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

April 26, 2019

High end!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 4:19 pm

April 26, 2019

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson

Directors: Joe Russo & Anthony Russo

How does one review a film whose every moment qualifies as a potential spoiler? Avengers: Endgame, which serves as the final brick in the 22 film floor-plan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first decade, is a fan event before anything else. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have painstakingly crafted a film that fires on all cylinders; a film explicitly designed to please die-hard loyalists of the franchise, and to win over anyone seeking a value-for-money big-screen experience. Because, frankly, this is what IMAX 3D was invented for.

The last Avengers film, Infinity War, is still fresh in one’s memory for its sheer audacity in letting the bad guy win. In obtaining all six Infinity Stones, Thanos had defeated the Avengers. Then he did the unthinkable – he snapped his fingers and wiped out half the world’s population, including many of our favourite superheroes. They literally turned to dust. There’s no way to get those images out of one’s head.

But what does that mean going forward – particularly in terms of the surviving Avengers? When Endgame opens Tony Stark aka Iron Man is floating somewhere in space, his oxygen fast running out, his spirit defeated. Steve Rogers, or Captain America as we know him, the noblest of the Avengers, is also plunged in grief. But as the film’s trailer makes it clear – they aren’t going to just sit around and accept their fate. As Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow says: “We owe it those who’re not in the room, to try”. But try for exactly what? Revenge on Thanos? Reversing his cruel deed?

No, don’t worry, of course I’m not going to say. What I will tell you is that watching Endgame is an exhilarating experience. It’s a real adrenaline rush. The writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have plotted a shrewd screenplay that contains thrilling moments cleverly linked to events from previous films. These are unquestionably some of the best portions of Endgame. It also illustrates what Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has been saying all along – that there’s always been a ‘grand plan’; that these films don’t exist in isolation, they’re intricately connected through ideas, characters, and events.

The events in Endgame, for one, alternate between somber, thrilling, and emotional. Reunions and goodbyes can be teary affairs, and there are both in this film. More than once I found myself choked. But the film also delivers on that most important comic book component – fun. There are plenty laughs to be had, and the bulk of them involve Thor, who’s gotten a little thick around the waist since we last saw him. The god of thunder thighs steals every scene he’s in.

The film has substantial roles also for both Ant Man and Hawkeye, who did not appear in Infinity War. Meanwhile Bruce Banner appears to have made peace with his alter ego The Hulk, and Captain Marvel is also a winning presence. There are also several cameos by significant characters from the previous films.

Is Avengers: Endgame the best film in the MCU? Perhaps not. Is it the busiest? Without doubt. There’s so much going on in the film, especially in its big action centrepiece, you’ll be straining to keep up with the pace. The film’s tone shifts so skilfully between dramatic and comic, there’s seldom a dull moment. At three hours and one minute sure it’s long but I suspect you’ll be happy to stay in the company of these folks.

And when it’s time to bid farewell to old friends, you’ll be fighting back tears. What more do you want from a film? I’m going with four out of five for Avengers: Endgame. Watch it on the largest screen you can find.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

April 23, 2019

Clunk factor!

Filed under: Our FIlms,Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

April 17, 2019

Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Kunal Khemmu, Kiara Advani, Achint Kaur

Director: Abhishek Varman

Kalank is a doomed story of love, set in the time of Partition. It’s mounted as a grand multi-starrer; a timeless tragic epic that runs 169 minutes long, and is crammed with exquisitely choreographed songs, grandiose sets, and gorgeous costumes. But Madhuri Dixit’s character could as well be talking about the film when she says to a young singer, “Awaaz achchi hain, bas namak kam hain.” It’s true; director Abhishek Varman brings the razzle-dazzle, but the passion is missing.

You could blame it on the tired telling of a moth-eaten tale, set in 1944 in the fictional town of Husnabad on the outskirts of Lahore. Good thing it’s fictional because the geographical landscape is mind-boggling. One minute we see Venetian-type canals with giant lotuses, or streets straight out of a Rajasthani town. Is this ‘Bhansaliville’, a mish-mash of the sets from Saawariya and Ram-Leela? But then suddenly there’s a romantic scene in what I could swear looked like Ladakh, and then we’re transported to a Gladiator-style arena in what appears to be Afghanistan. It’s bewildering, but location is the least of the film’s problems.

Let’s face it – the story, by Shibani Bathija, is passé. Varun Dhawan is a bastard – no really, I mean it. His character Zafar was conceived outside of noble union, and he’s reminded of this fact every single day and by practically everyone he meets on the street. “Woh najayaz,” someone will say. “Woh haraami,” another voice utters. When it isn’t someone else saying it, Zafar frequently addresses himself this way. But wait, I’m digressing.

A seething Zafar, who is a blacksmith in the city’s red-light district Hira Mandi, wants revenge for being rejected at birth by his rich father Balraj Chaudhury (Sanjay Dutt). He burns with angst against his mother, famed courtesan Bahar Begum (Madhuri Dixit), for the shame he has to bear for his illegitimacy. When the opportunity presents itself, he decides to exact vengeance by seducing Roop (Alia Bhatt), the second-wife of Balraj’s ‘legitimate’ son Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). The architect of Roop’s and our own misery is Satya (Sonakshi Sinha), Dev’s dying wife, who coerces Roop to marry her husband.

Varman, who has also written the film’s screenplay, tries desperately to stoke this dramatic saga right up to the bloody climax of Partition riots. There are some high-energy moments like the confrontation between former lovers Balraj and Bahar, or the electric undercurrents between Zafar and Roop. But not every idea lands. A clumsy CGI duel between Zafar and an angry bull sticks out like a sore thumb. A dance number featuring Zafar and Dev with Kriti Sanon making a cameo is entirely gratuitous. The verbose dialogues, by Hussain Dalal, are a real mouthful, and seldom roll off the actors’ tongues with ease.

For all its picture-perfect imagery and gorgeous lighting, the terrific dancing by both Alia Bhatt and especially Madhuri Dixit, and for all the beauty poured into every frame, the film ultimately comes off stuffy and over-crowded. It’s too ‘designed’ and leaves very little room for the characters to breathe. Every turn choreographed, every moment timed, watching Kalank ultimately feels like staring at a family photograph in which everyone’s sucking in their stomachs and holding their breath.

Of the cast the ones that leave an impression are Varun Dhawan who somehow embraces the melodrama and makes you care for Zafar, and also Madhuri Dixit who uses her eyes to great effect in communicating her character’s inner turmoil. Alia Bhatt is especially solid in her scenes with Varun, but her character is unfairly burdened with much of the heavy lifting. Kunal Khemmu also makes his presence felt with a convincing turn as Zafar’s friend and the leader of a group of fundamentalists growing increasingly resentful of the Hindu population in their parts.

Just shy of three hours Kalank is ultimately tiring and heartbreaking even. You can see the talent on screen. If only there was a sharper script to harness it. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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