Cross–Cultural Love Triangle at Heart of Bollywood–Style Musical
Dr. Linda Watt (Brie Larson) is a scientist doing research for Mogil, a leading agri-chemical company based in New York. The young doctor is so thrilled about genetically engineering a strain of Basmati rice that yields 22 percent more grains per acre that she spontaneously breaks into song on Fifth Avenue, right in front of the iconic Flatiron building.
Mogil’s CEO (Donald Sutherland) is just as excited by her groundbreaking discovery, but all he sees are dollar signs. He decides to launch the new product over in India, where about a billion and a half people eat rice every day.
But first, the farmers have to be talked into switching to Rice 9 from the reliable strain they’ve used for generations. So, he sends Linda over to the subcontinent to market her invention herself.
Trouble is, she’s a nerd who’s far more comfortable working long hours in a lab than addressing big crowds. Worse, she has no idea that the small print in the Rice 9 contract will force the signers to buy their seeds from Mogil year after year forever. The question is whether Dr. Watt will wise up to the fact that she’s being used to by her greedy boss to ruin millions of farmers financially.
Besides business, Linda finds time for a little romance during her stay. First, sparks fly with William (Saahil Sehgal), the local yokel serving as her tour guide. Then, she develops a little chemistry with Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a rebellious college student suspicious of Mogil’s intentions.
Thus unfolds Basmati Blues, a musical dramedy reminiscent of La La Land. Unfortunately, this relatively-amateurish production fails to measure up in terms of plot, acting, cinematography or soundtrack. The movie marks the ambitious directorial debut of Dan Baron, previously best known for writing the screenplay for a kiddie comedy, See Spot Run.
Baron ostensibly bit off more than he could chew here, frustrating his A-list ensemble by rarely allowing them to play to their strengths. For instance, why make the audience suffer through Donald Sutherland’s woefully-strained warbling? Equally miscast are six-time Emmy-winner Tyne Daly and Golden Globe-winner Scott Bakula.
A shaky, Bollywood-style musical worth a watch only to see Oscar-winner Brie Larson give it her all.
Good (2 stars)
Running time: 106 minutes
Production Studios: Red Baron Films / Considered Entertainment / Zas Film AG
Distributor: Shout! Studios
The Final Year
Fly on the Wall Documentary Chronicles the Last Days Inside the Obama White House
Besides granting a record number of pardons to non-violent felons convicted of drug offenses, Barack Obama didn’t accomplish very much during his last days in office. That’s not unusual for a lame duck president, particularly when the opposing party is in control of both houses of Congress.
Remember how the Republicans refused to allow Obama to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, even though he still had another 11 months to go in his second term? Well, that was par for the course in 2016, a year marked by GOP obstruction of the White House agenda at every turn, including its only override of a presidential veto. Consequently, all the Obama administration’s highlights, from saving the economy, to passing the Affordable Care Act, to the gay marriage initiative, came prior to 2016.
That didn’t discourage director Greg Barker from making The Final Year. After all, he had been afforded unusual access at that time to President Obama and such confidantes as Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
The film focuses mostly on foreign policy issues, although not much of consequence or of interest was captured while the camera was on. To be honest, what I found most memorable was learning that you can hear rats scurrying around in the White House ceiling in the middle of the night. And that the place has roaches, too! Who knew?
Overall, an unremarkable “fly on the wall,” or should I say, “roach on the wall,” documentary strictly for political junkies and Obama fans who might miss the man.
Good (2 stars)
Running time: 89 minutes
Production Studio: Motto Pictures / Passion Pictures / Prettybird`
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Feb. 16, 2018
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Black Panther (PG-13 for pervasive violent action sequences and a rude gesture) Chadwick Boseman handles the title role in this Marvel Comics origins tale, which finds the superhero serving as king of an African country before teaming with a CIA agent (Martin Freeman) and a female, special forces unit to avert world war. With Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and Andy Serkis.
Early Man (PG for action and rude humor) Stop-motion animated adventure, set during the Bronze Age, revolving around a caveman (Eddie Redmayne) who rallies his tribe to win back their idyllic valley homeland from an evil warlord (Tom Hiddleston). Voice cast includes Nick Park, Maisie Williams and Timothy Spall.
Samson (PG-13 for violence, including battle sequences) Faith-based drama recounting the Biblical tale about a heroic, Hebrew he-man (Taylor James) called upon by God to free Israel from the Philistines. With Billy Zane, Rutger Hauer, Jackson Rathbone and the “Bionic Woman” Lindsay Wagner.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Aiyaary (Unrated) East Indian action thriller about an army colonel (Manoj Bajpayee) who has 36 hours to rein in his once-promising protégé gone rogue (Sidharth Malhotra). With Rakul Preet Singh, Pooja Chopra and Adil Hussain. (In Hindi with subtitles)
Double Lover (Unrated) Adaptation of Lives of the Twins, Joyce Carol Oates’ best seller revolving around a vulnerable young woman (Marine Vath) who falls in love with a shrink (Jeremie Renier) with a split personality. Featuring Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer and Dominique Reymond. (In French with subtitles.)
Irreplaceable You (Unrated) Bittersweet drama, set in NYC, about a terminally-ill bride-to-be’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) attempt to find another mate for her fiancé (Michiel Huisman) before she passes away. With Kate McKinnon, Jacki Weaver, Steve Coogan and Christopher Walken.
Loveless (R for profanity, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity and a disturbing image) Dysfunctional family drama, set in Moscow, about a cohabitating couple (Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rosin) going through a bitter divorce, who set aside their differences to search for their son (Matvey Novikov) when he suddenly disappears. Supporting cast includes Marina Vasileva, Andris Keiss and Aleksey Fateev. (In Russian with subtitles.)
Oh Lucy! (Unrated) Poignant character portrait of a lonely cleaning lady (Shinobu Terajima) who travels from Tokyo to Southern California to search for the English teacher (Josh Hartnett) she has a crush on. Featuring Kaho Mnami, Koji Yakusho and Megan Mullally. (In English and Japanese with subtitles.)
The Party (R for profanity and drug use) Dark comedy, set in London, about a British politician (Kristin Scott Thomas) who invites her friends over to celebrate her appointment to the cabinet, only to have the evening ruined when her husband (Timothy Spall) and others share some dramatic news of their own. With Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy and Patricia Clarkson.
Poop Talk (Unrated) Humor-driven documentary taking an uncensored look at feces. Featuring commentary by comedians Adam Carolla, Rob Cordrry and Bobby Lee.