A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Cert PG Stars 4

Tom Hanks is at his most disarming and subtle as a real life US TV icon in this soulful, therapeutic and irresistible family drama.

We’re not familiar with the saintly Fred Rogers over here, but for over four decades he hosted a PlayAway style kids show, and the film suggests he was so popular and beloved he was capable of inspiring an impromptu singalong on the subway simply by sitting there.

However Matthew Rhys’s cynical investigative journalist is hoping to uncover some dirt underneath Roger’s spotless halo.

This seems a reasonable proposition as the cardigan wearing Rodgers seems remarkably old fashioned even in 1998 when the film is set, particularly as TV stars of my 1970s childhood have been revealed to be far from wholesome.

Rhys is full of barely suppressed anger, even more so when he finds himself on the end of a gentle inquisition from Rogers regarding his own estranged relationship with his father and the difficulties of bonding with his new born son.

And you have to feel sorry for the actor as the superb Hanks quietly steals the film from him, earning himself a Best supporting actor nod with his 6th Oscar nomination.

An avuncular, polite, generous and humble dispenser of wisdom, Rodgers often feels a distant relative of Hanks’ 1995 Oscar winning role as Forrest Gump.

And intent on bringing out the best in everyone he meets, he’s essentially an American Paddington Bear, but without the marmalade sandwiches.

Directed by with a firm, sensitive and accomplished hand by Marielle Heller, she drives the film from the backseat and allows the actors to hold our attention.

Though far less needy and attention grabbing her staging and camerawork are in their own way as impressive as that in First World War film, 1917, and she deploys the power of silence with a nuclear emotional efficiency.

Plus the TV theme tune is impossibly catchy, and you’ll be humming it on the way out through your tears.

QUEEN & SLIM

Cert 15 Stars 4

Fear and harassment on an online date leads to violence and a desperate bid for freedom in this confident, muscular, accomplished and heartbreaking US crime drama which always feels authentic and never exploitative.

When a white policeman is shot after he’s pulled them over, black citizens Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya try to escape to communist Cuba, a destination full of implicit criticism of US capitalism and its historical relationship with slave labour.

By turns thrilling, funny and moving, their journey progresses from being a road trip expose of US racial divisions to a lyrical love story, with a script which digs into ideas of social mobility, role models and solidarity.

However TV reports and social media bestows an unwelcome air of celebrity on the outlaw pair, feeding negative stereotypes and helping perpetuate a cycle of oppression.

As a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya make a combative and sexy pair, and shockingly overlooked by the major awards the British acting duo could at least have expected some recognition from the BAFTAs.

RICHARD JEWELL

Cert 15 Stars 4

Approaching his fiftieth year as a film director, Clint Eastwood’s latest real life drama uses a tale of heroism to train his sights on two of his favourite targets, the US government and the media.

As represented here by Jon Hamm’s FBI agent and Olivia Wilde’s ambitious journalist, they’re considered as being so much in bed together, they actually go to bed together, and are portrayed as the real enemy of gun-loving white folk.

Paul Walter Hauser brings quiet dignity and sympathy to the title role, an under-educated, over-weight former cop turned security guard who saves lives during the bomb attack at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

However he finds himself accused of terrorism in the court of public opinion, with only Best Supporting actress Oscar nominee Kathy Bates as his mother, Sam Rockwell’s down-at-heel lawyer, and the US Constitution, at his side.

The latter part of Eastwood’s career has focused exclusively on celebrating ordinary blue collar people in extraordinary circumstances, and Richard Jewell is typically accessible, crowd pleasing and polished.

NO FATHERS IN KASHMIR

Cert 15 Stars 3

There are few more promising dramatic scenarios than teenage romance in a war torn country, but this modern day coming-of-age tale is more concerned with raising awareness for its tragic real life background than delivering gripping spectacle.

Noor is a British teen visiting her grandparents who live in Kashmir, the poverty stricken border country which has been the centre of a war between India and Pakistani since 1947.

Zara Webb’s smartphone wielding attitude is wholly convincing, but she occasionally struggles to carry the emotional weight asked of her.

Through her relationship with a scooter-riding local charmer played by Shivam Raina, the script explores the tragedy of the thousands of ‘disappeared’ men who have been taken by the army, leaving the village women not knowing if they are wives or widows.

Threadbare thriller elements and grim reality sit uneasily with the underpowered romance and too many characters exist simply to explain a point of view.

There’s no doubting the filmmakers sincere intent but this may have been better structured as a straightforward documentary.

BOMBSHELL

Cert 15 Stars 5

This shocking, compelling and explosive real life drama explores the real life serial sexual abuse at the top of a TV network and the drama is powered by several brilliant and award worthy performances.

Oscar nominated Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are joined by Nicole Kidman to complete an outstanding trio of talent, playing the sharp, smart, professional and highly polished news presenters, seeking to bring down the predatory boss of the Fox News TV network, Roger Ailes.

John Lithgow makes the most powerful man in American TV a horribly grasping and paranoid figure, who’s created an atmosphere of fear in order to maintain his monstrous regime of systematic sexual abuse.

Fox News and Ailes himself lack the cultural resonance in the UK they have across the pond, but imagine if Holly Willougby, Alex Jones and Steph McGovern announced they and a dozen more presenters had been abused by the Director General of the BBC, and you’d have some idea of the high profile shockwaves the case caused.

Robbie plays a fictional ambitious new employee called Kayla who’s model looks and  sweet nature puts her immediately on Ailes’ radar.

However it’s Theron who dominates the film as Megyn Kelly, Fox’s most high profile journalist, a spiky and demanding presence who describes herself as a lawyer not a feminist, and is more keen on high ratings than popularity with her colleagues.

Kidman has the least flashy but vital role as Gretchen Carlson, who sues Ailes after being demoted then fired after refusing Ailes sexual advances, which leads to his behaviour being made public for the first time.

Sadly the three actresses only appear altogether in the one brief scene, so we’re denied the fun of seeing three great acts sparking off each other.

The sheer volume of testimony is extraordinary and the scale of abuse is staggering, especially as we’re left with a postscript which is perhaps the most devastating revelation of all.

SEBERG

Cert 15 Stars 2

Celebrity, activism, FBI dirty tricks, and a mental breakdown are wasted in this sympathetic if timid and low key and dull dramatisation of the tragic downfall of actress, Jean Seberg.

It’s easy to see why Kristen Stewart was drawn to playing Seberg as her career has similarly moved between blockbusters to prestigious French dramas, and the Twilight star is again excellent.

This begins in 1968 and covers a three year period when Seberg was hounded out of Hollywood by the media after being fed stories by the FBI.

They had Seberg under constant surveillance as they considered her association with revolutionary group The Black Panthers to be a threat to national security, and wanted to ‘neutralize’ her influence on her young fans.

It’s suggested Seberg became mentally ill as a result, which eventually her death aged forty, having had her Hollywood career deliberately destroyed almost a decade earlier.

Though starring in a mega flop musical western alongside Clint Eastwood as a singing gold prospector can’t have helped.

 

THE SESSIONS

Stars 4

Helen Hunt goes full frontal as a sex worker in this extremely funny and tender film of sexual healing.

Set in 1988, John Hawkes is terrific as Mark, an habitually lovestruck writer and an iron-lung living polio sufferer, whose life becomes far more interesting when he is commissioned to write a piece about the disabled and their sex lives.

His eye-opening interviews suggest that there may be a sex life available to him, and after some investigating, he hires Hunt’s sex surrogate to give him a few bedroom pointers with the ultimate aim of losing his virginity.

Their training sessions become the gateway to a world of emotions he is even less prepared for and soon Mark, a fervent catholic, is soon rushing to William H. Macy’s priest, to confess his, ahem, mounting sins.

The acting is first rate with intelligent and brave performances bringing out the humour, heartache and honesty in the clever and witty script.

Sex itself is dealt with in a matter of fact manner while those struggling with the complex emotions awakened are treated sympathetically.

Details of each characters sex life are slowly revealed and the climax of this unveiling is one of the most satisfying jokes in the movie.

Only once does the film chase a cheap laugh but as that isn’t directed at the disabled but rather the wilful ignorance of an idiot, it’s easily forgiven.

This is a powerful and touching film that never cheapens itself with false optimism or is careless with people emotions, for which Hunt was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar.