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

June 29, 2010

Spanish fly

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 7:02 am

Like his best films, Pedro Almodovar’s Volver is hard to define. The term itself means “to return”, and the film features an ensemble cast of primarily female characters.

The story starts with a sexual assault, an act of violence, and the cover-up that follows. But we’re not so concerned with crime and punishment as we are with the relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters and friends.

Spanning three generations of women, Volver stars Penelope Cruz as Raimunda, a housewife who works menial jobs to support her teenage daughter and her deadbeat husband, three years after the death of her mother. Raimunda’s sister is lonely, and her friend who suffers from cancer is disturbed over the disappearance of her own mother.

Without giving away too much about the intricate plot, let me just say that the film’s central theme concerns Raimunda’s efforts to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and her mother’s efforts to atone for them. Anyone familiar with Almodovar’s cinema will agree it’s hard to explain the plot of his film because it’s like an onion waiting to be peeled, layer after layer revealing something new, something unique.

The film belongs to Penelope Cruz, who has never before seemed so comfortable in a role as she does playing Raimunda. It’s also an eye-opening experience, because studying her performance in Volver you’re able to understand exactly how little Hollywood has been able to use her talent.

If there was ever an award for Best Supporting Features, they’d have to give it to Penelope’s cleavage which is on full display here, and gets just as much screen-time in close-ups as do most of the other characters.

Jokes aside, Volver is rich in subtext, and constantly engaging.

June 28, 2010

From the ‘Grown Ups’ premiere in Cancun, Mexico

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 11:01 am


Waiting for the stars to show up on a red carpet is always painful for photographers and press. Much bitching and moaning always ensues. But the smart guys at Sony figured a surefire way of keeping photogs distracted/occupied at the red carpet premiere of Grown Ups in Cancun on Sunday.

Good-looking, half-naked models playing with balls! (Bollywood, there might be an idea here….considering our stars NEVER keep time!)

The stars did show up eventually, and all was fine. Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek and David Spade celebrated their $ 41 million opening weekend for Grown Ups by patiently taking dozens of questions from the gathered press.

I asked what it felt like to beat Tom Cruise’s shockingly disappointing  Knight & Day numbers (opening weekend: $ 20.5 million), to which Sandler cheekily replied: “Oh I had no idea”, while Hayek sportingly jumped in with: “Are you surprised? We have a great film!”

Next I asked about the “mixed” reviews. To which David Spade quickly replied: “I like that you’re calling them mixed!”

Sharp one, Spade! As of 10.30 pm on Sunday, Grown Ups had scored an abysmal 9% on the Tomatometer at Rottentomatoes.com where top international critics’ reviews are collected.

Seems like Sandler has just proved once again that his comedies are indeed review-proof!

27 June, 2010

June 27, 2010

Adults behaving badly!

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 7:43 pm

One of my favorite Hollywood actresses is Kate Winslet, and in Little Children she plays a bored stay-at-home mother who embarks on an affair with a stay-at-home dad (played by Patrick Wilson) who she first runs into at the park one afternoon.

The film, on one level is about adultery, but look at it from a larger perspective and you’ll notice it’s really a study of human behavior.

That detail incidentally, becomes more obvious when you consider the other story that’s running parallel here – about a convicted child molester (played by the excellent Jackie Earle Haley) who’s moved back home with his aged mother after doing time.

Both these stories run parallel and converge at the end in a fairly interesting manner.

Apart from a searing performance by Winslet, the film’s biggest strength is its brutally honest look at adultery and infidelity. The situations under which this couple comes together are so sad, real and relatable that it’s hard to judge them and persecute them as cheaters despite their morally questionable behavior.

Little Children is the kind of mature film that embraces the complexities of human nature instead of pretending that they don’t exist.

Women on top

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 6:12 am

Ever so often even an average film is improved considerably by the performances of its leads, and the Meryl Streep-Uma Thurman starrer Prime is a good example.

The film’s about 37-year-old divorcee Rafi (played by Thurman), and a good-looking 23-year-old painter David (played by Bryan Greenberg) whom she meets and falls in love almost instantly. But there’s a problem – turns out the the young man in question is the son of Rafi’s shrink, Lisa (played by Meryl Streep).

Avoiding the obvious direction a premise like this would take if it were treated as a rom-com, Prime takes the drama route. And throws up some pertinent, pressing questions.

Essentially there are two big dilemmas that trouble the three protagonists: first, of course, is the age issue. Rafi is way older than her new boyfriend. And two, the whole professional relationship between Rafi and her shrink is upset by the fact that Lisa’s son is dating her patient.

To be entirely honest, I didn’t think this was a great film. But it was engaging to a great extent because the two female leads are fabulous in it.

Only Meryl Streep can make even mundane scenes come to life with her spontaneous performance. And watching the drop-dead gorgeous Uma Thurman deal with such ‘normal’ love problems is possibly reassuring to women everywhere.

Prime is the kind of guilty pleasure you might consider watching on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

June 25, 2010

Bare bore!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:12 pm

June 25, 2010

Cast: Prashant Narayanan, Aruna Shields, Naved Aslam, Lucy Hassan

Director: Pravesh Bharadwaj

Mr Singh / Mrs Mehta takes the premise of Wong Kar-Wai’s celebrated film In The Mood For Love, and turns that delicate tale of passion and betrayal into a trite, sleazy saga.

When a London businessman’s wife Neera (played by Aruna Shields) discovers that her husband is having an affair with a married woman, she turns up to confront the mistress. Instead she meets the lady’s unsuspecting spouse Ashwin (played by Prashant Narayanan), and over time the two enter into an affair of their own.

Ashwin, a struggling artist, now finds himself inspired to paint Neera in the nude. Cue for several boring sessions where he throws paint on the canvas while Neera shows off her back and bum to the camera. Believe me, it’s not sexy.

Mr Singh / Mrs Mehta doesn’t have a shred of artistic merit. The film is tackily shot and feels as if the director had no idea how to go forward with his threadbare plot. Ashwin and Neera yak on and on about how they fell in love with their spouses, until you want to throw up your hands and yell, “Who cares?”

What’s infinitely worse is the dreadful acting. Naved Aslam, playing Neera’s husband Mr Singh, puts on an affected cheery performance that makes you want to drown him in his marble bathtub. Aruna Shields, who you might remember from the Vivek Oberoi-starrer Prince, is more stiff than a corpse. She plays a richie-rich wife, but when she’s not posing in the buff, she sports the same brown coat and Burberry handbag in every single scene. Attention to detail is clearly not this film’s forte. As for lead actor Prashant Narayanan, whom you could once depend on for a solid performance, he mutters and stares blankly, and rolls cigarette after cigarette in every second scene as if he was shooting for an instruction video.

This film might have worked as soft-core porn, but alas it doesn’t even engage on that level. I’m going with one out of five for director Pravesh Bharadwaj’s Mr Singh / Mrs Mehta. That’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back. Word of advice to everyone involved: if you’re going to take your clothes off on screen, don’t forget the body make-up!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Toys will be toys!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:47 pm

June 25, 2010

Cast: Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton

Director: Lee Unkrich

Few sequels live up to their original films, but the Toy Story movies seem to get it right each time. Toy Story 3 is not only one of the best films you’ll see this year, it’s also the finest third instalment in any movie series since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. ((pause)) If the first two films were about Andy’s attachment to his toys, this final one in the series is about the toys and their destiny without Andy.

Left in a chest for years, the toys know their fate is about to be decided when Andy, now a teenager, prepares to leave for college. Only Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), his oldest and favorite toy will accompany him to campus.

Fearing they might be thrown away into a dump truck, or left forgotten in Andy’s attic, the rest of the toys sneak into a box of things that Andy intends to donate. So Buzz Lightyear, Jessie the cowgirl, Mr & Mrs Potato Head, Hamm the piggybank, Rex the dinosaur, and Barbie land up at the Sunnyside Daycare Centre for children, where they know at least they’ll get attention from the little ones. The daycare center, as it turns out, is more like a prison camp where the older toys bully the newcomers until they plot a stunning, dramatic escape.

Funny, thrilling, scary and sad, Toy Story 3 packs in a countless number of impactful moments and scenes that arouse every conceivable emotion. The key themes of the Toy Story films have always been friendship and loyalty, and this movie takes it further. The toys are confronted with the troubling dilemma of having to choose between their loyalty to Andy who doesn’t need them anymore, and their resolve to stick firmly by each other’s side through thick and thin.

The Toy Story movies have always had some dark undertones, and that continues here. In one fantastic, edge-of-the-seat sequence, the toys find themselves staring death straight in the face; and while that scene is likely to disturb very young audiences, it also reveals just how much we have come to care for these characters.

Don’t be embarrassed when your eyes brim with tears in the film’s final 20 minutes, the most moving climax I’ve seen recently. To be fair, it’s hard to think of a more satisfying ending to this series.

Although Toy Story 3 isn’t as groundbreaking and edgy as Wall-E, or as wildly unpredictable as Up, it’s hard to deny how utterly convincing and engaging the story is, despite being fairly conventional. We’re introduced to a bunch of new characters, my favorite being the seemingly jovial stuffed bear Lotso at the daycare center, who turns out to be the chief tyrant there. You also have Ken, the preening, fashion-conscious male doll who’s rewarded with a hilarious romantic track opposite airhead Barbie.

Like the earlier two films, this one too I suspect will work for both kids and older audiences, who will embrace different things in the same film. It’s been released widely in 3D, but the movie works perfectly without the extra dimension.

I’m going with four out of five for Pixar’s Toy Story 3. You leave the cinema content with the way things have ended, but also a little sad that you’re never going to meet these characters again.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Team players

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

June 25, 2010

Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quentin “Rampage” Johnson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel

Director: Joe Carnahan

The A-Team film, a big-screen adaptation of the popular 80s TV show, is nothing if not a string of explosions and bloated set pieces. But come on, the never-ending supply of smart-alec lines, and the chemistry between its four leads makes this nonsensical action blockbuster pretty good fun after all!

Liam Neeson stars as Col John “Hannibal” Smith, the cigar-chewing leader of this elite military squad that carries out inventive and daring escapades. His second-in-command is Templeton “Face” Peck (played by Bradley Cooper), the group’s pretty-boy lothario whose role in any plan invariably involves seducing some unsuspecting woman, a task he performs impeccably. Quentin “Rampage” Johnson plays tough-nut-with-a-conscience BA Baracus, the character made famous in the show by the unforgettable Mr T. And District 9‘s Sharlto Copley is the borderline insane “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, the daredevil pilot in the group.

The film opens when the quartet takes a top-secret assignment, which results in their being falsely framed. They’re promptly arrested; hell bent on proving their innocence they break out and embark on an elaborate mission to bring the real bad guys to task so their names can be permanently cleared.

From here it’s all preposterous action sequences, including one in which the team flies a military tank — you have to see that to believe it! There’s also the loud and rather silly climax at the docks where hundreds of containers are blown up like little matchboxes. One particularly exciting sequence involves a kidnap and heist from a German skyscraper that’s followed by a breathless foot-chase.

You don’t expect much of a plot in a movie like this, but it’s to the credit of the writers that they manage to put together a half-decent yarn. Also, unlike many big-budget action films that boast impressive set-pieces, but fail you involve you with its characters, The A-Team works because it’s the characters who drive the story. The constant banter between Murdock and Baracus is hilarious, and Face delivers enough witty one-liners to keep you smiling most of the time. Liam Neeson appears to having a good time in action-hero mode, and although he repeats it too many times in the film there’s a sense of real nostalgia and mischief when he delivers that classic line, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

I’m going with a generous three out of five for director Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team. It’s unpretentious, shameless good fun. Especially if you enjoy watching things being blown up every few minutes.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

June 21, 2010

‘Breaking Dawn’ will be broken up

Filed under: What I'm Reading — admin @ 5:37 pm

June 20, 2010

Which film beat Lagaan for the Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film Category in 2001?

Filed under: Quiz — Rajeev @ 5:13 pm

BFTP: Jackie Chan’s Bollywood dance moves

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 3:30 pm

I met Jackie Chan in Hong Kong in June 2004. He was warm and gracious, and patiently answered all my questions although so many of them were so silly 🙂 He spoke about his love for action and stunts, his next film which he was heading to India to shoot (this is probably the turd that was The Myth), and even showed me some impromptu dance moves to convince me he could easily slip into a Bollywood movie.

(This interview first aired on Star News)

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