habit of taking photos of his guests only puts one in mind of actual Tom’s (or it his twin brother’s now?) depraved habit: “Can I take your picture?” asks Mr Rogers of a small boy. Wouldn’t you rather take one of his distressed, abandoned sock, Tom?

The way in to exploring the man is ostensibly Tom Junod’s 1998 article for Esquire, Can You Say… Hero? The knock-on of this is that the movie isn’t really about Mr Rogers very much; it’s about Junod, reconceived as Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, sporting far too many teeth), and repurposed in a highly Hollywood, demographically-sensitive manner (so Lloyd’s wife Andrea – Susan Kelechi Watson – is black, and wiser and more knowing than her man-child husband in every conceivable way). Lloyd also has daddy issues (Chris Cooper as an alcoholic who walked out on his wife as she was dying, and who is revealed as dying too, so Lloyd can reconnect in a profound, or facile, way).

Nothing about Lloyd’s journey is engaging, but it’s still infinitely more successful than anything depicting Mr Rogers and his world. A scene where a couple of kids on the subway lead the entire compartment in a serenade of his theme tune is presumably designed to evoke the similarly botched Tube sequence in Darkest Hour, but the way Hanks is looking at them, the only wonder is that Mr Rogers doesn’t instantly get mugged and left bleeding and battered on the train car floor. It’s very lucky he didn’t offer a “Can you tell me about your special friend?” the way he earlier did Lloyd.

Inevitably, Lloyd’s life is radically improved by his contact with the inquiring Uncle Tom – “People like you don’t care for humanity, do you?” asks Enrico Colantoni’s Bill Isler, Fred’s business partner at the outset – while any right-minded viewer will have moved across to the opposite side of the room, far far from the TV, in mounting horror at the unwholesome proceedings. Marielle Heller’s batting average was untarnished hitherto – The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? – so I’m sure she’ll bounce back from this travesty. Hanks, though, even if only for this, deserves a long stay in Guantanamo.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .