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

November 27, 2009

Heartbreak hotel

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 3:59 am

November 27, 2009

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Katrina Kaif, Paresh Rawal

Director: Priyadarshan

They couldn’t have come up with a more inappropriate title for the new Akshay Kumar starrer than De Dana Dan, a term usually used to signify something quick. The thing is, Priyadarshan’s latest comedy is anything but quick. At two hours and 40 minutes, it’s a laboriously long, patience-testing exercise in idiocy about some 20-odd characters stuck in a five-star hotel where mistaken identities and misunderstandings result in loud arguments, comic-book action and crude humor.

Akshay Kumar plays down-on-his-luck servant boy Nitin Bankar, who can’t take any more humiliation from his tyrant boss, and finally conspires with his buddy to kidnap her beloved pooch and demand a ransom. The dog, as it turns out, is smarter than the men. He escapes from their hands, but the police believe that Nitin has been kidnapped.

Don’t ask how this situation leads to the one in the hotel, but it does. There’s a wedding happening, a murder attempted, a prostitute being solicited, and lots of money changing hands. Eventually, it ends with a bomb exploding in the water tank and a flood – think Titanic here – gutting the entire hotel.

In the tradition of many recent low-brow comedies from the same director, De Dana Dan is cheerfully dumb and doesn’t aspire for anything more than cheap laughs. The film’s first half is dreadfully dull, and the second only marginally better.

Rajpal Yadav as a corrupt waiter, and Johnny Lever as a bumbling hitman are the two bright spots in this annoying ensemble that includes talented actors like Paresh Rawal, Vikram Gokhale and Archana Puran Singh who pretty much spend the entire film yelling at the top of their lungs. Neha Dhupia scores with a winning turn as the hot-headed hooker who just wants to get her money and leave.

The film’s leading man, Akshay Kumar, sportingly goes along with the silliness, but he’s done all of this many times before. In the film’s second half, he’s locked up in a closet for about 40 minutes, leaving the rest of the cast to carry on the show. How you wish you could hide somewhere too, or slip into a coma even – anything really to avoid watching the rest of this drivel.

Over the years one has lowered one’s expectations considerably when going in to watch a Priyadarshan comedy. De Dana Dan is no different.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Priyadarshan’s De Dana Dan; carry ear plugs with you, or a Saridon. Or both. A migraine is guaranteed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 3:46 am

November 27, 2009

Cast: Rain, Rick Yune, Naomie Harris

Director: James McTeigue

If you’ve chosen to watch a film that’s titled Ninja Assassin, you have no business complaining it’s too violent. This slick slice of martial-arts mayhem stars Korean pop-star Rain as Raizo, an orphan raised from an early age to be a cold-blooded killing machine, and member of a secret army of ninja assassins.

But after his brutal master kills the girl he loves, Raizo turns on his clan with the help of an Interpol agent (played by Naomie Harris), and what follows is approximately 90 minutes of slow-motion acrobatics and buckets and buckets of blood-spill.

Kicking off with an explosive opening scene in which a gang of Asian punks get their just-deserts at the hands of invisible executioners who spray them with a volley of lethal sharp objects, Ninja Assassin hits the ground running and seldom lets the pace drop. However, a plot this thin needs charismatic actors to lend dramatic weight to the film, and here is where this one fails.

Leading man Rain competently delivers what’s required of him in the action scenes, lending grace to his chop-socky moves, including a stunning sequence in which he practices handstands on a bed of spikes. But when expected to charm with his expressions and dialogues, he grapples.

The film then excels in its action set-pieces, with much slicing and dicing and chopping, and body parts flying all over the place. Produced by the Wachowski Brothers, the men behind the Matrix films, Ninja Assassin has a distinctly comic book-meets-video game feel to it, and is strictly for hardcore action buffs.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Ninja Assassin; the body-count and blood-spill here makes Tarantino appear gentle. It’s for the excited boy in you. Those with a weak heart, don’t even dare!


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 3:39 am

November 27, 2009

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr

Direction: Jonas Elmer

A foot massage, cleaning out your cupboard, perhaps some alone time with bubble-wrap. These are just a few things you could be doing that I absolutely promise will give you more joy than watching the Renee Zellweger starrer New In Town.

It’s an excruciatingly predictable romantic-comedy about a high-powered executive from Miami (played by Zellweger) who’s dispatched to a cold and snowy small town in Minnesota to downsize a yoghurt manufacturing plant.

Adhering faithfully to the feel-good rom-com guidebook, our protagonist first finds the place unsophisticated and dull, but love blossoms, and soon she is relishing the small-town life.

With gags involving freezing temperatures that result in stiff nipples, and factory workers indulging in a sloppy tapioca food-fight, New In Town strains for genuine laughs. In place of characters you get your standard stereotypes, and Zellweger herself – once a fine comic actress – brings neither warmth nor cheap giggles.

This is that rare comedy that has but one comic moment – the one in which Zellweger arrives at work the morning after accidentally shooting a man in his backside, only to be greeted by a whole factory floor of workers sporting dartboards on their bottoms.

I’m going with a generous one out of five for New In Town. Seriously, clip your toenails instead of wasting your time on this film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 20, 2009

Love in the time of terror

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:30 am

November 20, 2009

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri, Kiron Kher

Director: Rensil D’silva

Stripped to its bone, Rensil D’silva’s Kurbaan is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that seldom loses its grip on your attention. Credible performances from its leads, and a nail-biting screenplay make up for the plot holes that threaten to eat into this otherwise engaging film.

Set in post-9/11 America, Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan star as Avantika and Ehsaan, professors at a Delhi campus who move to New York after a whirlwind romance, that involves making out in the college staff room, and a prompt marriage. Avantika, who was teaching in the States prior to her stint in India, returns to her original job, and Ehsaan accompanies her, hoping to find a position for himself too. The couple moves into an Indian neighborhood in suburban New York, where Avantika stumbles upon the shocking secret that her husband is part of a sleeper cell of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists that’s hatching a plot to bomb the New York subway. She enlists the help of a news channel cameraman Riyaaz Masood (played by Vivek Oberoi), who infiltrates the gang to foil their attack.

More compelling than the similarly themed New YorkKurbaan scores for its brisk pacing, and for the fact that it doesn’t offer an over-simplistic view of the terrorism issue. The film allows enough room for all perspectives and avoids romanticizing the terrorist as a victim seeking revenge, even if characters like Bhaijaan (played by Om Puri) and Aapa (played by Kirron Kher) make the same point repeatedly. It’s in a dramatic classroom scene in which Vivek Oberoi’s character Riyaaz confronts white students and their predictable logic, that the film reveals its neutral stance.

The key problem with Kurbaan, however, is that it can’t decide if it wants to be a serious film addressing a burning issue, or a commercial potboiler set against the backdrop of terrorism. How else do you explain such lapses in logic as Riyaaz’s needlessly heroic decision to explore a possible terrorist situation himself, instead of alerting the cops right away? Or the terrorist group’s decision to include Riyaaz in their mission without as much as a thorough background check. Even the love scene between Saif and Kareena, although aesthetically shot, has a distinctly ‘filmi’ logic – Avantika seduces Ehsaan to get her hands on vital information that could prevent the attacks.

Another careless oversight on the part of Kurbaan is the more-or-less insignificant role the FBI plays in all of this. Anyone who’s traveled to the United States post 9/11 or even watched a handful of recent Hollywood thrillers will tell you that America became a different country since September 11 happened. Even a mention of words like ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ could get you into serious trouble. Which is why it’s a little alarming to note that Ehsaan roams about freely on the streets of New York without bothering with so much as a guise, when the FBI have clear photographs of this most-wanted terrorist. Or that he can walk into a bar and stab a man to death, or escape from a run-in with the cops. Just watch the recent Harrison Ford-starrer Crossing Over in which the FBI swoops down on a teenage Bangladeshi girl for a class essay she wrote in which she may have sounded at best ‘casual’ to the Twin Towers attack. These irregularities might be dismissed as nitpickings in an average masala entertainer, but they stand out in a film like this which prides itself on attention to detail and credibility of intent.

Despite its hiccups, Kurbaan works as a suspenseful thriller, sucking you into its drama even though you may have figured out where the story’s going. Refer to that terrific scene in which Ehsaan reveals his real identity to Avantika, or the one in which Riyaaz’s secret is accidentally revealed to Ehsaan. There is genuine intrigue in these moments, and you’re undeniably hooked.

Kurbaan is convincing also for the remarkable acting by its three leads, who are a pleasure to watch. If Saif Ali Khan approaches his part with restraint and minimalist fuss, then Kareena Kapoor goes for a simmering, slow-burning performance that eventually punches you in the gut. Vivek Oberoi, despite the occasionally rickety accent, throws himself into the role and turns in a sincere, spontaneous delivery. As an ensemble, the trio turns Kurbaan into one of the best-acted pieces you’ve seen all year.

Armed with Hemant Chaturvedi’s efficient camerawork and Salim-Suleiman’s rousing music score that never distract from the storytelling, director Rensil D’silva makes a confident debut with a film that is respectable and engaging.

I’m going with three out of five for Kurbaan; it’s a compelling thriller that doesn’t shy away from touching prickly issues.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Love story with bite

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 4:20 am

November 20, 2009

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

One year since it seduced its mostly teenage fan base across the world, Twilight, the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance arrives at cinemas in India this week.

First in a series of book-to-film sequels, Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke stars Kristen Stewart as Bella Swann, a shy teenage girl, the daughter of a broken marriage, who’s shunted from her mother in Arizona to her father in Washington state. The typical ‘new girl’ at school, she’s neither your geeky outsider, nor what you’d call a social magnet. When she spots a tall, incredibly pale boy, Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson) glowering at her in the cafeteria, her heart skips a beat. Turns out, Edward is a brooding vampire who belongs to a family that considers themselves ‘vegetarian’ – meaning they’ve sworn to drink only the blood of animals, even though human blood gives them greater satisfaction.

So when Edward and Bella fall in love, sex is out of the question. Edward knows that if things were to get too hot and sweaty with Bella, he might end up killing her. “I can’t ever lose control with you,” he tells her, in the film’s one unrequited bedroom scene, which barely progresses beyond a kiss. For most of the film the two leads simply gaze at each other longingly. In the classroom, by the sea, in a car park, up a tree. Just about everywhere.

I can see many parents wishing their young daughters found a boy like Edward Cullen instead of the horny teenagers they end up dating. The girls get all the love and attention they crave without any of the messy complications of an actual physical relationship.

Anyway, Edward and Bella spend much of the film getting to know each other, trying to figure out how this whole vampire-human equation could work. Most of the time it involves him saving her life – from a speeding truck in the school parking lot, to rapists on a desolate street. Everything’s going just fine, until a group of heathen vampires who still prefer human blood appears out of nowhere, and one of them decides to make Bella his prey.

Despite the inherent cheesiness of its plot, Twilight works primarily as a love story, thanks to the performances of its principals, but mostly because it treats teen confusion without a hint of condescension. Edward and Bella’s love story plays out almost as an epic, sweeping romance, and director Catherine Hardwicke reconjures the original novel as a gloomy mood piece filled with grey skies and raging hormones.

The film is far from classic, but Pattinson and Stewart’s smoldering chemistry makes Twilight an enjoyable enough watch. To be honest, it also succeeds in arousing enough curiosity about its sequels, the first of which, New Moon will roll into our cinemas two weeks from now.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Twilight; this love story has bite. Sink your teeth into it, if you enjoy mushy marshmallow entertainment.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 4:07 am

November 20, 2009

Cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

Director: Robert Zemeckis

The Disney version of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of a Christmas-hating miser springs to life in the Robert Zemeckis-directed animation film, Disney’s A Christmas Carol. The filmmaker extends the performance-capture 3D technology he deployed on The Polar Express and Beowulf to this grim story that might indeed be too dark for the little ones.

Jim Carrey does a good enough job as Scrooge, and also portrays the three Christmas spirits – Past, Present, and Future – who show the stingy mean-guy the error of his ways. Gary Oldman, meanwhile, is hired to step into the shoes of Scrooge’s meek clerk Bob Cratchit.

The camerawork’s superb, the performance-capture technology now allows for a greater range of character expressions, but what do you do about the absence of any narrative depth? In spectacle terms, “Disney’s A Christmas Carol is as thrilling as anything you’ve seen – just look at the glorious opening credit sequence in which the camera soars above the rooftops of Victorian London. But the visual excellence aside, it’s hard to engage yourself in Scrooge’s journey to self-discovery.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Disney’s A Christmas Carol; it’s a thrill-ride yes, but someone forgot to add emotion.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 13, 2009

Swept away

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:56 am

November 13, 2009

Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Soha Ali Khan

Direction: Kunal Deshmukh

Trapped in the deluge of 26 July, 2005, carefully navigating around half-submerged vehicles and dodging death on the flooded streets of Mumbai, Emraan Hashmi tells Soha Ali Khan that the first thing he’s going to do when he gets home is watch Sholay.

It is my humble suggestion that the makers of this film, Tum Mile go straight home and watch Sholay themselves. Some lessons in screenplay writing and basic shot-taking wouldn’t hurt.

A story of former lovers who part acrimoniously, then suddenly come face-to-face one day when everything and everyone around them is falling apart in the torrential downpour, Tum Mile is intended as a poignant drama about how a life-changing event makes this couple realise that they’ve always loved each other.

The problem is there’s not enough drama in the screenplay to begin with. The first half of Tum Mile is spent setting up the relationship between Emraan and Soha, who play Akshay and Sanjana, a struggling artist and a successful journalist in Cape Town.

Over the course of an hour we watch as they meet, fall in love, squabble, and ultimately part ways. The deluge, by the way, is yet to come.

Post-intermission, the action shifts to Mumbai where the couple is reunited years after calling off their relationship.

Wading through waist-deep waters, Akshay and Sanjana contemplate their failed romance. For the next hour or so they yak incessantly, boring you to death with their supposedly-profound realisations. Where’s the action, you ask? Well, there’s hardly any.

You do get one good scene in which they’re trapped in a dilapidated building whose wall crumbles against the force of water, compelling them to race in the opposite direction. Ripped straight out of James Cameron’s Titanic, it’s the only exciting scene in this tiresome film.

Tum Mile suffers also on account of its uninspired leads, Emraan Hashmi and Soha Ali Khan who appear bored out of their wits going through their scenes. They fail to strike up any romantic chemistry whatsoever, and perform so monotonously, you can’t be blamed for disconnecting from their supposed pain.

The film’s special effects are unimpressive, and the photography is uniformly flat. I also want to point out in particular how unflatteringly Soha Ali Khan has been photographed. The actress ought to sue the film’s director and cinematographer for how carelessly they shoot her.

Tum Mile has a hummable score, but it doesn’t succeed on most other counts. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Kunal Deshmukh’s Tum Mile; you may survive the floods, but Emraan and Soha’s bak-bak will most certainly kill you!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

If wishes were horses…

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:44 am

November 13, 2009

Cast: Aftab Shivdasani, Aamna Sharif, Johnny Lever

Direction: Glen Barretto

About time filmmakers stopped second-guessing kids by making films they think children would like, instead of taking the trouble to find out what they indeed want to watch.

Aao Wish Karein, inspired from the Tom Hanks-starrer Big, is the kind of film its misguided makers seem convinced kids will enjoy. Good luck with that, considering it’s a painfully predictable, sickeningly romantic, unfunny film that talks down to kids as if they’re stupid little creatures who don’t deserve anything smarter.

Anguished on discovering he’s adopted, hurt by his father’s indifference, and heartbroken that he can’t hook up with the woman of his dreams, 12-year-old Mickey wishes that he were older. Lo and behold, the next morning he wakes up to find his dream has come true.

Mickey (now played by Aftab Shivdasani) runs away from home, gets a job inventing children’s computer games, and woos local ballet teacher Mithika (played by Aamna Sharif) who gradually reciprocates his feelings, even though he’s basically a bumbling fool. By concentrating mostly on the love story between Mithika and Mickey, the film’s makers pass up the opportunity to treat this as a light-hearted comedy, and deliver the kind of innocent gags this plot was ripe for.

When they do give you comedy, it’s of the kind that doesn’t belong in a children’s film. Like the scene in which Mickey encounters a prostitute who he invites home unsuspectingly, then dodges her advances when she’s there. Or then you get an over-the-top Tiku Talsania who screams and shouts and bellows maniacally as Mickey’s mad-hatter boss. And Johnny Lever in an embarrassing costume and matching wig as Hitchcock, the modern-day fairy godmother who grants Mickey his wish.

The film comes down like a house of cards because it doesn’t get its basic principles right. It’s a kid’s film with barely any fun. Alternating between sappy romance and sentimental fluff, the film offers nothing in terms of unbridled excitement.

Much of the blame for the film’s failure rests with its principal star Aftab Shivdasani who plays Mickey as a crackpot of sorts instead of investing in him an irresistible child-like innocence. His co-star Aamna Sharif forever looks like she’s walked out of the fashion pages of a women’s magazine, but doesn’t contribute much in the acting department.

Far from achieving the fairytale feel it was going for, Aao Wish Karein is a colossally boring film that packs clunky dialogue, a predictable narrative and a muddled message in the end. Barring a few superb songs, this film is a miscalculation on all counts.

I’m going with one out of five for director Glen Barretto’s Aao Wish Karein; to be honest, I’ve seen fifth standard students put up school-plays more entertaining than this!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Fun-tastic finish

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 4:38 am

November 13, 2009

Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton

Direction: Roland Emmerich

Don’t go in to watch director Roland Emmerich’s 2012 if you’re going to come out complaining that it’s a preposterous film. Let’s face it, what did you expect?

Using an ancient Mayan prophecy to establish its doomsday scenario, this nihilistic disaster flick is based around the premise that the world’s coming to an end in the year 2012. So a massive solar flare leads to a displacement in the earth’s crust, which in turn brings about global earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and tidal waves.

In simple terms, it means we’re all toast.

Cue then for some shamelessly breathtaking scenes in which everything from the Eiffel Tower and the Sistine Chapel to the White House and the Washington Monument is smashed and shattered, or simply swept up by giant tsunamis. High-rise buildings tumble like packs of cards, and bridges and freeways collapse down the middle.

The obligatory personal story comes in the form of John Cusack, who plays Jackson Curtis, a divorced, failed novelist-turned-limo driver who must protect his kids and do some larger good too.

But 2012 is really about the spectacle. Imagine a plane taking off on a runway that’s crumbling beneath it. A car racing through a street that’s splitting at its centre. A cruise liner toppling over on being hit by a massive wave. Or a speeding van dodging giant volcanic bursts. Sure Emmerich relies heavily on special effects and CGI, but these are sights and sounds and effects that you’ve never seen before. It’s louder, crazier and more exhilarating than anything you’ve ever experienced.

Is it cheesy? Yes, of course. Does the dialogue make you cringe? It does every now and then. Is it often so unbelievable that you have to laugh? Yes, that too. 2012 isn’t the best film I’ve seen this year, but I can’t remember the last time I had so much guilty fun.

This is unpretentious, blockbuster entertainment and it beats Emmerich’s own Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrowas far as scale and spectacle is concerned.

At two hours and 40 minutes, it does get too long, but at no point can you deny that it’s irresistibly entertaining. I’m going with three out of five for Roland Emmerich’s 2012; approach it on its own terms, and you’ll agree it’s 200 bucks well spent.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 6, 2009

A comedy of many errors

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 5:18 am

November 06, 2009

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Upen Patel

Director: Rajkumar Santoshi

To be fair, there are portions of Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani that are so funny your sides will ache from laughing. But for the most part, it’s a silly comedy that goes for slapstick gags and juvenile jokes that are hard to appreciate. Director Rajkumar Santoshi’s latest comedy tries too hard to maintain an even tempo, but save for the lead pair’s crackling chemistry and some charming moments involving Ranbir Kapoor, the film is an agonizing bore.

Based in a quaint small-town with a distinct Ooty feel, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani stars Ranbir Kapoor as Prem, a ninth-standard drop-out who runs a local Happy Club which has been founded to spread joy in the neighborhood. Prem becomes good friends with Jenny (played by Katrina Kaif), a pretty young Christian girl who moves into town with her adoptive parents. Before long he’s fallen for her, but can’t muster up the courage to tell her. When Jenny’s parents force her to marry an obnoxious rich boy, Prem volunteers to help. Turns out Jenny’s got a boyfriend she loves, and now Prem must unite them.

Nowhere nearly as smart as the director’s cult comedy Andaz Apna Apna which relied on a sharp script to deliver its consistently madcap tone, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is erratic in its humour, going from genuinely comic to frustratingly foolish in a matter of minutes.

On the upside, there’s a sparkling scene in which Prem joins Jenny at a dance party, unable to stay still even for a moment, his limbs taking on a life of their own. Another wildly hilarious scene involves Prem and Jenny and a cameo by a leading star, in which Prem must convince the star to pretend they’re friends so he can impress Jenny. It’s an entirely original scene that’s all the more enjoyable because of the in-jokes it packs.

But the humour dips when Santoshi throws in too many unnecessary subplots including one about a local politician who won’t allow his son to marry the girl he loves, and another about an underworld don who’s targeting the said politician.

Despite its hiccups, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is not an entirely unwatchable film, and the credit for that goes squarely to its leads who invest sincerity and genuine enthusiasm while attacking their roles. Katrina Kaif breezes through her scenes, endearing you to the vulnerable Jenny; striking up a radiant chemistry with her co-star. As for Ranbir Kapoor, he is the brightest spot in this ordinary film, rising above the script’s many holes, occasionally even making the stupidity work.

The film itself is too long by twenty minutes, and suffers considerably on account of its loose script. The second half, in particular, is an endurance test for its silliness.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Rajkumar Santoshi’s Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani; if you must, watch it for Ranbir Kapoor whose performance alone justifies the price of a ticket.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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