Category: cinema:english

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

That Tarantino taught himself movie making from behind the desk at a video store is the stuff of legend. In Chennai, it is not uncommon to have friends who due to compulsions of engaging with popular culture have a tee shirt which proudly says “ I never went to film school. I went to films” or some such Tarantino quote. 

Tarantino is the real life story of the fringe becoming mainstream, the director who launched the career of numerous disciples, the director who within a short time had an ‘esque’ added to his name. The director who has his quotes on t shirts in Chennai. 

It’s what he became.But let’s come back to the first  fact, as a video store clerk- he saw every type of film. Often in the transference of his coolness, the reason for his coolness is omitted.He saw every type of film.  

Has there been any Tarantino conversation without the generous movie name-dropping? To think of it, his tee shirt makes perfect sense, he really figured out how to make movies by just watching a ton of movies- a certified movie nut with unconditional love. 

He just didn’t stream the AFI top 100 to become what he did become(relevant in our time of curated lists and general entitlement of everyone seeking the ‘best’). 

Tarantino went to work, consuming films of all types and sizes, without any notion of preconceived taste.His passion extends beyond just viewing them but to track down and remember every filmmaker. The resultant is a wholly unique person with an extremely specific movie taste. 

Specific to the extent of keeping a close watch on how he will be remembered (the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino is how Once Upon A Time…is marketed), his movies are combos- the ones on a food menu which arrive quick, valuable and consists of enticing items from different pages in the same menu. Each preceding film was a genre version of what Tarantino cooked up. 

But Once Upon A Time is different…it is still a heady mix of genres, it still moves to an assorted pop soundtrack and radio commercials, it does have an obliqueness to violence but this is really Tarantino’s way of giving it back (love) to his industry. 

Although at the same time it is not the “love letter” or the nostalgia driven look of Hollywood- it is authentic but not rose tinted. It is a film about time, a word that features in the title. 

A passage of time, 1969 seems to be year of closure of many things Old Hollywood- the slowing of the studio system- the decline of a certain sort of heroism. 

A man’s man would be ridiculed in our ‘woke’ times, but their careers seem to have ended a long time ago. I can never imagine an ‘environmentally’ aware hero like Leonardo taking up anything remotely similar to Bounty Law ( the TV series that Rick Dalton, his character plays in this movie). 

Tarantino feels for Rick Dalton & his driver-companion Cliff Booth (Dalton himself is based on many leading TV men of the 50s and 60s who lost their way, without a break, mostly forgotten by history) but he is not tied down by the weight of historical accuracy. He wants them to get that one break, that one lucky break which could change a sagging career. 

At the other end of the story is a young Sharon Tate, who at the time represented the Hollywood to come, young with life, till it was horrifically taken away from her. Tarantino cares for her too, doesn’t really care for history. One of the best moments come from Tate getting to watch her on screen in the ‘The Wrecking Crew’. A rather ‘asinine’ film, as Tarantino himself put it while guesting on a podcast. It isn’t regarded as a classic film but means so much to Sharon Tate, thus proving that any movie could make deep impact in a person’s life, irrespective of how it has been ‘regarded’ by society (especially critics). 

The ending, which is sure to shock many, but unlike the catharsis of killing Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, this comes from a sweet place of good intentions and confidence.  The way he juxtaposes fact and fiction in a way that only reminded me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian- a film that follows the parallel lives of the Christ and a commoner.

Clearly my favourite Tarantino and definitely the most re-watchable , a movie where I could endear myself to his brashness.

He knows his stuff, this is his subject, he seems to be having the most fun when without any care following his characters to see where they go-forgetting lines, feeding dogs, folding clothes, watching movies and generally raising hell in the Hollywood of 1969. 

Murder Mystery

As the swivel chair spins #4

There is something sinister in naming a murder mystery film as ‘Murder Mystery’, especially when it comes produced by Netflix. Like most digital businesses, Netflix would be keen to get the search engine optimization right.

James Vanderbilt, who wrote Zodiac, also wrote this new murder mystery comedy (pause for reflection) headlined by Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston; maybe it was too close to the deadline and he couldn’t think about a title for his movie.

Great, I have spent two paragraphs- one slyly on the search engine benefits of generic movie titles and second on how someone who wrote the dense and detailed Zodiac couldn’t come up with titles.

On further introspection, while writing paragraph three, I realized that the joke was on me; this was meant to be a generic murder mystery movie made to cushion the want of those who craved more of the recently released Murder on the Orient Express.

Hmm, but Murder on the Orient Express too is a generic title, at least it has the specificity of the location.

So I come back home from work on a Friday and slump into a chair (the swivel) and think- “it’s the perfect time to watch a murder mystery”; the sentient sensors on Netflix pick this up and before I know it, I am watching the new Adam Sandler movie.

Something happens and we are told that Adam Sandler is a beat cop who wants to be a detective but he cannot pass the test and his wife Jennifer Aniston- a hairdresser is frustrated that she cannot have her Europe trip as planned.

While the movie never tries to be convincing about the genre it takes up- just throw in the elements like multicultural cast-a big billionaire-European cruise setting and the somewhat comical piling of bodies, hoping it works. But the most unconvincing part is about the leads playing broke middle class Americans on a Euro trip. (The movie goes by the tagline: First class problems. Second class detectives- tiring already)

Oh, but I must say Dany Boon excels as Inspector Laurent Delacroix, wish there was more of the O-ring smoking French officer, but there is very little for anyone to do- Terrence Stamp turns in for just one scene

Pastiche is done lovingly, parody takes it over to the top. This one neither has the love for the genre or the silliness that would evoke multiple viewings- this is just generic (like the title).

As The Swivel Chair Spins : Bohemian Rhapsody

Lazing on a sunday afternoon feat. a headache

My decision to watch bio-pic after another is the cause and the effect is a splitting headache.

First there was NTR (which I have written about), next there was Manikarnika (which I don’t think I will write about), followed it by streaming Sanju (which I will surely write about, yes it is drafted) and now Bohemian Rhapsody. Each movie has in their own way added to this headache.

Is this the real life?

(insert either Bryan Singer or Dexter Fletcher here)’s bio pic of Freddie Mercury by way of bio-pic of the music band Queen (whose song “We Will Rock You” has been played at all student driven school cultural events in Chennai) is quite a mess.

Like all student-driven ‘cultural’ events, Bohemian Rhapsody too is without guidance but tries to make it up with enthusiasm; an orphaned director chair is just one of the problems, a familiar screenplay constitutes the rest.

Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury; a youth with a buck-tooth who feels that he represents the fringe-the outsiders and naturally wants to make music for them. Opportunity happens and he teams up with a dentist-drummer Roger Taylor, astrophysicist Brian May and one more guy to form Queen.

The makers of the movie however did not realize that during the phase of life often referred to as youth, most of the people undergoing this phase feel they are the fringe.

Testimony to this misunderstanding is that (in the movie and in real life) Queen actually becomes a mainstream band which attracts millions of followers, some of whom carried the tradition of playing “we will rock you” in cultural events to this seaside city of boredom aka Chennai and that is how I got to know of the song. (oh I did mention it before, becoming aged person you see)

I’m perfectly fine, when movie-makers force fit the reasons for making the bio-pic but I am pained when these reasons change during the course of the movie. It doesn’t really help if these are just put by way of flat dialogue.

I’m perfectly fine, if history is distorted to tell a good story, because I understand that real lives (even of the popular) are boring while adapting for film and needs drama addition.

I also understand a bio-pic is not a history lesson or an authorized biography, but these flights away from reality in Bohemian Rhapsody do not make it an exciting watch especially when everything is nicely tied towards the end. Quite boring, yes.

Their Finest Hour

But the last six song set at Live Aid 1985, that the movie was building towards all along compensate.
Malek and co recreate every step of the band. A concert experience within a movie and I want more of that!

Nothing Really Matters To Me

Yes, also the shocking thing is that this movie has been nominated for a whole lot of awards and sure to secure the best actor for Malek at the Academy. The movie also became the highest grossing musical bio-pic of all time. Did you read that with a straight face, because I did while writing.

In a way comforting to realize that ineptitude too is rewarded in the world.


For another story of a poor bucktoothed song writing boy who feels that he is unloved, do catch STR’s Vallavan.

For a better scene of lovers playing ON and OFF with bedroom lights watch K Balachander’s Ek Duje Ke Liye

Lady Gaga who happens to take her stage name from the Queen song Radio Ga Ga (also my favourite song, sorry we will rock you boys) is in the running for best actress for a Star is Born. Ah a co-incidence!