Tag Archives: death and dying

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 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.

Advertisements

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.

A Man Called Ove

There is indeed a man called Ove. He is a crotchety old man who rules his condo tenement with fierce rigidity. He’s aged out of his job and his wife has left him (well, died, but he’s such a grump I can only assume it was purposely, to escape him). I shouldn’t joke; his wife’s grave is the only time and place where he’s a little tender. Does he list her a litany of complaints? Of course he does. But only because the world’s gone to MV5BNTgzNDcxYzEtZDljOC00NDZmLTk2ZTAtOTVhM2Y1MWI1YzUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDc2NTEzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1581,1000_AL_shit without her. The only reason he hasn’t committed suicide yet is the damn neighbours, who need constant monitoring and discipline, and who else would take it upon themselves to mete it out?

It turns out that Ove has had a pretty interesting life. It’s just that no one knows it because he isolates himself, sequestered in a condo that’s still a shrine to his dead wife. It’s only because some boisterous, needy new neighbors draw him out against his will that we learn the ups and downs that have contributed to his current thorny state. If you’re feeling like this sounds a little sentimental, well, it is. But it stays just shy of saccharine thanks to a nuanced performance by Rolf Lassgård in the title role. He never lets Ove go full-martyr, he keeps the role alive and flawed and beautiful. Ove’s may not exactly be a unique character arc, but it’s charmingly irresistible in Lassgård’s hands.

The film is a little predictable but so sweetly executed that I’m finding it hard to fault it. It’s surprisingly funny at times, mixing genres fairly deftly, making for a lovely, bittersweet, and humane character study that’s a pleasure to watch.

 

The Discovery

How would your life change if tomorrow you read in the newspaper that science had confirmed the existence of an afterlife?

A scientist does just that in Netflix’s The Discovery, and his announcement shakes the world. Suicides skyrocket immediately. Is he responsible?

Robert Redford plays Thomas, the scientist in question. A year after the big announcement, he’s basically a recluse, still working on his theories in secret with his son Toby (Jesse Plemmons) and a cult’s worth of helpful believers. He’s pushing the envelope, wanting and needing more and more confirmation – if not for the world at large, at least for himself. It’s personal.

1393540Another son, Will (Jason Segel), estranged from his father since the discovery, returns home. On the return journey he meets a woman named Isla (Rooney Mara) who has her own reasons for questioning the afterlife.

This film provokes a lot of existential questions that not everyone will be comfortable with. But there’s a beauty in finding meaning in life. Believer or not, it draws you in to its essential mystery. Unfortunately, the seed is strongly than the story. It’s a great what-if idea but lacks the terrific follow-through I was hoping for. Your enjoyment of this film depends on how well you deal with great thoughts vs great plots. If you like the ethereal quality of Vanilla Sky, this might be your jam. I certainly enjoyed it, perhaps especially for the thoughtful discussion it generates after viewing.

Would such a discovery be best kept secret? Can you even keep something like this secret? And if the meaning of life and death are in flux, is suicide even the end game – mightn’t some take it a step further? This movie’s a little ambitious for its britches, but I admire that.

Redford does great work in his juiciest role in quite a bit – the mad scientist is off-kilter and complex, and perhaps hasn’t quite thought through all the consequences. His sons provide interesting counterpoint: Toby’s adoration and Will’s skepticism temper Thomas’s zeal. Plemmons is delightfully madcap while Segel plays the stoic. The Discovery is well-cast and thought-provoking and worthy of your time.

SXSW: This Is Your Death

Before being cast in Breaking Bad, Giancarlo Esposito was bankrupt and depressed. He started wondering if maybe his family was better off without him. That’s when this script dropped into his lap. It was the right thing at the right time.

This Is Your Death follows Adam Rogers (Josh Duhamel), host of a Bachelor-style reality TV show where he witnesses a contestant go off the rails and commit some serious violence. Shaken, he vows to use his platform for good, so he partners with network exec Ilana (Famke Janssen) and director Sylvia (Caitlin Fitzgerald) to develop a new show where people will commit suicide on air. This sounds like a terrible idea, doesn’t it? Exploitative? this-is-your-deathThe exact opposite of what Adam seemed to intend? He hopes the show will give a voice to the disempowered, raise awareness for their plights, maybe even raise money for their widows and orphans. But you can probably guess that this idea is a monster, and once fed by ratings, it will take on its own gruesome agenda.

Adam is not as shallow as he seems; he cares for a troubled younger sister (Sarah Wayne Callies) and is crushed by her disapproval. Ilana is mostly just trying to cement her position at the top – it’s precarious up there, and she’s become a little ruthless. Sylvia is there against her will, bound by a contract and a little sickened by what she’s doing, even if she is rather good at it. The thing is, predictably, Americans respond the only way they know how: by tuning in. By baying for blood. By demanding more, more, MORE. So the show becomes a death machine, gladiator-style, with blood-lusting spectators egging on deeply depressed individuals. Adam, swept up in fame and success, begins to lose his humanity. Will a budding relationship with his director be enough to bring him back?

This movie has elements of dark comedy, and of satire – you’ll especially love the bit with James Franco. But it’s also a mirror being held up to a disturbing trend in reality TV. Is This Is Your Death that far off the mark?

Giancarlo Esposito stars in as well as directs this film. It’s clear that the themes of the film resonate with him personally. This is not easy to watch, and to be honest, I was surprised to be moved as I was, and quite early on. There’s a callousness to the reality-TV world, but This Is Your Death manages to peek around the curtains a bit to glimpse the softer underbelly. The film ended a bit abruptly for my taste, but it’s resonant and noble in its pursuit.

The Life of David Gale

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is an anti-death-penalty activist and professor in Texas (in Austin, Texas, actually, which happens to be where we’re headed this week for SXSW, but that’s just a weird coincidence). He’s quite politically active until he winds up on death row himself, accused and convicted of the murder of another activist (Laura Linney), and sentenced to capital punishment.

The_Life_of_David_Gale,_2003Journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is brought in to do one last interview with him before he’s put to death, but what he tells her isn’t a straight forward of guilt or innocence, but rather challenges her notions of justice and the legal system. But can she trust what she’s being told, or is David Gale just a smarter-than-average killer?

The thing about this movie…[this is me trying to decide whether I’m going to be polite about it]…is it’s not very good. I mean, it’s trying to be mysterious with a message. But if you can imagine that the message is a big salami, then imagine getting hit in the teeth with this salami, well, that’s The Life of David Gale.

Obviously it’s not for capital punishment. Or is that obvious? Or even true? Because I think tumblr_nijqy0nx9o1t0t91ao7_1280unintentionally, somewhere in the convoluted mess, it might actually manage to do the complete opposite. The Life of David Gale certainly traps some very worthy actors in a mess they can’t act their way out of. Kate Winslet is pretty Winsletty, although she does a fair bit of running just to show how urgent, how life-and-deathy this whole thing is, but Spacey: man. That guy did not get the good end of the salami here. He’s particularly bad acting opposite the kid playing his young son. It’s just uncomfortable to watch.

The film, Alan Parker’s last, wants to be thought-provoking but leaves neither room nor nuance for any thought at all. Although it lures you in with the promise of high concept, it’s more manipulative and frankly, more mundane than you’ll think possible. It ends up feeling fairly generic despite a stellar cast with 13 Oscar nominations between them. In the end, I was just hoping they’d be put out of their misery, which is probably the last message an anti-death-penalty movie wants to send. Then again, nothing about The Life of David Gale suggests that anyone put even that much thought into it.