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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Paul Ritter

On a Clear Day (2005)

Swim upstream. Or down. Depending on your mood.

After losing his job at a Glasgow shipyard that he’s been working at for quite some time, 50-year-old Frank (Peter Mullan) doesn’t really have much going on in his life. While his wife (Brenda Blethyn) is practicing to become a bus-driver and become the soul bread-maker of the family, Frank is looking anywhere he can for a job, that doesn’t just pay, but also get him out of this funk that he’s been in ever since a tragedy hit him and his family many, many years ago. That’s why, even though a casual remark is made by a buddy of his, Frank gets an idea: to swim the English Channel. While it’s rather outlandish and silly, Frank is determined enough to make the dream a reality and with the help of his closest friends and of course, his loving and supportive family, Frank sets forth on a training regimen that will help him achieve his goal. But that goal is a lot harder to achieve when you already have so much baggage on land, in the first place.

Peter Mullan, or David Beckham? Nope, definitely Peter Mullan.

On a Clear Day is such a cute, little adorable movie that it’s hard to really point out any faults about it. Of course, there are quite a few, but at the end of the picture, do any of them really matter? Because while the movie isn’t as deep as it wants to be, nor is it ever really as smart, either, On a Clear Day, when all is said and done, is charming, nice, and rather enjoyable. It’s the kind of movie that’s safe, inoffensive, and essentially, perfect for the whole family, in the same ways that Disney movies are, but instead of talking cartoons, it’s actual, real life human beings.

And instead of singing, everyone’s just yelling in heavy Scottish accents.

But there’s not much of a problem with a heavy accent – in fact, half of the charm of On a Clear Day is from where it takes place and the overall setting. It’s a calm, easy and rather lovely little place where everyone knows each other and is able to lend a helping hand. However, on the other side, it’s also a dark, sometimes muggy town that sees people losing jobs, day in and day out, and more immigration to the big cities, than ever.

So is it really all that happy and lovely? Not really, but that’s one of the many aspects On a Clear Day hints at with itself. It never gets as deep, or as dark, or as depressing as it wants to, which is sometimes okay, but other times, it does feel like it’s keeping itself away from being better and much more thought-provoking. Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, but it makes it one that had plenty of promise to go to some deep, heavy places, but instead, chose the safe way out.

“Oi, ladeys. Who’s swimmin?”

Sometimes, there’s no problem with that. At least most would be pleased.

But then again, it’s hard to be mad at a movie like On a Clear Day when the cast assembled are so wonderful and fun to watch, that at the end of it all, it’s almost like, “Aw, who cares?”. Peter Mullan has been one of the more dependable acts in film today and honestly, it’s no shock; he can play down-and-dirty when he wants, but he can also brighten things up and play charming. Here, he gets to do a little bit of both, although, without ever showing one side too much and it’s actually quite nice. He makes us feel and understand the sadness that exists within Frank’s life, while also showing some glimmers of hope throughout. It’s a slight performance on his radar, for sure, but it’s also a sign that the man knows what he’s doing.

Brenda Blethyn is quite charming, as usual, in the role as his wife. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a whole lot more of her, other than trying to talk to Frank and, on occasion, getting into arguments with him about his life and their history together. A much smarter movie probably would have focused on how both of their lives are affected, but eh, so be it. Blethyn still gets a couple of opportunities to show why she’s great in these smart, yet very strong women roles and it goes without saying that I wish there was more of her now.

Maybe some day. On a clear day, perhaps?

Consensus: While slight, small and relatively safe, On a Clear Day is also quite a lovely movie that doesn’t go as deep as it should, but does have a charming cast to make up for its issues.

6 / 10

Hey, Michael Phelps had to start somewhere, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Icon Pictures

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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

Nowhere Boy (2010)

Everybody has mommy-issues. Even iconic musicians.

Before he was shot and killed in 1980, John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) was a young, rebellious teenager like you or I, but he had one big problem: He had no idea who his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) was. From what he knew, she was a woman who had him with a marriage that fell-through, the father left her, and backed the mother so far into a corner, that she had to get rid of little John, and give him away to his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Mimi has been taken care of John for the longest time, ever since he was 5 to be exact, however, after a recent tragedy hits them both, John realizes that his mother is not only still alive, but lives right by his home. John, obviously out of a state of curiosity, decides to visit her and hang out with her, listening to rock n roll music, smoking cigarettes, getting to know his step-sisters, learn how to play the guitar, and skip school. This does not sit well with Mimi, but has John gone on too far to where he doesn’t know who’s right for him, or what for that matter?

Most frown upon this fact that I hold very near and dear to my heart: I am not a huge fan of the Beatles. Don’t have me mistaken, I do appreciate all that they have done for the art of music and consider one of them the biggest influences of all-time, but can I really call myself “a lover” that needs to hear at least one song from each and every album at least once or twice a day? No, not at all. However, I understand their influence to many other bands/musicians out there, which is enough for me to give them the duty and respect they so rightfully deserve.

All that said, I didn’t really find myself caring to see this biopic too much. One reason had to do with the fact that it was about John Lennon and John Lennon only, but also about a part of his life that wasn’t about the Beatles or making music all that much. Instead, it was more about the parental-issues he had growing up as an adolescent in the 50’s, which didn’t really pique my interest as much as it may have done for Beatles fans.

The oddest son-mother-aunt love-triangle I have ever seen, if there ever was one.

The oddest son-mother-aunt love-triangle I have ever seen; if there ever was one.

However, I am a fan of film, especially when they’re done as well as this one, which is why I’m not all that surprised I liked what I saw, despite the subject-material.

On paper, it’s nothing new or out-of-the-ordinary that you haven’t seen done a hundred times before: Boy goes through angst, finds his real mother, gives his adoptive mother a hard time, begins to act out, do/say stupid things, and eventually come have it all come together in a way that’s pleasant and used more as a learning-piece for the rest of his life. However, this tale has the gimmick of being about a younger John Lennon who, not only was more rebellious and snobby than some might have expected the lovable, hippie/peace-maker he would later be in life to actually start off as, but was also just like you or me, except probably had more problems going for himself. Which, as said as it to say, does work in the film’s advantage because it shows what a sad kid he grew-up as, but yet, found solace in such pleasurable activities like playing guitar, listening to music, dancing, swearing, smoking, and having a shag every once and a lucky night. See? Whoever thought that Mr. Lennon himself could be such a little d-bag when he was younger, but also a kid who was getting the grasp of the world, right before he had that said world in the palm of his hands.

Then again though, this flick is more about John’s life before the Beatles broke big, and the low-key approach works. Director Sam Taylor-Wood doesn’t offer anything new or fresh to bring to the familiar-tale of biopics, but that’s fine enough since she doesn’t get in the way of the material, it’s heart, or it’s performers. You can tell that she cares enough for John’s story that she doesn’t allow for it to fall down the conventional path of being too melodramatic, or too subtle. She gets the job done right there in the middle, and it works by not only showing and getting us ready for what was going to shape the rest of John’s life, but why it mattered. The man had a brain in his head, and used it to bring pleasure and happiness to many others out there in the entire globe. That’s the beautiful thing about music, and it only helped that John had a voice and a mind that was worth taking a peek at here and there.

Remember how I said I wasn’t a fanboy? Well, I’m still not. But I like John Lennon. Is there any problem with that?

In fact, some of the worst parts of this movie come from when they give little mentions and nods to the future that was going to consist of what some say, “The Greatest Band of All-time”. Despite not being a full-on lover of the Beatles, I could still touch on some references (because I do love music, as well as movies), and more or less, they seemed cheeky and coy, rather than meaningful to the story or the plot. There’s a lot of discussions about getting “a band” together and there’s some music-playing, but nothing to where this feels like it’s really exploring the music or the material that went into it, and more of just the person who wrote it most of the time. It’s fine to do that with a biopic about any person, it’s just that Taylor-Wood was so obvious with her musical-segues, that it seemed like she seemed obligated to have some music in there so not everybody will be pissed that they didn’t hear “Hey Jude”, despite it being released in ’68, way after this movie ends.

"Uhm, mom? You know there's more room on the other couch over there?"

“Uhm, mum? You know there’s more room on the other couch over there?”

Where the film does pick up and keep you interested is in the real life characters themselves, and the actors playing them. Aaron Johnson (who is now Taylor-Johnson apparently, shacking up with the director) does not look a lick at all like John Lennon, younger or older, but he makes up for that in the way that he’s so good at playing a young dick that it’s easy to forget obvious problems here and there. First of all, most of the performance consists of him looking mad, sad, or on the verge of breaking every valuable-item in whatever room he’s on, and secondly, his accent does drop in and out. However, the kid is good in this role and feels like a young dude, just trying to get ahold of whatever the hell is bringing him down so much in this world, while also being able to express himself in a way that the rest of the world can feel the same pain he went through as well. In that regard, Johnson is great and does well, even if the material doesn’t really ask him to go above and beyond the standard of what we think we know of John Lennon, especially when he was just a young prick.

The one’s who really get to stretch out their acting-muscles are Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff, who both play different versions of mommy to John’s little, pained-child. Thomas is great in this role as Mimi considering she always seems like she has a stick up her ass and never wants it to leave. However, you can tell that she cares for John, wants nothing but the best for him, and loves him endlessly, even if she has a hard time of showing it in the type of way he wants. Then again though, I think anytime you put Thomas in a movie, doesn’t matter which one it is, she’s going to give you some great work, so it should come as to no surprise here. The one who really shocked the hell out of me here was Duff, who gives Julia a longing-sense of frustration and regret as well, but likes to hide behind the facade of hers where she’s still young, wild, and crazy, as if she were a teenager once again. There’s some odd scenes between her and Lennon, where it feels like she’s a little too close for comfort, but together, they hold their ground and keep this mother-son relationship understandable and emotional, despite getting a tad creepy at times.

Consensus: Many who love the hell out of the Beatles and want to hear more of their music, will be very disappointed with Nowhere Boy, as it’s more of a biopic on the younger-life of John as he struggled, came to terms, and tried to understand the world he lived in, no matter how much pain and heartbreak it was full of, and it’s mostly all engaging.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Hate to say it, but right here is the beginning of the end.

Hate to say it, but right here is the beginning of the end.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au