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+

LOGAN (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time:  2 hours 17 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Violence and Language throughout, and for brief Nudity

Directed by: James Mangold

Written by: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green

(based on the WOLVERINE comic books by Ray Thomas, Len Wein & John Romita Sr.)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant & Dafne Keene

Out of the 21st century superhero cinema boom, the X-MEN films are among my favorites. Besides having a vast catalog of colorful heroes and complex antagonists, these movies utilize smart social commentary through mutants and paranoia. I don’t think that anybody could argue against the series’ biggest highlight being Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. This character is a fan favorite for plenty of reasons. He’s brash, straddles the line between hero and antihero, and has a strong moral compass (even if he won’t admit to it). LOGAN marks the tenth X-MEN film and the final time that Jackman will portray Wolverine. This is a dark, mature, excellent closing chapter to the saga and a fitting final film for Jackman’s character.

The year is 2029. Almost all of the X-Men are dead and mutants have pretty much gone extinct. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is past his prime and succumbing to old age. He works as a limo driver and takes care of an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in an abandoned factory off the Mexico border. Logan just wishes to live out his final years with the Xavier on the ocean, away from people. However, his plans change when he meets 11-year-old Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is a mutant (very much like Logan) and some very bad people are hunting her. In an effort to save a life and do some good, Logan makes a dangerous cross-country journey to get Laura to a safe haven…but the healing-impaired Wolverine may be in over his head.

In the course of seventeen years, Hugh Jackman has given us an iconic big-screen superhero. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine someone else playing Wolverine. I mean, just try to think of someone else in the role. Try it right now. You can’t do it, can you? Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine provides an intensely dramatic and emotional side to the character that was seen in previous films, but never to this extent. Wolverine’s smart-ass sense of humor and animal-like nature is still in play, but he becomes an all-out tragic hero in this film.

On the supporting side of things, Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Professor X and gives us a grim look into what happens when a deteriorating disease attacks the world’s most powerful brain. Stewart’s latest outing as the wheelchair-bound psychic is easily one of his best stints as the character, while also serving as X’s saddest story ever. Stephen Merchant stars as an albino mutant, whose power is tracking other mutants. Though he mainly seems to be a means to an end, Merchant’s Caliban is a colorful addition to the X-MEN cinematic cannon. Newcomer Dafne Keene is a stand-out as preteen mutant Laura and delivers one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen (right up there with Jacob Tremblay in ROOM).

As far as the villains go, Richard E. Grant has a small, but powerful role to play. I won’t go into specific details for fear of spoilers, but he’s memorable for most of his screen time. The bigger antagonist is Boyd Holbrook as the psychotic leader of a mutant-hunting team. Holbrook sports a country bumpkin accent alongside charisma that quickly becomes a downright despicable attitude. I was rooting for Holbrook to die a horrible death. That’s how good he was in this role as a robotic-armed baddie.

Besides stellar performances, LOGAN’s screenplay smartly sets up a near-future that doesn’t seem too futuristic. Instead, this is a grim look at the fate of mutants and nicely sets up potential for some interesting future installments (assuming the studio is smart enough to greenlight more dark, mature mutant stories). LOGAN’s R-rated approach is refreshingly grown-up. The film feels like an adult superhero story that was made for adults. We get Wolverine cursing (much like he does in the comics), mature themes being tackled (age, life, purpose) and lots of graphic violence.

Further encapsulating on the film’s R rating, Wolverine and Laura rip through armed thugs like paper and it’s so cool to watch. Limbs and blood cover nearly every action scene, making for some of the best serious R-rated action since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. This is Wolverine doing what he does in the comics…and now we get to see it in all of its gory glory on the big screen. The plot’s darker tone almost seems like a violent Western that happens to star Wolverine and is set in the near-future. While DEADPOOL‘s cheeky over-the-top violence was fun and entertaining, LOGAN’s approach is darker, bleaker, and played with a straight face. Every kill has weight behind it and a few deaths left me shocked.

I still can’t decide if LOGAN is my favorite movie in the X-MEN series (it’s definitely in my top three), but this was the perfect way to end the original saga. This isn’t a happy, fun superhero movie, but rather a depressing and emotional final chapter in a long-standing film legacy. Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine to me and this was a fitting film for him to end on. LOGAN is fantastic and stands out as one of the best superhero films that I’ve ever seen! If you’re a fan of X-MEN at all, then you owe it to yourself to see this film!

Grade: A+

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