(On Cable TV, July 2019) As someone of the generation who count Bohemian Rhapsody as one of the greatest songs of all time (Wayne’s World is to blame, but doesn’t entirely explain why I insist the song has to play at my funeral), I was very favourable predisposed toward Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie adaptation of Freddie Mercury’s years with Queen. It does get going with a roar, as exuberant editing, terrific music and many directorial flourishes introduce Mercury on the cusp of his Live Aid set, then flashes back to the early 1970s for a look at how the band got together. It doesn’t take much of a knowledge of Queen’s history to realize early on that the film lies frequently and blatantly—from inventing a band’s breakup to rearranging events by years for maximal dramatic impact, Bohemian Rhapsody is also guilty of more fundamental issues—being written by the winners of the events described here, it presents the surviving member’s perspective on events: Only Mercury and his outcast partner do bad things (Mercury’s arc is one of apology and redemption), while the rest of the band argues and occasionally fights, but otherwise stand as far more reasonable bystanders to Mercury’s excesses. The hypocrisy here is staggering, but let’s not expect anything even close to an honest Queen biography unless the project is taken away from the band itself. It’s also often, especially early on, superficial to the point of being meaningless as a portrait of the characters. (It gets better later.) Still, despite the blatant manipulation (riiight, Live Aid wasn’t getting any donations before Queen started playing), I actually had a really good time watching Bohemian Rhapsody—the music being predictably great, it doesn’t take much for the pacing of the film to attach itself to the beat. There are also showpiece sequences that give us a very dramatized but enjoyable recreation of how some of Queen’s biggest hits (may) have been created. The ten-minute sequence in which “Bohemian Rhapsody” is recorded, then discussed, then released to bad reviews and popular success, is a joy to watch. (The film gets a big meta-laugh from Mike Myers’s character claiming that teenagers will never bang their heads to the song.) It’s all fanciful and often scattered and deliberately chooses to dilute its climax by recreating nearly the entire Live Aid performance in real time, dropping an expensively recreated concert movie in the middle of its biopic. Narratively, Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t have a lot of freshness to it: It’s the same old tropes used in the same old ways, and the liberties taken with the band’s history only reinforce its familiarity. On the other hand, there’s quite a bit to appreciate here about how the possibilities of CGI and autotune now allow for a convincing recreation of an arena concert in full daylight with the actors recreating familiar tunes. It’s quite a ride, and it’s rarely boring. There’s a lot more to say about director Bryan Singer and the tumultuous making of the film (Singer was replaced from the film about three-quarter in its production when damaging allegations against him became public) but it’s not nearly as interesting as seeing the result, as loud and flashy as any movie about Queen should be. Rami Malek’s performance is mesmerizing, the look at the inner working of a band is frequently hilarious and it’s a pretty good time for anyone even remotely familiar with Queen’s iconic tunes. It’s a shame that Bohemian Rhapsody has to lie so much in making its point, especially when the real story is readily available at our fingertips and everyone will take delight in pointing out the film’s inaccuracies … but what can I say—Hollywood’s been like that for more than a hundred years by now, and it’s not going to stop messing with the facts anytime soon.
(In French, On Cable TV, December 2018) Being someone who really started watching movies in the 1990s, everything since that decade tends to blur into a single continuous timeline contiguous with my own personal history, meaning that I have a lot of trouble watching something from the 1990s and thinking ”wow, that’s dated”. Or so I thought before watching So I Married an Axe Murderer, which is indeed fixed in time in the early nineties. The soundtrack sure helps a lot in establishing the year, what with “There She Goes” and “Two Princes” in particular. Taking place in San Francisco with beat poetry doesn’t help either. Still, there is something about the style of comedy that makes it feel a bit more modern—this is a film filled with snark and genre awareness, as a genre-aware man comes to suspect that his newlywed wife is a serial killer. The film does expect a bit of movie literacy from its audience, which works perhaps better in the post-ironic now than in the early 1990s. So I Married an Axe Murderer is a rare Mike Myers comedy that’s not part of a series (à la Shrek, Austin Powers or Wayne’s World), but you can see here the early draft of some later Scottish characters in Austin Powers. A number of known comedy actors show up, sometimes for a moment or two—Myers himself is fine whenever he reins in his showboating antics, while Nancy Travis is not bad as the love interest/suspected killer. It’s worth noting that So I Married an Axe Murderer is early Movie Myers—After the first Wayne’s World but before everything else in his filmography. As a result, expect a (thankfully) more restrained but not yet fully formed comic persona. The film is decently amusing without being particularly striking—the thriller genre mechanics sometimes clash with the comedic instinct of the film, and the ending ultimately picks romance over suspense, which is a safe defendable choice but not a completely satisfying one. I still liked it, but not a lot.
(On TV, December 2016) Some film pundits often refer to The Love Guru as the film that killed Mike Myers’ film career and while that’s a harsh assessment (I suspect that Myers’ own oft-reported personal issues largely played a role in his disappearance from the big screen—studio executives are more forgiving of box-office failure if they happen to people they like) it does acknowledge the fact that it’s simply not a good film. This being said, there are bits and pieces that sound great on paper: A movie largely revolving around the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team? Faux-Indian rendition of songs such as The Joker and 9 to 5? Featured roles for Jessica Alba, with appearances by John Oliver and Stephen Colbert? Justin Timberlake as a secondary character gleefully perpetuating the stereotype of French-Canadians with legendary intimate attributes? How can I not get on-board with that? Alas, it takes a remarkably short time for the wheels to fall off The Love Guru. The stereotypical humour begins from the first shot of the film, while various comic bits feel old barely two minutes after being introduced and repeated. It gets progressively worse, as the film’s self-satisfied comic arrogance mugs for laughs that don’t exist, introduces pauses for laughter that never comes and revels in gross-out humour ten years after everyone else … all the way to a strikingly inappropriate animal sex sequence played on ice. (There’s a joke about Mariska Hargitay that’s as dumb as anything else ever dreamed up—the kind of stuff that should never survive a first draft.) Given Mike Myer’s roles as producer writer and star, as well as the example set by his previous feature films, it’s not hard to find someone to blame for The Love Guru’s unfunny pileup. In any other film, the portrayal of Hindi culture would have been offensive—here’s it’s just stuck in a much bigger mess. Despite my best intentions, the film simply doesn’t work.
(Second viewing, On TV, December 2016) Recognizably cut from the same cloth as the first Wayne’s World, this sequel treads more or less the same style of silly comedy, although it’s really not quite as fresh or good as the original. As the plot devolves into jealousy and music festival mechanics, while avoiding some of the most amusing fourth-wall-breaking of the original, the result isn’t as memorable as its predecessors. (While I was able to quote from the original for years, I remembered maybe two jokes from the sequel.) Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and Tia Carrere return from the original and are in fine form—even though much of Kim Basinger’s subplot feels far too long and is only redeemed by its last joke. Good bits include Charlton Heston being shoved in the film as a better actor, but too often, the film falls in love with its own jokes and runs them into the ground long after they’ve stopped being amusing. Wayne’s World 2 is an adequate follow-up to the first film, but not essential. It hasn’t aged as well, and clearly anticipates issues that would dog later Mike Myers films.
(Second or third viewing, On Cable TV, June 2016) Wayne’s World hit pop culture the summer before my senior high-school year. You can imagine the carnage, and my visible twitching at how “… NOT,” “Sha-wing!” “Baberham Lincoln” and other catchphrases are still embedded deeply in my brain. Not that it’s all bad: I credit Wayne’s World for making “Bohemian Rhapsody” one of my top-ten all-time favourite songs. Still, I hadn’t seen the film in over twenty years, and watching it was as pure a nostalgia experience as I can remember. Even today, I could quote verbatim from some moments, happily banged my head along at the appropriate time and was looking forward to the pronunciation of “mill-e-wah-que”. Still, I had forgotten enough of the film to make it interesting. I didn’t remember so much meta-humour commentary, and it still works most excellently. (Interestingly, though, I’ve been conflating two quotes as “I’m giving you a no-spew guarantee” for the past twenty-some years.) Mike Myers and Dana Carver are very good as the protagonists, while Tia Carrere looks spectacular in her debut role. The meta-humour is playful enough to stay enjoyable today, even despite a few rough edges. (My new nightmare is seeing Wayne’s World remade as a reality-TV mockumentary.) For a film that I may have been tempted to dismiss as a mere source of high-school silliness, Wayne’s World is still remarkably funny today.
(In French, On TV, August 2015) What is it about the Disco era that makes every single historical film about it feel so… dour? Was it the way it imploded upon itself in a few months? Was it that it gave way to the AIDS era? I’m not sure, but there are a lot of disco-themed films, from Funkytown to Party Monster and Discopath, that ultimately show Disco as a false front for existential emptiness. All of this throat-clearing is meant to say that 54 still stands strong as pretty much the same fall-from-grace narrative, wistfully recalling an era of excess before taking it all away from the lead character. It feels very, extremely, completely familiar as a nominal protagonist played by Ryan Phillippe discovers Disco at the famed Studio 54, befriends plenty of interesting people, and then becomes completely disillusioned about it all. Two or three things still save the film from terminal mediocrity: First is obviously the period recreation, especially early on when we discover the excesses of Studio 54 at the same time as our protagonist does. Then there are a few performances worth talking about. Neve Campbell was on the cusp of superstardom in 1998, and her role here plays off of that then-popularity. Salma Hayek has an early-stardom role as a signer that makes an impression. This being said, the film’s best and most affecting performance is Mike Myers’ decidedly dramatic turn as Studio 54’s owner, a sad role with a terrific scene set on a money-covered bed. Myers has never done anything half as dramatically powerful since then, and it’s with the same kind of sadness that we can look at 54 more than fifteen years later, measuring it against the end of the Disco Era’s promises of non-stop fun. The film itself may struggle to distinguish itself, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have one or two redeeming qualities.
(In theaters, July 2002) As a big fan of the original film’s low-budget spy parody, I was let down by the scatological humor of the sequel and this impression only worsens with this third entry. The jokes become increasingly self-referential, up to a point where there isn’t much here that doesn’t refer to the Austin Powers mythology itself. Spy parody? Forget it! It doesn’t help that the “writer” is working with a palette of roughly five jokes, which are repeated time and time again way beyond the point of diminishing results. What’s worth saving are the first five minutes, which feature a series of celebrity cameos and a high-energy opening sequence. The rest goes downhill fast, even though I think this film is better than the second one if only because the gross-out humor is toned down in comparison. The only latter flashes of humor, though, are a G*dz*ll* reference and a gag on reading white subtitles on white background. (Alas, as with all the other jokes, this last joke is stretched for about a minute more than it ought to be.) On the other hand, it’s still good to see the familiar gang of Powers characters come back. Among the new character, though it’s mixed bag: Michael Caine is particularly good as Nigel Powers. Beyonce Knowles is positively adorable in one scene (in Power’s pad) and simply wasted in the rest of the film; she deserves better material. As for the title character, Goldmember is one of the lamest thing about the film, a character who doesn’t elicit one single laugh. The rest of the film plays as a parade of wasted opportunities; why don’t you go see Undercover Brother for a film that not only does disco-blacksploitation right, but is also considerably funnier to boot?
(In theaters, June 1999) Slightly shagadisappointing! After the delightfully silly original film, Austin Powers -one of the best comic creation of the nineties- is back in a sequel that exacerbates the very worst characteristics of the original. Did it have to be so scatological and painfully obvious? Probably not, but then again it seems to work for some. The satirical bent of the first film is lessened, and the sequel is more of a sporadically amusing exercise in self-conscious comedy. Not exactly unfunny, but it could have been better. You can actually get more laughs from the original script now floating around the Web.
(On VHS, June 1998) “Groovy, baby!” are the two last words in Austin Powers‘s credits, and they describe the film quite well. An outrageous mix of sixties parody and very nineties comedy, the movie gains a lot from the presence of Mike Myers. Sure, it’s not exactly well-balanced nor completely successful, but the overall tone is so original (if this can be said of a parody) that it hits more than it misses. The character of Austin Powers himself will probably remain a part of my imagination forever. Yeah, baby, yeah!