TRUMBO (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language including some Sexual References

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Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: John McNamara

(based on the book DALTON TRUMBO by Bruce Alexander Cook)

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Stephen Root & Roger Bart

Though Hollywood has produced thousands of on-screen stories, filmmaking also produces a number of interesting tales that take place within the studio system itself. If you want evidence of this, just watch a few celebrity interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries. Hollywood is not without its dark side though and its ugliest moment probably came in the blacklisting of cast and crew members during the Red Scare. Though many hard-working people (not just in Hollywood) lost their jobs, homes, families and lives based purely on their political beliefs during the Red Scare, some managed to persevere and make it out in one piece. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was very much the latter and this biopic tackles his fascinating story.

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With a successful filmography under his belt and a promising future still ahead of him (a three-year contract promises to make him the highest paid writer in Hollywood), Dalton Trumbo is a talented man with a typewriter. He also happens to be vocal in his political beliefs (he’s a Communist) and this has led to scrutiny from his co-workers. When the FBI comes knocking and Trumbo is summoned to testify before Congress about alleged propaganda, he finds himself blacklisted, out of work, and facing potential prison time. Doing all he can in the face of seemingly impossible odds, Dalton takes to the black market of penning screenplays under different names and working on cheap B-movie crap to keep his family afloat. As years pass, we see the complex workings of one interesting man’s story play out on the screen.

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If any nominations come to TRUMBO this awards season, they will most likely be for Bryan Cranston’s performance. For someone who’s played one of the most memorable characters in television history, Cranston becomes Trumbo with a take-no-prisoners attitude and matter-of-fact way of speaking. The movie doesn’t idolize the screenwriter either in showing that he has definite faults, especially regarding tensions with his family as he furiously types out “black market” screenplays. Trumbo was no hero. He was a merely a man caught in insanely unfair situations that still seem disturbingly relevant in America today. Cranston owns the part and delivers a stunning performance.

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On the supporting side of things, TRUMBO boasts many different characters, some of whom only pop up for a couple of scenes. It goes to show just how well written and terrifically performed this story is that I never once had a single problem remembering who was who. The flow of the film feels natural and even. Diane Lane is a sympathetic as Trumbo’s strained wife, while Elle Fanning has never been better as Trumbo’s teenage daughter. Helen Mirren is positively hateable as Hedda Hopper (the human equivalent of TMZ during the 40’s and 50’s). Meanwhile, John Goodman is perfect as a studio exec who uses Trumbo’s services. Hands down, Goodman also has the funniest scene of the entire running time (you’ll know it when you see it). Other memorable performances that I can’t fully elaborate on for lack of space include Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Stephen Root, and Roger Bart.

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TRUMBO isn’t without a couple of problems though. Louis C.K. sticks out like a sore thumb in that his character (though essential to the story) doesn’t meld well with the tone of the film. Also, Dean O’Gorman looks remarkably like Kirk Douglas, but David James Elliot only sounds like John Wayne and doesn’t bear much resemblance to the iconic actor. The movie can also get a little too melodramatic during a couple of moments. However, these sappy scenes don’t detract from the rest of the stellar qualities surrounding them.

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I’d rank TRUMBO next to 2012’s HITCHCOCK. Both are recent movies (from the 2010s) that take a look back at studio politics and life within the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Though this film definitely examines a harsher and more frustrating tale. TRUMBO is a flat-out terrific story about a fascinating man during a horrible time. The film doesn’t get too bogged down in being a political statement either, but rather examines how someone succeeded through severe persecution. Though it has a couple of shortcomings (Louis C.K.’s performance and slight melodrama), TRUMBO comes highly recommended for those who might be interested in this sort of thing.

Grade: B+

AUSTIN POWERS: GOLDMEMBER (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Innuendo, Crude Humor and Language

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Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers

Starring: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael York, Michael Caine, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Verne Troyer, Mindy Sterling & Fred Savage

AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY received lukewarm reception in its theatrical release and became a quick cult hit on home video. A couple of years later, THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME came out to delight many fans of the groovy swinging spy from the 60’s. After the hit of that sequel, it took three years for GOLDMEMBER to come out in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, this is a lackluster installment to say the least. Jokes that were funny in the first two have gotten stale in this third outing. It almost seems like success got to the heads of Mike Myers, Michael McCullers and Jay Roach. A cameo loaded opening full of Oscar winners and pop stars is a sign that this entry had far more of a budget this time around. That’s apparent in many areas, but more money doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie. A majority of GOLDMEMBER either comes as bland or forced.

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Austin Powers has finally apprehended Dr. Evil and tiny clone Mini-Me. However, Austin faces a threat from the past in the form of a 70’s disco-dancing Dutch madman by the name of Goldmember. This lunatic has kidnapped Austin’s neglectful father. It’s up to the shaggadelic spy and a newly found afro-touting sidekick Foxxy Cleopatra to take down Goldmember, save Austin’s dad, and stop another ridiculous plan from Dr. Evil. What happened to Felicity Shagwell of the last film? Did she go back to the past? Was she actually a Fembot? Is it possible that Heather Graham wasn’t contractually obligated to appear briefly in a third film to close off her romance with Mike Myers? All of these could be a possibility, but the real answer is never given to the audience. This is an early plot hole that’s a sign of some seriously lazy writing (even Vanessa got a good send off in SPY WHO SHAGGED ME).

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GOLDMEMBER may be a weak ending to the impromptu AUSTIN POWERS trilogy (did anybody seriously expect this to become a three-film series), but it’s the slickest in cinematography. The make-up on Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and Goldmember looks good. The film does obviously spoof more 007 flicks (GOLDFINGER for example), but more references to other movies (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in a specific scene) and pop culture (a Britney Spears cameo and rap music video in the middle of a jail scene). These latter bits aren’t very funny and come off as awkward. Also unneeded are flashbacks of young Austin and Dr. Evil. Michael Caine is a welcome addition as Austin’s deadbeat father, but he’s essentially wasted for a majority of the flick. Also Scotty and Mini-Me are given story arcs, but neither are as hilarious as the material in the previous films.

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Mike Myers plays four different characters this time around. Of course, he’s Austin Powers and Dr. Evil. He also returns as Fat Bastard and the newly added Goldmember. Goldmember is also a wasted villain too. This baddie’s over-the-top Dutch accent, penchant for commenting on how tight people are, lack of genitalia, and snacks of pancakes with cigarettes come off as completely lame. None of his jokes are very funny and it’s clear that Mike Myers was going into a bad spot of his comedic abilities (this was only a year before the disastrous CAT IN THE HAT).  Most of the other jokes (including returning bits from the previous entries) are dusty this time around. A more blatant example is the dirty name of a sexy woman. In the first two films it was Ivanna Humpalot or Alotta Fagina. This time around the joke has been regulated to the easy cheap Fook Mi and Fook Yu. It’s insulting how much it appears that everyone phoned it in both acting and writing. One saving grace comes in a solid set of three scenes in Japan that I was laughing hysterically at. If everything had been up to the par of those 15 minutes, than GOLDMEMBER would be a solid conclusion to an entertaining trilogy of spy-comedies. Also, Beyoncé Knowles isn’t much of a love interest. She lacks the charm of both Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham.

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An overly convoluted script is just one of the many things that GOLDMEMBER suffers from. Did we really need an intricate mythology to how Dr. Evil and Austin Powers met? There are a couple of really funny moments (my favorite part being three scenes in a row in Japan), but they are few and far between. Most of the humor is far too forced. The entire film is disappointing and the end result is a purely middle-of-the-road experience.

Grade: C

AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Innuendo and Crude Humor

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Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers

Starring: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Rob Lowe, Mindy Sterling, Seth Green, Verne Troyer, Elizabeth Hurley & Will Ferrell

Seeing as AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY gained a huge amount of success on home video, an unexpected sequel was announced as a summer blockbuster in 1999. Whereas the first film was definitely a product of its times and has held substantial ground upon rewatch, I can safely say this sequel nails everything the first one did with a little higher quality. Mike Myers was not flying solo in writing this script and the addition of a co-writer may have helped hone his creativity into something slightly funnier this time around. SPY WHO SHAGGED ME is a good time for fans of the first film and may even bring in a crowd that didn’t care too much for the original. This is a goofy James Bond spoof that gets even wilder and crazier the second time around.

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It has been two years since the events of the first film. Austin Powers and Vanessa’s marriage has come to an explosive end. Dr. Evil has returned to Earth with a brand spanking new invention: a time machine. Using this time machine, Evil travels back into 1969 and steals Austin’s mojo from his cryogenically frozen body, thus depleting the sex drive from the present Powers. Austin must travel back in time to stop a sinister plan involving a moon, a laser, and a clone about one-eighth Dr. Evil’s size (named Mini-Me). He also befriends fellow agent Felicity Shagwell and tries to retrieve his mojo.

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One of the main differences in quality this time around is that Austin Powers has been made into a far funnier character than he was in the original. I find the first POWERS film to be almost strictly Dr. Evil’s show. In this sequel, Austin Powers far outshines Dr. Evil. The Mini-Me storyline is one of the funniest things in the film (a fight scene near the end is hysterical), but Evil has also delivers plenty of lame jokes that fall flat. Speaking of jokes, some of the same set-ups are used from the first film and have much better punch lines upon being repeated. This is also stacking on top of lots of good funny and just as raunchy material (a scene involving suggestive shadows, comments on a spaceship that looks like a certain body part, etc.). It isn’t high art or the pinnacle of comedic genius, but it’s exactly what AUSTIN POWERS fans expect and want from a sequel that’s bigger and better.

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There is also more creativity. Specific 007 flicks are targeted (one sticking out is the ludicrous MOONRAKER) and Mike Myers is pulling triple duty as three separate characters. He’s doing Austin and Evil again, but also appears as a morbidly obese Scottish thug appropriately named Fat Bastard. Another detriment that needs to be mentioned is Scotty (Dr. Evil’s son and part of the funniest plot thread from the first film) taking backseat to Mini-Me. Though I don’t want to compare both plot threads, I feel the movie might have benefitted from the two being in equal balance or Scott having a more significant screen presence in this second installment. Also Rob Lowe is great as a young Number 2 (originally played by Robert Wagner)

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The problems with SPY WHO SHAGGED ME are the same problems in INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY. It’s definitely still a product of its times with plenty of 90’s references and other pop culture hints that have aged. Some jokes fall flat (especially a few scenes with Dr. Evil). However, SPY WHO SHAGGED ME is a hugely entertaining, purposely juvenile take on more ridiculous 007 flicks. It’s also a sequel that manages to be slightly better than the original in many ways, but the same faults keep it to the same pillar of amusing crude comedy that the first film was. If you liked the first AUSTIN POWERS, you’re bound to like this one.

Grade: B+

AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Nudity, Sex-Related Dialogue and Humor

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Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers

Starring: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Michael York & Will Ferrell

AUSTIN POWERS is a movie that is so much a product of its time period that I was kind of worried to revisit it. A few years had passed from the success of WAYNE’S WORLD and semi-successful gross of WAYNE’S WORLD 2. Mike Myers was a far bigger name back then (slightly lower than Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey). Tons of cultural references are sprinkled throughout the script written by Myers. Therefore it’s far more enjoyable for someone who lived through the 90’s. In this day and age, the film holds up surprisingly well and plays like a dirtier-minded version of something in the same vein of THE NAKED GUN or HOT SHOTS.

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In 1967, Austin Powers (Mike Myers) is a groovy secret agent who’s very much into the hip Free Love environment. He’s constantly clashing with the diabolical Dr. Evil (Mike Myers in different make-up). After Evil freezes himself to commit crimes in the future, Austin Powers is cryogenically frozen as well. 1997 is the year that Dr. Evil returns and Austin Powers is forced back into action. As both Evil and Powers adjust to the three decades worth of change around them, Powers tries to stop Evil’s evil plan to destroy the world and also falls in love with his sexy partner Vanessa (Hurley).

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AUSTIN POWERS is filled to the brim with dirty jokes, potty humor and sex puns. To those offended by any of those things, this is the kind of the territory you automatically find yourself in a Mike Myers comedy. The main target of Myers’s script is 007 flicks. References to plenty of Bond movies are made and deliberate details are shifted from specific baddies to damn near identical dialogue. A couple of examples are the hat-wielding assassin Odd Job being changed into a shoe-wielding assassin Random Task and Dr. Evil stating “No, Mr. Powers. I expect them to die.” Silly moments also deliberately poke fun at the plot holes seen in that cheesy series. The mixed element of AUSTIN POWERS is that the title character can be annoying (kind of the joke in certain areas) and that Dr. Evil outshines him in every possible aspect. Evil’s relationship with his test-tube-born son (played wonderfully by Seth Green) is comedy gold.

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The bigger flaws come in a rather anti-climatic ending, although there are two follow-up films. If I had seen this in the theaters or on video during 1997, I would have been unsatisfied with an obvious ploy for a second film. At the time, it wouldn’t have even been a possibility to have seen a sequel either, because AUSTIN POWERS only found a following on video after so-so theatrical reception. Also, the relationship between Myers and Hurley comes off as unbelievably forced. All this being said, POWERS is still pretty frickin’ funny. Also the film is risqué for a PG-13 flick. If the MPAA had rated this now, it would have suffered cuts or the wrath of a light R rating.

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AUSTIN POWERS isn’t perfect. The title character can be annoying and the relationship is unconvincing. The movie is great where it counts and that’s in the laughs. Everything involving Dr. Evil is hilarious and I sort of wish this movie had been solely about this incompetent villain. The movie is a product of its time in the sense that Austin Powers is a character from the swinging 60’s. Both are aged in slightly embarrassing ways, but they’re also funny regardless. AUSTIN POWERS is a solid 90’s comedy that has a lot of rewatch value. The near future will tell if the sequels hold up just as well for me though…

Grade: B+

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