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

October 22, 2010

Kindergarten cops

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:00 pm

October 22, 2010

Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan, Samuel L Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Keaton

Director: Adam McKay

The Other Guys takes that tired premise of a buddy-cop movie and turns it on its head. Mark Wahlberg plays a frustrated New York cop, who as a punishment for accidentally shooting a baseball champ, is humiliatingly partnered with Will Ferrell, a mild-mannered deskbound detective content with handling the department’s paperwork.

Envious of the NYPD’s star cop-duo (played by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson), Wahlberg seeks any opportunity to ditch the sidelines and to get into some real action. While investigating a billionaire fraudster’s building permit violation, Wahlberg and his reluctant partner inadvertently find themselves at the centre of a major criminal case. One that involves shootouts, explosions and deadly car-chases. While Wahlberg sees this as an opportunity to gain the respect of his mocking peers, Ferrell would rather just remain behind his desk.

The film starts out on a promising note and is always on solid ground when it’s focusing on the two leads. Some of the early scenes are laugh-out-loud hilarious, like that exchange between Ferrell and Wahlberg about who would win in a fight between a lion and a tuna. There’s another terrific scene in which Ferrell discovers Wahlberg knows ballet, a skill he developed in his childhood, to make fun of wimpy kids.

The laughs come fast and furious in the film’s first act, until the real plot kicks in, which is where the problems start. Once Wahlberg and Ferrell get on the case of Steve Coogan, a tricky British financier they suspect of some serious white-collar crime, the script loses its grip, degenerating into an incomprehensible mess about corporate conspiracy.

Fortunately the very pairing of Wahlberg and Ferrell throws up enough comic moments, including one of my favourite scenes, in which Wahlberg refuses to believe his nerdish partner is married to the red-hot Eva Mendes who he’s constantly dissing.

What could have been just another regular buddy-cop movie is elevated considerably by two fantastic leads. Wahlberg tackles each scene with a straight face, while Ferrell goes for broad laughs. Together, they’re a riot.

I’m going with three out of five for The Other Guys. You won’t remember the last time you laughed this hard!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 18, 2010

“I had a crush on Olivia Newton John while making Grease,” says John Travolta

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 6:36 pm

VIDEO!

In this three-part interview, Hollywood star John Travolta talks about making the long flight from Florida to Mumbai to attend the ‘GQ Men of the Year Awards’. Travolta speaks about his breakout film Grease, the trick behind playing  negative roles convincingly, and memorable moments from his life – like dancing with Princess Diana at the White House.

(This interview first aired on Star World)

October 16, 2010

John Abraham is going back to the meat-shop!

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:19 am

In this interview, John Abraham talks about his efforts to break out of the image he’s acquired in Bollywood, and why playing a geek in Jhootha Hai Sahi comes easy to him. John, who’s getting ready to shed his clothes again in Dostana 2 says he’s really quite shy in person.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 15, 2010

Phoney business

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:35 pm

October 15, 2010

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Kangana Ranaut, Sushant Singh

Director: Mani Shankar

In Knock Out, director Mani Shankar’s brain-dead, blatant rip-off of the American thriller Phone Booth, Irrfan Khan stars as Bachchu, a sleazy investment banker who helps transfer illegal money for corrupt politicians. He’s trapped in a phone booth on a busy Mumbai street by a sniper who threatens to shoot if he steps out. Sanjay Dutt plays that patriot who wants Bachchu to confess his crimes before a crowd that has gathered around to watch the tamasha, and Kangana Ranaut is an unusually over-made-up TV news reporter covering the story.

Neither nail-biting nor particularly engaging, Knock Out never quite works as a thriller. It’s equally unsuccessful when it borrows that vigilante justice angle from A Wednesday, in which Dutt’s character coaxes Bachchu to return those thousands of crores of rupees from Swiss bank accounts to the Indian treasury.

Ridiculously simplistic in its logic, the very morality of this film is offensive. The performances by all three actors are uniformly embarrassing, particularly by Irrfan Khan who is saddled with the film’s stupidest lines and a curly mop of hair.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Mani Shankar’s Knock Out. I can’t decide what’s worse – that they plagiarized a film entirely, or that they couldn’t even make a good film despite that!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Attack of the clones

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:30 pm

October 15, 2010

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Akshaye Khanna, Bipasha Basu, Paresh Rawal

Director: Priyadarshan

Aakrosh, directed by Priyadarshan, and starring Ajay Devgan and Akshaye Khanna has some powerful, gripping moments. But credit for that must go to Mississippi Burning, the Oscar-nominated 1988 film by Alan Parker, of which this film is a shameless copy.

Devgan and Khanna star as CBI officers packed off to Jhanjhad, a small town in Bihar, to investigate the disappearance of three male students who were last sighted there. As they sniff around for possible clues, they uncover many dirty secrets including the involvement of the local police and politicians in the murder of a low-caste Dalit boy and his two friends who dared to elope with an upper-caste girl.

Despite ripping off several key scenes from the original film with faithful precision, Priyadarshan’s desi remake doesn’t deliver the brutal punch of Mississippi Burning because the director can’t seem to decide if he’s making a realistic film on an important social issue, or a fast-paced action thriller. He saddles the drama with a gratuitous romantic back-story between Devgan’s character and the wife of a corrupt cop (played by Bipasha Basu), and also throws in an entirely unnecessary item song. Even the tension between both officers, arising out of their conflicting approach to the task at hand, fails to come through convincingly.

What’s nicely done, however, are some of the chase scenes. Particularly a Jason Bourne-style elaborate chase sequence between Devgan and a suspect, who leap across the roofs of buildings and through narrow alleys. There’s also a thrilling car-chase scene in which Devgan, perched on the top of a speeding jeep, leads his partner through a dense forest, in pursuit of a car ahead.

But Aakrosh, like Missippi Burning, is about the land it’s set in, and the people of that land. Replace the racial conflict of the original film with a caste conflict, and the stage is set for a violent tale of privileged Brahmins and the victims of their oppression, the Dalits. It’s hard not to be moved by the gruesome attacks on innocent townsfolk, although the director steals even those scenes to the last detail.

Of the cast, Ajay Devgan dives into his character with sincerity, and Paresh Rawal makes your skin crawl as the despicable local cop. The film is engrossing in portions, but suffers on account of inconsistent writing.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Priyadarshan’s Aakrosh. For a more satisfying experience, I recommend you watch Mississipi Burning instead.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Battering Ram

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:18 pm

October 15, 2010

Cast: Voices of Manoj Bajpai, Juhi Chawla, Ashutosh Rana, Mukesh Rishi

Director: Chetan Desai

Ramayana: The Epic is a serviceable animation film based on popular episodes from the sprawling tome. The animation itself is detailed and impressive, but the film ultimately is weighed down by stodgy writing, and by a narrative that’s too conventional for a story this familiar.

The screenplay doesn’t venture too far from popular highlights of the story, focusing on Lord Ram’s forced exile from Ayodhya, Raavan’s abduction of Sita, and Ram’s revenge on Raavan with the assistance of Hanuman and the vaanar sena. But arriving more than 20 years after Ramanand Sagar’s definitive live-action tele-serial, this film employs a similar style of lofty, formal Hindi for its dialogue, that’s likely to alienate the young audience this film is meant for.

As with most animation films, it’s hard to watch Ramayana: The Epic without an awareness of how painstakingly it was created. A team of 400 animators, led by director Chetan Desai, is responsible for some of the film’s better set pieces, including the striking climatic battle sequence between Ram and Raavan, in which the evil Lord of Lanka manifests himself through ten clones.

Alas the storytelling packs nothing original; and even star talent like Manoj Bajpai and Juhi Chawla who voice Ram and Sita respectively, fail to inject any personality into the characters. Because the film’s mostly lacking in imagination and visual inventiveness, what you remember in the end are Lord Ram’s washboard abs, and Sita’s perfectly manicured nails after a year in Raavan’s ashok vatika.

For a sparklingly original take on the Ramayana, seek out the excellent animation film Sita Sings The Blues; you’ll understand exactly where this one falls short. I’m going with two out of five for director Chetan Desai’s Ramayana: The Epic. It’s got the scope and the scale; what’s missing is the spirit!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Good heavens!

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 3:00 am

You may be familiar with the Ramayana and its characters, but chances are you haven’t seen it presented in such a vibrant and original avatar as the animation film, Sita Sings The Blues.

Told from a distinctly feminist perspective, this film recounts many incidents from the epic including Lord Ram’s exile to the forest, the abduction of his wife Sita by Ravan, the role of Hanuman in Sita’s return to safety, and the test of purity Lord Ram put his wife through on her return.

Sita, the film’s protagonist, is sketched as a curvaceous princess who breaks into exciting musical numbers every now and then. Using the vocal stylings of 1920s jazz artiste Annette Hanshaw, the film gives Sita some great tracks to express herself through.

Running parallel to the unfolding Ramayana, is the film’s director Nina Paley’s semi-autobiographical story which begins in San Francisco. American couple Nina and Dave are young and in love. When Dave must take a temporary job in India, Nina misses him bitterly and flies off to join him there. He dumps her subsequently. Over an email.

Nina is shattered and can’t make sense of her life. Until she picks up the Ramayana one day, and finds inspiration in Sita’s story – which she discovers has so much in common with her own. She moves to the East Coast, settles into a home in Brooklyn and works long and hard for five years to create this film on her computer.

Filled with witty dialogue, especially the clever narration by three shadow puppets, this film is engaging and enjoyable because of the humour it finds in the unlikliest of places. The animation, although it’s simple 2D, works well here and is used innovatively to its best potential.

Taking us around the world in what is a wildly visual spectacle, Sita Sings The Blues is really a personal story at its core, even if Paley forges a bond of sisterhood that traverses time and place.

Don’t look for the film on DVD because it’s unlikely you’ll find it there. It’s actually available to download on the Internet, and it’s totally legal too. In a move to promote artistic freedom and more loose copyright restrictions, Paley decided to release the film herself, online, for free.

Her objective behind this was to reach out to as many people as were interested in watching the film. So if you’ve got a fast internet connection, log on to www.sitasingstheblues.com and discover this wonderful film; and the director says anyone who enjoys the film and wants to contribute towards the costs she incurred making it is invited to make a donation.

That’s entirely up to you. Just don’t miss the film.

October 14, 2010

The 10 best films of 2010 (so far) that you may have missed

Filed under: What I'm Reading — Rajeev @ 3:32 pm

October 9, 2010

Julia Roberts & Javier Bardem on ‘Eat Pray Love’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:40 am

In this interview, Oscar-winning stars Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem talk about their film Eat Pray Love, and discuss the challenges involved in playing real-life people on screen. Julia Roberts talks about shooting in India and why her kids fell in love with the country, and also reveals why she can’t drape a sari. This interview was recorded in July 2010 in Cancun, Mexico.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 8, 2010

Those delightful Duggals!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:33 pm

October 08, 2010

Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Aditi Vasudev, Archit Krishna, Akhilendra Mishra

Director: Habib Faisal

Do Dooni Chaar, written and directed by Habib Faisal, is a charming slice-of-life comedy about a middle-class family in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar that aspires for a little more in life.

Santosh Duggal (played by Rishi Kapoor) is a school teacher whose measly salary barely covers the family’s monthly expenses. No wonder he has a second job teaching at a private coaching class. Mr Duggal works long hours so the family can enjoy a chicken dinner every now and then, and so his daughter doesn’t need to take a call-centre job during her college years. He couldn’t ask for a more supportive wife than Mrs Duggal (played by his real-life wife Neetu Singh) who understands they can’t get a new fridge because that little extra they saved this month, must go towards a wedding gift for a relative of Mr Duggal’s married sister.

The Duggal kids, however, are less understanding. The daughter wants an iPod at any cost; and the son who’s been secretly making money betting on cricket matches, doesn’t once think of helping out his parents with his spare cash. Both kids are embarrassed of their family’s modest lifestyle; the daughter even refuses to take a lift on her father’s trusty scooter. When Mr Duggal finally resolves to buy a car, there is genuine excitement at home. But he can’t seem to come up with the down payment.

Do Dooni Chaar is heartfelt and well-meaning, and touches a chord because it’s so relatable. The Duggals are inherently decent people, whom we watch as they wrestle with their conscience over accepting a bribe. There are scenes that stand out for the sheer honesty with which they’re written and performed, like the one in which Mr Duggal balks at the price of the stuffed parathas at a roadside dhaaba. The film’s first half, in particular, offers a handful of lump-in-your-throat moments that are mercifully never milked for your sympathy.

The opposite is true of the film’s second half, in which subtlety is replaced by overstating. The scene at a McDonalds outlet where an ex-student’s kind words help Mr Duggal make an important decision is poignant, no doubt, but teeters on melodrama. Also, much of the film is accompanied by a voice-over that is jarring, and a background score that leaves your head throbbing.

Despite its few shortcomings, however, Do Dooni Chaar is an enjoyable watch. The film benefits considerably from attention to detail, starting with the Duggal home which doesn’t appear to be a set, but looks lived in. Little touches, like Mr Duggal wearing keds with his suit at a family wedding, are what separates this film from the ordinary.

The heart of Do Dooni Chaar lies in its characters and in the performances of the actors who inhabit them. Both kids do a competent job, but it’s Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh who make this an unmissable experience for the sheer chemistry they continue to share, and for the entirely believable flesh-and-blood characters they are able to create out of the Duggals. For them alone, don’t miss this film.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for writer-director Habib Faisal’s simple-but-lovable Do Dooni Chaar. It’s not as witty as Khosla Ka Ghosla, but it’s more enjoyable than many films you’ve seen recently. Go watch it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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