I GIVE IT A YEAR (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Language and some Graphic Nudity

Directed by: Dan Mazer

Written by: Dan Mazer

Starring: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver & Jason Flemyng

Romantic comedies are among the most formulaic films ever made. The “will they or won’t they” dynamic has been played out a million times. 99% of these cinematic stories follow a predictable progression of events that ends in an inevitable conclusion of the two mismatched lovers confessing their love and staying together. There’s 1% of rom-coms that attempt to do something different and these are titles that stick out in the overcrowded genre. I GIVE IT A YEAR is one of these gems that sticks out. It’s not free of clichés and not every joke hits its mark, but a delightfully irreverent sense of humor and the subversion of an all-too-familiar formula make for one very entertaining comedy.

I GIVE IT A YEAR begins where most rom-coms end. Hard-working businesswoman Nat (Rose Byrne) and laid-back writer Josh (Rafe Spall) are polar opposites that have fallen head over heels for each other. After dating for only seven months, the couple decide to tie the knot…much to the disbelief of their friends and relatives. Things seem to be lovely for the newlyweds, but cracks soon begin to emerge in their relationship. The already strained marriage is further put to the test when Josh’s old flame Chloe (Anna Faris) reenters his life and Nat starts a partnership with a charismatic client (Simon Baker). Can Nat and Josh survive their first year of marriage?

I GIVE IT A YEAR mixes loads of wildly inappropriate laughs with genuine heart and (mostly) smart writing. The married couple’s struggles are shown with believably awkward humor that will make viewers laugh, cover their eyes in embarrassment, and shift uncomfortably in their seats. Think a very R-rated version of something like MEET THE PARENTS and you have a solid idea of this film’s tone. The storyline frequently cuts back to Nat and Josh in a marriage counselor’s office, which allows for lots of hilarious comedic flashbacks. These bits that would have seemed slightly disconnected in a traditional narrative flow, but they work well in this non-linear approach.

Besides having lots of great funny moments, this film also levels a degree seriousness into the struggling couple’s problems. Not every awkward moment gets a laugh (though there are still plenty of those) because the film reflects on the sadder aspects of a marriage that simply isn’t working and regrets of other (possibly better) relationships that might have been. Besides functioning as a solid rom-com, I GIVE IT A YEAR also serves as a wonderful cautionary tale about rushing into things too soon. This point is hammered on a tad too sappily during a slow 10-minute stretch in the last act, but concludes in a genuinely hilarious finale that deliberately flips rom-com conventions on their heads in unexpected ways.

As far as performances go, everyone here is hilarious and earns more than their fair share of laughs. Rose Byrne (who was great in both NEIGHBORS films) is quiet and reserved as Nat, letting awkward silences and her facial expressions speak far louder than words. Rafe Spall is convincing as a bumbling oaf who’s simply out of his league in a stressful newfound marriage. Anna Faris is refreshingly down to earth as a dorky gal and gets huge laughs when she tries/fails to get involved in a threesome. Simon Baker plays his suave businessman as an overconfident guy with a good heart. Interactions between the four main characters feel natural and these performers bounce off each other in fun ways.

On the supporting side of things, Stephen Merchant receives a few standout scenes as the worst best friend/best man ever. If nothing else, look up Merchant’s wedding scenes on YouTube to catch two of the film’s funniest bits. His delivery and shameless way of saying horrible things (without realizing they’re horrible) is simply brilliant! Also worth mentioning are Minnie Driver and Jason Flemyng as Nat’s sister and brother-in-law. Driver and Flemyng are essentially the British version of Paul Rudd and Leslie Jones in KNOCKED UP, adding great scenes of sheer animosity and beautifully summarizing how marriages work between individuals that seemingly loathe each other on the surface.

I GIVE IT A YEAR isn’t a flawless rom-com. A dull patch in the final third feels more like a formulaic obligation than a necessity, not every joke gets a big laugh, and there are still dusty clichés in the mix. However, those clichés are thrown into unexpected context that flips every predictable rom-com storyline on its head. The script is clever for the most part, the characters are fleshed out, and there are loads of laughs to be had. I was constantly cracking up and many scenes nailed their comedic timing to perfection. I GIVE IT A YEAR is a great date movie for fans of awkward humor, R-rated sex comedies, and hilariously offensive jokes.

Grade: B+

THE BFG (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action/Peril, some Scary Moments and brief Rude Humor

BFG poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Melissa Mathison

(based on the novel THE BFG by Roald Dahl)

Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall & Bill Hader

Though his novels are magnificently imaginative, author Roald Dahl’s film adaptations seem cursed at the box office. This has occurred numerous times over the decades. Even though it found later success through TV airings and is now considered a timeless classic by many, WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY originally flopped in the theaters (though its lesser Burtonized remake was a success). The same fate befell the creepy THE WITCHES in 1990 and cult favorite JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH in 1996. Not even Steven Spielberg seems immune from the Dahl curse, because his adaptation of THE BFG has recently made headlines for bombing. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of this film itself, because BFG (which stands for Big Friendly Giant, get your mind out of the gutter) is a heartwarming fantasy that’s fun for all ages.

BFG 1

Set in 1980’s London, THE BFG opens with young orphan Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) awake at the witching hour (3 am). Though she’s suspected his presence many times, Sophie has never actually met the “boogeyman” until tonight. This boogeyman turns out to be a big eared, speech impaired giant (Mark Rylance in a motion capture performance) who takes Sophie back to his cave-like home. Unlike other giants in Giant Country, Sophie’s gigantic captor doesn’t eat children. Instead this Big Friendly Giant (or BFG, as Sophie calls him) opts to eat foul-tasting cucumber-like vegetables and catches dreams for sleeping children. Sophie and the BFG become fast friends, but the fearsome brutish giants begin to suspect that BFG is harboring a new pet…and a potential snack for them.

BFG 2

BFG’s biggest (pardon the pun) highlights come from the many scenes between Sophie and the main giant. Mark Rylance (who won Best Supporting Actor for his other recent Spielberg outing) is oddly adorable as the naïve, well-intentioned Big Friendly Giant. Having known in advance that Rylance delivered his performance through motion capture, I distinctly recognized his face on this giant character for the entire running time…even if huge ears, frail hair, and a thin chin were morphed into his CGI looks. You have to wonder how much time Rylance spent on the set though, because a majority of the film seems to have young Ruby Barnhill acting against creatures and environments that aren’t really there. Huge props to this child actress, because she puts in a far better performance than one might expect from a kid acting by themselves. This story almost entirely focuses on the friendship of Sophie and Big Friendly Giant, while supporting characters seem to exist merely for jokes and plot devices.

BFG 3

Weak supporting characters don’t lessen the colorful environments and weird-looking giants that Spielberg brings from the page to the screen. This big-screen BFG is very faithful to the source material, which means that there are magical moments, darker aspects (lines of dialogue referring to the other giants feasting on children), and a timelessly upbeat atmosphere to this fairy tale. That being said, it seems like Spielberg was dialing himself back a bit in THE BFG. With E.T. and his other family films as well as Roald Dahl’s books themselves, there was a sense to treat kids with a level of maturity that was rather unheard of at the time. There were dark, scary threats in these stories (on the page and screen) that made the happy, lighter moments shine even brighter. THE BFG tiptoes around a couple of these more intense areas, with the other giants set up as (literal) big antagonists, but Spielberg seems disinterested in these villains and they seem underused as a result.

THE BFG

Executed with visual flair, charm, and whimsy, THE BFG is a simple and sweet fantasy-adventure that’s bound to entertain kids, captivate grown-ups through impressive imagery, and feels like a throwback to a better time for live-action kid’s entertainment. Although it doesn’t go as far as it could have in certain areas and resorts to fart humor on a couple of occasions (one joke is actually well set up and executed), THE BFG is an all-around good movie. It’s not one of Spielberg’s best films, but it remains an entertaining fantasy that’s likely to please both adults and children.

Grade: B

HOT FUZZ (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: R for Violent Content including some Graphic Images, and Language

HotFuzz poster

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall & Timothy Dalton

In the realm of action-comedies, you really can’t do better than HOT FUZZ. The second installment of the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy” (also consisting of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and THE WORLD’S END) perfectly compresses tons of fun and clever humor into a perfectly paced two-hours. This feels like a British take on THE NAKED GUN with more action, an even better story, and non-stop laughs. Though I feel WORLD’S END may be the most emotionally executed and accomplished of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s Cornetto (a.k.a. Blood and Ice Cream) films, HOT FUZZ is my personal favorite entry!

MCDHOFU EC003

Nicholas Angel is an outstanding Constable patrolling the streets of London. His flawless arrest record and vast achievements are making all other officers look bad in comparison. Therefore, he’s unwillingly promoted to the position of Sergeant and moved to Sanford, a small quiet countryside town. Angel’s overachiever attitude draws frustration from his new laid-back department, scrutiny of the small townsfolk and admiration from dimwitted Constable Danny Butterman. After a number of suspicious deaths are ruled as mere accidents, Angel and Butterman try to capture a mysterious hooded assailant and prove that a murderous plot is occurring under the squeaky clean surface of Sanford.

MCDHOFU EC018

The script behind HOT FUZZ is a work of comedic genius and has multiple layers of jokes that reward repeat viewings. The film works as three distinct different genres at once. It’s an original flick that holds up on its own sense of humor, but manages to perfectly spoof action movie clichés in a way that simultaneously ridicules the tropes of the genre and shows love for them. Besides working as two distinctly different types of comedy, the film is also an action flick through and through. This is complete with gun-fights, a suspenseful mystery, bloody murders, and explosions. Just because there’s a sense of humor to be had, that doesn’t mean the violence is in short supply. This is a bloody movie that sports one of the most memorable gory kills of all-time, but it’s all played in a humorous way. The final 30 minutes are also something special to behold in one of the most amazing showdowns in cinematic history and I’m absolutely serious in that compliment.

MCDHOFU EC025

HOT FUZZ fires jokes like the high-speed of a machine gun. These laughs are hilarious during the first watch, but actually grow even funnier with each consecutive viewing. Lots of subtleties become obvious in clues thrown into foreshadowing bits of dialogue. This makes the film absolutely hysterical and reveals just how much attention to detail was paid during every step of construction. One running joke involving an escaped swan that pops up throughout different points of the action had me in stitches. Aside from being slightly better than SHAUN OF THE DEAD, this installment from Edgar Wright showcases a massive improvements on the technical side of things as the film looks slick (much like the action movies that it’s poking fun at).

MCDHOFU EC016

The real meat of the movie comes in the characters as every one of these people could be a star in their own movie. Simon Pegg shines as Nicholas Angel playing a completely straight-faced character and stand-up action hero the entire time. Some of the biggest laughs come from him being out of his element in the small country environment. Nick Frost could have just turned the character of Danny into a bumbling sidekick, but adds a sweetness to him that makes the viewer root for this good-natured moron to kick some ass. Other stand outs (all of the cast members are too many to list) include Timothy Dalton as a smug obvious suspect who throws out murderous puns in his dialogue and two lazy moustached detectives known as “The Andys.” Memorable little cameos also are sprinkled through the run time as well, including a particularly awesome one from Cate Blanchett that could easily sneak by unnoticed.

MCDHOFU EC001

Extreme attention to detail, smart writing, and well fleshed out characters make HOT FUZZ one of the best comedies to come out of the 2000’s and one of my all-time favorite comedies. This is one of those rare films that keeps increasing in quality with each repeat viewing, but was already perfect to begin in the first place. HOT FUZZ works as an action movie, a spoof of action movies, and a standalone comedy. If you haven’t seen this film yet, check it out as soon as humanly possible. Fun and laughs are guaranteed!

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑