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

May 31, 2010

Love in the time of cholera

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 3:00 am

Like most people I know, I too am a sucker for romantic films that are intelligent and original, or just plain convincing. But I think that’s a genre that’s over-exhausted and over-exploited because it’s become so increasingly difficult to find a really good love story these days.

The last one I saw is a beautiful and sweeping romance called The Painted Veil; it’s a film based on Somerset Maugham’s novel and it’s already been filmed twice before. But the version I’m talking about is the one starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in central roles.

Set in the 1920s, the story is basically about the moral awakening of this restless, vain, young woman who moves to Shanghai with her bacteriologist husband and starts an affair with a married man. When her husband finds out, he takes her along to a far-flung village that’s been plagued by a cholera epidemic. There he pretty much leaves her alone, ignoring her completely while he tends to the ill and the dying.

She is of course, bored and angry, and eventually she helps out at the local convent, where children need to be cared for. Remember, this is China in the mid-20s and this story takes place right at the centre of the uprisings against the British colonial rule. In fact, that tense political climate serves as the backdrop for this romance. It’s here and now that these two people really get to know each other, under these extreme circumstances. It’s here that they gain a newfound respect for each other and eventually they fall in love.

This film is one of those sweeping romances, a truly passionate story. It’s interesting also because how often do you see a love story between a married couple who’re rekindling a romance they never had?

Another reason why this story consumes you is because it’s set against this beautiful yet troubled backdrop of a small Chinese village in the middle of this deadly epidemic. The film is shot beautifully and that’s another factor that adds so much character to the story.

I’ve always been a fan of Edward Norton, and he’s excellent in this film, but The Painted Veil is really Naomi Watts’ film. Not only does she possess a luminous beauty, she’s also such a fine actress – just see how she goes from this despicable girl to a tragic wife in two hours.

If you’re in the mood for a moving, epic romance, don’t miss The Painted Veil.

May 28, 2010

There won’t be blood

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:47 pm

May 28, 2010

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neil, Willem Dafoe

Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Vampire movies are the cash cow in Hollywood currently, and if the multi-million dollar grossing “Twilight” franchise isn’t proof enough, then don’t forget they’re also doing an American remake of the excellent Swedish vampire film “Let The Right One In”.

Latest big-screen vamp-saga “Daybreakers” is set sometime in the near future when the world is almost entirely populated by vampires, and humans are hunted to the brink of extinction. No wonder there’s a worldwide blood famine taking place, which is slowly turning the starved fangsters into violent bat-like beasts.

Meanwhile, earnest vampire scientist Edward (played by Ethan Hawke) must figure out a solution, or find a substitute for human blood before it’s too late.

Shot as a darkly stylish horror film, “Daybreakers” does have some moments of pure jump-in-your-seat thrills, like that early scene in which a creature swoops into a kitchen and hangs itself upside down from the ceiling, growling as if hungry for a midnight meal. Or the scene in which a bunch of heavily disfigured vampires are chained and led into the sunlight to meet with a flaming end.

“Daybreakers” is entertaining as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and pretend to be a B-movie with a conscience. There are some cheesy turns by veteran actors like Sam Neil and Willem Dafoe, but ultimately the film is too long for its own good. If you can get over the sluggish pace and the convenient twist in the end, it’s not an unwatchable film.

I’m going with two out of five for “Daybreakers”. The doomsday feel and the stark production design give it strong visual appeal, even if the plot itself is hard to appreciate beyond a point.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Snarky superhero returns

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 5:42 pm

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson, Sam Rockwell

Director: Jon Favreau

In Robert Downey Jr the makers of the “Iron Man” movies have indeed found a superhero that can fix every seemingly impossible problem – including the cluttered and unnecessarily over-convoluted script of “Iron Man 2”.

The actor returns as billionaire industrialist and egotist-beyond-compare Tony Stark, who refuses to hand over the secrets behind his super-weapons and his shiny red suit to the US government, declaring pompously instead: “I have successfully privatized world peace.”

This time round Iron Man is pitted against Ivan Vanko or Whilpash (played by Mickey Rourke), a heavily tattooed Russian who harbors a grudge against the Stark family.

In the film’s most stunning action sequence, Vanko attacks Tony Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix, wielding a pair of electrically-powered whips that can rip a racing car down the middle.

In terms of sheer spectacle value, there are a handful of exciting set-pieces, some great explosions, lots of dizzying special effects, and so much noise that you might have to worry for your eardrums.

Still “Iron Man 2” is missing the sheer snarky humor of the first film. Stark was introduced to us as an incorrigible womanizer, a self-destructive alcoholic, and while Downey slips into that role effortlessly for this second outing, the script doesn’t give him enough crackling lines or a chance to let loose.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark’s secretary and possible love interest Pepper Potts, and this time they’ve also thrown in Scarlett Johansson in auburn tresses as the sexy martial arts expert Natalie or the Black Widow. Don Cheadle replaces Terence Howard as Stark’s military buddy Rhody, and Sam Rockwell plays Stark’s oily business rival Justin Hammer.

As action blockbusters go, “Iron Man 2” delivers more bang for your buck than most recent summer releases. But judged purely on its storytelling merits, it’s a less than spectacular sequel. What makes it engaging nonetheless is Robert Downey Jr, who’s possibly the only superhero in film who’s more exciting to watch outside of his suit. Downey throws himself into the part and seems to enjoy every moment of it, making it as much fun for you to watch.

I’m going with three out of five for “Iron Man 2”. For an enjoyable afternoon at the cinema, it’s your best bet this weekend.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Death becomes her

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 5:40 pm

May 07, 2011

Cast: Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shabana Azmi, Goldy Notay, Steve Morphew
Director: Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha’s latest, “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” is missing the energy and the zing of her previous hit “Bend It Like Beckham”, but it’s a moderately entertaining film nonetheless thanks to some witty dialogue, and the enthusiastic performances of its two female protagonists.

This serial-killer comedy stars Shabana Azmi as frustrated Southall mother Mrs Sethi, who’s so desperate to see her plump daughter married that she bumps off anyone who rejects her. Four of her victims — who she has suffocated by naan, struck on the head with a rolling pin, stabbed with a kebab skewer, and fed red-hot curry until his stomach explodes — come back as grey-powdered ghosts and haunt Mrs Sethi, who’s unwilling to release them by killing herself before her daughter is hitched.

Left with no option, this quartet of spirits decides to help her set up her daughter Roopi (played by Goldy Notay) with a charming Indian detective (played by Sendhil Ramamurthy of “Heroes”) who’s been brought in to investigate these ‘curry killings’.

The silliness of the plot is not so much the problem here as the fact that it’s so regressive. Bad enough the old biddy weeps copious tears and goes on and on about not wanting her girl to miss out on the joy of companionship, it’s embarrassing that even the seemingly self-reliant daughter cuddles up to her BFF and mopes that she wasn’t good enough for a fiancé who dumped her.

Ironic that the same director who delivered such a spirited, progressive take on women and unconventional career choices in “Bend It Like Beckham” does a complete 360-degrees with this sentimental, old-fashioned tale that encourages stereotypes, whereas “Beckham” celebrated the idea of breaking out of the mould.

Similarly, in this film Chadha deprives the heroine of any personality, reducing Roopi to a jalebi-hogging frump who we never get a real sense of, apart from noticing that she’s a good friend and a caring daughter. We learn that she works at a shelter for abused women, but she might as well have been working at a car-wash, because we see no attachment to the job, or even a passing reference to what her career means to her.

If you’re able to empathize with Mrs Sethi’s pain or with Roopi’s awkwardness despite these glaring inconsistencies in the script, it’s because Shabana Azmi invests a real beating heart into her character, which might have otherwise slipped so easily into caricature; and because Goldy Notay brings a tinge of pathos to the character of the constantly ridiculed daughter.

Some easy laughs are provided by Brit-actress Sally Hawkins who stars as Roopi’s psychic best friend Linda, who returns from a six-week spiritual holiday in India with a new Indian name, an Indian fiancé, and all the answers to life.

The four embittered ghosts deliver some clever asides between them. And although Chadha’s typical British deadpan humor works at points, it also makes you long for some deep belly laughs. She gets it right with a hilarious climax that doffs its hat to that famous prom scene from “Carrie”, but alas that scene is stretched too long for its good.

In the end, it’s a little too sentimental for an out-and-out comedy, but makes for time-pass viewing on a lazy weekend.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five and an average rating for director Gurinder Chadha’s “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife”. Don’t expect to be falling off your chair with laughter, but still more enjoyable than watching “Housefull” any day.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dusty sandstorm

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:04 am

May 28, 2010

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley

Director: Mike Newell

In “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”, there’s a dagger that can be used to turn back the clock and correct one’s mistakes. If only such a dagger existed, I know I’d have used it to go back to that moment when I was entering the cinema and I’d have chosen to watch another film instead.

The movie, based on a popular video game, is a relentless orgy of special effects and CGI, and stars a buffed Jake Gyllenhaal as Prince Dastan of Persia who’s on the run after being framed for the murder of his father, the king. Dastan was adopted as a little orphan boy from the streets and raised by the king alongside his two biological sons.

Ben Kingsley plays the princes’ treacherous uncle Nizam who has his eyes on the earlier-mentioned dagger, which he intends to use for his selfish benefit. The dagger incidentally has found its way to Dastan, who obtained it in the holy city that he raided with his brothers while searching for deadly weapons that, turns out, didn’t exist. Sounds familiar?

Gemma Arterton plays Princess Tamina, guardian of the dagger who must follow Dastan around, bicker with him endlessly, and ultimately serve as the film’s obligatory love interest.

Packed with breathless chases and stunts, including leaps across walls and rooftops and camelbacks, the film has a distinctly video-game feel to it; Dastan must overcome hurdle after hurdle until he vanquishes the bad guys in the end. The convoluted plot, when it fully reveals itself, turns out to be ridiculously simplistic, but it’s all mired under dreadful dialogue and stereotyped characterization. The dagger’s magical powers remove much of the life-or-death tension in the film because you know everything bad that happens can be fixed.

So in the end, it’s up to the film’s leading man to keep you charmed. Now while Jake Gyllenhaal is a credible actor, and while he has clearly spent several hours in the gym preparing for this part, he still appears a little out of place in a film as physical, and indeed over-the-top as this!

I’m going with two out of five for “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”. Despite some noisy action set-pieces, it’s a fantasy film without much fun!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 21, 2010

Flies, but never soars

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:27 am

May 21, 2010

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Barbara Mori, Kabir Bedi, Kangana Ranaut

Director: Anurag Basu

Appropriate that Brett Ratner, director of such bloated Hollywood blockbusters as Rush Hour and X:Men: The Last Stand decided to put his weight behind the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Kites, itself an all-too-familiar yet engaging popcorn flick about lovers on the run that’s padded with enough explosions and car chases to burn a sizeable hole in any studio’s pocket.

Directed by Anurag Basu, Kites stars Hrithik Roshan as J, a charismatic Vegas hustler who thinks he has it made when he attracts Gina (played by Kangana Ranaut), the pretty daughter of a powerful and dangerous casino owner. But when he locks eyes with the ravishing Natasha (played by Mexican actress Barbara Mori), the fiancee of Gina’s hotheaded brother Tony, mutual attraction strikes and before you know it the couple is on the run from Gina’s angry family.

Scripted by as many as four writers (one is credited for story, three for screenplay), Kites is woefully predictable and ridiculously repetitive, even as the film’s second half is punctuated by long-winded chases across the stark Mexican desert and elaborate shootout scenes that always seem to end with J escaping from his pursuer by the skin of his teeth.

The fresh twist to this old-fashioned story is provided by the fact that J and Natasha share only fractured bits of dialogue as he speaks no Spanish, and she speaks no English or Hindi. Yet it’s their smoldering chemistry, their playful flirtations, and their comical attempts to communicate that make this less-than-spectacular film undeniably watchable. Basu creates wonderful little moments that are hard to resist, like the one in which they make shadow puppets against a wall without exchanging any words. Or the scene in which they bicker in a bank where things have gone horribly wrong.

Stunningly shot by Ayananka Bose who references everything from Thelma & Louise to Road To Perditionfor some of the film’s key moments, Kites has the look and feel of a sumptuous A-grade Hollywood production, combined with the cheese factor of a Bollywood B-movie – caricaturish villains, clunky dialogue, and over-sentimental back-stories about dead parents.

But popcorn entertainers are best enjoyed when they aren’t overanalyzed, and Kites is no exception. Thrilling action set-pieces, a super-fluid dance number to show off Hrithik’s killer moves, and repeated glimpses at the toned bodies of both lead stars. It’s almost enough to forgive the uniformly bad acting of all supporting cast, particularly Nicholas Brown who plays Natasha’s nostril-flaring, revenge-seeking fiance Tony. As the unceremoniously dumped Gina, meanwhile, Kangana Ranaut is wasted in a role that appears either unfairly under-written or mercilessly edited.

It’s evident the makers have chosen to focus solely on the blindingly good-looking lead pair, who are in all fairness, this film’s saving grace. The sparks between Hrithik Roshan and Barbara Mori light up the screen, and Hrithik’s performance in particular makes up for many of the lapses, including the film’s sluggish pace. For them alone, Kites is worth a watch.

I’m going with three out of five for director Anurag Basu’s Kites. Watch it because it’s an ambitious, brave experiment that may not always work, but it tries. Which is more than what one can say about many films we’ve seen recently.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Fairy tale ending

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:25 am

May 21, 2010

Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz

Director: Mike Mitchell

All good things must come to an end, and movie franchises are no exception. In Shrek Forever After, the fourth and allegedly final chapter in the series, the sense of mischief and fun that went missing in the third film has thankfully been re-injected.

Still married to Fiona and a year into becoming a father to triplets, our lovable green ogre Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) appears to be worn down by the grind of domesticity, frustrated by the monotony of his routine existence. When he’s repeatedly badgered at his kids’ birthday party to “do the roar” that made him famous, Shrek loses it.

He realizes he misses his bachelor days and simple pleasures like terrorizing villagers and wallowing in the mud lazily. No wonder he enters into a pact with the evil Rumpelstiltskin to revisit his old life for one day. That pact turns out to be a trick, sending Shrek into a bizarre, alternate universe where his loyal friend Donkey doesn’t know him, Puss in Boots has grown fat and lazy, and Fiona is a warrior princess leading a rebellion against Rumpelstiltskin, the despotic ruler of the land. To make things right again, Shrek must befriend Donkey and woo Fiona, but good luck with that in a land where Rumpelstiltskin’s witches are hunting ogres in the woods.

Recovering pretty quickly from the dullness that threatened to seep into the franchise with that misstep that was Shrek The Third, this fourth film focuses more on characters than story to pull you in. Although the plot retreads much of the same formula as the first Shrek movie, its premise – of the characters having to rediscover each other – allows us to see the bunch as we have known them and loved them over the years.

Motormouth Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy), and suave swashbuckling Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) get the best lines in this film, while Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) makes a convincing action heroine. Cruel con-man Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn) is a complete hoot, and many laughs are to be had from his wacky wig changes.

The humor in Shrek Forever After isn’t as fresh as in the first two films, but there’s enough pleasure to be had from the hilarious interactions between the characters, and the 3D effects which includes a dragon leaping out at you among other things.

I’m going with 3 out of 5 for Shrek Forever After. It’s an exciting ride and you will enjoy it. But it does feel like it’s the right time for Shrek to say goodbye.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 14, 2010

What a bummer!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:49 pm

May 14, 2010

Cast: Darsheel Safary, Ziyah Vastani, Atul Kulkarni, Rituparna Sengupta
Director: Priyadarshan

There are so many things wrong with director Priyadarshan’s adaptation of Iranian gem Children of Heaven, you can’t decide where to start.

The film’s awkward title — Bumm Bumm Bole — has no relevance to the story whatsoever, but appears to be a reference to a song in Taare Zameen Par whose young star Darsheel Safary is the lead in this film too.

No concern for geographical accuracy or attention to detail, the director has filmed this movie in the idyllic town of Ooty where children attend Christian missionary schools; but with references to Bihu and tea plantations, and a sub-plot involving ULFA militants, it’s evident the story is set in Assam. And yet the characters dress like Kashmiris.

Sticking to the basic plot of Majid Majidi’s original film, Priyadarshan’s version is centered on a young boy’s search for his sister’s lost shoes, and culminates with him participating in a race in which he’s determined to come in third so he can win the corresponding prize: a pair of brand new sneakers. Until then, the boy and his little sister must share the same pair of shoes to school, petrified to tell the truth to their parents who cannot possibly afford a new pair.

The most fatal flaw in this Hindi adaptation is the miscasting of Darsheel Safary as the selfless brother. The kid is impishly cute and knows he can act, but comes off as too city-slick, and lacks the naiveté required to pull off the part convincingly.

Where the original film used subtleties and silences to convey emotions, Priyadarshan’s version goes for over-the-top melodrama, and throws in the unnecessary terrorist angle which only dilutes the impact of the siblings’ dilemma. Shameless product placement for a sporting goods brand and the use of songs in a narrative that didn’t need any is evidence of the fact that the makers aren’t above exploiting every possible situation to maximize commercial benefits.

Bumm Bumm Bole fails entirely because it’s hard to connect with the kids and their pain. There is an endearing charm to little Ziyah Vastani who plays the chatterbox sister, but it’s wasted in a film that has little integrity.

I recommend you stay home and watch the original film on DVD instead. Children of Heaven is a heartbreaking drama that’ll leave you with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.

This one, meanwhile, deserves to be skipped. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Priyadarshan’s Bumm Bumm Bole. Not worth your time.

Pregnant pause!

Filed under: Their Films — admin @ 2:45 pm

May 14, 2010

Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Michaela Watkins

Director: Alan Poul

Jennifer Lopez is sexy, and sure she can carry a tune. But – as films like Gigli, The Wedding Planner and Maid In Manhattan have proved — acting, particularly in romantic comedies, is not her thing. And yet she returns with another one!

In The Back-Up Plan, the artist formerly known as ‘Jenny From The Block’ plays a whiney pet-shop owner who’s given up on love, but desperately wants to have a baby. Prepared to raise a child as a single mom, she gets herself artificially inseminated. And then — surprise, surprise — she meets the man of her dreams.

Now I don’t know about you, but I thought the premise of this film was extremely shallow to begin with: a woman, unlucky in love, decides to get pregnant against the better judgment of everyone around her; and then the moment she meets Mr Right, she seems to regret the whole baby idea.

Worse still, you’d think someone who’s decided to go out and get herself artificially inseminated would know what a pregnancy involves, but this imbecile spends half the film moaning and groaning about her bum getting too fat, about morning sickness, and about how repulsed she is by the sight of childbirth itself.

Hello lady, you should’ve Googled all this before landing up at the sperm bank!

The truth is, even if you overlook how tasteless this scenario is, it still doesn’t work because there’s nothing to the story apart from her boyfriend breaking up with her about three times in the film.

The fellow in question is played by Australian newbie Alex O’Loughlin, who flirts with Lopez at the farmer’s market where he sells cheese for a living. In a later scene when she sees him shirtless, riding a tractor in his farm, she’s so distracted she rams her car into a tree. That’s the kind of humor this film expects you to laugh at.

There are other gags – her dog swallows her pregnancy test, she rips her dress when she bends down to pick up a lipstick, and at least a half-dozen instances of her falling down or bumping into things in her delicate state. I didn’t think any of it was funny.

Some of this damage might have been repaired if the two leads shared a crackling chemistry on screen; but Lopez and O’Loughlin have barely any spark between them, which is a pity because both are good-looking people, and everyone enjoys watching a good-looking couple in love.

By the time this film hurtles towards its predictable climax, you’re so bored you could scream out aloud and plead with them to make it stop. When it finally does end, you want to race to the exit at the cost of trampling over others’ feet.

I’m going with one out of five for The Back-Up Plan. Trivia buffs: if you pay close attention, perhaps you’ll catch the one quick appearance of Jennifer Lopez’s bare bum in the film. It’s not gratification enough for suffering this movie, however!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Eminently forgettable

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:25 am

May 14, 2010

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Emilie de Ravin, Pierce Brosnan

Director: Allen Coulter

Remember Me, starring Robert Pattinson, is a moody, morbid romantic drama that’s hard to appreciate even if you’re a die-hard fan of the Twilight star.

Pattinson isn’t playing anything close to a vampire, and yet manages to drain the energy out of you with his brooding, affected performance as Tyler, a troubled young NYC student, rebelling against his wealthy father (played by Pierce Brosnan) in the wake of his brother’s suicide. After he gets into a scrape with a cop one night, Tyler is persuaded by his friend to seek revenge on the officer by asking his daughter out and dumping her when she begins to like him.

Emilie de Ravin plays Ally, the subject of this revenge prank who, as you may have guessed, Tyler genuinely falls for. The couple warms to each other, and for a moment you think she might be the person who could save Tyler from his self-destructive streak, except that she’s got trauma issues of her own, having witnessed her mother’s murder as a child.

Instead of lightening the other’s load and helping each other come to terms with their loss, the couple seems to drag each other down into a self-indulgent whirl of despair, which seldom makes for attractive viewing.

Anchored by a script that’s gloomy for the most part, yet resorts to absurd melodramatics every now and then, Remember Me is an indulgent, tiresome watch not least because of all the emotional baggage its characters carry around.

Robert Pattinson plays mixed-up and misunderstood convincingly, but his angst-ridden outbursts are more laughable than anything else. The only moments that don’t appear contrived in this film are the scenes between Tyler and his little sister that are handled with marked subtlety.

The rest of the film unfortunately is buried under a shroud of fake profundity, making it an ordeal to endure, especially if you were expecting a simple enough, young love-story. The climax, in particular, which involves a major national tragedy, feels exploitative and offensive, and is indeed the final nail in the coffin.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Remember Me; it’s the kind of film that’s likely to be soon forgotten.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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