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Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: Austin Powers vs The Fifth Element

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Well, here we are in our second-to-last bout of this bracket game and we’ve got a pretty surprising pairing fighting it out for a spot in the final. As I did previously, I’ll be covering a couple of actors from the flicks in question.

Before we do that, let’s see what movie the winner here will be facing. Hold on a second, I have to go check. Give me a moment…It’s Boogie Nights. That’s pretty impressive considering it came out of the sixteen seed.

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Sometimes the specific time in which you grow up really plays a number on your perceptions. The first of two actors I’m going to cover for this contest is a guy who I always thought of as being a bit of an…overrated goof of a leading man who was never actually good enough to actually make it big in movies. While some of that appraisal might stray uncomfortably close to truth, it’s also entirely unfair. It’s kind of hard to blame me considering that my introduction to Robert Wagner was in his role in the early 80s husband-wife glamorous detective drama “Hart to Hart.” I was nine years old when the show debuted and Wagner was playing the dashing leading man at the age of forty-nine. At my current age that doesn’t seem so old, but at the time the idea that he and Stefanie Powers were some sort of ideal was a little hard to swallow. The show stayed on the air until 1984, so they only got older and I only became the most judgmental creature on the face of the earth: a teenager. He didn’t stand a chance.

So when Wagner reappeared more than a decade later as Dr. Evil’s right hand man “Number Two,” in the Austin Powers movies, it appeared to be nothing more than stunt casting and you had to hand it to the guy for being in on the joke. Take a look at this speech Mike Myers made for an AFI event, though. He paints a picture of a pretty impressive guy.

In case you are tempted to think Myers is indulging in a little bit of overstatement, consider the fact that as a young actor, Robert Wagner was represented by Albert R Broccoli. Yeah, that guy. He was even asked to audition for the famous producer’s most notorious and successful character, and turned it down. The well-known films he actually did appear in included With a Song in my Heart, 1953’s Titanic (during which the 22 year old Wagner began a relationship with the 45 year old Barbara Stanwyck), Prince Valiant, The Longest Day, The Pink Panther, and The Towering Inferno. Maybe more impressive is his list of Hollywood paramours, which have included Stanwyck, Yvonne De Carlo, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Collins. Also he was married to Natalie Wood…twice (no, I’m not going to go into those allegations).

Now we move on from a man who it is perhaps possible to underestimate to an actor it is pretty hard to over-estimate. In contrast to my introduction to Robert Wagner, the first time I became aware of Gary Oldman was in an inarguably cool role, when he played the tragic and violent addict and imaginary rock musician Sid Vicious in the stunning Sid and Nancy. A few years later he starred alongside Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss in a film adaptation of one of my favorite stage plays, Tom Stoppard’s modern masterpiece Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Quickly afterward, he put himself in danger of wandering into John Malkovich territory by overplaying his hand as a villain, but somehow he managed to produce a wide variety of unique characters and never wore out his welcome in these parts. Consider this rogue’s gallery of baddies – Oldman played Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK, the title role in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, pimp Drexl Spivey in True Romance, and a corrupt DEA agent in Leon: The Professional. That film’s director Luc Besson, invited Oldman to then play the central villain in his longtime pet project, The Fifth Element. Watch him explain Keynesian economic theory.

So what do you do as an actor when you keep getting cast in similar roles? You create one of the more unexpected and eccentric characterizations on what is already a pretty eccentric resume. Oldman’s space gangster Zorg is worth the price of admission for the whole film. That same year he played a terrorist in the Harrison Ford action film Air Force One, but as we know that movie was later dealt a serious blow to its reputation when it was knocked out of this bracket game in the first round.

Hey, what if all of these villainous roles were simply a ploy to set up his turn as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies? That would reflect quite a bit of foresight, wouldn’t it?

Yes, he also played Commissioner Gordon in the Christopher Nolan Batman films. Which movie deserves to move on? Vote here and then argue about why one of the films should be in the final and about three others shouldn’t.

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Posted on January 31, 2017, in bracket game, comedy, Movies, poll and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Yeah, I was introduced to Robert Wagner through “Hart to Hart” (I think that Wagner/Stanwyck deal is hot though; go them!); my parents watched reruns. I believe it was 1986, and my pals & I got in trouble for breaking a friend’s neighbor’s window when the rocks we were throwing at beer bottles missed, and my father had to pick me up.
    He was angry for the window, but also angry because he was missing “Hart to Hart”.
    Broccoli? Oh yeah, the Bond guy. I haven’t had Broccoli in weeks though.
    Ah, Gary Oldman’s great; I believe “Sid and Nancy” is the first film I viewed him in, even though I didn’t see that film until 1995. I caught up to his other works after that.
    I voted for the Austin Powers flick, since I just realized I liked “12 Monkeys” more than I like “The Fifth Element”.

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  2. For some reason I’ve always confused Robert Wagener with actor George Hamilton. I was convinced that Rober Duvall’s replacement in GFIII (well, sort of) was the same guy who played the bad guy in Austin Powers.
    I don’t really know where this mix up comes from, they don’t really lookalike.
    They did play together in Hart to Hart though, Google tells me:

    https://www.google.nl/search?q=robert+wagner+george+hamilton&biw=1280&bih=938&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi635bo2O7RAhWrA8AKHbFwA1YQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=64d-yvDDCEpsxM%3A

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  3. My vote won’t surprise anyone. I actively dislike The Fifth Element. Daffy’s write-ups are making me think I might need to give it another chance, but I’m fond of Austin Powers so it gets my vote. Whichever comedy wins, I’m voting for Boogie Nights in the final round.

    The final round!! Is it me or did this bracket game go by entirely too fast? Probably because of excellent write-ups like this one. I was really only vaguely aware of Wagner growing up. I had heard the allegations that Daffy sidestepped. I never watched Hart to Hart, but I knew of its existence. I thought he was fantastic in Austin Powers. Also loved Rob Lowe’s young Robert Wagner impression in the sequels.

    Gary Oldman’s cool and all. But sometimes, I think he doesn’t just veer into John Malkovich. He takes it over and renames it Oldman town. When the trailer for The Professional came out, everyone at the theater I worked at started saying the word “everyone” like this:

    It still cracks me up. I like Oldman, but I also like ham.

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    • If you don’t like the Fifth Element because it’s a crazy mess, a second viewing isn’t going to change your opinion. It absolutely is a mess, but I’d guess that’s part of what its fans like about it. Does it stand up to critical examination the way most really good movies do? No way. The tone is all over the place and there are unforgivably cartoony or dumb moments. That said, there are also undeniably fun elements and performances that make me like it anyway.

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      • I actually watched it a couple times in the theater (we had a print so it was very convenient to do so). Back in my single guy days, rewatching a movie I didn’t like the first time was a pretty common practice because I had nothing but time on my hands (although I somehow thought I was busy). The movie was conceived by Besson as a kid and it feels like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the script was written in crayon. It doesn’t feel like he went back and polished his original concept very much. Some of it was crazy fun. But overall, the nails on a chalkboard factor (largely Tucker) outweighed the fun factor for me in my 20’s. I wonder if looking at it now with lowered expectations I might see things differently. Probably not much differently, but it’s possible. I don’t mind messy movies.

        I keep meaning to go back to my notes. I had a scratch list for 1997 in case you weren’t available to run this game. I wonder if I had 5th Element in the running at all. I’m very surprised to see it at this stage of the game. If I’d have left it off, it would have been an oversight on my part.

        Edit: Looks like I had Starship Troopers up against Men in Black in the first round. No 5th Element on my list. I had sort of assumed readers felt the same way about it that I did. Ooops. Wrong.

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        • Starship Troopers. One movie that a lot of people missed the point on yet has gone on to gain a cult following.

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        • Yeah, I think “Starship Troopers” is very good; I’m glad I gave it a chance.

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        • I will admit, I was one of those people initially.

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        • So was I, but fortunately I watch things, well, just because, and that time I received an unexpected payoff from the film.

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        • I do make a practice of revisiting movies I didn’t like the first time. More often than not, my initial impression doesn’t change all that much. But I have come to appreciate Starship Troopers. I’ll take it over The 5th Element any day! 😉

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        • Lebeau did, in fact, write a whole article asking himself whether his initial judgment of Starship Troopers was fair.

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      • I liked it enough that I enjoyed it when I watched it. But it left very little behind once it ended. I saw it one more time when it came to video. But that was the last. I agree with an observation in my local paper:

        “It looks great, but see it and then try to explain the story to a friend. It’s impossible. And it’s emotionally cold.”

        I was a far bigger fan of the aforementioned Professional (Besson’s previous film).

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  4. That video of Mike Myers praising Robert Wagner is priceless. Mr. Wagner just became a hundred times cooler in my eyes. Plus, wowza that list of his love interests! And, he turned down the offer to play Bond? Ok, make that a thousand times cooler.

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  5. I’m not a fan of either of these, but AUSTIN POWERS was not terrible. THE FIFTH ELEMENT was. Edge to AUSTIN. Go BOOGIE NIGHTS!

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  6. Austin and it’s not even close. So many quotable lines, so many frozen moments in pop culture. A triumph of soundtrack and satire.

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