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

December 18, 2015

Oh brother!

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

December 18, 2015

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Varun Dhawan, Kriti Sanon, Varun Sharma, Boman Irani, Johnny Lever, Sanjay Mishra, Vinod Khanna, Kabir Bedi, Mukesh Tiwari, Pankaj Tripathi

Director: Rohit Shetty

It’s very hard to describe Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale as anything other than a mixed cuisine buffet, given that it tries to offer a little bit of everything to please just about everyone. You want comedy? Come on over, we’ve got Johnny Lever, Sanjay Mishra, Boman Irani, and Varun Sharma. You want action? We’ve got fists flying, guns blazing, cars flipping. Romance, did you say? Step right in; we’ve got Bollywood’s favorite 90s pair thawing the bergs in Iceland with their combustible chemistry. And if you like your stars younger, we’ll throw in two up-and-coming heartthrobs to make your day. For what it’s worth, the film even has that most elusive, rarest-of-rare secret weapons – it’s got a story, I kid you not.

With so much going for it, it would take a special kind of talent to still come up short. But Dilwale, with all its bells and whistles, is far from a sure thing.

Veer (Varun Dhawan) meets Ishita (Kriti Sanon); the two quickly fall in love and become desperate to get married. But there’s a hitch. Veer’s elder brother Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) is hiding a dark secret. He was once a gangster in Bulgaria who went by the name Kaali. Turns out he has a history with Ishita’s sister Meera (Kajol), and let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

Buried somewhere beneath those juvenile comic tracks – involving Johnny Lever as a petty thief, Sanjay Mishra as a stolen car-parts salesman, and Boman Irani as a local don searching his missing drugs – there’s at least one good twist, and a few charming moments between Shah Rukh and Kajol who still manage to light up the screen. Varun Dhawan flexes every facial muscle to embrace the film’s hammy humor, but redeems himself in a nice emotional exchange with Shah Rukh in the film’s last act.

The real problem with Dilwale is the sheer artificiality of the enterprise. From the rainbow-hued sets and the touched-up landscapes in the Gerua song, to many moments of comedic and emotional payoff, so much of it just feels fake.

Doesn’t help either that the film clocks in at a butt-numbing 155 minutes. I got up to leave at three different points that I imagined were the climax, only to discover that there was still more to come. Never a good sign when you’re looking at your watch instead of the screen.

I’m going with two out of five for Dilwale.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Grace period

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

December 18, 2015

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Tanvi Azmi, Milind Soman, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vaibhav Tatwawdi

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

There are a few things one has come to take for granted in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film: a stunning visual aesthetic, immaculately choreographed songs, and an imposing sense of scale. His latest, Bajirao Mastani, doesn’t disappoint on any of those counts. This sweeping period piece, set in the early 18th century, focuses on a forbidden romance that consumed Bajirao Ballal Bhat, a brave general credited with expanding the Maratha Empire and winning every one of the 41 battles he fought. But the film also suffers from a condition one might describe as ‘Bhansali-it is’ – the tendency to be melodramatic, over-long, and highly indulgent.

That’s a shame because Bajirao Mastani hits the ground running. Love blossoms between the peshwa (Ranveer Singh) and Mastani (Deepika Padukone), daughter of a Bundelkhand Maharaja, after our hero defeats a Mughal army poised to invade her father’s kingdom. He ends up upsetting just about everyone when he marries her: from his wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) and his mother (Tanvi Azmi), to the Brahmin priests who reject Mastani because of her Muslim blood.

The film then is largely about Bajirao’s continuing struggles to seek respectability for Mastani. Bhansali and his writers script compelling confrontations between his characters to draw out the drama. There is heartbreak, humiliation, sacrifice, and more than a few powerful moments that pack a punch. An attack on Mastani late in the film is impressively staged, as is a scene in which Kashibai witnesses her husband’s indiscretion in a conveniently placed mirror. Not to mention the film’s opening battle sequence, which is nothing short of terrific.

The narrative, however, is hobbled by too many songs, and post-intermission your patience wears thin. As Bajirao and Mastani sink deeper into their doomed relationship, and a dignified Kashibai holds up the third part of this triangle, the film starts to suffer from a hangover of Bhansali’s own Devdas. What’s surprising is the lack of heat in the romance between Bajirao and Mastani. The actors sizzled in Ram-Leela, but their relationship is strictly PG-13 this time around. Frankly, more sparks fly between Bajirao and Kashibai in a scene where she sneaks up on him in the bath.

Like in the director’s previous films, supporting actors serve up strong performances. Azmi is suitably intimidating as the tough matriarch, and Vaibhav Tatwawdi makes a big impression as Bajirao’s brother Chimaji. As far as central roles go, the film benefits from a nice touch of playfulness and humor in Priyanka Chopra’s Kashibai. Your heart goes out to her in scenes where she must confront the fact that she’s not Bajirao’s great love. Chopra brings grace to the character, and practically steals the film. Deepika Padukone as Mastani is a woman of exquisite beauty. You’re captivated by the heft that Padukone lends to her fight scenes, or when her eyes speak more of her suffering than words. Her character, though, is strictly one-dimensional and therefore tedious. Ranveer Singh, meanwhile, has a commanding physicality as the warrior hero, and he completely inhabits the part. He imbues Bajirao with a fiery spirit, and yet allows his vulnerabilities to occasionally slip. It’s a big ‘showy’ part, and the actor doesn’t disappoint.

Ultimately you can’t help being overwhelmed by Sudeep Chatterjee’s eye-watering frames, and the elegant production design. Bhansali delivers a film that’s artistic but exhausting. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

December 11, 2015

Strip show

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

December 04, 2015

Cast: Voices of Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Kristin Chenoweth

Director: Steve Martino

Admirably, the makers of The Peanuts Movie have stayed true to the simplicity and the somewhat quaint humor of creator Charles M Schulz’s beloved comic strip. Despite being computer animated, and presented in 3D, the film nicely replicates the look and feel of the squiggly hand-drawn source material.

The slim plot is centered on the lovable but perpetually clumsy and insecure Charlie Brown as he fails in his multiple attempts to make an impression on his new crush, the Little Red-Haired Girl who just moved in next door. Meanwhile, his pet dog Snoopy is still banging away at a typewriter when he isn’t fantasizing about battling his fighter-pilot nemesis the Red Baron.

The script (co-written by Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan) taps into your nostalgia for these characters, and the mild laughs are mostly derived from a sense of familiarity with the material. Charlie Brown still gets his kite caught in a tree, and has the football whisked away by Lucy before he gets a chance to kick it. The entire gang is back, including Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty, and Woodstock. It’s what you might describe as a “greatest hits” collection of old gags and tested jokes.

At a time when most animated films tend to be loud and noisy, and cheery to a fault, The Peanuts Movie maintains the melancholy spirit of Schulz’s comic strip. While reiterating that kindness and honesty will always matter, it also makes a case for the importance of failure and disappointment in shaping one’s life.

I’m going with three out of five for The Peanuts Movie. Older fans will not be disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

December 4, 2015

Channeling Kali

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:48 pm

December 04, 2015

Cast: Sandhya Mridul, Sarah Jane-Dias, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Anushka Manchanda, Pavleen Gujral, Amrit Maghera, Rajshree Deshpande, Adil Hussain, Arjun Mathur

Director: Pan Nalin

Angry Indian Goddesses contains every cliché you’d expect to see in a film that’s been billed as ‘India’s first female buddy movie’. From women getting facials together, to playing Truth or Dare…from talking frankly about sex and ogling the dishy neighbor, to polishing off a box of cupcakes…the film ticks all the boxes. Yet it seldom feels contrived, thanks to the natural performances of its ensemble, and director Pan Nalin’s non-intrusive, observational style of filming.

The women in question here are Freida (Sarah Jane-Dias), a photographer whose art often clashes with her job; Suranjana (Sandhya Mridul), a corporate shark struggling with the work-family balance; Pammi (Pavleen Gujral), a Delhi housewife whose entrepreneurial ambitions are thwarted by her husband; Mad (Anushka Manchanda), a rocker whose music isn’t selling; and half-Brit-half Indian wannabe actress Joanna (Amrit Maghera), who’s desperate to find anything more substantial than damsel-in-distress bit parts in B-movies.

The BFFs arrive at Freida’s home in Goa and quickly discover that they’ve been invited to participate in her wedding, although she won’t reveal the identity of her spouse-to-be just yet. Thrown into this mix is Laxmi (Rajshree Deshpande), Freida’s trusted maid, who’s dealing with unresolved issues of her own. The mood becomes tense temporarily with the arrival of another friend, Nargis (Tannishtha Chatterjee), an activist embroiled in a land dispute with Suranjana.

You can’t help but root for these women as they let their hair down, carping freely about life, complaining about the prejudices they face daily, and pointing out that women themselves are their own worst enemies. It’s easy to dismiss them as caricatures, except that their conflicts feel real and there’s a genuinely empowering quality to their frankness.

It’s true that Nalin crams the film with too many issues, but the improv approach of his leading ladies lends these scenes an element of surprise, which is refreshing. They go from cynical to angry to joyful within moments, and you’re happy to take the ride with them.

The tone shifts abruptly in the film’s final act when an incident triggers off its vigilante-motivated climax. It’s easy to see why Nalin may have chosen to articulate the film’s empowerment message, but it feels unmistakably manipulative and misguided.

Still I’m going with three out of five for Angry Indian Goddesses. Using humor and pathos, it raises pertinent questions. You’ll be happy to spend two hours in the company of these ladies.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Whale of a time

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:22 pm

December 04, 2015

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Benjamin Walker,  Tom Holland

Director: Ron Howard

The latest entry in the ‘lost at sea’ genre has images more harrowing than anything you saw in Life of Pi or Unbroken. The sight of a boy being sent down the snout of a dead sperm whale to recover precious oil from its insides is just one of them. In the Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard’s film about the supposedly true story that inspired the literary classic Moby Dick, is a robust production that seldom lets up.

Narrated entirely in flashbacks by Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the now grown-up cabin boy on board the doomed 1820 Nantucket whaling ship Essex, the film paints a vivid portrait of the crew’s struggle to survive repeated attacks by a giant sperm whale in the western Pacific. Howard employs CGI effectively to convey the sheer size of the beast and the damage from its impact.

Cast as Owen Chase, the ship’s second in command, Chris Hemsworth displays an unmistakable star quality as he works to keep spirits up and tempers down. But this is a disaster movie, and it’s at its strongest when putting its characters through the wringer. Good luck trying not to flinch as you watch starving survivors, each a pale shadow of what they used to be, resort to desperate measures while stranded at sea for months on end with no supplies and no land in sight.

Although less surefooted when the drama moves to land, the film benefits from brisk pacing, and from Howard’s skill at finding stories of human conflict in big spectacle productions. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for In the Heart of the Sea. It’s a horror story of a different kind.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

You’ve got a friend in me

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:44 pm

December 04, 2015

Cast: Voices of Raymond Ochoa, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, Steve Zahn

Director: Peter Sohn

Pixar raised the bar so high with Inside Out it’s hardly surprising that their latest film The Good Dinosaur feels simpler, more conventional, and less inventive in comparison. Still it’s heartfelt and endearing, and an adventure that younger audiences will particularly enjoy.

Set in an alternate universe where dinosaurs still exist, and are in fact more evolved than humans, the film focuses on Arlo, a timid Apatosaurus (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) growing up on a corn farm with his parents and two spunkier siblings. An attempt on his father’s part to make the little fella overcome his fears goes horribly wrong, and Arlo is washed away from his family in a flood with only a grunting dog-like cave-boy for company. As he prepares to head back home, Arlo bonds with his human pet whom he names Spot, and together they encounter ferocious storms, predatory beasts, and a clan of bison-herding T-rexes along the way.

A clever spin on the typical ‘boy and his dog’ story, the film gives us some charming moments between Arlo and his new friend, particularly a moving scene in which they figure out a way to communicate the similarity of their situations. Spot, although alone in the world, is fearless and a survivor; these are qualities that inspire Arlo. Their relationship is the best part of this film.

Predictably, Arlo learns to find his inner strength after staring danger in the face. It’s a familiar storyline, as are themes of childhood trauma and the importance of family, which Pixar does so well. Director Peter Sohn chooses to keep things simple, infusing humor into the film’s shopworn premise. A scene in which Arlo and Spot accidentally consume hallucinogenic fruits leads to hilarious consequences.

Never as rich and complex as some of the studio’s best films, The Good Dinosaur stands out nevertheless for its beautiful rendering of the natural world. We get imposing mountains, lush plains and raging rivers that appear photo-real. Surprisingly some of the character design is basic. Arlo and his family, for one, look like plasticine models. These are minor gripes, however, in a pleasing children’s film.

I’m going with three out of five for The Good Dinosaur. Make sure you reach the theatre on time so you don’t miss the terrific animated short Sanjay’s Super Team, based on a “mostly true story” about how a little Indian boy came to discover and love the Hindu superhero gods that his father worshipped.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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