Adventures in Obamacare

I knew that one day Obamacare would show up and bite me. Today was the day.

I am in the process of transferring my medical care to another state. So far, the only thing I could possibly blame on the Affordable Care Act was that it took me three months to get a medical appointment with a primary care physician once I applied. And yes, I had to apply to the medical practice to even be accepted as a patient.

My first appointment was with a nice young fellow in his last year as an intern. I explained all my little medical history and we discussed my referral and prescription needs. I was particularly concerned with continuing to receive a certain medicine crucial to my health, one which I have been receiving at no cost from Novartis, a large pharmaceutical company. My previous doctor set me up with them and I have been getting these pills each month for several years.

My current prescription from the last doctor expires in about three weeks, and it appears that getting  a new one would not be a problem. Thus, I figured my place with Novartis was secure. I was wrong.

Today  I called Novartis to order my monthly supply and was told that my account had been suspended because I now had to apply for coverage with Medicaid under the rules of the Affordable Care Act. The woman I spoke with initially told me that the current state I live in has expanded its Medicaid coverage and thus was considered the primary provider of my meds.

What complicates my case is that I technically am not a resident of the state I live in. I moved here for work. My permanent domicile is in my previous state, which does not have this “expanded” coverage. This is noted on my pay statements from my employer. Even so, I was told I needed to apply for Medicaid in my current state and get a rejection letter. End of story. “No meds for you”, ala Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, was the message I got. I even pulled the “lawyer” card, but to no avail. “If you are going to ‘chapter and verse’ me on the law, and this is YOUR interpretation, I guess I need a lawyer to come after you guys.” Didn’t work. I also complained that Novartis suspended me and didn’t even tell me about it.

Since I have a short supply left and this medicine is very necessary, I decided that I was not going to go away quietly. I asked to speak with a boss. I got the same story, except after some mild ranting about Obamacare and my short supply of meds, the woman agreed to give me another 30 day supply. I wasn’t satisfied. “I want to speak to YOUR boss,” I said.

Knowing I would get nowhere speaking to a higher up, I took my current antagonists’ advice and just took what I could get and allowed myself to be transferred to some place called “Inventive.” Before the transfer I asked who these people are. “‘They’ll help you apply for Medicaid,” said Amber, my polite supervisor at Novartis. “Fine,” I said. “But WHO are they?,” I repeated. Amber told me they were a “part of Novartis.”

After arranging for final delivery of meds, I was transferred to a very nice man named Jason at “Inventive”. He asked me how he could help me and I gave him the background.  After some communicating back and forth I learned that Novartis could not just cut me off while my case was pending. We agreed that I should apply both to my health insurer and my current state Medicaid for coverage and procure denial letters to prove if necessary to Novartis that I had to pay for my pills out of pocket if they did not do so.

“But that first woman at Novartis was just going to let me go without my meds and didn’t tell me any of this,” I said to Jason.

“She didn’t take ownership of the call,” he said. Jason also expressed annoyance at how Novartis was treating me. He told me to call him if I needed anything on my case. In the end, other the console me, the only thing Jason did for me, however, was to provide me toll free numbers to the two states’ Medicaid offices.

So now I have to probably spend a bunch of time at the social services office applying for Medicaid I am sure I am not even eligible for. The supply of my extremely necessary medicine is at risk, and thus potentially also my health.

Many thanks to the American people for voting the current administration into office–twice. I also want to thank Congress for their support of the Affordable Care Act, also. You like me. You really like me.














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Movie review: “Snowpiercer” is uniquely post apocalyptic



The post apocalyptic humans at in "Snowpiercer" are definitely a strange bunch.

The post apocalyptic humans at in “Snowpiercer” are definitely a strange bunch.

I’m not exactly sure why I chose to see “Snowpiercer” as my matinee show today. I think it was a rebellion against the hype over the “Planet of the Ape” series. The latest film of that monkey business is the hot thing in the theatres right now.

My movie choices sometimes are similar to my voting patterns: there have been elections where I held my nose and voted. I wouldn’t describe the process that went into my opting for “Snowpiercer” over “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” as similar to the one I have used to pull a lever for a politician, but  I really wasn’t dying to see either film. I just needed some cinematic entertainment of any kind.

Ironically, my contra-methodology resulted in my viewing a movie in which the main character is an anti-hero.  The story centers on Curtis, the leader of a revolt of passengers on a post-apocalyptic train called the “Snowpiercer”.

The train’s moniker comes from our dear Earth’s environmental woes following a misguided attempt by world leaders to combat global warming. After they seed the atmosphere with an agent meant to lower the Earth’s temperature to tolerable levels, the planet is plunged into an extreme Ice Age.

This epoch event is the equivalent of the Great Flood of Noah, and the viewer is told that all life has become extinct. The only life that has survived the deep freeze is those humans and vermin present on the “Snowpiercer.”

The train is the brain child of a mysterious person named Wilford, whose name for some reason brings to my mind Willy Wonka. Indeed,  the characters in “Snowpiercer” are at times as bizarre as he is. But that should be expected in a film about a world that has experienced Armageddon, albeit one involving extreme contrasts to fire and brimstone.

“Snowpiercer” is a little like  “Mad Max”, except the setting takes place in metal containers speeding around a frozen globe. It definitely isn’t similar to the Tom Hanks vehicle “Polar Expess”, which is a mystical Christmas movie. The spirituality of “Snowpiercer” is that of an icy hell.

Wilford is the Wizard of Oz. We don’t see him but we know he’s on board because his representatives refer to him as the merciful and all-knowing engineer.

Of course, Wilford is at the front running the train, which has a distinct caste system. In “Snowpiercer” the focus is not on elites like Wilford, however. It is on the lowest caste: the people who inhabit the squalor in the rear compartments.

It is these unfortunates whom Curtis leads in rebellion.  He is reluctant to take on this mantle of leadership, but he is egged on by an old man named Gilliam who fills the role of wise man for the train tail enders, and by his own second in command Edgar.

It is obvious that Gilliam means for Curtis to not only lead these tag alongs, but to take over the command of  the entire train. To do this they must overpower armed guards and Wilford’s visible managers in order to advance to the front.

Wilford’s henchmen aren’t men at all. They’re  women. These include Minister Mason, a squirrelly looking old bag who makes Lily Tomlin’s operator character Ernestine seem attractive in comparison, and  a younger female named Claude, a personal assistant to Wilford.

The storyline of “Snowpiercer” is an odd journey through each car of the long train as the rebels seek to advance. We’re not sure at the beginning  of the film what lies ahead of the tail section. The opening of each gate by a security expert is a little like the old game show “Let’s Make a Deal”. Finding out what is behind the next door does add intrigue.

The current leadership of the “Snowpiercer” don’t give up without a fight though. The ideology prevents it.

Minister Mason notes that there is a definite pecking order. She says to the people in the rear, “I am the hat. You’re shoes. I am the head. You’re feet. This is so. The original order was defined by our tickets. Class: first, second and riders like you.”

Minister Mason makes it clear that she thinks they are lucky to even be aboard,  and that all worship and praise should go to the all-knowing and merciful Wilford.

However, the folks at the end of the train aren’t so grateful.  After 18 years of  being housed in an overcrowded windowless area that is more like a submarine than a train, and eating nothing but some dark, square biscuits, the people have had enough. Thus, there is the rebellion and those in the rear are like Dorothy and her companions, off to see the wonderful Wizard of Oz, except their intentions toward Wilford are malicious.

One of the reasons I thought I would want to see this flick is that Roger Ebert described the visuals in “Snowpiercer” as stunning. I couldn’t help but think of them as computer generated, however.  As a result,I did not have the same response to the snowy scenes as Ebert. They did, though, make me miss the frozen countryside  of the Nordic country I once lived in.

“Snowpiercer” also appealed to me because I have always loved trains. I am not sure I would want to be a passenger on the one featured in this noire film.

A combined Korean and American production, the director is Korean Bong Joon-ho. The Wikipedia account of him says he pushes boundaries and that his stories are an emotional roller coater ride.

“Snowpiercer” is definitely edgy. It is “Road Warriors” set in “Day After Tomorrow”.

Yet, I was not moved emotionally either way. There is just too much violence and profanity. If there was any movement at all in my feelings during the film, it was downward because of its darkness.

Furthermore, I was a little confused by the plot.  I think this might  have been because of the cross cultural aspects of the movie’s production. The Korean Bong was inspired to film “Snowpiercer” with the Americans after reading the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”.

I suppose like any good story some things are left to the viewer’s interpretation. Even so, I left “Snowpiercer” wondering if I understood the story.

Being a good American,  I did go looking for  a message from “Snowpiercer”, whether I was supposed to or not. To me the lesson of the film  is to be wary of leadership.

The world of this flick ends up in the shape it is in because of idiotic decisions. Furthermore, the people running the train belong in an insane asylum, not in leadership. Lastly, revolutions sound nice, but before manning the barricades it is always a good idea to think about whether the leaders of the rebellion are any better than those they seek to replace.

The producers of “Snowpiercer” may not have led us into a movie making breakthrough, but  I think “Snowpiercer” is unique in some ways. It  will probably gain a following, especially among those who like stories involving humans trying to manage in a collapsed society at the end of the world.




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Bus Drivers Are Only Human



Bus drivers are like the rest of us. Some are happy; some are less so; others are just automatons.

They are like, as Forrest Gump noted, a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. For example, today I hopped a bus at the local university and a female driver I rarely see glared at me. I showed my faculty ID, which gets me around town for free, and moved on to a seat.

After living in this town for almost a year, most of the drivers know me. I am like a bank customer for whom the teller writes on the check “KTM” (Known to Me). No ID is necessary, nor is coin.

During the school year I was picked up religiously by the same driver. He is a quite friendly man. He is also on time, something which is not true of many of the drivers here. Wednesdays someone else drove, and they invariably were late.

In fact, one particular driver who operates a very important route during commuting hours is ALWAYS late. I have complained about her, but to no avail.  A friend of mine sent me a note one day telling me this woman had actually stopped for a sandwich, causing him to miss his connecting bus.

Indeed, when I beefed about the tardiness of this particular bus a supervisor began to ask me questions like, “What time do you need to be at work?” I asked him what that had to do with his buses not being on time. In retrospect, I think he was just using an evasion tactic.

One driver is curmudgeonly. I can appreciate that since it typifies my personality as well. My own lack of personality may be why I sometimes suffer ill treatment at the hands of the local transit people.

One day as I got on the bus, this crabby driver looked at me and said,”Let me out.” I didn’t quite know what he meant, until he tried to open the door next to his seat. I apologized and moved out of his way. Perhaps he had to go to the bathroom.

I can sympathize with these transit folks, though. I begged a company in a previous town to hire me because I thought driving a bus would be cool. I like to drive, too.

However, once I got out of class and on to the road, I was petrified. Perhaps it was the pictures of cracked up buses I was shown in training.

In any case, I did not know that driving a large vehicle like a 40 foot, several ton bus involves mainly using the rear-view mirrors.  I couldn’t get my head around driving a that way. It was also disconcerting driving while a trainer stood next to you yelling things like,”STOP THE BUS!”

After a few days I was far behind schedule in my on-the-road training and the bell was tolling. My guess is that the head trainer had already given me the label he used for the drivers who had half destroyed his buses in the past: Darwin award candidate.

So when I get a little unhappy at my local drivers, I remember those days. I remind myself that these people can do something I can’t do, and it’s not an easy job. So I overlook the lack of customer service.

After all, bus drivers are a little like mechanics. They can be salty, but as long as they do their jobs, who cares?


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July 4th Fireworks I Have Known

After watching a stupendous fireworks display in my local community last night, the the 4th of July, I walked home asking myself, “What have been the greatest fireworks displays I have ever witnessed?” Actually, although the main event was over, the night sky on a beautiful evening continued to be filled with what John Adams called “illuminations” to celebrate our independence.

My "camp site" to view July 4th events last night,  complete with sheet, program and the flag I got for donating to a charity which displays  flags to honor veterans on September 11

My “camp site” to view July 4th events last night, complete with sheet, program and the flag I got for donating to a charity which displays flags to honor veterans on September 11

As I watched these colorful lights, it occurred to me that the technology for fireworks has really improved. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can now launch quite nice combustibles. This makes sense given that we are all walking around with what amounts to a handheld computer which makes phone calls, plays music, and does all sorts of other wonderful things.


One of last night's "bombs bursting in air".

One of last night’s “bombs bursting in air”.

I’ll limit my favorite fireworks displays to those I have seen on July 4th. There are also performances I have witnessed on New Year’s Eve, for example. In fact, if I could include as a favorite a display I watched over the skies of Helsinki about a decade or so ago, one which welcomed a new year.

What made this one special was that from my vantage point I watched the entire night sky fill up with lights over an entire major metropolitan area. I watched these sparklers from my apartment in several floors up.

Here are my top five Independence Day fireworks displays. I have left off the exact years because frankly, I can’t remember them.


1)   The Washington, D.C. Mall


My Personal Highlight: The quality and scale

The fireworks on the Washington Mall are definitely the best I have seen.

The fireworks on the Washington Mall are definitely the best I have seen.

I have been to these fireworks at least twice.  Other years I make a point of watching D.C.’s fireworks on “The Capitol Fourth”, shown on PBS. They are indeed spectacular.  Both times I was with a group of international students.  D.C. is hot and humid in the summer and July 4 is no exception. It was at least 100 degrees the times I went. Add hundreds of thousands of people, and comfort is not exactly an attraction to the event. The mob gathers around the Reflecting Pool and the fireworks are shot into the sky with the Washington Monument as a backdrop. Getting to and from the fireworks is an adventure given the crowd. If you don’t mind being crushed up against other people on the subway, these fireworks are the best.


2)   Blacksburg, Virginia


My Personal Highlight:  The Chow!

Our host's spread on July 4th!

Our host’s spread on July 4th!

One year my family and I were invited to witness Blacksburg’s fireworks from the horse pasture behind our house. This venue was on high ground overlooking the city. The fireworks were shot off at the local high school a view miles away. My teenage daughter helped out with the horses occasionally, so that’s how we wiggled the invite. The best memory I had was the variety of food and drink set out on tables on the grounds. Yes, there were hot dogs, which to me are a must on July 4. Anytime an event is accompanied by good vittles, I’m happy to participate.

The sun sets behind the Blue Ridge Mountains from our vantage point for fireworks

The sun sets behind the Blue Ridge Mountains from our vantage point for fireworks

3)   Muncie, Indiana


My Personal Highlight: The weather (see the night sky below)

These are the fireworks I viewed last night. I was pleasantly surprised by the entire event. It was held on the grounds of the local cultural center, mostly dedicated to the Ball family, the town’s most notable personages, and creators of the famous jars.  I was able to tour the center for the first time before the music. The local “America’s Hometown Band” performed the obligatory marches and other songs of that ilk appropriate for Independence Day. In the distance was a Middle American neighborhood and behind me was the local greenway. Add in the moonlit, clear sky and the low temperatures, combined with no humidity, and it was a wonderful evening. The fireworks weren’t bad either. Not only were they loud, but they also were accompanied by the local cultural amenity: passing train horns.


Fireworks over Muncie, Indiana on July 4, 2014

Fireworks over Muncie, Indiana on July 4, 2014

4)   Cowpens, South Carolina


My Personal Highlight: The historic location


Cowpens National Battlefield is a great place to view fireworks, and to jog.

Cowpens National Battlefield is a great place to view fireworks, and to jog.


Cowpens is the South’s major contribution to victory in the Revolutionary War.  Our soldiers sent “Bloody” Tarleton and his Redcoats scurrying there in an important battle. It was the turning point in the war in the South and eventually led to George Washington’s win at Yorktown. I also enjoyed jogging there. Given that the site is the only one I have viewed fireworks where there were immediate consequences of our declaration of independence in 1776, it was a pretty unique place to be for the celebration.

Banastre "Bloody" Tarleton, the British general defeated by American troops at Cowpens.

Banastre “Bloody” Tarleton, the British general defeated by American troops at Cowpens.










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Film Review: D’Souza’s “America” Promises Alternate History But Doesn’t Deliver


I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre known as “alternative history”. The premise of this category of literature is to ask the question “What if.” For example, author Harry Turtledove, known as “The Wizard of If”, has books about what would have happened if the Confederate States of America had won the Civil War.

Thus, when Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary film “America” opened with a “what if” scenario during the American Revolution, I was thrilled. There was pageantry on celluloid at that point as well-dressed (not historical really) American soldiers went up against the Redcoats and the unthinkable happened.

Unfortunately, the beginning  of “America” was its high point for me, along with an effective conclusion, as we shall see. With what comes between, D’Souza, who narrates the movie, did not fulfill his promise to answer the question “What if America never existed?”

Instead, his documentary goes on to present propaganda defending America from criticisms from the political left. D’Souza synthesizes the arguments of both sides.

He does this well, especially when he interviews prominent leftists such as academic Ward Churchill and historian Howard Zinn, who D’Souza says is the most prominent historian of the last half century. He calls the attacks from the left “indictments”.

D’Souza himself is a conservative. He presents counterarguments to the left’s view that America got to its place in the world through theft. Popular Tea Party notable Senator Ted Cruz, for example, is interviewed.

He defends the conquering of half of Mexico (now California and the American Southwest) as a just war.  The war, says Cruz, was Mexico’s fault since their dictator Santa Ana was seeking to put down a revolt of Texans, who had joined the U.S.

The film’s best historical support for the traditional view of America is the historical account of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat who came to the U.S. in 1831 and wrote of the entrepreneurial and religious spirit and behavior of Americans. The actor who portrays de Tocqueville does an excellent job of displaying the French value of “egalite’” and the American one of liberty.

After responding to the left’s charges, D’Souza notes how they have sought power in America by shaming the middle class into believing what he says are its deceptions and lies.

Activist Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules for Radicals” is portrayed as a thug who learned his trade from Al Capone associate Frank Nitti.  Alinsky, says D’Souza, was the original community activist who sought to turn America into a socialist state by expanding such activism all over the country.

The political savvy viewer will know of Alinsky. What makes this segment of “America” documentary noteworthy is how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have taken his ideas into government, turning the feds into an intimidating force.

For me, the most poignant moment of the documentary was when quoted Ronald Reagan, a man for whom he had worked as a policy analyst. Reagan once said, , “Our national anthem is the only one in the world that ends with a question: ‘Oh say does that Star Spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?’ ” D’Souza  points out that  the president also noted that each generation would have to answer that question for themselves.

Reagan’s remarks are presented in a part of the film in which the overbearing use of surveillance and intimidation by the American government is highlighted. As a result, it’s use was quite moving to me.  I agree with Becky Gerritson, whose testimony before Congress is featured.  Gerritson, a Tea Party official from Alabama, told the lawmakers that the abuses of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) against her party were the result of a government which has little respect for its citizens.

In an emotional conclusion, she went on to say,“Many of the agents and agencies of the federal government do not understand that they are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken.

“I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in. The America that people crossed oceans and risked their lives to become a part of. And I’m terrified it is slipping away.”

If D’Souza does nothing else, his “America” offers a view of the current political and culture wars that really does make it seem that alternate history has become reality. The current state of affairs in the U.S. do seem as if they come from a Turtedove novel.

However, I left feeling I could have learned most of what the documentary had to say by watching Fox News.

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Movie Review: “Chef” is a Latin Potluck

chef images


I tried something different for picking a matinee this week. I had no idea what was playing at the local Cineplex, so I just decided to show up and choose something that began close to the time I arrived.

That was a big mistake. I wouldn’t recommend potpourri movie pickin’. I ended up watching some film called “Neighbors”. It is marketed internationally as “Bad Neighbors”.

If the studio releasing it had cared about truth in advertising they would have called it “Bad Flick”. I walked out after about 20 minutes and should have left earlier.

But all’s well that ends well. I decided to walk into the next available film that looked halfway palatable. Starting in 5 minutes was something called “Chef”. After viewing it,  my faith in Hollywood was restored.

From the pictures and title I thought I might be watching some reality show from the Food Network.  I didn’t care. After a tough week at work, I just needed a mind break. I got much more from “Chef”.

As the movie began, I would say to myself “this is good”. As it progressed, I added more favorable remarks and smiled often. It was nice to have landed in a good movie home and be rid of the unneighborly flick next door.

In “Chef”, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a head chef at a Los Angeles restaurant owned by  a man named Riva (Dustin Hoffmann). Although Carl claims his deal with Riva includes culinary freedom, the owner intervenes when well-known food critic and blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) announces plans to visit.

Carl wants to plan a unique meal that will wow the critic. Although Riva technically tells Carl to do what he wants, he strong arms the chef into cooking from the standard menu.

Once a big fan of Carl when he worked at a restaurant in Miami, Michel fries Carl in the media. He gives the restaurant two stars and the review goes viral on Twitter.

Through his pre-adolescent son Percy, Carl learns how to tweet.  He sends an insulting message to Michel which he thought was private, and the tweet creates an online war between the two. In a short time Carl has 20,000 followers.

The war then goes nuclear.  Carl and the critic have a very public dustup on camera and social media makes an unwilling reality star out of Carl, who loses his cool during the spat, and his job as well.

What happens next will make those who want to fulfill their dreams feel their heart go pitter-pat. Reluctantly, Carl decides to takes his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) up on an offer to help supervise Percy while she goes on a work trip to Miami. While there,  she puts him in touch with husband number one, who assists him with starting a business operating a food truck.

What seems like a real come down for the chef instead becomes the road to professional and personal healing.  His truck, featuring his own creative Cuban sandwiches (Cubanos) takes off.

Percy is invited to help out in the truck gets. On the road trip of a lifetime, the boy gets some real father-son mentoring, too, and sees his father’ s heart.

When Percy appears to not care about the art of cooking the Cubanos, Carl strongly rebukes him. He informs the lad that, yes, he could have been a better husband and father, but this…well “this” he does well. “ I touch people”, he tells the boy.

This statement is the key to  “Chef”. When Carl decides to live authentically, his life takes off. He had to be pushed into having the courage to be true to his gifts, but in the end it is worth it.

I knew nothing about Favreau before “Chef”.  He is known mostly for directing and producing, and a stint on “Friends”, which I have never watched.

Favreau  creates an excellent portrayal  of a man who is enduring loss in his life. He gives to the part a myriad of emotions. One minute he is angry and full of rage. The next minute he seems confused. At another time, he takes joy in seemingly small things.

Oliver Platt I remember from his days on “Murphy Brown” 20 years ago. His quirky personality and features make him a natural as a cynical movie critic.

However, I had difficulty with Sofia Vergara’s Inez.  I probably have seen her too often in  the TV sitcom “Modern Family” and have her typecast in that role. It took most of the film for me to forget that she wasn’t Gloria Prichett.

Even so, she did add her Colombian flare to a distinctly Latin film.  Ironically,at lunch, prior to finishing work and heading to the cinema, I had watched the Colombia team play in the World Cup. I loved their little dances after they scored.

The featuring of Latino music, food and culture was one of the favorite aspects of the flick for me. Even though I snuck snacks into the theater, I still began drooling as Carl  showed Percy how t o cook the first Cubano, slathering it with butter. They looked delicious!

If you can overlook some unneeded crassness, “Chef” has a lot to offer: meddling police, Cuban and New Orleans music, the effects of divorce, and a workplace flirtation between Flavreau’s Casper and Scarlett Johansson, playing restaurant hostess Molly. The banality took away somewhat from the film, but it was far better than what I saw in “Neighbors”.

The foodie will definitely enjoy the film. So will those who have an interest in crossing cultures. Mostly though, it’s for the person who has seen their dreams crushed. “Chef” may give them an impetus to find their own road to a better life.
















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The Only Defect in “The Faults in our Stars” is the Cancer

Cancer bites.

I have first hand experience, yet my disease is nothing like that experienced by Hazel Lancaster in the hit film “The Faults in our Stars”.

Sixteen-year old Hazel has stage-four thyroid cancer and should already be dead. But she is a fighter who has been helped by the blessings of modern medicine. Furthermore, she has very supportive parents. Hazel’s folks encourage her to join a support group at a local church, led by an eccentric young fellow who puts down a rug of Jesus in the basement and encourages the attendees to get to His heart.

Hazel is a realist and knows she is on the path to death, and sees no point in the group. But she goes to make her parents happy. At the first meeting, the members share the names of the diseases they are suffering from. I perked up because some of them named the acute form of my chronic illness.

My form of the disease is controlled by a pill I take once a day.  This malady is slow moving. My prognosis at my age, heading into the land of old age pensions, is good.

However, those at the church are on a fast track to the grave. I am not one of those folks that criticize Big Pharma. I would probably be in as bad a shape as they if it were not for the advances they have made in the laboratory. In fact, my doctor tells me the medicine is improving all the time.

The crux of the story in “The Faults in Our Stars” is the romance that develops between Hazel and a new attendee, an 18-year old young man whose cancer has been arrested by the amputation of a leg.  Augustus “Gus” Waters is a cocky, confident dude and immediately hits on Hazel without reservation during and after the meeting.  Slowly, Hazel responds and the dance is on.

At times, the story is narrated by Hazel, who reflects on life in a stoic way. When she is not commenting, she is engaging Gus and her parents in debate over the meaning of it all.

In one scene, the couple discuss if there is an afterlife. Hazel isn’t inclined to believe there is, but Gus is pretty sure there has to be something after death.

At the center of their fling is a book called “An Imperial Affliction” by Amsterdam-based author Peter Van Houten.  It concerns a girl with cancer.  (Don’t go looking for a copy. Like the movie, it’s fictional.)

Hazel  is entranced by the book  and is desperate to find out its meaning because it ends in mid-sentence.  Gus, who is entranced by her, agrees to read the book if Hazel also reads his about video gaming.

With the aplomb that is part of  hs nature, Gus emails Van Houten’s assistant and arranges a trip to Amsterdam to meet him. Before this can happen, Hazel suffers an attack on her lungs that jeopardizes the journey.  However, she is finally able to board the plane with Gus and her mother. What happens next is magical and eye opening.

I would not normally have opted for what appeared to be a chick flick for my Thursday afternoon matinee, but I was attracted to the film for several reasons. First, I was curious after “A Fault in Our Stars” destroyed the Tom Cruise vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow” at the box office when they  both premiered last week.

I also had read a headline, “A Star is Born”, referring to Shailene Woodley.  I had heard she has been called the next Jennifer Lawrence.

I became even more sold on viewing the film after I learned the story centers on a couple who meet in a cancer support group.

I should have figured out there was something to this flick when the theater, normally empty at 4:30 pm on a Thursday afternoon, began to garner teeny boppers and couples.  There was even some young guy all by himself off in a corner.

It didn’t take me long to see that “Edge of Tomorrow” cannot hold a candle to “A Fault in Our Stars”. I was immediately enamord by the Shailene Woodley character. She is deeply moving in many scenes. Woodley lights up the screen. In fact, at this stage I would say she is a better actress than Jennifer Lawrence.

The cinematography, especially during the Amsterdam part of the story, is gorgeous. The colors leap off the screen into the senses.  The pictures dramatize both the lightness and darkness of life as a cancer patient. One moment, Helen is surrounded by glitter.  Another, she is sitting in a car in the pouring rain.

Indeed, “A Fault in our Stars” highlights the side effects of being a cancer patient. Depression can come with the territory. So can travel difficulties. You need to be close to the source of your equipment and meds, so a trip like the one Hazel made to Amsterdam was a major deal.  Cancer survivors should see this piece of art. They will relate to many of the struggles.

Fault in our stars photo


The film teaches a lot of life lessons, especially at the end. I won’t give them away like that annoying GEICO pig, who in a commercial constantly playing at my local cinema informs customers of movie endings as he takes tickets in a theater.

You don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy “A Fault in our Stars.” I’m not even sure ‘enjoy’ is the correct term. But I warn you, the film is a tear jerker to the core. And it’s the best flick I’ve seen this year.

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