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

February 25, 2012

Brad Pitt on his impressions of India

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:08 am

In this interview, recorded in Cancun (Mexico) in June 2011, Brad Pitt talks about his commitment to bring Moneyball to the screen, despite its bumpy production journey. At one point, the studio fired original director Steven Soderbergh just weeks before filming was to begin, delaying the project considerably. Pitt remained involved, and ultimately landed an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance as Billy Beane, manager of the failing Oakland Athletics baseball team.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 24, 2012

Couples therapy

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:48 pm

February 24, 2012

Cast: R Madhavan, Bipasha Basu, Milind Soman, Dipannita Sharma, Helen, Omi Vaidya, Mrinalini Sharma

Director: Ashwini Chaudhary

R Madhavan, looking like he’s just devoured an all-you-can-eat buffet, frolicks with a dozen-or-so bikini-clad extras by a sun-kissed pool. Jodi Breakers, directed by Ashwini Chaudhary, clearly doesn’t bother with basic aesthetics. To be fair, the film doesn’t bother with a coherent script either.

Madhavan is Sid, a happily divorced ‘break-up expert’ who splits up couples for a living. Business booms when he takes on a partner in Sonali, played by Bipasha Basu. But things go downhill when Sid accepts a job to separate the perfectly compatible Pereiras (Milind Soman and Dipannita Sharma) for all the wrong reasons. This cheerfully mediocre film throws in a lazy twist at interval point, and from then on Jodi Breakers only slips deeper into a quagmire of stupidity.

Intended as a romantic comedy, the film fails on both counts. The humor is pedestrian and includes tired gags involving gay bartenders, and doctors arguing during surgery. The romantic portions too are corny…particularly some long, drunken babbling about the perfect kiss.

Packed with every standard romantic-movie cliché, Jodi Breakers is a strain on your nerves, and it doesn’t help that most of the cast is as dull as dishwater. Omi Vaidya as an oversexed lothario is a bitter pill to swallow, and Milind Soman and Deepanita Sharma were evidently hired only for their looks. The charming R Madhavan has a few inspired moments, but he comes off as too sloppy to play a rom-com lead. Bipasha Basu, on the other hand, is a gorgeous distraction, but doesn’t have the spontaneity of her co-star.

Despite an interesting premise, the film doesn’t work because its characters inspire no affection. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Ashwini Chaudhary’s Jodi Breakers. Feast your eyes on the stunning Greece locales; it’s the only pleasure this film provides.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Be kind, rewind!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:41 pm

February 24, 2012

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

It would be accurate to describe The Artist as a modern cinematic experiment, but that would make it all just a little bit soulless. This black-and-white, mostly wordless film is really a love letter to a bygone era – that of silent cinema – but in a wonderful way, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius shows us just how important it is to move with the times.

You can see it in that telling scene in The Artist when silent movie star George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) is shown the rushes of a talkie for the first time by the studio head (John Goodman). Valentin bursts into laughter in the screening room; he can’t envision that something as basic as sound is the future. As he rejects the idea, you know what’s coming next – the era of films like Singin’ In The Rain, that will sound the death knell for silent movie stars like Valentin.

At the heart of this homage to cinema is a charming little love story that plays itself out as starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) meets her idol George Valentin. Her career kicks off as an extra in a small scene in Valentin’s film, but as the talkies come in, she ironically upstages her screen hero.

The film’s story is told the old-fashioned way – through title cards, exaggerated facial expressions and a dramatic background score – and so often, you’re reminded of watching a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton film. However, Hazanavicius never once abandons skill in his journey. Watch that scene when sound actually filters into the film; as you expected, it literally is a silent movie demigod’s personal nightmare.

To be fair, the film drags slightly in portions, but it’s the performances – from the utterly charming Jean Dujardin, to the livewire Berenice Bejo, and even that adorable Jack Russel terrier Uggie – that never let your attention wane.

I’m going with four out of five for The Artist. If you love the movies, you’ll be helplessly captivated – this is a film that begs big-screen viewing. Don’t miss it for anything.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Kicking and screaming

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

February 24, 2012

Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C Reilly, Christoph Waltz

Director: Roman Polanski

The idea of watching four people arguing in a room for eighty minutes hardly sounds like fun. But this is a film by Roman Polanski, and the acting’s top notch.

Brimming with sharp, witty dialogue, and unfolding in a slightly cramped upscale New York apartment, Carnage is a wickedly funny chamber piece in which the Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) invite the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) over for a hopefully civilized chat, when their son is assaulted by the Cowans’ boy in a nearby park. Fueled by alcohol and their own prejudices, what starts off as a well-mannered affair quickly descends into an all-out war, where words become weapons.

All four actors are in solid form, but it’s Christoph Waltz who deserves special mention here as a cynical corporate lawyer, who’s invariably interrupted by calls on his Blackberry during the most heated moments of argument. Over the course of the row, that offending mobile phone is flung into a flower vase, a purse is hurled across the room, and someone vomits all over a stack of fancy art books.

It’s all extremely funny, and Polanski enjoys stripping his characters off their dignity, to show us that good manners after all are only skin-deep.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Carnage. In the end your sympathy is reserved for the children of these obnoxious folks; the only thing those kids need to be protected against are their dangerous parents. Don’t miss this film if you’re a fan of good acting and delicious dialogue.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Do the math!

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

February 24, 2012

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt

Director: Bennett Miller

The best sports films are the ones that can appeal to people who don’t like sports. Moneyball, based on a true story, stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the manager of the failing Oakland Athletics baseball team, who is unable to afford star players on his limited financial resources. Beane befriends Jonah Hill’s character, Peter Brand, a just-out-of-college stats-wiz who’s devised a system of rating players using mathematics. It allows Beane and Brand to build a team of players who are undervalued by everyone else, and therefore available on Oakland’s meager budget.

Despite its theme, this is really a film about people rather than baseball. The players are a bunch of underdogs, who just might come together and win the day. Beane, meanwhile, is a worried father, recovering from a failed marriage, and Brand is a nerdy number-cruncher with a passion for the sport. The film’s best scenes are the ones in which Beane and Brand’s crazy idea ruffles the feathers of the game’s old guard, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team’s petulant coach.

Moneyball isn’t perfect, though. The uneven pacing is a problem, and you never really know what the film is building towards. For viewers unfamiliar with the game, the constant use of baseball jargon and the hard-to-follow statistics conversations, render chunks of this film incomprehensible. Still, there’s some crackling dialogue from The Social Network’s Aaron Sorkin, and two winning performances from its leads that make this film consistently watchable, despite its bumps.

Brad Pitt is charming as Beane, but also plays the character a little weary and weathered. Jonah Hill brings a quiet confidence to the part of Brand, making a big impression in his first dramatic role.

I’m going with three out of five for Moneyball. It’s the thinking man’s sports film, with more layers than your classic inspirational story.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Shooting star

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:29 pm

February 24, 2012

Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott

Director: Simon Curtis

My Week With Marilyn, based on a memoir by Colin Clark, who served as third assistant director on the England set of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956, is a light, frothy film that sadly fails to demystify the iconic sex symbol, but instead only adds to her legend. There’s nothing here about Marilyn Monroe that we haven’t been told a hundred times already – she had a captivating effect on both men and women, she was troubled, she was selfish, she broke people’s hearts, she took pills, the camera loved her. And yet, the film is an enchanting watch, not least because Michelle Williams, who plays Monroe, delivers a knockout performance that nails the very essence of the siren’s appeal.

Much of the film details Monroe’s clashes on set with theatre giant Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), her co-star and director, who became frustrated with her lack of professionalism and her tendency to botch up her lines. At the heart of the story, however, are the romantic encounters that a besotted Clark (an impressive Eddie Redmayne) claims to have shared with Monroe, after she took a shine to the lowly gofer.

My Week With Marilyn is no revelatory biopic; the film unfolds through the perspective of an infatuated boy. What makes it more than just an awestruck reverie, however, is the remarkable acting by its solid ensemble. Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier as a theatrical, exasperated thespian, and Judi Dench is terrific as the great Shakespearean actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, who is surprisingly sympathetic to Monroe. There are other smaller but memorable turns…by Emma Watson in the role of a pretty wardrobe assistant; Dougray Scott making a cameo as Monroe’s latest husband, intellectual playwright Arthur Miller; and Julia Ormond appearing as the watchful wife of Olivier, legendary actress Vivien Leigh. But expectedly the film rests on the delicate shoulders of Michelle Williams, who captures both Monroe’s emotional neediness, and her power to entrance.

I’m going with three out of five for My Week With Marilyn. Don’t expect a piercing look into the life of one of the most talked-about women in the world; just enjoy it for what it really is – a nostalgic portrait of a bygone era of filmmaking.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 23, 2012

Moneyball’s Jonah Hill on being discovered by Dustin Hoffman

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:05 pm

In this interview, recorded in Cancun (Mexico) in June 2011, Jonah Hill – star of such comedy hits as Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall – talks about his role as nerdy stats-wiz Peter Brand in Moneyball. The actor, who landed an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this film, talks about his idols in showbusiness, and the kind of films he’d like to continue doing.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 17, 2012

Love bugs

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

February 17, 2012

Cast: Prateik Babbar, Amy Jackson, Manu Rishi, Sachin Khedekar

Director: Gautham Menon

With Ekk Deewana Tha director Gautham Menon takes his third stab at the same story, having directed successful Tamil and Telugu versions previously. This Hindi remake is a disappointing bore of a love story that tests your threshold for pain as it hobbles along indulgently for close to 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Prateik Babbar stars as Sachin, a 22-year-old middle-class engineering graduate who dreams of making movies one day. When his family moves into a rented home in Juhu, Sachin finds himself instantly smitten by the landlord’s daughter Jessie (played by British model Amy Jackson) who lives in the house above.

Jessie is a year older than Sachin, she’s a Malayali Christian, and her family has disdain for people involved with films. She’s attracted to Sachin, but she knows it’s not going to work out. Not one to give up easily, Sachin pursues her relentlessly, even following her all the way to Kerala in the hope of changing her mind. Floored by all the attention, she gives in…only to keep changing her mind every now and then, driving both Sachin and the audience completely nuts.

Charming in a goofy sort of way, Prateik Babbar makes the film’s first thirty minutes or so watchable even though very little happens here. His awkward body language and his nervous tics are refreshing, especially as his character, Sachin, skulks around spying on Jessie, and stalks her even. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for the film’s pretty but vapid leading lady, whose lines appear to have been dubbed by someone much older than herself. Surprisingly, the actress is poorly made-up, and for much of the film sports an obviously fake tan. The couple’s chemistry is lukewarm, and save for a few inspired moments their banter is grating.

Cutting between Mumbai and Kerala, the film’s second half meanders carelessly, and at such a sluggish pace you’ll have to check your pulse to make sure you’re still breathing. Manu Rishi, who plays Sachin’s mentor, and a Bollywood cameraman, infuses some energy with his smart lines and his natural style of acting. But it’s not enough to save this sloppy film from its imminent fate. The resolution of the couple’s conflict is so convenient, you’ll want to smack them for not arriving at it one hour ago.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Ekk Deewana Tha. Even A R Ramhan’s score offers only sporadic relief. The only real discovery you make through this film is Prateik Babbar’s immense likeability. Now if only the kid could act!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

The chill factor

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:32 pm

February 17, 2012

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White

Director: James Watkins

A pleasant change from the blood-and-guts staple of modern slasher films, The Woman in Black is a throwback to those good old-fashioned horror movies that relied on eeriness rather than gore to deliver the scares.

In his first role since the Harry Potter movies Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a sad-faced lawyer in Victorian England, still grieving for his wife who died four years ago. With a young son to raise, and the fear of losing his job looming over his head, Kipps sets off to a remote village in the countryside for an assignment that involves sorting out the estate of a recently deceased woman. Once there, rummaging through her papers in her isolated mansion, he begins to sense the presence of an otherworldly spirit.

From creaking staircases and haunted attics, to mirrors with ghostly reflections, and ominous music cues, The Woman in Black packs all the traditional tropes that make for a familiar yet entertaining affair. Brace yourself for sudden shocks as doors slam shut on their own, an empty rocking chair tips furiously back and forth, and pale faces of dead children appear mysteriously on a windowpane.

None of this is new, but it works because it’s done so well. Doused in a pervasive mood of gloominess, the film is beautifully shot and the set design is impeccable. It also helps that Radcliffe is a solid actor who plays an adult quite convincingly; he makes Kipps a character that you care about.

I’m going with three out of five for The Woman in Black; it’s surprisingly good fun. Just make sure you stick your popcorn in the holder on your armrest – you don’t want to spill it all over yourself each time you jump in your seat.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

House arrest

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

February 17, 2012

Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds is a visceral action movie, but with a predictable, lightweight plot.

Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a young CIA agent desperate to climb the ladder, but stuck in charge of a Johannesberg safe house – a secret base to hide prisoners or witnesses to keep them safe. Having spent a year there with no one to protect, he’s getting restless and irritable. That changes when fellow agents arrive with Washington, who plays Tobin Frost, a former top CIA operative who went rogue 10 years ago, and is suspected of trading secrets with the enemy. But even before Frost can be properly interrogated, armed assassins show up looking for him and open fire, thus forcing Weston to go on the run with Frost to find out the truth.

Borrowing a thing or two from the Bourne movies, Safe House has plot twists, double-crossing, and some high-adrenaline foot chases. The action, in fact, is nicely done, with more than a few brutal combat sequences that are not for the faint-hearted. But it’s the resolution ultimately that feels a bit anticlimactic, and not hard to guess from a mile away.

Still it’s the two leads that save this film from sinking without a trace. Reynolds is in surprisingly good form as the idealistic rookie, and holds his own commendably against his seasoned co-star. Washington owns the film as the morally dubious Frost, arresting you with his presence, practically sending a shiver down your spine as he plays mind games with Weston.

Safe House isn’t a bad film, it’s just unremarkable and simplistic, a mediocre film that could’ve been so much more. I’m going with two out of five for Safe House. The only reason to watch it is for its charismatic leads.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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