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

February 12, 2011

Mad house

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:59 am

February 11, 2011

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Anushka Sharma, Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia

Director: Nikhil Advani

Those of you exhausted by Akshay Kumar’s now staple brand of buffoonery might be pleased to note that the actor has been kept on a tight leash in director Nikhil Advani’s Patiala House. Cast as the silently suffering, Parghat Singh Kahlon, fondly referred to as Gattu, a promising fast bowler in his teens whose professional cricketing career was aborted prematurely by his tyrant dad, Akshay works with minimal dialogue and hangdog expressions.

This old-fashioned melodrama, set in the largely Indian district of Southall in London, sees Rishi Kapoor playing the dominating patriarch of an extended Sikh family who has terrorized the dozen or so occupants of his home into obeying his every order. But desperate to break free of his autocratic rule so they can follow their dreams, the younger members of the family encourage Gattu to lead the way by defying his father and making a play for the England team when a spot opens up.

The script by director Nikhil Advani and Anvita Dutt retreads the familiar ‘family drama’ formula, packing in every cliché that fits. Advani squeezes in so many characters that it’s hard to keep track of who is who, and how one is related to the other. Fortunately one never really needs to piece together this family tree, even in the film’s messy second half where every member in the house, and subsequently all of Southall conspires to hide from Gattu’s father that his son is playing for the England team. This harebrained plan involves everything from printing a different version of the newspaper for their home, to cutting off the television cable each time a cricket match is about to start.

Plotted like those kitchen-sink dramas of the 90s, Patiala House is loud and melodramatic, and shamelessly tries to manipulate you into shedding tears. Even the cricket scenes in the film’s second half don’t succeed in arousing any of that edge-of-the-seat anxiety because the screenplay is so predictable.

Of the cast, the usually bankable Rishi Kapoor hams it up as the bellowing Bauji whose every word is cast in stone. He fails to humanize the character despite the racism back-story, which is evidently meant to justify his tough personality. Dimple Kapadia cuts a sorry figure as his bullied wife; she has little to do in the film, and buried under layers of make-up she resembles a Madame Tussauds wax-work.

Anushka Sharma, who stars as a well-meaning neighbor and Gattu’s subsequent love interest, knows the character well, having played variations of it before. Still she’s easy on the eye, and a welcome distraction from the film’s bland supporting cast that play varied cousins and aunts.

Akshay Kumar as Gattu who one cousin describes as a “shadow of a man”, is earnest and restrained, and barely says a few words in the first thirty minutes or so of the film. Yet it’s a labored performance, lacking the subtleties and nuances that could have made it truly heart-felt.

This film may work for those who miss old-fashioned melodramatic entertainers, but I was bored. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Nikhil Advani’s Patiala House. Decide for yourself if it’s your cup of tea.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Friends with benefits

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:46 am

February 11, 2011

Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell

Director: Ivan Reitman

Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman have an undeniable chemistry in No Strings Attached, a surprisingly enjoyable romantic comedy that’s genuinely funny, and also sweet without being too gooey.

Portman stars as Emma, a doctor in residency looking for sex with no complications, determined not to end up with a broken heart. Kutcher plays Adam, a struggling screenwriter fresh out of a bad relationship, happy to get under the sheets whenever Emma’s schedule permits.

Directed by Ivan Reitman (of Ghostbusters fame), this film asks that same question that’s been put forth by so many rom-coms before: Can two people continue to have sex without falling in love? The answer, if you’re familiar with this genre, is no.

Right off the bat, the film scores points for at least putting a fresh spin on what is otherwise a familiar premise – it’s the woman who is commitment-phobic here; who’s just in it for the sex. It’s also refreshing to see an adult romantic comedy in which the leads talk like real people about real things while they’re in the sack. And the raunchy jokes in this film aren’t exchanged just between male friends like you’re used to seeing in every other film, but mostly between the lead couple who can comfortably laugh about naughty things.

At one point Adam makes a mix-CD for Emma, a “period mix” featuring songs about menstruation; and while that probably sounds disgusting, it’s one of the film’s funniest bits.

Even the film’s trickier romantic portions are salvaged by some clever writing, like a scene in which Emma gives Adam a Valentine’s Day card that reads: “You give me premature ventricular contractions”. He looks at her puzzled by the medical jargon, and she decodes it for him immediately: “My heart skips a beat.” In a scene just before this, he brings her a bunch of carrots as he receives her for their date because she’s already warned him that she hates flowers.

No Strings Attached works despite some bumpy moments, because Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves. Portman comes off as likeable, despite her character’s complexity; but surprisingly it’s Kutcher who owns this film with a relaxed, confident performance that you could never imagine he was capable of. When Emma breaks Adam’s heart, you’re genuinely hurt for him.

There’s also a comic subplot involving Adam’s dad, a former star (played by Kevin Kline) who hooks up with his son’s ex-girlfriend. It’s funny, but we didn’t need so much of it.

I’m going with three out of five for No Strings Attached. As romantic comedies go, it’s a cocktail of sweet, sexy, and funny. Not a bad way to spend two hours!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 11, 2011

Berlinale opens with True Grit, Aamir Khan on the red carpet

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 5:55 pm

The 61st edition of the Berlin Film Festival opened with a screening of the Coen Brothers hit True Grit, and the stars of the film appeared on the red carpet. Bollywood actor-filmmaker Aamir Khan is in Berlin as a member of the festival jury, and three Indian films will be screened during the festival this year.

(This story first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 5, 2011

Love hurts

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:43 am

February 04, 2011

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Chitrangda Singh, Aruoday Singh, Vipul Gupta, Saurabh Shukla, Prashant Narayanan, Aditi Rao Hydari, Yashpal Sharma, Sushant Singh

Director: Sudhir Mishra

There is more than one way to interpret Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi, but the way I see it, it’s primarily a ‘falling-in-love’ story.

Set in the heart of old Delhi and thereabouts, the film stars Irrfan Khan as Arun, partner at a local finance company who finds himself smitten when he comes into contact with Priti, a small-time club singer played by Chitrangda Singh. As luck would have it Priti is in love with the future son-in-law of a powerful minister, and when she’s kidnapped with her lover by a local crime gang, Arun must decide if it’s worth risking his job and his life for a woman who doesn’t love him.

Against this premise, writer-director Sudhir Mishra paints a throbbing portrait of Delhi’s dark underbelly complete with local gangs run by rival siblings, sinister henchmen, corrupt cops, and politicians with Swiss bank accounts.

The action here is dark and gritty, new characters are introduced every other minute, and the story unfolds at a pace that’s initially hard to keep up with. Violence looms large over this film, and yet Mishra keeps the mounting tension layered with a dose of humor.

Arunoday Singh stars as a small-time gangster named Kuldeep whose exasperated wife (played by the lovely Aditi Rao Hydari of Delhi 6) lands a hard one across his face every now and then, prompting the MCP husband to kiss her forcibly with no concern for place or time. The film’s dialogue is similarly raw, and packs a bouquet of unpredictable one-liners delivered poker-faced by the ensemble cast.

Yeh Saali Zindagi takes long to arrive at its central conflict, and could have done with fewer indulgences like Irrfan’s stream-of-consciousness voice-overs. In the film’s early scenes Mishra seems to pride himself on confusing the viewer with a narrative and characters that are hard to follow.

Nevertheless, he spins a wholly engaging yarn using an excellent music score and actors that are arresting. Chitrangda Singh uses her smoldering looks to create a mysterious character whose motivations and actions are unclear, and Irrfan Khan gives subtlety a whole new meaning as the silently pining romantic.

Arunoday Singh, better here than he was in both Aisha and Mirch, is betrayed to an extent by his hulking physicality and city-boy looks, but makes up for that in confidence. A word also for Vipul Gupta who has a likeable screen presence in the part of Priti’s boyfriend Shyam.

Yeh Saali Zindagi takes its time to unfold, but it’s a delicious little treat if you muster the patience for it. Under its rough exterior of criminals and gunshots, is a tale of slow-burning passion and unconditional love.

I’m going with three out of five for writer-director Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi. Give it a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Watery grave

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:29 am

February 04, 2011

Cast: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson

Director: Alister Grierson

Sanctum is the new 3D thriller from James Cameron, except that the Avatar creator is only an executive producer on this film, not the director. Filmed in Australia on a relatively modest $30 million dollar budget, it’s inspired by a real-life cave-diving tragedy that the film’s screenwriter Andrew Wight himself survived.

The plot is centered on legendary explorer Frank McGuire (played by Richard Roxburgh) and his team of divers who find themselves trapped in the Esa-ala Caves of Papua New Guinea when a tropical storm creates havoc.

Unforgivably simplistic, and cursed with cardboard characters and laughable dialogue, Sanctum starts off promisingly with a jaw-dropping aerial shot of a deep wide cave, bang at the centre of thick, lush greens. No visual in this film comes close to that one early shot.

The rest of the film, of course, takes place in dark underwater caves where McGuire, his twenty-something-year-old son, his millionaire investor and his girlfriend, and a few expendable divers struggle to swim to safety as the water level rises rapidly and equipment begins to fail. There’s a turgid father-son bonding theme that runs parallel to the main story, and surprisingly even the thrills in this film are limited.

You shouldn’t expect fine acting in an adventure thriller, but the cast is pure wood in this film, particularly the young male lead, played by Rhys Wakefield.

Unlike a few bad films that end up somewhat watchable because of the 3D technology, Sanctum becomes exhausting early on. Shot using the same cameras that were used on Avatar, some images here are striking, but the film never achieves the sense of claustrophobia that might have turned it into a compelling watch.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Sanctum. It’s dead boring after a point; and as you wait for something to happen on screen to shake you out of your comfort, you find that nothing does!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Death becomes him

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:08 am

February 04, 2011

Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Eduardo Fernandez, Diaryatou Daff, Blanca Portillo

Director: Alejandro Gonsalez Inarritu

Biutiful, directed by Alejandro Gonsalez Inarritu, is a quietly devastating film that will break your heart. It’s a film that puts you through the wringer; it draws you into the bleak world of its protagonist, then takes that world apart brick by brick.

Javier Bardem is Uxbal, a desperate hustler from the seedier parts of Barcelona who makes ends meet trafficking illegal Asian immigrants and managing African street hawkers. He spends his days mostly dodging the corrupt police, but lives for the moments he shares with his young daughter and son who he is determined to protect from the world, including his bipolar ex-wife who prostitutes herself to support her drug habit.

Early on in the film we’re given evidence to believe that Uxbal is a decent man in a not-so-straight line of work. He may supply illegal immigrants to an exploitative underground business, but his inherent decency prompts him to try to improve their lives. There is only so much he can do though. Uxbal’s clock is ticking. He’s just discovered he has terminal cancer, and barely a few weeks to live.

If all this sounds incredibly depressing, brace yourself because it is.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Biutiful rests on the shoulders of its star Bardem, who plays Uxbal as a man who is brave and strong, yet hurting and vulnerable. Bardem uses his soulful eyes to convey volumes of pain, both literal and figurative; and the film’s director Inarritu stacks up the tragedies for his protagonist.

It’s hard to put your finger on what precisely this film is trying to say. On the simplest level, it’s about trying to hang on to one’s goodness despite being at the centre of a cruel universe. It is also a story about the bonds of parenthood.

On the flip side, there is a hokey subplot about Uxbal being able to communicate with the recently dead. More than once the film tends to get preachy and politically correct, especially when it shifts from its central plot to show us the tribulations of an African family in Spain, or the complicated relationship between two gay Chinese criminals. And despite the stunning photography, there are long portions that seem unforgivably indulgent.

Yet Biutiful is the kind of film that doesn’t come along every day. How many films succeed in tearing through your flesh and punching you straight in the gut?

There’s something inherently heartbreaking about the dignity Bardem brings to his part. Nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this film, Bardem becomes Uxbal. The performance, in the end, is greater than the film.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Alejandro Gonsalez Inarritu’s Biutiful. It creates one of the most compelling characters you’ve seen, then challenges you not to be affected by him.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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