Tag Archives: Simon Pegg

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Star Trek Beyond, grammatically confusing title notwithstanding, is the solid albeit less ambitious third entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise that began with Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, both films I really enjoyed.

This time around, Fast & Furious 3-6 director Justin Lin has replaced Abrams, with Simon Pegg (Scotty) penning the script. Most of the cast is back, with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, and the late Anton Yelchin, in his final role, as Chekov (a name that, when yelled in an American accent during times of distress, which happens numerous times in this film, sounds a lot like an insult — you figure that one out for yourself). Unfortunately, as Alive Eve had a scheduling conflict, her character Carol Marcus from Into Darkness simply disappeared from the crew USS Enterprise. Joining the cast this time are Sofia Boutella as Jayla, an alien scavenger, and Idris Elba as the unrecognisable alien Krall.

The plot of Star Trek Beyond is very simple: The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission after receiving a distress call. Stuff happens and basically the entire movie is spent on a barren planet against a powerful alien enemy. Each member of the main cast is dealing with something personal, and there are a few twists and turns along the way, but on the whole, there’s nothing mindblowing about the story.

The same can be said for the action. Justin Lin is essentially the director responsible for turning the Fast & Furious franchise into the juggernaut it is today, so you know he’s got a great feel for action. But the action sequences in Star Trek Beyond, while visually impressive, aren’t at the same level as the Fast & Furious films in terms of innovation and adrenaline-pumping thrills. The special effects are also in the same category — they are good enough to get the job done, though there are no jaw-dropping or memorable images.

These elements combine to make Beyond feel more like a glorified season finale of a TV series than a major cinematic blockbuster. Perhaps that’s downplaying the overall quality of the production, but both of its predecessors felt a lot more like event films, whereas this one came across as more run-of-the-mill and par for the course. And it shouldn’t have been this way considering that its US$185 million budget was equal to that of Into Darkness and US$35 million higher than Star Trek.

That said, despite the seemingly lowered ambitions, I still found Beyond to be a pretty enjoyable popcorn flick. The biggest reason is not the action or the special effects, but the chemistry and interactions between the characters. I’m not a Trekkie and have never been one, but I had a lot of fun watching the back and forth banter and camaraderie between the cast members, especially Spock and Bones, and Scotty and Kirk. By the end of it all, I found myself engrossed in the story and invested in their fate. Pegg deserves a lot of credit for the dialogue and bringing out the essence of so many of these beloved characters.

My biggest disappointment with the film was the character of Jayla, who seemed to have a substantial and pivotal role in the film judging from the trailers and the posters. And while she is important, she doesn’t quite live up to the expectations or the hype of her well-designed physical appearance. On the other hand, the villain Krall turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and that speaks to the imposing screen presence Idris Elba always brings to every one of his roles.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond is a well-made and very watchable third entry in a franchise that appears to be heading toward an inevitable decline. It’s not spectacular but it’s also far from weak. If future entries can maintain this standard — and they’ve already said there will be more — I certainly wouldn’t mind going on more of these adventures aboard the Enterprise.

3.5 stars out of 5

Man Up (2015)

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I caught up with my best pal a couple of weeks ago as we both happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time. He’s not exactly a movie buff, but he did recommend a film, Man Up, which he saw during the flight over.

I didn’t expect much when I checked it out the other day. Romantic comedies are probably my least favourite genre, and Man Up is a film that has seemingly received very little buzz. Simon Pegg and Lake Bell also seemed like a very odd couple.

Considering all this, Man Up turned out to be more than just serviceable — it was actually pretty good.

The premise is this: a mid-30s woman (Bell) who has more or less given up on finding love decides to roll the dice one last time when a 40-year-old divorcee (Pegg) mistakes her for his blind date. She goes along for the ride and thus begins a wild night of fun, romance and absurdly embarrassing encounters.

Generally speaking, this looks, sounds and smells like a fairly typical rom-com. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is filled with outrageous gags that infuse the film with a silly tone and a sense of destiny. But of course, no matter what happens throughout, you know how it will end.

That said, Man Up does everything rather well within the confines of the genre. Despite an apparent mismatch, Pegg and Bell have surprising chemistry, playing off each other’s strengths with great comedic timing. I knew Pegg would be good, so the big surprise here is that Bell is also excellent, not just in pulling off a convincing British accent but in not being afraid to make a fool of herself to get the big laughs.

However, the guy who stole the show for me was veteran British actor Rory Kinnear, a familiar face in the recent generation of Bond films as Bill Tanner, though in my mind he will forever be the prime minister who porked a pig in Black Mirror. Kinnear goes all out in this one as a creepy former high school classmate obsessed with Bell’s character, and he goes over-the-top by just the right amount to elicit the deepest belly laughs of the entire film. Just the voice he puts on is hilarious.

Strong performances aside, the dialogue is sharp and and a little explicit, treading the line between edgy and crude without toppling into the latter. It’s a strange thing to say, but this is a rare rom-com that is actually romantic and sexy and funny.

Though the film never steers full clear of rom-com cliches, and Bell is perhaps too attractive and in too-good shape for her predicament to be realistic, Man Up is confident and lively enough for a jolly good time, even for those not that into the genre.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

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We all know he is crazy. But when it comes to making crazy action blockbusters, there’s no superstar in the world equipped with more charisma and intensity to do the job than Mr Tom Cruise.

Despite having hit the big Five-O since Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the surprising smash hit that turned out to be the best in the franchise yet, Cruise returns in fine form for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the first film financed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. It’s a slick, wild, fun and funny experience, a fantastic popcorn movie that appears to have taken a page out of the Fast & Furious franchise by building on the success and familiarity of the predecessor with even crazier action stunts you’ve never seen before.

Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, who finds himself going head-to-head with his most formidable nemesis yet, Solomon Lane, the head of the mysterious Syndicate terrorist group, played by Sean Harris (who looks like Mason Verger from Hannibal even though he has no facial injuries). Returning are his comedy relief sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), last entry’s William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and good old Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). New to the cast are Alec Baldwin, head of the CIA, and Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (who earned a Golden Globe nomination for The White Queen in 2013), in my opinion a true superstar in the making.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who previously collaborated with Cruise on the underrated Jack Reacher and was also a writer on the excellent Edge of TomorrowMI5 kicks off with a spectacular opening sequence that is basically declaring to its audience that they are in for a treat. And from there, the film takes us on a heart-thumping ride around the world, filled with cool gadgets, technology you never knew existed, fast cars and loads of stunts to push action — and credulity — to the edge.

Not everything makes perfect sense and people never seem to get hurt — or even scratched — despite the most brutal of crashes, falls and collisions, but as is the case with the last few Fast & Furious flicks, MI5 embraces its insanity and outrageousness to the fullest, and in doing so becomes a form of surreal enjoyment that few films of the genre can match.

There are admittedly some pacing issues as there are times when the film slows down too much for my liking, though the set action pieces — in particular one involving an underwater sequence and another involving a motorcycle chase — are absolutely fantastic and rank right up there as the best of the franchise.

Tom Cruise, say what you will about him, can still get it done as Ethan Hunt. It’s no different to the type of intense performance we’ve seen countless times, and despite turning 53 this month, Cruises hasn’t lost a step. Equalling his impressiveness is Rebecca Ferguson, who isn’t necessarily a knockout beauty but is shockingly convincing as Ilsa Faust, a British agent/terrorist. The 31-year-old actress exudes an air of confidence and vulnerability that makes Faust a fascinating character you’re not sure if you can trust, and manages to keep all the difficult action scenes authentic because she makes you believe she is capable of possessing those skills.

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Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson

Simon Pegg gets a very meaty role this time, both in terms of screen time and humour, though sadly neither Jeremy Renner nor Ving Rhames get to show much of what they can do as they are largely confined to operational logistics. Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, is a welcome addition who makes CIA chief Alan Huntley a much more interesting character than he otherwise would have been.

Full credit too to Alibaba, basically China’s version of eBay, for keeping MI5 essentially free of “Chinese characteristics.” In recent years, most high-profile films involving Chinese investment always force in some cheesy Chinese elements or actors, but in this film you almost forget that. They don’t go to China, there’s no mention of China, and the only Chinese actress in it — played by Zhang Jinchu, basically a less famous Zhang Zhiyi — has a tiny role that you barely even notice.

I do have a bit of a complaint about some of the close-range combat sequences because the use of quick cuts get a little too liberal to be coherent at times, but apart from that Rogue Nation is an exceptional action film I had a blast with. It’s not quite on the level of Ghost Protocol, a surprising revelation no one expected to be that good, though that could also be because expectations this time around are might higher. Nonetheless, it’s easily the second best entry in the MI franchise and I hope they keep making more as long as they are this awesome.

4 stars out of 5

PS: Yes, they apparently do plan to make a sixth film.

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

Talk about an unexpected early Christmas present.  I have always liked the Mission: Impossible series but never considered myself a huge fan, but I must admit I enjoyed the fourth film (does that mean it’s a ‘saga’ now?), Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (let’s called it MI4), immensely.  In fact, I think it is the best film of the entire series, and by a not inconsiderable margin.  How rare is it that the fourth film of a franchise is the best of the lot?

MI4 is crazy.  No, not jumping on Oprah’s couch crazy, but crazy good.  Given that no one wants to produce Tom Cruise films any more, Mr Scientology decided to produce it himself (he has the money, so why not?), along with JJ Abrams (director of the third film) and Bryan Burk.  The director?  Brad Bird, a strange choice considering he directed only animations, such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille and the Do the Bart Man music video, but it turned out to be the right choice because he made the impossible somewhat believable  (at least while you’re in the moment anyway).  The partial use of IMAX cameras also allowed some spectacular shots in a film packed with riveting action and intrigue from start to finish.

There’s nothing particularly clever about the plot — secret missions, double crosses, an evil genius determined to destroy the world, and only Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his desperate, isolated, back-against-the-wall team can save us.  We’ve seen it all before, but as they say, it’s all in the execution.

And that’s where MI4 delivers big time.  High tension, white-knuckle action, explosive chase sequences, insane stunts, cool machines and gadgets, scaling buildings and the film’s trademark: flat-dropping down deep vents.  Yes, even within the context of the MI franchise we’ve seen a lot of these things already, but there’s always a twist that makes it fresh, and frankly, it’s simply done better than before.  You may have already seen a few of the more iconic scenes in the trailers, but if you haven’t, even better.

The cast that plays the newly assembled team is awesome.  Tom Cruise is older, wrinklier and eye-baggier, but still fit and charming enough to pull off the role of super agent Ethan Hunt.  Alan Thicke’s (the dad from Growing Pains, remember him?) daughter-in-law, Paula Patton (she married his son, musician Robin Thicke) is a sexy yet kick-ass agent, and Simon Pegg returns as the bumbling computer hacker to provide the laughs.  I was very impressed with the latest recruit, a mysterious analyst played by Jeremy Renner.  I knew he could do reckless loner (The Hurt Locker) and intense badass (The Town), but I didn’t expect him to play the role of super agent this well. No wonder Renner was selected to take over the Bourne franchise after Matt Damon’s departure.

Michael Nyqvist (the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Millennium Trilogy) is somewhat underused as the crazy baddie (though noticeably better than his performance in Abduction, also as a crazy baddie), but on the whole the cast is super.

As far as action blockbusters go, MI4 is one of the best of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011) (2D)

I’m not ordinarily a big fan of animated films and I know almost next to nothing about the adventures of the titular character or the original comics on which they were based (apart from a short visit to the Tintin Museum/Shop in Brussels) — which is why it surprises me to declare that The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most exciting and enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.

Facts about the film I probably should have been aware of before the opening credits:

  • directed by Steven Spielberg;
  • produced by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg;
  • uses performance capture technology (made famous by The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and features the performance capture king, Andy Serkis; and
  • an all-star cast including Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) as the protagonist Tintin, Serkis as the hilarious Captain Haddock, Daniel Craig as the sinister Sakharine, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the duo from Shawn of the DeadPaul) as Thomson and Thompson, the bumbling detectives.

This film, hopefully the first of a trilogy, is based on three of the original comic books, and tells the story of how young journalist (and essentially detective) Tintin and his beloved dog Snowy become embroiled in a wild adventure involving model ships, secret riddles, pirates and sunken treasures.

Thanks to Spielberg’s masterful storytelling and the amazing visual effects (made possible by the performance capture technology), The Adventures of Tintin is an engrossing, clever, humorous, exciting and wonderfully spectacular animated film.  It is no coincidence that the film reminded me a lot of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies (especially the superior earlier ones), where the sense of adventure was genuine, fresh and thrilling.  It is the type of film both children and adults can enjoy.

The look of the film is fantastic — everything but the human characters look real, and my guess is that they held back a little so that the human characters can closer resemble their comic counterparts and avoid looking ‘spooky’ (like say Polar Express or Beowulf).  The combination of performance capture and ultra-realistic, high quality animation is spot on — it is impossible to imagine a traditionally animated film (or even a purely computer animated one) or a live action version of Tintin having the same atmosphere or effect.  It looks real but not too real, allowing the film to utilise techniques and storytelling methods that work well in animated films but not live action ones.

The performances were fantastic.  Rather than just providing voices, the subtleties of the actors’ body movements and expressions were also encapsulated in the characters they portrayed.  It made a difference.  Serkis’s Captain Haddock in particular was a standout, even if he might have come across as excessive at times.  Daniel Craig was practically unrecognisable, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s unmatched chemistry brought a certain harmony to Thomson and Thompson.

Although the 107-minute running time might have been 10-15 minutes over the ideal length of such a film, on the whole I was immensely impressed with The Adventures of Tintin.  This is coming from someone who had never read a Tintin comic book and previously had no interest in ever reading one.  Now I can’t wait for them to make the sequel, which will allegedly by directed by Peter Jackson (as soon as he is done with The Hobbit).

I don’t know if the film did justice to the original character or the comic books.  But to me it doesn’t matter.  A good film is a good film, and The Adventures of Tintin is just that.

4.5 out of 5 stars!

PS: I am continuing my stance of ‘no 3D’.  I don’t think 3D would have necessarily ruined this film, but I don’t think it would have helped.  2D was perfectly fine, and it was good enough for me.

Movie Review: Paul (2011)

I like comedies and I’m fascinated by aliens, so Paul, the new sci-fi comedy written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame) seemed right up my alley.  In short, Paul is pretty good, but nothing special.

Paul is about two English comic book nerds and buddies, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), who travel across the Atlantic to attend Comic-Con and to take a trip in their RV across the country to visit alleged alien hotspots.  Of course, they run into the titular character, voiced by Seth Rogen, who is unlike all the stereotypes we have come to expect, and that kick starts off a series of wild and wacky adventures.

For me, there were lots of moments where I went, ‘That’s very clever’ and had a giggle or two, but the laugh-out-loud moments were rarer than expected (though, to be fair, there were a couple of ripper gems).  That made it slightly disappointing as I thought the potential for better laughs was definitely there.

My favourite thing about Paul is the Arrested Development connections.  The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who did a few AD episodes back in the day before going on to direct Superbad and Adventureland.  Jason Bateman plays the mysterious Agent Zoil, and there’s also Jeffrey Tambor as a sci-fi writer and Jane Lynch as a themed cafe owner.  They are all brilliant.  I won’t spoil any more than that except to mention that the film also features the likes of Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Bill Hader (Adventureland) and John Carroll Lynch (my favourite husband from Fargo), plus a few truly awesome cameos.

Ultimately, Paul is what it is.  A few flashes of comedic brilliance, some clever lines, surprisingly wonderful cameos and references — super fun but not exactly super funny.  I’d call it an amusing film with a dash of geeky charm, for the most part an enjoyable chuckler as opposed to a laugh-out-loud kind of movie.

3.25 stars out of 5