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

October 8, 2010

Dead down under

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:34 pm

October 08, 2010

Cast: Emran Hashmi, Neha Sharma, Arjan Bajwa

Director: Mohit Suri

With Crook, director Mohit Suri raises the issue of racism against Indians in Australia, but reduces that globally relevant concern to an amateurish vendetta story.

The film stars Emran Hashmi as a petty movie pirate who immigrates illegally to Melbourne, and falls for an earnest radio jockey (played by newcomer Neha Sharma). Her brother (played by Arjan Bajwa) is a nostril-flaring angry man who repeatedly mutters puerile dialogue about holding on to his culture, and who picks fights with the local goras.

Admirably the film doesn’t take sides, and illustrates how the ‘victims’ of racism are guilty of practicing racism themselves. But Crook doesn’t have the skill or the scale to address the issue on a serious level. The plot degenerates into a predictable revenge fantasy, in which the trigger for these racial clashes is an aborted romance.

Clumsily scripted, the film focuses more on romance and comedy than the issue it claims to address. The second half in particular is a mangled mess that climaxes in an unintentionally comical scenario involving an Australian stripper bound to an abortion table in an abandoned warehouse, preparing to be killed by a vengeance-seeking Indian.

Colossally disappointing even going by the modest standards of director Mohit Suri’s previous films, Crook has neither the slickness of Zeher nor the sensitivity of Woh Lamhe. It’s just badly written, badly acted, and badly directed.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Mohit Suri’s Crook. Surely you have better things to do than watch this film!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Forever whine

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:32 pm

October 08, 2010

Cast: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Viola Davis

Director: Ryan Murphy

Roughly ten minutes into Eat Pray Love, the protagonist of this movie, played by Julia Roberts, announces dramatically: “I’m sick of me”. Slumped over in your seat, exhausted by the character’s constant whining, you wake up momentarily to enthusiastically agree.

Roberts stars as New York writer Elizabeth Gilbert, on whose best-selling memoir this dreadfully boring film is based. Having broken up her marriage (to Billy Crudup), and then abandoned a relationship with a younger stage actor (played by James Franco), Liz decides to take a year off and go traveling in search of personal fulfillment.

First stop is Italy, where Liz discovers the joys of good food, and talks about empowering herself by putting on weight. She heads next to an ashram in India where she learns how to meditate, and subsequently to ‘forgive herself’ thanks to some valuable advice from a fellow pilgrim (played by Richard Jenkins). And finally, she lands up in Bali where she finds love with a good-looking Brazilian (played by Javier Bardem), and even makes herself feel noble by doing a little charity.

Despite the captivating presence of Julia Roberts, Eat Pray Love doesn’t work because her character comes off as incredibly selfish, and her dilemma appears suffocatingly superficial. She’s a privileged woman, financially independent, who can afford to go off on this incredible adventure, and yet she never stops whining.

The film is gorgeously shot and has a travel-brochure feel to it, but there’s an embarrassing sense of shallowness in the protagonist’s attraction to all things exotic – food, religion and boyfriend. There is no escape from cultural stereotyping either: the streets of Rome are filled with lovers who don’t bother to get a room, and what American film set in India can be complete without a noisy marriage scene, and an encounter with an elephant?

Throughout its 2 hours and 20 minutes running time the film assaults you with all that supposedly insightful psychobabble about life and about discovering one’s true self, that’s dished out by the various characters that cross Liz’s path. And yet in the end, the movie seems to suggest that the reward for going out and finding yourself – is just another man!

I’m going with a generous two out of five for director Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love. Keep your expectations low, and perhaps you won’t be entirely disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Town without pity

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

October 08, 2010

Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm, Blake Lively

Director: Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck’s second directorial outing The Town, is a tense, thrilling crime drama set on the streets of Boston, a geography Affleck is only too familiar with.

Affleck himself stars as Doug, the leader of a four-member crew that specializes in bank robberies in which they wear elaborate costumed disguises. During their latest heist, Doug’s impulsive partner and childhood best friend Jem (played by Jeremy Renner) takes the bank manager hostage, but later releases her. When the gang discovers that the manager Claire (played by Rebecca Hall) lives in their own blue-collar Charlestown neighborhood, and may be able to identify them despite their masks, they panic. Doug decides to keep an eye on her, and ends up meeting her again. Romance blossoms, without her realizing that Doug was involved in the heist. Jem is enraged that Doug is involved with Claire, and balks when Doug says he’s thinking of going straight and starting afresh with his new love. He manages, however, to convince Doug to participate in one last job that their boss has marked out for them.

Despite the film’s familiar premise and conventional narrative, Affleck directs with flair and confidence, his skills shining through particularly in the action portions that have a kinetic, realistic quality. Watch how he builds the tension in that harrowing car chase through the narrow streets of Boston, or in that nail-biting getaway scene at Fenway Park.

It helps that Affleck knows these crime-ridden streets of working-class Boston so intimately, a fact that became clear from his excellent directorial debut, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. Shooting on location gives this film a lived-in feel, and the ace performances from its cast is the icing on the cake.  Rebecca Hall has a silent grace to her, and John Hamm is in good form as the straight-arrow FBI agent working on the case. Affleck himself makes a lasting impression in a quiet, strong role, playing that central conflicted character with remarkable subtlety. But it’s Jeremy Renner as his short-fused accomplice whose performance eclipses everyone else’s in this movie.

The Town is a terrific film, betrayed by occasional script holes that stick out in an otherwise tight screenplay. That aside, it’s engaging from the moment in, and doesn’t let go of your attention till the lights come back on in the end.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ben Affleck’s The Town. Don’t miss it if you’re a fan of tough, urban thrillers – this is as good as they come!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

The quiet American

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

October 08, 2010

Cast: George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido

Director: Anton Corbjin

George Clooney-starrer The American could work as a good cure for anyone battling insomnia. This agonizingly slow-paced but stylishly-shot thriller sees Clooney cast as a professional assassin named Jack, who is instructed by his handler to lie low in a quiet Italian town when it appears that a team of Swedish hit-men may be on his tail.

Hanging out in cafes and wine bars waiting for things to blow over, Jack befriends a prostitute he gradually falls for, and a priest with whom he walks about town discussing existential issues. He also accepts an assignment from a mysterious woman to build a high-tech rifle. On days that he stays in, waiting for parts of weaponry to arrive in the mail, Jack works out in his modest apartment, or sits around morosely contemplating his life.

There is little dialogue in The American, and very little action or drama. The background score is sparse, and the overall tone of the film is meditative. However, the sense of tension and intrigue never builds to the point where you’re clutching the edge of your seat anxiously.

The film’s key themes – of redemption, and starting afresh – are all-too familiar, but the filmmaker’s minimalist approach to telling this story is disconcerting. Even the effortlessly cool Clooney appears uncomfortable, trapped in a character he can’t seem to wrap his head around.

At the screening I attended, I could distinctly hear the sound of snoring from a lady sitting in the row behind me. To be fair, I was struggling to keep awake myself.

The American has its moments, but they’re few and far between. I’m going with a generous two out of five for The American. If you do decide to watch this film, go armed with lots of patience.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

“Can’t believe it’s been 30 years!” say Rishi & Neetu

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 3:20 am


In this two-part studio interview, one of Bollywood’s favourite on-screen couples Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh take a nostalgic trip down some of their evergreen musical hits, and reveal why they decided to act together again after 30 years in Do Dooni Chaar.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 7, 2010

Richard Jenkins on shooting ‘Eat Pray Love’ with Julia Roberts in India

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:06 am

He’s one of those actors you instantly recognize from dozens of films you’ve enjoyed, but whose name doesn’t ring a bell right away. Equally comfortable at both broad humor and drama, Richard Jenkins’ resume boasts some of the most enduring comedies in recent times: Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Say It Isn’t So, Me Myself & Irene, There’s Something About Mary.

But it was all the way back in 1996 in David O Russel’s Flirting With Disaster that first made Hollywood take note of him. As the seemingly staid, by-the-book DEA agent who shockingly admits he’s in love with his male partner (played by Josh Brolin), and experiences a show-stopping acid freakout, Jenkins was a revelation.

He received some of his best notices for North Country in 2005, as a father who slowly rises to the defence of his daughter (played by Charlize Theron) when she is assaulted at her mine working job.

Then two years later Jenkins landed his first leading role in The Visitor, an affecting drama about a mild-mannered professor whose empty life is suddenly enriched by the presence of three Syrian immigrants facing deportation. The film earned him his first ever Academy Award nomination.

My favourite of Jenkins’ work, however, was in the excellent HBO show Six Feet Under, in which his character Nathaniel Fisher Sr, was killed in a horrific traffic accident within the first 10 minutes of the pilot episode, but returned sporadically throughout the series’ run to impart advice and warnings to his eldest son Nate (played Peter Krause) from beyond the grave.

In Eat Pray Love, Jenkins plays a fellow American who runs into Julia Roberts’ Liz Gilbert at an ashram in India where he helps her ‘forgive herself’. The actor has said he took the part only so he could work with the Pretty Woman star. In this interview I recorded in Cancun in July 2010, Jenkins reveals he has an old relationship with India.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 2, 2010

Kangana Ranaut blasts Anurag Basu for ‘Kites’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:04 am

Actress Kangana Ranaut blasts director Anurag Basu for giving her a raw deal in Kites, and explains why she can never trust her mentor again. She also reveals why she won’t play neurotic characters anymore.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 1, 2010

That stinking feeling

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

October 01, 2010

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Zayed Khan

Director: Siddharth Anand

Watching Anjaani Anjaani is the equivalent to having your foot run over by a speeding car – it’s an unbelievably painful experience.

Directed by Siddharth Anand, this film stars Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra as two depressed New Yorkers who meet at a bridge they’re both planning to jump off from. Ranbir plays Akash, who’s lost millions in the stock market crash and has a fat loan to pay off. Priyanka is Kiara, who recently discovered her fiancé was cheating on her. Suicide they decide is the best option, but because they’re basically a pair of morons, they can’t seem to pull it off despite repeated attempts.

Anjaana Anjaani is a challenge to sit through for two reasons in particular – the film has no script to speak of, and the characters are hard to sympathize with. The director can’t seem to decide if he’s making a light-hearted romantic comedy or an epic love story, and as a result the actors can’t seem to decide what tone to take. Priyanka Chopra goes from annoyingly bubbly to superficially soulful, and even the usually dependable Ranbir Kapoor struggles with a badly-defined role.

What Anjaana Anjaani lacks in terms of interesting plot and consistent characterization, director Siddharth Anand attempts to over-compensate with excesses like fancy foreign locations, stylishly shot songs, and trendy costumes. In this, Anjaana Anjaani evokes the memory of many bad films from the Yash Raj stable, at least three directed by Siddharth Anand himself.

There are few new ideas when it comes to romantic films – almost every premise has been exploited many times before – but such movies rely on distinctly original treatment to stand out from the crowd. Anjaana Anjaani, unfortunately, is not only painfully predictable but also deathly boring. Akash and Kiara indulge in long exchanges that are so calculated and pointless, you fight to stay awake. There is no real passion to their romance or chemistry between the leads, so you really couldn’t care less if they get together in the end or not.

In the name of comedy, the film offers a string of regressive jokes like a suggestive striptease by Akash in a gay club, followed by a scene in which he’s practically kidnapped by a male admirer. In another supposedly humorous sequence, Akash and Kiara go swimming in the ocean, and what follows are expected jokes about washed away boxer shorts and bursting bladders.

The film’s second half in particular is a test of your endurance, packed as it is with a never-ending stream of songs. Almost every few minutes of dialogue is followed up by a musical interlude till you want to tear your hair out in frustration.

I’m going with one out of five for director Siddharth Anand’s Anjaana Anjaani. Ranbir and Priyanka spend the entire film trying to kill themselves. In the end, as you may have guessed, they decide against it. But there’s a good chance you may want to.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Rise of the machines

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

October 01, 2010

Cast: Rajnikant, Aishwarya Rai, Danny Denzongpa

Director: Shankar

In a climatic sequence in Robot, thousands of Rajnikants link themselves together to form a huge drill, then a jumbo ball raining bullets, a massive python, and finally a towering giant who bursts from the underground. It’s moments like these when you lean back in your seat and salute director Shankar’s remarkable vision.

Unlike so many bloated sci-fi adventures we’ve seen, particularly in Bollywood, Robot has a clear idea and plot to hook the viewer in place rather than impress with empty special effects. When Vaseegaran, the brilliant scientist played by Rajni, creates an android resembling himself, he intends for it to become a weapon in the Indian army to avoid human lives being risked on the battlefield.

Christened Chitti, the super Robot soon has Vaseegaran’s family and his beautiful girlfriend Sana (played by Aishwarya Rai) eating out of his hand. But not everyone is taken in by the robot. Vaseegaran’s mentor Dr Bora (played by Danny Denzongpa) burns with envy, as he is secretly working on his own army of terrorist robots. He desperately needs the chip that propels Chitti, so he does his best to sabotage the relationship between Vaseegaran and Chitti. Yet he doesn’t have to try too hard – that age-old problem strikes. The girl comes between man and machine, when Chitti develops feelings for Sana.

A robot with feelings, you ask? Well, Shankar executes the idea interestingly. Chitti is taught emotions like happiness and sorrow by his creator, and he scans books describing feelings within nano-seconds. So when Chitti actually starts depicting jealousy pangs or signs of possessiveness, you’re engrossed.

In the first half, it’s difficult to fault Robot, with the fun it packs in. Shankar justifies the ambition of the idea, turning Chitti into a kind of superhero robot run on electrical charge, but with phenomenal strength. The robot can also cook up a mouth-watering buffet in seconds, dance like Prabhudeva, and karate chop ruffians into submission just like Bruce Lee.  In the midst of this, there is also a dash of humor thrown in to lighten the mood occasionally: As Chitti races sideways on a moving train to protect Sana from a band of rapists, he still has a moment to stamp the face of a man ready to unload a mouthful of paan spit.

And yet, to be fair, I must admit that even though I didn’t follow much of the dialogue when I watched an un-subtitled Tamil print of Sivaji three years ago, I found that previous collaboration between Rajnikant and Shankar to be funnier. You miss the comedy in Robot, especially because you see only flashes of it, in scenes like the one where Chitti forces the mosquito that bit Sana to go back and apologize to her.

Robot also lags when it sidetracks into the romance between Vaseegaran and Sana. It’s jarring, as is the film’s never-ending second-half, which mostly involves the scientist trying to rescue Sana from Chitti’s lair.

In the end, it’s the fantastic special effects and an inspired performance from Rajnikant that keeps the film fresh. The effort that Shankar has poured into this dream project is evident from the scale of Robot. Most local sci-fi films tend to ape Hollywood, but Robot never falls into that trap. Shankar stays with the sensibilities of his audiences here, and that’s what sets the special effects apart. Even though you feel a little fatigued by the extended action sequences, every once in a while, you catch yourself smiling at how Chitti swivels his head 360 degrees when he’s racing a car or the comic-book style with which he fires an armful of ammunition.

Rajnikant’s aura is usually bigger than the movies he’s in, yet with Robot, he tailors himself to the double role. It’s hard to imagine another actor in these super-robot shoes. Chitti is absolutely lovable and when he’s led astray, Rajni invests his evil with flair.

Aishwarya looks gorgeous, but her damsel-in-distress act is too wide-eyed and shrill. AR Rahman’s soundtrack is music to the ears, and in the director’s trademark style, the visualization of the songs stand out for their originality – especially the breathtaking Kilimanjaro song shot at the heights of Machu Picchu.

Ultimately, if there’s anything that eats into the fun you have watching this movie, it’s the length. Almost three hours long, Robot gets rusty with too many songs and a handful of unnecessary sequences that play spoilsport. Still, I’m going with three out of five for Shankar’s Robot. If you enjoy spectacle in your cinema, Robot is an adventure waiting for you at the cinemas.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

John Matthew Matthan on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:26 pm

Filmmaker John Matthew Matthan talks about the film that changed his life.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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