This Is a Movie Review: ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’ Because Rowan Atkinson is Still Capable of Wonderful Silliness

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CREDIT: Giles Keyte/Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson, Jake Lacy

Director: David Kerr

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG for Chaotically Silly Action and a Quick Shot of Someone’s Bum

Release Date: October 26, 2018

There is a scene about halfway through Johnny English Strikes Again that sums up the appeal of this spy spoof. As the title MI7 secret agent, Rowan Atkinson is tasked with preparing for an infiltration mission by navigating a VR simulation of the mansion that he will be breaking into. There is a moving platform that he is supposed to remain on throughout, but he hits the wrong button and ends up wandering through the streets of London with his VR goggles on, oblivious to the everyday city life continuing to go on around him. He completes the simulation with miraculously little disorientation, but he is wholly unaware (and effectively unaccountable) for all the havoc he has left in his wake. Johnny English is absolutely a Supreme Bumble in the Atkinson mold, but his confidence is unparalleled and (because of some mix of forces beyond our understanding) he is the perfect man for the job.

This James Bond parody quite reminds me of The Stupids, the Tom Arnold-starring, John Landis-directed underrated gem about a family of supposed fools who somehow manage to foil a black market arms deal. English is a lot more respected by his peers and colleagues than the Stupids are, but he is still prone to pratfalls and inadvertent pants-droppings. But his record is clear: where everyone else is foiled, he is the one who brings the evil mastermind to his comeuppance. In terms that we can understand, the traits that serve him best as both a spy and a movie are his unbridled enthusiasm and his admirably unapologetic nature. In this chapter, that means we also get to see Atkinson dance to such club hits as Darude’s “Sandstorm” and Sigma’s “Changing,” and how can you say no to that? Altogether, this is delightful English silliness we can all benefit from having in our cinematic diet.

Johnny English Strikes Again is Recommended If You Like: Rowan Atkinson, Proper British silliness, The Stupids

Grade: 3 out of 5 London Lemmings

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Rampage’ is Big, Big, Big, Very Big

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello

Director: Brad Peyton

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Pummeling and Devouring by Mutated Animals, Frighteningly Evocative Urban Destruction, and Crude Gorilla Hand Gestures

Release Date: April 13, 2018

If you subscribe to the belief that bigger is better in cinema, then you ought to head straight to Rampage. Its entire premise is: what if three already fairly large animals became gigantic? The main focus is on our good buddy George, an albino silverback gorilla who knows sign language. He hooks up with a grey wolf that “weirdos on the Internet” have dubbed “Ralph,” as well as a crocodile who goes by Lizzie. The three of them have been mutated by a mysterious gas that fell from the sky. In addition to blowing them up, it has given them abilities typical of other species. It is a bit like the hybridization in Annihilation, but much less nightmarish and internally disruptive.

There is a lot of time devoted to explaining that the mutations are the result of developments in CRISPR genetic editing technology. Some cursory research on my part reveals that early research into CRISPR was happening in the mid-’80s, coincidentally around the same time that the first entry in the Rampage video game series (on which the film is based) was released. It can sometimes be helpful to ground a creature feature with real science, but in this case it is beside the point. We’re just here to see George, Ralph, and Lizzie let loose, and what is appreciated is that there are only three of them, because if the mutations had gotten even more out of hand, this could have all just been a cacophonous mess.

Tasked with wrangling these huge creatures are some actors both literally and metaphorically big. Who else could be the human star of Rampage besides Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is reliably big when it comes to muscles, charisma, and box office results? Lending him a hand is a government agent played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who, though a tall man himself, is certainly not quite as large as Johnson. But as the “asshole looking out for other assholes,” he knows just how big and vibrant a supporting performance in this type of film needs to be. And rounding out the cast’s bigness are Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy as a sniveling brother-sister villainous duo. Their experience in comedy has trained them well for just how to calibrate their broadness. Lacy especially, constantly with a sandwich or Pop-Tart in hand, is bound to get you chuckling with his pouty face.

The climax, in which the mutant trio tears apart Chicago, is filled with stunningly big and bold decisions. The onscreen deaths are somewhat alarmingly violent, though not unexpectedly so. But when we get to a skyscraper collapse that evokes the Twin Towers falling on 9/11, the film scrambles through about 100 different tones. These outsize decisions are consistent with Rampage’s entire approach, but they are liable to leave you unable to process quite what is happening. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes you need to take a step back and ask yourself if a certain choice is really a good decision, but Rampage never lets its foot off the gas.

Rampage is Recommended If You Like: Godzilla, King Kong, Godzilla vs. King Kong, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Gorilla Middle Fingers

This Is a Movie Review: Their Finest

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston

Director: Lone Scherfig

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R Because the Ratings Board is Prudish About a Little B(r)it of Sex

Release Date: April 7, 2017 (Limited)

A primary national trait of Great Britain is a solidly backwards chronological orientation. I do not mean that as a criticism, at least not completely. Sure, an obsession with the glory of the past can be problematic, but the comfort that Britons have with bygone eras has its uses. For example, the roster of reliable British actors populating the cast of the World War II-era film Their Finest makes for a cinematic effort rousingly (instead of hopelessly) old-fashioned. Gemma Arterton has deserved a breakthrough role, and while Their Finest does not break any molds (by design), it does confirm that she is a star.

Arterton is Catrin Cole, hired by the British ministry as a scriptwriter to lend that essential feminine voice to their propaganda films. This could be a formula for taking down sexism, and there are some efforts in that direction, but Their Finest’s ultimate attitude is that women will always suffer indignities, so they might as well hope that they at least like the people end up working with. Because if that works out, we can get a nice love story out of it. And indeed, there is a heartwarming one here: Catrin’s husband (Jack Huston) is classically disapproving, while her partner and lead scriptwriter (Sam Claflin) is such an obvious match. The only conflict between them is just being a little too blunt with their feelings.

As Catrin sorts out her feelings, she works alongside a bunch of irrepressible characters as they put together a masterpiece about the Dunkirk rescue. They all have a spot of fun, and a spot of tea (metaphorically). There is Bill Nighy as the former big star whose ego is still huge, but not so huge that he cannot also be a fine mentor. Jeremy Irons is the Secretary of War, because the governmental figure is meant to convey confidence and gravitas. And Jake Lacy is the token awkward goofball, because only the American is allowed to make old-fashioned look silly. Their Finest is not the greatest of most of its creators, but it might just be their finest.

Their Finest is Recommended If You LikeAlliedCasablancaValkyrie

Grade: 3 out of 5 Old-Timey Typewriters