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Ryan Has Simon Pegged for a Great Actor

Movies You Should Netflix: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

By Ryan – HodgeBlodge Queue-Conspirator


I know I’m a bit tardy, but I just wanted to let y’all know that I have now arrived at the Simon Pegg party.  I’m sure that some of you have been here for years—in fact clearly I missed the amuse bouches already but I entered just in time for the main course.  I did get an appetizer with his part in Star Trek, but How to Lose Friends and Alienate People was my first chance to see Pegg in a starring role. I have not made my way back through Shaun of the Dead or Spaced or most of his early works which I guess is like calling yourself a Green Day fan without having listened to Kerplunk or Dookie, but rest assured H.t.L.F.a.A.P. sold me on him.

However briefly I have been at the party I have already found out something about Pegg—he owns each role. I know that sounds cliché or some empty compliment but I assure you that, to me, it is high praise. Lately I have begun to feel that some actors, very talented actors, have become so famous and so much of a personality off-screen that their onscreen work feels like they are simply playing themselves. (Johnny Depp I’m looking in your direction; Robert Downey, you too.)  These guys are being type-cast; they have a certain charm on the red carpet that every producer wants to bottle and sell on camera.  There’s a reason that John Malkovich is a great actor and a blank slate of a person, if he had one ounce of personal charisma he’d be a leading man instead of a talented actor.  But in just my limited exposure to Simon Pegg, I have seen him as a confident but outcast Scotty, as a lazy and down-on-his-luck security guard in Run Fatboy Run (which, rest assured, I’ll write about soon), and as magazine writer Sidney (Toby) Young.  Don’t get me wrong every character clearly gets a Pegg once-over in which he adds a wit and sarcasm to every character’s repertoire, but each person is so unique, each one has such different strengths and desires.

In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People the character is helped along by the fact that he is a real person.  The movie is based on a memoir of the same name by Toby Young.  The book and movie tell the story of a young British celebrity gossip writer who gets a job at a major American magazine.  Whatever the reason that most people write their autobiographies (an amazing story, people clamoring for it, etc.) Toby Young will have none of it- his memoir was written to spread dirt on everyone he’s ever come across; he spared no one, not even himself.  And as consistently as I have boycotted TMZ, I could not get enough of Young’s gossip.  The names were changed but only one notch above saying he wrote for Fanity Vair.  His editor and attempted mentor in the movie was named Clayton Harding, in real life the editor of Vanity Fair during Young’s reign of scare is named Grayton Carter.  It’s a subtle difference I know but I’m here to catch things like that for you.

Unfortunately the people that I’m really dying to know who they were in real life were slightly better concealed.  The true identities of two characters in particular—Sophie Maes, played by a pre-Transformers Megan Fox, is a young actress who is going to be famous, good taste be damned; and Vicent LePak is an empty pair of sunglasses being propped up as the greatest thing since Tarantino—are both delicious mysteries to me.  I’ve sought many opinions and the conclusion is that she is Lindsey Lohan but that is nothing more than rampant speculation—which surely is Young’s favorite kind of speculation—and everybody seems to be drawing a blank on whom LePak could be.

Both characters are simply puppets for the real person pulling the strings—their publicist.  Brilliantly played by Gillian Anderson, Eleanor Johnson isn’t a villain but is simply taking advantage of the system. Her stars need publicity, but only the good kind, and magazines need her stars, but only if they are the famous kind. I’m told that the Devil Wears Prada tells a similar story, but H.t.L.F.a.A.P. pulled the curtain back to reveal why we can’t trust celebrity magazines. How can you criticize Actor A when he has the same publicist as Actors B, C, and D? To insult one, even if it is the truth, is to lose four big names. Suddenly you begin to realize that everything is a puff piece, unless the editor has a (career) death wish.

Simon on the toiletThe whole situation—the symbiotic relationship, the vapid stars, the publicists, even the nice tuxedos—is rather unlikeable. But in the middle of it all is Toby Young, the lone island of conscious thought. He has no problem tearing down celebs, in fact it seems a bit of a fetish. Off-screen, Young in all his pitbull-ness, was actually banned from filming (despite his producer cred) because he was just too…much.

It’s stories like that, as well as the ones told onscreen, that make it all the more incredible that Simon Pegg can make even Toby Young seem likeable.


12 Responses

  1. I walked out of this movie. Couldn’t stand it.

  2. Yeah I heard from multiple sources that this movie was awful. I’m shocked to hear how much you enjoyed it, Ryan.

  3. Wow- walked out? Now I need to know what you hated so much about it.

    There were a few things I enjoyed about it- one was that it made me rethink the entire magazine industry. And maybe i was just blissfully naive about the entire relationship between magazines and celebrities. But i was legitimately interested in the concept that magazines need to constantly bite their tongue in order to play nice with the people they put on their cover. Whether that was the intention of the director to pull back the curtain, I don’t know; although I do think that Young’s book was about that concept. Frankly, and I’m a big fan of the writers of Vanity Fair, I can never look at the magazine the same way. Obviously Entertainment Weekly and their ilk are going to put puff pieces together, and equally obvious is that Us Weekly, et al will do just the opposite and spread trashy rumors to sell magazines. But i kinda thought that Vanity Fair and the “higher-end” type of magazines, that will do massive breakdowns of Bernie Madoff and AIG and the economy, wouldn’t have to bend over for the Clooneys and Lohans of the world.
    Second, I enjoyed Young’s dilemma. I won’t ruin the ending for Miles and the rest of the people that couldn’t finish the flick but the idea of a journalist having to decide on pride vs. success is a very compelling one to me. I don’t want to make Young out to be Upton Sinclair or something but he had to decide if he was going to be real or going to be read. That battle carries a lot of weight with me.

    And lastly, not to repeat myself, but I enjoyed Simon Pegg. Because that character should be so despicable. He’s a total asshole who has his priorities incredibly out of whack and yet Pegg finds the humor in him. Toby Young even in his own book wasn’t that likeable, he’s just so pompous he’s trying so hard to seem like the good guy who’s just made a few mistakes but you don’t buy it. You know that he’s such a jerk, but when Pegg does him- and the movie is pretty faithful to the book- you relate to it all.

    BTW it’s funny to me that so many people hated it so much because another Pegg movie I just saw (Run Fatboy Run) got the same kind of shitty reviews and yet I really enjoyed it.

  4. Run Fatboy Run definitely wasn’t very good–it wasn’t unbearable to watch, but you could teach that script in a Wooden Three-Act Structure writing class.

    Not having seen Spaced or SotD means you aren’t just a guy saying you’re a Green Day fan without having heard Kerplunk or Dookie, you’re a guy saying he’s a Green Day fan who’s specifically saying he likes the stuff that all of Green Day’s old fans hate.

  5. Run Fatboy Run was awful – AWFUL. Just because Simon Pegg is lovable in almost every role doesn’t make it worth watching either. It’d be like saying you’d still take a trip on the Titanic because you heard they served a great veal dish for dinner…yeah, exactly like that.

    Ahem, listen. The fact that you haven’t seen Pegg’s defining work is more than bothersome. What the heck are you doing Netflixing the crap first anyway!? What’s the deal?!

    Shaun of the Dead – own it – is a CLASSIC.
    Spaced – own it – is INCREDIBLE
    Hot Fuzz – own it – is a remarkably fun action-punch to the heart.

    so quit lallygagging and get your shizz together, dawg!

  6. Ya see that’s where you lose me. I watched Hot Fuzz…didn’t really like it. It was cheesy camp that was trying to spoof horror/mystery and didn’t work. I have Spaced and SoD to watch, they’re next, I promise, but to put HF up there with them is like saying Club Dread was as good as SuperTroopers. The comedy murder-mystery genre just doesn’t work with me.

    As for RFbR I was gonna do a whole write-up but since I have the attention of the class I will just throw this out there now: what were you expecting? Every sports movie is actually a romantic comedy in disguise. Hopefully they’re funny, and likable, but yes they are incredibly formulaic. Either they win or they lose but develop character in the process. For RomComs or sports, those are the two options. What were you expecting- he’s running, and running, and then the White House gets blown up! Didn’t see that one coming, eh?
    Seriously name me a RomCom or Sports movie that doesn’t have one of those endings (and Sid and Nancy doesn’t count.) I don’t get how people crap on them for being in that genre, it’s blaming a horse for not being a zebra.

  7. I guess lowered expectations is why I didn’t hate RFbR. I wouldn’t put Hot Fuzz with Spaced or SotD but it’s definitely better than RFbR

  8. Whoa, whoa, whoa – you’re outta your mind. I thought Hot Fuzz was good and to compare it with Club Dread is a friggin’ sin. Maybe you don’t like the genre they were spoofing, but I thought they did a really good job at poking fun at Point Break and the like.
    Furthermore, your whole “don’t blame a horse…” argument is lame. Then who am I supposed to blame? The zebra for being original & good and making the boring horses look bad? Nope, not happening.
    Also, RFbR was terrible even for a crappy rom-com. That’s it. Period. It was bad dude.

  9. First of all, I’m having a terrible day today. It may be in the top 5.

    So far…

    Anyway, I was hesitant to leave even the short comment that I did for fear of piling onto another one of Ryan’s movie-related articles. I hate being seen as the movie snob, especially when I consider myself to be far more even tempered than most of the people lumped into that category. If anything, and I’ve said this about Katie too, I’m more of a movie shark, in that I’ll devour whatever swims directly in front of me.

    But I’m a snob too, there’s no denying that. I see a lot of films every year, a good portion of them art films, a better portion of them obscure stuff that ranges from the sublime to the substandard, and then…well, everything else. And I recognize that this diet is, or will one day be, too unhealthy to maintain. I’ll begin to see that the ONLY thing I talk about relates back to a film I saw earlier that week, or that I’ll judge potential relationships with people on some bizarre system that somehow involves Frank Hennenlotter films…oh wait, I already do that…

    Anyway, the point of this rant is this: I don’t want to be a jerk (even on my worst day), but I hated this fucking movie. It’s cool that you liked it, Ryan, but I think less of you now as a soul (not as a human being, but as a life energy). Whatever burns inside of you dimmed while watching this movie (I know because I’ve been there…well, mostly there). That you liked it suggests that the flame has gone out completely and that you are nothing more than the sum of your biological structure. You are a husk, willing to accept something less from an actor who has proven himself to be capable of so much more.

    Okay, that last bit was facetious, but like I said, I’m having a bad day and needed a bit of fun.

    Honestly though, what I liked least about the film was the wasted potential of its star(s). I don’t know that I’ve ever been a fan of Kirsten Dunst (her name is too similar to that of a chimp that once ran amok in a hotel), so obviously I’m not talking about her, but nearly everyone else–Megan Fox also notwithstanding–is wasted. I never bought Pegg as the jerk that his real-life counterpart apparently was/is, because the script has him doing low-grade slapstick that cements his character as an unlucky doofus, rather than a scathing critic who doesn’t know when to shut that critical eye and give it a rest. We get one nice moment with him: it involves his father coming to visit. That was it for me. And honestly, I’m surprised I liked that part, because I’d had to suffer through shit like watching Pegg spit-up on a fashionista or hide a dead dog. I just find that sort of stuff to be waaaaaay beneath Pegg, even from a basic physical comedy standpoint.

    And like I said, I don’t want to pile on, or yell at you for not having seen Shaun of the Dead (although, dude, come on now!), but to lump this film in with Hot Fuzz is just unforgivable. The writing, acting and directing is on an entirely different level than what we get with HtLFaAP. The relationships in Hot Fuzz are genuine and funny, which is more than I can say for the aforementioned acronym. And see, that’s the thing: they didn’t need to make the characters likable in Hot Fuzz. It would have been easy to throw Simon Pegg and Nick Frost into the city with guns and make something on par with Scary Movie 4, but they didn’t do that. Hot Fuzz–which some people (read: dumb people) say runs too long–allows its characters a chance to breath, all while piling on more film references, verbal jokes and genuine emotion than 99% of the rest of the films out there. Notice, I’m not boiling it down to comedies.

    Maybe I’m seeing more in Hot Fuzz because of my movie geekery, but I know that’s not true. The geeky stuff is all on the periphery, and it’s cute enough if you can catch it, but there’s nothing to miss about how great the rest of the film is. To compare Nick Frost’s character to any in either “Run Fatboy…” or “How To Lose Friends…” is ludicrous, and that’s not snobbery, it’s simply common sense.

    I could go on, but I’ve got that terrible day waiting for me on the other side, and I really must get back to it.



  10. Wow, that was one of the five greatest things I’ve read- and I mean ever. Am I a terrible person for wishing you more bad days if it means more 800 word comments like that one? (FYI- my highlight was the ‘not as a human but as a life energy’ part. Although the fact that you casually drop a reference to a guy whose IMDB page includes ‘Frankenhooker’ was also a major plus.)
    Clearly I stand alone on Run Fatboy Run. I have made my peace with this and have moved on; although I will say this- I am a sucker for underdogs and montages set to British rock and nothing will ever take that away from me.
    As for Hot Fuzz, I think I would have enjoyed it more had the movie references not been so blatant. I get the joke: all-cops-want-to-be-Keanu-Reeves or Will Smith or any other movie cop but the references just felt forced to me. I think my other problem with HF is Pegg as the straight man. Again I want to applaud him doing something different each time but I think there’s better uses for him (although his ‘Yarrrp’ and ‘Narrrp’ were fantastic.)
    I am no-where near shark-like in my moviedom. I am more bear-like in that I fill up on a ton of movies and then spend the rest of the year living off the fat reserves, i.e. watching sports and making references to the 10 movies I saw. Because of this I rarely see a movie that I truly don’t enjoy (it might be my ‘not knowing good art from bad’ amateur film critic status but by and large I enjoy 95% of what I see.) Anyway my point is this, I wanted to come back at you with a ‘well this was good and that was good’ about HtLFaAP but I am drawing a blank. As I mentioned before there are themes of the movie (the symbiotic relationship of celebrities and those that cover them, the moral dilemma of a journalist, etc.) but ultimately the story itself wasn’t a big draw to me and the physical comedy was unnecessary. You’re right that in the book Young was a guy who just didn’t know where the line was while in the movie he was as you said an unlucky doofus. Even Kirsten Dunst (who i’m with you on not liking) was treated with kid gloves in the movie while in the book it felt like a constant betrayal that she kept on with an adulterer. I know it sounds weird to say that I liked a movie for what was essentially background- like enjoying Jaws because you enjoy the water- but it is what it is. I can only imagine what background stuff I could find in Frankenhooker, maybe that will just have to be next…

  11. This won’t be nearly as long as the last post, because what I’ve got to say is pretty specifically related to what you said about watching a movie to enjoy the environment of it (or at least that’s what I’m sort of choosing to get out of it). Hell yes. I love that too. Some of my favorite movies are chamber pieces like The Thing or the back half of Jaws where the guys have no place else to go (except their dooms!). And I can’t fault you on wanting to see more of the magazine trade, because god only knows that I’ll sit through a mediocre film (State of Play) to get a little taste of what really goes on in the bullpen (or at least a version that liberally takes notes from All The President’s Men…another fucking classic that I love, in large part, because of the setting).

    Oh, and for the record, I liked Run Fatboy Run a lot more than “How To Lose Friends…” if only because the kid was cute and the guy who plays his friend/trainer is usually pretty great in everything he does.

  12. I just want to weigh in and say that Run Fatboy Run is getting a totally shitty rap in this thread. I haven’t seen HtLFaAP, and don’t care to, so I cannot compare the two. But I did see the last 4/5s of Run Fatboy Run last week on HBO and it kept my interest. There were no parts that made me groan out loud, and while it was entirely formulaic, I have to say that was part of the fun. It was like the Hof’s Hut of movies. Everything was simple and safe and played right down the middle. The only thing that it did prove to me is that Hank Azaria could be the worst actor on the planet when he’s trying to play a straight role. Oh, and also, I still don’t know why it’s called Run Fatboy Run. Simon Pegg has to weigh like 165 pounds in that movie.

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