Volume 4, Number 30
This Week's Reviews: Austin Powers in Goldmember, Stuart Little 2, The Emperor's New Clothes.
This Week's Omissions: The Country Bears, Late Marriage.
Capsule Reviews: Eight Legged Freaks, Reign of Fire.
World Is Not
|Austin Powers in Goldmember
BY: DAVID PERRY
When the first Austin Powers film came out in 1997, the International Man of Mystery was an anomaly in a series of painfully unfunny spoofs plaguing much of the 1990s. Leslie Nielsen and the ZAZ Team were at their lowest points (a valley they seem to still be living at) and, following Spy Hard, the idea of a spy spoof couldn't have seemed more uninteresting.
Then director Jay Roach and writer/star Mike Myers dropped the bomb on America, a pitch-perfect comedy that included occasional moment of potty humor and, more importantly, a true love for the James Bond/Derek Flint/Harry Palmer world they were spoofing. Even when pulling the dumbest ideas for gags ever (an Irish hit man with lucky charms?), there was so much enjoyment in the delivery that it was impossible to not feel part of the joke.
Part of this was missing the second time around as the Spy Who Shagged Me tried desperately to reuse most of the first film's best jokes to mixed response. The gross-out comedy was upped and the spoofing was tapered to the point that what was on the screen was less a continuation of the previous film and more a response to its surprise success (as is unfortunately true with most sequels). The third film, Austin Powers in Goldmember, continues this counter-development of the Austin Powers saga, even choosing to nix the title tradition: no longer is this an Austin Powers film with a subtitle, but now a film that happens to include an appearance (albeit large) by Austin Powers. Catching a glimpse of this film's title (what was wrong with Austin Powers: Goldmember?), I could only remember that Disney recently released a movie that began with "Peter Pan in Return to Neverland."
But, despite loosing all real interests in doing anything new with thier material, Myers and Roach have pained to find a way to at least keep these jokes from becoming stale. In some moments they do fail, but for the most part they do a splendid job revamping some of the older jokes (especially a magnificent resurrection of the shadow-play sequence from The Spy Who Shagged Me that far surpasses the original).
The title refers to a notorious 70s super-villain named, of course, Goldmember (Myers) after a freak smelting accident caused the loss of his genitalia. The Dutchman has various little quirks -- he loves to find uses for his double-jointed body and regularly snacks on his own peeling skin -- but there's really nothing funny about him. Somehow the screenplay includes enough Dutch jokes to make his character almost seem worthwhile, but not quite enough to merit the screen time he takes away from others.
In the process they lose sight of what was so much fun about secondary characters like Number Two (Wagner) and Frau Farbissina (Sterling). These were two of the finest characters in both of the previous films and now their material has been relegated to a couple comments early in the film and then single lines interjected occasionally. In addition to Goldmember, the screenplay relegates too much time to Scott Evil (Green) and the so-three-years-ago Fat Bastard (Myers).
The dry periods of the film nearly kill the movie's first half (following a terrific opening that plays with the gargantuan Austin Powers marquee value), but there are enough strong jokes to make Austin Powers in Goldmember worth seeing. There may be a painful three-minute rap sequence and a tedious six-minute prep school flashback, but there's also a stronger use of Mini-Me (Troyer) throughout the duration of the film.
Even if the Powers character has lost much of the spy-spoof
persona, there are a few reminders of where the films came from beyond the toying with
Bond villain Auric Goldfinger. Michael Caine, donning his Harry Palmer glasses, saunters
into the film and gives it the needed kitsch factor for his momentary appearances. But,
alas, Myers seems to have lost sight of the fact that the franchise has lost its touch on
the original joke and gives little material to the 60s icon to play with (in fact, more
time was probably spent rewriting the song "Alfie" for the closing credits than
was spent writing for Caine himself). This is a glaring problem for any fan of the
original and its precursors: Myers may have forgotten what he had been doing, but we
Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
|Stuart Little 2
BY: DAVID PERRY
Not too long ago I was in a conversation about how you can read a certain collection of themes into just about any work of art. To make my point, I referred to a wide variety of reasons the astute viewer could see that ever-present idea of the strong girl searching for a father figure in There's Something About Mary. In retrospect, it's a little intentional in that film (as is established by the statement of a character that Mary is looking for a "farter" -- oh, yes, we're stretching) but it does seem odd: how can you read something like that into a movie like this?
Stuart Little 2 does the same thing, but with far less weight. The possible theme here would be the seduction of the feminine mystique and its femme fatale deceptiveness. Director Rob Minkoff gives some credence to this idea -- at one point the protagonist Stuart Little (voice by Fox) and his two-faced lady friend Margalo (Griffith) sit in a drive-in watching Vertigo, the classic Hitchcock film about a detective played by Jimmy Stewart learning of the deceit of his two-faced lady friend. And let's not even get into the implications of the inter-species relationship between the two since Stuart is a mouse and Margalo is a bird.
If there's a little Judy Barton in Margalo, there's a whole lot of Gavin Elster in Falcon (Woods) a carnivorous bird that persuades Margalo to befriend Stuart so she can get on the inside of the Little house and steal the jewelry of matriarch Eleanor Little (Davis). Of course, while around the 1950s perfectionist family of the Littles, Margalo cannot help but feel that she is ruining the trust that these people have blindly offered her. Falcon and Margalo have pulled this trick on many families before, but this is the first time that she really feels sincerity from those she needs to exploit.
If the first movie's family felt like resurrected characters from The Patty Duke Show trying to deal with a new and unusual addition to the family, than the Littles of Stuart Little 2 have moved completely into the territory of The Donna Reed Show, with saccharine maxims coming from oh-so-cute problems. And, yet, unlike the first film, Stuart Little finds the perfect balance to their 1950s family comedy milieu, sugarcoating everything from classroom interplay to the streets of Manhattan.
This doesn't mean that the film successfully refrains from being too sweet for its own good at times, but it does show that in the three years since the first film, Minkoff and his new screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (replacing M. Night Shyamalan and Greg Booker) have come up with a way to make the film enjoyable for adults as well as kids.
Part of the secret this time around is an increase in screen time for Nathan Lane's Snowbell, a posh longhaired cat, whose Vaudeville routine still has some lackluster points, but has successfully strayed from the boring cat-eat-mouse jokes that filled much of the original's dialogue. Steve Zahn's Monty, a stray tabby, also returns, though his shtick really hasn't changed.
Once again, the special effects are top-notch, with Stuart seeming as real as Snowbell even though the former is completely CGI and the latter only uses a computer- enhanced mouth. Cinematographer Steven B. Poster does an equally notable job capturing shots that look like they were made to have the mouse and his friends running through it even though he was only working with an empty space during production.
Stuart Little 2 throws in enough hair-raising
moments to keep the adults in the audience form being bored, which was something that
certainly could not be said for the original. The film's skyscraper mêlées and Central
Park aero-battle make for some charming and engaging fights that pit good against evil in
setups reminiscent of James Stewart trying to figure out the order that brought him to
that clock tower. It's ingenious for a family film; where else can you see an animated
mouse as a proxy for James Stewart?
Triumph of Love
|The Emperor's New Clothes
BY: DAVID PERRY
Somehow Ian Holm is still seen as an oddity on these shores, an impish little character actor that people know they've seen before but cannot quite put their finger on what. With his work as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, people will now be able to remember where they've seen him, even if they won't take the time to find out why Peter Jackson ever imagined giving such an important character to him.
Holm is among the finest of the world's secondary performers, a list that includes dignitaries like David Morse, David Strathairn, Bruce Davison, and Dylan Baker. Their work in film has been consistently strong, dropping awards-caliber performances with every picture. Holm has not been nominated for an Oscar since 1982's Chariots of Fire (which puts him above the other names, none of whom have received such attention) even though he should have received nominations for Kurtman in Brazil, Ken in Another Woman, Fluellen in Henry V, Polonius in Hamlet, and Frost in Naked Lunch and should have received a statue for Mitchell in The Sweet Hereafter.
He's played Hercule Poirot and Lewis Carroll, Frankenstein's Monster and Richard III; he's never the leading man, but always memorable. Directors who have noted his work in the past give him some of the best roles they have because they can always trust that he'll deliver a performance above any other in the film. The Emperor's New Clothes is the third time a director has asked him to play Napoleon Bonaparte, a casting decision that is much indebted to the actor's height as to his range. Working with directors who have completely different styles, he seems to deliver a different Napoleon from the 1974 miniseries Napoleon and Love to the absurd Terry Gilliam vision of 1981's Time Bandits and into the lethargic and aged Napoleon of Alan Taylor's new film.
But, alas, Holm turns out to be the only real treat inside The Emperor's New Clothes. The director pains to put some life into Simon Leys' philosophic novel The Death of Napoleon, but fails to really come up with any way to portray Leys' Napoleonic changes without dragging the movie along for what seems like two and a half hours (the movie is in fact only an hour and forty-five minutes). The main plot is interesting enough: Napoleon escaping from St. Helena in 1821 and arriving in Paris to find his front in Britain has no interest in admitting the switch, a Parisian contact that died without giving his orders to anyone, and a France unwilling to believe their emperor has come back from defeat. One can easily surmise how things get a little harder when that imposter in St. Helena dies.
Since his contact has left an empty bed, Napoleon (Holm), going by the working class name of Eugene Lenormand, quickly jumps into the goodwill of widow Pumpkin (Hjejle), distracting the courting Dr. Lambert (McInnerny) and confusing her when he begins descending into what seems like a Napoleonic complex, uniform and all. The idea is that Napoleon's need for world conquest can, in fact, be quenched by the need for simple love. Never do they really consider Josephine (though they do labor on a failed relationship between Napoleon and his betraying son), but instead the screenplay by Taylor, Kevin Molony, and Herbie Wave looks for any possible way to make Napoleon seem as simple as James Buchanan.
The film does work in its first act as Napoleon travels through Europe and arrives at Waterloo, already a tourist attraction. However, all is lost in the seemingly unending storyline involving Bonaparte and Pumpkin with the exception of a sequence in which Napoleon tries to set up fruit merchants into a military formation for optimum profit.
Taylor's camera can capture some great compositions, but the cinematography by Alessio Gelsini Torresi unusually chooses dirty, monochromatic lighting for nearly every scene. The movie is meant to be somewhat light, but Torresi seems to think that he's working on a Fassbinder film. This creates a huge problem in some of the film's dusk scenes, where Torresi chooses not to increase the lighting so that the camera's film speed can support the light. Instead, after going to a higher film speed, the movie looks grainy and unsightly at these moments.
Even as the technical and the story aspects are faltering,
it's the unflappable performance from Holm that makes The Emperor's New Clothes
hard to take one's eyes from. His winning style perfectly fits the idea of an aging
autocrat and the way he must come to terms with the fact that no one seems to recognize
him even though they should. Further proof of why Ian Holm was perfect for the role: he
knows all about not getting his deserved recognition.
Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for Eight Legged Freaks and Reign of Fire (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre). Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."
|Eight Legged Freaks
(Dir: Ellory Elkayem, Starring David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Scarlett Johansson, Doug E. Doug, Rock Overton, Leon Rippy, and Matt Czuchry)
BY: DAVID PERRY
A small town is overrun by enhanced spiders (their arrival
is explained as the product of the spilling of a toxic liquid barrell, but is more
expressively from a computer's RAM) in the comedy Eight Legged Freaks and only a
rag-tag group can fight to stop them from continuing their destruction elsewhere.
Inside-outsider Arquette tries to play superhero while Doug E. Doug attempts to bring an
out-there understanding to it all, in the end canceling each other out in an idiotic
series of exchanges. None of the characters are defined enough to care about, leaving only
the spiders (which probably took seven-times more effort to create than the flimsy humans)
to root for. The only good point: the film never really takes itself seriously.
|Reign of Fire
(Dir: Rob Bowman, Starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, Gaerard Butler, Scott Moutter, David Kennedy, and Alexander Siddig)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Great Britain is overrun by enhanced dragons (their arrival
is explained as a sudden awakening after years of dormancy, but is more expressively from
a computer's RAM) in action/adventure film Reign of Fire and only a rag-tag group
can fight to stop them from continuing their destruction elsewhere. Inside-outsider Bale
tries to play superhero while McConaughey attempts to bring an out-there understanding to
it all, in the end canceling each other out in an idiotic series of exchanges. None of the
characters are defined enough to care about, leaving only the dragons (which probably took
seven-times more effort to create than the flimsy humans) to root for. Worst of all: the
film actually takes itself seriously.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S