Gyan Correa’s film The Good Road was the closing night screening for this year’s 10th Anniversary South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF). It has been selected as India’s entry into the 2014 Academy Award race for Best Foreign Language film. The movie explores three different stories that intersect on a rural road on the edge of a desert in Gujarat, moving somewhat slowly as the tension builds in each narrative. By the end, each of the three main characters lives are affected by the others, even if they might not meet face to face.
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Ankhon Dekhi (Before My Eyes) is set in modern India but that information is rarely imparted and rather unnecessary for understanding the story. While you catch a brief glimpse of computers on the internet in a scene where Raje Bauji resigns from his job as a travel agent, and there is mention of Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India, outside of that there are no cell phones seen and there are no glimpses of the modern, elite class in India. This story is strictly confined to a lower middle class social level, though it could apply to anyone in India, with its focus on a family coming apart at the seams because the patriarch, Bauji has had a mid-life crisis of sorts.
Theodore Twombly is a great name. Played by Joaquin Phoenix, Twombly is the physical center of Spike Jonze’s latest effort Her about a man who becomes entangled in a relationship with his operating system (OS), named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The movie takes place in a future version of Los Angeles (though visuals of Shanghai substitute for the city’s sprawl and skylines) where personal letters are ghostwritten by third parties, the job Twombly has been in for years and excels at. He serves as a reserved and lonely everyman, a stand in for anyone seeking love, and you’re drawn to like everything about him. Phoenix embodies the quirky role and we believe in everything about the character, from his laughter to his nervousness to his moustache.
Twombly has been separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) for about a year and we find she’s trying to finalize their divorce. Twombly became distant in their relationship, perhaps more absorbed in technology and the artificial connections he makes between the consumers of his letters. He can fondly recall a girl’s broken tooth in a letter between one couple because he’s been their emotional emissary for so long. He doesn’t show much desire to connect with the people around him daily, particularly the oddball receptionist played by Chris Pratt (who may just be the odd coworker you feel uncomfortable hanging around). Amy Adams plays his best friend Amy, and she represents a portion of Twombly’s past when he could connect with humans. Through her and her husband, Twombly gets set up on a date with one woman (Olivia Wilde) that starts off well but closes strangely as she attempts to arrange a follow-up date.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is directed by and stars Ben Stiller. So you can expect bits of comedy will be sprinkled into the movie, including a laugh-out-loud moment early on when he’s online dating and trying to contact a co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). But it isn’t a pure comedy, or even a purely romantic comedy, at least from my perspective. Its sort of an adventure-driven story of growth for the titular character that develops out of his attempts at online dating—at least in the intro, though there are some familial obligations given later as reasons he couldn’t adventure before. Apparently, in the beginning, Mitty’s profile isn’t complete, and when he calls up the website’s support services Todd (Patton Oswalt) informs him that he should fill out a prompt for ‘been there / done that’. Mitty realizing he hasn’t been there or done that inadvertently finds himself on an adventure chasing down a photo negative from famed Life-cover photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) as he’s trying to court Cheryl and to save his job at Life magazine which is about to transition into a digital online publication (in the film).
By this point it is apparent that Mitty lapses into flights of fancy, tuning out the real world as his mind attempts to release his intrepid spirit through adventurous or explosive scenes. The first such dream has a moment that echoes a jumping scene in the third Bourne movie, as the camera jumps with the actor through the window. But as the slide becomes his focus, Mitty’s reality becomes almost as implausible as his dreams. He attempts to trail O’Connell through Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas and jumps out of a helicopter, recalls his skateboarding days and climbs mountains. The cinematography for these scenes is astounding as it displays these vistas proudly, encouraging a viewer’s own desire to explore the world.
One of the toasts of this year’s TIFF, just as it was of Telluride where it premiered a few weeks ago, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has quickly established itself as a critic’s darling and, for those who care about such things, an early awards favourite. It’s easy to see why: the film, which might be described as Django Unchained’s graver, wiser sibling, is a powerfully acted, skilfully made prestige picture. It’s history with a very human face.