A lovely film that was neglected on its release last year will now be available in a slightly edited version that is suitable for family viewing. It is called “Henry Poole is Here,” and it is the story of a man (Luke Wilson) who thinks he has lost everything. When Henry moves into a small house he just wants to be left alone, and he does his best to obliterate himself. But a stain on his stucco looks to at least one neighbor like it could be an apparition of Jesus. And then, when it seems that the people who come to see it get special blessings, Henry finds that being left alone is getting harder and harder. And then what happens does begin to feel like a miracle, even to Henry.
The film has a lot of heart and a lot of inspiration for both believers and seekers. It is well worth a place on the family’s movie night schedule.
Thanks to commenter Michele for letting me know about the re-release of this film.
Near the northernmost part of the eastern seaboard of the United States, tens of thousands of American military fly in and out on their way to tours of duty or on their way home. A tiny group of people, many elderly, are there to wish every one of them well and express the gratitude of our nation for their service and our good wishes for their safety. These are the Maine Troop Greeters. At all hours of the day and night, they are there to give a warm welcome and a friendly handshake to more than 900,000 service members (and more than 172 military dogs). An award-winning film called “The Way We Get By” tells the story of the troop greeters. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense (and former U.S. Senator from Maine) William Cohen says, it “is a moving and important film that encourages us to reflect upon the common bonds of mission and service that span generations.” It is one of the most inspiring movies of the year.
The movie is playing in limited release and will be available on DVD next month. It will air on PBS on Veteran’s Day.
I spoke to director Aron Gaudet about making the film over a four-year period.
NM: How did you come to this project?
AG: One of the three subjects is my mom. She is a Maine troop greeter.
NM: What is it like to make a movie about your mother?
AG: It was really interesting because it made me look at her from a completely different perspective. It gave me much more of an appreciation for her, for what she chose to do in her retirement years. At first, she wasn’t really doing much of anything. She didn’t have any hobbies. And then when she started doing this, it completely changed her life. It gave her such a sense of purpose and made me even more proud of her once I followed her around and saw what she was doing. Her and the rest of the troop greeters kind of amazed and inspired me.
NM: Did your mother work outside the home?
AG: Yes, she worked in a nursing home as a registered nurse’s aide.
NM: So at work and at home and now with the troop greeters, she has always been a caretaker.
AG: She really did spend her life taking care of people and now she is still doing the same thing.
It started out a short film about troop greeting and became a movie about life, about the universal things everyone goes through. This is a culture that defines people by your occupation and what you do, when you retire and you are no longer known for what you were doing, we tend to push people aside when we don’t see an immediate purpose in what they are doing. So these are people who all came to being troop greeters because they wanted at the end of their lives to do something that made a contribution.
We started seeing these parallels, too, all of these people going off to war are concerned about mortality and so are the older people who are greeting them. These big life issues took shape very quickly and were very interesting to us. Things they were dealing with whether it was financial heartache or losing a spouse, those are things anyone can relate to.
I am the youngest of eight, and all the others still live in Maine. But it made me realize that even with a huge support system, everyone checking in with her, she still spends a lot of time alone. Even with a big family, you still need to find something to put yourself into and give your life purpose.
NM: There were greeters during WWII who brought food for the military to the trains that were transporting them.
AG: Yes, we kind of got away from that tradition with Vietnam, they came back to nothing or were treated poorly, and one of the things that inspired the WWII veterans in Maine was wanting to do better for these troops. One of our three subjects says in the film, “We don’t necessarily support why they were sent there but we do support the troops.” They put their politics aside.
NM: How has this affected your mother’s life?
AG: Well the movie has made them into local celebrities. But in between flights, a bunch of them will go out to lunch together or do something else and so they have become friends. And it has affected my life, too. Gita the producer and I had started dating in October of 2004 and I took her home for Christmas to meet my mom for the first time. She got a call at 2 am to meet a flight and we went with her and brought a camera. We met Bill Knight, a WWII veteran, and in the movie he tells us he has prostate cancer. That night we went was the day he was diagnosed. It was a pretty dark day for him but he was still putting other people before him and that really grabbed us. People said that producers and directors don’t always get along too well together. But our relationship grew and when we finished, I said, “We didn’t kill each other,” so I proposed and we are getting married.
If this story wasn’t true, they’d have to invent it. Indeed, they already did. “This is Spinal Tap,” one of the most outrageous, influential, and utterly hilarious movies ever made, is a “mockumentary,” a fake documentary about a heavy metal rock group on a disastrous tour in support of a disastrous new album. “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” is an actual documentary about an actual heavy metal rock group on a disastrous tour in hopes of making a new album and it is hilarious and touching and completely captivating.
Like all great documentaries, this is the story of a passionate dream. Guitarist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner (not to be confused with one-b Rob Reiner, who directed “This is Spinal Tap”) met as teens in a small town near Toronto and have been performing together for four decades. They had a brief brush with success in the 1970’s, when they performed at a festival with acts that have since gone one to sell hundreds of millions of CDs, and their Metal on Metal album is considered seminal to the genre. But for some reason, they never made it despite subsequent alliterative albums like Worth the Weight and Hard n Heavy. The eternally optimistic Lips has a day job delivering school lunches. But when a European fan calls to say she has booked them on a tour, they drop everything and go. Everything goes wrong. But, as Lips says, at least they have a tour for things to go wrong on.
There are some nice little bows to “Spinal Tap” — a producer whose amps go to 11, a drive by Stonehenge. And the inspired title lets you know from the beginning that it is cheekily subversive, even of its own pretensions. It never takes itself or the band too seriously. But the passion of its characters for rocking out hard and for the partnership they share is perfectly suited to rock as the ultimate affirmation of life in the face of The Man in all forms, from club managers who don’t pay to recording executives who don’t get it to time that goes by too fast. The support of their families and their unquenchable commitment to the music is ineffably moving. It is funny and surprising but filled with heart.
Everything that made the adorable “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” so winning is missing from this tired and formulaic sitcom of a movie about an American tour guide in Greece. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” with writer/star Nia Vardalos, was filled with charm, heart, originality, and vivid detail. Now Vardalos stars — but did not write — “My Life in Ruins.” It is as tired as its title, a drawn-out sitcom of a movie that tries to charm us with thin jokes about ignorant tourists who travel around the world but don’t want to see anything.
Vardalos plays Georgia, an American of Greek heritage who went to Greece to teach but lost her job and is now stuck working for a small company with two tour buses. The other guide gets the one with the good air conditioning and the happy, easy-going customers. Georgia gets the bad bus, the bad hotels, and the cranky tourists. Plus the guy who is always making corny jokes (Richard Dreyfuss) — not that they are any better than the rest of the jokes in the movie — and some Australians who appear to be cheerful but whom no one can understand. Georgia sees this as a way to teach the visitors about the glory and history of Greece, to have them “bask in history” and “to be a part of the birth of civilization.” But they think they are on vacation and what she has in mind feels too much like work. All they want to do is eat ice cream and buy souvenirs.
And the new tour bus driver has a name that sounds like a bad word and a huge fuzzy beard. You think she’ll be surprised when she finds out that he speaks English and understands what she’s been saying? You’re right! You think it will be funny when it happens? You’re wrong. You think the tour bus driver will shave and turn out to be handsome so that Georgia can recover her “kefi” (Greek for mojo)? You’re right! You think it will make the movie entertaining? You’re wrong!
Vardalos looks uncomfortably skinny and as though she knows she could have written a better script. “Saturday Night Live’s” Rachel Dratch is wasted as the kind of tourist who is always looking for the Hard Rock Cafe or an international branch of Curves. And then there is the warring couple with the mopey teenage daughter who — here’s a surprise — won’t take the earbuds out of her ears. The stereotypes are not awful because they are predictable. After all, they become stereotypes because they happen so often. They are awful because they are so thin and superficial and phony. It is ironic that while Georgia is whining about how tourists do not appreciate the grandeur and history of the ancient ruins, the movie itself feels as though it is the cinematic equivalent of a chintzy souvenir. It is a shame to spoil the beautiful scenery with these vaudeville-era jokes. Georgia may find her kefi in this film, but the script never does.