book haul, books, currently reading, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, poetry, recently watched, Simon Pegg
Writing something in Blogger on an iPhone is fucking awful. Yes, I know this is starting off this post in the most #firstworldproblems kind of way but I’ve only been doing this for the length of the song Hit Me Baby One More Time and I already want to bash my head in. So, as you can probably guess, my laptop is still busted. I’m hoping I’ll have the tools I need by Monday otherwise Tuesday’s review is just going to written in emojis or summed up with one word. Either that or we’ll try voice to text and have a good laugh about how shit that technology is. In other news, I’ve spent all of today lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. I’ve had a cough for a few days and this is my first day off since I got it. Which means whatever is slowly ripping away the inside of my throat has successfully drained me of any energy. It’s just another good excuse for this post being so shit I guess. Have pity on a dying girl guv’nor.

Just Finished

  • New Cemetery by Simon Armitage
This collection of poetry is both tiny and lovely. I read it in about 5 minutes but I really liked it. Not entirely sure it was worth paying full price for. It’s illustrated as well but, again, it doesn’t really justify the £13 price tag. Great collection but disappointing price tag.

Currently Reading

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This was on my TBR Instagram photo for this month and, for the first time, I actually picked it up. I’ve not got too far but I already love everything about the writing. It’s beautiful. Can’t wait to really get stuck in. 

Recently Purchased 
  • New Cemetery by Simon Armitage

I went into my local bookshop on Saturday in honour of Bookshop day intending to only buy the new Books Are My Bag tote. I also accidentally picked up this small collection of poetry. It’s the Ilkley Literature festival at the moment and Simon Armitage was there the other day. This signed copy was calling tonne. It’s beautiful.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges:, Snack the Pony, Green Wing
So I’m now finished with NowTV and, considering they charged me after I cancelled my subscription, I probably won’t be going back. Despite this I’m not back to Netflix just yet. I intend to get it before Stranger Things series 2 comes out but, for now, I’m trying to focus on reading. I’ve still managed to binge thanks to Channel 4 catch-up and have spent the time in my such bed watching great comedies from my past. 

  • The World’s Emd 
I didn’t like this film when it first came out. My love of Edgar Wright is currently pretty strong so I decided it was worth another shot. See what I thought in my TBT review here.

TBT – The World’s End (2013)

British, Edgar Wright, films, fucking creepy, fucking funny, fucking weird, Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Pierce Brosnan, reviews, Simon Pegg, TBT, trilogy

So, after my big spiel yesterday about a fresh start and uploading more content my bloody laptop has decided to have a huge breakdown. It means I’m having to find whatever means necessary to post today’s TBT whilst also figuring out I can put my questionable computer skills into good use to save it. At the very least I’ll do better than my University flatmate who managed to blow my PC whilst trying to save his own, pretty ancient machine. Anyway, enough of my technological woes. I’ve managed to get access to the internet without having to type a lengthy review on my phone. A prospect I really wasn’t looking forward to. It’s bad enough having to type the captions for my Instagram posts. I don’t know if I just have particularly chubby fingers but my iPhone keyboard clearly isn’t made for me to use. I honestly don’t understand how people can write anything longer than a tweet on a touchscreen. Now I realise that I’ve gone full Grandma pretty quickly here but, as I’ve mentioned a lot recently, I’m starting to feel my age a bit. It is exactly 5 months til I turn 30 but, in my head, I still believe that I’m 16. It’s not the ageing itself that I feel upset about; I’ve always been something of an old woman so am really looking forward to having a valid excuse to stay inside playing scrabble all day. It’s just that I’ve done so little in the last 30 years. I’ve had the same job since I was 16 and, if my recent applications are anything to go by, I’ll be hanging on to it for some time to come. I know I’m a fully fledged adult now but, surely, this is too son for a mid-life crisis? I haven’t even learnt to drive yet so I don’t know how I’m going to fulfil the necessary requirement of buying a sports car.

Perhaps it is my current mood of reevaluating my life that convinced me to watch The World’s End again? Or maybe it’s just because I’ve been pretty obsessed with Edgar Wright since I watched Baby Driver? Whatever the reason, I felt that I needed to give the film another watch. My love of the British director isn’t a new thing and I’ve been a fan of his work since I first watched Spaced way back when. I, like pretty much every living human being ever, adored the first two films in, what has affectionately been dubbed, the Cornetto trilogy. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of the greatest British comedies of the last few years and have never really been equalled since. So I was looking forward to seeing what Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg came up with next. Unfortunately, back in 2013, I came out of the film fairly disappointed. I don’t know whether it was the darker tone or the increase in special effects but something felt off about it. As far as I was concerned I was never going to see it again.

As it turns out, I’m super glad that I did. The World’s End is an incredibly clever film that manages to be both incredibly funny and very shrewd about modern society. There is plenty of commentary about the “Starbucking” of the British pub and loads of digs at the teenage male ego that never really disappears. It feels incredibly different from the previous two films but it also feels like a natural end to the trilogy. This is about a group of men facing the realities of life and the very different ways that they approach it. I guess in my current state of introspection made it easier to relate but I can’t help but feel a little kinship with Simon Pegg’s Gary King. I mean I’m not going to face my current crisis by trying to sink 12 pints in one night but I get where the fear is coming from.

It is Gary’s realisation that his life peaked on a night in June in 1990 that prompts him to round up his old friends and finish the pub crawl they failed to complete as teenagers. Unlike Gary, the rest of the group have accepted their maturity and are all seemingly happily married with children or experiencing professional success. They take a little persuading but, as we come to understand, there is no point arguing with Gary. The five men return to their home town with the intention of drinking one beer in each of the 12 pubs on the Golden Mile. However, upon returning to Newton Haven they uncover a secret that’s set to derail their plans. What started out as a group of childhood friends reminiscing over a pint quickly descends into as science-fiction horror that invokes some great classic films.

The opening to The World’s End is the film’s main let down. The process of ‘getting the band back together’ takes a bit of time and messes with the pace. It isn’t until the boys are, literally, on the road that everything starts falling into place. Edgar Wright, as usual, is an expert at keeping things moving and manages to make even the most mundane things seem like events to get excited about. This film has the same Wright look and feel that keeps fans coming back for more. The World’s End is a breath of fresh air amidst a sea of underwhelming blockbusters. It is a film that is full of joy and has been made for the sole purpose of entertainment. Even with an added budget and greater scope, the film never manages to lose the heart and soul that has been such a key part of the entire trilogy.

Pegg and his co-stars, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, make a wonderful group and, despite all of the great action sequences, I found myself wanting some more moments of them interacting. This is a group of men who, in their own ways, are unhappy with their lots in life and haunted by their past. Their angry conversations around a pub table with a pint in hand are wonderful. Although, it is not something that is lost in the massive and incredibly impressive action sequences that come thick and fast towards the film’s finale. It is a film that never loses sight of what it is or what it wants to portray. It may be making broader commentaries but The World’s End is a film full of friendship and love. Like the Wright/Pegg predecessors, it is a wonderfully British film that tackles a traditional film genre in a unique but highly joyous way. I’m glad I gave this a second watch. It’s the kind of film that only improves with further viewings.

Tuesday’s Reviews – STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

Chris Pine, films, Idris Elba, meh, review, sci-fi, Simon Pegg, Star Trek

I’ve had mixed feelings about this film since I first saw the trailer. I hadn’t exactly been blown away by 2013’s Into Darkness despite my love of Benedict Cumberbatch. I just didn’t like the silliness that the trailer seemed to be portraying. It was trying to go down the Guardians of the Galaxy route with the references to The Beastie Boys. It felt fucking desperate if I’m honest. Like it’s just trying to fit in with the other spacey blockbusters instead of trying to be something new. Of course, there was still hope. I know I’ve said a lot of shit about Simon Pegg over the years but the fact that he came on board as co-writer surely had to be a good thing. I mean the man helped write Spaced and a trilogy of films that succeeded 2 out of 3 times. At the very least we’d have enough in-jokes and references to keep is preoccupied long enough to not notice how shit everything else was. So, with only a month to go before the film comes out I finally got round to watching it.

I have to admit that I enjoyed Beyond way more than I thought that I would. It’s a pretty standard kind of Star Trek film but it was enjoyable enough. Naturally, it is one of the funniest films in the franchise and certainly the most self-aware and humours since the reboot. However, I still couldn’t get away from my feeling that it was trying too hard to be the opposite of Into Darkness. It takes the dark and grittiness of its predecessor and goes to great lengths to be sillier. It means that, instead of being a complex film with a narrative that flows nicely and deals with real human feelings, Beyond is basically just a selection of hit-and-miss jokes between massive action sequences. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. The Original Series hardly went into great depths about the human relationships at the heart of the show.

I guess Simon Pegg and co-writer Doug Jung attempt to bring some emotional range into the mix as both Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) contemplate leaving the Enterprise for more fulfilling work. Kirk is finding out that a five year journey in space isn’t quite the fun-filed adventure he had hoped and Spock must decide between the Enterprise and political work on New Vulcan. However, this is never really developed to the point that either of them learn anything about themselves. Every time they get close something will inevitably blow up or something funny will happen to distract them. Ultimately. both of them make their decision without really discussing anything important, which makes the whole enterprise really fucking superficial.

However, there are many who will love that about Beyond. It took a lot from the negative audience reactions from Into Darkness and made a film for the fans. Something that is both clever and really fucking risky. After JJ Abrams’ second film came out the audience wanted more Kirk and co, less darkness, and a plot that wasn’t just a rehash of a classic. All of these things are catered for but the team seem to have forgotten a few key points. Namely, a coherent and engaging story, a well-written baddie, and decent roles for anyone who isn’t Kirk, Spock, Bones or Scotty. But, as Some Like it Hot famously told us, “nobody’s perfect”.

I’d try and sum up the narrative here but, really, I don’t really understand much of what happened or why. The crew of the Enterprise were lured into a trap set by the supposedly villainous Krall (played by a completely wasted Idris Elba) and have to stop him unleashing a weapon of mass destruction on a Federation outpost. Hang on, what was that I was saying about “original story”? Change this guys name to John Harrison and we’ve got Into Darkness all over again. Although, Beyond does have the unmistakable feel of classic Star Wars about it. The gang get stranded on an alien planet and there are plenty of unnamed red shirts who get offed. This is also the closest the reboot has got to getting the characters to be familiar interpretations. Well the main trio anyway. The relationship between Spock and Kirk is a wonderful as ever and, thankfully, Beyond shows us more of Bones (Keith Urban) and Spock. Bones was the underused but brilliant aspect of the last two films and Urban is finally able to get some real screen time. The banter but ultimate care and respect the two show are some of the film’s highlights.

However, the rest of the crew really get fuck all to do. Although, there is a wonderful new addition to the team thanks to Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah. The newcomer is a stronger, more intelligent and developed female character than anyone in the previous films in the reboot. Although, even she basically just turns up to fight people and give vital bits of exposition when needed. There’s nothing wrong with films that are all about action but that action needs to be spectacular to make it worth it. There can be no denying that Justin Lin has a better handle on the action sequences than Abrams didn in the previous instalments but they’re still all over the place. The first major action sequences is kind of spectacular though. The Enterprise is set upon by Krall and his fleet of tiny, bee-like ships. The later two setpieces are edge-of-your seat stuff but they’re nothing near the first. The rest of the film does little to prove that Star Trek is a decent enough action film to rival the ones currently being produced. The editing is choppy, the camera bounces around all over the place, and there is an over-reliance on deafening sound effects. No amount of cheesy references to the Beastie Boys is going to convince me that the action scenes save this film.

Somebody really needs to remind the people who make these films that the whole reason the Enterprise set out was to “boldly go where nobody had gone before”. Modern filmmakers have clearly forgotten this fact and decided it’s better to just copy every other big action blockbuster that’s ever created. When Abrams first took up the reboot I was excited. I loved the idea of new Star Trek. However, it’s always tried to be something else. Abrams wanted to make it his version of Star Wars and now it’s just the poor man’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This film should have been the franchise’s Skyfall but instead it’s more like fucking Quantum of Solace. Something that had a load of promise but just lost its way. I mean in the grand scheme of things Beyond isn’t a shitty film. It is, however, shitty Star Trek.

TBT – Hot Fuzz (2007)

buddy comedy, cops, Edgar Wright, fucking funny, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, TBT

So, the keen eyed amongst you will realise that last week I missed my TBT post for the first time in absolutely ages. The reason? I couldn’t think of anything to write about and I didn’t want to write anything shit just for the sake of it. This schedule has been really good for me in terms of planning and time keeping but there are times when the rigidity just doesn’t give me any room to breathe. So I decided to skip a week. In fact, I’ve been pondering getting rid of the whole thing entirely. I mean who really wants to read my review of a film that has been out for so long that pretty much everyone has had their say about it? Especially whilst I desperately try and tie it into my other posts that week. So we’ll see how long this goes on for. Until then I’ve actually got a topic for this week so I’ll get on with it.

On Tuesday I once again bemoaned the state of Simon Pegg’s career and his ability to agree to appear in any old shit. This, in itself, isn’t too big a problem because the man has to work. I get that. I’ve worked for in a job that hasn’t ever really given me any professional enjoyment. I understand the woe of having to sell your soul in exchange for a pay check. The thing that makes Pegg’s back catalogue so hard to bear is the fact that he’s been responsible for some of the greatest British films over the past twenty years. His Cornetto trilogy, written with Edgar Wright, are incredibly popular and are the perfect big screen follow-ups to sitcom Spaced.

Arguably, it is Hot Fuzz, the middle film, that is the best. Pegg and Wright wanted to explore the idea of a British version of the Hollywood buddy cop genre and they managed to create a film that was almost perfect. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel London’s top cop who is sent to a sleepy village of Sanford after he starts making the rest of London’s police look incompetent. He partners up with naive Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and the pair uncover a mysterious plot that is leading to the deaths of some of village’s most prominent residents. Danny gets his first real glimpse of police work whilst Nicholas learns to ditch the rule book and embrace the kind of theatrics seen in most action movies.

At the heart of the village is the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance who go to great lengths to keep the peace and ensure the village remains picture perfect. However, Nicholas starts to suspect that one of its members, Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), is responsible for the deaths to cover up a secret property deal. Nicholas must use every trick in the book to convince his boss Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) that he’s telling the truth and get the rest of the village’s inept force to help him track down the killer.

Hot Fuzz does great things with its location and the tropes traditionally found in big budget cop movies. It references several of Hollywood’s biggest action films and plays with the genre amongst the sleepy British setting. It offers both a satirical glimpse and a charming celebration of all things action and gives it a delightfully fresh British twist. I mean I can’t imagine Bruce Willis taking part in a high speed chase whilst having a lost swan in his possession, can you? The end result is biting, incredibly funny and hugely entertaining.

Thanks is no small part to the chemistry between Pegg and Frost. The pair have, as we all know, been friends for years and this is never more evident than this film. They are so utterly comfortable with each other that they don’t mind letting the other dominate when need be. They have a great understanding of how they work together and how they can make something funny. Their relationship on screen here is much more convincing than in Shaun of the Dead and is more heartfelt than in the dire At World’s End. This is vintange Frost/Pegg bromance and it’s great to watch.

Hot Fuzz boasts an incredible British cast including several drool worthy names. Jim Broadbent and Timothy Dalton stand out amongst the crowd and are joined by the equally captivating Edward Woodward, Paul Freeman and Billie Whitelaw to name but a few. The talent on show is fantastic and they all work with the material wonderfully. My only gripe with Hot Fuzz, if I had to admit to one, is that it’s a little self-indulgent. Something only highlighted by its cast. It allows itself a bit too much room for error and ends up missing a few of its marks. There are jokes a plenty and, inevitably, not all of them land in quite the right way. Still, it barely matters. No matter how many times I watch this film I still feel as elated and satisfied as the first time.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Absolutely Anything (2015)

films, fucking awful, meh, review, Robin Williams, Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg has gotten a fair amount of hate on this blog over the years which is stupid considering how much I loved him back in the day. Spaced is and will always be one of my favourite shows growing up. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are still some of my most loved films. I have a lot of respect for the guy but he keeps making really shitty movies. It makes it hard to follow someone blindly through their career when it’s full of so many duds. It all started with The Big Nothing which a friend and I saw after months of excitement. Upon leaving we decided it contained only three real gags and, after the credits rolled, we could only remember one of them. To be fair that one was pretty fucking funny. Killing a diabetic with a giant lollipop? Amazing. Still, it was enough for me to be wary. So now I see Simon Pegg’s name on a cast list I tend to not have the immediate rush of excitement that I once had. The reason why it took me so long to finally watch this piece of shit.

On paper, Absolutely Anything should be a ready made classic. It was written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and stars some of Britain’s biggest comedy stars. How could that fail I hear you cry? By being an even shitter Bruce Almighty without Morgan Freeman but with aliens and a talking dog. It’s an unimaginative and kind of nostalgic film that offers very little in the way of comedy. So, really I don’t want to spend much time on it here. Absolutely Anything focuses on teacher, Neil (Simon Pegg), and the weird twist of fate that gives him absolute power over everything. When a ship of aliens take it upon themselves to test the worthiness of humanity they randomly imbue one human with the ability to make anything happen. If the individual proves themselves to be worthwhile the planet will be saved. Of course, Neil’s first thoughts when he discovers his new powers is to improve his professional life and make the beautiful girl next door (Kate Beckinsale) fall in love with him. Humanity is clearly doomed.

It’s not that Absolutely Anything doesn’t offer anything funny because there are moments that will make you giggle. It’s that it just doesn’t push any boundaries. Terry Jones was supposedly working on the script for 20 years but there is no real evidence of this. It feels very old-fashioned in terms of its humour and the amazing cast is never given any real freedom to use their skills. The narrative never goes further than the basic level and there are several plot strands that are not explored as much as they deserve. Like the problem of literal interpretations of wishes that crops up whenever Jones needs an easy laugh. During the early stages of discovering his powers, Neil asks that his friend’s (Sanjeev Bhaskar) crush “worship” him leading to the woman forming a religion around him. It’s an interesting idea that is not given as much time as it should have. Instead we have to watch the hapless Neil attempt to make himself someone the lovely Kate Beckinsale could fall in love with. It’s all just very run-of-the-mill and won’t wow audiences with any Monty Python style hilarity and originality.

Despite having a slight Python reunion when the comics give their voices to the alien council judging the inhabitants of planet Earth. The group have some of the wackiest moments in the film and there is some joy to be had from their banter. However, it’s all very hemmed in. There is very little freedom within the film for any real comedy to come out. Absolutely Anything was billed as Robin William’s final film and, quite frankly, it’s a shame it was this one. William’s plays the voice of Neil’s dog after he uses his powers to allow him logic and speech. We know from Aladdin that William’s can excel at voicework but his role here is just blah. As though he wasn’t given the chance to explore the character as much as he should have. He may be one of the best things about the film but that really isn’t saying much.

Considering my wavering feelings about Simon Pegg and his dodgy choice Absolutely Anything was never going to change my mind. This film rests upon Pegg’s performance and, unfortunately for me, he wasn’t up to the job. His quaint charm wasn’t enough to distract from the lacklustre premise and lack of jokes. No amount of quirky Simon Pegg bumbling could make this film seem exciting. It was a fucking huge ask though so I won’t hold it against him.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, JJ Abrams, review, sci-fi, sequel, Simon Pegg, space, Star Trek

I set out a promise to you, dear readers, before I continue: I promise I will try as hard as I can to make sure this doesn’t just descend into my ramblings concerning the attractiveness of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’ll be hard. He is one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen and his voice should come with some sort of parental guidance. Seriously this film should have been rated a 15 just because of how erotic all of his lines sound. Not since the days of Jack Bauer has someone sounded quite so sexy whilst threatening to kill a bunch of people. But here I am falling into the same old trap.

Back in 2009 JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise by rewriting history to allow a wider range of people to embrace a dwindling franchise. Abrams famously admitted to not being a fan of Star Trek and set out to make a film that would appeal to people like him whilst hopefully not alienating the loyal fans. It was a Star Trek film made as a Star Wars film and the whole thing was considered to be a major success. The decision to start a clean slate by rewriting such familiar character histories allowed Abrams to do what he wanted with the franchise whilst still leaving the classic television show in tact. It was a brilliant decision and for the past four years cinema goers have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up.

Into Darkness picks up shortly after Star Trek left off with Kirk (Chris Pine) and friends exploring the depths of space in his very own ship. We catch up with them mid-adventure with Kirk and Dr Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) sprinting through an alien wilderness to escape an angry extraterrestrial mob. We quickly learn that this is all just a huge distraction whilst Spock (Zachary Quinto) works to calm down an active volcano. To be honest, I could have done without this opening piece as, really, it adds little to the overall story and seems to drag everything out a bit. (Also, the idea that the Enterprise could survive hidden underwater for a few days seems a bit far-fetched to me but there we are.) Although, it allows Quinto the opportunity to shine once again as Spock. The actor continues to get better in the role and his inner-wrangling between his two halves is a great thing to watch as he finds himself getting deeper into two personal relationships. The most important and loving of the two is between Spock and his Captain and as we pick up the story we find ourselves in full bromance mode. The pair continue to play off each other very well and it’s a double act I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

It is the conflict between the two men that creates the supposed need for the opening gambit as it’s major purpose is to remind the audience that Spock is all about the prime directive and favours the needs of the many over the few. Of course, Kirk being Kirk the crew manage to go against the all important Prime Directive and makes their presence known to the simplistic lifeforms inhabiting the planet. Inevitably this doesn’t sit well with the important people back at Star Fleet and Kirk has his ship taken away from him before being made First Officer to a returning Admiral Pike. That is until a disgruntled ex-employee John Harrison vows vengeance against The Federation by blowing up one of their secret bunkers in London, with the help of Dr Who’s lovable Mickey Smith (also known as talented actor and film-maker Noel Clarke). Kirk is called back into play after promising Admiral Marcus that he will hunt down and capture the deadly Harrison.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives another stand-out performance as Harrison. He plays the character with a chilling intensity but doesn’t make the mistake of taking him into ridiculous super villain territory. He humanises Kirk’s deadly foe to the extent that it often becomes difficult to separate him from the the supposed good guys who are out to stop him. I won’t go into massive spoiler territory (as my personal cinema experience was slightly marred after IMDB revealed the true name of his character before I’d seen the film) but he brings about a great new insight into one of the most infamous Star Trek foes (OK maybe that was a bit too obvious but the film has been out a while and I doubt any of my two (at best) readers are coming to me for advice on whether or not they should see a film). Cumberbatch really is one of the greatest actors around and will no doubt go down in history as one of the most devilish villains in the history of the franchise. The decision to cast him in the role may now be creating some controversy with some critics but based solely on performance, Harrison is a complete success and I can’t imagine any other actor playing him with the same balance of drama, humanity and light-heartedness. And he’s pretty easy on the eye… don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet.

The scenes between Harrison and Chris Pine’s Kirk are wonderful as the pair face-off in an increasingly dramatic fashion. Pine has nowhere near the level of acting talent that Cumberbatch possesses but it is this fact that makes these scene all the more effective. Harrison is a deadly enemy, a super-soldier, and Pine manages to make his own shortcomings highlight his foe’s clear head-start. Kirk is left floundering in front of his superior enemy just as Pine is left to try and catch-up to Cumberbatches superior performance. It leaves Kirk seeming vulnerable but determined to come out on top.

It is a welcome consequence that also adds greater depth to the moments shared between Pine and Bruce Greenwood’s Captain Pike. The difference between the pair as actors only makes the father-son style relationship all the greater on screen. What Pine does bring to the role is an unending energy and ability to make all of the outlandish situations and slapdash narrative stick together. He appears to have absolute faith in what he is doing which makes it easier to accept some of the looser aspects of the plot.

That would have to be my major criticism of the new Star Trek. It just isn’t as slick as Abrams’ first outing and it doesn’t fit together as easily. There is a tension between Abrams slick production and the film’s thin and, at times, haphazard script. Into Darkness offers amazing visual episodes, moments of documentary style camera work and references to modern day terrorism. It is a triumph of modern film-making but this story just seems quite childish and sloppy. Rules don’t seem to matter in this world and there are no real consequences. Like a childhood game where you’re all just making it up as you go along, Into Darkness changes the importance of certain ideas as and when it feels like it. For all of Spock’s banging on about the Prime Directive there appear to be no consequences when the crew of the Enterprise consistently fail to abide by it. Kirk loses captaincy of his ship for all of 2 hours before he’s back in the hot-seat.

The main writing technique seems to be if it doesn’t make sense just add another fanboy reference in there to keep the audience happy. ‘Wait why the hell has that been allowed to happen… ooh look a Tribble!’ On the one hand I appreciated these little references to the Original Series and delighted in hearing talk of the neutral zone and Harry Mudd. On the other, it’s the Steven Moffat thing all over again. If you don’t have the substance to keep an audience happy why not just treat them like dribbling morons and wave shiny/familiar objects in front of their face? If Star Trek was about introducing a new generation of Roddenberry’s franchise then Into Darkness is about celebrating it. We have more great performances from the lead characters: something like a mix between an impression and a re imagining of old friends. All of the key players are there doing what they need to do to make this a successful Star Trek film. We delight at seeing Chekov (Anton Yelchin) panicking in his ‘can’t believe it’s real’ Russian accent and shiver when Sulu (John Cho) shows off his dark side whilst taking temporary command of the ship. Karl Urban continues to provide great laughs (and a great impression) as Bones and is not only one of my favourite characters but provides some of the most memorably one-liners. Who would be happy to call it a Star Trek film if Dr McCoy never said “Damn it man, I’m a Doctor, not a *insert occupation here*.” I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Simon Pegg’s Scotty and I do find his pretty dire Scottish accent grating but there can be no denying that he provides humour and, in this film at least, drama and emotion. All of the necessary ingredients are there but I still can’t help but feel the final meal is lacking some seasoning. It’s just not quite as good as it could be.

That’s not to say that there isn’t enough to keep you entertained and Abrams’ set action pieces continue to be amazing. There is nothing quite as intense as the arrival of Nero’s ship in the the previous outing but there are some great space-based sequences that will surely keep fans of the show and the new films entertained. The film’s world of the future is, as far as this can be true in 2013, a realistic one. Gone are the clichéd visions of the future from pre-1980s sci-fi. Instead we have a world that you could genuinely see existing; a world where the Federation live and try to keep Earth safe. It’s a joy to watch and it makes the connection between Harrison’s acts of violence and the modern world all the more obvious. This is a genuine look at terrorism and the hidden dangers that could be facing us every day. Our greatest fear nowadays isn’t the big, well-known foe but those hidden amongst us. The potential violence and hatred that lives within humanity. In any other setting this idea would have been lost in a haze of space kitsch. It speaks to a modern audience is a way that the Original Series spoke to the audience of the 60s. Abrams may not be a fan of the show but he is certainly keeping alive its ideals.

Finally, there has been a lot said already about the female representation in the latest Star Trek film but that’s not going to stop me throwing my own thoughts into the ring. In the first film we were introduced to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as the romantic interest that comes between Kirk and Spock. Yes she can speak a few alien languages but she didn’t exactly make much of an impact. To be fair to Abram and writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, the Enterprise’s major female presence does have a bit more to do in the latest instalment but there is still an apparent lack of kick-ass women in Star Fleet. The main argument I can see in favour of Uhura is that she has two moments of bravery and action (yes that’s right two whole short pieces in a film that lasts over 2 hours.) I can’t deny that she does has her moments of kick-assery as we see her face up to the Klingons with steely determination and she plays an important role in bringing down a deadly enemy during the final showdown. However, that still doesn’t seem enough to me. For the most part, she is present in the film as Spock’s girlfriend (and even then she is secondary to the all important bromance) and primarily to remind us of the separation between his Vulcan and human heritage. It’s just not good enough.

Especially when her only other female member of staff is Alice Eve’s Dr Carol Marcus who spends half of the time getting herself into sticky situations so a big brave man can save her and the other half being the sexy (and preferably half-naked) romantic interest for Kirk. There was a great deal of potential for Dr Marcus to be an intelligent and influential character in the plot but it just falls down to another example of an objectified damsel in distress. Alice Eve does a great job with the material she’s been given but there is only so much anyone can do with a character who spends her screen time being helpless and alluring. I’m not trying to preach about the sexualisation of women (and indeed men) in cinema and Star Trek in particular (especially when you consider that I started this review by salivating over the gorgeous Benedict Cumberbatch) but it would be a lot easier to take the unnecessary underwear scene if Marcus was shown to be something more than a hot bod. The argument that Kirk was shown in his underwear and that Harrison was supposed to be shown in a state of undress does nothing to diminish the argument either. It’s not so much about the nakedness but about the lack of depth. Both Kirk and Harrison prove themselves to be more than just a piece of eye-candy by the subsequent actions within the plot so these more sexual scenes are less prominent. Ask anyone what Alice Eve did in the new Star Trek film and I guarantee most people would tell you she got undressed.

This character would be easier to handle if there were a few more important female characters. Look at all of the scenes that take place at Star Fleet headquarters. Were there any senior female officers present during any of the key meetings? I certainly didn’t see any. Are we really meant to believe that a society that has started exploring space is so backwards in their ideas of gender equality that there are only about three females employed in the entire Federation? Although, we have gone from having one key female in the first film to two in the second. Maybe by the time Abrams’ 6th film comes out we’ll either have a plethora of women parading around in their underwear or, hopefully, just one strong and useful one?

(While I’m at it, I’d like to point out that arguing in defense of the undressing scene because the ladies from the 1960s show were sexy is the biggest load of bullshit imaginable. Times have changed so to say that something that was allowed in the 60s should be OK now is unbelievable. Star Trek can and perhaps should be sexy but we have to make sure that the female characters represent the sense of equality that society is now supposed to be supporting. Women can and are as useful and important as men and our biggest cinema franchises should share that view. What kind of message are the film-makers giving its primarily young audience with one-dimensional characters like Dr Marcus? Just think of the children. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!)

So, in closing, it’s not quite the Star Trek film we were all expecting but it’s good enough. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a more than great follow-up to Eric Bana’s Nero and manages to take us into new territory by often forgoing the brute force tactics favoured by the angry Romulan and instead playing mind-games with his victims. He’s a deadly mix of strength and cunning like a terrifying amalgamation of Batman’s two greatest enemies Bane and The Joker… but with a much nicer face. There is enough to keep us all happy but it does seem slower and less slick than the original. Abrams’ first film was a game-changer and it is no wonder people left the cinema in wonder. This just feels a little flat next to its older brother. Nothing terrible of course. It’ll still beat most of the original films for sheer enjoyment and quality but we’ve come to expect something now. It’s better to not think of this as a sequel but merely a CV for Abrams next big science-fiction challenge. If Into Darkness tells us anything, it’s that Star Wars Episode 7 is going to be epic.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)

animation, fucking awful, review, Simon Pegg, terrible
Simon Pegg has an annoying habit of making truly terrible films and, because he’s Simon Pegg and so fucking likeable, we’re all expected to ignore the fact that he’s making utter shit. I’m not one of these crazy Spaced fans who thinks the fact that he’s making big Hollywood films like Mission Impossible 3 and 4 shows that he’s sold out. However, I’m a fan who thinks he has more talent than he’s actually using. I thought we’d reached a low with the likes of Big Nothing (2006), Run, Fat Boy, Run (2007) and Burke and Hare (2010) but then along comes A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012).

Fantastic Fear is the ridiculous debut of writer and director Crispian Mills. Pegg plays a former children’s writer who moves into a much darker world once he begins researching Victorian serial killers for an upcoming project. Spending months alone working on his new direction, Jack becomes obsessed with death and imagines assassins waiting round every corner. When a once in a lifetime opportunity arises the writer must venture out into the world and come face-to-face with his inner demons at a launderette.

The plot itself lacks imagination and, from the outset, it’s pretty clear how things are going to play out. Although, the opening act showed some potential with a hugely paranoid Jack sneaking through his flat brandishing a knife and wearing little more than some grotty underpants. Whilst you could never say Pegg is on top form here, he does embrace the bewildered and desperate writer. He throws himself into the role with a manic energy that drives the first half hour. Although it does end up playing out like the sort of sitcom being broadcast for the morons who only watch BBC3. The premise had potential but, in the end, the comedy is extinct.

It is once we leave the confines of Jack’s flat that things turn really sour and you get the idea Mills lost control of his idea. The quirky idea of one man’s struggle with himself to maintain his sanity becomes a hodgepodge of ideas desperate to cling to the surreal atmosphere the director was clearly trying to maintain. The plot loses any kind of momentum and moves off in a wildly different direction that has only the flimsiest link to the first half.

One of Fantastic Fear‘s redeeming features is an Oliver Postgate-esque stop motion animation featuring some creepy looking hedgehogs. Don’t expect brilliance but it certainly adds some colour to the dwindling later segments.

Watching this film, it is hard to get rid of the idea that Mills utterly lost control and set out to make a film that neither he nor his script was ready to make. There is no real imagination at work and the second half of the film is, at best, forgettable. On paper this had almost limitless potential: a director with a credible film pedigree, a loveable British actor and a quirky narrative based on a Bruce Robinson short story. The end result is an altogether listless affair. It is a film that takes itself incredibly seriously whilst being simultaneously ludicrous. Pegg and Mills are clearly playing things for their comic potential but I defy you to show me anything remotely amusing. It was a painful and dull watch. One that, had I not paid all of 99p for the pleasure, I could have given up on after the opening sequence.

Batman: the hero we deserve… just as long as you’ve done your homework.

Batman, comic book, DC, screen caps, Simon Pegg, twitter

In which I say something outlandish and probably hugely offensive … on the Internet of all places. Sheesh! (Oh and as you can tell I’ve just found out how to take a screenshot on my new phone and went a little bit over the top in regards to my visual aids. For the single person who accidentally comes across this page and decides it’s worth a punt, I hope you can see them.)

A few weeks ago Simon Pegg tweeted in response to his first viewing of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Of course this prompted a vast array of replies from the typical Twits craving attention from celebrities and believing that following someone on a social networking site basically means you know them well enough to act like their friend. (But that’s an issue I should probably work on some other time.) The replies included attempts at humour referencing Miller’s infamous rant concerning the Occupy Wall Street protesters; general insulting and idiotic comments about Miller himself; and replies that actually pertained to Pegg’s original point (i.e. the relationship between Miller’s graphic novels and Nolan’s films).

To clarify his point Pegg followed up with this tweet:

It is this statement that started to get me a little riled up. The phrase “too few people will appreciate” is in keeping with the air of smug, superiority that I feel is in the background of Pegg’s writing. Before I go any further I’d like to point out that I, like most people in the world, am a big fan of Simon Pegg. From being a fan of Spaced when it first aired to thoroughly enjoying Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I have always had a great deal of respect for the work that he is doing. However, there is something about his constant pop-culture references and allusions that give the impression that he‘s out to prove that he‘s better than all of us (I’m under no illusion that Simon Pegg is better than me but I find it off putting that he always has to remind me of that fact). I can’t help but feel that the inclusion of so many in-jokes and references are merely a device used to alienate a large section of the audience. There is no doubt that Simon Pegg is knowledgeable about all things relating to general geekery but his constant need to show us his knowledge has a pretty clear judgemental tone behind it.

Now back to the original point. The phrase “too few people will appreciate” is highlighting the fact that Pegg is obviously a fan of Frank Miller’s graphic novels whilst simultaneously suggesting that those who go to see The Dark Knight Rises without being aware of his material are worthy of criticism. An idea carried on to his next tweet:

The idea that people who go to see a comic book movie without being aware of the original source material is a horrible and incredibly pretentious suggestion. Now I’m aware that this is something of a hypocritical statement for someone who has probably not discussed TDKR without uttering the phrase “in the comics” at least once. However, I wouldn’t dare to group myself in with the Batman fans who have been following the comics for years. As someone who got into the Dark Knight, and comics in general, as a teenager rather than a child, I’m aware that I still have a lot to learn but it is being in this position that allows me to have a certain amount of detachment when it comes to the much-loved work of writers like Miller.

I find it strange that so many of the replies to Pegg’s tweets were angry about the fact that Nolan took inspiration from, and in some cases lifted scenes straight out of, the comics. I doubt any of them would have been happier had Nolan gone off book and written a completely freestyle script. That leads to terrible, Joel Schumacher style abominations after all. There is no getting away from the fact that the film’s are based on a popular comic book character and writers have continued to pen stories about Bruce Wayne and friends since 1939. Of course Nolan and his co-writers were going to look at certain stories (sensibly the most popular and critically acclaimed stories at that) to find inspiration for the films. Complaining about the use of ideas from The Dark Knight Returns or Knightfall is as stupid as watching an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and complaining that the writer references characters from Austen’s text. What we are really dealing with here is the awful hipster-ish quality of wanting it to be known that you liked something before it was cool or popular. I guess that a possible problem for a lot of die-hard Batman fans is that liking superheroes, something that was perhaps considered uncool and geeky, is now becoming something that absolutely anyone can enjoy. If the subculture becomes a normative part of the wider culture what does that mean for the original fans? They can no longer be differentiated from anyone else. Holy hipsterism, Batman! 

This is an idea that I have long associated with graphic novels as a whole. I find the term ‘graphic novels’ to be flawed and intentionally conceited. The definition of the term taken from the OED is “a novel in comic-strip format” which is fair enough. Graphic novels, as I see it, are basically longer comic books or, in some cases, collections of shorter stories that fall under one theme/idea. However, the term has become a way to make comics appear more socially acceptable and upmarket. It is a term that has come to have more importance for the readers than for the creators of  the graphic novels themselves. If I may quote Daniel Raeburn:

I snicker at the neologism first for its insecure pretension — the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’ — and second because a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.

Sticking a hardback cover on a story told primarily through artwork does not magically make it better than a comic book. It is something that sellers picked up on to make works appealing to a wider audience. In an interview in 2000, Alan Moore also turned his back on the term.

 It’s a marketing term. I mean, it was one that I never had any sympathy with. The term “comic” does just as well for me. The term “graphic novel” was something that was thought up in the ’80s by marketing people… But no, the term “graphic novel” is not one that I’m over-fond of. It’s nothing that I might carry a big crusade against, it doesn’t really matter much what they’re called but it’s not a term that I’m very comfortable with.

Similarly, when Neil Gaiman was described as being the writer of graphic novels rather than comic books he suggested that he “felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”

The term has never really sat well with me and there is a part of me that agrees with the idea that the difference between the comic book and the graphic novel is the binding. Yes a graphic novel may present more of a complete narrative but there is no need to remove the idea from the simpler format. Sticking the term graphic novel onto a collection of comics is a basic way of jacking up the price and allows self-conscious readers to feel better about their reading habits. I agree that there are some fantastic graphic novels out there but the inclusion of the word “novel” does make the work comparable to the likes of Ulysses. I’m all for keeping people happy but we need to keep a bit of perspective here. I’m sorry to say that you’re reading comics and having read them does not make you better than those who have not.

I went to see this film with a group of friends who had no real knowledge of the Batman universe and only had the last two films as a basis. I don’t see how it is possible to say that they would have missed out on a major aspect of the film because they weren’t sat there thinking “ooh that scene is lifted straight out of The Dark Knight Returns” and “this film has taken a lot of ideas from No Man’s Land”. As it  happened, the first time I saw this film I was trying to second guess Nolan and trying to look for plot twists where there were no plot twists. “Oh well if this is like such and such a comic then this will definitely happen” was constantly at the forefront of my mind and I wasn’t able to appreciate the finer points of the film itself.

Of course, I do admit that I found a small amount of pleasure whilst watching the likes of the “you’re in for a show tonight, son” scene taken straight from Miller’s story. Even though the inclusion of the famous ‘breaking the Bat’ scene from Knightfall was a necessity once Bane was chosen to be the villain I still rejoiced when it happened. Also, the allusions to No Man’s Land made for an interesting setting for Bane’s plan. Without a doubt I would recommend these titles and many others to those who enjoyed Nolan’s films but I fail to see how it aids your viewing to know who came up with the original ideas referenced in the final script. I was certainly less offended by people who hadn’t read the comics watching DKR than I was by the people who hadn’t seen Batman Begins. The first installment to the trilogy was vital when it came to the ideas being explored in the third. The people who had picked up on Nolan’s Batman thanks to the hype surrounding Heath Ledger would have been missing vital information that the director expected (nay needed) his audience to know. At least have the decency to watch the whole trilogy before you claim to be a fan.

As a final thought, if we’re saying that only comic book fans can watch and appreciate comic book movies what do we say of filmmakers unaware of the original material making superhero films? I’d like to ask those who are offended by an audience member watching DKR without having read The Dark Knight Returns whether the fact that Bryan Singer did not like the X-Men comics when he made the first film meant it was worthless and terrible. Cinema is a mass culture. As a secondary example, was it necessary for people to have read all of Tolkein’s books regarding Middle Earth before indulging in Peter Jackson’s outstanding films. Is it vital that people have read the ridiculous Tom Bombadil scene before they watch Elijah Wood and the guy out of the Goonies set off on their long walk? Of course it fucking isn’t! What about the Lion King? Not only does the story take ideas and themes from Hamlet but basically copied scenes directly from Kimba the White Lion, an anime series from the 60s. The Lion King is still one of the most popular Disney films of all time and many people consider it to be their favourite Disney film, if not all round film. Do we have to track these people down and tell them they can’t have it because they aren’t aware of the either of these sources? Yeah that sounds stupid doesn’t it.

Surely the point of film adaptations is to open up material to new people whilst still containing enough in-jokes and ideas that fans will appreciate? It’s barbaric. Cinematic apartheid is not a road we want to go down people. It should be enjoyed by all whether or not they spent their childhood devouring comics or not. To quote my favourite reply to Simon Pegg’s tweet: “Oh. And I rather enjoyed it too, I didn’t realise there was homework we had to do beforehand”. Kudos, my friend. Kudos.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Andy Serkis, comedy, family, motion capture, Nick Frost, Peter Jackson, review, Simon Pegg, Steven Moffat, Steven Spielberg

I have fond memories of Tintin but certainly would not presume to position myself anywhere near the level of fandom that many possess. Although I do think the original stories are wonderful  and eagerly watched the television series as a child. Tintin is a much loved fictional character so it is safe to say that there was an awful lot riding on the much anticipated big screen debut of Hergé’s infamous journalist and his faithful dog. 

The film itself has clearly divided opinion in a dramatic fashion. Like the much overused example of marmite, it has either completely captivated its audience or thoroughly offended them. It is easy to see why there is such a split in the reaction to Spielberg’s attempt to bring the character to life. On the one hand, the plot contains plenty of excitement and fun that many would associate with the original material but, at the same time, the film lacks the passion and soul that is associated with Hergé’s characters.

Spielberg’s decision to use motion capture is one of the major culprits for this important lack of heart. There is a great deal of emotion and heart tied up within the original artwork which has not been brought to life using this modern technique. It is, arguably, only the motion capture veteran Andy Serkis who is able to bring any amount of feeling to his animated portrayal of Captain Haddock. Serkis may be forced to spout several trite and painfully sentimental speeches about “breaking through walls” but he does so with the perfect balance of feeling and downright ham.

For the most part, the rest of the cast (each brilliant actors in their own right) seem to flounder when faced with this method of filming. We just need to look at the final showdown between Haddock and his archenemy Sakharine (played by Daniel Craig) to the see the stark contrast. This supposedly villainous counterpart to Haddock is decidedly flat. Craig shuffles through the role as if he were simply providing a voiceover. There is never any real show of passion that explains his hate-fuelled mission.

The plot, written by three British screenwriting legends Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, is made up of the plots of three separate Tintin stories. The titular Secret of the Unicorn, The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure. This results in a fairly mismatched adventure that is fairly clumsily put together. The rushed subplot of the pickpocket, whilst interesting in its own right, is included mainly for convenience and could perhaps have been replaced in order to better set up the main narrative of the film.

The script itself often seems clumsy and awkward. The obvious and almost out of place speeches where characters are forced to state exactly what is happening and why are far more frequent than should perhaps be necessary. Although, there are some outstanding moments and one-liners (mostly courtesy of Captain Haddock) and more than enough double entendres to keep the older viewers satisfied.

This being said, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film. From the gorgeous opening titles and the tremendous introduction of our hero (briefly uniting the Tintin of old and this modern reincarnation) the film captured my imagination. The action never slows and it is constantly apparent that, despite taking the long way round, the plot is always moving forward.  Yes this fast paced approach may be at odds with the more laidback feel of the books but it was a necessary evolution for the move to film. As much as I may hate to admit it, we live in a modern age where the Tintin Hergé created no longer fits. It was a necessity that his adventures captured the imagination of a modern audience, even if this was perhaps at the expense of the true fans.

Yes, Tintin may not be exactly as we all remember him but this is to be expected. He fights his way out of tricky situations in a manner that would have impressed the likes of James Bond. Modernising the hero was something that was bound to happen and should have been embraced as openly as the recent reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes. He is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he is good enough. If I may quote Commissioner Gordon here, Hergé’s Tintin may be “the hero we deserve, but he is not the one we need right now”.