Exclusive interview with ‘Delivery’ filmmakers Brian Netto and Adam Schindler

Melancholia’ Artfully Mixes Pain and Wonder


(This article orginally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Network 11/9/11.)

The only thing more complex than watching Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” is reviewing it. I sat down to write this review with absolutely no idea what to say, or even what I felt after this movie, but this is what I can tell you. “Melancholia” is not the kind of movie you go see for mindless action. Or horror. Or humor. Or suspense.

Honestly, I don’t know what on earth you go to this movie for. In fact, the genres cited seem somewhat trivial to something so multi-layered and weighty. Which, I think, might sort of be its point: the triviality of, well, everything.

Love It or Hate It

I glanced over some reviews before watching this film, noting the divisive “love it or hate it” nature from reviewers. Some negative comments may be related to von Trier’s crazy Cannes comments about Nazism, which I am so not getting into. Some probably just don’t understand it. But for those who do (or think they do), this kind of commentary on the pointlessness of everything we cherish — marriage, family, career, wealth — makes folks mighty uncomfortable. The last time I felt this kind of heaviness was watching “Revolutionary Road,” where Leonardio DiCaprio and Kate Winslet find their own version of domestic hell packaged as the American dream.

After some surreal imagery to open the film, “Melancholia” starts with what should be Justine’s ( Kirsten Dunst ) fairytale wedding and the happiest day of her life. But slowly and steadily, it all starts spiraling down the drain before our eyes. Many critics have complained about how slow the movie is, and it certainly is. But the snail-paced way von Trier eases us into the relentless destruction of everything in Justine’s life is beautifully subtle and real — which is what makes it heartbreaking.

Dunst Shines in Unconventional Role

Dunst gives an amazing performance, evoking a character who knows that all these great things — a handsome husband (Alexander Skarsgard), a beautiful wedding, a job promotion bestowed on her at the reception, all the wealth and luxury surrounding her — should bring her joy. And she seems to really be happy — at first. But you can see it in Justine’s eyes when she not only realizes none of this will make her happy but, indeed, nothing ever will.

So she proceeds to burn all bridges to any hope of a “normal” life and resigns herself to her hopelessness, to the point where she is unaffected by even the planet heading for Earth that will end mankind. When her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) asks Justine if she doesn’t believe there might be some other life beyond Earth, Justine deadpans her answer, “I know we’re alone.” And her words carry the weight of the true depression Dunst so convincingly portrays — not emo, melodramatic posturing, but that flat, expressionless weight of the real thing.

Or at least that’s what I saw in Dunst’s performance, which earned her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The sad truth is, one probably has to have — or, at least, have had — a little melancholia to understand “Melancholia.” It doesn’t draw tears, or make you laugh, or make you embrace life. It leaves you feeling sort of numb and empty — and alone. Yet it isn’t pure misery. As the characters watch that huge globe creeping up on Earth, it mixes a sense of wonder with the pain. And perhaps a peaceful resignation to the fate that eventually waits for all of us.

And I suspect that’s exactly what von Trier was going for.

Exclusive Interview with ‘The Voice’ Finalist Beverly McClellan


(This article originally appeared on the Yahoo! Contributor Network which was discontinued and deleted, so it is reposted here.)

It’s easy to become jaded about the music industry these days with the shameless commercialism and all the melodramatic music contests, but there were two truly defining moments in the first season of “The Voice” that sent a clear message this wasn’t going to be the same old status quo. The first was when the coaches opened the premiere by actually, you know, singing, showing they walked the walk. And the second was the blind audition of one contestant in particular. The kind of larger-than-life singer who doesn’t fit the sweet ingénue mold the label executives love so well. Someone who’d likely never even been given a chance to be heard in an industry of surgically-enhanced Barbie dolls with her extensive tattoos, and her shaved head, and her blatant disregard for playing by the rules.

If you are a fan of “The Voice,” you know exactly who I’m talking about. If not, then I suggest you get to know the force of nature that is Beverly McClellan. Like…now.

McClellan and I intersected on a phone call where I was on the tail end of an all-nighter and she was just waking up and getting her caffeine on after a last-minute gig the previous night opening for none other than Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Which, despite getting the call only a few hours beforehand, seemed to have gone very smoothly.

“The guy is amazing, and his crowd really received me well, so I was very happy. Very, very happy,” she said. “I mean, I walked out there and they raised the curtain and I was standing out there by myself and there were tons of people and I was like ‘Hey, how y’all doin’?’ And I could see a lot of their faces go ‘Hey, man, I remember her from…’ And I just said ‘Yep, I’m from ‘The Voice.'”

Although she performed for a sizable studio audience on Season 1 of “The Voice,” not to mention literally millions of TV viewers, McClellan didn’t think her nerves for last night’s show were out of the ordinary. And in fact, a natural side effect of the rush of performing, and doing the thing she loves — something that hasn’t become even remotely old-hat.

“I mean, is a roller coaster exciting every time you ride it? Yes, it is. So is the stage. So is people. So is life.”

Life after “The Voice” has consisted pretty much of touring. Then more touring. And, oh yes…touring.

And, of course, recording her new CD, the appropriately titled “Fear Nothing.” It was the first time she was able to sit down and record an album straight through, without having to stop and earn more money to work in the studio in bits and pieces. Not to mention having seasoned studio musicians and a great producer to work with for the first time, making this different from any of her previous CDs.

“I think the actual players and David Z., who worked with Prince and Etta James — c’mon, just those two names changed the whole process right there, man. That’s better than me saving up my Ps and Qs that I don’t have to use for the electric bill and taking it down to the studio and trying to put up maybe another two songs and wondering when I can release this…it’s like, a whole different level.”

And speaking of James, if McClellan could only sing with one person in the world, she would pick James or Dolly Parton. Little did she know she wasn’t the only one in the room at her audition who shared a great love of the blues legend.

“When (Christina Aguilera) and Adam (Levine) turned around, I thought, if anybody has anything to teach me, it’s going to be Christina. I did the right thing — I found out we had Etta James in common, so that made me very happy. And that’s something we didn’t know when she turned around.”

Aguilera was obviously a fan of McClellan, as well, who ended up being the singer representing her team in the finals. If McClellan had to sum up her feelings about the musical diva in one sentence, she has no problem hitting in on the head.

“She’s lipstick on fire is what she is,” McClellan laughs. “With perfect pitch.”

And speaking of fire, if there was one thing she could have done differently on “The Voice,” she can tell you exactly what it would have been, without the slightest hesitation.

“I might have set the piano on fire. I asked them to do that but they said no. It was one of four in the world, so instead I laid on it. They told me not to do that, too. But hey, it’s live television, what are you gonna do? Don’t tell me not to do something, cause that’s the first thing I’m gonna do.”

As fearless as McClellan is, wasn’t there at least a sliver of doubt or worry about how she would be received as she was waiting for her blind audition?

“Hell, no. Cause I don’t give a [expletive] whether they accept me or not. I’ve done walked around in this skin for 42 years so I don’t give a flyin’ pazzizi what they think about me. They don’t pay my bills, I do. I think it helped me with my music because I was like screw it, I am who I am. If you don’t like me, oh well. I got nothing to lose, I’ll go home and pet my dog, he loves me just fine.”

Apparently, her dog isn’t the only one who loves her — viewers voted McClellan into the semi-finals and the finals, proving that the exception to the rule can gain a widespread audience. And proving sexuality really doesn’t matter, as it was never even an issue on “The Voice,” unlike some other music contests.

Of course, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t even be mentioned, but it bears noting that three of the eight semi-finalists on the show were openly gay, indicating that perhaps Americans weren’t quite as concerned about such irrelevant facts as some politicians would make you believe.

“I was a singer way before I was gay. I knew what music was at three years old, but I didn’t knew what that other was. You don’t discover that till later in life. I love it when people say how is it to be a gay singer…I didn’t set out to be that but I just am. But it’s okay, the Indigo Girls get it, too. And I’m sure Melissa Etheridge does, too.”

As McClellan was covering one of Etheridge’s songs on an episode of “The Voice,” it occurred to me maybe she was borrowing her trademark shaved head from one of her inspiration’s looks. As to which did it first, I should have known the answer.

“I did. Hers was cancer-related. Mine’s just crazy. ”

She may be a little crazy, but McClellan has used her new-found notoriety to start her own label and go the DIY approach. But unlike most do-it-yourself musicians, she also has the backing of the prestigious William Morris Talent Agency, creating a “best of both worlds” situation any artist would envy.

So how does she plan to wield her creative power?

“I’m gonna make the world sing the blues. That’s it. I’m gonna conquer it. You know, they don’t have to give me a genre. Love will find its way out cause music is universal.”

The next season of “The Voice” debuts Feb. 5 after Super Bowl XLVI and will air Mondays for the rest of the season. This time, each coach will start with 12 instead of eight contestants, so expect more songs, more laughs, more tears and more drama. Which is to say, more awesome for the new year.

What it Means When Your Doctor Recommends Hospice

Young girl's hand touches and holds an old woman's wrinkled hands.; Shutterstock ID 115740043; PO: 47953; Other: Public Affairs

(This article originally appeared on the Yahoo! Contributor Network)

When faced with a life-threatening illness, the word many people fear most is “hospice.” Obviously, it is not a recommendation one wants to hear, but some of those fears are based on myths about what hospice does and that it means giving up hope. Nothing could be further from the truth. When is a hospice recommended?

To put it in the simplest terms, a physician will recommend hospice when he or she feels the patient has a prognosis of six months or less to live. This is certainly not good news, but there are people who elect to discharge from hospice either to pursue aggressive treatment, or because conditions change enough they no longer qualify and the hospice initiates discharge. Or as some say, they “graduate.”

Common? No. But it does happen.

Most people also think you have to be diagnosed with cancer to be hospice eligible, but that isn’t the case. There are guidelines for admission for many chronic, debilitating diseases, such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and end stage dementia, amongst others. The hospice benefit continues past the six months as well, as long as you remain eligible per guidelines to remain on service, so there is no time limit.

Hospice and pain medication

Another common misconception is hospice wants to give pain medications till the patient is sedated, or some even believe to the point of euthanasia. This is illegal and unethical, and absolutely unthinkable to hospice nurses, who specialize in symptom management with the goal of extending as much quality time of life as possible. Nurses work closely with doctors to adjust medications up in small doses to prevent over sedation and find the right amount to control symptoms with minimal adverse effects.

Even when people aren’t afraid that too much narcotics will be given to the point of overdose, they often have a fear of developing an addiction to pain medications. When taken strictly to control pain, it does not have addictive qualities – that only occurs in cases where it is abused by people who do not need it, or take it in excess of what is needed to control their pain.

Care in a hospice

Once those fears are put aside, many often think signing onto hospice means going into a facility, but hospice is a philosophy and method of care – not a physical place. The team of nurses, social workers, nursing assistants and chaplains work to keep you in your home or find placement elsewhere if that is what you choose. Most patients die in their own homes, with their family. And if not, most hospices have inpatient units, where families can stay around the clock with their loved ones. And with very low nurse-to-patient ratios, to ensure the kind of individual care their patients need.

As a general rule, hospice does not require patients to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order, but some make an exception when entering into their inpatient unit, as they are equipped for comfort care only, and not acute medical/surgical care that includes CPR and intubation in the case of cardiac or respiratory arrest.

The bottom line is the patient maintains control of decisions regarding their care as long as they are able to do so, and the hospice team supports them in their goals. That also means if the patient chooses to have their primary physician continue to follow them on hospice, that wish will always be respected.

The cost of a hospice

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns is cost, but Medicare does cover anything related to the patient’s hospice diagnosis and comfort care without charge to the patient. In most cases, any supplemental insurance would still cover medications not related to the hospice diagnosis, but the hospice social worker can help review finances and let you know if there are any other expenses outside what hospice covers and assist with resources to help you meet those needs.

Because hospice seeks to proactively treat not only the physical symptoms, but also emotional and spiritual, they do not stop with caring for the patient, but extend their support to the family as well. And by family, we define that loosely as anyone who cares about the patient. That is why if the patient dies, hospice service doesn’t end – hospice continues to follow up with the family for over a year to offer bereavement services and support groups. Many have special programs aimed at children.

The “H word” is scary to most people when they first hear it, but they often say they wish they had found the service sooner, or don’t know how they would have managed without it. Because hospice deals in other “H” words, as well – help, hope, and if not the healing of the physical body, a healing of the heart and soul.