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

September 25, 2009

An affair to remember

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:52 pm

September 25, 2009

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz

Director: Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a likeable enough romantic-comedy filmed in the gorgeous Spanish city referred to in the movie’s title.

Rebecca Hall stars as the prudish Vicky, and Scarlett Johansson as her saucy best friend Cristina. The girls head to Barcelona for the summer, where they’re approached by hunky Spanish artist Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem) who announces his desire to whisk them off for a weekend in which the three of them will eat, drink, feast on art, and make love.

Vicky, who is sensible and practical and engaged already, scoffs at the proposal. Cristina, on the other hand, always up for adventure, jumps at it. Expectedly, both girls fall for him. But before you can say the word ‘love-triangle’, in walks Juan’s eccentric ex-wife Maria Elena (played by Penelope Cruz), and the sexual permutations become even more complicated.

Held together by a witty script that essentially explores the mystery of what makes men and women tick, both in good times and bad, the film has a pleasing pace, and comes packed with the kind of smart dialogue you’ve come to expect from a Woody Allen picture.

One of my favourite lines is delivered by Cristina who’s so impatient about getting under she sheets with Juan Antonio that she exasperatedly tells him: “If you don’t start undressing me soon, this is going to turn into a panel discussion.”

The film, however, belongs to Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, whose scenes together are the best here. Watching them trade barbs in Spanish is literally akin to watching sparks fly.

Cruz won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in this film, and it’s not hard to see why. She switches effortlessly between Spanish and English, she has an untamed ferociousness in her scenes with Bardem, and when she kisses Scarlett Johansson you’ll have to stop yourself from climbing up on your seat for a better view. Cruz turns Maria Elena into the most exciting character you’ve seen on screen in a long time.

Lusciously photographed,Love it may not be one of Woody Allen’s finest films. But it’s very watchable nevertheless.

Three out of five for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This is one sexy little cracker you don’t want to miss.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Happy homecoming

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:44 pm

September 25, 2009

Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Maggie Gylenhaal

Director: Sam Mendes

Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes is a sweet little film about a happy but more-or-less unprepared couple awaiting the birth of their first child. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph star as Burt and Verona, unmarried thirty somethings who’ve settled down within a short distance of Burt’s parents, only to discover that the selfish grandparents-to-be are selling the house and relocating to Belgium.

No reason for Burt and Verona to live in Colorado anymore, so they decide to go on a tour of friends and relatives across North America, in search of the perfect place to raise their unborn kid.

A delicate balance between a comedy and a poignant drama, Away We Go is structured as a road movie, with much of the film’s charm derived from the chemistry between the leads who learn important life-lessons at every stop they make.

There are laughs to be had from such caricaturish but comical characters as the loud-mouthed monster-mother (played by Allison Janney) and her understandably dysfunctional family in Arizona, and the New Age feminist academic (played by Maggie Gylenhaal) and her similarly self-righteous husband in Wisconsin.

It’s the sentimental interludes that stick out it in this film – like that silly scene in Tuscon between Verona and her sister in a bathtub, in which we learn that she hasn’t yet come to terms with her parents’ death. Or that scene in a Montreal nightclub in which their friends, a seemingly perfect couple, reveal to Burt and Verona the chink in their otherwise perfect lives.

In the end though, the film is a warm, old-fashioned morality tale about the importance of family and home; about raising one’s kids in this mad, mad world, and about expressing your feelings.

I’m going with three out of five for Away We Go; it’s a good film about good people. Not nearly as smart as the director’s previous films – Revolutionary Road and American Beauty, which dealt with the breakdown of the American family – but an inspiring and engaging watch nonetheless.

Watch it at after a long, tiring day at work; you’ll find it’s inherently comforting.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

September 18, 2009

Fight club

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:33 pm

September 18, 2009

Cast: Salman Khan, Ayesha Takia, Prakash Raj, Mahesh Manjrekar

Director: Prabhu Deva

Salman Khan-starrer Wanted is a film that makes no bones, no pretences about the fact that it’ll do anything to get a reaction out of you. It’s loud, vulgar, offensive, violent, cold-blooded, dumb, and silly. But that’s all part of the design.

Salman stars as a glum hitman-for-hire named Radhe who, for the right price, will bump off rival gang-members like he’s snapping twigs. Radhe can take as many as 10 to 12 scoundrels at a time; he dodges bullets, leaps across scaffoldings, and smashes through glass panes without so much as a scratch. In between such nefarious activities, Radhe’s eyes fall on a middle-class girl named Janhavi (played by Ayesha Takia), who is drawn to his rakish charm.

The city, meanwhile, is gripped by a surge of crime; rival gangs attack each other in broad daylight, cops are mixed with crooks, and the body count keeps rising. When criminal kingpin, and head of the gang that Radhe works for, Gani (played by Tamil actor Prakash Raj) arrives from his secret hideout in the far East, hoping to settle scores with a friend-turned-foe, the police swings into action. Even as Janhavi fobs off the advances of a lecherous, corrupt cop (played by Mahesh Manjrekar), a sudden unexpected twist takes everyone by surprise.

A shrewd, old-fashioned entertainer that plays to the galleries, Wanted is exaggerated and formulaic, but relies squarely on the charm of its leading man to pull off its over-the-top tone.

The good news is, Salman Khan appears to be having a rollicking good time. He throws himself completely into the film’s visceral action portions, which include scenes of gruesome stabbings, bone-crunching freefalls and ear-drum splitting shootouts. He even puts his casual, laidback style of dialogue delivery to good use in the film’s romantic and comic scenes.

There’s a running joke in the film that involves Ayesha Takia’s character Janhavi and her pasta-containing lunchbox which she never seems to offer Radhe. Watch him in the scene at a railway platform where he finally confronts her for never sharing her pasta with him. Rare moments like these have you guffawing in your seat.

Where Wanted slips is in its pacing. While early portions of the film move at a breakneck speed, allowing you little time to even ponder the ridiculousness of what’s going on, the film’s second half drags on and on, leaving you bored and exhausted by the time the end credits finally roll.

Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn with Ghajini, but that film – despite its similarly violent premise – had a coherent plot at its core. Wanted like I told you earlier, doesn’t even pretend to make sense.

Directed by ace choreographer Prabhu Deva, Wanted is a remake of his Tamil film, Pokiri, which was itself adapted from a Telugu original. The Hindi version, much like the previous films, goes for broad humour and cheap thrills. At times downright stupid and unapologetically excessive, Wanted is a B-grade crowd-pleaser that knows exactly who its audience is.

The film is a showcase not so much for Salman’s acting, but for his scorching screen-presence and his infectious enthusiasm for dancing. Film after film the actor has been accused of sleepwalking through his roles; this time he’s wide awake and having a blast.

For die-hard fans of the star who don’t have a problem with extreme violence and juvenile comedy, this might be a treat. For others though, it’s strictly average entertainment.

I’m going with two out of five for Prabhu Deva’s Wanted. Carry cotton for your ears and a Crocin for the headache.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Over and out!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:14 pm

September 18, 2009

Cast: Rani Mukherjee, Shahid Kapoor

Director: Anurag Singh

Dil Bole Hadippa, produced by Bollywood’s ‘I-Proud-To-Be-A-Punjabi’ film studio, Yash Raj Films, is an unimaginative and thoroughly boring comedy starring Rani Mukherjee as Veera, a pretty Punjabi kudi in Amritsar who is so nuts about cricket, she disguises herself as a man to join a local cricket team. Shahid Kapoor stars as Rohan, son of the team’s owner, and a county cricket player in England, who agrees to come down and coach his dad’s team so they have better chances of winning an annual match against the Pakistani side.

Expect the predictable locker room hiccups, the obligatory romance between Rohan and Veera, the subsequent revelation that the ace batsman in their team is actually a woman, and eventually an alls-well-that-ends-well climax.

Shamelessly ripped off from the 2006 Hollywood rom-com She’s The Man, the plot of first-time director Anurag Singh’s Dil Bole Hadippa is full of holes. Its formulaic screenplay is packed with clichés and stereotypes that you’ve seen dozens of times before in films produced by the same banner. The never-ending references to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the patriotic clap-traps, and those overused Punjabi lines – very little is original here.

The film’s only bright spark is that feisty performance by Rani Mukherjee, especially in her sardar avatar. The actress lets herself go with an unhinged, uninhibited turn that showcases her fearlessness as a performer. It’s a shame she’s trapped in a meaningless, embarrassment of a film like this that does no justice to her talent.

Dil Bole Hadippa is about its sets and costumes and choreography; the emotions are superficial, its soul hard to find. The film bears no directorial signature; it’s really a homogenised Yash Raj product that borrows its moments from Chak De India and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi to name just two films.

Cheesy starlets like Sherlyn Chopra and Rakhi Sawant are thrown into the mix for cheap laughs, and it even takes up the equal-opportunity issue between men and women in cricket, just in case you thought the film was becoming too trivial.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Anurag Singh’s Dil Bole Hadippa; it’s a crushing bore of a film that’s neither thrilling in its cricket scenes, nor entertaining in its humour. What’s it going to take to expect some originality and inventiveness from one of the biggest players in Bollywood?

To be honest, dil bole sudharjaa!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Top of the world!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:05 pm

September 18, 2009

Cast: Voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai

Director: Pete Docter

The new Pixar offering Up, released both in 3D and 2D, blends inventive animation with old-fashioned values to deliver a dazzling and exhilarating family adventure that is impossible not to love.

The film’s hero, Carl Fredricksen, is a grumpy seventy-something year-old with creaking bones, who we first meet at the age of eight as a geeky kid with a yen for adventure. When little Carl meets Ellie, a sprightly young girl with exactly the same passions, they form a bond. In a long, wordless montage, we see their lives play out. They dream of all the real-life adventures they’ll have when they grow up; they marry and settle into their home; life takes over and the money they’re saving for their dream-trip to Paradise Falls in South America gets spent in fixing their home. Ellie passes eventually, and Carl is left alone.

Returning to present day, the film follows Carl as he decides to escape eviction and subsequent relocation to an old-age home by planning a daring escape. Tying thousands of colourful helium balloons to his beloved house, he takes off for Paradise Falls, hoping to have the kind of adventure Ellie and he always dreamed of.

There’s just one problem though, Carl discovers – an eight-year-old boy-scout Russel has joined him on this trip. Over-enthusiastic and persistent, Russel is the perfect foil for Carl’s crankiness. Together they head out for an adventure neither of them had predicted. An adventure that involves talking dogs, a rare multicoloured bird who loves chocolate, and Carl’s childhood hero who turns on them.

Rich in colour and minutely detailed, Up is a consummate visual extravaganza that’s grounded in real emotion. Like the best Pixar films, this one too subtly touches upon several important themes – the frailties of our heroes, preservation of our wildlife, and the importance of friendship over materialistic attachments.

It’s a film for adults and children alike, who take away different things from the experience, but who will be united in their sheer excitement over the spectacle of this unlikely adventure.

I’m going with four out of five and two big thumbs-up for Up; a simple enough entertainer that doesn’t have to try too hard to woo you.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

September 11, 2009

Broken promises

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:48 pm

September 11, 2009

Cast: Bobby Deol, Kangana Ranaut, Dwij Yadav

Director: Samir Karnik

Vaada Raha, directed by Samir Karnik is a cheesy, emotionally manipulative, sob-saga that doesn’t even deserve a straight-to-television release.

Bobby Deol plays genius surgeon Duke Chawla, who becomes paralysed neck down in a road accident, and is subsequently dumped by his fiancée (played by Kangana Ranaut), for a reason so bizarre, you have to see it to believe it. Languishing in a hospital, angry and overcome with despair, he at first rejects the overtures of friendly kid Roshan (played by Dwij Yadav), the resident smart-alec in the place. The little tyke, however, wins our hero’s affections and motivates him to recover speedily, even as the boy succumbs to his own fatal condition eventually, which he’s always kept hidden from Duke.

Sickeningly sentimental, Vaada Raha is full of logical loopholes and is directed with a loose hand by Karnik, who gives us some of the most ridiculous scenes you can think of, including one in which Duke tries to end his life by chewing his IV tubes, and another one in which he supervises a heart surgery from his hospital bed.

The film is packed with silly stereotypes like faithful dog who won’t eat till his master does, cheery hospital staff straight out of a Sooraj Barjatya film, and happy patients who don’t seem to ever want to leave the hospital at all.

Bobby Deol is woefully out of his depth here, failing to arouse any sympathy for his character, not least because he repeats his three stock expressions in every other scene. And we thought it was his lower-body that he couldn’t move!

Child actor Dwij Yadav, who starred in Karnik’s Nanhe Jaisalmer and Heroes previously, has an engaging presence, but trapped in a one-dimensional role here, he gets annoying as the precocious brat.

The blame for this rotten film, however, must be placed squarely on the shoulders of director Samir Karnik who has no concern for even basic details like the geography of his story. The film’s opening-credits sequence in which Bobby cycles down a promenade against an azure blue sea looks like it’s been shot in the South of France; there’s a subsequent cut-away of New York’s Times Square when Bobby and his doctor buddies hit a nightclub for drinks; an exterior shot of Kangana’s home, in a scene in which he drops her off before his accident, appears to be filmed in a Mumbai shanty; and then Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods Film School stands in for the hospital where Bobby recovers. Call it nitpicking if you like, but attention to detail is but one of Karnik’s many shortcomings in this lousy, lousy film.

Since they were there anyway, it might have been a good idea for the filmmaker and his leading man to take refresher courses during lunch break while shooting at Whistling Woods.

I’m going with one out of five for director Samir Karnik’s Vaada Raha. Do yourself a favour. Don’t even bother with this one.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Coming out bored

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:50 pm

September 11, 2009

Cast: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth
Director: Shamim Sharif

I Can’t Think Straight, written and directed by Shamim Sharif, is a lesbian love story, but one that’s stereotypical in its plot and amateurish in its treatment.

Lisa Ray stars as Tala, the daughter of a Jordanian tycoon, who’s been engaged four times and all set to take the plunge with her current boyfriend when she meets Leyla, a British-Indian writer (played by Sheetal Sheth) with whom she develops a fast friendship. Before you can say Ellen, the two ladies are locked in loving embrace, their friendship having quickly turned into love. Disposing off the men in their lives isn’t so much the problem for these ladies, as is their concern over coming out to their conservative families. While one does it in a quick, harsh blow, the other takes her time over it, thus alienating herself from her lover.

A clumsy kitchen-sink drama with hilariously bad acting from everyone involved, I Can’t Think Straight wastes too much time on scenes in which characters engage in dispassionate conversations about religion and politics. The coming-out scenes are poorly scripted and embarrassingly performed, and the film’s one sole merit is the sensitive handling of the relationships between both protagonists and their fathers.

At an hour and twenty minutes, it’s not a difficult watch; but the film fails to touch a chord because there’s no real dramatic conflict at all, making it hard to feel either sympathy or great affection for the leads.

I’m going with two out of five and an average rating for writer-director Shamim Sharif’s I Can’t Think Straight; it’s bland, boring, and at best an unintentionally amusing love story. Surely lesbians deserve better..?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Pretty ugly people

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:23 pm

September 11, 2009

Cast: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler

Director: Robert Luketic

A low-brow romantic comedy filled with predictable jokes, The Ugly Truth stars Grey’s Anatomy‘s Katherine Heigl as Abby Richter, a whiny, control-freak television producer who’s forced to work with a boorish, sexist Neanderthal, Mike Chadway (played by Gerard Butler) when her show’s ratings begin to dip. Coming off a hit late-night show on cable television in which he dishes out lewd relationship advice to women, Chadway represents everything she hates. And yet, before you know it, she’s happily taking tips from him to seduce the man she’s got a crush on.

Chadway’s advice to her can be summed up as this: dress like a slut, laugh at his foolish jokes, don’t talk about yourself, and accept the fact that he’s only interested in your body. The screenplay demands that our prissy heroine not only fall for brutish Chadway, but also embrace his twisted world-view.

The Ugly Truth is not only misogynistic it’s also not very funny. The comedy is derived from silly gags like falling off a tree while peeping into the home of a handsome neighbor, wearing a pair of vibrating panties to a business dinner, and eating a hot dog suggestively.

If that’s your idea of comedy, perhaps you’ll enjoy this film. If you have better taste though, give this one a pass. It’s not an unwatchable film, it’s just not worth watching if you ask me. Two out of five for The Ugly Truth; what’s shocking is that three women are credited as the writers of this regressive film. What’s that they say about women being women’s worst enemies..?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Prawn cocktail

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:05 pm

September 11, 2009

Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt

Director: Neill Blomkamp

The best sci-fi thriller you’ve seen in years, District 9 takes such mega-budget crap as Transformers 2 and GI Joe and rubs their faces in mud. Helmed by South African-born writer-director Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson, this is edge-of-the-seat entertainment with a sociopolitical message — a cerebral blockbuster if you like.

Now here’s the film’s plot: In the 1980s, an enormous spaceship suddenly stopped over Johannesburg city, and its inhabitants, instead of launching a hostile attack, had to be relieved from their stranded vehicle and accommodated on earth. Far away from human population, a refugee camp known as District 9 was created for these crustacean-like aliens, who have since come to acquire the derogatory nickname, “prawns”.

Cut to the present day. A private company, MNU is put in charge of evicting the aliens from District 9 which has turned into something of a slum over the years. The officer in charge of eviction and relocation, Wikus van der Merwe (played by first-timer Sharlto Copley) fails to take precautions during the evacuation and becomes infected with alien DNA.

The movie obviously stirs thoughts of the old South African apartheid system, especially in the manner in which the prawns are portrayed as trapped between a private-contract army that breaks into their homes at will, and an underworld of Nigerian gangsters who exploit them. Yet the film never turns into a lecture on tolerance; the message is out there but you’re never pounded on the head with it.

District 9 is more engaging than most sci-fi films because it adopts a docudrama approach to the unraveling of its story, and because it’s never overwhelmed by its own special effects like most films of this genre invariably are.

The stars of this film are always its characters. Like Wikus, for one, who goes from nerdy but confident bureaucrat to helpless prawn-in-the-making. Or Christopher, the alien scientist who’s been secretly working on a plan with his son to get back on the mothership. Their unlikely friendship forms the exciting third act of this film which reminds you, in case you’ve forgotten, that you’re watching an action blockbuster after all — there’s enough bullets flying, blood splattering, and big explosions to make hardcore fans very happy.

Like all good films, this one too works because it’s a compelling drama that’s driven by its characters. As a sci-fi saga, it never compromises on spectacle value, and still succeeds in staying smart.

I’m going with four out of five and two big thumbs up for District 9. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, you’ll still enjoy this one.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Wrong number!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:50 pm

September 11, 2009

Cast: Voices of Eljiah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, John C Reilly, Martin Landau

Director: Shane Acker

Animation film 9, directed by Shane Acker, is a bleak apocalyptic tale in which a ragtag group of doll-like creatures appear to be the only survivors on a ruined landscape that’s obliterated of humans. These creatures have survived a horrible devastation in which the world’s technology and machinery attacked mankind. Our heroes, who come with numbers instead of names, are hiding in fear of being next in line.

Eljiah Wood voices the protagonist of this story, 9, a jute-woven critter with a funky zipper up the front, who stumbles on an underground community of others like him, hiding from the terrifying machinery that’s still wreaking havoc on Earth. Younger and braver than the others, 9 persuades his fellow survivors to come out of hiding and fight back the machines.

A full-length feature version of an 11-minute short film that won the director a Student Academy Award, 9 has some stylishly haunting visuals and innovative animation too, but the plot leaves a lot to be desired, comes as it does with repetitive action scenes and indifferent characterization. Veteran actors like Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, John C Reilly and Martin Landau lend their vocal talents to the other characters made out of different materials.

Despite its novelty, “9” is often boring at a running time of 90-minutes and there are long stretches you’re likely to find yourself snoring through.

Produced by Tim Burton and Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov who were impressed enough by Acker’s short film to commission this feature version, 9 is imaginative and visually stunning. But you need real patience to appreciate its full intentions. I’m going with two out of five for director Shane Acker’s 9. Watch it if you’re an animation junkie; there’s much to be pleased about.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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