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

July 25, 2014

Devil in the detail?

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:41 pm

July 25, 2014

Cast: Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Randeep Hooda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saurabh Shukla

Director: Sajid Nadiadwala

If you look really closely, you’ll notice that the new Salman Khan starrer Kick is fashioned as a mirror to his own life. Directed by Sajid Nadiadwala, this is a movie on a mission. A mission to whitewash the actor’s controversial personal image, and to reinforce the notion that he’s a bad boy with a heart of gold.

In the film he plays enfant terrible Devi, who’s a raging alcoholic, who gets into fights at the drop of a hat, and who’s been to prison more than once – all because it gives him a kick. But, as an understandably baffled character repeats to himself, trying to wrap his head around the idea, “woh dil ka bahut achcha hai”.

As many as three writers are credited with cobbling together this unconvincing script about Devi’s transformation into a Robin Hood-like thief who steals from corrupt fat cats so he can pay for the cure of every ailing child in the country. A metaphor, perhaps, for Salman’s reputation for pouring his earnings from his frankly lousy movies into his charity Being Human? You decide.

But back to the film, Kick is plagued with pacing issues, underwhelming action scenes, and an indulgent screenplay that gets to the heart of the plot roughly an hour into the movie. That’s an awful lot of time to waste on a charmless romantic track between Salman and Jacqueline Fernandez, who plays – you’ll never believe – an honest-to-goodness psychiatrist, affectionately nicknamed Pyscho by her lover.

She’s Shaina, now settled in Poland, and she narrates her short-lived love story with Devi to her new suitor, a cop, Himanshu (Randeep Hooda), who’s having as much trouble with another man, the masked thief Devil, who he badly needs to catch. For a pair of supposedly smart professionals – a shrink and a super-cop, no less – Shaina and Himanshu are the only two people who haven’t figured out that Devi and Devil are the same person.

As it turns out, the best thing about Kick is Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who shows up in the second half as Shiv Gajra, the film’s chief bad guy with a creepy laugh. In one scene, after choking a man to death using bubble-wrap paper, he casually pops the bubbles on the same sheet, still wrapped around the dead man’s face, as if it were the most natural thing to do.

If, like Nawazuddin, this film didn’t take itself so seriously, it might not have felt like such a slog. But we get a manipulative flashback about dying children, apathetic businessmen, and a brawny hero who is repeatedly moved to tears. It all feels very contrived and doesn’t make much sense either. A set of able-bodied parents jump off the roof of a building when they can’t pay for their ailing daughter’s treatment. Fat help they are to her dead!

But the pursuit of logic in a Salman Khan film is a rather fruitless exercise, even his die-hard fans will agree. The actor admits as much in a telling dialogue at the end of the film: “Mere baare mein itna mat sochna. Dil mein aata hoon, samajh mein nahin.”

To be fair, despite its problems, Kick is an improvement on most films the actor has starred in recently. It’s neither as tacky as Jai Ho, nor as plain lazy as Ready and Bodyguard. There are some moments of inspired humor, like a clever role-reversal in a meet-the-parents situation between Devi and Shaina’s father (Saurabh Shukla). It’s slickly shot (by Ayananka Bose) and the soundtrack (by Himesh Reshammiya) has a few hummable hits. But it’s also the most fun you’ve seen Salman having on screen lately.

The actor, fully aware of his strengths and of what his fans expect from him, is in goofball mode. He dials up the charm, and delivers flashes of amazing spontaneity, making you wish someone wrote a better film for him. Kick will no doubt break box-office records and earn many many crores for its makers and for its leading man, but it’s a shame he will settle for just this.

I’m going with a generous two-and-a-half out of five for Sajid Nadiadwala’s Kick. I didn’t hate it. If that’s enough encouragement, sure, go watch it. But you were going to anyway, right?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Check in!

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

July 25, 2014

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, F Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, Jason Schwartzman

Director: Wes Anderson

Few modern filmmakers can claim to leave as distinct a stamp on their work as Wes Anderson. His cinematic style and visual language is so unique, you recognize it just moments into a film: the brightly colored dollhouse aesthetic of his sets, his customary quirky characters, those snappily choreographed set-pieces. His movies make no pretence of existing anywhere other than in a world of their own.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s eighth feature, is his best since…well, his last film, Moonrise Kingdom. Narrated in flashback, it introduces us to Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge at a legendary hotel, perched atop a mountain in a fictional European country on the brink of war. Gustave, famed as much for his attention to detail as his attention to the sexual desires of the hotel’s many ageing female patrons, is in the process of training a lobby boy named Zero (an excellent Tony Revolori), who will go on to become his best friend and accomplice.

When one of the hotel’s richest regulars (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) passes away, she leaves a priceless painting to Gustave, which infuriates her son (Adrien Brody), who accuses him of murdering her. Pretty soon Gustave is on the run from Nazi officers (led by Edward Norton) and a psychopath killer (Willem Dafoe). It’s his loyal sidekick Zero who is by Gustave’s side as he dashes across Europe, breaks out of prison, appeals to the secret brotherhood of hotel employees, and tries every trick in the book to clear his name.

Repeatedly accused of favoring style over substance, Anderson crafts another richly realized world in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but one that’s served by a perfectly satisfying plot. There is theft, murder, imprisonment, thrilling chases, and absurd jailbreaks in this layered story, and the list of actors who participate in this tomfoolery reads like a who’s-who of Hollywood. Bill Murray, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, and Jason Schwartzman all show up for small parts and cameos, but it’s Ralph Fiennes who steals the show with a superb, delicious performance that taps into his underutilized comic skills. In some of the film’s funniest moments, Gustave explodes into a burst of profanities when he’s at his wit’s end, demolishing the refined, genteel façade that he’s so painstakingly constructed.

The film itself is a rollercoaster of screwball comedy, deftly puppeteered by a filmmaker in complete control of his tools. One of the little gems he delivers here is an eye-popping mountaintop snow-chase sequence that’ll have you cheering from your seat. But the film is as much a celebration of a bygone era, and Anderson gives us loving nostalgia-soaked montages and impressions of 1930s Europe. The tender friendship between Gustave and Zero gives the film an emotional core that’s both refreshing and surprising in Anderson’s work.

Whimsical, busy, and irresistibly charming, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absolute must-watch. I’m going with four out of five. Check in immediately!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Salman Khan: “Flops will come. When too many films flop, I’ll stop working”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:42 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Kick star Salman Khan talks about marriage and children, and about the legacy he’d like to leave behind. The superstar also talks about the fear of failure, and the loss of innocence as an actor.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 18, 2014

‘Ek Villain’ director Mohit Suri on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:03 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Mohit Suri – director of such super-hit films as Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain – talks about the film that changed his life. He picks a Johnny Depp starrer, directed by Ted Demme, that released in 2001; a drama based on real-life cocaine trafficker George Jung.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Junk food

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:39 pm

July 18, 2014

Cast: Akshay Oberoi, Parvathy Omnakuttan, Rajesh Sharma, D Santosh, Dipannita Sharma, Arunoday Singh

Director: Akshay Akkineni

Both thrills and logic are in short supply in Pizza, remake of the 2012 Tamil super-hit about a timid pizza delivery boy and the repercussions of his supposed brush with the supernatural. The fault lies not in the fact that director Akshay Akkineni employs all the usual horror movie tropes to scare you, but in his singularly unimaginative and lazy treatment of the film’s themes.

Kunal (Akshay Oberoi) works at a local pizza joint to support himself and his struggling horror novelist wife Nikki (Parvathy Omanakuttan). When he shows up to make a delivery at the home of a pregnant woman (Dipannita Sharma), he quickly finds himself trapped amidst a trio of spirits and every haunted house cliché you can possibly think of.

Despite the 3D, none of this is particularly eerie; the film fails to deliver even a few good ol’ fashioned cheap thrills. And the acting by everyone involved is so abysmal it’s hard to muster up much sympathy. A twist in the end never feels well-earned, raising even more questions about plausibility. This “Pizza” is stale.

I’m going with one out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Seeking Ms Perfect

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:38 pm

July 18, 2014

Cast: Vir Das, Vega Tamotia, Anandita Nayar, Kavi Shastri, Natasha Rastogi

Director: Ajay Bhuyan

There’s a reason I’m deeply suspicious of Bollywood rom-coms; they tend to start off promisingly but almost always lose direction around the halfway mark. The quirky humor you enjoyed so much vanishes shortly after intermission, only to make way for melodramatic rona dhona. It’s the same complaint nine times out of ten. Occasionally something clever will come along, like the grossly underrated Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, that knows exactly how to walk the tightrope, but most times we must settle for what’s best from among what’s available – like Hasee Toh Phasee a few months ago.

Amit Sahni Ki List, starring Vir Das, could’ve been a terrific romantic comedy, but it falls short on account of the writer’s conservative thinking. So much of it feels fresh and enjoyable despite sticking faithfully to formula, until it eventually goes down the same beaten bath in its last act, as if too scared to stick its neck out.

Vir Das is fancy investment banker Amit Sahni, who’s having trouble finding the ideal girl who ticks off every box on his proverbial list. After a series of underwhelming dates with assorted women, he meets Mala (Vega Tamotia), a free-spirited tomboy with a passion for adventure sports and a soft spot for her pet pug. She’s nothing like the girl on his list should be, and yet Amit finds himself falling for her. But shortly before they are to be married, conflict shows up in the form of curvaceous Devika (Anandita Nayar), who’s smart, successful and smoking hot – in short, everything that’s down on the list.

First-time director Ajay Bhuyan keeps things breezy and light through the first hour, striking a nice balance between humor and understated emotion in the scenes between Amit and Mala. Using interesting devices like freeze frames, thought bubbles, and comic strips, he takes us on a familiar yet engaging journey through various rom-com clichés, until the hiccups start post-intermission when the thinness of the plot becomes a real problem.

Vir Das, who has had considerable success in one-note comic roles in such films as Delhi Belly and Go Goa Gone, gets an opportunity to slip into leading man mode here, and occasionally flex his dramatic muscles too. It’s a warm, likeable performance constricted only by the limiting scope of the script. The climax plays on interminably, and the film suffers on account of way too many songs. But there are little pleasures to be had – the consistently witty dialogue, Amit’s too-cool-to-be-true mom who speaks almost exclusively in abbreviations and emoticons, and his childhood pal who takes great pleasure in his sufferings.

For getting these bits just right, I’m going with two-and-half out of five for Amit Sahni Ki List. Go in with modest expectations and perhaps you won’t be disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Once more?

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

July 18, 2014

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Cee-Lo Green, Mos Def

Director: John Carney

It’s hard to repeat or even recreate the innocent charm of a film as terrific as Once, that musical romance between an Irish busker and an immigrant flower-seller that unfolded almost entirely on the streets of Dublin. Doesn’t stop writer-director John Carney from trying nonetheless. For his new film, Begin Again, the filmmaker rips off the premise of his own 2006 indie – a pair of unlikely partners drawn together by the promise of making music – and surprisingly, the result isn’t a complete mess.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a washed-up record producer whose glory days are behind him. He’s struggling to mend his troubled relationship with his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), and he’s just been fired from the music company he helped start. Gretta (Keira Knightley) is the dutiful girlfriend and songwriting partner of a caddish pop star (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) who dumps her the moment he becomes famous. When Dan spots Gretta strumming a sweet, unpretentious tune at a local dive in New York, his own passion for music is reignited. He persuades her to record an album that he will personally produce, and suggests that they do it not in a studio but on the streets of the Big Apple.

The film’s fairytale quality works like a double-edged sword, at once giving us charming New York montages featuring Ruffalo and Knightley, but also suffocating from under the weight of its own improbable optimism. How can one be fully invested in these protagonists when so little is at stake? Dan’s alcoholism, and his fractured personal relationships are resolved without any of the messiness you’d typically expect, and Gretta never stops reminding us that she can just go back to England and start afresh if her music career fails to take off.

Yet, Ruffalo and Knightley bring a disarming honesty to their performances, their characters’ contrasting personalities nicely bound by a shared love of music. In one of the film’s best scenes, the pair walks around New York at night, listening to tracks from each other’s playlists, breaking into impromptu dance moves when inspired. There’s an exciting fly-on-the-wall quality to the recording scenes filmed across the city…in streets and on rooftops, in parks and in the New York subway.

Not a lot of it feels unpredictable or particularly original, although Carney cleverly keeps us guessing where all this is leading. The songs, performed by Knightley herself, are pleasant enough, but there’s nothing nearly as remarkable as Falling Slowly from Once, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song that year.

Begin Again is like a light frothy soufflé – enjoyable while it lasts but not memorable enough to seek out for repeats. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 11, 2014

Ritesh Deshmukh: “It’s frustrating that they only see me as a comic actor”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:18 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Ritesh Deshmukh – hot off the success of Ek Villain – explains how he’d like to keep the momentum of his career going. The actor discusses the failure of Humshakals, about working with Sajid Khan again, and speaks candidly about the films they don’t offer him in Bollywood.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Shooting the breeze

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

July 11, 2014

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Ashutosh Rana, Siddharth Shukla

Director: Shashank Khaitan

In the very opening credits sequence of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, the film’s hero, played by Varun Dhawan, is seen getting teary eyed as he catches the umpteenth rerun of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on television. Directed by debutant Shashank Khaitan, the film wears its obsession with DDLJ like a badge of honor, and offers a cheeky spin on that enduring love story.

Dilli boy Rakesh Sharma (Dhawan), still stuck with the nickname that he acquired when he was a fat kid, meets feisty Ambala girl Kavya Pratap Singh (Alia Bhatt) when she’s in town to buy a lehenga for her impending marriage to an NRI doctor of her father’s picking. It’s inevitable that the pair will fall in love, and as they gradually do, their rat-a-tat exchanges and easy-going chemistry makes the film’s first hour a breezy enough entertainer.

In a fitting update that reminds us nearly two decades have passed since Raj and Simran’s PG-13 romance, the couple in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania sleeps together before she heads back home. (Come on, that’s hardly a spoiler; it’s in the trailer!) What’s refreshing is that Khaitan never treats this as a major plot point or a ‘big moment’, merely a natural progression of their love. Wow! Could popular Hindi cinema finally be growing up?

Aah, we jinxed it. Because the second half of the film revisits all the usual clichés including the stubborn father who must be won over, the womenfolk who sympathize with the poor girl’s situation but can’t do much to change the patriarch’s mind, and in a nice twist from Parmeet Sethi’s bawdy groom-to-be, an impossibly perfect spousal candidate (TV star Siddharth Shukla) whose patta must be kaatoed. Fortunately all this is interspersed with a sizeable helping of humor, and the presence of Humpty’s two best friends Shonty and Poplu (Gaurav Pande and Sahil Vaid) who liven up the proceedings.

Yet the film rests on the appeal of its two leads who’re nothing short of terrific. Alia has a livewire presence, literally lighting up the screen when she’s in the frame. But it’s Varun who has the slight edge here, effortlessly pulling off both goofy and genuinely heartfelt. The film works – despite employing every predictable trope – because they’re on top of their game. Of the supporting players, Ashutosh Rana is well cast in the Amrish Puri role, nicely humanizing the character instead of leaving it out to dry as a lazy stereotype.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania comes peppered with smart dialogue, and filled with genuine affection for a cinematic blockbuster that it repeatedly references…but with flair. I’m going with three out of five. Watch it for Varun and Alia, who’re crackling in it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Ape-ocalypse now!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:36 pm

July 11, 2014

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russel, Toby Kebbell

Director: Matt Reeves

A machine-gun wielding angry ape, charging on horseback, spraying bullets at his human adversaries…it’s one of those images that’ll likely stay with you long after you’ve watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the terrific sequel to 2011’s James Franco-starring Rise of the Planet of the Apes. To be fair, there’s much by way of overwhelming imagery here, including an early scene in which a band of primates swinging from trees in a dense forest launches a coordinated attack on a herd of fleeing elk. It’s one of those clips straight out of a wildlife docu on National Geographic…except that it’s not. It’s a thrillingly designed sequence, achieved through a combination of visual effects and motion capture technology; a marvel of modern filmmaking.

Set ten years after the events of the previous film, Dawn opens in San Francisco again, where a simian flu epidemic has more or less wiped out the human species. The apes in the nearby woods however are thriving. Caesar (played by Andy Serkis via mo-cap) is the wise and brave leader of his race. And what a race this is! The primates have learned to read and write, and can communicate in sign language. Theirs is an evolved society, complete with an honor code (“Ape not kill ape”), and a nagging distrust of humans. No wonder both sides are taken aback, when Malcolm (a permanently mopey Jason Clarke) and a group of human survivors stumble into the ape colony.

As the leaders of both factions slowly establish a tentative truce, infighting and difference of opinions within their respective groups cause problems between man and beast. Caesar offers to help the humans, but Koba, his loyal general, is instinctively suspicious of them. The scenario is the same at the other end, where Malcolm’s boss (Gary Oldman in hammy mode) is dead against their aligning with the primates. Expectedly things come to boiling point soon enough, resulting in a violent humans-versus-apes showdown that involves bullets, blood, horse-riding apes, and even an army tank manned by a monkey!

The visual wizardry of the film aside, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves succeeds in making you care for his characters, both humans and apes. Caesar’s scenes with his grown-up son are emotionally wrought, and not hard to relate to for anyone who’s had difficulty getting through to a child. The script, rich in subtext, addresses big, important themes with surprising subtlety.

But it’s no surprise that it’s Andy Serkis’ pitch-perfect portrayal of Caesar that is the big beating heart of this film. From beneath layers of digital trickery, Serkis nevertheless serves up a soulful, heartfelt, and commanding performance that’ll stay with you for days. Other simian characters are memorable too, including Caesar’s ‘misunderstood’ son Blue Eyes, and Koba, whose single-minded animosity towards humans is chilling.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is consistently engaging, and a film to be enjoyed on the big screen. It is a blockbuster in every sense of the word, offering big thrills and moments of great awe and wonder, yet it’s smart and full of feeling too. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress