November 2, 2012. Migration. Films Reviewed: Flight, Midnight’s Children PLUS Dal Puri Diaspora

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, Addiction, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, India, ReelAsian, Spirituality, Supernatural, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 2012

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.

On the way, he gives a politically-informed history of indentured servitude in the British empire as well as some amazing encounters with deliciously specific foods from around the world.

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.

Midnight’s Children
Dir: Deepa Mehta

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.

Flight
Dir: Robert Zemeckis

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 .

Love and Other Addictions. Movies Reviewed: Smashed, Keep the Lights On.

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, L.A., LGBT, Manhattan, Movies, Queer, Romance by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, and I’m back with more movie reviews…

I’m going to briefly talk about two new movies about love and addiction.

Smashed

Dir: James Ponsoldt

Kate and Charlie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) are a married couple in LA who love falling asleep drunk and waking up for some sloppy morning sex. He’s a writer with rich parents in the movie industry, while she’s a school teacher from a less privileged background. One day she shows up drunk for her public school class and ends up puking in the trash can. This starts a rumour that she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t want to tell the less dramatic truth. She lies to the weepy Principal (Meghan Mulhally)

Eventually the fit hits the shan and she has to come clean. She loses her job, and succumbs to despair. But when a fellow teacher, Vice-Principal Dave who has a crush on her, brings her to a 12 step group she begins her slow struggle to get rid of her alcoholism. Dependable but jolly sponsors like Jenny (Octavia Spenser) are there to help her recover. Will she make it and can she get her husband to join her in sobriety?

Keep The Lights On

Dir: Ira Sachs

…has a similar theme.

Erik (Thule Lindhardt: Brotherhood) is a Danish filmmaker living in Manhattan in the late 90’s. He likes art and jogging and is prone to making animal sounds when he is surprised. He also enjoys hooking up with other men by telephone for casual sex. He meets the young professional Paul, a lawyer (Zachary Booth), and despite a rocky start, they end up falling for one another. But theirs is a difficult, co-dependant relationship, fraught with trouble. As Erik rises up in the indie film world, the much richer Paul is sliding into an awful chain of crack addiction, isolation, recovery and then back again. Their relationship takes on weird dimensions involving sex and destruction, and despite Erik’s repeated interventions and stints of rehab, Paul keeps going back to drugs. Will they end up together again? Or will Erik go with his friends’ opinions and dump the guy already?

Both of these movies explain the long slog in and out of addictions and how they can be conquered (or not). Smashed is the lighter one, with humour and more engaging characters. But it also has an earnest, lesson-learned, movie-of-the-week feel to it. Leave the Lights On is longer, darker, and harder to take. It’s also given to relentless speeches about what relationships mean and what went wrong, wringing still more lessons out of this endless spiral of trouble with drug addiction. The acting in both movies was good, especially Lindhardt in KTLO and Winstead in Smashed.

Still, I didn’t love either of these movies, possibly because I’m not a fan of the sub-genre: addictions plus relationships. I feel for the suffering people in the relationship, but I don’t want to go to a movie only to end up as the shoulder the filmmaker wants to cry on.

Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, (which played at Inside-out) is now playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Smashed (which played at TIFF) opens next week In Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

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