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.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Post-TIFF Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor Race

Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy (Amazon Studios)
Now that the Toronto Int'l Film Festival is over, the official (even though it's still September) Oscar season begins, and with that, Oscar prognosticator's speculations of who makes it into the first round of Oscar buzz lists. The only category I have a horse in is the Best Supporting Actor which Timothée Chalamet will be in due to his brilliant performance as meth addict, Nic Sheff in Beautiful Boy. The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg was in Toronto and he released his first list of possible nominees for the Oscars. Based on following Scott on Twitter for so many years, and making note of his positive impressions about Timothée, and the wonderful podcast he had with the actor earlier this year, Scott did root for Timmy, but, the stars were aligned and pre-designated for Gary Oldman last year as he too left TIFF 2017 on a high note from The Darkest Hours. Fast forward a year later, it appears that Timothée is on a similar trajectory buzz akin to Oldman's.

Plan B and Amazon Studios are being smart in getting Timothée out there and promoting the film at industry screenings in LA (SAG-AFTRA earlier this past week), and he's now at the Santa Barbara Film Festival before he takes off for Spain for the San Sebastian Film Festival and other festivals throughout October, including London's BFI film festival. Surely they are aware of the buzz and they want to capitalize on it and do as much press and interviews prior to the limited release of Beautiful Boy on October 12th. Timmy has generated so much good will and PR from his historic nomination as Best Actor for Call Me By Your Name earlier this year, that it can only help him this time around in actually winning. But, one day at a time as many more supporting actor performances have yet to be seen. However, as of right now, it's looking very good for Timothée - he's off to a great start. The key is to build up and continue this momentum without over exposure and marketing fatigue. The timely issue of the devastating effects of meth addiction to the addicted and their family is a universal matter and a pressing concern for millions of people around the world. Timmy's frank portrayal of the downfall of this addiction is something to see as it will stick with you and haunt you!

Scott Feinberg predictions Sept. 14th 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Timothée Chalamet TIFF Red Carpet & Elgin Screening for Beautiful Boy

Timothée Chalamet about to sign my copy of Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
Note: Review of Beautiful Boy will be posted the week of Oct 12th. Hint, I give it an A- and yes, Timmy will get an Oscar nomination.

{Click on an image to see it on full screen and to scroll through all images}

Part I: The Red Carpet

At the end of this article, there are over a dozen exclusive images taken by me from covering the red carpet World Premiere of Timothée Chalamet's Beautiful Boy at the Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall, and the Q&A at the Elgin theatre on 7 September. Firstly, I must admit that I went into Toronto kind of nervous that all the money I put into attending TIFF this year was going to be a waste. So as you can imagine, I'm so thankful that everything related to Timmy and Beautiful Boy was perfect! It was such a hassle getting tickets to one of the three Beautiful Boy screenings (see below) that I knew the red carpet would be in high demand and because I have avoided Roy Thomson Hall red carpets for the past five years or so, I was uncertain as to the logistics of the fan area and the sweet spot time to line up.

Although I tried my best to give tips to fellow Timmy stans at this thread at Club Chalamet, it was just guidelines and advice from my experience as a festival goer, and not an actual insider. So I had to roll with the flow once I arrived in Toronto at the crack of dawn on Friday morning. Upon my arrival into downtown Toronto, I contacted one Timmy stan at 8:30am, and she informed me that people were already lining up. Just insane. I hadn't even brushed my teeth yet from the red eye flight. So that's when I walked over to RTH to assess the lineup situation. There were already about 20 people in line and people slowly coming each passing moment. After further consideration, I decided to not go to my 12:30 film, Vox Lux, as I would jeopardize getting a good spot on the red carpet. This was literally the reason why I spent so much money to be there; to be in prime position to report back to my readers and fellow Timmy stans, a clear view of the red carpet and seeing Timmy, if just for 15 seconds. I couldn't check into my hotel at 9:45am, but they allowed me to use the ladies locker room of the gym to shower, change, and fix myself up for a long day of the red carpet and the following screening at the Elgin at 8pm. As planned, I arrived back at the red carpet by 11 am ready to hold fort until the red carpet started around 5pm.

Getty Image of me in burgundy jacket w/ Timmy and fans
Security permitted us to line up along the red carpet early so that we could get a good spot, and thankfully, we selected a spot at the end of the fan section and it turned out to be the perfect spot. There were three "fan" sections: I was in the regular camp out all day fan group, and the other two fan pits were lottery winners of the sponsored section. By 5pm, the crowds swelled in the fan pit and it was getting uncomfortable because people think that by pushing you into the barricade, you will evaporate and thus, allow them to stand in the front. It's amazing what you put your body through in order to get a glimpse of a genius, and this may be my only shot doing this for Timmy. The first big screams came as the co-stars of the film, and authors of the books, David and Nic Sheff arrived. But none of them signed autographs, they just smiled and walked down the red carpet knowing that everyone was there for Timothée. Then, the real screams began as a black SUV dropped off Timmy looking absolutely gorgeous in his Haider Ackerman 2018 Mens Collection suit. So many stans were worried about what would Timmy look like with a bowl cut sans his beautiful curls. But to those who doubted, they were quickly put at ease as Timothée Chalamet looked like he strutted off a Paris fashion runway! It was complete pandemonium, and Timmy deserved all the screams and adulation thrown his way.

Screams from burger girl brought Timmy over to us

As he is known to be, Timothée made a great effort to meet as many fans as possible as he criss crossed each fan section signing books and pictures, taking selfies, and signing food! There were times when it looked like he was delightfully flabbergasted by the shear volume of fans, and signing so many things, but I'm sure he was having blast, so bless his heart! Luckily for me, I stood next to the big mouth burger girl. I knew her big mouth and spastic energy would get Timmy and his people's attention and come over to me/us. As per the image above, Timmy is just about to sign that damn greasy hamburger (I don't even eat red meat), and after he signed it, he signed my book. I didn't even get a chance to say hi or anything as his people were guiding him away, so I'm LUCKY I got him to sign my Beautiful Boy book, and that's what I wanted to accomplish with this Timmy close encounter. Timothée loves his fans and appreciate our support, and that's why he spent so much time with us. And like that, it ended, he was whisked off to take official TIFFy photos and talk to the press. Thank you for this Timmy!

Hanging out at the red carpet is a test of endurance and patience, but we all managed, and got to see/meet the loveliest and most celebrated young actor working today!

Timothée and Steve Carell at The Elgin Q&A

Part II: The Elgin Screening and Q&A

After the stress from hanging out at the red carpet, we headed over to the Elephant & Castle pub for a drink of cranberry juice and vodka - and it helped calm the nerves! We then made our way to the Elgin and our seats were on the left side, 6th row. Very nice seats considering the madness in getting them. As the screening was to begin, the director, Felix Van Groeningen came out to briefly speak and introduce his film and to confirm a Q&A after wards. Now, of all the screenings, The Elgin was my preferred screening because I was the most sure that a Q&A would occur there with a 100% certainty. It was the Ryerson that was more of a 95% chance (and as it came to be, Timmy did not attend Ryerson the following morning). Why? Who knows, but it's a crap shoot for talent to put their all into a huge red carpet world premiere the night before, attend the actual screening at RTH,  and then go to a Q&A at the second screening on Friday night, and then attend premiere party(ies) where I heard he happily partied into the early morning. So it's no shock that he did not attend Ryerson, he most likely was catching up on rest in order to be prepared for other interviews for the rest of the weekend. Ryerson is a good back up to The Elgin, but because there's too much time commitment involved in lining up for hours in order to get in first to get a good seat, and if your preferred talent doesn't show up, it can suck.

I will write a review of Beautiful Boy and release it the week it comes out in limited release. Because I live in LA, I know I will get a chance to see a screening of Beautiful Boy and I want to see it again before I write a review. I was just too much on a red carpet high when watching the film, but of course, I thoroughly enjoyed it enough to give it an A- grade, but I would like to write more about its non-linear storytelling, and the roller coaster ride that the brilliant Timothée went on to share Nic Sheff's story in a realistic and heartbreaking way.

As the film ended, the audience gave a glorious and hearty applause for the film. Then we all quieted down as we realize that Timothée's voice was reading a chapter from Nic's book. We were all spellbound. I never experienced anything like that. It was really an incredible grand finale voice over performance that greatly complemented the conclusion of this emotionally raw film. Kudos for Timothée for doing that! When the lights came up, the cast and creative force behind Beautiful Boy came out to glorious applause. Timothée received thunderous applause, and Steve Carrell received a grand applause too. I think had Maura Tierney attended the premiere, she would have received a warm applause too. But the standing ovation was reserved for David and Nic Sheff whose bravery in being so forthcoming in their books to chronicle the devastation that Nic's drug addiction had on him and his family, which became worse when he got hooked on Meth. To be so honest about this disease is just flat out brave because they opened themselves up so much to the world, but in an effort to help educate us all about how literally anyone can become addicted to this stuff and ruin their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

The Q&A was moderated by one of the TIFF film curators and she asked about a dozen questions which allowed everyone on the stage to respond to a question. I would have liked if the audience was given a chance to ask a question, but sometimes when time is tight, it's best just to limit the Q&A to questions asked by the moderator. Timothée answered a few questions and he came across very grounded, humbled, and just so proud of the work he did to bring David and Nic's story to life. Steve Carell summed it up perfectly when he said that Timothée gave the best audition in the history of the world, and that he cannot imagine anyone else playing Nic with such respect and dedication to the role. So far, critics agree and I strongly believe that Timothée, at the age of 22, will garner his second Oscar nomination, and dammit, this time, he should win it!

Ticket purchase fiasco:

As a member of TIFF, I was greatly disappointed in the trouble I experienced in trying to purchase tickets to the Elgin or Ryerson via proper channels of my window purchase time, and during the member pre-sale. I came up short both times and it was incredibly frustrating and disheartening. I was able to easily secure the other 5 films, but Beautiful Boy was in overwhelming demand. I refuse to pay over $1500 to be a higher level member in order to have an earlier purchasing window. There's still no guarantee. You have to be at the uber higher levels to be so comfortable in your elite status of securing all the tickets you want. And the way TIFF slowly releases tickets throughout the sales period, forces people like me to look to StubHub to secure a ticket, often at inflated prices. Although I managed to get a ticket at a 100% markup, it just pissed me off that someone on the same damn day of the screening, got tickets even closer to the stage at face value. What.the.actual.fuck? And they weren't even a TIFF member!! So, I'm angry that I spent more money at TIFF in an effort to see the one film I really wanted to see. But at the end of the day, I think karma hooked me up, and I have to accept that I was willing to pay the money and I met my goals in getting a good spot along red carpet, getting great 'zoom zoom' images of Timmy, seeing him up close for 28.4 seconds, attending his screening, sitting in reserved 6th row, enjoying the film, and listening to the lovely Q&A. I did alright this year. However, due to the expense of this year's TIFF, I'll skip TIFF next year, Timmy or no Timmy because I have other obligations. But this quick trip to Toronto proved to me that I can visit TIFF in the future for a 2-4 day visit, and I'll maintain my membership so that I can increase my window purchase time for my next TIFF I attend.

Now, enjoy the rest of my photos in chronological order from red carpet to the Q&A! I took so many more, but these are the best! If you want to use my images, please credit 'Theatre of Zen', that's all I ask.

First peak of Timmy on the red carpet

David and Nic Sheff

He's getting closer


My altered Beautiful Boy book with Timmy's face

Signed by Timothée Chalamet!

Timmy just came out on stage at The Elgin

Camera zoom pretty good at this angle!

David Sheff speaking

The actors and their real life characters

Director Felix Van Groeningen