Friday, September 22, 2017

Movie Review—Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever poster.jpg

by Peter J. O'Connell                                                                                                                                    

Tulip Fever. Released: Sept. 2017. Runtime: 105 mins. MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and nudity. 

Two kinds of fever interact in director Justin Chadwick's Tulip Fever, based on Deborah Moggach's novel. One is the eponymous flower frenzy of the 1630s in Holland. As a voiceover at the beginning of the movie explains: “ . . . Amsterdam was captivated by a flower: the tulip. They came from far away in the East and were so rare and beautiful that people lost their senses in wanting to own them. Rich and poor were spending and borrowing money to join the trade in bulbs, which were going up in price all the time.” Of course, going up, until they crashed. Tulip fever was famously chronicled in Charles Mackay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

The other fever in the film is hot romance. The interaction of the two fevers is presented in a plot of Shakespearean-type complications involving identity deceptions and in a production design reminiscent of paintings by the Bruegels, Jan Steen, and Vermeer. 

Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is a beautiful young woman, an orphan raised in a convent and married off to Cornelis (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy older merchant. Cornelis longs for a child, but Alicia does not become pregnant. When Cornelis hires a young artist, Jan (Dane DeHaan), to paint his and Sophia's portrait, a love affair develops between Jan and Sophia. The situation becomes complex when Maria (Holliday Grainger), Sophia's unmarried maid, becomes pregnant, and Jan and Sophia decide to enter into the tulip market to finance their escape together from Amsterdam. 

The premise of Tulip Fever is an interesting one. Unfortunately, Chadwick's direction of the movie lacks a key component: fever. Neither the passionate plot of romance nor that of financial frenzy is brought to life with sufficient intensity, despite a cast whose work in other films has been quite noteworthy. 

Pets help seniors stay healthier and happier, wherever they live, studies show

(BPT) - French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette once said, “Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” Pets provide meaningful social support for owners, and they can be especially beneficial for seniors. Ample research shows pet ownership delivers physical and mental health benefits for seniors, regardless of whether they’re living on their own or in a senior living community.
However, many older Americans still mistakenly believe moving into a senior living community means they’ll have to leave their pets behind. In fact, the fear they’ll have to give up a beloved pet is among the top emotional reasons seniors don’t want to move into senior living, according to author and senior real estate specialist Bruce Nemovitz. In an informal survey by Nemovitz, seniors ranked losing a pet as emotionally jarring as having to leave their familiar homes and possessions.
“Senior living communities like Brookdale Senior Living are all about supporting the physical health and mental well-being of residents,” says Carol Cummings, senior director of Optimum Life. “For many senior citizens, pets are an important part of their lives. It makes sense to preserve the bond between pet and senior owner whenever possible.”

Physical benefits
Pet ownership benefits senior citizens in multiple ways, research shows. Older people who own dogs are likely to spend 22 additional minutes walking at a moderately intense pace each day, according to a recent study by The University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University. Published in BioMed Central, the study also found dog owners took more than 2,700 more steps per day than non-owners.

Multiple studies have also concluded that pet ownership can help lower blood pressure, contribute to improved cardiovascular health and reduce cholesterol.

Mental health
Interacting with pets also has many mental health benefits, especially for seniors. Spending time with pets can help relieve anxiety and increase brain levels of the feel-good neurochemicals serotonin and dopamine. Pets can help relieve depression and feelings of loneliness.
The online journal Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research reports multiple studies indicate dementia patients who interact with animals become more social, are less agitated and have fewer behavioral issues.

Pets in senior living settings
“For too long, some senior living communities didn’t recognize the value of allowing residents to bring their pets with them,” Cummings says. “That has definitely changed.”
For seniors looking for a community that will accept their pets, Cummings suggests a few questions to ask:

* What is your pet policy and what type of animal do you consider a pet? Generally, small dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, rats, hamsters, fish, turtles and other small companion animals qualify for pet policies. Seniors should check to be sure their pet meets the standards of the community.

* What is your pet health policy? Typically, senior living communities that accept small pets will want them to be current on all vaccinations and have regular exams by a licensed veterinarian. Pets will also need to have any required state- or county-issued licenses.

* What, if any, kind of training do you require pets to have? Requiring dogs to be house-trained and cats to be litter-trained is standard. Communities will also want to know your pet is well-behaved and not aggressive. They may ask you to have pets obedience trained.

* Do you offer any assistance with pet-related tasks? Most communities will require residents be able to care for pets themselves, including feeding, walking, potty needs and health needs.

“Moving into a senior living community is a big change, one that most residents find positive,” Cummings says. “They gain freedom from home maintenance tasks and household chores, a socially rewarding environment, and as-needed support for healthcare and daily care. As long as seniors are still able to care for their pets, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to bring their best friends with them to their new homes.”

Chocolate gets first addition to color palette in 80 years

Aly Song | Reuters | BDNRuby

A breakthrough by a Swiss chocolate maker expands the industry’s hues beyond just dark, milk and white.
Barry Callebaut AG, the world’s largest cocoa processor, has come up with the first new natural color for chocolate since Nestle started making bars of white chocolate more than 80 years ago. The Zurich-based company refers to the product with a pinkish hue and a fruity flavor as “ruby chocolate.”
The new product may help boost sales in a struggling global chocolate market that producers hope has touched bottom. As Hershey cuts 15 percent of its staff and Nestle tries to sell its U.S. chocolate business, ruby chocolate raises the possibility that next Valentine’s Day may arrive with store shelves full of naturally pink chocolate hearts. Click here to continue reading.

Movie Review--Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West.png

by Peter J. O’Connell

Ingrid Goes West. Released: Aug. 2017. Runtime: 97 mins. MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior.

“Go west, young man!” has been a mantra of America in one form or other throughout its history. The idea is that one can attain a new and better life by that move. Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a young woman in Pennsylvania, not a young man, who decides for very contemporary reasons to act on that mantra. Her story is told in director/co-writer Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, a delightfully dark satire of social media and California lifestyles.

Ingrid is physically “cute” but nerdy, needy, and nervous—nervous almost in the sense of the Poe character who says that he is “very, very nervous but not mad.” Ingrid is an addict. Particularly since the death of her mother, she has become addicted to the social media of the digital world, especially Instagram. When we first encounter her, she is invading a wedding party and pepper spraying the bride (Meredith Hagner) because the bride had not invited her to the wedding. It turns out that the bride’s only contact with Ingrid had been a favorable comment online about one of Ingrid’s postings.

After the pepper spray incident, Ingrid goes into a psychiatric treatment center, but when she gets out, she returns to her previous habits, surfing the Net in a search for online “friends” to validate her existence. Then she discovers Taylor Sloane.

Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) is a social media “influencer” who has become a kind of lifestyle guru through her Instagram postings about the “perfect” bourgeois/bohemian this and that, which she promotes (“Another day, another avocado toast!”) from Venice, California, where she lives. Ingrid becomes obsessed with Taylor, takes the $60,000 in life insurance money left her by her mother, and heads for the Golden State, where she hopes to do what Taylor does and “friend” her idol in person. Apparently, imitation is the severest form of obsession.

In Venice Ingrid rents a small apartment from Dan (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), an affable African-American aspiring screenwriter and Batman aficionado, who gradually develops a romantic interest in Ingrid and becomes enmeshed in her schemes. As soon as she arrives in Venice, Ingrid seeks to adopt the Taylor Sloane lifestyle. She goes to one of Taylor’s favorite restaurants and when asked by the server, “How can I nourish you today?,” she orders avocado toast. But she doesn’t answer the restaurant’s Question of the Day: “What’s your biggest emotional wound?”

Eventually, Ingrid carries out a scam that gets her into the circle of Taylor and her husband, Ezra, an artist whose oeuvre consists of paintings purchased in thrift shops that Ezra then overlays with hashtags. Ingrid is glowing from the reflected “glory” of her seeming friendship with Taylor until Taylor’s utterly obnoxious brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), arrives on the scene and threatens to reveal that he has learned that Ingrid is essentially a sad stalker, not worthy to be in Taylor’s circle.

At this point, the movie takes on a darker tone involving such things as blackmail, drug dealing, abduction, assault. The “psycho stalker” movies of the 1980s and ‘90s come to mind, and there is even a scene highly reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ neo-noir Blood Simple (1984). Ingrid is in crisis as she has to face the existential question of whether a person who lives to create a persona solely for the approval of others, whether actual associates or “onliners,” can be said to really have a life at all—or deserve to have one. After all, “going west” is also a slang term for dying.

Matt Spicer takes us through several twists and turns of plot and tone to his somewhat problematic answer to this question at the conclusion of his generally brilliant film. What is not at all problematic, however, in Ingrid Goes West is the terrific quality of the acting. Aubrey Plaza is wondrous as a character who is both appealing and appalling—sometimes at the same time. A star is definitely born in this revelation of a performance. Elizabeth Olsen, an actual young star already, knows exactly how much star power to give to her character—and how much to withhold. And it’s hard to imagine supporting performances better than those of O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and Billy Magnussen in their roles. 

So, go see Ingrid Goes West!    


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Movie Review—Mother!

A black and white image, showing faces of the cast members. The image is split down the center and mirrored.

 by Peter J. O’Connell                               

Mother!. Released: Sept. 2017. Runtime: 121 mins. MPAA Rating: R for strong, disturbing, violent content, and some sexuality, nudity, and language.

For most films, reviewers feel an ethical obligation not to reveal all the key plot points—or, at least, to preface such revelations with a “spoiler alert.” Some films, however, may be more like allegories or other literary texts where understanding the meaning of the work as contained in its overall structure is more important than any specific twists and turns of plot. With such works—and writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is one of them—an approach similar to that of an explication de texte may assist the viewer’s appreciation.

Aronofsky is a filmmaker fond of using legends, myths, and parables in his works, which some have compared to dark, very dark fairy tales. His debut feature, Pi (1998), dealt with the Jewish (and Buddhist) legend that the world will end once all the names of God are known. Black Swan (2010) utilized in its plot about ballerinas elements from the legend on which Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet is based. Noah (2014) infused non-Biblical legends into the Biblical account of the Great Flood.

Mother! begins with a character named Him (Javier Bardem) handling some kind of large crystal. The structure that Him is in changes from a burnt-out shell to a large house standing alone in a field surrounded by a forest. Then Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), a beautiful young woman, wakes up seeking Him, her older husband. Mother is doing the renovation work on the house’s interior while Him, a noted poet who lost his previous wife in a fire, seeks to overcome writer’s block. As Mother does her work in the house, she notices that a rhythmic sound like that of a beating heart seems to come from inside the walls of the house, and from time to time blood oozes from various orifices.

Despite these odd occurrences, the couple’s life is tranquil. This tranquility is shattered, however, when an obnoxious pair, Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer)—yes, all the characters’ names are like this—arrive at the house and are invited to stay by Him, who likes their expressed admiration for his work, though Mother dislikes their pesky questioning of her childlessness. Man, who arrives a day before Woman, appears to have a lung disorder and a rib injury. (Harris and Pfeiffer seem to be having great fun devouring the scenery during their time on screen.)

So far the movie may seem reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Shining (1980) or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and various plays by Harold Pinter. Lawrence seems loving and vulnerable like Mia Farrow in Baby, and Harris and Pfeiffer remind one of Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon as Rosemary’s neighbors. Javier Bardem bears a strong physical resemblance to John Cassavetes, who played Rosemary’s husband, and who could forget that the Jack Nicholson character in The Shining suffered from writer’s block?

Yet neither the devil nor an ax murderer makes an appearance in Aronofsky’s movie, at this point. Instead of the works mentioned above, a different story is evoked when the sons of Man and Woman come to the house and commence raising all kinds of Cain about who will inherit what when Man dies. The brothers fight, and Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) kills Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson). Later at the house a quiet memorial service is held, which turns into a raucous “Irish-style” wake similar to that in John Ford’s The Last Hurrah (1958) as more and more people arrive. Eventually, an outraged Mother kicks the whole crowd out and berates her husband for focusing on his own pleasure and ignoring her. But then the two have sex.

The next morning Mother realizes that she has miraculously become pregnant—and an advanced pregnancy at that. Him is inspired by the news and almost instantaneously announces that he has written his masterpiece and that it has been published to great acclaim. (Fairy tales often compress time.)

At this point the film provides a savage satire of celebrity culture--among other things. More and more people migrate into the house to meet the creator of this great document. There is no wall—big, beautiful, or otherwise—to stop them, and soon the house is populated far beyond its capacity. People start destroying it. Bacchanals, violence, and weird religious rituals take place—all memorably, though shockingly, “choreographed” by Aronofsky. The arrival of the police and the military simply adds to the chaos. The situation has devolved from festive scenes reminiscent of paintings by the Bruegels to hellish visions reminiscent of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. Film fans also may be reminded of those orgiastic scenes in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments that take place when Moses is absent.

While all this repulsive activity is occurring, Mother goes into labor. She gives birth to a son, whom the crowd demands be delivered to them. She refuses, but when she falls asleep, Him offers his son to the crowd. When Mother awakes and discovers this, she goes into the basement and decides to really make things as hot as hell by releasing (fossil) fuel oil from a tank and setting it ablaze. A conflagration follows . . . but a crystal survives.

Lawrence is appealing in her role, and the supporting performances are fine. Admirable, too, is the quality of the cinematography. Aronofsky skillfully maintains an atmosphere of anxiety, just short of suspense—shot through with a few tender moments and, more frequently, dark humor—for most of the film, but the last part goes over the top with, as mentioned, that protracted, brilliantly choreographed, but shocking orgy of destruction and degeneracy. And what about the allegory mentioned at the beginning of this review? Is it crystal clear?                                                                                       

Aronofsky’s allegory involves what has been called the “Gaia hypothesis.” The Gaia hypothesis is the view held by many environmentalists that the planet where we dwell is a living organism itself with its various systems interacting as flesh, blood, bone, and brain do in the human body. As Aldo Leopold, a noted environmentalist, put it: “It is at least not impossible to regard the earth’s parts . . . as organs or parts of organs of a coordinated whole . . .. And if we could see this whole . . .. we would have all the attributes of a living thing . . ..” This idea of the Earth as an integrated whole, a living being, has a long tradition. In Greek myth Gaia was the primal goddess personifying the Earth, the animating spirit of its systems: Mother Nature/Earth Mother.

Thus, Mother and the house that she cares for in the film. But Earth’s systems in balance can be upset by human forces, such as overpopulation, violence, the culture of consumption and celebrity, and the global warming spawned by use of fossil fuel. To consider humanity’s role over time, Aronofsky puts the Gaia hypothesis into a compressed, whacked-out version of Biblical history in contemporary dress—from Genesis and Exodus to the Gospels to the Apocalypse.

Mrs. Malaprop, the famously befuddled character in Richard Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals, thought that an allegory was a creature on the banks of the Nile. What should we think of Aronofsky’s cinematic creation?

Well, it’s godawful. (That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie.)



Tips for choosing the Medicare plan that's right for you

(BPT) - Fall and winter don’t just bring cooler temperatures and the holidays — the final seasons of the year also mean open enrollment for Medicare. For most seniors in the United States, the period between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 is the only time they can switch or make changes to their Medicare insurance plan.
“As people age, their health care needs evolve,” says Dawn Maroney, chief growth and strategy officer for Alignment Healthcare. “When that happens, they may find the Medicare plan they first chose when they became eligible no longer meets all their needs. This open enrollment period is their yearly opportunity to re-evaluate whether to continue with their plan or switch to another, with changes becoming effective the first of the new year.”
Medicare basics
Most Americans are aware that Medicare is a government program designed to ensure people older than 65 have access to affordable health insurance. The program can also cover people younger than 65 who have certain disabilities.
The Medicare program has four parts, according to A, B, C and D.
* Medicare Part A helps pay for in-patient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility and hospice care.
* Medicare Part B helps cover care by doctors or other health care providers, outpatient services, some medical equipment and some preventive services.
* Medicare Part C (also known as Medicare Advantage) covers everything included in parts A and B, and usually includes Medicare prescription drug coverage as part of the plan. Medicare Advantage plans may include extra benefits and services for an extra cost. Medicare-approved private insurance companies, such as Alignment Healthcare's Alignment Health Plan, run Medicare Advantage plans.
* Medicare Part D helps cover the cost of prescription medications and is run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies.
Original Medicare versus Medicare Advantage
Most people think of Medicare parts A and B as Original Medicare, in which the government pays directly for the health care services received. People with Original Medicare can see any doctor and hospital that accepts Medicare in the country, without prior approval from Medicare or their primary care physician. Most people do not pay a monthly premium for Part A if they paid taxes while working; everyone pays a monthly premium for Part B, based on income. The standard premium for Part B in 2017 was $134 per month, which is deducted from the individual's Social Security benefits.
Original Medicare pays for about 80 percent of the total costs of health care. The patient is responsible for the remaining 20 percent, which can mean high out-of-pocket costs in the event of a hospitalization or other events requiring significant medical attention. To offset the financial burden of that 20 percent, some people choose to purchase supplemental insurance, called Medigap.
Private insurance companies offer Medigap to cover things Medicare doesn’t, such as deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance — but, keep in mind, Medigap only supplements Original Medicare benefits. Further, if you do not apply for Medigap in the first six months of becoming eligible, there's no guarantee that an insurance company will sell you a Medigap policy.
With Medicare Advantage, government-approved private companies administer health plans that cover everything Original Medicare does, but can do so with different rules, costs and restrictions that can change every year. For example, a private Medicare plan may require your physician to request permission before performing a procedure in order to be paid by the plan. Medicare Advantage plans, however, usually cover extras that Original Medicare does not, like dental care, vision services, hearing exams and gym memberships.
Most Medicare Advantage plans also include prescription drug coverage (Medicare Part D), which is not included in Original Medicare, at no additional cost. If you elect to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you still have Medicare — this means that you must still pay your monthly premiums for parts A and B, in addition to a monthly premium for Part C, if applicable. Many Medicare Advantage plans are available for no additional monthly premium.
Considerations when choosing
When choosing between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, you should consider these questions:
* How likely is it your health needs will change down the road? Since health changes as you age, chances are your treatment needs will, too. If you don’t enroll in the additional insurance and drug coverage when you first sign up for Original Medicare, you may pay a monthly penalty for enrolling later and may not be eligible for additional Medigap coverage.
* Are you still working past age 65? If so, you will probably want to enroll in Part A, because there generally are no monthly premiums, and it may supplement your employer’s insurance plan. You might choose to delay enrolling in Part B, but it depends on your health coverage. Everyone has to pay a monthly premium for Part B.
* Is it more important to you to have lower or no premiums or lower out-of-pocket costs? With Original Medicare, you may pay more out of pocket without supplemental insurance and prescription drug coverage. Medicare Advantage includes supplemental insurance and sometimes prescription drug coverage, too.
* How important is it to keep your doctor? Original Medicare is accepted by any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare, without referral. Medicare Advantage plans allow you to select a doctor from the plan network, which is usually very large; your current health care providers are likely to be in the network already.
* Do you regularly take prescription medication for chronic conditions? Prescription drug coverage is not included in Original Medicare, and if you fail to sign up for Part D at the time you enroll, you could pay a penalty for adding it later. Most Medicare Advantage plans do cover prescription drugs.
“Medicare Advantage allows patients to receive the care they need to stay well and keeps their budgets in check with set costs and annual maximums,” Maroney says. “It’s an ideal solution for patients who need frequent care or who struggle to meet medical expenses.”
To learn more about Medicare, visit For information about Alignment Healthcare and its affiliated Medicare Advantage plans, visit

Can You Get Paid to Take Care of Your Mom?

Paid Caregiving

Among the many words used to describe family caregivers — invisible, overwhelmed, heroic, to name just a few — one is often just assumed. That word is “unpaid.” Although family caregivers are often praised as a critical part of the elder care workforce, most don’t get a paycheck. 
Yet many caregivers need financial help. In addition to emotional and physical stress, caregiving often brings money worries. Paying for medical supplies and drugs not fully covered by insurance, transportation, home adaptations, home care or any of the myriad other expenses may wreak havoc on a budget. It’s no wonder many family caregivers ask, “Can I get paid for taking care of my mother?”
The short answer? It depends. 
A longer answer would spell out the differences that determine eligibility: which state you live in, the age or condition of the person you are caring for, your relationship to that person, his or her income and assets and more. It would also warn that not even the state and federal programs noted below will replace a full-time salary with benefits. 
But for some caregivers, the extra resources would go a long way. 

7 Options for Caregiver Pay

Here are seven options worth exploring:
1. A long-term care insurance policy
If your family member has long-term care insurance that provides for in-home care, the policy may allow a family member to be paid. Some policies exclude people who live in the same household. Ask an insurance agent to explain the policy’s benefits and conditions.
2. A private contract with a family member
If your family member has savings or other resources and wants to pay you, a private contract or personal care agreement may work out well for both of you. But this option can lead to family conflict and emotional and legal trouble. Make sure you consult an elder law attorney to draft a contract that spells out your wages and your responsibilities. Your wages should be consistent with prevailing local rates. Any impact on inheritances should be clear, too. Finally, all interested parties (siblings, other relatives) should understand and approve the arrangement. 
3. Consumer-directed Medicaid programs
Every state but South Dakota has Medicaid programs that allow an eligible older adult to hire, fire and train their home care aides. These programs are often informally called Cash and Counseling, but each state has its own formal name and eligibility requirements. Family members or friends can be hired; only 12 states allow spouses to be paid, however.
Once the request is approved, the state Medicaid agency creates an individualized budget based on needs and available resources. In California, for example, under Medi-Cal’s In-Home Supportive Services program, the value of the services cannot exceed $3,500 a month and generally averages around $2,200. The national average hourly wage for home-care service providers, including family, is around $11 an hour, although in some areas it may be as high as $15 to $17 an hour. 
There is a lot of paperwork involved, and many participants use a financial management Sservices agency to manage tax and other requirements. (Your state Medicaid agency should be able to provide you with a list.)
Some states have programs for individuals who are not eligible for Medicaid or who have specific conditions such as traumatic brain injury. To find out what your state offers, contact your state Medicaid agency. Since many states do not have the word “Medicaid” in their agency’s title, check with the state department of health or your local Area Agency on Aging, which you can access through Eldercare Locator, a service offered by a federal agency.
4. Paid family leave
The federal Family Medical Leave Act protects workers’ employment when they take time off for the birth or adoption of a baby or to care of a serious ill family member, but it is unpaid leave. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, however, have programs that give employees the right to paid leave for these major life events; New York has a law that goes into effect in January 2018; theDistrict of Columbia’s law will be active in 2020. Washington state also passed a law but implementation has been delayed. 
Each state’s laws have different payment schedules and eligibility requirements.
5. Caregivers of veterans
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a number of caregiver support programs. For primary caregivers of veterans injured in military conflicts after 9/11, a 2010 law provides monthly stipends, the amount determined by a combination of hours and wages that would be paid to a home care aide. Other benefits to caregivers include travel expenses, access to health care insurance, mental health services and 30 days of respite a year. Click here to continue reading.