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

December 22, 2017

RAW Deal!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:30 pm

December 22, 2017

Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Angad Bedi, Kumud Mishra, Paresh Rawal, Girish Karnad, Sajjad Delafrooz

Director: Ali Abbas Zafar

Tiger Zinda Hai doesn’t inspire much confidence in India’s Research & Analysis Wing if they’re shown reaching out to a former Super-Spy, presumed dead for the last eight years, to lead their most urgent mission. Frankly, what should one make of this? They have no one on their roster with a similar set of skills? And what if Bhai said no? It makes me very afraid for our safety.

So it’s a good thing Salman Khan aka Tiger can be persuaded out of retirement, enjoying life with his former-ISI agent wife Zoya (Katrina Kaif), when 25 Indian nurses must be evacuated from a terror group’s base in Iraq before the US launches an airstrike that will wipe out the bad guys and everything and everyone within a close radius.

Tiger Zinda Hai is an improvement on 2012’s Ek Tha Tiger whose simplistic politics of the region and cringey central romance distracted from some decent action sequences. Loosely based on true events, the new film, however, is a slick affair, and although the politics is still simplistic, director Ali Abbas Zafar goes balls-out with the action, kicking things off with an impressive Bhai-versus-a-pack-of-wolves sequence in the Austrian Alps.

The actor, in fact, is in pretty good form, sporting stubble to convey age and maturity, and the sort of puffed-up torso that makes him look like a life-size GI Joe toy. In one of the bits that got maximum applause from the audience in my cinema, a shirtless Salman sprays bullets at a phalanx of bad guys, full Rambo-style. Zafar, who directed the far superior Sultan last year, allows his leading man to play to the gallery, giving him multiple slow-motion entry shots and clap-trap lines.

The grand rescue plan involves Tiger and his hand-picked team of experts (a sniper, an explosives guy, and a techie) sneaking into an oil refinery in Iraq, then making their way to the hospital where terrorist leader Abu Usman (Sajjad Delafrooz) is holding the nurses captive. It’s a race-against-time mission, and the makers cram the film with jingoistic patriotism, an India-Pakistan brotherhood angle, and multiple instances of a woman saving the day.

What’s interesting is that this cocktail somehow works. Logic and subtlety are sacrificed at the altar of spectacle and sentiment. The characters are painted in broad brushstrokes, and the supporting cast – including Paresh Rawal as an Indian fixer – turn in serviceable performances. Katrina gets some terrific action moments and she executes them well, but make no mistake, the heavy lifting here is left to Salman Khan, and he’s clearly up for the challenge.

Tiger Zinda Hai is way too long at 2 hours and 41 minutes, but it packs some thrilling action and a beloved leading man presented in just the manner that the fans seem to want to see him.

I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

December 15, 2017

Rained out!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:54 pm

December 15, 2017

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vijay Varma, Neeraj Kabi, Geetanjali Thapa, Sreejita De

Director: Amit Kumar

Monsoon Shootout poses an eternal question plaguing all of us – “Which road should one take?”

In this dark film (both literally and figuratively), a young rookie cop is faced with this moral dilemma as he corners a murder suspect, his gun trained on him in the pouring rain. Should he shoot him down or not? The man with the gun must decide between the right path, the wrong path, and the middle path – but as we all know, there are no easy answers to life’s choices.

Director Amit Kumar presents us with the shootout scenario, and the fantasy of what each choice will bring to the cop. So the story breaks off in three different directions. At first, this is interesting, but soon the film sinks in a quicksand of repetition. Each scenario has grim consequences, yet sadly, you don’t care much about the characters. The film hinges more on technique and style, like cutting away from a gruesome murder to a dahi handi being smashed. It’s all visually impressive, but feels superficial when you’re not invested in the characters.

That’s a pity because the filmmakers assemble a clutch of solid actors. Adi, the rookie cop, played by Vinay Varma, is offset by his cynical Crime Branch superior Khan (Neeraj Kabi). Varma plays the fresh-faced morally tortured young cop with earnestness, while Kabi is excellent; his face betrays little emotion, but he conveys scorn with a look or a few words. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is Shiva, the man staring down the barrel of the gun. He’s an axe murderer, and still conveys vulnerability, except that there’s a been-there-done-that feel to it, a tiredness that comes from playing similar characters on a loop.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Monsoon Shootout. Here’s a story with wasted potential, one that could have been more effective with tighter writing and clever twists. As it is, Monsoon Shootout is a wishy-washy affair.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Force majeure!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:14 pm

December 15, 2017

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Issac, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels

Director: Rian Johnson

I’m just going to come out and say it: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is exactly the Star Wars movie we needed. It’s a work of staggering vision and ambition. A heady cocktail of blockbuster spectacle, thrilling action, rich emotional moments, cheeky humor, shocking twists, and charming throwbacks. To put it simply, it’s every fan’s wet dream.

With The Force Awakens in 2015, JJ Abrams and Lucasfilm proved there was a way to bring Star Wars back and to satisfy our nostalgic connection to it by giving us a story that recalled many of the themes and ideas of George Lucas’ original 1977 film. In Jedi, on the other hand, writer-director Rian Johnson boldly takes us into unchartered territory, delivering what easily feels like the freshest Star Wars film in a long time, and one that advances the mythology and the legacy in really surprising ways.

The new film doesn’t just hit the ground running, it practically blasts out of the gates with a spectacular space battle between Rebellion ships and the evil First Order, before quickly taking us back to the remote island hideout where Rey tracked down Luke Skywalker at the end of The Force Awakens. Grizzled, brooding, and wallowing in guilt over reasons that I won’t spoil for you, Luke is a shadow of his former self.

But the secret to Luke’s isolation and abject despair is just one of a handful of crucial questions that are raised over the film’s 152-minute running time. Who is Rey, and who are her parents? Has Kylo Ren been lost to the dark side completely? The filmmakers are clever not to lay out all their cards at once.

There’s a lot to process in this outing, but Johnson never skimps on the giddy excitement that Star Wars is expected to deliver to the fans. So all the deep character stuff is nicely rationed out as the screen lights up with thrilling aerial dogfights, tense lightsaber duels, and multiple race-against-time rescues and escapes, all set to John Williams’ operatic score. There’s a lot of planet-hopping going on too, including a stop that Finn (John Boyega) makes with his new companion, fellow Resistance fighter Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) at a Las Vegas-style resort island in pursuit of a master codebreaker. That scenario somehow ends in a stunning stampede of suddenly freed race-creatures.

There are, of course, other pleasures to be had like renewing one’s acquaintance with old friends. Carrie Fisher, who passed away last year after completing her scenes, brings such gravity to her scenes as Leia. Good luck trying to hold back the sniffles each time she shows up on screen. Mark Hamill, who does the bulk of dramatic heavy lifting in Episode VIII, offers a poignant performance as Luke Skywalker, leaving his imprint all over the film.

Oscar Issac once again turns on the charm as hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron, who spends much of his screentime clashing with a new authority figure (Laura Dern). To be fair, the script gives every character – returning, and new – at least a few moments to make their presence felt. From Chewbacca balking at the sight of the porgs having invaded the cockpit of the Millennial Falcon, to BB-8 saving the day on more than one occasion, to C-3PO and R2D2 reconnecting with Luke…or even a cameo by a wise old chap; you’ll do well to expect the unexpected here.

The film’s strongest track, however, involves Kylo Ren, and Adam Driver imbues him with a wounded, troubled, quality that serves the character well. His scenes with Rey, played with grit and earnestness by Daisy Ridley, are some of the best and reveal an as-yet-unexplored dynamic of the Force.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi does feel overlong, and there are flabby parts here and there. Yet it’s seldom boring because the pace is brisk and Johnson brings a lightness of touch that feels entirely new. The film is ultimately a triumph of inventiveness and unpredictability, and delivers jaw-dropping visual imagery of the kind that this franchise hasn’t seen.

I’m going with a big four out of five for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Johnson, whose previous writing/directing credits include smart indies like Brick and Looper, makes the transition to Blockbusterland with the ease of a pro. It’s hardly surprising that he’s been entrusted with creating a new trilogy in the Star Wars universe. The galaxy is safe on his watch.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

December 4, 2017

Fools rush in

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 3:23 pm

December 01, 2017

Cast: Kapil Sharma, Ishita Dutta, Kumud Mishra, Anjan Shrivastava, Rajesh Sharma, Monica Gill, Edward Sonnenblick

Director: Rajiev Dhingra

What’s television’s favorite funnyman Kapil Sharma like, without the prompted laughter from the audience? For that answer you’d have to watch his new film Firangi…although I don’t recommend that you do. It’s a bloated, 2 hour 40 minute exercise designed to suggest that he can act. But to survive the film you’d need to be chained to your seat, with toothpicks holding up your eyelids. Yes, it’s a slog.

Directed by Rajiev Dhingra, and produced by Kapil himself, Firangi is a colonial era story set in the 1920s about a bunch of villagers in Punjab who take on the nasty British. There are echoes of Lagaan, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and – hold your hearts – even Ocean’s Eleven.

Kapil stars as Manga, an unemployed bumpkin whose only talent is the ability to cure one’s backache by delivering a swift kick to the spot. Manga falls in love with Sargi (Ishita Dutta), a pretty girl from the neighbouring village, and to impress her he takes a job in the service of a British officer (Edward Sonnenblick), who, as it turns out, is in cahoots with a greedy, debauched maharaja (Kumud Mishra).

The king and the corrupt British officer manipulate our unsuspecting hero to rob the villagers of their land in order to set up a liquor factory on the site. Now it’s left to Manga to win back the land, his reputation, and yes, his sweetheart, with whom he has way too many dull romantic interludes in the field, by the river, on the roof – you get the picture. In the middle of all this, there’s also a princess (Monica Gill), roaming about in derby hats, long gloves, and carrying around the world’s tiniest pistol. She’s supposed to have returned from Oxford, but for some reason she sports an American accent.

It’s hard to take the film seriously, despite a cast of strong supporting actors like Rajesh Sharma and Kumud Mishra, who can’t lift the plodding script. Save for a few moments of inspired humour, and a handful of clever comebacks, the film doesn’t give Kapil Sharma much scope to flex his comic chops. You’d have to be a die-hard fan to appreciate his one-note performance that is basically no more than looking wide-eyed into camera and muttering uninspired lines with a silly grin.

Firangi is an odd choice of drama for a fine extempore comic to cut his teeth on. What it works very well as is a cure for insomnia. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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