Archive for Simon Pegg

Game Ova

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2018 by dcairns

The easter-egg/treasure hunt plot of READY PLAYER ONE is very INDIANA JONES, while the quasi-dystopian world is pure MINORITY REPORT, but the movie references numerous other Spielberg productions as it attempts to visualise the postmodern concept of the pop-cultural universe as a virtual place where every fictional character and artifact exists alongside each other.

Maybe WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first movie to attempt this kind of mash-up, but it contented itself with folding Disney & Warners cartoons together, with a few strays like Betty Boop, deliberately excluding later cartoons that would have diluted what stylistic consistency it had. Then THE LEGO MOVIE threw everything into the mix but achieved a surprising consistency by making it all Lego.

Complaints about Spielberg’s new movie warping the character of Brad Bird’s warping of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man (a delightful warping, but definitely a warping) and some of the other icons recycled in his big messy new flick seem quite misguided — according to the movie, these are merely avatars, not the real things. As someone who, as a kid, would make Action Man fight Cindy and Stretch Armstrong and a fluffy rabbit and Cassius Clay, I could appreciate the way the filmmakers are having fun cramming together things that just don’t belong together. It’s a bit like if, one second after the camera flashed on the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, a massive fight broke out.

And it really doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the references, or any of them. The treasure hunt plot is one of the dullest conceptions available to the storyteller (follow the clues, win the reward), though slightly less obnoxious than Rescue The Princess, but writers Zak Penn & Ernest Cline throw in some neat complications to make things less boringly single-track. It’s diverting, sugary popcorn.

If the cultural (mis)appropriation doesn’t matter and the question of “Will the kids know who Buckaroo Banzai is?” doesn’t matter, and they really, really don’t and aren’t you ashamed of yourselves for caring, movie pundits?, then what does matter? Well, the hero is very bland and made more so by being flanked by a couple of cool, contrasting girls. And then Mark Rylance makes a caricature aspie genius figure become dimensional and wholly believable and that sort of lessens everyone else, especially poor Simon Pegg who can’t compete. Pegg can do many things but he’s not in Rylance’s league. He’s not even in his sport.

And of course there’s the whole issue of MEANING. Our hero joins an underground resistance movement but ends up as an all-powerful CEO, not only levelling up but lawyering up, and the film isn’t interesting in exploring or questioning or making fun of the contradictions. Those parts of the film’s world-building concerned with what makes the bad guys bad are so sketchily rendered as to wholly lack weight, and the Evil Corporation meme, which has always been a somewhat translucent veil when used by Hollywood movies produced by huge corporations, has never seemed so wispy and full of holes. This movie can’t even BEGIN to invest in the idea of authentic capitalist evil, so it all comes down to one nasty suit, well played by Ben Mendelsohn… but has he been cast just because he looks a bit like Miguel Ferrer in ROBOCOP?

A few people have suggested that this kind of fantasy, requiring a little satirical edge, might better suit a creator like Joe Dante, and I would recommend to you the flawed (by executive interference) LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION and the majestic GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH for films which really earn one’s respect by straining to bursting point to fulfill the contradictory requirements of selling toys and mocking the whole business of movie/merchandise synergy.

Still, RP1 is fun. If you surrender to it, the action is exciting, the extended Kubrick homage is a blast, Rylance is magnificent (say, can PTA discover him, please? Now that D-Day Lewis has apparently had his day?) and though it has a worryingly protracted wrap-up like in the bad old days immediately following SCHINDLER’S  LIST (or like Penn’s script for X-MEN II), it doesn’t completely outstay its welcome.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Busywork

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2013 by dcairns

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Start as you mean to go on, Zasu!

But the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss Marshall Neilan’s 1917 film of A LITTLE PRINCESS. It’s a scattershot round-up of a few recent doings that don’t quite suit a post of their own.

IT’S ALL BACON

I don’t engage in modern culture that much — I watch one TV show (Breaking Bad) and read one comic (Batman Inc, which has just finished its run under Grant Morrison) and follow one stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee. And at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival I was too tardy even to get a ticket for him. But there were still tickets for Baconface, a Canadian cult comic who performs in a wrestling mask adorned with strips of glistening bacon. This is ironic, since (a) the tickets for Baconface are cheaper than the tickets for Stewart Lee and (2) Bacon Face IS Stewart Lee. So we have now usefully established that Stewart Lee with bacon on his face is worth less than Stewart Lee without bacon on his face.

Lee’s first appearance with a new character (which might either clear up or further confuse the problem of distinguishing Lee the man from the character he portrays in his stand-up, an exaggerated version of himself) was an unexpected revelation. Much of the material was stuff Lee could have done as himself, but much of it was demented backwoodsman parody, and the rest was a parody of that parody, vanishing down a plughole of deconstruction. And there was a movie reference, which allows me to tie it in to the function of this blog: Bacon Face was probably the only artiste at the Fringe to mention Volker Schloendorff’s film of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, part of an extended routine about dragging up as Margaret Atwood for Canada Day.

Worlds-End

WORLD OF PUB

THE WORLD’S END is the least impressive film of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s informal “Cornetto Trilogy” but it’s still very enjoyable. I have only three criticisms are (1) It feels a bit like a first draft — I would have liked to see little clues to the alien invasion dropped in during the first half hour, a la Philip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or THE BIRDS — instead, the movie attempts an abrupt genre switch like FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, OK in principle but leaving the first act to get by purely as situation comedy, with a rather irksome lead character (deliberately so, but an escape valve of sci-fi suspense would have helped) (2) Wright overuses the device of having a foreground object wipe frame and invisible lead into the next shot. Shame to hide a good cut, I say, and if you play this card too often it comes to look like you’re short of ideas, which we know is not the case with Wright, having seen the dazzling kinetics of SCOTT PILGRIM (3) the ending is really terrible, protracted and unfunny and inexplicable in character terms. That’s a real shame, but the middle is incredibly enjoyable. Not that new, after SHAWN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, but hysterical entertainment all the same.

MONDO TEENO

MONDO TEENO or TEENAGE REBELLION is a 1967 mondo shock doc — as dreadful as you’d expect, but with interesting credits, as the IMDb and Wikipedia list Eriprando Visconti (Luchino Visconti) and Richard Lester as co-directors. Lester is uncredited on the film, and it seemed unlikely he’d get involved in something like this, especially at the height of his career.

There IS some London street footage which looks a bit like the hidden-camera stuff in THE KNACK, so that might be how the rumour started.

I asked him about it and he said “As to Teenage Rebellion, this has been attributed to me before, usually on Wikipedia.  I don’t have the skills required to remove it, perhaps you can do it.” So I am saying this here so I can cite the director himself when I try to edit Wikipedia. Sort of like Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan in to win his argument for him in ANNIE HALL.

Star Trek: Into Zero Dark Thirty

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by dcairns

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The new STAR TREK film met with our approval — it’s very silly, on the one hand, and on the other, very neatly worked out. So unlike PROMETHEUS, which is ponderous and nonsensical, and which also flowed in part from the pen of Damon Lindelof. TREK seems aware of its own daftness — the suggestion that a “cold fusion device” is what you use when you want to make things really cold may well have been thrown in just to annoy the kind of people who get annoying by things like that.

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It’s also unexpectedly moving in places, mainly because it concentrates on Spock, and he’s such an intriguing concept for a character. The movie sort of treats him as an Aspergers person. Zachary Quinto is excellent in the role, but Chris Pine’s Kirk delivers a lot of the key scene too. And, in my gruff, manly way, I just love Karl Urban as McCoy.

In this movie Kirk battles Sherlock Holmes and Robocop, which I didn’t know going in.

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I felt Simon Pegg’s Scottish accent had deteriorated a bit since the last film, where he was actually convincing. It’s weird, as I think he has a Scottish wife, and the film’s first assistant director is Tommy Gormley, who has the broadest Glaswegian accent I’ve ever encountered on a living human being. Pegg does throw in some nice bits of observational Scottishness, and I get a warm glow around the cockles, as if they were being beamed up, when I hear somebody use the phrase “hud oan” (translation: “Hold on”) in a Major Motion Picture, but the fact remains he is now a less convincing Scotsman than James Doohan. Which is a bit like being a less convincing echidna than Wallace Beery.

No explanation is given why Peter Weller talks like a cowboy while his daughter, Alice Eve, has a cut-glass English accent. Probably something to do with cold fusion. The show’s other new cast member, Benedict Cumberbatch, is pretty good value, striking dynamic poses and being cold-blooded in a way that’s distinct enough from the Vulcans to register.

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Director JJ Abrams layers on the lens flare as usual, but manages to simulate the confusion of combat without his action sequences degenerating into actual incoherence, which I appreciate. He also does a few of the nice tie-in shots which made MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III quite pleasing in its set-pieces — a crashing craft pulls the camera down to a foreground character, who leads the camera onwards in a kind of relay. In an age when many directors seem unable to conceive of a shot which has more than one thing happening in it, this is refreshing.

On the whole, this is a kind of pumped-up remake of THE WRATH OF KHAN, but some aspects of it actually improve on that movie, so I’ll give it a pass.

It’s always been interesting, the way Star Trek reflects America’s view of itself and the world. In the original series, the Federation represented both a united mankind, and the USA, with the Klingons obviously standing in for the USSR. In this movie, with the Enterprise dispatched to retrieve a terrorist from the Klingon homeworld, they seem to be the Middle East in general and Pakistan in particular. And thus the movie seems to point with hope towards eventual peaceful coexistence with alien empires, while (perhaps, mildly) criticising Obama’s death squad incursion and drones policy.

Oh, there’s also a great segue involving a swearword and a sliding door — the sound effects gag of the season.