Saturday, March 9, 2019

Quick Film Review: Captain Marvel - Grade A

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Good, The Bad, and The Ridiculous Oscar Season

I've been pretty occupied for the first two months of this year so much, that I have failed to post an update here at ToZ. See, I've been busy as a Film Independent member watching films to participate in the Spirit Awards voting (Feb 23rd), as well as preparing for my Oscar Fan Experience that I have been excited about since I found out on January 2nd. However, my fan experience was significantly dampened when I learned that my favorite young actor, Timothée Chalamet, did not earn a well expected Oscar nomination for Beautiful Boy. Without rehashing that disappointment, it did deflate my interest in the red carpet, but I still attended and had a very good time. What follows is a brief summary in separate sections.

The Spirit Awards

My friend Tracy and I (she also joined me at the Oscar fan experience) attended the member's screening of the Spirit Awards in Los Angeles on Saturday where we ate great food and sat in the nice office space of Film Independent. I have not had the pleasure of sitting through an entire awards show ceremony in years, let alone with a group of fellow cinephiles and actual voters. But it was a lot of fun seeing how our votes either came to fruition, or if they did not, we were still pleased with the amazingly smart and diverse group of winners. The Spirit Awards are what the Oscars should emulate if politics and pettiness did not rule over that group.

Oscar Fan Experience Bleacher Seats

I won a First prize award sponsored by People magazine for two seats in the bleachers along the red carpet. The fun of that experience could not be more enjoyed without a good friend with me. The process to get officially approved was intimidating (had to provide personal information on myself in order to pass a background check), but of course we passed quickly enough. Communications from the sponsor was thorough and gave the impression that it would be a unique opportunity for film fans to enjoy the red carpet festivities of a ceremony that is the finale of a six-month award campaign season. Ever since I was a kid, I have been interested in the Oscars, so it was so exciting to be a part of this with People magazine. The fan experience for 740 fans included a half dozen activities of leisure and pampering before the show began, and we got a gift bag (kinda flimsy if I must admit; a bit disappointing), and we were very well fed.

The red carpet itself was amazing to experience, just so much fun seeing all the nominees, all the other A-list stars, industry movers and shakers, and a cast of entertainment industry folks, all glammed up to attend the show. The red carpet lasted for 3 hours, and our butts were getting numb sitting there (even with a nice People seat cushion). We could not stand up as to avoid blocking anyone's view. It was tight, which made the really uncouth fans (like the crazy girl behind me) who were prone to uncontrollable screaming, to scream so loudly and without a sense of self-control and self-respect. She was the worst part of an otherwise fun experience.

After the red carpet ended, we were escorted to the El Capitan Theater for dinner and to watch a 15 minute delayed Oscar telecast. This was to allow us to watch the show in its entirety because it started immediately after the red carpet and it took us about 20 minutes to get situated and have over 700 people go to the theater. The buffet was excellent, all the food was good. But we should have been given something to hold our food, like a cafeteria style food tray. However, because I wasn't in the mood to watch/support this year's Oscar show (see below), I ate my food quickly while watching Queen perform and I saw Regina King win. With that, I finished up, and left. I was able to make it home at 6:30, just 1.5 hours after the red carpet ended.

I'm very grateful to be a winner for the bleacher seats, and I do look forward to entering contests again in the future. I just hope that I'm in a more celebratory mood to be actively interested in the Oscars if my favorite(s) are actually nominated. Way too many snubs this year, and films and performances that didn't move me much, were honored instead.

The Oscars (sans Timothée Chalamet)

Since last September at TIFF, when Timmy made a great impression in Beautiful Boy, we expected him to get his second Oscar nomination; just a year after his first historic Oscar nom for Call Me By Your Name. But on January 22nd, when the Oscar nominations were announced, Timmy did not receive that expected nomination and it greatly upset me. Not to the point of tears, but just frustrated none the less by what I strongly believe was a deliberate action by The Academy in pumping the brakes on 'the boy' and forcing him to stay in a lane that none of us knew existed. Be that as it may, and without slamming the talent who did receive an Oscar nomination, and the films celebrated by the Oscars, I'll just say this: The Academy nomination process is not as organic and democratic as we're lead to believe. What the academy wants as its winners represent how they want society to view the academy. Like the old adage, 'You are what you eat'; the Oscars are, 'We are what we nominate and deem as the winner'. As perfect as timing would have it, this tweet below explains how the academy membership is at the present:

So, it's clear how they vote, what they find as worthy of being nominated, and what is actually worthy of taking home an Oscar in the respective categories. Of all the 24 categories, I will say that I was utterly shocked that Glenn Close did not win the Oscar. Olivia Colman won, and I cannot fault her as I thought she could win it as she was superb in The Favourite (but, gee, another Brit playing royalty). Glenn won so much praise and awards for The Wife, and it's her 7th nomination at 71 years old, surely she was going to win, but, yet again, the Academy brilliantly does what I call, 'Elegantly cruel'.She was even dressed up all in gold, just like an Oscar.

I am so glad this Oscar season is over, it was particularly dirty, long-winded, and frustrating. It was so much fun being a part of the Oscar red carpet experience, and being a voting member of Film Independent to honor the very type of films, and female directors that the academy thinks are too minor and irrelevant to honor. It's a mind trip seeing both sides of the coin, Indies vs Blockbusters within 24 hours, but I can tell you, I'm more of an Indie kind of gal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year - Reflections

It is now the year 2019, one year before we go into the 3rd decade of this still young century. Ten years ago, in 2009, my life was a complete shambles. My sister died in mid-2008 and I was still in mourning; I was laid off for the third time in six years; I found low paying, back breaking work that was literally beneath my skill set and educational background, but rent demanded I set aside pride and do whatever work I could to pay bills. My credit rating was completely fucked, I refilled my last prescription of muscle relaxants so that I could relax and get good sleep so that I could be strong and focused for the next day's bullshit. I sent out so many resumes and went on a few interviews, but nothing. The recession destroyed Michigan, and my spirit. It was then that I decide that I would have to move out of state for my personal and career well being, and spiritual growth and happiness.

Ten years later, I wake up this New Year's Day in California, and I'm so incredibly grateful that I survived some of the toughest years as an adult. I'm amazed that I'm not addicted to drugs or alcohol, because I have had so many missteps and mistakes with my career that I recall quite easily. Sometimes things have to happen in order for destiny to force you to make an out of the box decision regarding your life. I've seen too many unkind, unprofessional, uncouth, backstabbing, stupid people ascend to the levels of success that were just a dream to me, and it gutted me. But alas, I dealt with the shocking bullshit and I'm here, now, I'm happy. I still have some goals to accomplish, but for the most part, I'm glad to be alive, healthy, and still a nice person who is patiently waiting for the final puzzle pieces to add to my life.

The year 2019 is going to be good and fun, here are just a few events and goals I'm looking forward to:
  • Securing full-time employment. I'm a contractor at an excellent organization, I may be offered a full-time job in my current department, or get one in another department. This is the year I secure a benefited position with a company I can retire from.
  • Becoming much more dedicated to the practice of yoga, and meeting some other fitness goals including losing 10-12 lbs. I want to run in a 5k race in the next 12-18 months.
  • I'll be attending the Palm Springs Int'l Film Festival next weekend
  • My family is coming to visit me in April
  • I will be attending Coachella for the first time the week after my family visits.
  • My long overdue trip to Italy is in May
  • I will be attending Comic Con in San Diego in July
So at least the first half of the new year will be quite exciting for me, and I know the second part will be fun as well.

If you're reading this and your life has seriously sucked in recent years and you have a black cloud hanging over your head like I did, you need to sit down and think about what you need to do to make yourself happy. There are things that have happened to you and will happen to you that will be completely out of your control. But what you can control is how you respond to those events. Get in the driver's seat and guide yourself as to where you want to be in a year from now, or even further down the road. Some plans take time and cannot manifest overnight. 

Don't get caught up in material desires, just deal with the most basic things that you can afford right now and take care of yourself. Even during my most darkest days, I treated myself to a day at the museum, or my favorite sushi meal, or went to see a movie. I plotted and planned my big move to California for five years, and with very, very hard work (as well as going back to college for a graduate degree), somehow, I was very confident that I would succeed. Do you know why? I was so far below what my expectations were for how I wanted to live my life, that there was only one way out of my situation but UP.

I'm committed to making 2019 a great turning point in my life where I will reflect back in 2029, and be in a position to write about what a great year 2019 was for me ten years ago!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My top films of 2018

I think my list is unique in that it has several films that have been left off the list of more well known critics and film enthusiast. I know what I like and I include those films on my top 10. I do feel 'obligated' to have one in particular on the list because it is so beloved and is expect to win Best Picture. But I truly believe there are nine other films that were more entertaining, and left more of an impression upon me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Quick Film Grade: Mary Poppins Returns (A-)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Quick Film Grade: If Beale Street Could Talk (A)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Quick Film Grade: Bohemian Rhapsody (A-)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Film Review: Beautiful Boy (A-)

Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy (Amazon Studios)

My first screening of Felix Van Groeningen's Beautiful Boy was at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival four weeks ago. After spending nearly 6 hours along the red carpet for the world premiere, and then going to the screening an hour later, I was too exhausted and overwhelmed by the film to write a fair review. Living in LA affords me the opportunity to see it for a second time (Oct 4th) before the film's limited release this Friday, October 12th, to allow me to write a more precise review. Even after reading David Sheff's same titled book, in which the film is based on, along with a portion of his son, Nic Sheff's book, Tweak, the film proved to be an emotional whirlwind that welcomes a second viewing to fully appreciate what it's trying to do. And what is that? Tell a harrowing tale that all too many families experience; a loved one trapped in the downward spiral of drug addiction, but in this case, the worse of them all, meth addiction.

The film starts off with David, played by the great Steve Carell while he's trying to do research on drug addiction because of his son. Immediately the viewer will watch this story unfold through the non-linear narrative lens in past and present to see the before and after effects of the devastating emotional, mental, and physical abuse that harms a close knit family. Nic Sheff's life, played by two younger actors and the brilliant Timothée Chalamet, from a 6 year old to a college age student, delicately weaves back and forth throughout the entire film as we watch how the breakup of his parent's marriage, and him being torn between two homes, hundreds of miles apart, may have been one of the reasons that lead to Nic becoming enchanted with using drugs. 

Relapses are incredibly painful, the next fix will take care of the pain.

Although there could have been other triggers in Nic's life that made him seek out drugs, but the film barely scratches that surface, and instead, give us a key scene where he's having dinner at a girlfriend's house and Nic appears to be having difficulty connecting with people and becomes withdrawn and nervous.  This is the first time we see him using pills from a medicine cabinet to calm his nerves, and to make him feel relaxed and good. And once that feeling assures and empowers him, he needs more. He needs to feel good like that again, to like himself better, but pills aren't good enough anymore, he needs something harder, something to inject. At this point in the film, Timothée Chalamet as 18 year old Nic is permanently etched into our minds as the actor for this role. The moments of angst, sorrow, self-doubt, hunger, and guilt of developing a constant craving for drugs can be seen in his face throughout the film. And that's how the flashbacks work so well in this film; the steady build up to how Nic's dependency on getting his next high changes this beautiful boy into a reckless, lying, manipulative kid that his father doesn't recognize anymore.

Beautiful Boy goes into deeper territory about drug addiction that most mainstream films miss focusing on:  The subtle changes over time in how drug addiction of a beloved child affects the parent and the rest of the family. Luckily for Nic, his parents are upper class and can pay for his rehab, but for how long, and even some rehab programs were too expensive for the Sheffs. When Nic comes home for a weekend visit, his father and his stepmother, Karen, played by Maura Tierney, are tense about his visit, but happy he's there. Nic seems a little off and distant, and when some money comes up missing and he's asked about it, Nic lies and goes off in a rage of denial and screaming paranoid defense for himself  'You're suffocating me!", and leaves his family under a dark cloud. That very cloud, like the painful relapses of drug addiction, fades and follows Nic throughout the course of the film. Even if you read the books, the film is so compelling and so tense you wonder if the next excruciating relapse will be Nic's last. 

David doesn't give Nic money, so Nic lashes out at him and blames him for his problems.

In a pivotal scene between David and Nic, many weeks go by since they last saw each other. Drug addicts always need money and give any excuse but the truth as to why they need it. David now realizes that he has to stop enabling his son and tell him no. He offers food and a hotel room, but no, Nic needs the money for drugs and he yells at his father and tells him off and blames his dad for his problems. Timothée and Steve did a wonderful job during this scene in showing opposing viewpoints of a family wrecked by addiction. Both are in pain and don't know what to do to fix this. Rehab is difficult and scary for addicts because as Beautiful Boy demonstrate, all these drugs, especially meth, change the chemistry in the brain making the addict constantly looking for the next fix, while rehab is painful due to the ravishing punishment that detoxing does to the body. Drugs = feel good; Detox = horrible pain. 

The second viewing of this film was important because I was better able to appreciate the back and forth flow of the film which relied heavily on using two younger actors to play Nic. He was a seemingly happy and normal beautiful boy growing up until after his father created a new family. Nic and David Sheff were very brave to share their story, and they should be proud of what Timothée and Steve have done to bring their story to life. This film could have been even more grittier, but I think that would have been distracting, and the tension experienced in this film already, was enough to get the point across. I had to literally unclench my jaw for one scene near the end of the film... even on the second viewing, that's how whipped you are by the end of  this powerful film. However, misery porn can only go so far in film before you lose your audience in shock or in disbelief. Thankfully, Beautiful Boy knew just how far to push it.

The journey to this point is gut wrenching.

The brilliant young Timothée Chalamet will certainly receive an Oscar nomination in Supporting for his performance, and he will certainly deserve to win, especially since he still has so much good will 'awards karma' from the previous awards season. The physical transformation that he went through, losing 20 lbs on an already very slender body was noticeable, and demonstrates his commitment to showing the real effects of a young drug addict. The withdrawals, the mood swings, the glazed over eyes and drugged induced euphoria, and general overall unkempt looks took a beautiful boy and made him into a sad mess that we empathized with because so many of us know, or knew, someone like him.