Simon Pegg

Slaughterhouse Rulez

14/11/18

Comedy-horror is a notoriously tricky beast to master and few have had better results in this genre than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both Shaun of the Dead and World’s End fall squarely into this category and even Hot Fuzz (their very best film) sports a handful of horror elements expertly woven into the action. For this first release from their production company, Stolen Picture, they content themselves with supporting roles, but their handprints are all over Slaughterhouse Rulez, even if they are missing Edgar Wright’s sure-footed directorial skills.

After the death of his father, working class lad Don Wallace (Finn Cole) is sent off by his well-meaning mum to the imposing Slaughterhouse Public School, where she hopes he will have the benefit of a superior education. Once there, he finds himself sharing a dorm room with Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield), a louche, moody character who seems to be housing a whole clutch of secrets.

Don’s acquisitive eye soon falls on posh girl Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield), but she seems to have eyes for somebody else – and besides, most of Don’s time is spent coping with the predations of the school bullies, chief amongst them the sadistic Clegg (Tom Rhys Harris). Meanwhile, the preening headmaster, known to the pupils only as ‘The Bat’ (Michael Sheen), has given permission for a fracking rig to operate in the forest that borders the school playing fields, a move that dismays troubled teacher, Meredith Houseman (Pegg), and which leads a band of anti-fracking protesters, led by Woody (Frost), to set up camp in the woods.

As the drill descends into the ancient stones beneath the school, it releases something darker and even more dangerous than shale gas…

The set up here is nicely handled and captures the cruel and venal world of the boarding school all too well (trust me, I speak from personal experience). The large cast of characters are well drawn and engaging and, for the most part, the punch lines land pretty much where they should. It’s only when the film moves into its final third that things start to feel a little too protracted, too teased-out by attempts to tie the plot back to earlier events in the school’s history.

A more direct approach would have paid dividends here and kept the pace from flagging, which it undoubtedly does in places; but this is nonetheless a decent entertainment with some gloriously visceral carnage that’s never allowed to be so icky that it overpowers the humour. Those hoping for a Pegg-Frost reunion will have to be content with the one brief scene they share – but, for their first offering as producers, this really isn’t a bad start.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Mission Impossible: Fallout

 

27/07/18

Most film franchises follow a familiar trajectory. They start well and, through the rules of diminishing returns, steadily become ever more feeble until somebody finally has the good grace to pull the plug on them. The Mission Impossible series, however, seems to have gone in the opposite direction. After a couple of so-so efforts, episodes three, four and five really managed to cut some mustard – and this sixth instalment of the TV-inspired show is surely its strongest manifestation yet. Indeed, this audacious thrill-ride, courtesy of returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is so enthralling I occasionally find myself holding my breath as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) jumps off buildings, races on motorbikes, dangles from helicopters and runs for miles, all in the name of truth and justice. Yes, it’s complete tosh, but when it’s done this well, who cares?

When we first meet up with Hunt, he’s worrying about Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the wife he’s been forced to live apart from in order to keep her out of danger. But of course, for an IMF operative, danger is never very far away. Old adversary Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is being used as a pawn by various secret powers, who aim to utilise his special skills to convert some stolen weapons grade plutonium into deadly nuclear devices. Hunt and his sidekicks, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), are assigned to take care of securing Lane and the plutonium and, for this mission, they are assigned an extra player – August Walker (Henry Cavill), a hard man with a high opinion of himself. But, when things go awry, the team are faced with a even trickier challenge. They must track down two nuclear weapons before they are detonated – an occurrence which will destroy huge areas of the planet. (So no pressure there.) Luckily, Hunt’s old flame Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is on hand to lend her own special talents…

There’s quite a tricky story line here, with plenty of unexpected twists and reveals – and naturally, some of those hi tech masks that the makers are so fond of, but really, it’s all just a linking device for a whole string of spectacular set pieces, which are so triumphantly realised, you’ll barely have time to stop and speculate how far-fetched they are. Cruise, looking far better than anyone his age has any right to be, revels in some of the most hair-raising stunts this side of a Jackie Chan movie – indeed, the scene where he actually breaks his leg is included in all its wince-inducing glory. Cavill, who I’ve never really rated as Superman, is a lot more interesting when given a bit more character to play with and there’s excellent support from the rest of the cast.

Okay, you can argue that this film isn’t really about very much, but you’d be missing the point. It’s all about action and only a very few movies have managed to do it as effortlessly as its done here. My advice? Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. And Mission Impossible Seven? Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Star Trek Beyond

Jaylah_and_scott

23/07/81

Star Trek has had a somewhat chequered history in the movies, a series that started well, peaked around the  third film and then become increasingly moribund with each successive instalment. In 2009, J.J. Abrams managed to deliver a great big kick up the franchise, revitalising the whole shebang – and while his sequel, Into Darkness wasn’t quite as assured, managing to upset a lot of Trek stalwarts with it’s reinventions, it was nonetheless, well told and fairly absorbing. Now Justin Lin (of the Fast and Furious movies) picks up the baton and attempts to run with it. Oh dear, oh dear…

Things start promisingly enough with a clever sight gag and soon after that, a sequence where The Enterprise arrives at a remote space station, a stunning construction that looks like it might have been designed by Escher – but when Kirk (Chris Pine) agrees to go and help some captives on a beleaguered planet, he and his intrepid crew soon realise that they have wandered into an elaborate trap, set by the villainous Krall (a virtually unrecognisable Idris Elba) and a huge space battle ensues. It goes on for what seems like weeks and the fact that it occurs in murky, half-darkness does nothing for an audience’s ability to follow what’s happening. Soon, the familiar characters are aboard escape pods and hurtling towards different locations, where they will have to regroup in order to stop Krall from employing a terrible weapon…

There are a few moments here, where Lin remembers that what has always fuelled Gene Roddenberry’s creation most effectively is the interplay between the characters. But whenever there’s a danger of things getting interesting, the script by Simon Pegg (who should have known better) and several other broth-spoilers, flings us back in the direction of yet another interminable pitched battle. And the franchise finds itself  in the doldrums once again, undoing all of Abrams hard work. A coda where a character solemnly intones the old bit about ‘boldly going to strange new worlds’ seems all the more ironic.

There’s nothing new or interesting here, just the resounding clunk of a missed opportunity.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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02/09/15

We were far too late getting on to this – largely because an entire month of reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe left us with too little time to actually make it to the cinema: a sorry state of affairs. Rogue Nation is the latest improbably titled instalment in Tom Cruise’s evergreen TV spy spinoff and as the series goes, it’s one of the better efforts – an adrenalin fuelled romp with an outrageously daft plot and a whole heap of inexplicable gadgetry to help the IMF team achieve their goals.

The film starts as it means to go on with the throttle wide open. Ethan Hunt attempts to board a plane… after it’s taken off. (Don’t try this at home. That’s my old stamping ground of RAF Wittering hundreds of feet below, by the way and yes, that is Cruise clinging on to the side of the plane. Nobody can say he doesn’t earn his millions.)

Hunt is on the trail of a mysterious organisation called The Syndicate, who have dedicated themselves to the eradication of the IMF and who are headed up by evil villain, Solomon Lane (a deeply creepy Sean Harris.) As Hunt hurtles around the world, evading assassins and leaping athletically from very high buildings, back at base, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is engaged in a more pedestrian battle as grumpy CIA man, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) attempts to get the Impossible Missions team shut down. It seems he finds them a bout too reckless for his liking. Soon Hunt is pretty much out there on his own, aided only by his hapless bessie mate, Benjie (Simon Pegg, who must be relieved to add a much-needed hit to his CV) and by the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who keeps popping up just in time to save Hunt’s life.

It’s fairly pointless to go into the plot. Most of it is unfathomable and all of it is unlikely, but it’s presented with enough tongue-in-cheek brio to suspend your disbelief. There’s an ingenious set piece at the Vienna opera house, while an underwater sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath for three minutes wracks up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. On the downside, there’s a  motorbike/car chase that seems a tad perfunctory this time around, but that’s a minor quibble. Overall, this is a superior slice of entertainment, which should keep you riveted till the final credits. And of course it still features Lalo Schifrin’s sinewy, unforgettable theme tune, which is a thriller all by itself.

What else can I say? Mission accomplished.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Hector and the Search For Happiness

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20/07/15

The presence of Simon Pegg in a movie can usually be relied upon as some kind of quality control, but as Hector and the Search For Happiness proves all too readily, this can’t always be relied upon. Based upon the best selling self-help book by Francis LeLord, the film tells the story of Hector (Pegg) a successful psychiatrist, happily living in London with his girlfriend Clara, (Rosamund Pike.) But talking to a succession of depressed people on a daily basis eventually has an inevitable effect on him and he undergoes a bit of a mid life crisis; whereupon he tells Clara that he needs to go off and ‘find himself’ or more accurately, to find the essence of pure happiness.

To this effect, he visits China (for no apparent reason other than Chinese people are considered to be quite happy.) He  goes to work with an old college friend in Africa, and, in the final segment, he visits Los Angeles and his old flame, Agnes (Toni Collette) now a happily married woman with two children and a third on the way. Pegg tries hard to instil the proceedings with some degree of interest but is ill served by a story that despite involving so much travel is clearly going nowhere. It’s all a bit vapid to be honest. There’s some nice scenery to enjoy along the way and several serious actors appear in minor roles – Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno and Christopher Plummer to name but three, but apart from a few fridge magnet bon mots, there really isn’t an awful lot to be gleaned from the story, which eventually collapses into a conclusion that is so mind-numbingly predictable, we could have saved Hector the price of all those air fares.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

Man Up

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06/06/15

Some films are little more than entertaining fluff, but as entertaining fluff goes, Man Up is right there with the best of them. It boasts two likeable leads in Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, a great supporting cast, a witty script by Tess Morris and a genuine ‘feel good’ tone that carries you effortlessly through to its (pleasingly predictable) ending.

Lake Bell is Nancy, a thirty something female with a poor record in the relationships game. At the film’s start, she’d supposed to be attending the engagement party of a couple of friends, where she’s been set up on a blind date, but opts instead to eat a burger alone in her hotel room and watch The Silence of the Lambs. Pestered by her sister, Elaine (Sharon Horgan) to get in there and give it a shot, she goes to meet the man in question. The ensuing toe-curling conversation is one of the film’s funniest scenes. On the train home, she meets Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who is herself en route to a blind date, carrying a cheesy self-help book for the purposes of identification. By chance, Nancy ends up with the book and with the blind date, Jack (Simon Pegg), a forty year old would-be artist who is still hurting from the pain of the separation from his ex. Caught up in the moment, Nancy allows Jack to think that she is actually Jessica and the two of them embark on a night of drinking and conversation, made all the more challenging by Nancy’s desperate attempts to ‘be’ Jessica – who it turns out, is a twenty four year old triathlete! It’s all going swimmingly until they visit a bowling alley and bump into Sean (Rory Kinnear) one of Nancy’s ex schoolmates and a man who has been nursing a (rather creepy) obsession with her ever since…

Mistaken identity is a familiar conceit in the movies and many have tried this idea with average results, but Man Up is a superior product in most respects. The quirky script has far more surprises up its sleeve than you might expect from a subject like this and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments along the way, even if we know all along that Jack and Nancy are made for each other and there’s no way the filmmakers would dream of letting us down in that regard. If you’re expecting the earth to move, this may not be for you, but if you’re in the market for a quirky, heartwarming feel good picture, you could frankly do a lot worse than this.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney