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VIFF 2018 Review: Ben Is Back

Ben Is Back

Ben Is Back is about a son (played by Lucas Hedges) returning home from rehab for Christmas, but under the watchful eyes of his mother (played by Julia Roberts).

Another movie from the VIFF anticipated for bigger release later on is Ben Is Back. The film consists of a lot of dark subject matter, but does feature a lot of elements that make it worth seeing.

It’s Christmas Eve in a New England home. The Burns family is rehearsing at church for the Christmas play. Unbeknownst is that their son Ben has returned from rehab to spend Christmas with them. He sees that the house has an alarm system since he was sent there. Smart parents. When the family arrives, they are shocked to see him there. Ben has fun with his two younger half-siblings at first, but mother Holly, stepfather Neale and sister Ivy are nervous. Holly decides 24 hours and Ben must be in her supervision. Ben agrees.

On Christmas Eve, she tries to take his mind off things by going to the mall. The first person they see is the doctor: the one who prescribe painkillers he claimed weren’t addictive, but were. Holly gives the doctor a piece of her mind. To take Ben away from the frustration, she takes him to a store. Ben notices Clayton, the town pusher, going down an elevator. As Ben appears changing in a store,  Holly notices Ben is taking too long and suspects the worst. Holly shouts to get Ben out.

After that, they go to a church hall that’s holding an AA meeting. In the hall are two or three teens Ben deals drugs to, including one that wants to meet up with Ben later and get ‘done.’ Ben agrees, but that infuriates Holly to the point she takes him to a cemetery and tells him to pick his grave.

The family with hope the Christmas play will take their mind off things, until they see the mother of one of Ben’s ‘customers.’ The daughter died and the mother is looking distraught. Ben is moved to tears during the show. Coming home, they find the house broken into and the dog is stolen. The father pins the blame on Ben. Ben feels he has to help the family out and get the dog back. Ben learns the dog is with Clayton who’s holding it hostage for money Ben owes him. Ben and Holly go out together to get it solved. However there are people who want Ben dead.

Ben soon leaves Holly on his own pursuit to get things done. Holly takes the other car and searches like mad to find Ben. Holly finds herself in the home of the mother of the deceased daughter. Holly tries to be friendly with her. The mother gives her something in case Ben overdoses. Ben meets with Clayton to get the dog back, but Clayton expects a favor involving drug trafficking. While Holly feels lost, Ivy calls and says she’s able to track Holly and Ban through her iPad. As Ben does the ‘favor’ for Clayton, Clayton ‘pays’ him with a special pill. Meanwhile Holly senses Ben in a solitary location, thinking he’s dead. The story ends with a hugely climactic moment.

I’m sure when a lot of you first heard the premise of the film, some of you probably thought “I know where this is going.” The film I’ll bet you were thinking about is Rachel Getting Married. It does seem like it’s starting in similar fashion as Rachel Getting Married where a child who’s in rehab returns home for a special occasion. One thing to say is that a child returning from rehab during a holiday or a festivity is a common occurrence in real life and something a lot of families experience on a day-to-day level. It’s a story that can be played out in real life hundreds of different ways. Some may be redeeming and some may even be tragic.

Ben Is Back is a different story from Rachel Getting Married. Kym goes through her struggles at home, but returns back to rehab as a stronger person. Those who saw Rachel know that’s the main theme is about healing and the struggle to achieve it. Ben Is Back is a different story. Ben Burns is home for 24 hours in a town that’s full of memories of his drugged past. On top of it, Ben is a former dealer who is responsible for leading other teens of his town to their own drug addiction, including one fatal. You hope that Ben stays as strong through the fight the way Kym was, but you see that Ben succumbs to a lot of the pressures along the way. The film ended with a different ending from the message of hope Rachel appeared to have. True, Ben’s ending was more dramatic and almost ended up making for a tragedy, but it made for its own story.

One of the key themes of the film is that of family relations. Without a doubt, the biggest relation of focus is a mother for her son. Holly has seen the hardest of the issue. She has to lay down rules for Ben during these 24 hours. She is also very suspicious Ben will back to his old ways during that time. One key scene is when Ben is talking about drugs to a teen he saw during an AA meeting. Infuriated, she takes Ben to a cemetery and tells him to pick his grave. Of course that was very impulsive and very wrong of Holly, but it represents the frustration of dealing with a child of drugs Holly is supposed to have a ‘tough love’ attitude about it, but doesn’t go about it best. The whole film is a case where Holly wants to keep Ben sober during that period of time, but the events become a case where it’s down to where she just wants him to be alive.

Other family relations play a part in the film. There’s the sister Ivy who’s very nervous about Ben coming home feeling he’ll be a wreck again. In the end, she becomes the one who is best in helping Holly find Ben. Then there’s the stepfather Neal Burns. He feels a load of contempt for Ben and his addiction. When the dog is stolen, Neal touts the whole blame on Ben. Even while Holly is searching, Neal doesn’t bother helping, even referring to Ben as ‘that drug addict’ instead of his own stepson. It’s only until the end that he’s willing to help.

One weak thing about the film is the ending. I know that it ends right at the very moment of the drama, but it does seem like it ends the film abruptly and way too soon. I know directors have two or three alternate endings for a film, but it makes you wonder if this was the right choice for ending?

This is a good film for writer/director Peter Hedges. It may not be his best film as he has had bigger accomplishments in the past, but this is a film Peter can be proud of. Peter’s son Lucas has become one of the biz’s rising stars right now. It started happening with Manchester By The Sea and he’s been on a role. This film is one of two films he plays a lead role in. I have not seen Boy Erased, so I can’t compare. He does a very good very intense performance here. His career can only get better. However the film belongs to Julia Roberts. Even though Lucas plays the titular character, Julia stole the show as the mother. Her emotions and feelings shown in the film are like so many mothers in that situation. She played the part excellently and stole the show. There were other minor performances that were very good like Courtney B. Vance as the stepfather with an axe to grind, Kathryn Newton as the nervous sister and Michael Esper as the heartless drug supplier.

Despite the abrupt ending, Ben Is Back is an excellent movie about the struggles of drug addiction. You might first think it’s a rehash of Rachel Getting Married, but it tells its own story.

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Super Bowl 50 Preview

super-bowl-50-hero

DISCLAIMER: Seeing all the hits made in the past week to my Super Bowl blog from last year prompted me to publish my pre-Super Bowl blog earlier than expected. Just to let you know my prediction could change in the days leading up to the Bowl.

Can you believe this will be the 50th Super Bowl? For some who are old enough to remember the first, it would be hard to believe. Nevertheless this American ritual will be having its 50th on Sunday February 7th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. This year it’s the AFC’s Denver Broncos versus the NFC’s Carolina Panthers.

THE START OF AN AMERICAN TRADITION

1st Super Bowl

An image of play during the first ever Super Bowl where the Green Bay Packers (in green) beat the Kansas City Chiefs (in white) to become the first ever winners.

The Super Bowl actually came out of a league rivalry. The NFL began in 1920 but there was an AFL, the American Football League, that formed in 1960 and it provided some heated rivalry with the NFL. In 1966, a merger was worked out between the NFL and the AFL in which would take full effect in 1970. In the meantime, both league’s top teams would compete in a ‘World Championship’ event.

The first Super Bowl which was actually called the ‘First AFL-NFL World Championship Game’ was held on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The NFL team was the Green Bay Packers led by Vince Lombardi. The AFL team was the Kansas City Chiefs. NBC had the rights to broadcast NFL games while CBS had the rights to broadcast AFL games which meant both networks could show the first Super Bowl: the only Super Bowl which was telecasted by two networks at once.

There was a halftime show but it wasn’t the show as we know it. The show featured trumpeter Al Hirt with the marching bands of the University of Arizona and Grambling State University followed by the release of 300 pigeons and 10,000 balloons and a flying demonstration by the Bell Rocket Air Men. There was also pregame entertainment and performances after each quarter from the Los Angeles Rammettes. The game was held on a sunny day with 22º Celsius (or 73º Fahrenheit) weather and the game was won by the Packers 35-10. Interesting fact: the players of the winning team the Packers were each paid $15,000 and each player of the Chiefs were paid $7,500. Oh yeah, the cost of airing a 30-second commercial was $42,000.

Lombardi

Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi is congratulated after his team won the first ever Super Bowl. They’d win again next year.

Over time the Super Bowl would grow in both ratings and stature. The Packers’ win in the second Super Bowl, which would be the first Super Bowl by name, would add to the legend of coach Vince Lombardi. Ratings would grow considerably, the cost of airing a 30-second commercial would also grow hugely, marching band performances during the Halftime show would eventually be replaced over time first in 1976 by the ensemble Up With People–the first of four Super Bowl appearances for the ensemble– and would follow with performances by Disney, Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block, Aerosmith and of course the infamous duo of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The Super Bowl is now watched over 100 million Americans. In fact last year’s game amassed a record US audience of 114.4 million viewers. It’s even attracted viewers worldwide with a total worldwide audience of 160 million last year.

IT’S SHOWTIME

Okay. So what does this year’s Super Bowl have planned? For starters, let’s focus on the stadium. The host venue will be the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the home venue for the San Francisco 49ers and the newest stadium of the NFL. It took over two years of construction to complete at an expense of $2 billion. It has a regular capacity of 68,500 that can be expanded to 75,000 which will of course happen Super Bowl Sunday. As of press time, it has not been decided who will sing the national anthem.

Oh yes, the half-time show. Two months ago it was revealed that ‘multiple acts’ will perform in the show. Remember the alleged financial fiasco last year that led Coldplay and Rihanna from balking out of last year’s show? Well Coldplay agreed back in December to perform this year and be the headlining act. Two headlining acts from past Super Bowls Beyonce from Super Bowl XLVII and Bruno Mars from Super Bowl XLVIII, have been confirmed by Pepsi that they will also be performing.

AND NOW A WORD…

Yes, the Super Bowl ads. Every Super Bowl provides us with memorable ads like Mean Joe Greene’s Coke And A Smile, Apple’s 1984, McDonald’s Jordan/Bird hoops showdown, the Budweiser frogs, Mr. Old Spice and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader ad. Last year is most memorable for a commercial remembered for worse thanks to Nationwide Insurance. That commercial about the boy who died in the car accident sparked a social media outrage because most felt it interfered with their enjoyment. Nationwide responded they did the ad to start conversation.

Much to many people’s relief, Nationwide does not appear to back advertising this year. Advertising for a 30-second spot will come at the expense of $5 million. Surprisingly this will be the last year Anheuser-Busch will be advertising multiple ads during the game at a steep discount as part of their contract. This is also the tenth and last year Doritos will have their ‘Crash The Super Bowl’ contest to allow viewers to air their ads. The Pokemon Company will be airing an ad to celebrate their 20th anniversary and QuickBooks is sponsoring a contest to allow ten businesses to air their commercial during the game. Also expect a lot of movie companies to plug their upcoming releases.

THE LOW DOWNSuper Bowl 50

Now enough of the hype. Let’s get down to the game. One thing about this Super Bowl is that with it being the 50th, it will be known as Super Bowl 50 instead of Super Bowl L. Also with it being the 50th, the winning team will not only hold the Super Bowl all year but will also receive an honorary 18-karat gold-plated 50 weighing 66 lbs. The game will pit the AFC winner Denver Broncos against the NFC winner Carolina Panthers. So how do they fare?

Denver Broncos

The Broncos are no strangers to the Super Bowl. This Super Bowl makes them the fourth team ever to make a record eight Super Bowl appearances. They’ve only won twice, back-to-back in 1997 and 1998. Hey, there was a big long AFC dry-spell which the Broncos broke.

This year the Broncos were one of three teams in the AFC including the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots that had a 12 win-4 loss season this year. The Broncos came out on top because of less points conceded. The season started with a new head coach in Gary Kubiak and John Elway, who helped the Broncos win both Bowls, continuing as general manager. There were 15 departures and more than 30 signings and three trades and eight signed in the NFL draft.

The Broncos started their regular season on a stellar note winning their first seven games. Their only losses came against the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. During the AFC playoffs, they were able to avenge their loss to the Steelers by winning 23-16 and won the championship against the New England Patriots 20-18.

This has been an excellent year for the Broncos. No doubt about it Peyton Manning is still on even after a tear in his foot back in November and the defense is the admiration of the league. However I saw the AFC game and I saw both the Broncos and the Patriots commit a lot of fumbles and clumsy errors. I was tempted to think neither of them deserved to qualify for the Bowl. Whatever the situation, the Broncos will have to get their game on for the big day.

Carolina Panthers

While the Broncos know how to play in a Super Bowl, the Panthers are almost like rookies. They’ve only played in the Super Bowl once and it was back during Super Bowl XXXVIII where they lost to the Patriots. This year they deliver what could be their best team ever. Heck if there’s one team that could truly call this year their year, it’s the Panthers.  Winning their first thirteen games, they set an NFC record for best start of a season and one of only three teams in the NFL’s history to have a 13-0 start. Their only loss of their regular season games came from the Atlanta Falcons. On top of it, this was Cam Newton’s year as he became the first quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and rush for 10 in a single season. As for playoffs, they faced a stiff challenge from the Seattle Seahawks but won 31-24. However it was their NFC Championship game where they really put on a show by beating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15.

If you saw that game against the Cardinals, you could tell that the Panthers were on fire. They committed few errors and delivered team play like no other team. On top of that Cam Newton looked like the player of the year. However they have not played the Denver Broncos so they might know what type of defense they have. As for Panthers’ defense, they faced a setback in Sunday’s game as Thomas Davis broke his arm. Even though he’s undergoing rehab and plans to play in the Super Bowl, it’s still a question if he’ll be healed in time to play.

MY PREDICTION FOR THE WIN

This is not going to be easy. One’s experienced in Super Bowl play while one is more eager than ever. The Broncos have the top defense but the Panthers have the offensive edge. This could be a game where Peyton Manning ads to his legacy or the game where a new legend by the name of Cam Newton arrives. Sure, the Broncos won in clumsy fashion on Sunday while the Panthers were brilliant but that was one day. Super Bowl Sunday could tell a different story. So I will predict that Super Bowl 50 will be won by the Carolina Panthers 25-20. Plus it’s always a delight to see a team win a Super Bowl for the first time ever.

And there you have it. My thoughts on Super Bowl 50. Should be a delightful game. The entertainment both on the field and during commercial time should also be memorable and hopefully very entertaining. Both teams’ fates will be decided Sunday February 7th.