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

September 27, 2013

Watery graves

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:42 pm

September 27, 2013

Cast: Manjari Fadnis, Varun Sharma, Santosh Barmola, Suzana Rodrigues, Jitin Gulati, Sumit Suri, Madhurima Tuli

Director: Gurmmeet Singh

It’s hard to summon much sympathy for the characters in Warning, who’re basically a bunch of stupid people in peril. Seven friends holidaying on a yacht off the coast of Fiji forget to lower the ladder when they decide to take a dip. Now trapped in the ocean with no means of getting back on board, one by one their numbers begin to dwindle.

I know what you’re thinking: could they really not come up with any way to climb back into that boat? Well, they try. But they’re not very smart. So foolish, in fact, that on spotting a shark circling the waters, one of the boys tells the others that they must splash around furiously and start yelling so the shark might turn back.

This kind of film could’ve still been fun if the manner in which each of these friends met with their deaths was at least interesting. But director Gurmmeet Singh bumps them off so unimaginatively and uneventfully that you’re denied that guilty pleasure too. Far from recreating the kind of tension you felt while watching Jaws or Open Water, this one leaves you so tired from by all the squabbling in the group that you become impatient for them to drown or be eaten alive.

I’m going with one out of five for Warning. The only thing truly baffling is that this film is supposedly based on true events. Which means morons like these actually existed!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Tortured souls

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:41 pm

September 27, 2013

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Although cut from the same cloth as such fine procedurals as David Fincher’s Zodiac and the multiple Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs, Prisoners feels closer in spirit to Ben Affleck’s terrific directorial debut Gone Baby Gone. Like that film, this is also a labyrinthine story about the search for kidnapped children that leaves you to ponder over a crucial moral issue.

On a cold, grey day in suburban Pennsylvania, while their families have gathered for a Thanksgiving meal, two young girls go missing. A detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), is called upon to investigate their disappearance. Suspicions focus on a creepy fella, Alex (Paul Dano), who’d parked his RV not far from where the girls had been playing. But when Loki doesn’t have enough evidence to keep Alex behind bars, one of the girls’ fathers, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), convinced that Alex has a hand in their kidnapping, picks up the guy from his aunt’s home and takes matters into his own hands.

Can torture ever be justified…even as a means to get to the truth? That’s the question at the heart of Prisoners, this dark, unsettling thriller whose moody atmospherics sit nicely with the film’s murky sense of what’s right and wrong. Touching upon themes of vigilantism and vengeance, writer-director Denis Villeneuve creates an air of almost unbearable intensity, and he’s aided nicely by Roger Deakins’ chilly cinematography.

But the film is riveting from start to finish because of the solid acting on display. Maria Bello is in good form as Keller’s helpless wife, as is Melissa Leo as Alex’s frail aunt. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis bring layers to their parts as the second couple whose daughter has also gone missing. Hugh Jackman shines as the desperate father, a character that becomes more complex as the plot thickens. You have to wonder if Keller always had an angry streak in him, or if his daughter’s kidnapping sparked off the rage. Jake Gyllenhaal too works up quite the sweat as the increasingly frustrated detective.

Despite an overlong final act, Prisoners is a remarkable exploration of characters under pressure. Packed with surprising twists, it keeps you guessing until the end. I’m going with four out of five. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bang for your buck!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:40 pm

September 27, 2013

Cast: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Announcing his arrival as an exciting, original voice with his terrific 2009 debut, the breathtaking sci-fi blast District 9, South African director Neill Blomkamp returns with Elysium, another intelligent action movie with a social message nicely woven in.

Set in 2154, a polluted and overpopulated Earth has been left to the poor by the rich, who now live in a paradise-like space station orbiting our planet. Up there in Elysium, sickness, crime and poverty do not exist. So when Max (Matt Damon), a reformed car thief, is injured in a radioactive accident, he becomes desperate to travel to Elysium to cure himself. Too bad he has to get past a psychopathic assassin first (Sharlto Copley), and then there’s that frosty defender of the rich world (Jodie Foster).

Echoing similar themes of social inequality and the high-handedness of the privileged class that he addressed in District 9, Blomkamp even adopts the same gritty shooting style, particularly for the Earth portions. Yet there’s a tidy contrasting elegance to the Elysium-set scenes…that is until spaceships come crashing into landscaped lawns, and Copley and Damon get down to some serious ass-kicking!

These two men in fact, are the film’s most interesting characters, and Elysium seldom misses a beat when it’s focusing on them. But a predictable final act, involving a valiant sacrifice and an aborted romance, slacken the film’s pace.

I’m going with three and a half out of five for Elysium. The budget’s bigger and the special effects are slicker, but this is a blockbuster with a brain. Best enjoyed with a big helping of popcorn.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Ranbir on those paparazzi pictures: “Katrina’s response was more honest than mine”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:33 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Besharam star Ranbir Kapoor talks about working with his parents in his new film, and discusses the discomfort he’s feeling over his personal life being splashed across the tabloids.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Matt Damon: “Elysium will resonate with people in India, Brazil, China…”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:31 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand recorded in Cancun (Mexico), Matt Damon talks about his new film Elysium and reveals what drew him to it. The 43-year-old star of films like The Bourne Identity, Saving Private Ryan, and Ocean’s Eleven also talks about aligning himself with visionary filmmakers.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

September 20, 2013

Cop out

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:45 pm

September 20, 2013

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Ileana D’cruz, Padmini Kolhapure, Saurabh Shukla, Darshan Jariwala, Sanjay Mishra, Zakir Hussain

Director: Rajkumar Santoshi

If you’re willing to set your expectations accordingly, there’s some fun to be had in the low-IQ comedy, Phata Poster Nikhla Hero, particularly in the film’s breezy first half. Shahid Kapoor stars as Vishwas Rao, a small-town fella who’s grown up nursing dreams of becoming a movie star. However, his autorickshaw-driver mum (Padmini Kolhapure) wants him to be an honest police officer instead. On the pretext of seeking admission in a police academy, Vishwaas moves to Mumbai and pursues his acting ambitions. But then he’s mistaken for a cop by an over-zealous social worker (a screechy Ileana D’cruz), and he’s forced to play along when his mum decides to visit.

Shahid Kapoor, in very good form, delivers laughs fast and frequent, displaying an as-yet-unseen flair for physical comedy. He’s terrific in a scene where he shows up for recruitment in the police force, pretending to suffer from multiple birth ailments. I also particularly enjoyed a scene in which he loses his cool with a film director who turns him away coldly. There are some interesting characters too, like Saurabh Shukla’s Gundappa, a don who misses the good ol’ days when you could pay off cops and rest assured that they’d protect you. Sanjay Mishra gets some good lines as Jogi, an unsuccessful scriptwriter and patron saint of struggling actors.

But writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi fails to stick with this cheerfully harebrained tone in the film’s second half, going instead for a sappy maa-beta emotional conflict, and a clunky subplot involving a mysterious villain who plans to blow up the city using biochemical bombs. The twists are predictable here, the climatic action scene recycled from Santoshi’s own Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, and even the ambition-throttling message of this movie is questionable.

Look out for a scene-stealing cameo by Salman Khan, who mentions Santoshi’s Andaz Apna Apna which he’d starred in. This film has its moments, but it’s light years away from that gem.

I’m going with two out of five for Phata Poster Nikhla Hero. It loses steam at the halfway mark when the laughs suddenly dry up.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

September 20, 2013

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Lilette Dubey, Nakul Vaid, Bharati Achrekar

Director: Ritesh Batra

In an age when instant messaging, email, and various social media have made communication easier and quicker, debutant writer-director Ritesh Batra relies on scribbled notes tucked in tiffin boxes to deliver a charming, old-fashioned love story in The Lunchbox. There’s a simple line in this sumptuous film that captures its essence beautifully: “Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination.” It’s a line that might help interpret the film’s open ending, but one that also nicely sums up its unique premise.

Neglected housewife and caring mother Ila (Nimrat Kaur), determined to spice up her loveless marriage, heeds the advice of a well-meaning Aunty in the flat upstairs (a terrific Bharati Achrekar, heard but never seen) and whips up a killer meal for her husband. But as luck would have it, a rare error in Mumbai’s famously efficient dabbawala service results in the tiffin landing up at the desk of a grumpy accountant on the verge of retirement, a widower named Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan). On realizing that her lovingly prepared meal was eaten by someone else, Ila encloses a note in the steel lunchbox the following day. Saajan writes back and this pair of strangers begins a tentative friendship through routinely exchanged letters, sharing with each other their dreams, their memories of loved ones snatched away, and their empty lives.

As much a love letter to Mumbai as it is a searing portrait of loneliness, The Lunchbox unfolds against the bustle of this teeming city. Batra and his cinematographer give us skillfully composed sequences of a dabba’s long journey from the kitchen to the desk of its intended recipient. We travel with our characters in local trains, buses and taxis; we go into Ila’s middle-class cheek-to-jowl apartment block to Saajan’s modest Bandra cottage and the dull government office he has worked 35 years at. It’s a metro bursting at its seams, and yet our protagonists are lost souls here.

The third wheel in this story is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character Shaikh, a younger officer poised to take over from Saajan. Cheery, optimistic and always making the most of an opportunity, Shaikh forges a bond with the taciturn Saajan despite the dour older man’s initial reluctance. You see flashes of Mumbai in Shaikh’s personality – it is a city that invites you to embrace it with all its flaws. Nawazuddin is wholly endearing and funny in the role; we’re unaccustomed to seeing the actor in this light and it’s a sheer delight.

Still, it is the two central actors that grab hold of your attention in this story. Irrfan Khan, as the loner who loosens up when he falls in love, makes a nuanced role seem deceptively simple, yet gives Saajan emotional heft. With The Lunchbox, Irrfan adds another inspired performance to his extraordinary repertoire. The surprise ingredient here is the relatively unknown Nimrat Kaur as Ila. Playing an insecure hausfrau who gradually blossoms into her own person, the actress doesn’t take one wrong step. Spending much of the film alone, she makes Ila entirely believable, yet infuses her with an irresistible luminosity.

The unseen hero of this delicious love story is writer-director Ritesh Batra who pulls off a near perfect script that’s reflective of a city and the people that live in it. Through the relationships his characters share, Batra displays a great understanding of human nature, embracing its many complexities. He also masterfully blends food into this narrative, turning it into such a sensory experience that you want to rush out of the cinema and tuck into a lovely meal. The single false note in this bittersweet symphony is Lilette Dubey, a tad over-made up, her performance uncharacteristically melodramatic for this subtle film.

I’m going with five out of five for The Lunchbox. The greatest love stories are the ones that make you root for the protagonists to come together, despite their destinies. This film illustrates how love transforms the unlikeliest of people; it breaks down Saajan’s walls and gives Ila the courage to fly. Treat yourself to The Lunchbox – it’ll leave you with a craving to seek your own little happiness. Best film I’ve seen in a long time.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Need for speed

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:43 pm

September 20, 2013

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara,

Director: Ron Howard

I wouldn’t call myself a Formula One enthusiast, yet I thoroughly enjoyed Ron Howard’s Rush, a compelling drama based on the real-life rivalry between racing legends James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Both men, poles apart in personality, famously set their sights on the same goal – winning the 1976 world championship.

In the flashier of the two parts, Chris Hemsworth (of Thor) stars as swaggering British playboy Hunt, who’s cocky and undisciplined both on and off the track. But it’s Daniel Bruhl (of Inglourious Basterds) who leaves a lasting impression as the brusque Austrian racer Lauda, obsessive in his pursuit of victory, yet relentlessly methodical. Tracing their rivalry from the moment they first competed against each other to the climax of their collision in the 1976 championship, the film works best when the rubber hits the road. The racing scenes are thrillingly shot, giving you the feeling of being strapped in that Ferrari yourself, speeding and zipping around the track as the engines roar.

Howard hires his Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan to give the story emotional heft, so there’s all this talk about mutual respect, and about both men inspiring each other despite being rivals. After Lauda crashes his car at Germany’s Nurburgring track, burning his face and lungs horribly, Hunt closes in on the big win, which in turn fuels Lauda to recuperate swiftly so he can return to compete again.

Shot alternately as an ESPN live feed when the action’s on the track, and then as a ‘living-the-good-life’ commercial when it’s focusing on Hunt’s debauched revelry, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle hits all the right notes. Crisply edited, competently acted, and tightly directed by Howard, Rush is an exhilarating ride, but also a simple, old-fashioned tale about rivalry and ambition.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. It’s consistently engaging. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Do the right thing

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

September 20, 2013

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O’Reilly

Director: Ryan Coogler

In light of the recent acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer in Florida, the relevance of a film like Fruitvale Station cannot be argued. You have to wonder if anything has changed at all.

A few hours after midnight on January 1, 2009, a 22-year-old unarmed black man named Oscar Grant was detained by transit police on a train platform in Oakland, California. Held face down and handcuffed, Oscar was shot in his back by an officer, the injury killing him.

Oscar hadn’t done anything wrong, except defend himself in a fight in the train. That horrific incident, captured on cell-phone cameras by shocked commuters, went viral immediately, sparking off widespread protests and raising questions about racism, violence, and the value – if any – of a black person’s life.

Fruitvale Station, named after the location of that fateful shooting, is helmed by first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler, who appears determined not to let Oscar’s story be filed away as a statistic. With a terrific collaborator in Michael B Jordan, who delivers a subtle, nuanced performance as Oscar, the filmmaker shows us the real person behind the headlines. Oscar is a flawed, complex fella. He’s recently served time in prison, possibly for dealing drugs, but he wants to go straight to support his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and their daughter. Jordan skillfully embraces Oscar’s contradictions and complexities, constructing a fully realized, humanistic portrait of a confused man struggling to do the right thing.

The other riveting performance in this film comes from The Help’s Octavia Spencer in the part of Oscar’s mother. In only a handful of scenes, Spencer establishes the closeness her character shares with her son, masterfully avoiding melodrama at every turn.

The film’s early half is a little too schmaltzy, crammed as it is with too many scenes that point to Oscar’s kind heart and potential that sadly couldn’t be fully realized. It’s meant to make the gut punch of the film’s climax that much harder. But it doesn’t matter, because the first-rate acting, and the knowledge that this actually happened makes this a deeply moving film. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Fruitvale Station. It’s a story that deserved to be told, because it’s an issue that refuses to go away.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Rakesh Roshan on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:29 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, veteran filmmaker Rakesh Roshan talks about the film that changed his life. He picks a golden oldie, a black-and-white gem that he revisits each time he’s beginning work on a new movie.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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