Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

February 19, 2010

Sky high!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:47 pm

February 19, 2009

Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Director: Jason Reitman

Who would have expected laughs from a film that taps into two of the most relevant fears and anxieties of our times? Up In The Air, directed by Jason Reitman, turns a story about air-travel and redundancy into a smart, poignant, and oddly comical film experience.

George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a bachelor and professional corporate downsizer, who spends some 322 days a year in a business-class bubble, flying across America and firing luckless company employees whose bosses are too cowardly to do the dirty job themselves.

Just so you understand the man we’re dealing with, Bingham is emotionally detached from the real world, happy to be notching up air miles, and miserable about having to return for even 40 or so days a year to his characterless apartment. Home, as we hear him say sitting in his reclining airline seat, is right here.

His carefree existence leaves him free for casual no-strings-attached encounters with fellow business traveler Alex (played by Vera Farmiga), who schedules her flights to synchronize their one-night stands. His perfect life is threatened, however, when his company hires dynamic, twenty-something newbie Natalie (played by Anna Kendrick) who reckons she can do Bingham’s job more efficiently by firing people over the Internet.

The film works from the moment in because it’s so sharply written, and because it avoids cliché and sentimentality at every unpredictable turn. It’s not easy to find sympathy for a man who makes a living firing others, a man who isn’t interested in real relationships, who really wishes he didn’t have any responsibility to family. But Clooney and his director Reitman pull this off superbly, and they do it without turning Bingham soft, allowing you instead to see him with his warts and all.

The scenes in which he fires company staffers are chilling, and it helps that the director hired many real people who were recently laid off, to play those roles. The humiliation, the anger, the desperation on their faces is more convincing and authentic than actors might have been able to bring.

Despite its often grim subject matter, Up In The Air offers an enjoyable balance of laughs and sorrows. Both actresses — Farmiga and Kendrick — provide some flawless support, but it’s Clooney’s show from start to finish, and he plays Bingham with just the right combination of melancholy and charm.

I’m going with four out of five for director Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air. It’s an insightful comedy that will linger in your mind for days. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Out of focus

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

February 19, 2010

Cast: Shreyas Talpade, Sneha Ullal, Sada

Director: Sangeeth Sivan

Click, directed by Sangeeth Sivan, is a horror movie. And just so you know, I don’t mean that as a genre description. This embarrassingly amateurish film stars Shreyas Talpade as a (rather unconvincing) hotshot photographer who’s returning home from an evening of drunken revelry, with his equally inebriated girlfriend at the wheel of their car. When they accidentally knock down a girl on a desolate road, the couple flees the spot. Soon after, he is haunted by an otherworldly presence. His photographs suddenly appear to reveal a supernatural element, and his friends begin to kill themselves. His girlfriend decides to investigate these strange occurrences and chances upon a murky secret involving a former lover.

Generously inspired from the similarly harebrained-but-at-least-marginally engaging American B-movie Shutter, which was itself a remake of a Thai original, Sivan’s desi version borrows visual references from so many Japanese and Korean films it’s hard to keep count.

To be honest, there’s not one scary moment in this film; in fact it’s unintentionally hilarious, particularly that portion in which Shreyas is chased down a ladder with a white-faced ghost in hot pursuit. Sneha Ullal (who you may remember as the Aishwarya Rai-lookalike in that Salman Khan-starrer Lucky) plays the ghost in question who just won’t quit. There’s also a ludicrous side-track involving a mother who has gone to unbelievable lengths to convince herself that her daughter’s not dead.

Painfully dreary and packed with tacky special effects, Click offers very little in terms of entertainment. The usually dependable Shreyas Talpade fails to pull off a convincing performance, and looks woefully miscast as a slick lensman.

For a few good laughs, if nothing else, I recommend you revisit one of those old Ramsay films instead of this plodding bore.

I’m going with one out of five for director Sangeeth Sivan’s Click. What’s scary is that films like these get made!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Match made in hell

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:21 pm

February 19, 2010

Cast: Tabu, Sharman Joshi, Vatsal Seth, Yuvika Chaudhary

Director: Kedar Shinde

What do you call an elder sister who encourages her younger sibling to fall in love with a promising suitor, then demands that she forget about him and focus her attention on the next guy, when it appears this one might be more loaded?

Toh Baat Pakki, directed by Kedar Shinde, is an idiotic and regressive film that’s trying to pass off as a light-hearted family entertainer in the spirit of those old-fashioned Rajshri movies.

Tabu stars as Rajeshwari Saxena, a meddlesome but well-meaning housewife who’s playing ping-pong with her li’l sister’s feelings. After orchestrating a romance between houseguest Rahul (played by Sharman Joshi) and younger sister Nisha (played by Yuvika Chaudhary), she decides to break up the couple when she finds a more eligible guy, Yuvraj (played by Vatsal Seth) who she believes is more deserving of her sister’s hand.

The inherently offensive nature of the film’s central premise is shrouded under the director’s feel-good treatment of the same. Set in a quaint, idyllic small-town that distinctly resembles Ooty, the film struggles unsuccessfully to channel the simplistic, charming humour of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films, and the family-friendly melodrama of Sooraj Barjatya’s early hits. But in the absence of a coherent script, and the obvious lack of conviction on the director’s part, Toh Baat Pakki is ultimately a bumpy, confused ride.

The film’s second half in particular is convoluted and unconvincing what with Rahul embarking on a preposterous plan to sabotage Nisha’s wedding with Yuvraaj.

Of the cast, Sharman Joshi makes a half-decent attempt to save those uninspired scenes with his spontaneous charm, and Tabu knows exactly how to play Rajeshwari naively without turning her into the villain of the piece. But dumped with such mediocre material, neither is able to rise above this travesty.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Kedar Shinde’s Toh Baat Pakki. Merely throwing in a half-dozen songs and littering the film with a hundred smiling faces won’t turn it into the next Hum Aapke Hain Koun.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 12, 2010

Beast of burden

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:57 pm

February 12, 2010

Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt

Director: Joe Johnston

The Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro is a spectacularly silly remake of the 1941 classic werewolf movie starring Lon Chaney Jr. This brand new version set in 1891 England stars del Toro as Shakespearean actor Lawrence Talbot who returns to his family’s estate after his brother’s murder at the hands of a mysterious creature. This unhappy visit reunites him with his estranged father (played by Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s fiancée (played by Emily Blunt), but when he himself is bitten by the beast, he too becomes a werewolf on the run from angry locals.

Despite its sturdy cast, some neat special effects, and the appropriately gloomy camerawork and set design, The Wolfman never quite succeeds as a thrilling B-movie, burdened as it is with that ponderous story of a prodigal son who must finally confront his family’s dark past. Too much screen-time is wasted in profound verbal exchanges between Talbot Sr and Jr, when what you really want more of are some good old-fashioned scares.

There’s one really delicious scene in a mental asylum where del Toro’s character, strapped down into a seat, transforms into the beast before a packed hall that only moments ago was mocking him for his hallucinations. Alas there aren’t too many such spine-tingling moments that might have elevated this plodding saga into a fun-fueled ride.

Emily Blunt is always watchable, even in her bit part here; while Anthony Hopkins’ indifference suggests he’s too bored to bother with a performance. It’s Benicio del Toro who brings that doomed quality to his central role, but fails to invest any humanity in the character, and as a result you can’t empathize with his unfortunate condition.

Ultimately, The Wolfman is cheesy Hollywood schlock, and while it’s not a complete waste of time, I can’t honestly say that it’s anything more than a time-pass viewing. So two out of five for The Wolfman; it’s not scary enough to be exciting, and not campy enough to amuse you.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mush ado about nothing

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:47 pm

February 12, 2009

Cast: Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel

Director: Garry Marshall

It must take a special kind of talent to make a film as bad as Valentine’s Day. This alleged romantic comedy from Pretty Woman director Garry Marshal features an all-star cast of Hollywood’s brightest actors, and yet manages to waste every single one of them in dull, thankless roles.

Opening on the morning of February 14 in Los Angeles, this film follows 21-or-so characters as they live out every romantic-movie cliché you can think of over the course of one full day. Ashton Kutcher plays a florist who proposes to his girlfriend Jessica Alba. He spends pretty much the entire day mooning over her to his co-worker George Lopez and his best friend Jennifer Garner.

The best-friend is all gooey-eyed for her own boyfriend, heart-surgeon Patrick Dempsey who seems to have hardly any time for her. Jamie Foxx is a TV sports reporter who’s been assigned to cover a fluffy romantic story, much to his chagrin, and Jessica Biel plays a publicist who throws “I Hate Valentine’s Day” parties with her single, cynical friends.

Queen Latifah stars as a celebrity agent, whose assistant Anne Hathaway discretely doubles up as a phone-sex operator even as her boyfriend Topher Grace wonders about those mysterious calls she always leaves the room to answer. Julia Roberts is a soldier making a 14-hour journey so she can spend her one-day-leave with her true love, while Bradley Cooper plays her curious co-passenger on the flight.

Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo play a long-married couple raising their young grandson who’s dealing with his first crush, while his babysitter Emma Roberts is contemplating her ‘first-time’ with her boyfriend.

Bland, boring and frustratingly formulaic, Valentine’s Day is best described as a dumb distant cousin ofLove Actually, but without the sharp wit of that excellent British rom-com. It’s just a sickeningly sappy film with so much talk of flowers, gifts, cards and romantic dinners that by the end of those two long hours, the sight of a couple even holding hands is likely to make you vomit.

This Valentine’s Day, if you want to break up with your partner, this is the film to take her to. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five and a thumbs-down for Garry Marshal’s Valentine’s Day; it’s contrived and predictable, and like an oversweet pastry it makes you sick to the stomach.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Such a long journey

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:02 pm

February 12, 2010

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Zarina Wahab, Jimmy Shergill

Director: Karan Johar

In an early voice-over in director Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan, Shah Rukh Khan’s character Rizwan says his mother loved him unconditionally from the moment he was born, never disappointed or embarrassed of his autism. It’s hard not to feel the same kind of unconditional love for Rizwan when you’re sitting there in your seat, listening to him as he innocently offers to repair the air-conditioner in a high-security US prison where he is being held and tortured by a suspicious FBI who cannot understand why he’s determined to meet the US President.

Rizwan Khan has Asperger’s Syndrome since birth; he has a problem expressing emotions, he rejects physical intimacy, he’s bothered by crowded spaces and loud noise, and he’s disturbed by the sight of anything yellow. Other than that, he’s quite smart actually. He can repair faulty home appliances and crack word puzzles in an instant. What he cannot mend is his wife’s broken heart, when 9/11 delivers a personal blow.

My Name Is Khan is an inherently sincere, yet unabashedly sentimental story of Rizwan Khan and his Forrest Gump-ish journey across America to meet the US President so he can tell him that every Muslim is not a terrorist.

The film’s message of religious tolerance and global secularism is an important one, but hardly new. Johar’s occasionally naïve script places a series of seemingly impossible hurdles in the way of Rizwan, that he overcomes with sheer good-heartedness and love. Like the clunky portion where he returns to a hurricane-hit small-town in Georgia and inspires a community rebuilding effort.

The director sacrifices subtlety and goes all-guns-blazing to emotionally seduce you. Rizwan’s romance with Hindu single-mom Mandira (played by Kajol) and his bond with her son provide the anchor points in a film that tends to overwhelm you with convenient touches.

My Name Is Khan has Johar’s typical cheesy flourishes, like the moment when a church choir sings We Shall Overcome and Rizwan breaks into Hum Honge Kamyab. However, for the most part, the director makes a departure from his bubblegum themes.

At roughly two hours and forty minutes, the film is a tad long and packs in every possible plot point that might elicit an emotional response. There are encounters with fundamentalists, the stirring of a nationwide humanitarian campaign, even montage moments of hate crimes against innocent Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11.

But My Name Is Khan steams ahead confidently, propelled by the chemistry of its leads. Johar is on rock-solid ground when he’s exploring the relationship between Rizwan and Mandira, investing the film with its finest moments. Watch how Shah Rukh and Kajol virtually bounce off each other in the Tere naina song, and the innocent cheekiness of that post-wedding bedroom scene when they finally discuss what they must get down to doing.

In a striking performance that’s right up there alongside Swades and Chak De India, Shah Rukh Khan is endearing and restrained and makes it very hard for you not to lose your heart to him. He never turns the Aspergers-afflicted Rizwan into a caricature, using his peculiarities to warm up to you instead. Notice how he repeats his lines over and over again, or jumps in to correct someone when they’ve mispronounced his name, or how he hides his face and blushes when Mandira asks him to marry her.

Bringing emotional depth to what is essentially Rizwan’s story, Kajol is immensely likeable as Mandira, using her eyes to convey volumes, topping the performance off with a powerful breakdown scene that literally puts her through the wringer.

In all fairness, My Name Is Khan benefits considerably from inspired casting. Zarina Wahab is heart-warming as Rizwan’s mother, and Soniya Jehan exudes a quiet grace in the role of his supportive sister-in-law. A thumbs-up also for Tanay Chheda who plays the young Rizwan with remarkable consistency.

The film shamelessly tugs at your heartstrings and on more than one occasion wallops you to weep. Aided by solid camerawork, tight editing and a layered story, Johar crafts an engaging, stirring saga that is earnest and noble. With this message movie in the mainstream format, the director takes a step in the right direction.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan. Watch it for its star who doesn’t miss a beat.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 5, 2010

Malvani musings

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:36 pm

February 05, 2010

Cast: Siddharth, Aditya Pancholi,

Director: Chandan Arora

Set in the 1980s in Malvani, a claustrophobic ghetto of suburban Mumbai, Striker, directed by Chandan Arora is a gritty slice-of-life movie that never achieves its full potential. Remarkably shot and competently performed, the film is let down by a confused script that can’t decide what point to make.

Rang De Basanti‘s Siddharth stars as Surya, a poor boy who aspires for a better life than the one he’s currently living in a dingy shack that he shares with five members of his family. When his efforts to make a passport and land a job in Dubai prove fruitless, Surya has no choice but to use his superb carrom-playing skills to make a living. His friend Zaid (played by Ankur Vikal) introduces him to the local goon Jaleel Bhai (played by Aditya Pancholi) who runs illegal gambling and betting dens in the neighborhood, where Surya must play for big money. Expectedly his involvement with Jaleel Bhai gets him into trouble with the cops, distances him from his family, and ends not very nicely at all.

Striker scores full marks for authenticity — for its accurate portrayal of the city’s dark underbelly, for its use of real locations and for its consistent colloquial dialogue.

Director Chandan Arora does a bang-up job of creating entirely believable characters who you will care for. Like Surya’s earnest elder brother (played by Anoop Soni) who repeatedly urges him to pursue a real job, however low-paying. Or his sister (played by Vidya Malavade) who is sympathetic and supportive but ultimately a mute spectator when he’s banished from the house by the eldest sibling. Or even Zaid, his best friend and an occasional drug-dealer who’s living life on the edge but is eternally optimistic and blessed with infectious enthusiasm.

The film falters eventually because it can’t find its feet. There’s a side-track about the communal riots which is never fully developed. There are two romantic tracks, the first entirely dispensable, the second too convenient. Surya’s journey too comes off as half-baked, and his final voice-over which is meant to put things into perspective, leaves you entirely underwhelmed.

And that’s a pity. Because Striker has so much going for it. Aditya Pancholi is appropriately menacing as the scar-faced villain; and Siddharth delivers an excellent performance as Surya, displaying vulnerability when required, or chocolate-boy charm when that is needed. From the physicality of his part to the emotional mind-space he must inhabit, Sidharth creates a fully flesh-and-blood character out of Surya.

Stealing the show, however, is Ankur Vikal who is extraordinary as the free-spirited, hyperactive Zaid. It’s among the finest acting pieces you will see this year.

Despite Arora’s solid efforts, the film loses steam well before the end credits roll. Although only two hours in running time, the movie feels endlessly long, and fails to culminate satisfyingly. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Chandan Arora’s Striker. It’s not a bad film by any measure, but it most definitely could’ve been better. Watch it for some excellent acting and for its gritty realistic feel.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Truck by chance

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:31 pm

February 05, 2010

Cast: Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco, Fred Ward

Director: Nimród Antal

Armored starring Matt Dillon is a heist-gone-wrong movie that, ironically enough goes terribly wrong in its final minutes.

A bunch of talented actors including Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Skeet Ulrich, Columbus Short and Dillon himself star as disgruntled security guards on a fleet of armored trucks carrying millions of dollars. Stuck in that low-paying, dead-end job, surrounded by all that money but none of it theirs, the group decides to hijack their own vehicles and pocket the 42 million-dollar payload. All goes according to plan until the straight-arrow rookie Ty (played by Short), an Iraq war veteran, decides he wants out when an innocent bystander is killed in this operation. The group won’t let him walk, so he locks himself and the money inside one of the trucks while the rest figure out how to tear through the armored vehicle.

Simplistic in its premise, most of the film unfolds in an abandoned warehouse, and in real time. It’s watchable because it’s a believable story about ordinary guys who think they can get away with their crime without spilling any blood. When things go wrong however, they reveal just how desperate and dumb they are.

Armored isn’t exactly an edge-of-the-seat thriller, but there are some tense moments as you watch Ty use his war skills to protect himself and the cop who happens to chance into the warehouse. It’s in the last act that it all becomes totally preposterous for the sake of a compromised hopeful ending that doesn’t ring true at all.

Nevertheless, it’s an easy one-time watch if you don’t set your expectations too high. Two-and-a-half out of five for Armored; it’s not a bad option on a day you have nothing better to do.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Revenge best served cold!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:21 pm

February 05, 2010

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler

Director: F Gary Gray

Law Abiding Citizen starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx is a stomach-churning revenge thriller that’s lacking in logic or rationality, but packs enough of those jump-in-your-seat moments for it to qualify as a half-decent watch.

Ten years after witnessing the brutal murder of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton (played by Butler) begins a terrifying campaign of revenge against everyone responsible for his tragedy, including public prosecutor Nick Rice (played by Foxx) whom he holds responsible for one of the two killers being let off lightly.

Shelton delivers his own brand of justice to both killers, first making sure the one convicted suffers a slower, longer, more painful death than he was meant to. Then he hunts down the one who got away and slices and dices him into pieces, while videotaping the entire execution. He sends a DVD of this gruesome slaughter to the prosecutor’s home so his little daughter can see it.

Shelton’s promptly arrested and imprisoned, but manages to continue his serial killings from behind bars, smirking all along, never denying his actions, but raising the frightening possibility that someone outside is helping him.

To some extent the film works on a visceral level; it succeeds in shocking you with the manner in which Shelton turns vengeance into a game. You’re just as baffled as the characters in the film are as to how he manages to further his rampage from within the walls of a maximum-security prison, although the big revelation is a complete disappointment.

Law Abiding Citizen also offers itself as a critique of the American judicial system, but that’s really pushing it too far. In the end the film gets tiresome and repetitive because it can’t seem to develop its promising premise beyond a string of grisly mysterious killings.

I’m going with two out of five for Law Abiding Citizen. What could have been a Silence of the Lambs-style chilling thriller, ends up a dumb, blood-splattered B-movie. Watch it if you’re not turned off by gruesome violence!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Paradise lost

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:13 pm

February 05, 2010

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis

Director: Peter Billingsley

There’s an old joke in Hollywood that no script written at a Starbucks has ever gotten made into a film. It refers to the fact that just about everyone in Los Angeles is trying to write a movie; everyone with a laptop in a coffee-shop is more than likely hammering out a script.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Couples Retreat is the kind of film that was probably written at a Starbucks. But I know that’s not true; it’s been written by two of the film’s stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, who probably knocked it out in their plush condos in the Hollywood Hills.

Fourteen years ago, the two guys starred in the far superior Swingers (which Favreau wrote incidentally), a comedy about twenty-something guys figuring out life and women as they traversed through the LA social scene. Coming from the same team, Couples Retreat is an utterly unimaginative letdown.

This film follows four couples as they visit a luxurious tropical island resort for sun, sea, spas and sex, but end up having to do lots of therapy and soul-searching instead.

Laughs must be drawn from such clichéd gags as untimely erections and suggestive yoga poses, and if that doesn’t work for you, surely you can’t resist the sight of a kid peeing into a model toilet in a furnishings store!

Fine actors like Jason Bateman, Kristen Davis, Jean Reno and Vaughn and Favreau themselves are wasted in this un-funny comedy about marriage mash-ups, which expectedly ends in a syrupy-sweet climax.

The actors spent a month shooting this film in gorgeous Bora Bora so it’s not like they went home empty handed from this experience. But I can’t think of one reason I’d recommend you watch this film. Not even for AR Rahman’s score, which is just as uninspired as the film.

One out of five and a thumbs-down for Couples Retreat; it’s so formulaic and fake you really couldn’t care less if these couples stay together, get divorced or are eaten up by sharks!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Powered by WordPress