Austin Powers: Goldmember (2002)

Country: United States
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael Caine, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Michael York, Verne Troyer, Mindy Sterling
Cameos: Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brittany Spears, Steven Spielberg, Nathan Lane.
Music: George S. Clinton
‘Soul Bossa Nova’ by Quincy Jones
‘Miss You’ by The Rolling Stones

Austin Powers is back, once again battling master criminal Dr. Evil. The ‘Evil’ scheme this time is, with the help of Hedonistic Dutch metalurgist, Johan Van Der Smut (AKA: Goldmember), to use a tractor beam to drag a solid gold meteorite down to Earth, crashing it into the polar icecap and flooding the planet. The plot; the mission don’t really matter. It’s just framework to hang the jokes upon. Once again Mike Myers plays multiple roles. Not only Austin and Dr. Evil, but Fat Bastard — the oversized odious minion — returns once more and added to the mix is his new character Goldmember (he’s got the midas touch, but he touched it too much). Goldmember is a freaky, disco loving character from the mid 1970s.

Along for the ride are the usual stalwarts of the series. For the good guys we have Michael York as Basil Exposition the Head of British Intelligence. And for the bad guys, we have Robert Wagner as Number 2, Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina, Verne Troyer as Mini Me, and Seth Green as Scott Evil. That is one of the good things about the Austin Powers series is that they were able to keep the cast together over three films.

New characters for this instalment are Foxxy Cleopatra, played by Beyoncé Knowles and although I am not a fan of her musical work (I guess that shows my age), her performance is quite good. She seems to have entered into the spirit of the film and plays her Blaxploitation heroine with just the right amount of swagger.

Michael Caine plays Nigel Powers, Austin’s father and it’s a hammy performance. But Caine has acknowlegdged that in the press. But a hammy performance is all that is required. He gets all the worst dialogue and delivers it in the appropriate manner. But Caine isn’t in the film to act. He is there for his ‘presence’. He is there because he was Harry Palmer, the spy with the thick rimmed glasses. He is there because he played the womaniser Alfie. Put simply Michael Caine is a sixties icon, and his presence is to evoke reminisces about those times and those films. And it must be said, it works well, and allows the film-makers the opportunity for some more not-so-subtle in-jokes. When the film was in pre-production there were rumours that Sean Connery was going to be asked to play Austin’s father and Honor Blackman (who played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger) was going to be asked to play Austin’s mother. In the end I do not know if they were asked. It’s an amusing idea though, that Austin could be the son of James Bond and Pussy Galore. Somehow though, I don’t think it would have worked as successfully as utilising Caine. Sure Connery is Bond, but beyond that – what iconography is attached to Connery? Maybe the Aston Martin? Well Caine has the Mini from The Italian Job, which, let’s face it, is funnier — and is used in the film.

I know after all these years it is easy to look back at the Austin Powers series – particularly the second and third films – and turn up your nose. But these films were extremely successful, and they still retain the sense that they are a ‘love-letter’ to the sixties. Sure there’s some overworked comedy routines on display here – a whole lot of dick, poo and bum jokes – but there are one or two nuggets too. My favourite homages to the films of the sixties and seventies, in Goldmember include Austin’s first meeting with Foxxy at Studio 69, and Nathan Lane sits in as a diversion – the scene is lifted directly from the Peter Sellers comedy caper, After The Fox. Then of course there’s the Michael Caine gags. The man is such a legend that most of the references to his past work barely need explaining. The film references Alfie, The Italian Job, and the Harry Palmer films.

Goldmember is easily the weakest of the three Austin Powers films with way too many moments that reek of crass commercialism, such as the intro with Tom Cruise and others, and the musical interlude with Brittany Spears. Even though the Austin Powers films attempt to be a throwback to the sixties, these modern pop references only serve to date the film. It also must be remembered that the first Austin Powers film, when released at the cinemas wasn’t a massive hit. Only on video did it find an audience. The film-makers, erring on the side of caution, on the second and third films have broadened the humour base. You don’t have to be a spy film uber-geek to get all the jokes and as much as it annoys me, I guess referencing current popular trends does broaden the audience base of the film.

I don’t want you to think that I hate Goldmember, after all the Austin Powers series has brought me a lot of enjoyment, but I am very glad that they wrapped up most of the loose ends with this film (although Scott is still loitering around out there). Each subsequent installment has inadvertently stolen some of the enjoyment I got from the first film, International Man Of Mystery, and if the series were to continue, I feel I would eventually have nothing left but an empty heart and contempt for the film-makers.

Austin Powers: Goldmember (2002)

Icon (2005)

AKA: Frederick Forsyth’s Icon
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Patrick Swayze, Annika Peterson, Michael York, Ben Cross, Patrick Bergin, Jeff Fahey, Joss Ackland, Barry Morse
Music by Mark Kilian and Daniel Light
Based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth

Patrick Swayze has been in the news a bit lately, and while I do not consider my self a fan, I wish him all the best.

A quick viewing of the cover from this DVD conjures up two thoughts. The first concerns Patrick Swayze. I have never seen Ghost or Dirty Dancing and my first instinct is that I do not want to watch a spy mini-series that features him in it. But that would be a mistake, because Swayze is quite good as the lead, and has aged enough that the pretty-boy image from the 1980’s is never really an issue. Second, is that this mini-series is based on a book by Frederick Forsythe. That should be enough to convince most spy fans that Icon is worth a look. After all, many of Forsythe’s stories have been converted into memorable films, such as: The Day Of The Jackal, The Odessa File and The Fourth Protocol. With that in mind I ventured into this 2 part Hallmark mini-series.

The film opens in an un-named city in the Soviet Union. The year is 1985 and Sergei Akopov is trying to defect to the United States. Things have gone wrong and he is running through the cobbled streets of the city with a squad of Russian soldiers on his tail. A team of Americans are waiting with a car for him, but as Akropov enters the city square, surrounded by soldiers, the Americans want to abandon him, and abort the mission. Another American agent, Jason Monk (Patrick Swayze) is also on the streets. He clobbers one of slower Russian soldiers and takes his gun and uniform.

The soldiers have caught Akopov and have thrown him to the ground. Each of them is giving him a good ‘kicking’ when a car pulls up beside. Colonel Igor Kamorov (Patrick Begin) alights the vehicle and begins to interrogate Akopov. Interrupting , Kamorov’s rough-housing, Monk walks into the middle of the fray and announces that he has orders to collect the prisoner. Kamorov isn’t happy but acquiesces. It appears that Monk’s deception has worked.

But not to be. The American agents with the car panic. They drive into the middle of the city square with their guns a-blazin’ in an unnecessary attempt to rescue Monk. A fire fight breaks out and Kamorov kills Akopov. Monk is bundles off to safety, but is angered by his fellow agents incompetence, and equally upset at the senseless waste of life – namely Akopov’s. Consequentially, Monk retires.

It’s now twenty years later, and Russia is in the midst of an election campaign. The two Presidential hopefuls are General Nikolai Nikolaev (Joss Ackland), and Igor Komarov, who has now retired from the KGB. As the campaign builds momentum, an incident changes the course of the election. A blue utility van is parked outside a Komarov Industries building. Inside the van, there is a vast quantity of explosive. Sitting in a car, a distance away, a guy pulls out his cell phone and punches in a number. The van explodes, killing seven people and injuring forty others. Utilising the distraction that a bomb explosion cause, the guy gets out of his car and calmly walks to the Komarov Industries building and breaks in. He knows exactly where he is going and what he is after. The particular building houses many deadly biological weapons, many of them left over from the Cold War. The guy collects a phial of a biological agent known as Restin 81 and leaves. Restin 81 is a ebola variant that kills about ninety-five percent of people who come in contact with the virus. It is particularly nasty stuff.

Sir Nigel Irving (Michael York) is British Intelligence’s top man in Moscow. He finds out about the theft of the bio-agent, and consults with the CIA about launching a mission to retrieve the weapon. All of this is un-official of course, because they have no right to interfere with Russia’s Police and Intelligence operations. The man chosen to ‘go in’, is Jason Monk. Although he has long since retired, he knows Russia well, is off the books – so Sir Nigel can deny it all if something happens, and Monk is/was a specialist in bio-weapons of the era. Monk now lives the quiet life in Andalusia in Spain. Sir Nigel approaches him with a proposition and $500,000. Monk reluctantly agrees.

As this is a two-part mini-series running just under 170 minutes, their are numerous subplots and a multitude of characters to follow throughout the story – all I have outlined here is a very simple overview. Icon tries to deceive you into thinking that it is a new kind of spy story – that is high-tech and up to the minute. But in reality, despite any glossy veneer, it is an old fashioned spy drama (and that’s good thing!)

Just by using Monk, an ‘old school’ operative who has been out of the game for twenty years to track down the old Soviet era weapon, tells you that Icon’s heart lies in the past. This is re-enforced by the casting of Michael York as Monk’s controller.

As I said at the top, when I picked up a copy of this DVD, I had my reservations about it, but Icon is actually pretty good.

Icon (2005)

The Riddle Of The Sands (1979)

Directed by Tony Maylam
Michael York, Simon MacCorkindale, Alan Badel, Jenny Agutter, Wolf Kahler.
Music by Howard Blake

Those of you who have struggled through my numerous postings will notice I have a fascination with the beginnings of the spy genre and how it has evolved. That includes all the historical books and characters that were the precursors to the great spy boom in the sixties. Early characters like Bulldog Drummond, Richard Hannay, Ashendon, and even Fu Manchu. And books like Eskine Childers The Riddle Of The Sands. Here’s a bit of a preamble before I get to the review.

When you look up the history of spy stories, a few names pop up again and again. One of those names is Erskine Childers, and his novel The Riddle Of The Sands is considered to be one of the classics of the genre. Peter Haining is his book, ‘The Classic Era Of Crime Fiction’, has this to say:

“The 1903 marked a watershed in the history of espionage fiction with the publication of The Riddle Of The Sands: A Record Of Secret Service by Erskine Childers…the novel which marked the transition between the late nineteenth century genre of imaginary invasions and the coming of the ‘heroic spy novel’ in the twentieth century…”

We skip forward 76 years to this film production.

The film starts off the Frisan Islands, Germany in 1901. Arthur Davies (Simon MacCorkindale) is an amateur yachtsman and is charting the islands and the sandbars for The Admiralty. His solitude is interrupted when he spies the boat, the Medusa. From that boat a girl, Clara (Jenny Agutter) rows across and invites him to dinner. He accepts the invitation.

That evening, on the Medusa, Davies meets Clara’s father, Dollman (Alan Badel), who is the captain of the boat. Another guest is a German military officer. Over dinner, Davies in probed about his presence in the area. He says he is going to try his luck as a hunter and shoot some duck. Dollman and the German officer are polite, but try to persuade Davies to move on. They say that there are no duck in the area.

The next morning, Davies awakens to a cacophony of duck song. It appears that something in this area is not quite above board. So Davies sends a letter to his friend, Charles Caruthers (Michael York). Caruthers works for the Foreign Office, or F.O. as it is often called is spy literature and films. Davies invites Carithers to join him on his yacht. Caruthers agrees thinking it will be a luxury cruise. Instead he gets a berth on Davies’ small yacht, which began it’s life as a lifeboat.

Davies conveys his concerns, and suggests that Dollman is trying to kill him. At first Caruthers is sceptical, but piece by piece, incident by incident, it seems that Davies (and Caruthers as his traveling companion) are not welcome in these waters. Soon the two amateur sailors are snooping about, and stumble on the plans for a German invasion of largely undefended stretches of the English coastline

One of the problems with the film is that it feels like a period drama than a spy film. That is not because of the way it is shot or even the story, but because of the pedestrian pacing (particularly at the start). And the build up to the climax, could have been more tense. The Riddle Of The Sands cannot be considered one of the great spy films, but it is a very earnest and fairly successful attempt at bringing one of the great espionage novels to the silver screen.

What the film does have going for it, is some great atmospheric cinematography by Christopher Challis. The scenes as our two protagonists row towards Memot in heavy fog are well shot and very evocative. Equally the production design by Hazel Peiser and the set design by Robin Peyton lift the film above the ordinary.

So to finish off, I thought I’d shed a bit more light on The Riddle Of The Sands author, Eskine Childers. Despite the book’s status it appears that Childers was not a popular guy. At the end of the first World War he settled in Dublin and joined the I.R.A. Quoting from Haining again:

“..Childers was regarded as ‘the best hated man in the British Isles’ – Winston Churchill branded him ‘a mischief making, murderous renegade’.“

Subsequently Childers was arrested in 1922 and condemned to death. He was executed by firing squad. Such is life.

The Riddle Of The Sands (1979)