Archive for Simon Pegg

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.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2012 by dcairns

I gave up going to blockbusters after the worthless TWISTER, only breaking my embargo when there seemed something genuinely special on offer from the creative talents involved. And then lapsing a few other times.

Brad Bird’s involvement in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL was enough to draw me in — he’s shaken up the world of feature animation (THE INCREDIBLES, for instance, has no songs, one writer, is two hours long, features numerous deaths, and focuses on its hero’s mid-life crisis) and I was intrigued to see what his live-action debut would be like. How would he handle actors and props and settings and camera moves with their own real physical weight?

The yearning of the flesh to become pixel.

Confession — I have actually seen all the M:I films at the cinema. It’s that “creative talents” clause: Cruise has seriously sought out filmmakers with interesting sensibilities. Weirdly, J.J. Abrams, the least celebrated director, crafted maybe the most satisfying film, maybe because he had the best script. Besides, I liked the way he was able to shoot action scenes where shots served more than a single purpose, even as he cut fast. DePalma’s opening installment seemed tailor-made to offer him some typical set-pieces, such as the hi-tech version of his trademark split-screen sequence. I’ve finally decided I can’t stand John Woo, and anyhow grafting the plot of NOTORIOUS onto an action drama was a dumb move — it makes the fights and chases even more redundant than usual. The writers tried to make it a Woo vehicle by inserting a dove. Big deal. Abrams carries less baggage that those guys, and he had an inventively absurd script to handle (that improvised defibrillator was outrageous).

Bird casts better than any of his predecessors since DePalma: it’s impossible to beat the combo of Ving Rhames and Jean Reno, who have such distinctive comic-book looks, but Bird doesn’t miscast his bad guy as Woo and Abrams did (Dougray Scott is too stolid, Philip Seymour Hoffman is an excellent actor wasted as a cartoon snark) — I didn’t find Michael Nykvist quite as colourful as I’d have liked, but his role is actually less significant than you’d expect, with relatively little screen time. Somebody with more visible derangement or physical threat might have been nice, but it’s no big deal.

The star attraction here is Jeremy Renner, America’s best knobbly actor, who manages to be more intense and dynamic than Cruise and funnier than Simon Pegg. Paula Patton and Lea Seydoux provide requisite glamour, and there are some surprise cameos. But it’s what I enjoyed in M:I III, the enjoyable absurdity, that makes this one the best yet ~

1) Tom Cruise does a lightning sketch in biro on the palm of his hand and Renner positively IDs it, using only the information that it’s a “European male”. This is my new favourite thing ever.

2) Cruise survives AT LEAST four lethal vehicular smash-ups, each more of a sure-death proposition than the one before.

3) He climbs the tallest building in the world using special gloves. Which don’t work. He should’ve tried licking his palms like Steve Martin in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.

4) He coincidentally finds himself on the run with a man with a secret and tragic link to his past, who also coincidentally was the only survivor of auto smash number 2.

5) Cruise and Pegg sneak around the Kremlin using a portable screen that projects a view of the corridor they’re in, so the security guy can’t see them. This is a digital version of the tunnels Wile E. Coyote would paint on rock faces. I would like one — it would make my living room look bigger.

6) Cruise gains admittance to the Kremlin — basically Moscow’s Disneyland, I believe — by sticking on a false moustache to impersonate a general. Even though he has a machine that makes completely convincing and flexible rubber masks. In fact, these masks are never used in this film, almost as if the writers, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, thought they were too silly to get away with. Which, in its touchingly naive way, is the most joyously absurd thing of all.

If you like action films at all, you should try this — gleefully O.T.T. mayhem, coherently and dynamically shot, with Michael Giacchino’s score once again channeling the spirit of sixties espionage flicks. But it’s also Bird’s least emotional film to date, which is odd, although I guess it fits the nature of spy films. The attempts at human drama mainly involve backstory and characters from previous entries in the series, so they don’t amount to much. The emotion you will get is the sweaty palms and pounding pulse of suspense, which is the chief reason most people are going to go, I expect.

This movie finally cracks the series’ biggest problem, which is that it’s simultaneously about a TEAM, and a star vehicle for one actor. The balance is finally right, even though, rather weirdly, we end up with more access to Renner’s emotions than Cruise’s, and Renner gets the Big Emotional Backstory scene. A coda tries to hand it back to Cruise, but that’s a little late in the day. Still, this plays along with one of Cruise’s underrated qualities as a star: you’re never quite sure what’s really going on with him.

This is Bird’s first film not ostensibly about a Beautiful Freak or Amazing Genius, though by its nature it’s still a celebration of The Exceptional, just in less overt, didactic form. Maybe that theme needed retired anyway. I’m not 100% sure what this latest film’s theme IS, just as I’m not sure what Ethan Hunt’s appropriation of W’s “Mission accomplished” is meant to tell us…

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