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

January 27, 2012

Sweet revenge

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

January 27, 2012

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Zarina Wahab, Chetan Pandit, Arish Bhiwandiwala, Om Puri

Director: Karan Malhotra

Debutant director Karan Malhotra’s re-telling of Mukul Anand’s 1990 vendetta movie Agneepath is a glossy, well-acted production. Compared to recent ‘mass entertainers’ that tend to lazily sacrifice story and plot for retro-style action and star appeal, this remake rolls along like a well-oiled machine. And yet, after watching three hours of stabbing, gunfire, blasts, and hand-to-hand fighting, you realize the film is somewhat crippled by its over-indulgent length.

Despite the almost 22-year gap, this new Agneepath retains the basic thread of its predecessor, and opens in the seaside village of Mandwa in 1977. The plot kicks in with the unjust killing of schoolteacher Dinanath Chauhan. His murder at the hands of sadistic villain Kancha, played menacingly by Sanjay Dutt, is witnessed by Dinanath’s young son Vijay, who grows up with an indefatigable thirst for revenge. As Vijay moves to Mumbai with his pregnant mother, played by Zarina Wahab, he aligns himself with Kancha’s rival – drug-don and pimp Rauf Lala, taken on in an unforgettable turn by Rishi Kapoor.

Fifteen years later, Hrithik Roshan is the grown-up Vijay, commander-in-chief to Lala’s empire. Estranged from his mother and teenaged sister because of the life of crime he chooses, Vijay lives in a Dongri chawl, and is the gunman with a good heart, who’s won the love of Kali, played by Priyanka Chopra, the motor-mouthed local girl who runs a Chinese beauty parlor in the neighborhood.

The film forges ahead, with high-voltage action scenes, chilling confrontations, double crossing, and gang wars. But Vijay moves with single-minded purpose, as if on a chessboard, working towards eliminating Kancha, who has transformed Mandwa into an isolated fortress for his cocaine production.

Now Agneepath is a throwback to those heightened action dramas of the 90s, so every dialogue is delivered as a punch-line; our hero may be battered and stabbed, yet he’ll rise like the phoenix, and the women are flung around to be raped or sold as sex slaves. As the noisy background score further testifies, subtlety is not an art here, but first-time director Malhotra handles the scale of this star-heavy, lavishly-mounted remake competently. He extracts strong performances not only from his leads, but also from supporting players like Chetan Pandit who plays Vijay’s upright father Dinanath, and Arish Bhiwandiwala whose eyes literally torch up the screen as the younger, angry Vijay.

However, the sometimes trite dialogues, and a few underdeveloped characters stick out like a sore thumb…take Om Puri playing upright cop Gaitonde, who pops up chiefly to deliver moral sermons to Vijay, or the frustratingly over-the-top Deven Bhojwani as Rauf Lala’s mentally-challenged son. Priyanka Chopra too gets a raw deal because her character is sketched as either hyper-comical or hyper-dramatic. To justify her part, the writers throw in more romantic scenes than needed, and these only further slacken the film’s pace. While the music by Atul-Ajay has its high points, the songs – yes, even Chikni Chameli – eat into the narrative, as over-choreographed as they are.

The film is enhanced by uncompromising, brutal action, and by its striking camerawork…especially those scenes framed against a monsoon sky, heavy with dark clouds. In fact, Sanjay Dutt’s entry in one such scene, his black-clad figure stomping across a bridge, stays with you. After watching him sleepwalk in film after film, it’s refreshing to see Dutt make this character his own – his sheer bulk adds to the overall evil of Kancha. He loses some of that sheen when he chants Sanskrit into an apocalyptic sky, yet his presence is freakishly powerful.

Rishi Kapoor too is deliciously despicable in his career’s most memorable negative role. He’s positively creepy when selling young girls in an open market, and has the commanding presence of a most-wanted criminal. His is the performance that returns to haunt you long after you’ve seen the film.

Amitabh Bachchan, who won a National Award for his performance in the earlier film, defined Vijay Dinanath Chauhan with a stylized performance, including a hoarse voice and a swagger. But it’s Hrithik Roshan who redefines this Agneepath. He plays the character without the flourish that Bachchan brought, turning him into a ruthless machine for revenge, yet shouldering layers of hurt, pain and rage that make you match step with him on his journey. He commands the camera once again and delivers a riveting, sincere performance.

I’m going with three out of five for director Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath. It is in the end, an old-fashioned revenge drama treated in that melodramatic, over-the-top style. You’re not likely to be bored by the intense action and the solid performances, but prepare to be exhausted by just how long this film plays on.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dad’s the word

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

January 27, 2012

Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer

Director: Alexander Payne

One of the most striking moments in The Descendants is when George Clooney’s character Matt King stumbles onto the secret that his wife has been cheating on him. He puts on a pair of floppy loafers, then runs clumsily over to their friends’ home in his neighbourhood in Hawaii. Matt is frantically seeking answers – who is the other man? Since when has this been carrying on? Did she love him? Answers that his wife, lying comatose on a hospital bed, can’t give him.

The Descendants is a unique tragi-comedy that makes you look at life, family and priorities with new eyes. Like previous films directed by Alexander Payne, such as About Schmidt and Sideways, this film’s leading man is going through a crisis of character. He’s on a rather shaky road to becoming a better man. The Descendants continues on this familiar stretch with the story of lawyer Matt King, a ‘back-up’ parent faced with becoming the only parent to his two difficult daughters, Alex and Scottie, when his wife slips into a coma after a water-skiing accident.

Matt is an awkward dad and an indifferent husband, caught up in his other role as trustee of a sweeping ancestral property in idyllic Hawaii that he and his cousins want to sell in a multi-million dollar deal. In one blow, Matt has to figure out how to say goodbye to his old relationships and forge new ones.

Life is messy, and The Descendants is a film that celebrates that. In fact, through its rather loopy, free-flowing structure, painfully real dialogues and sense of irony, writer-director Payne walks us through the emotions just as Matt struggles with every decision. The film has several laugh-aloud moments in the bumpy parent-child ride, not least because Matt’s daughters have colourful vocabularies, along with being rebellious and quirky. You’re also drawn in by other characters like Matt’s surly father-in-law, and Sid, Alex’s spaced-out male friend.

Beautifully photographed and tenderly scored, The Descendants is a movie that hinges primarily on its performances, and Payne does an excellent job of making every actor deliver. Shailene Woodley is terrific as Alex, torn between rage against her mother, and pain over having to say goodbye. Amara Miller is incredibly endearing as little Scottie with the potty mouth. And George Clooney disappears into his inept character Matt…from those unflatteringly tucked-in Hawaiin shirts to his persisting unsure behavior.  It’s already amongst my favourite performances, and one worth savouring.

In fact, I’m going to ask you to do just that – to savour Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride that’ll have you smiling through that lump in your throat.

Four out of five. It’s a must-watch.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

She bangs, she bangs!

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

January 27, 2012

Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Gina Carano, the 29-year-old star of Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire is not someone you want to get into an argument with. This mixed martial-arts fighter who punches, kicks, slams, smashes, and whacks her rivals into pulp, was cast by the filmmaker when he reportedly watched her in the ring on sports television.
In her first movie outing, Carano plays Mallory Kane, a highly skilled assassin who goes on the run when she realizes she’s been double-crossed by her boss and former lover (Ewan McGregor). We learn in the film’s first scene itself that she can more than take care of herself, when she beats the living daylights out of a former colleague (Channing Tatum) in a roadside diner in upstate New York.
Dragging along an innocent bystander from that diner, she makes an escape in his car, filling him – and us – in on the events that have led to this moment. In flashbacks we watch a rescue mission go horribly wrong in Barcelona, and then a brutal set-up in a Dublin hotel room involving another spy (Michael Fassbender).
For an espionage thriller, the script of Haywire is serviceable at best, and there’s very little tension leading up to the action scenes. But boy, what action! Shooting her fight sequences as cleanly as possible, Soderbergh shows us just how tough his star is…she’s smashed into mirrors, hit on the head with objects, kicked and punched. And she gives as good as she gets. There’s a clockwork precision in her hand-to-hand fight scenes, and prepare for your jaw to drop when she performs those wall-climbing backflips.

Carano is no Meryl Streep when it comes to acting, but she can hold a close-up. It helps that Soderbergh surrounds her with solid actors like Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, McGregor and Fassbender, but chances are your eyes won’t wander from her when she’s on screen.

I’m going with three out of five for Haywire. It’s a guilty pleasure, a thoroughly enjoyable B-movie for action buffs. Watch it strictly for its breakout star!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Anurag, Rohan and Ranvir on the 2012 Oscar noms

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 7:19 pm


To share their views on the 2012 Oscar nominations, Anurag Kashyap, Rohan Sippy and Ranvir Shorey sit down with Rajeev Masand and pick their favourites.

(This show first aired on Star Movies)

January 21, 2012

Why Kareena Kapoor delayed her film with Imran Khan

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:24 am

In this interview, Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan talk about their new film Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Kareena explains why she put Aamir, Shah Rukh, Salman and Saif before Imran, and also reveals why she’s been doing blockbuster films with inconsequential roles lately.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 20, 2012

Unfinished portrait

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

January 20, 2012

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts

Director: Clint Eastwood

Regarded as one of the most controversial figures in recent US history, the late J Edgar Hoover gets shortchanged with a surprisingly dull biopic from director Clint Eastwood, who appears to have come up with a new cure for insomnia with this deathly boring epic.

J Edgar stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, but the actor plays him with a distracting clipped accent, his face often buried under layers of unconvincing old-age makeup. It’s an earnest performance by a committed actor. But DiCaprio’s take on Hoover, who spent roughly 40 years as Director of the FBI, doesn’t have the same spark as his portrayal of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

The blame for that must be shared with Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) whose self-serious script employs that familiar structure of an important man looking back on his life. In this case, it’s Hoover in his seventies, as he dictates his memoirs, prompting a series of flashbacks to key moments of his life. He details his rise through the Department of Justice to head the newly created FBI, his crusades against gangsters, Communists and radicals, and his manipulations of politicians through his extensive collection of secret files on every powerful person in DC.

Eastwood’s film, however, merely scratches the surface of Hoover’s professional achievements and transgressions, choosing instead to focus on his relationships…with his domineering mother (Judi Dench), his lifelong secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and with his second-in-command at the FBI – and his lover – Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Anyone looking for greater insight into Hoover’s personality, or his evolution as a political force will have to look elsewhere.

It doesn’t help that the story unfolds as a series of confusing flashbacks within flashbacks, and the secondary players are delivering impressions rather than performances. The sad truth is that more effort appears to have been spent designing the period look and feel for this story than on character development and narrative. As a result, J Edgar feels like a half-baked meal, a disappointment from one of modern cinema’s great master filmmakers.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar. Watch it for DiCaprio’s earnest performance; watch it also to see how an opportunity has been lost.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bard target

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

January 20, 2012

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Long regarded as one of the most complex, and least accessible of Shakespeare’s plays, Coriolanus makes its way to the screen as an intense, slam-bang action movie that marks Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut. The film is set in “a place calling itself Rome” (but shot against the stark landscape of Belgrade and the Serbian countryside), with Fiennes himself taking the role of ruthless killing machine Caius Martius, a proud warrior-general committed to honor and duty and courage, but let down by his arrogance and his contempt for the common people.

When he vanquishes the army of his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), he’s anointed Coriolanus and is encouraged to run for political office by his ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave). But he resists, refusing to pander to the public whose votes he must seek. Irked by his refusal to play by the rules, and his inability to connect with the citizens, Coriolanus is banished from the very land he helped protect. Now consumed with revenge, he seeks out his old enemy Tullus and offers to lead an attack on his old home.

Cleverly transported to contemporary times, employing such tricks as cellphone-shot assassinations, 24 x 7 news updates, and rousing political debates on television, Coriolanus is surprisingly relevant even 400-odd years after it was written. The story draws some easy parallels with the modern world, despite the somewhat challenging use of original Shakespearean dialogue.

Even if the language is hard to navigate occasionally, the film is worth a watch solely for its performances. Vanessa Redgrave in particular, is riveting as Coriolanus’ autocratic mother, and Fiennes himself brings such intimidating physicality to the central role.

The film’s intense, blood-splattered action scenes are not for the faint-hearted, but this is a solid, impressive piece of work that deserves your time. I’m going with three out of five for Coriolanus. Get into the mood and settle down for a satisfying watch.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 19, 2012

Live from the 2012 Golden Globes!

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 5:37 pm


Rajeev Masand reports from the 2012 Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles, speaking to the Hollywood stars and filmmakers nominated for the awards.

(This show first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 13, 2012

Staged fright

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

January 13, 2012

Cast: Shiney Ahuja, Sayali Bhagat, Julie, Tej Sapru

Director: Puja Jatinder Bedi

Making a film, unlike writing a novel or making a painting, is a collaborative effort that involves a team of people working together. Which is why, when a really bad film comes along, you have to ask: Didn’t anyone involved in making this notice just how wrong it was going?

It’s a question that comes up more than once while watching Ghost, a hare-brained horror film in which doctors, nurses and ward-boys at a city hospital are brutally killed and dismembered by a vengeance seeking spirit. Shiney Ahuja is a detective assigned to the case, and Sayali Bhagat a doctor at the hospital who’s helping him with the investigation when they aren’t romancing over candlelit dinners and nightclub dancing.

Written and directed by Puja Jatinder Bedi, this staggeringly silly film has a plot so convoluted and far-fetched, you’ll be rolling your eyes more than the ghosts in this film do. Conveniently, the detective discovers he’s linked to the case himself…something involving an old flame, a sleazebag father, and memory loss caused by an accident. Lady Doctor, meanwhile, convinced that an otherworldly presence is responsible for the murders, takes to rattling off long passages from the Bible without a hint of emotion. All this is intercut with random cutaways of frogs, roaches and a tacky CGI version of hell with dancing skeletons.

The film doesn’t have any good scares to speak of, just lots of bad dialogue and a laughable background score. When the detective accuses his father of being unfaithful to his mother, the old dog replies: “Agar tum meri mardangi ko aiyyashi ka naam dena chahte ho, toh haan main aiyyash hoon.” (“If you want to describe my masculinity as promiscuity, then yes I’m promiscuous.”)  At another point in the film, when the detective arrives at a morgue where another killing has taken place, he delivers this corny gem: “Yahaan ke saare eyewitnesses ke toh waise bhi aankhen band hain.” (“All the eyewitnesses here have closed their eyes.”)

Ghost isn’t even one of those films that’s so bad, it’s fun to watch. No, it’s utterly and entirely painful and tiring to sit through, because every inconsequential detail is repeated over and over again, and all that the characters in this film do is state the obvious.

I’m going with a generous half out of five, yes half out of five for Ghost. There’s even a seductive song filmed on a wooden-faced junior artiste wearing enough eye make-up to scare you in your sleep. It’s a miracle films like this get made!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Jingle bells!

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

January 13, 2012

Cast: Voices of Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton

Director: Sarah Smith

Whether you ever believed in Santa Claus or not, you’ll find Arthur Christmas is a charming animation film about how Santa manages to deliver so many presents around the world in one single night. The movie suggests that in a high-tech factory buried deep in the North Pole, an army of elves works tirelessly to wrap each and every gift and send it off to the kid who requested it.

Santa himself (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is an old man now, nearing retirement. So it’s his older son Steve (Hugh Laurie) who runs the operation with military-style precision, while klutzy younger son Arthur (James McAvoy) is given the job of responding to children’s letters in the mailroom. Everything’s going according to plan in this impersonal but efficiently run ‘corporation’, until it is learnt that they forgot to deliver a gift to a little girl in a remote Engish village. Even as Steve and his surprisingly indifferent father shrug their shoulders and decide it’s too bad one child will have to go present-less this holiday, enthusiastic Arthur gathers his grandfather, the retired Grand-Santa (Bill Nighy) and sets off to deliver that one remaining gift the old fashioned way – on a reindeer-led sleigh, dashing through the snow and deserts and skies.

Cleverly written and beautifully rendered in 3D, Arthur Christmas is warm and funny and sarcastic in equal measure. The writers toss around some interesting ideas here, and the voice work by the cast is top-class. It’s a cheery little gem with a heartfelt message that every child is important. There are some thrilling set-pieces including an encounter with lions in the heart of an African jungle, and the final moments of the film are so moving you’ll find a lump in your throat.

Very different from the typically straight-up broad humor of Pixar films, Arthur Christmas comes with distinctly droll British humor, a trademark of Aardman Animations, the studio that previously gave us the excellent claymation film, Wallace and Gromit.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Arthur Christmas. It’s a rollicking film with a surprisingly soft heart. Pity they didn’t release it during the holidays. Don’t miss it if you’re a fan of animation!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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