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

April 30, 2010

House arrest!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:07 pm

April 30, 2010

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ritesh Deshmukh, Arjun Rampal

Director: Sajid Khan

In the climax of director Sajid Khan’s ‘Housefull’, a cylinder of laughing gas is accidentally released during a state function at Buckingham Palace. Hundreds of gathered guests break into unstoppable laughter, and even the famously stiff-lipped Queen cracks a smile. Ironically, by now your own laughter has long since dried up.

‘Housefull’ is the kind of pedestrian comedy that makes ‘Singh Is King’ feel like a Woody Allen gem. It’s the kind of film that will stop at nothing to get a laugh out of you. So a monkey is slapped and punched, a black baby becomes the butt of a racist joke, and the words “homo” and “gay” are used liberally as a form of insult.

The humor here is strictly low-brow and the gags mostly slapstick. It doesn’t help that the director plagiarizes many of his jokes directly from popular American comedies like ‘Night at the Museum’ and ‘Meet The Parents’, and even whacks an old gag involving a vacuum cleaner gone beserk from the “Mr Bean” TV series.

The premise itself is a flimsy one centered on a perennially unlucky fellow played by Akshay Kumar, and his misadventures during his search for the perfect bride. In the tradition of similarly dimwitted comedies like “Welcome” and “Golmaal Returns”, the screenplay banks on instances of mistaken identities and misunderstandings to take the narrative forward.

Ritesh Deshmukh who stars as Akshay’s best friend, is passed off by his wife Lara Dutta as the family cook when her father suddenly shows up unannounced. And Deepika Padukone, who stars as Akshay’s girlfriend, must present Lara Dutta as his sister, when Deepika’s brother Arjun Rampal decides to pay a visit.

This merry-go-round of madness is neither imaginative nor original, and when the director can’t think of any other direction to go with his scenes, he gets his characters to stand in a circle and slap each other repeatedly.

Some genuine laughs are provided by peripheral characters like Chunky Pandey who plays a half-Italian hotel owner named Aakhri Pasta, and Boman Irani who appears as Lara Dutta’s farsan-baron father who makes the trip from Gujarat to London to see his estranged daughter.

Of the leads, Akshay Kumar has a few moments of convincing straight-faced humor, but he does nothing new that you haven’t seen him do before. The ladies aren’t expected to do much more than look comfortable in skimpy beachwear, and Ritesh Deshmukh and Arjun Rampal make for reasonably engaging background distractions.

In all fairness, some jokes do make you laugh but those are few and far between. For the most part ‘Housefull’ makes you cringe in embarrassment and disgust for what passes off as ‘entertainment’ and ‘cinema’ these days. Bereft of craft and style, and lacking in even simple storytelling, the film is a test of your endurance.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Sajid Khan’s ‘Housefull’. If corny humor is your thing, give this film a chance. If you have even a modicum of intelligence or taste, however, stay far away from this one!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Time warped

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:58 pm

April 30, 2010

Cast: John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson

Director: Steve Pink

In ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ three friends from high school, disillusioned in middle age, decide to revisit the ski resort where they used to hang out, for a weekend of nostalgia. John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson star as the grumpy 40-somethings who drive up to Kodiak Valley only to find out the entire town’s now a deserted ghost of its former self.

When their hotel jacuzzi short-circuits, they’re zapped back to the 80s when they had bad haircuts and girlfriend problems. Joining them on the trip is Cusack’s nerdy 20-something nephew, played by Clark Duke, who discovers embarrassing truths about his mom during this flashback.

Playing out as a cross between ‘The Hangover’ and ‘Back to the Future’, this film marries gross out frat-boy humor with time-altering drama, but ultimately you’re left with a confused film that is only moderately amusing.

There are puke jokes and shit jokes and semen jokes all over the place, but what’s genuinely funny are some of the pop-cultural references and dialogues. On noticing Regan on TV and a youngster sporting a Walkman, one of our leads suspects something’s not quite right, and asks an innocent kid, “What colour is Michael Jackson?” The response confirms they’re way back in the past. “Black,” the kid replies.

My favourite gag in the film involves a crabby one-armed bellhop who our heroes meet at the resort when they check in, and then his recurring appearance in the flashback portions leading up to the incident where he loses his arm.

Unfortunately the filmmakers don’t really exploit the time travel premise, and the crude humour doesn’t hold very long in the absence of a fleshed-out script. John Cusack, poster-boy of those 80s teenage flicks, looks embarrassed he’s cashing a paycheck for this film, but in all fairness he’s still the only reason you’re willing to continue watching till the end.

I’m going with two out of five for ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’; it’s a promising idea that’s sadly underdeveloped. Watch it if you’re bored and have nothing better to do.

April 23, 2010

Ex crimes!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:50 pm

April 23, 2010

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Gio Perez

Director: Andy Tennant

Jennifer Aniston can be sexy and funny, and we know that because we still watch reruns ofFriends. But in The Bounty Hunter, in which she stars opposite Gerard Butler, she is neither sexy, nor funny. She’s bored.

The Bounty Hunter isn’t simply a bad film, it’s a lazy film. So lazy in fact that it doesn’t bother with a script, and makes no effort to inspire any chemistry between its leads. Aniston stars as a hotshot reporter who, while investigating a suspicious suicide, misses an appearance in court for a minor traffic offence. Butler is an ex-cop turned bounty hunter who’s hired to find her and take her to jail. Oh, and he happens to be her bitter ex-husband by the way, who’s thrilled to land this job that he’s so clearly going to enjoy!

Since this is a rom-com, you already know how this is going to pan out – bickering exes forced to spendtime together because of a crime, until they finally discover they still love each other. Just think Did You Hear About The Morgans? minus Hugh Grant!

The gags in this film involve a pair of handcuffs that both characters use on each other at some point – but not in the way you’re thinking. And there’s also the ultimate husband fantasy – of locking your wife in the boot of your car when she’s proving to be a handful. But don’t get your hopes too high, because these gags play out in the most predictable manner you could imagine.

There were rumors Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler were dating while shooting this film, and if that’s true, then you have to give it to them – they’ve got to be the best actors ever. Because you don’t see a hint of chemistry between them on screen. Just no sparks at all.

I’m going with one out of five for The Bounty Hunter. It’s dull, it’s boring, it barely packs a few laughs. Don’t put yourself through it.

Double trouble

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:32 pm

April 23, 2010

Cast: Neetu Chandra, Tanushree Dutta, Rohit Roy, Anupam Kher

Director: Jag Mundhra

Apartment, directed by Jag Mundhra, is intended as a suspense thriller, but contains no suspense whatsoever. Plagiarized from the 1992 Hollywood B-movie Single White Female, the plot of Mundhra’s film focuses on a seemingly simple girl’s creepy obsession with her airhostess flat-mate.

This tacky slasher film stars Neetu Chandra as the roommate from hell who goes on a murderous spree when neighbors and friends come in the way of her friendship with Tanushree Dutta, whose flat she shares.

There is barely any tension or nail-biting build-up in the moments leading up to those vicious attacks, and the acting — by the two ladies in particular — is so bad, it’s hard to feel anything for either.

By the time it’s revealed fairly late in the film that Neetu Chandra’s character suffers from a mental condition, the audience is already way ahead of the film’s characters. In her introduction scene itself she’s been established as something of a nutjob when you see her scratching out romantic graffiti in a train. So it’s not like her bizarre behavior comes as a surprise, you see!

The film doesn’t work from the moment go because the script’s amateurish and Mundhra’s direction decidedly pedestrian.

Television actor Rohit Roy appears as Tanushree Dutta’s devoted boyfriend, and he at least doesn’t over-act like the women. But when Rohit Roy’s performance is the best thing in a film, you know you have to keep your expectations suitably low.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Jag Mundhra’s Apartment. Look for something better, preferably in another zip-code!

Run of the mill

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:19 pm

April 23, 2010

Cast: Seema Biswas, Ankush Choudhary, Satish Kaushik, Kashmira Shah, Karan Patel

Director: Mahesh Manjrekar

City of Gold, directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, is one of those films that had the potential to be better than it ultimately is

Adapted from a play by Jayant Pawar, the film examines the plight of Mumbai’s mill workers who were rendered redundant in the ’80s when the mills shut down to make way for plush malls.

Focusing on one particular family struggling to make ends meet when the closure of the mills robs them of their livelihood, Manjrekar tells a hard-hitting story without pulling back any punches.

You empathize with the mother (played by Seema Biswas) who watches helplessly as her family disintegrates before her very eyes. One son, a struggling playwright toils away at scripts, hoping his work will be noticed soon. Another son loses his bank job after his involvement in a fraud. The unmarried daughter becomes pregnant with the neighborhood grocer’s son, who as it turns out, is already married. And the youngest son gets involved with the local underworld.

Manjrekar extracts credible performances from his actors, but sadly there is no one to rein in the director himself. So there are parts of the film that flit between exceedingly melodramatic and impossibly exaggerated, and after a point the director’s grim, cynical and utterly despondent perspective fails to ring true.

The core story unfolds in flashback, and is book-ended by present-day portions that are laughably silly. Even the violent climax appears ridiculously contrived.

In the end, the film is salvaged to a fair extent thanks to the arresting performances by the mostly unknown cast — particularly Veena Jamkar as Seema Biswas’ daughter, and Karan Patel as the youngest son who turns to crime. There are also several disturbing scenes that Manjrekar films uncompromisingly — like the one in which we learn that one of the brothers has sold a kidney to raise money, and the one in which the family discovers their daughter is pregnant. These portions punch you in the gut with their unrestrained intensity.

The film is watchable for the most part, and might have worked perfectly as an honest slice-of-life drama if it weren’t for the filmmaker’s tendency to go over the top. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Mahesh Manjrekar’s City of Gold. Watch it because it makes some disturbing yet important points. Watch it also to understand just how compelling it could have been!

April 16, 2010

Don’t call the cops!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:57 pm

April 16, 2010

Cast: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Sean William Scott

Director: Kevin Smith

Remember those light-hearted, buddy-cop movies of the 80s? Films like 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon..? Well, Cop Out directed by Kevin Smith is intended as a throwback to those enjoyable action comedies.

Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan are teamed as NYPD partners trying to retrieve a rare baseball card owned by Bruce Willis’ character, that is the key to paying for his daughter’s expensive wedding, and also to busting a drug cartel run by a feared Mexican gang-lord. But the leads have less chemistry than a prom queen and the school nerd, and while Bruce Willis appears to be literally shrugging his way through the film, Tracy Morgan is loud and irritating, and overacts to the point where you wish the bad guys would just shoot him.

There’s a clever portion in which Tracy Morgan intimidates a criminal using lines and expressions from classic films. It’s the funniest scene in this film. It’s also the first scene in this film. And it’s all downhill from there.

The only other faint entertainment is provided by Sean William Scott who plays a thief who likes to take a dump in people’s toilets before robbing their homes.

It’s hard to believe this film was directed by the same guy who gave us smart comedies like Clerks andChasing Amy. I guess the dirty jokes are the giveaway. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Kevin Smith’s Cop Out. Don’t punish yourself; avoid this one.

Breathes fire

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:25 am

April 16, 2010

Cast: Voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson

Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois

One of those rare films that kids and adults will enjoy equally, How To Train Your Dragon marries gorgeous, imaginative animation with a familiar story that is nevertheless inspiring.

Our hero, a nerdy young Viking boy named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a disappointment to his fearless, butch father, Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler), who’s leader of his tribe. When their island is attacked by dragons, Hiccup takes down one of the beasts with a catapult, but can’t bring himself to kill it. Instead he turns it into a pet, and discovers in the process that dragons aren’t the vicious creatures they’re believed to be, but warm and affectionate unless attacked.

A far more fulfilling 3D experience than Clash of the Titans or Alice in Wonderland, this film utilizes the extra dimension wisely, giving us a handful of exhilarating flying sequences that are hard to get out of your head. The colors are rich and the visuals are striking, and the 3D appears to be integrated into the film rather than just pasted on.

At the core of this film is the friendship between Hiccup and his black dragon friend Toothless; and it’s in the development of their bond that we get some of the film’s most jaw-dropping scenes — like the first flight Hiccup takes on Toothless’ back, or even the climatic action sequence in the grey skies.

For what it’s worth, the film shatters conventional clichés about masculinity, and is littered with messages about friendship and parental pride. The subtext here is fairly standard stuff; but it’s a film worth watching anyway for the sheer energy and enthusiasm that’s up there on the screen.

I’m going with three out of five for How To Train Your Dragon; watch it in 3D to enjoy the full impact of those stunning airborne scenes. The most enjoyable animation film since Pixar’s Up — just not quite as witty.

Cutting class

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 12:18 am

April 16, 2010

Cast: Nana Patekar, Shahid Kapoor, Ayesha Takia, Saurabh Shukla, Sunil Shetty.

Director: Milind Ukey

Could it really be possible that no one who read the script of Paathshala had the good sense to recognize that it needed a lot more work before they decided to go out and shoot the damn thing? Indeed, Paathshala starring Nana Patekar and Shahid Kapoor, appears to have originated from an earnest idea, but one that’s developed into a dimwitted, harebrained film.

Intended as a comment on the commercialization of educational institutions, the film traces the efforts of a group of committed teachers to stand up against a greedy management that wants to turn their school into a profitable business venture.

Shahid Kapoor stars as a sincere English teacher who leads the students and his fellow colleagues to demand an explanation from the school’s righteous principal (played solemnly by Nana Patekar) on his uncharacteristic approval of the management’s unethical money-making ways. Saurabh Shukla appears as the school’s ruthless administrator who hikes fees randomly, stocks unhealthy processed foods in the canteen, and hires an image-building agency to raise the school’s profile by admitting students into grueling reality shows and talent contests.

The film’s naïve script includes moments of sheer melodrama and over-exaggeration in its effort to shamelessly manipulate you into caring for its characters. There’s a scene in which a television show director jumps excitedly out of his seat and instructs his cameraman to zoom in when a little girl accidentally gets chilly powder in her eyes, because that’s the kind of drama that television supposedly thrives on. In another scene, a young boy is made to stand out all day in the sweltering heat because his father hasn’t been able to pay up the suddenly increased school fees. There’s also track in which a boy with a dark birthmark on his face is isolated by his classmates until good-Samaritan Shahid teaches them the meaning of friendship using a litter of puppies to make his point.

Oddly, the film ends with no resolution in sight, which makes that long, noble speech by Nana Patekar seem quite pointless after all.

It’s clear the makers of this film had the seed of a good idea, but lacked the skills to turn it into an engaging film. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Milind Ukey’s Paathshala. It’s a frustratingly foolish film; and judging by the indifferent performances of both Nana Patekar and Shahid Kapur, it appears they were just as bored acting in this movie as you are watching it.

Fright club

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 12:10 am

April 16, 2010

Cast: Anu Ansari, Ahsaas Channa, Jeeva, Amruta Khanvilkar, Amit Sadh, Vikas Shrivastav, Neeru Singh, Sudeep, Ganesh Yadav

Director: Milind Gadagkar

In Phoonk 2, which opens this week, the crazy woman with bloodshot eyes and a shrill cackle returns to torment the family that barely survived her black-magic in the last film.

I know what you’re thinking – they killed her in the previous film, didn’t they? Well technically they did, but this time she’s back as a spirit seeking revenge, and she’s got herself a frizzy hair-do too.

Madhu, played hysterically by Ashwini Kalsekar in Ramgopal Varma’s Phoonk, doesn’t get as much screen time in the sequel. But compared to this dumb family that moves into another large spooky house — this one in the middle of a jungle, by the way — give me the crazy lady any day!

Sudeep is back as the head of this family that moves into a sprawling Alibaug bungalow where strange things begin to happen after his young daughter brings home an abandoned doll she finds in the jungle one day. Expect lots of tilted camera angles, tight close-ups and a slow-building background score.

Unfortunately there’s very little in terms of plot progression, and barely any novelty or imagination in the manner that characters get killed in this film. The body count piles up, but it’s all done so predictably it deprives you of guilty pleasure even.

Written and directed by Milind Gadagkar who wrote the previous installment, Phoonk 2 is what you’d describe as Ramgopal Varma-lite. The thrills and scares are few and far between. They could have made this film in their sleep. Who knows, they probably did!

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Phoonk 2. Second helpings seldom taste as good.

April 9, 2010

Heir brained

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:29 am

April 09, 2010

Cast: Vivek Oberoi, Nandana Sen, Sanjay Kapoor, Neeru Bajwa, Aruna Shields

Director: Kookie Gulati

Action thriller Prince is a marvellously moronic movie that uses visual effects to fake everything from stunt scenes and explosions, to hi-tech gizmos and even the Mumbai skyline. Why then, may I ask, must we endure all that over-the-top acting from leading man Vivek Oberoi and the rest of this film’s dreadful cast, when the director could have given us virtual characters instead?

Vivek stars as Prince, a slick thief who in the film’s opening scene pulls off a diamond heist in a high-security facility, using all kinds of cool contraptions including a vacuum pump which, after that baby delivery scene in 3 Idiots, has emerged the go-to-gadget for all seemingly impossible tasks.

Prince wakes up one morning with no memory, and a bullet wound in his arm. He must now retrace his steps to figure out who he really is, and why he has no recollection of his past. The film’s laughably silly plot involves the search for a coveted coin which contains a memory-stealing chip that everyone from the cops to the criminals are determined to get their hands on. There’s an assembly line of villains including one with a mechanical arm, another wearing enough gold chains to give Bappi Lahiri a complex, and finally a heavily-tattooed femme fatale in S&M gear.

The actors struggle to pull off cool, but given those CGI-enhanced action scenes, the ill-fitting leather costumes, and the puerile dialogue, cool is impossible to achieve. Even the obvious inspiration fromMission ImpossibleMatrix and the Bourne movies doesn’t seem to help director Kookie Gulati in constructing a half-convincing tale.

Not that it stops our hero, Vivek Oberoi, from having what appears to be the most fun he’s ever had on screen — riding a bike off the ledge of a building, putting his tongue down the throats of three starlets, and using the “I’ve-had-my-memory-erased” excuse to not even bother with a credible performance. Even in scenes where he’s meant to be in a comatose state, Vivek hams it up embarrassingly.

To be fair, the film’s got a few hummable tracks, and some of the daredevil action scenes are exciting too, but in the end Prince might be worth a watch because it’s one of those films that’s so bad, it’s good.

I’m going with two out of five for director Kookie Gulati’s Prince. Funnier than any comedy you’ve seen recently.

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