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

March 9, 2012

Dirty picture

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:34 pm

March 09, 2012

Cast: Tusshar Kapoor, Kulraj Randhawa, Anupam Kher, Om Puri, Chandrachur Singh, Sushant Singh, Mukul Dev, Anita Raaj, Johnny Lever, Farida Jalal

Director: Samir Karnik

In the good ol’ days, audiences in some places were known to rip cinema seats, and to throw things at the screen if they were offended by the film they were watching. Beware, multiplex owners; that tradition is likely to be revived this week with Chaar Din Ki Chandni. This appalling comedy, directed by Yamla Pagla Deewana’s Samir Karnik is possibly the worst film you’ll see this year…and we’re only in March right now.

The movie’s centered on a Rajput royal (Tusshar Kapoor) who returns from university in London with his girlfriend (Kulraj Randhawa) by his side. Aware that his prejudiced father (Anupam Kher) will never approve of a non-Rajput bride, he introduces her as a journalist assigned to cover his sister’s lavish wedding. Things get complicated when his brothers – all three of them: the alcoholic one (Chandrachur Singh), the angry one (Sushant Singh), and the horny one (Mukul Dev) – fall for his girlfriend, and the situation only gets worse when his father decides to find a suitable groom for her.

About as much fun as plucking your nose hair one by one, Chaar Din Ki Chandni sees fine actors like Anupam Kher and Om Puri engage in what appears to be a contest of hamming. Dialogues are yelled out, never spoken; and Punjabi cuss words are showered as generously as confetti at a four-year-old’s birthday party. A gay character, portrayed as a sexual predator, is repeatedly referred to as “tedha medha”…and these are just a handful of the problems in this awful film.

With no semblance of a script to rein him in, director Samir Karnik takes the “anything goes” approach, relying on tired slapstick gags and over-familiar racial stereotypes to deliver cheap laughs. In one scene, Mukul Dev’s character asks a female construction worker for change, and proceeds to suggestively sniff the currency notes she pulls out from inside her blouse.

Dumb, offensive, and unfunny in equal measure, Chaar Din Ki Chandni has no merits whatsoever, including its singularly unappealing cast, some of whom (Anita Raaj, Chandrachur Singh, Mukul Dev) seem to have been pulled out of cold-storage to make fools of themselves here. Particularly insensitive to Sikhs and gays, this exhausting film saps you of your energy, and your will to visit the cinema again anytime soon.

I’m going with zero out of five for director Samir Karnik’s Chaar Din Ki Chandni. That’s two hours and thirty minutes of your life that you’re never going to get back again.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mars attacks

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

March 09, 2012

Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton

Director: Andrew Stanton

It’s hard to believe that the same filmmaker who made us fall in love with a waste-recycling robot is responsible for the over-long, humorless adventure that is John Carter. Directed by animation veteran Andrew Stanton (of Wall-E and Finding Nemo), this expensive, live-action film is based on a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 100-year-old fantasy-romance novels, and features Taylor Kitsch as a former Civil War soldier in Arizona, who comes across a mysterious cave and a powerful amulet that instantly transports him to Mars, or Barsoom as it is referred to by the locals.

Once there, he encounters several warring factions including the Zodangans, the Heliumites, the Tharks, and the Therns. When he falls in love with Helium princess Dejah Thoris (a wooden Lynn Collins), he teams up with her to save the planet from some sort of threat that is never clearly defined.

Despite some impressive CGI battle scenes, and fantastic creature design, the story itself feels episodic and boring, with Carter repeatedly being captured and escaping over and over again. Fine actors like Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton are buried under prosthetics to play members of the green-skinned, four-armed barbarian tribe, the Tharks. And leading man Taylor Kitsch just doesn’t have the presence or the acting chops to rise above this fractured film.

Fans of the books might appreciate that the film is faithful to Burroughs’ dense writing, but those unfamiliar with the stories are very likely to find themselves at sea amidst the clunky dialogues and the incomprehensible plot turns.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for John Carter. Thrillingly staged action scenes can’t make up for the dull characters and the confusing plot.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mush hour

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 7:04 am

March 09, 2012

Cast: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Sam Neil, Jessica Lange, Scott Speedman

Director: Michael Sucsy

The Vow, starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, is the kind of mushy movie that’ll appeal to anyone who still gets teary-eyed watching The Notebook for the third time.

Tatum and McAdams play a bohemian young married couple, who get into an accident on a snowy Chicago night. He’s all right, but she wakes up from a coma with the last five years wiped clean from her memory, and with no recognition of the stranger in front of her who says he’s her husband. It’s up to him now to win her love all over again, and to get her to choose the life they had together, instead of gravitating back to the past that she’d abandoned…including her snotty, controlling parents, a smarmy fiancé, and a boring career in law.

Tatum and McAdams have a comfortable chemistry, but the romantic scenarios in the film range from occasionally endearing to nauseatingly schmaltzy. In one flashback scene, he asks her to move in with him by spelling it out with blueberries on a breakfast plate. In another scene, a visibly unwell McAdams opens a gift box containing cute recovery items that he’s sent her, while Tatum stands outside in the pouring rain.

Although it packs in all the usual trademarks of a sappy Nicholas Sparks-style adaptation, The Vow claims to be based on a true story. And those are always the ones you least believe. Not because the premise seems implausible… No! Because by the time it’s been Hollywood-ised and sent through the studio machinery, it comes out looking like any other gooey rom-com intended to melt the hearts of its 16-year-old female demographic.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for The Vow. Chicks will dig Tatum as the beefcake with a soft, sensitive heart. Just don’t expect anything more.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 3, 2012

Analysing the Oscars

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 7:02 pm


A day after the 2011 Oscars, CNN-IBN‘s Rajeev Masand and Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips discuss the Academy Awards ceremony and share their thoughts on the big winners of the night.

(This show first aired on Star Movies)

Thomas Horn on ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:59 am

In this interview recorded in Berlin, Thomas Horn – the 14-year-old star of Stephen Daldry’s Oscar-nominated film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – talks about his role as a socially awkward boy grappling with the death of his father in the 9/11 attacks. The incredibly articulate Horn also reveals what he learnt from working with Tom Hanks.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 2, 2012

Affair to remember

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:16 pm

March 02, 2012

Cast: Ali Zafar, Aditi Rao Hydari

Director: Anu Menon

If you’ll believe that a couple can fall hopelessly in love after spending only three days together in seven years, perhaps you’ll buy the many contrivances of London Paris New York.

Spoilt rich kid Nikhil (Ali Zafar) and philosophy-spouting Lalitha (Aditi Rao Hydari) meet while disembarking from a flight at Heathrow and proceed to spend the day together exploring London, before Lalitha heads off to New York the next morning. They meet again in Paris two years later – Nikhil is working towards becoming a filmmaker now, and Lalitha is a political-science exchange student. The couple rekindles the old flame, then breaks up, all in the course of one day. When Nikhil seeks her out in New York five years later, they’re older and wiser, and must make some tough decisions before he heads home the following day.

London Paris New York, written and directed by first-timer Anu Menon, features no other characters (save for a cousin and a father who appear only in one scene each), so the film rests solely on the protagonists and the shaky relationship they share. Borrowing the tone of the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films, the dialogue here is mostly conversational in nature, although there are times the lines feel labored and over-written. An entire back-story involving Nikhil’s dead brother serves no purpose other than to give his character some cheap redemption in the end.

You’ll notice there’s a rushed feeling to each encounter between the couple, beginning with the manner in which they unload their lives while waiting for their baggage at Heathrow. It’s as if the director was racing against the clock, desperate to cram as much as she could into each of the film’s three episodes. The Paris chapter, as a result, comes off as particularly contrived because you’re never able to wrap your head around Lalitha’s absurd behavior.

What the film has going for it, however, is its breezy vibe, and the crackling chemistry between its leads. The humor, initiated mostly by Nikhil, isn’t of the laugh-out-loud variety, but includes some clever zingers…like the nickname he gives her – Lalithapedia – for her tendency to stock useless information on just about everything. There’s a refreshing frankness in the way the couple discusses sexual attraction; and a spontaneous outburst from Nikhil in a pre-climax scene in New York is superbly written and nicely performed.

Ali Zafar and Aditi Rai Hydari infuse energy into their roles, but there are portions where their acting comes off as affected. Ali is particularly charming, especially in the comic bits, but would it really have hurt to grow a goatee for the Paris episode instead of painting one on? For her part, Aditi is lovely in almost every frame, except when she has that awful short wig perched awkwardly on her head. Her character, unfortunately, is poorly etched, and as a result Lalitha often appears whimsical and annoying. Together, however, they make sparks fly. Whether squabbling or simply being cute, the actors grab your attention in those tiny little moments that perfectly capture their delicious compatibility, making it hard to take your eyes off them.

The film itself cruises along inoffensively despite the potholes, clocking in at a crisp 100 minutes, and is aided by some snazzy camerawork and hummable songs. I’m going with three out of five for writer-director Anu Menon’s London Paris New York. The charismatic actors rise above the flawed script to deliver an easy, enjoyable evening at the movies. Watch it for its freshness; you won’t be bored.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

A life less ordinary

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:04 pm

March 02, 2012

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill, Brijendra Kala, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vipin Sharma

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

With his faultless performance as the famed athlete who turns into a feared dacoit in director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar, Irrfan Khan offers us a reminder of his blazing versatility.

Introduced to us as a reed-thin jawaan with an insatiable appetite for food, Tomar is quickly included in the army’s sports team, when he shows he can sprint across town to deliver a slab of ice-cream in four minutes flat before it begins to melt.

Having conquered the track with seven national wins in the most grueling athletic event, the steeplechase, Tomar has a promising career ahead that’s suddenly derailed when he must pick up a gun to protect his family’s honor, after an argument over a plot of land in his village gets messy. Tomar the sportsman transforms into Tomar the outlaw, and instead of the sports-field, his playing grounds are now the ravines of Chambal.

Narrated in flashback by Tomar himself to a nervous journalist (played by a superb Brijendra Kala), the life-story of this dreaded dacoit packs many a moving moment, and more humor than you’d imagined. There is surprising tenderness in his scenes with his wife (Mahie Gill), and sequences of joyful camaraderie between his band of thieves. There is regret too, as Tomar repeatedly reminds us – alas, few knew his name when he was a champion athlete, but he’s notorious now as an outlaw.

Directed competently by Dhulia, who’s familiar and comfortable even with the dusty terrain, Paan Singh Tomar is made with great attention to detail, and paints an honest, realistic picture of an India few of us can claim to know. Although repetitive occasionally and a tad long, the film raises two important questions: What could possibly drive a patriotic soldier into crossing over to the dark side? And although we call them sporting heroes, do we really care about our athletes once their careers are over?

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar. Held up by a remarkable performance from Irrfan Khan, this is a well-intentioned film that’s worth your time.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bright star, big pity

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

March 02, 2012

Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Olivia Colman

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

It’s hard to find fault in Meryl Streep’s extraordinary performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but it’s a shame the film itself has little of interest to say about either the woman, or the period of British history she shaped. Streep nails the accent, and finds emotional depth in her portrayal of the polarizing leader, but the film never goes beyond a surface look at Thatcher’s controversial political career.

Buried under layers of make-up and prosthetics, Streep channels the aged Thatcher even as the film focuses on the fictionalized story of the former politician pottering about in her home, having long hallucinatory conversations with her dead husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent). Using the flashback as a narrative device, the movie offers up shallow, brief snapshots of Thatcher’s career – her invasion of the Falkland Islands, her getting elected to Parliament for the first time, and her consultants remolding her image as she runs for Prime Minister. But they’re all hollow glimpses. The film simply isn’t interested in exploring the reasoning behind her politics, her hunger for power, and her unwillingness to compromise. What’s more, the makers offer no real perspective on her growing unpopularity among the people.

The film works better as a sort of love story, in the snatches of affectionate banter and disagreements we witness between Thatcher and her husband in the earlier years. It’s the love story again that rears its head when you watch the Alzheimer’s-afflicted Thatcher struggling to let go of her husband even years after his passing.

The Iron Lady has three fine performances at its heart – Jim Broadbent plays Dennis Thatcher with a playful glint, as a sort of cuddly uncle, encouraging his wife when she’s low, occasionally roaring at her when he thinks she deserves it. Also impressive is Alexandra Roach as the younger Margaret, the “grocer’s daughter”, who portrays the character’s political awakening convincingly. But it’s Meryl Streep, playing the older versions of Lady Thatcher, who is absolutely riveting on the screen. She inhabits Thatcher completely, from the voice to the dresses to the steely resolve in her eyes. It’s the only reason to watch this mediocre film.

I’m going with two out of five for The Iron Lady. It’s a lazy film about one of the most influential leaders of our times. An opportunity has been wasted.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:47 pm

March 02, 2012

Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright

Director: Stephen Daldry

Some stories are genuinely moving, others so shamelessly manipulative that they come off as crass. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, directed by Stephen Daldry, falls somewhere in between.

Adapted from a polarizing novel, the film focuses on 11-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a socially awkward but remarkably intelligent boy, whose father (Tom Hanks) died in the World Trade Center attacks. Haunted by grief and guilt, and unable to make sense of this horrible tragedy even a year later, Oskar becomes obsessed with solving the mystery behind a key he believes his dad left for him in an envelope simply marked with the word ‘Black’.

Setting off on a search to find the lock that fits this key, Oskar creates an elaborate and methodical project to track down every person with the last name Black in New York City. Before you know it, he’s combing the streets, knocking on doors, and telling strangers his story, in the hope of finding some last message from his father. Even as his mother (Sandra Bullock) struggles to get through to Oskar, the kid finds an unlikely companion in a mysterious old man who doesn’t speak (Max von Sydow).

While there are a few genuinely poignant moments in this film – like one in which Oskar tells his mother he wishes it was her, and not his father, who was killed – for the most part Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close comes off as contrived and exploitative. The suggestion that this kid and his cute project becomes the catalyst of recovery for hundreds of grieving New Yorkers feels cheap, and only undermines the impact of that tragedy.

Tom Hanks, in what’s essentially an extended cameo, seems perfectly cast as the best dad in the world, and Sandra Bullock brings quiet dignity despite the cloying material here. But it’s the supporting cast that’s terrific – particularly Max von Sydow who’s superbly restrained and moving, and Viola Davis who conveys volumes through her eyes.

But the film rests squarely on the tiny shoulders of its young lead, and works only if you’re invested in the character of Oskar, and in the performance of Thomas Horn. Although impressive in portions, Horn’s shrill voice is grating after a point, and it doesn’t help that Daldry saddles the film with an incessant voiceover from the precocious kid.

I’m going with two out of five for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Watch it if you don’t mind being manipulated into shedding tears.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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