HERE AWHILE (2020)

June 8, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Political opinions don’t appear in my reviews very often, but I can’t help wonder if many of those opposing ‘Death with Dignity’ might feel differently if they found themselves in Anna’s situation. The film opens with her in a doctor’s office obviously receiving the most dreaded of news. The camera remains on her face. There is no dialogue, only her last moment gasp before we move to the opening credits.

Anna Camp (“True Blood”) stars as Anna, diagnosed with terminal cancer. She has explored every possible treatment, including those in the experimental stage. Since none are an option for her, she has decided to move back to Oregon, where death with dignity is an option. She shows up unannounced on the front porch of her younger brother Michael’s (Steven Strait) house. The two haven’t seen each other in many years – not since their father kicked her out for being a lesbian. The father is now deceased and his ashes are in a file box in Michael’s spare room.

The once close siblings re-connect quickly as the pain of the past is released. They laugh, reminisce and get caught up. Michael works in IT, and Anna is an established artist in Salt Lake City, where she’s a homeowner with her partner Luisa (Kristin Taylor). Over the course of a few days, Anna meets Michael’s girlfriend Shonda (Chloe Mason), and his neighbor Gary (Joe Lo Truglio, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). Gary has Asperger’s, plus a few other afflictions, and often pops in for a scoop of Michael’s sugar.

Anna is not prepared for Michael’s backlash to her decision, and that leads to heartfelt conversation, as well as an initially defensive Luisa when she arrives. It’s touching to see how Shonda and Gary react, and to see Michael’s emotional evolution. Of course, he doesn’t want to lose his beloved sister – the one he’s only just reconnected with. We can all relate to his feelings. But as Anna says, it’s her decision and she would rather go out on her own terms, than in a cold hospital with tubes sticking out.

This is the directorial debut and first screenplay from Tim True, who shares ties to Oregon with his co-writer Csaba Mera. Of course this is a tough and controversial topic. We witness Anna’s labored breathing and the other effects of late stage cancer, and the heaviness is offset a bit thanks to Gary’s t-shirts and coffee mugs. An alternative title to the film could be ‘the long goodbye’, but Anna’s farewell is handled very well by the actors and filmmakers. Anna recites a poem (from Mary Lee Hall) with the line, “Turn again to life, and smile”, and we realize she’s made the decision that’s right for her. Perhaps that’s all that matters.

Available on Digital and On Demand June 9, 2020

watch the trailer:


CITY ISLAND (2009)

April 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. I am always amazed, amused and somewhat satisfied when a writer gathers up multiple stereotypes, massages the conflict and dialogue, and emerges with a script that captures interest and holds attention. Writer/director Raymond De Felitta has done just that with working class Italian New Yorkers.

All story lines revolve around the secrets each of the family members keep from the others. Sure, we all understand that two-way communication and trust create a much stronger and healthier family, but sometimes, it’s just not that simple.

Andy Garcia plays the head of this secretive bunch and he sets the stage with two whoppers. The first is his slinking off to acting classes while chasing his lifelong dream of becoming an actor – like his inspiration, Marlon Brando. To cover this one up, he tells his wife (Julianna Margulies) that he is off to another poker game, unaware that she interprets this as code for his having an affair.

They have a daughter (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who has lost her college scholarship and is saving money to re-enroll by working (secretly) as a stripper. Guess what?  Her parents don’t know.  Their odd ball son (Ezra Miller), who believes he is too smart to attend classes, develops an online fetish habit that ends up VERY close to home.  Again, his parents are oblivious.

In most films, this would be plenty of ammunition to create havoc among the players. Not here. Garcia’s second, and much larger secret, throws this dysfunctional family into a tailspin – and he somehow is the last to realize. Emily Mortimer, Steven Strait and Alan Arkin all provide strong support to the story and this “family”.

Mr. De Felitta explored some of these family topics in The Thing About My Folks, but here he is working with his own script. The balance between comedy, conflict and insight is actually very good; though, the New Yorker habit of loud mealtime conversation is somewhat discomforting for this southern boy. Still, I have nothing but positive things to say about how the stereotypes end up providing self-realization to each of the characters, and even more importantly, an understanding of what their family really is. Good stuff here.