November 2, 2012. Migration. Films Reviewed: Flight, Midnight’s Children PLUS Dal Puri Diaspora
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
People and populations are constantly shuttled around, from homes, cities and countries, from one airport to the next. A constant migration. At the ReelAsian film festival, starting next week, Toronto filmmaker Richard Fung wonders if the same isn’t true for food, not just people. Fung is originally from Trinidad, and goes on a worldwide quest to trace the origin of what he calls the Dal Puri Diaspora, the exile of that roti unique to the Caribbean. His fascinating voyage takes him from Toronto to Port of Spain, in and out of spice factories, abandoned sugar cane fields, Mauritius (a remote island near Madagascar), and finally to Bihar, a little known (to North Americans) corner of Utar Pradesh in India.
This week I’m talking about two dramas about migration, one following the displacement of people after the Indian Partition, the other about a short but eventful hop by plane from Florida to Atlanta.
Saleem and Shiva, two of the babies born around midnight in 1947 when India and Pakistan become independent, have their name tags switched in hospital by a nurse named Mary. Wide-eyed Saleem Sinai is now part of a fabulously rich family of power brokers, while Shiva, bitter and angry, is raised by a destitute street performer known as Wee Willie Winkie. As he grows older, Saleem believes he can hear the voices of other kids from somewhere inside his nose. He thinks he can telepathically contact all of the other kids who were born that fateful midnight, and maybe bring them all together. Saleem would have them bring peace to the subcontinent, while his rival Shiva would rather form a gang of evildoers out for personal gain (sort of like a mini X-Men rivalry).
Soon, Saleem is tempest-tossed all around India and Pakistan – from Kashmir to Bombay, Rawalpindi to Karachi, his fate tied to that of India’s and Pakistan’s. He’s there for the military coups, Bangladesh’s independence, war, strife and change. The story culminates in the 1970s when Indira Ghandi declares martial law, and all of Midnight’s Children – the youth of new India – bear the suffering she inflicts.
Midnight’s Children (the screenplay is adapted by Salman Rushdie from his novel) is a huge epic with dozens of characters, cities, and earth-changing events. So plot turns jump quickly from one to the next, and just when you figure out you like a character, you’re already in a new setting and a new era. It felt like an entire mini-series squeezed into one picture, and I’m not sure it quite fit. The acting is pretty good – Seema Biswas as the nurse Mary, Satya Bhabha as sensitive Saleem Sinai, and Siddharth as macho Shiva – and the story beyond rich. It’s a Hollywood (or Bollywood) -sized plot, made on a limited, Canadian budget. I was a bit put off by the threadbare look of parts of the movie along with its frequent anachronisms. But I salute the director for taking on such a monumental story and carrying it through to a dramatic finish.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a sinner. In the first scene you see him lounging, lying to his ex-wife about child support, drinking and snorting coke with a stunning naked flight attendant. Lust, anger, envy, gluttony, pride, sloth, and greed neatly summed up in 5 minutes. He’s also an amazing pilot: his dad taught him everything he knows. Soon enough, they’re up in the air, heading on a short hop to Atlanta. But the plane experiences mechanical difficulties, starts shaking, and diving into a crash. If not for his unusual flight techniques (he turns the entire plane upside-down) the whole thing would have been destroyed… everyone dead. As it is, he knocks the steeple off a church and sends parishoners in white blouses running for cover, the next of many implied “sins”.
Recovering in hospital, Whip hooks up with Nicole, a beautiful red-headed junkie (Kelly Reilly) there for rehab. Soon enough, his drinking and drugs start to come to light, and the impending clouds of manslaughter-charges — the people who died in the crash -– start looming over his head. He handles this with still more drinking, shunning even his junkie GF’s suggestion of joining a 12-step. Will the dreaded NTSB (the agency holding the inquiry) get him for his drinking? Or will they blame the airline or the manufacturer for what happens?
The movie Flight carries you along, with some funny parts – especially John Goodman as his hippy coke dealer — but it also has a few awful scenes. When Denzel throws a bottle across the room at a ringing telephone it feels like I’m watching a third-rate soap opera.
While it’s an interesting story with largely good acting — and I love the disaster scenes — it mainly seems to function as a sanctimonious lesson on how sin is no good for your soul – and how we all must repent and attend AA… or suffer the consequences.
This director has made lots of very famous movies. On the Zemeckis scale, I’d place this as much better than the execrable Forrest Gump or the unwatchable Polar Express, but not nearly as good as Romancing the Stone or Back to the Future.
Midnight’s Children and Flight open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Dal Puri Diaspora is playing at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival, which starts next week. And don’t miss the excellent documentary We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists that opens at the Bloor on Monday.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .