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

November 25, 2011

Lost boys

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

November 25, 2011

Cast: Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Chitrangada Singh, Sanjay Dutt

Director: Rohit Dhawan

Desi Boyz stars Akshay Kumar and John Abraham as Jerry and Nick, best friends in London who lose their jobs when recession hits. Broke and desperate, they sign up to be male escorts – because naturally that’s the only job still available during a financial meltdown!

As bird-brained an idea as this may be, at least it promises not to be a prudish affair. But hell, no! Debut director Rohit Dhawan picks an unconventional premise, but doesn’t have the courage to run with it. So our hustler heroes – renamed Rocco and Hunter – might be happy to strip down to their shorts and shake their bon-bons suggestively at bachelorette parties, but bankrupt or not, their ‘Indian values’ are very much in place, hence sex is not on the menu. (Believe it or not, women pay 400 pounds to these guys for playing cards with them and chatting with them through the night!) Also, Jerry and Nick become escorts not because they’re lazy or have too much pride to do menial jobs (both of which are true, by the way), but because one has to raise an orphaned nephew, and the other has a high-maintenance fiancee demanding a fancy wedding. Poor things!

Despite this blatant hypocrisy, Desi Boyz coasts along harmlessly through its first half, with a few clever dialogues thrown in, and some pleasant chemistry between its male leads. Whoever came up with the terrific idea of giving the boys a kind of telepathic connection where they communicate without words, deserves a pat on the back. Alas, it’s an idea that’s abandoned halfway through the film.

Also abandoned at the halfway mark, is any pretense that this was trying to be a different film. Post intermission Desi Boyz becomes yet another regular ‘family entertainer’. Nick’s fiancée (Deepika Padukone) breaks up with him after a video of their naughty dance moves goes viral, and child welfare hands over Jerry’s nephew to a foster family. To win back his girl, Nick moves into a caravan that he parks in her driveway and woos her relentlessly; meanwhile Jerry decides to complete college and find a respectable job so he might convince the court that he can be a responsible guardian. Luckily for Jerry, he gets to mix up his studies with fun when he encounters a sexy Economics professor (Chitrangada Singh) who offers to tutor him strip-poker style.

The film’s idea of entertainment is some Namasatey London-style jingoistic patriotism, a smattering of homophobic jokes, some unintentionally comical lectures on love and forgiveness, and a far-too-long climatic courtroom scene that ends on an embarrassingly regressive note.

Desi Boyz borrows scenes from The Full Monty, Back To School, and Fight Club even, but at its heart it’s not very different from Sajid Khan’s similarly unremarkable Heyy Babyy. Akshay Kumar and John Abraham perform earnestly and get a few moments to shine, but the gorgeous Deepika Padukone gets none. The greatest disservice, however, is done to Chitrangada Singh. Clothed in fancy designer togs, buried under pancake, and saddled with a thankless part, the actress is robbed of her smoldering presence, and homogenized into the mould of a typical Bollywood starlet.

Yet, the film isn’t unwatchable. Pritam’s soundtrack has some winning tunes, and the musical numbers are shot deliciously. What fails Desi Boyz in the end is that it’s such a generic, indifferent film. Rohit Dhawan leaves no directorial imprint for a first-time filmmaker, and there’s little in this movie that you haven’t seen before.

I’m going with two out of five for Desi Boyz. Go in with modest expectations and perhaps you won’t come out dissatisfied.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dawn of the dead

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

November 25, 2011

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner

Director: Bill Condon

It’s hard to feel much sympathy or affection for characters who spend even the happiest day of their life brooding, after subjecting us to three previous films in which all they ever did was sulk over being separated from each other.

In The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, fourth installment of the ridiculously successful Twilight franchise, Kristen Stewart’s mopey-eyed Bella Swan prepares for her wedding and her honeymoon with pasty-faced vampire Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson. For close to thirty minutes the camera floats lovingly over the glossy wedding, where vampires and humans set aside their gnawing differences to mutually toast the couple.

On their Brazilian honeymoon, Edward and Bella finally get into the sack to consummate their romance, and the morning after, she wakes up with bruises on her body, and the bed reduced to shambles. Roughly fourteen days later, she discovers she’s pregnant.

Given that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and these films they’ve spawned come loaded with messages of abstinence, you’d think someone would have reminded them to carry birth control to the honeymoon. But no! Poor Bella must now pay the price for their foolishness by carrying around a little critter in her belly that’s possibly a human-vampire hybrid. When the foetus hungers for blood, it sucks the life out of Bella who starts to wither away, until someone comes up with the wise idea of quenching its appetite by feeding Bella blood in a Starbucks styrofoam cup.

On the werewolf front, Taylor Lautner’s Jacob is still in a funk over his second-place status for Bella’s affection. Yet he hangs around like a doormat when she gets sick, and even feuds with his wolfpack when they decide to attack her before she can deliver another bloodsucker into the world.

This penultimate film in the saga starts off promisingly, but swiftly sinks into the quicksand of silliness that has dogged this series since after Catherine Hardwicke’s moody first film. There’s a scene in Breaking Dawn Part 1, in which the wolves stand around and chat like normal people – it’s by far the film’s stupidest scene, followed closely by an underwhelming action sequence between vamps and werewolves that shows us just how poorly CGI can be used.

Among the film’s highlights is a freaky birth scene, and a nice cliffhanger that hints at Bella’s fate as we head into the final chapter of this saga that will arrive in cinemas next year. The romance between Bella and Edward is gently filmed in those lush honeymoon portions, but what’s missing is the adequate dramatic tension as their situation gets more somber.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 is an improvement on both New Moon and Eclipse, but it’s still got so much unintentional humor and clunky dialogue that only fans of the series – or Twi-hards as they’ve come to be known – will still be able to embrace it. I’m going with two out of five for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. If you’re not a fan, look at it this way – there’s only one more film to go, and then we’re rid of them once and for all.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Who’s that girl?

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

November 25, 2011

Cast: Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino, Nick Swardson

Director: Dennis Dugan

If you’re not easily offended by Adam Sandler’s usual schtick of toilet humor and racist jokes, you’ll find there’s plenty laughs in Jack and Jill. The film sees Sandler perform double duty as Jack, a successful ad-filmmaker in LA, and Jill, his twin sister from the Bronx who comes visiting the family for Thanksgiving.

Sandler’s terrific in the film’s early portions playing sarcastic, straight-faced Jack, but as the whining, self-pitying Jill, he’s just…a drag. The problem is: no efforts are made to present Jill as a real character; it’s just Sandler wearing women’s clothes and talking in a silly voice. The filmmakers might be too lazy to do something about that, but they obviously recognize the problem, and address it in a comical scene in which a character peeks under Jill’s skirt to make sure she’s not a man.

Because it’s hard to take Jill seriously as a real person, your heart never really goes out to her, although she’s clearly meant to be the victim here – the poor, unwanted sister that nobody loves. You find yourself rooting instead for Jack, the impatient brother with the never-ending stream of insults.

Of course you’ve got to be a fan of Sandler’s to enjoy the film’s typically crude humor, which includes everything from repeated fart gags and toothless old ladies being smacked in the face, to racist jokes about Mexicans and Indians. It helps that the gags come fast and furious, giving you little time to think in between the laughs.

The film’s side plot, in which Jack must get Al Pacino to star in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, lends itself to possibly the most embarrassing extended cameo in recent memory. Yes, Pacino shows up in the film as himself, and aside from one or two smart scenes in which he spoofs his own ‘intense’ image, the thespian does an awkward routine in which he literally chases after Jill, smitten by her Bronx appeal. You cringe as you watch the Oscar-winning actor indulge in such contrived comedy.

Jack and Jill is one of those films that’s incredibly funny in portions, but there are also long stretches that are unforgivably boring – like that sickeningly schmaltzy climax. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Jack and Jill. If you’re an Adam Sandler fan, the film packs enough laughs to deserve a viewing.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dark shade of shame

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

November 25, 2011

Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney

Director: Tate Taylor

It’s easy to see why The Help, a rousing melodrama about racial prejudice set in 1960s Mississippi, became an instant crowd-pleaser when it released in the United States this summer. Like 2009’s shrewdly sentimental Sandra Bullock starrer The Blind Side, this is a patronizing tale that addresses white guilt and cleverly mitigates it.

To be fair though, The Help is genuinely moving, it has moments of delightful humor, and it’s held together by two spectacular performances that make it an easily likeable film despite its flaws.

Emma Stone stars as Skeeter, an aspiring journalist in Jackson, Mississippi, determined to document the life experiences of African-American maids who face all kinds of humiliation and bigotry at the hands of the white folks they work for. Defying her upper-class background, and angering her insensitive friends, Skeeter conducts a series of secret interviews with these long-suffering domestics, who describe what it’s like to dedicate one’s life to raising white people’s children, while struggling for time and money to look after their own.

Viola Davis plays Aibileen, a maid who works for Skeeter’s best friend, and the first to volunteer for this project which sees several black women meeting on the sly to tell their personal stories. Davis puts you through the wringer, using her eyes and her expressions to communicate years of fear and oppression, and it’s hard to hold back the waterworks when she reveals the tragic story of her offspring. The second winning performance is delivered by Octavia Spencer who plays Minny, a feisty black maid belittled by her racist employer (Bryce Dallas Howard). Prone to a bad temper and tantrums, it’s impossible not to root for Minny as she gets her revenge on her smug boss.

Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help knows exactly which buttons to push and when. There are some sympathetic white characters played by Sissy Spacek and Jessica Chastain, but for the most part the film banks on the resonance it’s likely to strike with audiences everywhere, and the sense of guilt and shame it evokes. Far from perfect, the film’s disturbing suggestion that it took a white woman to mobilize the black maids into speaking up for themselves, seems to undermine the very point of the story.

Yet the film works because it’s well-intentioned, and its sincerity comes through despite its shortcomings. I’m going with three out of five for The Help. It’s a feel-good entertainer about a sensitive, prickly issue. Watch it for its solid acting.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Adam Sandler & Katie Holmes on ‘Jack and Jill’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

In this interview recorded in Cancun (Mexico), Adam Sandler and Katie Holmes talk about their new film Jack and Jill, in which Sandler plays twin siblings and Holmes the wife of his male character. Sandler reveals what it was like getting in touch with his female side to play the role of Jill, and Holmes explains how she kept a straight face with Sandler around.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 18, 2011

Saved by the krill

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

November 18, 2011

Cast: Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Pink, Sofia Vergara, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

Director: George Miller

Much like Scrat, the acorn-obsessed sabre-toothed squirrel in the Ice Age movies, it’s Will and Bill, a pair of shrimp-like krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) that practically steal Happy Feet Two, although they’re only side characters in the film’s central story.

This moralizing sequel to 2006’s Happy Feet sees Emperor Penguin Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) set off to find his runaway son, after the little fella takes off with two of his pals when he’s laughed at by the flock for being unable to tap-dance like the rest of them.

For what’s essentially a kiddie film, there’s way too much sermonizing here; and if the earlier film didn’t drill home the point that there’s no shame in being different, then this one beats you on the head with it! A subplot about Mumble’s little son Erik finding his role model in the mysterious flying penguin Sven (Hank Azaria) lends itself to more preaching.

Happy Feet Two has some beautiful scenery and at least two elaborate musical numbers, but what’s missing is the light directorial touch that was needed here. The film feels calculated and manipulative on occasion, which comes in the way of your embracing it wholeheartedly.

Which brings us to the krill… Pitt and Damon’s comic banter as the tiny red crustacea is what delivers the film’s most genuine laughs. “I’m one in a krillion,” puns Will, the rebellious of the two, as he swims away from the swarm in search of adventure, even as Bill nervously contemplates a gay allusion. These feel like the only smart portions in an otherwise all-too-generic film.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Happy Feet Two; it’s enjoyable in the same way that vanilla ice-cream is: safe and familiar.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Vidya Balan on playing an 80s sex-bomb in ‘The Dirty Picture’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

In this interview, Vidya Balan – one of Bollywood’s bravest actresses working today – talks about her role as an 80s starlet in The Dirty Picture.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dirty politics

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

November 18, 2011

Cast: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Director: George Clooney

The Ides of March, directed by George Clooney, is a meaty, fast-moving political thriller about betrayal and disillusionment. And although it makes no new revelations about politics or politicians, it keeps you glued to your seat thanks to some terrific performances from its delicious cast.

Clooney himself takes the role of charismatic Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris, who’s in the throes of a crucial campaign for a shot at the Democratic nomination for the White House. On his team are his trusted campaign manager Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his idealistic but ambitious press secretary Stephen (Ryan Gosling). Just when it seems like Morris is on the verge of clinching the presidential nomination, his campaign threatens to get derailed because Stephen makes the mistake of meeting the rival camp’s campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) and starting an affair with a teenage intern (Evan Rachel Wood).

Expectedly, the film flirts with such themes as the compromises of modern politics, the price that must be paid for integrity, and the loss of innocence. Alas, these revelations aren’t of an earth-shattering magnitude, and the film feels naïve for presenting them as such. But despite its shortcomings, The Ides of March works as a tight thriller that sustains dramatic tension throughout.

The cast is first-rate and delivers credible performances across the board, but the film belongs to Ryan Gosling. As the rare honest man in a dishonest business, he plays the part with a shrewd balance of cockiness and naivete. And as the film progresses, Gosling tracks the character’s transformation perfectly.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Ides of March. It’s an intelligent, if somewhat simplistic thriller. Watch it for the solid acting that’s on display.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 12, 2011

Steven Spielberg & Peter Jackson on ‘Tintin’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:42 am

In this interview recorded in Paris, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson talk about their unique collaboration on The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Spielberg reveals that it was Jackson’s screentest as Captain Haddock that convinced him not to make the movie live-action.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Andy Serkis on playing Captain Haddock in ‘Tintin’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:40 am

In this interview recorded in Cancun (Mexic0), Andy Serkis talks about his role as Captain Haddock in Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Serkis, who has played everything from Gollum and King Kong to Haddock now, thanks to performance-capture, explains how the technology works.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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