Most of the time I like going to the VIFF to check out the out-of-the-ordinary cinema. However when a film with a lot of Oscar buzz hits the VIFF, I admit I’m tempted to see that. I was lucky to have my chance with Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The story begins in 1991 with 51 year-old Lee Israel at her customer services job. She obviously hates her job because she has a bad attitude and gets a lot of ‘old’ comments from the younger workers. She shows up at work with a glass of scotch in her hand, curses at her co-workers and then curses at her boss. That’s it. She’s fired. After being fired, she just simply downs the rest of her scotch.
The thing is Lee Israel was born to write. She wrote for Esquire magazine for many years and published biographies of Talullah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen and Estee Lauder. However her status as a successful writer ended years earlier after her biography of Lauder flopped. On top of that, she’s trying to publish a biography of Fanny Brice, but her agent says it’s not going to be a hit. Her lack of commercial success in writing couldn’t come at a worse time. She has expenses up to her eyeballs with a cat who’s sick and needs new medicine, outstanding veterinary bills form past visits, overdue rent from a landlord, and an old typewriter that keeps breaking down. Whatever money she can get, it comes from typed original letters of famous authors. She doesn’t get much money from the bookstore; one where the young author isn’t afraid to run into Lee what a has-been author she is.
One day she goes for her usual drink of scotch at her local bar. Also getting a drink is a washed-up stage actor named Jack Hock. Hock himself had a downfall after irreverent behavior at a party while drunk: peeing in a closet! This is a chance to rekindle a past friendship. They have a lot of catching up to do. This comes around the same time Lee is continuing research for her book about Fanny Brice. One day at a library while doing research on Brice, she comes across an original typewritten letter written by her. She takes it home and notices the font on the letter matches the font on Lee’s own typewriter. That gives Lee an idea to add in a juicy P.S. sentence about Fanny’s ‘love’ for a woman. She takes it to a bookstore that buys original letters from authors and they buy it for good money. However she’s told that letters with juicier detail get bigger money.
That gives Lee an new idea for success: making fake letters of renowned deceased authors. Her next subject is Noel Coward. Here she tries to get information on the type of letterhead Coward typed his letters on, the typewriter used and the subjects Coward normally talked about. Her letters are of Coward talking about his homosexuality. Israel also gets practice of forging signatures. She goes to a bookstore that buys letters for bigger money and it works! Lee can afford to pay off the vet, buy medicine for her ailing cat, pay off her landlord and even go out on a first-class night with Jack Hock to a drag cabaret performance. Soon she goes to a memorabilia show with Jack and learns all about authenticators. That just makes her more determine to succeed. She picks more deceased authors like Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Louise Brooks and Ernest Hemingway, buys the right typewriters, bakes the letters and envelopes to make the right aging, does the right forgery on the signatures. The work pays off. The authenticators fall for it and Lee gets paid good money! Lee’s also good at making phone calls disguising herself as director Nora Ephron. Lee also makes friends with a bookshop owner named Anna.
However reality does catch up. Lee is told by one of the bookowners that he senses a forgery as a friend of his who knew Noel Coward wouldn’t be so public about his homosexuality. Within time, all bookstore owners are given a fax from the FBI alerting them of Lee and her alleged fraud. Even an unscrupulous bookdealer threatens to report her to the FBI unless she pays him $5000. Does that stop her? No, as long as she has Jack. Jack is the one making the sales with the bookstore owners on the juicy forged letters. She even goes to libraries with access to archives and steals letters to cash in on. Jack brings her the money, but starts getting suspicious of whether he’s trying to steal from her. FBI agents threaten her with interrogation, but she garbages all her typewriters to avoid being caught.
One time she goes away for a three-day trip of ‘consulting’ archives and leaves Jack to take care of her cat, which includes giving him medicine. Lee steals more letters, and even meets up with her ex-girlfriend. The ex tells her of how distant she became after the flop of her Estee Lauder book. Meanwhile Jack gives the cat the wrong medicine and even gets his new boyfriend to stay overnight at her place. It’s when she returns that it all falls apart. She finds Jack making love to a man in her place, she finds her cat dead, and she soon finds herself arrested for her forgery. After much talking from her lawyer, she’s told she will most likely be found guilty and her persona and alcoholism could works against her for her sentence. She confesses her wrongdoings in court despite having no regrets. Her sentence is six months house arrest, to repay the booksellers she ripped off and to attend AA meetings.
The story ends on a positive note. She rekindles her friendship with Jack, who’s dying of AIDS. She buys a new cat and does her writing from a computer. One day, she even passes a bookseller who has the ‘Can you ever forgive me’ letter where Lee forged Dorothy Parker’s likeness. Lee sends an appropriate response. It’s up for you to see what the response was. And the response from the store owner.
When one does a story about a person in the past doing all these actions, it’s always a question on whether the film is relevant for the present. Would a film about a washed-up author forging letters about deceased celebrities and authors most of today’s generation don’t have a clue about be relevant? I can see relevance in it as it is a reflection of our present. Firstly we live in a time of celebrity worship as lots of people go to Instagram or Twitter to check out the latest dirt from their celebrity. Gossip pages get huge hits because people love shoving their nose in others’ dirty laundry. It’s easy to see why these fake letters about these celebrities’ personal lives would spark a lot of interest and make Lee Israel rich.
The interesting thing is that it sheds a light on the literary industry as well. I know we live in a culture where we’re encouraged to appreciate authors for their literary efforts, but all too often we forget that authors are subject to the same cruel industry that musicians face in the movie industry and actors face in businesses like Hollywood. The New York Times Bestseller list is the Bestseller list to end all Bestseller lists that decides the happening writers and the wash-ups. It’s no wonder Lee felt the frustration of this. You could understand why despite Lee’s success in forgery, she still wanted to be known as an author.
The film is not just about the act of crime and the difficulties of being an author. It’s also about Lee herself. Basically overall it showcased her biggest weakness: her attitude. She blamed her loss of her customer service job on ageism, but she swore at her bosses and drank gin on her last day. Her attitude cost her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. It also almost cost her friendship with Jack. It may even had to do with why she wasn’t getting writing jobs. A bad attitude can be costly. Lee would have to face the music of her wrongdoing. The biggest statement was when Lee was too afraid to face Anne in the store just as she was about to get sentenced.
Marielle Heller directs a very clever comedy about a writer starving for success, even if it’s illicit. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty took on Lee’s memoirs and deliver a script that tells the story and more. Nicole provided the edge of a 50-something woman just trying to make something of herself. Whitty provided the backdrop of the difficulties of Lee and jack being LGBT in New York in 1991. The script not only tells the story but tells a lot more too.
Also what adds to the film is Melissa McCarthy playing Lee Israel. Hard to believe the first pick for the role was Julianne Moore. Melissa caught moviegoers’ attention when she played the feisty Megan Price in Bridesmaids. It’s been success ever since and she’s one of the most happening things in big-screen comedies right now. However most of her comedy roles in popcorn comedies have been over-the-top performances. Here, McCarthy takes on a role of a literary figure with humor and makes it three-dimensional. Possibly her best performance since Bridesmaids. Stealing the show from Melissa is Richard E. Grant. He makes the film as much Jack’s as it is Lee’s. He played Lee’s partner in crime well and the two had good chemistry. Jane Curtin was also good, and unnoticeable, as the literary agent. Dolly Wells was also good as Anne: the lonely shop keeper.
Can You ever Forgive Me? makes for a smart and entertaining comedy. So entertaining, you just might want to buy one of Lee Israel’s forged Dorothy Parker letters soon after.
When you hear about The Theory of Everything being about Stephen Hawking, you’d probably assume it’s about his scientific conclusions. You will actually be quite surprised.
Stephen Hawking is an astrophysics student at Cambridge in 1963. Stephen is awkward-looking, rather clumsy and already his imaginative thinking is being noticed by students and professors with varying reactions. One night, he meets Jane Wilde, a literature student. They form an unlikely couple with Jane actually taking an interest and liking in Stephen’s imagination.
The following year, there are two incidents that will change Stephen’s life: the first being a lecture on black holes which inspires him to write a thesis about time; the second being when he learns he has ALS–Lou Gehrig’s disease– and is given two years to live. Stephen becomes a recluse upon hearing the news but Jane tells him he loves him and will marry him. The two marry and they have a son Robert.
Stephen continues giving lectures as his condition deteriorates from using crutches to needing a motorized wheelchair and even talking with great difficulty. Jane is always there to help him but it’s becoming very hard on her. Nevertheless he continues to give lectures about black holes, evolution and time to top professors. Some professors find it erroneous while others praise it and give him an honorary doctorate.
Over time Hawking continues to win more acclaim in the science world including becoming a world-renowned physicist. Nevertheless the fame and his physical condition is making it hard for Jane both as a wife and as an educator. Upon her mother’s advice, she joins the church choir where she meets conductor Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Jonathan becomes a friend of the family but the birth of her third child causes suspicion from her mother if Jonathan is simply a friend. Jonathan senses the suspicion and leaves the family for a bit but Stephen tells Jonathan himself she needs him.
While Stephen’s in Bordeaux, Jane has a camping trip with Jonathan and the children and it’s obvious their feeling for each other are shown. The trip ends as Jane learns Stephen contracted pneumonia and needs a tracheotomy in order to fight this. Jane agrees. However Jane finds dealing with Stephen too difficult and hires a helper named Elaine. Elaine works well with him on the letter board. Then computerized technology comes in play and Stephen is able to communicate with a talking machine. He’s able to speak better with the machine than he did when he still had his own voice. It enables him to write a book where he dictates and Jane and Elaine type. The book, A Brief History Of Time, becomes a best-seller and wins Stephen worldwide renown. However it does mark the end of the marriage as he plans to accept an award in the US with Elaine instead of Jane. Nevertheless the film ends on a positive note leaving one to believe Jane and Stephen are still soul mates despite no longer being married.
The remarkable thing about the film is that it shows Stephen Hawking in a light we don’t normally notice. Yes, it shows Stephen and his scientific thoughts. Yes, it shows Stephen in his wild imagination. In fact there are times when it makes Stephen look like the Albert Einstein of our times. However it also shows other aspects of Stephen like how ALS can paralyze his body but not his mind. It’s safe to assume ALS made him a stronger person and the movie shows him acquiring his personal strength over time. He was expected to live only two years when he was first diagnosed and he’s still alive today. It shows how he won’t even let ALS stop him from getting a Penthouse subscription. It also shows him as a father and a husband but also a man with some personal weaknesses such as being sucked into his new-found fame and falling for his assistant Elaine.
But somehow it often appears the movie is not about Stephen. It appears more like it’s about Jane. We shouldn’t forget the film is based off of Jane’s memoirs of being Stephen’s wife. It shows Jane as she’s first attracted to Stephen despite being nerdy and having an eccentric mind. It shows her as the one who got Stephen out and living right after he learns he has ALS and even marries him. It shows her as the one that stood behind Stephen every time he gave a lecture on his Black Holes Theory even when top professors would dismiss it as rubbish. It also shows her as the one who helped Stephen write his legendary book with his talking machine. It almost appears like she was his arms and legs.
The film however does make Jane out to be a saint. It does show Jane’s struggle of being both a wife to a man with a disability. In fact it was the scene when Stephen is playing croquet just after his diagnosis and Jane sees how much it’s deteriorated him that sent me the message this movie could be about Jane. Despite Jane doing her best to be a supporting wife, there are times she can’t hide the frustration and it upsets her. Her frustration is a common frustration people who are spouses with disabilities go through. The film also shows Jane in another flawed light when she falls in love with Jonathan and has a long affair. This film highlights Jane’s own flaws as it highlights Stephen’s.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the film has to be the performances of the two leads. Eddie Redmayne was beyond dead-on as Stephen. In fact it’s the scene of the divorce where Eddie playing Stephen said more with his face than his talking machine did that caught my attention. There were many times in the film Eddie was able to say more in silence as Stephen than when he was talking. From beginning to end he was excellent and embodied the ALS flawlessly. It wasn’t just the ALS. Eddie also gave us an inside look into Stephen’s imagination which adds to the character. Imaginative minds must be something for a topic for film this year. First Alan Turing and now Stephen Hawking. Felicity Jones was not only excellent but also did a great job of stealing the show. Her embodiment of Jane Hawking helps you get to know Jane better as well as have a new found respect for her. In terms of acting, this is mostly a two-person film. Nevertheless there were some good supporting performances from Charlie Cox as Jonathan and Maxine Peake as Elaine that added color to the story. Even the minor appearances of Stephen’s college mates and Stephen’s family added to the story too.
James Marsh did a very good job in directing, especially since he’s more of a documentarian (Man On Wire). This is his second feature-length film that isn’t a documentary and he does a great job of directing the story and bringing out the characters. Anthony McCarten did a great job of adapting Jane Hawking’s memoirs into a good story with great character depth. However it did often come across as a two-actor screenplay and could have added more depth to the other actors. The film had other great efforts too such as Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography, the score from Johan Johannson and added visual effects that dazzled.
The Theory Of Everything isn’t a perfect depiction of Stephen Hawking and his marriage to Jane but it is entertaining. We get to know the two better and feel for them both.
It’s happening. British Columbia will be voting for a premier: the first such election in four years and two days exactly. There’s reigning BC Premier Christy Clark and there are challenging Party leaders, most notably Adrian Dix and Jane Sterk. But how do they stack up for the vote on May 14th?
CHRISTY CLARK: LIBERAL
She is the reigning premier, albeit not elected into office. Those of you living outside of British Columbia may not have known the state of politics in the 21st century. From 2001 to 2011, the province has had Liberal Gordon Campbell as premier of the province. He has been elected into office three times having to resign back in 2011 because of his approval rating declining to the point of single-digit percentage. Christy Clark has taken the role of premier ever since. Since becoming premier of BC, her approval rating as well as the approval rating of the BC Liberals improved greatly even superseding the rating of the NDP for some period of time. However the period has been short-lived.
The opposition Clark has faced during her premiership has not been as heated or intense as Gordon Campbell’s. Nevertheless she has faced heat of her own. One former Liberal MLA accused her of conflict of interest in assisting with the selling of BC Rail during the Campbell administration while cabinet minister. She has also been witness to seeing many key Liberals resigning from parliament.
With the provincial election approaching, Clark still faces a lot of heat from the opposing parties for a lot of what Gordon Campbell did during his administration. Remember I told you about her pre-election baggage? It didn’t completely go away. Her appearance at the Party leader’s debate gave her a chance to improve her political reputation as many felt she won the debate. The BC Liberal Party has greatly decreased its gap behind the BC NDP in the past three weeks trailing them only slightly. However many journalists are claiming it may be too much too late for her political career. Only the results on Tuesday will tell.
ADRIAN DIX: NDP
He’s already been written as the frontrunner for the race for premier. But it doesn’t mean that his chances of winning are unbreakable.
One of the reasons many claim Gordon Campbell has continued to be elected premier is because there hasn’t been an NDP skilled enough to rival him. Adrian may not have much experience as a Party leader but he does have considerable political experience under his belt. Dix was born the son of an insurance agency owner. He has been with the NDP Party since 1996 and like Clark has also been a political media personality for newspapers like The Sun Columnist and the Source. Dix has been the MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway since his election in 2005 and his prime areas of focus while MLA have been Children and Families and Health Issues. His biggest achievements have been bringing insulin pumps to children with type 1 diabetes and successfully preventing three Vancouver-Kingsway schools from shutting down.
He came to be elected leader of the NDP Party in 2011 upon the resignation of leader Carole James. Issues that led to his election have been Eliminating the HST, reducing business taxes, redirecting carbon tax, and increasing the minimum wage to name a few. For the provincial election, Dix has had ads marketed with the theme ‘time for a new government’. Those ads have been on television not as frequently as the BC Liberals but more commonly on Youtube. Dix has led through most of the pre-election polls and appears to be the heavy favorite to win.
However he does face stiff opposition. Firstly there was the recent Party leader debate where Christy Clark presented herself and her platform the best. That caused her to jump in the polls and even tied Dix on May 8th. Then there was bringing back the controversy Dix was responsible for during the scandal of 1990’s premier Glen Clark when Dix was Chief of Staff from 1996 to 1999. Back then he back-dated a memo to protect Clark from conflict-of-interest charges. That led to the resignation of both Clark and Dix. Dix has since redeemed himself as the MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway but the incident has arisen again by the opposing parties. That could hurt him.
Yes, Dix has a lead over Christy Clark in the polls right now but it’s too close to call right now. Don’t forget polls can say one thing and elections can say another. The big question is will it be a night for the first NDP premier in 12 years? It will all be at the buzzer Tuesday night.
JANE STERK: GREEN
Outside of the Liberals and the NDP, the only other Party making the biggest news in the election is the BC green Party and its leader Jane Sterk. The Green Party is a relatively young Party that started in 1983 but it fields policies that appeal to many BC residents like environmental issues, tolerance and diversity, social justice as well as personal and global responsibility. The questions has always been would they have what it takes to win elections and would they have what it takes to be good strong leaders?
The Green Party first made a name for itself under the leadership of founder Adrianne Carr back in 2001 when the Party finished third in the provincial election with 12.4% of the vote. They would continue to finish third in the next two provincial elections but with declining percentages of votes. In the 2009 election–the first in which Jane Sterk was Party leader– the Green Party finished with 8.1% of the vote and no seats.
The position of the Green Party here in BC is still a big question mark. Even in this election the Party won’t be fielding candidates for all 85 ridings like the NDP and Liberals: 61 to be exact. However this could be the Party’s best election. Right now the election is between two leading Party’s candidates who have both been involved with a former premier and the infamies of their administrations, even scandal involvement. The Green Party has been over 10% in the polls for most of the upcoming election period however their popularity has taken a bit of a dip in recent days. Also what should be remembered is that Sterk is native to Alberta and she didn’t move to BC until 2000. That could hurt her since the leading two candidates and many other candidates have spent most of their life in BC.
The question is will the Green Party finally make a name for itself and be able to land its first ever MLA seat? Best chances could be with Sterk in her Victoria-Beacon Hill riding but she would have to win over former NDP leader Carole James who is the incumbent leader in that riding. This will be a question not just of whether the Green Party can land a seat but its ability to strike a chord with voters. It has what it takes and now’s a better time than ever but can they do it?
JOHN CUMMINS :CONSERVATIVE
The Conservative Party is a long-standing Party like the NDP and Liberals and had it’s biggest heydays from the 30’s to the 50’s. However it has had rollercoaster success since then as the Party has had a very hard time not just trying to win seats but also trying to field seats. This year the Conservative Party has fielded candidates for 56 of the 85 MLA seats, their biggest number since 1972 and double the 24 seats they fielded candidates for in the 2009 election.
Its biggest challenge has to be with the general public. I live in New Westminster and work in downtown Vancouver. Already I can tell that the big cities are not known for welcoming politician with a right-leaning platform. Most of the bigger cities have a huge and very vocal animosity for right-wing politicians that are even as much as right-to-centre. Sometimes I think Vancouver is the capital of ‘Harperphobia.’ However it’s another story in areas like Langley and Abbotsford which are known for its conservative beliefs. In fact leader John Cummins is running in the Langley riding. Cummins himself is a former MP in the Canadian Parliament under the Reform Party and the national Conservative Party under the leadership of Harper. He resigned his seat in the Richmond-Delta national riding to pursue provincial Party leadership.
This could be the first chance in decades for the Conservative Party to make a name for itself in decades however it does face opposition of its own especially from BC residents that disagree with the Party agenda very vehemently. Like the Green Party, it too has had times where it has seen days of 10% approval or higher this past month. Also like the Green Party, it’s currently sitting below the 10% mark. There’s no question that it will have a higher percentage of votes than the 2.1% received in the last election. The question is not only what percentage of votes will it receive but also what will Tuesday’s results tell for the future of the Conservative Party?
Only the four parties I mentioned above have candidates running for more than half the MLA seats in the BC parliament. Actually only those four have candidates running in even as little as ten provincial ridings. The biggest Party with less than ten candidates in the running is the BC Libertarian Party. If you go to their website, you will see that the BC Libertarian agenda has a lot in common with the agenda of the American Libertarian Party. Libertarianism is still a definition that’s hard to define in terms of a political stance. Bill Maher, possibly the most famous Libertarian right now, defines a libertarian as a ‘pothead in a business suit.’ For the BC Libertarian Party, just go to their website.
The Libertarian Party of BC started in 1986 with three candidates and rose to 17 upon the 1996 provincial election. There would be no Libertarian candidates back in 2001 as Party president Paul Geddes ran for the BC marijuana Party. In the provincial elections since, the BC Libertarian Party has been putting efforts into reestablishing itself. In both previous provincial elections, the Party fielded six candidates and achieved just under 1500 votes both times.
This year the Party field eight candidates including one in my riding of New Westminster. This could be the Libertarian’s best election since 1996 when they had 17 candidates and won just over 2000 votes. However lacking a Party leader could cause some problems. Plus its lack of advertisement to the public could make a lot of people unaware of Libertarian candidates in their area. This election should give a picture of where things are going for the Party.
Of all the candidates running, the most interesting should be the Independents: those that won’t be running for a Party or its agenda. Independents have always been unique candidates as it has always been a case of the politician promoting their agenda that’s often unique in comparison to most formed parties’ agendas. Last year one independent candidate–Vicki Huntington of Delta South– was elected MLA. Most interesting is that since the 2009 election, two NDP MLAs and one Liberal MLA have become independents themselves. Three of the four incumbent independent MLAs will be running in this election.
This election will see 35 independent candidates running for MLA seats in 31 ridings. Each one will have their own unique agenda and/or run for their own purposes. Many have run for some of the major parties in the past. And one, Kelowna-Mission’s Dayleen Van Ryswyk, was running for the NDP three weeks ago but had to resign from the Party because of past comments that appeared bigoted in nature. She started her campaign as an independent the next day but has recently hired a bodyguard for fear of threats.
Tuesday could give a surprising glimpse as the independents could win some seats and could provide an outlook on the political culture of BC.
And there you have it. A brief rundown of the candidates for the 40th British Columbia General Election. Sure, I could talk about all the other fifteen political parties but it would be too tedious. Remember there are 85 MLA seats in BC’s parliament and the winning Party is the one that wins 43 seats for a majority. You can click on the Wikipedia link–which also happens to be my Works Cited page– here to get all the info of who’s running and which parties. So on the 14th, will it be Premier Clark elected into office or will Adrian Dix be elected BC’s new premier? Stay tuned!