Can you ever forgive me? (2018)

As the swivel chair spins #15  

In a dusty, not often visited corner of Disney+ Hotstar, far away from Marvel and Star Wars is the 2018 film about a down on luck and life writer forging her way through the New York literary elite, only to pay her rent and feed her cat. 

Shitting on Tom Clancy

Lee Israel, 51 year old former New York Times best selling author walks with trepidation into a party, only to be schooled by Tom Clancy holding court and talking about writer’s block. 

“It’s something invented by writers to cover up their laziness”, he says, something to that effect. 

This hits Lee hard, she has not been able to come up with anything of worth in the recent past. But hey, she is going through one of the worst times in her life- fired from her job (for drinking), broke up on a long term relationship, her agent is not interested in what she submits and even cat doesn’t respond to her. 

How would the words come?

And here is this multi million dollar writer with a winning smirk talking about ‘writer’s block’ being an imaginary thing. 

Umm, it hit me hard too, this was a saturday evening, here I was settling down to watch a movie after surprisingly finding it on hotstar, after a guest casually mentioned it on a podcast and so on. 

The premise drew me in. It was about a struggling writer. ‘I’m sure I could learn something about the writing life’, I told myself and that’s when Tom Clancy (or a fictionalized version of him) delivered a good warm slap on my face about his theory about writer’s block. 

I should have been writing. So should have been Lee Israel. 

But it’s not my movie. Later on when Lee gets to know that this red scare flaming, right wing jingo bullshit writer (psst she meant Tom Clancy) is getting paid millions while she cannot even afford treatment for her cat, she flips out. 

Naturally. 

But the lesson was lost. 

The words will come, only if you sit. 

Finding a voice

“Can you ever forgive me?” is not about this moment, it is not even about the debate between what’s popular and what’s literary. 

It’s a sweet film about Lee Israel who along with her friend indulges in some literary deception by faking the words of Lillian Hellman, Noel Coward and most importantly Dorothy Parker to basically get by.  

Over the course of the movie, I came to realize that Lee Israel forged over 400 ‘literary’ letters to a select clientele and some of these even made it to the official biographies of the said authors. Such was her ability to replicate authentic voices. 

While there is little to doubt about Lee Israel’s ability or writing talent, it is lost behind either the voice of others. If Wikipedia is to be believed her bibliography consists of four compact line items, three of which are biographies and the fourth is ‘Can you ever forgive me’, arguably her most famous work. 

Clancy on the other hand wrote a novel a year till his death and has his own mini media universe (Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell & ofc Jack Ryan), so maybe Tom knew what he was talking about when he did say those lines while at the party. 

But then again, the movie is not about quality vs quantity creative debate, I make it to be so and I keep saying this because that is what I derived from the film. Apart from the fact that Mellisa McCarthy and Richard E Grant are absolutely marvellous and it sort of feels like a sin that they didn’t win more awards for the film, two barflies circling around each other when it seems that most of the world has given up on them.

Other people’s projected lives are not to be stood on podiums and to be judged upon, but a movie about lost potential is always the harbinger of doom in the lives of the viewer. 

Viewers are not doers and those who are not doers, and not doers are doomed to be left in the state of lost potential. 

This is not an indictment of what Lee Israel did, a brave soul who faced prosecution and even braver one when she overcame her fears and finding her own voice (and the one she is memorialized in celluloid for) by penning this memoir, this is just another wake up call to face the uncomfortable unknowns of our lives.

‘Can you ever forgive me?’ is streaming on Disney+Hotstar 

Image credit: The New York Times

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.

PS

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!

FRS: Sarkar

FRS: Sarkar
One finger, election swinger

So by now everyone knows what an FRS is right? If not we probably will have to fire the entire marketing department at the Lowly Laureate.

Wait a minnit, we don’t have a marketing department; but what we have is a musical department.

<Musical Department plays Sad Appu theme from Aboorva Sago on cue>

Editor: Get on with it. Please.

-501: To us, as usual posting late FRS; no excuse dammit! (That’s the editor’s only contribution, he wanted us to include this to show that unlike most publications, writers here are relatively accountable)

-30: Director feels that it is important for him to show all the great “empires” in world history in the titles just because he named the film Sarkar.

+12: Vijay played a magician (sort of) in his previous film thus confusing many people to believe that this movie could be a biopic of legendary magician PC Sarkar.

But rumor was that this was abandoned from the word go because a movie about an Indian magician would actually be interesting and would involve lot of hard work etc unlike this one. There we said it.

-404: It has been decades since the IT industry became a good part of the Indian economy but Tamil movie directors don’t want to understand what this IT is only.

-33: IT company head honchos will call employees out to the bay area and ask them to google about a CEO of rival company under fears of a takeover by the said CEO because he is visiting India.

We mean LOOOOOOL, all the Saturday Night live comics put together cannot beat this master of an open. Funny and fun forever.

-169: IT company girl who is ‘researching’ about CEO is actually watching a youtube video called “Sundar in Las Vegas” also tells something to the effect like “he is a playboy, but very cute ya”

Las Vague-as

+101: Vijay does breaking the 4th wall to speak to greet his fans even in open spaces.

Everytime Vijay na breaks the 4th wall, a season of house of cards is cancelled somewhere.

-36: All the dancers in Las Vegas know the exact same steps as CEO Sundar, do they go to same dancing class? If so did GL Corp pay for their CEO’s dancing classes?

Oh BTW all songs in this movie are just Vijay dancing in the foreground with fancy lights/ferris wheel in the background.

#OOOOooooOOO

+56: We can clearly see what CEO Sundar is doing in Vegas, thus this movie has broken the long standing myth that what happens in vegas stays in vegas.

-22: Movie goes into ultra slow motion when CEO Sundar lights up a cigarette

Slow in motion, low on emotion

<FRS Mini Bytes>

Unwritten rules in Tamil Cinema be like if you are going to shoot on a runway then it must be in slow motion to emphasise “hero-walking-down-flight-stairs” or in other words what is commonly misunderstood as style

</FRS Mini Bytes>

-57.8: Movie keeps emphasizing that CEO Sundar’s corporate strategy is entirely driven by acquisitions, well even if we do take that at face value; we think movie misunderstands acquisitions and thinks it is something like going to a mall and buying a watch kind-off thing. I mean these are complex, like ok let’s go a little deeper into this.

{I would like to point out that here FRS writers work twice as hard as the writers of this film; and thus our sentences now resemble CAT problems}

Historically acquisitions have benefitted the seller more than the buyer (in this case CEO Sundar) and majority of the deals that went through could not meet the projected revenue numbers, which means that CEO Sundar would have to answer a lot to the board.

<Now that’s a movie that I would like to see>

Wow, a tech CEO who makes tough choices by acquiring companies that don’t make money is taken to task by the governing board, that makes an interesting story.

</Now that’s a movie that I would like to see>

What we really want to say that things don’t look so well for GL Corp.

+101: ARM is total genius, instead of having usual tagalong sidekick that hero can bounce off jokes; he moulds that character into Keerthy Suresh, only that it doesn’t work to the intended comic effect, nevertheless genius attempt.

+102: Usually some smart critic will use the term “subverting audience expectation” although at that point they mean they were not prepared for such a film, which means to say that we can safely deduce that most critics make up their mind about films before they watch.

Loool and people actually trust critics with their choices.

OK back to subverting audience 101, here ARM has subverted critics expectations like a total boss.

Usually, on seeing when the heroine character not having much to do in the course of the story, critics wearing blue and other color shirts will say something like in exasperation :”hey, what is Keerthy Suresh doing here?”

ARM is boss, he has so many years of experience in the film industry and hence anticipates the whole scenario and subverts critics expectation by making the hero Thalapathy Vijay aka CEO Sundar aka Vijay na to ask the question: “Hey, Keerthy Suresh; what are you doing here?”

Critics thought movie was very ‘self-aware’ (again one of their phrases) and gave centum marks for the film.

-55: Sundar’s lawyer’s name is Malani which half of the name of Ram Jethmalani; but still Malani commands the same fee as Ram Jethmalani.

When you come at half the name, you only deserve half the price.

+236.2: CEO Sundar becomes Lawyer Sundar after overnight reading of 300 KG law books, this we believe is a tribute to the underappreciated art of last minute cramming or known in some academic circles as “mugging”.

+38: For the cost of one movie ticket you get to see two villains and one secret villain, as consumers of goods we were very happy. But very sad to see that all villains have only one strategy which is : send goons to kill Sundar.

Buy 2, get 1 free

Villains may come and go, but the demand for goons has shown a healthy increase, but we would like to know if there is an increase of minimum wages for such professions.

Mostly there is a union for these goons, there are unions for everything anyways.

-38: Needless to say CEO Sundar will defeat goons single-handedly; but of course he uses both hands that was just an expression.

His corporate training tool-kit comes with 40+ hours of action block training from the school of super subbarayan, looks like.

-102: Benevolent ARM is benevolent.

Looks like ARM was very happy with what his writers came up with for the first half and so in that happiness sent them packing to some location and the writers never returned, hence ARM was forced to take newspaper headlines and make them into situations.

What ARM did not realise was that most newspaper headlines are boring, and if people wanted to read newspaper headlines they will buy or borrow newspapers and not buy or borrow movie tickets.

-342: But this is our usual rant that falls on deaf ears. Everyone goes to tamil movies to be educated, who are we to question that?

-86: Although Sundar is CEO of GL Corp, he only wishes his compatriots should have 1990s type desktop installed in their new office. Also at this point we begin to doubt the actual role of CEO Sundar, he always keeps talking about marketing and branding which is what a CMO would do.But anyway, good for GL <spoiler alert> Sundar resigns.

Cutting across party lines

+56: Hero solves all problems. Everyone is happy, elections are reformed, parties have been cleaned up and good governance has been put in place; until of course in the next film Vijay na is asked to deal with a different issue.

All numbers are incidental and non-indicative

Regards

Team FRS

 

FRS: Seema Raja

So we all know what an FRS is right? Right? Let’s get on with it because this movie took seven hours to end.

 

seemaraja1

-300: The one millionth time when we see molten metal falling into the mould to create the movie title.

Here it comes with heraldry also. #MadeOfSteel types

 

-101: Some minor irritation happens and someone in the crowd shouts: “indha aniyayatha thatti ketka aale illaya?” and cue to SK introduction.

Yes this has been happening from Bhagavater times.

 

+12: SK has two horses named Alex and Telex #goodnames

SK also names his pigeons after Tom Cruise, Arnold, Obama etc

 

-10: Just when we thought director Ponram had done away with narration and ushered in a new age in commercial filmmaking, there is narration.

Damn narration.

 

FRS Mini Bytes

 

All narration about (insert regional language here) history is ultimately a glorified version of the (insert regional language here) past.

 

+21: SK breaks a wooden fence during introduction, uses pieces of the broken fence to continue action. We appreciate this reduce and reuse approach.

 

FRS Mini Bytes

98% of movies about villages will be about how one village is not able to get along with nearby village. Here it is Singampatty vs Puliampatti

 

+32: SK,Rajah of Singampatti is able to attract an audience of 11,000 people for his facebook live.

This is in a time when even Sunny Leone was able to get only just above 6K in a recent live stream. We will not speak about how we know about this Sunny Leone fact, matter ends there.

 

+101: Self referential movie is totally self referential

SK acknowledges this very fact in the opening song, when the oeuvre of director of Ponram is compared to “aracha maava araipoma” but even a talent is required for that.

Seema Raaja is essentially the SK-Soori combination and a lot of girl chasing thrown along the way; as usual getting the girl is the goal of the hero

 

-101: Even if hero is the rajah of Singampatti, goal of hero is: get the girl.

Here it is Samantha going under the name Sudhandhira Selvi (Daughter of Freedom?)

-54: Heroine says no means no, but hero tells story of phoenix bird which attempts to reach the sun at every possible attempt even after burning; heroine is amused and ultimately gives in to these ‘charms’. #ModernLove

-341: As usual, hero sings song in praise of farmers and how they never seek to gain profits

But never pauses to ask question what film producers seek to gain from such unabashedly profit making films.

-100: Ex-Lady Superstar Simran plays the baddie in this semi-rural film which means that audience need to understand that shouting will be a major character trait.

-29.8: At some point that movie becomes so boring that usually enthusiastic FRS writers themselves have stopped coming up with random FRS points and started to browse their mobile.

It was at this time that they could have seen the Sunny Leone instagram live stream, although we won’t talk about this anymore.

-54: That no one on-set had the courage to tell what Soori was doing is not funny.

-890.3: Movie suddenly tries to become Baahubali with an absolute force-fit for the ages with a story about Kadambavel Raja(also SK) who protected his land from invaders.

Since the present day story-line was not going anywhere, the story of Kadambavel Raja is echoed and Seema Raja also protects the land of his people etc from crony capitalists and middlemen etc

I mean… was this not boring while writing itself?

 

Seema Raja pushes the boundaries of boredom to such an extent that boredom is transformed into an irrepressible irritation, only very few movies are possible of doing such things. That itself is an achievement.

 

Also since most things are force fitted in the film, you can at least listen to what we have to say about pride and history in general.

 

If our pride should come from past glories, then we are failing in the present and will surely fall in the future as well.

 

Well, that is a depressing statement to finish an FRS with, so we will add some 20 marks for a CGI generated leopard which is there for laughs in this movie.

 

Regards

Team FRS

Vanakkam

Parking Lot Notes: Vada Chennai

First Strike

Consider the carom board, a single strike shakes up an entire setup; displacing even disks that are not in the direct line of the striker.

Vetrimaaran,  believes that the impact of death has far reaching consequences even to those removed from the person. He supports these with the deaths of popular leaders; Rajiv Gandhi and MGR through the film.

<Eerily similar to how deaths of J and MK have in some way affected everyone in the state of Tamil Nadu>

VC1

Vada Chennai begins with a gruesome murder; but we are constantly shown (and guided through Vetrimaaran’s narration) that this death would soon shake up things for all of the characters, and these characters come by the dozen.

Alliances that were forged in time look weak moments later and so begins a classic case of one gang vs the other in a fight over the city’s dominance.

Moments later, these gangs have divided amongst themselves two prison blocks and in-effect the city and there is one guy in between. This did remind me of A Fistful of Dollars; but nope the director is not just interested in the surface; let’s go deeper and show how the gangs establish their dominance and an economy within the prison; the stated revenues of which are astounding (Vada Chennai is a period film and the movie doesn’t try to be in the face about it).

I also got used to how the director keeps drawing attention back to the first murder; even if it at times it feels that he has gone pretty far away. Drawing back/moving forward is also done differently, sometimes it is just the voice-over;a visual cue here, an on-screen narration there, another time it is just a fade to white. I would really like to go over these punctuation again.

But what is always there in the background: how will THAT murder be avenged?

Second Strike

The title “Vada Chennai” too is very emblematic; represents a whole section of the city, referred here as “janam” but for most part the film is really about a select few from this population and the power they fight for; so when towards the end of the film when it moves towards the ‘us vs them’ narrative, the movie has a slight jarring effect. Maybe this has been done to elevate the story of Anbu? Only the sequels will tell.

Or to put it differently, there are far more interesting stuff for me in the film than the politics of gentrification, a subject touched upon by Kaala too earlier this year. For example, the thread of how history keeps repeating itself and how the players find themselves in different positions every time that happens.

VC2

The kick-in-the head happens when the characters themselves realize this moment.

Wow, that’s complex and damn good writing; to be able to feel what a secondary character is feeling (At one point it is Guna, at another point it is Chandra). Vetrimaran also throws in a clairvoyant who seems to be the only person who knows how this will all end.

Superlative stuff.

Red & Follow

Yes, it does take it own time; but then this movie should. Even reading this as a basic revenge film needs convincing characters for viewers to revel in the avenging, but this isn’t just a basic revenge film.

The board is now set, the players are ready; we have a good game at hand.