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

August 28, 2015

Anil Kapoor & John Abraham on their unlikely friendship

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:17 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Anil Kapoor and John Abraham – stars of Welcome Back, the sequel to 2007’s blockbuster comedy Welcome – talk about ego clashes, their unlikely friendship, and about working with the unpredictable Nana Patekar.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Rick Springfield on kissing Meryl Streep

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:15 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, recorded in Cancun (Mexico), Grammy Award-winning musician and Ricki and the Flash star Rick Springfield talks about kissing Meryl Streep.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mission improbable

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

August 28, 2015

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sabyasachi Chakraberty

Director: Kabir Khan

Phantom, directed by Kabir Khan, echoes a sentiment similar to the ones expressed in D-Day and Baby – that perhaps it’s time India responded more firmly to terror attacks. Citing America’s daring operation in Abbottabad, we’re reminded that: “Hum sirf cricket khelna band kar dete hain.”

The film then plays out as a wish fulfillment fantasy, imagining a scenario wherein India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recruits an operative to undertake an off-the-books mission to dispense justice to the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

Yes, you heard right, a single operative! America sent in roughly two-dozen Navy SEALs to conduct that midnight raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but we send Saif Ali Khan solo – from London to Chicago, from Beirut to Syria, and finally to Pakistan – to systematically eliminate most-wanted Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders and hate-spewing criminal masterminds. Aah right, he’s not exactly alone, a permanently prettified Katrina Kaif, playing a security analyst, decides to help him along the way.

If you’re not too fussy about logic, authenticity, indifferent acting, clunky dialogue, and a lack of basic common sense, there’s a chance you might enjoy Phantom. I really thought I’d be rooting for Saif’s character, Daniyal Khan, a disgraced army man who takes the job because he sees an opportunity to redeem his reputation. But this ridiculous script (loosely based on Hussain Zaidi’s book Mumbai Avengers) makes it hard to be invested in the characters or the action.

The relative ease with which Daniyal dispatches David Coleman Headley to his maker, or the sheer improbability of that confrontation with a LeT chief (modeled after Hafiz Saeed) in the heart of Lahore requires some suspension of disbelief. But it’s the director’s stray attempts to sneak in tenderness and vulnerability that get the biggest laughs. A presumably somber moment when Katrina’s character Nawaz Mistry recounts her childhood memory of being taken to the Taj Mahal Hotel by her father for pastries and coffee is so poorly-timed and ineffectively performed you’ll be struggling to stifle your giggles.

A big problem with Phantom is that it’s never fast-paced and slick like the Bond or Bourne film that it so badly wants to be. The action isn’t particularly compelling, there’s an alarming lack of urgency to the drama, and we’re presented with a hero who isn’t even remotely convincing as a lean-mean-killing machine. The usually dependable Saif Ali Khan has a permanent scowl pasted on his face, and he mostly postures instead of owning the role. This is Saif playing Rambo essentially, but each time he picks up a gun, you want to say: “Rakh de yaar, chal jayegi.”

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Phantom. The jingoistic dialogue and the film’s questionable message aside, this is boring, inert stuff. The director’s last film Bajrangi Bhaijaan feels like Citizen Kane in comparison.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Crock & roll

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

August 28, 2015

Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Audra McDonald

Director: Jonathan Demme

Between the three of them, Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme, and screenwriter Diablo Cody have 5 Oscars. Yet Ricki and the Flash, the film they’ve made together, is one crushing bore.

To be fair, there was potential in the premise. Streep plays Ricki Randazzo, an ageing rock-and-roller who belts out cover versions of popular 80s hits at a nondescript LA bar with her longtime band of fellow fogies, The Flash. When her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) calls to say that their daughter (Streep’s own daughter Mamie Gummer) is having a meltdown after being dumped by her husband, Ricki heads back home to Indiana to reconnect with the family she abandoned years ago.

Cody, who won an Oscar for her refreshingly original screenplay of Juno, works familiar tropes here and gives us standard-issue conflicts. Predictably there are resentful children to face, and even an awkward encounter with their stepmother. But it’s all resolved way too conveniently – and never quite convincingly – in a climatic wedding scene that’ll leave you rolling your eyes at the sheer laziness of the script.

Mercifully, there’s some pleasure to be had from the amiable performances by the cast, particularly Streep who appears to be having a good time in a role that hardly requires any heavy lifting. Kline is terrific, providing most of the laughs as he tries to keep a straight face despite all the craziness around. Even real-life rocker Rick Springfield, playing Streep’s boyfriend and band-mate, has a charming presence.

Too bad Demme seems more focused on the musical performances, which run way too long, than in the drama between the characters. There’s no depth, no layers whatsoever in what could’ve been a deliciously complex story. As a result, Ricki and the Flash is never satisfying, and feels superficial to say the least. Even the laughs are few and far between. As the film crosses the one-hour mark, you’ll be shifting in your seat impatiently, waiting for it to end.

There are some things even Meryl Streep can’t do. Rescuing this flaccid film is one of them. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 14, 2015

Katrina Kaif: “Do I look like a silly person? Does Ranbir? Does Deepika?”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:40 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Phantom star Katrina Kaif candidly admits that she understands why, unlike Kangana Ranaut or Deepika Padukone, people tend not to speak about her films or her performances and choose to focus on her relationship with Ranbir Kapoor instead. The actress also responds to incessant rumours suggesting that she shares cold vibes with Deepika.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Sorry bhai

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

August 14, 2015

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sidharth Malhotra, Jackie Shroff, Jacqueline Fernandez, Shefali Shah, Kiran Kumar, Ashutosh Rana

Director: Karan Malhotra

With its themes of familial conflict, redemption, and forgiveness – all set against a sports backdrop – the Tom Hardy-starrer Warrior was a Bollywood remake waiting to happen. Think about it: it’s got an alcoholic deadbeat father, a pair of warring siblings, and a dying child.

Brothers, directed by Karan Malhotra, sticks to the same themes and works with the same clichés, but it also amps up the melodrama and restructures the original template with the purpose of milking the emotional conflict.

Critically, Malhotra spends a huge chunk of the first half on the early years of his protagonists, a pair of brothers, David and Monty Fernandes, whose lives are thrown out of balance after a tragic incident involving their drunk ex-fighter dad Gary (Jackie Shroff) and their unfortunate mother (a terrific Shefali Shah). As was evidenced in his 2012 debut, a remake of Agneepath starring Hrithik Roshan, it becomes clear once again in Brothers that Malhotra is no fan of subtlety. Throughout its 2 hours 40 minutes running time, an overwrought background score provides helpful cues to guide you through the emotions, as if you really needed to be told what to feel in specific scenarios.

By the time they’re grown-ups, the siblings are estranged. Monty (Sidharth Malhotra) is an underground street fighter who takes his repentant father in when he’s released from a long stint in prison. Meanwhile, David (Akshay Kumar) is now a devoted family man and a school teacher, and still hurting from the events of his childhood he seeks no links to Gary or Monty.

We’re subjected to too much exposition on the brutal sport of mixed martial arts fighting in the lead up to a big championship that dominates the final act of the film. Both men – through wildly differing circumstances – sign up to compete in the high-profile tournament, and Malhotra gives us impressive training montages featuring the actors. Inevitably, the brothers find themselves facing off against each other in the final round of the championship, where years of pent-up anger and unresolved issues lead to an expectedly cathartic finale.

Like Warrior, this is that rare sports film in which you don’t want either fighter to lose. But Brothers never fully exploits the delicious complexity of its premise, and as a result it doesn’t quite earn the redemptive emotional wallop of its climax. What the film lacks in terms of nuance and irony, however, is made up for in the thrilling freestyle fight sequences. The punches and blows feel real, the look of pain on the actors’ faces eerily authentic.

The film benefits also from the compelling performances Malhotra draws from his central cast. Akshay Kumar is refreshingly restrained in an understated role, a joy to watch for those like me who’ve been critical of his mostly hyper-comic performances. Sidharth Malhotra brings quiet intensity and an unpredictable fire to his part as the brooding tough-guy. Both actors convey a delicate fragility that’s essential to your being invested in their characters. Jackie Shroff too, his performance although high-pitched, is very good as their shambling, broken-down father.

Brothers, despite its contrivances, leaves you choked more than once. How can it not, with all that unabashed emotional manipulation? Throwing in an item song, repeated flashbacks, and too many cutaways of an anguished wife (Jacqueline Fernandez), Malhotra lays it on thick to a premise already inherently melodramatic. He’s further Bollywood-izing a plot that’s already ‘too Bollywood’ to begin with. The result is a film that’s trying a little too hard.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 7, 2015

Little bang for your buck

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

August 07, 2015

Cast: Ritesh Deshmukh, Pulkit Samrat, Jacqueline Fernandez, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Kumud Mishra, Tom Alter, Shiv Subramaniam, Arya Babbar

Director: Karan Anshuman

It’s likely that buried somewhere under all those unfunny jokes, simplistic sermons, and cringe-inducing melodrama, there may have been a promising idea at the heart of Bangistan.

The film’s title refers to a fictional country besieged by conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims, who each occupy one half of the land. Religious leaders of both parts are friendly, however, and plan to spread their message of peace at the World Religions Conference in Poland.

Meanwhile, extremist groups from either side target the same conference, dispatching a suicide bomber each, who, for reasons that never make complete sense, are disguised as members of the opposite religion. So call-centre employee Hafeez Bin Ali (Ritesh Deshmukh) goes undercover as a Hindu, and Praveen Chaturvedi (Pulkit Samrat), a struggling actor in a ramleela troupe, heads to Krakow pretending to be a Muslim.

The script is at best intermittently funny, giving us only a few stray moments of genuine humor. For the most part, the jokes are juvenile. The film’s message too is well intentioned but way too simplistic, and you’re bludgeoned on the head with it in a shrill climax that feels out of place in a comedy.

Of the cast, Ritesh Deshmukh does the best he can to make the thin plot work. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Pulkit Samrat who has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Jacqueline Fernandez, playing a local waitress in a Polish bar, shows up strictly in time for the song situations.

Film critic-turned-filmmaker Karan Anshuman shows flashes of wit and potential in his occasionally clever nods to classic films. But saddled with a script that’s neither funny nor biting enough, he delivers a film that barely takes off.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Bangistan. Very little bang for your buck here.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Thrill factor

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

August 07, 2015

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

From the very opening minutes of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, you find yourself questioning just why this movie, and the four before it in this exhilarating franchise use that title. Are these really impossible missions? Then just how does Tom Cruise, still easily the world’s most popular action star at 53, make it look so easy…even when he’s hanging off the side of a plane during takeoff? In this age of CGI and green screen-trickery, of costumed superheroes who let their stand-ins sweat the hard stuff, it’s (pardon the pun) impossible not to cheer for Cruise as he insists on doing these stunts himself.

By his own admission it’s the adrenalin rush these moments provide that makes Cruise return repeatedly to play Ethan Hunt, the indefatigable Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent, who dives in to save the day. Make no mistake; that giddy excitement is contagious. As far as heart-stopping thrills go, Rogue Nation is up there with the impressive Burj Khalifa stunt in Ghost Protocol, and that edge-of-the-seat rock-climbing opening scene of M:I2.

When it comes to plot however, this film, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is convoluted and weighed down by uneven pacing. It opens at a point where a grim CIA chief (Alec Baldwin) calls for the disbanding of the IMF, because its operations are too dangerous and irresponsible. Ignoring the orders, Hunt goes rogue to track down The Syndicate, a nefarious international organization of renegade spies.

Hunt’s faithful band of brothers in the IMF – tech-wiz Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames) – work secretly to help him in this quest. There’s also a mysterious femme fatale (a terrific Rebecca Ferguson), who tangles with Ethan at every turn, bringing that can-we-or-can’t-we-trust-her element to this tale of double-crossing action and intrigue.

McQuarrie’s set-up appears sprawling and elaborate, but a closer examination reveals that the screenplay is far from tight, and in fact a bit of a stretch. It’s one of those plots that you needn’t think too hard about. Suspend your logic and enjoy the action sequences instead. Like that jaw-dropping bit where Hunt free dives into a gigantic computer cooling whirlpool…or the furious motorcycle chase through the lanes of Casablanca.

It helps too that the actors are evidently invested in the film. Jeremy Renner takes a backseat this time, allowing Simon Pegg to shine in a few comedic moments and in his lighter exchanges with Cruise.

Rogue Nation could have been a crisper film, but it nevertheless serves up a deliciously thrilling experience, especially if you watch it in IMAX. It’s a given that we go into these films, wondering what Tom Cruise will pull off next. The star-producer keeps that curiosity going and that charisma alive, and delivers blockbuster bliss.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. There’s no sequel fatigue with these movies…bring on the next one!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Akshay, Sidharth & Jacqueline play ‘Guess Whose Brother?’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:04 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Brothers stars Akshay Kumar, Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez go back to class (at Mumbai’s Mithibai College) to reminisce about their student days. The actors also reveal how they broke the ice when they first worked together on the film, and also play a round of Guess Whose Brother?

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, tell us a joke!

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:03 pm

In this segment produced by Rajeev Masand, Bollywood actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui tells us a joke.

(This segment first aired on CNN-IBN)

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