Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

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Fifteen years later and Johnny English is still a thing! I won’t lie, I did enjoy the first once upon its 2003 release and find it stupidly quotable to this day but when you have a character originating from a bank advert appearing in a weak third instalment, then you’ve got to question things. Imagine Flo and Joan from Nationwide riffing on a ‘Thelma and Louise’ like adventure or Greg from Halifax popping up in the full 100 minutes of ‘The Wizard of Oz’…it’s enough to make you shudder.

As the UK faces multiple technological shutdowns from a mysterious hacker, there’s only a few old school MI7 agents left unrevealed to the world, step forward Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) who teams up again with trusty Bough (Ben Miller) to track the source of the breach and get in all manner of mishaps.

The first film did possess a few chuckles and silly moments to tickle the funny bone but after ‘Johnny English Reborn’ from 2011 which I’ve all but forgotten about, there’s little in this newest spy outing to call for more English and in fact it dampens the nostalgic humour of the original. A large percentage of the stale feeling comes from the same writer being involved on the entire trio, this therefore means we face a tried and tested formula that is quickly unfunny.

On top of the deeply missed comedy aspect are brief touches of racism and other out dated thinking that makes it hard to stomach the film. A good 95% of the gags can be seen a mile off and that’s not just the ones that are sign-posted by obvious pre amble in the dialogue. There simply isn’t any need for this film, if it had been well put together then maybe it could be forgiven but it’s a dreary load that is massively tiring.

A story thread of old versus new runs throughout; with Johnny utilising a lack of mobile tech against a villain keen on gadgets. This leads to clear spoofing of James Bond which lie in English’s arsenal of sweet treats and dangerous candy but these nor anything else that tries to lampoon Britain’s most famous spy can save the movie from being less than amusing. Every now and then it feels like we may just witness a good scene or funny idea but aside from a well story-boarded VR sequence, English shouldn’t have struck again.

Rowan Atkinson harnesses the neat Mr. Bean routine of great physical comedy and he gurns like a king; there’s no doubt the man can commit to well performed choreography but it’s enough to lighten the film. Emma Thompson is on board and though she gives her role as PM a good deal of gusto even she can’t lift this film out of the gutter it speedily prat-falls into. Once again Olga Kurylenko is short changed, she’s a good glamorous actress who can’t quite get to appear in a film worthy of her talents. In this she is underused as a character impatient yet oddly drawn to Johnny’s antics, as was I.

Hopefully the hacker of the film will come to life and wipe all trace of 2 and 3 from memory, leaving us with the 2003 one, that though dumb is a huge sight funnier than this movie could ever hope to be.

3.5/10

 

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Venom (2018)

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Well it’s fair to say this superhero flick has been scooping up a lot of negative attention as the months rolled closer to its release date; not getting the universe or Spider-Man cameo they wanted, early reviews comparing it to ‘Catwoman’ levels of bad and star Tom Hardy himself stating his favourite 40 minutes were cut, but is ‘Venom’ actually all that terrible?

Eddie Brock (Hardy) is an investigator/journalist happily engaged to attorney Anne (Michelle Williams), but when he’s sent on an assignment to interview Life Foundation owner Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock asks hard-hitting questions about the rumoured dark side of Drake’s company, which is harbouring alien symbiotes that crash landed on Earth. It isn’t long until Brock comes one with this planet devouring thing and they unite as Venom.

In all honesty, I have no idea whether this film is a joke or not. The inconsistent style of t the writing is wildly skittish, jumping from silly humour to darker, dramatic tones which make for a seriously unbalanced movie. When you have three writers on board who have credits for past features like ‘High Fidelity’, ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ working on the screenplay it’s not that hard to see why it’s a plot that feels like a chaotic mix of comedy and anti-heroism.

The film has a horrendous amount of messy VFX, even Venom himself is nasty looking and not in a good way. A creature feature showdown is a massive garbage storm of excessive CGI and frantic editing which makes the entire event a damn dud, a total misfire of which there’s nothing to engage with because it just washes over you with loud noises and awful visuals.

It says a lot when the scene arriving after all the credits, is the better than what came before them. ‘Venom’ just feels like it is rushing around, never really developing any interesting ideas of the bond between man and alien. This head biting fan is meant to be a villain and anti-hero at times but he teams up with a guy who can handles his influence and tame him rather quickly, they replace grittiness with goofiness and it doesn’t really work.

Tom Hardy is utterly bizarre throughout this swift Sony Marvel death, his performance is as scruffy as Brock becomes, his hunched look and mannerisms are weird. Michelle Williams is also odd, she seems to have gone under some alarming possession making her turn in this one of the worst roles I’ve seen her do. Riz Ahmed starts of alright in the beginning with enough big business menace but when the wrath of the slick black symbiote takes over then he too falls under a curse of laughable actions which all come to a supremely quick conclusion.

In a peculiar way, I can see this movie turning into a silly cult film or a dumb guilty pleasure but for myself it’s neither dumb or silly enough to make me want to remember I’d seen this turd of a movie rolling in the wind.

4.5/10

Night School (2018)

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After success with ‘Girls Trip’, which I’ll be honest I still haven’t seen, director Malcolm D. Lee once again teams up with breakout star Tiffany Haddish who unites with Kevin Hart in this American comedy. It’s just a blot on the whole thing that the comedy proportion leaves something to be desired.

After an explosive incident at a BBQ store, Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart) is left needing a job and to get to work with his friend as an investment advisor he’ll need to obtain his GED. Roll on Walker attending night school classes taught by Carrie (Haddish), where he’ll have to swot up to hopefully pass the test but he’s doing this on the sly unbeknownst to his fiance.

Written by six, yes six different writers, this movie and the comedy is hopes to achieve cause all the problems. There’s too many cooks and the jokes bomb hard, not even a single one of them is funny which isn’t great when you’re selling yourself as a comedy film. The likes of principals doing black voice, prom-night twerking, fart jokes and boring prat-falls do zero to make you laugh. In all honesty with more refining and less American style comedy of screeching dialogue, this could have been a better film in terms of a comic touch.

What is slightly surprising is there are traces of charm to be found and the film does have its heart in the right place. The drama may not be impressive but these bunch of night school sad saps and their bonding have a smattering of magnetism which makes the road of GED revision a fairly entertaining watch. The morals of trying hard and redeeming yourself through honesty and motivation are nice themes which hold up well amongst the Hart vs. Haddish shouting fest.

You’re in for a forgettable watch but each character on the GED course has enough of a generic quirk to pull them through against the boundless and annoying energy of Kevin Hart. Romany Malco gives Jay a great distrust of technology based off Terminator fears. Anne Winters and her youthful charisma are up for some stereotypes but she acts a developed caring side when chatting with Theresa who is played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, she may be the best of the group with her craziness and mumsy quality ripe for oddball moments. It’s Tiffany Haddish as the teacher who excels most though, her commitment to ensuring her students do their best are well played and help the film in its more grounded stages.

Success can be achieved with second chances, or 3…or 4 and maybe if you have nothing better to do you should give this film a passing chance as even though it’s not at all funny, there’s something lightly distracting and so-so about it.

4/10

 

 

 

The Predator (2018)

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A lot of talk has been going on as of late with ‘The Predator’ and most of it isn’t about the movie itself, so with these dramatic revelations does Shane Black’s recent feature manage to pull through or is it not worth the time?

After a Predator ship crashes to Earth, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) makes first contact but is soon captured and dispatched to a rag-tag of veterans by Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown). As these lethal aliens come after their armour; McKenna, the vets and evolutionary expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) team up to hunt the hunters.

I must admit that I have never seen any other film from the ‘Predator’ franchise so maybe that aided my amusement to watching this one. There is a great bundle of fun to be had though, if you can ignore some awful Rasta-dogs, plenty of guts, expletives and explosions fill the screen with such giddy abandon that makes this a sci-fi horror like the saga is known for but a crimson soaked comic thriller instead.

This almost non-stop action and comedy comes right out of the Shane Black book of movie-making. Sure, it isn’t set during Christmas but Black writes in plenty of witty dialogue that chips in and out of the impending danger. McKenna doesn’t just have one other person to riff with like other Black screenplays, i.e ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’, he has a whole bus full of characters to make this movie burst to the seams with laddish humour.

Comedy and ripped intestines don’t prevent the third act from feeling like a sore spot. The film descends into being overly ridiculous and more than a couple of times you can see really shameful uses of CGI. A sequence that is all about a blood sport of hunt and kill should have been way more exciting than it was. A big reason as to why this section doesn’t work comes down to the frantic editing and characters that just disappear or are culled which you can’t quite keep up with.

Aside from this weak final twenty minutes, the movie is a dumb joy to behold and a large feature of that joy boils down to the acting in the brotherhood which manifests between McKenna and a squad of men with extreme characteristics. Holbrook keeps up a near-constant grimace and aggression and Keegan-Michael Key is a big player in padding the film with plenty of laughter.

‘The Predator’ doesn’t really connect to the vets but there is enough wise-cracking involved that we know to root for them whereas on the flip side of the coin, which lands in Sterling K. Brown’s proficient palm, we face a charming yet despicable foe who chews up the scenery with Nicorette gum and pure craft. Olivia Munn, controversy aside, is great in softening the blows of constant larking about. She’s no boring damsel in distress biologist, she has enough smarts and skill to keep her cool around Predators and a team of men dripping in testosterone. Jacob Tremblay is a force of munchkin talent to be reckoned as per usual, his ‘superpower’ of autism may get heavy handed but he’s never irritating which other child actors can easily be.

Some may have issues with the plot development and yes the last stages aren’t so strong but watching antics of a newly formed squadron versus a beastly statuesque creature with dreads is an entertaining ride.

7/10

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

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So, normally I’m not a fan of rom-coms; the calculable nature of them and how cheesy the dialogue can often be, puts me off them. Surprisingly this film won me over, sure there are cheesier moments but there’s smart writing and spectacular production quality which made it a more satisfying example to come out of the genre.

Economics professor and New York resident Rachel (Constance Wu) is invited to her boyfriend’s best friends wedding. Nick (Henry Golding), the best man, hopes that his large family will love Rachel as much as he does. As the celebrations get under way in Singapore, Rachel faces difficulties living up to the high hopes of Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ brings together a massive cast of talented actors who offer comedy and emotion to a rich story adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel. This tale of romance and acceptance may have slight touches of being over-sentimental but that in no way jolts us from the dazzling charm, which the stars and story convey. The screenplay also ends down familiar territory but there’s so much to cheer on in this picture, that the predictability becomes a muted backseat passenger in a joyful experience.

This is an extremely extravagant and beautiful movie. A wedding sequence is torn straight out of a jungle and is perhaps one of the most ridiculously over the top ceremonies but it fills the heart and it’ll likely fill some eyes with tears. The many lush settings and cinematography are crackling with a luxury that will do wonders for the tourism board of Singapore.

On the flip side of the romantic coin is the comedy sparkle, which does work well throughout. It is not solely ‘Community’ alumni Ken Jeong that gifts some funny to the movie; but a gay fashionista, a snap-happy single lad and Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin all bring a delicious amount of humour to the table. The latter is bursting with a comic energy that lifts the film even higher than it already is.

Constance Wu is the bridge to the audience; she grounds us to the glittering, affluent world we’re stepping into. She makes her fish out of water character a heart-warming and believable figure to follow. Wu isn’t just stunning and likable but she’s headstrong and smart too which make her moments facing adversity a strong example of women standing strong and proud. Henry Golding is the handsome and charming boyfriend but isn’t the lead usual movies would stumble to. The actor is confident in playing this caring man but doesn’t ever overshadow the brilliance of his leading lady. This movie features the incredible Gemma Chan and unlike her synth days from ‘Humans’, she demonstrates a wealth of touching emotion as Astrid.

Like the dumplings that a family make within the plot, this film is a sweet and often loving romantic filling wrapped up with fluffy comedy and pinched together with a stroke of drama and judgement. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ has blown the box office apart and with it’s affable cast and elegant, delightful storytelling it’s not hard to see why.

7.5/10

 

King of Thieves (2018)

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Starring a handful of British talents and directed by the man behind the moving ‘The Theory of Everything’, you’d think this film based on a massive heist in the diamond district of London would be better than it actually turns out to be.

After a personal tragedy, Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is roped back into the underworld of robberies. He brings a team together of former thieves and brings an alarm specialist and new face into the fold, in the shape of Basil (Charlie Cox). The six elderly gentlemen plan to break into a vault in Hatton Garden, which holds over £200 million in diamonds, cash and gold.

This is 100% one of those movies that fits into the mould of the real story being more interesting than the film itself. It’s such a shame because this could have been an interesting look into the men that committed this crime but it descends into a rough and often unfunny thread of bickering and gruff London blokes cracking nasty comments. ‘King of Thieves’ definitely outlives its early charm and whilst there are some doses of alright comedy, they are few and far between a heist that arrives too soon and isn’t as exciting as it deserved to be.

There are elements within the robbery which are playful and work on the humour revolving around their senior years and a couple of stronger moments utilise on the tension of them in the act and the possibility of being caught. A Tchaikovsky backed sequence of thieving is a stand out snippet with ‘Whiplash’ levels of editing and a burst of diamond hungry energy. This and the quality of the performers involved don’t outweigh the overly long run-time and a film that doesn’t seem to know what angle it’s going for.

James Marsh directs a bunch of recognisable faces and there certainly seems to be a gentle chemistry between them, the first stages of this film are breezy but then it goes on and on in a way where stylistic choices of gangsters in the past flit into proceedings, grey army treachery bogs down a script laden with tiresome expletives and a police-heavy third act which isn’t as riveting or tense as, again it deserved to be.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s music, at points echoes the bouncy yet dramatic score which BBC’s ‘Hustle’ used so well and in fact this film does have some of the pre-swindling set up and snappy edits of the con itself, which mirrors the lighthearted entertainment of the Adrian Lester TV series but it doesn’t keep to this warmness. That would be fine if the eventual darker notes and masculine aggression weren’t so mishandled, becoming cringey character traits losing all the charm of the film.

‘King of Thieves’ may have acting royalty involved from Caine to Jim Broadbent but that doesn’t keep its crown from slipping away from meaty real events into a doddery, average retelling.

5.5/10

The Happytime Murders (2018)

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Puppets like you ain’t ever seen them before…and hopefully never will again. Brian Henson, son of puppeteer and legend Jim Henson has clearly got the experience from performing in previous Muppet series to directing a couple of Muppet led movies but he squanders his fuzzy know-how in this dire ‘comedy’ feature.

Cop turned Private Investigator Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) takes on a case from a sex-mad young female who’s being blackmailed. As he roots for clues he ends up at the scenes of multiple murders and needs to team up with his former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), which would be fine if they didn’t despise each other but they’ll have to put a fractured relationship aside if they want to catch the puppet killer.

Honestly, this is a stand-out for one of the worst movies I have seen. The premise is actually a fairly great one, this notion of puppet/human coexisting could have been mined for laughs and heartfelt felt-lined emotion but it never comes close to either of these dream qualities. Todd Berger’s script is splattered with persistent attempts at what the creators assume is adult humour but is just juvenile.

If you saw ‘Sausage Party’ then this is in the same wheelhouse, though that less than amusing animation is a masterpiece in comparison to this story that hinges on the apparent comedy factor of small puppets dropping F-bombs, incessant sex jokes and a plot mystery solved by a eye-rolling ‘Basic Instinct’ reference of puppet genitalia. It’s almost as if this movie is a bunch of adults guffawing at how far they can take this idea of Muppet-like creatures doing X rated stuff; it never even gets to a point of being cringe-worthy because it starts off as try hard and beats you over the head with sex antics and swearing.

What’s dumb is that it’s not even got the selling factor of being a unique idea. Stringed puppets were rude but cleverly mastered in ‘Team America: World Police’, stage characters in ‘Avenue Q’ have done it all before and even Kermit’s roadshow Muppet mates, who are tailored nicely to children but adults alike because there’s traces of smart grown up humour; a brilliant but short-lived ABC television series had them living and working with humans and is a damn sight funnier than the 91 minutes of drivel I sat through.

There’s no interesting story; the murder mystery is badly handled and the puppet premise is wasted. In fact, worse than the relentless cursing and “look at us with puppets doing mature stuff” is the matter that this a excruciatingly boring movie.

1/10