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

March 25, 2016


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

March 25, 2016

Cast: John Abraham, Diya Chalwad, Nishikant Kamat, Sharad Kelkar, Teddy Maurya, Shruti Haasan

Director: Nishikant Kamat

Rocky Handsome is exactly what one might describe as a vanity project. The film, produced by and starring John Abraham, appears to have made for the sole purpose of showcasing the 43-year-old actor’s nifty fighting skills…and his chiseled physique, which the camera lovingly lingers over repeatedly.

The plot is threadbare, although the film is an official remake of a violent Korean hit, The Man From Nowhere. John stars as Kabir Ahlawat, aka Rocky, a highly trained assassin, and he spends most of his screen time slicing and dicing and stabbing and pummeling his way through an army of bad guys.

But when we first meet him, he’s running a pawnshop in Goa, his sullen expression softening only for the precocious kid next door (Diya Chalwad) whom he’s developed a soft spot for. When the little tyke is kidnapped on account of her mother’s run in with local drug lords, our hero comes out of a self-imposed exile and goes into lean-mean-killing-machine mode, single-handedly taking on a battery of villains.

The evil kingpins here, a pair of sadistic brothers named Luke and Kevin Ferreira, are drug and organ traffickers, but frankly they’re too buffoonish to inspire any dread. The film’s director Nishikant Kamat plays the lesser annoying of these two supposedly sinister siblings, although that’s not saying much.

Kamat, who has become something of a ‘remake specialist’ in Bollywood having last adapted Force and Drishyam from South Indian hits, fails to adapt the essence and the spirit of the original Korean film to this copy-paste hack job. This is lazy filmmaking of the highest order, and the only thing that deserves any mention are the relentlessly violent but riveting action scenes, including a few stylishly shot rain sequences.

John Abraham performs these portions convincingly. He’s in beast mode for the bulk of the film, and there’s a strange thrill in watching him dispatch the bad guys systematically. He’s sincere even in the quieter bits with the little girl next door, but eventually let down by the corny dialogue and a script that’s steeped in cliché, right down to the assassin’s tragic back-story.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Rocky Handsome.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Yawn of Justice!

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

March 25, 2016

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Zack Snyder

Two films down and it would appear that Zack Snyder’s most significant contribution to the superhero genre will be in reminding us just how much we miss Christopher Nolan’s artistry from the Dark Knight movies, and the sense of awe and fun that the early Superman films inspired.

Frankly, the only thing more exhausting than watching a big ol’ dumb blockbuster is watching a big ol’ dumb blockbuster that takes itself too seriously. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is overlong (at 2 hours 33 minutes), darker than it ought to be (both literally and figuratively), and practically humorless (I counted precisely 3 laughs). But crucially, it delivers none of that giddy excitement you expect from what’s been billed as “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world”.

Too busy treating the film as a stage to launch a series of future spin-offs and franchises featuring more characters from the DC Comics canon, Snyder ends up shortchanging both the audience and his iconic protagonists with an overstuffed but underdeveloped outing. To be clear, there’s a lot going on in the film: fleeting cameos from future heavy-hitters, the reappearance of beloved characters from the comics, and a script crammed with too many ideas that are occasionally in conflict with each other. Snyder throws everything at the screen hoping resistance will be futile.

The plot kicks in after Bruce Wayne becomes obsessed with reigning in Superman, having witnessed the widespread carnage and loss of lives in the wake of his epic battle with General Zod (at the end of 2013’s Man of Steel). Poor Superman, meanwhile, broods and sulks as the citizens of Metropolis too grow increasingly suspicious of him, and politicians and journalists question whether he should be held accountable for the collateral damage of his actions. Goading the two into a fight is twitchy evil billionaire Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who, in a departure from previous incarnations of the bald super villain, sports a full head of hair.

Ben Affleck is surprisingly solid as an older, embittered Batman, and he plays it so grim you’d think he was trying to out-angst Christian Bale’s portrayal of the Bat from Gotham. But what’s Henry Cavill’s excuse for never cracking a smile? Returning in the role of Superman, the earnestness is still there, and he gets some quiet moments with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, but even the goofy and lovable Clark Kent is nowhere to be found.

On the upside, Dawn of Justice is redeemed to some degree by the terrific Gal Gadot who emerges as mysterious badass warrior Wonder Woman fairly late in the film but owns the screen from the moment in. Set to star in her own solo movie, she’s the one bright spot in this superhero slog.

Expectedly the action unfolds at eardrum-shattering decibels and involves an orgy of special effects that many will likely enjoy. The Batmobile makes an appearance too, but there is little that is memorable in the way that Nolan’s set pieces were. The slugfest between the two big guys is engaging but never exhilarating, and then it quickly segues into a longer, seemingly never-ending battle with an entirely CGI villain that reminded me of the big blob that Ryan Reynolds had to fight in Green Lantern.

Speaking of Reynolds, his recent R-rated superhero incarnation Deadpool may have rung the death knell for future comic book movies that can’t find it in themselves to lighten up a little. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the first casualty.

I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 11, 2016


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

March 11, 2016

Cast: Himesh Reshammiya, Farah Karimaee, Shernaz Patel, Naseeruddin Shah, Kabir Bedi, Monica Dogra, Shekhar Kapur

Director: Shawn Arranha

In the vast cinematic wasteland where lousy movies end up and wither away from public consciousness, there’s a special corner reserved for the films starring Himesh Reshammiya. Over 9 years and as many films, two things have become painfully clear – that he will not stop acting, and that he cannot act.

In Teraa Surroor, directed by Shawn Arranha, Himesh fashions himself an action hero. Which means he spends virtually every moment of the film wearing tight ganjis, and he’s occasionally shirtless. That wouldn’t be such a problem if he’d put some effort into the fight scenes. But those sequences are a blur of quick cuts, slick sound effects, and stylish posturing with guns. You never once spot what even faintly looks like a convincing kick or punch, although many bad guys are sent flying into the air.

The film sees Himesh’s character, Raghu, an undercover assassin, plot his fiancé’s escape from a Dublin prison when she’s falsely framed on drug trafficking charges by a mysterious troublemaker. Between Himesh and model Farah Karimaee (who plays his love interest), they have a grand total of one expression throughout the film, and the word to describe it is ‘blank’.

Not surprisingly, there are catchy songs for every mood and occasion in the script – love song, break-up number, dance track, sad song, redemption song – and they pop up every three minutes or so, as if to distract you from the nonsensical plot and the laughable dialogue. Teraa Surroor also makes room for a handful of veteran actors to take small roles in exchange for what has to be lucrative paychecks. Naseeruddin Shah plays an expert jail-breaker who helps Raghu plan a surefire escape; Kabir Bedi is a commissioner back home in India; Shernaz Patel plays the mother of Raghu’s fiancée, and Shekhar Kapoor shows up as the Indian ambassador in Ireland. I can’t remember the last time so many talented people got together to make such a harebrained film.

Neither suspenseful in its execution of the escape, nor in the big reveal of the mastermind behind Raghu’s problems, the film seems to exist for no other purpose than to showcase Himesh and his limited talent. I’m going with one out of five for Teraa Surroor. The one star is for the gorgeous Dublin locations, and for the infectious music.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dirty business

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

March 11, 2016

Cast: Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Clifton Collins Jr, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer

Director: John Hillcoat

The violent new cop thriller Triple 9 opens with a gang of highly trained robbers infiltrating a bank, and pulling off a daring, daylight heist without a hitch. Almost.

I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I’ll tell you this – it’s a terrific sequence, superbly executed by director John Hillcoat, who knows his way around a tense car chase and a shootout.

Too bad the rest of the film is seldom as gripping.

It turns out that the perpetrators of the heist are a team of crooked cops and ex-military men pushed against the wall by a sadistic Russian mob boss (an excellent Kate Winslet), who’s got the gang’s leader (Chiwetel Ejiofor) by the balls. When she orders a second, more dangerous break-in, the gang plans the killing of a noble rookie officer (Casey Affleck) in order to distract the force, and thereby enable them to pull off the job.

Hillcoat creates a palpable sense of dread and foreboding in this anarchic world of dirty cops and dirtier thugs. Filmed on the mean streets of Atlanta, this is a pitiless, cynical world where practically no one is entirely clean, and where friendships and partnerships don’t count for much.

To be fair, it’s an intriguing premise, and the cast isn’t too shabby. Ejiofor, as the desperate father whose son is being kept away from him, and Anthony Mackie as one of the corrupt cops, are in particularly good form. It’s the script (by Matt Cook) that is the problem here. It holds up reasonably well in the film’s first hour, but becomes progressively corny as the chips begin to fall. What I found particularly disconcerting was the misguided suggestion that these brutal cop-killers are the ‘heroes’ here – the characters we’re meant to root for.

Dark and moody and mildly engaging despite its inconsistencies, Triple 9 benefits from a solid cast – including Woody Harrelson as an eccentric detective investigating the gang. It’s not the best crime thriller you’ll see, but there are some powerful moments here. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dope and glory

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

March 11, 2016

Cast: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet, Dustin Hoffman

Director: Stephen Frears

In the same week that the world reels from news that tennis star Maria Sharapova failed a drug test, comes a film based on the real events surrounding the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. The Program, directed by Stephen Frears, stars Ben Foster as the fallen hero. He plays the seven-time winner of the Tour De France cycling championship, and cancer survivor, who was stripped of his titles when it came out that he’d taken banned performance-enhancing drugs on every one of the races he won.

There is no question that Armstrong’s story is a compelling one – a tale of greed and deception. It’s also one that most of us are familiar with: the barefaced lies that shaped most of his career, even the dirty bullying tactics he used to shut down those that threatened to tell the truth. The film recounts all the events, but the narrative feels watered down. Based on an account by The Sunday Times reporter David Walsh (a solid Chris O’Dowd) who systematically investigated Armstrong over 13 years, the screenplay lacks the urgency of that other excellent film about another dramatic takedown, Spotlight.

Yes, there are interesting scenes of Armstrong’s collaboration with the controversial Dr Ferrari who teaches him how “to fly” with a complicated blood doping program, and even the blatant way in which the entire US Postal cycling team took part in the subterfuge and ducked drug inspectors. But there are also clumsy flashbacks into Armstrong’s cancer-stricken phase and a tiring fixation with his teammate Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), who struggles with the elaborate fraud.

Ultimately the film rests on Ben Foster and his performance as the deceitful cycling hero. While Foster is dedicated to the part and commits to it physically, he fails to get into the head of the man in order to reflect the extent of Armstrong’s brash ambition. That is explored to much better effect in Alex Gibney’s terrific documentary, The Armstrong Lie.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for The Program. It’s an average film at best, one that merely skims the surface of one of sport’s biggest scandals.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 4, 2016

Cop out

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

March 04, 2016

Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Manav Kaul, Ninad Kamat, Rahul Bhat, Murli Sharma, Prakash Jha

Director: Prakash Jha

The thing about good casting is that it can elevate even an ordinary film. Jai Gangaajal, directed by Prakash Jha, is an ordinary film at best. A predictable police drama filled with the usual stereotypes. But Priyanka Chopra, gritting her teeth determinedly during interrogations, putting her might into her forearms while thrashing a goonda with her laathi, is immediately convincing as a no-nonsense police officer. And Jha, who keeps the film’s most interesting role for himself, playing a corrupt cop who undergoes a change of heart, is a revelation.

Set in a small town in North India – the sort that’s over-run by greedy politicians whose sneering henchmen bully locals into parting with their ancestral land at bargain basement prices while the police conveniently look away – the film makes minor adjustments to 2003’s Gangaajal, while staying more or less faithful to that template. Priyanka stars as Abha Mathur, an idealistic Superintendent of Police determined to clean up the mess. Jha is her deputy, BN Singh, and the bad apple within the force, who is on the payroll of local MLA Babloo Pandey (the always dependable Manav Kaul) and his cruel brother Dabloo (Ninad Kamat).

The previous film’s key suggestion that vigilante justice and mob violence might be the only way to bring perpetrators to book, is addressed again in Jai Gangaajal, although there are hangings instead of blindings this time. It’s still a highly contentious point, and the film reflects that. We also get repeated sermons on the sanctity of the khaki uniform, and Jha’s character is the only one who gets a complete arc.

To be fair he’s pretty solid in the role, and completely at ease in front of the camera. Chopra, whose physicality is a good fit for the part, carries off both the action scenes and the dramatic ones without breaking a sweat. She’s a tad glamorous for the role, but throws herself into it completely.

Jai Gangaajal doesn’t offer anything you haven’t seen before, especially in the director’s own previous films. It’s also interminably long at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes. Priyanka Chopra and Prakasha Jha’s performances keep you engaged and invested despite the familiar narrative, but by the end you’re overcome by the unmistakable feeling of exhaustion. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

The sea inside

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

March 04, 2016

Cast: Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, Richard Cunningham, David Sibley

Director: Andrew Haigh

There is great acting, and then there is what Charlotte Rampling achieves in 45 Years. Playing one half of a couple whose long marriage is tested by the arrival of an unexpected piece of news, she digs deep within her being, going into the purest, most truthful places to uncover a goldmine of emotion that registers ever so subtly on her expressive face. This is ‘acting’ of the highest order, a ‘performance’ constructed almost entirely on little nuances and virtually invisible gestures.

Rampling and Tom Courtenay play Kate and Geoff Mercer, a childless, retired couple living a quiet, idyllic life in the English countryside. They have the kind of intimate comfort that comes from spending nearly a lifetime together. Amid regular activities like walking the dog, revisiting their favorite books, and sipping afternoon tea, the two of them are planning their 45th anniversary party.

Then Geoff gets a letter informing him that the body of his previous girlfriend Katya, who was killed in a hiking accident in the Swiss Alps 50 years ago, has been found. The discovery throws the pair into turmoil: Geoff can’t stop thinking about his first ‘true love’, and of what might have been. Kate finds herself jealous of a woman who’s been dead for decades. As the date of the party draws closer, we watch their marriage unravel, and Kate in particular as she becomes consumed by doubt and resentment.

Writer-director Andrew Haigh leaves his camera to calmly ‘observe’ as his actors gnaw away at your heart. Beautifully shot, and unfolding slowly with the main characters often ruminating in silence, the film occasionally feels longer than its 93 minutes running time. But there isn’t a hint of artifice in the performances of both leads; Courtenay invests Geoff with a real fragility, playing the character as confused and lost, and more than a little sad. Yet Rampling is the star performer here, conveying volumes through seemingly minimal effort. As the camera lingers over Kate in the film’s last scene, she breaks your heart in a hundred pieces, making your walk to the exit feel like the longest journey you’ve taken.

I first watched 45 Years at the Berlin Film Festival in February last year, and I wasn’t able to shake it off for weeks. Having re-watched it again this week for the purpose of this review, I’m happy to report it hasn’t lost any of its incredible power.

I’m going with a full five out of five for 45 Years. The film creeps upon you slowly and just doesn’t let go.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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