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

April 19, 2014

Johnny Depp: “I’ve always thought of myself as a character actor”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 3:42 am

In this interview with Rajeev Masand recorded in Los Angeles, Transcendence star Johnny Depp laments about our increasing dependence on technology, and explains why he likes hiding behind elaborate makeovers in most films.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 18, 2014

North, South, give it a rest!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:39 pm

April 18, 2014

Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amrita Singh, Ronit Roy, Revathy, Shiv Subramaniam, Achint Kaur

Director: Abhishek Varman

Madrasis are dark, Punjabis are cash-obsessed, and never the twain shall meet. Those familiar prejudices make for a legitimate movie pitch, but 2 States, directed by first-timer Abhishek Varman, is a frustrating case of a promising premise that doesn’t fully fructify into a compelling film.

Adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s autobiographical novel, the film coasts along nicely while focusing on Krish (Arjun Kapoor) and Ananya (Alia Bhatt), who meet on campus at IIM Ahmedabad and quickly fall in love. These portions are handled with appropriate lightness, and the actors share a comfortable chemistry as they sing songs, make gooey eyes at each other across the classroom, and slip under the sheets without much fuss. Speed bumps arise when the couple gets ready to step out of campus and into the real world to pursue jobs and a shared future. A shrewdly orchestrated Graduation Day meet-and-greet between the Malhotras and the Swaminathans goes badly. The Tam-Brahms (Revathy and Shiv Subramaniam) immediately label Krish’s Punjabi side “uncultured”, even as his overbearing mum (Amrita Singh) goes on and on about their daughter having “phansaoed” her “gora chitta” son.

It’s funny at first, the film’s politically incorrect humor, because it feels all too familiar. But joke after joke, stereotype after stereotype, what becomes evident is the absence of any real dramatic conflict. You’re tired and bored, and you really wish they’d get on with it, when the parents clash again, even after Krish has won over Ananya’s family (in a charming scene where he proposes marriage to the whole lot of them), and despite his mother having finally warmed up to his girl (after Ananya saves the day in a sticky dowry-demand situation).

What works are stray moments of wit that the film needed more of. Varman scripts a clever in-joke into a scene where Ananya’s mother is coerced by Krish to sing at his office event. In an earlier scene, while describing Ananya’s vast but sparsely furnitured home, Krish says: “Jaise kisi Punjabi ke ghar mein chori hui ho. Choron ko sofa acha nahin laga toh chhod gaye.”

Despite the stereotypical characterization, Revathy and Shiv Subramaniam nicely fill out their parts, although they have far less to do than Amrita Singh, who is deliciously rude as Krish’s obnoxious mum. Ronit Roy as his alcoholic, abusive father appears to have stepped straight out of Udaan, but he brings with him a half-baked, unconvincing subplot that comes off as a last-ditch effort to infuse dramatic tension.

Stuck holding up the film’s muddled framing device – he narrates the entire story in flashback while on a shrink’s couch – Arjun Kapoor gets a few endearing moments when he’s playing off his leading lady. For the rest of the film, he wears a puppy dog look, trapped between the girl he loves and the mother who’s dead against her. Not surprisingly, it’s Alia Bhatt who is the best thing in the film, sliding into the part with complete ease. She’s natural and charming without having to try too hard.

Parental opposition is one of the oldest conflicts as far as love stories go. Sure, the culture clash here gives us some genuine laughs. But at 2 hours and 30 minutes, this is a long, indulgent film that wears you out. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for 2 States. I’ve never rooted so hard for a couple to get married. If only so I could go home.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Ghost in the machine

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:37 pm

April 18, 2014

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Director: Wally Pfister

If Spike Jonze’s Her imagined a delicate, heartfelt romance between man and his artificially intelligent operating system, then Transcendence, directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister, takes a less optimistic view of the future, cautioning us about the dangers of relying too heavily on technology. They’re two sides of the same coin, but where Her felt fresh, original, and forward-looking, Pfister’s film trades in familiar clichés.

That’s a shame because Transcendence starts off promisingly, offering some interesting ideas. Johnny Depp stars as Will Caster, a brilliant scientist specializing in artificial intelligence, who’s prone to delivering deep pronouncements on the limitless possibilities that can come from the melding of human and computer-generated brain power. Alas, not everyone is a fan.

An anti-technology extremist group, led by Kate Mara’s Bree, launches a coordinated attack on AI researchers across the country, including Will who is shot at with a bullet laced with poison. Left with only weeks to live, Will implores his loving wife and research partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their buddy Max (Paul Bettany) to upload his thoughts, memories, and personality into a sentient computer, so his mind can live on even if his body can’t.

So far so good. It’s from this point on that things begin to go completely mental. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that Cyber-Will, now staring out from overhead screens, begins expanding his powers at a rapid rate. Manipulating Evelyn, he creates an underground lair where he recruits an army of superhuman-zombies to help him change the world.

Sounds like a slog? You bet.

Even if one were to overlook the innumerable leaps of logic in the story, Transcendence is clunky and lifeless, and is worn down by the weight of its leading man who looks bored out of his skull. Depp seems remote and distant in a part that needed full engagement, much like Scarlett Johansson who provided the voice for the operating system in Her, despite never appearing on screen. Depp’s co-star, Rebecca Hall, meanwhile, is pretty good as his grief-stricken wife, but there’s no getting around the fact that the two have zero chemistry together. Fine actors like Morgan Freeman (playing Will’s mentor), and Cillian Murphy (as an FBI agent) are entirely wasted, and Bettany vanishes for a chunk of the film in an unconvincing plot turn, only to show up a little before the end credits roll.

There’s a lot of pointless jabber-jabber about supercomputers, transcendence and god complexes before the film ends in a hurried, inelegant action climax. But there’s a good chance you’ve nodded off in your seat already.

Pfister, best known as Christopher Nolan’s director of photography, may be drawn to a similar kind of thinking-man’s blockbuster, but Transcendence, unlike Inception or The Dark Knight Rises, remains simplistic and predictable. I’m going with a generous two out of five. The film looks good, but it’s never as smart as it should be.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 12, 2014

Alia Bhatt & Arjun Kapoor on campus memories, making ‘2 States’, and that kiss!

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 2:09 am

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, the stars of 2 States, Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor, reminisce about their campus days, reveal why they were drawn to this adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s bestseller, and discuss that kiss that everyone can’t stop talking about.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Rio 2 stars Anne Hathaway & Andy Garcia on the high standard of animation in Hollywood

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 2:03 am

In this interview with Rajeev Masand recorded in Miami, Rio 2 stars Andy Garcia and Anne Hathaway explain the appeal behind playing a father-daughter pair of blue macaws in the animation sequel. The actors also discuss the high standard of animation in Hollywood.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 11, 2014

Ghost mortem

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:43 pm

April 11, 2014

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Parth Bhalerao, Boman Irani, Sanjay Mishra, Usha Jadhav, Brajendra Kala

Director: Nitesh Tiwari

Its release shrewdly timed just as the nation goes to polls, Bhoothnath Returns casts a satirical eye on the messy business of Indian politics and the workings of election campaigns. The twist, of course, is that it’s a 60-something-year-old invisible ghost who’s seeking votes.

Having humiliated himself in the ghost community for failing to scare a little boy the last time around (in the 2008 film), our hapless hero Bhoothnath (Amitabh Bachchan) is dispatched once again to the land of the living to redeem himself. But of course he ends up befriending another precocious tyke, Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao). When the pair learns about the misdeeds of corrupt local politico Bhau (Boman Irani), Bhootnath agrees to fight him in the local elections, determined to improve the conditions of his impoverished constituency.

Co-writer/director Nitesh Tiwari gets to the heart of the story after a few unnecessary digressions, hitting his stride when he focuses on the efforts of Bhoothnath and Akhrot to qualify the ghost as an electoral candidate, and in the back and forth with Boman’s crafty politician who’ll stop at nothing to discredit his otherworldly rival. In a few amusing sequences, the ghost and his young friend first recruit a legal advisor (Sanjay Mishra), then go about securing a no-criminal-record clearance from the police, and a sound-mental-health certificate from a psychiatrist. In one of the film’s best scenes, Bhoothnath and Akhrot approach Anurag Kashyap (cameoing as himself) to write them a campaign song, but gently remind him that the kind of “adult” songs he uses in his films won’t do.

It’s the dialogue that really works here, particularly the biting asides on the state of the nation. During an interview to a television news anchor when Bhoothnath breaks into English, a viewer watching in his home makes the snarky remark, “Chalo koi toh padha likha khada ho raha hai.”

The film’s good bits, however, often feel squashed under the weight of its melodrama and its bloated running time of 2 hours and 35 minutes. There is some lofty sermonizing by at least two different characters, and an over-manipulative song-montage of abject poverty that attempts to squeeze a lump out of your throat. I will also say that depicting violence against children to appeal to one’s emotions is wrong on so many levels.

Still, Bhoothnath Returns is anchored by terrific performances from its central players: Boman Irani, Amitabh Bachchan, and the surprise packet that is Parth Bhalerao. Despite the uneven writing, the film works because it has heart. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Amazon adventure

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:41 pm

April 11, 2014

Cast: Voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, Jemaine Clement, Kristen Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Rio 2 has neither the wit of The Lego Movie, nor the classic appeal of Frozen, yet it’s a perfectly enjoyable sequel, bright and beautiful to look at, and set to a clutch of terrific tunes. Like its 2011 predecessor, it’s a charming and cheerful film that really doesn’t aspire for much more.

It’s only been a few years since the first film left off, and Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) appears nicely settled into domestic life with fellow macaw Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their three baby birds. On learning that they’re not the sole survivors of their race, Jewel insists that the family travel to the Amazon rainforest to find the rest of their kind. City-bred Blu makes the trip reluctantly and, in a plotline borrowed straight from the Meet The Parents movies, finds himself struggling to impress Jewel’s disapproving dad (Andy Garcia). There’s more trouble in the form of revenge-seeking cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement), who’s been plotting to get back at Blu for escaping from his clutches in the previous film.

Director Carlos Saldanha keeps things light and breezy, stuffing the film with the kind of warmth and vibrancy that kids will find hard to resist. The animation itself is gorgeous, although there are way too many subplots set against the main story. An American Idol-like talent show for the next musical superstar feels contrived, while an eco-friendly message in a plotline involving encroachers feels gratuitous at best.

These are minor quibbles however in a film that’s disarmingly fun. It’s hard not to cheer as Nigel breaks into a hilarious hip-hop version of I Will Survive, or his sidekick, a poisonous frog named Gabi (an excellent Kristin Chenoweth) spends her every waking moment pining for him. And once again, Jesse Eisenberg’s delightfully nerdish voice-performance does full justice to Blu’s sheer anxiousness.

Predictable yet undeniably entertaining, Rio 2 is not a bad way at all to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Lights, camera, faction

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

April 11, 2014

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Miles Teller

Director: Neil Burger

Name this film. Somewhere in the post-apocalyptic future, a select batch of youngsters is put through life-threatening challenges as part of the rigid designs of a controlling society. But one teenage girl dares to defy the system and rebels against the government.

You’re thinking The Hunger Games, aren’t you? Actually that’s the plot of Divergent, a sort of Coke Lite version of the Jennifer Lawrence-starring blockbuster franchise.

Based on a best-selling young adult book series by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a world ravaged by war but whose people have survived, only to be split according to their personalities into five factions – intelligent, peace-loving, brave, honest, and selfless. If you’re wondering what happens to those who have more than one of those personality traits, they’re labeled Divergent…and it’s not a good thing, as it implies non-conformity in a fascist society. Our heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers early on that she’s Divergent, but is warned not to reveal this to anyone, lest she is hunted down by a sinister ministry, led by Kate Winslet’s Jeanine.

Director Neil Burger delivers a cocktail of action, romance and political plotting, but it all feels over-familiar and surprisingly dull. There are only a few instances of tension or thrills, and Winslet’s villain poses little or no threat, thereby robbing the film of any urgency whatsoever.

Blessed with a natural presence and lots of charisma, Woodley makes for a worthy leading lady, while Theo James broods and smolders in all the right ways as her trainer and love interest. But the film’s bland execution and its muddled message make it hard for you to connect with it.

I’m going with two out of five for Divergent. There’s a nice set piece, one in which Tris zip lines across the entire city. It’s the best bit in this over-long derivative film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 4, 2014

Amitabh Bachchan: “Midway through the narration of Deewar, Yashji agreed to make the film”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:50 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Bollywood legend and the star of Bhoothnath Returns, Amitabh Bachchan, talks about the challenges involved in working with children and animals. The actor also reminisces about shooting Amar Akbar Anthony, and listening to the script narration for Deewar.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Son shine

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

April 04, 2014

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Ileana D’cruz, Nargis Fakhri, Arunoday Singh, Anupam Kher, Saurabh Shukla, Rajpal Yadav

Director: David Dhawan

David Dhawan’s comedies, the best of them, have been cheerfully low-IQ enterprises, constructed around predictable plot lines involving lookalike protagonists, mistaken identities, cheating husbands, and triangular love stories. When Dhawan was at the top of his game, one or any of these standard ideas would have been enough for him to bang out a film filled with non-stop laughs.

But Main Tera Hero, starring the filmmaker’s son Varun, is a series of forced contrivances. The humor feels labored and manufactured, never arising spontaneously from the situations. It’s a shame because you’d think Dhawan Sr would know exactly how to make these tropes work. We have Seenu Prasad (Varun), the resident enfant terrible who falls for campus cutie Sunaina (Ileana D’cruz). But their romance hits a speed bump when Ayesha (Nargis Fakhri), the daughter of a don, takes a shine to our hero.

Dipping into his vault of tried and tested formulas, David embellishes this basic premise with an ill-conceived kidnapping subplot, and throws in various characters to thicken the mix: a second suitor for Sunaina’s affections in the form of a hot-headed cop (Arunoday Singh), Ayesha’s dim-witted trigger-happy dad (Anupam Kher), and sundry sidekicks (Saurabh Shukla and Rajpal Yadav, both in good form). The bimbo count is raised by the presence of Evelyn Sharma, surprisingly effective in a small role as the don’s trophy girlfriend.

Little of this sadly flies because the dialogue feels stilted, and there’s an overdose of those English puns in Hindi lines. “Jabse main pampers mein thi, mere dad mujhe pamper karte aaye hain,” Nargis says at one point. There are countless references to other films, gratuitous cameos (Shakti Kapoor) that add little value, and an overall feeling of “haven’t-we-seen-enough-of-this-nonsense-already?” that hangs over the film.

Expectedly Main Tera Hero is meant as a showcase for the many talents of Dhawan Jr, who can dance, fight and contort his face and body with remarkable flexibility. A scene in which he evades Saurabh Shukla while all along trailing right behind him is vintage Govinda. Meanwhile his lack of inhibitions – both when it comes to losing his shirt repeatedly and performing outlandish gags – is evocative of a younger Salman Khan. Those actors did some of their best comic work with David Dhawan, and Varun too is easily the biggest strength of this film. Nargis Fakhri, cleverly used, inspires a few laughs, but Ileana D’cruz is purely ornamental.

There are the odd touches here and there that call to mind David’s sharp wit – explaining why Anupam Kher repeats the last bit of every sentence he utters, Saurabh Shukla says: “Manali ki vaadiyon mein inka janm hua tha” – but the film needed more of such inspired lunacy.

I’m going with two out of five for Main Tera Hero. Watch it if you must for its catchy songs, a few good laughs, and a leading man who really tries.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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