Cabaret

  • Title:  Cabaret
  • Director:  Bob Fosse
  • Date:  1972
  • Studio:  Allied Artists (DVD released by Warner Bros.)
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama
  • Cast:  Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You can’t stand Maximilian because he’s everything you’re not! He doesn’t have to give English lessons for three Marks an hour, he’s rich! And he knows about life, he doesn’t read about it in books.  He’s suave and he’s divinely sexy. And he really appreciates a woman!” — Sally
“Oh screw Maximilian!” — Brian
“I do.” — Sally
“So do I.” — Brian

“It’s also an established fact, Herr Ludwig, there’s also another well-organised group of which you’re obviously a member; the International Conspiracy of horses asses!”  — Brian

Cabaret as a film reminds me of quote from Bax Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge:  It’s the story of a time, it’s the story of a place, [and] it’s a story of love. However, the love stories in Cabaret are more complicated and end less happily than the story in Moulin Rouge. Set in 1931 in Berlin, Cabaret is the story of the people that meet, come together, and leave, at the Kit Kat Klub – a wild cabaret. The main story is about Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American Cabaret singer who wants to be an actress, Brian (Michael York), a British student who comes to Berlin with no money and teaches English to survive, Maximilian, a married, bisexual German Baron looking to find anyone to fill his bed, Fritz a friend of Brian’s who’s hiding a few major secrets, and Natalia a rich Jewish woman who falls for Fritz. At the club, the all-knowing EmCee (Grey) rules.

The film draws you in slowly to it’s story of these diverse characters. Sally, especially, is a fascinating young woman. The daughter of an ambassador, she claims, she may have grown-up with wealth and privilege, but she finds herself with a two-room apartment in a boarding house, working all day and singing at the Cabaret all night. Sally drinks, smokes, and fools around. In some ways, she’s the female counterpart of Joe Gideon in Fosse’s other classic, All That Jazz.  And Sally has no problems letting everyone know just how willing she is to sleep with men to get whatever she can. Quite by chance, she meets Brian, and the two become friends then lovers.

However, before long the two meet Maximilian. Sally immediately begins sleeping with him, simply because he showers her with gifts and money. Brian, who had explained to Sally that he had slept with three women before and all were disasters, and has now fallen for Sally, is also taken under Maximilian’s spell, especially when the three of them spend a “dirty weekend” together at Maximilian’s country house.

Brian also meets and befriends Fritz, a shy German, who comes to him to learn English. Fritz falls for Natalia, another of Brian’s students but it’s Sally who gives Fritz advice about how to get Natalia interested in him, since she keeps turning him down flat. Eventually, Natalia calls Sally to her house and confesses she is also in love with Fritz but the relationship is impossible.

Throughout the film, the action is intercut with the entertainment at the Kit Kat Club, all introduced by the mysterious EmCee, including Sally’s musical numbers. The Club will put anything on the stage — female dancers and singers; female mud wrestlers; a parody of German folk singers; a duet between the EmCee and a guy in a Gorilla suit dressed as a ballerina. Nothing is sacred and everything goes at the Cabaret. However, when the film does cut to the Cabaret, often whatever’s on stage parallels the dramatic storyline. This intercutting is Fosse’s true genius.

When Sally discovers she’s pregnant, she tells Brian, also telling him she will have to sell the fur coat Maximilian gave her to pay for an abortion. When Brian asks who the father is – Sally insists she doesn’t know. And considering she’s been sleeping with Brian, Maximilian, and other men she’s picked up at the club, she honestly does not. Brian proposes, and insists that he doesn’t care — he’ll help her raise the baby no matter what. They can return to Cambridge, and he will get his teaching Fellowship. At first, Sally agrees.

Meanwhile, Fritz and Natalia’s relationship is at an standstill, and Natalia insists it can’t continue. But Fritz admits to Brian that he’s secretly Jewish. When he came to Berlin, on the papers he filed, he had listed his religion as Protestant, but he isn’t. Brian convinces him to tell Natalia. Fritz does that, and Sally and Brian witness the wedding.

However, despite Brian’s wishes, Sally is full of doubt. She spends a night at the Cabaret, having an unheard conversation with the EmCee. When she returns to Brian that night, she’s without her fur coat. Brian badgers her until she admits she did have the abortion. Brian is livid – and decides to leave her. Before long, he’s returning to Cambridge. Sally goes back to the Cabaret, and that night belts out a triumphant version of the film’s title tune, “Cabaret”. We finally see just how much Sally loves the stage, as she comes to life on stage, more glowingly alive than at any part previously in the film — and this for an independently spirited woman who is the exact opposite of a shrinking violet. However, Sally’s pure happiness on the stage will be short-lived, the film ends with reflections seen through the glass side divider of the Cabaret stage of the Nazis in the audience. Soon the lives of everyone in the film will be in danger; and most of them, even Sally will probably be dead. It’s a haunting ending.

There is also a chilling scene earlier in the picture, on the way back from their dirty weekend, Maximilian, Brian, and Sally are at some sort of outdoor German festival. There, a Hitler youth stands and sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, a patriotic German song. At first alone, soon others stand and join in. By the end of the song, nearly all the young people in the audience are standing and singing. Most of the older people remain sitting, however. It’s a frightening visual and auditory illustration of exactly what is happening in Germany. Brian, seeing the display, gathers Sally and Maximilian and leaves.

In another scene, Brian gets in an argument with his German co-boarders at Sally’s boarding house. He goes out in the street and a Nazi party member tries to foist a Nazi paper on him. Brian refuses it, yells at the Nazi, then knocks over the flag. He’s beaten senseless for his trouble.

The owner of the Kit Kat Club had also kicked some Nazis out of the club — he’s also beaten senseless for his actions.

But the brilliance of Cabaret is in it’s use of intercutting — the songs that Sally or the EmCee or both sing at the club are often intercut with and reflect the dramatic plot; but they don’t illustrate the plot. This isn’t a musical where plot points are sung – it’s almost as if the music at the club is the background to the storyline. And the club is a wild place, a place of the underworld, but a place of ships passing in the night. Also, throughout all the club numbers and performances – the audience sees figures walking between the camera and the Cabaret stage, almost as if we are in a club and people are moving around. There is also the sound of  talking, clinking glasses, clapping, laughing, etc. The people moving between the camera and the stage also provides a wipe point for editing.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Mien Herr – Liza Minnelli
  • Everybody Loves a Winner – Liza Minnelli
  • The Money Song (Money Makes the World Go ’round) – Minnelli and Grey
  • Two Ladies – Grey
  • Tomorrow Belongs to Me – Hitler Youth (and it’s terrifying)
  • Cabaret – Liza Minnelli
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Royal Wedding

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 70s types of  films — rollar 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 in the beginning of  the film. However, the plot to kidnap Austin’s father, Nigel Powers, played by Michael Caine goes on. Austin travels into 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 Brits 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 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 WarsStar 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’s 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 is 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. At 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 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 nothing of his sexual references that, really, could almost be called harrassment, 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 watchs 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 missle 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 strip tease 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 flim. 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