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

August 26, 2011

Salman Khan: “I only do the kind of films that I like watching”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:47 pm

In this interview, Salman Khan talks about his new film Bodyguard, the expectations the film industry has from the film, and the simple logic he uses when selecting films.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Death by boredom

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:32 pm

August 26, 2011

Cast: Eesha Koppikar, Pradeep Rawat, Zakir Hussain

Director: Lalit Marathe

Another routine crime drama from the Ramgopal Varma assembly line, Shabri starring Eesha Koppikar is billed as the story of Mumbai’s first female don. Directed by Lalit Marathe, a protégé of Varma, the film follows a familiar narrative, but never rises above the ordinary.

Koppikar is Shabri, an earnest but feisty slum-dweller who supports her family with the income she earns working at a flour-mill nearby. When her teenage brother is sodomized and brutally murdered by a sadistic cop, she kills the officer and goes on the run. She finds an ally in a local gambling bookie, but when his underworld boss takes him out in a gruesome shootout, Shabri becomes determined to kill the don.

Wearing a washed-out sepia hue, possibly to hide its dated look and feel, Marathe’s film offers little that hasn’t been seen before. The director never once attempts to understand the psyche of an ordinary girl who turns into a hardened criminal, opting instead to create moments of shock value. Barring a few gritty moments, Shabri is cinema of the ‘been-there-seen-that’ variety.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for director Lalit Marathe’s Shabri. The best thing about this film is that it’s over in 95 minutes!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bloody mess

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

August 26, 2011

Cast: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rosie McGowan, Rachel Nichols

Director: Marcus Nispel

Former Baywatch star and hulking slab of granite Jason Momoa steps into the presumably big shoes of Arnold Schwarznegger to play that grunting, brutish warrior from the ancient land of Cimmeria in the new version of Conan The Barbarian. This dull, humorless remake is just as dumb as the campy 1982 film starring Schwarznegger, but makes the fatal flaw of taking itself way too seriously.

So Conan, who sets off on a personal mission to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the evil Khalar Zym (played by Avatar’s Stephen Lang), quickly finds himself involved in a battle to save civilization when Zym and his sorceress daughter go after an innocent maiden whose ‘pure blood’ will allow them to rule the world.

This ridiculous plot is an excuse for excessive violence and blood spill, including a string of gory beheadings and stabbings. All the while, our beefy swordsman hero gets barely a few lines of dialogue barring those corny vows he makes to “melt the bones of the vanquished” and to “cast my enemies into oceans of blood”.

Momoa himself may possess the physical pre-requisites for the part – chiseled abs; long, unkempt hair; and man-boobs – but he simply doesn’t have the charm or that star quality to keep you engaged in this mindless mayhem. The special effects in this film are decent, but the carnage becomes monotonously predictable. In the end, it’s such a stinking bore, it doesn’t even work as a cheesy guilty-pleasure.

I’m going with one out of five for Conan The Barbarian. There are so many better things you could do with your time!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 20, 2011

In cold blood

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:38 am

August 19, 2011

Cast: Mahie Gill, Deepak Dobriyal, Ajay Gehi, Zakir Hussain, Darshan Jariwala

Director: Ramgopal Varma

Sixteen years after making Rangeela, a film centered on a struggling actress and her fairytale rise to stardom, Ramgopal Varma gives us Not a Love Story, whose protagonist is also a wannabe star, but one who doesn’t get a fairytale ending. Barring a few cosmetic changes, Varma’s new film is inspired by the heinous real-life story of Neeraj Grover’s murder by Emile Jerome, assisted by his actress-girlfriend Maria Susairaj. It’s an incident that shocked the country when it happened three years ago, and Varma exploits whatever’s left of it.

Dev D’s Mahie Gill plays a starry-eyed hopeful from Chandigarh, so grateful to a friend for helping her land a film role that she takes him to her bed. When her obsessive boyfriend Deepak Dobriyal lands up unexpectedly at her doorstep the next morning to find a naked man in her home, a gruesome murder takes place. Mahie helps her boyfriend hack the body into pieces and dispose it in a faraway jungle. But that’s not even the most disturbing part of this film.

Zooming in and caressing his leading lady’s every curve, Varma’s camera seems to take a life of its own as it darts around her bosom and looks up at her legs from under her skirt. Far from going inside the minds of the protagonists who committed this crime of passion, Varma seems more interested in going inside their pants.

Not a Love Story is voyeuristic and exploitative, and shamelessly borders on soft-porn. It’s saved to some extent by a credible performance from Mahie Gill, who succeeds in humanizing her character despite the odds that are stacked against her. If Varma succeeds at anything at all, it’s the uncharacteristically romantic note he strikes between his protagonists, making the point that you can love someone deeply, and still do things to hurt them. In a strange sort of way, the film’s bizarre climax makes complete sense. And maybe, just maybe, this sex-and-murder saga could be Ramgopal Varma’s most romantic film yet.

I’m going with two out of five for Not a Love Story. It’s far from Varma’s best work, but it’s not entirely unwatchable.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Cop out

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 12:43 am

August 19, 2011

Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Ameesha Patel, Suresh Menon, Anupam Kher, Satish Kaushik

Director: Ajay Chandok

Being made to watch Chatur Singh Two Star is like serving a jail sentence. This over-two-hour film starring Sanjay Dutt as a bumbling cop is bad in so many ways that one could fill a notebook listing down all its flaws. In a nutshell, it’s a third-rate script in the hands of a director with no apparent skills, and featuring an ensemble of ham artistes who aren’t easily embarrassed.

Ironically the only bright spot is Dutt himself who appears to be having fun with his part. As the imbecile police officer who must travel to South Africa to track a cache of missing diamonds, Dutt resorts to much buffoonery including outlandish disguises, childish gags, and a generous dose of overacting. Yet, anyone who’s watched Dutt sleepwalk through most of his recent films will be grateful that at least he’s trying here.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for the film’s writer Rumi Jafri, whose incoherent, lazy script involves the murder of Gulshan Grover, a corrupt politician; the framing of that murder on Amisha Patel, his innocent secretary; and subsequently the hunt for those expensive gems. The dialogue is positively low-IQ, and the jokes are pedestrian. But most tiresome of all is the repeatedly brainless banter between the cop and his annoying sidekick, played by the usually dependable Suresh Menon. Also making complete fools of themselves are fine actors like Anupam Kher, Satish Kaushik, and Sanjay Mishra who are called upon to add to the mayhem with over-the-top performances.

The film’s climax – if you have the courage to stay until then – involves the entire cast dressed in animal suits chasing after the diamonds. You’ll have to pinch yourself to believe that this isn’t some bad dream you’re having!

Director Ajay Chandok models Dutt’s character after Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies, but there is none of that endearing naiveté that Peter Sellers brought to the part. It’s replaced by annoying stupidity.

The makers of this film had to be feeling very optimistic when they arrived at the title Chatur Singh Two Star. In all honesty, it doesn’t deserve more than one! I’m going with a generous one out of five for director Ajay Chandok’s Chatur Singh Two Star. Strictly avoidable. Unless you’re one for self-punishment.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Double trouble

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

August 19, 2011

Cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Mimoun Oaissa, Raad Rawi, Philip Quast

Director: Lee Tamahori

Loosely based on the true story of Latif Yahia, a former Iraqi soldier who was forced to become the body-double for Saddam Hussein’s psychotic son Uday, The Devil’s Double is a thrilling, revolting, yet consistently fascinating watch. Although rooted in the real, the film is presented as an all-guns-blazing gangster drama that evokes memories of that unforgettable Al Pacino starrer Scarface.

Set in Baghdad in the late eighties, during the build-up to the 1990 Gulf War, the film stars Dominic Cooper as Iraqi lieutenant Latif who is summoned by his former classmate Uday (also played by Cooper) who he is unfortunate enough to somewhat resemble. Uday asks Latif to be his stand-in, to dress and act like him when the occasion requires, to renounce his own identity, and to immerse himself into his new role. In exchange, Latif can share everything that belongs to Uday – his expensive clothes, his fancy cars, the debauched lifestyle… The catch is Latif can’t say no. If he does, Uday will have his family killed.

Left with no choice, Latif accepts his duties but becomes increasingly disgusted by Uday’s shocking  behavior, which includes everything from picking underage schoolgirls off the street and raping them, to openly killing one of his father’s trusted henchmen at a crowded party. It’s when Latif starts a secret relationship with one of Uday’s mistresses that he finds himself in serious danger.

Treating the film like a lurid thriller, director Lee Tamahori goes for an audacious tone and a breakneck pace, grabbing your attention from the very word go. The violence is visceral and repulsive and yet you can’t help watching, transfixed as you are by Uday’s terrifyingly unpredictable personality. On the flip side, despite a knockout ‘dual’ performance by Dominic Cooper – who plays Uday as a power-crazy psychopath, and Latif as a petrified pawn – The Devil’s Double runs out of steam towards the end, and feels at least fifteen minutes too long.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Devil’s Double. It’s got a daring central performance, and works well as a thrilling potboiler. Don’t miss it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Class of her own!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:28 am

August 19, 2011

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segal, Lucy Punch

Director: Jake Kasdan

Thirteen years ago when she innocently reached out for that ‘hair gel’ hanging off Ben Stiller’s ear in There’s Something About Mary, Cameron Diaz was anointed the funniest girl in the movies. After all, she could make the crudest jokes appear cute and harmless. Who better then to cast as a smoking, drinking, potty-mouthed academician in a comedy whose title tells you everything you need to know about the film?

Diaz, who’s now pushing 40 but still flaunts a body of a 20-something-year-old, stars in Bad Teacher as a woman who hates kids and the very idea of teaching, and is relieved to finally dump her job at a middle school when she is engaged to a rich guy she intends to live off for the rest of her life. When those plans go horribly wrong, she’s forced to go back to her teaching job, but she sets her sights on a millionaire substitute teacher (played by Justin Timberlake) whom she hopes to entice with a breast-enlargement surgery. To fund the new boobs, she demands cash from parents in exchange for private tuitions, steals from the school’s charity car wash where she parades about in her skimpiest clothes, and even seduces a state official so she can steal the answers to an exam and win a cash prize for Best Teacher.

As Diaz shamelessly goes about her mission to gather the money, she locks horns with a rival teacher (played by the excellent Lucy Punch) who is determined to take her down. Meanwhile, she’s also pursued by the schlubby gym teacher (played by Jason Segal) who sees her for the opportunist she is, but likes her anyway. Her best scenes in fact are with Segal and particularly the kids, whom she insults and puts down repeatedly, until she surprisingly takes pity on one nerdish youngster.

Bad Teacher deserves an ‘A’ for its concept, but unfortunately the film isn’t outrageous enough to shock you in the manner that a film like this should. Cameron Diaz sportingly goes along with the film’s raunchiest gags, including a simulated sex scene with Justin Timberlake; yet nothing in this film is as unpredictably naughty as that ‘hair gel’ scene in her breakout film.

Despite its shortcomings, however, this movie has a decent share of laugh-out-loud moments, and Diaz infuses her character with enough spunk to occasionally take your mind off this disappointing script. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Bad Teacher. Don’t expect to fall off your seat laughing, but it’s funny enough to justify the price of a ticket.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

No bite

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:20 am

August 19, 2011

Cast: Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant

Director: Craig Gillespie

Remake of a popular 1985 hit, Fright Night starring Colin Farrell as a vampire who moves into a residential neighborhood, doesn’t even deliver on the promise of its title. The premise has potential for some genuine thrills, but the lousy script fails spectacularly in mining even a handful of scary moments.

Anton Yelchin stars as a bland teenager who disregards his geeky best friend’s warning, only to discover that indeed his next-door neighbor is a blood-sucking vamp. He can’t tell his mom or his girlfriend because he’s afraid they’ll laugh at him; but he’s got reason to worry because the fanger knows he’s in on his secret.

The film starts off slowly, wasting too much screen time on the dull youngsters who you want to see being attacked and viciously drained of blood; instead they’re allowed to ramble on about their difficult childhoods and their relationship issues. When the attacks do finally start, they’re predictable and fairly standard – a victim goes from room to room in an empty house, trying to escape the vampire, who is always a step ahead. Evidently the makers of this film aren’t familiar with that basic principle of horror movies – what you don’t see is always more scary than what you do!

The writers misfire badly in their attempt to inject humor into the plot. Fright Night is no Zombieland, and despite the presence of Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as Yelchin’s nerdish childhood pal), the laughs come off as silly and misplaced. Colin Farrell has precisely one chilling moment as the pasty-faced vamp; and the climax, which involves Yelchin vanquishing Farrell with the help of a vampire expert, is unmemorable to say the least.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out five for Fright Night. It’s a waste of time and money both on the part on those who made, and those who’ll go see it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 14, 2011

Saif Ali Khan clears those rumors about ‘Agent Vinod’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:25 am

In this interview, Saif Ali Khan talks about getting under the skin of his character in Aarakshan, his complete lack of faith in the Indian education system, why he took 2 years off at the prime of his career, and also clarifies those rumors surrounding his next film Agent Vinod.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 13, 2011

No reservations

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 5:30 am

August 12, 2011

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpai, Deepika Padukone, Prateik Babbar

Director: Prakash Jha

After Raajneeti, director Prakash Jha once again holds a mirror to society, taking up the issue of reservation in the education system with Aarakshan. The film takes different perspectives; showing us that really, the victims of the politics of reservation are the students themselves. Yet where Raajneeti was structured into a narrative based on The Mahabharata and The Godfather, Aarakshan drifts away without any anchor. It’s a script stuck in a 70s locker, taken out and dusted, but you still can’t shake off the feeling that it’s dated. That sadly has much to do with the filmmaker’s treatment of the subject. With endless, lofty speeches and idealistic melodrama, Prakash Jha turns Aarakshan into a deathly boring slog.

Amitabh Bachchan stars as the upright Principal (is there any other kind?) of an esteemed college in Bhopal, who sees the point behind reservation because he believes it’ll bridge the gap of opportunities between the haves and the have-nots. An educationist to the core, he conducts free tuitions for weak students in his backyard, and strongly opposes the very agenda behind paid coaching centres because he feels that colleges themselves should be conducting ‘remedial classes’ to help students. His idealistic values make him unpopular with the college board, that places the corrupt lecturer Manoj Bajpai in the position of Vice Principal, so they can get rich students with poor marks in through capitation fees. One of the junior professors at this college is a Dalit played by Saif Ali Khan, the son of a poor ironing lady in Bachchan’s basti, who gets a scholarship to the US based on merit.

Meanwhile, Bachchan butts heads with Bajpai as the whole simmering resentment over the caste divide spills over the Mandal reservation issue. The other players in this drama are the Principal’s daughter, played by Deepika Padukone, who is in a relationship with Saif; and Prateik Babbar, who is their friend and a fellow student at the college. Their friendship is tested by the caste divide when Prateik fails to get admission to the college of his choice because of seats being blocked by the quota system.

As you can see, Prakash Jha takes a bird’s eye view of the entire complicated system of education. Unfortunately, it looks as if he bit off more than he could chew because Aarakshan gets unnecessarily convoluted and grates on your nerves. When Amitabh Bachchan resigns, he finds his house taken over by the unscrupulous sons of his friend, who turn it into a coaching centre. This now spurs the ex-Principal to start giving free tuitions in a tabela, with a bunch of students nestled in a class next to a buffalo shed. Like a true underdog story, the classes run by Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone then take on the mighty coaching classes run by Manoj Bajpai.

One of the chief problems with Aarakshan is that it’s all too altruistic in its message. Everyone becomes a caricature: Bachchan’s do-gooder Principal, Bajpai the scheming, money-minded coaching class owner, and yes, the whiskey-guzzling ministers we last saw in Raajneeti are here too. With so much to say, the movie drags on endlessly, with over-written scenes, over-the-top emotions and dialogues that are so heavy, they end up being inaccessible. Of the performances, every actor seems to go through the motions and only Manoj Bajpai inserts some spark onto the screen.

Aarakshan is well-intentioned, but you can’t shake off the feeling that you’re trapped by a three-hour tirade. I’m going with a generous two out of five for Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan. If you don’t want to be lectured, stay at home.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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