Category: British Humor

I’m not sure if I can think of a more inappropriate film poster than the one I have above. If you look at that picture, you might think that 1996 British indie dramedy Brassed Off was a light-hearted romantic comedy that peripherally featured music. In fact, the film is a fairly serious and tragic political drama with a peripheral romance, occasional pitch-black comedy, and a harsh subversion of your typical underdog story. It’s been a while since there’s been a movie I wanted to watch so little based on its plot description on Netlflix that I ultimately ended up enjoying so much. As a scathing indictment of the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher and her Tory Parliament in the 1980s (along with John Major in the 90s before Blair and Labour regained control), Brassed Off is one of the most heart-breaking examinations of the destruction of the working class this side of Season 2 of The Wire.

Loosely based on a true story, Brassed Off takes place in the small, fictional mining community of Grimley in South Yorkshire. The local coal mine (or colliery as it’s referred to in England) is under immense pressure from the Tory (or Conservative) government to accept a redudancy offer which is a one time payment in exchange for shutting the mine down. With the threat of immediate unemployment hanging over the town’s head, the town’s only source of pleasure and pride is the Grimley Colliery Brass Band led by by the passionate and demanding Danny (The Usual Suspect‘s Pete Postlethwaite). Along with Danny’s son Phil (Stephen Tompkinson) and his star player Andy (Ewan McGregor), the Brass Band tries to win a national championship and their chances go up with the arrival of the beautiful and talented Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) but her association with management in British Coal threatens to tear the group apart.

It’s really hard to undersell just how dark this film can be. Yes, the core of the plot is a story of a scrappy brass band trying to win a national championship while two members form a burgeoning (and taboo) romance, but at the end of the day, Brassed Off is about the systematic destruction of the working class that’s been seen all over the industrialized world these last twenty years. This is a film about the consequences of ravaging workers’ rights to collectively bargain (as seen by the complete lack of efficiency the labour union has in defending its workers). It’s about how not being able to provide for your family even when you work yourself to the bones destroys a man’s soul. It’s about how steady jobs are a source of communal identity and by taking those things away, you kill what makes communities great. No wonder the film was marketed differently in the states.

It is a heart-breaking film to the point that I cried on multiple occasions. Families dissolve because they don’t have enough money to stay together and loan sharks repossess their already meager belongings. Wives don’t speak to their husbands because the husband has lost the same sense of fight and resolve that made her fall in love with him in the first place. A man has a heart attack when he realizes (spoiler alert) that the mine is ultimately going to be shut down. Another man tries to kill himself when all of his efforts to stay above water fail. A couple breaks up when the lines of class and labor tear them apart. Even what should be the film’s happiest final moment is used to remind audiences that the whole film is bullshit if the British people don’t protect those who need it the most. This quote (from the film, not Chumbawumba) sums the film up perfectly.

I thought it mattered. I thought that music mattered. But does it bollocks. Not compared to our people matter.”

Unfortunately, the periphery aspects of the film don’t seem to add much to the overall equation especially the romance between Andy and Gloria which contributes nothing to the film besides exploring the class tensions that are hit on in other, more effective ways. The characterizations aren’t always as rich as they should be. Phil and Danny are among the most compelling characters of the film because of both their father/son dynamic as well as how their lives outside the band are fleshed out (or not considering Danny’s obsession). However, leads like Gloria and Andy, which the film’s marketing would paint as being the central part of the film, are unfortunately thin. You have no reason to care about their romance other than some delightfully electric flirtation before their first real romantic encounter.

Ewan McGregor is one of the great talents from across the pond but both the character and his performance leave quite a bit to be desired as does Tara Fitzgerald. However, Pete Postlethwaite and Stephen Tompkinson steal the show as Danny and Phil. Tompkinson especially lends the film its necessary gravitas. He starts the film, and you think he’s going to be a joke character, but as he grows, he becomes the film’s tragic figurehead and Tompkinson is more than up to the task of representing the wrenching consequences of Tory politics. I don’t know enough about smaller British character actors to speak authoritatively (or specifically) on the matter, but the film shored up the weakness of two of its leads with some wonderfully humorous bit parts that lightened the film’s mood when the tragedy became too much to face.

Perhaps I really enjoyed this movie because I whole-heartedly agree with its leftist politics. But what’s not to love about insightful social commentary that shows the truth of the ills plaguing our nation (or in this case, England)?  It has problems, but with great music, occasionally great performances, and an emotional resonance that impossible to deny, Brassed Off is a hidden gem from across the pond that didn’t get the attention it deserved in America perhaps because many American films are afraid to tackle substantive political issues. With an ability to humanize a tragedy that continues to sweep the world, Brassed Off gets my full recommendation.

Final Score: B+

One of the most intriguing aspects of running this blog that I’ve discovered over the course of the last year is the opportunity to see two movies from a writer-director that are so thematically and stylistically different that you would never have believed they were from the same person if you didn’t already know it to be a fact. Try comparing a movie like Match Point (a crime thriller) from Woody Allen to one of his absurdist comedies like Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) or one of his more serious dramedies like Manhattan. Similarly, how did David Lean go from making a small, quiet romance like Summertime and then head on out and make Lawrence of Arabia (I actually don’t remember which film is older and I’m too lazy to look it up right now). Well, British director Mike Leigh gets to join the ranks of directors who works I’ve reviewed for this blog are radically different from one another. The last film I watched of Mike Leigh’s was the period abortion drama Vera Drake which was heartbreakingly sad and depressing. His Golden Globe-winning 2008 comedyHappy-Go-Lucky may not be quite as joyful as its title or protagonist let on and was a serious case of mood whiplash from Leigh’s other more serious films.

In Happy-Go-Lucky, Poppy (Golden Globe winning Sally Hawkins) is a frighteningly cheerful and optimistic woman. If you took every quirky “indie” rom-com heroine and put them in a blender, you still wouldn’t have a character as odd and bizarre as Poppy. An elementary school teacher, Poppy would ride her back to school everyday, but when it’s stolen (which doesn’t seem to ruin her good cheer one bit), she has to learn to drive and hires Scott (Sherlock Holmes‘s Eddie Marsan), a misogynistic, racist and angry man, to be her instructor. Poppy’s buoyant and endless energy and warmth immediately create tension between her and the always glum (if not straight out furious) Scott. However, when Poppy begins to date a social worker who visited her classroom to help one of her students who had been violently acting out, Scott becomes jealous and all of the anger and rage he had been bottling up has the potential to explode on Poppy who would never intentionally harm any living creature (not even the slightest of exaggeration). Along the way, we see Poppy with her best-mate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) as Poppy weaves her way in and out of different people’s lives in a state of pure, uncorrupted bliss.

Sally Hawkins gave one of the most unique and eclectic performances I’ve ever witnessed as Poppy. As much as I love films like Garden State or (500) Days of Summer), their leads are only slightly eccentric and perhaps flirting with quirky. Poppy borders on being mentally unstable. She is truly just a one-of-a-kind creation that makes Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel look boring in comparison. Had it not been for Sally Hawkins as Poppy, there’s a chance this film would have been borderline unwatchable because Poppy was just so strange that it would have been too easy to “Hollywood”-ize her character, to make it too theatrical. Yet despite being such a content and cheerful person, Hawkins managed to keep her characterization in the realm of reality and though she spent much of the film in the midst of one giggle fit after another, there were moments when Hawkins managed to give Poppy some depths that hinted that perhaps this facade was just to protect her from something much harder and more painful. Somehow even more impressive than Sally Hawkins was Eddie Marsan as Scott. There was so much vitriolic hate and rage in the moments when he suffered one of his many breakdowns that I honestly feared for Poppy’s safety and thought that I would never want to piss Eddie Marsan off in real life because he sold the anger and fury so well. Once again, he managed to make a character like Ray Winstone in Nil by Mouth that was fueled on pure anger without making it seem over-the-top or campy which lesser actors would have failed at accomplishing.

The process by which Mike Leigh makes his movies is almost self-evident in the very natural and realistic sounding nature of the dialogue that pops off of every scene. Rather than writing actual dialogue, his films are largely improved during extensive rehearsal sessions which then result in the actual dialogue being used in the film eventually coming around so it can be practiced. This is not a plot-driven film, and rather a series of vignettes where we get intimate and detailed looks at Poppy’s life (as well as that of her close circle of friends) and are able to see just how someone like Poppy would ever be able to operate in our modern, cynical world. Because there is very little in the way of plot (other than Poppy’s ultimate confrontation with Scott), the first half of the film will likely result in viewer wondering what in the hell type of movie they are watching because even by film’s end, you would be hard-pressed to pinpoint the “point” of the film. However, the last half is over-loaded with compelling episodes that really flesh out Poppy, and whether it’s her interactions with a homeless man, being lectured by her sister about “growing up”, or finally going toe to toe with Scott, we really get to see that there’s more going on in Poppy’s brain than her cheerful demeanor lets on.

If you require your non-plot driven films to have a “point” or some grand statement about life in order to be worthwhile, Happy-Go-Lucky will not be for you. I’ve spent the better part of the day trying to parse out exactly what the film means, and I’m still unable to come up with a definitive answer other than a quiet look at one truly bizarre woman’s life as she tries to find her own happiness and bring smiles to the lives of others. It’s so sharp and insightful into this personality that I suspect that there are perhaps very British commentaries about British society that I am missing out on as an American, but I can’t help if I don’t quite grasp the inner-workings of a very particular subset of British society. For all fans of British humor and fine acting, Happy-Go-Lucky will satisfy you on both fronts and perhaps inspire the same level of introspection in you as it inspired in me. This is a film that I feel I will appreciate after more viewings and after I’ve had the chance to wrestle more with its subtleties and subtext. Go ahead and acquaint yourself with Poppy. Methinks you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: B+

There’s a website that I like to visit called that is sort of the wikipedia of popular culture and the conventions used for creating fiction in all of its mediums. One of the tropes they discuss is a phenomenon known as “Poe’s Law” which states that “a parody of something extreme can be mistaken for the real thing, and if a real thing sounds extreme enough, it can be mistaken for a parody.” Try to say something so extreme on any internet forum where you can only possibly be joking but say it completely straight and see just how many people think you’re being serious. I’m bringing this up because the film I just watched, Chris Morris’ brilliant political satire Four Lions is a scathing indictment of fanaticism as well as the way that western conservatives see all Muslims. If you don’t come into this film as a liberal or someone who at least knows a little bit about Muslim culture (which this film intentionally doesn’t portray accurately at all), this film could end up negatively reinforcing some false and awful stereotypes you have about Muslims and the Islamic faith. For every one else in the audience who will get that this is a comedy and satire, this is one of the best political satires I’ve seen since In the Loop, another hilarious British satire I watched in this blog’s original format.

Four Lions is a brilliant send-up of the notion of “home-grown” terrorists and chronicles the incompetent exploits of five British Muslims who believe that they are al-Qaeda jihadists ready to martyr themselves for their beliefs. Omar (The Road to Guantanamo‘s Riz Ahmed) is the group’s ring-leader and is joined by his dim-witted friend Waj (Kayvan Novak), the boisterous Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the paranoid Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), and the newest recruit Hassan (Arsher Ali). Over the course of the film, these “Lions” bungle their way through one failed mission after another, whether this is going to Afghanistan and accidentally killing Osama bin Laden, having one of their members blow up on accident while running through a sheep field strapped with explosives, and generally making complete fools of themselves. They only want to be martyrs and go to paradise but when they can’t even think to buy the materials for their homemade explosives from more than one store, their heavenly reward of virgins is going to be much harder to come by than they had planned on.

This film is legitimately laugh-out-loud hilarious. I haven’t heard this much cursing in a British film since the last time I watched In the Loop‘s profanity laden monologues from Malcolm Tucker (seriously watch that clip. it might not make any sense out of context if you haven’t seen the film, but if you have, you’ll laugh your ass off again). These men were just so unbelievably bad at being terrorists. Omar is supposed to be the most level-headed and intelligent person in the group, but he was the one who fired the bazooka the wrong way and killed Osama bin Laden (this film came out before his actual death). It viciously mocks the way that people use ideology to manipulate and corrupt harmless religions and harmless people. Waj isn’t a bad guy; he’s simply being dragged along by Barry and Omar because he’s too dumb to make any decisions for himself. No one comes out unscathed from this film’s unflinching eye for humor and biting social commentary. This film shouldn’t offend any Muslims or any intelligent people. The only people that may take it the wrong way would be those that aren’t smart enough to figure out what it was about in the first place.

As long as you can hear the phrase “comedy about terrorists” and not cringe or immediately begin making moral approbations, then I’d recommend taking this film for a drive. It’s smart, hilarious, and it even makes you think. There are certainly people out there that it may offend, but if you’ve got a sense of humor about yourself, this movie should be easy enough to handle. This is dark comedy, not at it’s darkest (that award certainly goes to Happiness) but perhaps at its most outrageous. With a great cast, great gags, and some gutbusting set pieces, Four Lions was a remarkable debut from a British talent who is sure to make a name for himself in British comedy.

Final Score: A-

There comes a time in many young men’s lives when they are forced to face the reality that all of their friends are getting engaged, becoming married, or having children whilst they remain in a perpetual state of bachelorhood. Whether through a fear of commitment or an inability to find “the one”, it can be an emotionally devastating realization that can push already neurotic types off into the deep end of loneliness and despair. This conflict forms the emotional core of Mike Newell’s (Donnie Brasco) surprisingly delightful romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral. The film that shot Hugh Grant to international superstardom, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a simple and conventional love story that is elevated far above its source material by a rollicking British wit and memorable performances from its lead and supporting cast. Only unfortunate contrivances at the film’s end along with the less than impressive Andie MacDowell hold this film back from being a romantic comedy classic.

With one of the most self-explanatory titles of the 1990’s, Four Weddings and a Funeral is the story of Charles (Hugh Grant), a bumbling but endearing Brit who constantly finds himself attending the weddings (and a funeral) of various friends and acquaintances. Charles has been a bit of a lothario in his day, and his inability to commit or open to any of the women in his life has held back from finding true happiness. At the first wedding of the film, Charles runs into Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American woman, and the two share an instant and passionate connection which culminates in a sizzling one-night stand. Three months later, another wedding is being hosted and Charles runs into Carrie yet again, but she is now engaged to the boring but rich Scotsman, Hamish (Corin Redgrave). Forcing Charles to assess where his life is headed, the film follows Charles’s coping with his interminable bachelorhood and simultaneously facing that he has feelings for a woman that’s soon to be married, all while there are still two weddings and one funeral that I simply must not spoil to come.

With the glaring and unfortunate exception of Andie MacDowell, this film is grounded in a simply stellar cast. While Hugh Grant has made a career off of rehashing essentially the same character over and over again, this was the original role, and it’s no wonder he’s one of the most popular stars from across the pond. Channeling the foot-in-mouth neuroses and self doubt of Woody Allen with the stuttering charm of James Stewart (with even more Anglicized influences), Hugh Grant is a comedic revelation. He can spout off an obscene tirade in a church and still come of as immaculately polite and likeable. At the same time, he is able to achieve a level of sincerity in his performance that solidifies the emotional connection the audience is able to make with his character. Outside of the more noticeable fantastical elements of the plot, this a very real and recognizable tale and Grant brings the emotional insecurity and doubt home with his performance. Andie MacDowell on the other hand was terribly miscast. Her lack of emotion and also her lack of any nuance robs the film of a significant amount of credibility as I often had trouble understanding why Charles could ever fall so heavily for such a cold character.

Thankfully, if Andie MacDowell faltered, she was carried on by a sterling supporting cast. Kristen Scott Thomas (The English Patient) exudes elegance and class (as always) and simultaneously a tender vulnerability and loneliness as Fiona, one of Charles’s closest friends who has always carried a torch for him. With a simple glance or turn of her cheek, she is able to evoke an entire range of emotions that the lead love interest couldn’t achieve in the whole film. The real scene-stealer of the film is Simon Callow as Gareth, the exuberant and lively elderly boyfriend of Matthew (John Hannah) who is prone to drunken reveries and head-turning dancing. His clear and commanding diction, which seems straight from Shakespeare, only adds to the humorous dichotomy of his boorish but entertaining antics. John Hannah is no slouch either as he provides some of the film’s most emotionally powerful and dramatic moments.

For a fairly traditional romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral strikes a perfect match between intelligent, dry British humor with a rather healthy smattering of raunchy humor for good measure. Much like Grant’s later picture, Notting Hill, the film takes great pleasure in creating humor by contrasting Grant’s polite and endearing image with a surprisingly large amount of British curse words and sexual comedy. For those out there who have created some mental image of the movie as a staid “chick flick”, those worries can easily be cast aside as there are enough jokes for both sexes to ensure that everyone in the audience is in stitches by the film’s end. Richard Curtis (Love Actually) penned the wicked sharp script and its end excepted, it will have you laughing while also forcing you empathize with painfully familiar life crisis that Charles finds himself facing.

As mentioned, the film’s end seems unfortunately artificial and forced in an otherwise painfully realistic movie, but that shouldn’t stop you from watching this otherwise lovely and hilarious gem from across the pond. So many romantic comedies are painfully formulaic and derivative, that when one comes along with a fresh voice and a sincere tone, you simply must take those chances to find new and original entertainment. While it may not be one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, it still stands as a genuinely entertaining and endearing production which transcends so much of what the genre produces. Hugh Grant has made his entire career off the image he created in this film, and he’s never been able to get it quite as right or sincere than in the original artifact.

Final Score: B+

Does it seem like I just reviewed a Pink Panther film a couple weeks ago? That’s because I did. The very last I film I reviewed before doing my second “best of” list was the original The Pink Panther from 1963, and boy, did I hate that film. I didn’t laugh for nearly the first hour of the film, and I only elicited light chuckles after that point. When I realized that my master list had me watching two Pink Panther films in such short turn-around, I was understandably distraught. As often as I want fun and enjoyable films for this blog, I am just as often (if not more frequently) exposed to films that I outright dislike and find boring. Well, thankfully, the 1975 sequel, The Return of the Pink Panther, couldn’t be more different from the original film and was legitimately hilarious from start to finish and only suffered from an overly lengthy run time as well as a side-plot that did little to add to the humor of the film.

This is the third film in the franchise and once again, Inspector Clousseau (the comedic tour-de-force of Peter Sellers) is on the trail of the mysterious Phantom who has actually managed to steal the priceless Pink Panther diamond from its secure vault in a museum. Returning in a different actor’s body, Sir Charles Lytton (Christopher Plummer), the actual Phantom from the first two films, did not actually commit this robbery and in order to prove his innocence, he decided to track down the actual jewel thief. As Sir Charles goes off on a globe-trotting expedition to find the actual thief, Inspector Clousseau has the same stated mission but no measure of competency or skill. He simply bumbles his way through mishap after mishap until he stumbles upon the actual case. Hilarity ensues, including random interludes where Inspector Clousseau is attacked by his Asian manservant, Kato, to test his instincts and reflexes.

Peter Sellers was simply hilarious in this film. I don’t know why I found him to be so unfunny in the first film, but here, he had me laughing my ass off the whole movie. Maybe it was the way he simply butchered a French accent (on purpose) and provided plenty of classic one-liners, or perhaps its the way he could single-handedly destroy any set in the picture because of his clumsiness and ineptitude, but he was a literal hurricane of comedy. This was the Peter Sellers that I remembered from Dr. Strangelove and not the flaccid bit of slapstick humor from the original film. Christopher Plummer was not funny as Sir Charles Lytton and I could have honestly done without his portion of the film.

If you’re  a fan of slap stick humor that you can turn your brain off and enjoy, this was a legitimately funny picture. Peter Sellers was simply reaching levels of slapstick nirvana that most comedians would dream of wishing. The picture really dragged at its two hour length and like I said, I could have done without Sir Charles’ substory. However, I actually enjoyed this film as compared to hating the original. I’m now not as concerned that practically every other Pink Panther film in the series still remains to be watched for my blog as they almost all qualified for my master list for this blog in one form or another .This wasn’t a great film, but it was one I definitely enjoyed.

Final Score: B

 There is nothing quite as disappointing for a film buff as to finally watch a film that you’ve heard nothing but great things about your entire life only to find it to be not just terribly over-rated but generally awful. I remember how excited I was to watch Citizen Kane after repeatedly hearing it called the greatest film of all time and then how disappointed I was in how dull I found it (I watched that when I was a freshman in high school so admittedly adult Don Saas owes Orson Welles another go). Well, I had heard nothing but great things about the original The Pink Panther film and I found Peter Sellers to be riotously funny in Dr. Strangelove. So, the fact that this film was incredibly dull and not remotely funny (at least until the end) made my whole experience with The Pink Panther a real let-down.

The Pink Panther is the story of the attempts by three different thieves to purloin the titular Pink Panther, which is one of the world’s most valuable diamonds. It is the property of Princess Dala of India who is quite beautiful. The three thieves are Sir Charles Litton (David Niven), a debonair playboy who attempts to seduce the diamond out of the princess, Charles’ nephew George (Robert Wagner) who stumbles himself into the plot, and Simone Clousseau, the conniving wife of French Inspector Jacques Clousseau (Peter Sellers). Jacques Clousseau is hot on the trail of a mysterious jewel thief named the Phantom which leads him to the Italian ski resort where Princess Dala is vacationing and where the plan to steal her diamond begins. Clousseau is beyond incompetent and fumbles his way into one embarrassing situation after another.

This movie isn’t funny. I didn’t laugh a single time for well past the first hour of the film, and it wasn’t until its madcap climax that I began to release some chuckles, but that was as far it ever went. I could count on one hand the number of times the film elicited a laugh or chuckle from me. That’s not a good sign for a comedy. It was way too long and could have been about half an hour shorter. I can only recommend this to hardcore film purists for the role that it plays in cinema history. However, I would also recommend not really believing the hype that this film has earned itself over the years. I’m really not looking forward to the two or three other Pink Panther films that are also on my master list for this blog. I hope they’re significantly better than this one.

 Final Score: C

 My relationship with romantic comedies is kind of complicated. Two out of my three favorite films are romantic comedies, Annie Hall and Chasing Amy, but they are very much the exception to the rule. For the most part, I think the genre is absolute school girl fantasy drivel where the same mix and match plot lines are recycled in and out and in and out. I would say that 75% of the films of the genre is simply unwatchable for me; 20% is bearable; and then there’s that miraculous 5% which is actually honest and sincere films. Well, I just finished watching 1999’s Notting Hill for the first time since it came out, and while it mostly falls under the watchable category of romantic comedy, it is turned into a genuinely enjoyable film on the strength of Hugh Grant’s undeniable charm and a scene-stealing Rhys Ifans.

Notting Hill is the story of an uptight and shy London book store owner named William Thacker (Hugh Grant) whose life is turned upside down when American movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) stumbles into his book store. After accidentally spilling coffee on her and inviting her back to his flat to clean herself up, an unlikely romance blooms, but Anna’s fame and the never-ending presence of the paparazzi threaten to tear their relationship apart. Rhys Ifan co-stars as William’s room mate, Spike, a raunchy and always half-naked Welshman who steals every second that he’s on screen.

Ever since Four Weddings and a Funeral, Hugh Grant has securely sat atop the list of thinking women’s sex symbols. He’s made his career off of playing basically the exact same kind of stuttering, shy, but loveable Englishman. Yet, despite the fact that his career has had little variety, I still love Hugh Grant, and if he’s in a film, I can at least sit through it. When I was younger and my mom showed me Pretty Woman for the first time, I instantly fell in love with Julia Roberts, but her performance in this film, where she’s practically playing herself, is incredibly wooden and not all that impressive. Hugh Grant just out acts and out classes her in every scene.

Have you seen this story before? Yes. Does the plot go down any particularly unexpected paths? No. Is this the kind of chick flick that might actually have cross gender appeal? Not really. But I like Hugh Grant. I like dry British humor which this film has in spades. It’s even a little bit raunchy by your average chick flick standards because of Rhys Ifan’s presence. If you’re a girl, I’m guessing you’ve already seen it, and there aren’t too many guys I can recommend it to. But I don’t regret the time I just spent re-watching this film.

 Final Score: B

One of my favorite comedies of the last ten years was the sleeper hit and instant cult classic Shaun of the Dead. The combination of dry British humor, biting social commentary, and loving satire of the zombie apocalypse was a perfect mix. While Hot Fuzz was not quite as good as Shaun of the Dead, it was still an awesome and fun love letter to its particular genre. Well, I just got home from seeing the latest collaboration between writer/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Paul, and it was even more spectacular than Shaun of the Dead. I haven’t laughed this hard at such a well-written and smart comedy since Role Models or Pineapple Express. You should go see this in theatres right now.

Paul is about two best friends, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), British geeks who are visiting America for Comic-Con and then touring important extra-terrestrial sites here in the States. They come across an alien by the name of Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who is on the run from the U.S. Government who has been holding him at Area 51 for over 60 years. The cast is rounded out by Bill Hader (Superbad), Kristen Wiig (Knocked Up), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Sigourney Weaver (Alien). Graeme and Clive decide to help Paul get to where his friends will rescue him and on their journey, mayhem and madcap antics ensue. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I will say that it goes to some, while predictable, still ridiculously hilarious places.

If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, I obviously don’t need to tell you how hilarious Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are as a pair. They’re, in all likelihood, the funniest comic actors from across the pond since Eric Idle and John Cleese. And then, someone had the brilliant idea to pair them up with the regular cast members of Judd Apatow projects, who are among the most consistently funny actors here in the States. The film is a perfect amalgamation of raunchy American/Apatow humor and dry, sardonic British humor. And the movie never fails to make you laugh.

This film is obviously a love letter to the science fiction genre and to geeks everywhere, and it nails all of those notes right. I lost track of how many subtle (and not so subtle) shout-outs there were to the all time great science fiction films. Although my personal favorite was when they entered a red neck bar in Wyoming, only for the “Cantina Theme” from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope to be played by the bar band. Not to mention that it plays the geeks and nerds in an entirely sincere way instead of for constant yuks. Much like The 40 Year Old Virgin‘s Andy, Graeme and Clive are pretty much real characters, although obviously not as nearly well fleshed out as Steve Carrell’s Andy.

I’ve ranted enough about how much I loved this movie. Needless to say, I can’t wait to watch it again. If you like Judd Apatow films or you like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s previous pairings, then there is absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t see this film. The only people that I wouldn’t recommend this movie to are those who are highly religious because this movie definitely takes some hilarious knocks at blind religious faith and turns a devoutly religious girl into a foul-mouthed fornicator by the end of the film. Of course, that only made it better for me. This is a must see movie.

Final Score: A

My feelings towards Robert Altman films are often very, very conflicted. For example, M*A*S*H* was a brilliant and subversive political comedy but there were times that there were so many people talking at once on screen (a common Altman tactic) that I wasn’t really sure who I was supposed to be listening to at any given moment. A Prairie Home Companion was a beautiful and understated comedy about the last days of the iconic radio program but it was so slow and droll at times that I questioned if it really deserved to be a movie. His most famous film of the 2000’s Gosford Park is another Altman film that has left me not knowing exactly how it is I felt about the film.

The film follows a weekend at the Gosford Park mansion owned by Lord William McCordle (Michael Gambon) where he is having a shooting party with a large group of other rich socialites. The film also, however, follows the lives of the very large group of servants living in the house or traveling with the other socialites. Much of the humor of the film comes from the dichotomy between these two distinct worlds. Towards the end of the film, it also becomes a murder mystery focusing on the murder of someone in the house (I won’t ruin who was murdered or the murderer was for the sake of preserving the suspense if anyone wants to watch it still).

The film’s cast is huge, and it may have been simply one of the best ensemble casts that I can think of. It’s basically a who’s who of fine British actors. Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristen Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and a large group of others. The acting was absolutely spectacular which is par for the course of an Altman picture. Special mention has to go to Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. Maggie Smith stole every second she was on screen as a bitchy countess and Helen Mirren, as always, wowed as one of the head servants. Kelly MacDonald also did an absolutely stellar job as a maid as did Emily Watson. The acting and directing are really the biggest selling points of the film along with the cinematography and production values in terms of costume and set design. The film is beautifully shot and made.

The film has some serious problems though. It’s far, far too long. I felt a good 40 minutes of the film could have been cut and it would have been better for it. Also, the pacing can be absolutely dragging at times. It can get so boring. I kept looking at my watch wondering how much longer the film could possibly be. Fortunately, for the most part, the script is sharp and it tries to make up for its excessive length in that area. It’s an Altman film and the dialogue is always top notch. If you like mystery movies or period pieces, you should watch it. This movie probably isn’t for everyone, but I enjoyed it. I just wish it had been a lot shorter.

Final Score: B+