Dec 06

“The Descendants”: Husband/Father Faces Sudden Loss

I recently saw the new and highly praised/hyped movie The Descendants, a comedy/drama by director Alexander Payne. In a nutshell, Matt King (George Clooney), who’s been an emotionally distant husband and father, is suddenly forced to deal with grief and betrayal issues when his wife suffers a horrible accident.

Let’s start with The Descendants trailer:

The following are excerpts from the critics about this movie’s handling of the grief process: 

  • Bill GoodykoontzArizona Republic: “…captures the complexity of emotional reactions that grief stirs.”
  • Josh BellLas Vegas Weekly: “Grief feels overly pleasant…”
  • Ann HornadayWashington Post: “A tough, tender, observant, exquisitely nuanced portrait of mixed emotions at their most confounding and profound…”
  • Rex ReedNew York Observer: “…I found the film’s moments of pathos every bit as unconvincing as the bigger picture of a man who learns late-life redemption through guilt, and I found Mr. Clooney’s tears and sentimentality especially clumsy.”
  • Dana Stevens, Slate: “This is a movie that wants to confront painful truths about love, loss, and grief, yet there’s a curious emotional brittleness about it. The script seems to operate in only two affective modes—deadpan absurdism and heart-tugging melodrama—and every time it switches gears, the grinding is audible.”

As for me, one of the two main things I liked about this film was the feeling that the family’s grief responses were complicated and often realistically so. And the other was the acting of Clooney and the two young women portraying his daughters, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller.

However, I think the biggest failing was a certain lack of depth. As critic Diana Saenger‘s review points out about Matt King, the main character: “…there’s no explanation why a financially well-off man basically without a job would end up with no clue about his wife and children.”

As for the comedy/drama aspect, for me the film seemed much more “drama” than “comedy,” as most attempts at humor fell flat. Peter Howell, Toronto Star: “This is stealth comedy, richly delivered…” Then I would argue perhaps it’s too stealth. But anyway…

In sum, it’s a tragic story—and although I appreciated its theme and apparent intents, I just wish I’d been more moved by it. As does Richard Corliss, who states in his review for Time:

Watching this adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’s 2007 novel about a man facing family crises in the modern Eden of Hawaii, I wanted The Descendants‘ elevated sentiments to wash over me, inundate me in its lapping warmth, like the restorative waters on a Kauai beach. I’m a notorious softie, and I found things to like about the film…but I remained untouched. I must have been wearing my wet suit.

See it and see what you feel—or think.

Dec 05

Amy Winehouse: Posthumous Release of “Lioness: Hidden Treasures”

In late October, about three months after singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse‘s death, the coroner finally weighed in on the cause of her death: accidental alcohol poisoning. Following an apparent span of abstinence, it’s believed that when she “picked up” again, she ingested a lethal amount. Winehouse’s ongoing struggle with alcoholism was well known; evidently, though, she’d been trying to quit.

Incidentally, as stated in one article’s headline, “Alcohol Poisoning Can Happen to Anyone.” (UPDATE: can no longer link to the article.) Someone who’s never before touched a drop in his or her life can overdose if not careful.

Tomorrow is the official posthumous release of Lioness: Hidden Treasures, the new, and third, CD of Amy Winehouse material. As described on Amazon:

The 12 track collection features previously unreleased tracks, alternate versions of existing classics as well as a couple of brand new Amy compositions, and has been compiled by long-time musical partners Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson in close association with Amy’s family, management and UK record label Island Records. Lioness: Hidden Treasures proves a fitting tribute to the artist, the talent and the woman, and serves as a reminder of Amy’s extraordinary powers as a songwriter, a singer and an interpreter of classics.

Early reviews from her own homeland have been so-so considering her past successes–especially with her second album, Back to Black. The U.K.’s The Guardian, for example, giving it three out of five stars, states that this CD “…tells you something about the way Winehouse’s life unraveled. The vast majority of the album dates from 2002 to 2004…She appears to have recorded almost nothing in the last two years of her life…”.

And Helen Brown‘s review (The Telegraph) assigns the same rating, noting that “… it lays bare what made her both such a unique and such a troubled artist.”

Brown comments on the whole lineup of tracks, concluding with this observation:

The record ends with a rawly emotional cover of A Song for You made famous by Leon Russell – although Winehouse always preferred Donny Hathaway’s version. Like Winehouse, Hathaway struggled with depression and despair for much of his life. He committed suicide, aged 33, in 1979. At the end of her version, recorded at her Camden home in 2009, Winehouse can be heard telling Remi that Hathaway ‘couldn’t contain himself. He had something in him.’ For better, and for worse, so did she.

I for one will not be deterred by mediocre reviews, by the way. I’ll be buying this CD because even a so-so album from such a talent feels worth it, and because it’s her last, and because of the cause my money will support—part of the proceeds will be contributed to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, “…set up in Amy’s memory to support charitable activities in both the UK and abroad that provide help, support or care for young people, especially those who are in need by reason of ill health, disability, financial disadvantage or addiction.”

Dec 02

“Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor”–A Documentary

A while ago, I posted about a program that uses stand-up comedy as a therapeutic tool for those with mental health issues (Stand Up For Mental Health). Turns out another program, Comedy Warriors, exists to aid soldiers who are injured physically and mentally.

Five veterans who were hurt in combat—four men and one woman—will be featured in an upcoming documentary about their experiences of learning stand-up comedy from some well-known Los Angeles comedians, including Bob Saget and Brad Garrett.

As stated on the website Comedy Warriors: “As any comedian will tell you, the most poignant comedy comes from pain. And no one knows this better than a service member with a life-changing injury.”

Below is the preproduction video of this documentary-in-the-making, Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor. Currently seeking funding, the filmmakers expect completion in about a year, according to this article.

Update, August 2016: The documentary Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor was indeed released, in 2013. Here’s another video intro:

Selected Reviews

Larry Richman, Larry411: “These are our country’s finest, those who’ve served admirably and returned home disfigured, with missing limbs, and horrific stories of roadside bombs and buddies lost in battle. Yet they immediately disarm the audience (pun intended, which, no doubt, they’d be the first to laugh at) by poking fun at themselves and calling attention to the obvious. The jokes might be offensive coming from anyone else but when these brave combatants do it, the reality dawns on the viewer that ‘healing through humor’ is targeted at both the performer as well as the audience.”

Michael Friedman, LMSW, Huffington Post: “All of these veterans might have slipped into despair, as many veterans do. Major depressive disorder, PTSD, substance abuse disorders, and suicide are unfortunately prevalent among veterans. Several of the comedians tell us that they still live with PTSD. Having a sense of humor, they all say, is what saves them.”

Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle: “With its unflinching look at the wounds of war, and emphatic message that pain is a comedian’s best friend, ‘Comedy Warriors’ provides a message of hope for injured service members who have just begun their rehabilitative journey or for anyone who is suffering a trauma or setback.”

Nov 30

Internet Addiction: An Increasingly Serious Problem Worldwide

Internet Addiction might wind up as a diagnosis in the next edition of the DSM, though it’s controversial and still under consideration. Meanwhile, people all over the world have documented the existence and prevalence of this burgeoning issue.

Take this article from just a couple weeks ago, for example. It’s about Kenya’s growing awareness of the incidence of internet addiction—to virtual porn, sex, and relationships. Apparently it’s seen as particularly problematic for youth, including 20-somethings, and it’s more prevalent than drug and alcohol addictions because access to cybercafe use is cheaper.

And here’s a report from the United Kingdom:

Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., an addiction researcher in Los Angeles, recently posted a blog article in which he weighs in on the subject of compulsive internet use. He includes info from around the world and adds:

…the answer to the question of whether or not Internet addiction is the same as substance abuse is obviously not yet, and may never be, crystal clear.  However, according to everything we know right now, it seems obvious that for at least a small subset of Internet users, online life can become disruptive to normal functioning. The question is how to minimize that sort of risk as our society becomes more and more globally dependent on technology.

Consider checking out the questionnaire he provides to see if you may be experiencing issues related to your own internet use.

Finally, a humorous look at this topic from 1996 (mind you), that occurred on the sitcom Roseanne. Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Roseanne’s sister on the show, gives us a priceless visual take on how susceptible some people are to losing themselves in cyberspace:

Nov 29

“Enlightened”: Becoming Enlightened About An Overlooked Series

There’s been a new comedy/drama show on HBO this fall, Enlightened, that apparently hasn’t caught on so well, according to an article I read recently in Entertainment Weekly (EW) that calls it “the best show nobody’s watching.”

And New York Magazine’s “Approval Matrix” says Enlightened is “the rare cable show to perfect the sad-funny mix.”

How is this relevant to Minding Therapy? Well, as stated by writer Melissa Maerz in the EW article, the premise is that the lead character Amy (Laura Dern) has an emotional breakdown of sorts at work and is sent for some “New Age anger management rehab…Returning to the office feeling spiritually rejuvenated, she’s ready to change the world.”

Maerz cites some examples of the show’s dark humor:

Some of the best jokes come from Amy trying, and failing, and trying again to be a good person, one who really, truly connects with others. In one episode, she returns home to her mother (Diane Ladd), full of compassion. ‘It’s good to see you, Mom,’ she says. ‘Why?’ her mother asks, totally deadpan. In another episode, Amy visits her drug-addict ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson), gushing about how great it is that they can reconnect in such a meaningful way without cocaine. ‘Yeah,’ he says, smiling. And then he leans over and snorts a massive line.

Diane Ladd, by the way, is Laura Dern’s mom in real life too.

For more info, including ways in which the series also elicits sadness, click on the second link in the opening paragraph of this post.

In the preview below, Amy, described as “a woman on the verge of a nervous breakthrough,” is first seen failing to cope—and then trying to use her newfound therapeutic insights to move forward: