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The Guru (2002)
The Guru of fun
There isn't one moment during "The Guru" that we don't know exactly where it's going. Surprise is not a factor in its plotting. Surprise however is a factor in how infectiously good-natured it is. Even its cheeky little swipes at the porn industry are done in pretty good taste (and are probably the funniest aspect). It's almost like the template of romantic comedies has been strictly adhered to, which has freed cast and writer up to just have a good time. And they do. Jimi Mistry is an engaging presence as the Indian destined for something other than waiting than tables, and Heather Graham is very comfortable and a nice sunny presence as the porn star he falls in love with. Lurking in the background, and doing their utmost to steal the show, are Michael McKean as a sleazy porn director, and Christine Baranski as an uptight society hostess. But it's the film's own infectious glee at its blatant silliness is what wins the day here - especially in the song and dance numbers. They may be a tribute to Bollywood movies but when a traditional routine segues into "You're the One That I Want" from "Grease", it's a show-stopping moment.
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
No, baby, no!!
If you enjoyed the jokes in the first and second Austin Powers movies, then you'll love them in the third installment - because they're exactly the same. This must surely rank as one of the laziest comedies ever produced, or the greenest, because everything is recycled. And by adding a knowing, post-modern wink at the blatant plagiarism of it all that supposedly makes it all right. Everything about "Goldmember" is childish and tiresome - it's like being told the same joke over and over again.
Sure, the opening credits were the best bit. But you've still got another 85 minutes to go after that (worst of all, horror of horrors, apparently the first cut was 3 hours long, so that will be one DVD Special Edition to avoid). Unfortunately "Goldmember" has taken a LOT of money so there will be a fourth in the series. But it should at least be interesting to see if Mike Myers can plumb any further depths because the barrel has been well and truly scraped here.
The fixation with turning any old cartoon or TV series into a contemporary movie continues with this adaptation of the classic chidren's stories and cartoons. So much care and attention has been lavished on getting absolutely everything right that you can't help but think to yourself, why did they bother? Sure, it's reasonably pleasant while it's on, and overwhelmingly inoffensive, but do we actually gain much from having a 1998 live action version of Madeline? What does it add exactly?
At least Frances McDormand gets to dabble a little in gentle comedy. Nigel Hawthorne wanders in and out only long enough to pick up his paycheque. However, in one all-too-brief scene Stephane Audran shows how it should be done. Little Hatty Jones is charm itself as Madeline, engaging in various misadventures that lack the urgency of most other kiddie movies, and almost certainly the same level of violence.
It's a film about 9 year old girls. And because of its inoffensive nature in all areas, that's precisely who's going to like it the most.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
BEING VERY WEIRD AND WONDERFUL
And there you were, thinking that Hollywood never really steps out of the box these days and does something that isn't formula or dictated by preview audiences.
How then do you account for this, one of the damnedest things to be ever perpetrated on film.
Even the very title alerts you to the fact that you're about to board the train for Weirdsville.
With a cast featuring performers in surprising places (Diaz all but unrecognisable in a fright wig as the frumpish wife, Keener as the aggressive vamp), the greatest surprise in a film that constantly trades in them is Malkovich himself. (Hell, who else is going to play him?)
He's having a ball, playing a pompous actor who gets well and truly shaken up, especially when he goes through his own portal.
Confused? Don't be. Watch this film and, like the characters, find yourself taken to weird places you'd never thought you'd ever go to.
House on Haunted Hill (1999)
HOUSE ON NOT SO HAUNTED HILL
Hollywood 90s unoriginality at its most blatant. Not content with being a remake of a 50s spooky thriller, this was also in production when DreamWorks were making.... oh, could that be a remake of a 60s spooky thriller?
Never mind, we all think, it can't be any worse than Jan de Bont's lame version of "The Haunting".
Well, actually it can.
Unfortunately it now officially looks like seeing nubile teenagers walking down darkened corridors, flashlight in hand, is no longer interesting.
Especially when they're such underdeveloped and anonymously played characters as these.
For a while at the start, when husband and wife team Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen bitch royally at each other, it almost threatens to become more interesting than it is, but like most things in this tale of various strangers offered $1 million to spend the night in the eponymous location and make it out alive, it's just not followed through.
Kind of difficult to get scared by what appears to be a bunch of iron filings as well.
You've got to wonder about a scary movie when the opening credits and Marilyn Manson's cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" are the best things in it.
The Insider (1999)
BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON ONE OF 1999'S GREAT FILMS
Congratulations to Michael Mann for turning what could have been a solid anti-corporate big business lecture into one of the most blistering and dynamic treatises on our need and right to free speech.
This man must surely rank as one of America's most incisive, intelligent and exciting film makers.
Like Oliver Stone did in "JFK", we are bombarded with facts and styles in the director's quest to tell his story.
The difference here is that the focus is on 2 sharply delineated characters.
Pacino is customarily superb as Lowell Bergman with his backbone of steel, but Crowe is a total revelation as the oppressed Jeffrey Wigand, betrayed at every turn in the cruellest of ways.
It's a stunning piece of work.
Although it doesn't bill itself as such, this daring and compelling tribute to the filthy but magical city of London actually falls within the guidelines of the Danish Dogme movement.
So, like "Festen" and "The Idiots", this is a film without gimmicks or special effects, using only natural lighting and handheld cameras.
It creates a very fluid style of film-making, perfectly apt for a film like this which charts the ebb and flow of living in a big city.
Vibrant, emotive, and superbly acted in the best naturalistic tradition, this marks another stage in Michael Winterbottom's development as a major director.
Summer of Sam (1999)
DO THE SAME THING
Summer 1977 and New York City is in the grip of a stinking hot heatwave and also an atmosphere of panic as a psychopath wanders the streets, shooting couples in parked cars.
Summer 1999 and director Spike Lee is still in the grip of what appears to be a creative fallow period.
A string of uninspired outings have helped make "Do the Right Thing" 10 years ago look like his finest achievement.
So much so that this is almost a (lesser) remake, an Italian version if you will, with hardly a black face in sight.
Is this really a Spike Lee joint?
Actually there's no such thing as a dull Spike Lee movie and this throws in all sorts, from a blast-from-the-past disco soundtrack to a swinging sex orgy to some interesting stylistic touches, notably regarding the serial killer himself.
His encounter with a talking dog is a particular case in point.
But entertaining as this hodge podge is, it's still little more than a hodge podge, with little flavour of a heatwave, the disco-ridden 70s or even of "Do the Right Thing".
Angela's Ashes (1999)
WHEN IRISH EYES AREN'T SMILING
Growing up impoverished in a poor Irish tenement in the 40s.
Wait a minute. Haven't we had this one before?
You know, the old Irish exuberance and resilience winning out over harsh conditions.
And how many times have we seen the Irish immigrant clamber up on a conveniently empty spot on a ship's railing and stare up in wonder as the ship sails past the Statue of Liberty?
Yes, folks, Alan Parker - usually a director to fight shy of cliches - here embraces them full on, and comes up with his dreariest film for some time.
Despite the flashes of humour throughout, there's no getting around the fact that the film is relentlessly downbeat; 3 children all die within the space of the first half hour.
And the limitations of the script mean that 2 usually compulsively watchable stars simply don't register at all as the noble mother and the no-good-for father.
Michael Seresin's slate blue cinematography and John Williams' expressive score help give this the veneer of class it is disappointingly lacking.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Minghella's follow-up to his multi-Oscared "English Patient" is another classy, starry, sumptuous literary adaptation, in this case, a popular murder mystery all about a sociopath-cum-closet homosexual.
It's an elegant, beautifully put-together film, almost too classy an exercise for what is essentially just a murder thriller, no matter how much you dress it up in your best Gucci.
It's easy to see why Ripley is seduced by the luscious Italian countryside, the luscious indolent lifestyle and especially by the luscious playboy himself, played by Jude Law at his most entrancing.
Law's presence dominates the film, even in his absence.