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

November 29, 2018

Victory of vision

Filed under: Our FIlms,Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:45 pm

November 29, 2018

Cast: Rajnikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Adil Hussain, Sudhanshu Pandey, Kalabhavan Shajohn

Director: S Shankar

In 2.0, director Shankar marries social message with grandiose tentpole filmmaking, and the result is an overlong, seldom subtle but always watchable movie that knows its strengths and plays to them.

A direct sequel to 2010’s Enthiran (aka Robot), the new film builds on what was promising the last time around and gives us more of it. But plot, story, and character development are sacrificed at the altar of spectacle.

Rajnikanth reprises his role as genius scientist Dr Vaseegaran who created a lookalike robot Chitti that went rogue and was destroyed at the end of the last film. Since then, peace has returned to the world as we know it…until, early on in the new film, mobile phones start flying out of people’s hands, mobile towers are mysteriously destroyed, and a giant bird made out of cell phones shows up out of nowhere to wreak havoc. As you’d know if you’ve seen the trailer, Vaseegaran must reassemble and resurrect Chitti to save the day.

There’s a lot going on in 2.0 but at its core this is Shankar – the visionary filmmaker behind Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan and Sivaji – taking a stab at a true-blue Hollywood-style blockbuster. The filmmaker and his team of technicians craft some extraordinary set pieces that are realized with the help of stunning VFX. The climax, which unfolds in a sprawling sports stadium, is especially jaw dropping as Transformers-sized avatars of Chitti and the film’s bad guy, mutant bird-lover Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar), go up against each other in a thrilling fight to the finish. If there was ever a film that benefited from being shot in immersive 3D, it’s this one.

As is frequently the case with action blockbuster films the writing is lazy and predictable. The first half of 2.0 is basically set up for the big clash between hero and villain, but your patience will wear thin even before Akshay Kumar’s ‘bird man’ character is properly introduced. Amy Jackson, cast as a humanoid robot named Nila, is the best joke in this film, albeit unintentional. She has supposedly been programmed to be intelligent but she is seldom required to do more than flutter her lashes and pucker her lips. At least Aishwarya Rai was key to the central conflict of the earlier film.

That film explored interesting ideas like what might happen if a machine acquired feelings, and the classic Frankenstein’s monster scenario of the creation turning on its creator. This film asks that we ruminate on our troubling dependence on cell phones, and the effects of mobile tower radiation on the environment and especially on birds. You didn’t think Shankar would leave out his pet theme – vigilantism – did you? That box is ticked too, as we find out through exhausting flashbacks the reasons behind our villain’s disappointment in the human world.

Rajni, who appears in the film in multiple avatars, is clearly having a good time. The superstar sportingly fulfills the sometimes bizarre requirements of the script with the ease and the uninhibitedness of a pro. Akshay Kumar in elaborate makeovers brings real thrill to the proceedings, proving to be exactly the formidable nemesis that a film of this kind needed.

Sure 2.0 is mostly humorless and doesn’t have the lightness of touch that it could’ve done with. But the action, the VFX, and the sheer spectacle on display allow me to forgive many of its faults. Shortcomings notwithstanding, it is the victory of vision. Shankar has shown us that slick special effects blockbusters are very much within our grasp.

I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

November 17, 2018

Queen of Hearts!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:16 am

November 16, 2018

Cast: Rami Malek, Ben Hardy, Mike Myers, Joseph Mazzello, Gwilym Lee, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech

Director: Bryan Singer

In a touching scene in Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen drummer Roger Taylor says to the band’s lead singer, “Freddie, you’re a legend.” The band members – lead guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon, and Taylor – have just learnt the news from Freddie Mercury that he has AIDS. This is the mid-eighties and Freddie knows he is dying. He will have no sympathy, but he will take a hug from his band of brothers. Taylor was right – Freddie Mercury was a legend, a voice like no other. The film, Bohemian Rhapsody recreates the musical phenomenon of Queen through the life of its lead singer.

Perhaps you’re a devoted Queen fan, or maybe you only know Freddie as that Parsi boy who became a musical superstar. It doesn’t matter – once the music takes over in the film, there’s no stopping it. You’re gonna have a good time – just like Freddie sang.

In fact, the film flags when it gets into the biopic. This is standard vanilla life-story, with highs and lows, the mapping of Freddie and Queen’s meteoric rise, their recording of iconic songs like Another One Bites The Dust and Bohemian Rhapsody, the insecurities, the fights, and Freddie’s aching loneliness. Queen proudly called themselves a band of misfits for misfits, and the film dutifully recounts Freddie’s struggles to find himself.

The first half of the film is slow to take flight, especially the stilted scenes between Freddie, born Farrokh Balsara, and his family. But the movie gets wings as it gets into the tender relationship between Freddie, who was gay, and the love of his life, pretty store-clerk Mary Austin. Queen’s band members, all played spot-on, bring forth the camaraderie and wonderful alchemy between the four. This band loved each other and it showed, even in their fights.

Ultimately, Bohemian Rhapsody is leading man Rami Malek’s inspiring solo. His fake teeth might distract you, but Malek effectively captures Freddie’s pain and his need to belong. He also channels the strut, the flamboyance and the showmanship with flair.

The film gives directing credit to Bryan Singer, but he was sacked and replaced by Dexter Fletcher halfway through production. Never mind that – the movie soars with Queen’s spectacular reunion on stage for the famous Live Aid benefit concert in 1985. Cleverly the songs are accompanied by lyrics on screen so there’s a good chance your theatre might turn into a sing-along experience if there are enough fans in attendance.

I’m going with three out of five for Bohemian Rhapsody. The storytelling may not have the operatic quality of Queen’s music or the unforgettable notes of Freddie’s voice, but as a film, this is easy come, easy go.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Kid (un)friendly

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 12:00 am

November 16, 2018

Cast: Myra Vishwakarma

Director: Vinod Kapri

Pihu, a film about a two-year-old girl tottering about unsupervised in a high-rise apartment, appears to have been made specifically with the intention of traumatising the viewer. This is no cutesy Home Alone-style comedy; this is a horror film.

Writer-director Vinod Kapri turns an empty flat into a potential minefield. Everyday appliances like a steam iron, a faucet, a microwave, and a cooking range represent life-threatening risks as the toddler in question – alone, frightened, bored, hungry, confused – crawls around desperately, turning knobs, pushing switches, and dropping things, oblivious to the possible consequences. Over the course of 93 minutes, the child is repeatedly put in harm’s way, and you spend the bulk of the film hoping she comes away unharmed. When she climbs the railing of the balcony, her doll dangling over the edge, your heart is in your mouth.

It’s easy to draw parallels between Pihu and last year’s Trapped, in which Rajkummar Rao struggled to find ingenious ways to break out of a locked flat. But while that character’s brushes with near-death, his fight for survival might be viewed as thrilling, the same comes off as unmistakably exploitative in the case of an innocent, helpless child. It’s also a shame that the scenarios quickly become repetitive because the script runs out of ideas early on.

Perhaps the only reason you stay with the film until the end is little Myra Vishwakarma in the role of Pihu, who doesn’t betray a hint of self-consciousness in front of the camera. It would be a stretch to call it a performance, but Myra’s natural delivery and responses to situations keep you invested even when the film doesn’t.

But the movie doesn’t ultimately work because there’s no point to it. It’s neither a compelling cautionary tale about bad parenting or a sufficiently responsible thriller. The film revels in making you flinch and squirm and cringe. That’s just mean-spirited. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18

November 8, 2018

Sinking ship

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

November 08, 2018

Cast: Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina Kaif, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, Lloyd Owen

Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya

Thugs of Hindostan is a joyless slog in the guise of a movie. Not every film needs to be uplifting, inspiring, or even fun. But watching a movie shouldn’t feel like you’re serving a jail term either.

It’s a real shame because Thugs seemed to have all the ingredients for a swashbuckling adventure. There’s a small bunch of rebels taking down the Goliath-like villain, there’s thrilling action on the high seas, a clutch of decent songs, and of course, the casting of two stalwarts – Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan – together on screen for the first time.

The problem is that it’s all held together by a moth-eaten script from some 70s vault. This is trite, outdated plotting; a revenge saga that never lifts off the ground.

Set in the 18th century, Thugs is about a gang of rebels, led by the heroic Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan), trying to win back their kingdom of Raunakpur from the East India Company. Khudabaksh and his army go by the name Azad, which means the word is bandied about dozens of times to milk the patriotism angle. Khudabaksh is also the guardian to the heiress of the Raunakpur throne, Princess Safira (Fatima Sana Shaikh), who is tormented by the brutal way her family was killed by ruthless British officer Clive (Lloyd Owen).

Frankly we’re equally tormented by the way Clive and the other British officers murder the Hindi dialogues. For some reason they insist on speaking in mangled Hindi even among themselves, instead of switching to English.

Into this mix, writer-director Vijay Krishna Acharya throws the film’s most colourful character, Firangi Mallah (Aamir Khan). He’s a duplicitous double-crossing rogue; a charming opportunist who cons people for a living. The British hire him to infiltrate the rebel group, and we’re never quite sure which side he’s on.

In a corny scene we watch as the righteous Khudabaksh rubs off on Firangi while convincing him to till a barren land with him, planting seeds of hope. The film in fact is riddled with corny bits involving protection bracelets, poisonous laddoos, and a falcon (perhaps loaned from a Sooraj Barjatya set) that not only appeals to a character to make the right decision, but on another occasion, wisely drops the bracelet into the correct hands.

All of this unfolds over an exhausting 2 hours and 44 minutes. It’s a good thing the action scenes are nicely mounted and executed, especially the ones in which rival ships go to war on the sea. An early sequence in which a Trojan horse is smuggled onto a ship is especially impressive.

But for the most part Thugs of Hindostan is a humourless, solemn affair. Barring Firangi, the other characters are a sullen lot that sport long faces as if they were fed sour lemons all their life. Fatima Sana Shaikh is blank in the emotional scenes, but fares better when she’s shooting arrows or landing blows in the action portions. Katrina Kaif, who plays a dancer named Surayya, shows up for precisely three inconsequential scenes. Her chief job here is to writhe around on the floor for two songs.

Amitabh Bachchan, his expressions hidden under a mound of facial hair and long tresses, performs the action bits convincingly, but is barely challenged in a role that doesn’t require him to utter his first words until nearly an hour into the film.

It’s only Aamir Khan who appears to be having any fun around here. His constantly jabbering Firangi gets the best lines in the film, and the actor’s inherent charm lifts this anti-hero off the page, although after Lagaan and Mangal Pandey it’s getting a little tiring watching him go up against the British again.

The biggest disappointment, without question, is the wasted opportunity of a plot that squanders the possible chemistry between Bachchan and Khan. For that we’ll just have to wait until a better film comes along.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Thugs of Hindostan. It doffs its hat to everything from Kranti to Pirates of the Caribbean, but this ship hits the iceberg early on in its journey.

(This review first aired on CNN News18

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