Monday, April 28, 2014

Packerpalooza 2014

The last time I blogged, I got the best night sleep I had in a while, so I figured it was worth another shot at this blogging thing.  Sleep has been much improved lately, I’m happy to report.  I feel calmer, less worrisome, and more in control.  That could change at any second and any day.  That is just how anxiety is.  However, I’ve been on a streak of really good days, capped off by Sunday’s epic Packerpalooza 2014.  As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. I bleed green and gold.  Being a Packers fan is a big part of who I am and what I believe in as a person.  As one can imagine, living in Chicago, this has not gone over well with my family and friends.

Because of this, Packerpalooza is something I look forward to dearly ever since I first went in 2013.  I was a little unprepared for last year’s event, so I made sure to make this year different.  I bought 8x10’s of John Kuhn, Frank Winters, and Jarrett Boykin ahead of time and also had a mini helmet that Amanda got me for Christmas ready to be signed by Scott Tolzien.  I wanted something special this year in terms of autographs, for them to be memorable and not just have them sign any old piece of paper.

For the past two weeks, it has been all I’ve been talking about and been thinking about, ask Amanda. I’ve become obsessed with the event, attending it, and wanting it to go off perfectly.  I’m glad to say that it did and then some.  It exceeded my expectations.  It started by having my bag filled with stuff to get signed.  Admission is $25 per person, which includes autographs and photos with the players.  Considering it’s four players, well, five as Myles White was a surprise addition, it is well worth the money. I like having the peace of mind of knowing I’m promised pictures and autographs.

I thought I would have a rough night sleep, but thankfully, Amanda helped me relax by shutting the lights off and making sure I stayed away from any screens. She gave me some great relaxation techniques to ease my body and slow down my mind.  I ended up getting around 9 hours of sleep, waking up only once, which was a big surprise for me. I thought I would be getting up early, tossing and turning, and end up restless.  I slept like a baby and woke up ready to start the day.  The water in the shower was warm and my Packer clothes were picked out from the night before, so I was all set to go.

We left around 11AM and got there a little before noon.  We found a good parking spot and my Iphone GPS got us there without any issues.  It was already pretty packed and I think the turnout was even bigger this year compared to last year’s, probably because they had more modern players attending the event.  We sat on bar stools which weren’t the most comfortable thing in the world, as the set-up had wood sticking in my back unless I wanted to stare at a wall, but that’s OK.  I was in such a happy and positive mood that a little discomfort wasn’t going to upset me.

We got to meet the owner in person, Kevin Kruse. We have been Facebook friends for a while, so it felt like we were already friends in person as the conversation was perfect and he had a great sense of humor. We took a picture with him and he couldn’t have been nicer.  When we went to meet Scott Tolzien, Kevin told him that we were good people and to take care of us.  That meant a lot to me.  We also met the Ultimate Packer fans, including Mean Gene the Dancing Machine, who was dragging a bear along with him and stepping on it, which I thought was hilarious. We got to take pictures with them and hold up the Super Bowl ring and the Lombardi trophy, which was pretty awesome.  I bought my Packerpalooza t-shirt and settled in and waited for the players to attend.

I wasn’t exactly sure when or how the players would be arriving, but I kept a look out for them.  Before I knew it, there was a long, long line and told Amanda that we better get in line.  At first, it seemed like the line wasn’t moving at all.  The Blackhawks game started at 2PM and people were watching that, getting excited when they scored a goal, and rocking out to the song.  I could never get into hockey, personally.

We probably spent a good 45 minutes to an hour in line, but the girl behind us was nice and shared a similar sense of humor as us, so that made time go by a little faster.  My feet were starting to hurt, but again, I wasn’t going to let that get me down.  I was determined to stay positive and I just woke up feeling like it was going to be a great day and believed it, one hundred and ten percent.  I did take an anti-anxiety pill before I left the house. I take them on an “as needed” basis, and this seemed like a situation that might cause me great social anxiety or stress as it was crowded and loud. I was worried I would be stuttering, nervous, or really anxious.  Because of my pill, I felt calm, cool, and like nothing could bother me.  Thank God for Clonazepam.

People can criticize those who take prescribed medications, but if you need them and they help, there is no shame in taking them when you need them. It came in handy and had me socializing with people, making great eye contact, chatting, and feeling at ease.  I never felt rushed, nervous, or uncomfortable.  Thankfully, no anxious, obsessive, or negative thoughts came my way.  The first player we met was Frank Winters.  I told him I had seen him at Target in Countryside, and he got a kick out of that.  He was nice and talked with us for a bit. We got a picture with him and his autograph.  He’s a regular and has been at all six Packerpalooza events.

Scott Tolzien was next to meet, and Kevin had said on Facebook that Scott is one of the most humble and down to earth guys. He was definitely right.  He signed my mini helmet and we got a picture with him. He shook our hands and was very nice.  John Kuhn was next.  Kuhn, out of all the players, seemed a tad distracted.  He didn’t stand up for photos and just seemed like his mind was elsewhere.  I don’t want to say anything bad about him, as he was nice, cordial, shook our hands, and took a photo with us, but something just seemed off.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he was the only one that was a little different from the others. 

Jarrett Boykin was next, and he was awesome. He stood up for the picture with us, as did Scott Tolzien and wide receiver Myles White, who was a surprise addition to the proceedings.  I told him how I liked his Twitter name.  He laughed and when I came home, I noticed he followed me on Twitter after I tagged him in a photo, which totally made a great day even better. Myles White was last and he was super down to earth, chill, and very happy to be there and meet and greet with fans.  It was nice to be able to meet five players in one day and get all of their autographs and pictures with all of them.  It was truly special.  Amanda and I ended the day with some Panda Express as we were pooped from all the excitement. 

It was truly a perfect day.  I got to see Kevin, meet five Packer players and get their autographs, see the Packer Super Fans and get pictures with them, talk to Mean Gene the Dancing Machine, and the whole time, I was calm, cool, relaxed, and handled myself very well socially.  I didn’t stutter, get nervous, feel rushed, or anxious.  I thought I was going to have to ask Amanda to ask the players to sign stuff and for photos, but I was proud of myself for doing it on my own and feeling comfortable and confident.

I enjoyed 2014’s Packerpalooza even more than last year’s and I will gladly be attending every single year.  It is a special bar run by a special man who truly cares about the customers and goes above and beyond the call of duty to make everyone comfortable.  They let you interact and mingle with the players without standing over you and hovering over your shoulder trying to rush you and get you on to the next person.  It is a relaxed, fan friendly event.  I couldn’t have asked for a better time, and I’m so happy Amanda was there to share it with me.  Thank you to Kevin Kruse and everyone at Will’s, including the players and fans, for giving me a day that I won’t soon forget.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to look at my awesome autographs and pictures for the 100th time as this smile is not going anywhere!

-Tony Farinella

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Anxiety: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Negative

Lately, I’ve developed a bad case of insomnia, which is not surprising considering anxiety rules my life more often than I would like.  It is indeed a battle.  I was on the winning end of the battle for a while, but lately it seems like more of the losing side.  Losing sleep hasn’t helped the cause that is for sure, as the less I sleep, the more anxious I become.  It is a vicious cycle.  I have horrible restless legs and my mind and body just can’t seem to sit still.  Ever since I’ve had anxiety, sleep has been hard to come by, and it comes and goes in periods where I go weeks with great sleep followed by weeks of awful sleep.

I’ll either struggle to fall asleep, wake up earlier than I want to, or just lay in bed, unable to get comfortable, no matter how hard I try.  Because of this, I figured I should return to blogging and get that going once again.  I’m not promising that I’ll keep up with it, but at least it will give me something to do on those sleepless, anxiety-filed nights.  Amanda has to wake up early in the morning for work and I don’t want to keep her up all night, as that would be pretty rude.  Blogging seems to be the best bet at this point.

Lately, I haven’t necessarily been feeling worried, mostly negative, which I guess is worrying in its own way.  The voice of anxiety can be incredibly loud and incredibly negative.  It assumes the worst and always leads to what is called “doomsday thinking,” where you think the worst possible outcome is going to happen in a situation.  It can make it hard to enjoy life.  I know I’d probably feel a hell of a lot better with a solid night’s sleep.  That always seems to clear everything up and give me a fresh take on what is going on and allows me to look at things more realistically.

The waiting period with moving into the condo has been quite stressful on me, I must admit.  They have accepted our offer and we have signed the papers, but now just waiting on the loan approval.  The anxiety voice tells me that we will be denied the loan, even though we have been pre-approved and everything is on the right path.  Anxiety looks at logic and facts and simply laughs at them and says, “I’m going to convince you the worst.”  It is like that kid in high school who always made fun of you and pointed out your flaws.  It loves doing that.

I’ve been feeling very lonely and like I need more friends.  I have Amanda, always and forever, but I can’t put the burden on her, 24/7, to be the only person in my life.  It simply isn’t fair to her.  However, outside of her and my dad, I find it hard to trust people.  I can trust them online or over text message, but in person, it can be scary and I have concerns that my anxiety will rear its ugly head and I’ll act panicky, strange, and people will think I’m some sort of weirdo. Again, instead of believing that I’ll be funny, charming and have a good time, anxiety tells me I’ll be stuttering, super nervous, and act odd and make people uncomfortable.

The social anxiety seems to decrease with a good night’s sleep and Clonazepam.  That prescribed medication makes me rather fearless, as I’ll tell people exactly how I feel and act much more calm.  I don’t like having to rely on that pill, however, and I don’t want to always have to use it in social situations.  I hung out with my dad today and I feel like I did very well socially.  I have concerns about Packerpalooza 2014 this weekend.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled and excited to go, but being in a packed room of people causes me great anxiety as I worry I might have a panic attack or act anxiety ridden in front of the players I’d like to meet and I’ll stutter, make a fool of myself. Again, that is “doomsday” thinking at its finest. I worry the pictures won’t turn out the way I want them to, I’ll look fat in photos, and I’ll act strangely because of anxiety.  I worry people will think I’m weird, judge me, and I’ll have a bad time because of anxiety.  

Even things I look forward to and enjoy can be impacted because of this disease and this illness. It all boils down to sleep and changing the way I think. I know if I thought more positively and believed in good outcomes, they would happen and I’d have nothing to worry about at all.  I enjoy things more after the fact instead of during, as I’m relieved the event happened and I didn’t say anything stupid or act anxious.  I know I shouldn’t worry about what other people think of me, but I do, and it is hard to control it.

I have my dad and Amanda, but I feel like I need more people in my life.  I have pushed many people away in my life and I have burned many bridges. This is my fault I know and no one is going to feel sorry for me, nor do I want them to or expect them to.  I think a bigger support system of real life, day to day friends would help, but I get flaky with my anxiety and don’t always want to be around people.  It puts pressure on me, as I worry about how I’ll behave.  It might sound exhausting, complicated, and all over the place, but it is anxiety.  It tells you that it wants more people in your life, but then you push them away and get scared to commit to hang out or be around anyone.

I appreciate you reading if you have read all of this. They say sharing and talking about this sort of thing helps.  Maybe it will help me sleep tonight.

-Tony Farinella

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Top 13 Movies of 2013

It’s cliché and often said every year when it comes to the movies, but this year, more than ever, it is true. It was a great year at the movies. The year 2013 presented one great movie after another, and I found it incredibly difficult to put together a list of just ten movies from the year that I loved.  I had to make it 13, which felt appropriate with it being the Top 13 films of 2013.  These are films that left a positive impact on me in some form, and I walked away from them and couldn’t get them out of my mind.  They left me with something to ponder and often moved me to tears.  Each film mentioned is special in its own way and all of them are now out on Blu-Ray and DVD.  The reason this list took so long is because I wanted to take my time and make sure that I did the list properly and saw as many films from 2013 as possible.  Without further ado, here are my top 13 films of 2013:
13) Spring Breakers

It was difficult to find a film that polarized cinemagoers more than Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which no surprise came out around the spring of 2013.  It is a colorful, hypnotic, and mesmerizing experience.  It really blew my mind from a visual standpoint, and when you mixed in the soundtrack along with the performances, especially James Franco, I was left with a movie that truly haunted me and stuck with me.  It is not for everyone, that is for sure, and many people I’ve told to see it have hated it.  I loved it and loved how original, unique, and outside the box it was.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt when you have four beautiful women in the film as Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson. Many walked out of the theater during the showing or were bored to tears by it.  There is not a lot of middle ground with this one.
12) Fruitvale Station

Based on a true story, Fruitvale Station is the Michael B. Jordan show.  Known for his outstanding work on such shows as The Wire and of course Friday Night Lights, he proves he is leading man material here as he carries the show.  The film runs at under 90 minutes and follows a day in the life of Oscar Grant, a flawed yet goodhearted young adult who is just trying to put his drug past behind him and start new for his girlfriend, played by Melonie Diaz, and his baby girl.  His mother, the talented and powerful Octavia Spencer, just wants to see her son do right.   What happens and unfolds is tragic and known beforehand, so it is no surprise when it does occur, yet director Ryan Coogler keeps the suspense going and the filming tight.  It truly feels like a day in the life of Oscar and as if we are a voyeur following his every move.  The last 15 minutes of the film are as powerful as any movie of 2013.  At the end of the day, it is Michael B. Jordan who is just giving us a sample of what is to come in the years from this tremendous actor.
 Extra Large Movie Poster Image for 12 Years a Slave
11) 12 Years a Slave

This is a tough but necessary watch.  It shows how far we have come, how things used to be, and what slaves truly had to endure.  A free man, now forced into slavery, has to leave behind his family to try and survive with many lashings and long nights at the hands of the sinister Michael Fassbender, who turns into a scary good performance.  Many moments in the film are nearly impossible to watch and even harder to swallow when you see it happen on screen. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from it, however.  Brad Pitt also turns into a solid supporting performance.  He isn’t on screen long, but his presence is felt.  Film can be used for many avenues, but when it can teach us something and show us something, it really shows how influential it can be and how affecting the medium is.  The film shook me for days and really hit me hard.  This is a powerful film that needs to be seen by everyone.  It is an important part of our history, even if it is an ugly part, because it shows how different things are now.
10) Captain Phillips

This movie runs at over two hours, but not a second of it is dull or boring.  Every moment, every sequence, and every action has a purpose.  Tom Hanks turns in one of his best performances in a long time as Captain Richard Phillips who is held prisoner while his cargo ship is being held hostage by Somali pirates.  Hanks keeps it together and has to play many different sides to his character in the film.  He needs to be a family man. He needs to be in control.  He needs to show no fear.  It is a lot to take on and it is an emotionally draining performance that Hanks puts his heart and soul into every step of the way.  The suspense at the end of the film is off the charts. Paul Greengrass takes us right in there and doesn’t hold back.  This is a great film.
9) Disconnect

Disconnect is a film, much like 12 Years a Slave, but in a far less important way, that needs to be seen.  It shows the dangers and miscommunications that go on in our lives because of our use of technology and how reliant we are on it.  It has a great cast which includes Jason Bateman in a rare dramatic role, the always reliable and intense Frank Grillo, Hope Davis, and Paula Patton.  The film had me in tears and really shook me to my core many times throughout viewing it.  It should be required viewing in every household.  Technology is great and has many benefits, but it can be used incorrectly. When it is, the dangers can be endless.   This film was released in early 2013 and not nearly enough people have seen it. I hope it finds an audience on Blu-Ray and DVD now.
8) Enough Said

This is a romantic comedy for adults to enjoy without any of the unnecessary raunchy material or dirty jokes.  Not that there is anything wrong with that sort of thing, but this is a simple (in a good way) love story between two middle aged single parents who are just trying to figure out each other and life without their children.  It is directed perfectly by Nicole Holofcener, who always has a keen visual eye and creative mind for romantic comedies for adults.  It also features an amazing performance from the late great James Gandolfini, who shows that great actors are great actors.  They can do anything. He just knocks this performance out of the park and his chemistry with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is just perfect.  This is a sweet film that more people need to see, much like Disconnect.  It just made me feel good and put a big smile on my face.
7)  In a World

Lake Bell is the writer, director, and star of this quirky independent gem which again, to beat a dead horse, more people need to see.  If this list does anything, I hope it inspires people to seek out some of these films they might have missed the first time they were in the cinema or haven’t heard about previously. It focuses on the often overlooked or undervalued world of voiceovers for trailers.  It is a man’s world most of the time, but Carol (Lake Bell) is hoping to break that trend and become the next big star.  She is terrific in this original, distinctive, and very funny film. We definitely need more female voices not only in the voiceover world but in the film world as well.  Lake Bell is someone that I look forward to seeing more and more of in the future.  I had a great time with this one and really enjoyed its cast full of colorful characters such as Nick Offerman and Ken Marino. It is a brisk 90 minute movie that just flies by and has a really sharp script.
6) Short Term 12

This is a film that hit close to home with me: feelings of abandonment, feelings of being left behind, and feelings of being all alone. Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson are outstanding in this film, especially Brie.  She is a wounded young woman, trying to stay tough and keep it together for the children she is looking after at the residential treatment facility.  I fell in love with all of the kids and their outbursts, their issues, and their pain.  Brie should have been nominated for an Oscar in this touching, funny, and heartfelt film that shows a difficult job well done by flawed yet beautiful people.  The tears came out hard and heavy for this film, and I was moved by it immensely.  It is one of those little independent films you sort of hear about, but then you check it out are blown away by its direction, its action, and its message. This one hit very, very close to home.  This is an amazing piece of filmmaking.
5)  The Spectacular Now

Miles Teller takes a break from being in disposable teen movies to be in a teen movie that truly understands what it feels like to be a teen and have seen and been through things at a young age.  Kyle Chandler is only in the film for about 10 minutes, but he steals the show with a performance that is so creepy yet heartbreaking at the same time.  The real star maker in this film, however, is the beautiful Shailene Woodley, who just makes you fall more and more in love with her character every time she is on screen.  She is beautiful yet she doesn’t know it.  She is shy yet kind of sexy at the same time in a way that isn’t forced.  The film also features one of the most tender love scenes I’ve ever seen on film.  This is a film that packs a heavy punch and is filmed just beautifully.  This is a special film about that special love.
4)  Dallas Buyers Club

Much has been said about Matthew McConaughey and even Jared Leto’s weight loss for the film, but even more than that, this is a film about life and living it.  We only get one life at the end of the day, and it is important to make every single moment count.  Ron Woodroof learns the hard way when he is diagnosed with AIDS.  However, he will not give up, even after he is told he only has 30 days to live.  He keeps on fighting and will not go down easy.  He isn’t always likable, and it is a tough performance as he can be homophobic and kind of a jerk, but you start to really feel for him and his friendship with Jared Leto’s Rayon. It is truly the heart and soul of this movie. Jennifer Garner also turns in fantastic work as a sympathetic doctor.  This is another one of those films that just hit me like a ton of bricks and really made me feel something.  That is the power of cinema without a shadow of a doubt.
3)  Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine only gets better and better with repeat viewings.  It is funny, kind of sad, and filled with moments that are just cringe worthy but in the best way possible. Cate Blanchett earned her Oscar win for Best Actress as she truly gives a performance to remember.  One minute, in flashbacks, she is with Alec Baldwin and living a life of luxury.  The next, in real time, she is fighting with a man named Chili played just perfectly by the much underrated Bobby Cannavale.  She needs her meds or you might find her on the street talking to herself.  She doesn’t want to work a real job, nor can she really handle it.  She knows how to lie with the best of them.  The script is so witty and filled with great one-liners.  This is one of the best Woody Allen movies I’ve seen in a while.  The film also features great appearances by Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay, believe it or not.

2) American Hustle 
This is the film that I wish Wolf of Wall Street would have been but wasn't. David O. Russell knows his cast and knows who he likes to work with, that is for sure. He brings out the best in Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and now Jeremy Renner as well. I was hooked and drawn in as soon as the movie started and it did not let up for even a second. I loved the soundtrack, which I now have in my collection, and the look and feel of the film is out of this world. There is so much attention to detail and every character is unique, fun to spend time with, and distinctive in personality.  I've seen the film three times now,k and every time I find something that I missed from before. There is a lot going on, but it is never confusing or overwhelming. The film flows like a great tennis match. I loved the hell out of this movie.

1) Nebraska

Comedy and drama are two genres that can be difficult to merge together, but Alexander Payne blends them perfectly in this beautifully shot and magnificently acted film. Who would ever thought to put Bruce Dern and Will Forte in a movie together, but they actually work supremely well together.  Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film just shines on screen like no other film has this year. June Squibb steals the show as well with some tremendous one-liners. Her comedic timing is off the charts.  Bruce Dern reminded me of so many older men that I know in my life such as my grandpa, who just doesn’t know when to quit or how to quit.  They are stubborn as a mule but still have a zest for life.  Forte also does great work as the son who loves his dad and goes along with all of his crazy schemes and gimmicks even though he knows they are not legitimate.  The ending of the film put a smile on my face that just about lasted for days.  Nebraska is the best film of 2013 and it looks amazing on Blu-Ray.  This is a rare film that has a great script, great director, and terrific cast.

Honorable Mentions:

Lee Daniels' The Butler