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

April 26, 2018

Superhero smash!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:30 pm

April 27, 2018

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

I suppose any film with roughly 30 speaking parts, and intended as the grand culmination of story arcs explored across 18 movies over the last 10 years is bound to feel a bit overstuffed. Avengers: Infinity War, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, clocks in at a butt-numbing 2 hours and 29 minutes. I won’t lie, it does feel long. But it’s also very enjoyable for the bulk of it.

Remember how the end credits sequence in the first “Iron Man” movie, all the way back in 2008, hinted at the idea of an Avengers Initiative? Who’d have thought at the time that this is what it was leading up to! Because, as you probably know already, unless you’ve been living under a rock, Infinity War teams up practically everyone that’s ever appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the Founding Avengers – Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow; the Guardians of the Galaxy – all of them; later entrants Scarlett Witch, Vision, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and other characters from each of their respective worlds. Throw a stone and you’ll hit a superhero.

You’re also likely aware that only one thing could bring all these good guys together – a bad guy, namely Thanos, who’s been a looming threat referenced in previous Marvel films, and who is finally centrestage this time around. Played by Josh Brolin in a terrific motion-capture performance that doesn’t miss a nuance, Thanos is a 12-feet-tall, purple-skinned mega villain with an oversized chin, who’s bent on acquiring all six of the Infinity Stones, and wiping out half of the galaxy’s population to save the other half – don’t ask! Every superhero in the MCU, summoned from their respective stomping grounds, must do what they can to stop him.

That’s as far as I can tell you in terms of plot. Much of the joy in Infinity War comes from watching the awkward interactions and the unlikely friendships developed within this massive ensemble of do-gooders, many of whom don’t know each other, or even of each other’s existence. At one point Bruce Banner asks, very puzzled, “There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?” The script mines humour from personality clashes, conflicts, mild irritations, and one-upmanship. Let’s just say the combustible pairing of two sarcastic ego-maniacs Tony Stark and Doctor Strange delivers plenty laughs. Banner is having a hard time unleashing his inner Hulk, Peter Parker won’t shut up with all the pop-culture references, and Thor is thrown in with the wisecracking Guardians, led by the irrepressible Peter Quill.

But because there are so many of them in the mix, it’s practically impossible for every significant character to get a huge amount of screen-time here. Inevitably some get more to do than others. I was especially bummed to see one of my favourites, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, criminally underutilised. Even a promising fight scene between four badass female characters is prematurely and abruptly cut off. Frankly the only fella who gets a chunk of cinematic real estate is Thanos. In addition to destroying everything in his path in pursuit of those coveted Infinity Stones, his complicated relationship with adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) yields some surprisingly affecting moments.

It’s true also of other narrative strands. Infinity War has some well-earned and genuinely emotional moments involving characters you’ve had many years to be invested in. The action too never feels like a blur. Superhero films tend to climax in loud, messy CGI battles (both the previous Avengers films are guilty of this) that go on and on until the razor-sharp cutting makes your eyes glaze over and you can’t tell who’s doing what to whom. The action sequences in Infinity War – and there are plenty – never feel generic, perhaps because there are so many distinct superheroes and superpowers at play. The final stretch, in fact, is especially bold and somber, with the filmmakers raising the stakes in a way that these films seldom do.

There’s been a lot of chatter online about who lives and who dies at the end of this movie. Don’t expect any clues or any answers from me, but I will tell you that it’s hard to take everything that you see seriously, given that you know there’s a second movie out next year that’s meant to wrap up this arc. Still, you have to hand it to the Russos for the extent they’re willing to go to in order to deliver shock, suspense, and a mostly thrilling experience.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Avengers: Infinity War. It is overstuffed and overlong, but there’s so much going on you’ll barely notice. Best enjoyed with a big tub of popcorn.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

April 20, 2018

Partly cloudy!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:50 pm

April 20, 2018

Cast: Ishaan Khattar, Malavika Mohanan, Goutam Ghose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, GV Sharada, Amruta Santosh Thakur, Shivam Pujari

Director: Majid Majidi

Iranian master Majid Majidi, whose Oscar-nominated film, 1997’s Children of Heaven, remains one of the most affecting stories about sibling love and the innocence of children, uses the bustling landscape of Mumbai as the setting for his new film Beyond The Clouds. This is a moving redemption saga about a poor brother and sister faced with difficult circumstances, but the predictable plotting robs the film of any surprise.

Ishaan Khatter stars as Amir, a street-smart fellow who works as a drug runner, whizzing about in the Mumbai traffic making discreet deliveries, even as he nurses dreams of saving enough cash to make a better life someday. When he runs afoul of his employer, it leads to a chain of events that culminates with his sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan) being thrown into jail for nearly killing a man who tries to rape her.

Clearly fascinated by the sights and sounds and smells of Maximum City, Majidi and cinematographer Anil Mehta serve up an evocative tableau that is at once familiar yet unmistakably ‘exotic’ – a foot chase through Dhobhi Ghat, a fight scene in the flamingo-occupied mudflats along Sewri jetty, a sweet moment involving an innocent child in a Kamathipura brothel, and Holi being celebrated on the streets…all set to AR Rahman’s mostly familiar score.

Like his strongest films, Beyond The Clouds works best when Majidi puts children on the screen. Tara’s bond with a little boy whose ailing mother shares the jail cell with her is genuinely tender, and Amir’s tentative relationship with a family he is saddled with yields some of the film’s most touching moments.

The film’s overarching themes – the importance of compassion in an unforgiving world, and family being what you make of it – are noble but simplistic, and are communicated in broad strokes. All cinema is manipulative, but Beyond The Clouds is sentimental to a fault, practically choking the lump out of your throat. It doesn’t help that the story beats are entirely predictable; you know exactly what choices the characters will make, and how things will pan out in the end.

Luckily for us, the film packs consistently strong performances, especially from Ishaan Khattar whom the camera clearly loves. He reveals reserves of both confidence and vulnerability, allowing us to be invested in Amir from early on. My other favorite is veteran actress GV Sharada who plays the aged mother of a key character, and who enters Amir’s orbit representing conflict. She delivers a mostly quiet but deeply sensitive performance that breaks your heart.

Ultimately the film offers comfort in the familiar…for those that seek it. It’s Majid Majidi-lite at best; a bittersweet, inoffensive drama that runs, but never flies. I’m going with a generous three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)


April 13, 2018

Autumn of sadness

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:10 pm

April 13, 2018

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu, Gitanjali Rao

Director: Shoojit Sircar

October, directed by Shoojit Sircar, is a thoughtful, meditative film about love, grief, mortality, and the making of a man.

When a freak accident puts a young girl in hospital, the incident has a life-altering impact on her co-worker. Varun Dhawan plays Danish aka Dan, an immature twenty-something-year-old who works as a trainee at a Delhi five-star hotel along with several others, including Shiuli (newcomer Banita Sandhu) whom he knows as any other colleague. But her fatal condition following a mishap affects him much more than it does the others, and he singularly commits himself to her recovery.

It’s a thin idea, but Juhi Chaturvedi’s script brings nuance and beautiful complexity to this premise. The fact that Dan and Shiuli – who are not at all alike, and are barely even friends – become unexpectedly connected by something that resembles love is communicated without fuss or fanfare.

This is a film that asks to be felt. Very little actually ‘happens’ during the course of its running time. A lot of it is about waiting – on the part of both the characters on screen, and us, the viewers. Yet the languid passage of time – conveyed through the change of seasons – is crucial to the experience of the film. The pace is deliberately slow, as if Shoojit wants us to feel every excruciating minute of watching a loved one’s life hanging by a thread.

There is great sadness at the heart of October. I watched much of the film choked with emotion, and when it was over I wanted to be alone. It’s likely that some may feel the film ends too abruptly, or that characters and narrative threads are left without closure. But that is by design. Shoojit and Juhi have crafted a film that makes no grand announcements. There is no spoon-feeding, there are no manipulative music cues. Like life itself, the events in the film creep up on us without warning.

Our window into the world of the film is through its characters. Varun Dhawan strips away the affectations of the Hindi film ‘hero’ to play Dan, whom we first meet as a permanently irritable fellow in a job where he has no business being anything but polite. Dan’s awakening, his coming of age, is conveyed through a nicely realized performance from Varun, whose sincerity is unquestionable. Lighter moments, like his exchanges with a nurse, bring much-needed respite in a grim, mostly quiet film.

Banita Sandhu lets her big, beautiful eyes do most of the work for her, and it is again by design that we know so little of Shiuli – and what’s in her heart – even when the movie ends. Offering a deeply affecting performance as Shiuli’s mother, Gitanjali Rao is a portrait of grief, her face a canvas that reveals the progress and deterioration of her daughter’s condition.

The other ‘invisible’ character in October, and just as effective, is the strong sense of atmospherics. The evocative cinematography, a keen attention to detail, the unflashy score, and the unhurried pacing all work together to transport us to the world of these people, and to deliver a kind of immersive sensory experience that is unique to this film.

Unlike the case with Shoojit and Juhi’s previous collaborations Vicky Donor and Piku, the mood in October is decidedly somber; there’s very little to laugh about. Be warned the overwhelming sadness will take a piece out of you. If you allow it though it has the power to change the way you look at love and life.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18) 


April 6, 2018

Pitch black

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:06 pm

April 06, 2018

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Kirti Kulhari, Arunoday Singh, Divya Dutta, Pradhuman Singh, Anjula Sathe, Gajraj Rao, Omi Vaidya, Vibha Chibbar, Neelima Azim

Director: Abhinay Deo

The ‘blackmail’ referred to in the title of Irrfan Khan’s new film doesn’t point to merely one instance of extortion, but in fact a whole chain of cash extraction by arm-twisting.

Chances are you probably figured that out from watching the film’s trailer, which, frankly, gives away a lot more than it should.

The plot is set into motion when Irrfan’s character Dev, a middle-class, white-collar everyman stuck in a dead-end job and a loveless marriage returns home early from work one evening to discover that his wife is having an affair.

This is not that movie in which the husband, consumed by rage, commits a crime of passion. No sir, this is not that film.

Weighed down by loans and EMIs and bills waiting to be paid, Dev decides instead to blackmail his wife’s lover for cash.

It’s an interesting starting point for a dark comedy, and director Abhinay Deo and writer Parveez Shaikh build on this idea to create a scenario where pretty soon every character in the film is blackmailing someone else. In addition to Dev, his unfaithful wife Reena (Kirti Kulhari), and her ‘himbo’ lover Ranjit (Arunoday Singh), the key players in this theatre of the absurd are Ranjit’s ball-busting wife (Divya Dutta), a male drinking buddy and colleague of Dev (Pradhuman Singh), an opportunist female co-worker (Anjula Sathe), and a double-dealing detective who refers to himself in third person (Gajraj Rao).


As original and as unusual as the plot is, the script slips into a repetitive loop early on, and suffers from serious pacing issues. Blackmail after blackmail after blackmail takes some of the novelty and surprise out of the screenplay, and the film’s first half feels especially long. The overarching themes – that nobody is entirely innocent, and that the lure of a fast buck can corrupt most people – are certainly worth pondering, but the film is burdened with indulgences that it could’ve done without.

Dev works at a toilet-roll manufacturing company, and his US-returned boss (a hammy Omi Vaidya), a champion of toilet paper and its many merits, devises a hare-brained plan to capture the market. It’s a distracting, silly subplot that only stretches the film needlessly. An item song featuring Urmila Matondkar is also eminently forgettable.


But – as is fast becoming a habit – it’s Irrfan Khan who swoops in and rescues the film from becoming a complete slog. His portrayal of a decent chap making the most of the bad hand he’s been dealt is nuanced and relateable, and Dev, with all his flaws, is the closest thing this film has to a hero. Irrfan’s so good in the role, he even pulls off a tricky running joke about stealing photographs from his colleagues’ desks, without the ickiness that a less competent actor might have failed to dodge.

A word also for Arunoday Singh, who shines as the not-very-bright lover of Dev’s wife. During one tense, clandestine meeting at a cinema to figure out how to tackle the blackmailing, he’s preoccupied staring at a canoodling couple in a row ahead, even remembering that he’d seen the same girl with another guy the last time they were here.

It’s the film’s unique brand of humor – some of it pitch black and Coen-esque – that makes Blackmail worth your time, despite its shortcomings. Be warned that it’s  too long by at least 20 minutes, and requires patience. But give it a chance. A lot of it flies.

I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)



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