Wednesday, May 27, 2015

xBox One: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Nemesis system, nemesis system, nemesis system. In all the reviews that spoke favourably of this game, they all mentioned how innovative and fun the nemesis system was. It was. It was fun. But it really only played a key part early on in the game, for later on you become powerful enough to not need it. It still stays fun. Slowly picking off orcs and uruks, leaving weaker ones behind makes boss battles much easier. But despite being a new concept, I believe innovation relies on it really playing an integral part of the whole game.

Shadow of Mordor takes place in the scary period between Peter Jackson's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Talion is a ranger stationed at the Black Gate, on the edge of Mordor, just before the world becomes aware that Sauron is rising once again, and has filled his land with orcs. The Gate is attacked by lieutenants of Sauron and Talion is killed, along with his family. No, the game doesn't end there, it just begins. The spirit of an elf Lord inhabits Talion's body turning him into an unkillable soldier of revenge.

Cool, an explanation for respawning after you are killed. Not like a dead man can die again. Now if the orcs can only learn to dispose of his body properly, they won't have any more issues with him.

You start off weakened, as you do in all games, stalking about in the rain and shadows (of Mordor), killing orcs stealthily and running from larger crowds. Soon you get a magic bow, with magical replenishing arrows, and runes to plug into your sword and your dagger.... which is actually a broken sword. Your goal is to fight up through the ranks until you draw out the lieutenants who were responsible for your death and that of your family.

Along the way, you encounter unique orcs, captains, warchiefs and finally, the Black Captains. But not just up the orc chain, as there are also beasties such as Trolls and Caragors, cat like versions of the worgs we saw in the movies. The unique orcs get names and a look and a funny saying. Initially this is a lot of fun, as it gives character to your enemies. But the more you play, the more the "a little from column A, a little from column B" aspect gets repetitive. Also, these orcs often return from the dead. Even if you behead them, they somehow end up coming back, a little older, a little wiser and likely scarred by your being so rude to kill them. The guy you burned might have horrible scars, the guy you split in two might be sewn together. Its kind of weird, but fun.

The gameplay is a combination of stealth stalking and Arkham Asylum style button mashing combo combat.  At first this is fricking annoying, and you have to run away or die - a lot. But as you get more useful combos, and get used to the style, it becomes fluid and cinematic. Nothing like being in a mix of about 15 orcs, rolling about, knocking down and beheading orcs, left right and centre. Jump over that guy. knock that guy to the ground, light up this one and put an arrow through the eye of that guy. Much heroic fantasy sword play!

Now, back to the nemesis system. Each of the unique orcs connects to another in the ranks. If you want to take down a top level bad guy, a Warchief, then you better have already taken down some of his allies. Or that mix of 15 orcs is going to contain every higher level orc who reports to him. As the game progresses you can pretty much clean out every orc that matters in an area.... until the next time you are killed. Then, survivors are promoted and the ranks fill up again. That guy you scarred? He's now a captain and realllly pissed at you.

Another trick in the system is "branding" your enemies. Basically, using your blue colored magic you can bring orcs under your influence. They become enthralled to you. And in turn, everyone reporting to them is yours. Soon, a skilled brander can have an entire region under their control. Lead your own blue light gang against the Warchief and its an all out brawl. And when they all die?  Start over again! There are always plenty of orcs to sway to your cause.

But eventually the gameplay becomes repetitive. Stalk orcs, brand orcs, kill orcs, take out captains and take down warchiefs in their fortresses. The story moves you along, stalking the ranks to be led to the Black Captains who were responsible for your death. The elf lord possessing you, and keeping you alive and killing, turns out to be Celebrimbor, that guy from The Silmarillion who forged the Nine Rings. He was used by Sauron and betrayed, and wants revenge. You are his instrument but you have to get through the Black Captains first.

If the game has one major flaw, that is it. The Black Captains. The first is decent, a tough boss battle requiring time and skill. The next is a stealth hunt that takes only time. And the final guy, before Sauron? A few quicktime events (directed videos hitting a single button) and he goes down. And that drives Sauron away. Bleah. Let down.  You only ever get to use your army of tagged Warchiefs once and then they are wasted.

But in general, it was a hell of a lot of fun. And Talion is a great looking character, the kind of Mary Sue ranger for D&D players. He smack a bit of a super model Aragorn but his character model looks and moves well. DLC holds no interest for me, but an entirely new sequel might.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

2015, Joss Whedon (Glee) -- cinema

First up, a complaint.

Fuck you very much for those movies that are meant to be seen in 3D. Age of Ultron was the muddiest, darkest, ugliest movie, that I am supposed to see in 3D, I have seen in a theatre in ages. I almost felt like I was seeing an uploaded cam (pirate movie made with a personal digital video camera) and expected to see someone get up and walk away, on the screen. Which, I admit, would have been very meta.

Now, I also admit, it could have been the particular cinema. I have only recently returned to this cinema after boycotting them for years. After about a half dozen experiences where movies were off-colour, badly spliced after breaks and just plain crappy looking, I stopped going to movies at Silver City Yonge & Eg. But of late, as we have fewer options in seeing movies in non-3D (I cannot see the 3D and it gives me a headache to attempt) we have returned there. For the most part, they have gotten better. But it could have still been their quality control.

But Graig and I have complained before how the 3D industry is muddying movies, because they are meant to be projected and seen via the 3D technology. We don't get two copies, we get a lesser copy for non-3D.

Now, beyond the visual imparity, I rather enjoyed the movie. I have heard too many people state, "Well its not the first one!" and of course it isn't; and it's unfair to compare. First movies are always more bombastic, brighter (no, not the above complaint) and of a wider focus. Sequels are often more directed towards a single point -- this one was about The Avengers and their place in the world. Stark creates Ultron to help deal with his PTSD related emotions concerning the next possible attack on Earth. The twins are bitter towards The Avengers due to their connections to Tony, and his previously war mongering company. The Hydra goons are scrambling to recover post Winter Soldier and Agents of SHIELD.  Banner is having issues with purposely making use of the green guy, and the inevitable deaths he is responsible for. The movie is about consequences, no more apparent than the going-rogue of Ultron.

Tony creates Ultron as an AI shield around the planet. If Tony's kind of creepy Iron Legion bots are controlled independently by a self-aware and efficient AI, then Tony and his Avengers buddies can focus of the more singular threats. Legion bots take care of civilians and mooks, while Avengers focus on the super villain. Unfortunately, the introduction of independent AIs, always comes with a trope --- how do you protect the planet when its greatest threat is its inhabitants?  Well, extinction, of course!

But Ultron is inevitably the source of his own downfall. He believes he is an invulnerable super intelligence, without the frailties of humanity. Unfortunately, he is a megalomaniacal super villain, which comes with its own issues. He is arrogant, overly self confident and he believes he has no emotions. Those are his downfall. That, and teamwork !!

Teamwork is another of the tropes the movie relies on. I like the way Whedon handles the whole loss of Coulson, who could have been brought back, but Whedon is playing like he no longer exists. In steps Green Arr... I mean, Hawkeye, who is not in love with Natasha, who now has a crush on Banner, but has his own long standing family.  Fury lets him hole up in a country home, play farmer and doting on his kids, which in turn lends itself to him playing father figure to the rest of the Avengers. They have been mentally messed with by Wanda Maximoff, one of the twins, who likes to play with minds. After Loki, Clint won't have none of that. And the Avengers need some fatherly advice -- to bring themselves together as a family that works closely together.

This teamwork is what is most highlighted during the end battle. This may be a battle, but they all see it as a rescue mission, as they evacuate the inhabitants of the besieged city. So many people have compared the act to Man of Steel where Superman just focuses on punching the hell out of the bad guys, letting (possibly thousands of) people die. The Avengers do not leave the field until they believe every last man, woman and child is off the rock. Its heroic, to say the least.

The team felt outmatched, after they first encounter with Ultron, at his fittest. Really, despite having The Hulk and a Norse God, they are taken down by Scarlett Witch and her brother pretty easily. They obviously have not gone up against many enhanced. Imagine how small they would feel if they learned Coulson and his team have pretty much taken down half a dozen. But together, as well as the integrated Maximoff twins, they succeed as a team.  Oh, and with the help of Vision [p.s. I like the explanation of why he wears a cape]

As the Avengers turn back the metal tide, he loses control of his non-metal minions -- I really felt the flip of loyalties from the Maximoff twins. Really, they have been played by Hydra since they were kids. In fact, Hydra made them. They believe Stark to be responsible for their family's death. But one peek inside Tony's mind has Wanda doubting that. Oh, she doesn't given up years of hatred easily, but she does see that he wants to protect, not destroy. And once exposed to Steve's boy scout personality, they fall in line pretty quickly. Yes, it takes the nail in the coffin of their city being threatened, at the hands of their ally, but I think she has been considering her place since that first mind play. The speech Clint gives her about being an Avenger is pivotable. They do what they have to do, because they have to, because it is right --- not because it always makes sense. He has no judgement of her, just a plain statement of what she needs to do.

Where does the end of the movie leave them? A little shaken, a little worried about the future. But also very aware of what they are capable of. There is less of a cheer of heroism, as with the invasion of New York, but more of a exultation they have overcome their latest foe. Of course, we are left wondering what is going to be the result of Thor's vision and Mr Bumpy Chin and has Infinity Stones.  What is coming their way?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rewatch: Star Trek

2009, JJ Abrams (Felicity) -- Blu-ray

I had a rough couple of weeks (I am especially bad at adulting these days) and, as usual, that lead me to a spate of rewatching; this round was space movies.

Its not surprising this movie was made the way it was. The original cast were played out, some having passed on and most were waaay past any prime. The TNG series of movies were also out of steam, as the characters had passed even out of syndication. Enterprise did not gain enough traction to warrant a movie. It was time for something new.

Or something rebooted.

And yet, it's not quite a reboot, as it ties into the original series, via Old Spock. It also ties into Enterprise because Captain Archer has messed with his timeline so much, he has altered its future. That is my personal take on how much more techno the new movie feels, in comparison to the original series or even TNG series. The look & feel of Enterprise is so radical compared to TOS that there is no way it could not aesthetically affect the future.

We start with the perfect Star Trek opening. A lone ship, the Kelvin, is investigating a space anomaly. A massive, and I mean MASSIVE, ship emerges from the anomaly and immediately attacks the Kelvin blowing past whatever defense she had. They have to abandon ship and the first officer, one George Kirk (played by a very very non-Thor Chris Hemsworth), sacrifices himself to allow the crew to escape, including his giving-birth wife.

I love this sequence because it highlights the Federation ideals, sets the tragic tone for the movie (I still get pangs when I see the ship ripped open, and people sucked screaming into space) and sets up the fast paced action. It just looks good. I also has some weird looking aliens, more weird than were ever shown in the shows.

George's baby ("Tiberius? You kidding me? No, that's the worst") James is raised without  daddy and a legacy to fulfill. Its obviously a heavy burden for Jim is a brat, a brat that steals a vintage car (as in non-floaty, non hydrogen powered) and outruns the cops (android cop??) before driving the thing into a ravine. Jimmy grows up to be rowdy farmboy Kirk.

By now, JJ Abrams has derailed whatever conventions we have for Star Trek movies. Sure, this is an origin story, but he opens things up with tragedy, bar fights and a salaciousness that would probably have Shatner giving the thumbs up. We get it; Jim Kirk is a genius but considers himself too good for Star Fleet. He uses most of the opening of the movie as a set piece to introduce almost all the familiar characters: Uhura, Bones ("took the whole damn planet in the divorce") and, of course, Spock. We get Chekov and Sulu once we are on board.

JJ Abrams is teased for his love of lense flares (watch Fringe and you will see them used to effect) and they are never seen more than they are on the bridge of the Enterprise. All that white plastic and clear screens lends itself to playing with light. That bridge is just plain gorgeous. And think of all the different bridge configurations he had to draw upon!  I would hate to be the crew assigned to keeping all that white sparkling.

A major part of the plot is that the Enterprise shows up late to the battle with the Romulan ship Narada, because Sulu leaves the parking brake on. When they do arrive, all the other ships sent are a mass of floating rubble. How many fricking Star Fleet Academy cadets and junior officers were killed in that blunder?!? That there are any left to honor Kirk at the end of the movie is astounding, but I imagine they were able to to pack the audience with ground personnel.  Either way, losing all those ships must have further impacted the way the Federation acted in this alternate timeline, perhaps contributing to the more militarized Star Fleet in the next movie.

Despite being a reboot and an alternate timeline, Abrams has a lot of fun with references. We get Kirk romping with the Orion Gaila (Rachel Nichols from Continuum), so I  guess their "slave girl" status is moot? Kirk hacks the Kobayashi Maru. Of course, Captain Pike and the first visible loss to Pike's crew is a guy in a red space suit. I also love the reference to Archer's dog, which soundly connects the show Enterprise to this continuity.

I soundly love this version, likely more so than the movie series of the original cast. And hopefully it will not suffer the same morose fate as all Star Trek movies do, getting relatively worse as time goes by. And no whale movies please.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: The Scribbler

2014, John Suits -- Netflix

Watching movies in the Internet age has changed everything [for me]. I have gone from being that guy who didn't download movies because I would see all the good ones in cinema and rent the OK ones. I am still that guy who will not watch cams [movies filmed by idiots with video cameras in the movie cinema]. But I can now go from catching an article about a small budget, tiny release spec-fic film on a blog, to downloading it soon after or watching on Netflix. Some are good, some are terrible but most are just OK. The Scribbler fits into the latter with a bit of tipping into the bad.

I have not read the graphic novel that the movie is adapted from, so maybe I would have more appreciation for the source material. Maybe not. Suki has multiple personalities, and she has been moved into a halfway house apartment building (???) by her doctor. Said apartment building has a reputation for killing its inhabitants, splattering them on the sidewalks below. And yet the Department of Health has no issues. Suki also has to deal with a particular virulent personality [of her many] dubbed The Scribbler. And there is sex with Garret Dillahunt, always up for playing a great loon, and a conspiracy going on.

This is what happens when I leave a post about a movie linger too long. I end up remembering only key elements of my like, dislike but most often my ennui with a film. I end up reading other people's reviews to remind myself. I bristle at the idea of writing ideas down, as I watch a movie, as that will be too much like a proper review. What I do remember about The Scribbler is that the movie suffers too much from being influenced by other movies. There are hints of Japanese horror movies in there, some notes from Sucker Punch and too many 90s rock videos to count. There are hints of super powers. But, frankly, it never comes together to be actually compelling. Katie Cassidy [buhhh? that's Laurel Lance from Arrow??] does a decent job as Suki but the script and story just carry on through the ideas without sucking us in. There are flashes of neat ideas, the aforementioned influences, but that is about it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Rewatch: The Incredible Hulk

2008, Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans) -- Netflix

We should have watched this one right after watching Iron Man. The connections to the cinematic universe are there, but it is a weird movie to watch, as it is not a sequel to the Ang Lee movie, but it is also not an origin movie. All the origin bits are glossed over in a quick opening sequence during the opening credits. Its similar, with research into gamma radiation going wrong and our guy green tearing up his lab, injuring his lady love and others before he escapes. There is a reference that he kills two Canadian hunters after his escape, which always makes me think they were hinting at some possibility of reclaiming the X-Men for themselves, i.e. Wolverine was sent to take down The Hulk, in his first comic book appearance, when Banner blundered across the Canadian border. A boy can dream, no?

I love this movie. I really do. I am not sure why, because I am torn as to whether I like Edward Norton as Banner. He just does not seem scientisty enough for me. But it clicks for me. The tone is rather controlled, as if they were trying to exhibit the controlled breathing that Banner uses to keep the Hulk in check.

The whole opening sequence with him in Brazil working in a factory in the favelas; I love it. The favelas have always fascinated me in their appearance of being a shanty town, built from scrap, with no direction or skill, but always being amazed they have electricity and lights and streets and ... well, they are definitely not shanty towns. They are not Soweto, despite similar visuals. Banner finds a place for himself there, learning Portuguese, working in a pop bottling factory and flirting with the downstairs neighbour. Then he cuts himself and a drop of blood makes its way into a bottle, to be downed by Stan Lee. I am so over the Stan Lee cameos. But it would have been interesting to see Lee hulk out, and it also makes me wonder if said effect could have been properly bottled.

The drop of blood leads General Ross to Brazil where a team led by Tim Roth, a pasty, sweaty guy, has our first run in with this Hulk. There is lots of grabbing and slamming and throwing of stuff, but there is a decided PG rated feel to the fight. It feels wrong to me, like Wolverine and the bloodless slicing & dicing. I imagine Hulk would do more squashing than swatting. That said, the ill informed team does not capture the Hulk and Roth becomes obsessed with the big guy's power.

The focus of the movie is Banner trying to cure his "gamma poisoning" where he has been dealing with another scientist via encoded communications, Mr. Green chatting to Mr. Blue. It is this research and desperation that leads Banner back to his lab in Virginia, where Betty Ross, the General's daughter and Banner's lady love, still lives.

General Ross is tracking him, using some resources provided by SHIELD. He seems in with SHIELD, but we don't have any major influences or interventions, like we later see in Thor. This is an army action but SHIELD just has their fingers in it. You would have thunk Coulson would have been hanging around more, considering how utterly powerful Banner is. Alas, this is only movie number 2, so things are more hidden.

The General and his team track Banner to the lab run by Mr. Blue, a feverishly interested scientist played by Tim Blake Nelson, who while stating he wants to help Banner cure himself, is really just looking to develop some sort of super serum from his blood. Again, Banner is just being exploited. Interestingly enough, Nelson is playing Samuel Sterns, who is The Leader in Marvel mythology, and we even get a brief scene of his head getting all hulked out. I think its safe to say The Leader never emerges into the cinematic universe. Agents of SHIELD needs to reference him.

The movie climaxes with a battle between Tim Roth, now all gray hulked out as The Abomination, and The Hulk on Yonge St.... *ahem* in the Bronx. It was here I realized The Hulk is not as mindless as we think, he is rather in control, he just has more impulse control and is, of course, very very angry. But he is not dumb, despite his lack of monologues. He understands very clearly that Abomination is a threat to everyone and dives into the fray with no regard to his puny Banner body. The fall from the helicopter, as Banner realizes the purple formula is still kind of repressing the green guy, is a chuckle, but really he would have just went *splat* on the sidewalk, instead of plowing through it, to emerge as The Hulk.

The movie ends with General Ross tempered, The Hulk jumping away and ... well, we have no idea. When he next appears in The Avengers, there is no connection to this movie. It is really the only completely stand alone movie in the cinematic universe, that barely attempts to maintain the connections.

Considering the contentious relationship that Edward Norton had with the movie, its no hard to read all that in the movie that plays out on the screen. The opening sequence wants character development, which is dumped entirely for the latter half of the movie. I imagine Marvel just wanted to abandon this one, but needed it to fill out their idea of the Avengers roster.

And thus, Mark Ruffalo.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Rewatch: Iron Man 1 & 2

2008/2010 Jon Favreau (Chef) -- download

And then, some posts are going to be all about the movie. And my idle observations.

Yes, in preparation for seeing Age of Ultron after the fervour dies down, we are rewatching the Marvel (cinematic universe) movies.  I want to watch them in release order, but we watched these two together. The Incredible Hulk is on Netflix, so that will be next.

I stand by my immense enjoyment of the origin bit for Iron Man. I know very little of how Iron Man actually came to be, and I believe that was part of the decision to release his movie first, so we could enjoy a stand alone movie without the fetters of comic book continuity -- he was never an A-Lister comic book character. The whole microcosm of this cocky but incredibly smart character building the iron suit in the cave still works for me. It sets the tone for the difference of the Marvel movies, in that they can tell a dramatic action story, but still be light enough to chuckle at. Remember, at this time, we were still considering Batman Begins as the height of superhero movies at the time, and were all eagerly awaiting The Dark Knight in all its grimdark glory. Iron Man came along and gave us a well made, but lighter toned origin story.

P.S. During that opening sequence, If Tony denies having Rhodey ride along with him and relegates him to the hum-drum vee, shouldn't Rhodes have been in the last vehicle, and been able to rescue Tony long before he was ever taken? Also, the idea that Tony didn't have a sub-dermal tracking chip was surprising considering the tech he was involved with. And speaking of tech, again with the phones, oh the cell phones. Its 2008, only 7 years ago, but boy does that Motorola phone with the flippy-swivel screen look antiquated. At least, later on in Iron Man 2, he has your familiar clear-glass touch screen device.

So, as I was saying, the movie begins with Tony openly drinking in a hum vee, along with a bit about the Jericho missile & the martini cooler --- "we toss one of these in for every 10 million." This whole drinking & lecherous cad schtick that RDJ carries off perfectly, his own character much more than any comic book character, is always worth a chuckle. The amount of drinking people do in (these?) movies always astound me. Tony you can accept; he alway seems half-drunk. But later on, we see Obadiah Stane pour himself a glass of whiskey in Tony's office. Its about half a glass. Even a small finger or two has my head spinning, but here we have characters weaving manipulation, lies and deception all the while downing whiskey like its water. Is Hollywood saying something? That alcohol fueled interaction is the better way to go? Or am I just a light weight? I admit it, the only reason I gained a taste for whiskey was two seasons on Deadwood.

Yes, RDJ carries off the character perfectly, his own rendition of the billionaire playboy genius. But did you see that hair? OMG, that hair! Sure, seven years ago we did things differently but its just so big. Boy band big. Product piled high big. But shove his big head inside a metal helmet and nothing affects it. More Stark technology? I remember his look being perfect, but it feels so dated to me now. Did you see the suit he wears in the opening Starkettes sequence? The textured double-breasted tux? It is just plain ugly: heavy, unshapely and probably warmer than a parka.

Speaking of suits, I never remembered how new S.H.I.E.L.D. was at the time of Iron Man. Obviously, they have some pull with the American government, but Coulson's suits really need some tailoring. If he can only afford over-sized, schlumphy suits at the time, Fury's agency must be pushing the budgets. And yet, later on it is stated Tony's dad helped found the agency with the name they are still working on. So, that means been around for a while, in some capacity.

A lot of people don't like Iron Man 2, but I rather do, especially in repeated viewings. It set the tone for the Marvel cinematic universe, as an expanded whole. Tony has privatized peace, made a celebrity status out of non-governmental interventions. He has solved the East-West dilemma and probably taken down half a dozen terrorist agencies. Even if he told SHIELD (enough with the dots) to take a flying leap, he is making the world more amenable to their existence.

The movie also brings up, and questions, the right for a single man to control so much power outside any regulation. Despite his mockery of his competitors and their failures, we discover there are capable people making capable machines and they won't use them for Good. This is already setting the tone for Civil War, when the government will come along and force all these vigilantes to be registered. We never hear of the death toll in Iron Man 2 but I gather its quite high, even with Pepper Potts apt control of the evacuation.

And in Iron Man 2, Coulson finally gets a tailored suit.

And SHIELD has some major intervention, not including the infiltration of Black Widow. I still think her look in this movie is my favourite, whether I consider he sexified elements or not. She just seems so capable in this movie, that she seems lacking in all follow-ups. And I like long hair.  Now considering mega-feminists made Joss Whedon quit Twitter (hyperbole intended) because of her reduced role in Age of Ultron, I am eager to see if I agree or not. I suspect I will.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Hector and the Search for Happiness

2014, Peter Chelsom (Serendipity) -- download

I always want to call this movie Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness but that might just be a documentary on a guy following the late-80s Canadian pop band. Or it might get mixed up with a misspelled Will Smith movie. Alas, this one is the adaptation of a French novel, starring Simon Pegg. If the title doesn't give it away, it is about a man looking for the meaning of happiness. Pegg is a psychiatrist who realizes he is not making his patients happy just dealing with their individual neuroses and issues, and not seeking for overall health. Its because he doesn't understand overall happiness. But he gets the hint he might just not be, even with the perfectly attentive girlfriend, a rather wealthy lifestyle and being respected in his field.

That's the thing about these 'I cannot be happy' stories that always gets my goat. These people who drop everything to pursue a true centre of life, a source of happiness, always have a golden parachute. I am sure they have savings, supportive friends and family and are settled enough in the career of their choice to pick up again. Pegg definitely does. All you have to see is his flat in London at the beginning of the movie, to understand him jaunting off to China and Africa and America is not really going to hurt his lifestyle. The movie reinforces the statement that only the wealthy have the chance to seek out happiness.

Despite not being able to read the platitudes, as they were written in German on my downloaded copy, it was clearly understood these were what Pegg was collecting from people he met -- not statements on how to be happy. He goes from place to place, situation to situation collecting other people's views on the subject. Stellan Skarsgård is extremely wealthy and believes work & money makes him happy. But he doesn't convince anyone. Sex with a lovely young woman may be the key, if it didn't come with so many strings. Tibetan monks find it internally. White Doctors Without Borders, in Africa, find it in helping the needy.  Pegg finds it, and gets it, but it doesn't answer his questions. These stories always end by saying it was in front of you all along.

I will watch Simon Pegg in almost anything. He's roughly my age and as big a man-child as I am. He carries an affable, vulnerable charm that appeals to me. That is his character in this movie, someone who has not allowed himself to mature, to understand you cannot just expect happiness to come to you. If the movie says anything of value, its that, that happiness MUST be sought out and hung onto with teeth and nail. But no, even understanding that doesn't mean I get it. Get happiness, that is.