Movie review: Basmati Blues

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you have never heard of. I only really find out about it when I was buying a ticket to its screening. This is Basmati Blues.

IMDb summary: A brilliant scientist is plucked out of the company lab and sent to India to sell the genetically modified rice she created – which she doesn’t realize will destroy the farmers she thinks she’s helping.

Writing and Directing

Basmati Blues was written by Dan Baron (who also directed the film), Jeff Dorchen, and Danny Thompson. These filmmakers either don’t have anything else or anything worthy of note on their IMDb pages. Also, they have made this movie back in 2012-2013 and it has been kept from release for 5 years (definitely for a reason(s)). Even now, it has only been released in a handful of countries (either in the cinema or on DVD). I think that the US premiere date is still a couple of months away and even when the picture does come out, there won’t be any advertising for it. So, how bad is it?

Story

Basmati Blues has been justified online as Hollywood’s homage to Bollywood. That justification was an answer to the critique that the movie was just appropriating the culture of India. Whether that was truly the case, I’m not entirely sure. The film seemed to be a somewhat collaborative project between the East and the West (based on a mixture of English and Hindu names in the credits), while the familiar Bollywood traits – songs, dances, bright colors, slapstick humor – seemed to have been celebrated in this picture. Nevertheless, the movie’s lead and the villain were white. The shades of the white savior narrative were present too (at least the said saviour wasn’t male so maybe that’s better? It isn’t). The idea that farmers in India would be so trusting of a Western corporation was just plain stupid. People from the East have little reason to trust the West and, if the West still doesn’t get why, we are gonna be stuck in the current global relations for a long time.

Anyways, even if you divorce the content of the film from its context, it still had problems. The fact that it was sort of a musical about science (at least in the beginning) seemed like a bizarre combo. The villain was so cartoonish – his whole evil corporation belonged in a Sunday morning animation (and he wasn’t cartoonish in a right way for the performance to be seen as a parody). The main character was annoying too – she seemed to be highly intelligent in the lab but clueless about the world, the different cultures, and just life in general. The love story aspect was cliche, cheesy, and predictable (really Hollywood-y). I guess at least from the structural point of view, the film was well-written as the plot ideas that were introduced during the first act, did come back in the third (the horse, the monkey seeds).

Visuals and Music/Dance

Basmati Blues looked okay. The views of India were nice, but then again, I could have watched a documentary to see more of them. A lot of noticeable green screens were used for musical numbers. The numbers themselves were fine. The songs weren’t that catchy and I wanted to see more choreographed dances. Again, I should probably watch a true Bollywood film rather than a Hollywood knockoff to see the things that were lacking here. Genre-wise, Basmati Blues have been classified as a comedy and while it certainly had intentional moments of humor, I was mostly laughing at the unintentional ones (which is both bad and good).

Acting

One person who wishes this film would never come out is Brie Larson, who played the lead. She wasn’t awful in the movie but she also wasn’t great. Her performance here is a far cry from her outing in Room (for which she won an Oscar) and I don’t think that it comes close to her other films either, like Free Fire, The Glass Castle or even Kong.

Somebody who should be even more ashamed of their work on this movie is Donald Sutherland, who was literally a cartoon villain. He recently played a very distinct villain in The Hunger Games but in that franchise, he had a layer of menace and sophistication. I don’t know what he was going for in this film.

The two romantic leads (cause, of course, there had to a love triangle) were played by Utkarsh Ambudkar (TV actor) and Saahil Sehgal. Both of them were as good as the script allowed them to be.

 

In short, Basmati Blues was either Hollywood’s homage to or appropriation of Bollywood. No matter which side of that argument you stand on, I think we can all agree that the final project wasn’t great. And yet, if you are somebody who can enjoy a movie ironically, you might find Basmati Blue hilarious, absurd, or both.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Basmati Blues trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Victoria & Abdul

Movie reviews

Hello!

The British awards contender for this year – Victoria & Abdul – has premiered in its motherland/fatherland, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

  1. Victoria & Abdul was written by a playwright and a screenwriter Lee Hall, who based the script on a book by Shrabani Basu. Halls’s last produced film was 2011’s War Horse (one of Spielberg’s recent and lesser films). Victoria & Abdul tells a true-ish story of Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim. I’m calling this narrative ‘true-ish’ because the movie itself stated that the events depicted happened only ‘mostly’. The plot was written as a comedy and to me, as an anthropologist-to-be, this raised a question/a problem: should the British make fun of colonialism? Are they right to depict a sort of nice side of the whole affair, while leaving out a lot of uncomfortable details? In the case of this picture, should they be allowed to make light of colonialism because they also poke fun at the ridiculousness of the British royal culture? I don’t really have answers to these questions, but they certainly sprung up in my mind while watching the movie.
  2. A few specific details that were of note in the film were: 1. the commentary on the Western civilization as being one of immense caste difference (the first thing the arrivers see – beggars) and 2. the showcasing of the artificial creation of the Oriental, specifically Indian, culture to be more exciting to the Westerners (the garments and their fake authenticity). In addition, a lot of the comedy in the movie arose from the cultural differences and the way the characters reacted to them. If not digging deeper (basically not thinking about the question I raised in point 1), on a surface level, the humor was working and the jokes were funny.
  3. The last and most important part of the film was the portrayal of friendship between the queen and her servant. I thought that the screenwriter added a lot of neat details for the two individuals to bond over, like the stories from India, the learning of the language, and etc. The friendship was very believably portrayed by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Their performances made the movie heartwarming and very enjoyable and almost quieted the nagging issues in my mind.
  4. Stephen Frears has directed Victoria & Abdul to follow in the footsteps of his other similar films like Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins. He has also already made a movie about a queen, be it a more current one, in 2006, called The Queen. I thought that he did a good job with this picture: the visuals were stunning and the pacing okay too.
  5. Judi Dench has already played Victoria in Mrs. Brown as well as other royal/aristocratic/historical figures in Shakespeare in LovePride & Prejudice, and even the recent Tulip Fever. She is also the current M in the 007 films (one of the best parts about them too). Her speech in the movie about being many things but insane was phenomenal. Ali Fazal has not appeared in many English-language films but I do hope that his appearance in this one will lead to more roles for him. Tim Pigott-Smith also appeared in the movie, in the last role of his career. Lastly, The Big Sick’s Adeel Akhtar played my favorite character in the film, who was both the comic relief and the voice of reason/truth in the movie. 

In short, Victoria & Abdul is a light-hearted and heartwarming true-ish tale that is both funny/entertaining and disturbing if you just think a bit more about it.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: Victoria & Abdul trailer

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Movie review: Lion

Movie reviews

Good day!

Another potential awards contender – the motion picture Lion – has landed in the UK cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Writing

The biographical drama Lion was written by Luke Davies (an Australian film critic, novelist, and poet) based on the memoir ‘A Long Way Home’ by  Saroo Brierley
(co-written by Larry Buttrose). The film’s narrative is divided into two parts. The first hour- long story revolves around the child Saroo. The viewer gets to see Saroo’s relationships with his birth mother, sister, and brother; and witnesses the unfortunate accident of him getting lost and trying to survive alone and away from home. This first-half of the movie is very well written: the audiences are able to form a bond with the main character and become emotionally invested in the boy’s journey.

Lion then flashes 20 years forward: Saroo is now an adult and lives with his adoptive parents in Australia. This part of the film is not as solid when it comes to writing as the first part. To begin with, the audiences don’t get to see a lot of Saroo’s life as an adult, so his change of heart (from not caring about his birth family to desperately trying to find them) seems a bit sudden. A few extra scenes, maybe showing a different stage in his life, like the teenage years, would have helped to solidify the fact that he never really felt at home in Australia and always wanted to find his family. The second part of the narrative also has two other important storylines which don’t get enough of screentime. First one is Saroo’s relationships with his adoptive mother and his adoptive brother (who might have a mental illness?) and the second one is Saroo’s relationship with his on-and-off-again girlfriend. Both of these plotlines had to be included in the film (bio-dramas try to be as accurate as possible) but I wish that they would have been given more screen time because that would have made them more compelling. Maybe the movie could have been 15 minutes longer or maybe the first story could have been shortened by the same amount (if they wanted to keep the film at 2h).

Even though I have found some problems with the technical structure of the narrative, I found the narrative itself to be very interesting and fascinating. The fact that the modern technologies actually brought people together instead of separating them was just amazing. In general, the whole Saroo’s story was both heartbreaking and hopeful. It had more than a few tear-jerker moments, especially at the end. The inclusion of real-life counterparts of the characters was nice too.

From the anthropological perspective (sorry, I can’t turn it off, if you study anthropology you are basically living it), the film was also very valuable. It mostly felt like a documentary with a higher budget and a fancier production design. Nevertheless, the ideas on privilege and poverty and on the adoption across countries/cultures are just two of the concepts that could be considered in an anthropological discussion in relation to this film.

Directing

An Australian TV and commercial director Garth Davis made his very successful feature film directorial debut with Lion. I loved how he realized the shots of the nature of India. That whole opening sequence was just beautiful and very classic. The pacing could have been neater but it didn’t bother me much. Basically, if this was his first motion picture, I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Also, on a side note, guess whose song was playing during the credits. If you said Sia, you either read my blog a lot or just go to the movies a lot. Sia wrote a song called ‘Never Give Up’ specifically for this film. Her songs have also been used in Sing, Star Trek Beyond, The Shallows, The Neon Demon, and Finding Dory. You will also be able to hear her during Fifty Shades Darker.

Acting

Dev Patel played Saroo in the second half of the film and did an amazing job. After seeing the film, I finally realized why he is being nominated in the supporting actor category, even though he is playing the lead. Well, the answer is simple – he only plays the lead during the second hour of the film, while the viewer spends the first hour with a 5-year-old Saroo played by an adorable child actor Sunny Pawar. So, on the whole, if we add up Patel’s scenes, his screentime probably comes closer to that of a supporting rather than a lead role. Anyways, despite the fact that he is not in the first half of the film, Patel delivers his best performance yet. He has really matured as an actor since the days of Slumdog Millionaire. His best scenes that were most likely included in his awards reels were  1. the montage in which he finally reaches the breakthrough on Google Earth. The way he whispers ‘Mum’ is just breathtaking. And 2. the final meeting sequence – he showed a lot of acting skills in that one too.

Moving forward, I would love to see Patel cast in a racially blind role, meaning that I would like to see him playing a character whose ethnicity is not his main character trait. Up until this point, Patel played characters whose ethnicity was really important character feature, like in Slumdog Millionaire, The Man Who Knew Infinity and even The Exotic Marigold Hotel films. I’d like to see him take on roles similar to the one he had on Chappie, but it looks like that is not on the horizon, as his next film is also India-centric and based on true events – Hotel Mumbai.

The picture’s supporting cast also delivered brilliant performances. Rooney Mara (Carol) starred as Saroo’s girlfriend and was great in the few scenes she had. David Wenham (recognized him faster than another LOTR alumni – Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic) appeared briefly as Saroo’s adoptive dad but it’s Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother who stole all the attention in their scenes together. Lion also spotlighted some lesser known (in the West) Indian talent (as it should): Abhishek Bharate, Divian LadwaPriyanka BoseDeepti NavalTannishtha Chatterjee, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all co-starred and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In summary, Lion was a lovely picture with an amazing story at its core. Sadly, this story was not represent as cohesively and compellingly as it could have been. However, the flaws in writing were covered up with great directing and amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Lion trailer

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Happy Easter 2016!!

Sightseeing

Good morning my dear readers and Happy Easter!

I just wanted to quickly wish you a happy day even if you don’t celebrate Easter! I hope that either your Easter Sunday or just normal Sunday will be full of joy and happiness whatever you do!

Easter is quite a big family celebration in my native country. This year I’m not going home to celebrate it, so I’m stuck alone in my room on campus. But I can’t say that I mind that very much..:)

In Lithuania, we have a tradition to color eggs for Easter and we call them ‘marguciai’ (translated as colorful Easter Eggs). So, even though I now live in a different country/time zone/continent(almost), I decided to continue this tradition.

First of all, let me present you the Easter Egg with ‘Easter Eggs‘ (aka references) on top of it. I hand-painted (my skills are rubbish, but I think it turned out nice) various symbols of nerdiness. From the top left corner we have my blog symbol, Wonder Woman’s symbol, Black Widow’s symbol, The Avengers A, Batman v Superman logo, Daredevil’s double D logo, Deadpool’s symbol, Captain America’s shield, the nerdfighteria’s acronym DFTBA, and the Star Trek logo. I really wanted to include references to Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings, Star Wars and Game of Thrones, but I either ran out of space or just couldn’t come up with a simple enough symbol or logo.


Next, I did a United Nation/Countries/Flags Easter Egg. This one was partly inspired by a globe-like Easter Egg that I made last year.


The countries that I managed to include were: Lithuania (my native country), Scotland (my current home), United Kingdom, United States of America, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, Greece, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Japan, India, and Denmark. That’s basically all the countries that I would like to visit (and whose flags are quite easy to draw/paint).

I also coloured two other eggs. I just put some zigzag lines and dots on one of them and rolled the other one in nail polish. They turned out okay.


Once again, have a Happy Easter if you celebrate it, while I am going back to bed to eat chocolate eggs and other sweets!

Easter 2014 post – here.

Movie reviews: Chef + The Hundred Foot Journey

Movie reviews

Hello!

How is your weekend coming a long? I hope that you have already eaten your breakfast/lunch or dinner because you are about to read two very delicious movie reviews!

Chef (2014)

I have finally watched this small budget Jon Favreau’s movie with a couple of big stars in it. (Mostly I mean Scarlet Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. but Sofia Vergara is also in it). For those of you who don’t know, Jon Favreau directed the first two Iron Man films and started in them as Iron Man’s bodyguard Happy Hogan. So it was extremely nice to see big movie stars helping out Jon with his independent movie which felt like Iron Man 2 reunion. Black widow is working with Happy and Tony Stark is the same as always – rich, witty and sure of himself.

Summary: An out-of-work L.A. chef (writer/director Jon Favreau) opens a food truck in a bid to realize his culinary potential and reconnect with his estranged family in this indie ensemble comedy co-starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, and Bobby Cannavale. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

First of all, do yourself a favor and do not watch this movie with an empty stomach because I did this mistake and by the middle of the film I was starving.The movie explores one huge problem that today’s social media community is facing with – going viral for stupid things which stay on the Internet forever. The comedy/drama also deals with family problems and explores father-son relationship.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie, story was simple but quite nice and acting was excellent. Rate 4/5

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The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

Second movie this year that has a similar premise to Chef finally reached my country’s cinemas.

Summary: A story of Indian family who (by accident) moves to France and opens an Indian restaurant across the street form Michelin-starred French restaurant.

First of all, this movie had a completely different vibe than Chef. While that one was completely American from food to people, this one had an Indian flavor with a pinch of French culture.

I love India as a country, all the spices and colorful outfits. I really want to visit it one day. I love France as well so this movie was the best of both worlds. Last summer, I have actually lived in France for two weeks and I wasn’t staying in Paris or other big city but lived in small village like the one in the movie, so that was a nice reminder of my visit there.  French lines in the movie also made me want learn French even more; I know couple of words and phrases and it was nice to catch them in the movie.

I also enjoyed the variety of characters we got – I believe that white, black or even Asian people are represented in Hollywood movies much more that Indians. The main actor Manish Dayal was super-hot! The plot wasn’t too complicated; it was simple, pleasant story about a family. The film showed importance of heritage and family values and repeated the best cliché of life: Everything happens for a reason. Rate 4/5

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P.S. Even the posters of the movies kinda look the same!

Photos: Google Images