Give Me Shelter

Chances are if you’re reading this, you have a roof over your head and a warm comfortable bed to sleep in on a cold winter’s night.   But what if you were reading this on a computer at the library and after the closing announcement is made, you have nowhere else to go.   Do you join the other homeless people sleeping on the street?   What if you decided to stay right there in the library, which after all is for the Public. 

That is the premise for the movie, The Public, a 2018 entry at the Toronto International Film Festival.    (We have a local theatre which shows TIFF selections the following winter.  It’s nice to see some of these lesser known indie films.  I need to add TIFF to my bucket list).  

The Public video   Homeless

After one of their friends is found dead from hypothermia, a group of homeless people decide to stage a protest and occupy the library in downtown Cincinnati to escape the freezing cold.   Starring an ensemble cast, the film was written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who plays the role of the head librarian.   While the movie is a Hollywood version with perhaps not the best acting (with so many characters there’s not much time for character development), it’s worth a look, if only for it’s focus on such an timely topic.    (see Trailer at the end)

Homelessness is a growing problem everywhere, fueled by the increases in drug addiction and mental illness.   In many cities, rents are high and vacancies few.   Even in my own small city the homeless shelters are often full and they are planning extensions to meet the demand.   When there’s no room at the inn, the city has to cough up money to pay for stays in motel rooms – 99 people in total last year.   Sometimes the shelters don’t have any female beds.  Sometimes they’re not centrally located.   Some have strict rules on drugs and alcohol, some don’t.   It’s a complex problem and one not likely to get better anytime soon.

My first glimpse of a homeless person was decades ago looking down from the window of my hotel room near Times Square.   There was a man rooting through a garbage can and another one curled up sleeping in a doorway.  I remember being horrified.    (I’m reminded of the opening scene of the 2006 memoir The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, (link) where the author is riding in a taxi cab in New York City and sees her mother going through the garbage cans.  If you’ve not read this book it’s a riveting read about her escape from a childhood of poverty, much better than the movie version).    Homelessness used to be a big city problem but now every city and town is dealing with the same issue and the ones you see sleeping on the street are just the tip of the iceberg.   Many times the problem is a hidden one as the couch surfers and car sleepers are not as visible.      

The street people are not so common in my city that I don’t notice them.  Although they seem to congregate in certain areas downtown where I seldom go at night unless to the theatre, I have noticed a few about during the daytime with all their worldly possessions loaded onto a cart.   Once I was at the farmers market and a woman was approaching people outside asking for money to buy food.   I gave her ten dollars but wondered if it would go for food or drugs?   A friend of mine gives out Tim Horton’s gift cards for this reason.  Recently a Tim Horton’s franchise was in the news after posting a notice on the door that patrons were not to linger longer than thirty minutes.  There was such a backlash that it was quickly taken down.  Of course the senior men’s coffee club members were upset, but it wasn’t aimed at them.  It was aimed at the homeless.  They had overstayed their welcome.   I remember seeing one young man, looking like hell on a bender, begging in front of the mall – someone’s son.    Last March there was a middle aged man holding a cardboard sign – Need Money for Food and Rent – at a busy intersection near Walmart.   He was there for weeks, with all the cars driving past him in the pouring rain, and the sad thing is there was a church just down the street which I’m sure must have tried to assist him.   Imagine how destitute you would have to be to resort to that.    Can you help people who don’t want to help themselves, who are just looking for the next fix.   While our Canadian government finances free injection sites and naloxone overdose kits, funded by tax dollars, we don’t even have a Rehab program for those who do want help.    They’ve been talking about it for years. 

Obviously there are no easy answers, but the homeless shelter here is working on solutions.   It has programs which will try to find affordable housing and help with rent and utility bills.   How many people are just one pay cheque away from being evicted?   You can get food from the food bank or the soup kitchen and clothes from the thrift store, but the rent must be paid and a little financial assistance with overdue bills just might keep another person off the street.   A Circles social program has also been started, aiming to break the cycle of poverty by means of personal support for a family or individual.   It’s a small dent in a big problem but at least they’re trying.  

When I returned the DVD to the library, I asked the library staff about their personal experiences.   While not really an issue at my small branch, those who worked downtown at the main branch mentioned them coming in to get out of the cold and using the washroom in the mornings to clean up, (a scene depicted in the movie).   They said there was always a box of donated gloves, scarfs, socks and toiletries for anyone to take if needed.   One even told me they gave someone a ride to the homeless shelter one night as the buses had stopped running by the time the library closed.   In the opening sequence of the movie there’s an old 50’s black and white newsreel, which talked about careers and the role of the Public library.    I’m sure no librarian back then envisioned that particular type of social assistance would one day become part of their job description.   

If you enjoy a movie with a message, you might enjoy The Public, and no matter how good or bad your day has been, when you go to bed tonight be grateful for a warm bed to sleep in.       

PS.  (Be forewarned, there are a few scenes in the movie which some people might find objectionable).             (1100 words)

Trailer for The Public:

 

 

  

 

 

 

Welcome to Downton – A Movie Theatre Review

Downtown Abbey

At the risk of sounding like an old fogy, it’s been years since I visited a  movie theatre – 22 to be exact – the last movie I saw at “the show” as we used to call it, was Titanic.   Yes, the year was 1997 and those actors are now middle-aged.   There hasn’t been a movie since where I felt I could not wait the minimal few months for it to come out on DVD, or it isn’t even called that anymore – become “available for home theatre viewing.”

So it was with much anticipation that I awaited the opening of the new  Downtown Abbey movie.   For stalwart fans of the Masterpiece TV series it was like coming home again, for it’s been three long years since we last had a glimpse of the Crawley family and their downstairs servants.   (See my Febrary post – Downton Abbey Revisited for more on their famous world.   Ah, the food, the fun, the fashions….)

Downton Abbey

The old Cineplex theatre where Titanic last sailed, has been torn down and a new multiplex Cineplex built, as that was the most requested addition according to a recent mall survey.    As the average box-office movie-goer is now a teenage boy who is into Marvel/Star wars movies, that’s probably who they surveyed.   No one I know goes to the movies anymore, so we have only ourselves to blame for the dearth of watchable movies.      

We decided to attend the noon matinee on the opening weekend, thinking the crowds would be fewer, and they were as when we walked in there were maybe fifty people at most.   The set-up reminded me of an IMAX theatre, an enormous screen with the seats facing downwards, but at least no one could obstruct your view.   I remember the last time I was in an IMAX theatre, decades ago for a Grand Canyon documentary, definitely not a good idea for someone who doesn’t like heights.   Speaking of heights, I wondered why almost everyone was sitting near the top.    We soon found out, as wow – that surround sound is certainly loud.   Even my mother, who denies being a bit deaf, thought it was way too loud.   As she was unable to climb higher than five rows up we stopped there, and had a lovely conversation with the lady in the seat behind us, who had recently had knee surgery and also found the stairs a chore.    Although there was a space below to store her walker, these places are really not designed for the handicapped…..steep uneven stairs, a long reach to the side handrail, and an elevation requiring a sherpa to achieve.    I watched the people coming down afterwards, mostly an older crowd, and everyone was navigating slowly as if coming down off Mount Everest. 

The seats were fake leather, non-tilting and horribly uncomfortable – gaming chairs really.   They must have surveyed their 15 year old target audience. 

The lights dimmed – therein followed thirty minutes of previews – lots of dark intergalactic forces at work on the planet these days, plus one unappealing Christmas rom-com staring nobody I knew.   I didn’t know they still made rom-coms, but Meg Ryan would not be caught dead in a silly green velvet elf suit.   The only one I was remotely interested in was Judy, and I can easily wait the three months to see Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, which I’m sure will be an Oscar-worthy performance.   Most younger people would not even know who Judy Garland was, nor maybe Renee Zellweger either. 

At least ticket prices are still reasonable…..$9 for a senior and $11 regular.  Big boxes of popcorn were $9 but small ones were $7 so you might as well spring for the larger size.    And what a variety of hot foods available, my lord – poutine at the movie theatre?   I happen to think poutine is a code word for future heart attack, but hey the target audience is invincible. 

Oh yea….I was supposed to be reviewing the movie. 

The Movie:   (no spoilers here)

There’s a big difference between writing a weekly series with an ongoing storyline and having to construct one from scratch in such a way that people tuning in for the first time are not hopelessly lost.   There were lots of intro scenes establishing the background and introducing the characters.   This probably accounted for the slow first half – I glanced over and my mother had fallen asleep, (1:30 pm is her usual nap time), but when I nudged her awake, she said she was just resting her eyes.   My eyes were sore too, as I found the screen way too close even from five rows in the midsection and wished we were higher up the mountain.   Where is a sherpa when you need one….

The characters seemed somewhat subdued.   It took them awhile to don their familiar roles, which is to be expected I suppose as when you are playing someone weekly it’s easy to slip into character again.  They were rusty – not Mary or Violet though.   Although everyone had a story, some were larger – Mary, Tom, Thomas and Daisy.   Daisy really seemed to be coming into her own.   Maybe they should give her a spin-off series?    Some characters barely had a part – Cora, Robert and Mr. Bates, and Henry just showed up at the end leaping of a car in time for a ball, although for a tall skinny guy he does leap well.   The plot line seemed thin and weak to me – but then I’m not really a monarchist.   It’s hard to get too excited about a visit from the King and Queen when they couldn’t even be bothered to make an appearance the past six years – much ado about nothing – but I suppose for the time period, serving king and country and all that.  Perhaps I am unfairly comparing it to the fast-paced series where scenes seldom lasted more than a minute or two and you were constantly left in suspense, wondering how things were going to turn out.  This ending was preordained.           

The sets and costumes were lavish as usual, as Julian Fellowes is one for details, but perhaps a wee bit less extravagant than usual.   As I had read it cost 1 million pounds/dollars to film each episode of DA, I wondered if  having already dismantled all the sets (except for Highclere), they had to make do.  Big box movies have a budget too.   If the substitute rooms didn’t seem as familiar or as opulent then maybe I have just watched too many episodes and know that the place settings would never be that close together for a formal dinner with the King and Queen, where Mosley makes a speech…..oops small spoiler.   The table did seem rather crowded. 

Will we get a sequel?   We could – there were a few unwrapped hints, Edith’s comment about missing her job, Tom’s new romance, but I suppose it depends on how much money is made.  

Most newspaper reviews have rated the movie a three star, but of course to DA fans it’s a five star.    I would tend to agree with both of them.  While I enjoyed it – it was good, not great.    Actually, I think I enjoyed any of the two hour spectacular Christmas specials more, except of course the one where Mathew died, a tragic ending so unexpected it made some people tune out permanently.    So don’t feel bad if you don’t have access to a mountain near you, you can easily wait until it comes out for home viewing…..and you can save on the popcorn too.

Overall, while it was slow to start, it picked up speed and finished with a grand, if somewhat sad, flourish – leaving us wanting more.  But there’s a small part of me that wishes he had just left them frozen in time at Christmas/New Years 1926 where everything was wrapped up neatly with a big bow.   

Postscript:  My apologies for not commenting on anyone’s blogs this past month.   Real life has interceded with the Cold-From-Hell (me), plus my mother was hospitalized for a week, she’s home now and on the mend, but I have not had internet access so I have not been able to read here at all.   

 Downton Abbey