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

July 27, 2018

Couple goals

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:30 pm

July 27, 2018

Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill, Chitrangada Singh, Kabir Bedi, Deepak Tijori, Nafisa Ali

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, which released in 2011, nicely captured a time and place where ex-royals were struggling to adjust to a life without privilege, a life of fading power and influence. Once haughty men now clinging desperately to past glory. Within that world, writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia spun a compelling yarn about a marriage beset by ambition, infidelity, and murderous revenge.

That marriage – between ‘saheb’ aka Aditya Pratap Singh (Jimmy Shergill) and his ‘biwi’ Madhavi Devi (Mahie Gill) – is still fueled by distrust, betrayal, and constant plotting, even as Dhulia’s unlikely franchise rolls out its third entry.

Picking up where the second movie ended, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 sees Aditya, imprisoned on a murder charge, working hard to secure his freedom, even as Madhavi, who now enjoys considerable influence as a Member of Parliament, work equally hard to keep him behind prison gates. The ‘gangster’ in the film’s title refers to Uday (Sanjay Dutt), the exiled, dishonorable heir of another royal household, whose return after 20 years has led to much drama in his family.

Uday somehow finds himself at the center of a Machiavellian conspiracy hatched by this unscrupulous, duplicitous couple that lies, cheats, and exploits each other and everyone else in their ruthless play for absolute power.

It’s an intriguing premise but Dhulia spends too much time on set-up, giving us a complicated, convoluted first hour that doesn’t really offer much to the film’s central plot. The story is littered with too many loosely etched characters…like Uday’s parents, played by Kabir Bedi and Nafisa Ali, and his dancer girlfriend, played by the beautiful but sadly underused Chitrangada Singh.

To be honest, several characters are shortchanged including Aditya Pratap Singh’s second wife, played by Soha Ali Khan, whose presence in the film amounts to a mere cameo.

The upheaval in Uday’s family caused by his return lacks any real depth or edge, not least because of the hammy acting by Kabir Bedi, Nafisa Ali, and also Deepak Tijori in the role of Uday’s younger brother. Dutt too appears disinterested in both his role and the film. Uday is a character who doesn’t belong here, and Dutt delivers a lazy performance as if to underline that point.

The film takes flight – only too briefly though – when it’s focused on Aditya Pratap Singh and Madhavi, who trade everything from scathing insults to revenge sex as an expression of their mutual hatred. Mahie Gill is in good form as the conniving ‘biwi’ in this warped marriage, but it’s Jimmy Shergill who owns his part as the ‘saheb’ determined to reclaim his legacy.

It’s a shame then that Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 never hits the higher notes of Dhulia’s earlier films. It’s a good reminder that a bigger budget and bigger scale don’t necessarily make for a better film. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Class Action

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:40 pm

July 27, 2018

Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris, Michelle Monoghan

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

It’s probably worth mentioning – even before I tell you anything about the new Mission: Impossible movie  – that Tom Cruise is 56 years old. Yes, fifty-six. Chew on that as you watch him dangle from a helicopter, leap across rooftops, hang off a cliff, and basically do the kind of things that most men wouldn’t voluntarily attempt in their lifetime.

Knowing that Cruise does the bulk of these dangerous stunts himself might be the secret to the enduring appeal of this franchise, currently in its twenty-second year. So in Mission: Impossible – Fallout when you see him jump off an airplane from 25,000 feet in the air, it’s really him. When you see him zoom on a motorcycle through the streets of Paris, frequently into oncoming traffic, it’s him doing that. That’s what makes these films especially thrilling, even when the plot seems fairly standard-issue.

Cruise returns as undercover agent Ethan Hunt, whose mission, which he chooses to accept, involves saving the world from a madman threatening global nuclear destruction. It’s a job that takes Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force squad to Paris, then London, before climaxing in the snowy mountains of New Zealand that are meant to stand in for Kashmir.

Fallout is the sixth film in the franchise, and the second (after 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) to be directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who brings a sense of continuity within the series that was until now lacking. In addition to the usual faces – namely Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames as Hunt’s teammates Benji and Luther – McQuarrie brings back Rogue Nation alumni Alec Baldwin in the role of Hunt’s IMF chief Alan Hunley, Rebecca Ferguson as slinky spy Ilsa Faust, and Sean Harris as ruthless bad guy Solomon Lane who’s somehow linked to this film’s doomsday threat.

New characters include a mysterious arms broker known as The White Widow, and played by the luminous Vanessa Kirby. Also along for the ride is Henry Cavill in great form as humorless tough-guy August Walker, assigned to work with Hunt by a CIA big-shot (Angela Bassett) who isn’t quite sold on the IMF’s unconventional methods.

Structured as – what else but – a race-against-time thriller, Fallout has a lot of that double-crossing, those rubber-mask disguises, and the sort of last minute twists that this franchise has come to be known for. But who’re we kidding? What it all boils down to are the stunts, and McQuarrie pulls out all stops to deliver sophisticated set pieces that showcase just how far his leading man is willing to go.

Many of the action scenes are achieved the old-school way, through skillfully choreographed stunt work. The Paris bike sequence is genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff, and a rooftop chase scene in London is a good reminder that no one runs quite like Tom Cruise. These portions are shot in long, wide takes, and edited in a way that allows you to enjoy and appreciate the sheer hard work and risk that’s gone into them. The big climatic set piece, which involves a helicopter battle over snowy mountains is also pretty spectacular, and best enjoyed on the biggest screen you can find. Yet the scene that made the biggest impression on me is an old-fashioned, hand-to-hand restroom brawl that feels so visceral, I found myself flinching each time the punches landed. It’s the film’s most thrilling sequence.

You could complain that Fallout is too long at nearly two-and-a-half hours, that the climax feels overstretched, that there isn’t enough humor to go around, or that the plotting itself – the threat of a nuclear explosion wiping out half the world – is nothing we haven’t seen in other films before. All of that criticism is entirely fair. But it’s also true that Cruise and his good-guy idealism grounds these movies in something deeper than just action and spectacle. A scene in which Hunt encounters a female police officer at a crucial moment during a getaway nicely illustrates that point.

I’d put Fallout right up there in the top three films of the series along with the first one directed by Brian DePalma, and the fourth one, Ghost Protocol, directed by Brad Bird and featuring that jaw-dropping Burj Khalifa sequence. Cruise is in great shape kicking, punching, jumping, climbing, hanging, crashing till he’s got your attention, and he doesn’t let go of it until the end.

I’m going with four out of five for Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Prepare to be thrilled. And just remember, 56 has never looked this good.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 20, 2018

Caste away

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:30 pm

July 20, 2018

Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Janhvi Kapoor, Ashutosh Rana, Kharaj Mukherjee, Shridhar Watsar, Ankit Bisht,

Director: Shashank Khaitan

A young fellow, having worked his way through a shared snack with his female companion, drinks from a mug of water in a plastic drum at the roadside food vendor. She crinkles her nose when he offers her the mug for a sip, prompting him to buy her bottled water instead. It’s a seemingly innocuous moment from Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat, but oh, so telling – the couple, their backs against each other, both drinking water. Yes water, that great leveler; required by both the rich and the poor, by those belonging to every caste and class, and yet the very clue in this moment that points to the yawning divide between this pair.

That scene – like many others – has been left out of Dhadak, the Hindi remake of Manjule’s excellent Marathi film from 2016 about the intensely gripping and ultimately tragic romance between a lower-caste boy and an upper-caste girl in rural Maharashtra.

Caste is a thorny, complex issue with a history of deep-rooted prejudices, injustice, and far-reaching consequences. When honestly explored, we get extraordinary stories like Sairat, Masaan, and Manjule’s own previous film Fandry. But the caste angle, evidently too hot to handle in a mainstream Bollywood film, is largely swept under the rug in Dhadak.

The story, which is robbed of texture and nuance when relocated from Bittergaon village in central Maharashtra to a tourism-brochure version of Udaipur, is centered on the romance between Madhukar aka Madhu (Ishaan Khatter) and Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor). She is the daughter of a rich, influential father who owns a hotel and has political ambitions. He is the son of middle-class parents who run a modest restaurant. Her family will have none of it. The young couple must flee.

Director Shashank Khaitan is faithful to the beats of the original film but makes some questionable decisions. The hero’s friends, so crucial to the plot in Sairat, are reduced to stock caricatures here, particularly a vertically challenged fellow exploited strictly for laughs. With the caste narrative reduced to a mere footnote, the villain too – Parthavi’s father (Ashutosh Rana) – is at best your standard disapproving parent, a role the actor already played in the director’s previous film Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.

In the original film the action shifts to Hyderabad and the couple (Parshya and Archie) are put through the wringer as they go about building a life together. Madhu and Parthavi in Dhadak land up in Kolkata, but their struggle, relatively sanitized, can be best described as the Dharma Productions version of a hard life.

There’s also the matter of the film’s climax, a different one from the original. It’s chilling and devastating, not unlike Sairat. But again, given that the caste narrative is never integral to the story, it doesn’t feel suitably earned. Ultimately you could interpret it as the final move in a revenge plot.

But wait, it’s not as if Dhadak is entirely a waste of time. There’s something especially refreshing about watching young, raw newcomers discover their craft…witnessing the unpredictability of a performance, a new approach to a familiar emotion. Ishaan and Janhvi have a winning, charming chemistry, and they’re both extremely watchable even if they have contrasting styles.

Ishaan, who was especially impressive in his debut film Beyond The Clouds, once again radiates warmth and innocence, and reflects both the grappling and the growing maturity of a boy on the cusp of adulthood. Janhvi, meanwhile, has less to work with, because Parthavi is never as well-defined as Archie in Sairat. But Janhvi, who’s making her debut here, has a fragility that makes her instantly endearing, and a soulful quality that makes it hard to take your eyes off her on screen.

The director utilizes them well, giving them scope to perform drama, the odd bits of comedy, and really puts their dancing skills to test in the madly infectious Zingaat number, which composers Ajay-Atul and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya successfully refashion in Hindi.

Dhadak is ultimately a homogenous Karan Johar production that offers comfort in the familiar…for those seeking it. For the rest of us, it’s just baffling why the folks involved would choose to remake a film about the horrors of caste supremacy, but erase practically every mention of caste from the film.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. The kids make it worth your time.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 13, 2018

Small wonder

Filed under: Our FIlms,Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:30 pm

July 13, 2018

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Abby Ryder

Director: Peyton Reed

As if shrewdly timed to calm our nerves after the big bang that was Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel’s latest offering Ant-Man and The Wasp is a breezy, lighthearted, and relatively low-stakes adventure. It’s not as if the characters in this film don’t flirt with danger, or that there aren’t any bad guys trying to do them in – there are. But nobody’s trying to end the world, nobody’s wiping out entire cities…and boy is that a relief!

Taking a tone that’s mostly playful, and following beats that are more personal than other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Ant-Man movies represent a welcome change of pace, and are rooted in an unmistakable sense of fun.

The always likeable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, former thief, who accidentally chanced upon a ‘super suit’ that allowed him to shrink to the size of a little critter. Taking place not long after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the new film opens with Scott under house arrest for his role in the massive destruction caused during that Cap vs Iron Man showdown in Germany.

The Wasp to his Ant-Man is Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), daughter of atomic scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who invented the technology that allows Lang to downsize so drastically. Once estranged from her father, Hope is now working with him, and much of the film’s plot involves their efforts to rescue Jane, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been trapped for 30 years in the Quantum Realm.

Family, in fact, is one of the overarching themes in Ant-Man and the Wasp, with significant screen time devoted to Scott and his daughter Cassie. The little girl, who lives with her mother and stepfather, is frequently left in Scott’s care while he’s housebound, and their relationship is sweet without being cloying.

A big highlight of 2015’s Ant-Man was the terrific climatic sequence in which a train set in Cassie’s bedroom became the battleground for a confrontation between our minuscule hero and the film’s villain. Returning director Peyton Reed further exploits the film’s chief conceit to stage imaginative set pieces once again, this time involving speeding cars that shrink and return to size mid-chase, the pursuit of Hank’s laboratory that’s shrunk down to resemble a piece of carry-on luggage, and a scene at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco featuring the protagonist in ‘expanded mode’ in what may well be a nod to the 1958 cult hit Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Unlike most superhero films, the focus here is on fun over spectacle, and much humour is mined from scenes involving Scott’s ex-con buddies (led by a scene-stealing Michael Peña) who’re trying to get their security business off the ground. Less fun, however, is all the dense, impenetrable techno-babble between Hank and Hope that goes way over your head…and also Scott’s. “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” he asks, as if reading your mind.

New characters include Laurence Fishburne as a former SHIELD agent and Hank’s old colleague, and Ghost, an angsty female villain (Hannah John-Kamen) who can ‘phase’ through solid surfaces. They exist purely to further the plot, but the heavy lifting is left to the trio of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Douglas who anchor the film’s drama, and provide clues to any niggling questions you might have about the next Avengers film due next year.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ant-Man and the Wasp. It’s a consistently enjoyable film that’s more surefooted than its predecessor, and while it’s never groundbreaking, you will break into plenty laughs.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 6, 2018

Must love dogs

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:00 pm

July 06, 2018

Cast: Voices of Liev Shreiber, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, Greta Gerwig, Yoko Ono, Koyu Rankin

Director: Wes Anderson

Several scenes in Wes Anderson’s charming new film Isle of Dogs beg a second viewing, but none more than the one in which a bento box is being prepared. The hand holding a knife works in quick, sharp cuts, almost dancer-like in grace, as it slices fish and other seafood and arranges the sushi. All of this is done in breathtaking stop-motion animation. It’s an unforgettable sequence in Anderson’s heartfelt ode to dogs, loyalty, and the bond of friendship.

As it turns out, Isle of Dogs has little to do with sushi and a lot to do with food for thought. The film is set in a futuristic Japan in the fictional city of Megasaki, where all dogs have been banished by the cat-petting sinister mayor to the isolated badlands of Trash Island after an outbreak of dog flu. Here the banished dogs must rummage and fight for food amongst mounds of rotting garbage.

Among these canines is Spots (voiced by Liev Shreiber), the trusted pet of the mayor’s 12-year-old nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). Unlike all the other dog owners, Atari doesn’t abandon his friend. He hijacks a plane and crashes onto Trash Island in search of Spots. What he finds is a motley gang of dogs: Rex (a terrific Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray, who else) and King (Bob Balaban), who decide to help the ‘Little Pilot’. Only the pack’s leader Chief, voiced by the excellent Bryan Cranston, is aloof. Chief is a stray and naturally suspicious of humans. “I bite,” he warns Atari, and yet, you’re charmed as the boy inevitably bonds with Chief.

Anderson weaves between the past and the present as often as he swerves from Trash Island to Megasaki. The dogs bark in English, while the Japanese dialogues are spare, but not translated. You get the general drift – the mayor is using an army of robot dogs to soon exterminate all the living ones, until an outspoken American exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig) calls out the mayor’s nefarious plan.

If you’ve watched and loved Anderson’s previous work like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Rushmore, and Moonrise Kingdom, you’ll be familiar with the threads in Isle of Dogs. There’s droll wit, there’s rebellion, there’s sweet sentiment, and there are children. Most importantly, there are dogs who show the way to adults. It’s all captivatingly executed in stop-motion animation, which Anderson previously employed in 2009’s The Fantastic Mr Fox. The film’s stellar cast is in good form, including Scarlett Johansson voicing a stoic and beautiful show-dog named Nutmeg. There’s also a cute cameo by Yoko Ono voicing a scientist named…er…Yoko Ono.

Anderson is meticulous in his detailing, and tells a beguiling story that talks about trust, and about learning to value each other.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Isle of Dogs. If the film sometimes bites off more than it can chew, getting too clever for its own good, then perhaps you’ll be forgiving – after all it’s got its heart is in the right place.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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