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

May 25, 2012

Hits the mark

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

May 25, 2012

Cast: Voices of Yuddvir Bakolia, Anjan Srivastav, Sachin Khedekar, Ila Arun, Vishnu Sharma

Director: Arnab Chaudhuri

Director Arnab Chaudhuri has mentioned in interviews that his animation film Arjun: The Warrior Prince is not a children’s movie, and I’m inclined to agree with him. The Mahabharata may be a story you heard from your grandmother at bedtime, or grew up reading in Amar Chitra Katha. In that sense, the character of Arjun, the brave warrior amongst the virtuous Pandavas, is one you’re familiar with. And yet, the film has an unusual approach – it’s a coming-of-age story, a boy-becomes-man yarn that has emotions like uncertainty, fear, frustration, will-power and courage running through it.

Arjun gets the treatment of an action-movie hero, and as he slays his way through a chakravyuh of soldiers from the Kaurava army you find yourself rooting for him. In fact, I was strongly reminded of the high-voltage drama that contributed to the Sunday ritual of watching BR Chopra’s long-running Mahabharata TV series in the 1990s.

The film unfolds from Arjun’s point of view – showing him first as a boy learning his skills from his guru Dronacharya. Even though he and his brothers suffer many injustices at the hands of their Kaurava cousins, Arjun is unable to summon up the courage to retaliate on the battlefield. The film’s director builds up the narrative by showing what goes into the making of a committed warrior.

The heroic exploits and inner struggles of Arjun are woven into the film’s narrative so convincingly that you tend to forget this is animation. The characters’ features are drawn sharply, giving the film the look of Japanese manga. The action has a martial arts-movie feel to it, and thus the violence — also the sight of severed torsos — may be too graphic for younger audiences. In portions, the animation is stiff and the characters seem stilted in their movements, but there are also beautifully stylized sequences, like the one in which Arjun dives into a pond to shoot an arrow into the fish and win Draupadi’s hand at the swayamvar.

However the film is not without its weaknesses – some characters, like that of the scheming Shakuni mama, are too caricaturish and could have done with a more subtle touch, while the Pandavas’ exile portion feels overly stretched and dull. For the most part, the movie works when it concentrates on its protagonist and his evil cousin Duryodhan.

I’m going to with three out of five for Arjun: The Warrior Prince. Like its hero, the film too is a valiant effort, and an interesting interpretation of a much-loved mythological story. Worth a watch.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bring out the Neuralizer!

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

May 25, 2012

Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jermaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Men in Black 3 is by no means a terrible film. (No that’s a term I’d use to describe the second film in the series). But it does seem rather pointless, and has very little of that irreverence and goofiness that made the first film so popular.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as Agents J and K, a pair of secret agents in matching black suits, whose jobs mostly involve running around New York and chasing down grotesque aliens masquerading as humans. Emma Thompson stars as Agent O, their new boss, and Jermaine Clement is Boris The Animal, the film’s one-armed freakish villain, who escapes from a maximum security prison on the Moon and is hell-bent on changing the past. Boris wants to go back to 1969 and kill a young Agent K, before Agent K cuts off his limb. Smith’s character, Agent J, must now travel back in time to keep his partner from being killed.

Aside from the obvious fish-out-of-water jokes that arise out of the time-travel premise, there’s little that’s funny here. Will Smith gets a few laughs from a sequence that involves a stolen car, and there’s also a brief clever bit in which Andy Warhol (played by Bill Hader) makes an appearance. The rest, unfortunately, is just ho-hum.

Josh Brolin, who stars as the younger Agent K, does a bang-up job of impersonating Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan voice and stone-faced demeanor, but there’s very little of that crackling repartee that Smith and Jones shared in the earlier films.

Men in Black 3 introduces a new character (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) who has the ability to see the future, but that track isn’t exploited for its comic potential, instead it’s used to inject a dose of schmaltz. There’s also a surprisingly touching twist in the end, which makes you wonder if you strolled into the wrong film – the Men in Black movies were meant to be funny, not sentimental, were they?

What the film does offer are some super special effects, and make-up wiz Rick Baker creates a whole pantheon of first-rate aliens. It’s a pity the rest of this film doesn’t have the same inventive streak.

I’m going with two out of five for director Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black 3. Huge chunks of this film are convoluted and confusing, and even Will Smith looks like he’s in it just for the paycheque.

Where’s that memory-erasing Neuralizer when you need it?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Will Smith on ‘Men in Black 3’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

In this interview recorded in Cancun (Mexico), Men in Black 3 star Will Smith reveals what he enjoys most about making these sci-fi comedies, and about his chemistry with new co-star Josh Brolin.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 19, 2012

Freida Pinto at Cannes

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:05 am

In this interview conducted in Cannes, Slumdog Millionaire star and L’oreal ambassador Frieda Pinto talks about why she hasn’t done a Bollywood movie yet, and what she feels about being picked by People magazine as Most Beautiful Woman.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Cop out!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 12:57 am

May 18, 2012

Cast: Rana Dagubatti, Sanjay Dutt, Amitabh Bachchan, Vijay Raaz, Abhimanyu Singh, Anjana Sukhani, Madhu Shalini

Director: Ramgopal Varma

If there’s a point to Ramgopal Varma’s Department, I’m afraid I missed it. There’s a good chance I might have been distracted by his relentlessly dizzy camera… Carrying on his fascination with the mafia, Varma looks at the dynamics and the inner workings of a special unit within the Mumbai police force created in the wake of increasing crimes by two factions of the underworld.

Sanjay Dutt plays Inspector Mahadev Bhosle, head of this team of sharpshooters that must work under the radar to weed out mafia elements from the city. Rana Dagubatti is Shiv Narayan, an upright cop and Bhosle’s right-hand man, who wins the favor of eccentric minister Sarjerao Gaekwad (Amitabh Bachchan) when he takes down a shooter who fires at the politico during a rally.

Varma’s gallery of rogues includes Vijay Raaz as shrieking don Savatiya, Abhimanyu Singh as DK, a hot-headed henchman in his team, and my personal favorite, a female gangster and DK’s squeeze (Madhu Shalini) who’s constantly licking her lips suggestively or sucking on kulfis when she isn’t advising DK to rebel against his boss.

Predictably, cops mix up with gangsters, cops betray cops, and politicians are discovered to be in cahoots with the underworld. It’s the same old story. Not known for subtlety, Varma gives us a blaring background score, an endless stream of high-decibel shootout scenes, and the now mandatory item song featuring a scantily-clad dancer gyrating amidst dozens of sweaty admirers.

The filmmaker, who famously employed a bunch of film school students to shoot the movie using small cameras positioned at odd places, indulges his quirk for gravity-defying angles. It works occasionally in the action scenes that appear more visceral now, but for the most part the bizarre camera movements give you a headache.

Just shy of two hours and thirty minutes, Department is tedious and boring and doesn’t have any of the originality of Satya and Company, or even the occasional tension of Sarkar. Dutt delivers his lines like he’s reading out the phone book, and Bachchan hams it up no end as the gangster-turned-minister. It’s only Rana Dagubatti who approaches the film with any earnestness whatsoever.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Ramgopal Varma’s Department. It’s a lazy, indulgent film that tests your threshold for pain.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Heartbreak hotel

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:43 am

May 18, 2012

Cast: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Lilette Dubey

Director: John Madden

Seven British fogies find love, sex, jobs, and redemption, when they head to India in the predictable yet feel-good comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Directed by Shakespeare In Love‘s John Madden, the film boasts an ensemble of some of the finest English actors who pump heart into what could’ve easily been an entirely calculated affair.

Judi Dench stars as a cash strapped widow looking for a fresh start, Tom Wilkinson as a high-court judge searching for an old lover, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a married couple who invested their savings in an Internet startup that bombed, Celia Imrie as a gold-digger looking to be married again, Ronald Pickup as a randy senior searching for love, and Maggie Smith as a racist old biddy who needs a cheap hip-replacement surgery. Lured by an advertisement for a luxurious retirement hotel in Jaipur that turns out to be dump, the ageing Brits are soon strangers in a strange land. How each of them deals with the unexpected reality that confronts them in this unfamiliar place is the focus of this film. A few adapt easily, others resist, while some embrace the madness of India and create a new life for themselves amidst it.

In equal parts enjoyable and cloying, this film ticks off all the usual stereotypes you’d associate with a foreigner’s perspective of India. Yet there’s so much humor – particularly in the first half, and a generous dose provided by Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel who stars as the hotel’s optimistic manager – that you’re willing to look beyond the clichés.

For the first-rate performances alone, this film is worth a watch. I’m going with three out of five for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s formulaic but oddly comforting; it’s the kind of movie your mum will love.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 13, 2012

Ramgopal Varma embraces “rogue filmmaking” for Department

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:28 pm

In this interview, filmmaker Ramgopal Varma talks about breaking traditional filmmaking rules for his new film Department.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 11, 2012

Love hurts

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:44 pm

May 11, 2012

Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra, Gauhar Khan

Director: Habib Faisal

In a fictional small town in North India, battle lines are drawn between political families, the Chauhans and the Qureshis, sworn enemies, each seeking victory against the other in the forthcoming elections. Against this tense terrain, director Habib Faisal sets his Romeo & Juliet story, Ishaqzaade.

Arjun Kapoor is Parma, the loutish grandson of the Chauhan patriarch who gleefully loots local vendors and sets fire to their shops when they beg for a little compassion. Parineeti Chopra is Zoya, feisty daughter of the senior most Qureshi, who’d much rather have a gun over brand new gold earrings. Like most love stories in Hindi films, this one too starts off on the wrong foot, when Parma storms into the Qureshi estate to take off with the local nautch girl who is performing there. In the fight that breaks out, Parma pulls out his gun at an infuriated Zoya, who is determined to get revenge. She gets that opportunity on campus soon after, and predictably a romance between the two is on the cards.

The film’s first half coasts along nicely, culminating in a delicious, unpredictable twist. But as the film’s second half kicks in, it becomes clear the writers had no idea where to go with the story. Which is possibly why the love-struck couple spends the entire post-intermission portion just running.

Like in Do Dooni Chaar, director Habib Faisal’s last film, and in Band Baaja Baaraat, his breakout script, the real pleasure in Ishaqzaade lies in its colloquial language, believable characters, and lived-in locations. Faisal gives us a leading lady worth rooting for in Zoya, a firebrand who knows how to take charge. Parineeti Chopra breathes life into the part, emerging the biggest strength of this film. As Parma, meanwhile, that unlikely leading man with no moral compass, Arjun Kapoor is confident but at times awkward, and his rawness shows.

Much of the film’s strengths come undone by the use of such tired clichés as the religious differences that stand in the way of true love, and the sacrificial hooker with a heart of gold. Also Faisal resorts to an unforgivably unoriginal climax – for both the resolution of the lovers, and their families – that sticks out in a film with such promise.

Ishaqzaade benefits considerably from Amit Trivedi’s excellent soundtrack and Hemant Chaturvedi’s sharp cinematography. Faisal creates a believable world with charming characters, and his leads have crackling chemistry. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade. It’s far from perfect, but you won’t be bored.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Past imperfect

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:34 pm

May 11, 2012

Cast: Karisma Kapoor, Rajneesh Duggal, Jimmy Shergill, Divya Dutta, Ravi Kissen, Arya Babbar

Director: Vikram Bhatt

From matching Govinda’s razor-sharp comic timing in so many David Dhawan entertainers, to delivering sincere, heartfelt performances in films like Fizaa and Zubeidaa, Karisma Kapoor has had no shortage of opportunities to show off her acting chops. But returning after a hiatus in director Vikram Bhatt’s laughably silly Dangerous Ishq, the actress is limited to gritting her teeth and mouthing inane lines.

Karisma stars as Sanjana, a supermodel and committed girlfriend who searches for clues in her past, when her industrialist boyfriend (Rajneesh Duggal sporting a single expression throughout) is kidnapped. Relying on ‘visions’ that offer her glimpses into her previous lives, Sanjana discovers she’s had a doomed romantic connection with the same man over the ages. To solve the mystery of his kidnapping in the present day, she must first figure out who has been keeping them apart in their every birth.

From struggling through communal feuds in Partition-era Punjab, to facing betrayal from a trusted friend in Daulatabad during the Mughal rule, to spurning the advances of a sleazy senapati in 16th century Rajasthan…it’s hard to keep a straight face as Sanjana rewinds to previous lifetimes, and the film in turn becomes increasingly preposterous. Despite its curious premise, the plot of Dangerous Ishq feels overstuffed and far too convenient, and as a result the film’s central idea, of past life regression, is never convincingly conveyed.

If anything, the film is unintentionally comical, thanks in no small part to its clunky dialogue, bizarre characters, and ham-fisted direction. Save for some tacky special effects and a few badly done explosions, Bhatt mostly resists the temptation to throw things at you in order to exploit the 3D, but the imagery here is so bland that the technology feels wasted.

Ambitious but seriously flawed, the film smacks of laziness in virtually all departments, and even Karisma Kapoor’s earnest performance can’t save the day. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Vikram Bhatt’s Dangerous Ishq. Plodding on for close to two hours and thirty minutes, this film will make you wish you’d knocked back a stiff one before taking your seat.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:30 pm

May 11, 2012

Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Tim Burton

Dark Shadows, the eighth collaboration between filmmaker Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, is part comedy and part horror. But in all honesty the film does little justice to either genre. Based on a popular American soap opera from the 60s and early 70s, the film stars Depp as vampire Barnabass Collins who is resurrected from his coffin in 1972 after 200 years, to find his sprawling estate in ruin, his family’s fisheries business failing, and the vengeful witch who turned him into a bloodsucker (Eva Green) now the most successful person in their small coastal town. Teaming up with the current Collins matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer), Barnabass is determined to set things right again.

A fish-out-of-water story on one level, most of the humor in Dark Shadows is built around the single joke that Barnabass doesn’t fit into the modern world of 1972. But Burton never commits to making a full-on comedy, throwing in some creepy horror elements that occasionally work, but also a tiring love triangle that you’ll find too dull to emotionally invest in.

As Angelique, the selfish witch still carrying a torch for Barnabass, Eva Green is deliciously evil, and easily one of the best things in the film. Helena Bonham Carter as a loopy psychiatrist in the Collins home gets some quirky moments to shine; but Depp himself, who’s created such memorable weirdo characters as Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, Willy Wonka, and the Mad Hatter in previous collaborations with Burton, appears strangely detached here.

As with most Burton productions, the costume design, the sets, and the special effects are top-class, helping create a believable alternate reality in which his stories exist. The problem sadly is that it’s style over substance in this oddball film.

I’m going with two out of five for Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. It all looks great…but there’s little else to it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress