Man Up – The Review 

Simon Pegg is one of the most likeable British actors of his generation, but after the glorious highs of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, trying to land another consistently funny vehicle was far from easy. Yes, Paul came close while The World’s End (featuring arguably Pegg’s best turn), peaked at the half way mark. 

Thankfully his new movie Man Up is a beautifully scripted rom com which re-asserts Pegg’s status as a leading man. 

Reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s Last Chance Harvey (bittersweet London sightseeing romance-type genre) and Love Actually (hero desperately trying to find partner with community help), Man Up rests on the muscular shoulders of that reliable mistaken identity premise. 

American actress Lake Bell (from sublime comedy In a World…) is word perfect as Nancy, the British singleton heroine whose chance encounter with a fellow train passenger and self help book advocate sets in motion a chain of events. 

Jack (Pegg) mistakes her for his blind date, Nancy stumbles into a complex web of lies and they soon enjoy one another’s company. 

The fly in the ointment is Rory Kinnear, on hilarious form as Nancy’s obsessed old friend. Their bowling date results in a cringe worthy revelation, and a welcome chance to turn the tables. 

As the focus shifts from her deception to his fractious state due to a pending divorce, Man Up gets a second wind. 

An hilarious dance routine set to Duran Duran’s The Reflex is one of the best surprises of the year, as is Bell

Her comedic skills are as superb as her accent, especially during a bowling alley montage. 

The chemistry between the leads works a treat, while there is solid support from Sharon Horgan, Ken Stott, Harriet Walter and Olivia Williams.   

Yes, it may be formulaic in places but Pegg and producer Nira Park know how to spin a sparkling cinematic garment from the well worn material, and at 88 minutes it’s the perfect length for its story. 

And if you’re a Silence of the Lambs fan like its protagonists, there’s a clever homage in the third act involving a front door. 

Highly recommended. 

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San Andreas – The Review

The first I knew of San Andreas was (name drop alert) while interviewing Alexandra Daddario last year. The drop dead gorgeous, not bad actress was plugging True Detective and was hyped about the shoot in Australia. I tried to share her enthusiasm but Dwayne Johnson has never been top of my list when it comes to must see movies. 
The fact San Andreas is as enjoyable as it is was a welcome surprise. 

Yes, it’s hard to watch without comparing to a dozen other disaster flicks, from Earthquake (naturally) to Daylight, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012

The latter is a personal favourite for its stunning effects and tongue in cheek humour. SA is more of a soap opera (even featuring a cameo by Kylie). 

The cheesy scenes of estranged couple bonding in spite of mass carnage was often unintentionally hilarious. Or maybe that’s just the tone its creators were going for. Who knows?

Seen in 2D, the movie rattled along at a fair pace, despite plot holes bigger than some of the fissures. 

Characters waste precious seconds watching the disasters unfold instead of running; our hero and his estranged wife blissfully drive past an elderly couple in need of roadside assistance and ignore them… but then go back once they realise they can’t go forward. 

And some of the dialogue is so redundant. 

Run. Get off the bridge!” yells the ever reliable Paul Giamatti as characters attempt to do just that on a collapsing Hoover Dam. 

Niggles aside, this is just the sort of trashy popcorn blockbuster you’ll hate yourself for liking. 

From the heart-in-mouth rescue at the start to its standout tsunami scene, San Andreas may be full of faults (pun intended), but the presence of Johnson, Daddario and Carla Gugino made it a worthwhile watch. 

Why I Owe Phoebe Nicholls an Apology 

When you spend years as a Features Writer, attending Press launches and interviewing slebs, a few things become apparent. 

  • It’s wise not to carry more than a glass of wine and a plate of nibbles as well as a dictaphone. 
  • Gauge when your celeb is bored and get out early but politely. 
  • Conversely, the best quotes can come at the end when the other milling journos have disbanded to file their copy, get drunk or both. 
  • Finally, when celebs come as a pair, give them an equal amount of time. 

Sounds obvious, but if you don’t and one of them walks off feeling under appreciated, you will carry that with you… for decades. 

It’s 1996 and Channel 4 are holding a swanky bash plugging their Anglo American version of Gulliver’s Travels

Though star Ted Danson isn’t present, Edward and James Fox are and sat to my right one minute, Warwick Davis the next, and Nicholas Lyndhurst another, all fielding my questions politely. 

Then I chat to the director Charles Sturridge about the scope of the production and the effects while partner Phoebe Nicholls politely waits for me to ask her about her part. But the moment passes and she feels put out. And walks off. 

I feel bad, and want to apologise but she’s gone, no doubt ready to bemoan the state of rude journalists to her fella later that night. Who knows?
If nothing else, that afternoon in London taught me an important lesson. 

Never let people, especially actors, feel unloved or overlooked. They live for that praise, as do hacks, and intentional or not, snubs cut both ways. 

In the years that follow I interview Warwick a couple of times more and watch his rise from cult Star Wars extra to ITV staple, while Ted grants me a phone right to plug his tenure on CSI

It’s a glorious few minutes, and while it doesn’t erase the accidental snub, at least it makes me realise all those years watching Cheers and reading making of Star Wars books would pay off one day. 

Phoebe Nicholls. My heartfelt apologies to a fine, courteous actress. I was a green journo who was not worthy. 

Tomorrowland – The Review

Gorgeous George Clooney turns Grumpy George in Tomorrowland, the new movie from director Brad Bird. 

The maker of The Incredibles is a master of animated flicks such as The Iron Giant, and did a good job with Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol. Alas, this looks like one big advert for a holiday at Epcot. 

It’s not hard to see where the $190mbudget went. An endless array of special effects and set pieces with George intermittently furthering the story. 

It opens with GG’s piece to camera, while an off screen girl interrupts him and a ticking countdown. 

Turns out said girl has a habit of breaking into NASA (their security is dreadful apparently) and after getting bail, she finds a magical pin or badge. (Hmm, wonder how many of those will shift in the coming months.) 

Imagine her surprise when she’s transported to a futuristic land. 

Eventually she crosses paths with Grumpy George whose negativity is understandable as he knows when the world is going to end. 

Because this is a movie based on a theme park attraction, it’s necessary to include a steampunk rocket. However, once that set piece is exhausted, the third act turns into a generic mess. 

Problem is too much weight is rested on the shoulders of a precocious Brit moppet and the super smart teen girl. 

Hugh Laurie pops up as a shady character, the visuals are often dazzling and when seen in Dbox, it feels like I’m at Epcot. 

Trouble is, I don’t care about any of the characters and the last 10 minutes looks like an horrendous Disney recruitment video. 

It’s not a bad movie, but throwing a fortune in special effects at the screen does not magic make. 

It will make its money back eventually, but how good if it had been more than just an advert for a theme park. 

Mad Max: Fury Road – The Review 

“The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of VCRs, ruined dreams… But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called “Max.” 

To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time…”
It’s 1985 and Mel Gibson, in the role that made his name, looks more like miffed Max rather than Mad. 

Little wonder. He’s become a co-star in his own franchise, eclipsed by Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, a kid-centric movie which tones down the ultra violence of The Road Warrior, and takes the saga in a new direction. 

I wait in anticipation for the next chapter. 

And wait. 

And… nothing. 
Max fades into cinema history, a memory of when director George Miller was the king of action cinema rather than creator of worthy dramas like Lorenzo’s Oil or kids’ fodder Babe 2 and the Happy Feet movies. 

Then, when it looks like all hope is lost, and after assorted false starts, images of Tom Hardy as the new Max Rockatansky leak onto the inter web. And the teen inside me hopes Fury Road will be worthy of the wait. 
But how many times have we been let down after long gaps? 

The Phantom Menace
squandered 16 years of anticipation post Return of the Jedi, as did Prometheus, 33 years after Alien. 

Just how good could Mad Max be three decades beyond Beyond Thunderdome?
Thankfully all that hope was justified in two hours of dazzling, audacious action which left me thrilled, amazed, stunned and hugely entertained. 

For the first half, Max is once more a co-star in his own movie, Miller cleverly hiding Hardy’s face behind a Bane-style mask as old school fans adjust to the new actor behind the hero. 

The flipside is saga veteran Hugh Keays Byrne (Toecutter in the first Mad Max) as the despotic, iconic water-hoarding overlord Immortan Joe. (His mask makes him look like a great Star Wars bad guy). 
If this were silent cinema, there’s no doubt who’s the hero and who’s the villain, which is a refreshing change in these days when there are usually so many ambiguous protagonists and antagonists. 
The scope is enormous, production design outstanding and the score glorious. 
Flashes of characters that look like they’ve stepped from banned classic Freaks, assorted Fellini films and Lordi promos. Epic vistas which add a depth and scale to Miller’s extraordinary vision. 

 While Tom Hardy perfectly captures the haunted spirit of the eponymous character, Charlize Theron steals the film as Furiosa, the maverick trucker channelling Alien’s Ripley and Terry Gilliam’s Jill (from his masterpiece Brazil). 

Then there’s the vehicles. An array of gas-guzzling, formidable cut and shuts, including a spiked VW (which may pay homage to Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris), and the star of the show, Furiosa’s war rig, which tips its hat (or bonnet) to Mad Max 2‘s key tanker.

Though they dominate the frame for much of the movie, the bond between Max and Furiosa is almost palpable, a glance between them far more powerful than any cheesy dialogue. 

Miller knows the power of pure cinema and the balletic stunts are as vital as those silent exchanges between characters. 
Good support comes from Nicholas Hoult as the determined Nux. Looking like an extra from Duran Duran’s Wild Boys video (itself inspired by Max 2), courting a glorious demise, yet denied death, and accidentally becoming heroic in the process. 

While the Brides, willowy young women integral to the plot, look more like they’ve stepped from a catwalk than a nuclear scorched gantry, Miller proves that in his world even the drop dead gorgeous aren’t safe. 

There’s no doubt this will inspire a new wave of cheap imitations. 

It was a long and rocky road to Max’s return, but the journey was well worthwhile. 

Inspired lunacy of the highest order.

Spooks (The Greater Good) – The Review

The fact I yawned my way through half of this big screen version of the hit BBC thriller series from a few years ago is not because it’s a bad movie, more the fact I was jet lagged from a week in the U.S. and needed something to take my mind off that Sunday afternoon dread before work. 
On said flight I was gripped by Fury, the Brad Pitt WW2 tank thriller, which is proof of a good film when you consider the interruptions from flight crew and small screen.  

I doubt I’d have made it past the half way mark with STGG. 

It’s a competent thriller whose minimal set pieces are engaging. The cast are solid, and although I’d rarely watched the show on which it’s based, it ticks the boxes of many sub-Bond thrillers. 

I like to guess how long any Brit thriller can last without the obligatory panoramic London scene featuring the Gherkin, and Spooks got that shot off early. 

Kit Harington proved likeable enough as the brooding hero, while Peter Firth was solid as Harry, the potential double agent at the heart of the drama. Newcomers know he’s called Harry because Kit repeats it every other sentence, the same overused protagonist moniker problem that befalls many movies such as Enders’ Game. 

Terrific support comes from Tim McInnerny and Jennifer Ehle, while the lack of over reliance on CGI effects was a refreshing change. 

Alas, by the time the closing titles rolled I was underwhelmed. It felt more like a feature-length episode than a movie, and the amount of twists and turns that preceded the okay finale felt neither big or clever. 

While we wait for that other ghost-titled spy epic Spectre, STGG is a fair warm up act. Efficient, watchable and a taste of things to come. 

However, you’re not going to miss much by waiting for the DVD or BD.