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

March 29, 2013

Huma Qureshi & Saqib Saleem on their Bollywood dream

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:31 pm

Huma Qureshi who made her debut in 2012’s Gangs of Wasseypur, and Saqib Saleem who starred in Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and Mere Dad Ki Maruti, are among Bollywood’s more talented brother-sister pairs. The siblings, whose family runs a successful restaurant business in Delhi, count on each other for honest opinion on their work. Huma’s just completed Ek Thi Daayan produced by Vishal Bhardwaj and is currently shooting Dedh Ishqiya. Meanwhile, Saqib was recently directed by Karan Johar in Bombay Talkies. In this interview with Rajeev Masand, both actors insist they’d like the opportunities the other one has been lucky to have.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Child’s play

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 10:47 pm

Stories about gender identity are invariably fraught with angst and confusion, but there’s very little of either in Tomboy, an intimate French drama about a little girl who’d much rather be a little boy.

When 10-year-old Laure and her family move into a new apartment block, she’s mistaken for a boy by the local kids. She decides to let them keep thinking she is male, and leads a double life over the course of the summer holidays, playing football or going swimming with the boys, and inadvertently catching the fancy of a young girl who has romance on her mind.

Moving and poignant because every character feels real and responds honestly to circumstances, the film is thankfully devoid of melodrama. Even when the protagonist’s secret is out, there’s a quiet gentleness in the manner that the matter is dealt with.

Director Celine Sciamma never turns the parents or the kids into villains or clichés, and draws out a remarkably astute performance from Zoe Heran as our endearing protagonist. The best scenes in the film are between Laure and her younger sister Jeanne, another charming presence.

In equal parts witty and affecting, Tomboy is that rare film that touches your heart deeply without ever breaking it.

Old is cold!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:45 pm

March 29, 2013

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Tamannah Bhatia, Mahesh Manjrekar, Paresh Rawal, Zarina Wahab, Adhyayan Suman

Director: Sajid Khan

It must take a special kind of skill to remake a mediocre film like 1983’s Himmatwala without even marginally improving on it. Director Sajid Khan’s potpourri of excessive melodrama, puerile humor, cartoonish action, and garish songs plods on for two-and-a-half hours with little concern for your bladder or your mental health.

The all-new Himmatwala has many of the same problems that plagued the earlier film, and a few new ones of its own. Chief among these is its inability to decide what it wants to be – an honest remake, evocative of the tone and spirit of those 80s ‘Madras potboilers’, or a tongue-in-cheek spoof of that very genre.

Ajay Devgan is Ravi, our nostril-flaring hero who returns to the village of his birth seeking vengeance on the man who destroyed his family. Sher Singh (Mahesh Manjrekar) is the gentleman in question, although his actions are most ungentlemanly. He’s the oppressive, land-grabbing sarpanch of the village who’s instilled fear in the hearts of locals.

To be honest, Sajid Khan doesn’t so much direct, as he launches an assault on our senses with a string of tired clichés you thought you’d seen the last of – the hero’s widowed mother who repeatedly binds him in a “maa ki kasam”, his unfortunate sister who only exists to be raped by the villain’s henchmen and tortured by her in-laws, the villain’s spoilt but good-hearted daughter who falls for the hero much to her father’s disdain, and even an old foe who turns up at a crucial moment to help the hero in return for sparing his life earlier…that character, by the way, is played by a tiger!

But Himmatwala is intended as much as a comedy as it is a revenge saga, even if the humor alternates between regressive and plain pedestrian. Sher Singh’s daughter (Telugu star Tamannah) carries around a whip and declares: “I hate gareebs!”. Paresh Rawal, playing Sher Singh’s sidekick brother-in-law is always ready with an obvious pun. The only genuinely clever bit is a black-and-white spoof on the infamous shower scene from Psycho, but it’s too smart for this film.

Packed from start to finish with too many underwhelming action scenes, and song sequences that pale in comparison to Jeetendra and Sridevi’s matka-jhatkas, the new Himmatwala is a busy, crowded film but one that’s deathly dull in the final reckoning. So predictable and boring in fact, that Rohit Shetty’s films feel like Citizen Kane in comparison.

Amidst the sea of hammy performances, it’s Ajay Devgan, expectedly, who manages not to entirely embarrass himself. He pummels the bad guys competently, and carries off some of the film’s corny lines without tripping. But it’s such a shame to watch this reliable, robust performer reduce himself to appearing in this drivel.

I’m going with one out of five for director Sajid Khan’s Himmatwala. The movie opens with a disco song featuring Sonakshi Sinha that goes: “Thank God, it’s Friday!”

Not this Friday, believe me.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Tough guys finish last

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

March 29, 2013

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Jonathan Pryce, Bruce Willis, Adrienne Palicki, DJ Cotrona, Byung-hun Lee

Director: Jon M Chu

Many believe that hiring Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock, to star in 2011’s Fast Five, was the genius idea that salvaged a flagging franchise. The same trick, however, doesn’t work for GI Joe: Retaliation which, as it turns out, is even more awful than 2009’s disappointing GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra. While you can’t really be surprised by the absence of compelling characters or the lack of emotional depth in the story – given that the GI Joe films are based on a kid’s toy – there’s no excuse why Retaliation is such a dull enterprise, or why it doesn’t even deliver a sense of guilty pleasure.

If only the plot made a smidgen of sense!

A team of super-soldiers or GI Joes led by Duke (Channing Tatum) is framed for the assassination of the Pakistani President. They’re attacked, left for dead, and branded enemies of the state by master-of-disguise Zartan who’s assumed the identity of the US President (Jonathan Pryce).

Conspiring with ruthless terrorist organization Cobra, Zartan instigates a diabolical plan involving all the world’s leaders and an international nuclear summit.

It’s now left to a trio of surviving Joes (Dwayne Johnson, Adrienne Palicki and DJ Cotrona) who enlist the help of a retired soldier (Bruce Willis) in their mission to stop Zartan before he goes too far.

They must also make peace with a masked ninja called Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), whose role in this confusing script is one of many things that’s hard to follow.

More confusing than Kangana Ranaut’s accent, the film’s storyline is a convoluted mess, and the dialogues are appallingly lazy even by action-movie standards. This dense script nevertheless manages to pack in wall-to-wall fight sequences that are surprisingly underwhelming because director Jon M Chu never stops to show us the repercussions of the violence. So people are stabbed, chopped, sliced, and shot but I can’t remember seeing any blood whatsoever.

The actors are on autopilot mode, failing to rise above the ridiculous material. Dwayne Johnson, ever the likeable presence, appears trapped under the weight of this incoherent script.

The only bit worth watching is a breathtaking set-piece in the snowy Himalayas in which Snake Eyes and Jinx must face off against a bunch of ninjas. This sequence, involving cable chases and scaling the sides of mountains, lasts about six minutes and looks incredibly thrilling in 3D.

GI Joe: Retaliation feels way longer than its running time. It’s an exercise in futility; a film that has no business existing in the first place. I’m going with one out of five. Stay home and take a nap instead.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 23, 2013

Sajid Khan on remakes, blockbusters, and his allergy to film critics

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:15 am

In this interview, television personality and film director Sajid Khan talks about remakes, blockbusters, and his allergy to movie critics. Khan, who has just directed his take on the 1983 hit Himmatwala also explains why it’s unfair to compare him with his siblings Farah Khan, Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 22, 2013

Mean spirited

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:55 pm

March 22, 2013

Cast: Bipasha Basu, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Doyel Dhawan, Shernaz Patel, Tilottama Shome, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shiv Subramaniam, Darshan Jariwala

Director: Suparn Verma

95 minutes have seldom felt so long, as they do while watching Aatma. This curious but ultimately predictable supernatural thriller fails to escape genre conventions, falling into the same trap that so many of its predecessors have.

Bipasha Basu is a single mother struggling to protect her daughter (Doyel Dhawan) from the otherworldly grasp of her dead ex-husband (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who wants to take the little girl away with him. It’s an intriguing premise, ripe with emotional potential, but writer-director Suparn Verma sticks to tried-and-tested gimmicks, never offering an original suspenseful experience.

Low on scares and unfolding at a snail-like pace, Aatma recycles familiar horror-movie imagery to little impact. In one relatively chilling scene that’s unfortunately given away in the trailer, a terrified Bipasha is confronted with the sight of her daughter walking the balcony ledge, as Nawazuddin’s spirit beckons her to jump.

Moments like these are few and far between in this lazy film that doesn’t even create the required atmospherics for a moody thriller. The resolution is underwhelming, a handful of fine supporting actors (Jaideep Ahlawat, Shernaz Patel, Tillotama Shome, Shiv Subramaniam, Darshan Jariwala) are wasted, and in the end you’re struck by the sheer futility of the enterprise.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Aatma. This is death by boredom!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Capitol punishment

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:50 pm

March 22, 2013

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd

Director: Antoine Fuqua

The new Gerard Butler starrer Olympus Has Fallen is such a faithful retread of the Die Hard formula that you keep waiting for Bruce Willis to show up in a white vest and yell: “Yippee ki yay copycats!”

Training Day director Antoine Fuqua clearly recognizes what made John McTiernan’s 1988 original one of the most enduring actioners of all time, and he isn’t shy of adapting that blueprint into a modern-day thriller. So yes there’s a band of terrorists on the loose, an expansive building under siege, and a fearless hero with an inside knowledge of the place who must save the day. Except that Fuqua raises the stakes by choosing no ordinary location, but the supposedly impregnable White House to stage his drama at.

In a nicely done prologue whose point is more or less given away in the film’s trailer, we learn why the US President (Aaron Eckhart) banishes his most trusted Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Inevitably, it’s Banning who comes to the nation’s rescue when, months later, the President and some of his top officials are taken hostage in an underground bunker in the White House by a terrorist gang led by a diabolical North Korean mastermind (Rick Yune).

The violent attacks on Washington are effectively staged, and there’s tension in those scenes where Banning moves around surreptitiously within the building as he tries to foil the terrorists’ plans. Meanwhile, a cutesy subplot about Banning’s bond with the President’s kid feels largely gratuitous.

Butler, playing the good guy saviour in this film, isn’t as funny and charming as Bruce Willis in Die Hard (although he does get to mouth a few cheeky one-liners), but he’s entirely credible as an angry, one-man killing machine. Fuqua, however, surrounds him with fine actors in limiting roles: Angela Bassett as the head of the Secret Service, Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, and an unusually hammy Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense.

However preposterous the plot, and predictable its twists may be, the film seldom loses steam because of its brisk pace and the visceral action that’s sometimes so gruesome you have to turn away.

As action movies go, Olympus Has Fallen makes for a pretty entertaining watch; it beats recent installments of the Die Hard franchise hands down. I’m going with three out of five. Delivers plenty bang for your buck.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Unchained melody

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

March 22, 2013

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson

Director: Quentin Tarantino

You don’t complain about excessive violence if you’ve chosen to watch a Quentin Tarantino film. But in Django Unchained, his homage to spaghetti westerns set in the pre-Civil War era of black slaves and ruthless white oppressors, the celebrated filmmaker invites us to witness such an orgy of brutality and bloodshed that you have to ask if the film is attacking cruelty or reveling in it.

Even as you debate that point, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a lot to admire in this stylish revenge fantasy that’s peppered with the kind of unforgettable touches only Tarantino could get away with. But alas, the man wants to squeeze in every idea he has, no matter how it all fits together…and as a result, the film’s close-to-three-hours running time often feels like a slog.

Jamie Foxx is Django, a shackled slave, whose encounter with eccentric German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) sets the film’s plot into motion. Freeing Django from a chain gang, Schultz recruits him to identify three outlaws. Pretty soon the two men become partners, cleaning the land of lawbreakers through some pretty violent means. Schultz then promises to lead Django to his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and help him rescue her from the clutches of sadistic slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The first thing to notice is that Tarantino hasn’t tired of his love for pithy dialogue, the bulk of which go to Christoph Waltz, who uses it to construct another deliciously menacing character after that monstrous Nazi, Col Hans Landa, in Inglourious Basterds. Leonardo DiCaprio, too, appears to be having a blast, playing the racist villain of the piece, complete with moustache-twirling glee. The real surprise, however, is delivered by a near-unrecognizable Samuel L Jackson who shows up in the small but memorable part of Candie’s creepy man-servant.

There are some terrific moments of inspired humor, like a scene in which the Ku Klux Klan gets into an argument over the size of the eyeholes in their hoods. The film is dazzlingly shot and is set to a terrific score, but as it approaches the three-hour mark, its indulgences begin to show. Just when you think the film has come to an end after a gruesome confrontation in the final act, the story rambles on for another 20 minutes only to culminate in another even more blood-splattered face-off that you leaves you feeling exhausted.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Like his previous films, this isn’t for the faint hearted. Die-hard fans, meanwhile, will likely forgive its shortcomings.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 19, 2013

“You have to take risks,” says Steven Spielberg

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 2:52 pm


In this interview, Steven Spielberg — the world’s most successful director ever — talks about the importance of winning awards, the changing landscape of Hollywood, and why some risks are worth taking. Spielberg is joined in this interview by his Dreamworks partner and CEO Stacey Snider who explains the studio’s relationship with India’s Reliance Entertainment, and reveals why she’s starstruck around Spielberg even after all these years.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 15, 2013

Courtside view

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

March 15, 2013

Cast: Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani, Amrita Rao, Ramesh Deo, Manoj Pahwa, Mohan Kapur, Mohan Agashe

Director: Subhash Kapoor

When a rich Delhi kid, accused of mowing down six pavement dwellers with his speeding car, is let off for lack of evidence, a small-time lawyer spots an opportunity and gets the case reopened.

Well-intentioned but inconsistent, Jolly LLB, directed by Subhash Kapoor, blends elements of a satire, a thriller, and a courtroom procedural in this intriguing story inspired by the events of the Sanjeev Nanda hit-and-run case of 1999. Kapoor makes some relevant points about society’s apathy towards the poor, the loopholes in our judicial system, and the ease with which the rich often manipulate the truth. But he adopts an over-simplistic approach to the material that is often in conflict with this otherwise promising film.

Meerut-bred Jagdish Tyagi, or Jolly (Arshad Warsi), is only seeking some publicity when he stands up against legal heavyweight Tejinder Rajpal (Boman Irani) who is defending the accused. But his conscience is stirred by his fiancée (Amrita Rao), who eggs him on to fight for the truth. Rajpal, whose defense is built around a bunch of lies and a botched-up police investigation, resorts to everything from bribery to physical assault to scare off Jolly from pursuing the case.

Positioned as a David vs Goliath clash, the film benefits from some fiery courtroom exchanges between its two leads and Saurabh Shukla playing the seasoned judge. Director Subhash Kapoor tackles these scenes with just the right balance of humor and histrionics, but gets carried away by his tendency to pack in too much all at once. So the screenplay is overstuffed with unnecessary songs, a predictable scuffle in the court washroom, and an overlong satirical sequence in which a corrupt cop (Sanjay Mishra) openly auctions off a promotion in the police department to the highest bidder amongst a fleet of dishonorable officers.

There are many emotional moments in the film, but Kapoor occasionally teeters towards melodrama, wringing the ‘feeling’ right out of you. While a scene in which Jolly witnesses the plight of pavement dwellers first-hand is genuinely moving, other bits feel contrived and ring untrue. When the aged spindly bodyguard assigned to Jolly mans up in the hour of need, it’s as if a lump was squeezed out of your throat! And predictably the manager of the court canteen (Ramesh Deo) who clears up a corner in his premises for Jolly to work out of becomes the catalyst for his awakening.

If the film isn’t derailed despite these hiccups, it’s largely on account of the three central performances that are easily its biggest strength. Arshad Warsi brings layers to Jolly, revealing a simmering frustration beneath that cheery exterior. Boman Irani is terrific as the smug Rajpal, permanently texting on his Blackberry, and very comfortable in the dread he inspires. But the surprise packet is Saurabh Shukla who doesn’t once strike a wrong note as the wise ol’ judge dutifully witnessing the circus before him each day, only losing his temper when he’s mistaken for a fool. Shukla turns even the seemingly innocuous act of eating lunch into a riveting performance.

Its heart unquestionably in the right place, Jolly LLB is very watchable, even if it does paint in broad strokes. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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