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

July 31, 2011

Hank Azaria does a mean Indian accent!

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 5:03 pm

In this interview, Hollywood actor Hank Azaria talks about his role as wicked wizard Gargamel in The Smurfs. The actor also reveals the inspiration behind the voice of Indian character Apu in The Simspons.

July 30, 2011

Deepika Padukone and Prakash Jha on ‘Aarakshan’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:32 am

In this interview, filmmaker Prakash Jha and his leading lady Deepika Padukone talk about their new film Aarakshan and the preparation that went into its making.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 29, 2011

Pop con

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:08 pm

July 29, 2011

Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano

Director: Jon Favreau

As many as six writers are credited with bringing Cowboys & Aliens to the screen. It’s true what they say about too many cooks… This Western-meets-sci-fi khichdi is a somber and humorless affair with none of that popcorn fun that you expect from a film with a goofy title like this.

Set in the 1870s, the film stars Daniel Craig as a mysterious stranger with no memory of his identity, who turns up in a shabby desert town sporting an intricate metallic bracelet and a permanent scowl. Within minutes he has a messy run-in with the cowardly son of local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (played by Harrison Ford), and also gets into a scrap with the sheriff and his deputies who’ve identified him as wanted outlaw Jake Lonergan.

But just as the stage is set for a delicious showdown between Indiana Jones and James Bond, a big spaceship cruises above the town, unleashing alien fighter planes that start snatching people right off the streets. Before he knows it, Jake’s wristband comes to life, and he figures out how to use it as a weapon to fight back the alien attacks. To rescue his son and some townsfolk that have been captured by those aliens, Dolarhyde leads Jake and a group of locals in pursuit of the extra-terrestrials.

That’s a cue for many a boring action scene between the cowboys and the aliens, although the motive of those creepy CGI creatures is never clear until the end. Also rather cryptic is the identity of that fearless beauty (played by Olivia Wilde) who is determined to follow Jake around.

Aside from the first alien attack sequence on the town, the rest of the action in this film feels fairly standard, including the tedious final act. Both Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford appear to be taking this film more seriously than they’re meant to, but how much can you blame them when they’re saddled with such trite material? Surprisingly, director Jon Favreau who brought all that teasing fun to the first Iron Man movie leaves out that key ingredient this time round – the sense of being in on the joke. As a result, what you get is a plodding bore of a film that’s neither a satisfying Western, nor an engaging sci-fi adventure.

I’m going with two out of five for Cowboys & Aliens. It’s starts off promisingly, but soon slips into a quicksand of mediocrity.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Blue film

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:06 pm

July 29, 2011

Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara, Voices of Katy Perry, Jonathan Winters, Alan Cumming and George Lopez

Director: Raja Gosnell

Likely to appeal exclusively to the ‘Under 8’ demographic – and yet harmless enough not to offend parents who will no doubt accompany their kids – The Smurfs is a formulaic, fish-out-of-water adventure featuring the little blue stars of that popular 80s cartoon series.

The movie opens in the Smurfs’ village, a mystical little hamlet where a hundred of these pint-sized folk live a carefree existence humming their annoying theme song and generally whiling away their time doing nothing of any consequence. When evil wizard Gargamel (played by Hank Azaria) and his nasty cat show up so they can capture the Smurfs and steal their essence, a bunch of little fellows escape through a magical portal to New York City, with wizard and cat close on their heels.

This premise is reminiscent of such films as Alvin and the Chipmunks and Enchanted in which the out-of-towners befriend cynical New Yorkers and end up teaching them valuable life lessons. In this film, the half-dozen runaway Smurfs land up at the home of a stressed-out marketing executive and father-to-be (played by Neil Patrick Harris) who doesn’t have the patience to deal with their shenanigans. Not only do they dispel his anxieties about being a good parent, they also help save his job, which he’s on the brink of losing.

There’s very little that’s original or new here, the only bright spot being Hank Azaria’s performance as the gleefully depraved Gargamel, and the acidic barbs he directs at his cat Azrael. The Smurfs themselves are mostly bland, and particularly Papa Smurf’s sermons on family values are likely to make you yawn.

I’m going with two out of five for The Smurfs. It’s strictly for the little ones who might enjoy the toilet-centric gags and the overall cutesy tone of the film!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Grace is gone

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:03 pm

July 29, 2011

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken

Director: Terrence Malick

The Tree Of Life is a hugely ambitious film. It polarizes audiences, calling for endless discussions and debate on what it’s trying to say through its relentless visual ideas. This Palme D’Or winner is a modern mind-bender. Writer-director Terrence Malick makes The Tree Of Life a deeply personal film, dipping into his own childhood, but all the while questioning God, his reasons for inflicting suffering, the beauty of life, and the ambiguity and the inexplicable nature of death.

And yet, through its all-encompassing but fragmented narrative, Malick makes The Tree Of Life almost inscrutable to many viewers. As the film veers off from the 1950s suburban neighborhood in which the story is set to depict the cosmic wonder of how our earth was created, you end up feeling a sense of displacement yourself. These chapters are visually arresting – you watch volcanoes erupting, dinosaurs stalking, hammerhead sharks swimming about, and some endless shots of our protagonist Jack (played by Sean Penn) wandering aimlessly through what seems like the Grand Canyon. It’s all beautiful cinema, but honestly also a test of your patience and wildly indulgent. And yet anyone familiar with Terrence Malick’s filmmaking style will know of his love for taking long, lingering shots to emphasize his ideas.

Despite this, you’re sucked into the parallel world that the director paints for you – the one of Jack’s early life in suburban America, unfolding in flashes of the older Jack’s memory. An architect now, surrounded by the cold walls of glass and concrete, Jack questions why his brother was taken away, and the meaning of death. We’re transported to his childhood dominated by a disciplinarian father and an angelic mother. Jack’s parents (played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) are introduced to us as Nature and Grace. The father has the inflexible, harsh discipline of Nature, while the mother embodies the beauty of love through Grace. In a way, you interpret these as Malick’s ideas of God – that there are two sides to spirituality as well.

The director infuses these memories with such color that the leafy Texas suburb almost comes alive – in particular, many can identify with that scene of little Jack and his younger brothers joyfully trailing the DDT truck as it billows clouds of smoke into their neighborhood.

This often idyllic childhood is also tempered by a strict upbringing, laid down by the father. Played excellently by Brad Pitt, we see the dad as a frustrated musician, stuck in the more banal world of engineering. He takes his role as a father very seriously, and so the boys adhere to a rigid structure of church, music, chores, and good manners.

The Tree of Life also delves into the lessons life teaches you – a rebellious Jack knows when he’s gone too far, and repents for his mistakes. Again you notice the religious undertones of redemption and forgiveness. This theme also plays out in a realistic scene as Jack hurts his trusting younger brother with an air gun, then later asks to be forgiven.

Ultimately The Tree of Life leaves you deliberating over its ideas, but you do tune off because of its heavy-handed and often repetitive narrative. There are just so many minutes that you can take of Jack’s mother running playfully behind her boys, or of the camera caressing the crevices of landscapes.

I’m going with three out of five for The Tree of Life. It’s profound and poetic, yet requires much patience on the viewer’s part. To be fair, director Terence Malick’s beautiful yet self-indulgent film feels like the cinematic equivalent of watching a tree grow.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 28, 2011

Up, close and personal with The Smurfs

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:35 am

In this interview – achieved with blue-screen and a few computer and camera tricks – four stars of the new Smurfs movie (Grouchy, Papa Smurf, Smurfette and Brainy) discuss their trip to New York, and reveal where they’d like to travel for the next film!

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 22, 2011

A portrait of real Hollywood

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 11:57 pm

The Kid Stays in the Picture is a captivating documentary that places a revealing camera into the life of legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans, and has him narrate his acclaimed biography in a gravelly-low, matter-of-fact tone. It’s a tale of enterprise, relationships, scandals and tragedy, yet what this film beautifully paints out for you is a real portrait of Hollywood, with all the glamour of its success and all the heartlessness of failure. Most of all, I ended up seeing the documentary as a picture of survival in the ruthlessness of tinseltown.

Robert Evans is a legend because he had the instinct and the chutzpah to produce classics like Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, Chinatown and The Godfather. Yet he stepped into Hollywood quite by chance, discovered by actress Norma Shearer by a hotel swimming pool. Shearer spotted a spark in the good-looking go-getter and asked Evans to play her husband Irving Thalberg in Man of a Thousand Faces.  Evans’ acting career was short-lived but he realized he had a burning ambition to make movies. It all turned around when he got offered a plum position at Paramount Pictures; in a few years time, Evans would take the studio out of the doldrums and turn it into the Number One studio in Hollywood.

All of this is wonderfully told in a collage of photographs, newspaper articles, film clippings, and rare private footage, with Evans’s voice piecing together the story. The tone is all Evans but it works because it’s honest; and while the producer is proud of his accomplishments, he never pulls the punches on his mistakes.

And mistakes, there were many. After his remarkable climb to the top, we see the downward spiral. Evans was so involved with the shooting and production of The Godfather that he neglected his wife and the star of Love Story, Ali McGraw, literally driving her into the arms of movie star Steve McQueen. Soon after, he was arrested in a sting operation while he tried to buy cocaine, and even while he was trying to climb back from that fall from grace, Evans got unwittingly embroiled in a murder scandal. Banished from Paramount, the very studio he had built up, Evans was on the brink of suicide when friends from Hollywood, like Jack Nicholson, helped him pick up the pieces and make a comeback.

The Kid Stays in the Picture ends up as one of those documentaries that has to be a part of your movie collection. Where else would you see how Evans persuaded Mia Farrow to choose his film Rosemary’s Baby over her husband Frank Sinatra? Or how Francis Ford Coppola was summoned by Evans after viewing the first cut of The Godfather, and was ordered to make an epic out of the scattered footage on hand? This is behind-the-scenes Hollywood at its glorious best, and The Kid Stays in the Picture gives us an unforgettable glimpse of it.

Fists of fury

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:19 pm

July 22, 2011

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Kajal Aggarwal, Prakash Raj, Sonali Kulkarni

Director: Rohit Shetty

A few minutes into Singham, Ajay Devgan emerges from a holy lake, dressed only in a red dhoti and flaunting his pumped-up physique. He walks into camera in slow motion, his torso still wet, that six-pack visible from as far as the Moon.

This 80s-style actioner sees Devgan star as Bajirao Singham, an upright cop in a small village on the outskirts of Goa who dispenses his own unique brand of justice, which includes leaping in the air and landing a hard whack on the head of a local eve-teaser, or using his belt to wallop the living daylights out of the villain’s henchmen. His nemesis in the film is an evil Mafioso and corrupt politician Jaykant Shikre, played by the superb Prakash Raj who delivers a deliciously over-the-top performance marked by clap-trap lines and hyperactive dialogue delivery.

The flimsy plot involves the cop’s tireless crusade against corruption, which sees him clashing with seniors in the establishment who’re determined to get him off Shikre’s back. There’s an obligatory romantic track between Devgan’s character and newcomer Kajal Aggarwal, but the film’s strength lies in the combustible chemistry between Devgan and Raj.

Despite some nifty action sequences – including one in which Devgan plucks a bad guy out of a car as it hurtles over his head – Singham wears you out over the course of its 2 hours and 30 minutes running time because it all seems so darned familiar. In Devgan’s character, director Rohit Shetty offers his own take on the Angry Young Man, and even throws in a reference to that iconic “don’t-sit-until-you’ve-been-asked-to-sit” scene from Amitabh Bachchan’s Zanjeer. But alas Singham doesn’t have the smarts of a Salim-Javed script. It offers a routine ‘why-most-cops-are-corrupt’ subplot, and comes loaded with such corny lines as “Meri zaroorat kam hai, issliye mere zameer mein dum hai!”

Remake of the 2010 Tamil blockbuster of the same name, Singham has occasional bursts of comedy (both puerile and genuinely funny), but it’s never quite as entertaining as the similarly intentioned Dabangg.

Singham isn’t an unwatchable film, but how many times can you watch bad guys being whipped with a belt? Or heads being pummeled by a bare fist? There is such a thing as overkill, after all. I’m going with two out of five for director Rohit Shetty’s Singham. I suspect it’s going to make a load of money; I only wish it was a better film. Ajay Devgan fans however won’t be disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Neil Patrick Harris & Sofia Vergara on working with those little blue people

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:17 am

In this interview, sitcom stars Neil Patrick Harris and Sofia Vergara talk about their new film…in which they star opposite those little blue people that we’ve known since our growing up years.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 15, 2011

Singin’ in (the) Spain!

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

July 15, 2011

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol, Farhan Akhtar, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin

Director: Zoya Akhtar

There’s a moment in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara when Arjun, the character played by Hrithik Roshan, sits on a boat with tears in his eyes. It becomes clear that in a strange way, Arjun has been set free by a deep-sea diving experience.  The realization hits him that life is beautiful but you can only savour it when you live it by your own rules, not by what is expected of you.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara takes the light-hearted tone of a fun, all-boys road trip through Spain to give you a deep and heartfelt message on why we should live life by seizing the moment and following our hearts. Director Zoya Akhtar, who proved with her wonderful debut Luck By Chance that she has a perceptive eye for relationships and an assured storytelling style, uses the same tools to tell a new story.

Three lifelong friends in their thirties decide to take the three-week road trip they always planned when Kabir (played by Abhay Deol) gets engaged to Natasha (played by Kalki Koechlin). Kabir is the binding force between his polar-opposite friends: the free-spirited advertising copywriter Imran (played by Farhan Akhtar), and the uptight Arjun, strait-jacketed by his career. To add excitement, the only rule on this road trip is that all three friends must try out an adventure sport chosen by each of them.

Boys will be boys and this film catches that note beautifully. You can be in your thirties, but a few minutes with your childhood friends takes you right back to being a teenager, playing the same old pranks, and imitating your college professor’s weird accent. You have to love the natural way in which a simmering undercurrent between Arjun and Imran erupts over a silly, childish fight and how they scuffle about as if they were in a schoolyard. Arjun is aggravated by Imran’s annoying, not-serious-for-a-moment attitude, but underneath his flip manner, Imran is struggling with a secret of his own. The adventure gets complicated with love when diving instructor Laila (played by Katrina Kaif) enters the equation – she’s a young Paulo Coelho in her own sexy way, showing Arjun how to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. A jealous, possessive Natasha also stirs up the pot when she lands up unannounced on the group. She’s the worst kind of gatecrasher – a fianceé on a bachelor trip.

There are several scenes in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that make you want to pack your bags and gather your pals (Dil Chahta Hai, anyone?) Each adventure sport is shot so thrillingly that you feel alive and in-the-moment, even though you’re actually watching it all sitting in a dark theatre. Watch that hair-raising skydiving scene – it’s such an unusual salute to friendship. A real tone is maintained through the dialogues written by Farhan Akhtar; they have that a casual slice-of-life flavor, and the jokes here are genuinely funny.

What makes Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that much more enjoyable are the performances. Katrina Kaif is content to play off the three male leads, yet she brings a charming, lovely touch to her role. Kalki Koechlin, playing what is essentially a caricature, keeps her character grounded in the real; so while you may not particularly like her in the end, you can see why she acts that way.

The three male stars have that believable vibe of a long friendship. Abhay Deol brings an effortless, comfortable energy to Kabir, while Farhan Akhtar is a revelation. He’s so goofy that you burst out laughing several times, yet he shows vulnerability just as easily. Hrithik Roshan once again brings real depth to his character with a spectacular performance. He’s shy and restrained, then lets go with such fantastic intensity that you make the inward journey with his character.

But a quibble I have with this film is that it takes too long to reach its destination and gets sidetracked by a couple of sentimental detours. It lingers too long in certain scenarios, and this sucks some of the fun out of the ride. Yet, I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It proves that Zoya Akhtar has a unique, compelling voice and unlike many of her contemporaries, she actually respects that a cinema audience can be both intelligent and mature.

Make sure you take this trip!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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