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

June 11, 2011

Wild Wild West

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

June 10, 2011

Cast: Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Ila Arun, Aqib Khan, Vijay Raaz, Raj Bhansali, Lesley Nicol

Director: Andy De Emmony

Om Puri returns as George Khan, the domineering father who’s still trying to control the complicated lives of his rebellious kids in West is West, the sequel to that charming comedy East is East, about cultural clashes within a British-Asian family in 1970s Salford. The new film is set five years on, in 1976, and opens with a sympathetic look at Sajid (Aqib Khan), George’s teenage son and the youngest in the brood who’s still living at home. Bullied at school by racist classmates and patronized by teachers, the kid doesn’t have it much better at home where an hour doesn’t go by without him getting a whack from his impatient father. How do you expect a boy like that to turn out? He swears, he shoplifts, he becomes a cause of worry for his concerned parents. Determined to set him straight, George takes Sajid along to his village in Pakistan so the boy can get in touch with his roots.

Ditching the earlier film’s consistently light-hearted tone, West is West enters sentimental territory when George reunites with the family he abandoned 30 years ago in Pakistan, and expresses regret over his actions. The change of scene also allows troubled teen Sajid to put his life into perspective, aided in no small part by a local village kid and a well-meaning preacher. There’s a welcome break of comic relief when George’s British wife Ella (Linda Bassett) arrives unannounced to reclaim her family.

But the film’s best scene unquestionably is the surprisingly tender confrontation between George’s two wives Ella and Rashida (Ila Arun), who share deep truths despite being unable to follow each other’s tongue. It is here that the film’s heart lies, in this complex triangle of love and loss, in this facing up to uncomfortable truths and letting go of the past.

West is West packs fewer laughs than the earlier film but it’s engaging and thoughtful nevertheless, and benefits from strong performances across the board, especially from Om Puri who expertly reveals the vulnerability behind George’s gruff exterior.

I’m going with three out of five for West Is West. Not a bad way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Class act

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:01 am

June 10, 2011

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, January Jones

Director: Matthew Vaughn

X-Men: First Class is an intelligent, action-packed prequel that neatly ties into the events and the dynamics of the original movie trilogy. Most importantly, it provides the back-story for the legendary rivalry between Professor X and Magneto.

According to the new movie their relationship dates all the way back to the early Sixties, when they fight on the same side against Kevin Bacon’s super-evil mutant Sebastian Shaw, who attempts to start off a nuclear war between the United States and Russia so he can rid the world of the human race. James McAvoy does a fine job playing the morally unshakeable Charles Xavier, or the future Professor X. Even more impressive is Michael Fassbender as the strong, silent Erik Lehnsherr who will go on to become Magneto. Erik has an old axe to grind against Shaw, a former Nazi who murdered his mother in front of his eyes when he was a young boy.

To strengthen their side against Shaw, Charles and Erik round up and train a posse of young mutants who’re bound by their impressive skills and their outcast status. Unfortunately this talented cast of young superheroes-in-the-making is a tad overcrowded with some of the mutants getting lost in the shuffle. Those who register an impression however are Raven, the blue-skinned shape-shifter (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who will go on to become Mystique, and Hank, the nerdish tech-wiz with monkey feet (played by Nicholas Hoult), who literally turns into Beast when an experiment he performs on himself goes horribly wrong. Meanwhile, on his side Shaw has faithful icy blonde Emma Frost (played by Mad Men’s January Jones), who has telepathic powers that rival those of Charles.

The film works splendidly because it delivers thrilling action sequences without ever compromising on its characters’ integrities. And although there’s a little too much yak-yak on how the humans will never accept the mutants, even some of their sillier skills are fun to watch when they’re on display.

Director Matthew Vaughn delivers in-jokes and cameos to please the fanboys; yet he never loses grip on the smart script that wraps with Charles and Erik taking opposite sides. The film’s standout performance comes from Michael Fassbender who infuses into Erik both vulnerability and steely reserve, making him the most intriguing character in this adventure.

X-Men: First Class is that rare summer blockbuster that’s both smart and incredibly fun. So much fun, in fact, that you even go with the preposterous insinuation that the Cuban Missile Crisis was of an evil mutant’s doing!

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for X-Men: First Class. Despite it’s running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, you will wish there was more!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

June 3, 2011

Ready, steady? No!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

June 03, 2011

Cast: Salman Khan, Asin, Paresh Rawal, Mahesh Manjrekar, Sharat Saxena, Akhilendra Mishra

Director: Anees Bazmee

Earlier this week while interviewing Asin, I joked to her that it was probably futile on my part to ask about her role in Ready. She said she was relieved I wasn’t taking the film too seriously: “It’s an Anees Bazmee film, I play the female lead opposite Salman Khan. What else is there to say?” Not much, you reckon as you sit there in your seat watching Ready, and waiting for a joke – any joke, even half funny – to draw a laugh out of you.

Ready is strictly for die-hard Salman Khan fans (are there any other kind?) who’re willing to forgive the fact that this tasteless, senseless film has no plot to speak of, yet lazily unfolds over two hours and thirty minutes. Director Anees Bazmee asks very little of his charming star: flash a few adorable smiles, romance the girl, beat up the bad guys, and don’t forget to take your shirt off. It’s an indifferent performance from an actor who showed us only last year that he can be riveting if he so much as makes the slightest effort. Remember Dabangg?

The problem with Ready is that the film doesn’t even try. It’s depressing to think that Salman would use his considerable star wattage to get such a lousy film made, which in turn only tarnishes his own brand. This film’s wafer-thin story involves Salman falling in love with Asin, then trying to reconcile her two criminal uncles who have fallen out with each other. You’re expected to laugh in a scene where little boys line up on a balcony and pee on the villains; and dialogues like “Main kutta hoon, yeh meri kuttiya hai” are meant to be funny.

To describe this film as paisa vasool or time pass is to confess that you really don’t have a life. Because apart from two energetically filmed songs – Character dheela hai and Dhinka chika – this film offers little by way of entertainment. Salman Khan fans, I assure you that reruns of his Dus Ka Dum episodes on Youtube are more likely to make you smile than this agonizingly boring film that wastes the charm of its immensely charismatic star.

I’m going with a generous one-and-a-half out of five for director Anees Bazmee’s Ready. Salman Khan deserves better than this. And so do we!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Girlfight

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

June 03, 2011

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander

Director: Joe Wright

Close on the heels of Kick-Ass and Sucker Punch – and continuing Hollywood’s sudden obsession with teenage girls who fight like killing machines – comes Hanna, a somewhat surreal action-thriller starring Saoirse Ronan as a 16-year-old motherless girl raised by her father in an isolated, snowy forest in Finland. The rugged dad Erik (Eric Bana) is a CIA operative gone rogue, and he’s trained Hanna from infancy to hunt, fight and speak various foreign languages. From the film’s very opening scene it becomes clear that she’s learnt how to adapt in order to survive.

We first see her stalking a reindeer across a frozen landscape. She fires an arrow at the beast, which falls to the ground a few moments later, after trying unsuccessfully to escape despite the wound. Standing above the injured animal Hanna dryly observes: “I just missed your heart”. Before you know it, she’s pulled out a gun and blown its brains out. As she sits down in the snow to gut the animal, Erik sneaks up from behind her to demonstrate how she might be killed if she lets her guard down. Hanna proceeds to engage in a fierce hand-to-hand battle with him to make the point that she’s always prepared. No wonder that shortly after when she insists she’s ready to go out into the world, Erik doesn’t protest. They part ways, and almost immediately they’re being pursued by a ruthless CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), who has a vested interest in keeping Hanna alive.

Director Joe Wright marries this action-movie premise with Hanna’s quest for humanity in the real world. The film’s great irony, of course, is that Hanna can fend for herself and bring grown men down to their knees, but hasn’t ever had a friend or felt love. Which is why there’s beauty and a hint of humor even in her scenes with a touring British family she encounters, and particularly with their young daughter who is of a similar age.

Where the film falters is in its effort to blend all that strange, fairytale-like symbolism with the expertly choreographed action. There is a superb single-take tracking shot in which Erik is followed into an underground parking lot by one of Marissa’s men, and where he must vanquish her henchmen who suddenly show up and attack him. Another nicely done sequence is one in which Hanna dodges Marissa’s cronies in an abandoned dockyard.

The action is relentless and thrilling; and aside from Blanchett’s over-the-top turn as the ice-maiden villainess, the performances from both Ronan and Bana are strong. It’s beautifully shot and comes with a hypnotic score. Now if only its characters weren’t all humorless.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Hanna. It’s an intriguing thriller that’s let down by indulgence.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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