The Farewell Party

The Farewell Party

Posted on June 11, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Copyright Samuel Goldwyn 2015
Copyright Samuel Goldwyn 2015

Israeli filmmaker Sharon Mayman says that the idea for “The Farewell Party” came from the time that his boyfriend’s grandmother, age 92, was dying, and paramedics prolonged her suffering by “fighting for her life like she was 16 years old.” Her son, in frustration, said to the paramedics, “If you bring her back, you’re taking her with you.” In Israel, as everywhere else, new conversations, long overdue, are beginning about the end of life. This bittersweet story of love, friendship, and loss takes place in an assisted living facility where those who are still healthy spend a lot of time visiting those who are not. We first see Yeheskel (Ze’ev Revach) literally playing God. He is on the phone with a frail friend, pretending to be God, telling her to stay strong. And then he and his wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein) go to visit their closest friend, who is suffering terribly and dying slowly. His wife, frantic and furious, tells Yeshekel he must use his skill as an inventor to help them. And so Yeshekel does, working with a new arrival who has some experience in gentle and peaceful death — a veterinarian — and his friend, a cop.

The machine works, and they think they are done. But word has gotten out and the loved ones of people who are in great pain keep coming to Yeheskel to ask for his help, sometimes so desperate they will threaten blackmail. Levana gets increasingly uncomfortable with what they are doing until her own health issue makes her see things differently.  As she struggles with dementia, her friends respond with grace and one of the most simultaneously funny and heartwarming moments in any movie this year.  Growing old is not for sissies.  But this movie shows us that we do not be afraid to be honest about it, and to smile through our tears.

Parents should know that this movie deals with end of life issues and assisted suicide and includes some nudity and sexual situations.

Family discussion:  What can we do to make end of life issues easier for people who are dying and their families?  Do you agree with the characters in this film?

If you like this, try: “A Matter of Size”

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Drama Movies -- format

Contest: “Lullaby” — Family Drama With Amy Adams, Richard Jenkins, and Garrett Hedlund

Posted on July 25, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Copyright 2014 ARC EntertainmentGarrett Hedlund stars as Jonathan in this uneven but moving drama about a family facing the loss of a husband and father. The performances are excellent, especially Richard Jenkins as the father and “Downton Abbey’s” Jessica Brown Findlay as Jonathan’s sister.

I have two copies of the DVD to give away. To enter, send me an email at with Lullaby in the subject line and tell me your favorite movie family. Don’t forget your address! I’ll pick a winner at random on Augut 4, 2014.

And don’t forget you still have a few more days to enter the “Earth to Echo” contests for the GoPro camera and Echo plushie.

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Contests and Giveaways Drama Family Issues

Wish I Was Here

Posted on July 20, 2014 at 7:21 pm

My intention was to review Zach Braff’s new film without mentioning the controversy he stirred up in funding it via Kickstarter.  My view was that what mattered was the movie itself, and the kerfluffle over how it was all paid for was beside the point.  But it turns out that it is the point.  “Scrubs” star Braff says that despite the success of the first film he wrote, directed, and starred in, Garden State, not one studio was willing to give him the money for this follow-up.  So, he went to crowd-funding as a way to give him artistic freedom.  To those who said that crowd-funding should not be used by wealthy celebrities, he correctly pointed out that no one who objected had to send any money.  Many people did want to support the project.  He asked for $2 million. He raised $3,105,473 from 46,520 people.

That’s a good thing for making sure he got to realize his very individual artistic vision.  I’m just not sure whether we would not have been better off with a studio persuading him to make this film, as the suits in Hollywood like to say, “more relatable.”wishiwashere The script, written by Braff and his brother, is kind of a mess. Of course, life is kind of a mess, too, and movies don’t all have to be rigidly linear or consistent in tone. But this one does not come across as intentionally messy to reflect the rich tapestry of life. It comes across as undercooked and self-indulgent. Maybe I should say Kickstarter-enabled.

In “Garden State,” Braff played a struggling young actor named Andrew Largeman who returns to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, decides to go off of his mood-numbing meds originally prescribed by his disapproving, remote father, meets the warm and loving and completely adorable Natalie Portman, and learns to begin to feel his feelings.

While not formally a sequel, in this film Braff plays a struggling less-young actor named Aiden Bloom married to a warm, loving, and completely adorable Sarah (Kate Hudson), and struggling with his remote, disapproving father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin).

Aiden and his father have agreed that if Gabe will pay the grandchildren’s private school tuition, he can pick the school. So, even though Aiden is not an observant Jew, his children go to an Orthodox yeshiva school. He is frustrated that his daughter Grace (Joey King) has become very devout. And he is even more frustrated when Gabe tells him that he will not be able to pay the tuition any longer because he needs the money for some experimental cancer treatment. “So much bad news all at once,” Aiden says, learning that his children will have to leave school and his father may be dying in the same moment.

Aiden unsuccessfully tries to persuade the school’s principal, an aged rabbi, to give the children a scholarship. Because Aiden is not trying to get a job to support his family, and because they would have to take money from other families who are in need, the rabbi says no, firmly but not unkindly. Aiden haplessly starts to homeschool his children as Sarah struggles with an obnoxious co-worker who insists on making highly sexual and completely inappropriate comments.  She gets no help from her boss, who tells her to lighten up.

Aiden also has a brother, Noah (Josh Gad), a brilliant near-recluse who lives in a trailer.  He has genius-level analytic skills but toddler-level interpersonal skills.

There are moments in this film that are pure, inspired, and clearly the work of an exceptional filmmaker.  Too many of the best of them recall even better versions of themselves in “Garden State.”  And too many other moments are spoiled by an unwillingness to trust the audience.  The portrayal of Judaism borders on the grotesque (rebbe on a Segway — funny; rebbe on a Segway he can’t maneuver — not).  Braff as writer and director makes the mistake we see too often: Jewish actors and filmmakers who portray Jews feel that they have to ACT Jewish so they go painfully over the top.  The way Aiden and Sarah handle their daughter’s wish to be more religious is insensitive and unrealistic.  The way she chooses to demonstrate her faith is inappropriate for a young girl and makes no sense.  Until a moment late in the film when a quiet conversation with a sympathetic young rabbi, the portrayal of the Jewish community is unremittingly negative.  And Aiden is not as endearing as his director/portrayer apparently think.

It is a second quiet conversation that makes up for a lot of the missteps along the way.  Kate Hudson speaks to a man in a hospital bed, and it is touching and moving. There are some striking images and some choice performances, especially Jim Parsons (who had a similar role in “Garden State,” also in a wild get-up) as another aspiring actor.  And, as with “Garden State,” the music on the soundtrack is beautifully curated.

If Braff decides to go back to Kickstarter for #3, I might sign up.  Until then, I’ll think of this as a transitional film and hope that Braff will learn from it that sometimes when people say no it’s for a good reason.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, some crude, some used by children, explicit sexual references and situations, pornography and workplace sexual harassment, and drinking.

Family discussion:  How did Noah and Aiden respond differently to Gabe’s parenting?  Was Sarah right to support Aiden?

If you like this, try: “Garden State” and “Scrubs”

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Comedy Drama


Posted on June 10, 2014 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and brief drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol abuse, smoking, brief drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Very sad themes of illness and loss
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 13, 2014

lullaby sederAn outstanding cast, a weighty subject, and the sincerest of intentions are almost enough to make up for an undercooked, stuntish, and stagey script in this story about a man who decides to die and the family he leaves behind.

The always-brilliant Richard Jenkins plays Robert, who has been fighting cancer for twelve years, eleven and a half longer than his doctors expected. We get a glimpse of him in a flashback, superbly confident and capable as he crisply guides a boardroom through the details of a complicated transaction and then leaves them behind to take his adored and adoring 14-year-old son Jonathan to lunch.

Garrett Hedlund plays Jonathan at 26 and we first see him getting in trouble on an airplane for smoking in the lavatory, and then persuading a flight attendant not to have him arrested with charm — and a request for sympathy because he is on his way to be with his dying father. He is on his way to be with his dying father, but we get the idea that he has been using that as an excuse for a long time.

This visit is different, though. While Jonathan and his mother Rachel (the lovely Anne Archer) and lawyer sister (“Downton Abbey’s” Jessica Brown-Findlay) tell Robert that he can get through this as he has so many times before. But he says, “I fought for 12 years. I’ve got nothing.” He wants to be taken off the drugs so he can see his family clearly. And then he wants them to let him go.

He has a surprise for them. He has given away his money. “I love you both and I raised a couple of spoiled brats,” he tells them.

It takes about a day to sort this all out, and a lot happens. Some of it is touching, as when Hedlund explains why he has stayed away: “It’s hard to love someone with an expiration date stamped on his forehead.” And he did not want to come home until he could be proud of what he had accomplished. Jonathan has to admit that he is the one who is not ready. Rachel is devoted but shows some asperity when no one acknowledges the challenges she faces as the caretaker.

But too much seems artificial. Jessica Barden, like many of the other actors, does far more than it is fair to expect with an underwritten role. In her case it is the plucky dying teenager who just wants to know what one of the normal pleasures of adolescence might feel like, which gives Jonathan an opportunity to duck out on his family as a personal Make-A-Wish, with a chorus of cute sick kids cheering him on. There is a sort of seder in the hospital chapel and an impassioned oral argument. Amy Adams shows up as Jonathan’s ex and Terrence Howard and Jennifer Hudson are the doctor and nurse. All three are sensitive performances in underwritten parts. Issues and hostilities between family members appear and disappear without the underlying emotional heft necessary to provide a reason for the changes. When Robert says he is proud of Jonathan, it is hard to understand why. And yet Jenkins and Hedlund find something in the moment that makes it matter. Writer/director Andrew Levitas shows promise, but he needs to trust his audience a little more.

Parents should know that this film deals with issues of death and dying, including assisted suicide, and it includes smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual references, and strong language.

Family discussion: Who should decide when someone should be allowed to die? Have you discussed your wishes with your family?

If you like this, try: Two Weeks with Sally Field

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Drama Movies -- format VOD and Streaming

Interview: Sister Stephen, End of Life Nurse from “American Nurse”

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

Director Carolyn Jones told me that she learned more from Sister Stephen than anyone she has ever met.  Sister Stephen is an end-of-life nurse featured in Jones’ documentary, The American Nurse.  I also learned a great deal from her, even in a very brief interview.

What do you think that Carolyn Jones learned from you?

Well I think one of the things we talked about and she seem to really have some questions about is this whole thing about dying and how is it for these people at the end of their lives. What do you think is out there for them after they pass away? What are some of your beliefs about that? We talked about that and I think she saw also just being here how our residents really die with dignity and with the peace and the joy and the love surrounding them. That really that’s the way it should be if they all they pass on and I think that that was impressive. It wasn’t a negative experience for her at all.

She said you really bring the entire life cycle into the facility. Tell me why that’s important.AMERICANNURSE-master675

We’re so very fortunate that we are able to do that. We have animals here, we have children here.  So there’s not the concept of when you go to the nursing home you’re just gonna sit and rot and die, nobody is gonna care about you and there is no life. I do believe that there is a lot of life here and that we do the best we can to make their last days feel full of life.  Having animals and the children around, there is always something going on. We have grandchildren here all the time. Many of our residents are from rural areas and so they get to participate in feeding baby goats or going on hay rides. We do a lot of outings with them.  There are children who come here from respite care to interact with them.  They bring the residents outside, they bring the animals in to them, they play games with them. So it’s really not just sitting some place and meditating, they’re really involved and I think they feel that. We used to do a lot more activities in the evening, but by evening they want to just rest because their days are full, and they really want to participate in all of that.

What have you learnt from working with people at the end of their lives about the fears and regrets that they are experiencing.

One of my favorite parts of my nursing career is to be with residents at the end of life.  One of them was quite a bit younger, he was a hospice resident and he had a battle with alcoholism and never believed in God.  At the very end of his life, he did not want us to pray with him.  He did say, “I deserve what I’m going to get.” It was kind of sad but we still tried telling him no matter what God loves you and He’s the Father, he’s the Good Shepherd, He’ll call you by name.  I think we helped him the best we could and at least he was surrounded by love, he was surrounded by the spirit of God. I really believe that and the rest is up to God and him at that time.  Most of our other residents are very ready to die, they’ve lived a full life and most of them are faith-built people and when they get to that age it is like, “I’m ready, let the Lord come and take me, the Lord can come and take me anytime, I’m ready.”  It’s not the same when you’re taking care of someone that’s young and have a family.  A very few of our people expressed regrets to me, very few. The big thing is the population we work with here is in a rural community I’m sure is different than somebody in a big city that has loss of contact with their children and they do feel alone and maybe part of the loss of contact with their family is something that they contributed to and they may have regrets but most of our people their families are close, they’re here with them when they are dying and in my experience you do not see a lot of that.

Even though the person who is dying may be ready, sometimes the family is not ready.

Exactly, exactly.  I’ve gone through it twice with my own parents. They both died here.  Both of them had dementia.  My father was 71, my mother was 80, so he was a little bit younger.  One of the things that was so helpful for me when my mother and dad were dying, and me being a nurse in geriatrics and long term care and seeing all of the many residents that have passed and work with families, I had kind of a difficult time at that point, being sure I was making the right decisions.  My nurses were there to support me and help me.   So that is what I try to be for the families.  We sit down with them and it’s not always just me it’s often our social worker and our team that help them work that through. “What would your mom or dad really want?” Well they don’t want to be on life support. And are the decisions we are making what your parent or loved one would like or is it what you want to do because of your own guilt or comfort or whatever it might be? And it’s ok to let them go, that’s what they wanted. It’s ok not to send them to the hospital and pump IV’s and antibiotics if they are really ready and it’s nothing we can help…they’re not going to get better, they’re just going to be in discomfort.

What changes in the way we do health care in this country would be most beneficial to your work?

This sounds really, really kind of materialistic but I think with the elderly, I think reimbursement is a big issue. There’s still many more things that we would like to be able to do for our residents and have more time for them especially at that time with the families and reimbursement is a big issue. It’s a big issue on who we can actually take care of which is unfortunate. When we were a bigger congregation and we had most of our sisters we never looked at what the financial situation was unfortunately now we have to and that’s very bothersome to most of us.

Medicaid reimbursement is horrible and there’s some people you’d really like to help out but you can only do so much of that or you’re gonna sink. That’s one thing, the other thing I really think are some of the regular regulatory situation. And that’s getting better, I have to say it’ getting better but before when residents were at the end of life and I have to call the doctor regardless of what is happening or what the wishes are, you’ve got to call the doctor and many times if you get an on call physician and it’s like, “I’m not going to do anything unless you send them to the hospital.” They need to be evaluated and, they’re afraid of a lawsuit.  Do we really have to be putting them through CAT scans and MRIs to save our butts? It’s not really for the betterment of the residents.  It’s probably to save our butts or because of the regulatory issues.

Do you have a favorite bible verse that you like to share with people as they approach the end of their life?

One of them is The Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep and I call each of them by name.” And I really feel, and I said to a women that was dying last night when I prayed with her and I said, it happened to be Good Shepherd Sunday in our church and I said, “Jesus said I’m the good shepherd, I know my sheep, my sheep know me and He will call you by name.” He will call you by name. And I guess that’s one of my very, very favorites.

What was it like to see the film about your work?

When you see the movie on big screen, I was telling my administrator about it this morning, she had tears in her eyes and I had tears in my eyes. It is phenomenal; it just really restores your hope. Sometimes you get in a little bit discouraged because there’s a staffing issue, there’s a financial issue, there’s a regulatory issue and sometimes you wonder what happened to what we really got into nursing for? And you see this and it just like restores your hope.  Oh yeah, but there’s a lot we can do, there is many ways we can still serve.


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