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

April 9, 2010

Alien attack!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:19 am

April 09, 2010

Cast: Riteish Deshmukh, Jacqueline Fernandez, Ruslaan Mumtaz, Vishal Malhotra

Director: Milap Zaveri

When an attractive female alien in hot pants and silver boots literally falls from the skies and into the arms of an ordinary Earthling, you know romance is on the cards. What you can’t predict, however, is just how uninspired their love story is going to be.

In this week’s Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai, Ritesh Deshmukh who’s made a career playing the lovable loser, stars once again as boy-next-door Rajesh who must sacrifice his own affection, and play cupid between this Vixen from Venus (played by Jacqueline Fernandes) and the country’s heartthrob movie-star (played by Ruslaan Mumtaz).

Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai is a throwback to those old-school films that mishmashes all the Bollywoodstaples – thoda romance, thoda comedy, and some tears before the two leads walk away happily into the sunset. The comic bits work in parts; Ritesh plays an assistant director to filmmaker Farah Khan, making way for a string of star cameos. You’ll laugh until your sides hurt at the one performed by Akshay Kumar, who sportingly appears as an exaggerated version of himself, obsessed with a rival actor’s paycheck. I was even amused by the track involving an X-rated DVD and Rajesh’s excitable father, played by Satish Shah. Also, Vishal Malhotra as Rajesh’s horny best friend Kaushal makes you chuckle more than once at his naughty antics.

The problem with Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai is that this stray fratboy humour is the most enjoyable part of this stale story. Director Milap Zaveri could have done so much more with a tale about a girl who shows up from outer space, but he chooses to go down the predictable path.

There’s so much mushy dialogue that even the guys who write those Hallmark cards would feel uncontrollably sick; and just the basic plotting of the romantic track is too corny and juvenile to inspire any real sympathy for the characters involved. It doesn’t help that Ritesh and Jacqueline lack the spark to keep you hooked to their romance.

I’m going with two out of five for debutant director Milap Zaveri’s Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai. It’s got moments that will make you smile, but it’s hardly out of this world.

Mail bonding

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:15 am

April 09, 2009

Cast: Rahul Bose, Chigasu Takuku, Moushmi Chatterjee, Raima Sen

Director: Aparna Sen

Despite its leisurely pace and its wildly implausible premise, The Japanese Wife, directed by Aparna Sen, is a film that stays with you.

It’s the charming love story of Snehamoy, a mild-mannered schoolteacher in the Sunderbans (played by Rahul Bose), and Miyage, a chatty girl in a faraway Japanese village (played by Chigasu Takuku), who start out as pen-pals, fall in love, then get married and stay committed for 17 years without ever meeting face-to-face. Their romance unfolds through a series of letters and occasional phone calls.

Adapted from Kunal Basu’s short story, Sen’s film reaches out and touches your heart because it’s populated with believable, flesh-and-blood characters who have real fears and anxieties that you can connect with. Moushmi Chatterjee puts in an inspired performance as Snehamoy’s garrulous aunt who wants him to marry her best friend’s daughter Sandhya (played hauntingly by Raima Sen), but must accept with a heavy heart that he is already married in spirit to Miyage. Years later, Sandhya returns as a widow with a young son to live in the aunt’s house. A bittersweet love triangle is born, even as Snehamoy remains committed to his Japanese wife.

Aparna Sen’s assured touches come through in scenes like the lively kite competition between Snehamoy and the villagers, which escalates into something of an Indo-Jap tussle. Or the scene in which Snehamoy accompanies Sandhya to the market where the ease between them reminds you of a long-married couple.

There is no denying the fact that The Japanese Wife gets bogged down by its indulgent pace. But stay with it and you will be rewarded. I’m going with three out of five for director Aparna Sen’s The JapaneseWife. It’s an unusual piece of cinema that lingers in your memory for its luscious visuals and heartbreaking emotions.

In the line of fire

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:54 am

April 09, 2010

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

The Hurt Locker, as you’ve probably heard already, is the best Iraq War movie to come out of Hollywood. Director Kathryn Bigelow chucks aside political commentary for nerve-rattling suspense, and delivers a film that demands to be seen.

Scripted by combat journalist Mark Boal, the film follows a three-man bomb disposal unit of the US Army’s Bravo Company that must comb the streets of Baghdad for the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) left by increasingly violent insurgents.

Although they’re kitted in shrapnel-resistant suits and have hi-tech robotic devices at their disposal, this team cannot stop every blast, as we learn with devastating impact in one of the film’s early scenes. Ultimately it comes down to staying alert, keeping your cool, and making educated guesses. Which brings us to Sgt Will James (played remarkably by Jeremy Renner), a reckless fatalist who takes risks in a field already primed with too many risks. He’s the kind of guy who removes body armour during disposal jobs, and strides into the Kill Zone himself instead of sending in the remote-controlled robot to investigate possible bombs. You can hardly blame his teammates for their discomfort with his suicidal displays of bravado.

Focusing squarely on the subjective experiences of men under pressure, The Hurt Locker is a film that wants to put you in their suits and take you inside their heads. Indeed this is a psychological thriller that replicates the intensity of actually being there yourself.

In the film’s final, heart-breaking scene when James has returned home and is confronted with the banal realities of shopping for his meals — too many options for everything from breakfast cereal to chopped vegetables — we know where he belongs.

With solid camerawork and intuitive editing, Bigelow assembles a riveting film that makes your heart pound.

I’m going with four out of five and two thumbs up for director Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. It won six Oscars this year, including Best Picture and Best Director. Catch it this weekend; you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

Truth or dare

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:43 am

April 09, 2010

Cast: Matt Damon, Yigal Naor, Said Faraj

Director: Paul Greengrass

Matt Damon and his Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass reunite for action-packed war thriller Green Zone, in which Damon stars as US Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been tasked with finding the weapons of mass destruction whose supposed existence triggered off the war. But after repeatedly leading his unit into desperately dangerous locations and coming up short, Miller decides to investigate for himself whether the WMDs ever existed at all.

Relying on his trademark hyperkinetic camerawork to shoot the film’s breathless chases and non-stop combat scenes, Greengrass lends a sense of visceral immediacy to the action that makes Green Zonemore engaging than your average war drama. But with regards to the film’s plot, the politics are oversimplified, and the characters are etched too broadly in black and white. As a result, there is no thrill of discovery or unexpected surprises that catch you off-guard.

The film’s message — that the US government lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction — is controversial undoubtedly, but hardly seems provocative now.

Despite a competent central performance from Matt Damon, and sturdy support from supporting players Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson, this conspiracy thriller works mainly for its tense pacing and its propulsive energy.

I’m going with three out of five for Green Zone. It’s consistently watchable and well-intentioned, even if the facts appear somewhat muddled. Pity it comes out the same week as the far superior and much more powerful The Hurt Locker.

Dinner for schmucks

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:35 am

April 09, 2010

Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg

Director: Shawn Levy

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of the funniest stars on American television, and their respective sitcoms — The Office and 30 Rock — are easily the most popular primetime properties. They’ve been teamed up in this week’s Date Night, a light-hearted but formulaic rom-com that might have benefited from sharper writing.

The pair stars as a boring suburban New Jersey couple coping with the hard work of raising two young children while trying to maintain their careers. Their only respite is a relatively unexciting weekly dinner eating potato skins at a local steakhouse, where they share a few laughs trying to guess what’s going on in the minds of fellow diners.

One evening they decide to head out to the city and pamper themselves with an expensive seafood meal at a fancy new restaurant, where they impulsively grab another couple’s reservation when they can’t land a table for themselves. Predictably, the stage is set for a mistaken-identity plot in which our protagonists find themselves on the run from a New York crime boss.

Of course you know where all this is going — there’s a bullet-dodging misadventure in a Central Park motorboat, a ridiculous car chase through Manhattan, and an embarrassing pole dance in a seedy strip club.

None of these routine set pieces are as much fun as the banter between Carell and Fey, or their laugh-out-loud encounter with a shirtless Mark Wahlberg playing a hi-tech security expert. These scenes, however, are few and far between. Even at roughly 90 minutes, the writers can’t come up with enough smart jokes that might turn this film into a must-watch.

In the end it’s up to the two leads, who strike up a comfortable chemistry, to make the most of this tired premise. And to be fair, they succeed to some extent. Entirely convincing as a pair of Regular Joes who’re just as surprised as we are to find themselves at the centre of this mess, Carell and Fey turn Date Nightinto an easy enough evening out at the movies.

I’m going with a generous three out of five for Date Night. If you seek comfort in the familiar, this film is for you. Steve Carell and Tina Fey however, deserve better.

April 2, 2010

Coffee, tea? No flee!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:51 am

April 02, 2010

Cast: Nana Patekar, Dimple Kapadia, Sunil Shetty, Vidya Malavade, Rehaan Khan, Anjana Sukhani

Director: Kabir Sadanand

Anyone who’s spent a lazy afternoon tucking into the delicious sali boti at Britannia or the cherry cream custard at Kyani can appreciate the climatic conflict of Tum Milo Toh Sahi, in which an old-fashioned Irani cafe must be saved from a greedy corporate giant that wants to turn it into one of those homogenized coffee shop franchises.

Had this been the basic premise of director Kabir Sadanand’s film instead of its predictable take on contemporary relationships, Tum Milo Toh Sahi might not have turned out the mangled mess that it has.

Dimple Kapadia hams it up as Dilshad, the garrulous Parsi owner of the café, who develops an easy friendship with Nana Patekar’s cranky Subramanium who has an almost Norman Bates-like obsession with his dead mother. Sunil Shetty and Vidya Malvade play a constantly bickering married couple Amit and Anita, who clash over his long working hours and their inability to agree on how to raise their son. Finally, Rehan Khan and Anjana Sukhani play young collegians Bikramjit and Shalini, faced with your typical Bollywood cliché — they must traverse the film’s skull-boring song-and-dance routine till they realize they are in love.

Predictably, it’s the relationship between the senior characters that is most engaging, thanks to a consistent performance by Nana Patekar, who plays to the gallery with his quirky characterization. Suniel Shetty delivers the film’s most embarrassing performance with his accented dialogue delivery and awkward body language. His garbled words are hard to figure out most of the time, and his over-acting in this film consolidates his position in the hall of shame alongside fellow doorknobs Zayed Khan, Fardeen Khan and Bobby Deol.

To be honest, except for Nana Patekar and to some extent Rehan Khan who pitches in an earnest turn, the entire cast of this film grates with annoying performances and bad accents. Even a child actor who plays Dilshad’s Australia-returned grandson deserves some serious neck-wrangling for his mutilation of the English language in the name of an Aussie twang.

If there’s anything more infuriating than the acting in this film, it’s the distracting background score that qualifies as sheer noise. Raghav Sachar, who famously holds the distinction of playing some 30-odd musical instruments, is credited with composing the background score which sounds like plates and glasses being smashed against walls.

This film is intended as a warm drama about love in a big city, but the script never quite gets around to achieving that. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Kabir Sadanand’s Tum Milo Toh Sahi. Since coffee is used as a metaphor to bring people together in this movie, I suggest you spike yours with a large shot of whiskey to make the pain of watching this a little easier.

The band plays on

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:45 am

April 02, 2010

Director: Jaideep Varma

In Leaving Home: The Life and Music of Indian Ocean, performances by the country’s biggest band unspool before you both as concert live acts, and as the four comrades jam at their crumbling old Delhi bungalow. At one point, the members laughingly recall an instance when their tabla player and vocalist Asheem Chakravarty told an audience during a concert: “We are playing so well because you are sitting in front of us. Just think: if there were dogs instead, we never would have played so well.”

Asheem Chakravarty provides much of the music, the laughter and the poignant moments in Leaving Home, so it is painful when you think that he died in December last year before seeing this film in the cinemas. Yet Leaving Home is as much the story of Indian Ocean’s other members — guitarist and founder Susmit Sen, bassist and vocalist Rahul Ram, and drummer and vocalist Amit Kilam. The film listens to their voices and speaks of their lives.

Leaving Home is India’s first band documentary, and it reaches out of the screen and touches you because it is about four guys and the remarkable music they created, in spite of the fact that recording companies didn’t back them in their early struggling days.

The film interestingly tells each member’s back story and how they gravitated towards each other in chapters titled with their music albums. Director Jaideep Varma records the band’s harmonious jamming like a devoted fan, and gives us a picture of their inspirations. After all, this is the band that sang for the environment in ‘Ma Rewa’ or of peace in that wonderful anthem from Black Friday, ‘Bandeh’.

Leaving Home does feel too long for those unacquainted with Indian Ocean’s music, mainly because of the unedited, lengthy performances. Yet this is the story of an extraordinary band and I recommend you watch it because it’s a story that makes us proud. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five and a thumbs-up for director Jaideep Varma’s Leaving Home: The Life and Music of Indian Ocean. For fans of the band this is nothing short of a real treat.

Failure to launch

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:39 am

April 02, 2010

Cast: Maradona Rebello, Bipasha Basu, Lilette Dubey

Director: Sudipto Chattopadhyay

Pankh starring newcomer Maradona Rebello, is the disturbing story of a young man grappling with the psychological side-effects of being passed off as a girl in his childhood years.

The film picks up the important and delicate issue of gender confusion and sexual identity, but treats the story in such a pretentious and heavy-handed manner that it’s sometimes hard to empathize with the protagonist’s pain.

Set within the Mumbai film industry, director Sudipto Chattopadhyay’s tale involves a failed actress (played by Lillete Dubey) who masquerades her son as a girl so he can land roles in Bollywood films. This successful child actress grows into the confused youngster whose mother is now pushing him towards a career as a leading man in Hindi films.

Over the years our protagonist has created the illusion of a friend in a highly successful film actress (played by Bipasha Basu), with whom he has imaginary conversations. On a visit to an audition one day, his head is filled with memories of old friends and lecherous filmmakers from his childhood years, and as it turns out things aren’t very different today.

Pankh is provocative and unsettling, but in an exploitative way. There is much bad language used by practically all the characters, and there are gratuitous scenes of molestation which seem voyeuristic and sensational.

The film, which comes off just as confused as its protagonist, cannot decide if it wants to focus on the sleazy side of the Hindi film industry, or on the psychological impact of forced cross-dressing.

Astonishingly bad acting from all principal players and the loose structure of the screenplay make Pankh difficult to endure. Despite a running time of only 90 minutes, it’s a film that requires much patience on your part.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Sudipto Chattopadhyay’s Pankh. An important story gets shortchanged by indulgent direction. Such a shame!

The gods must be crazy!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:34 am

April 02, 2010

Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton

Director: Louis Leterrier

Supremely silly but jolly good fun to watch, Clash of the Titans is no history lesson in Greek mythology. It’s an unapologetic popcorn movie with awesome fight sequences and monstrous mythical beasts.

It’s also the kind of campy film in which Liam Neeson plays Greek god Zeus, dressed in a shiny silver suit, whose heavenly abode Mount Olympus is designed as a Las Vegas attraction, and who must keep a straight face while delivering the film’s cheesiest yet most memorable line: “Release the Kraken!”

Sam Worthington stars as Perseus, an orphaned demigod drawn into the battle between man and the gods when Hades, lord of the underworld (played by Ralph Fiennes) threatens to unleash the giant sea-monster Kraken on the city of Argos.

Perseus must team up with the few remaining members of the Argos army who weren’t wiped out by Hades and his flying monkeys, even as he’s watched over by gorgeous guardian angel Io (played Gemma Arterton). Before he can vanquish the 800-foot tall Kraken however, Perseus and his fearless cohorts must visit some grotesque witches, do battle with giant scorpions, slay Medusa of the famous snake-hair, and save Princess Andromeda of Argos (played by Alexa Davalos).

If all you’re looking for is some mindless fun, Clash of the Titans delivers on its promise, even if the plot itself is all over the place and sometimes hard to follow. The CG creatures are smoothly integrated into the scenes, although some of them do look unusually rubbery, and from some angles even the Kraken appears too fake to fear.

Despite being dressed in a short skirt for most of the film, Sam Worthington makes a convincing action hero; and even if you’re a fan of the original 1981 version — just as campy, by the way — it’s hard to deny that in their cheesiness itself lies much of the charm of these movies.

I’m going with three out of five for director Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans. It’s the latest addition to my list of guilty pleasures. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride!

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