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Beautiful Boy

Posted on October 18, 2018 at 5:18 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual situation and nudity
Alcohol/ Drugs: Extended and explicit substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, peril, serious medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 19, 2018

Copyright Amazon Studios 2018
Timothee Chalamet gives one of the most sensitive and compelling performances of the year in “Beautiful Boy,” based on the books by journalist David Sheff (Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction) and his son Nic Sheff (Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines). The story is a conventional tale of a prodigal son almost lost to drugs, but Chalamet’s performance is extraordinary, more than fulfilling the promise he showed last year in “Call Me By Your Name.”

While both books formed the basis for the film, most of it is from the perspective of the father, David (Steve Carell), who lives in a dream of a home in Marin County with his artist/earth mother of a second wife (Maura Tierney, great as always) and two angelic small children. David lives a dream writer’s life, with profiles of the world’s most accomplished and interesting people in publications like Rolling Stone. He has a warm, loving relationship with his son from the first marriage, Nic (Chalamet). Perhaps because he likes to think of himself as young and does not want Nic to think of him as out of touch, perhaps because he and Nic’s mother are divorced and he wants to make sure his time with his son is pleasant, perhaps because he is too indulgent, when Nic offers him some weed, he laughs and takes a couple of hits. After all, Nic is doing so well in school and is so gifted and so, well, beautiful (even Chalamet’s stunning performance cannot distract us from the wonder of his hair), and it’s a beautiful day, so why not?

David does not know that Nic has gone past some recreational marijuana use. He is addicted to methamphetamines, and as we will learn from the expert David consults (Timothy Hutton), that drug changes the brain chemistry to make the addiction especially intractable. Apparently he has not been truthful about why he is there. The doctor thinks it is for a magazine story. But when David explains he is there for personal reasons, the doctor is sympathetic. David says he has just two questions: What is this doing to Nic and how can he help? Both answers are far from what he had hoped.

The movie goes back and forth in time, intended to show us David’s painful memories of happier times and his increasing understanding of how little he can do to fix this problem. But it gets discursive and distracting, making it difficult for the story to gain momentum.

And it never gets past the privileged, secular version of revival meeting testimony, another “was blind but now I see” story of a prodigal son who hit bottom, then went lower, then went even lower, and then found his way home, in part because he was born into a family that made it possible to treat his addiction as youthful folly and a medical problem and not a crime.

Carell is very good as the anxious, frustrated, and embarrassed father, who keeps trying to insist that he and Nic were closer than most fathers and sons, and that “this is now who we are” until he has to admit that this is exactly who they are. But it is Chalamet who takes this out of the category of just another Lifetime movie about heartbreak in suburbia. While the movie goes back and forth in time, Chalamet is always astonishingly precise about where Nic is on his slide to the bottom, whether he is strung out, in denial, trying to manipulate his family, terrified, or just whacked out of his head. It’s a dozen performances in one, each one a complex, beautifully observed portrait.

It is too bad it is not in a better movie. Perhaps because it tries to cover both books, it lacks focus. What is the lesson here? That parents have to accept that they cannot fix their children? That this country needs a better drug policy? Most likely it is that if you’re going to be a teenage drug addict, it’s better to be from a white family with money to pay for repeated stints in rehab.

Parents should know that this film focuses on drug addiction, with extensive and explicit substance abuse, strong language, medical issues, and sexual references and a situation.

Family discussion: Could Nic’s parents have done anything different to help him? How do the lyrics of the title song help to explain the movie’s themes?

If you like this, try: “thirteen,” “Ben is Back,” and “Augusta Gone”

Michael Cavna on the Visual Beauty of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

Posted on October 18, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Michael Cavna, who covers comics and animation for the Washington Post, has a lovely essay about a television classic, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” He writes about “Linus’s bewitchingly liquid-violet skies and Snoopy’s clouds of fantastical peril, as autumnal tints pop from the trees and leaves” and the use of camera movement to give an intimate, dynamic, cinematic feel to the show. And he reminds us that one Snoopy scene was so iconic it even became an official US postage stamp. The man behind the show agrees.

“Of the 50 prime-time specials we created with Charles Schulz,” Mendelson says, “I believe ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ is Bill Melendez’s animation masterpiece.”

And here’s a lovely essay from Matt Zoller Seitz.

MVP of the Month: What Do These Four Movies Have in Common?

Posted on October 15, 2018 at 8:00 am

Common is a successful musician and won an Oscar for the song he co-wrote with John Legend for “Selma.” But we are seeing him more often on screen as an actor, most recently in four movies out this fall that could not be more different.

Copyright 2018 20th Century Fox

In The Hate U Give Common plays the uncle of Starr, the teenage girl who is the movie’s main character. In a key scene, he speaks to her honestly about the way even he sees black and white suspects differently.

COMMON as the voice of Stonekeeper in the new animated adventure “SMALLFOOT,” from Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Animation Group.

Smallfoot is an animated story about a community of Yeti who believe, because their leader has told them, that humans are only a legend. Common plays that leader, known as the Stonekeeper. He is not exactly a traditional movie bad guy because he just wants what is best for his community. But in trying to keep them safe, he has kept them from the truth.

Copyright The Orchard 2018

In “All About Nina,” Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a talented but dysfunctional stand-up comic who wants to be on a “Saturday Night Live”-style sketch comedy television show. Common is the love interest who will challenge her to be more honest with him and with herself.

Copyright 2018 Summit Entertainment

Common is a two-star admiral in “Hunter Killer,” a Gerard Butler action movie about an American submarine and Seal team rescue the Russian president from a coup attempt. The admiral is the voice of reason from US military headquarters.

He has more movies coming soon including the fact-based “St. Judy,” about an immigration lawyer, “The Kitchen,” a crime story with Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy, and Domhnall Gleeson, and “Eve,” from director Tate Taylor (“The Help,” “The Girl on the Train”). Whether it’s a comedy, drama, romance, or thriller, whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy, he brings a natural presence and humanity to all of his roles, and I look forward to whatever he does next.

Reimagined Movie Posters: Peter Stults

Posted on October 13, 2018 at 7:46 pm

Copyright 2018 Peter Stults

Illustrator/graphic designer Peter Stults reimagines not just movie posters but the movies themselves, recasting them and creating new posters with meticulous attention to every detail of style and design. “The Shape of Water” is imagined with Donna Reed, Ray Milland, and Ethel Waters. Mmm, three of my favorites. I’d love to see that. His posters are so real I can almost imagine I have. The more you know about movies, the more you will appreciate his brilliant casting choices. But everyone can appreciate his beautiful images.

First Man: Composing the Score

Posted on October 13, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Director Damien Chazelle cares deeply about music. His film “Whiplash” is about a drummer and “La La Land” is a musical. He worked with composer Justin Hurwitz, who won two Oscars for “La La Land” on all three. In this video, Hurwitz talks about working with Chazelle again on “First Man,” which involved a lot of firsts for him, including learning how to play the theremin.