The Barkleys of Broadway

  • Title: The Barkleys of Broadway
  • Director: Charles Walters
  • Date: 1949
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Musical
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Oscar Levant, Billie Burke
  • Format: Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

The Barkleys of Broadway is the last Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical, the only one in color, and the only one made by MGM rather than RKO. This time Fred is Josh Barkley and Ginger is his wife, Dinah (only the second time they played a married couple – the other being the biopic The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.) However, all is not well between Josh and Dinah — she thinks he’s too critical and feels he’s holding her back from a chance to prove herself on the legitimate stage as a serious dramatic actress. For his part, Josh sees nothing wrong with musical comedy and can’t understand why his wife isn’t happy doing the same thing she’s always been good at. Needless to say, their marriage is falling apart.

When a French director pursues Dinah, offering her the lead in his new play “The Young Sarah (Bernhart)”. Dinah was set to refuse – but after a fight with Josh, she accepts. She walks out, and joins the cast of “The Young Sarah“. Meanwhile, Josh is miserable without his wife – not that he’d let anyone know it. He sneaks into the theatre to watch his wife and seeing how poorly the French director treats her actually feels bad. Later drowning his sorrows at a bar with his buddy, Irza (Oscar Levant), he gets a bright idea and calls his wife, and, imitating the director he gives her just the direction she needs. Over the next few weeks, Josh literally phones in performance cues for Dinah. Meanwhile, Irza knows the two are miserable, and gets them both to a benefit for a hospital by claiming the other won’t be there — the two dance to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (From Swing Time) but do not re-unite. After Dinah’s triumphant dramatic debut, Josh decides he has to find out, once and for all, who Dinah loves – him or her new director. She’s about to say… when the director walks into the dressing room during the phone call. And it’s Dinah’s turn to have some fun. She then goes to their apartment to meet Josh and confess her little joke. Josh comes in, announcing he won’t contest her divorce, but over the course of their argument, they realize they are in love again. Fred sings “You’d Be Hard to Replace” again in their apartment, and the number fades into a big show-stopping number on stage “Manhattan Downbeat”, as the two return together to musical comedy.

List of Musical Numbers

  • The Swing Trot
  • Sabre Dance (played by Oscar Levant on piano)
  • You’d Be Hard to Replace
  • Bouncin’ The Blues
  • My One and Only Highland Fling
  • A Weekend in the Country
  • Shoes with Wings On
  • Tchaikovsky Concerto #1 (played by Oscar Levant on piano)
  • They Can’t Take That Away from Me
  • You’d Be Hard to Replace (Reprise)
  • Manhattan Downbeat

Although not my favorite Astaire/Rogers musical – The Barkleys of Broadway has its moments. Ginger really gets to sink her teeth into this plot – from comic moments such as her first argument with Fred in their apt at the beginning of the film – to her dramatic turn, first, playing a “dying” scene at a friend’s country house, then her audition for the French Conservatory in the finale of “The Young Sarah”. Fred, never a slouch in the acting department either, also gives a typically wonderful low-key performance as Josh – we never for one moment doubt he truly loves his wife, even when the two are fighting. In their opening fight scene in their apartment, for example, Dinah gets mad enough to throw something at Josh – but she panics when he points out he’s bleeding. When she insists he hit her back – he instead kisses her – passionately. Though the idea of spousal battery being used for comic purposes is pretty awful by today’s standards, it was apparently OK in the 1940s. And the dance numbers are pure magic – especially Fred and Ginger’s tap number “Bouncin’ the Blues” and their ballroom number (a reprise from Swing Time) “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”. The expressions, the acting, and, of course, the dancing – it’s pure magic. And unlike many other musicals – since Fred and Ginger are playing professional dancers – it makes sense they would dance, especially with each other. There is a story here as well as dance, without the artificiality of a “show within a show”, another hallmark of Fred and Ginger musicals, which often have more in common with the romantic comedy than the MGM musical.

Fred and Ginger’s dances are also shot full frame (that is, they can be seen from head to toe) and often in a single shot. When Fred sings “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, he’s singing to Dinah, and his sense of loss is felt in the lyrics as well as in their dance (as is Dinah’s own sense of loss). The song is about having memories, and only memories left of someone one cares about. Similarly, when he sings “You’d Be Hard to Replace” – he’s singing it to Dinah as they re-unite. Often in other MGM musicals, the musical numbers are addressed to the audience rather than to the other characters in the film.

Recommendation: See It
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Batman Begins

The Bandwagon

  • Title: The Bandwagon
  • Director: Vincente Minnelli
  • Date: 1953
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Musical
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan
  • Format: Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, 2-disc Special Edition

“We enter with nothing but a dream – but when we leave we’ll have a show! In between there will be enthusiasms, frustrations, hot tempers, cold coffee, some of us will fight, some will fall in love but all of us will work… The night that curtain goes up it will go up on a smash hit! And believe me kids, there’s nothing in the world so soothing as a smash hit.” — Jeffrey Cordova

“Gosh, with all this raw talent around, why can’t us kids get together and put on ourselves a show!” — Lester Martin

The Bandwagon is, in many ways, a parody of the standard WB/MGM musical. It certainly has a light-hearted twist on many of the conventions of a musical. Astaire is Tony a “song and dance man”, “a hoofer”, who left Broadway and went to Hollywood, making his fame in a string of musical films, such as “Swinging Down to Panama” (a reference to the classic Astaire / Rogers film Swing Time and Astaire’s first film with Ginger Rogers – Flying Down to Rio). But, that was ages ago, and in the opening scene he sells his top hat, gloves, and dance cane to raise enough money to buy himself a ticket back to New York, where some old friends have promised him a role in a new stage play to be directed by the famous Jeffrey Cordova. Tony hasn’t heard of Cordova, but any job is a job, so he agrees to see him. Tony’s first sight of Cordova is on stage – playing Oedipus Rex, Tony scoffs – “This is the man that’s going to direct a musical?” But his friends, Lily and Lester Martin (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant) assure him Cordova can do anything.

The next issue Tony has is his co-star — Lily, Lester, and Jeffrey have choosen, Gabrielle – a ballerina (Cyd Charisse). Tony, besides thinking she’s too tall, is intimidated by the cool dancer. Gabby also has her own doubts – not only intimidated by Tony but worried she won’t be able to handle the pressures of a Broadway show.

And what a show – Jeffrey takes Lily and Lester’s light-hearted musical comedy and turns it into a dark, gloomy, musical version of Faust. And yes, it does turn into the disaster you’d expect. In fact, the first half-hour of the film involves the pulling together of the musical, and their first out-of-town show, which is a complete flop. That the show is a flop instead of a rousing success is the exact opposite of many musicals about the pulling together of a Broadway show.  The shocked faces of the audience and backers as they exit the theatre are amusing, but the cast of the show is in trouble.

At the after-show cast “wake” Tony takes the reins, and with the help of Lily and Lester decides to take the show back to it’s roots – testing in each city on the road until they are ready to go back to New York. Even Jeffrey agrees.

What follows is a quick montage of numbers, then the show returns to New York. In New York, we see the play book, heard the numbers we’ve seen on the road, and the finale number is “Girl Hunt” — film noir done as a musical ballet with Fred as the Detective (complete with a deliberately corny monologue) and Cyd Charisse as the sweet blonde victim and the dark-haired Femme Fatale. It’s a pure jazzy ballet — music and dance telling the story, in between Tony’s monologue. It’s a brilliant number and one of my favorites ever, especially in a MGM musical. And again, it’s an example of the very clever nature of the movie to have a musical Film Noir piece as the center-piece conclusion of the film.

What sets The Bandwagon apart from similar MGM musicals is it’s nod-nod-wink-wink cleverness that acknowledges the audience knows exactly what they are poking fun at. “Tony” selling his top hat, gloves, and stick – the uniform of Fred Astaire’s traditional b/w Art Deco films which had gone out of style by the 1950s. The very traditional back stage musical that runs up to a big premiere – only to have that premiere be a complete flop. Lester’s comment, “Gosh, with all this raw talent around, why can’t us kids get together and put on ourselves a show!” even delivered to sound like Mickey Rooney – is a dead-on reference/parody of the WB backyard musicals (think young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney) that wouldn’t go over the heads of a 1950s audience at all. As I said – clever. The second half, or even last third of the film is more the traditional MGM musical, with as many songs by the same composer jammed in as possible. But, at least it makes sense, plot wise, since each is performed in a different city as the troupe is testing the waters. And “Girl Hunt” is pure brilliance that works on many levels — it’s a brilliant dance, the colors are incredible, the explosions and special effects look like stage effects – as they should, and the whole number itself takes a film-noir story and condenses it into about 10-15 minutes of wordless performance of jazzy music and dance (wordless except Tony’s monologue).

List of Musical Numbers

  • I’ll Go My Way by Myself
  • Shine on your Shoes
  • That’s Entertainment!
  • Dancing in the Dark (music only)
  • More Beer/I Love Louisa
  • New Sun in a New Sky
  • I Lost the One Girl I Found
  • Louisiana Hayride
  • Triplets
  • Girl Hunt
  • Reprise – I’ll Go My Way by Myself
  • Reprise – That’s Entertainment

Other music in the film that’s particularly enjoyable: “Shine on your Shoes” – Fred tears up a old-fashioned street arcade, while a shoe-shine guy dances to the rhythm as well. It’s great fun, and well filmed – though there’s a noticeable edit in the middle of the scene, unusual in any of Fred’s dance numbers. “Dancing in the Dark” – performed without lyrics, is a beautiful ballroom dance piece with Charisse and Fred dancing together. It’s shot full-frame, that is, we can see the dancers from the tips of their toes to the tops of their heads for every beat of the dance – and the entire dance is one shot – no edits to spoil the rhythm of the movement of the dancers. It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece. “Louisiana Hayride” with Nanette Fabray belting out the vocals is pure fun, tho’ it also includes some of the worst grammar ever in the lyrics, yet it’s still energetic and fun. “Triplets” includes some clever costume effects to make Fred, Nanette, and Jack Buchanan all look like infants. And then there’s “Girl Hunt” discussed above. Overall, fun, light, enjoyable, — a film to cheer one up, and leave the theater singing. A joy to watch.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Barkleys of Broadway

Back to the Future Part II

  • Title: Back to the Future Part II
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Date: 1989
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre: SF, Comedy
  • Cast: Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Region 1

“You’re not going to believe this! We’ve got to go back to 1955!” — Marty McFly
“I don’t believe it.” — Doc Brown

The second part of the Back to the Future Trilogy actually improves with repeat viewings. The first film in the Trilogy ended with Doc Brown showing up in a futuristic outfit, and telling Marty he needed to help his kids in the future. Marty, Jennifer, and Doc Brown head to 2015 — a very futuristic 2015. There Marty has to prevent his son from getting involved in a robbery that will send him to jail for 15 years. Also, the Marty of the future is a broken man (like George McFly in the beginning of the first film) – all because he cannot stand to be called “chicken” – this point will be returned to later. Having rescued Marty Jr., Doc Brown and Marty (our Marty) are ready to pick up the sleeping Jennifer and return to 1985, when Jennifer is picked up by the cops and brought home. However, while picking her up — old 2015 Biff steals a 50-year sports’ almanac from our Marty (the 1985 Marty) and goes back to 1955, giving it to his younger self, which starts a chain of events including the destruction of Hill Valley in to a cesspool of violence, the murder of George McFly, Lorraine McFly’s forced marriage to Biff, and Doc Brown being committed. Marty must prevent this from happening — without old Biff knowing, and without interfering with his slightly younger self’s time travel mission to get his parents together. He barely succeeds but is stranded in 1955 when Doc Brown and the DeLorean are sent back to 1885 (the Old West).

The second Back to the Future movie is a great deal grimmer than the first – showing awful events happening to good people. And whereas the first movie ended with our Marty’s life being much better – this film ends with him being stranded. However, there is a preview of the next film prior to the closing credits. (NOTE: Yes, I’ve seen it. I like it. But, unfortunately, I don’t own it – a bit of a mix-up getting DVDs of these films!)

However, one important thread is Marty’s knee-jerk reaction to being called “chicken” — this will cost him dearly again and again (it’s the reason he’s so broken when we meet him in 2015).

One thing I didn’t like was Jennifer being under-used to the point of ridiculousness! She goes with Marty in the Doc’s time machine — then is knocked out, and left various places to sleep. Also, by the Doc’s own explanation — when Doc Brown and Marty arrived in the alternate 1985 – they can’t go back to 2015 because of the time-line split, so they have to go back to 1955, wait for Old Biff to give Young Biff the Almanac – then take the Almanac from Young Biff. But how did Old Biff get to the original 2015 – if it had already changed, for Marty and the Doc to have the DeLorean back? Old Biff should have arrived in a different 2015 — just like Marty, at the end of the first Back to the Future film arrives back in an 1985 that’s different for the better. And Doc’s explanation for leaving Jennifer and Einstein where they are – the time stream will change around them and they won’t notice – also makes little sense. How does the Doc know he left them someplace safe and stable?

However, the inter-cutting between the new events happening in 1955; and the events of the first film is extremely well done. I also had to wonder — did Marty tell Doc Brown about him dying at the mall in the first film?

But still, a good movie – and it adds to the mythos of the trilogy.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Band Wagon

Back to the Future

  • Title: Back to the Future
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Date: 1985
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre: SF, Comedy
  • Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, R1

“The appropriate question is – ‘When the hell are they?’ ” — Doc Brown

“Are you telling me, you built a time machine – out of a DeLorean?” – Marty McFly

One of my favorite films that I remember seeing in the 1980s. I even had a copy on VHS tape for awhile. When it came to getting the movies on DVD, though, I had the worst luck (and I’m still missing the third film).

Back to the Future combines good special effects (meaning competent), humor, and great characters in an excellent story. There are also threads of deeper meaning – such as the importance of self-confidence and the need to believe in one’s self and one’s own talents and dreams – and the importance of standing up for oneself against bullies. For example, Doc Brown believes so much in his time machine, he spends everything he has to realize his dream. Whereas – Marty and George McFly both have the same lack of self-confidence and fear of rejection that prevents them from following their dreams – George’s dream to be a writer and Marty’s to be a musician/rock star.

The odd thing about watching the film now is that the scenes in the “present” – 1985 – at times seem oddly anachronistic (Marty’s cassette-tape walkman for example; or the sheer size of his video camera); whereas the scenes in the 1950s don’t, because that feels more like a historical film. However, the film doesn’t feel dated because of the great characters. And, of course, the humor works extremely well to keep the film entertaining and fresh like it was when it came out.

The basic plot is as follows: Marty (Michael J. Fox) is a “typical” American teenager – he has a girlfriend, problems with his folks and family, and problems at school. His best friend is an eccentric inventor named Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Marty meets up with Brown at a local shopping mall in the middle of the night, where Brown demos his newest invention – a working time machine. However, one of the components needed to kick-start the electrical generator in the time machine is plutonium – which Brown steals from some Libyan terrorists. During the experiments – they show up, Doc Brown is killed, and Marty jumps in the time machine to escape (it is, after all, a sports car). Marty arrives in 1955, where he accidentally prevents his parents from meeting. He must then get them back together, and help Doc Brown to find a way to return the time machine (and himself) to the future. Due to some changes in how George (Crispin Glover) and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) meet, get together, and fall in love, when Marty returns to the future – he finds his life slightly changed, for the better.

This film has a lot of detail and craft found in three different eras (1985 before Marty time travels, 1955, and 1985 after Marty time travels) – set dressing, costumes, and the locations of downtown Hill Valley, Marty’s home, and Twin Pines / Lone Pine Mall. It also, ironically, has a device relatively common in 1985 used for time travel (the DeLorean) that almost immediately thereafter disappeared (The car was a flop). This, by pure coincidence, is like the TARDIS in Doctor Who – based on the once common-place police box, now almost solely identified with time travel and an SF TV show.

The performances are also great. Michael J. Fox is wonderful as the breathless, panicky, lacking in self-confidence Marty McFly. Christopher Lloyd is great as the eccentric, slightly nuts, Doc Emmet Brown. And both Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson do a really good job playing three different versions of Marty’s parents.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Back to the Future Part II

Austin Powers in Goldmember

  • Title: Austin Powers in Goldmember
  • Director: Jay Roach
  • Date: 2002
  • Studio: New Line (et al)
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael Caine, Michael York, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Verne Troyer, Fred Savage
  • Format: Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: NTSC, R1

“All right, Goldmember. Don’t play the laughing boy! There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch!” — Sir Nigel Powers

Goldmember begins with four or five title sequences (depending on how one counts them) and breaks the fourth wall twice. This is an excellent example of the problem with this film. Whereas the first two Austin Powers films had a strong plot, this film feels like a series of barely connected short skits, sketches, and ideas instead of a film.

Nominally, the film is parodying many purely 1970s types of films — roller skating films, trucker films, disco films, prison films, even the 1960s Bond film Goldfinger is referenced. Dr. Evil, who now has his evil headquarters behind the Hollywood sign and is running a talent agency, is captured at the beginning of the film. However, the plot to kidnap Austin’s father, Nigel Powers, played by Michael Caine goes on. Austin travels to the 1970s in an outrageous pimpmobile (another 70s reference), picks-up Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé) but fails to rescue Nigel. From there it’s a bit of a mess. Fat Bastard returns as a Sumo wrestler. Scott Evil finally gives in and becomes evil – taking Mini Me’s place at Dr. Evil’s side (who has now escaped prison). Mini Me then defects to British Intelligence and becomes Mini Austin. Eventually, during the climax, Nigel reveals that Dr. Evil is actually Austin’s brother and everyone is happy except the now totally evil and quite mad Scott Evil.

One of the funniest vignettes of the film is Michael Caine (again, as Austin’s father, Nigel) and Austin disguising what they are saying by speaking in English English or Cockney Rhyming slang — with subtitles. It’s hilarious! Now, Cockney Rhyming slang is real – it’s an actual version of English, developed in London’s East End by criminals and the lower class so police (Bobbys) and upper-class Englishmen wouldn’t understand what they were saying (much like any slang or argot). The idea is that the phrase not only rhymes with itself but it rhymes with the word the slang phrase replaces (eg “trouble and strife” means wife or “apples and pears” means stairs). As the slang’s been around since Victorian times, often the second half of the phrase is left off (e.g. just “trouble” to mean “wife”). Needless to say, it’s a bit confusing — and yes, it’s spoken as fast as Caine and Myers do in the film, if not faster. (I once heard a very frustrated Neil Gaiman break into Cockney Rhyming slang at an SF convention when trying to out-talk Harlan Ellison. Neil won.) However, that one scene I always end up rewinding and watching two or three times – every time I watch the film because it’s brilliant.

Another cute bit occurs in Tokyo when Austin, Nigel, and Foxxy are escaping and their car hits a Japanese monster-movie paper-mache monster and starts pushing it down the street. The crowds start running away and one yells, “Godzilla!” – then Masi Oka appears and says, “It looks like Godzilla, but due to international copyright law – it isn’t!” Then both run away. That bit was brilliant.

And Michael Caine is perfect to play Nigel Powers, especially as the character of Austin, with his wavy reddish hair and glasses come from Caine’s look in films like The Ipcress File. And Caine and Myers have great chemistry. But there isn’t enough of Caine, and overall the film misses the boat a bit. I would have much, much preferred a film about Austin and his father’s relationship – even Austin’s daddy issues (something briefly mentioned by Dr. Evil in the first film) as compared to the relationship between Dr. Evil and Scott and Mini Me. The last scene is quite nice but a bit rushed. I could have done without all the pull-backs revealing our characters watching a movie of Austin in “Austinpussy” – complete with A-list Hollywood cast, and more actual story. The first two films had a story – this film had sketches.

There is a lot of music in the film, as always with the Austin Powers films, but no psychedelic scene breaks. Both Austin and Dr. Evil get to perform musical numbers though. As does Foxxy, though hers is part of her cover at Goldmember’s club. However, whereas the music in the first two films was the original songs (“Secret Agent Man”, “Incense and Peppermints”, etc) in this film music is actually parodied (“What’s it all about, Algie?” becomes “What’s it all about, Austin?” for example). Using original music worked better.

And, whereas the first two films had us sympathetic with Austin – but at times with Dr. Evil, Scott, Number Two, and even Fat Bastard — this film often seems out-and-out cruel. Goldmember has no redeeming values at all, and the peeling skin is way over the top. Fat Bastard does actually get another sympathetic scene (he is perfect as a Sumo wrestler) and at the very end is shown to have lost over 100 pounds from the Jerald Subway diet, but still… More plot and more character, and less brief sketches going nowhere would have helped the film immensely.

So why did I buy it? Well, I got the first two films in a two-pack, two films for $10.00, which is five dollars each, so I couldn’t pass it up. And I kept seeing Goldmember at bargain shelves for $5.00 and finally bought a copy, figuring, if nothing else, the little that Michael Caine is in this film makes it worth five bucks. I also really liked the “Singin’ in the Rain” parody that’s one of the five opening credit sequences – and, as I’ve said, the bit on English English.

Recommendation: See it or not, depends on how much you like Austin Powers.
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Back to the Future

Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me

  • Title: Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me
  • Director: Jay Roach
  • Date: 1999
  • Studio: New Line (et al)
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Formats: NTSC, R1
  • Cast: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Rob Lowe, Seth Green, Verne Troyer

“You know what’s remarkable? How much the English countryside looks in no way like Southern California.” — Austin Powers (as he and Felicity escape in her car to the “English Countryside” which is obviously Southern California).

Not as good as the first Austin Powers film, The Spy Who Shagged Me still delivers a good story. When the film came out I was actually surprised that they got away with that particular title, considering what “shag” is British slang for — and that it’s actually quite rude. I also wondered if the title was changed in the UK. However, the title is also a parody of the Roger Moore Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.

The film opens with a crawl, also spoken, that’s a parody of Star Wars. Star Wars will again be referenced later in the movie. Then we have what is, I think, the biggest mistake in terms of story-telling of the film — Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley) turns out to be a Fembot, who tries to kill Austin and then blows up. This leaves Austin single again, but it also ruins the romantic sub-plot of the first film, and any chance of having a pair of married spies, instead of horny, randy super-spies. In short, I really missed Vanessa in this film.

Dr. Evil returns in 1999, develops a time machine in his secret lair at Starbucks HQ in Seattle, and goes back in time to steal Austin’s mojo from his frozen body at the Ministry of Defense with the help of Fat Bastard (also played by Myers). Austin follows in a time-traveling VW Bug convertible and meets Felicity Shagwell, CIA agent, at a club where she stops one of Dr. Evil’s assassins who is out to kill Austin. Leaving the club they are attacked by another assassin, Mustafa (Will Farrell) from the first film, who also fails.

Felicity is a feminine Austin, with a “woman” symbol necklace and who’s wearing a crushed velvet outfit when they meet. She’s American, and works for the CIA, but is still very much the swinging spy. She even admits she became a spy because of her admiration for Austin.

The film then slows down quite a bit, as Austin begins to fall for Felicity, but does nothing because of his missing mojo. There’s a long sequence of Austin being the fashion photographer and taking pictures of Felicity and their falling for each other, but being unable to act on their feelings. Felicity then, well, um, “shags” Fat Bastard, to get close enough to plant a homing beacon on him. In a round about way, this leads to Austin and Felicity finding Dr. Evil’s hidden island volcano liar. Felicity and Austin go there, but eventually, end up on the moon. Because this time around Dr. Evil’s plan is to use a giant laser on the moon to destroy cities on Earth, thus making the moon a “Death Star” (and a string of references to Star Wars, and the Bond film, Moonraker). Scott Evil also travels back in time and pokes fun at his father who keeps making future cultural references that no one around him gets.

And Dr. Evil and Frau Farbissia end up having an affair.

A little extra time travel is used in the climax on the moon. But overall, the plot is a bit overly complicated and too many references are thrown in that don’t really add to the film. There are some verbal wordplay and innuendo, but somehow the second helping of Austin Powers just seems like the same old thing. I missed Mimi Rogers and Elizabeth Hurley very much, and Heather Graham seemed like a poor substitute (not really the actress’s fault). I wasn’t overly impressed with Mini-Me who seemed a cruel joke played out far too long, and the plot of this film seems to meander a bit too much.

However, there were points that worked. Mike Myers still does a very sympathetic Austin. Michael York does a brilliant job as Basil Exposition. In the end, Myers, as Fat Bastard, delivers an excellent, surprisingly sympathetic soliloquy about the pains of his condition. Heather Graham isn’t awful, she just isn’t Elizabeth Hurley and I found her character a bit annoying.

The filming and color of the 1960s were great also. And the opening sequence (under the credits) was brilliant. I especially liked the parody of synchronized swimming films. The psychedelic scene breaks (Laugh-In style) are still present. Oh, and not to be forgotten – the music in this film is also excellent and I would really love a soundtrack.

Remember to watch the credits all the way through to see a couple of deleted scenes that are actually quite, quite fun.

Recommendation:  See It!  But not as much of  a classic comedy/parody as the first film.
Rating: 4 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Austin Powers in Goldmember

Austin Powers International Man of Mystery

  • Title: Austin Powers International Man of Mystery
  • Director: Jay Roach
  • Date: 1997
  • Studio: New Line Cinema (et. al.)
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Mimi Rogers, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Carrie Fisher, Michael York
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, R1  (My DVD is double-sided, widescreen on one side, standard on the other — I hate that!)

“Now, Mr. Evil…” UN Leader
Doctor Evil, I didn’t spend six years in evil medical school to be called Mister, thank you very much.” — Doctor Evil

“I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.”  — Doctor Evil
“All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.” — Doctor Evil
“Aren’t you going to watch them? They could get away!” — Scott Evil
“No, no, no, no, I’m going to leave them alone, and not actually witness them dying, I’m just going to assume it all went to plan. What?” — Doctor Evil.

The first and best of the three Austin Powers movies — it’s also a fantastic parody of the James Bond franchise (Especially, Dr. No and Goldfinger), the Matt Helm series (The Silencers, Funeral in Berlin, etc — and yes, unfortunately I did have to look that up), Our Man Flint and In Like Flint, and The Ipcress File and it’s sequels. Plus TV shows like The Avengers and Laugh-In. (Yes, the scene breaks with the dancing and psychedelic background come from TV’s Laugh-In). But the movie is also a fish out of water story, and even a bit of a romance. Plus it features a lot of great music and I really wish the soundtrack was available, even though I have about half the music already.

Austin Powers features what you’d expect in a parody of James Bond films – sight gags and clever word play, such as the name of  Michael York’s “M”-like character – “Basil Exposition”, which is a great name for the guy who explains what’s going on and gives Austin his assignment. One thing Austin Powers does particularly well is play on the sexual innuendo of the James Bond films but often visually, using suggestive objects to cover a “naked” Austin or Vanessa in the background. And then there’s “Alotta Fagina” – Number Two’s confidential secretary. But seriously, is “Alotta Fagina” any worse than “Pussy Galore” from Goldfinger? And where many of the Bond films have been rated R — Austin Powers is rated PG-13.

Austin is Britain’s number one secret agent (or International Man of Mystery, as the film calls him) in the 1960s, but when his nemesis, Dr. Evil escapes by freezing himself, Austin also has himself frozen. When Dr. Evil returns in 1997 – Austin is woken up as well. Both Austin and Dr. Evil have trouble adjusting to the ’90s. Dr. Evil has trouble coming up with a plan to bribe the world — since many of the plans he comes up with have already happened. Austin’s extravagant look and sexually-charged behaviour don’t fit in, either. Austin flirts with Ms. Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley), the daughter of his old partner Mrs. Kensington (played by Mimi Rogers in a black leather cat suit as a wonderful reference to Mrs. Peel of The Avengers), but she is having none of his sexual references that, really, could almost be called harassment, though Austin doesn’t know any better. Gradually, Austin learns and also wins over Ms. Vanessa Kensington.

Meanwhile, Dr. Evil has his own troubles, trying to get to know his teenaged/young twenty-something son, Scott (Seth Green). They even give group therapy a try and the therapist is Carrie Fisher!

As Austin is adjusting to life in the ’90s, he’s sent to Las Vegas with Vanessa undercover to Virtucon – Dr. Evil’s lair, headed by Number Two, played by Robert Wagner. In Las Vegas, Austin starts to realize just how out of step he is with the times, as Vanessa gets angry at him for sleeping with Alotta, and bar-hoppers poke fun at his outfit. The scene that really defines Austin is, as he’s sitting alone in his hotel room, trying to catch-up — he puts a CD on a record player, and of course, it scratches. He makes a list of famous friends of his, all of whom are dead, he even sits and watches a videotape of great events of the last thirty years that he missed. Vanessa catches the melancholy Austin and they make up and go after Dr. Evil at his lair.

Dr. Evil’s plan, of sending a missile to the core of the earth causing every volcano on the planet to erupt – comes straight from Dr. No, as does the costumes and set — the James Bond parody of the movie (that and Dr. Evil’s white Persian cat in the opening sequence). While trying to stop Dr. Evil, Austin and Vanessa are caught and escape. They split up and Austin encounters the Fembots (which I actually loved!), Austin defeats the Fembots with a striptease of his own – both funny, and kinda’ neat (neither Austin nor Mike Myers are on the Top Ten sexiest men list, now are they?) – yet, sexy. But, I also loved how Vanessa actually trusted Austin enough to believe him.

In the end, Austin actually marries Vanessa — another great thing about this film. I mean, seriously, does James Bond ever marry the women he messes around with?  (With the exception of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — and the girl, Bonanza-like, dies immediately.) And the relationship between Vanessa and Austin is an important part of the film. Also important is the dysfunctional relationship between Dr. Evil and Scott Evil.

Vanessa, her mother, and even Frau Farbissina are also all strong, professional women – portrayed wonderfully.

Overall, Austin Powers International Man of Mystery is a fun film to watch. I’ve seen it several times and always enjoy it. There are several great lines. The cast, including the cameo cast, is brilliant, and, personally, I also enjoyed the “Swinging 60s” music. When watching the film, be sure to watch all of the credits to catch Mike Myer’s “BBC One” music video.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
Next Film: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

The Apartment

  • Title: The Apartment
  • Director: Billy Wilder
  • Date: 1960
  • Genre: Drama, Romantic Comedy, Classic
  • Studio: United Artists / MGM
  • Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, David White
  • Format: Black/White, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, R1

The Apartment is a genre-stretching, masterwork directed by Billy Wilder. Though billed as a comedy, and having a strong romantic comedy sub-plot, the main body of the film is very dramatic and almost depressing. In a sense, rather than a Romantic Comedy — this film is Romantic Film Noir.

The film also puts paid to the idea that only women can be taken advantage of by their bosses in corporate society. CC Baxter, “Bud”, to his friends, is a good guy — but in order to rise in the corporate world, he’s found a little secret — he lends out the use of his apartment to the advantaged jerks who happen to be over him in the corporate hierarchy, so they can fool around without their wives getting suspicious. Whenever he tries to assert himself – the carrot of promotion is held out, and Bud hands over his apartment key. ‘Til one day he gets the call upstairs for what he thinks is a promotion – he gets the promotion, but only if he also allows the head boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), in on the use of his apartment.

Meanwhile, Bud has started to fall for the elevator girl, Ms. Fran Kubelik (MacLaine). However, she confesses to him that she’s in love with the married man she’s been having an affair with. On Christmas Eve, she and the Married Man, who turns out to be Bud’s boss (Sheldrake), have a fight – and she takes an overdose of sleeping pills in Bud’s apartment. Bud comes home, finds her, gets his neighbor the doctor over, and rescues her. What looks like the start of a promising relationship ends when her brother-in-law shows up and takes her home to her sister, after decking Bud. Later, Bud decides to tell Sheldrake he wants to marry Ms. Kubelik, but before he can, Sheldrake announces his wife has left him after finding out about his affairs, so he’s going to take Fran. He offers Bud a position as his assistant, deputy director.

Later, Fran and Bud run into each other in the lobby and Bud remarks, “Well, we both got what we wanted. I have a corner office, and he left his wife for you.” (or words to that effect). At New Year’s, Fran figures it all out, goes to find Bud who’s quit his job and may be thinking about quitting his life. And they end-up together.

But unlike many fluffy romantic comedies, there’s more tragedy and drama in this movie than comedy or even romance. And Wilder’s beautiful direction adds to the sense of urban isolation. That is, how a person can be surrounded by people but be completely alone — as Bud, Fran, and even Sheldrake all are. Scenes like Bud being alone in the office – with the white lights on the ceiling, and the endless identical desks, all stretching out into the unseen distance emphasize how alone Bud is. Or the play of light on Fran’s face in the bar on New Year’s as she figures out just what a louse Skeldrake is. Even the various infidelities referred to seem to emphasize the isolation of the characters. And what can I say? The film is written, produced, and directed by Billy Wilder – one of my favorite directors, ever.


The cast is excellent. Jack Lemmon really pulls off the character of a complete nebbish perfectly, and we cheer for him when he stands up to Skeldrake. Fred MacMurray is a complete slimeball (surprisingly for the guy later known for My Three Sons and tons of Disney flicks), though he’s not as traditionally bad (yet strangely sympathetic) as in Double Indemnity. Shirley MacLaine, extremely young and a brunette, does a brilliant job playing an incredibly deep character – the movie is as much about her as it is about Bud. Overall, a film that very much needs to be seen.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 Stars
Next Film: Austin Powers: International Man of  Mystery

All That Jazz

  • Title: All That Jazz
  • Director: Bob Fosse
  • Date: 1979
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures
  • Genre: Musical
  • Cast: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Erzebet Foldt, John Lithgow, Ben Vereen
  • Format: Technicolor, Anamorphic Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

It’s Showtime!  — Joe Gideon

My second favorite musical (my favorite being Moulin Rouge (2001)). All That Jazz is truly one of those movies that gets better every time you see it, and as Roger Ebert once said — I can’t imagine never being able to see this film again. It’s good — and you notice more each time you see it. Or, at least I noticed more this time, and I’ve seen it half a dozen times.

All That Jazz is a fictional biopic about a choreographer who is falling apart from his excessive lifestyle — too much smoking, too much drinking, too much fooling around with women, and a life of nothing but work are wearing him down to a point of exhaustion. While preparing his new Broadway show, and cutting his film “The Stand-Up”, Joe Gideon’s life spirals out of control. He has an angina attack – and then things get really interesting, before the choreographer choreographs his own death.

But more than that is the way the film uses everything — music, dance, songs, little bits of Joe’s life, and interspersed throughout it all some very strange scenes with Jessica Lange as the Angel of  Death — to tell it’s story, make it a visual masterpiece. I cannot imagine this film in any other format – book, magazine spread, TV series – only the film format works, which is a high compliment to a film and a reason I highly, highly recommend it.

The film also references many other musical films – visually. And not in a “cutsy” way, but if you know the reference it adds to what’s being told and if you don’t – it doesn’t distract from it.  For example, the first fifteen minutes or so are A Chorus Line as Gideon chooses the cast for his new production from an open call (or “cattle call” as they are sometimes known). Then, as Gideon starts to prepare his show – it briefly brings to mind such “show within a show” films as 42nd Street or The Bandwagon.  However, where those films are solely about getting a Broadway production made — and the successful show is the end of the film, in All That Jazz, once Gideon develops an artistically pleasing but very adult production number — the film turns more to his complicated life and quickly to his complicated death. Then, while Gideon’s in hospital, a group of producers are sitting around discussing the life insurance policy on Gideon. Their cold, hard discussion determines that if Joe dies, the insurance pays off, and the show will make a profit — without opening. Remember The Producers?  That’s the original one by Mel Brooks starring Wilder and Mostel. Also, in the handful of quick numbers at the end as Gideon’s hallucinating in the hospital – includes a dance that’s a dead-ringer for a Busby Berkeley musical, including white feathers.

But, the film is NOT a parody of musicals — not by a long shot. It’s about Gideon, a choreographer, and his life, which is spiraling out of control. And despite the way he abuses himself with too much booze, smoking, fooling around, and driving himself at work, Gideon, as a protagonist is a fascinating man. Because we, the audience, don’t hate him. His behavior may at times be despicable – but we don’t hate him. Bit by bit Scheider’s portrayal of Gideon wins the audience over and we come to care about him. Gideon has a pre-teen daughter whom he loves very much. In fact, in my opinion, some of the best scenes in the film are between the two, especially when they are dancing together (he’s helping her with ballet and jazz dancing). His ex-wife, despite having left him because of his numerous affairs – still loves him. And his long-time girl-friend also loves him, and gets along fine with his ex-wife and daughter.  (Told you his life was complicated).

While working on his new production, Gideon has an angina attack. After the initial scare the doctors keep him in the hospital to try to get him to relax and calm down — Gideon, however, fools around, smokes, drinks, throws parties, and has his surgeons convinced he doesn’t care if he lives or dies.  Gradually, through his hallucinations – he comes to realize he wants to live – for his daughter.

However, that isn’t to be and in a final, triumphant number we see the choreography of his death in a duet between Scheider and Ben Vereen — which becomes a major production number.  The first time I saw the film I was confused by the chorus girls in the white stocking outfits with the red and blue lines — the next time I saw it, I realized those were meant to suggest blood vessels.

This time around, I kinda’ wondered if either the suits on the Broadway production, or a conniving fellow director/choreographer (played to the chilling teeth by John Lithgow) actually arranged Gideon’s hospital “accident” that leads ultimately to his death.

Either way — the final production number is outstanding! And the mini-numbers leading up to it, with each of the important people in Gideon’s life trying to convince him to live are also outstanding. Bob Fosse’s direction throughout the film is brilliant, as is his choreography. And yes — the film is said to be a fictionalized version of Fosse’s life. It’s still brilliant.

Roy Scheider is also brilliant in this film – and actually looks his best in the production number at the end, when he’s performing his duet with Vereen. (Yes, he sings, and fairly well.  Not sure if it was dubbed – it doesn’t sound like it, Scheider’s New Jersey accent is still there.) And the dancing in that number is brilliant!

OK – and standard 1970s disclaimer here:  All That Jazz is an adult film with adult concepts, however that means it’s a film adults can enjoy without feeling it’s an insult to their intelligence. There is a lot of sex, smoking, drinking, swearing, drug use, and bare breasts — deal with it. For a film this brilliant, I’m not sweating it.

Recommendation: I highly, highly, highly recommend this film. If you’ve never seen it – rent it, give it a try, maybe even watch it a couple of times – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Apartment

Alien Nation

Title: Alien Nation
Director: Graham Baker
Date: 1988
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre: SF / Police Drama
Actors: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin
Format: Color, Widescreen
DVD Format: NTSC, R1

The 1980s saw a lot of unusual cop buddy movies – Alien Nation takes that idea and gives it a Science Fiction twist – with a human cop working with an alien cop to solve his own partner’s murder. They actually start on another case together, but, it is, of course, linked to the partner’s death. However, halfway through the film, the plot turns away from a very interesting social commentary to a search for an alien super-narcotic that looks like Era detergent. This isn’t a case of effects no longer working because of the age of the film — it looked like Era when the film was made. And there’s even a line where a human tastes the drug and says – “It tastes like detergent.”

Overall, Alien Nation is one of several movies I could name where the TV show was much better. Made a year after the movie – the television series re-cast the leads, expanded the characters of George’s family, and even introduced a potential Newcomer girlfriend for Matt. It also focused on social issues (such as an alien/Newcomer voting rights bill) as well as contemporary police stories.

However, the movie isn’t all that bad — it’s a great idea, that works better in a series format than a movie. I actually really liked Mandy Patinkin’s “Sam Francisco” (quickly re-named “George” by Matt). The movie hits hard in telling a story about racism before the drug storyline takes over. Plus, there’s a killer scene at the end that’s wonderful. I enjoyed the film when I saw it, enjoyed the TV series even more, and got a copy of the movie on DVD for free when I bought the TV Series from Amazon (or was it Deep Discount — whatever). Anyway, the movie still works as a cop drama, it doesn’t look that dated.

Recommendations:  See it, but buy the TV series.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  All That Jazz