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

July 29, 2016

Pace junkies!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

July 29, 2016

Cast: John Abraham, Varun Dhawan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Akshaye Khanna, Saqib Saleem, Rahul Dev, Nargis Fakhri, Akshay Kumar

Director: Rohit Dhawan

There’s never a quiet moment and virtually no time to pause or reflect in the speeding bullet train that is Dishoom. Good call. The film is crammed with childish humor, expensive set-pieces, gratuitous songs, and cheeky cameos. These jostle for space with an excuse for a plot that involves two mismatched cops tasked with solving the kidnapping of a star Indian batsman in the Middle East.

John Abraham is Kabir, an officer of the Indian special task force, who sports a permanent scowl from having been cheated on by his girlfriend. Varun Dhawan is Junaid, a bumbling but enthusiastic rookie cop in Abu Dhabi who must work with Kabir to locate and rescue Viraj (Saqib Saleem) before the India vs Pakistan final that’s two days away. There’s also Jacqueline Fernandez playing a petty thief who crosses paths with our heroes, then sticks by their side for no good reason except to shake her booty during a song amidst a whole basement full of leering men.

Akshaye Khanna turns up too, as a villainous bookie named Wagah, and naturally that name prompts the explanation that he’s neither from India nor Pakistan. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Kabir and Junaid do trace the cricketer eventually, and that, by the way, is thanks to a series of plot contrivances including a conveniently stolen mobile phone and a resourceful pug.

It’s true…none of this sounds particularly original or promising on paper. But co-writer and director Rohit Dhawan – evidently raised on a staple diet of David Dhawan, Rohit Shetty and Hollywood buddy-cop movies – knows a thing or two about pacing. The film unfolds at breakneck speed and Dhawan throws so much at the screen, it’s impossible to be bored.

The film’s most hilarious scene involves a cameo by Akshay Kumar who sportingly sends up his image as Bollywood’s most macho star by playing an obviously gay party boy who orders our heroes to strip down to their underwear in exchange for his help with the case. Another running joke that delivers plenty laughs sees Junaid repeatedly humiliated by a caller who insists on telling him how bad he looks in a matrimonial ad that he’s posted.

The absence of sentimentality in the ‘bromance’ between Kabir and Junaid is particularly refreshing for this kind of film, but multiple attempts to evoke patriotism come off as forced. John and Varun do their schtick competently, and it’s nice to see Akshaye Khanna back on screen after what seems like ages.

You won’t remember Dishoom for its plot or for its performances. It’s like junk food that’s meant to be savored in the moment, but cannot be counted on for nutrition. At two hours flat it’s that rare masala film that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

I’m going with three out of five. I was entertained.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Make the call!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

July 29, 2016

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Andy Garcia

Director: Paul Feig

Led by an all-female cast, the new Ghostbusters, a reboot of the beloved 1984 supernatural comedy, is nothing like the travesty that vicious Internet trolls predicted it would be. In fact, it’s pretty good fun.

Bridesmaids stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig join fellow funny ladies Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones to bring some genuinely potent girl-power to this tale of four misfits who prevent a poltergeist invasion from destroying New York City. Working from a script he co-wrote with Kate Dippold, director Paul Feig is especially careful to preserve the spirit of the original while creating a film that’s different enough.

Wiig stars as a respectable university professor Erin Gilbert who loses her job after her previous investigations into the paranormal are exposed. She ends up reuniting with her childhood friend Abby Yates (McCarthy), a ghost buff still delving into the supernatural, now assisted by mad inventor Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). The team is complete when they’re joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Jones), and before you know it they’re strapping on proton packs and capturing ghosts that have infiltrated the city.

The film works largely because the four actresses have a winning chemistry, and because nearly all their gags hit the mark. The one-liners come fast and furious, and Thor star Chris Hemsworth gets some of the biggest laughs as the team’s beefy but dim secretary, Kevin.

That’s not to say the movie has no problems. The plot itself is doozy, barely held together by the performances, and the climax is an overlong mess of CGI spectacle that reminded me of the Adam Sandler dud Pixels. Plus the script spends too much time letting us in on back-story, and frankly that only takes away from the comedy.

But these quibbles aside, on more than one occasion the film lovingly references the original, and offers cameos to virtually all the major cast including Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd. It’s a respectful and affectionate remake that never claims to improve upon the earlier film, merely suggests that women have comic chops as solid as men.

It’s the four leading ladies then and their unending hilarious banter that is the best thing about Ghostbusters. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Child’s play

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

July 29, 2016

Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall

Director: Steven Spielberg


Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book about a young orphan and her bond with a big friendly giant couldn’t have landed in better hands than Steven Spielberg’s. Over the years, associated in different creative capacities on films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Gremlins and The Goonies, Spielberg has delivered compelling stories about childhood, experienced largely through the wide-open eyes of innocent kids themselves.

Yet, despite representing a marriage of two iconic imaginations, The BFG never achieves the greatness of other unlikely man-and-beast friendships like King Kong, Free Willy, or E.T. whose screenwriter, the late Melissa Mathison, is credited with writing this script.

It’s the script itself that is the problem here, lacking the warmth and the wit, and the sense of awe and wonder that might have rescued it from sinking into an abyss of mediocrity.

When a plucky orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) catches sight of a black-coated giant prowling the streets of London late into the night, he whisks her away to Giant Country in order to protect his secret. Petrified at first, once there she discovers he’s a kind, gentle creature who catches dreams, bottles them, and distributes them to sleeping children. He’s also vegetarian, unlike his nastier brethren who like nothing better than to devour children.

There’s an undeniable sweetness to the friendship that builds between Sophie and the BFG, who must hide her and then valiantly defend her from his fellow giants when they come sniffing. But the movie suffers from serious pacing issues, particularly around its meandering middle portion. It all feels interminably stretched out for no reason, and there’s very little of that of spirit of adventure and excitement that has powered Spielberg’s other family friendly films like The Adventures of Tintin and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The film redeems itself to some degree in its final act, when Sophie and the BFG show up at Buckingham Palace seeking help from the Queen of England (an amusing Penelope Wilton). The humor, however, remains juvenile as a whole breakfast party – including Her Majesty – breaks into farts after consuming the BFG’s fizzy concoction.

British actor Mark Rylance who won an Oscar for his performance in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, brings the lanky, jug-eared, five-storey tall giant to life with a (motion-capture) performance that is subtle and nuanced. Relying on the character’s fractured, amusing vocabulary and his innate charm, he forms a winning rapport with young Barnhill, who is spirited but sadly trapped in a one-dimensional role.

There’s no denying that The BFG is brimming with earnestness, but while it’s visually impressive and occasionally gripping it leaves you feeling a bit cold in the end. I came out feeling that an opportunity had been lost. It’s far from one of Spielberg’s unmissable gems. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 22, 2016

Don and dusted!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

July 22, 2016

Cast: Rajnikanth, Radhika Apte, Winston Chao, Dhansika, Dinesh Ravi, Nasser, Kalaiyarasan, John Vijay

Director: Pa Ranjith

It’s easy to forget that Rajnikanth was once an actor who played real characters and delivered enduring performances. For a generation of viewers who know him only from the Chuck Norris-style jokes and memes, or from blockbusters like Baasha, Sivaji and Enthiran, it would be wise to watch some of his earlier work – I strongly recommend Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi. This is before Rajnikanth became trapped in roles whose only purpose was to further the cult of Rajni.

Kabali, directed by Pa Ranjith, is an attempt to tell a coherent story, but the makers can’t resist the temptation to cash in on Rajni-mania. The actor stars as an ageing don with a heart of gold, and he’s just been released from a long stint in prison. Moments before he leaves his jail cell, the 65-year-old star performs pull-ups on a cross bar without breaking a sweat. It’s a scene explicitly designed to send his fans into a collective tizzy.

Set largely in Malaysia, the film is a violent drama about an inter-gang rivalry. Rajni’s character Kabali is pitted against an Asian villain, Tommy Lee (Taiwanese actor Winston Chao), whose men are responsible for the death of Kabali’s wife (Radhika Apte). His rivals recruit a slick female assassin (Dhansika) to kill Kabali before he becomes a thorn in their flesh again.

The film’s first half moves briskly as flashbacks detail our hero’s rise to power, and the history behind Kabali and Tommy Lee’s rivalry. Also, a key plot twist reveals the real identity of a significant character, which subsequently leads to another major discovery. Post intermission, however, the film becomes an orgy of gunfire and violence, and any semblance of plot and story quickly goes out of the window.

Is it merely enough to give fans a larger-than-life Rajni who delivers punchy dialogues, dresses like a dude, walks with a swagger, and yanks out a wrench from inside his sleeve to pummel his rivals? As it turns out, it’s not. That formula’s gotten rusty. Which is why Kabali, while definitely an improvement on Lingaa, is still a disappointment.

I’m going with two out of five. Rajni still commands the screen, but the film is a bloated mess.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

About a boy!

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

July 22, 2016

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Vishesh Bansal, Jimmy Shergill, Tushar Dalvi, Nitesh Pandey

Director: Nishikant Kamat

Irrfan Khan plays a middle-class grieving father so angered by an apathetic, corrupt system, he shakes up the political echelons when he kidnaps the Home Minister’s son in Madaari.

This vigilante thriller, directed by Nishikant Kamat, requires considerable suspension of disbelief, but benefits from a compelling performance by Irrfan whose anguish is palpable even in the film’s most far-fetched scenes.

There are some nice moments between Irrfan’s character Nirmal and Vishesh Bansal who plays Rohan, the precocious 8-year-old he’s holding to ransom. But the filmmakers drown out all attempts at subtlety and nuance with a background score so deafening it shatters your eardrums.

Madaari sticks to a template similar to Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday, but doesn’t drum up the same urgency. The cops, led by a solemn-faced Jimmy Shergill, find themselves engaged in a wild goose chase for Nirmal, but there’s very little tension to this battle of wits. Also, Kamat’s depiction of a landscape altered by social media engagement and public opinion is real but sloppily handled. That’s a shame because the film rightfully spurs the viewer to consider the ramifications of the alternate system the protagonist advocates – one that’s driven by popular public sentiment, vigilante justice, and kangaroo courts.

It doesn’t help that the supporting players are cardboard caricatures – from the bellowing news anchor to selfish politicians – and their acting is nothing to write home about. The film then rests squarely on the shoulders of its leading man to make up for its many shortcomings. Irrfan does the best he can with the given material, delivering moments of great poignancy while resisting the temptation to showboat. His breakdown scene in a hospital is especially heart-wrenching, and another one outside a government office where he reveals what he intends to do with a compensation cheque conveys the character’s pain without resorting to the usual tropes.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Madaari. Arguably one of the finest actors of our times, Irrfan Khan deserves films worthy of his talent. This one comes up short.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Space jam

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

July 22, 2016

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutello

Director: Justin Lin

In taking over directing duties from JJ Abrams, Fast & Furious regular Justin Lin brings a lightness of touch and a genuine sense of fun to the new Star Trek movie that was traded for hefty emotional moments and forced melodrama in 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. This bouncy, lighthearted tone is the secret weapon of Star Trek Beyond…it’s what separates the new film from this year’s mostly grim and cynical summer blockbusters starring those angst-filled superheroes.

As it turns out, angst and particularly restlessness is slowly creeping up on the crew of the Starship Enterprise who’re now three years into their five-year mission exploring deep space. A new adventure is exactly what they need, and they get it when head out on a search and rescue mission to an alien planet during which the Enterprise is attacked by an evil villain determined to bring the Federation to its knees.

It’s a simple enough plot that doesn’t offer too many surprises, but in honoring the 50-year legacy of Star Trek, the film strikes just the right balance between seriousness and cheesiness. The bickering between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) delivers plenty laughs, and Kirk (Chris Pine) still manages to think his way out of seemingly impossible scenarios. Simon Pegg, who’s co-written the screenplay, beefs up his own role as the scrappy tech-wiz Scotty, and the crew finds an unexpected ally in the form of a stripe-faced alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who’s nursing a grudge against the nemesis they must vanquish.

Which brings us to Krall, the film’s lizard-faced bad guy, played by Idris Elba buried under layers of prosthetics. Unfortunately Krall comes off as a standard issue villain who spouts bumper-sticker dialogue and hatches the usual doomsday plans. He’s the weak link in an otherwise enjoyable film that benefits considerably from Lin’s skill at staging fast-paced and big-spectacle action scenes. A sequence late into the film, in a gravity-defying starbase is particularly thrilling.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond is an entertaining adventure peppered with funny moments, and steeped in nostalgia. A tribute to the late Leonard Nemoy is genuinely moving, and plot holes aside this tale of comradeship feels old-fashioned in a good way.

I’m going with three out of five. It doesn’t go boldly where few have gone before, but you’ll be happy to take this journey.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 15, 2016

Firing blanks

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

July 15, 2016

Cast: Vivek Oberoi, Aftab Shivdasani, Ritesh Deshmukh, Urvashi Rautela, Sanjay Mishra

Director: Indra Kumar

When a snake is suspected to have bitten Aftab Shivdasani on his posterior, he implores his best friends, played by Ritesh Deshmukh and Vivek Oberoi, to save his life by sucking the poison out of the infected area.

After a female domestic help stuffs the currency notes he gave her into her blouse, Ritesh Deshmukh continues to ply her with money in the hope that the seams will rip.

Desperation is the predominant theme in Great Grand Masti, and it’s not just the film’s sexually frustrated protagonists who’re guilty of it, but also its bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping makers who set a new benchmark in laziness with their decidedly juvenile plotting.

Three married friends, each going through a dry spell with their respective wives, head out to the hinterland in the hope of seducing some gaon ki goris into their beds. But the tables are turned on our oversexed heroes when the ghost of a buxom virgin traps them in an abandoned haveli and terrorizes them to sleep with her.

Cut from the same cloth as 2013’s Grand Masti, also directed by Indra Kumar, the film reduces each of its female characters to one of two stereotypes – the shrew who stands in the way of the hero getting sex, and the nymphet bursting out of her clothes who offers the promise of sex. The film has no other use of women, including a harridan mother-in-law who is also eventually employed in a sex joke.

In an odd throwaway moment here and there Ritesh and Aftab offer us a reminder of their flair for physical comedy, but for the most part the boys are busy contorting their faces and making crazy eyes at the sight of all that cleavage on display. Frankly it’s pubescent stuff, the kind of humor we giggled at, huddled in the back benches at school – masturbation jokes, Viagra jokes, a repeat of the ‘rising table’ gag from the last film, and a scene in which Aftab plays the piano with his erection.

Alas, the key problem here is that none of it is particularly original or inventive. One doesn’t expect a sex comedy to be smart or tasteful, but Great Grand Masti isn’t even as outrageous and offensive as the recent Sunny Leone starrer Mastizaade. It settles for plain dull and boring.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

High five? Not quite!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 7:35 pm

July 15, 2016

Cast: Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg, Jennifer Lopez, Adam DeVine, Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Directors: Mike Thurmeier & Galen T Chu

The Ice Age movies will be remembered primarily for giving us lovable and hilarious characters that endeared themselves to us even when the stories felt rushed or rehashed. The misadventures of Scrat, our acorn-obsessed squirrel, and the shenanigans of Sid the Sloth never seemed to get old. But with Ice Age: Collision Course, fifth film in the series and the so-called “defining chapter” in a saga that has lasted 14 years, the evidence is on the screen – this franchise has officially run out of fresh ideas.

In the new film, our old friends Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo) must put aside their respective struggles with family and romance to lead all prehistoric species to safety before a meteor smashes into Earth.

In visual terms, Collision Course offers the filmmakers a chance to explore new color palettes and to scale up the quality of the animation. But there’s a weary, exhausted feel to the writing, which is evident in the lazy throw-everything-at-the-screen approach. So a bunch of new characters are introduced, who sadly contribute nothing to the plot. Old favorites are brought back too – like scene-stealing madcap weasel Buck (Simon Pegg), who alerts the gang to the repercussions of the meteor attack and plots a near-impossible mission to divert its course.

Additionally, fans of the series will be happy to know that Scrat is no longer relegated to the sidelines. In fact the film’s plot is spurred into motion by the long-suffering critter and his eternal chase of the acorn. When he’s accidentally shot into space, Scrat’s continuing fumbling and bumbling causes a realignment of the planets, which in turn triggers the meteor in the direction of Earth.

Disguised as a frenetic adventure, the plot serves up the same old message about family values. It’s strictly serviceable stuff that might engage the kids but will likely leave older fans bored and eager to bid the franchise a final farewell.

I’m going with two out of five for Ice Age: Collision Course. It was nice knowing you folks, but your time is up.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 8, 2016

Virgin suicide

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

July 07, 2016

Cast: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad, Siddharth Mallya, Denzil Smith, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy

Director: Qaushiq Mukherjee

There are moments in Brahman Naman that evoke the memory of American Pie. One such bit comes at the very start of the film when protagonist Naman Bala (Titli’s Shashank Arora) sneaks towards the fridge in his house while his parents are fast asleep, and employs it to relieve his loins.

What’s it with horny teenagers and kitchen items?

But while these are superficial similarities, it’s important to note that Brahman Naman is directed by Qaushiq Mukherjee aka Q, best known for his explicit and experimental film Gandu, which was an official selection at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2011. Brahman Naman was screened in competition at Sundance earlier this year, and became exclusively available to stream on Netflix starting this week. It attempts to tell a deeper story, with more layers than the average sex comedy. And while it’s certainly fun in bits, the film does veer off in puzzling directions.

Naman and his two friends Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) are Brahmin teens in 1980s Bangalore. Typical dorks with insatiable sexual appetites, they spend their time participating in and winning intercollegiate quiz competitions, and using that money to get pissed drunk. Between it all, the three virgins obsess about sex, infusing their preoccupation with Shakespearean lines and casteist notions.

The boys, frankly, are only sporadically funny. And not particularly easy to like. The women who cross their paths, however, show more spunk. Things get interesting when Naman and his pals take a train journey to Calcutta for a quiz competition, during which they encounter a rival all-girls team. But roughly an hour into the film, the story peters off distractedly. A scene demonstrating Naman’s cruel treatment of a female classmate who adores him is played for laughs, but it’s the one bit in the film that cuts deep.

Like the director’s previous films, ultimately this one too is bold and provocative, but appears to stem more from Q’s recurring desire to shock than from a place of sexual frankness. 1980s Bangalore is lovingly recreated, and the film’s music injects pep into the proceedings.

I’m going with two-and-half out of five for Brahman Naman. Perhaps if it was better fleshed out, the film could have been a sparkling comedy. But despite all the sexual suggestiveness and jokes, it just doesn’t rise to the occasion.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 6, 2016

Lord of the ring!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:00 pm

July 6, 2016

Cast: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Randeep Hooda, Amit Sadh, Anant Sharma

Director: Ali Abbas Zafar

Let’s just face it, Salman Khan has built a career on playing himself in every other movie. The narratives may vary, but the persona doesn’t change. He’s always the lovable, irreverent man-child with an unwavering moral compass and a weakness for losing his shirt. Whether disguised in a burqa while traveling across Pakistan to deposit a mute girl to her home in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, or pausing to break into an impromptu dance while pummeling the bad guys in Dabangg, what he delivers is a performance, but you can’t call it acting.

In Sultan, directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, the actor comes closest to playing a character that feels real, complete with flaws and failures, and one that doesn’t take his shirt off for purely gratuitous reasons. Playing a middle-aged, out-of-shape former wrestler who enters the ring again, to exorcise personal demons, Salman delivers an impressive, full-bodied performance, easily his most credible acting job since…forever.

The script, however, is less solid, and relies too heavily on familiar tropes and overused sports-movie clichés. The rise and rise of our underdog hero, small-town Haryanvi Jatt Sultan Ali Khan, as he goes from local slacker to world wrestling champion is demonstrated through a series of slick training montages. His romance with Aarfa (Anushka Sharma), a feisty young wrestler, is documented through multiple songs. There is conflict, then a shot at redemption when a now-grizzled Sultan returns to conquer the ring.

At a butt-numbing 2 hours and 50 minutes, the film feels way too long, especially in its first half, which is more or less entirely a flashback. It’s a shame the makers don’t know what to do with Anushka’s character after a point, introducing her as a progressive, forward-thinking feminist then sidelining her completely. Anushka, by the way, is pretty good in the role, but suffers on account of the weak script.

There are good actors in key supporting roles, including Randeep Hooda as a cynical trainer who must whip Sultan back into shape, Kumud Mishra as Aarfa’s father, Amit Sadh as the entrepreneur behind an MMA Premiere League, and an especially terrific Anant Sharma as Sultan’s best friend Govind. But make no mistake, the film really serves as a showcase for its leading man’s incredible screen presence, and his surprisingly mature performance in a role that requires much heavy-lifting…literally.

Salman is especially affecting in later scenes as the defeated protagonist who seizes the opportunity to right the wrongs. He’s convincing also in the film’s excellent wrestling sequences that look, feel, and sound real and brutal.

Sultan is predictable, no two questions about it. But it’s powered by a riveting central performance that makes you overlook so many of its problems. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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