21 Jump Street (2012)

Brilliantly Funny Comedy” 10/10

 

21 Jump Street is apparently something of a remake of the 1987 TV series starring Johnny Depp and Dustin Nguyen (it’s a couple of years before my time so I haven’t seen it yet to compare the two) which features underachieving policemen Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) who are assigned the task of posing as high school students in an undercover operation to bring down a drugs ring, leading the pair into a whole host of hilarious situations.

 

Despite the juvenile nature that you’d typically expect from this film (not normally something I particularly enjoy) I thought this film was hilarious.  Some of the jokes were very base but these were fairly outnumbered by some genuine good humour.  Of course the whole film borders on the silly and far-fetched throughout but it never pretends to be anything other than just that, and rarely feels like it’s trying too hard for audience laughs.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a dream comedy duo in this: their differences in acting styles and personalities are played up in stereotypes which make for some real fun, especially as the stereotypical American high school is a strong factor.  Dave Franco plays the shifty popular kid and offers an enjoyable performance that occasionally stands up to the humour of Tatum and Hill, although the biggest laughs from a more minor character come from Ice Cube, the exasperated chief at the 21 Jump Street Facility. There’s a nice cameo appearance from the original 21 Jump Street-ers Johhny Depp and Dustin Nguyen too.

 

If you’re looking for a brilliantly funny comedy that’s full of light-hearted silliness then it doesn’t get much funnier than this.  Despite being a little apprehensive I absolutely cracked up at this film and can’t wait to see if the sequel lives up to the laugh out loud humour in this.

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Carnage (2011)

“A Darkly Comedic Look at Chaotic Personalities” 9/10

 

Carnage is a fascinating and darkly comedic drama that certainly lives up to its title.  Two pairs of parents, the Cowans (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) and the Longstreets (John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) meet up to discuss an incident involving a tussle between their two sons.  The Longstreets invite the Cowans over to their apartment to discuss the appropriate next steps, however the discussion ends up snowballing into total carnage.

 

Nearly the entire film is set in the one room, the Longstreet’s lounge, which in itself makes for fascinating viewing, creating a caged-in, uncomfortable atmosphere.  At the beginning the two sets of parents do not know each other, intensifying that discomfort, and as a viewer watching that one room for the entire film becomes more and more enveloping – towards the end I felt as if I too were trapped in the apartment, unable to escape the spiralling chaos that was unfolding.  The film is based on the play “God of Carnage” which I have seen and enjoyed, so I was glad to see that the effectiveness of the staging had not been lost in its move to the screen.  A good casting was a strong contributing factor in creating this effect of being “drawn in” – in particular the two actresses.  This film is all about clashes and is demonstrated most strongly in the characters.  Winslet’s character is anxious and stressed, keen to move on quickly from the incident with the least fuss; whilst Foster’s character is much more ideological and full of very firm and unchanging views on the world, believing that her son deserves more than just a quick apology.  The two men are also wildly different: Reilly’s character is accommodating and free-flowing (a stark contrast from his wife too) and Waltz, a seriously underrated actor who I would love to see in more things, is a detached father who’s primary concern is his work.  I always find films with character clashes fascinating and this one does it to perfection, embracing some parenting stereotypes to bring the story to a head.

 

It’s difficult to discuss the story without revealing anything about the plot or spoiling the way it unfolds.  It is however really quite realistic of how an argument between complete strangers can develop, eventually skewing this out of proportion as the story progresses.  The ending is bizarre – when I first saw it I felt it was very anti-climactic, however upon reflection I realised that it was actually the best ending that the film could have had.  Some may disagree but I felt that any other ending would have been cheesy or disappointing.

 

Carnage is fascinating and darkly comedic throughout and features a strong cast of wonderfully different characters.  Although the story might be, at times, outrageously exaggerated, I think it’s an interesting watch because it stems from such a believable place.  It’s definitely one to spend some time reflecting on afterwards.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)

“Uplifting Story But Slightly Unconvincing Character Relationships” 8/10

 

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen tells the uplifting story of fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) who is approached by consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) who persuades him to work on a project for a sheik (Amr Waked) who wants to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen.  Initially the project seems impossible but over time Alfred and Harriet find themselves on a journey, taking a leap of faith to make it possible.

 

The story itself is humble and touching, uniting the two main characters (McGregor and Blunt) who find themselves a little lost in life, and reminds them that with a little faith, anything is possible – a message that features strongly throughout.  Despite its moralistic teachings, it manages to be surprisingly funny at the same time, mostly coming from Kristen Scott Thomas playing a no-nonsense government official.  Ewan McGregor really shone in this film, bringing his character’s flaws to the screen in a sweetly awkward fashion that was also bursting with relatability and honesty.  Emily Blunt offers a more easy-going and self-assured role, although there are moments of well-placed vulnerability too.  Despite these two strong performances I felt that sadly there wasn’t much chemistry between the characters, something about it didn’t have me convinced.  Perhaps it was the uncertain, tenuous relationships that they had with their partners (played by Rachael Stirling and Tom Mision respectively) that made it all seem so awkward and slightly forced.  Thankfully this doesn’t spoil your enjoyment of the story too much.  The setting is beautiful, some fantastic Scottish landscapes (something I really need to see more of having lived here most of my life) and from the Yemen too.

 

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an uplifting and inspiring story that offers a touching reminder that anything is possible with just a little faith, something that few films provide.  For me, I felt that the strong characters were tarnished just a little by their less-than-convincing interactions.  Despite this, it’s still and enjoyably sweet feel-good film, definitely worth a watch.

RED 2 (2013)

“Entertaining in the Same Way as the First” 7/10

 

RED 2 picks up neatly from where the first one left off – Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is now happily settling down with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when he finds himself dragged back into his old ways by partner in crime Marvin (John Malkovich) on a mission to find a sought-after nuclear device.

Much like the first film, RED 2 is full of gun fights, car chases and ridiculous scenarios, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously so you can forgive it for that. The plot runs parallel with this theme of un-believability, and some scenes almost feel like an unintentional parody, but it adds to the charm of the film. There are some good laughs throughout, particularly from the ever-quirky John Malkovich, and also from Mary-Louise Parker who again embraces the role of awkward but excitable Sarah with comedic prowess. Bruce Willis is back on standard form, the cool, casual hero who fights his way out of every situation almost effortlessly; but this time his character has mellowed considerably, there are lots of tender moments between Frank and Sarah that are slightly disjointed with his takes-no-prisoners fight scenes. As well as some previous actors making a reappearance such as Dame Helen Mirren, who is on excellent form, there are some new appearances from the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones who brings a larger than life role as a fiery Russian agent, and Anthony Hopkins as the wise creator of the nuclear device.

If you enjoyed the first film then you’ll probably enjoy RED 2 as well. It’s the same comedic mix of good characters and slightly implausible situations, but for me that’s part of the charm: the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, it just looks to entertain.

RED (2010)

“Entertaining, Styled Almost as a Parody” 7/10

 

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired agent who is stuck in a rut – his only joy in life is his phone calls to his pension case worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who is as bored with life as he is. When Frank is pulled back into his old line of work, he finds himself responsible for Sarah whilst trying to survive.

This film is surprisingly light-hearted entertainment and full of likeable characters. Bruce Willis plays his trademark cool, collected role, holding his own during gun fights and car chases, a believable veteran of the genre. Mary-Louise Parker brings a bubbly and inquisitive character that clashes wonderfully with Willis’ role which provides an unexpected sweet element to the film. John Malkovich delivers a highly entertaining performance as Willis’ partner in crime, offering plenty of laughs throughout the film. There are some great minor roles from Hollywood royalty such as Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and Brian Cox. The film is all about contrasts, and that doesn’t just stop at the characters: there is a fair bit of action, offset by humorous dialogue-heavy scenes. The styling of it is almost like a parody of itself: it doesn’t try too hard to be one thing or another, it just throws a lot of things into the mix and goes with it.

RED is entertaining and surprisingly comedic, with some great characters portrayed by a good cast. Take it all in with an open mind; it does have a touch of the parody about it, but it cuts it back just enough to be an enjoyable action-fuelled offering.

Last Vegas (2014)

“A Fun, Feel-Good Film” 8/10

 

In a strange coincidence I ended up watching this on a plane on the way back from Las Vegas a week ago and I think this made it even more enjoyable, recognising all the places I had just been to. Last Vegas is a fun, easy-going film about four men who have been friends since childhood, who find themselves stuck in a rut, and decide to escape to Vegas for Billy’s (Michael Douglas) bachelor party. However past tensions emerge between Billy and Paddy (Robert De Niro) that threaten to change the lives of the four men in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

Although the premise for this film may sound like an “older man” version of The Hangover (2009) it couldn’t be further from it, however the gang do manage to throw one wild party! Instead of jaegerbombs and tigers, this film is full of wisdom and philosophy about life and the past, interwoven with plenty of comedic scenes and fun. Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline each bring a heart-warming character to the story. Set of course in Vegas, there are plenty of amazing shots of the Strip and the gorgeous Aria hotel, and the guys prove that just because they are older now, doesn’t mean they have any less fun. But it’s not just empty fun, of course there are lessons to be learnt from each character stemming from the mistakes they feel they’ve made in the past.

A fun, feel-good film that provides many laughs but also some pause for thought about life. If it makes you feel like taking a trip to Las Vegas, I can highly recommend it as a great experience no matter what age you are!

The Other Guys (2010)

“Surprisingly Humorous Stereotypical Cop Parody” 6/10

The Other Guys is a stereotype of its parody-cop-film genre, but before you write it off completely, it bites back with some genuine humour. As is to be expected, it is full of silly moments and unbelievable clichés, but there were also a surprising number of laugh out loud moments. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play two unconventional detectives who are paired up after both facing disgrace and ending up with a police desk job. They jump in on a case and end up with a lot more than they bargained for, predictably causing mayhem along the way.

The characters portrayed by Ferrell and Wahlberg are not a far cry from their usual typecasts: Ferrell is the geeky oddball and Wahlberg is the “tough-guy-jerk”, and there are similarly stereotypical roles played by supporting actors such as Eva Mendes and Steve Coogan. Initially this is off-putting, but once you get into the film this becomes less cringey, however I would definitely suggest giving this film a miss if you aren’t a fan of both Ferrell and Wahlberg. In typical parody-cop-film style, the film is full of predictable situations topped off with outrageous stunts and cheesy one-liners, however the stunts are fairly impressive and some of these lines provide unexpected laughs. Several of Ferrell’s lines felt like a nod to his character of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman (2004), although his nerdy cop role in this is a far cry from the hilarious news anchor. The relationship between Ferrell and Wahlberg may start off ridiculous, but ends up being quite an enjoyable pairing. It doesn’t present anything new or ground-breaking to the genre, but I didn’t really expect anything different.

Strangely enjoyable despite being one huge stereotype, this film is unexpectedly entertaining if you’re in the mood for some lowbrow humour and cliché. Expect cheap laughs and crazy car chases aplenty.