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Clearly the best action film that has been released so far during 2018, this latest franchise entry delivers plenty of the high-octane thrills that have become synonymous with the series, particularly during recent years. There’s a quite thrilling, brutally bone-crunching fist fight that takes place in a bathroom, for example, involving Tom Cruise’s familiar IMF agent Ethan Hunt, Henry Cavill’s CIA assassin August Walker and a man who may or may not be an international terrorist called Lark, with all the shots of bodies slamming into washbasins and through walls that have become de rigeur post-Bourne. There are also speedy, exciting vehicle and foot chases through the streets of central Paris and London, with the requisite number of landmarks incorporated into the sequences’ establishing shots. And the finale – though marred a little by the awful expository dialogue that precedes it, which all of the actors involved seem a tad embarrassed by – is staged very well, particularly with regard to the helicopter chase that was teased in the trailer.

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Simon Pegg and Henry Cavill

This ending is also indicative of Mission: Impossible – Fallout’s laziness, though, perhaps epitomised by the use of such cliches as characters grimacing as they tensely cut the red wire on the left-hand side of a bomb’s interior (WAIT…OR IS IT THE GREEN WIRE ON THE RIGHT, ETC ETC?!!), figures dangling off incredibly high ledges or ropes and timers slowly ticking down to zero. These tired action movie tropes have long been ditched by more inventive, thoughtful writers and directors, and it’s a little dismaying to see them employed yet again within this film, when the marketing tends to proudly push the line that its stunts are next-level and its characters are presented as sprightly and able to think outside of the box in order to outfox the enemy. Allayed to this there’s a nagging sense that even the actors are a little bit bored by it all, performing in variations on scenes that they’ve already appeared in numerous times before (particularly with regard to Cruise, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, all veterans of this series). When one character is hoodwinked by Hunt’s team’s misdirection early in the film, for example, and another subsequently falls for a switcheroo involving one of those rubber face masks that seemingly come out of nowhere in these films (because… someone has a laptop handy), are there any audience members who feel the same level of surprise at having had the rug pulled from under their feet? Isn’t it time to move on from the kind of twists seen in Brian De Palma’s first entry in the franchise, and from the more novel ideas that were contained within David Koepp and Robert Towne’s Mission: Impossible movie screenplay?

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Vanessa Kirby

Supporting actors are game, but this is of course A Tom Cruise Film and as such the rest of the cast is marginalised, their characters unable to wallow in a sub plot or enjoy an independent thought of their own that isn’t somehow for Hunt’s benefit. Rebecca Ferguson’s assassin Ilsa was, for some, a breath of fresh air in previous entry Rogue Nation, but she takes a back seat here, appearing with impeccable timing whenever Hunt is in a bind and needs some help. She’s just another team member now, albeit a quasi-member for much of this story, and the actor is surely destined to go the same way as the likes of Emmanuelle Béart, Emilio Estevez, Jeremy Renner and various others have before; but maybe time will prove me wrong. Elsewhere, Sean Harris reprises his role as the big bad of the series, a puppet master of Very Bad Things who is all beard and gravel-voiced threats, while Vanessa Kirby smoulders unconvincingly as new character ‘The White Widow’, a wealthy, powerful broker of dodgy deals who would not be out of place in a Roger Moore-era Bond film. Pegg has already fully accepted his sidekick status, wisely, while Ving Rhames is also seemingly happy to continually play a character who was last given a bit of meaningful personality and a sense of his own life outside of service to Hunt and the IMF way back in 1996, a full five films ago.

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Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise

There’s terrible dialogue here and lots of wooden acting – particularly during the opening, pre-credits scenes – but evidently people go and see these films to be wowed by stunts, and Fallout will not disappoint in this respect; they are very well-staged and each set piece is exciting and incredibly well-choreographed, especially when you consider how many vehicles are involved at times. Somehow the years do not seem to be catching up with Cruise, who yet again gives a solid impression of a man who happens to leap off buildings, kill people and stop nuclear weapons from being deployed almost as often as he eats cornflakes or takes a dump. It seems like there’s plenty left in the tank. (3/5)

In and of itself, the third episode in the rebooted Star Trek franchise is entertaining enough, containing the usual mix of jokes and frenetic action, though after around six hours with these reinvented characters it’s hard to see where this trilogy is actually going, and therefore one wonders whether it will run out of steam sooner rather than later (though it must be said all of the cast members seem to be retaining their enthusiasm). The important crew members of the USS Enterprise are in the same position at the end of Star Trek Beyond as they were beforehand, and although there is a little relationship development here and there in this film, there’s nothing to suggest that any great masterplan is in place. That said, in a world where the majority of franchises seem to be constantly building towards something (something that never seems to arrive, in one or two cases), perhaps there is room for this kind of well-executed exercise in water-treading; the Mission: Impossible series of movies seems to be in good health having done just that for close to 20 years.

In fact, at times Star Trek Beyond plays out like a big budget, extended episode of the original TV series, much in the same way some of the earlier, pre-reboot Star Trek movies have done. Justin Lin – director of four Fast And The Furious films – has taken over from J.J. Abrams, while Doug Jung and Simon Pegg – still playing Scotty with the kind of accent that must make Scottish people weep – have taken on the writing duties. Their story revolves around little more than a desperate to-and-forth battle for a macguffin – alien artefact blah blah bioweapon blah blah blah – and it manages to incorporate giant space stations (you know, the kind with their own ecosystems where you see lots of people strolling around on big, open walkways), a quite devestating (and well-staged) assault on the Enterprise by an alien race led by warlord Krall (Idris Elba giving average bad guy), and an extended rescue mission after most of the ship’s crew are captured during the aftermath.

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Sofia Boutella as Jaylah

Yet it’s what happens in-and-around this meat-and-two-veg plot that provides Star Trek Beyond‘s most notable moments. There are a few vague attempts to make the audience care about the on/off relationship between Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Zoe Saldana’s Uhuru, though in truth the various TV and film incarnations of Star Trek have always been more notable for the bromances, and the wittiest scenes here involve Spock and the permanently catty ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban, who has consistently been very funny throughout this franchise). There are also a couple of scenes dedicated to the hesitant – though asexual – relationship between Spock and the Enterprise‘s captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, now looking decidedly similar to William Shatner in his 1960’s pomp); like the TV show these great friends have been side-by-side for several years, and yet the characters seem to be unable to talk openly to one another and share their personal feelings. It’s a shame that their screen time together in this film is limited.

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Karl Urban as ‘Bones’ McCoy

There are interesting touches elsewhere. It is revealed after all these years that John Cho’s helmsman Sulu is gay, and that he has a partner and an adopted daughter. The dialogue between Pegg and George Takei – a prominent champion of LGBT rights as well as being the man who played Sulu for a number of years – has been interesting to follow in light of this development. Takei felt it would have been better to create a new, openly gay character; Pegg, meanwhile, thought it was a shame that the franchise had never featured a major LGBT character, but that the film would be accused of tokenism if it brought in an entirely new person who happened to be gay. Personally speaking, I found it a welcome surprise to see this, particularly as big budget sci-fi tends to be quite shy around such matters, although you can sense there’s a bit of hesitation, as if the studio has said ‘you can show it, but you’ve got a maxmimum of 15 seconds’. Just speculation on my part, of course, but you can imagine the money men being wary of the effects that prejudice can have on box office takings, and of the ease with which the sequence can be cut for the film’s release in less-tolerant markets. Not that it should be, of course, and hopefully (a) that hasn’t been the case and (b) will not be in the future. Additionally, there are a couple of subtle and sweet tributes to the late Leonard Nimoy, it’s sad to see Anton Yelchin so soon after his death, and Sofia Boutella is a good addition to the cast as an ass-kicking alien named Jaylah.

Though the desire to work in 20th Century cultural signifiers is a little cringeworthy – The Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, Public Enemy’s Fight The Power, a motorbike – it’s a half-decent, entertaining blockbuster in a year of disappointments. Lin is known as a director of frenetic action with a penchant for busy camerawork, and there’s plenty of that as crew members fight inside and outside the various spaceships; I lost count of the number of scenes that begin with the camera turning from an upside-down position, though due to the film’s heavy reliance on crashing spaceships and controlled gravity some of it is justified. It’s not a style that I’m particularly fond of, all told, but the director seems to be popular, and as cinemagoers like spending time with these characters I dare say most will feel fairly satisfied by this film. No attempts have been made to re-invent (or even improve on) a well-turned wheel but the cast are comfortable in their roles, there are a few laughs and a few thrills, and maybe…just maybe…we’ll actually end up getting somewhere in episode four. Eventually someone – a writer, a director, anyone – has to boldly go etc. etc.

Directed by: Justin Lin.
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung. Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella.
Cinematography: Stephen F. Windon.
Editing: Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung.
Music:
Michael Giacchino.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
122.
Year:
2016.

 

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The-Worlds-End-Nick-FrostThe third and final part of Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ is a science fiction action comedy romp based around a pub crawl, which occasionally brings to mind classic British sci-fi TV like The Quatermass Experiment and The Day Of The Triffids as well as more widely-known American big screen fayre (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, most obviously). As with the earlier installments Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the former once again co-authoring the script with long-term writing partner Wright. They repeat the trick of staging a typically-American genre picture in the unlikely environs of a mundane southern English town and, as per the two earlier films, drinking establishments feature heavily. Here, dotted around the town centre of fictional London satellite Newton Haven, they serve as backdrops for increasingly-crazy fight sequences and are filled with an assortment of oddballs. (If you ever want to visit the featured boozers then you’ll need to look up Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, and some may even be able to guarantee fights and oddballs.)

The hostelries of Newton Haven make up ‘The Golden Mile’, a legendary crawl that Gary King (Pegg) and his four friends (Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) tried and failed to complete in their teenage years. It seems at first that King hasn’t grown up in the interim and now sees those days as the best of his life; the others have moved on, but are persuaded to return home and to give the 12-pint ordeal another go to appease their old classmate. However things have changed: the nondescript market town the friends left twenty years earlier was the kind of place where nothing out of the ordinary happened, but they return to a very different Newton Haven (and not just in terms of the sudden influx of interchangeable chain pubs, either).

Pegg, Frost and Wright have worked extremely well together since Spaced, one of the finest comedy TV shows ever made, though a repertory cast has gradually formed around them; Spaced fans will enjoy the appearances of Julia Deakin, Mark Heap and Michael Smiley in The World’s End, while actors such as Freeman, Considine, Bill Nighy, Steve Oram, Rafe Spall and Reece Sheersmith can now be considered Wright regulars, cementing the notion of a loose trilogy as much as the genre spoofing, the Cornetto references or the fence-jumping scenes. They are joined here by Rosamund Pike and her former Die Another Day co-star Pierce Brosnan, both of whom adapt to the mix of comedy and action with ease.

Wright’s directing style hasn’t changed all that much since his TV days, but that has at least resulted in a consistent look across the three films, and I dare say the experience he has built up will tell in future years. His calling card remains those sudden whizz-bang mini-montages (here it’s the The-Worlds-End-Nick-Frost-Simon-Pegg-Paddy-Considinerepeated pulling of pints as the action moves from one pub to the next) and it’s pleasing that so many of the jokes come from the editing and camerawork he has clearly directed, rather than the usual comedy model of relying on a star to deliver the laughs. The humorous cast performances are certainly of a piece with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz too: a crowd-pleasing mix of slapstick, gags, gurning and straight-faced genre nods that have presumably been inserted for movie geeks (in the climactic speech here Pegg’s King recites famous lines from Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels – though they may be more familiar as the sample kicking off Primal Scream’s hit Loaded – while keen-eyed horror fans will spot references to the likes of George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci).

Once more Wright and co take their action sequences semi-seriously, and although The World’s End plays as a straightforward comedy for quite a while (even largely refusing to go down the tried-and-tested route of suggesting that all is not well in Newton Haven), the arrival of a series of energetic pub fights feels as inevitable as the patching-up of the bromance between Pegg and Frost’s characters. The cast and crew presumably had fun filming the action, but unfortunately the second half of the film is too repetitive as a result, and it’s dispiriting when you realise that the already-paralytic characters still have three or four pubs to visit. Still, some unexpected touches have been inserted to hold the viewer’s interest: the weird post-apocalyptic epilogue was a surprise, and the same could be said for the sudden serious detour showing King’s bandaged wrists, but it’s the lighter, throwaway moments – when Rosamund Pike’s Sam arrives to speed the group away from an impending explosion, for example, she apologises for the mess in her car – that see the film over the finish line. On balance it’s the weakest part of Pegg and Wright’s trilogy, but it’s still entertaining.

Directed by: Edgar Wright.
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg.
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan.
Cinematography: Bill Pope.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Steven Price, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 108 minutes.
Year: 2013.

19 Comments

Like the preceding Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation delivers exhilarating action in spades, and as such it’s probably the most entertaining live action blockbuster of the summer so far (you wait months for one intense set piece and three come along at the same time, etc.). The franchise has achieved a degree of stability, with three actors returning from previous episodes to join Tom Cruise for round five (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner), and as you’d expect the magic, money-spinning formula has been strictly adhered to. Most of the elements that people seemed to like in Ghost Protocol can also be found in Rogue Nation, and all-told it works very well as an non-challenging action thriller, even if the nagging sense of déjà vu refuses to go away.

Disbelief must, once again, be suspended throughout. As per usual Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt is discredited and disowned by his country, and must avoid his new CIA paymasters while battling shadowy terrorist organisation The Syndicate in a number of locations around the world: Minsk, London, Havana, Paris, Washington, DC, Langley, Casablanca and Vienna are all visited within an hour, sometimes just for a couple of seconds (‘Hey, it’s the Eiffel T…’), and Hunt’s team seemingly have identities and gadgets stashed in every city. Somewhat laughably we’re told that The Syndicate are behind everything, from plane crashes to power plant explosions to (I can only presume) any comedic slips on banana skins that occur, and their goal is to cause global instability. How they are actually managing to do this and how they intend to profit from it in the long run is never clearly explained, but we do discover that The Syndicate started out as a secret MI6 project and – like all the best evil organisations – it can ultimately be boiled down to one slightly creepy head honcho (Sean Harris) and his stupidly-named right-hand-man (‘The Bone Doctor’, with a performance straight out of The Big Book Of Musclebound Bad Guys by Jens Hultén). If this Multiplex Terrorism wasn’t silly enough in itself Rogue Nation viewers must also accept that someone who has reached the position of second-in-command at Syndicate Towers cannot actually hit Hunt while using a machine gun in a corridor that’s no more than four feet wide, that people who are shot in the back of the head from point-blank range do not bleed, and that people who jump through two window panes in the space of ten seconds can emerge without a scratch or a hair out of place. And that’s before we even get on to the big set pieces.

Few would look to the action thriller (or, more accurately, the spy action thriller) for their daily reality check, however, and if you sit back and go with it the running/shooting/fighting/jumping/swimming/driving tableaux provided are very entertaining; in fact three of the set pieces here give the famous Burj Khalifa and Langley scenes of earlier Mission: Impossible installments a good run for their money. Cruise hanging off the side of a plane is an obvious early highlight, while I also enjoyed the twenty minutes spent at the Vienna State Opera House, director Christopher McQuarrie channeling Hitchcock and, rather pleasingly, De Palma (indeed the production design, lighting and photography here often references the look of the original Mission: Impossible film, particularly the scenes set in Vienna and London, though McQuarrie’s film sadly only pays lip service to the series’ connective tissue of deception and false identity). There’s also a fine extended sequence involving a tense break-in to a water-filled chamber, while the car and motorbike chase that ensues through narrow streets and winding mountain roads is acted impeccably (by the principal cast members involved and the stunt crew). Cruise powers through all of this in an impressive, committed fashion, mostly joined by Simon Pegg’s tech wizz Benji rather than Renner’s agent Brandt, who has to settle for Congressional hearings and frantic phone conversations in corridors for much of the film.

The performance by Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who plays a duplicitous British agent named Ilsa Faust, has been praised in some quarters. Faust injects some much-needed mystery into the film and is a character that regularly kicks ass (or rather ‘thighclamps head’, given that’s what she does to most of her male adversaries), but McQuarrie makes a number of troubling decisions with regard to the way she is portrayed, and it’s worth pointing out that she is the only woman in an all-male ensemble. There’s no doubt that Ferguson is excessively sexualised here, male-gazed by a camera that pans up and down her legs in a seedy fashion on a number of occasions, and there’s even the kind of antiquated mission-impossible-rogue-nation-rebecca-ferguson-reviewexiting-water-in-a-bikini shot that the Bond franchise flipped and subsequently dispensed with a decade ago to herald the modern Daniel Craig era. Some may argue that Cruise gets similar treatment, and indeed he is predictably topless within the first twenty minutes, but it’s a very different kind of objectification and it’s one that typically shows how male and female characters are treated disparately in action movies. In Rogue Nation Ferguson is objectified to make her more sexually attractive and this is primarily done because it entertains the majority of watching (straight) men, hence the grubby nature of the camerawork, the ‘bikini scene’ and the repeated clamping of thighs round male heads before they are thrown to the floor (a submissive male fantasy if ever there was one, and a character trait that has been written by a man). Cruise is also objectified by his shirtless minute or two, but the intention feels different: in his case it’s to make the character look stronger, to establish his heroic credentials; of course it will also please anyone watching who happens to fancy Tom Cruise, but I don’t think that’s the writer-director in question’s main concern. (In the largely forgettable Jack Reacher – McQuarrie’s previous film as director – there was a half-decent gag about Cruise being shirtless, but such wit is missing here.)

It’s hardly original to point out that it’s rare for the men who make big budget Hollywood action films to introduce strong female characters and then simply allow them to be strong without any other agenda. In this particular film the character of Faust may be tough but apparently that’s not enough on its own: she must also be Hunt’s love interest and is duly filmed – rather clumsily, it must be said, but not always – in a way that reduces her to eye candy. Still, she isn’t defined wholly by her looks and it’s worth pointing out that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t end with Faust and Hunt in bed together, even though their relationship often appears to be heading that way. Ultimately including female characters in action films who are the intellectual and physical equals of their male counterparts is a start, but it’s only a start: while directors like McQuarrie leer over their legs (or while studio executives keep telling them they must include that kind of thing) there’s a long way still to go. And all of this on the back of the unfortunate way Ferguson was depicted on the movie’s posters, too.

Less importantly, once again artistic licence is taken with the geography of London: you can’t run from the Tower of London to the Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet Street in five seconds flat, and unfortunately it annoys me when films do this kind of thing, even if most people won’t notice or care (though presumably residents of Vienna and Casablanca who watch the film will notice mission-impossible-rogue-nation-trailer-01similar discrepancies). It’s sloppy, and I can’t imagine a similar trick would be pulled if, say, New York City or Los Angeles were the location in question. I also wish we could move on from bomb props that have big LED screens showing a countdown to zero or that flash the word “DISARMED!” in red letters when they are disarmed. Presumably this kind of thing is left in for the sake of dimwits who, with regard to the scene in question, need an explanation as to why Simon Pegg is still making chirrup-y quips seconds after it looked like his organs were about to be splattered across the screen. But let’s end on a positive note, because overall this is a decent action blockbuster in a year of disappointing event movies: Joe Kraemer’s score is pleasant enough, and the now-familiar trick of working short-and-long-term nostalgia-inducing pieces (in this case Nessun Dorma, which features heavily in the Vienna sequence, and Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme) into the soundtrack is executed with aplomb (see also Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, etc.). I guess interpolation is par for the course when a franchise is twenty years old, and not just in terms of the music, so it’s worth pointing out how unusual it is to have this much fun when you’re five films in.

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie.
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie. Story by Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce. Based on Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris.
Cinematography: Robert Elswit.
Editing: Eddie Hamilton.
Music: Joe Kraemer.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 131 minutes.
Year: 2015.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOLWithout consciously making a deliberate decision I dropped off the Mission: Impossible bandwagon after the disappointing second film, though the release of a fifth this week has persuaded me to get back on, rewind and watch Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth action spectacular to feature Tom Cruise’s American super-agent Ethan Hunt (as well as established call signs such as as Lalo Schifrin’s magnificent theme and those self-destructing messages).

Ghost Protocol is the quintessential modern franchise blockbuster, a film that tries to provide most things for most tastes: as a viewer you’re required to do nothing more than switch off and enjoy watching the conventionally good-looking actors, the spectacular action, the easy comedy, the suspense and the resultant triumph for a western power. It carefully adheres to that rigid modern format: there’s an exciting prologue and the requisite three big set pieces that follow take place in far-flung locations, each one involving peril but also cautiously safe and bloodless (a conscious decision made to keep some distance between Mission: Impossible and Bourne, or latter-day Bond, but admittedly one that has been ever present in the series as far as I can remember). There’s also a strong whiff of contractual obligation throughout, whether it’s from the glitzy lifestyle-oriented product placement (BMW and Volkswagen cars, Apple’s gadgets, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, Persol sunglasses) or the overly-familiar shot of The Cruiser at the end as he looks straight down the camera (yes, I know he’s supposed to be looking at someone from afar, but he’s got to ensure that the giddier members of the audience are still coming back for more piercing stares when he’s in his 60s). A flimsy, time-worn plot strings the action sequences together (in this case characters are racing to either start or stop a nuclear war between the US and Russia) and we finish with a brief hint that there will be another tale plopping into our lives in a few years’ time, as if we couldn’t have guessed anyway.

Helping Hunt this time round are team members played by Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner. The former’s there to provide comic relief, and in doing so repeatedly makes you wonder what kind of halfwit organisation would place all of its eggs in The Simon Pegg Character’s basket when the stakes are this high. The second kicks ass and conveniently provides insurance against accusations that the whole shebang is one big sausagefest. However the reality is that this franchise is one big sausagefest, tellingly bringing Pegg and Renner’smi-ghost-protocol-still09 characters back for no. 5 while dispensing with Patton’s; Rogue Nation‘s director Christopher McQuarrie stated that Patton was unavailable for the 2015 film because of scheduling issues, though given the fact she only worked on one movie in 2014, in which she had a minor role, and apparently didn’t work on any TV shows, one has to wonder if that really is the case (though perhaps ‘scheduling’ was used simply to keep private decisions private). Anyway, they could have re-cast if they actually gave a damn about the character, but let’s move on to Renner, who looks a little sheepish as he prepares to play ‘second fiddle’ in yet another blockbuster; perhaps we’re witnessing the face of a man who is coming to terms with being in some of the biggest movies of the era while knowing deep down that they’re actually limiting him.

Up against the team are baddies Michael Nyqvist and Léa Seydoux, though sadly the more interesting villain of the two is killed off around the hour mark; I either missed or tuned out of the scene explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing, but it’s definitely something to do with diamonds, or money, or nihilism, or world peace, or a general desire to be a complete fucker, or an audition for a six-year scholarship to Evil Medical School. I’ve lost count of the number of action films that narrow a worldwide threat down to the activities of one single individual, but this is definitely another one of them.

None of this really matters anyway, because the selling point of the film – the reason lots and lots of people went to see it and enjoyed it – is obviously the frenetic action above all else, and very impressive it is too. The first act takes place in Moscow, and although eyes may roll at the resurrection of the old east-vs-west scenario so beloved of writers in the 1980s, I have to admit that watching Cruise’s Hunt run away from an exploding Kremlin while wearing a Bruce Springsteen t-shirt elicited a few chuckles in my house (as did the gadgetry on display, some of which would have been deemed ‘too ridiculous’ by the makers of Die Another Day). After Moscow the characters reconvene in Dubai a very Tom Cruise Action Movie destination – where the tallest building in the world serves as a backdrop for some quite breathtaking vertical thrills n’ spills and also as a big glass n’ metal muse to cinematographer Robert Elswit. Lastly the story shifts to Mumbai, where Hunt and co manage to avert tragedy at the very last second by pressing a red button next to a digital clock that’s counting-down, an image that I have not seen in the movies for at least three whole weeks.

Although it takes place in a weird futuristic garage with thousands of cars stacked on top of one another the fight at the end is every bit as disappointing as ‘two middle-aged men scrapping over a briefcase’ sounds, especially in light of what has preceded it, but I’ll be kind, shrug, and point out that I’ve certainly seen worse (both pre- and post-Jason Bourne’s screen debut). It’s also the only time that Cruise moves like a man approaching his 50s, but what’s interesting is that this extended finale, beginning with the infiltration of a swanky party, is oddly reminiscent of the very first team-oriented snafu in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible (albeit without the surprise character deaths, a game-changer at the time). And that pretty much sums up franchises like this one for me; you watch and you watch and you watch but it’s the same film over and over again, with tweaks made so that it looks like the emperor’s wearing new clothes. The first cut is always the deepest, regardless of any influx of new faces and regardless of the crazier stunts, though I won’t deny that this is exhilarating and tense at times.

Directed by: Brad Bird.
Written by: Josh Applebaum, André Nemec. Based on Mission Impossible by Bruce Geller.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Léa Seydoux.
Cinematography: Robert Elswit.
Editing: Paul Hirsch.
Music: Michael Giacchino, Lalo Schifrin.
Certificate: PG.
Running Time: 129 minutes.
Year: 2011.

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Jack (Simon Pegg) and Nancy (Lake Bell) in Ben Palmer’s Man UpIf you are a fan of the kind of films written (and more recently directed by) Richard Curtis, then chances are you’ll enjoy Man Up, an inoffensive but formulaic British rom-com penned by Tess Morris and directed by Ben Palmer (who previously made The Inbetweeners Movie). The screenplay has that mildly-risqué style that has been popular ever since Hugh Grant said a few f-words in Four Weddings And A Funeral, while Man Up‘s London setting and supposedly endearing middle class characters hint that there’s no greater ambition than for the film to attract the same audience that sat through Sliding Doors, Wimbledon, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually.

American Lake Bell plays English protagonist Nancy, a writer in her mid-30s who is initially put forward as a kind of permanently-single dating disaster zone (though we later learn that she is actually smart, funny and was in a relationship for most of her 20s). Encouraged by her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan, whose comedic talents are unfortunately wasted in a straight role) and a well-meaning but prissy stranger on a train (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy resolves to ‘put herself out there’ and carpe one or two diems lest she remain alone until the end of time. And so she does just that, bumping into Simon Pegg’s divorcee Jack at Waterloo Station soon thereafter and playing along mischievously when he mistakenly assumes that she is supposed to be his blind date. Cue nervy chatter as they travel across London (the South Bank, the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, a bar) and lots of fibbing as Nancy attempts to keep up appearances.

Given its strict adherence to genre staples it’ll come as no surprise that the couple hit it off, go through a few ups and downs during the course of the film (which covers the duration of their first evening together) and reconcile at the end in time for a bright-looking future. There are a few laughs to be had along the way, particularly when Jack’s uptight ex (Olivia Coleman) shows up with her new partner (Stephen Campbell Moore), and also with regards to Nancy’s identity theft and the whole dating merry-go-round, but perhaps not enough for Man Up to be cherished in the long run by the masses. However, like the more successful British films of recent years, the mix of gentle ribbing (albeit with the occasional blowjob joke thrown in) and stuttery self-deprecation appears to be tailored with the grey pound in mind, and indeed most of the older folk in the screening I attended were regularly chuckling away.

Typically the cast is fleshed out with one or two more eccentric characters, and here both Ken Stott and Rory Kinnear try to make the most of their time on screen as Nancy’s boozy father and a former-classmate-turned-stalker respectively. In terms of the two leads Bell is likeable enough as the sarcastic Nancy, and her English accent is perfect, while Pegg delivers another nervy geek (albeit with a slightly-damaged, middle-aged spin). The question is whether we really need to see yet another rom-com in which the woman breaks the fourth wall while supposedly sitting in front of a mirror, the declaration of love at the end takes place in front of a big crowd of people and all of the roguish older characters appear to have wandered over from the set of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Personally I don’t think we do, but obviously this kind of film is usually profitable, is generally liked by audiences, and no doubt we can expect more long after this effort has found a more natural home on DVD and TV. Man Up has a few witty moments, which are executed professionally, but it never tries to do anything other than replicate the lighthearted fun of successful, recent British comedies, and as such I don’t feel too enthusiastic about it.

Directed by: Ben Palmer.
Written by: Tess Morris.
Starring: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Ophelia Lovibond, Ken Stott, Sharon Horgan, Harriet Walter.
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Dickon Hinchlciffe, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Year: 2015.
Rating: 4.4.

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Actors, writers and former flatmates Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been finely honing their geeky comedy double act for close to 15 years. This summer the pair appeared in The World’s End, the third and final film in the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ of knowing genre-aping comedies directed by Edgar Wright (its predecessors being Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz), but in between the second and third movies they wrote and starred in Paul, a road trip comedy directed by Greg Mottola.

Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, two English sci-fi fanboys who are travelling across the USA in a campervan (or, for the Marlboro’-chugging, bison-wrestling American readers, an RV, which I fully admit is a much more muscular-sounding word than our effete Limey one). After visiting comic-con in San Diego the pair head off on a pilgrimage to various ET-related sights, and on one long stretch of highway they meet and befriend the Paul of the title: a sweary, pot-smoking alien, voiced by Seth Rogen.

Paul crashlanded on our planet in the 1950s, but has escaped from captivity in Area 51, and is a fugitive on the run from the secret service agents “Big Guy” (Sigourney Weaver) and Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman – arf). He enlists the help of the holidaying pair so that he can meet up with a rescue party and get back safely to his home planet. The trio, who pick up an RV park owner and Christian fundamentalist called Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiiiiiiig) along the way, are also pursued by Ruth’s father, two disappointingly stereotypical rednecks and two inept rookie agents.

Pegg and Frost are a likeable duo, and here their easy comedy again relies heavily on bromantic banter and plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to classic science fiction films. (Particularly Star Wars here, but not exclusively. There’s a nice scene where the characters enter a country and western bar and the house band is playing the same song as the band in the Mos Eisley Cantina.) Pegg’s character is very similar to the one he played in the fantastic British TV series, Spaced: an animator sci-fi geek that is refusing to grow up, and it’s slightly disappointing to see him cover this familiar ground again. Rogen joins in, gamely swearing away, but the alien Paul – like the jaded bear in Seth McFarlane’s Ted – is an extremely predictable creation. The world-weary animated / computer-generated character that acts like an adult and employs all those hilarious adult traits like cynicism, smoking while being cynical and drinking while being cynical is fast becoming one of the more tiresome cliches of modern comedies and animated films.

It’s more of the same stoner schtick from Rogen, too, though it would be unfair to accuse the comedian of overexposure, as in the past couple of years he has reduced his output considerably. The problem is, while there are some witty moments, there just aren’t enough laughs in Paul, and before long Rogen and Wiiiiiiig are reduced to trading jovial insults to pass the time. Both have been far better … when they have worked with better scripts.

Another man covering similar ground is Greg Mottola, whose debut feature back in the mid-1990s was the smart indie road trip comedy The Daytrippers, which he also wrote. Since then he has only directed three more films – and while Superbad and Paul were box office successes (the former massively so), neither are a patch on Mottola’s vastly underrated bittersweet coming-of-age 80s-set comedy Adventureland. Which he also wrote.

It’s for reasons like this that I sometimes feel like bashing my head against the wall when considering mainstream film audiences. Present the world with a sharply written comedy that mixes subtle humour with indie quirk and the world will shrug its shoulders. Present the world with an alien or a teddy bear that says “fuck” a lot and they’ll be queuing round the block.

It’s a shame to be disappointed by this film: despite its clear self-indulgence it is actually quite funny in places; I like Pegg and Frost and I kind of like Wiiiiiig and Rogen too, even if I find that smug groups like the frat pack quickly begin to grate and irritate. Bateman and Weaver are also good fun when they are on screen, both playing it ultra-straight for a few laughs. No-one involved seems to take themselves particularly seriously, by the looks of things, and there’s an enjoyable lightness about the film. It looks like a happy set was enjoyed by all.

Overall, though, there aren’t enough laughs for it to be considered a real comedy classic. It has its moments, but Pegg and Frost have written better scripts, and Mottola’s short back catalogue includes three better comedies. He directs straightforwardly, and you can’t help but feel that the film would have benefitted from a little more of Edgar Wright’s usual visual flair to paper over the cracks. Just about worth seeing for the knowing sci-fi jokes that generally hit the mark (Spielberg has an excellent cameo in one scene), but ultimately the sad truth is that no-one will be referencing Paul in sci fi films or comedies of the future.

The Basics:

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kirsten Wiig
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Year: 2011
Rating: 4.8

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