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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Myers’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 15th 2004:

The original Shrek won such notable popular and critical acclaim (even to the point, it’s rumoured, of AMPAS creating a new ‘Best Animated Feature’ Oscar just to stop it winning in the main category) that the arrival of a sequel – imaginatively entitled Shrek 2, and directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon – shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. Nor, really, given the quality of said sequel, should the fact that it’s already crowbarred its way into a spot high up on the all-time box office smash list. This, coupled to the fact that it seems to be the most widely pirated film in history, leads me to believe that you’ve probably already seen it and don’t need me to tell you what I think of it and whether or not it’s any good.

And so let’s move on to a much less ubiquitous movie from Japan… hmm, well, on the other hand, I suppose I may as well say a few words about Shrek 2, just for the benefit of those visually-impaired h2g2 members who never actually go to the pictures but still enjoy having film reviews read out to them. Let no-one say I ignore minority interests in this column!

Shrek 2 picks up pretty much where the original concluded, with curmudgeonly ogre Shrek (an uncharacteristically muted performance from Mike Myers) on honeymoon with his new bride Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). However, the dread moment soon arrives when Shrek must meet his in-laws, the King and Queen of the distant realm of Far Far Away (John Cleese and Julie Andrews). And so off they set, in the company of the faithful (and deeply annoying) Donkey (Eddie Murphy).

Shrek and his bride’s parents do not hit it off. And things deteriorate still further when Fiona’s Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) shows up, very unhappy with the King. Her son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is the one Fiona is supposed to marry. So the King is forced to hire the feared swordskitty Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to dispose of his new son-in-law…

Well, with a cast like that and a willingness to go just about anywhere in search of a punch line, it’s no surprise that Shrek 2 is very funny indeed. This time around, however, there seems to be a bit less interest in lampooning fairy-tale clichés and a lot more enthusiasm for more contemporary satire. Far, Far Away is, of course, a dead spit for modern Hollywood, with a Starbucks on every corner, while the film and TV parodies come thick and fast throughout: Lord of the Rings, Zorro, Cops, Alien, and many more (for me, the Cops spoof – along with the opening titles – was the funniest bit of the movie). The fact that this is a million miles away from the average family cartoon is only reinforced by some very off-the-wall gags and presence of a Buzzcocks cover on the soundtrack.

CGI animation has now reached a point where a film like this can cover the whole range of comic possibilities: rather than just sticking to cartoonish slapstick and sight gags, the facial expressions are now subtle and inflected enough for genuine character-based wit and interaction to be possible. Maybe this why even the performances seem a bit of a step up from the average film of this type. (The UK release of this film has actually re-voiced a couple of minor characters using local celebs rather than their US counterparts, a slightly odd undertaking as the presence of Jonathan Ross in an American blockbuster is, let’s face it, deeply incongruous. I notice the filmmaker’s haven’t bothered amending the credits to reflect this manoeuvre either.)

But, having said all this, there are a couple of sequences which don’t quite gel as well as they might, and the more contemporary style does detract a bit from the original Shrek‘s charm. It also seemed to me that this time round the emotional core of the story seemed a little bit forced, rather than arising solely from the characters. However, these are quibbles and quibbles only (and it would be extremely anal of me to start pointing out plot holes in animated comedies).

I don’t think there’s another current film genre where the average level of quality is as impressive as it is where CGI features are concerned. Sure, they’re not going to change your life, they’re very rarely subversive, and they’re not exactly deep, but when it comes to technical ability, performances, and just stringing very decent jokes together non-stop for ninety minutes, the only objective reaction is to be deeply impressed. And Shrek 2 is amongst the very best of the lot. Recommended (like it matters).

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 1st 2002:

Now here’s a funny thing. There I was, watching bits of For Your Eyes Only on the telly the other week, when a strange compulsion came over me. My little finger strayed to my mouth and I found myself saying things like ‘…one meellion dollars!’, ‘I shall call him – Mini-Me!’, and ‘we don’t gnaw on our kitty.’ Perhaps the makers of the Bond movies are justified in their belief that the Austin Powers franchise is somehow undermining their credibility (if that’s a word one can meaningfully use in the context of a Bond film).

Well, all the complaints and threats and legal activity have come to naught as Austin, Dr Evil, Fat Bastard and even some characters not played by Mike Myers all return in Austin Powers in Goldmember, directed (like the two previous films) by Jay Roach. It’s the usual strange combination of Monty Python and Carry On style humour, often silly, occasionally tasteless, but always ultimately happy and good-natured. The plot is, as before, entirely incidental, so we needn’t worry about that…

Hang on, though, perhaps we should. The original International Man of Mystery wasn’t really intended to launch a blockbuster franchise, but The Spy Who Shagged Me got round this by being not much more than a bigger-scale, much more assured remake. And even then most of the big laughs came from unpredictable, out-of-left-field material like Dr Evil rapping or the character of Mini-Me. This gives this third entry two problems: how to continue the series in the same style without being a blatant rehash, and how to maintain the same levels of invention and surprise.

As far as the first is concerned, success is only partial. There’s a fairly convoluted plot involving new villain Goldmember (Myers again, of course), Austin’s dad Nigel (Michael Caine in rumbustious, self-parodic mood), and 70s girl detective Foxy Cleopatra (popstrel Beyonce Knowles in her movie debut). Caine is very, very funny, Goldmember rather less so, and while Knowles seems like a sweet girl, she’s playing a one-joke character, and all the 70s and Blaxploitation references seem grafted onto the movie rather than arising naturally in the course of the story.

And the downside of all the new characters appearing is that much of the excellent ensemble cast of the first two films get a lot less screen time, with – to name only three – Michael York, Robert Wagner and Seth Green really not getting the material they deserve. (Although in a parallel universe somewhere, a parallel Awix is doubtless complaining about the lack of new ideas and over-reliance on old characters in their version of the film – there’s no pleasing everyone.)

But please don’t get the impression that this film isn’t worth your time or money, because it definitely is. For all its flaws, Austin Powers in Goldmember is frequently very, very funny indeed: bits due to be re-enacted at tedious length in an office or classroom near you include Austin’s encounter with improbably-monickered twin Japanese schoolgirls, a glimpse of the characters’ schooldays, and Scott and Dr Evil finally bonding. Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) virtually steals the movie again, too.

Now, no-one could ever accuse the Austin Powers movies of failing to fully exploit the potential of a joke, and so it seems a little odd to accuse the script of re-using old material. Let’s run the risk of being seen as odd anyway, and point out how many set-pieces we’ve seen at least once before in the series (and in their favour, the film-makers make a few jokes about this tendency themselves, most of them delivered – of course – by Ozzy Osbourne). Once or twice it achieves the same levels of invention and energy as The Spy Who Shagged Me – in the opening sequence, and in a couple of subtitle-related scenes – but elsewhere it simply revisits past triumphs such as Dr Evil rapping or Austin in hand-to-hand combat with a midget.

I will stress again that this is probably the funniest film of the year so far, only disappointing in comparison with its immediate predecessor. It certainly seems to have been written as the final instalment of the series, and fingers crossed that Myers and Roach stick to this resolution. Take my advice, Mr Powers, and you’ll only shag thrice.

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