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

July 28, 2012

Pooja Bhatt and her Jism 2 leading men on Sunny Leone

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:40 am

In this interview, Jism 2 director Pooja Bhatt and her leading men Randeep Hooda and Arunoday Singh talk about their controversial female lead Sunny Leone, and about getting naked on camera.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 27, 2012

Crude awakening

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

July 27, 2012

Cast: Tusshar Kapoor, Ritesh Deshmukh, Neha Sharma, Sarah-Jane Dias, Anupam Kher, Chunky Pandey

Director: Sachin Yardi

If I had a penny for every time I laughed during Kyaa Super Kool Hain Hum, I’d be able to afford an Asprin I so badly needed at the end of this roughly two-and-a-half-hour cringe-fest. The problem with this film isn’t that it’s so unapologetically vulgar, but that it’s just not very funny. And that’s a shame, because leading men Tusshar Kapoor and Ritesh Deshmukh have a winning chemistry and sharp comic timing…now if only they were required to do a little more than stripping down to their boxers and repeatedly making crude gay jokes.

The film is written and directed by Sachin Yardi, who co-wrote 2005’s comically superior Kya Kool Hain Hum, but the mandate for this sequel seems to have been – “let’s make it filthier”. In the process, clever writing and genuine humor have been completely sacrificed. The plot (if you can call it that!) doesn’t hold up either… Adi (Tusshar), a struggling actor, and Sid (Ritesh), a down-on-his-luck deejay, are best friends and roommates looking for that one chance to turn their fortunes. A series of misadventures lands them in Goa in pursuit of Simran (Neha Sharma) and Anu (Sarah Jane-Dias), and a diamond ring belonging to Sid’s frisky dog Sakru. Other offenders in this mess include Anupam Kher, who plays Francis Marlowe, an eccentric millionaire and film memorabilia collector who’s convinced that his dead mother has been reborn as a pug, and Chunky Pandey as a fake godman who claims he has a hotline to heaven.

Judging the film purely by the standards of a sex comedy, it still doesn’t compare with Masti or Kya Kool Hain Hum, both of which were naughty and suggestive, and far wittier than Superkool, which in comparison is uncomfortably explicit. To shake off Adi’s advances, Simran pretends to be a lesbian couple with her best friend Anu, and the ladies make several references to vibrators and penises, even as the background score over and over again breaks into a lewd rendition of Dil dola re, that song from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas.

Although jokes are directed at midgets, fat people, dark people, the handicapped, and people of different castes, no one is more likely to be offended than gays. From sodomy to drag, from the limp-wristed stereotype to homosexuals as predators, every gay cliché is thrown up here. Also likely to be horrified are animal lovers, who’ll never look at a pug the same way again. Sid ‘hires out’ his four-legged friend Sakru to impregnate barren female dogs. At one point the oversexed mutt has his way with the dog Kher regards as his mother. In a scene towards the end of the film, Sakru runs wild at his own wedding, forcing himself on some half a dozen dogs one after another. I’ve never been more relieved by the memory of that opening slate in the film that promises no animals were hurt, and that these were trained creatures ‘acting’ for the camera.

Amidst all the juvenile double entendre and the lazy sexual innuendo (a vet tells Sid: “Your dog’s got a lot of style”, to which he responds: “It’s called doggie style!”), there are a handful of clever lines that inspire genuine laughs. Anu complains to Sid: “70 per cent of men cheat in India.” “The rest,” he replies, “go to Bangkok.” On entering Anupam Kher’s sprawling estate, Sid notices a gardener tending to the shrubs. “Maali,” he says to himself. When the gardener turns to reveal it’s a woman, “Oho, Antara Mali,” comes his rat-a-tat response. It’s hard also to keep a straight face when it’s revealed that Kher’s mother goes by the name Rosemary Marlowe. Get it? Roz meri maar lo!

Unfortunately these are only a few shining moments in what is otherwise a crass, unfunny film. The comedy here is puerile, and likely to be enjoyed strictly by teenagers who’ve never watched American Pie.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Kyaa Super Kool Hain Hum. It’s not that the humor’s adult that is the issue here, it’s that it doesn’t make you laugh!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Autumn sonata

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

July 27, 2012

Cast: Shanawaz Bhat, Reza Naji, Shamim Basharat, Salma Ashai

Director: Aamir Bashir

Unlike so many Hindi films about the Kashmir situation, Harud, directed by Aamir Bashir is subtle and understated, and unfolds at a quiet, unhurried pace despite the urgency of the themes it addresses. So quiet and so slow, in fact, that more than once during the film you might find yourself checking your watch to make sure time hasn’t stopped still.

Beautifully filmed (by cinematographer Shankar Raman) against a war-torn landscape, Harud tells the story of a Kashmiri family that has lost its son. Along with his aged parents, Rafiq, played by Shanawaz Bhat, is struggling to come to terms with the sudden disappearance of his older brother. Like thousands of young men who’ve gone missing since the military insurgence, Rafiq’s brother is untraceable.

After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border into Pakistan to become a militant, Rafiq returns home to a futile, aimless existence. He watches helplessly as his father begins to lose his mind, and his mother is trapped in denial about the circumstances that surround them.

Performed remarkably by Iranian actor Reza Naji as the father slowly succumbing to dementia, and particularly by Bhat, whose soft, expressionless face never betrays Rafiq’s inner devastation, Harud is an intensely personal film that benefits considerably from its minimalist dialogue and mostly barren soundtrack. Clearly wanting you to get a real sense of his characters’ lives, director Aamir Bashir uses long silences, occasionally repetitive shots, and that meditative pace to make his point.

Not all of it works at all times. It’s hard to sometimes tell between Rafiq’s dreams and reality, and given that this is ultimately a film, too many characters come off as too passive to invest in. Yet, the film has an honest, aching beauty that’s irresistible despite its bumps.

I’m going with three out of five for Aamir Bashir’s Harud (it means autumn in Kashmiri). This is an important, delicate film that asks a lot from its audience. Turn off your cell-phone and submit yourself to it; you won’t be disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:34 pm

July 27, 2012

Cast: Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez

Director: Steve Martino & Mike Thurmeier

It’s hard to shake off that feeling of fatigue as you sit there in your seat watching Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, the fourth, and sadly most formulaic installment in the popular animated series.

The new film reacquaints us with old favorites Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), and over-protective mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his now-teenage daughter isn’t Daddy’s Little Girl anymore. There’s an obligatory message here about parenting and coming-of-age, but it all feels factory-made rather than a labor of love.

In the film’s clever opening scene, Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel, in his endless pursuit of that coveted acorn, accidentally causes the breakup of the earth’s single landmass, which in turn results in the creation of the continents. As mountains start crumbling and the ground splits open, Manny is separated from his wife and daughter when he gets stranded on an iceberg with Diego, Sid, and Sid’s feisty ol’ granny.

As Manny as his friends toil hard towards reuniting with their loved ones, they find themselves swept into the path of fearsome orangutan pirate, Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), who appears determined to thwart their homecoming plans.

Despite the gorgeous animation, Continental Drift lacks the simple charm of the previous films. The movie relies too heavily on large set-pieces and breakneck pace, pointing to the possibility that the franchise has in fact started to flag.

On the upside, new characters like Captain Gutt, Sid’s granny, and white tigress Shira (Jennifer Lopez) who spars with Diego, infuse new blood and energy into the proceedings, even as Scrat can always be counted on for genuine laughs. The 3D is exploited fully to deliver the spectacle of this Pirates of Caribbean-style adventure that little ones will find hard to resist.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. It’s harmless fun for younger audiences, but adults who loved the earlier films will agree that it’s time to put these animals down.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 21, 2012

Abhishek Bachchan on facing never-ending criticism, and allegations of gay-stereotyping

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:50 am

In this interview, Abhishek Bachchan — fresh off the success of Bol Bachchan — explains what it’s like facing never-ending criticism, and responds to accusations of gay stereotyping in his new film.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 20, 2012

Flying high

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:36 pm

July 20, 2012

Cast: Mohammad Samad, Naresh Kumar, Jayant Das

Director: Rajan Khosa

Gattu, directed by Rajan Khosa, is an optimistic and uplifting tale of an orphaned street kid and the one great passion that keeps his spirit alive even in the bleakest of times.

Set in a small town in North India, the film is centered on nine-year-old Gattu (Mohammad Samad), who works at his uncle’s scrap yard doing odd jobs like rummaging through garbage and recycling used containers. As often as he can, Gattu will come up with elaborate excuses to skip work so he can do what he enjoys most…flying kites. It is here, as he controls the movements of his kite with the string in his fingers, while his eyes stay riveted to the sky, that Gattu comes into his own and escapes temporarily from the reality of his life.

More gifted than all his urchin friends whose kites he cuts in the sky, Gattu nevertheless becomes obsessed with beating the one black kite, Kali, who no one has conquered yet. On realizing that his only hope to beat Kali is to fly his kite from the highest point in town, Gattu steals a uniform from a clothesline, and posing as a student, sneaks into the neighborhood school whose rooftop terrace he must access.

Shining a light on such pressing issues as child labor, poverty, and illiteracy, but shrouding them under the cloak of a feel-good story about hope and friendship, director Rajan Khosa delivers a film that’s likely to appeal to both adults and younger audiences. In Mohammad Samad who plays Gattu, Khosa has discovered a pint-sized powerhouse of talent with unmistakable charisma. Endearing and cocky in equal measure, Samad grabs your attention when he’s on screen.

Produced by the Children’s Film Society of India, Gattu won a special mention at the Berlin International Film Festival in February this year. It’s the kind of charming film that’ll feature on critics’ year-end lists of movies you should have watched but probably didn’t. Do yourself a favor – don’t miss it.

I’m going with three out of five for Gattu.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Photo finish

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:34 pm

July 20, 2012

Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine

Director: Christopher Nolan

In order to fully appreciate The Dark Knight Rises, it might be a good idea to refresh your memory of Batman Begins, given that key plot points and characters from the 2005 film are referenced in Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in the Batman trilogy. Oh, and one more thing – it would also help if you had no memory of The Dark Knight, Nolan’s 2008 sequel.

Why, you ask? Well, I’m just going to say it – because while The Dark Knight Rises is a perfectly good film, it’s not The Dark Knight, which remains the best superhero film made yet.

Much of the reason why the new film feels underwhelming compared to the last one, involves new villain Bane (Tom Hardy), who is no match to The Dark Knight’s Joker, as played by Heath Ledger. An intimidating hulk of a man whose nose and mouth are covered by a mysterious Hannibal Lecter-like mask that makes his words mostly inaudible, Bane is a formidable physical presence, but an entirely different beast from the creepily menacing Joker.

Comparisons aside, The Dark Knight Rises is a solid hunk of storytelling, and a fitting end to a very ambitious series. The film opens eight years after The Dark Knight ends, with Batman having disappeared from the Gotham skyline after taking the rap for the murder of Harvey Dent and vanquishing the Joker (although no mention is made of the iconic bad guy in this movie, perhaps as a mark of respect to the late Ledger’s memory?), leaving his alter-ego Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living like a recluse in his sprawling family home. Sullen and unfriendly, and limping around with a stick, sporting months-old face-fuzz, Wayne moans to his trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine) that the world doesn’t need Batman anymore.

No sooner than he utters those words, Gotham is plunged into anarchy by Bane and his army who stage a visceral attack on the Stock Exchange, and storm a prison releasing hundreds of criminals on the street. It’s a good thing Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) still has some of those trendy Batsuits around for our hero to slip into and take charge.

Unfolding leisurely over 2 hours and 44 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises flirts with some interesting ideas like Bane ‘liberating’ the prisoners so they can snatch wealth from the hands of the affluent, and his setting up of a people’s court to dispense instant punishment to the rich and the privileged. These themes of economic collapse and urban terrorism are thought-provoking and relevant, particularly in today’s times. But they’re never explored in much detail. In contrast, The Dark Knight superbly addressed the fine line between good and evil, and the difficult choices we must sometimes make.

The new film’s mostly somber tone leaves little room for humor, but what’s surprising is how deathly dull some portions are. It’s likely you’ll find your patience waning during the scenes in which an injured Bruce Wayne is imprisoned in an underground well-like holding where he has long, profound conversations with fellow inmates. Equally unconvincing is the romance that develops between Wayne and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy heiress who joins the Board of Wayne Enterprises, offering to rescue the company during a rough patch.

Considerably more engaging is Bruce Wayne’s interaction with slippery thief Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who he first encounters while she’s rummaging through his drawers. Selena, who is referred to as Catwoman in the comic books, is easily the most interesting character in The Dark Knight Rises, not least because Hathaway plays her as a snarky but alluring vixen with mysterious motives.

In Wayne’s corner, meanwhile, aside from old faithfuls Alfred, Lucius Fox, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), is young, up-and-coming police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who seems to understand early on what is at stake here.

Starting with a thrilling James Bond-ish set-piece in which a shackled Bane is rescued from an airplane by a team of mercenaries, Nolan delivers some jaw-dropping action sequences that literally blow your mind. These include Bane’s carefully planned destruction of a football field, and at least one stunning chase scene involving Bruce Wayne’s newest toy, an armored flying vehicle dubbed The Bat. The last half hour in particular is an extended crash-bang-boom sequence in which much of Gotham is blown to bits.

Although the film’s multiple storylines do get tangled up at times, and despite some messy plot holes, it’s unfair not to credit Nolan with once again giving us a blockbuster with smarts. The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying, accomplished film packed with little twists and surprising cameos. It doesn’t deliver the emotional wallop of The Dark Knight (in spite of Hans Zimmer’s swelling, self-important score), but it’s a respectable finale to a much-loved trilogy.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a spectacle of high standards; just don’t set your expectations sky high, and you won’t be disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 13, 2012


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

July 13, 2012

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Diana Penty, Boman Irani, Dimple Kapadia, Randeep Hooda

Director: Homi Adajania

It’s not enough that he’s sharing a flat with two gorgeous women, having casual sex with one, while the other does everything from his laundry to making him breakfast…he had to go and fall in love, and ruin what most men would describe as “living the dream”.

Alas, Cocktail, directed by Homi Adajania, is no saucy menage a trois, although it does involve three friends living together in London, a little too close for comfort. No, Cocktail falls firmly in the rom-com space. But even as the tone shifts uncomfortably from breezy, light-hearted fun, to heavy drama in the second half, you’re never in danger of actually caring for the cardboard characters in this empty souffle of a film.

Serial flirt Gautam (Saif Ali Khan) has a fleeting encounter with shy Delhi girl Meera (Diana Penty) when he serenades her at the airport on her first day in London. Meera bunks with smoking hot wild-child Veronica (Deepika Padukone) when she realizes she has nowhere to go in an alien city. Before long, Gautam is sharing their home and Veronica’s bed. Complications arise when Gautam falls for Meera, but Veronica decides he’s all hers.

Co-written by Imtiaz Ali, Cocktail has bursts of entertainment — like the moment when Gautam’s ultra-conservative mother (Dimple Kapadia) walks in to her son dancing on Veronica’s couch in drag, or one in which Veronica must pretend she’s passed out from drowning. It’s also a faultlessly pretty picture; the visuals seem cut from a glossy music video, especially one sequence in which a tormented Veronica is rocking a crowded dance floor, yet feels as if she’s all alone in the disco. In fact, director Adajania consistently manages to capture the energy behind each song, especially the catchy Tumhi ho bandhu number, and yet he uses silence impressively in several scenes.

The film attempts to be mature about pre-marital sex and adult relationships, and one scene at a kitchen counter in which Gautam explains their predicament clearly is nicely done, without falling prey to melodrama. But Cocktail slips just as often into cliche…like when ‘good girl’ Meera acts as if she’s tainted by real pasion, or when she sacrifices her love for her best friend. It’s the script that is to blame here, given that the film suffers from lazy, loopy writing. Everyone is trying too hard — to be cool, hip, funny or convincing — and as a result the film gives off the feeling that this generation is completely superficial, with no real emotions.

Cocktail also never offers you a real sense of who these characters are – you almost never see them at their jobs, they appear to have no friends apart from each other, and there are way too many unanswered questions about their families. By the time the movie works itself into the messy love triangle, and Veronica teeters off the Fatal Attraction bend, you feel as if the makers are driving around aimlessly, lost for direction.

There isn’t much subtlety in the performances in Cocktail, but it’s Deepika Padukone who walks away with the best role. As attention-seeking Veronica, she injects fun and darkness into the character, and gives evidence of an as-yet-unseen confidence. Boman Irani and Dimple Kapadia raise many laughs as Gautam’s loud, yet funny family, although Dimple ought to sue the makers for those unflattering close-ups. To be fair, you’ve seen Saif do the ‘incorrigible flirt’ thing better and funnier in the past, and it doesn’t help that he appears too old to play the charming rake-who-falls-hard all over again. Saif is sincere, but it’s a tired take. Diana Penty, meanwhile, is refreshingly natural, her vanilla part salvaged by her sheer arresting beauty.

I’m going with two out of five for director Homi Adajania’s Cocktail. With the right ingredients in the right proportions, this might have made for a smooth concoction. But Cocktail is a mostly flat romance; one that could’ve done with more heart.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mangled history

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:34 pm

July 13, 2012

Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Mixing real historical facts with a preposterous make-believe premise, Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov delivers a silly biopic-meets-horror movie in the curiously titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The film stars Benjamin Walker as the young 16th President of America who swears vengeance on all vampires when one dastardly bloodsucker kills his mum. Trained and tutored in the art of vampire-assassination by a mysterious stranger (Dominic Cooper), Abe wields an axe meshed with silver, and heads out to ‘cleanse’ the world.

The movie offers some crazy theories that might have inspired laughs, if they weren’t presented so seriously…that vampires got their strength from feeding on the blood of black slaves, or that the American Civil War was in fact a battle between the dead and the undead.

Expectedly, it’s the set-pieces that are most fun here, including one in which Abe takes on his nemesis during a thrilling horse stampede, and another one towards the end of the film, in which his train must cross a burning bridge. Bekmambetov shoots these sequences imaginatively, and they’re the only time you’ll be riveted during this boring film. Unfortunately, the obligatory 3D serves little purpose here, other than to make the images even darker than they already are.

I’m going with two out of five for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Walker makes for a likeable hero, and the action scenes work. Now if only they’d invested it with a sense of humor.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Touching, really

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

July 13, 2012

Cast: Philippe Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot

Directors: Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano

French film Intouchables is what one might describe as a genuine crowd-pleaser. It’s a charming buddy movie with one small twist – one of the guys is a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, the other one his nurse.

When widowed millionaire Philippe (Francois Cluzet) appoints brash young black man and ex-convict Driss (Omar Sy) to be his caretaker over the more qualified men who applied for the job, his staff and his friends are outraged. But Philippe, who lost the use of his limbs in a paragliding accident, is tired of being pitied; with a free-spirited rule-breaker like Driss around him, he spots an opportunity to ‘live’ again.

Irreverent and uplifting, Intouchables works as a sort of fairytale, as we watch how Driss is transformed by, and in some ways himself transforms his paralyzed employer. Starting out as an odd couple with virtually nothing in common, the two men slowly develop mutual fondness and respect over shared joints, midnight strolls through the streets of Paris, and amusing trips to art galleries and the opera.

Yet, there’s no denying that the film is unabashedly sentimental, and that it reinforces that tired cinematic cliche of the underprivileged black man as the soulful savior of the over-privileged white guy. If you can look beyond those quibbles however, there is a lot to admire about Intouchables, starting with its complete disregard for political correctness. It’s hard not to laugh out loud in the film’s very opening scene, in which the two men get out of a sticky rash-driving situation because neither has any compunctions about using Philippe’s ‘handicap’ to their advantage.

To the role of Driss, Sy brings a distinct charisma and vibrancy, capturing your heart immediately. The actor won a Cesar award, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for his performance in the film. But it’s Cluzet, as a man who can express emotion only from neck up, who invests soul in The Intouchables with a carefully understated performance.

Based on a true story, this is a touching, enjoyable film that delivers plenty laughs. Pity they’re releasing the English dubbed version in India, instead of the original French version with English subtitles. Nevertheless, this is a film you don’t want to miss. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Intouchables. Make time for it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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