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

November 27, 2015

Art attack

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

November 27, 2015

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Javed Sheikh

Director: Imtiaz Ali

There are moments in Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha that are so powerful they pierce you straight in the heart. One such bit comes late in the film, when Deepika Padukone’s character, wracked by guilt and consumed by love, urges Ranbir Kapoor, a man wrestling with his own demons, to forgive her. It’s a scene filled with genuine emotion, and performed with such honesty by both actors, I found myself fighting back tears.

But Tamasha is an uneven film; it oscillates between inventive and indulgent, never quite striking a consistent tone.

Ved (Ranbir) and Tara (Deepika) first meet in the sun-kissed French island of Corsica. There’s a connection there, but the pair decides not to tell each other their names, to keep their hands off each other, and to spend their time together play-acting as Don and Mona Darling.

Bit of a stretch? You don’t say. But hey, we get some eye-watering photography of the gorgeous island, that great Mattargashti track from AR Rahman, and the crackling chemistry of our leads.

Four years later, Tara’s job takes her from Kolkata to Delhi, where they run into each other again. But gone is the free-spirited charmer; Ved is a buttoned-up, straight-laced nine-to-fiver. Nothing like the man Tara fell in love with in Corsica.

Imtiaz recycles many of the same ideas he’s pushed in his previous films, and the second half of Tamasha feels like a message movie, except there’s more than one message he’s driving here. The film makes a case for following one’s dream, for living in the moment, for seizing the day. It’s also about the power of love to help one discover one’s true identity.

Not every idea is communicated effectively however, and the script – which cuts routinely between the present and the past to explain Ved’s transformation – feels contrived in places. That’s a shame, particularly for a film that celebrates the very craft of storytelling.

Expectedly it’s the affecting performances of Ranbir and Deepika that keep you invested in the film until the end, even when the script feels like it’s going around in circles. Ranbir displays incredible maturity and just the right amount of restraint in a complex part, once again giving proof of his abundant talent. Deepika does the bulk of her work with those big expressive eyes, and conquers challenging scenes with natural ease. She practically steals the film, despite it being Ved’s story essentially.

In the end, Tamasha doesn’t come together satisfactorily, but it’s not for a lack of trying. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. There’s a lot to appreciate here, and more than a few moments that’ll break your heart.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 20, 2015

Kiss kiss, bang bang!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:34 pm

November 20, 2015

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Scott

Director: Sam Mendes

Let’s face it, Skyfall was always going to be a tough act to follow. Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes had delivered a solid action movie with surprising emotional depth, strong character arcs, and an affectionate nostalgia for older Bond films. No wonder it’s considered one of the best movies in the 007 canon; no wonder it went on to gross over a billion dollars at the global box-office.

Stacked against those odds, is it really surprising that Spectre – also directed by Mendes – comes up short?

You couldn’t guess from the film’s terrific opening sequence shot in the midst of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festivities. The camera follows Bond in a single tracking shot through a street crammed with costumed revelers, into an elevator and a hotel room, and then onto a rooftop where some heavy-duty carnage ensues. It’s topped off by a scuffle in a swooping helicopter that’s truly breathtaking.

To be fair, while never matching Skyfall or Casino Royale for their suspense or emotional impact, Spectre is pretty good blockbuster entertainment, and comes with plenty nods to 007 lore. The plot sees Bond acting on a cryptic message from a dear departed character that leads to the discovery of an international criminal organization called SPECTRE. Back in London, a new head of British intelligence (Andrew Scott) is making life difficult for M (Ralph Fiennes), threatening to end the Double-0 program and replace it with a global surveillance project. Shuttling from Rome (where he beds a recent widow, played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) to the Austrian Alps (where he teams up with Lea Seydoux’s character Madeleine Swann, the daughter of an old villain), and Tangier in North Africa (where he faces off against Dave Bautista in a thrilling hand-to-hand fight on a train), Bond hunts for the criminal mastermind who, as it turns out, is the author of all his pain.

Played by Christoph Waltz (usually excellent, but here delivering a performance that feels overly familiar), Franz Oberhauser comes off as a frankly unconvincing villain, thanks to the preposterous back-story that links him to Bond. This in fact is reflective of the film as a whole: it’s over-plotted, overlong, and trying too hard to tie up too many loose ends.

But it’s really only in comparison to Skyfall that Spectre feels like such a disappointment. Mendes doesn’t scrimp on the action, and peppers the film with moments of cheeky humor, several involving Ben Whishaw’s Q who devises some fun gadgets. The film draws on familiar Bond mythology, like the reappearance of an old villain, the ejector seat in 007’s trusted Aston Martin, and a Jaws-like henchman who puts our hero through the paces. It’s all pretty enjoyable stuff even if the film does drag on for nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Craig, who fills out a Tom Ford suit like few can, is in very good form, evidently more comfortable now under the skin of Bond than he ever was. There’s an urgency to his action scenes, but because the script lacks real depth, you’re invested neither in his romance with Seydoux, nor for a moment are you worried that he can’t take on Waltz.

Like a satisfying masala Bollywood film, Spectre is strictly escapist fun. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that you know what they could’ve pulled off had they tried harder. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Once more, without feeling

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

November 20, 2015

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Alfred Molina, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole

Director: Billy Ray

More intriguing than the suspense at the centre of the film is the mystery of how so many talented people, both in front of and behind the camera, could produce such a middling effort as Secret in Their Eyes. This remake of the excellent Argentine film that won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2009 is surprisingly inert despite its impeccable pedigree.

The plot follows FBI agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and his relentless efforts to solve the murder of the daughter of his partner Jess (Julia Roberts). Frustrated that the perpetrator was allowed to walk free because he was an informant, Ray remains haunted by their inability to bring him to justice, obsessing about the case long after he’s left the force. 13 years later, he revisits his ex-boss Claire (Nicole Kidman) and appeals to Jess and her to reopen the case, convinced that he’s tracked down the guy.

Never moody or atmospheric like the original film, at best this remake evokes the paranoia of post-9/11 America, using that as an integral device to drive the plot. Alas, writer-director Billy Ray (Oscar-nominated for scripting Captain Phillips, and helmer of such compelling dramas as Breach and Shattered Glass) fails to drum up enough moments of tension or urgency, and doesn’t bring much visual flair to his storytelling either. Cutting clumsily between 2002 and present day, the narrative feels slow and fractured, the plot seldom achieving its desired emotional impact.

Expectedly, it’s the cast that keeps your interest in the drama alive. Ejiofor delivers some great dramatic moments, and Roberts offers a nicely restrained performance as the grieving mother. Kidman is good, particularly in a scene in which she sexually taunts a suspect. Her chemistry with Ejiofor’s character, however, is particularly unremarkable, which is a shame given that we’re meant to believe that they share a deep unspoken connection.

Aside from a few moments of great power – Jess walks into an elevator and straight into her daughter’s murderer, who’s just been let go – the film feels surprisingly generic. It neither raises the ‘creepy’ factor to Zodiac levels, nor does it leave you pondering its moral dilemmas the way Prisoners did.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Secret in Their Eyes. Do yourself a favor – watch the original film instead.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 12, 2015

Sugar rush

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:35 pm

November 12, 2015

Cast: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Swara Bhaskar, Armaan Kohli, Deepak Dobriyal, Aashika Bhatia

Director: Sooraj Barjatya

You might want to keep off those Diwali sweets if you intend to watch Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Indulging in both could lead to the kind of sugar overload that your doctor would most certainly disapprove of. Hum Aapke Hain Koun director Sooraj Barjatya’s latest is a familiar tale that involves setting right the wrong, reuniting estranged families, and conquering hearts with basic human goodness. These are formulas he’s employed to great success in previous films, but the tropes have gotten rusty, the emotions seldom feel genuine, and the writing is strictly surface level. Good thing then that the film’s got Salman Khan as leading man, his abundant charisma glossing over many of its flaws.

In Pritampur, an estate in North India that didn’t get the memo on the abolishment of the monarchy and royal practices, Yuvraj Vijay Singh (Salman Khan) is injured in an attack by disgruntled family just days before his coronation and the arrival of his fiancée, Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor). While the prince recuperates in a secret chamber within the royal fort, his lookalike Prem, a small-time entertainer from a nearby town, is discreetly recruited to take his place so the formalities can go off without a hitch.

It’s a testament to the star power of Salman Khan that Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is never unwatchable despite its old-fashioned story, its frankly laughable scenarios (the climax takes place in a palace of mirrors built on top of a waterfall), and its failure to flesh out characters adequately. The film revisits many of Barjatya’s favorite themes – the importance of family, the enduring bond of brotherhood, and the power of forgiveness – but it has nothing particularly new to say that might justify making this film in 2015.

Pre-intermission the film coasts along breezily, buoyed by the humor in the interactions between Prem and the loyal palace diwan (Anupam Kher), who’s trying desperately to rein this man-child in. But melodrama reaches fever pitch in the film’s shrill second half, in which an angry half-sister (Swara Bhaskar) and a conniving half-brother (Neil Nitin Mukesh) must be won over, and a trouble-making relative (Armaan Kohli) must be defeated. Meanwhile, the romantic track between Maithili and Prem packs some nice moments, including a running joke about not getting ‘cozy’ until they’re married.

Alas, the predictable plotting and the lazy characterization never really allow you to be invested in any of the film’s characters or to even care for them. Make no mistake, Salman Khan is the sole draw of this film, and he works hard for his top billing. The actor is in good form – terrific in the comic scenes, and earnest in the emotional ones – turning on the charm to help you survive, and even enjoy, this nearly 3 hour film that’s crammed with songs, and over-styled to a fault.

I’m going with two-and-a-half stars plus an additional half star for Salman Khan, which makes it three out of five for Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Get ready for a sugar rush.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 6, 2015

Fangless fun

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

November 06, 2015

Cast: Voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samber, Mel Brooks, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, David Spade, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally

Director: Gendy Tartakovsky

Like Hotel Transylvania in 2012, its sequel too is testament to the fact that these days the most enjoyable Adam Sandler films are the ones in which he isn’t on screen. Sandler sticks to lending his voice once again to Count Dracula in Hotel Transylvania 2, and although the new film doesn’t have the freshness of the first, a steady stream of slapstick gags and clever one-liners ensures that you’re seldom bored.

Drac, now living happily with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her human husband Jonathan (Andy Samberg), suddenly finds he has a pressing issue to deal with when it starts to become apparent that his baby grandson Dennis may have none of the vampirish tendencies that ‘Vampa’ was counting on. Convinced that the kid must be a late-fanger, Drac gathers his monster pals (Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade) and whisks Dennis off for a rites-of-passage road trip so he is encouraged to embrace his dark side.

Director Gendy Tartakovsky keeps the jokes coming fast and furious, while slipping in the odd message about respecting those that are different from us. There are some nicely staged set-pieces too, although a final-act action sequence involving fearsome monsters might scare the really little ones.

Sandler performs his voice duties competently, giving us a character that’s wildly over-the-top and relatable at once. Scenes in which Drac wrestles with technology are a real hoot, as is his version of the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

I’m going with three out of five for Hotel Transylvania 2. It’s familiar stuff, but also unmistakably entertaining.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


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