Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Their Finest (2017)

Now I definitely don’t need to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

It’s Britain, 1940, and needless to say, the war is hitting them pretty hard. Men are being shipped-out randomly, bombs are dropping everywhere, resources are drying up, families are being torn apart, and it just doesn’t seem like the good old days any longer. It seems like everyone is sad, depressed and absolutely unsure of what to do with their lives, which is why the British Ministry of Information decides to step on in and change all that up the only reliable way they know how: Making movies. And one such movie they commission is a supposed true story of heroism and bravery that occurred in Dunkirk, France. Of course, the movie-version of these said events get all wrapped-up and twisted around, to the point of where the original story isn’t even found anywhere, but the message of the tale is simple: Greater and better times are ahead and can still be found now. And crafting that film is writer Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who finds herself constantly battling it out with fellow writers, like Tom (Sam Claflin), actors, like Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), and fellow women in the office, like Phyl (Rachael Stirling) who give her crap for her gender and how she handles herself. But all she’s trying to do is make the best, most inspirational movie she can make, no matter what.

How could you not fall for the chum?

Their Finest is one of the most charming movies I have seen in quite some time and it doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie; it’s so smug, likable and sweet, that it’s almost begging for our adoration before the opening-credits roll onto the screen. But for the most part, it’s the time, the place, and the nostalgic message that makes it feel like Their Finest doesn’t have to even try – it’s homework of charming and pleasing the pants off of the audience is already done for itself.

That said, it’s still a wildly lovely movie that even without the time, the place, the nostalgic message, it would still work. Sure, those things certainly help, but mostly, Their Finest works because it’s a movie that has a heart as big the bombs that are constantly being dropped out throughout. Director Lone Scherfig and writer Gaby Chiappe come together in an interesting way that doesn’t shy away from the dark, brutal, and grueling reality that the war presented for everyone involved, but it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that there was some happiness and light to be found through it all.

It’s like an overlong episode of Boardwalk Empire, except the polar opposite – everyone around the main characters are sad, but the main characters themselves, somehow, through some way, are happy.

It all works, though, and never appears too cloying, or overly cutesy; it all feels earned and just earnest enough that it knows it’s harsh reality, without ever trying too revel in it, either. The movie is, plain and simple, just sweet and lovely – like a Pastri that you know you shouldn’t have, but also can’t keep yourself away from, either. That may not be the best way to describe Their Finest, but trust me, just know this: It’ll be hard not to smile the whole way through. Even when the movie’s sad (which it can be on countless occasions), it’s still kind of cheerful.

And it mostly all comes down to the characters and what they represent. In what has to be her best role to-date, Gemma Arterton finally gets a chance to prove that she can be awfully sweet and charming, when given the right material to work with. As Catrin Cole, we see a character that’s still figuring herself out, trying to make some sort of a mark in the world and above all else, trying to remain happy, hopeful and optimistic towards a brighter, better future. It’s a role that could have been easily grating and annoying in anyone’s hands, but it’s one that Arterton works so well with, that you immediately fall in love with her and her infectious spirit.

Gemma, have you ever seen Atonement? Get out of the subway!

And it’s also easy to see why everyone in the film does, too.

Sam Claflin, once again, proves that he’s quite possibly the most charming and handsome British guy working today, aside from Henry Cavill, as Tom, and shows quite a nice little chemistry between he and Arterton. The relationship may go into obvious places, but because they’re so good and cute together, it doesn’t matter – we want them together, no matter what. Bill Nighy is also the stand-out as the one actor in this whole production who can’t seem to know or realize that he’s a little too old to be quite the superstar he once was. The character could have easily been a cartoonish buffoon, but there’s a lot of heart and warmth in Nighy’s portrayal, that it works. Same goes for everyone else who shows up here, adding a little bit more personality and light to the whole proceedings.

But if anything about Their Finest really works for me, it’s the message that, no matter what happens to you, the outside world around you, or anybody, anywhere else in the world, the movies will always be there for you. Sure, it’s a sentiment that’s not as relevant as it may have been in the early-1940’s, when practically everyone and their grandmother needed a little cheering up, but it’s still the same kind of sentiment that resonates for any film-lover. Movies have always been made, and will always continue to be made, to take people away from their real lives, and place them somewhere lovely and magical, and provide the perfect distraction. Sure, there are movies that are made not to do such a thing (aka, documentaries), but the ones that really take you out of the real world and give you hope and ambition, well, then those are the ones that deserve to be seen, no matter what’s going on around you.

It’s what movies were put on this Earth to do in the first place and it’s why they will always hold a special place in each and every living person’s life.

Consensus: Sweet, endearing and ridiculously nostalgic, Their Finest wears its heart and humor on its sleeve, with even better performances to show for it.

8.5 / 10

Making movies have never been so, ehrm, British.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire


The Queen (2006)

God save the queen, indeed.

After the death of Princess Diana, all of London was a public mess. People were crying, leaving beds of flowers, and in a downtrodden depression that hadn’t been since the days of the sudden deaths of John Lennon, or Elvis Presley. However, one person who wasn’t quite as tearful or as upset as the rest of the general public was her former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). Elizabeth, even though she tried to appreciate Diana for what she was, can’t understand why so many people would be in such a fit over somebody who, to be honest, they didn’t know. Surely, Elizabeth doesn’t get the point of this sadness, which is why she seems to live her life as usual, walking around with her beloved Corgis, appreciating her husband (James Cromwell), and doing what she always does. Except, this is probably not the best thing for Elizabeth to do, what with Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) ascending to the office of Prime Minister, creating more tension and hatred for her in the press and among public opinion. Eventually, Elizabeth starts to look at the situation in a different light and realize a little something new about herself, as well as the rest of London.

More skin is always better, Philip.

More leg is always better, Philip.

The Queen is an interesting drama, in that everything about it screams “Oscar-bait”, however, the way in which the movie actually plays out, shows something somewhat different. For one, director Stephen Frears approaches the material, not with an overabundance of metaphors and moments of sheer importance, but with a delicate, attention-paying hand and eye that’s more concerned about these actual few people or so, rather than trying to make some statement about how the Queen’s ideals represent an older way of life, against what Diana represented. Surely, all of this material was probably here for Frears to work with, but because he doesn’t see the need in making his material more heavy-handed than it has any right to be, it plays out a little bit better than it would have, had the Academy been sneering towards his way.

At the same time, however, the Queen is also a movie that doesn’t really do much with itself.

I don’t mean this as a way to say that the movie is boring, as there’s plenty to look at, pay attention to, and think about, even when it seems like there’s hardly anything to look or think about. But what I do mean to say is that the Queen deals with such a small issue, in such a particularly subtle way, that if you aren’t already in love with the Queen, the royal family, or everything that the British Royal stand for the most, then sadly, you’ll be kind of lost. For me, I found it hard to care whether or not Queen Elizabeth actually came to terms with the death and subsequent public outcry of Princess Diana. Most of this has to do with the fact that, well, nothing’s really at-stake here; nobody’s going to be calling for the decapitation of her, there’s not going to be any impeachment, and there will surely be no moment of spiritual awakening.

Everything, as they say, will remain the same. Some things may change, but overall, it will be the same as it always was.

And even though watching as a bunch of British cabinet members run around, talking with one another, and generally looking as serious as can be, may sound like fun to some, it doesn’t always sound as fun to me, especially when there isn’t much to grab at here. Frears does a smart thing in that he doesn’t try to overdo the movie with a heavily-stylized direction, but because of this, the movie can sometimes feel as if it’s just treading along, at its own, meandering pace, where people talk and do things, but really, what does any of it matter? Once again, I know I may be in the minority of saying bad things about this relatively beloved film, but for me, while watching the Queen, it was hard to really get sucked into what was going on, especially when there didn’t seem to be much of anything at-stake, except for people’s own hearts, feelings and self-respect.

"Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!"

“Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!”

To me, that’s only high-stakes drama if we undoubtedly care for the subjects whose hearts, feelings, and self-respect is on the line, and with the Queen, some characters were sympathetic, others were not. Helen Mirren won the Oscar for this here and it makes total sense; not only does she downplay the whole role, but she really gets inside of Queen Elizabeth II’s mind, body and soul, wherein we see here deal with this tragedy in the only way she can – without saying, or doing much at all. And of course, there’s a lot of what Queen Elizabeth II says about the public that’s not only funny, but honest, too, giving us the impression that she’s a lady who doesn’t hold back when expressing her feelings on a certain issue, regardless of whether it’s in-line with public opinion, or not.

This isn’t the kind of performance that tends to win Oscars, which is perhaps why Mirren’s performance is all the more illuminating.

But once again, what’s at stake? According to the movie, it’s everything and anything, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like much. We hear a lot from Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair who, considering that the public loves just about everything he does and says, generally seems to be the voice of reason amidst all of the pain and turmoil, but even he turns into this sappy mess who, seemingly out of nowhere, is breaking into speeches about the Queen, her pride, her courage, and why everybody should stick right up for. Maybe the actual Tony Blair was like this, but it seems to come out of nowhere in a film that paints him in an odd light. Same goes for James Cromwell’s Prince Philip, who seems more concerned about his stag, and less about anything else that’s going on.

Once again, maybe this is how the real people, but it still doesn’t grab me even more and make me actually give a flyin’ hoot.

Consensus: Though the direction and performances are much smaller than you’d expect from the typical, awards-friendly fare that the Queen exists in, there’s still not enough to make someone who generally doesn’t care about subjects such as these, actually start doing that.

6 / 10

"Kiss it. Kiss it harder."

“Kiss it. Kiss it harder.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Identity Theory, Cineplex

Skyfall (2012)

When in doubt, just get rid of Marc Forster.

James Bond (Daniel Craig)’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat (played by Javier Bardem), no matter how personal the cost.

When Mr. Craig first jumped into the role as James Bond, people were severely pissed. They said he didn’t look like the type of Bond-like character, he didn’t was too small, and worst of all, he was blond! Oh dear! Well, all of those fools’ mouths were shut once Casino Royale came around and absolutely kicked-ass, going to show that not only does this franchise show some new promise, but so does Craig as well. However, all was fine and dandy until Marc Forster got his dumb hands on the franchise and decided to release Quantum of Solace. As most of you probably already saw, I didn’t hate that movie, but I didn’t love it much either. It was an okay movie, but something was missing from it to really make it feel like a Bond movie. But now that they’ve kicked Forster out of the director’s chair, and placed Sam Mendes in it, all is well for Bond and most of all, all is well for this franchise that will continue on through it’s 50-year history. Woo-hoo!

Having a director that is most known for character-dramas and theater work, definitely made me feel a bit a scared for how Mendes would actually handle all of the material, as well as how much would feel like an actual Bond movie itself. Thankfully, Mendes made me feel less scared right from the opening-sequence where it’s pretty clear that this guy knows how to film an explosive and fun action scene, without having people tilt their heads to see just what the hell is even going on. This is something that really made me feel happy as I knew I was back to seeing a Bond film and not a Jason Bourne one, where I would constantly have to deal with shaky-cam and the constant idea that I may have to leave the theater to puke my guts out sooner or later. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here but I think you get it: shaky-cam can be pretty damn annoying and it’s a great idea that Mendes decided not to use it and instead, go with the original look, style, and feel that we all know and love from the Bond movies.

Since 2012 does mark the 50th anniversary of Bond, there’s a lot of moments here that Mendes takes advantage of to give little winks and homages towards Bond movies of the past. All of these moments will easily make the die hard’s go ape shit in their seats, as it’s been pretty long since the last time anybody has saw 007 drive an Aston Martin in awhile, as well as do and say a bunch of many other trademarks that I won’t spoil here and it’s just great to see done on the screen once again. However, as much as this is a tribute to all of the Bond films that have come before it, Skyfall, is still it’s own original story that Mendes takes time to build up and up until every single action-sequence is filled to the brim with tension and suspense. Solace had absolutely no tension whatsoever, and was more fun to watch than nerve-wrecking, this one, on the other-hand, had me a bit fearful for Bond’s life and every scene where his life hung in the balance, I was scared as hell for the guy. It doesn’t get any more tense this year with an action movie and it’s really surprising to see that one of the best action movies of the year is done by the same dude who had a whole film revolve around Rose and Jack fighting and yelling at each other every time they’re around one another.

Aside from being the one of the best action flicks of the year, this also may have to go down as the most slickly-produced movie of the year as well. Every single scene just bleeds with cool and style that it’s hard to look away, even when things really seem to get dull, and most of that is thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins. Most of the action scenes here are filled with color and lavish-looking settings that you can’t help but feast your eyes on what you see beyond all of the violence and action going on with Bond, and it gets even better when hit the latter parts of the movie and we see the outer-lands of Scotland, and see just how muggy and dirty a place can be, yet, with a cinematographer like Deakins, can still ooze style. The whole film, from start-to-finish, oozes style and it’s just great to see that not just in a movie, but a Bond movie none the less.

But before I go on any longer about this movie, I still have to say that it doesn’t rank-up as one of the best Bond movies of all-time, even though it seems like every single person on the face of the earth is hailing it as that. I think my problem with this movie was that some moments just felt dull and a bit uninteresting and even though I was glad that they weren’t just constantly hitting us over the head with action-sequence after action-sequence like Solace did, sometimes I really felt like there was something needed to spice the movie up. These small, quiet moments, really took me out of the film and I think because of Mendes’ theater background, is the reason why there was so many in here and used to break-up the action. Still, when that guy wanted to pump-up the action, he sure as hell did just that. I just wish that he kept it going on throughout the whole movie like I expected him to.

Aside from that problem, Daniel Craig, for me at least, still ranks up there as one of best Bond’s because the guy just has it all going for him, especially here in this movie. Because the story is about Bond getting his skills back, showing a more vulnerable side to him, and letting us know that he’s not fully ready for combat just yet, Craig shows a more human-side to this character and allows for us to relate to him and connect with him on a human-level, rather than just a super, secret-spy that we look up to because he kills the baddies and bones the ladies. Yes, he still does commit both of those actions here in this movie, but that’s not what it’s all about with Craig’s Bond. This guy has got some issues, but at the end of the day, we still feel like he’s got what it takes to take down the evil-force that stands in his way, and be able to do it by getting down and dirty, but also still being able to stay in style.

And holy shit! What an evil-force that stands in his freakin’ way, man! I must admit, I thought the casting of Javier Bardem was a bit unoriginal since the guy is most known to American audiences as the bad guy from No Country for Old Men and to go from villain to villain seemed like a dumb-way to type-cast, especially for a talented actor like Bardem. However, once again like I was proven wrong with Mendes as director, I was proved wrong with Bardem as the our bad guy for the next 2-and-a-half hours, Raoul Silva. In No Country, Bardem played Ant0n as a total bad-ass that went about his evil ways in a sadistic, but subtle way, allowing Bardem to show the real evil inside of a character, without ever really saying or being up-front about anything. Here, as Silva, the guy is so over-the-top, so obvious, and so talky that I couldn’t stop but love the guy every time he showed up on-screen. Bardem owns the screen every chance he gets and he’s one of those rare villains that actually makes you fear him not because of the technology he has to hack into the super-secret system, but because the guy’s smart and malicious, but only in the right ways for a Bond villain. If Bardem was in this movie more, I would definitely be calling for some Oscar buzz, but he’s in it for around 20 minutes and that was good enough for me because the guy takes care of business every chance he gets and if I have to see him play another villain in another movie, then hey, I have no problem with that considering the guy is a welcomed-presence to everything he does.

I think it should come as to little or no surprise that Judi Dench is great here as M, and once again gives us a performance that shows how sassy and witty one gal can be, but also still be able to show some heart and humanity when need be. As with all of the Bond movies, every one needs a Bond girl, or two and that’s exactly what Craig has here in both Naomie Harris and the smokin’ hot Bérénice Marlohe. Harris, as usual, is good and shows a lot of strength to her character, but Marlohe, as hot and sexy as she is, isn’t really given much to do at all and is barely in the film as much as the advertisements may have you think. It’s a real shame too, because I could have literally stared at the gal the whole movie and not have had a single problem one-bit. I kid you not, people, this chick is hot! Then again, so was Denise Richards and we all know how that turned out.

Consensus: Skyfall is not the best Bond movie out of it’s 50-plus year series, but is one of the best action movies of the year and is a return-to-form for Bond, but also a way to show that this franchise has nothing to fear as long as they are under the guidance of Mendes and Craig.


Hugo (2011)

I guess Marty got tired of making films about people getting murdered so he decided to get in touch with his inner-child. No, not I’m not talking about Leo.

When his father dies, 12-year-old orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield) takes up residence behind the walls of a Parisian train station. There, he meets Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), the daughter of filmmaker Georges Méliès, who holds the key to Hugo’s destiny.

Knowing that this is Martin Scorsese‘s first family-film and the trailer was kind of cheesy considering it had that really bad song by 30 Seconds to Mars in it, my expectations were pretty low despite all of the non-stop positive reviews. However, I’m glad to say I was duped once again.

What Scorsese does perfectly here is bring out the most exuberant flair as a visual arts director then in anything else we have ever seen him in. I don’t normally see films in 3-D because I think they’re are a waste of money and 9 times out of 10, the 2-D versions end up being the same thing as the 3-D one. However, I went into this one with the glasses and everything, and I have to say that almost every single shot here is perfectly made with lush and gorgeous visuals that will take you inside of this colorful little place where it seems like Scorsese had Van Gogh do the film’s art-work himself. I mean this guy makes screws look beautiful. That has almost never been done.

Another great element about this flick is how Scorsese is able to basically send a love-letter to all of the silent film era stars who have inspired him to do what he does best, but it doesn’t feel like he’s just kissing these peoples asses the whole time, he actually creates his own story and adds a silent film-look onto it as well. There are some scenes where there is barely any talking at all and it’s all about how the score, sounds, and art-work all look to make sure you aren’t bored one bit. Basically, anybody that is a film-lover, like yours truly, will love all of the homages and shout-outs to all of Scorsese’s homeboys but the film is also something for kids to watch even if they don’t get all of the silent film stuff right off the bat. However, that’s why they invented Google kids.

The biggest problem for this flick is that it does take quite a bit of time to get started and that usually doesn’t bother me but the first hour or so, was terribly boring and actually had me zoning in-and-out of the film, which barely ever happens. The first part is your typical little kiddie movie that I’ve seen far way too many times for my own liking where the two kids both talk about being reckless, free, and adventurous but then everything sort of just goes back to normal once they realize their kids. It also a long flick (clocking in at 127 minutes) but then again, coming from Scorsese I wasn’t expecting a 1 hour series premiere.

Another major problem I had with this flick was the fact that I think it’s central story, you know the story about the orphaned kid who’s father dies, kind of gets lost by the end. I don’t want to give away too much but there is a big “twist” in the story that gets more attention than the real story at-hand, which is something I was kind of disappointed about because I think they could have made a real emotionally-realistic story about a kid who misses his daddy, but they went with something else. The story they ended up going with was not a problem for me but I still think they could have a done a bit of better job of focusing on the real story they started with.

The performances from everybody involved is also great as well. The kiddie performances from Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz are good but they have done better in the past, and they kind of get lost by the end of the film. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Gustav the Station Inspector and is a perfect fit for this role because he seems like a silent film star villain where he uses his goofy emotions on his face to express his villainous acts and the terrific dialogue matches well with those emotions too.

Ben Kingsley is the real show here to watch as he gives a totally heart-breaking performance that goes way back to his wonder days when he was in talks for Oscar-bait every year. Kingsley had me worried at first because I thought I was going to hate this angry and grumpy old man but somehow he turns that around with a sad and grief-stricken character that brings out the most emotion I felt for the whole entire film. It’s definitely a good performance that I wouldn’t be surprised got him a nomination come Oscar time but it is definitely enough to make me forgive him for BloodRayne. But I understand, a man’s gotta make a living somehow.

Consensus: Hugo may not get fully off its grown in the first hour or so, but Martin Scorsese makes this love letter to his favorite films growing up something else that’s stacked with utterly gorgeous, luscious, and amazing visuals that everybody should definitely go and experience in 3-D no matter what.