Thursday 18 July 2019

Film of the week: Johnny English Strikes Again

Cert: PG; Now showing

Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson and Ben Miller in Johnny English 3
Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson and Ben Miller in Johnny English 3

If taken as a kids' film, Johnny English Strikes Again, the third film in the English spy spoof series, works fine. Thin on plot, not too long, no bad language and with enough silly jokes and visual gags to keep the average medium-age child amused... I just don't think it was intended as such.

Accident prone, old-school MI7 spy Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) has been retired from active service and now whiles away the hours teaching history in a boarding school - where, rather than focus on the Battle of Hastings, he teaches his pupils how to be spies. When a cyber attack reveals the identity of all current operatives, MI7 is forced to look to their retired staff to find out who is behind the attack.

Re-enter Johnny English.

He dusts off his old side-kick Bough (Ben Miller) and, eschewing all modern tech because he is a dinosaur, though Bough explains it as a cunning ploy to be untrackable, the lads go to the South of France where they come across Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko).

Dinosaur Johnny feels sure a nice girl like that couldn't possibly be a spy, but through her they get to tech giant Jason (Jake Lacy), someone British Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) is courting for her first G12 summit. And to whom she turns for help with the increasingly crippling cyber attacks.

At one point English disguises himself as a French waiter, the echoes of Clouseau merely highlight how far this comedy is from Peter Sellers's classics.

There's a scene, more Mr Bean than Johnny English, where A Virtual Reality exercise goes wrong and that works. But more often than not it is just silly and harmless. ★★ Aine O'Connor

The Gospel According to Andre

Cert: Club. Light House & Palas

Hailing from the segregated deep south, Andre Leon Talley decided from a young age he was fascinated by style. Following a move to New York in the mid-1970s, he began an ascent through the fashion industry via Andy Warhol and Diana Vreeland, before entering the fashion press and going on to become editor of Vogue.

This unimaginatively-titled documentary portrait from Kate Novack hits some of the usual stumbling blocks that come with film examinations of the fashion industry.

For starters, a lofty and sacrosanct tone is taken to imbue our subject with heroic status - which seems like quite a bizarre thing when juxtaposed with the sheer indulgence and frivolity of the fashion world.

Hyperbole is the very language of the industry, so you naturally reach for a pinch of salt when having to listen to the likes of Tom Ford expound Talley's unique impact, his astounding genius and so on.

Flecks of the real Talley are visible only when he discusses his younger days or the racial slurs he had to contend with - but too often he is unwilling to let his fabulous, flamboyant guard down. Disappointing. ★★ Hilary A White

Venom

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist who loses everything, including his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams with distractingly odd hair) when he questions millionaire alleged philanthropist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Things get worse, and better, when Brock merges with Venom, one of the alien life forms Drake has collected from space. After initial conflict of interests between host and alien, a new anti-hero is born.

Pacing can be an issue in first-in-a-series films, and it is an issue in the first of Sony's Marvel films. It takes a while to become the film the trailers lead you to expect, and by then it's quite late and it rushes important parts of the plot, like why the alien is on earth and why he changed his mind. Still, it's a lot of fun, once you're over the weirdness of Tom Hardy in a big franchise movie. Stay after the credits. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Silver Branch

Cert: Club. Selected cinemas

Back in the early 1990s, Patrick McCormack and the Burren Action Group fought tooth and nail to prevent the Office of Public Works from building an interpretive centre and car park right in the heart of the Burren.

A lot of heat was generated by the story - both at national and at local level - as commerce and conservation went to war over a range of interests. The conservation group was ultimately successful in its Supreme Court fight, and while the battle divided the community, McCormack and his peers were vindicated (as anyone who has visited the uniquely tranquil area will agree). Over six years, the production team of Katrina Costello and husband Ken O'Sullivan (the noted wildlife cameraman) assembled this gorgeously heady documentary feature that is both a portrait of the poet-farmer and his worldview, and a paean to the staggering beauty of the region. Very much sharing the foreground are the local flora and fauna - cuckoos, peregrines, foxes - captured in pristine resolution and woven into the very fabric of McCormack's narration as he recalls his young days as a boxer, his deep connection with the land, and the big risk he and his peers took to protect their home.

So potent is the continuous conversation Costello's film has with its environment that a meditative quality takes hold that is as rich and rare as the Burren itself. What begins as just a sumptuous piece of local filmmaking starts to ring with a universal candour. ★★★★★  Hilary A White

Columbus

Cert: Club. Selected cinemas

Before this feature debut could see the light of day, the South Korean filmmaker known only as Kogonada built something of a reputation for himself through his short video essays on the subject of film theory. Columbus alludes to the Seoul native's cineliteracy, filled as it is with strikingly elegant compositions, framing and use of filming location.

The familiar face of John Cho is front of house as Jin, an urbane thirty-something who visits the Indiana town of the title to see his ailing dad. Feeling the weight of his uneasy relationship with his academic father, Jin finds respite in an unlikely friendship with library worker and architecture lover Casey (Haley Lu Richardson).

The pair stroll around the city taking in the modern architectural heritage and forming a firm bond not dissimilar to that of Lost In Translation that inevitably stops just short of romantic.

An aching, indie cool pervades every step of the way as Kogonada obscures characters within beautifully arranged design and architecture as they ponder the mysteries of life and inspiration.

It is perhaps guilty of being a little too up itself now and again - charming as those two leads are, Casey and Jin risk becoming wearisome company - but there is a quietly sublime essence at play throughout that certainly hints at interesting things to come in the future from Kogonada.

Able-bodied support is provided by Rory Culkin (as Casey's will-they-won't-they library colleague) and Parker Posey. ★★★★ Hilary A White

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