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Movie Review:  ‘Beautiful Boy’

Relapse is part of recovery. That’s what one doctor in ”Beautiful Boy ” tells David Sheff (Steve Carell), the distraught father of a teenage son, Nic (Timothee Chalamet), who has been dabbling in alcohol, weed, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth, and has become an addict.

He disappears for nights on end from his father’s idyllic home in the woods outside of San Francisco which he shares with a stepmother, Karen (Maura Tierney), and his two very young step-siblings. He steals his little sister’s savings ($8). He lies. He hurts everyone around him. He goes to rehab. He seems to be turning over a new leaf. And then he starts the cycle all over again.

“Beautiful Boy” is an honest portrait of how addiction affects families and how it’s not something that can be wrapped up and packaged into a neat and tidy narrative. It’s ugly and messy, with moments of grace and hope, but mostly despair. The film is based on a pair of memoirs, one by Nic Sheff and one by David Sheff, and directed by Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen in his English language debut. This may be depicting a family’s story in the recent past, but there is hardly a more timely subject matter to explore.

Van Groeningen directs the melded stories in an unconventional and often disorienting way, jumping back and forward in time with abandon and not a lot of establishing context. Some jumps make sense, like David, sitting in a cafe and waiting for his grown son to meet him after a bender, and remembering sitting at that same table years ago with Nic as a much younger child and goofing around trying to speak Klingon to one another. Others are just confusing. Is Nic returning after a semester in college, you wonder? Did he graduate? When, exactly, does he smoke pot with his father? Before or after he confesses to trying meth?

Perhaps disorientation is the point, a commentary on life and jumbled memories, but for the viewer it can be trying at times. The editing choices can make this film seem occasionally like one extended montage or lovely-looking music video. Van Groeningen also tends to favor flashbacks to various stages of Nic’s pre-teen childhood as David looks adoringly on his sweet, innocent son. It’s all well and good, but are we to be surprised that an addict could have once been a sweet and innocent child?

It is a frustrating diversion mainly because the best parts of “Beautiful Boy” are when Carell and Chalamet are together. I wonder whether there is a version of this movie that exists where the timeline is straight, and it is just laser focused on Nic’s ups and downs since he started using drugs. Both actors excel together, especially in gut-wrenching scenes like the aforementioned one in the cafe, where David refuses this time to give Nic any money. You can see in Carell’s empathetic eyes that the ultimatum is killing him inside.

Although you can empathize with David’s struggles, the film keeps the viewer at a bit of a distance by plopping us down in the middle of the crisis and not really letting us get to know this father and son outside of it. And forget about the other characters: Save for one scene that comes out of nowhere, Tierney, as the stepmother, seems to only be around to look concerned in the background. And Nic’s birth mother Vicki (Amy Ryan) gets even less to do, and we never learn why she’s so distant in her son’s life other than the fact that she lives in Los Angeles. That’s not to say it is not beautifully shot, and acted, with compelling and affecting music cues from Neil Young to Radiohead. But a film like this, as authentic and raw as it is, should probably leave audiences in a puddle and not exiting the theater wondering why they’re not.

“Beautiful Boy,” an Amazon Studios release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material.” Running time: 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.


MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Movie Review: ‘First Man’

Nearly a half-century has passed since the majestic moment when Neil Armstrong stepped carefully onto the lunar landscape, left foot first, taking that giant leap for mankind.

Whether you were alive then and glued to the TV, or relived it later through that iconic, grainy NASA footage, what you probably remember is just that: The majesty.

You’re probably not thinking much about the deafening noise, the claustrophobia, the terror of blasting off in a rickety sardine can that could fail at any moment for any of a thousand reasons. Or the fact that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could have ended up stranded, left to die on the moon; President Richard Nixon had a speech ready for that dark scenario.

You will, though, be thinking of these things as you watch “First Man,“ the latest installment in director Damien Chazelle’s meteoric career — and sorry for the space pun, but it’s entirely apt. An intimate character study that somehow becomes grand just when it needs to, “First Man,“ based on the book by James R. Hansen with a script by Josh Singer, is a worthy successor not only to Chazelle’s “Whiplash” and “La La Land,“ but to the astronaut films that precede it, like “Apollo 13” and especially “The Right Stuff.“

It’s also, amazingly, the first feature film about Armstrong. Chazelle’s partner here is Ryan Gosling, who dials down his obvious star wattage to give an internalized, fully committed performance as the “reluctant hero,“ as Armstrong’s own family described him.

Gosling’s task here is not merely to give dimension to a mythical American hero. He also has to play a man who famously kept his emotions in check. That may not be an asset for a movie character, but sure was an asset for the first human to set foot on another world.

And that’s because this stuff was, well, terrifying! We begin in 1961, during Armstrong’s test pilot days. Taking a hypersonic X-15 up for a spin, he’s suddenly in trouble; he can’t get back down. “Neil, you’re bouncing off the atmosphere,“ comes the rather concerned voice from below.

He makes it back, though, barely breaking a sweat. As for us, we’re irretrievably rattled.

From the heavens we go to a small home office, where Armstrong is on the phone, trying to find help for his toddler daughter, ill with cancer. His grief over her fate will remain a theme of the film until the end. But it remains unspoken, even to his stoic wife, Janet, played here with subtlety and grit by the wonderful Claire Foy.

Seeking a fresh start, Armstrong becomes an astronaut in NASA’s Gemini program. On Gemini 8, he successfully docks his spacecraft with another before suffering a harrowing in-flight emergency.

The split-second that separates giddy success from terrifying failure, the tiny, claustrophobic spaces, the flimsy materials, the shaking, the roaring, the positively ancient-looking technology — Chazelle illustrates all of this, indelibly. And we’re forced to wonder: How did they ever make it into space even once?

On the ground, meanwhile, we see what it’s like to be a loved one. During Gemini, Janet explodes at Armstrong’s boss, Deke Slayton (an excellent Kyle Chandler): “You’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood! You don’t have ANYTHING under control.“

Then there’s the devastating launchpad testing disaster that killed Armstrong’s fellow astronauts, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White. Hearing the news on the phone, Armstrong clutches a wine glass so tightly, he breaks it and gashes his hand.

But if he has qualms about going forward, he doesn’t show it. “Your dad’s going to the moon,“ Janet tells their boys. Does that mean he’ll miss the swim meet, one of them asks? Foy’s eyes flare with anger as Janet insists — indeed, commands — that Neil sit down and tell the kids he may never come home.

She’s right: One of the more chilling scenes is a brief look at NASA bosses reviewing the speech Nixon will give if the men can’t get off the moon, and what he’ll say to the “soon-to-be widows.“

And then, the mission. That famous walk to the launchpad, the astronauts waving, the applause. You hold your breath imagining how Chazelle will pull off the landing itself. With a granite quarry in Georgia standing in for the moonscape, it’s as grand and beautiful as you’d want. And yet it’s not a mere recreation of what we’ve seen before.

There’s been a distracting controversy over whether Chazelle “ignores” the precise moment when astronauts planted a flag. It’s silly for many reasons, but especially because this isn’t a movie about symbols, or myths.

It’s about men — especially one man. After the grandeur of the moon landing, an event that still boggles the mind, the movie ends on a note of extreme quiet: just two people staring at each other.

It’s a bold choice, but it feels right. Sometimes a movie feels biggest when it goes small. And this one feels big. Chazelle is only 33. One can only imagine how far he’ll travel.

“First Man,“ a Universal Studios release, has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.“ Running time: 141 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

China Orders X-Men Actress to Pay Massive Fine

The Free Press WV

Chinese tax authorities have ordered X-Men star Fan Bingbing and companies she represents to pay taxes and penalties totaling $130 million, ending speculation over one of the country’s highest-profile entertainers since she disappeared from public view three months ago, the AP reports. Of the total amount, Fan is being personally fined around $70 million for tax evasion, according to an announcement carried by China’s official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday, citing tax authorities. Fan would not be investigated for criminal responsibility for tax evasion as long as the taxes, fines, and late fees amounting to nearly $130 million were paid on time, the report said. The announcement gave no indication as to Fan’s whereabouts, but indicated her agent was being held by police for allegedly obstructing the investigation.

Fan has starred in dozens of movies and TV series in China and is best known internationally for her role as Blink in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Fan posted an apology on her official account on the social media site Weibo, saying that she accepts the tax authorities’ decision and would “try my best to overcome all difficulties and raise funds to pay back taxes and fines.“ “I am unworthy of the trust of the society and let down the fans who love me,“ she wrote in her first update since June 2. Fan evaded 7.3 million yuan in taxes by using a secret contract worth 20 million yuan that she signed for starring in the film Air Strike. She instead paid taxes on a contract for only 10 million yuan. It’s a reportedly common entertainment industry practice—an actor having a public contract stating an official salary and a private contract detailing actual, much higher pay.

Utah Ordered to Pay $475K in Deadpool Case

The Free Press WV

A judge has ordered the state of Utah to pay more than $475,000 in legal fees after it lost a court fight over a law that banned serving alcohol during the racy, foul-mouthed superhero film Deadpool. US District Judge David Nuffer handed down a strongly worded decision denying state arguments that the price was too high, the AP reports. “The political judgment of the state that it will enact a statute contrary to existing law and risk payment of legal fees is a legitimate choice, but it has consequences,“ he wrote. Lawmakers and the governor in the conservative state had backed a law that’s largely aimed at strip clubs, but also prohibited serving booze during films with simulated sex or full-frontal nudity.

The Brewvies movie theater in Salt Lake City sued in 2016 after regulators threatened to fine it up to $25,000. The state defended the measure in court, calling liquor and sex an “explosive combination.“ Nuffer struck down the law last year as a violation of First Amendment rights, ruling the theater is not an adult-oriented establishment and Deadpool is a mainstream movie. The theater’s attorney argued that the law was so vague it would apply to Michelangelo’s “David.“ His office was awarded about $475,000 in attorneys’ fees and an additional $3,800 in other legal costs. Nuffer deducted $22,000 in proceeds from an online fundraiser that attracted a donation from Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds.

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