From the Apatow stable comes this critically and commercially adored comedy, written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig (who also stars, alongside a whole gang of riotously funny femmes). I recall a few dissenting voices in the otherwise applauding crowd decrying it for 'being too much like a guy movie' with the crude gags, but perhaps if you're not a stuck-up prude you'd realise that men and women aren't so massively different after all, least of all in their humour. Paul Feig's flick - at a generous running time of just over two hours - gives you plenty story, plenty laughs, and never outstays its welcome (indeed, I was left wanting more - an appetite fulfilled by the copious extra features on the Blu-Ray presentation). Even with all the laugh-out-loud moments (my throat was hurting by the end as I'd been laughing so much), you genuinely identify/sympathise with Kristen Wiig's Annie, a thirty-something who finds herself suddenly quite lost on her life's path after her best friend announces she's getting married. A great cast and a great script make this a must-see laugh-riot.
Click below to read more about The Guard, The Messenger, Cedar Rapids, and 127 Hours.
Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh who gave us the brilliant In Bruges, comes a similarly acerbic and non-PC comedy outing. There is a common approach to humour between the brothers, but there is a clear divide in how they go about presenting that on-screen. The Guard approaches the tale of an international cocaine smuggling ring coming to Connemara in Ireland (home of Brendan Gleeson's crookedly honest cop Boyle), as if it was a spaghetti western. There's a wry sense of style that mixes well with the comedy - from a vibrant colour scheme, to utilising the natural beauty of the area in which it was filmed. What's more, there's a deftly-handled line of real emotional depth to the script (in a subplot relating to Sergeant Gerry Boyle's mother), but like In Bruges, there's clearly a great skill when it comes to balancing moments of humour with moments of genuine pathos. Add in some humorous touches like philosophical drug runners, and Boyle's not-always-off-duty proclivities, and you've got a really enjoyable flick. If you dug In Bruges, you'll dig this, and while I've referred to In Bruges a few times here, make no mistake, this film stands apart on it's own terms.
Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson star in this somewhat meandering drama about two military men who act as messengers - informing the Next of Kin of soldiers just killed in action, a job that entails strict rules of conduct, professionalism, and which elicits a range of reactions and unique scenarios as each family is informed of their great loss. The direction is gentle, often favouring long takes that drift in-and-out according to the levels of tension, and the acting never spirals into over-the-top territory, instead preferring a more haunted approach. There are solid supporting turns from the likes of Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton, and while the film isn't going to linger too long in my memory personally, it's good while it lasts.
Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman for a small rural town where it's all about community and proper Christian living. He's a small town guy, who is knocking boots with his former teacher behind closed doors, and then he gets sent to the eponymous town for an insurance conference where he must win the coveted Two Diamonds award for the sake of his company. Thrown into a sudden world of white collar debauchery, he soon finds himself on a bit of a roller coaster. It's a gentle comedy, no huge laughs, but it's a fun time nonetheless while it lasts.
Danny Boyle's based-on-a-true-story film - about adrenaline junkie Aron Ralston who had his right arm pinned under a rock until he cut it off with a blunt knife and made his escape, quite literally single handedly - is a gripping watch. James Franco's performance is true-to-life (he witnessed the real tapes that Ralston made when he was actually pinned under that rock in 2003), and Boyle's direction is vibrant. The film oftentimes splices the screen into three sections, as if it's so impatient that it needs to be doing, and seeing, as much as possible as quickly as possible - the film itself is an adrenaline junkie. Everyone was talking about the graphic scene in which the arm is severed, and yes it is graphic (especially in the context of being trapped, alone, starving and desperately in need of water), but the whole film is so arresting that the conclusion becomes like a religious experience, an ascension to a higher plane of being, after 127 hours of deep introspection and extreme struggle against adversity. Fantastic.