Tag Archives: Simon Pegg


Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose

by Hope Madden

In the 1930s, the Lock Ness Monster had a competitor for the attention of the world’s most gullible. On the Isle of Man, one seemingly normal family claimed that a talking mongoose lived on their property. His name was Gef (sounds like Jeff, which is just funny).

This really happened.

A psychologist named Nandor Fodor traveled to the Irvin family’s farm to prove or disprove these claims. His visit is the basis of writer/director Adam Sigal’s dramedy, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose.

Simon Pegg plays Dr. Fodor with a mixture of insecurity and vulnerability that’s appealing. Fodor is a skeptic, naturally, although – like probably all who investigate the supernatural – he wants to believe. He wants to prove that something beyond us is possible. Not that he’d admit it.

He certainly wouldn’t admit it to his assistant, Anne (Minnie Driver). Driver’s performance is delightfully bright, logical and yet open. Fodor may see this farce for what it is, but the experience is letting Anne see Fodor for what he is.

The film feels most relevant and transgressive when working as a clear theological allegory.

“All anyone wants in this world is to be happy,” the Irvin estate manager tells Fodor. “Maybe you’d be happy if you let people believe what they want to believe. People love that mongoose.”

“The one that doesn’t exist?” Fodor responds cynically.


As religious metaphor, Nandor Fodor delivers a tale far more empathetic and compassionate ­than you might expect. But Sigal changes focus from “what makes people choose to believe in Gef” to “what makes someone create such a fabrication?”

Both questions have merit in an investigation or an allegorical film. But Sigal pivots so quickly that the “why believe?” question feels entirely unresolved and the “why lie about it?” resolution seems almost patronizing.

But a cast of eclectic, sometimes weirdly melancholy characters , Pegg’s angry befuddlement and Driver’s charm are almost enough to make up for it.

Cruise Control

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1

by Hope Madden

How do Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise outdo Mission Impossible: Fallout? Because even the most impressive of the previous MI films couldn’t hold a candle to that one. I mean, the public restroom fisticuffs alone!

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I has big shoes to fill and bridges to blow up and buildings to scale and masks to wear and trains to stop and whatnot. Does it succeed?

Of course, it does.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) accepts a mission from his sketchy government contact (Henry Czerny). But Ethan and his team will do what they do best: go rogue. Because this key is too powerful for any one man, any one nation.

We know Ethan will do the right thing because he’s a beautiful soul. Come on, have you not been paying attention? But this villain – sentient AI “the Entity” – constantly calculates odds and probabilities. It knows Ethan’s weakness and will use it against him.

It’s a clever script by Bruce Geller, Erik Jendresen and McQuarrie. By weaponizing AI and falling back on the old rubber mask disguises, MI: DR1 mines contemporary anxiety with old school solutions.

But McQuarrie et al know what’s made the best of these films stand out. It’s not the plot – although there’s nothing at all wrong with this plot. It’s not really the villains (that’s Bond’s territory). The MI franchise lives and dies on two things: Ethan Hunt’s humanity and Tom Cruise’s willingness to risk his own life for thrilling stunts.

Expect both – aplenty! – in Episode 7.

Incredibly fun and impressive car chases follow some nifty rooftop running before turning to a magnificent series of train-related set pieces. Plus, of course, that motorcycle/mountain thing they tease in the trailer. Lunacy!

The core team – Cruise plus Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Rebecca Ferguson – continue to share entertaining camaraderie. Franchise newcomers Esai Morales, Hayley Atwell and Pom Klementeiff bring varying degrees and styles of badassedness. But, let’s be honest, all eyes are on Cruise.

He sells it. There is something old timey about a runaway train, and yet, in Cruise and McQuarrie’s hands, it’s never looked more fun or more thrilling. It’s a long film ­– just a hair under 3 hours – and it tells only half the story. Part 2 is due out in 2024. Still, Cruise and company manage to exceed expectations yet again.



by Cat McAlpine

Lauren learns of her father’s untimely death from an aggressive reporter shoving a microphone in her face. There isn’t a lot of room for privacy when you’re a part of the Monroe family. Lauren is Manhattan’s District Attorney. Her brother, William, is running for congressional reelection. The Monroes are in the news and in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, the harsher the light, the darker the shadows. When her father’s will saddles her with a cruel inheritance and a bunker full of secrets, Lauren has to explore what she’s willing to do for the family name.

Simon Pegg has above and beyond the best performance here as the villainous Morgan Warner. It’s not just his excellent dialect work (as always) that helps him disappear into the role, but his commitment creating a full, if not deranged, character. The film’s weak script and loose plot points fail to support his choices, and often leave him out to dry, making Pegg cartoonish when he’s meant to be menacing.

Lily Collins falters as Lauren because she has so little to build on. The family dynamic itself is vague and cold. Brief flashbacks reveal a tumultuous relationship with her father, but little else is done to explore Lauren’s relationships. Lauren is grappling with how she chooses to remember her father, but he’s given no redeeming characteristics and frankly, neither is she.

The rest of the cast suffers a similar fate, with characters barely introduced, underdeveloped, and quickly discarded, resulting in stiff deliveries and people you simply don’t care about. That makes it hard to buy in to a story that hinges on putting it all on the line for family.

All said, this film lacks the commitment it needs to be memorable.  In an effort, maybe, to keep mainstream, Inheritance only skims the horror/thriller genres instead of really getting its hands bloody. Penned by Matthew Kennedy (his first) Inheritance works too hard at the top, and gets the pacing all wrong. While it hits a much better tempo later on, director Vaughn Stein (Terminal) piles on with some impatient cuts that make the story feel rushed.

Too little too late comes a breakneck plot twist that attempts to definitively draw a line between the good guys and the bad guys. In the dark, there are only shades of gray, but Inheritance isn’t elegant enough to navigate them. The film’s tiptoeing around the darkest inclinations of the family patriarch rob the story of its real moral dilemma and its real fun.

There is definitely fun to be had in the final 20 minutes of the film. You just have to make it that far. 

Action Figure

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

by George Wolf

Tom Cruise’s next mission – and he’ll most likely accept it – is to try and outdo the stunts he pulls in this latest Mission: Impossible entry. Good luck with that, because Fallout delivers the GD mail.

It’s an action film that hits on nearly every cylinder, thrilling enough to elevate the value of the other five films in the franchise.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (a frequent Cruise collaborator) returns from 2015’s MI: Rogue Nation, leaning on that solid foundation while he ups every ante, delivering not only his most impressive work as a director, but his most complete screenplay since The Usual Suspects.

Cruise’s Ethan Hunt draws the ire of his IMF boss (Alec Baldwin) and his boss’s boss (Angela Bassett) by choosing the lives of his team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg) over a stash of rogue plutonium. To keep that payload from the highest bidder, they have no choice but to accept help from agent August Walker (Henry Cavill and the ‘stache that ate DC), a “kill now-ask questions later” bruiser.

It can’t go unnoticed that Fallout marks the third blockbuster this year to feature a villain whose goals are more societal than financial.

Coincidence? Clearly no, but McQuarrie’s script keeps the social commentary smart, subtle and out of the way.

Familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa), old foes (Sean Harris as Solomon Lane) and new femme fatale “White Widow” (Vanessa Kirby) dot the landscape of double and triple crosses, with McQuarrie being careful not to overplay the genre elements.

Sly, self-aware references ground the film when it’s in danger of reveling in any Bond-ish excess, with plenty of well-placed surprises that, even when they’re not that surprising,  help ease the bloat of a 2 and 1/2 hour running time.

But let’s not kid ourselves, that’s all just spy game gravy.

These stunts – from rooftop to mountaintop, crowded streets to midair and beyond – are showstoppers, with Cruise so electric a t-shirt proclaiming “movie star” would not be out of place under Hunt’s endless supply of tight black jackets.

Cruise’s insistence on doing these stunts himself got him a broken ankle, but there is plenty of gain for his pain. You cannot deny the added authenticity his stuntwork brings to these set pieces, with McQuarrie’s nimble camerawork and some luscious landscapes sealing the deal.

Say what you what about the summer movie season so far, Fallout is here to make you remember how breathlessly fun it can be.

Alice in Underland


by Hope Madden

Femme fatales. Hitmen. Disjointed timelines. Neon.

Sin City was interesting in 2005.

Vaughn Stein’s debut as a feature film writer/director, after many years assisting, borrows heavily from the Tarantino explosion of the Nineties and early 2000s. He drops us into a metropolitan underworld where danger intersects with madness and borrowed style tries desperately to draw attention away from lack of substance.

He does have Margot Robbie, though, so that’s a start. Robbie plays the aforementioned femme fatale in a hulking underbelly of a soundstage meant to look like a cross between a wee-hours train terminal, an insane asylum and Wonderland—all with that vacant, neon emptiness of a neo-noir.

Robbie’s Annie is a hitman masquerading as a waitress in the terminals all-night diner. There’s a hidden mastermind, a mysterious cripple, a couple of contract killers and a teacher who needs a little nudge before he’s ready to off himself.

Vaughn immediately brings Sin City to mind with his splashy comic book noirisms. It’s hard for that to feel fresh at this stage in filmdom, and his tired hodge-podging of hyper-dramatic tropes doesn’t breathe any new life into the story.

In fact, the story is the problem. It’s an awful lot of nothing, truth be told, with nary a surprise and loads of letdowns.

There is a bit in the diner that’s worth a watch. An excellent Simon Pegg waits for a train and chit chats with a borderline insane waitress (Robbie). Their chemistry is odd and welcome, and Pegg’s delivery is particularly impeccable. In these scenes, Vaughn’s writing suddenly feels engaging and unpredictable.

The core story about two killers Annie is playing against each other peters out blandly, and though the answer to any other surprise has long ago been telegraphed in, still we sit through an intolerable backstory.

Robbie does what she can, though she leans a bit too heavily on her Harley Quinn character to sell Annie’s mental state. She’s mad as a hatter, you see. We know that because she told us so in an opening voiceover narration.

The film isn’t awful, but it isn’t good. Mainly, there is just nothing new to see here.

The Frontier Strikes Back

Star Trek Beyond

by George Wolf

Kirk. Spock. Bones. Wisecracks, a villain, and some heroic space swashbuckling. We’re pretty familiar with the Star Trek setup by now, and three flicks into the J.J. Abrams-fueled reboot, the latest seems the most comfortable in its journey. And though Star Trek Beyond doesn’t quite boldly go, it is a fun, satisfying ride.

Three years into a five-year mission, the crew of the Enterprise stops for some downtime at an immense new space station. Kirk (Chris Pine) in awaiting a promotion, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is mulling a return home to Vulcan, and Bones (Karl Urban), good God, man, he has some fun needling Spock about a botched romance with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

The gang gets back in action to answer the distress call of a stranded crew, but falls into the trap of the Kahn-like Krall (Idris Elba), who’s after a very powerful artifact that Kirk just happens to be holding.

Fast and Furious vet Justin Lin takes over for Abrams in the director’s chair and, working with a snappy script co-written by Simon Pegg (“Scotty”), has the film feeling like a fun Trek TV episode beamed up to the multiplex.

Though the adventure is a little tardy getting its legs, things only get better as they go along. The banter is crisp, the derring-do daring, and the chemistry of the ensemble, so important in a franchise such as this, is undeniable.

Spectacular only in spots, what Beyond does best is honor its own heritage while planning for the future. The nods to its TV past run from cheesy to ingenious, even finding a clever way to acknowledge the effect the entire Star Trek phenomenon has had on popular culture.

After the trying-too-hard reach of Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond strikes just the right note. More of this? I’m on board.




Cruising Altitude

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Hope Madden

Tom Cruise may have finally found a marriage that will work. His partnership with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has produced four of the actor’s most recent films.

McQuarrie wrote Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow (arguably Cruise’s finest film this century), and he wrote and directed both Jack Reacher and Cruise’s latest action extravaganza, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

McQuarrie inherited the series at its peak, Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol having brought the franchise back to relevance with talented new teammates, extravagant set pieces, and much-needed humor.

Rogue Nation picks up that same beat. The band’s back together: Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt, skeptical wise cracker Brandt (Jeremy Renner), systems wizard Luther (Ving Rhames), and delightful hacker Benji (Simon Pegg).

Blessedly, the talentless Paula Patton sits this one out.

In her place as the beautiful woman who will appear in only one episode is Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious double (or triple?) agent Ilsa Faust.

Now disgraced and disavowed by their own government, what’s left of IMF must expose their underworld counterpart The Syndicate to reclaim their status and save the world.

McQuarrie keeps the pace moving with a gliding camera that not only captures the enormity of each sequence, but develops a graceful, controlled urgency about each event.

Truth be told, though, the movie succeeds or fails depending on Cruise, and Ethan Hunt is a great character for the beleaguered movie star. Cruise can show off his still quite impressive physical presence, the script’s use of humor capitalizes on the actor’s underused strengths, and let’s be honest – Cruise has a bit of the crazy-eye, which makes him more believable in the part.

The action sequences are not quite as breathtaking as they were in Ghost Protocol, but they are impressive nonetheless.

What McQuarrie does better than any previous director in the series is to imbue every scene with a bit of humor – enough to exploit the ridiculousness of the situation without actually mocking it. He finds the fun in the familiar old gimmicks and draws on the strengths of his cast to create a blast of entertainment.


The 2014 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

The Academy Award nominations can drive you crazy between the snubs and the needless accolades. Some years are so bad, you may think you’ll never forgive them. But every year, however misguided their big ticket nominations, the academy does at least one wonderful thing. They draw attention to short films that would otherwise go unnoticed. Do yourself a favor and head to the Gateway Film Center to catch all fifteen of these magnificent short subject works of art, starting with five brilliant and varied animated features.

The nominations this year net a variety of styles and tones. The clear frontrunner for the Oscar is Disney’s Get a Horse, the 3-D short that accompanied their popular (and prescient!) Frozen. Director Lauren MacMullen’s six minute ‘toon is a joyous ode to animation history, bridging Disney’s past with its future by mixing archival Mickey Mouse animation with modern cinematic storytelling.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ferel, a shadowy, impressionistic tale of a wild boy found by a hunter and introduced to society. Smokey images in shades of grey underscore the story’s haunting nature.


Equally haunted, though in a more literal and offbeat manner, is Shuhei Morita’s Possessions. A fix-it man travels, wares on his back, through a terrible storm. He takes shelter in an abandoned shack to witness the discarded items there come to life. It’s a lively, entertaining piece on a consume-and-discard culture.

Room on the Broom is a longer, stop-action style film aimed at a younger crowd. Simon Pegg voices the narration for the tale of a good hearted witch who never met a new friend she didn’t want to make, regardless of her cat’s preferences. It’s a sweet image of acceptance and family.


The best of the bunch, though likely not to be the winner, is the appealing Mr. Hublot. In a clattery, mechanical future world, idiosyncratic Mr. Hublot lives alone with his OCD. His days are full – straightening picture frames, turning the lights on and off, on and off, on and off. Back to straightening frames – though he can’t help but hear that abandoned, barking puppy out there in the weather. Writer Laurent Witz, along with his co-director Alexandre Espigares, creates an endearing image of familial love and acceptance with this charmer.

Every one’s a winner regardless of the final vote. Catch them while you can.

Pub Crawl Interrupts Review of Movie About Pub Crawl


by George Wolf


After successful romps thru zombie flicks (Shaun of the Dead) and cop dramas ( Hot Fuzz),  Simon Pegg and company finish up their “Cornetto Trilogy” with The World’s End, a wild science fiction sendup that will put you in the mood for a cold beer.

Lost soul Gary King (Pegg, who also co- wrote the script) feeds the nostalgia for his youth by rounding up his old gang and convincing them to finish a job their younger selves never could. In 1990, they fell short of competing the local pub crawl known as “The Golden Mile”:  twelve pints in twelve bars, concluding at a watering hole called The World’s End.

They meet in their old hometown and begin the task, only to find that things have changed…to the tune of invasions and body snatchers.

While never laugh out loud funny, The World’s End does provide plenty of fun, mixing tongue in check nods to the sci-fi genre with frenetic action and age old lessons about going home again.

If that sounds a bit all over the place, it is. Director/co-writer Edgar Wright can’t seem to find a pace that suits him, instead opting to just try a little bit of everything and see how that works. Though the film sputters a bit getting out of the gate and suffers some misfires in character development, it actually manages to come together pretty well.

Oops, gotta run…our plane just landed in Key West and we’ve got a pub crawl of our own to start.





Outtakes: Looking for Valentine Romance?

Looking for a shot at romancing your way into a fine Valentine’s Day? The Gateway Film Center (1550 North High St.) is way ahead of you. How better to woo your guy or gal than with the best romantic comedy since Fight Club, Shaun of the Dead?
For the third year running, the theater with a special place in its heart for horror unspools the hilarious zombie romp starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. As bromantics Shaun and Ed, the duo need to come to terms with one unhappy girlfriend, one unwanted stepdad, and one zombie horde. Best place for that? The pub.
It’s a truly brilliant film, one worth seeing again and again with the one you love. It’s also an excellent choice for viewing when you’re trying to avoid all the ‘one you love’ shenanigans this time of year. 
Bonus: both Valentine screenings (7:30 and 9:30 pm this Thursday, 2/14) will open with the short “Til Death”, a macabre take on love gone wrong. The film comes from local filmmaker Jason Tostevin, who won the Gateway’s Homemade Horror Short contest in October with his medical spookfest “Room 4C”. 
It’s a film pairing that, like love itself, tells you to aim for the heart. 
Wait. Scratch that. The heart will do you no good. Apparently you’re supposed to aim for the head.
Tickets are $6.50. Expect prizes, trivia, and drink specials (which couldn’t hurt your Valentiney chances).