Bleed Out


Steve Burrows faces an overwhelming situation.

(2018) Documentary (HBO) Stephen Burrows, Judie Burrows, Beth Burrows, Cindy Knueppel, Lynn Laufenberg, Mark Bauer, Susan Darmstadter, Ted Payne, Mike End, Marty Markery, Cindy Payne, Mary Ellis, Charles Harper, Margo Burrows, Catherine Scoon. Directed by Stephen Burrows

 

It is no secret that the American health care system is badly broken. Just how broken may come as a surprise to those who are only aware of statistics. Sometimes, getting to the heart of a problem requires us to look at it from the perspective of a single incident.

Steve Burrows in 2008 had a good career going. A comedian, he also wrote and directed comedy features (Chump Change) as well as acted in them (Spy Hard). He had a close-knit family including his mom Judie, a retired schoolteacher in Wisconsin who traveled the globe in her golden years, as independent and free-spirited a woman as Steve had ever known.

Then he got the call from his sister; his mom had fallen and broken her hip. Surgery was required. Fortunately it would be an old family friend – Mark Bauer – who would be doing the operation. Things seemed to be well in hand, but then they weren’t. The surgery took much longer than expected. While in recovery they were unable to rouse Judie, so she was sent to an intensive care unit. During the night, her blood pressure fell to near-fatal levels.

That’s when the bottom fell out of Steve’s life. First of all, it turned out that Judie was on Plavix, an anti-platelet drug used to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks; it is recommended that patients on Plavix discontinue the use of it at least five days before surgery. Bauer knew that but assured the family that he had performed surgery without the buffer period without any ill effects. In any case, Judie was in serious pain and he wanted to get the surgery done as quickly as possible.

Also, the ICU that Judie was in had no doctors assigned to it. In what can only be deemed a cost-cutting move, the ICU was monitored remotely by a physician in a building near the Milwaukee airport. To make matters worse, it is possible that the camera in Judie’s room had never been turned on. In any case, it was evident that Judie had slipped into a coma. She had lost more than half of her blood during the operation; either at that point or when her blood pressure dropped in the supposedly monitored ICU her brain didn’t get enough oxygen and became damaged. Judie would never be the same person again.

Nobody would take responsibility. The surgeon blamed the anesthesiologist who blamed the hospital who blamed the surgeon. Everyone was pointing a finger. Steve was urged to sue, especially by his Uncle Ted (Payne) whom Steve trusted because his Uncle Ted was a doctor. The advice sent Steve and his family into a quagmire of legal issues, laws stacked against the patient and in favor of insurance companies and hospitals, and against health care professionals who lied through their teeth during sworn depositions.

Judie’s savings, which were to get her through retirement, were blown through in a matter of months. Soon Judie was broke and in need of constant care; Steve and his wife took the brunt of responsibility to see to Judie’s medical needs and steer the lawsuit, although few lawyers wanted to touch it – medical malpractice lawsuits in Wisconsin have been rendered pointless mainly because they are expensive to prosecute and laws putting a cap on how much patients can win makes lawsuits impractical; the plaintiff could win the lawsuit but receive nothing and in fact owe the lawyers a considerable sum afterward. Still, Steve persisted in trying, even though it was impacting his own finances and career.

If you look at Steve’s iMDB page you’ll notice that between 2008 and 2018 there is almost nothing. Yes, he did do some advertising work but for the most part his life was focused on taking care of his mom. His agent ended up dropping him and until this documentary came out, his career was essentially over. Relationships within his family, who watched this saga drag on for a decade, became frayed and in some cases unraveled completely.

Burrows shows the incident from all sides whenever possible, interviewing the various participants as well as experts in the medical insurance business. We get a fairly comprehensive view although his intent – and rightly so – is to give his mom a voice. She is the one who has been most devastated by all of this. Steve has had his own suffering; as he suffers setback after setback, listens to his own mother sob that she wants to die, getting no help from any corner, his sense of humor begins to ebb and the weight of the world is clearly on his shoulders. I don’t know what I would do in his shoes but there would be a lot of tears and yelling.

This is a sobering and depressing film that is nonetheless essential viewing. We often talk about the state of the healthcare system but here it is in al it’s ignominy. People like Judie Burrows, through no fault of their own, are left holding the bag physically and financially, their lives altered in meaningful ways, their future grim. For all the political talk about why single payer healthcare won’t work here, it remains a fact that had Judie resided just a few hundred miles north, she wouldn’t have been bankrupted because she’d have been living in Canada.

Medical errors are the third largest cause of death in the United States to the tune of a quarter of million deaths annually. Think of it as three fully occupied 747s crashing every day. Certainly there’d be more of a hue and cry if that were going on but partly because we tend to hold doctors in such high esteem – and honestly, most are deserving of it – we seem to be willing to allow them to dodge accountability when, as human beings, they mess up.

I don’t think it’s possible to watch this movie without feeling angry – not so much at the doctors, although there is some to spare for the doctor who falsified records and lied about it – but at the insurance companies, the for-profit hospitals and the politicians who protect their interests at the expense of the patients. If you ever wondered if your local representative is looking out for you, this is a movie that will put in stark focus that they are not.

REASONS TO GO: The story is absolutely flabbergasting. Burrows lays out the various facets of the film very succinctly, covering all sorts of different dimensions. Burrows is a likable on-camera presence.
REASONS TO STAY: This cautionary tale may hit a little too close to home for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steve Burrows got his start as a member of Chicago’s famed Second City improv troupe.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bleeding Edge
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Dede

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Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg


Two giants of stand-up comedy reunited.

(2016) Documentary/Comedy (Weinstein) Robert Klein, Fred Willard, Mike Binder, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, David Steinberg, Budd Friedman, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Lewis, Larry Miller, Sheila Levine, Myrna Jacobson, Billy Crystal, Rick Overton, Lucie Arnaz, James Burrows, Allie Klein, Robert Mankoff, Jay Leno, Eric Bogosian, Michael Fuchs, Ray Romano, Bob Stein, Melanie Roy Friedman  Directed by Marshall Fine

 

When I was in high school (and I realize this dates me tremendously) there were three names that dominated stand-up comedy; George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Robert Klein. The first two became legends, cultural icons. The third became more of an influence on other stand-ups than he did a household name, although anyone who has seen any of his numerous HBO stand-up specials will attest to the man’s genius in the field.

Film critic and historian Marshall Fine has put together this loving tribute to Klein who quite frankly deserves to be feted. The documentary is very loosely structured with a number of chapters looking at aspects of Klein’s career and comedy. This does have the effect of leaping around chronologically which is fine but it also feels at times like there is no flow to what’s going on, which may well be an appropriate measure. He talks about his history somewhat; growing up in the Bronx (as in most retrospectives Klein visits his childhood home on Decatur Avenue), his time honing his craft in both Second City and at the Improv in Los Angeles, spending time being mentored by Rodney Dangerfield, his marriage to opera singer Belinda  Boozer and so on and so forth.

He also talks about why Jews seem to dominate the stand-up market, the use of profanity in his act and adjusting to the times. He imparts some of his experience to students at Binghamton University and endures squealing little girls who see the camera and exult in being in a movie – without having a clue of who Klein is (some of him recognize him from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days).

Fine obviously feels a great affection for his subject and we don’t get a sense that Klein is anything but a nice guy. His divorce is given little coverage and although it appears that there was some acrimony between them, the causes and effects of the split on the couple are given little play. Boozer is conspicuously not interviewed for the film.

Of course, I’m a warts and all kind of guy and I want to get to know the man behind the laughs but that isn’t what this film is after and if you’re okay with that, you’ll be okay with this. There are a lot of wonderful clips here, including some of Klein’s signature songs like “The Colonoscopy Song” and “I Can’t Stop My Leg” from which the title of the documentary is taken. This is a pleasant diversion, a career retrospective for a performer who is as sharp at 75 as he was at 25 and continues to make us laugh today. There are fewer summations of a career that could possibly be better than that.

REASONS TO GO: The film makes a good case for Klein’s place in comedy history.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is a bit of a mishmash.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Klein was nominated for a Tony award for his role in the musical They’re Playing Our Song.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Starz
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: From War to Wisdom

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With


I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

Bonnie Hunt and Jeff Garlin are stunned by the news that they aren't in High Fidelity

(2006) Romantic Comedy (IFC First Take) Jeff Garlin, Sarah Silverman, Dan Castellaneta, Bonnie Hunt, Richard Kind, Paul Mazursky, Amy Sedaris, Joey Slotnick, Tim Kazurinski, Elle Fanning, Roger Bart, Wallace Langham, Gina Gershon, Aaron Carter, Mina Kolb. Directed by Jeff Garlin

We all want someone to share our lives with to some degree or another. Most want a lifetime partner, someone to raise a family with and growl old together with. Others have simpler needs.

James (Garlin) is a habitually unemployed actor who lives with his mom (Kolb). Overweight, his love life has been sinking like the Titanic. He hasn’t had sex in five years and quite frankly, the likelihood of him getting laid is remote at best.

He attends Overeaters Anonymous meetings but with little enthusiasm and inevitably winds up buying junk food from a corner market, then parking out by Wrigley Field to eat. He turns down roles from his long-suffering agent (Kind) while holding out hope that he’ll get the lead role in the remake of his favorite film of all time – Marty, the movie that won Ernest Borgnine his Oscar. His agent eventually drops him.

Still, even big men get lucky once in awhile. James meets Beth (Silverman) at an ice cream parlor and winds up having sex with her. He also develops a big crush on Stella (Hunt), whom he meets in a record store and who may or may not be a chubby chaser. Meanwhile, he is hit by a crushing blow – the part of Marty has gone to pop star Aaron Carter (himself). And his once-promising love life is imploding. Why can’t he find a woman to love? He’s a really sweet guy after all.

I think this movie was made with the best of intentions. Garlin, who at the time was best known for his work in the comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” is also a legendary stand-up in the Chicago area and a veteran of Second City and other improv groups that the city is justifiably famous for. Many of the people in the cast also got their starts in Chicago or at one time lived and worked there.

Garlin himself is very likable and sweet. If you like his standup act, you’re going to want to rent this. It is very clearly a labor of love and of course the big question is how much of this is autobiographical. I suspect quite a bit of it is.

Even though Garlin is the center of the movie, he’s not it’s star. The city of Chicago is. Garlin films it with such affection and love you may want to pack your bags and move there straightaway. Garlin’s love for the city is obvious and captures Chicago in a way someone who is indifferent about it could never duplicate.

Where the film has its problems is in the area you’d think it was strongest in – the jokes. Many of them fall flat and quite frankly, the schtick about Garlin’s love and sex life combined with his caloric intake gets old. Also, many of the characters seem to be thrown in because they are buddies of Garlin and he wanted to make room for them in the movie. Lots of them don’t seem to have much of a purpose in the film, exacerbating the overall feeling of disjointedness that pervades the film.

Still, it isn’t bad. Garlin’s charm really floats the movie along and allows it to breathe somewhat. His relationship in the film to the very excellent Bonnie Hunt is more interesting to me than the one with Silverman, who may be too pretty for the role. Those who love Chicago and Chicago comics will also love this movie, and in a way, thinking about it from that perspective makes me want to rate it higher than I am actually giving it. However, the reason I’m not pulling t he trigger is simply this; it needed to be funnier. Hopefully, Garlin will have a nice long career – he may never do a movie as personal as this again, but I suspect he has a great role in front of him someday soon.

WHY RENT THIS: Garlin evinces a very likable persona here. Garlin uses Chicago as a wonderful backdrop, giving us a sense of the city as well as its landmarks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many jokes fall flat. Many of the vignettes seem designed to add specific comics into the movie when they really don’t need to be there.

FAMILY VALUES: Although the movie is unrated, it’s pretty harmless; there are plenty of curse words and some sexual content but otherwise it isn’t too off-putting to the sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After 30 days of filming, the shooting script was 237 pages. The first cut was over four and a half hours long. It took four months to complete the final edit of the version that made it to the screen.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $194,568 on an unreported production budget; the film undoubtedly lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Cairo Time