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

February 25, 2011

Marry go round

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

February 25, 2011

Cast: R Madhavan, Kangana Ranaut, Jimmy Shergill, Deepak Dobriyal

Director: Anand L Rai

Unpredictability is usually a good thing when it comes to movies, but Tanu Weds Manu is unpredictable to the point of being bizarre.

R Madhavan plays London-settled Dilliwala Manu Sharma who falls hopelessly in love with the girl his parents have selected for him, the moment he first sees her. No problem there, except that the girl Tanu Tripathi, played by Kangana Ranaut, happens to be unconscious during their first meeting. Creepy, some would say.

In tracking the haphazard romance between Tanu and Manu, this film travels like a video diary through North India: from Kanpur to Lucknow to Meerut to New Delhi to Punjab. This gives the narrative a charming touch, but that thrill fades quickly.  And you notice the hitch almost immediately – Tanu Weds Manu suffers from a painful Jab We Met hangover.

Chattering nineteen to the dozen and wholly spontaneous, Tanu could be a distant cousin of Kareena Kapoor’s Geet. Yet where Geet was endearingly goofy, Tanu comes across as plain selfish. One minute she’s ordering Manu to call off their engagement so she can run off with her boyfriend, the next, she’s leading him on shamelessly when she runs into him at a friend’s wedding. And yet, just why she’s so rebellious remains a mystery to you.

Don’t spare any sympathy for Manu. He’s stuck in the ‘silently suffering romantic-hero’ stereotype. In short, he’s a big bore. He continues to pine for Tanu knowing full well she’s already committed, he convinces her parents to approve of the man she wants to marry, he even accompanies her to buy a wedding dress. Sure his puppy-dog devotion yields results. But not before the script takes so many harebrained twists and turns that nothing can surprise you anymore.

On the upside, Kangana Ranaut is a pleasant surprise in a cheery, upbeat part that we haven’t seen her take on before. She rises to the challenge, only hampered occasionally by her mangled dialogue delivery. R Madhavan, meanwhile, stuck in a thankless role is endearing at first, but is reduced to a doormat by the end of the film. And it’s hard to root for a pushover. But the winning performance in this film comes from Deepak Dobriyal (of Omkara) who offers a hilarious, uninhibited turn as Manu’s best friend and confidant, and just watching him react to Manu’s obsession with Tanu are some of the film’s best moments. In contrast Jimmy Shergill, as a friend Manu makes along the way, turns scowling into a fashion statement, over-reacting all the way.

Tanu Weds Manu isn’t all bad. There are portions in the first half that enjoyable. But held together by a fractured script, they fail to take good shape. I’m going with two out of five for director Anand Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu. It’s got some fine moments. Unfortunately they’re few and far between.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

How the west was won!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:31 pm

February 25, 2011

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

After flirting briefly with the Western in 2007’s No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers go the whole hog with True Grit, a faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name. Previously adapted into a film starring John Wayne, which won the iconic star his only Oscar, the book tells the story of a teenage girl who tracks down her father’s murderer with the help of one Rooster Cogburn, a boozy, grizzled, one-eyed US marshal with “true grit”.

The Coens’ take is darker, understated and almost surreal in places, and their film stars Jeff Bridges as the world-weary Cogburn who heads out into the stark wintry landscape accompanied by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) who’s hired him. They’re joined by Texas Ranger LaBouef (played by Matt Damon) on their dangerous chase after Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin), the man who robbed and killed the young girl’s father.

Stunningly filmed in hues of browns and greys, and set against a moody score, the film has all the trademarks of a typical Coen Brothers experience – shocking outbursts of violence, quirky supporting characters, and curious speech patterns. Bridges mumbles through his dialogue as the permanently drunken Cogburn, so much so that most of his words are incomprehensible. Yet it’s an impressive performance, especially for the comic touches he brings to his character, and that tinge of unpredictable menace.

The big revelation, however, is Steinfeld. While Mattie Ross hires Cogburn for his “true grit”, it’s the actress who exhibits it, standing tall alongside such solid actors as Bridges and Damon. She invests Mattie with confidence, courage and sass, and yet never turns into one of those annoying precocious teenagers.

Delivering both action and laughs, the film has a morbid sense of humor that’s likely to appeal to anyone who’s a fan of the Coens’ cinema. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for True Grit. It’s a smart Western for today’s times. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

The stars of True Grit react to the Oscar nominations

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:30 pm

In these interviews recorded in Berlin, Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin talk about their new film with the Coen Brother, True Grit. The actors discuss what it’s like working wtih the Coens, and also share their feelings on all the Oscar nominations the film has received.

(These interviews first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:30 pm

February 25, 2011

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams

Director: David O Russell

The Fighter, directed by David O Russell, is more than just a boxing movie. It’s as much a tense working-class family drama that delivers emotional punches outside the ring.

Set in Lowell, a small town in Massachussetts, the film is based on the true story and career of “Irish” Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his attempt to win the world light welterweight title. Training him is his older half-brother Dicky (played by Christian Bale), himself a former boxer who was once the pride of his community, but is now addicted to crack. With Dicky’s drug problem overshadowing his brother’s training, Micky is on a losing streak.

It’s Micky’s well-intentioned girlfriend Charlene (played by Amy Adams) who points out to him that to triumph inside the ring, he must first take on his spectacularly dysfunctional family, which includes his ferocious manager-mother Alice (played by Melissa Leo), and his seven tough, unmarried sisters.

Held up by remarkable performances from its cast, The Fighter works despite the fact that it’s a rather predictable story. Christian Bale is hard to take your eyes off as the skinny, hyper-animated Dicky Ecklund, who is at once infuriating, pitiful and comical. And few scenes are as thrilling as the ones in which Charlene clashes with Alice and her daughters, because the ladies throw themselves into their parts so convincingly. Strangely, the film’s least interesting character is Micky himself, who’s mostly passive and is usually the last person your eyes go to when there are others on screen. Mark Wahlberg, who’s produced the film too, plays Micky earnestly, but never shines in the way that the others do.

With its kitchen-sink drama approach, The Fighter has a TV-movie feel to it. Lacking much visceral impact, the boxing scenes are no match for those in Scorsese’s Raging Bull or even Stallone’s Rocky, but they do the job. The film is watchable until the very end because it expertly shifts between the gritty realism of working-class life and the kind of ‘triumph-against-all-odds’ ending that this kind of material demands.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Fighter. Watch it if you’re a fan of sports films, but definitely watch it if you’re not a sports fan because the only real matches that matter in this movie are the ones between family!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 20, 2011

How to win an Oscar!

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 10:48 pm


It’s no secret. Oscars love the handicapped. But there are rules to how far you can go. In the uproarious comedy Tropic Thunder, respected method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) explains the code for playing disabled to action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) who complains about being left out of the Oscar party despite playing a mentally challenged ‘Simple Jack’. Lazarus explains: “Everybody knows you never go full retard. Check it out: Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man – look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump, slow yes, retarded maybe, had braces on his legs but charmed the pants off Nixon, and he won a ping-pong competition, that ain’t retarded. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.”

Think about it. How often have you watched a performance in a film and gone: “Now that will get him an Oscar”? The Academy’s weakness for certain kinds of films and roles is legendary. It’s inspired spoofs, and the joke is that Hollywood studios make these films each year specifically to add to their Oscar tally.

With tongue firmly in cheek, here’s a how-to guide to winning an Oscar. 10 sure-fire ways to Oscar glory:

1. Handicaps help

Look down the annals of Oscar history and it’s a ‘who’s-got-what-handicap’ that always seems to make the cut. Past winners include Jamie Foxx (blind in Ray), Jack Nicholson (OCD in As Good As It Gets), Geoffrey Rush (mental illness in Shine), Al Pacino (blind in Scent of a Woman), Daniel Day Lewis (cerebral palsy in My Left Foot) and Cliff Robertson (mentally challenged in Charly). And that’s not even counting Lazarus’ shining examples of Hanks and Hoffman in Forrest Gump and Rain Man respectively.

Showy performances have always scored over the subtle. Case in point: The criticism the Academy received for overlooking Tom Cruise’s simmering performance as the ‘normal’ brother in Rain Man, and rewarding Dustin Hoffman’s attention-grabbing turn instead.

2. Play gay

When Sean Penn won the Oscar for playing slain gay senator Harvey Milk in 2009, he opened his acceptance speech by jokingly addressing the Academy as “You commie homo-loving sons-of-guns”. That may have been a reference to the Academy’s recent affection for gay characters in film. Although Tom Hanks (in Philadelphia) was the only high-profile star before Penn to win an Oscar for his portrayal of an openly gay character, let’s not forget nominations have been aplenty.

Ian McKellan was nominated for playing a troubled filmmaker lusting after his gardener in 1998’s Gods & Monsters. Javier Bardem landed a nod for his portrayal of gay Cuban poet and novelist Renaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000). This year, Colin Firth makes it to this list for his part as a lonely gay professor dealing with the death of his longtime companion in A Single Man.

And in 2005, both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal received nominations (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor respectively) for playing long-separated gay cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. Ironically, Best Actor went to Philip Seymour Hoffman that year for his performance in Capote, as the legendary author Truman Capote – who, by the way, also happened to be openly gay.

Playing a person of another gender always grabs Oscar eyeballs. In 2006, Felicity Huffman was nominated for her role as a transsexual on a road trip with her long-lost son in Transamerica. Hillary Swank even made the cut in 1999 when she nabbed Best Actress for playing out the real-life, gut-wrenching story of the murdered transgender man Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry.

3. Make a Holocaust film

In an episode of the British TV comedy series Extras, Kate Winslet, playing a mock version of herself reveals why actors grab roles in Holocaust dramas: “I’ve noticed if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar.” Winslet may have said that in jest, but ironically the actress won her first Oscar two years later for playing – yes, a Nazi guard in Holocaust movie, The Reader.

Don’t forget Steven Spielberg had directed more than 15 successful films (including E.T., Jaws, The Color Purple and Jurassic Park) before he finally won Best Director for Schindler’s List. Ditto for Roman Polanski, who in a career spanning 55 years and several acclaimed films, has won Best Director only once for The Pianist in 2003.

Even the ‘until-then-unknown-to-Hollywood’ Italian actor-director Roberto Benigni took home three Oscars in 1998 – including Best Actor and Best Foreign Language Film – for his bittersweet Holocaust-themed film, Life Is Beautiful.

4. If you’re a rom-com lead, go serious

At least twice in the past 10 years it’s been proven that when top-billed rom-com leads ditch the mush for some serious histrionics, the Academy is only too happy to respond. America’s Sweetheart Julia Roberts scooped Best Actress in 2000 for her arresting performance as a single mother of three who single-handedly brings down a power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply in Erin Brockovich.

Reese Witherspoon repeated the achievement in 2005 when the Legally Blonde star snagged the award for her solid performance as June Carter, the supportive wife of country musician Johnny Cash in Walk The Line.

This year, more than likely Sandra Bullock will prove that theory right once again when she wins for playing a well-intentioned Texan mom who adopts a homeless black teenager and turns him into a football star in The Blind Side.

Romantic comedies may set the cash registers ringing in a way that few films can, but when it comes to street-cred, the ladies have to prove they can do more than just flutter their lashes cutely.

5. Undergo a physical transformation

When Denzel Washington opened the envelope to announce the Best Actress in 2003, he said, “The winner, by a nose, is Nicole Kidman.” Washington was referring to the prosthetic snout that made Kidman near-unrecognizable in her role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours and gave, what many Oscar pundits feel, the edge over that year’s favourite Renee Zellweger in Chicago.

Ditch the make-up and the Oscar jury will immediately take notice. Charlize Theron was any man’s pin-up girl, perfect in every way. Monster changed that. Theron had stringy blonde hair, piled on the pounds and wore prosthetic teeth for her role as bisexual serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Halle Berry was stripped clean as a Plain Jane waitress who loses her son in Monster’s Ball.

Javier Bardem’s chilling stare and deep-set drawl set him apart as a hit man in No Country For Old Men, but everyone remembers his ugly mullet. When Bardem first saw himself in the hairdo for the movie, he reportedly remarked, “I’m not going to get laid for the next three months.” It got him the Oscar though.

6. Play a real person

Bio-pics are fascinating. Everyone wants to see if the actor has succeeded in nailing the real-life person or not. Right since Ben Kingsley took the Oscar for Gandhi in 1982 to this year’s nomination for Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus, the Academy has always leaned towards performances based on real-life politicians, royalty, authors, even serial killers. It’s sure to get you at least a nomination, if not the golden baldie himself.

Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin (Last King Of Scotland), Sean Penn as Harvey Milk (Milk), Meryl Streep as Julia Child (Julie & Julia), Will Smith as Mohammed Ali (Ali), Denzel Washington as Malcolm X (Malcolm X), Robert Downey Jr as Charles Chaplin (Chaplin), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) and Anthony Hopkins (Nixon) both as ex-Prez Richard Nixon, Woody Harrelson as Larry Flynt (People Vs Larry Flynt), Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (Ray), Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (Capote) – we could go on and on, but you get the big picture.

The Oscars bow and scrape to the queens too – look at Judi Dench as Queen Victoria (Mrs Brown) and Lizzie the First (Shakespeare In Love), Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I (Elizabeth), and Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II (The Queen).

7. Play a washed-up loser

Alcohol. Check. Drugs. Check. Spiral downwards. Check. The Academy likes a loser, whether he’s the kind to rise above his weaknesses like a phoenix (Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line) or succumb to his vices (Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas).

Mickey Rourke had a comeback of sorts last year, playing Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson in The Wrestler, a fading star past his prime who decides, despite a heart attack to get back into the ring. Randy’s efforts to reach out to his estranged daughter echo in this year’s hot nominee for Best Actor, Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Blake too tries to make contact with his son, and where Randy’s relationship with a stripper gives him hope, Blake’s love affair with a journalist makes him reassess his career as a country singer.

8. Don’t Do Comedy – You’ll Never Win

At the 79th Academy Awards, Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C Reilly did a musical parody on how the Academy always seems to turn its nose up at comedy. Will Ferrell sang: “A comedian at the Oscars, the saddest man of all/ Your movie may make millions, but your name they’ll never call/ I guess you don’t like laughter, and a smile brings you down/ A comedian at the Oscars is the saddest, bitterest, alcoholic clown.”

While the entire film fraternity laughed over the trio’s performance, it rang scarily true. The Oscars don’t care for comedy. Even though the Academy has expanded its Best Picture shortlist to 10 films this year, it found no love for one of 2009’s biggest hits and best-voted comedies ever, The Hangover. Even nominations for funny people come few and far between. The odd ones like Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie), Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones’s Diary) and Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) stand out, but you can be sure they never make it to the finish line.

9. Play a teacher who changes the life of his students

The Academy has always been a sucker for films about education and learning. Throw in a professor with an unorthodox way of teaching, or an educator who turns around the lives of a bunch of drifters and you have the Academy sitting up. Robin Williams may have only received a nomination for playing the teacher who stands on top of his desk and addresses his class in Dead Poets Society, but he did take home the Oscar for inspiring Matt Damon’s Will to mathematical glory in Good Will Hunting. Richard Dreyfuss and Ryan Gosling made it to the nominations with Dr Holland’s Opus and Half Nelson respectively, but Robert Donat was named Best Actor for his turn as the much-loved teacher in Goodbye Mr Chips.

And despite Eliza Dolittle singing “Just you wait Henry Higgins”, Rex Harrison received his only Academy Award for his performance as the arrogant, snotty Professor Henry Higgins who flushes out Eliza’s Cockney accent in My Fair Lady.

10. If everything else fails, just take your clothes off

What’s common between Gwenyth Paltrow in Shakespeare In Love, Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, Diane Lane in Unfaithful, Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler, Kate Winslet in The Reader, and good God, even Judi Dench in Iris? They all took their kit off and landed either a nomination or the big prize itself. “I like exposing myself. There’s not an awful lot that embarrasses me. I’m the kind of actress that absolutely believes in exposing myself,” Winslet has said about her nude turns in Titanic, Little Children, Iris and The Reader, all performances which the Academy took due notice of.

Taking your clothes off works like a charm for the women, and occasionally the men get lucky too – Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves (1990) and Viggo Mortenson for Eastern Promises (2007), being cases in point.

Nudies – they always score the goal.

So there…

It can’t possibly be easy to arrive at the best films and the most deserving performances each year – even if, like its official website says – you’re the Academy, and you include “over 6,000 members who represent 15 general areas”. Despite boasting an assembly line of the finest in every field, the Academy still goes back to its old habits each year.

The celebrated filmmaker Christopher Nolan made light of it in 2009 when he responded to Oscar’s snub of “The Dark Knight”. Although the film was a multi-million dollar-grossing behemoth and also one of the best reviewed films of the year, “The Dark Knight” was left out of the Best Picture and Best Director race. Nolan cheekily remarked that perhaps next time it might be a good idea to make Batman gay, and an alcoholic, and to set the film against a Holocaust backdrop.

If you still don’t win Mr Nolan, you could always get Batman to flash.

(This piece first appeared in The Hindustan Times in February 2010)

February 19, 2011

Death and the maiden

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:03 am

February 18, 2011

Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Aleksandr Dyachenko, Annu Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Vivaan Shah, Usha Uthup

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Saat Khoon Maaf, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, is a dark and daring film, but one that’s ultimately disappointing. Fleshed out from a short story by Ruskin Bond titled Susanna’s Seven Husbands, the film stars Priyanka Chopra as a woman whose unending search for love takes her into the arms of men that are wrong for her. Half a dozen spouses that are bumped off one by one when they fail her.

The original story by Ruskin Bond is fertile ground for a thrilling black comedy, but Saat Khoon Maaf becomes predictable early on, when the screenplay falls into a set pattern. Bhardwaj adopts a simplistic, linear narrative, and the episodic nature of the plot allows for barely any surprises. So each husband is introduced, his chink quickly revealed, and his death neatly executed.

You have the possessive one-legged army-man, a drugged-out rockstar, a sexually sadistic Urdu poet, a two-timing Russian spy, a lust-driven ageing police officer, and an old-fashioned natural pharmacist. Few of them, however, have any scope to make a lasting impression, although such formidable talents as Irrfan Khan and Naseeruddin Shah occupy two of those roles.

Boring isn’t a word you’d normally associate with a Vishal Bhardwaj film, but Saat Khoon Maaf seriously tests your patience. The episodes don’t link with each other seamlessly, and the director moves on quickly from one to the next, never giving us a sense of reflection or regret (if any) on Susanna’s part after committing a murder.

Priyanka Chopra dives courageously into her role, sacrificing vanity and pride to play Susanna at different ages of her life and in often humiliating conditions. Vivaan Shah shines as Susanna’s adopted godson who watches her throw away her dignity and pines for her silently as she goes from one wrong husband to the next.

Using tools like newspaper headlines, radio announcements and television bulletins to root this mostly surreal film in reality, Vishal Bhardwaj delivers his oddest film yet, that is also sadly his weakest.

I’m going with two out of five for Saat Khoon Maaf. The highlight of this film is that excellent Darling number. The rest is just a blur.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Class clown

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

February 18, 2011

Cast: Taheer Sutarwala, Atul Kulkarni, Sarika, Vinay Pathak, Iravati Harshe

Director: Sagar Bellary

It’ll take nerves of steel to sit through the entire duration of Kaccha Limboo, an overly long and meandering mess of a movie, directed by Bheja Fry’s Sagar Bellary. Lost somewhere inside that mess, however, is a terrific idea.

Shambhu, the protagonist of this film (played by Taheer Sutarwala) is an eighth standard fat kid who wants to be in with the cool crowd. He’s picked on and called names, his classmates don’t want him in their dance troupe, and he’s got a crush on a schoolgirl who barely notices him. It’s not easy being an overweight 14-year-old with low self-esteem.

Bellary, unfortunately, is not content with telling this basic story simplistically. Despite the clunky dialogue and the wooden acting, there are some genuinely poignant moments in the first half, which sticks to Shambhu’s misadventures at school. It’s the second half however that quickly goes south.

The plot takes an unusual, needless diversion when Shambhu befriends a street-smart kid from the local fisherman’s colony, and gets a taste of his life for a few days. This bizarre, inexplicable track includes a long-drawn marriage scene in the fishing village, and several scenes involving family quarrels at the poor kid’s home. By this point, Kaccha Limboo has moved so far away from its promising premise that you cease to care for its lead.

I also found the characterization of parents in this film particularly questionable. Shambhu’s folks (played by Atul Kulkarni and Sarika) argue among themselves when he doesn’t come home from school one day, but we never once see how they’re coping when he vanishes for days. In an earlier scene that I found quite disturbing, Vinay Pathak as the friend of Shambhu’s parents cheers his tiny daughter on excitedly as she gyrates suggestively to an Arabic tune.

In the end, this is an irresponsible, amateurishly made film that could have been so much better. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Sagar Bellary’s Kaccha Limboo. Feel free to miss this one completely!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Smells like Number Two

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:06 am

February 18, 2011

Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Teresa Palmer

Director: DJ Caruso

Positioned as a hip, young romantic-thriller for the iPad generation, I Am Number Four is in fact something of a cross between a bad superhero movie and a mushy Twilight installment.

Alex Pettyfer is Number Four, a good-looking teen who’s actually an alien living life on the run from gill-faced adversaries intent on wiping out the last nine survivors of a destroyed planet. Forced to relocate to a close-knit town in Ohio, and instructed to stay under the radar by his guardian, the lonely kid ends up drawing attention to himself when he takes on the campus bully, befriends a nerdy classmate, and falls hard for the high school sweetheart.

Barely any fun because the premise is so familiar and because the special effects are fairly standard, this film doesn’t even boast the kind of scorching chemistry between its leads that the Edward-Bella pairing delivers even in the silliest Twilight outing. The only cheap thrills are provided in a noisy duel between two monstrous creatures in the climax, but that’s hardly enough reason to waste good time and money on this pointless, predictable film.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for I Am Number Four. Avoidable at all costs.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Gone baby gone

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:00 am

February 18, 2011

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Nicole Kidman delivers a searing performance as a mother struggling to come to terms with the death of her four-year-old son in Rabbit Hole. It’s a stunning performance that seizes your attention, and Kidman achieves this without manipulating you to shed tears for her.

A brutally honest portrait of a marriage straining under the weight of grief, Rabbit Hole stars Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as Becca and Howie, who’re finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with each other even eight months after that terrible accident. Looking for the understanding they cannot find at home, both embark upon clandestine relationships with others. While Howie is drawn to another grieving parent he meets at group therapy, Becca forms a strange bond with the teenager responsible for knocking down her son with his car.

It’s a deeply affecting drama, elevated by the unpredictable, original writing, and by the performances of its leads. The film works so well because the characters aren’t haloed saints: they’re real, genuine people who’re angry and hurt and say horrible things. In one of the film’s most biting scenes, Becca launches a scathing attack on a fellow member of her support group who suggests it was God wanting another angel that meant her child had to die. “He’s God. Why didn’t he just make an angel?” Becca roars, dismissing that ridiculous explanation.

The fraught relationship between Becca and her mother (played by Dianne Wiest) also lends this film some of its fiercest moments, including a scene in which Becca finally loses it after her mother repeatedly ties her daughter’s loss to the death of her own son, who was 30 when he died of drug addiction. A more delicate scene between the two is one in which Becca’s mother makes the difficult admission that the pain of losing a child never goes away entirely.

Rabbit Hole packs a hard punch, but never wallows in sorrow or pity. It’s a film that takes a piece out of you. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Rabbit Hole. Watch it for some fine performances, and for its daring honesty.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 15, 2011

Berlinale pledges support to convicted Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 3:13 am

Filmmakers and artistes from across the world expressed outrage over the arrest of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, at the 61st edition of the Berlinale Film Festival which organized a host of screenings and events in support of the acclaimed filmmaker.

(This story first aired on CNN-IBN)

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