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

January 16, 2015

Brief history of love

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

January 16, 2015

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, David Thewlis

Director: James Marsh

The Theory of Everything is an ordinary film about an extraordinary life. Director James Marsh takes a conventional approach to telling the complex life story of brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, one of the most fascinating figures in modern history.

The film’s strength is Eddie Redmayne’s terrific, consistent performance as Hawking, who goes from a carefree young student at Cambridge in the mid 1960s to a world-class thinker, even as his body succumbs to neuromuscular disease leaving him wheelchair-bound and able to speak only through a computer-enabled voice. Essentially an intimate marital drama rather than a career story, the film focuses on Hawking’s first marriage to literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) and her unwavering loyalty to him since the onset of his illness.

Well made and incredibly acted, the film nevertheless falls short on account of its unwillingness to dig deeper. You can’t help suspecting that you’re being served a more cheery version of events, given Hawking’s progressively deteriorating condition and the strain that puts on the marriage. Also, no matter how many times the words “relativity” and “space time singularity” are thrown around in conversations, you never quite get a sense of what Hawking’s achievement really means.

Yet, a few scenes in the film are excellently constructed, like the one in which Jane realizes her marriage is over. It’s done without any melodrama or messiness, and yet it’s a deeply affecting moment. Redmayne and Jones have excellent chemistry together, each doing their best work here. Not only does Redmayne get Hawking’s condition just right – the awkward walk, the twitch, the head-tilt – he even gives us occasional glimpses of his sly sense of humor. Jones has a far less showy role, but she’s just as impressive with a subtle turn that alternately reveals steely resolve and patience, and ultimately the heartbreak her character endures.

For their performances alone, The Theory of Everything might be worth a watch. Evidently, this true-life story has been Hollywood-ized for awards recognition and mass appeal. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Good shot!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:34 pm

January 16, 2015

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Max Charles, Luke Grimes

Director: Clint Eastwood

Bradley Cooper’s measured performance in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is one that stays with you. It burrows its way into a faraway corner of your consciousness and just stays there. For days.

Cooper plays real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, on whose memoir the film is based. It’s a performance made up of long silences and several scenes of intense inner conflict that the actor conveys without a hint of sentimentality. Kyle, a Texan rodeo rider who served four terms of duty in Iraq, became known as the deadliest sniper in US military history, racking up a confirmed 160 kills. In one of the film’s most tense moments, Kyle, positioned on a rooftop in a war-ravaged landscape, contemplates – but only briefly – whether to take down an Iraqi woman and child who appear to be hiding a grenade. It’s a scene that tells us plenty about our protagonist.

Yet, making the same point as that chilling supermarket scene towards the end of The Hurt Locker, it’s in the bits where Kyle is home between tours that Eastwood really hammers his anti-war message. Disoriented and struggling to adjust to domestic life, he’s a shadow of his former self, understandably causing deep anguish to his wife (Sienna Miller).

Eastwood shoots the action with an urgency that is palpable. He places the viewer bang at the centre of the conflict as Kyle and his troops smash down doors, race up and down stairways, and navigate sensitive streets. But there’s also a not-too-convincing subplot about a bounty being placed on Kyle’s head by insurgents on the other side, and a shooter who pursues him doggedly.

Such occasional hiccups aside, American Sniper is blunt, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. At 84, Eastwood can still play a young man’s game. Don’t miss this film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bear necessities

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

January 16, 2015

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Julie Waters, Jim Broadbent, and the voice of Ben Whishaw

Director: Paul King

Paddington, like some of the best children’s films, is clever, funny, and likely to appeal as much to adults. Based on the popular children’s books by Michael Bond, the film, about a small talking bear with a Marmalade habit, is in equal parts slapstick and witty while remaining consistently entertaining.

Dispatched from Darkest Peru, our furry hero arrives in London with no friend to call and no place to live. He’s taken in reluctantly by a middle-class family, the Browns, and expectedly some fish-out-of-water situations ensue. Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is at his wit’s end with their new guest, but his kind wife (a terrific Sally Hawkins) warms up to him immediately, and their two kids come around soon. Meanwhile, a deliciously menacing Nicole Kidman shows up as an evil taxidermist determined to steal the bear and stuff him alongside her previous ‘victims’ at the museum.

It’s all predictable stuff, but director Paul King keeps the pace brisk and the tone light-hearted. You’ll notice a distinct Mary Poppins hangover in the scenes in which the bear wins over the uptight patriarch, and there are more charming old-world touches like a toy-train tea delivery system that you’ll immediately want to own. The set-pieces too are inoffensive and plain funny…like one in which Paddington is suspended in the air while pursuing a pickpocket, or another in which Mr Brown must slip into a woman’s dress to infiltrate a government archival facility.

Adults will no doubt spot themes of inclusion, and a message against all the fuss over immigrants. But for the little ones this is pure unapologetic fun. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Paddington. It’s warm and full of affection; a film you shouldn’t miss.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 9, 2015

Shankar, Vikram, AR Rahman & PC Sreeram on ‘I’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:00 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, the men behind one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated films I, reveal key secrets behind their passion project. Director Shankar, star Vikram, composer AR Rahman, and cinematographer PC Sreeram explain what we can expect from the movie.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Run out!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:40 pm

January 09, 2015

Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Manoj Bajpai, Rajesh Sharma, Raj Babbar, Deepti Naval

Director: Amit Ravindernath Sharma

Tevar, starring Arjun Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha, is an exhausting film. The kind that leaves you feeling like you’ve just run the marathon…but with none of the satisfaction, or the sense of achievement that comes with reaching the finish line.

Set in and around the lawless stretches of North India, and centered on a young pair that’s on the run from a sadistic villain, this film is the latest in a long line of exceedingly violent, machismo-celebrating Telugu remakes. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, where do I start? It has a plot that kicks in only after the first hour, a story whose every beat is familiar, stock characters that do and say predictable things, and innumerable songs that drag the narrative needlessly. Oh, and all this unfolds over an excruciating 2 hours and 40 minutes!

Pintu (Arjun Kapoor), a cocky Agra boy, describes himself as a blend of Salman Khan, Rambo and Terminator. The rival-vanquishing attributes of those larger-than-life heroes serve Pintu well when he finds himself on the wrong side of UP’s ruthless political mafia after he rescues a helpless Mathura girl, Radhika (Sonakshi Sinha), from the Home Minister’s sleazy brother Gajinder Singh (Manoj Bajpai) who is forcibly trying to marry her.

Cut from the same cloth as 2013’s revolting Shahid Kapoor starrer R..Rajkumar, but mercifully less crude and offensive, Tevar revels in making you wince at its repeated scenes of brutal violence. Thugs wielding everything from swords and guns to sticks and knives put their weapons to good use, slashing and dicing upright journalists, stubborn corporators, and just about anyone who dares stand in their way. It’s a messy blood-fest, but to be fair, director Amit Sharma shoots the action with requisite flair.

Arjun Kapoor slips nicely into tough-guy mode, even surviving such ridiculous lines as this: “Jo chane chabate hain, woh badaam ke paad nahin maarte”. But it’s his scenes with his family – particularly his banter with his feisty younger sister – that are his best moments in the film. Sonakshi Sinha, playing another simpering damsel in another South remake, once again has nothing to do. She appears content showing up for a few dance numbers, and waiting around for a man to save her. Expectedly the scene-stealer in Tevar is Manoj Bajpai, who brings real vim to this been-there-seen-that premise, giving us an utterly despicable but consistently watchable villain.

Aside from a few striking scenes, like one in which Pintu throws Radhika off a building when Gajinder and his goons have cornered them, Sharma doesn’t do anything particularly new or original with this decidedly 80s formulaic film. The only thing worse than the fact that Tevar is so long is that you’ve seen all of this many times before.

I’m going with a generous two out of five. I came away with a throbbing headache.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Thrice overdone!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:39 pm

January 09, 2015

Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott

Director: Oliver Megaton

In a recent interview while promoting the film, Liam Neeson said: “It would be insulting if someone got taken in Taken 3.” Evidently the 62-year-old star of the money-grabbing action franchise is aware of just how ridiculous these movies keep getting. After rescuing his daughter who was kidnapped by a gang of Albanian sex traffickers in Paris in 2008’s surprise hit Taken, Neeson’s character, ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills found himself chasing after abductors who’d picked up his wife during a family holiday in Istanbul in that film’s underwhelming 2012 sequel. In this third film, however, it’s us, the viewers, who’re taken for a ride.

The film’s slim plot kicks into gear after Mills is framed for the murder of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Predictably, he goes on the run from the cops, determined to find out who really did this. What follows are a half-dozen car-chase scenes on the LA freeway, and enough shootouts to render you temporarily deaf.

Even if you were to overlook the shoddy writing, it’s hard to forgive an action flick for delivering substandard action scenes. Too much hand-held camerawork and frantic editing often makes it hard to distinguish who’s doing what to whom, and frankly there isn’t a single moment of tension in the film, thereby leaving you mostly bored and disinterested.

Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker shows up as a supposedly smarter-than-your-average detective – we know this because he’s constantly playing with a chess piece in his hand – but as it turns out, you’ve figured out this case before he has. Maggie Grace returns as Mills’ daughter Kim, who basically has to look upset throughout the film. And Dougray Scott takes the part of Lenore’s husband Stuart whom she was planning on leaving before she’s suddenly killed.

Taken 3 doesn’t work, not even as a guilty pleasure, because the cheap thrill of watching an ageing Neeson deliver visceral blows to the bad guys has lost its novelty now. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five. Don’t waste your time or your money.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Jeepers peepers!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

January 09, 2015

Cast: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Krysten Ritter

Director: Tim Burton

There’s barely a trace of Tim Burton’s signature elements in Big Eyes – no Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter, no Gothic stylings, no creepy monsters – and yet, this true-life story about fraud and female subjugation is the director’s most entertaining film since 2003’s Big Fish.

The luminous Amy Adams stars as Margaret, a struggling single mother who arrives in San Francisco with her young daughter in 1958, hoping to realize her dream of becoming a professional artist. Threatened with losing custody of her child, she marries Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a charming smooth-talker who offers to help sell her kitschy paintings of little children with disproportionately large eyes. He soon convinces her, however, to let him take credit for her work, and as the paintings become all the rage across America he builds an empire promoting it as his own.

Powered by its terrific central performances – particularly from Adams, who gives her character a quiet dignity even while playing doormat to a bullying husband – the film is consistently compelling, the dynamic between the two being the heart of the picture. Big Eyes shares little by way of DNA with Burton’s trademark off-center hits, but one scene in which Margaret imagines people with eyes resembling the portraits she paints, bears the filmmaker’s stamp all over it. Little else does, from the sunny production design to the fairly straightforward storytelling.

The last act, in which Margaret flees from Walter and subsequently sues him for the credit she deserves, makes for a surprisingly entertaining courtroom drama. Waltz hams it up with such flair in these laugh-out-loud scenes, it’s hard not to cheer. There are nice cameos too from Jason Schwartzman playing a snotty gallery owner who can’t understand how these ugly paintings have become a phenomenon, and from Terence Stamp as a New York Times critic committed to saving the world from bad art.

But look beyond the chuckles, and you’ll notice that the film raises important questions about gender equality in the field of art, and about psychological abuse. Burton never hammers the message about empowerment in a heavy-handed manner, but Margaret’s journey to reclaim her identity makes for fascinating viewing, especially in the film’s final moments.

I’m going with three out of five for Big Eyes. It’s not a film with grand ambitions, but one that keeps you riveted through its drama. It’s also an indicator of Burton’s wide range.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

The Directors Roundtable 2014

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 10:42 am

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO!

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, six directors who made some of the most significant Hindi films of 2014 reveal their anxieties and their vulnerabilities, and explain the sacrifices they’re willing to make for the sake of their art. Rajkumar Hirani (PK), Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider), Imtiaz Ali (Highway), Vikas Bahl (Queen), Rajat Kapoor (Aankhon Dekhi) and Abhishek Varman (2 States) speak candidly about their process and their passion for putting personal stories on the screen.

 

 

 

 

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 2, 2015

Priyanka Chopra: “I don’t want to play Indian characters if I can help it”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Priyanka Chopra talks about signing up with America’s ABC Network to star in a TV series later this year. The actress explains why she isn’t keen to play Indian characters on the small screen and is seeking out ethnically ambiguous parts.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

That’s the spirit!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

January 02, 2015

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund

Director: Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie’s second film as director, Unbroken, is based on the amazing true-life story of former Olympic runner Louis Zamperini who spent two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war during World War II. The film has enough plot to fill three full-length features, and Jolie deliberately fashions it as a sweeping epic. But while she succeeds in astounding us with her protagonist’s extraordinary resilience and courage under fire, the film is seldom moving in the manner that an inspiring biopic ought to be.

Cutting back and forth between the past and the present, Unbroken traces Zamperini’s story from his youthful days as a trouble-making kid to his redemption when he discovers he has a natural talent for running. At 19, he made the American track team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, setting a new record in his final lap. Soon after, he was shipped off to war where he served in the Army Air Corps before his plane crashed into the Pacific, leaving him, with two surviving comrades, adrift in the ocean on a life raft for 47 days. After enduring storms, sharks, and starvation he was finally rescued, only to be thrown into a Japanese POW camp where he was tortured by a sadistic warden until the end of the war.

If this is sounding like a bullet-point Wikipedia entry, it’s because the film often feels like one. (Surprising, given that the Coen Brothers are credited with writing the screenplay, although there isn’t a hint of their trademark dark humor to be found here.) With so much story going on, there’s little room for nuance and character development, and what’s ultimately ironic is that a drama intended to leave us awestruck by the power of the human spirit, somehow fails to get under Zamperini’s skin. That’s a shame because charming Irish actor Jack O’Connell, who plays the lead, is clearly talented but alas he isn’t asked to do much more than suffer nobly…which he does, a lot.

The sadistic brutality meted out to the protagonist by his Japanese oppressor gets repetitive after a point. It’s clear that Jolie wants you to feel the extent of the pain he endured. But what you can’t help feeling is manipulated, as you’re made to view beating after beating in unflinching close up, accompanied by a swelling background score for good measure. Jolie’s one big crucial mistake is that she evidently worships her subject, treating him like something of a larger-than-life superhero rather than a flesh-and-blood human that we might relate to.

That doesn’t however mean she’s a bad filmmaker; it’s just a choice she’s made with regards to the tone she wants to give the film. In fact, Jolie directs with a keen eye. She knows how to shoot an action scene, which becomes clear in the film’s terrific opening sequence, a thrilling dogfight in the skies where Zamperini and his crew take fire from Japanese fighter jets. The film’s most compelling portion is the one in which the protagonist and his friends are trapped in the ocean. It’s gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins, and Jolie infuses a terrifying sense of isolation and desperation into these scenes.

Unbroken is a perfectly respectable film, competently directed and performed. What’s missing is real emotion; I never felt genuinely moved. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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