MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN

Richard’s review: 3 ½ stars

Based on Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed book of the same name, “Midnight’s Children” is the story of Saleem Sinai, a Zelig-like character whose remarkable life was inextricably linked to India's transition from British colonialism to independence and the partition of India.

“Midnight’s Children’s” sprawling story begins with the words “once upon a time,” setting the tone for the fable to come. Saleem Sinai’s (Satya Bhabha) journey begins when he is born at the stroke of midnight, August 14, 1947, the precise moment India divided. He is one of the happy children “of the glorious hour,” joining an elite group of kids who share his birthday, including Shiva "of the Knees", Saleem's adversary and Parvati, called "Parvati-the-witch.” Unfortunately for him, he can only see and hear them as visions in his head. His extrasensory ability, giant nose and questions about parentage make him an outcast in his own family. As he grows up he becomes a soldier, suffers amnesia, lives in exile, survives a “cleansing” of the Jama Masjid slum, is held as a political prisoner and reconnects with some of the Midnight’s Children.

Director Deepa Metha and screenwriter Rushdie have been faithful to the 600-page novel summarizing it into a two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie, condensing the story but not the themes that make the story such a rewarding experience.

The magic realism, however, that is so prevalent in the book has been downplayed. It doesn’t disappear—the ability to telepathically communicate with the other Midnight’s Children lies at the heart of the story—but it gives way to the more tangible aspects of the tale. Still, there is a shift in tone once the mystical element kicks in that may take viewers unfamiliar with the novel by surprise.

Less surprising is the beautiful look of the film. Deepa Metha has meticulously reconstructed the look of post-Colonial India, and presents a sumptuously colourful and vivid portrait of a changing country.

“Midnight’s Children” is one man’s story, with the scope of history and humanity behind it.

“FLIGHT”

Richard’s review: 3 stars

Nervous flyers will not enjoy the first half hour of “Flight,” the new film from “Castaway” director Robert Zemeckis and star Denzel Washington. If the nervous nellies can make it through the highflying plane crash that serves as the catalyst for the personal story of a troubled pilot (Washington), however, they are in a more earthbound tale of excess and expectation.

When we first meet Whip (Washington) it’s 7:14 in the am and he is hours away from piloting short haul flight Southjet 227 from Orlando to Atlanta. He’s also simultaneously arguing with his ex-wife on the phone, drinking beer, snorting cocaine and watching his girlfriend, a flight attendant get dressed after a wild night in a generic hotel room.

Hours later he’s behind the wheel of a jet, piloting it and the 102 on-board souls. After successfully navigating around a patch of brutal turbulence a mechanical malfunction threatens to down the plane. It is Whit’s expertise, and the audacious move of inverting the plane so it can glide to relative safety, that saves 96 of the 102 passengers and crew.

Hailed as a hero at first, soon his unsavory personal habits bring him under suspicion. Was it a malfunction of a mechanical or personal nature that brought the plane down?

Is there another a-list leading man who explores the dark sides of their characters as often as Washington? Will Smith and Tom Cruise will occasionally let the heroic side of their on-screen personas take a back seat, but Washington revels in mucking around in the mud. From “Training Day” to “American Gangster” and “Safe House” he crafts complex characters you wouldn’t want to sit next to on the bus.

Whit is a different take on this theme, however. This time around the anti-hero is functional in day-to-day life despite his predilection for wine, woman and cocaine. He’s charming one minute, enraged the next and passed out on the floor the minute after that.

Denzel manages to subtly capture the ego and hubris that allows Whit to present a sober face to the public, even though the film’s visual language is frequently not as refined. A close-up of Washington’s hand grasping a mini bottle of vodka and the accompanying swoosh sound looks like something that should be in a commercial not in a film about the effects of alcoholism.

“Flight” is a quiet movie about troubled people, acts of god, ethical questions about accepting responsibility and the callousness of business in the wake of tragedy. It’s about a lot of things, many of which Zemeckis simply flits around before moving on, but at its core is Washington, who despite an unnecessary redemptive ending, effectively brings us into the messy world of addiction.

“WRECK-IT RALPH”

Richard’s review: 3 ½ stars

Everyone knows what “going postal” means but how about “going video”? It’s the idea behind a new Disney movie called “Wreck-It Ralph,” about a disgruntled video game character who demands respect.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) knows a thirty-year gig as an arcade character is a good run, but he needs a change. He’s tired of being the bad guy, the bully who destroys things to make game’s hero and namesake Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), look good. “Are there medals for wrecking stuff really well?” he wonders. The answer, of course, is no.

To prove he’s more than just a clumsy oaf who breaks things, that he can be a hero, he game jumps from Fix-It Felix to Hero’s Duty, a violent game with a gold medal as a prize. But things have changed in 30 years. “When did video games get so violent and scary?,” he says.

Unfortunately the game also has evil Cy-Bugs that Ralph inadvertently brings over to another game, the saccharine Sugar Rush. Game jumping once again Ralph discovers a kindred soul, Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), battles the bugs and learns that sometimes being bad is good.

The first 20 minutes of “Wreck-It Ralph” are a blast. Spectacular animation, great storytelling and loads of inventive humour set the stage. Unfortunately once Ralph jumps from one game to the next the movie becomes much more standard.

It’s still eye candy, but the cleverness of the beginning disappears, replaced by video game style action adventure. True, it is populated by some fun characters—Jane Lynch is hilarious as the tough talking commando character while Alan Tudyk mixes a hint of the Great Gazoo with Wally Cox to come up with King Candy—and the action is broken up by some inventive animation but the spark of the opening just isn’t there.

Arcade purists, however, will find much to get their joysticks in a knot over. Anyone who grew up playing the first generation of arcade video games will get a nostalgic twinge at the jittery animation of the older characters, and it is a hoot to see the 8-bit bartender from Tapper, Street Fighter’s Zangief and Doctor Eggman all come to glorious digital life.

“Wreck-It Ralph” is better than average, with strong messages about friendship and accepting who you are, and despite being state-of-the-art, has a nice nostalgic glow. Just like the glow of an arcade gaming console.