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

May 9, 2014

Courage under fire

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

May 09, 2014

Cast: Sasho Satiiysh Sarathy, Yashpal Sharma, Seema Biswas, Kishor Kadam, Anjorie Alagh, Faisal Rashid, Rajesh Khattar, Divya Dutta

Director: Sandeep Varma

The 2005 murder of Manjunath Shanmugam, the 27-year-old Indian Oil employee who’d been threatening to bust the fuel adulteration racket in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, makes for an earnest and compelling film in the hands of first-time director Sandeep Varma. Cutting skillfully between his happy years at the IIM Lucknow campus, and the reaction of his friends and employers to him having gone missing for two days, the film opens nicely, constructing a telling portrait of the man Manjunath used to be, and the ghost of a man he’d become following his obsession with correcting malpractices in the petrol trade.

In a smart decision that helps the film enormously, Varma casts new-find Sasho Satiiysh Sarathy as the courageous protagonist, who cannot be bribed or bullied into turning a blind eye at the rampant corruption. We’re introduced to Manjunath’s concerned parents (played excellently by Seema Biswas and Kishor Kadam), who wish he’d take a transfer to Bangalore so they could be closer to him. We also meet crooked petrol pump-owner Golu (the terrific Yashpal Sharma), repeatedly brought to task by Manjunath, who in a drunken rage fires the first of many bullets that kills our hero.

Upto this point, the film is riveting. Varma paints an authentic picture of the Indian badlands, and reveals the lasting bond between IIM graduates, and with their professors even. There’s a bruising honesty to the relationship between Manjunath and his mother, and a palpable sense of frustration from his boss who wishes he would just let some things be.

The film slips into a morass of clunky plotting in its final act, when the court case takes over, followed by the candlelight vigil undertaken by IIM students. It all feels very rushed and…umm…obligatory. There are other problems too. Repeated confrontations between Manjunath’s spirit and his killer strike a false note, and rock band Parikrama’s multiple appearances become tiresome.

Yet these are minor quibbles in a well-intentioned film that wears its message brazenly. I’m going with three out of five for Manjunath. It’s an important story that deserves to be heard.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Last pitch effort

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

May 09, 2014

Cast: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Bill Paxton, Asif Mandvi

Director: Craig Gillespie

It’s hard to the resist the charms of a film as decidedly feel-good as Million Dollar Arm, even if does hit every note and plot turn with brazen predictability. Based on the real-life efforts of American sports agent JB Bernstein to turn Indian cricket bowlers into Major League Baseball pitchers, this old-fashioned sports movie from Disney has all the makings of a typical underdog story, with a fish-out-of-water twist thrown in for laughs.

When JB (Jon Hamm) misses out on signing a major NFL player that he’d been courting for over a year, he realizes he may not be able to keep the agency that he started afloat. In a scene as subtle as a sledgehammer, while flipping channels between a cricket match and Susan Boyle’s now-famous Britain’s Got Talent audition, JB hits upon an idea that he hopes will save his career. He travels to India with a talent scout (Alan Arkin) to host a contest to find a “million dollar arm”. While there, he recruits Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal), whom he’s convinced have the potential to be groomed into promising baseball players.

The clichés start piling up from the moment JB arrives in India: incessant honking on traffic-packed streets, scant respect for deadlines, and the eager-to-please desi who fawns over the white man. It’s all done to mine maximum comedy value, and sure some of this might have been offensive if director Craig Gillespie didn’t put them across with such verve. The scenario is reversed when Rinku and Dinesh come to America to train with USC coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), and it’s these bits that made me uncomfortable. The idea that these two 18-year-olds (from Lucknow, mind you!) were unfamiliar with automatic elevators and had never tasted pizza, come across as contrived and condescending.

Yet it’s the infectious appeal of the talented cast that keeps you invested in the film. Shor in the City’s Pitobash delivers many laughs as Amit, the guy who volunteers himself as an assistant to JB and doubles up as a translator for the boys. Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal bring a nice wide-eyed innocence to their parts, and Alan Arkin is terrific as the cranky old scout. Lake Bell plays Brenda, a young doctor who rents the guest-house behind JB’s home, and she invests the character with a naturalness that feels entirely authentic. It’s all held together by the immensely charming Jon Hamm, however, who’s hard not to like despite his character’s self-centered flaws.

The story itself progresses exactly as you expected it to, never deviating from the traditional rise-and-fall-and-rise formula of most sports films. India, and Indian culture even, is sportingly exploited for its ‘exotic value’, like that scene late in the film in which the boys convert JB’s patio into an Indian celebration, complete with Punjabi dinner and a date dressed in a shimmery Indian gown.

The stereotypes notwithstanding, Million Dollar Arm is solidly staged, and inhabited with richly-drawn characters. AR Rahman’s soundtrack fits in nicely with the narrative, making this a pleasing enough watch for the weekend. I’m going with three out of five. If you seek comfort in the familiar, this film won’t disappoint.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 2, 2014

Tiger Shroff: “Parinda was special. But I want to be Spider-Man”

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 10:50 pm


In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Tiger Shroff — son of Jackie Shroff — talks about his acting debut in Heropanti, and also explains how he was drawn to the movies despite never growing up wanting to be an actor. The 23-year-old star-kid also reveals what films of his father’s he’s most enjoyed, and the role he’s always wanted to play.




(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Andrew Garfield: “I don’t like throwing punches. I take the Bugs Bunny approach to action”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:46 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, recorded in Paris, Andrew Garfield explains what he enjoyed most about slipping into Spidey’s tights again for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The 30-year-old star reveals how his childhood training as a gymnast prepared him for the film’s stunt scenes, and why he refers to his approach to acting in the movie as the Bugs Bunny trickster approach.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Emma Stone: “I like that Gwen is more than just a typical girlfriend character”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, recorded in Paris, Emma Stone talks about returning to play the web-slinger’s love interest Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The actress also reveals what she likes most about playing the independent-minded girlfriend character, and why Gwen is more than just a typical love interest.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Jamie Foxx: “My daughter’s a Spider-Man fan, but she ought to remember that daddy’s paying for school”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, recorded in Paris, actors Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan talk about their roles as two of the villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The actors reveal why bad guys have all the fun.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Marc Webb: “I felt more confident about the spectacle aspect this time”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, recorded in Paris, director Marc Webb talks about returning to tackle the web-slinger’s story in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The filmmaker also talks about the film’s romantic-comedy aspect, and explains the decision to set up the Sinister Six spinoff through this film.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

By (web) design

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:36 pm

May 02, 2014

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper

Director: Marc Webb

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens not long after the events of the 2012 franchise reboot that ended with Peter Parker promising a dying Captain Stacy to stay away from his daughter for her own protection. It’s evident early on in the new movie, that Peter (Andrew Garfield) is having a hard time sticking to his word. As if you can blame him; Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is smart, funny, and gorgeous. And they have terrific chemistry together.

It’s this crackling chemistry, and the playful romance between Peter and Gwen that’s at the heart of director Marc Webb’s sequel. Having previously directed (500) Days of Summer – that inventive and charming tale of young love pursued and lost – Webb knows exactly how to mine their relationship both for laughs and emotional resonance.

But more of that later.

When we first meet our web-slinging hero in the new film, he’s bounding to the rescue as a truck of hijacked plutonium rattles through the city streets. Having evidently embraced his role as the guardian of Manhattan, there’s a newfound confidence and cockiness to him as he delivers those witty one-liners while revealing a terrific knack for physical comedy.

The fun and games are short-lived though. Peter continues to grapple with the mystery of his parents’ disappearance (revealed to us in a lengthy prologue), while simultaneously negotiating his maybe/maybe-not relationship with Gwen. But a romantic tug-of-war is hardly conflict enough for a superhero movie. So Webb and his writers overstuff the plot with multiple villains.

Following an arc not very different from The Riddler’s in 1995’s Batman Forever, Jamie Foxx plays Max Dillon, a mild-mannered Oscorp employee and Spidey super-fan who turns against our hero when he falls into a tank of electric eels. The accident turns him into neon-nemesis Electro, and bequeaths him with the power to manipulate electricity. A scene in which Foxx trolls an empty street, setting off car alarms is especially chilling.

Yet, Electro ends up serving more as a plot device than as a real character. Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) is a millionaire scion ailing from a genetic disease, convinced that Spider-Man’s blood can save his life. When the web-slinger turns him down, he vows revenge, morphing into the film’s central baddie, The Green Goblin. Although Harry is sidelined for long stretches in the film, DeHaan leaves a lasting impression, delivering a performance that is creepy and mercurial in equal parts.

Rounding out the cast of bad guys is Paul Giamatti’s Rhino, whom we meet late into the film, in a single scene only. He’s clearly being set-up as a lasting rival to Spider-Man, along with other antagonists hinted at in a crucial scene that sets the stage for the forthcoming Sinister Six spinoff that the producers announced last December.

Now twelve years since Sam Raimi first put Spider-Man on film, with Tobey Maguire starring, special effects have evolved considerably. The web-slinging and leaping-off-skyscrapers scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are exhilarating to watch, and the action sequences too are imaginatively staged, particularly Electro’s showdown with Spidey in Times Square.

But even with three villains to spar against, it’s his scenes with Gwen Stacy that give off maximum sparks. Garfield is a competent actor who brings a nice dose of goofiness to his part, and (his real-life girlfriend) Stone is utterly charming. Whether joking about or even breaking up (as they often do in the film), they’re riveting when they’re together on screen. The film also captures a zippy wisecracking energy that feels entirely new, like Peter’s playful bickering with Aunt May (Sally Field).

It’s the film’s bloated third act that wears you out, including an obligatory set-piece that results in mass destruction. At 2 hours and 22 minutes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is far too long, and seldom feels urgent. The sparkling lightness of the first half is lost somewhere in the messy plotting of the second. Yet, Webb shrewdly brings down the curtains leaving you once again invested in the central romance over anything else in the film.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. This is that rare love story disguised as a big-budget superhero film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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