Tag Archives: addictions

Recovery Boys

So in my other life, I’m a crisis counselor. Which is different from the type of therapist you see once a week. I come in when someone is thinking urgent thoughts of or is planning or attempting suicide. Sometimes I only talk to clients once, on the worst day of their lives, in order to make sure it’s not their last. Other times they might become a regular, someone I’m in contact with very often, sometimes every day, because every day is a struggle. As you can imagine, I’ve heard and seen everything. EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t get to me. I’ve been the recipient of every graphic disclosure you can think of about 70 billion you can’t even imagine, but something rather innocuous struck me last week: a client told me he’d recently met someone who claimed to have never had an addiction problem in their life. And my client couldn’t believe it. Had never encountered such a person before. Declared he must either be a liar or a rarity. Imagine not knowing a single sober MV5BMTk1NDY0OTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0MjI0NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_person. In my life, and probably in yours, addictions are the exception and not the rule. But for people who are in different circumstances, life is hard as fuck, and living sober can feel impossible. And that’s not even factoring in genetics. I felt so sad for this client of mine who has never known anything else.

So this is my mindset, I’m either in the best place to watch this documentary, or the worst. It’s about a group of men in a farming-based residential rehab facility.

Jeff is the rehab’s first ever client, and arrives straight from jail. He’s very young but he’s got two kids in foster care, awaiting either him or their mother to get straight and reclaim them. They’re at the forefront of his mind, and visitation makes it clear that he is a loving and doting father. So the fact that he keeps fucking up proves how deeply the addiction monster’s got his claws in him.

Adam receives a loving letter from his grandmother and it unravels him because he can’t reconcile her affection with his behaviour. She works at a goodwill to stave off homelessness because of all he’s stolen from her, but still she loves him. He knows he would never be so forgiving. He’s undone.

As a staff member of the rehab facility points out, these men are facing a “menu of shitty options.” I know that addictions are a disease, one that gets almost zero sympathy, but it’s not unlike heart disease. Sure there’s a lifestyle component, but there’s also genes and compulsion. But no matter how many hamburgers you continue to eat after your first and second heart attacks, society will continue to weep for you around your hospital bed. Not so with drug relapses. Those people we revile for their “weakness” and “bad choices.” If only it were so easy.

This is not an episode of Intervention. No one’s trying to dramatize or glamourize anything, and it doesn’t get wrapped up neatly in the end. It’s clear that director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows something about addictions, understands that your first trip to rehab is rarely your last. We don’t learn anything about addictions in this film. Instead, we live briefly in their shoes. We see the struggle. We know there is no cure, that recovery is an every day commitment, and we should be really honest with ourselves about how hard that would be for any single one of us. But some of us win the genetic lottery and some of us lose. The least we can do is show a little compassion, which this documentary engenders rather well.

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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.

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 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!