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

March 25, 2011

Mean girls

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:10 pm

March 25, 2011

Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, Vanessa Hudgens, Carla Gugino, Oscar Issac, John Hamm

Director: Zack Snyder

Sucker Punch, the ambitious new film from Zack Snyder, director of such visually inventive works as 300 and Watchmen, feels as much like a computer game as it does a music video and a comic book. Mixing fantasy with reality, it tells the story of a 20-year-old girl Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning) who is packed off to a mental asylum by her evil stepfather, where she will soon be lobotomized. There she envisions herself in a brothel, where she mentally escapes into yet another fantasy during her dance numbers.

The film is many things all at once, and it helps to go in with an open mind and a willingness to suspend disbelief.

The inmates at this institution for disturbed girls are all pouty and sexy and have names like Sweet Pea, Rocket, Amber and Blondie. Baby Doll enlists four of them to break out of this asylum/brothel; and to secure the tools needed to run away from their grim reality, the girls enter imaginary worlds where they dress provocatively and slay dragons, fight samurai robots and shoot down World War I zombies.

The action scenes are undeniably cool to look at, and Snyder employs the fanciest CGI to realize his bold vision. But the plot, as I warned you earlier, is likely to leave you scratching your head. On the one hand you could argue that a film like Sucker Punch exemplifies exactly what’s wrong with the movies today – it’s an expensive, nonsensical video-game. On the other, there will be fans who’ll embrace it for its sheer bravura and for the fact that it doesn’t bow to convention.

Personally I enjoyed the film for its blazing originality and for the ‘fun’ element Snyder brought to the action sequences. I also think it’s interesting how he objectifies these girls by putting them into these scanty outfits, only to empower them in a sense.

In the end, Sucker Punch is a mash-up of so many genres that I’ll take the same liberty to describe the film – it’s a kind of Charlie’s Angels for the Inception generation. If you’re willing to overlook the clunky dialogue and enjoy it strictly for the spectacle it delivers, you won’t be disappointed. I’m going with three out of five for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. It’s no masterpiece this, but you will be entertained.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

This bird doesn’t fly!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:59 pm

March 25, 2011

Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland, Tahar Rahim

Director: Kevin Macdonald

If you’re having trouble sleeping, allow me to recommend the perfect remedy. Set far back in 140 A.D., The Eagle is a mind-numbing war-and-redemption saga that stars Channing Tatum as Marcus Aquila, a brave soldier with the Roman army in Britain, who’s been wearing a cloak of paternal shame. His father was a commander of the 5,000 men of Rome’s Ninth Legion, which went missing while invading what is now Scotland, and also lost a prized gold eagle emblem of the regiment. Determined to restore his family name, Marcus persuades his slave Esca (played by Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell) to accompany him north to find the eagle and to figure out what happened to his father.

Never as compelling as Gladiator or Braveheart, and packed with way too much dialogue than is necessary for an action film, The Eagle is slow-paced and seriously boring. It takes so long for the hero’s journey to actually begin that your patience runs out early on; and till the end you can’t fathom why the Roman soldiers speak in American accents.

On one level The Eagle might be described as a buddy movie, with Marcus and Esca’s relationship going from uneasy to one of mutual affection and respect. But even that track unravels so predictably, there’s little fun to be had. Apart from a few bone-crunching fight scenes with strange tribes encountered along the way, there is nothing even remotely engaging here.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for The Eagle. This bird doesn’t fly!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

License to wed

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:54 pm

March 25, 2011

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman

Director: Richard J Lewis

As films like Sideways and American Splendor have shown us, Paul Giamatti is one of those rare actors who can humanize irritable curmudgeons and turn them into likeable, or at least mildly amusing characters. In his Golden Globe-winning performance in Barney’s Version, Giamatti stars as grouchy Jewish TV producer Barney Panofsky, who looks back over his event-filled life and his three marriages, as his memory begins to deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s.

The film is a dark comedy based on a novel by the great Canadian writer Mordecai Richler, and it centers on themes of truth and loyalty, and the irony that Barney lacks the ability to achieve either. He’s a selfish boozing-womanizing fool who ages but never seems to mature.

The most engaging portions of the film concern Barney’s doomed marriages, the first to the neurotic and free-spirited Clara (played by Rachelle Lefevre) whom he marries during his younger years in Rome, because he thinks she’s pregnant with his child. That doesn’t work out; he returns home to Montreal and picks a shrill, pampered Jewish brat (played by Minnie Driver) to be Wife No 2. This marriage collapses just as quickly, not least because he meets third-wife-to-be Miriam (played by Rosamund Pike) at the reception of his own second wedding.

Though he has three wives, Barney’s chemistry is most pronounced with Dustin Hoffman who stars as his wildly inappropriate detective father, and watching the two men play off against each other is one of the real joys of this surprisingly overlong film.

To be honest, there is little in terms of plot here; this is in fact an engaging character study of a man who it’s hard to sympathize with, but impossible not to like. Watch it for some fine acting from Giamatti.

I’m going with three out of five for Barney’s Version. It meanders occasionally, but in the end, it’s an entertaining, enjoyable film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 18, 2011

Wolf trap

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:31 pm

March 18, 2011

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, Gary Oldman

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Loosely based on the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, Red Riding Hood is in fact a muddled fantasy thriller from Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, and it tries desperately to channel the filmmaker’s last hit. The story involves a teenage girl torn between two good-looking young men who desire her. There’s also the issue of a werewolf that’s wreaking havoc in town.

Set in a picturesque village, presumably in medieval times, Red Riding Hood is even less convincing than Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight stories. Amanda Seyfried is Valerie, a young girl in love with a poor woodcutter named Peter (played by Shiloh Fernandez), but whose parents have arranged her marriage to the local blacksmith Henry (played by Max Irons) who is better off.

Like the inhabitants of that community in M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, the locals here have established an uneasy truce with a fearsome nemesis, in this case a werewolf. But when the animal shatters this truce by killing Valerie’s older sister, they bring in seasoned werewolf hunter Father Solomon (played by Gary Oldman) to rid the town of the beast. It doesn’t take long for him to arrive at the conclusion that one of the villagers, in fact, is the dreaded werewolf.

Over-styled to a fault, Red Riding Hood with its moody camerawork and Broadway production-like set-design is easy on the eye, but it gives the film a ‘fake’, manufactured feel that makes it hard to take seriously enough. Missing the visceral thrills required for it work as an effective horror, the film also squanders the potential of such ripe themes as paranoia and the mistrust of friends and neighbors.

Neither does it help that the dialogue is totally banal, and the performances uniformly wooden. Julie Christie as Valerie’s kooky grandmother is the pick of the piece; that scene in which she responds to Valerie’s question about her big teeth with the classic line: “All the better to eat you with”, is so cheesy you’ll want to laugh.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Red Riding Hood. Silly beyond belief, go for it if you have nothing better to do!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Enter the void!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:30 pm

March 18, 2011

Cast: Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Director: Joe Dante

Mucking around in the basement of their new home, a teenage boy and his kid brother discover a trapdoor secured with several padlocks. Joined by the cute girl from next door, the boys unlock the trapdoor and unleash a sinister force that preys upon their darkest fears.

The Hole, directed by Gremlins helmer Joe Dante, is an old-fashioned scary movie that attempts to spook you without relying on buckets of blood. The most effective scenes in the film involve the younger boy being practically stalked around the house by a clown doll, and another one in which the lights go out in the restroom of a diner, trapping one of our protagonists with a mysterious little girl who seems to be bleeding.

If the film doesn’t always work it’s because the thrills are so tepid, and because the characters themselves don’t seem particularly scared of what’s going on around them.

Filmed in 3D, this movie delivers a few sudden jolts, and nothing more. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for The Hole. I was bored out of my skull. You will be too. Avoid.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 11, 2011

Noisy nonsense!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 7:31 pm

March 11, 2011

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan, Ramon Rodriguez

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

I recommend that you carry an Asprin, and some cotton plugs for your ears if you’re brave enough to go watch Battle: Los Angeles. This ridiculous film about an invasion on earth by aliens in search of water, is seen from the perspective of a small platoon of the US military led by a tough-yet-troubled sergeant played by Aaron Eckhart.

For close to two hours, you’re subjected to an onslaught of nonstop explosions and gunfire, and worse still, the shaky-camera shooting style almost certainly guarantees a headache.

You don’t expect fine writing in an alien invasion movie, but the makers of Battle: Los Angeles don’t even bother with basic character development. As a result you don’t even feel any perfunctory emotion for the people who get killed. To be honest, the aliens aren’t particularly thrilling either. They’re metallic and mechanical and speak in a reptilian hiss. And in one scene where Eckhart’s character captures one of these robotic extra-terrestrials, he yanks out its squishy insides while trying to figure out how exactly to kill it.

Fair to say this film is neither as original and moving as District 9, nor delivers the cheap thrills of Independence Day. The special effects appear expensive but not particularly impressive, and the action is so relentless and noisy, you will need those cotton plugs if you decide to take a quick nap when you’re bored.

I’m going with one out of five for Battle: Los Angeles. Despite the noise, I slept through 20 minutes of this film. I just wish I’d been allowed to sleep till the end!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Joan of snark

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 7:30 pm

Joan Rivers is an American icon. This 77-year-old comic has been telling jokes for over four decades, and while many may argue that she’s got a filthy mouth, and that repeated plastic surgeries to her face have turned her into something of a joke herself, what cannot be denied is that she’s got an indefatigable spirit, she’s hard to ignore, and she’s very very funny.

This consistently fascinating documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, opens with the entertainer looking at her blank calendar and moaning the fact that she’s virtually out of work. We watch as she plots her comeback with TV appearances and radio interviews, a play in Edinburgh, stand-up acts at small clubs across America, participation in a season of the reality show Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump, and just about anything that will get her face time on television and will pay for the lavish Manhattan apartment she shares with her two dogs and her support staff. At one point she even jokes that she’s willing to knock off her own teeth if she could get a dentures commercial out of it…and you get the feeling she might not be joking. Joan Rivers will do anything, just about anything, to keep going.

This film is as much a survival story as it is a behind-the-scenes peek at one of America’s most controversial entertainers. It reveals Rivers to be a vulnerable and insecure artist who’s craving respect, who’s still hurting from the scathing criticism she received for her first play in 1972, and for whom nothing is too sacred to make a joke on.

In one of the film’s best scenes Rivers, who has traveled to a Wisconsin club to perform stand-up, cracks a Helen Keller joke and is almost immediately interrupted by someone in the audience who says he doesn’t think it’s funny because he has a deaf son. Attacking him with the ferocity of a tiger, Rivers tells him she has a deaf mother herself, and that this is what comedy is about. “Comedy is to make people laugh at everything. And to deal with it,” she bellows.

There are other moments that point to her softer side. Driving with her grandson to deliver meals to the needy on Thanksgiving; or the tearful scene in which she finally accepts that her long-time manager isn’t coming back, and in him she’s lost her only connect to the good ol’ days. Or the revelation that she sends the children of her staff to private schools.

If you were unfamiliar with Joan Rivers’ comedy, this film is a good reminder of the blazing speed of her wit – they don’t call her America’s fastest mouth for nothing. But what this film succeeds in doing over everything else, is presenting the human side of a misunderstood legend.

Dull and deathly

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 7:30 pm

March 11, 2011

Cast: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France, George McLaren, Jay Mohr

Director: Clint Eastwood

In the opening scene of Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, a tsunami practically wipes out a small seaside town. People run to escape, but the waves catch up with them washing away an entire market in a single sweep. It’s the most effective scene in the film, and one that was responsible for the film landing an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.

The rest of Hereafter is a slow, boring slog. Weaving together three dreary stories about death and the afterlife, this film is more pretentious than profound, and requires much patience on your part to complete.

Matt Damon is George, a regular chap in San Francisco who is cursed with the burden of being able to communicate with the dead. Belgian actress Cecile de France plays Marie, a famous news presenter in Paris, who has a near-death experience in that tsunami. And finally, George McLaren plays a London schoolboy who loses his twin brother in a road accident, and wants to connect with his spirit. Predictably, the lives of these three protagonists intertwine towards the end of the film, but that extended climax at the London Book Fair where they meet is so contrived, it reminds you of a bad M Night Shyamalan movie!

The performances border on hammy, and the tone of the film is so self-important that by the time you come to the end you’re surprised the film has nothing even remotely interesting to say about death or the afterlife.

I’m going with two out of five for Hereafter. In the absence of a stronger dramatic pulse, this is one of Clint Eastwood’s weakest films and a solid disappointment.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 7, 2011

Michelle Rodriguez on why she’s drawn to ‘tough-chick’ roles

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 5:10 pm

In this interview, Hollywood’s favorite action film heroine Michelle Rodriguez talks about why she’s drawn to films like The Fast & The Furious and Avatar in which she gets to show off her tough side. The actress also talks about her new film, the alien war-movie Battle: Los Angeles.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 4, 2011

Who let the dogs out?

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:55 pm

March 04, 2011

Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fishcer, Christina Applegate, Stephen Merchant, Richard Jenkins

Director: Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly

Hall Pass, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is a comedy about two middle-aged, married guys who’re starting to get restless in their domesticated lives, until their wives grant them a weeklong break from marriage which allows them to do whatever they like, and more importantly – whoever they like, with no guilt attached. It’s a sweet deal that more than a few men would be thrilled to negotiate, but the wives’ logic is that if the guys are given the opportunity to relive their false nostalgia for bachelorhood, then they won’t grow to resent their spouses for taking away their freedom.

Nicely cast, the film stars Owen Wilson as Rick, and Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis as Fred, the forty-something-year-olds whose hapless attempts to pick up women fail spectacularly. While the guys try to remember how to be players, their wives (played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) head for the week to a seaside town, where they find a little action of their own.

In the hands of the Farrelly Brothers whose comic skills have clearly gotten rusty since 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, this film feels like a never-ending stream of smutty jokes. Amidst the heap of references to masturbation, oral sex and vomit, there’s one particularly sick gag involving Fred’s potential date and a fatal sneeze, that’ll have you turn away in complete disgust.

The movie ends with one of those “aww-so-sweet” kind of predictable resolutions that seems to apologize for all the bad behaviour that preceded it. And in that, Hall Pass displays why it doesn’t have half the bravado of The Hangover, which was just shameless, unapologetic fun.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Hall Pass. I’m not judging you, but it’s strictly for those who enjoy tasteless, gross-out humor!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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