Tag Archives: Alcoholic

The Way Back

8 Mar
TORRANCE

Watching “The Way Back,” the story of an alcoholic has-been who finds redemption taking the reins of a losing high school basketball team, I was pretty sure I was taking in something based on true events. A quick gander of the press notes and the answer was a solid nay, and somehow I felt cheated. I mean, would “Hoosiers” (1986) resonate as thoroughly if it weren’t true?

Given that the film stars Ben Affleck with his tabloid-chronicled struggles with alcohol, there’s a truth here that you can feel in the actor’s convincing “been there” performance. Affleck has puffed up for the role; he’s boxy and bloated. Gone is the buff Batman physique, and his face is weary and heavy. It’s a lived-in performance that may go down as one of Affleck’s finest, even if the film, while hitting all the requisite marks, feels thin – moving and meaningful, sure, but thin.

We catch up with Affleck’s Jack Cunningham working a construction job in L.A. He’s isolated, a barely functioning alcoholic who pops a can of beer in the shower each morning but at least has the presence of mind to get a ride home from the bar each night. During a tense Thanksgiving dinner at his sister’s house we learn Jack was once an all-state ball player at a small Catholic high school and had a scholarship to the big time, but events sidelined his success and have him separated from his wife, Angela (an effectively sensitive Janina Gavankar). The opportunity for Jack’s “way back” comes in the form of a random call from the head of Jack’s old high school. Turns out the basketball coach had a heart attack; the school asks Jack to step in, even though he hasn’t picked up a ball in 20 years, let alone ever coached.

The crew Jack has to oversee is fairly pat platoon of misfits and castoffs, unable to win a game against a team of gnomes, including the slack showboat who thinks he’s better than he is (Melvin Gregg), the full-of-himself ladies man (Will Ropp), the portly prankster (Charles Lott Jr.) and the team’s taciturn star with home life challenges (Brandon Wilson). The assemblage of coach and kids who need each other screams cliché, but director Gavin O’Connor – who’s been down this path before with “Miracle” (2004) and “Warrior” (2011) – keeps things gritty and realistic, adroitly avoiding what otherwise might have been maudlin pitfalls. The script by Brad Ingelsby (“Out of the Furnace”) may come off as forced and coy in the way it introduces backstory and developments, but to its credit, it moves in directions that are anything but Hollywood. The real buzzer beater here, however, is the chemistry between Affleck and his squad. Sure, they grow as young men and the team begins to come together and win, but it’s more palpably conveyed than just simply checking those boxes. The dynamic with Jack’s sensitive assistant coach (Al Madrigal), a math teacher who’s onto Jack saucing it up in the office, helps deepen the complex nature of addiction and recovery. Overall, “The Way Back” might not be an instant classic, but it is a sobering spin on hopelessness and despair and finding the way forward.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

28 Jul

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’: Alcoholic cartoonist was hell on wheels

Image result for picture don't worry he wont get far on foot

The films of Gus Van Sant, be they the good (“To Die For” or “Drugstore Cowboy”), the total miscue (“Psycho” or “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”) or even a crowd-pleasingly mainliner (“Good Will Hunting” or “Milk”) have always been embossed by a gritty, streetwise authenticity. That’s Van Sant’s gift – plus, by skill, proximity or both, educing some of the great performances of the past 20 or 30 years from actors the likes of Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Matt Dillon, Robin Williams, Matt Damon and River Phoenix, to name a few. Here he’s re-teamed with River’s brother Joaquin, who played one of Kidman’s teen lovers-turned-hubby snuffers in “To Die For” (1995).

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” isn’t a topical grabber; it’s a biopic about an esoteric satirist/sketch artist by the name of John Callahan who died in 2010 after spending most of his adult life in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident involving a drunken driver. The terrible catch there being that the car was Callahan’s, driven by another (Jack Black) because Callahan was too drunken to drive.

“Don’t Worry,” however, isn’t so much about overcoming physical difficulties and beating the odds, but about confronting one’s demons. As the film has it, Callahan has an angry closet full of ’em. A raging alcoholic from the minute we catch up with him to the alcohol rocket of an evening that ends with Callahan’s VW Bug wrapped around a cement post, the slacker handyman out for the next good time seemingly has little prospects beyond his shaggy good looks and winning smile – and then that too seemingly gets taken from him. Strapped to a hospital gurney in the cold, sterile aftermath, Callahan flirts with his physical therapist (Rooney Mara, impeccable and fetching in the small role) and when peppering his counselor (Rebecca Field) about the functionality of his equipment, she suggests with grave seriousness that he ask the night nurse to sit on his face. Callahan flashes his old smile and accepts the challenge gleefully. Out on his own. Callahan returns to the bottle with self-pitying vehemence. It seems a fast downward spiral, but he also starts drawing acerbic political doodles that get published (“the place that publishes Gary Larson just called”) and elicit strong public reaction. He also checks into an AA group led by Jonah Hill’s ultra-rich gay swami, Donnie, who presides over the flock with the smarmy, manipulative charm of a cocksure charlatan. Callahan takes to Donnie, but keeps boozing on the side with angry-man swagger. All of which makes for a gonzo 12-step ride.

It might be treasonous to say, but Phoenix and Hill don’t have great chemistry. They’re fantastic, mind you, but not in the way Bogie and Bacall or Newman and Redford were, or even Damon and Affleck’s bros in Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting.” When the two are on screen together the film is undeniably intoxicating in its own quirky right; if you were at a bar with this duo, you’d find it hard to close out your tab before closing time. But they’re just not pouring the same stuff. And sans the bravura performances – self-righteous Hill and self-hating Phoenix – I’m not sure “Don’t Worry” would be that interesting of a film. Cultural icons Kim Gordon, Udo Kier and Carrie Brownstein have small bits and feel plugged in but not necessarily engaged in the presence of the immersed leads. Gordon, best known for her work as a member of edgy ’90s rock band Sonic Youth, also had a small role in Van Sant’s “Last Days” (2006) the last chapter in the filmmaker’s Death Trilogy that reimagined Kurt Cobain’s demise. The other films in that series, “Gerry” (2002) and “Elephant” (2003), a repainting of the Columbine massacre, are similarly fact-based and likewise riveting. “To Die For” (1995) and “Paranoid Park” (2007) too might make apt bookends, and if you added in “Don’t Worry,” an individual alone in a country cabin for a weekend with the ability to stream such a double-triple program might emerge on Sunday depressed, enlightened and oddly invigorated. The most telling and frightening aspect of “Don’t Worry,” however, is its raw and honest depiction of addiction and the grip it has on the ensnared – and the ends they will go to in spinning a false narrative even as the knees of reality betray them.

A Sidewalk Picasso — Artist Eric Kluin Makes Newbury Street His Studio

3 Oct

Published in the WBUR ARTery

Artist Eric Kluin outside the Newbury Street restaurant Sonsie. (Tom Meek for WBUR)

If you’ve ever been by Sonsie on Newbury Street on a bright sunny day in the past 20-plus years (since the restaurant’s opening back in 1993), you’ve probably seen Eric Kluin — the surfer-esque painter with six-pack abs — busily at work on his easel perched just outside the establishment’s welcoming French windows that open out onto the sidewalk.

A shirtless fixture that’s hard to miss, Kluin’s something of a curio. Does he have a license to secure that spot? Is this some entitled ploy to pick up women? These are questions you might ask yourself as you pass by. Reasonable questions for the intrigued, but the answers might surprise you.

Kluin, a pretty laid back individual, moved to Boston in the late ’80s after working at a halfway house in Arizona where he had formerly been a resident. He’s been a recovering alcoholic for 22 years, and ironically, it was a bar that gave him his shot at a sustained recovery.

He began consuming alcohol abusively at the University of Michigan where he studied art, and didn’t stop until he was scraped off the floor of his flat in Boston by a concerned friend and tossed into rehab — twice. He admittedly describes himself as a “classic alcoholic who would drink himself to death if given the opportunity.”  Continue reading