Tag Archives: death and dying

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

In the early 90s, a group called ACT UP Paris is putting pressure on the government and the pharmaceutical companies to do more, to do something to combat the AIDS epidemic.

I’ve seen lots of great documentaries about AIDS advocacy in the 80s and 90s and am forever in awe of how the gay community basically saved themselves. They had to. Of course the world was immediately scared of AIDS, but this was at a time that they were still afraid of homosexuality as well. HIV as not exactly a sympathy magnet. People thought it would basically kill off a bunch of deviants and sinners, and lots were okay with that. So the gay community rallied for itself. Even as they were being decimated by a unforgiving disease, they had to organize and go to bat for basic things like treatment and education and access and understanding and when all else failed, for the right to have their partners hold their hands while dying.

1238247So the truth of a film like BPM (aka Beats Per Minute aka 120 battements par minute) hurts. It hurts to see such a strong group of people fighting to save their own lives, but watching the group, watching their friends and colleagues, go missing one by one. They send postcards with the faces of their dead comrades to the Prime Minister knowing one day that face might be theirs. They act as guinea pigs for drug companies that withhold information, and go to jail for demanding it. And they continue to fight even after it proves not to “just” be a “gay disease” but one that would spread to lots of vulnerable populations. Their hard work is what saved us all.

Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a newcomer to the group, can’t help but be enchanted by Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), an HIV-positive member who is using the last bit of his strength to fight the good fight. Even though this is inevitably a very sad movie, there is also hope, and the struggle to find positivity even when things look bleak. It’s about fellowship and caring and justice. BPM doesn’t resort to melodramatic shenanigans. It has confidence in its story. It tells it straight, and it’s actually more affecting this way. 

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The Book of Henry

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is the smartest, most responsible 11 year old you’ll ever meet. He takes care of his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in the schoolyard and he takes care of his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) financially. I mean, she’s got the income, but he’s the financial planner. He even wants to take care of the girl next door who he thinks may be abused by her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry’s heart is as big as his IQ, and he challenges everyone around him to be their best, which can be a lot to live up to if you’re Henry’s little brother, or worse, his mother.

Anyway, Henry is a force of nature and he’s determined to do right by his next door the-book-of-henry1neighbour, Christina. She’s silent on the subject, but he’s seen the bruises and feels compelled to act, even if the adults in his life won’t. His moral compass is ginormous. It’s tricky, though, because Glenn is the police commissioner and may be too powerful to touch. Henry makes careful plans.

But what if an eleven year old boy can’t actually carry them out? His mother finds his notebook and is guilted, and perhaps guided by said compass, to act upon it.

This film was not well-received by critics but was for the most part enjoyed by audiences, including myself. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow, kind of a departure since he’d previously directed Jurassic World, and is the co-writer of Star Wars: Episode IX. In its way, with its modest budget, The Book of Henry also bears the marks of Trevorrow’s childlike fascination. Henry may be precocious, but there’s a sense of wonder to the movie that’s quite appealing. But it’s also an ambitious movie; its shifts in tone startling at times, and perhaps not always successful.

The characters are inconsistently realistic and their actions even more so, but some terrific performances go a long way to grounding those characters. Naomi Watts is playing an imperfect but loving mother; I don’t know from where she draws inspiration, but she gives Susan a believable base, hard as that may be. Jacob Tremblay has a meatier role than just kid brother but he’s more than equal to the task. He’s already proven he’s more than just an adorable face. Jaeden Lieberher (you know him from St Vincent, and Midnight Special) as Henry has the hardest job of all. Henry is brilliant (he prefers precocious) but he is still a kid, after all, so he has to be steadfast, confident, but still vulnerable. This script asks a lot of its actors and in some ways the cast is what this movie gets most right.

The Book of Henry crosses genres, and that’s its weakness. There’s a silliness that sometimes dilutes the tension. I don’t mind a movie reaching beyond its limits, but this one doesn’t seem to have a firm destination in mind. What movie did you mean to be? I’m not sure. But I still enjoyed it on the whole, even while mentally noting all thing things I could have done better myself.

SXSW: Pet Names

Leigh’s life revolves around caregiving. Her mother is sick and her death is slow. Slow, slow, slow, like watching a corpse decompose above ground. Leigh needs a break but her mother is obviously not in any shape to take vacation…so she invites her ex-boyfriend instead.

Leigh (Meredith Johnston) and Cam (Rene Cruz) dated for a long time, and it becomes apparent on this camping trip that their ends are pretty jagged. I mean, let’s just take a MV5BYzE5ZTJjZjEtYjJlOS00YmU0LWJkZWYtYWE1MDJkNDcwMWVhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjYzNzU5MDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_breather for a minute and think about whether you’d be willing to go camping with your ex. Me? Hahahaha, no. Of course, I don’t want to camp with anyone, ever, because camping is awful. But I wouldn’t go on a luxury vacation with them either. Or for a 12 minute coffee. I’m a mover-oner.

Leigh and Cam? I’m not sure they’re ready to move on, but they’ve got a lot of baggage between them and no amount of fireside whiskey is going to make it disappear. Plus, Leigh is a different person now. She’s experiencing grief and loss and it’s changing her. Maybe Cam doesn’t know her anymore. Did he ever?

Pet Names has lovely cinematography (the kind of camera trickery that might actually make camping seem like a good idea). It also has a thoughtful script, penned by Meredith Johnston herself. It’s no wonder she seems so comfortable in her character’s skin. She and Cruz have the kind of chemistry that’s believable between two people who’ve seen each other naked but aren’t supposed to anymore. Director Carol Brandt gets to the meat of this, eagerly having them confront old wounds that are not past bleeding. The camping trip may look beautiful, but with so much to unpack, it’s clear this getaway will be anything but restorative.

 

Irreplaceable You

As a little girl, Abbie knows what she wants, and she goes out and bites it. That’ll make sense when you watch the movie. What Abbie wants is Sam, and they’ve been together since they were 8. They’re extremely until-death-do-us-part, headed toward marriage and newly pregnant, except they find out what she’s pregnant with is a belly full of tumours, and she’s going to die, soon.

Abbie’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) last days are preoccupied with finding Sam (Michiel Huisman) a new partner. She’s grieving, she’s preparing, she wants to leave him settled, imageshe wants to know that he’ll be okay. But it’s creepy and invasive and neither Sam nor his prospective dates are super into this idea. Even Abbie’s support group is pretty skeptical. They’re also a pretty good source of humour in a movie that may have been overwhelmed by its maudlin theme. Thankfully the likes of Steve Coogan, Kate McKinnon, and Christopher Walken, all favourites of mine that I never dreamed would somehow end up sitting in the same little circle in the same film, go a long way to providing some comic relief.

The script, by Bess Wohl, is kind of terrific. There are lots of unexpected little nuggets of joy, such as the wonderful Merritt Wever’s truth bomb about the world’s only monogamous fish. Watch and learn. Frankly, I would have liked to see director Stephanie Laing push the film even further into black comedy territory. Instead its tone is confused and we’re never sure whether to laugh or weep (I had no problem doing copious amounts of both, but your experience may be different). On the whole, I liked this movie very much. I like Gugu Mbatha-Raw very much and she makes this character flawed instead of the saintly dead wife that almost any other movie would have made her out to be. Her character inhabits our worst fears while being relatable enough for us to confront them in some sort of comfort. Sure it’s tear-jerker porn, but it’s the best kind as long as you have plenty of soft, name-brand tissues to see you through.

Lucky

Lucky is an old man, a washed up cowboy who’s living out his remaining years in a small town where his routine means everything to him: a daily glass of milk, some exercise, coffee and crosswords at the local diner, devotion to his game shows. Just because he’s alone doesn’t mean he’s lonely. But then a brush with his mortality reminds him that death comes for all of us, and he starts reevaluating a thing or two.

We missed seeing Lucky at SXSW this year; our schedule was packed and we had to hds_photocredit_stefaniarosinichoose between several old-guy movies (we ended up seeing The Hero and The Ballad of Lefty Brown). We can’t regret seeing either of those movies, both are good, but there is one mitigating factor. Harry Dean Stanton, star of Lucky, died last month at the age of 91. And there is, I believe, a difference between watching an old man come to grips with his age and death’s proximity, and watching a man who we know was actually met his maker be confronted with his expiration date on screen and admit to us all that he is scared. Oof.

How does a 90 year old atheist feel about death’s encroachment? You’ll see it all on Stanton’s face. The years have visibly burdened him, he walks with a heavy but purposeful gait, his shoulders sloping under the effects of time and the weight of the unknown. And though he makes various connections, a surprisingly diverse variety of connections for a man of his generation, we’re very much aware that in the end, everyone dies alone. This film has moments of genuine warmth and delight, but it’ll also make you feel his emptiness, his isolation, his fear. And if that’s not enough to completely gut you, director John Carroll Lynch wrenches the very last drops of our humanity from us with the help of my favouritest favourite Johnny Cash song. So you just can’t help be hollowed out. But Lucky also fills you up. The script accounts for more than a few quirky characters, but it’s Lucky’s persistence and courage that fill us up with hope.

There aren’t enough words to say what a great performance we have here from Stanton. It’s superb. Lucky isn’t the talkiest of fellows but Stanton delivers a meditation on mortality that is the perfect legacy to his lengthy career. He’s magnetic. And we’re all a little luckier having seen this film.

 

The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.