Tag Archives: addictions

Columbus

Jin is summoned from Korea to Columbus, Ohio by Eleanor when his estranged father collapses. Jin impatiently waits out his father’s coma, and seems to prefer death over recovery, for selfish reasons. He can’t bear to to sit by his father’s hospital bed, and he’s not going to speak to him now since the two haven’t spoken in a year. So he wanders about, trying to appreciate what his father loved about Columbus’s unique architecture.

This is how Jin (John Cho) meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman stayed in Columbus to take care of her addict mother rather than pursuing her own dreams in college and beyond.

The cool thing about Columbus is its cinematography, which is surprisingly beautiful in such a small, independent film. It frames the architecture well – except scratch that, I’m embarrassed by this underwhelming sentiment. Because the truth is, the way the buildings are framed and posed and shown and hidden – it made me feel MV5BZjNjY2Q2NjAtOWI0My00ZDg3LTljNzEtNzhiYzkzNzUwMTI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzI3NjY2ODc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_things about architecture. The photography is just as kind to its human characters, but the way it treats the artistry of the buildings turns them into characters as well, characters that reflect and mirror or juxtapose and contrast. It’s clear that writer-director Kogonada has put a lot of thought and time and research into his baby.

Columbus isn’t an ambition story, it’s just two people, fairly dissimilar, who cross paths as they kill time in different ways. They’re both waiting on parents, and probably shouldn’t be. They’re both learning what that means and who it makes them as people and what effect they’ll allow the past to have on their futures. It’s mostly quiet and introspective, but the composition and structure and the precision of the visuals come together – not to overcome the silence, but to act in synchronicity. Kogonada finds serenity in stasis but that doesn’t mean his film doesn’t pack an emotional punch. It’s just a minimalist canvas upon which you can project a lot of your own feelings, and come away feeling just a bit refreshed, and just a tiny bit hopeful.

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SXSW: Take Your Pills

Oh lord – I can’t decide what I’m more relieved about: not being a kid today, or not being a parent today.

Every era gets the drug it deserves, so says the movie’s clever blurb. This generation? This generation takes Adderall. Amphetamines have been around for a long time, but it’s never been more eagerly prescribed to kids than it is today, in the form of ADHD meds, or more abused by students who just like the feeling of being “zoned in” – hence its nickname, college crack.

I’ve never heard of a drug that made me feel old. But back in my day, we took drugs to turn off and check out, but kids today are taking it to check in. And that’s a pretty MV5BNWQ5NDYxNjYtODc4Ni00NmIyLWEyMGYtNGM0N2ZmYjgzYTliXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTg0MzU3NjM@._V1_damning comment on today’s hyper competitive culture in which young adults liken abusing prescribed drugs to drinking a cup of coffee. Like I said, amphetamines aren’t new: The Beatles took them, Andy Warhol took them, Vietnam soldiers took them in order to go, go, go. And then they became horribly addicted, and the drugs became controlled. Except now students are seeking them out as performance-enhancers, faking ADHD to gain an edge while taking the SATs, and getting their hands on drugs whether prescribed or not.

It’s not like this phenomenon was news to me, but being confronted by the statistics in this movie had me uttering “oh shit” with alarming frequency. And that’s what you want in a documentary: facts to open your eyes, and anecdotes to give them colour. Director Alison Klayman looks at the drug’s history, its effects, its draw, its efficacy, the truth and the lies behind it. This documentary takes an issue that may have been niggling at you for a while and makes it not just a headline but an easily digestible information bomb. There are ethics at play here, so ultimately Klayman provides the context but the judgements and decisions are still yours to make – but information is power, and if you’re willing to dose yourself a stimulant, the LEAST you can do is dose prescribe yourself a little reality to go along with it.

 

SXSW: Unlovable

Joy is on the brink of total disaster. After a failed suicide attempt, she finally admits that the disease she doesn’t 100% believe she has maybe needs to be treated: she’s a sex and love addict. So she joins a group and gets a sponsor. But restarting her life isn’t easy. She’s just lost her boyfriend and her job and her apartment. These are the kinds of circumstances that often lead her straight back into the arms of her addiction.

Luckily her new sponsor Maddie offers her her grandma’s guest house. “Just don’t bother the caretaker” she warns – so of course Joy’s first stop is to bother the grandmother’s caretaker, who is Maddie’s weird, reclusive brother, Jim.

Maddie (Melissa Leo) is of course a recovering sex and love addict herself and Jim (John Hawkes) has his own issues. [My issue is: with these actors both in their very late 50’s, how on earth do they have a living grandparent?] Throwing Joy, who is a bowl of mixed nuts what with her quirky, cheerful, suicidal, hopeless personality into the blender – well, it makes for a smoothie with a kick, that’s for sure.

Joy (Charlene deGuzman) suffers her share of ups and downs – lots of perogies and orgies – but for all the “love” and all the sex, she doesn’t really begin to understand true intimacy until she and Jim bond over music and start a friendship, and a band, not necessarily in that order.

Addiction is not a disease that is “cured” but one that is managed, very carefully, and with lots of effort. It’s sort of a relief to see a “nice girl” felled by addictions – truly, they don’t discriminate – and it’s good to see representation both good and bad on the big screen. Joy perhaps doesn’t look like she fits the common mold, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the pain that she’s been hiding behind cat tshirts and loud prints for years. And support systems are key in maintaining a healthy life, but they don’t always come for where we’d expect. Each character in Unlovable has something to give, but also a reason for wanting to hold back.

At one point Maddie says “We get what we think we deserve” and I’ve said the same often myself. We let people treat us terribly when we think we’re worthless. Unlovable is about finding yourself lovable and worthy of love, and learning a way to give that love to yourself.

 

SXSW: 6 Balloons

Katie is having a busy day. She’s throwing a surprise party for her boyfriend and she’s got stuff to do: food, cake, balloons, the usual. Plus picking up her brother, Seth. Is this a good day for Seth to have relapsed on heroin? No it is not. Is there any right time to do that? Likely not. But it’s an especially bad day, seeing how Katie’s got a houseful of people waiting on her, and Seth’s 3 year old daughter Ella is along for the ride.

Yeah, I REALLY wish that last part wasn’t true. The thing is, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been down this road with her brother before. And she’d displaying the classic 6balloonsheadersymptoms of the caring sister who’s also sort of an enabler. Because instead of leaving him to get his shit together, she’s prepared to miss the party and spend the night driving around the dirtiest, sleaziest parts of L.A. to find her brother (Dave Franco) a detox facility, and barring that – well, something far worse.

This film accurately depicts the enormous toll that addictions take on the whole family – it truly is a family disease. Everybody plays their part. Heroin is no joke and someone withdrawing from it is in very sick, and possibly very dangerous territory. Any movie that has realistic portraying of drug use is of course going to be hard to watch, and for a lot of us, having such a young child along as a witness is just heartbreaking.

Sean left this movie quite mad at Katie, for her choices and her failures, but that’s what makes this movie interesting. Director Marja-Lewis Ryan allows us the space to sympathize with both characters and to come away with our own judgments – and it will be very hard not to judge. Addiction is a powerful disease and the truth is that most people will relapse. And it’s also true that drug addicts are judged far more harshly than, say, someone who has had a second or third heart attack – even though both diseases have genetic components, and involve some willpower over lifestyle. Nobody wants to be hooked on heroin, and no one wants to die coming off it. And Katie loves her brother but doesn’t know which choices will ultimately serve him better. Or when to say no. Or how to set boundaries. And of course drug addicts are infamous for pushing boundaries anyway.

6 Balloons is a mercifully quick ride at 74 minutes but it doesn’t let you off easily; it will pack enough horror into its short run time for 20 normal movies. But it’s not just horror, it’s also love. So much love. But is love what Seth needs right now?

You can decide for yourself: this movie will hit Netflix April 6.

 

Molly’s Game

I resisted watching this because of a distaste I have for Molly Bloom, the real Molly Bloom. She’s extremely self-involved and remorseless. So damn you Aaron Sorkin for getting nominated and forcing me to watch this. Well, okay, since it stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, it wasn’t a total boycott, but still, I was reluctant. Especially reluctant after being subjected to the trailer numerous times in which Molly asks a little girl “Do you know how many witches were burned at Salem?” and when the kid shrugs, she says none – they weren’t burned, they were hanged or drowned or stoned. But something in me rebelled angrily at this line; the answer is right, none were burned, but that’s because witches never existed. It was women who were burned or hanged or stoned.

Anyway, you may or may not know that Molly Bloom ran a bunch of illegal poker games, made oodles of money, and then get raided, her cash seized, and she was indicted. Facing court, and jail, she wrote a book about it, and named names.MV5BMTU2NjY4NjM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDcyMzIyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Molly isn’t particularly likable. She thinks she’s smart and she tells you she is constantly. She could have gone to law school, you know. And probably should have. But the money was so easy, and so plentiful! And movie stars played the poker (and the Russian mob, but never mind that). She’s guilty and she’s greedy but she’s also tough as hell. Chastain taps into her resiliency , her intelligence, her strength. Idris Elba plays her “not a little bit shady” lawyer, and he’s a perfect sparring partner. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are meaty and lesser actors may be felled by them but Chastain and Elba are not just equal to it, they master it. It’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t just the screen writer on this, he also steps into director’s shoes for the first time. Swinging for realism, he stacked the lesser roles with real poker players, wanting even the way they handled cards to look authentic. In between takes, the actors would play poker with the real players. Extras, usually paid about $90 a day, would often leave the set the best paid people there.

Sorkin is a smart guy with a lot of famous friends; he asked for and received great advice and support from David Fincher (a Social Network collaborator) and from Kevin Costner, who stars as Bloom’s father. The story is intriguing and well-suited to Sorkin’s abilities, but the movie runs a little long and isn’t terribly cinematic (there’s a lot of sitting in a lawyer’s office, which, not coincidentally, is located in the fictional firm of Gage Whitney, which fans of Sorkin’s will recognize from The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom.

The movie didn’t change my mind about Molly but it certainly cements Chastain and Elba as razor sharp, a cut above. If you like Sorkin’s zingy TV stuff, you’ll like this just fine. It’s not a best picture contender but it’s got some damn fine performances.

 

 

So, was Molly Bloom a witch, or just a woman?

Nico, 1988

nico-1988-trine-dyrholmYou may not know Nico by name, but I bet you have heard of some of her friends, people like Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. Nico, born Christa Päffgen, was part of the Velvet Underground for their first album (getting co-billing in fact) and, as a musician, that would seem to overshadow anything else one might do from then on. Nico, 1988 joins Christa in 1986 as she tours in support of her latest solo album. Understandably, Christa would prefer to keep the focus on her new music, but the press keeps asking about her past.

Nico, 1988 makes the viewer feel the weight of that past. This film gives a revealing and honest look at Christa’s life, stitched together from memories of those who knew her, including her son. It feels like a documentary, in large part due to a great performance by Trine Durholm in the lead role. Durholm shines both offstage as well as onstage, handling vocal duties herself.

The music is the beating heart of Nico, 1988, which is entirely appropriate for a biopic about an avant garde innovator whose music Rolling Stone called “a really worthwhile venture into musical infinity”, music that others have described as desolate, terrifying and unlistenable.

Judging from the soundtrack in Nico, 1988, all those descriptions are accurate. Sometimes, Christa sounds horrible, but once in a while, it’s magic. One ill-fated concert in Prague shows the heights that Christa can hit. Her energy and the crowd’s mesh perfectly and draw the viewer into the front row. Not coincidentally, that’s the only performance in the film that Christa delivers drug-free. Christa’s struggles with addiction are part of her story, and they feature in this film just as they did in her life.

For music lovers in particular, Nico, 1988 is essential viewing. It provides a behind the scenes look at the life of a true artist, a musician’s musician who cast a shadow too large for herself to escape from. Catch it if you can!

August: Osage County

Truth tellers: every family has one. They say mean shit and then hide behind its being “the truth” as if no harm ever came from telling the truth. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that the truth can be painful, can be private, and can be left unsaid. And as humans with emotional intelligence and self-control, we have no excuse not to hold back. My grandmother is a truth-teller, often leaving hurt feelings in the wake of her “plain-spokenness”.  I don’t always understand what has kept my grandparents together for 66 years (well, okay, probably Catholicism, and good old fashioned not believe in divorce), but my grandmother is not a pill-popper and my grandfather is not a suicidal alcoholic. So there’s that.

When Bev (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) rallies the troops. Daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is already there, always there, but it’s favoured daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) who really matters, who will make everything better when she arrives.

Favourites: every family has these too. Maybe it’s the one who reminds you most of yourself, or maybe the complete opposite. And maybe it changes over time, favouring the best achiever, and then the one who produces the most grandchildren, and then favouring the one who sticks closest to home. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason but we do seem to agree that we must never, ever admit it out loud. But your kids know, just the same as you knew it of your parents. It’s the way of life. Most people are just pretty good at being diplomatic about it.

Violet’s not. Violet’s pretty nasty about it. Ivy is the good one, but Barb is the favourite. Karen (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t really even figure, but it’s mostly nice when she shows up. And she does show up eventually, because her father’s bloated body is fished out of the river and now it’s not his disappearance they’re dealing with, it’s his death. The dynamic between the sisters is fragile, and with Violet twisted with grief and pills, she lets her truth flag fly. And you know how gets caught in the crossfire? Everyone.

The passing on of pain: Violet and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) were abused by their mother. Violet is so self-righteous about her own pain that she can’t fathom the pain she causes others, or she doesn’t think it rates. Violet is cruel to her daughters, and Mattie Fae can’t seem to stand her son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). That’s the way abuse works, it trickles down the generations. Is Barb messing up her own daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin)? She’s suffering too.

Family secrets: What’s a family without its secrets? Maybe secrets are the cement that hold us all together. Only Ivy and Charles know they’re in love, despite being cousins. Only Mattie Fae knows that Ivy and Charles aren’t cousins, they’re siblings. Only Barb and her husband (Ewan McGregor) know they’re separated. Only the devoted nursemaid knows what Karen’t fiance is trying to do with Barb’s young daughter. And only Violet knows that Bev’s death was actually a suicide.

You’ve got to have nerves of steel to get through August: Osage County. The family drama is raw as fuck. But Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredibly strong performances amid a top-notch cast that never puts so much as a baby toe wrong. It’s note perfect, it’s just not pretty. A lifetime of pain is more poisonous than all the pills in the world. This film, based on a brilliant play by Tracy Letts, is a force.

 

 

All We Had

Katie Holmes directs herself in All We Had, and proves she isn’t afraid to paint herself in an unfavourable light. Rita Carmichael is good at loving men but terrible at picking them. When another loser reaches his expiration date, it’s her daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) that knows it’s time to cut ties and get the hell out of dodge. The problem is that Rita and Ruthie are chronically broke. Rita self-medicates for her crappy childhood with nullcheap booze. Between men they live out of their piece of shit car. They have almost nothing going for them but Rita makes keeping Ruthie out of child services her top priority, and so far, she’s always succeeded.

This time, though, it’s going to be extra difficult. Their car breaks down literally in front of the greasy spoon where they just dined-and-dashed and it looks like they’re stuck in whatever crummy small town this is.

All We Had is not a great movie, but it’s not bad. It’s just that Katie Holmes is so hellbent on making this an inspirational story of redemption, she leans heavily on tired formula schtick. Addictions, childhood trauma, financial crisis: this movie has it all, everything except focus. All We Had is the kind of movie you’ll make excuses for – “it means well” you’ll say, and mean  it. But that’s not quite enough. There’s not enough skill here to pull meaning from the good intentions. But if you’re willing to watch Katie Holmes try, All We Had is good for 1 hour and 45 minutes of trial and error and smudged eyeliner.

The Seventh Fire

Rob Brown takes a moment to consider his beloved Ojibwe community, and pronounces its new tradition: booze and bingo. Director  Jack Pettibone Riccobono gives us plenty of cut-away shots of the things that used to feature strongly in the aboriginal culture: water, trees, and sky, but those days are gone. Today Brown’s remote Minnesotan reserve is in the business of methamphetamine, and the meat of The Seventh Fire is in following gang leader Brown and the path of destruction he’s hewn within his own tribe.

jack%20pettibone%20riccobono%20the%20seventh%20fireBrown’s teenaged protégé Kevin is already a drug user and a drug pusher, well on his way to the life of crime exemplified by his idol. Brown is pretty blasé about his recent unlaw-abiding behavior until he’s confronted with his 5th stint in prison, a 58 month stretch that has him sweating but not quite with regret.

Riccobono and his crew are given startling access to this community, and it’s unreal how unconcerned his subjects are with being filmed at their worst. In fact, as time goes by,  you realize how mundane the drug culture has become. Fathers manufacture drugs at the kitchen table, very young children are snorting openly, kids use their culture’s very sacred tradition of pow-wow to score drugs or to sell them.

Though the word is never spoken aloud, Riccobono gives us a real sense of hopelessness from the community. Parents dejectedly feel it’s too late for their kids, not yet of legal age but already parents themselves, sixteen and sadly indifferent about their own childhoods borne in violence and addictions, and about their own kids doomed to repeat the cycle.

Rob Brown has a mea culpa while in prison, words that sound right and true, but come a little too easily when one is behind bars and untested. Whether or not he owns up to his responsibility on the outside is a matter to be seen – although if one were to judged based on footage over the past hour of the documentary, it’s not a promising picture.

The documentary manages neither to judge nor to excuse, but provides an unflinching eye toward a people who seem lost and forgotten. The Seventh Fire is a heartbreaking work about loss: loss of culture, of identity, and ultimately, of freedom.

 

This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.

 

 

 

Moonlight

hero_moonlight-tiff-2016Moonlight is the quietest tour de force I’ve probably ever seen. Never have I rooted for a drug dealer in this way, and never have I sympathized so much with a kid who wanted to follow in that drug dealer’s footsteps. Moonlight is spectacular in its simplicity. It is also entirely different than the movie I expected.

That difference comes in its approach. This is a coming-of-age story focused on a likeable outsider named Chiron who has been dealt a terrible hand. His father is absent, his mother is barely there, and he’s a walking bully target. He’s called soft but he’s got an obvious inner strength, and I loved him right from the start. He didn’t have to say a word to get me on his side. Which is fortunate because he’s not much of a talker.

081816-celebs-janelle-monae-s-film-moonlightChiron’s adolescence is the subject of three tightly focused vignettes. It’s a wonderful storytelling choice that perfectly explains Chiron’s choices as he grows up, without having to engage in any exposition. Moonlight is brave in many ways but to me it’s the choice to let us figure things out for ourselves that makes this film great. It makes the journey more fulfilling, the experience more real, and greatly increases our empathy for Chiron. Moonlight helps us understand Chiron to a degree that I would not have thought possible. Regardless of your race, wealth, or sexual orientation, we are all a lot like Chiron.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins somehow enhances that commonality at every turn, and also finds beauty everywhere he takes us.  His efforts are supported by wonderful performances from top to bottom. moonlight_1-5-1-e1477472370758Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes each take remarkable turns as Chiron and the extent to which they feel like the same person is incredible. Mahershala Ali is not the only other actor deserving of mention (the supporting cast is consistently great) but for my money his performance as the aforementioned drug dealer shapes Chiron’s life and makes us understand his growth to a degree that is virtually unmatched in film.

Moonlight has been on my watch list for a long time. It was well worth the wait and deserves every bit of acclaim coming its way.  It’s perfect from start to finish. Go see it!