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

February 23, 2018

Friends & lovers

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:21 pm

February 23, 2018

Cast: Kartik Aryan, Sunny Singh, Nushrat Bharucha, Ishita Sharma, Alok Nath, Virendra Saxena, Deepika Amin, Ayesha Raza

Director: Luv Ranjan

There are two things you should know about Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, although if you’ve watched director Luv Ranjan’s Pyaar Ka Punchnama and its sequel it should come as no surprise whatsoever. The first is that women are always the enemy. They’re scheming, ball-busting shrews. The second is that despite the sexism, the objectionable stereotyping, and the frequent misogyny, the film is unquestionably funny. Now what to do!

Ranjan, who has turned the ‘battle of the sexes’ premise into a full-fledged, thriving genre of its own, operates from the most simplistic kind of frat-boy logic where bros always come before hoes. In the new film however, that understanding is threatened when a seemingly perfect girl becomes a thorn in the lifelong friendship between two male friends.

Sonu (Kartik Aryan) is the sort of fella who’s likely paid close attention to the director’s previous films. He’s suspicious of women, and for him they only serve one purpose. You know what purpose. His best friend Titu (Sunny Singh) frequently falls in love, but Sonu invariably swoops in and ‘protects’ him when things get too serious. When Sunny agrees to an arranged marriage with Sweety (Nushrat Bharucha), and clearly begins falling for her, Sonu is convinced that she can’t be as nice as she appears, and becomes determined to break them up before wedding bells toll.

It’s an interesting idea, but one that’s powered a few Hollywood rom-coms already, including 2001’s Saving Silverman starring Jason Biggs and Amanda Peet. This desi version sees rivals Sweety and Sonu use everything from sex to an ex to tilt the scales in their favor.

What’s problematic is that we’re already prejudiced against the woman and conditioned to side with the best friend. “Chanakya ki maa hai yeh aurat,” Sonu says of Sweety at one point, referring to the shrewd lengths she will go to in this one-upmanship for a place in Titu’s life. Sonu, however, gets away with all manner of crafty plotting because his actions are for the larger cause of friendship. You see it was never a level playing field to begin with.

Occasionally you wonder if one of two possibilities might, in fact, be the real reason for Sonu going to war on Sweety. Could it be that perhaps he is in love with her himself? Or, more interestingly, that he is in love with Titu? The first option would be too obvious, the second the filmmakers aren’t brave enough to explore. No, what you see is what you get. This is plain ol’ protectiveness. Early on in the film, when confronted with a similar situation, Titu says it to Sonu in so many words: “Yeh tera mother instinct hai mere liye.” 

But if the uproarious laughter from the audience watching the film in my cinema was any indication, they’re not giving it this much thought. The film is consistently funny, with clever lines thrown about at lightning speed. There’s also a big ensemble of supporting characters in the form of Titu’s family. Most memorable of this lot are Alok Nath as Titu’s grandfather Ghasitaram and Virendra Saxena as Ghasitaram’s best friend Lalu. Alok Nath, in particular, is a real hoot, sending up his ‘sanskari’ image, playing a hard-drinking, swearing old man.

Of the principal cast, Kartik Aryan has the tough job of making Sonu a relatable, likeable figure despite his misdeeds. He does a perfectly good job, not least because the script is skewed unfairly in Sonu’s favor. Nushrat Bharucha manages to hold her own, despite little help from the script, and Sunny Singh has a nice presence although he has very little heavy lifting to do.

Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety has a strange kind of earnestness in its juvenile ambitions. I was uncomfortable with its decidedly women-bashing stand, but I enjoyed the film’s silly, relentless humor. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Mayhem in the Big Apple

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:02 pm

February 23, 2018

Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Sonakshi Sinha, Karan Johar, Lara Dutta, Boman Irani, Ritesh Deshmukh, Rana Dagubatti, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sushant Singh Rajput, Salman Khan

Director: Chakri Toleti

Welcome to New York, starring Diljit Dosanjh, Sonakshi Sinha and Karan Johar, isn’t merely a bad film, or even a terrible one. It’s depressing. Not because the plot is all over the place (it is!), not because the actors appear to be doing whatever they like (they are!), and not because it has no vision or ambition (it doesn’t!) – but because it’s an exercise in sheer pointlessness. Really, this film has no reason to exist.

I want to know why someone thought of making this movie. I want to know how they sold the idea to a producer. And how they convinced fairly busy actors to be in it. I suspect the answer to all of those questions is the same: because there was money to be made.

Getting a fat paycheck is always a good reason to take a job. But in the case of this film, it’s fairly evident that money was likely the only motivation for everyone involved. They didn’t even have to break a sweat, or do their job to earn the check; looks like they just had to show up.

This lazy movie piggybacks on the IIFA Awards for its premise. IIFA, as you probably know, is Bollywood’s favorite paid vacation. Each year half the industry is flown to a fancy foreign destination for a weekend of schmoozing with the same people that they schmooze with the rest of the year. Oh yes, they also give out awards at the end. There’s a term for this kind of exercise – it’s called a circle jerk.

The film stars Diljit Dosanjh as Teji Sandhu, a chota mota goonda from Punjab with acting aspirations, and Sonakshi Sinha as Jeenal Patel, a scowling fashion designer. They’re flown to New York to attend the IIFAs as winners of a talent contest, although the truth is that they’re both pretty talentless. They’ve been picked as part of a sabotage plan by Lara Dutta who has an axe to grind with her boss, the organizer of the event, played by Boman Irani.


Meanwhile, getting just as much screen time as the leads, if not more, is filmmaker Karan Johar who’s playing – wait for it – a double role. He is both Karan and Arjun. As Karan, he plays an exaggerated version of himself; a flaky, brands-obsessed, spotlight-hungry, Bollywood insider. As Arjun, he is the pissed-off doppelganger of the famous film director, a dreaded don-like figure who hates Karan Johar, his movies, and everyone who enjoys his movies. Arjun has hatched a plan to kidnap Karan during the IIFAs in New York, which the latter is hosting.

The plot, if you can call it that, allows for all manner of cameos, and everyone from Ritesh Deshmukh and Sushant Singh Rajput to Rana Dagubatti and Khan brothers Salman, Arbaaz and Sohail make walk-on appearances. But nothing – I repeat, nothing – beats the irony of Katrina Kaif dismissing someone as a bad actor, and, in another scene, Aditya Roy Kapur giving acting tips.

But these gifts – unintentional though they might be – are few and far between in a film so severely steeped in stupidity that it brings me back to question how in the world something like this got made in the first place. Did no one read the script? Was there a script at all? How much do you have to pay actors to embarrass themselves in this way?

Welcome to New York is directed by Chakri Toleti who helmed the Tamil and Telugu remakes of A Wednesday, both starring Kamal Haasan. But this film is devoid of any personality or any directorial signature. It is supposedly a comedy but the laughs can be counted on your fingertips, and can be attributed largely to the sharp timing of the film’s leading man Diljit Dosanjh. A scene in which the star-struck Teji runs into Karan Johar in a hotel elevator and insists on playing a round of rapid fire Q&A is terrific.


Karan Johar, for his part, shrewdly makes so many jokes at his own expense you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with more. A scene in which he flips out when someone accidentally stamps his limited-edition designer shoes is very funny.


Not very funny, unfortunately, is Sonakshi Sinha, who comes off exaggerated and out-of-step even in a film of such ridiculously low standards. She spends the bulk of her time on screen contorting her face like Jim Carrey, but with none of the same results.


To add insult to injury the film has been released in 3D. There is nothing in the movie that merits this technology. Neither does it have pop-out sequences, nor is it an immersive kind of story. It’s just one more baffling decision on a lousy, lousy film.

I’m going with one out of five for Welcome To New York. The lure of the Big Apple has never before sounded like a threat.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Anger leads the way

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:59 pm

February 23, 2018

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Samara Weaving, Abbie Cornish

Director: Martin McDonagh

One of the big frontrunners in this year’s Oscar race, anointed with as many as seven nominations, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film unlike anything one might have seen lately. I first caught it at the Zurich Film Festival in September last year, and five months later I’m still dazzled by its brilliance.

Humor – even if it is of the dark kind – isn’t normally what you expect from a film about rape, murder, and grief. But writer-director Martin McDonagh has made it his business to deliver nothing that one ‘normally’ expects. His extraordinary first film In Bruges revealed his skill for flipping in a second between laughs and violence. With this one he raises the stakes and achieves a whole new level of original storytelling and unpredictability.

Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a mother mourning the rape and murder of her teenage daughter seven months ago. The perpetrator was never caught, and the local police seem to have lost interest in the case. But where another person might have been broken by the experience, Mildred is consumed by rage and unwilling to let it go. She rents three billboards on the road leading into town, and on them taunts the chief of police, Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), for not solving the case.

Based on what I just told you, there’s no question that one’s sympathy would rest with Mildred. But this is not a film about easy answers or easy choices. Willoughby, the long-suffering sheriff, is basically a decent guy. The townspeople love him, and he doesn’t have too long to live. Mildred, meanwhile, is all sharp edges and acid tongue. She is angry, full of vengeance, and has a tough relationship with practically everyone including her son.

Now tell me which side you pick?

McDormand is exceptional as the glowering Mildred, whose rage no doubt stems from her unending sorrow. And Harrelson doesn’t miss a beat as the gentle cop who seems to understand her even though she’s driving him nuts. The two of them have an unusual, touching chemistry which makes it all the more hard to take sides.

The third extraordinary performance in the film comes from Sam Rockwell in the role of Jason Dixon, Willoughby’s deputy, and an officer prone to bursts of extreme anger and violent aggression. In one of the film’s most startling but effective scenes, he throws a fellow out of a second-floor window for defying him. But the film gives us a good look at Dixon; we see him alone at home with his domineering mother, we see how desperately he wants to please his boss, and somehow we’re able to understand him.

There’s a lot going on in this film, and you never know what to expect. There’s humor – big doses of profanity-laced black humor – pathos, of course, and shocking acts of cruelty and violence. It’s a delicious Molotov cocktail that McDonagh whips up, and leaves you to savor. The fine ensemble includes Peter Dinklage as the town dwarf who’s got a crush on Mildred, John Hawkes as her abusive ex-husband, and Lucas Hedges as her bullied son.


The glue that binds everything together is McDormand, who delivers what many are calling her best performance since 1996’s Fargo for which she won an Oscar. There’s a very good chance she’ll pick up her second one this year.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, some complicated racial politics notwithstanding, is a clever, gripping film that you do not want to miss. I’m going with four and a half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)


February 16, 2018

Making space

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 12:40 pm

February 16, 2018

Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Angira Dhar, Alankrita Sahai, Ratna Pathak-Shah, Supriya Pathak, Raghubir Yadav, Brijendra Kala, Arunoday Singh

Director: Anand Tiwari

Love Per Square Foot, among the first Netflix Original films from India, is an urban romantic comedy set around a premise that’s instantly relatable – the dream and the desperation to possess one’s own home.

That dream seems especially elusive in a city like Mumbai where hawking both your kidneys might not cover the down payment on a new construction. This sharply observed middle class story is powered by laugh-out-loud humor and winning performances from its ensemble of terrific actors.

Vicky Kaushal plays Sanjay Chaturvedi, a software engineer, and the son of a railway announcer who’s grown up in matchbox-sized government flats across Mumbai, but who’s hoping to get a loan approved so he can buy his own place. Karina D’souza (Angira Dhar) lives with her mother in a crumbling flat, but is dreading the thought of moving in with her boyfriend’s family after marriage.

Sanjay and Karina barely know each other when they learn about a special housing scheme for couples, but decide to apply for it anyway, each recognizing that it might be the only shot he or she has at owning their own place.

Directed by Anand Tiwari and written by Asif Ali Baig, Sumeet Vyas, and Tiwari himself, the film makes interesting observations about modern-day relationships, and examines concepts of love, companionship and compromise as seen through the eyes of the younger generation. Is there any future for a relationship that isn’t founded on love, but on an arrangement of convenience?

Much of the film coasts along nicely on the strength of the humour embedded in the writing. But this is a Bollywood romantic comedy so it hits formulaic, predictable notes in its second half, and feels especially stretched at a running time of nearly two hours and fifteen minutes. A subplot involving Sanjay’s relationship with his female boss is played for laughs, but becomes progressively silly and unconvincing. Cultural clashes between Sanjay’s Hindu family and Karina’s Christian side take up much of the film’s final act but not a lot of it feels particularly fresh.

It’s a good thing the filmmakers assemble a cast of solid supporting actors to tide over the clunky bits. Ratna Pathak Shah is terrific as Karina’s permanently worrying mother Blossom, and Raghubir Yadav and Supriya Pathak bring heft as Sanjay’s parents. There’s also Brijendra Kala in a small role as a railway employee, and he’s expectedly wonderful, stealing both scenes that he appears in.

The principals too, are in good form. Newcomer Angira Dhar, and especially Vicky Kaushal have unmistakable confidence and the sort of natural charm that keeps you invested in their characters even when the plotting becomes puerile.

One of the joys of this film is its working-class, lived-in feel of Mumbai, even if the ease with which the protagonists land their dream home is a bit of a stretch. For the most part, Love Per Square Foot is funny, inoffensive, and the kind of movie that’s made for a cozy night in.

I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Water tight!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:27 pm

February 16, 2018

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins

Director: Guillermo del Toro

There is no one quite like Guillermo del Toro, a director who conjures up worlds more vivid than the fantasy of our dreams, a filmmaker who re-imagines traditional fairy tales and weaves them into unforgettable stories. The Shape of Water is his latest cinematic adventure, depicting a beautiful romance between an aquatic man and a mute woman.

I mention romance but there are so many layers to this film. As much as there is love, del Toro also addresses prejudices here, of so many different kinds. This may be a film set in the 1960s, but The Shape of Water advocates empathy, a sentiment clearly lacking today.

The story has echoes of Beauty and the Beast. Sally Hawkins plays Eliza, a janitor in a government scientific facility. Eliza is mute, but devours sound through movies and music. It’s pertinent that her only two friends – her gay neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer) – are both loquacious and can talk up a storm.

Yet Eliza truly begins to communicate when she encounters the half fish-half man creature retrieved from the Amazon. Brought to the facility, he is a top secret. After all this is the Cold War era and he could be useful against the Russians in the race to send him to space. Other players in this phantasmagorical story are Michael Stuhlbarg in the role of a sympathetic scientist at the facility, and Michael Shannon as the villain, Strickland, who tortures the ‘aqua man’, determined to quell his spirit.

Despite all odds, Eliza and the creature fall in love. It’s a love that develops over boiled eggs, music, and compassion. None of this feels awkward; del Toro’s narrative is so graceful and fluid. But Strickland – and danger — is never far behind.

This is a beautiful, magical, visual film that appeals as much to the eye as it does to the heart. The sight of a room filled with water in one incredible scene will linger in your mind.

The Shape of Water has received much Oscar love, leading with 13 nominations including Best Picture, Director and Actress for Sally Hawkins, who literally floats above the material. Hawkins’s performance is sublime and worthy of a watch all on its own.

It’s hard to define The Shape of Water — after all, does it really have a shape? del Toro uses it as an allegory to love. It isn’t something that can be contained within a shape. Instead allow love, and this film, to envelop you like water. I’m going with four out of five for this incredible film.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

February 9, 2018

Got the message!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:13 pm

February 09, 2018

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor

Director: R Balki

How do you make a mainstream film with a message about menstrual hygiene? Simple. If you’re Akshay Kumar, you stick to the template of your last hit – a film with a message about the hazards of open defecation.

Like Toilet Ek Prem Katha, Akshay’s latest, Pad Man, is about the great lengths a loving husband will go to for the happiness and the health of his wife. Like that film it employs humor to ease the fuss around age-old taboos, and as it turns out, it suffers from the same malaise that crippled Toilet – it’s well intentioned but let down by clunky execution.

Which is a shame. Because Pad Man, directed and co-written by R Balki, deserves credit for addressing a subject that Indians find even harder to talk about than sauch and sandas.

Lakshmikant Chauhan, a humble mechanic in a small town in Madhya Pradesh, becomes obsessed with finding an affordable alternate to the expensive sanitary pads available in medical shops when he learns about the health risks posed by the scraps of cloth his wife reuses every month. Played by the film’s leading man this character is based on Arunachalam Muruganantham, the country’s real ‘Menstrual Man’ from Coimbatore, a school-dropout who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine, and who is credited with creating awareness about menstrual hygiene in rural India.

Akshay plays him as a man possessed. Whose every waking moment is spent thinking of, or talking about sanitary pads, or assembling his own home-made versions. Given the stigma and the embarrassment attached to menstruation, his single-minded obsession earns him the contempt of his townsfolk. The word ‘sharm’ is bandied about countless times by his hapless wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte), who can’t understand why he won’t just let it go. “Aurat ke pairon ke beech kyon phansi hai aapki jaan?” she asks him, confused, ashamed and upset, all at once.

There is no question that Pad Man tells an inspirational story that deserves to be heard. The statistics around menstruation are alarming; according to the film, only 12 per cent of the female population in India uses sanitary napkins, the rest likely resort to options that make them susceptible to fatal infections. Any film that ‘mainstreams’ this conversation – especially one starring a big Bollywood actor – is worthy of praise. But Pad Man quickly becomes something between a Public Service Advertisement and an MBA course case study. If Toilet Ek Prem Katha shrewdly attached itself to the Prime Minister’s beloved Swachh Bharat campaign, then this film – which shows in minute detail how our protagonist assembled his revolutionizing sanitary pad machine – fits nicely with the Make in India initiative. At one point, a superstar even makes a cameo to deliver a speech on the innovative spirit of Indians.

The writing, by Balki and Swanand Kirkire, starts out sharp and funny, but quickly becomes heavy-handed and repetitive. Sonam Kapoor’s character Pari, a management student and an expert tabla player who helps Lakshmi realize his dream, seems to have been created only for politically correct reasons. But then an awkward romantic angle in the film’s final act undoes its own design.

All of this is especially frustrating, because there’s so much to appreciate in the film. I found myself fully invested in the relationship between Akshay and Radhika’s characters because both actors bring genuine heartfelt emotion to their scenes together. Akshay plays a refreshingly progressive man in an orthodox town, and he invests Lakshmi with winning earnestness. His big speech at the United Nations is funny and charming, although a bit long.

In the end Pad Man is admirable and has its heart in the right place, but it might have benefitted from a less sermonizing tone. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Eyes on the prize

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 4:32 pm

Boy and the World, a charming animation film from Brazil that was nominated for an Academy Award two years ago, takes us inside the head of a small child; it gives us a view of the world through his innocent eyes.

This simple, mostly hand-drawn feature directed by Alè Abreu looks nothing like the slick, sophisticated films from Disney and Pixar, but you’ll be happy to know it’s as emotionally engaging as the best of those films.

It tells the story of a pint-sized boy, living happily on a farm, which is as much of the world he knows. When his father leaves for the big city, the boy decides to follow him, thus beginning an adventure in which he finds his view of the world expanding rapidly.

The film’s anti-capitalism message, its critique of environmental damage, and its theme – the loss of innocence – aren’t new to the animation genre, yet Abreu reaches for a purity and simplicity that makes the tale genuinely affecting. The animation is lovely: clean, basic, and filled with aching, gorgeous color. It’s set to a pulsating soundtrack that more than makes up for the practically wordless script.

But at the heart of the film, is the boy himself. Our protagonist, the little guy in the striped shirt, whose face resembles a button with two long, slit-like holes for eyes. It’s through those eyes – full of awe, surprise, and horror – that we witness the harshness of the modern world.

It’s likely that the film’s socioeconomic subtext will go above the heads of very young viewers, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this kaleidoscopic odyssey that somehow manages to pierce its way into your heart and make you care.

The Boy and the World is wonderfully strange, and yet has so much to say of such great value. Make time for this little gem. I think you’ll enjoy it.


February 2, 2018

Dressed to skill

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 4:00 pm

February 02, 2018

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Any film that features what might be the last performance of Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly worth one’s time. If that film happens to be written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – he of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master – you know you’re in for what will likely be an especially rewarding experience.

Phantom Thread marks the second collaboration between actor and filmmaker after 2007’s There Will Be Blood, for which Day-Lewis won the second of his three Oscars. In this movie he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer to the rich and famous in 1950s London, and an obsessive creature of habit whose carefully observed life routine is turned upside down with the arrival of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a bashful young waitress he meets and takes as his romantic partner and muse.

The beauty of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films is that they can’t be distilled down to a single sentence for the purpose of explaining what they’re about. His best work is complex and layered. And Phantom Thread is no exception.

Reynolds is reticent, but also rigid and unwavering in his demand for structure and routine in his life. You could drive him up the wall if you scraped butter across your toast too long at breakfast, or poured coffee in a way that distracted him. Day-Lewis is nothing short of sublime as the humorless dressman, and Krieps is a revelation as the country girl who must not be underestimated. The filmmaker works up a mood of great tension like in a terrific dinner scene between Reynolds and Alma that quickly escalates from slow-burning suspense to intense melodrama.

The other standout performance is by Lesley Manville who plays Reynolds’ quietly terrifying sister and business partner Cyril, an unshakeable presence in his life, committed to making sure he has what he needs – while taking care of what he doesn’t – to function effectively.

The film is essentially a three-hander, and it coasts along nicely as a romantic drama with an undercurrent of comedy, until it veers off in a completely unpredictable but surprisingly delicious direction. There’s a chance you might be conflicted about the ending – as I was – but spend some time thinking about it and I think you’ll appreciate the perverse sort of ‘happy ending’ Anderson delivers to his protagonists.

Like his best films, Phantom Thread is visually sumptuous and elegantly staged. Its potency, however, rests in the relentless power play between its characters. Daniel Day-Lewis announced last year that this would be his last film; that he was retiring from acting. If that is indeed true, it would be fair to say he’s gone out with a bang. In his hands, Reynolds is a fascinating figure; an eccentric, entitled artiste that you can’t take your eyes off.

I’m going with four out of five for Phantom Thread. It’s many things at once. Sit back and let the film work its unique charm.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

A life in pictures

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 12:20 pm

Few filmmakers have married artistic ambition with commercial success in the way that Steven Spielberg has. He is both an Oscar-winning director, and the man credited with inventing the modern blockbuster. He has given us beautiful, deeply affecting tales about the innocence of childhood, and handled stories about serious world events with equal ease. Such is the influence he wields on the cinematic landscape that the words, “a Steven Spielberg film” have come to represent a genre unto itself.

Titled, quite simply, Spielberg, this 2017 HBO documentary directed by Susan Lacy is as much a celebration of the filmmaker’s career as it is an intensely personal portrait of the man. There are interviews with his colleagues, his family, and critics that help understand how he’s gone on to leave such an enormous footprint on popular culture. But it’s the refreshingly candid conversations with Spielberg himself that are key to recognizing how much of his childhood and early life he poured into his movies.

From channeling his memories of being bullied on the schoolyard into his first TV movie Duel, to drawing on his feelings towards his parents’ messy divorce for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Spielberg is surprisingly forthcoming on private matters. He admits he was a scared child, but also shares the memory of trapping his sisters in a closet with a fake skull and chuckling as they begged to be let out.

For the cinephiles it’s a virtual trip down memory lane as Spielberg identifies Lawrence of Arabia as one of the earliest films that stoked his love for the movies, then discusses in some detail the experience of making his initial films…including the troubled production of Jaws, navigating nascent special effects for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the devastating failure of 1941.

If you’re s Spielberg nut, you already know some of these stories but there’s a thrill in listening to him tell them. He admits he just didn’t have what it needed to deep-dive into the lesbian relationship in The Color Purple, and discusses why Schindler’s List meant so much to him, before ruminating on themes of democracy and moral integrity that drove his desire to make Lincoln and Bridge of Spies.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the documentary begins to drag a little as it hits the halfway mark, and some of Spielberg’s later films become the casualty as a result. I know I’d have loved to hear more about some of his lesser films and the criticism they received, but there’s not a lot of that to be found here.

Nevertheless there’s a lot to take in, but with Spielberg continuing to make movies, the documentary does feel a tad incomplete. (Naturally there’s no mention of The Post, which came out after the documentary had been produced.) Still it’s a very worthy reference guide for fans of American cinema as it attempts to unravel the mind and the heart of one of its most popular filmmakers.

(Spielberg is currently available to stream on Hotstar)



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