SXSW Reviews: I Give It a Year , Good Vibrations , Hours


The South by SouthWest Film Festival still runs for a few more days, but for it’s quickly coming to a close as we return to our regularly-scheduled theatrical film coverage, but we wanted to share three more reviews of movies we saw over the last couple days, two of them from the United Kingdom and one from the States.

First, we have the Working Title Pictures relationship comedy I Give It A Year, written and directed by Borat co-writer Dan Mazer, then we have Good Vibrations, a look at the Irish punk scene of the late ‘70s, and lastly, we have a Paul Walker thriller called Hours.

I Give It A Year
Written and directed by Dan Mazer
Starring Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Rafe Spall, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng, Olivia Colman, Alex Macqueen, Jane Asher
Rating: 7/10

If there’s one thing that the British can do really well it’s comedy, and Working Title Pictures has really created a niche for themselves when it comes to romance and relationships set within a British setting that’s fairly universal. So it makes sense that when Dan Mazer, best known as Sacha Baron Cohen’s writing partner on movies like “Bruno” and “Borat,” wanted to direct his first feature and make it about relationships, they’d be the perfect partners.

As you might imagine from Mazer’s previous work, it’s going to take a fairly raunchy R-rated look at marriage with the general idea being that the first year of the marriage is the most difficult. It opens with a title sequence montage that shows the first meeting and the budding relationship between Rafe Spall’s Josh and Rose Byrne’s Nat leading to their fancy wedding, which is where his father informs them how tough their first year of marriage will be.

From that point, Mazer spends the entire movie putting Josh and Nat’s new nuptials through the wringer by throwing temptation their way. For Nat, that comes in the form of Simon Baker’s Guy Harrop, an American billionaire industrialist who Nat is trying to impress in order to get his account, so she takes her wedding ring off and doesn’t protest when he starts hitting on her. For Josh, it’s his former girlfriend Chloe, played by Anna Faris, who has returned from Africa after four years.

The prolific and versatile Rafe Spall gets to play a different role than we’ve seen from him, being more of the dopey husband who is always getting into trouble. Before “Bridesmaids,” few people would have thought of casting Rose Byrne in a comedic role, and in that sense, she takes the straighter role in this, mostly offering reactions, but still making the most of some of her rare funny moments.

British actor Simon Baker may seem like odd casting to play an American, but there’s something funny about the stereotype, which leaves Anna Faris as the one member of the foursome who is working very much in her comfort zone. It’s not immediately clear why the story keeps branching away from Josh and Nat to start following Chloe’s own relationship with Charlie, who tries to convince her into a holiday threesome with a sexy foreign woman – a funny scene at first but one that plays too long.

Where Mazer’s debut shines is his supporting cast, because he’s surrounded the foursome with some of Britain’s funniest, particularly Stephen Merchant, so funny in the first 10 to 15 minutes as he embarrasses the newlyweds with his best man speech it’s a shame when he vanishes for most of the rest of the movie. Likewise, we know that Minnie Driver can be funny but she really takes it to another level as she puts the screws to her own husband, played by Jason Flemying. There’s also Olivia Colman as the couple’s marriage counselor who acts completely inappropriate during their sessions.

For the most part, the laughs are consistent, but where “I Give It A Year” really explodes is during a couple OF scenes so outrageously funny it’s impossible not to lose it, most of them involving Spall embarrassing himself in front of Nat’s family and friends.

Even with such big laughs, things begin to fall apart in the last twenty minutes as the movie takes a turn for the ridiculous as Josh and Nat start to rethink their marriage and potential alternate mates. Maybe it’s because Mazer chose to stay away from the heavy drama that normally would come with infidelity, he decided to take this route, but it’s not particularly believable how things go down, and it throws a monkey wrench into the light and romantic tone leading up to it.

As a raunchy relationship comedy, “I Give It a Year” isn’t so British that it might put off mainstream American audiences. Much like the original “Death at a Funeral,” it offers enough huge physically-driven laughs that it makes up for some of the lazier storytelling decisions.

Good Vibrations
Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn; Written by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson
Starring Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Michael Colgan, Karl Johnson, Liam Cunningham, Adrian Dunbar, Dylan Moran
Rating: 7/10

I’d like to think I’m fairly well versed on a lot of different types of music from different eras including the early punk scenes of London, New York and California, but one definite gap in my knowledge was revealed by watching this movie about the Irish punk scene based around Terri Hooley’s record shop Good Vibrations located in the middle of the Northern Ireland war zone. Of course, everyone has heard of Derry’s The Undertones and their hit song “Teenage Kicks,” but there was more to Hooley than discovering them as we learn.

Terri Hooley was a local DJ, usually playing at the empty pub owned by his friend (Dylan Moran), when he meets his wife Ruth who opens his eyes to doing more with his life. Soon after, he decides the best way to share his love of music is to open a record shop, but the decision to set Good Vibrations in the middle of the civil war between Catholic and Protestants in Ulster, Northern Ireland, seems like a bad idea to everyone around Terri. What happens is that the music brings the two factions together even as it becomes a target for the local skinheads, creating a situation that will rears its ugly head later.

Things start to pick up in the late ‘70s with the introduction of punk music, which Terri immediately falls in love with, as he discovers a number of local bands, including Rudi and The Outcasts. Terri struggles to get them heard, recording and releasing the records themselves, even taking them on a thrown-together tour across Ireland. Where the movie really picks up is when Terri discovers the Undertones and “Teenage Kicks” is played on the radio by John Peel, which is a huge moment for the Irish punk scene and suddenly Hooley is turned into a celebrity, even if financially, he can’t make ends meet at the shop.

Despite the great music, this is a movie that might take some time to warm up to since it starts off fairly bland and by the books, going for Biopic 101 with costumes, hair and wigs that come across as rather shabby. The heavy Irish accents don’t help and the movie doesn’t make much of an effort to explain the civil unrest in Belfast, which is probably fine if you’re Irish or British and of a certain age to know the history, but it makes it far less accessible to outsiders. Eventually, it finds its footing and turns into a warm film full of witty humor.

Much of that can be credited to Richard Dormer (“Game of Thrones”), who does a decent job making Terri incredibly likable, although like everything else in the movie, it might take some time to warm up to the character. Once you acclimate yourself to his flaws, you really want him to succeed, which makes him a great character to base a movie around. Jodie Whittaker Is even better as his wife Ruth who comes in and out of the story, offering some of the film’s strongest dramatic moments.

Every once in a while, filmmakers Lisa D’sa and Glenn Leyburn break away from the typical biopic moments to delver Into the surreal with some ideas working better than others like using Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” and Hank William’s “I Saw the Light” as recurring themes, both feeling quite stark compared to the punky pop tunes that make up most of the soundtrack.

If you’re a music fan, especially of classic punk, then “Good Vibrations” has a couple of true revelatory moments, but the script could be better so that it didn’t constantly have to rely on the music to drive the movie… and ultimately, save it.

Written and directed by Eric Heisserer
Starring Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez
Rating: 6.5/10

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer has been involved with a number of horror remakes over the years, most of them pretty bad, but he jumps into his directorial debut by adapting one of his own short stories with actor (and the film’s co-producer) Paul Walker playing Nolan Hayes, a married New Orleans man who within the first five minutes of the movie, loses his wife Abigail in childbirth as their daughter is born prematurely, forcing doctors to put her in a respirator. When Hurricane Katrina hits and the levee breaks, flooding the city, the hospital is evacuated leaving Nolan alone to watch over his new baby daughter. He quickly finds a small crank-driven generator that can keep his daughter’s respirator powered for three minutes at that time, but with the battery failing, he knows he only can keep her alive for so long before he needs to figure out how to get them rescued.

“Hours” is a high concept thriller in the vein of Ryan Reynolds’ “Buried” or the lesser seen “Brake” starring Stephen Dorff. Unlike like those films which used their claustrophobic setting to enhance the thrills, this one takes place in a larger area of space but it’s one that’s just as remote, and for a long time, the only person we see on screen is Walker since like those other films, this is essentially a one-man show. Whether or not you can get into the premise may come down to whether or not you can spend a little over 90 minutes watching Walker running around an abandoned hospital ward and constantly returning to his daughter’s respirator to crank up the generator.

Walker has never been the strongest dramatic actor, and yet, other than a few moments of flagrant overacting, he does a good job in this role because he’s a strong enough leading man to keep you interested in his plight even if the film’s very nature makes it feel repetitive. (Oddly, Walker has produced and is starring in another upcoming high concept thriller called “Vehicle 19” so this may be the new niche for the “Fast and Furious” star.)

Despite the seemingly low budget, Heisserer keeps the film visually interesting without resorting to trickery or gimmicks and he does try to change things up from time to time by throwing new things into the mix, like when Nolan encounters a stray rescue dog and looters break into the hospital.

The movie’s weirdest bits are the flashbacks to happier times with Nolan’s wife, played by Genesis Rodriguez, which eventually leads to him having feverish fantasies where she’s in the room talking to him. Many of those flashbacks seem out of place because it intrudes into the overall tone of the rest of the movie, although they also work at breaking up the potential monotony of the premise.

While it’s fairly slow and repetitive, “Hours” is a solidly-directed thriller that could easily appeal to a wider audience than the art house crowd although the overall premise and the fact Walker’s character is able to succeed despite every adversity thrown his way makes it even harder to swallow than most high concept thrillers.