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Johnny English Reborn
Directed by Oliver Parker
This sequel to “Johnny English” has taken a leisurely eight years to arrive and the story attempts to cover that absence, with English (Rowan Atkinson) having been in seclusion following a bungled mission. This offers the opportunity for some fairly routine parodying of Kung Fu movies, as he attempts to find himself in a distant Asian monastery.
Meanwhile, an old CIA contact refuses to speak to anybody else, prompting a very reluctant MI7, to find and reinstate English. Thus begins the standard comedy of errors as English gets embroiled in an international assassination plot.

Johnny English as a character is somewhat similar to the Jacques Clouseau character made famous by Peter Sellers in the “Pink Panther” movies (and copied less appealingly by Steve Martin). He’s essentially a spoof of James Bond, including details such as visits to the gadget lab, and a mixed bag in terms of competency. On the one hand, he is clearly quite skillful at certain aspects of tradecraft – chasing down a suspect, fighting multiple opponents, and landing after a parachute jump onto a conveniently parked snowmobile. But on the other hand, he’s a complete idiot when it comes to deducing anything or making decisions. It’s an odd balance that’s occasionally distracting.

Playing Johnny English seems like a natural fit for Rowan Atkinson, perhaps most famous in this country as Mr. Bean. But Atkinson has a long background in British comedy, including smart and well-timed one-man comedy shows. In that regard, an extended single shot scene during the end credits is more representative of Atkinson’s solo work than the film itself. In it, he takes charge in a kitchen and performs the early stages of meal preparation in perfect time with a piece of classical music. It’s a scene that retro-actively fits into the plot of the movie, yet doesn’t fit the tone at all. I have no idea whether it was ever intended to be included in the regular running time, but it’s far better as a stand-alone short film.
Overall, the film is just funny enough to be worthwhile, whether or not it’s seen on the big screen.  Even if you don’t watch it at the theater, check the running times before watching something else and try and catch the end credits.

My Afternoons With Margueritte
Directed by Jean Becker
When he’s not peeing in the aisle on airline flights, Gerard Depardieu is still a highly prolific screen actor, with “My Afternoons With Margueritte” being one of eight films he completed in 2010 (he has nine slated for 2012). In it, he plays Germain Chazes, a handyman and vegetable grower in a small French town.  

Germain is also, for want of a better description, the village idiot – long the butt of jokes and name-calling. Barely literate, he‘s been raised by an apparently disinterested mother after being conceived during a one-night stand. The film includes multiple flashbacks to a miserable childhood during which his mother and teacher are shown to be his greatest bullies.
Without necessarily meaning to be, it’s an interesting take on the subject of adult literacy. Germain wasn’t an especially bad young reader and might have been successful with a teacher who was supportive rather than demeaning. He’s clearly a competent adult and very open to conversation with the much more bookish Margueritte (with two t’s!), an elderly woman he meets at the park.

Depardieu is an interesting actor – he’s an international movie star but also unfashionably (from an American perspective) overweight and with the looks of a boxer rather than a leading man. As Germain, he plays a part that comes with no vanity, appearing almost exclusively in what appears to be a single pair of dungarees, although the character does manage to maintain a relationship with a younger, more attractive woman. But even that seems more to do with his appealing demeanor and caring nature than the typical older guy/younger girl relationships seen in Hollywood movies.

“My Afternoons With Margueritte” is a small, amusing film that should appeal to the kind of audience who might be just as likely to enjoy reading a book in a park – it’s the kind of story Germain and Margueritte would probably enjoy.

Blackthorn
Directed by Mateo Gil
It’s generally thought that Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were killed in 1908, following a payroll heist in Bolivia. However, no compelling evidence has been found to prove their deaths or the identities of any bodies. Multiple anecdotes suggest they lived past that date, with most pertaining to Cassidy’s continued life and return to the U.S.  

“Blackthorn” is a story based on conjecture as to what might have been if Cassidy (or Robert LeRoy Parker) had continued to live in Bolivia. Here the older Cassidy, going by the name of James Blackthorn and making a living breeding horses, is played wonderfully by Sam Shepard. But he still wants to go home and is set to return when he finds himself, unexpectedly, caught up in another robbery and grueling cross-country chase that mimics his own past.

 
It’s an intriguing character study and a western somewhat like the grander “Unforgiven” that follows an older, ex-gunfighter on a last adventure that also offers a chance at some degree of redemption. It’s also a beautiful glimpse at the varied landscapes of Bolivia.

Footloose
Directed by Craig Brewer
OK – the big question surrounding “Footloose” is whether it lives up to the original and will it grossly offend those who are outraged that it’s even been remade? The answer is essentially a double no – it’s not as memorable, but it’s also not bad. The story is the same conflict between over-protective elders and a ban on public dancing, and the younger members of the community who can’t hear a beat without their feet taking on a life of their own. Kenny Wormald does a decent job in the central role, as the new kid in town who can’t believe the world he finds himself in. And he can certainly dance, with one of the best “angry dance” scenes since “Billy Elliot.” But, if the original had never existed, it’s hard to believe this retread would come to have the same iconic status or be likely to spawn its own remakes. It’s fun but it’s also a little lacking in wattage, like a feature-length episode of ‘dancing without the stars.’

Brighton Rock
Directed by Rowan Joffe
This is a dark movie that never lets up in its tale of a small-time hoodlum in 1960’s Brighton, England, against a backdrop of the youth violence between mods and rockers. Pinkie’s father-figure and gang leader is killed, upsetting the balance of power both within the group and in relation to a larger, rival organization. Sensing opportunity, Pinkie attempts to manipulate those around him, including Rose, a young tearoom waitress who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elevated by neat supporting performances from Helen Mirren and John Hurt (and a relatively rare opportunity to see Golum’s Andy Serkis in a live-action role), this adaptation of the classic novel remains compelling despite the relentlessly amoral actions of Pinkie and his associates. It’s essentially a character study of a psychopath no longer bounded by the guidance of his mentor. While uncomfortable for some, it’s an intriguing descent into the darker depths of a human nature unhindered by remorse.

Machine Gun Preacher
Directed by Marc Forster
“Machine Gun Preacher” is based on the true story of Sam Childers, an ex-con with a background in violent crime and drug abuse, who found religion and built a church and orphanage in war-ravaged Sudan. It’s an intriguing story that suffers by feeling like it’s probably less interesting than a documentary might be – a feeling that’s reinforced by the snapshots of the real Childers that are screened over the end credits. It’s also likely to be uncomfortably preachy for those who don’t share the same faith, even if the accomplishments themselves might be of interest. That said, it does do a good job of reminding viewers of the scale and nature of real danger and brutality (rape, murder, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers), as compared to “first world problems,” such as his daughter’s disappointment over not having a rented limousine for her school dance. But I wish I had stumbled upon a Biography Channel special rather than what ends up feeling like an abruptly halted, half-story.

What’s Your Number?
Directed by Mark Mylod
Funnier than I had expected, “What’s Your Number?” is centered around a young woman (Anna Faris) who is alarmed after reading a magazine article that makes her realize that she has had far more boyfriends than average. In trying not to increase that number, she attempts to revisit old relationships, in search of more potential than she originally saw. This sets up some amusing and pleasantly brief encounters with a broad array of characters including, for example, an English ex-boyfriend around whom she fakes an English accent. It’s also worth noting that while her accent varies from moment to moment, that’s both intentional and funny – whereas Anne Hathaway’s wandering accent in the recent “One Day” was neither. There’s virtually nothing surprising here, but it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.


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