Movies Not Just For Kids: AARP Picks Its 2013 Faves

Published in the Pawtucket Times, December 27, 2013

May be a little less visible than the Golden Globes or even the Academy Awards, the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group joins the two groups, recognizing outstanding writing, acting and film making but also looking at distinct relevance to the age 50 and older audience.

Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and Nebraska are among this year’s Top 10 Movies for Grownups, according to AARP The Magazine. According to the publication’s editors the top 10 list features “thoughtful films with timeless entertainment value and a particular appeal for grownup audiences.” The films are selected by the editors of AARP The Magazine, probably one of the most recognized publications geared to 50 and older Americans and the world’s largest-circulation magazine with more than 35 million readers (sent to AARP members as a membership benefit).

Great Films for Older Audiences

As award season nears, the Golden Globe awards will be announced on January 26, 2014, followed by the Academy Awards on March 2, 2014, AARP The Magazine releases its listing of best films of the year that resonate with a 50 plus audience,” said Bob Love, Editor-in-Chief of AARP The Magazine. “We’ve seen a shift this year in that some of the most successful films at the box office were stories appealing to this mature crowd. There’s been a resurgence of interest in older actors in standout roles and 50+ directors behind the camera—and we are thrilled to see the change!”

Recognizing filmmakers age 50 plus who continue to do innovative risk-taking work, actors and actresses age 50 and over offering increasingly compelling performances, and big-screen explorations of topics that resonate specifically with baby boomers and seniors, AARP The Magazine’s editors selected the following Top 10 Movies for Grownups in 2013 (details from Wikipedia):

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama and adaptation of the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free negro who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the Louisiana for twelve years before his release. The $20 million budgeted film directed by Steve McQueen with the script written by John Ridley, was filmed in New Orleans. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup and has been widely praised for his work in this 134 minute feature film. More info:

All Is Lost is a 2013 American survival film written and directed by J.C. Chandor. The 8.5 million budget film stars Robert Redford as a man lost at sea. Redford is the only cast member, and the film has almost no dialogue. According to BBC News, the 100 minute film screened out of competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, noting that having the screening the film received a standing ovation. More info:

Captain Phillips is a 2013 American action thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi. The 133 minute film tells how merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips was taken n hostage by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009 led by Abduwali Muse. The screenplay by Billy Ray is based upon the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. More info:

Dallas Buyers Club is a 2013 American biographical drama directed by Jean-Marc Vallėe and starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner and Steve Zahn. The 116 minute film is based on the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof, who was the subject of a lengthy 1992 article in The Dallas Morning News written by journalist and author Bill Minutaglio. The film, costing $5.5 million to make, follows the Woodroof, who was diagnosed with AIDS given only 30 days to live. The only drug available brought him close to death, forcing him to smuggle anti-viral medications from all over the world (unapproved by FDA and unavailable in the U.S) to survive. He forms a buyers club, providing paying members with these unsanctioned alternative treatments, resulting in the FDA and pharmaceutical companies seeking to end his illegal activities. More info:

Enough Said is a 2013 American romantic comedy directed and written by Nicole Holofcener. The film stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the James Gandolfini (in one of his final roles), Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, Ben Falcone, and Toby Huss. The 93 minute film’s plot center on a woman who befriends a woman and starts dating a man at the same time, only to find out that her two new acquaintances are former spouses. This leaves her in a dilemma about whether she should risk her new friendship and romantic partner if she reveals what she has learned about them from one another. More info:

Gravity is a science fiction thriller directed, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Alfonso Curón… The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts involved in the mid-orbit destruction of a space shuttle and their attempt to return to Earth. More info:

Nebraska is a 2013 American comedy film starring Bruce Dern (father) and Will Forte (son). The 110 minute film (shot in black and white), directed by Alexander Payne, begins with Dern receiving a sweepstakes letter in the mail, who now thinks he is rich. He gets Forte to take a road trip, from Montana to Nebraska, to claim his prize. Along the way the two meet up with friends, relatives and acquaintances to whom the Dern ostensibly owes money. The $12 million budgeted film, shot in four states, tells the stories of family life in middle America. More info:

Philomena is a 2013 British comedy-drama film directed by Stephen Frears. The 95 minute film is based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, which tells the true story of a birth mother, Philomena Lee’s 50-year-long search for her son, Michael, who she gave up for adoption. The book focuses more, as the title suggests, on the life her son had after his adoption. More info:

Saving Mr. Banks is a 2013 historical comedy-dram film directed by John Lee Handcock from a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Centered on the development of the 1964 Walt Disney Studios film Mary Poppins, the film stars Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as filmmaker Walt Disney, with supporting roles from Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Ruth Wilson, and Colin Farrell. Taking its title from the father in Travers’ story, the film depicts the author’s fortnight- long briefing in 1961 Los Angeles as she is persuaded by Disney, in his attempts to obtain the screen rights to her novels. Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and BBC Films, the 125 minute film was shot entirely in the Southern California area, primarily at the Walt Disney Studios. More info:

The Butler is a 2013 American historical fiction drama film directed by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong. The 132 minute film is loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler. More info:

AARP Award Winners Announced in January

This year’s Top 10 Movies for Grownups offers a preview of AARP’s upcoming annual Movies for Grownups Awards, recognized as a bellwether for the Academy Awards, with standard categories including Best Actor, Actress and Director, in addition to a few unique offerings like “Best Grownup Love Story,” “Best Buddy Picture,” and “Best Time Capsule Movie.” The winners in all categories will be announced in early January, and will be featured online at The entire list of award winners will also be featured in the February/March issue of AARP The Magazine, available February 1st.

Turning Off Older Moviegoers

Over the years, movie studios have turned their back on the nation’s aging baby boomers and seniors, targeting teenagers and young adults, In these films the plot is passed on the special interests of these younger demographic groups, such as coming of age, first love, rebellion, and conflict with parents, teen angst, and alienation. For decades, the cinema industry has chased after teens that are viewed to have more disposable income that is more money to spend on going to films.

AARP sends a powerful message to Hollywood studio executives that older moviegoers have different interests than their younger cohorts. They may well want to spend their discretionary income as the editors of AARP The Magazine note on “thoughtful films with timeless entertainment value.” If ignored, grownups may well spend their discretionary dollars on other leisure activities.

Movies for Grownups®, which now includes weekly reviews and an award-winning radio program, an annual film festival, and year-round coverage in AARP The Magazine and online, was started in 2002 by the editors of AARP The Magazine. Additional information can be found online at

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at


Children Can Bring Message of Life after Death

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 20, 2014

The tragic, untimely death of a child, will bring emotional pain and suffering to the parents. But, amazingly through horrific experiences like this slowly comes a greater appreciation, understanding and love of life.

Sixty-five year old Dave Kane and his wife, Joanne, know this so well. The fourth largest Nightclub fire in the nation’s history, killing their son Nicky O’Neill, would propel the semi-retired radio talk show host (he’s on the air at WARL1320 in Attleboro from 8 am to 10 am on Saturdays), comedian, performance artist and author, with his wife on a journey of personal healing that would lead to their bringing comfort to others who grieve for lost loved ones.

Kane’s eighteen-year-old son, Nicky O’Neill, was the youngest victim of the Station nightclub fire in which 100 people lost their lives over a decade ago, over 230 people were injured. After this tragic event, Kane became a very visible proponent of fire safety and the enforcement of strict laws to ensure safety in public buildings. Three years later, he would publish his first book, 41 Signs of Hope. In this book, Kane shares personal stories of synchronistic, and at times, seemingly spirit communication, around the number 41, which Kane and his family contend are contact from the spirit of his deceased young son, Nicky.

The Number 41

Kane, views the number 41 as an “incredible sign” from his deceased son that he still exists. Throughout the young man’s life he always liked this number, he says, noting the Nicky noticed that number everywhere and he would let those around him know it.

“When he passed away Nicky was 18 years-old and 23 days, that totals 41,” notes Kane, a Johnston resident, who can reel off dozens of examples of the number 41 showing up around him. A video tape of Nicky as a baby discovered one year after his death shows him as a baby wearing a baseball uniform, wearing a base-ball cap embroidered with the number 41.

At that time no one could figure out the significance. For over a decade that followed Nicky’s death, the number continued to appear. Although Kane and his family initially viewed the sightings as coincidences, they now see it as a sign of spirit contact. The book, 41 Signs of Hope, followed by an hour and fifty minute documentary released in 2005 (just called 41), by Rhode Island filmmakers, Christian de Rezendes and Christian O’Neill, is jam-packed with examples of the sightings of this number 41.

The First Contact

Detailed in Kane’s book, 41 Signs of Hope, shares how medium Cindy Gilman gave him a message from Nicky, his son, who had died at the Station nightclub fire. A day before the deadly fire that occurred on Feb. 20, 2003, Gilman smelled smoke as she walked through her office. The medium knew that a tragic event would happen close by and that she could not do anything to stop it.

The day after the tragic fire, while sitting in her kitchen drinking tea, a figure of a young man appeared to Gilman, with long blond hair, a glittery shirt and a leather jacket, begging her to “call his father.” Startled by this vision she did not know who to call. A moment later the spirit reappeared showing her his charred body, then transformed back to his original form.

Gilman knew that the apparition wanted the East Greenwich medium to give his father a message, that he had “crossed over and was not in pain.” Picking up her personal phone book, she turned to “K” and immediately saw the name of a professional acquaintance, Dave Kane (the only name under that letter).

Kane recalls that she called his beeper. He returned her call and the medium offered to come on his radio show to identify the young spirit. The grieving father told her, “we had lost Nicky in a fire,” with Gilman responding, “Oh, I should have said something.” A very distraught Kane immediately hung up on her, thinking that he had a medium telling him she knew something that she really did not know.

Ultimately, he would call Gilman back and she would describe the spirit vividly to him. It was the splitting image of his son, he said. He confirmed to Gilman that this was his son, especially detailing how he had dressed the night he died.

Looking back, losing his son was the most horrible experience of Kane and his wife had experienced in their life, he says. The morning after the deadly West Warwick fire, he stood in front of his bathroom mirror and cried, screaming “Okay big shot, now what do you think.” Thirty years as a talk show host gave him all the answers to any topic. But he had no answers to why his son died tragically and so young.

But, the Number 41 would give Kane and his wife comfort that their son was reaching out, telling them that life does not end with death. Loved ones who have passed on never leave us, they are still with us, loving, supporting, guiding and sending us signs each and every day, he says.
Rhode Island medium Gilman’s confirmation of Nicky’s definite proof of life after death was validated by a reading given to Kane and his wife by Robert Brown, an internationally acclaimed medium. The medium confirmed where Nicky had stood before he died and that he helped a young woman during the fire, all confirmed months later.

Brown pointed at him at the end of the 45 minute reading and said “your son wants me to tell you one more thing, the show must go on.” What Brown and nobody else knew was these words were spoken by Nicky to his father before he died at the Station nightclub, says Kane,

Just a couple of days before the tragic fire Kane found out that his son was not getting paid much money to play in opening act for the headlining band, Jack Russell’s Great White. “You should not sell God’s talent so short, said Kane jokingly. Nicky just hugged his father and kissed him, saying “the show must go on.”

Those last words, repeated by British medium, confirmed the existence of spirit. Each and every day Kane and his family continue to receive signs from Nicky to continually validate this.

Spreading the Word

For over 30 years Kane educated tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders on state and national topics on his radio show, “Kane and Company.” Now he’s traveling a new path in his later years, bringing the public awareness to more ethereal topics, like life after death.

With several of his own family members being cared for by Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island, Kane wanted “to give back” and offered to share his 41 Signs of Hope presentation to our bereaved families, says Deanna Upchurch, Grief Counseling Department Manager at Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island. After reviewing his “incredible” presentation, he was invited to share it to HHCRI’s Loss of Parent, Loss of Spouse and Loss of Adult child groups.

For over one hour, Kane gives dozens of examples of how deceased loved ones can send you messages in many forms, to validate their existence. Nicky shows up at Disney Land, at Chili’s restaurant even a family Thanksgiving dinner, when Kane was driving his car reminding them he is still around as the number 41 pops up everywhere.

“It is up to us to acknowledge and know that they are here. We are so busy grieving and busy we just don’t see our loved ones,” he says.

Those attending HHCRI’s grief counseling groups, felt comfort in Kane’s stories, notes Upchurch. “Grieving people often talk about ways they feel their loved ones are still connected with them after death, says Upchurch. “Whether it’s a faint smell of a loved ones cigar or the sight of a cardinal, or butterfly which they feel represents their loved one, people frequently share their experiences of sharing signs from their loved ones.”

Upchurch says that Kane’s presentation validates the experiences of the grieving. It helps them continue to feel connected to their loved ones and even keeps them open-minded for future signs from them.

After listening to Kane’s passionate stories, it only reinforced my belief that “death is nothing at all,” Kane’s concluding words.

For more information about 41 Signs of Hope, go to Or call 401- 965-0467.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at,

Santaniello Gets AARP’s Most Prestigious Award

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 6, 2013

Look for hundreds of AARP members to gather today at this year’s Andrus Awards noon luncheon at the West Valley Inn, in West Warwick, to recognize their own, at the aging group’s annual Andrus Awards ceremony.

Norma Santaniello, 81, gets the Rhode Island AARP Chapter’s most prestigious volunteer award for age 50 and older volunteers, that is the 2013 AARP Rhode Island Andrus Award for Community Service. It’s the aging advocacy groups most visible state volunteer award for community service

“This award acts as a symbol to the public that we can all work together for positive social change,” states . “AARP has long valued the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions volunteers make to their communities, neighbors, and the programs they serve.”

Connell says the North Providence resident has worked with the nonprofit’s chapters and community partners, reinforcing the organization’s strategic priorities and being a voice to the public. “She is a strong advocate for community service and works with the volunteers on projects such as the RI Community Food Bank and at various health and fitness fairs.”

Santaniello follows a very distinguished group of award recipients. Previous Andrus Award winners are Sarah Gauvin, Virginia Tierney, Anna Prior, Ann Gardella, Melvoid Benson, John O’Hara, Rita Wood, Ed Drew, Richard Ryan, Jorge Cardenas and Catherine Graziano

The December 6 Andrus Awards Luncheon is very festive and upbeat regardless of “what is going wrong in the world or otherwise leaving us feeling unsettled,” says Connell, noting that she looks forward to attending this annual event because “it is a time to acknowledge volunteerism and public service on many levels.

AARP Rhode Island’s Andrus Awards Luncheon allows the organization to recognize people for their community service throughout the year. “It is indeed an honor to know each and every one present, along with many who are absent,” notes Connell, stressing that they represent an “even greater network of volunteers and advocates who carry on Ethel Percy Andrus’s dream of a productive and fulfilling life for people whose knowledge, passion and energy remains indispensable in our neighborhoods and in towns and cities all across our great state.”

AARP Award Recognizes Ethel Percy Andrus’s Advocacy

According to Connell, her group’s top award is given to recognize and honor AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus, she “embodies all that AARP stands for. Once Andrus retired in 1944 from her position as Los Angeles high school principal in 1944, she stepped into a new career, one that ultimately would have a major impact on the nation. “She became an activist and organizer on behalf of other retirees and older Americans, fighting to improve their financial security, their health care and other services that they need, says AARP Rhode Island’s State Director.

The former long-time educator, who served as the first woman high school principal in California, never married and was childless, had retired so that she could care for her mother, who was in poor health. Despite decades of working, Andrus was entitled to a pension of just $60 a month, around $750 in today’s dollars. She had enough money to financially survive, but she realized that many of her older colleagues were not so fortunate, living off incredibly small pensions.

For Andrus, her commitment to become a change agent for society was fueled by learning the indignity faced by a former colleague due to lack of retirement income was forced to live in a chicken coop in a small town outside Los Angeles. This led to Andrus to become active in the California Retired Teachers Association and in 1947 she founded the National Retired Teachers Association. This group would ultimately lead to the creation of AARP in 1958, now considered the nation’s largest aging advocacy group.

Connell notes that Andrus worked to shift the nation’s perception of aging. As she once explained, “Old age is not a defeat, but a victory, not a punishment, but a privilege.” The aging advocate urged her fellow retirees “to be as active as possible — to pursue new passions, to travel and see the world, and, most of all, to continue to use the skills and experience developed over a lifetime to serve their communities.”

The Ojai, California resident continued to work long hours and travel to promote AARP until her death from a heart attack at age 83 in 1967, the same year that membership in AARP reached 1 million. Today, AARP’s membership serves over 40 million older people.

Like the AARP Rhode Island Chapter, recipients across the nation are to receive the distinguished award, named for Andrus, recognizing their ability to enhance the lives of AARP members and prospective members, improve their community or for which the work was performed, and the inspiration they give other volunteers.

Empowering Seniors

For 29 years, juggling a demanding job that provided administrative support for Providence School Principals combined with raising two young children left Santaniello with little time after hours to join community organizations. One year shy of age 60, she would take retirement, noting that “I had worked long enough, had a pension, and just wanted to do different things.”

Santaniello remembers her volunteer work began when she was invited to join the State Legislative Committee some 18 years ago. The retired Providence School Department employee, joined the AARP North Providence Chapter taking the helm of its Legislative Committee, ultimately being appointed to AARP Rhode Island’s State Legislative Committee. In these positions she has written numerous letters to Congressional lawmakers on aging advocacy issues and has testified many times on Smith Hill before the General Assembly on a multitude of aging issues, including care giver issues, long-term care, Social Security, and fair market pricing for prescription drugs.

As the years rolled by, Santaniello would continue to put her energy into her AARP duties. But, she also would find time to teach fifth graders about religion at her local parish, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in North Providence, serve as a board member for Marieville’s Community Police program and to even became certified to be on FEMA’s Emergency Response Team in the Ocean State. That’s not all.

Santaniello is actively involved in the Department of Elderly Affairs’ Senior Help Insurance program, assisting seniors to get the best insurance plan for their specific needs. “Right now I am very concerned about United Health Care dropping physicians,” she says.

Besides receiving the Andrus Award, Santaniello notes she has also accumulated a few others over the years. She received the AARP Rhode Island’s Outstanding Team member Award in both 2000 and 2004 and the nonprofit group’s Life Time Chapter Education Award in 2010.

With today’s luncheon ceremony in her thoughts, Santaniello admits, “it’s quite an honor, getting the highest award that AARP can bestow.” She seems amazed that one should get this award for just doing something you like. “Obviously, if I did not enjoy what I was doing I would not have been around so long,” she says.

As to staying active in her early eighties, Santaniello hopes that her older friends will find volunteer activities that are worthwhile to invest their time and energy. “We just have to know what is going [in the world] or we will fade away, she said.

Like Santaniello, older Rhode Islanders might consider following her very active life style. Become a volunteer in your community. According to the Washington, DC-based Corporation for National & Community Service, a growing body of research details that older volunteers have lower mortality rates, less depression, fewer physical limitations and higher levels of well-being. Older volunteer’s can tackle community problems, making the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. Being a volunteer might just well be your fountain of youth.

At today’s Andrus Awards noon luncheon, here are other AARP members who will be recognized for the 2013 Volunteer Leader of the Year: Advocacy; Doris Haskins (Advocacy): Julia Valles (Community Presence); Lourdes Pichardo (Maria Matias Award); Susan Sweet (Advocacy Education); and Jorge Cardenas (Volunteer Engagement).

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at