READY OR NOT – movie review

READY OR NOT
Fox Searchlight Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenwriter: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 8/13/19
Opens: August 21, 2019

Image result for ready or not movie poster

Jokes are often made about marriages of Hollywood actors. They have elaborate ceremonies, their receptions are written up in People, interviewers ask all sorts of personal questions such as “How many kids to you plan to have?” Then two years later, four years later, “in sickness and in health” becomes the big lie. Divorces are common after short periods. If you really want to see an extreme version of this as though satirizing the concept, look into “Ready or Not,” featuring a marriage that lasts all of twelve hours. Blame it on the in-laws. Though “Ready or Not” is fiction, some viewers may think that it’s a send-up of the one percent, the belief that any family that is rich enough to be in that bracket must have gained their wealth through stealth, even murder somewhere along the line. Still, that would be a difficult thesis to prove, nor do Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, who share directing credits as well for “Devil’s Due,” about a newlywed couple on their honeymoon facing an earlier than expected pregnancy.

Unlike “Devil’s Due” the couple may or not have an unexpected pregnancy, but they have one hell of a bad honeymoon. Nor is the bride favored by in-laws, an eccentric group of people living in a mansion with rooms that may be larger than the cubic feet of an apartment in New York’s Trump Tower. (The pic is filmed by Brett Jutkiewicz in Oshawa, a suburb of Toronto, considered the safest place in the area where kids can play at night—but tell that to the people in this film.)

Samara Weaving anchors the activities as Grace, whose history as a foster child compels her to want a family. She lucks out, or so she thinks, in meeting Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) not realizing that she is being set up like Chris Washington by Allison Williams in Jordan Peele’s superior film “Get Out.” After an outdoor ceremony on the grounds of the estate, she returns with Alex to meet the family—one which could be compared, except in appearance, to the folks in Charles Addams’ cartoons. These are people bound by tradition, as shown in an opening scene thirty years earlier. A satanic pact has been made with the ancestors, agreed to by the family to pay back the man who originally made the money by creating and selling games.

Told that she must pick a card, any card from a deck featuring games, Grace selects Hide and Seek, the worst choice she could have made. As the family counts to 100, she is delighted to run away, hide in the dumbwaiter, and then think of a less cozy place. Soon enough she sees that if she cannot escape from the mansion by dawn, she will die at their hands, nor can she count fully on her husband Alex, who loves her but is conflicted by the pact of which he too is a part. Soon she is hunted down by Alex’s brother Daniel Le Domas (Adam Brody with Etienne Kellici as the young Daniel), Becky Le Domas (Andie MacDowell with Kate Ziegler as young Becky), Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun) who needs help in using a crossbow), Tony Le Domas, the majordomo of the outfit (Henry Czerny) and Helene (Nicky Guadagni), the aunt who most resembles a Charles Addams character.

As is customary in horror pictures, people get picked off, one by one, in this case by crossbow, weights smashed on their heads, strangulation, gunshots, and ultimately by a Götterdammerung of a conclusion that comes off more like a deus ex machina than a scene that you might expect. While some critics believe that Adam Brody comes off tops in his role as the bride’s brother-in-law, also with conflicted feelings, I have high regard for Henry Czerny, who is the epitome, or perhaps society’s stereotype, of a chief executive. Czerny, who delivered a powerful performance as a pederast in John N Smith’s 1992 “The Boys of St. Vincent,” has a lesser role here but his depiction of the family’s leader is compelling. Best of all, Samara Weaving, whom we have seen in Joe Lynch’s “Mayhem” about a virus that causes white collar office workers to act out their worst impulses, is perfect for the role. She starts out in her bridal dress, a long white gown, innocent in the ways of people whose riches she could only imagine. She reflects the tension that all feel, with a terrific depiction of fear, shaking, breathing hard, tearing her dress to allow her to run, then becomes an angel of vengeance.

The visuals are great. An estate with wall paintings of ancestors becomes symbolic of the home of the super-rich, though weighed down by a pact with which only some are enthusiastic with others conflicted. The music, which includes sections of Beethoven’s Ninth and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, is perfect. There is one serious weakness, found in Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy’s freshman feature screenplay. The film, distributed by Fox Searchlight which has served as the highbrow companion of 20th Century Fox, has the visual quality of its traditional art-house fare. But the dialogue, with its incessant use of the f-word and the s-word, is vulgar, not warranted except to draw in those moviegoers who never get tired of the profanity used well beyond its function in the movies. Screenplays are important: some consider writers, not directors, to be the most important elements of a movie. The juvenile language amid the paintings of the masters and a soundtrack that includes Beethoven and Tchaikovsky is incompatible.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

JAWLINE – movie review

JAWLINE
Hulu
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Liza Mandelup
Cast: Mikey Barone, Bryce Hall, Jovani Jara, Julian Jara, Austyn Tester, Donovan Tester, Michael Weist
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 7/18/19
Opens: August 23, 2019
Jawline Movie Poster

In at least one sense, the social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—have not changed teen-aged girls. The bobby soxers screamed when Frank Sinatra performed during the 1940s and 1950s, and ditto Elvis Presley during the sixties. Their hearts skipped beats when their owners listened to the Beatles, (while their elders saved their lusty emotions for Liberace from 1936 to 1986). There is a quantum difference to teen girls’ choices, however, thanks to Instagram. People of little talent but stunning good look have been able to arouse their yelps and gasps and breathlessness, as long as the celebrities are their own age. “Jawline” takes us to this age of technophilia with “Jawline,” the implication of the title being that as long as a boy has granite features—with a thick head of hair to help and the ability to charm—he can be a celeb and not for just fifteen minutes.

Director Liza Mandelup in 2016 contributed a ten-minute short “Sundown” about the camp life of kids who are allergic to the sun and, more apropos to her current offering, the five-minute “Fangirl,” about social media celebs you never heard of but your adolescent daughter has. Now in her freshman full-length feature, she explores the excitement that young high school coeds feel when they Instagram their favorite hunk and their completely off-the-wall reactions when seeing him in person.

Austyn Tester tests his luck as the film’s anchor, a 16-year-old who lives in a rundown house in a broken-down town of Kingsport, Tennessee. He is eager, like so many millions of young people, to get out of a town where the mall is the only hangout, and to go to the big city, in this case to L.A. Though five university have satellite branches in Kingsport, none of the teens in the film show the slightest interest in attending college and, in fact, we have no idea what life is like for them in school.

Austyn, however, is home-schooled. His favorite social media platform is YouNow—which I had the curiosity to explore and lasted there for ten minutes. He talks with his fangirls as do other so-called boy broadcasters, who have fans perhaps in the millions. The young women are not listening to great songs like Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Elvis’s “I’m All Shook Up,” or the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” So what exactly is holding their attention? Austyn appears to rivet them whether talking about topics of such originality as “believe in yourself,” just like Elsie Fisher in the far superior Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade.” But he spends most of his time shucking off self-help platitudes in favor lip-syncing a song just out or simply changing focus on his laptop from a medium sitting position to a close up that exploits his thick blond hair and chiseled jawline. His friends are good-looking as well, though only Austyn could pass for a young Brad Pitt.

He occasionally signals his following that he will appear at a local mall, giving the date and time. Sometimes a dozen girls show up, all eager to do selfies with him and most of all to hug, sometimes he gets a larger following. He lucks out, however, when taken under the wing of Michael Weist, a guy who looks about twenty-one years of age and who, as CEO of a business promoting vacuous, talent-less boys with good jawlines organizes photo shoots and takes them around L.A. treating them to massages and shopping sprees. It’s no wonder that Kingsport, Tennessee becomes even more the place to leave, as there you have no chance of ascending to the stars.

We don’t find out what kind of income Austyn is getting when he appears on stage before scores of screaming Mimis, but the entire picture challenges us to figure out who is being exploited, if anyone. If you think the girls are the victims of fake celebs, of people with no talent and probably little education, we remember what one of them said: that their Instamatic and online friends are better than the kids at school, where they are bullied. Could this explain why so many of their gender are plugged in seemingly 24-7 with their phones on their pillows all night, ignoring the crowds around them, sometimes bumping into people accidentally? Shouldn’t they be spending some more time reading books, magazines, anything that could give them a deeper perspective on life than the endless, repetitive phony entertainment provided by the small screens?

If a look at vacuity is Liza Mandelup’s theme, she has succeeded despite the repetitiveness of the action on the big screen. If she is satirizing a society that makes kids want to shut down the world and enter the small screens, she has done her job. This is not to say that the documentary is spellbinding. It can be downright work to slog through if you’re a thinking adult, laughing at or, being kinder, empathizing with the kids and wishing we could do something to break their need to conform without challenging their imperative to fit in.

99 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID – movie review

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
Shutter
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Issa López
Screenwriter: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón Lópex, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero, Tenoh Huerta
Screened at: Technicolor Screening Room, NYC, 8/6/19
Opens: August 23, 2019

Image result for TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID MOVIE POSTER

Feel free to call this movie an example of Guillermo del Toro light, considering that del Toro is best known for “Pan’s Labyrinth” (n the Falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world). Like the master, writer-director Issa López fills her works with magic realism, a technique for characters to conjure dreams as an escape from reality. Perhaps “Tigers are Not Afraid” does not succeed because the actors, however skillful and talented, are ten-year-olds with a limited grasp of the situation but more likely it is because the actions in this Shutter release come across like a work-in-progress. Its plot that does not congeal, landing across the screen as a bunch of actions not full thought out.

 

Since the principal characters are all young orphans whose parents have presumably been rubbed out by drug lords during the war that began in Mexico in 2006, we can accept the ease by which these kids fill their time with fantasies about killers on the loose. The story opens on a classroom. The teacher assigns the writing of fairy tales, stories which for ten-year-old Estrella (Paola Lara) star tigers because tigers are not afraid. She and her classmates have good reason to be afraid when shots are fired down the hall, the children and teacher hitting the floor. However Estrella holds three pieces of chalk in her pocket, each with the power to grant a wish. With the first she succeeds in killing a local mobster, an initiation of sorts into a roving band of street urchins who include El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez).

Issa López, who wrote and directs, projects that for these kids, things that go bump in the night may be seen as by adults as just superstitions, but for these kids they are as real. They include shadows, ghosts, the dead whispering their demands for vengeance. A line of blood follows Estrella as she and her male pals plan on dealing with members of the cartel including El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), whose cell phone with damning evidence of murder has fallen into the hands of the children and which the drug lord seeks—not that the cops are interested in doing anything with the evidence as Estella and company find out.

Though the film is described as horror, at most it could be called supernatural, with visions that are not overdone by López, whose “Efectos secondarios” about four young adults adrift in Mexico City shows her versatility. Good performances aside, “Tigers are Not Afraid” is filled with repetitive and dull commentary by the street kids and lacks the kind of variety that would substantially fill even its brief running time.

83 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – C+

AMERICAN FACTORY – movie review

AMERICAN FACTORY
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
Screenwriter: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
Cast: American and Chinese workers and supervisors in Dayton, Ohio
Screened at: Dolb24, NYC, 7/30/19
Opens: August 21, 2019

American Factory Movie Poster

I once destroyed a fellow in a moderated debate. He said he would never buy a foreign car, thinking that if he did he would be throwing American workers under the bus (or car). I hit back by citing foreign autos which are made in the U.S., e.g. Mercedes and BMW in South Carolina, Infinity QX60 in Tennessee, Honda Accord and Acura in Ohio, all providing thousands of jobs for factory workers. We are living in a globalized world where products made by foreign companies use American workers, but sometimes management from China, or Germany, or Sweden come here to oversee the work. Think of Tom Hanks’ role as Chuck Nolan in “Cast Away,” traveling to the Soviet Union to represent management of a FedEx plant that opened there. He found the workers lazy and even wide-eyed at the suggestion that they should work since, after all, this was the socialist paradise where laborers pretended to work and bosses pretended to pay them.

A similar situation occurs in “American Factory,” but the shoe is on the other foot. Now American workers are accused of being lazy while Chinese at the same task are workaholics. The case involves Chinese investment in a factory that produces glass for automobiles. When the General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, closed,leaving well-paid factory employees jobless, the Chinese were welcomed as heroes. Flush with incentives from the Ohio state government, Cao Dewang the founder of Fuyao, the glass manufacturing plant built on the husk of the GM plant, hired some 2000 Americans while bringing in 200 potential supervisors from China. Though the American workers are paid only fifty percent of what they had been getting from GM, averaging about $25 an hour with the opportunity to earn more for overtime, these native Ohio workers are happy to have jobs at all. Never mind that they’re getting $14 an hour, which is less than the minimum wage that a clerk in a New York CVS earns. For this pay they risk injury, even death, from machines that emit heat past 200 degree Fahrenheit. They can be crushed by heavy machinery. The Chinese are not so careful about safety precautions, for as one American states, when he worked for GM he never witnessed a serious workplace injury. Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, who direct this documentary, focuses the camera on one woman with a bandaged thumb and another with orthopedic boots and crutches.

Here come the inevitable culture clashes, and they are not about how Chinese eat with chopsticks and Americans partake of food with forks and their hands. The clash is over the length of the working day. While Chinese are accustomed to putting in 12 hours on a shift, comparable to what American nurses must slog through, Americans insist on the eight-hour day, five days a week. “They won’t come in on Saturday,” complains a Chinese supervisor. The Tom Hanks individual in “Cast Away” is now Chairman Cao, who doesn’t like the way Americans talk too much and lack the Chinese work ethic. Despite the alleged cushiness of their eight-hour day, Americans begin to talk union, with activists—who, predictably enough get fired—holding up signs urging an election on whether to join the United Auto Workers. Chinese management pays $1 million to a firm that hold sessions with the Americans, stating that the workers should vote the way they want but clearly pushing for a big “no” vote. When Cao bloviates that he will close the factory should the union get representation, you might predict how the vote will turn out.

On a note of lesser cultural importance, Americans are astonished that the Chinese TV screen, using costumed women and children, flash pictures of singers and dancers singing about the joys of work—not unlike the old Soviet propaganda pics with such titles as “How I settled down and loved a tractor.” Here is an example of socialist realism for a country that is communist in name only. When Chinese management announces that ten workers who turn out the most product will be given free trips to Shanghai, the audience look at the speaker as though he were talking in Swahili. These Americans on the plant floor are not world travelers looking at Safari ads or commercials. for Viking cruises.

Ultimately it’s not the unions or the American work ethic or even the Chinese 12-hour shift people that will determine the future of a factory that has been making a profit since 2018, but automation. We see a band of Chinese gleefully conversing on how machines can do the jobs of people and how they can cut two workers here, four there, and so on.

If you watched the Democratic candidates’ debate on 7/30/19 you could not help noting that some candidates praise China for being in the forefront of industries like the manufacture of solar panels and other technologies that promise to reduce the carbon footprint, and this at a time that our president is doing nothing to encourage such progress nor does he even admit that the climate is changing. “American Factories” is an eye-opener that will depress viewers who had been hoping that Chinese investment in our country will save the day. Then again, promises have a way of sounding at first like poetry but ultimately fading as prose.

115 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

AQUARELA – movie review

AQUARELA
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 7/15/19
Opens: August 16, 2019

Aquarela Movie Poster

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Unless you were distracted by your iPhone in English lit. class that day, you recognize these lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner.” The title character, who tells his stories to all who are forced to listen, relates how he shot an albatross resulting in the loss of the south wind and the forced stall of his ship. The Mariner fought against nature, and nature fought back in revenge. Nature is on display with a vengeance in Victor Kossakovsky’s “Aquarela,” the kind of picture you’ve never quite seen before and should embrace if you believe that there is no originality in movies these days. Kossakovsky, or if you prefer Виктор Александрович Косаковский, is the Leningrad-born director of “Vivan las antipodas,” in which he contrasts an area of Argentina with its antipode, metropolitan Shanghai, and now continues experimenting with cinema. This time he has hired water as the principal character (though a few mortal beings are shown), and, technologically filming at 96 frames per second to watch speedily disintegrating icebergs for us.

The thing about “Aquarela” is that what is shown here is the opposite of what the Ancient Mariner experiences. In place of a stagnant body of water, we see water, water, everywhere, the substance that covers most of our planet, in furious motion. He takes his camera to Russia’s Lake Baikal, then on to Greenland (always used by school teachers to show the distortions of a flat, Mercator map that impresses you with an island that seems larger than the U.S.), then to Angel Falls in Venezuela and finally to our own Miami. In each case Mr. or Ms. Water offer us quite a show, no charge beyond the movie’s price and no need to travel the world to experience the raging forces of nature.

The director could have used the opportunity to propagandize in favor of arguments of the 99.5% of scientists who warn of climate change but instead allows us in the audience to infer what seems obvious to anyone who is not mentally retarded. There is high drama in Lake Baikal as auto drivers, assuming that the ice would not melt for another three weeks, drive across the solid foundation only to sink when the ice gives way. We actually witness a poor guy who is photographed making the fatal move and commiserate with one of the workers who are fishing out a car when he sobs that his friend has died.

When he heads to Greenland—a place that I always wanted to visit if only to get a T-shirt with its logo—Kossakovsky affords us a look of drama that has nothing to do with human beings. Icebergs turn upside down, reminding us that icebergs are 90 percent below water and tippable. We hardly need the heavy metal in the soundtrack given the melodrama going on in the water, the publicity notes explaining that we hear a “symphony of rushing, thundering, crashing, trickling, popping and cracking.” If you teach English, use this as your prime example of onomatopoeia.

Thanks to mismanagement by the socialist government of Venezuela there are virtually no U.S. tourists in that country, but never mind. Kossakovsky is there showing the country’s principal tourist attraction, Angel Falls, without special effects, a rainbow serving to belie the political and economic realities of that formerly prosperous destination. Later, an American flag! We’re in Miami’s South Beach during hurricane Irma and no, the camera people, Ben Bernhard and the director, are not hiding inside the Hilton Hotel but right out there in the middle of the storm as if we have not already been convinced that nature is quite able to counteract anything that we human beings throw at it.

This is not to say that “Aquarela” is for everybody. After all it is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, not by Columbia, and therefore is not as friendly to masses of moviegoers as are other films about devastations of nature such as “Only the Brave” (wildfires); “Earthquake” (collapsing Los Angeles); or “The Last Days of Pompeii” (volcanoes go boom). The right crowd will hopefully find it when it opens in mid-August.

90 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – A
Technical – A
Overall – B+

EDIE – movie review

EDIE
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Simon Hunter
Screenwriter: Simon Hunter, Edward Lyden-Bell, Elziabeth O’Halloran
Cast: Sheila Hancock, Kevin Guthrie, Paul Brannigan, Amy Manson, Wendy Morgan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/10/19
Opens: September 6, 2019

Edie Movie Poster

The Pennsylvania Dutch have an expression, “Ve get too soon oldt undt too late schmart.” Keep this in mind when you view this small movie which is sentimental but not saccharine and which may offer insight into people that millennials in America consider to be irrelevant oldsters. People like Edie (Sheila Hancock) are never seen in commercials because folks in their seventies and eighties are not considered cool, and in fact if you look at commercials from Macy’s, our country’s largest retail store, you get the idea that everyone over thirty has gone the way of Logan’s Run.

Edie has become old. She spent the last thirty years caring for her husband who, resulting from a stroke, had not spoken or walked. Nor did she love him, as she explains to her daughter Nancy (Wendy Morgan), and now that he’s dead, she feels a sense of relief—nothing like what the psychoanalysts say is the most stressful event that an happen to a surviving spouse. She is fed up with Nancy’s insistence that she enters a nursing home, an absurd idea since she can obviously take care of herself. She proves this with points to spare in Hunter’s movie.

Hunter has apparently been inactive in the cinema community, having last directed “Mutant Chronicles” in 2009 about a 28th century soldier fighting an army of underworld mutants. Such a film does not prepare you for “Edie,” which, though featuring a woman battling nature as Major Mitch Hunter battled mutants is well rooted in the modern day. You might come away from this picture figuring, “Hey, this Simon Hunter knows not only how to direct women but is a man who with the help of co-writers Edward Lynden-Bell and Elizabeth O’Halloran getd right into the mind of an octagenarian.

Looking at an old picture postcard featuring a scene from Scotland’s Mount Suilven, she sets her mind on climbing it, though tour guides recommend allowing ten daylight hours to do the 2400 feet. Nor would most guides suggest that someone like Edie try the climb particularly given the arrival of nighttime and the pouring rain for which Scotland is known. Happily, she meets and bonds with Jonny (Kevin Guthrie), who plans to open Scotland’s largest camping store, a young man who at first thinks like Edie’s daughter Nancy but ultimately assists her in reaching the peak.

Sheila Hancock in the title role is a wonderful British actress who in this movie knows how to play the cantankerous biddy when she mistrusts someone but who can open up when a young man pays attention to her as does Jonny’s friend McLaughlin (Paul Brannigan). It’s important to note that contrary to our present time when women have proven themselves capable of running corporations and joining the bid to become president of the U.S., those who came of age during the 1950s like Edie were indoctrinated with their role of cooking, cleaning, and living for their husbands, children and grandchildren.

Cinematographer August Jakobsson photographs the landscape in tourist brochure mode, somehow finding the entire area almost free of other climbers and campers, which is exactly what Edie had hoped. The friendship between an 84-year-old woman and a lad over fifty years younger is convincing and heartwarming in a project that should make women (especially) to realize that they need not wait until their final segment of life to get off the couch, put down the iPhone, go outdoors, and welcome the thrill of nature.

102 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

ALTERNATE ENDINGS: SIX NEW WAYS TO DIE IN AMERICA – movie review

ALTERNATE ENDINGS: SIX NEW WAYS TO DIE IN AMERICA
HBO Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Perri Peltz, Matthew O’Neill
Screenwriter: Perri Peltz, Matthew O’Neill
Cast: Leila Johnson, Guadalupe Cuevas, Barbara Jean, Sara Snider Green, Dick Shannon, Emily and Ryan Matthias
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/12/19
Opens: August 14, 2019

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who ironically died before the age of forty, is best known for a poem that begins like this:

“Do not go gentle into that good night/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

One might presume that the majority of people want to live as long as they can, some terminal patients demanding that hospitals do everything they can regardless of their pain. Most tragic are people with ALS virtually paralyzed and looking toward an end by suffocation but barely considering a voluntary ending their own lives. All of these people rage against the dying of the light. The six families highlighted in Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neill’s stunning HBO documentary shed tears for the people they are about to miss and who, of course, are destined to miss them as well. Yet all had original ways of dealing with mortality.

Although in 2018 cremations are now more common in the U.S. than burials, notwithstanding the opposition of the Catholic Church and Jewish rabbis, there is nothing common about the way families of six people dealt the end. On my terms” is the theme of each whether five years old or eighty, and this is to the good. Right now only six states and DC have legislation on the books that allow people, usually with six months or fewer to live, to end their own lives with mixtures set up in the regulations—regulation which are strange when you consider how many people have OD’d from opiates which they were able to get on their own. So let’s see what so unusual about the people here, all of whom are now passed away in a film that must have taken years to make.

Leila Johnson allowed her departed father to contribute to nature, to life, really, by placing his cremains in a coral reef. According to officials at the Memorial Reef International, corals are dying, and this kind of burial can create new environments for life. An understanding of this is beyond my pay grade so I connected with Wikipedia and found this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_issues_with_coral_reefs
Now I see the reasons for the demise of corals but not exactly how burying cremains, which Leila mixes with cement, can create new structures for ocean life.

Texan Guadalupe Cuevas give their beloved father, ill with terminal cancer and renal failure, a wake, but Guadalupe is still alive. He and his large family are entertained by a mariachi band and the whole family enjoy the music with the food, which suits Guadalupe just fine.

Afflicted with pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the dread disease, Barbara Jean does not want to be pushing up daisies while six feet under. Instead she heads to Eloise Woods Back to Nature Burials, selects a plot, and plans for a shallow burial. She even gets a promise from her best friend to wash her body after death. When she dies her body is wrapped in a cloth and laid to rest in a shallow grave next to a tree which her friends plant.

Sara Snider Green has the most unusual burial—in space—which must have cost a pretty penny but led to great joy by a boatload of friends and family. “Tuna,” who loved space travel as much as Leila Johnson’s dad cherished the ocean, had his cremains sent into space which NASA graciously allowed as a secondary payload for its latest ventures into the beyond.

Dick Shannon, afflicted with terminal cancer, his lungs failing, speaks to the camera about his venture with MAID (medical aid in dying). His doctor gives Dick a lethal drug cocktail, four bottles that require mixing, with the injunction that while others can help with the mix, he must drink the cocktail himself. He has a last supper, so to speak, with his family, calmly announcing that he will drink the lethal dose the next morning. We watch him down the liquid, lie on the couch, and within minutes snore and cease breathing.

In the least developed scenario, Emily and Ryan Matthias, who have the terrible misfortune of dealing with a five-year-old’s terminal cancer, explain to the boy about death to the extent that such a child can understand. He does realize what it’s all about when he asks for a party in lieu of a funeral, so his parents, determined to honor their promise, hold a celebration of life, a blast filled with kids eating snow cones, having a ball, and even Batman, the boy’s hero, is in attendance.

The locations include Van Meter, Iowa; Sierra County, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; San Antonio, Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico. The film honors the wishes of those about to depart from the living, and while some viewers might be dismayed by all the talk about death and have nightmares about it, the more likely scenario is that we will appreciate the New Age idea that death is merely a part of life and nothing to fear.

67 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+