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Midway

‘Midway’ was previously filmed in 1976 with Charlton Heston as the lead doing big business. The curiosity in all facets of World War 2 never-ending. Decades later, it still has an allure no matter how grim the subject matter. This version attempts to emulate the bravery and determination of those involved in the arduous battle. Unfortunately it only provides a modicum of war-time verve with all the substance of a Wikipedia page.

After their bombing of the American naval base Pearl Harbour in 1941, the Japanese military switch their focus to the Midway Atoll. A strategic outpost for the American army, the U.S. soldiers try anything to stop this invasion. Among them are Lieutenants Best (Ed Skrein), Layton (Patrick Wilson) and McClusky (Luke Evans). Ready for an aerial and sea assault, they use all their might to oppose the deadly advancing forces.

Directed by Roland Emmerich, who oversaw films such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘2012’, ‘Midway’ has the feel of those overblown epics. Despite the compelling subject, the story has little depth, offering only sketchy characterization. There’s barley any passion seen, although the glimpses of military tactics and reasoning on both sides provide interest.

It wouldn’t have been so bad had ‘Midway’ been filled with great performances, sadly there are few. Even usually reliable actors like Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid can’t do much with material filled with risible dialogue. Everyone looks very pretty with the bombastic musical score going full tilt. The only saving graces are the CGI and action sequences which are top notch and occasionally genuinely suspenseful.

‘Midway’ is a mediocre entry in the ‘How America Won the War’ genre. Lots of flag waving, chest beating and speeches are present in a formulaic script. It’s all a bit cheesy and does a dis-service to the men and women who fought so valiantly in an oft-told battle.

Rating out of 10: 3

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ was an American children’s TV series which ran for decades. Akin to ‘Sesame Street’, it covered various everyday issues as hosted by the perennially jovial host Fred Rogers. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ spins a semi-fictional tale conveying how influential the show became. Marielle Heller’s stylish direction elevates the film with the appropriately cast Tom Hanks leading the charge.

Writing for the fabled Esquire magazine in 1998, journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is jaded about life. Although recently becoming a new father, his world view is steeped in cynicism. When asked to write an article on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), Lloyd glumly agrees. What transpires is a life-changing experience with Rogers’ outlook shining a light on Lloyd’s often bleak existence.

With the subject matter and Hanks in the lead, it would be easy to dismiss ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ as ‘Forrest Gump part 2’. Occasionally it veers into sentimentality, but it offers strong, emotional moments about forgiveness and moving on without feeling preachy. Hank’s performance is a study in controlled optimism and Rhys equally as good with his characters opposite outlook on a fractured life.

‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ also looks at how influential early childhood television can be. Without treating young viewers like imbeciles, Rogers explained topics in a matter of fact easy manner which transcended generations. The drama and pathos are effectively balanced and told simply like one of his shows. The story slowly and effectively draws you in towards a low-key but satisfying conclusion.

Whilst some Australian audiences may be unfamiliar with Fred Rogers, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’s themes are universal. It also reveals how the ability to educate as well as entertain can be an art-form few can genuinely do. It’s the type of movie making you want to learn more about its subject, which is a mark of success to which any biopic aspires.

Rating out of 10: 7