Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oscars on the Airwaves

With the Academy Awards right around the corner, it's that time of year for predictions. My previous Blog entry, "Who Will Win This Year's Oscars?", examines the top six races in detail. And, to augment that discussion, I'm making a number of radio appearances this week to talk about my predictions from different perspectives.

For a thoughtful, detailed look at the nominees, projected winners and other films of the past year, check out Oscar Predictions with Brent Marchant on Self Discovery Radio with host Sara Troy, available by clicking here.

To understand how some of the leading contenders examine self-empowerment issues, tune in to Conscious Creation Goes to the Oscars on Smart Women Talk Radio with host Katana Abbott, available by clicking here.

For an irreverent, fun-filled take on the Oscars, tune in to the latest edition of The CoffeeCast with host Tom Cheevers, available by clicking here.

And, to wrap up this week's broadcasts, tune in for this month's Movies with Meaning segment on The Good Radio Network's Frankiesense & More radio show by clicking here. Listen live on Thursday February 23 at 1 pm ET or check on the podcast on demand thereafter.

Happy listening!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Who Will Win This Year’s Oscars?

It’s that time of year again – time for my predictions of the winners at the annual Academy Awards. A few of the major honors appear fairly clear-cut at this point, with others somewhat in doubt. Nevertheless, with that said, here are my picks for who will likely take home statues this year:

Best Actor

The Field: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”; Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”; Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”; Denzel Washington, “Fences”; Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Who Will Likely Win: This is a toss-up between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. At the start of awards season, Affleck was considered a virtually untouchable lock, and he handily took home the Critics Choice and Golden Globe Awards. However, due to a recently surfaced off-screen controversy, his halo may have become somewhat tarnished among awards voters. This has opened the door for Washington, who, somewhat surprisingly, took home the prestigious Screen Actors Guild Award, often a significant harbinger of what transpires at the Oscars. Even though Affleck rebounded from that setback to claim the BAFTA Award, he did not compete against Washington as a nominee in that contest. The SAG Award result, nevertheless, could represent a mid-season momentum shift in Washington’s favor. At this point, the race is probably too close to call, though I have a hunch the pendulum may be swinging in Washington’s direction. Given the Academy’s heightened sensitivity to political correctness, I believe the “Fences” star will nip Affleck at the wire.
Who Should Win: Denzel Washington. This was undoubtedly the best male lead performance of 2016 and the best work Washington has turned in since “Malcolm X” (1992). Even though he has won twice before (for “Glory” (1989) and “Training Day” (2001)), those were not his strongest performances; it would be gratifying to see him take home an Oscar for a portrayal truly worthy of the honor. Meanwhile, although Washington’s biggest competitor, Affleck, is still very much in the running, his performance, in my view, is capable though not outstanding – and not worthy of the award (off-screen controversies aside).
Possible Dark Horse: Andrew Garfield. With the sea change in Affleck’s chances, the door has opened up somewhat for Garfield as a possible dark horse. His chances still probably fall well within the long shot range, but some voting space may have become available for him in light of off-screen developments. Another factor in his favor is that he portrays a historic figure, and the Academy loves to honor biographical performances. Nevertheless, even with these factors in his favor, I don’t believe there’s enough gas in the tank to propel him to victory.
Also-Rans: Ryan Gosling and Viggo Mortensen. Their nominations are their awards. Mortensen’s nod is indeed worthy, but it’s for an obscure film that virtually no one saw, despite the renewed buzz it has received from his numerous nominations in other awards competitions. Gosling, meanwhile, is out of his league here. While he’s a tried-and-true veteran who has turned in numerous worthwhile performances and was previously nominated for his role in “Half Nelson” (2006), Gosling’s portrayal in “La La Land” is flat and unworthy of the top five, despite a Golden Globe win and numerous nominations in other contests this awards season.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Ryan Gosling, for the reasons stated above.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: The lead actor category, though not especially outstanding in 2016, nevertheless had a number of noteworthy performances that I’d categorize as capable, many of which might have qualified as nominees (and certainly as a substitute for Gosling). These include Joel Edgerton for “Loving,” Joseph Gordon Levitt for “Snowden,” Tom Hanks for “Sully,” Nate Parker for “The Birth of a Nation” (another victim of an off-screen controversy), Jake Gyllenhaal for “Demolition,” Colin Farrell for “The Lobster,” Taron Egerton for “Eddie the Eagle,” Gael García Bernal for “Neruda,” Ethan Hawke for “Born to be Blue,” Jesse Plemons for “Other People” and Ryan Reynolds for “Deadpool.”

Best Actress

The Field: Ruth Negga, “Loving”; Natalie Portman, “Jackie”; Emma Stone, “La La Land”; Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”; Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Who Will Likely Win: Like the lead actor category, this is also a toss-up of sorts (albeit for different reasons) between Emma Stone and Isabelle Huppert. The key to a win here rests with the question, “What kind of performance do Academy voters want to honor this year?” If voters choose to recognize the genuinely best performance, they’ll give the Oscar to Huppert. But, if they want to recognize the performance that would be considered the most “publicly palatable,” they’ll present it to Stone. If I had to venture a guess about the foregoing question, I believe voters will opt for the more palatable choice, which gives the edge to Stone. She’s already earned Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards for her performance, and “La La Land” is immensely popular with the public and Academy voters. What’s more, she was passed over, unfortunately, for her excellent supporting performance in “Birdman” in 2014, an award that should have been hers. “La La Land” may not be Stone’s most deserving performance, but it may have just enough behind it to take home the award.
Who Should Win: Isabelle Huppert. Now, if Academy voters answer the aforementioned question based purely on merit, they’ll honor Huppert, who truly deserves the award, turning in the best performance among the nominees. This naturally begs the question, “If she’s so good, why wouldn’t she win?” The answer to that is simple: She portrays an extremely unlikeable character and one who appears in a foreign language film to boot, qualities that don’t necessarily inhibit nominations but that almost never win awards. Nevertheless, in light of Huppert’s Golden Globe victory and her nominations in other awards contests, she can’t (and definitely shouldn’t) be ruled out. It all depends on how open-minded Academy voters are this year.
Possible Dark Horses: Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman. Given Huppert’s circumstances, the label “dark horse” may be something of a misnomer. But, as for Portman, she’s a genuine dark horse who may surprise everyone. Having won the Critics Choice Award for her spot-on portrayal of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, she might well follow suit on Oscar night. However, given her lack of recognition since then and her relatively recent victory for “Black Swan” (2010), it may be too soon for the Academy to honor her again with another lead performance Oscar.
Also-Rans: Ruth Negga and Meryl Streep. Negga’s very capable performance and its accompanying nomination is likely a down payment toward future recognition. And Streep, true to form, has once again validated the nomination that’s inevitably set aside for her each time she makes a movie. But, while both of these performances are indeed noteworthy, neither has enough realistic momentum to catapult them to victory.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Meryl Streep. As many of us are aware, Streep really is in a category all by herself, and, in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” she once again proves that she’s today’s greatest living actress, perhaps of all time. As the winner of three Oscars (for “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Sophie’s Choice” (1982) and “The Iron Lady” (2011)) and a record 20 acting nominations, she demonstrates time and again that even one of her “mediocre” performances is light years ahead of the best that most other actresses are capable of mustering. However, her considerable talent presents a dilemma as well. As I wrote regarding her 2015 nomination for her performance in “Into the Woods” (2014), many of her portrayals are sufficient to garner nominations but not necessarily win awards. Yet, if Academy voters had truthfully recognized the truly best performance in all the years in which she was nominated, Streep likely would have taken home statues in most of those awards cycles, enabling her to virtually monopolize the actress categories. Since that obviously wouldn’t be practical, many of her nominations have, in effect, become her awards, by default. While these accolades may qualify as kind recognition of her work, they also result in numerous nominations that essentially become “throwaways.” The net effect of this is that her virtually assured nominations potentially keep other actresses from earning justified recognition for their efforts, hardly something fair for them. At the same time, though, holding Streep to a higher standard to merit a nomination simply because she’s so unbelievably talented is, in turn, patently unfair to her. So what is to be done? It’s a thorny question, to be sure. But, at some point, the Academy may need to consider doing something to resolve this issue. Unfortunately, that may mean leaving Streep off the nomination list for all but her most truly outstanding performances, a solution that easily might be seen as unfair and unsatisfying but that, regrettably, may need to be implemented to be realistic.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: As has occurred several times in recent years, the very crowded lead actress field has led to a number of worthy candidates being left out. This was very much the case with my personal favorite lead actress performance of 2016, Rebecca Hall for “Christine.” Two other highly touted portrayals were also overlooked, including National Board of Review award winner Amy Adams for “Arrival” and Annette Bening for “20th Century Women,” a noteworthy performance in a largely lackluster film. In addition to these three candidates, others who merited consideration include Helen Mirren for “Eye in the Sky”; Sally Field for “Hello, My Name is Doris”; and a trio of foreign language performances, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi for “Like Crazy,” Zuzana Mauréry for “The Teacher” and Catherine Frot for “Marguerite.”

Best Supporting Actor

The Field: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”; Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”; Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”; Dev Patel, “Lion”; Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”
Who Will Likely Win: Mahershala Ali. After a win in the Critics Choice Award competition, Ali became the early Oscar favorite. As a seemingly popular favorite among his peers, his winning ways were expected to continue unabated throughout awards season. But, with the shocking announcement of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s name at the Golden Globe ceremony for his performance in “Nocturnal Animals” (a portrayal that was barely on the nomination radar, let alone as an award winner) and Dev Patel’s somewhat surprising win for “Lion” in the BAFTA Awards contest, it looked like the alleged front-runner’s juggernaut might have been derailed. However, Ali’s victory in the often-predictive Screen Actors Guild Awards competition could ultimately prove quite telling, putting him back at the front of the pack – and atop the stage at the Oscars.
Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali. Having turned in the best performance among the nominees, he truly deserves this honor. Even though some view Ali as the representative nominee for an excellent acting ensemble, his portrayal of a complicated character nevertheless merits recognition in its own right, and it would be gratifying to see him receive the accolades he’s earned.
Possible Dark Horse: Jeff Bridges. As the recipient of the National Board of Review’s supporting actor award, Bridges could pull off a surprise. However, given that he has not captured any honors since that early win (despite multiple nominations), there simply may not be enough momentum behind this bid. What’s more, given his relatively recent win for “Crazy Heart (2009) and the fact that his character is virtually identical to that of fellow nominee Michael Shannon, these factors could dilute his chances further, despite an excellent portrayal.
Also-Rans: Lucas Hedges, Dev Patel and Michael Shannon. These nominees should be thankful for their nominations, since that’s all the recognition they’ll likely receive. Of the three, Shannon is the most worthy candidate. But, given that there does not appear to be much momentum behind his cause and the fact that his character is remarkably similar to that of fellow nominee Jeff Bridges, it’s not realistic to expect much to come out of this nomination. And, even though Patel took home the BAFTA Award, an honor bestowed by his fellow Brits, I see this victory as a native son-driven anomaly that’s highly unlikely to be repeated at the Oscars.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Lucas Hedges and Dev Patel. Hedges’s performance is capable, though not especially noteworthy, and Patel’s nomination is an undeserved throwaway. Many other more worthy candidates should have claimed their nominations.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: Of all the acting categories in 2016, this was by far the strongest, with many, many viable contenders. Among those who merited consideration include Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders, both for “Moonlight”; Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg, both for “Florence Foster Jenkins”; Mykelti Williamson for “Fences”, a performance that has inexplicably been off the nominations radar; Luis Gnecco for “Neruda”; Jaeden Lieberherr for “Midnight Special”; Ben Foster for “Hell or High Water”; Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson, both for “Denial”; Sunny Pawar for “Lion,” a portrayal far more worthwhile than that of his overrated co-star; Liam Neeson for “Silence”; Alex Wolff for “Patriots Day”; and Lucas Jade Zumann for “20th Century Women.”

Best Supporting Actress

The Field: Viola Davis, “Fences”; Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”; Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”; Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”; Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Who Will Likely Win: Viola Davis. This is a lock. She’s won virtually every important award this season, and this is highly unlikely to change on Oscar night. As someone who has been passed over twice before (for “Doubt” (2008) and “The Help” (2011)), this is her year at last.
Who Should Win: Viola Davis. Although she had some decidedly formidable competition from Naomie Harris and Michelle Williams, Davis’s role was ultimately the most demanding of the three, requiring the greatest range of emotions and the most screen time (some have argued that she should have been nominated in the lead actress category). Her chief rivals are both destined to win someday but not this year.
Possible Dark Horses: Naomie Harris and Michelle Williams. Although their chances are probably slim, Harris and Williams are the most likely candidates to pull off an upset. That’s not exactly a secret, so it makes the “dark horse” label something of an oxymoron. Of the two, Harris is probably the stronger contender, having captured the National Board of Review’s best supporting actress award, as well as a number of comparable honors from various film critics’ societies. I see her nomination as a down payment toward future Oscar recognition. Williams, meanwhile, has turned in yet another stellar performance, earning her fourth nomination after previous nods for “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Blue Valentine” (2010) and “My Week with Marilyn” (2011). I’m convinced she’ll come up a winner one day, but not this time.
Also-Rans: Essentially anyone who isn’t Viola Davis, but this label is most applicable to Octavia Spencer and Nicole Kidman. Even though they’ve both earned multiple nominations in other competitions this awards season, they realistically haven’t stood a chance against their fellow nominees (especially Davis) in these contests. Even though Spencer’s performance was indeed admirable, it was actually the “weakest” of the three principals in “Hidden Figures,” her portrayal outshined by those of co-stars Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe (in many ways, I see her as the representative of the trio, a nice honor but not one that stands a chance of winning). This, coupled with her relatively recent win for “The Help” (2011), probably lessen her chances of taking home a statue on Oscar night. Kidman, meanwhile, has been a field filler all throughout awards season for what is essentially a marginally compelling performance. Having been nominated a number of times and having won for “The Hours” (2003), there’s virtually no chance she’ll come up the victor (but at least she gets to attend the ceremony!).
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Nicole Kidman. Without a doubt, this performance is not worthy of a nomination, a low-key portrayal that consists of a lot of long-faced emoting a la Kristen Stewart. There are several more worthy candidates who should have made it into the field instead.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: While the supporting actress category usually provides a rich vein of worthy candidates, 2016 was unusually weak (despite the tremendous strength of its top three contenders). In addition to Spencer’s aforementioned “Hidden Figures” colleagues Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe, others who merited consideration include Julianne Moore for “Maggie’s Plan,” Greta Gerwig for “20th Century Women,” Molly Shannon for “Other People,” Leslie Uggams for “Deadpool” and Tilda Swinton for “Doctor Strange.”

Best Director

The Field: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”; Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”; Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”; Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”; Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Who Will Likely Win: Damien Chazelle. This is a virtual lock. Having won nearly every directing award thus far, it’s almost assured this trend will continue at the Oscars.
Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins. In directing only his second feature film, Jenkins has clearly demonstrated that he’s a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. His work on “Moonlight” was truly outstanding, far superior to that of most of his competitors in so many regards. This award really belongs in his hands.
Possible Dark Horse: Barry Jenkins. If there’s anyone who can knock off Chazelle, it would be Jenkins. However, given Chazelle’s track record thus far, I don’t believe Jenkins has enough clout behind him to pull off the upset.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Damien Chazelle. The other contenders should consider their nominations as their awards.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Damien Chazelle. How’s that for irony – the likely winner being the one who also should have been left off the list? In my view, though, “La La Land” is an incredibly mediocre, overrated picture despite its technical brilliance. While I can’t fault the film for its outstanding cinematography, production design, costumes and choreography, it simply doesn’t measure up in virtually any other area. It’s the director’s responsibility to shore up the elements that don’t work, and Chazelle drops the ball in this regard. Despite his excellent previous work in “Whiplash” (2014), he’s failed to replicate that effort here.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: A number of outstanding directorial efforts were turned in during 2016, and many of them were worthy of consideration (especially as a replacement for Chazelle). Among those who merited consideration are Denzel Washington for “Fences,” Jeff Nichols for both “Loving” and “Midnight Special,” Pablo Larraín for both “Jackie” and “Neruda,” Theodore Melfi for “Hidden Figures,” Clint Eastwood for “Sully,” Nate Parker for “The Birth of a Nation,” Gavin Hood for “Eye in the Sky,” Jim Jarmusch for “Paterson,” David Mackenzie for “Hell or High Water” and Tim Miller for “Deadpool.”

Best Picture

The Field:Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lion”
What Will Likely Win: “La La Land.” As much as I cringe at the thought, and despite some quiet softening in its support at one point, I believe this vastly overrated, unoriginal piece of escapist puffery will nevertheless take the top prize. It may be “the right movie” to take viewers’ minds off the troubles of the day, but that doesn’t automatically make it the year’s best picture. I only hope that Academy voters don’t regret the decision to honor it as such, as I can easily see this one day being relegated to a list of most undeserving best picture winners. I have my fingers crossed for an upset, and at one time I thought there was a possibility of that, though, with the favorite’s recent high-profile wins (the Directors’ and Producers’ Guild Awards) solidifying its front-runner status, I think the chances of that happening have now slipped away.
What Should Win: “Moonlight.” This film really merits the award. This small-budget indie is inventive in so many ways and has truly been the sleeper hit of 2016. It deservedly won the Golden Globe Award for best dramatic picture, and it deserves to repeat at the Oscars. I would be thrilled with an upset here (even if it makes my prediction wrong), but, unfortunately, I don’t believe this will happen.
Possible Dark Horses: “Moonlight,” “Arrival” and “Manchester by the Sea.” Of these three candidates, “Moonlight” stands the best chance of pulling an upset. “Arrival,” once touted as a viable contender, has a slim chance, though its lukewarm performance in other competitions and rather tepid overall support, despite its many strengths, will likely keep it on the sidelines. And “Manchester by the Sea,” once considered the movie to beat, has lost virtually all its initial backing, making it an even longer shot than its fellow dark horses. With the bloom off this rose, “Manchester” could well go home empty-handed on any of its six overall nominations on Oscar night.
Also-Rans: “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water” and “Lion.” These films should consider their nominations as their awards. This is not to suggest that some of them aren’t worthy of their nominations; “Fences,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hell or High Water” certainly are. But they and their fellow nominees don’t have enough momentum to earn them dark horse status, let alone put them over the top.
What Should Have Been Left Out: “La La Land” and “Lion.” These are truly undeserved nominations. “La La Land” is flat-out overrated, for reasons that should be obvious by now. As for “Lion,” the film’s first hour is indeed compelling and well-constructed, but its second half is a snoozy, padded bore that’s little more than an extended commercial for Google Earth, punctuated by a lot of crying and over-the-top emoting. Other films should have taken the place of these nominees.
What Else Should Have Been Considered: Given the open-ended nature of selecting best picture nominees, there was at least one other open slot available (three if you take away the nods for “La La Land” and “Lion”) that should have gone to other deserving films. Some of those that merited consideration include “Jackie,” “Loving,” “Snowden,” “Sully,” “Eye in the Sky,” “The Birth of a Nation, ”Neruda,” “Things to Come” and “Deadpool.” It would have been interesting to see at least one of them make the field to add some worthy diversity into this category’s ranks.

The Oscars will be handed out in televised ceremonies on Sunday February 26. I’ll post my report card on these predictions thereafter. Enjoy the show!

(Oscar® and Academy Award® are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.)

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Things to Come," "Paterson" and "Captain Fantastic" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post of the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

‘Paterson’ celebrates life’s poetic nature

“Paterson” (2016). Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper, Masatoshi Nagase, Rizwani Manji, Cliff Smith, Sterling Jerins, Johnnie Mae, Trevor Parham, Troy T. Parham, Nellie the bulldog. Director: Jim Jarmusch. Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch. Web site. Trailer.

How do you view your reality? Do you see it as a collection of material commodities or as an aggregation of small, magnificent, often-underappreciated wonders? Do you take the time to appreciate the details of the elements that populate your existence, or do you gloss over them as insignificant irrelevancies? And what conclusions do you come away with from such assessments? Those are some of the thoughtful ponderings raised in the quietly meditative new independent release, “Paterson.”

What can driving a bus teach someone about life? For an aspiring poet, more than you might think. Such is the experience of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver for the public transportation department of, ironically enough, the City of Paterson, New Jersey.

Bus-driving poet Paterson (Adam Driver) observes the beauty of the world around him to provide inspiration for his verse in the new independent release, “Paterson.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Media.

On the surface, driving a bus probably seems like a pretty mundane pursuit. But, for someone like Paterson, it affords him an opportunity to take in the panorama of life, which, interestingly enough, provides fodder for his thoughtful verse. In fact, all of life provides the poet with material for his writings. Be it the conversations he overhears on the bus, the everyday household items found in the home he shares with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), or the diverse interpersonal interactions he witnesses at the neighborhood tavern he visits while on his nightly walks with his pet bulldog, Marvin (Nellie the bulldog), Paterson finds word-worthy inspiration in virtually everything he sees and hears.

That, for the most part, sums up what this film is all about. There’s not a lot of action nor high drama here; rather, it’s more of a quiet meditation on taking in and drinking up what life has to offer. It’s intended to remind us that there’s a big beautiful world beyond the ends of our cell phones, that there’s much to be seen and experienced that isn’t composed of the flickering photons making up the fleeting images on our computer screens. Such beauty can be found in even the simplest things, whether it’s the cover of a box of matches or the frosting pattern atop a batch of homemade cupcakes. One need not be an artist to appreciate such innate splendor, either; it’s available for all of us to enjoy, whether for our own amusement or as material to be immortalized in our creative musings.

As the film also shows, we’re as much a part of that worldly beauty as all of the other elements that comprise it. That’s because we’re simultaneously both observers and creators of the reality that surrounds us, which faithfully reflects back to us the thoughts, beliefs and intents we maintain about our existence, the essence of the conscious creation process, the means by which the world around us arises.

This is revealed in a number of ways in the film. It’s perhaps most visually apparent through the preponderance of identical twins that Paterson comes across during the course of his daily routine, imagery inspired by one of Laura’s dreams that she shares with him during one of their morning pillow talk sessions. But it’s also reflected in more subtle ways, such as through Paterson’s artistic inclination, continuing a long legacy of expression initiated by many of the talented residents of his hometown who went on to fame and fortune of their own, such as comedian Lou Costello, R&B duo Sam and Dave, writer Allen Ginsberg, boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and poet William Carlos Williams (the protagonist’s personal favorite), all of whom are referenced in the film.

Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a homemaker who brings her singular creative outlook to everything she does, makes life interesting for her husband, a bus-driving poet, in director Jim Jarmusch’s latest offering, “Paterson.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Media.

In a sense, then, our existence can be seen as a sort of metaphysical feedback loop, one in which we create the world around us and then subsequently observe it to provide material for reshaping or reinforcing it, which, in turn, continues to express itself in line with those thoughts, beliefs and intents. In many ways, this embodies the notion that we each serve as emissaries of our conscious creation collaborator, serving as representatives of our divine manifestation partner to help it discover itself on the earthly plane and providing feedback about what we find, supplied through our observations and our reactions to them. It’s a beautiful, perpetual, mutually beneficial arrangement, one that fittingly serves the needs of both parties.

This is what Paterson does on a daily basis. He serves as a sort of metaphorical docent, leading us through the process to show how it works. Interestingly, he uses his poetry to catalog his findings, expressing his observations and outlooks through verse, a beautiful way of recording his field reports. In taking this approach, one could even say that life itself is inherently poetic, a way of looking at the world that truly imbues it with a sense of awe and wonder that, regrettably, many of us have lost sight of these days. The picture is an earnest attempt at trying to reconnect us with such thinking.

Numerous other philosophical ideas are woven into the narrative of “Paterson” as well, such as the Buddhist notion of the impermanence of all things. In a world where we have become so preoccupied with the illusion of preservation and unceasing continuity, this might come as quite a shocking disappointment, especially when the things we cherish suddenly vanish from our fields of perception. However, as conscious creation maintains, we’re all in a constant state of becoming, which means that our reality is continually being created, destroyed and re-created in its own personal way, including all of the elements that are a part of it. If we can appreciate that, nothing is ever really lost as long as we continue to create anew, which, as conscious creators, we already do; it’s simply a matter of becoming aware of this notion, keeping it in mind and carrying forth with the process, one would hope with the kind of marvel, astonishment and surprise that it innately engenders.

Marvin (Nellie the bulldog) serves as a never-ending source of amusement for his master, an introspective bus-driving poet, in the quietly meditative new release, “Paterson.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Media.

Although initially seemingly lost and unfocused, “Paterson” is the kind of movie that grows on viewers as time passes, presenting a richly layered, deftly nuanced look at life, what’s in it and how we respond to it. While the pacing could stand to move along better in a few spots (especially in the first hour), and while some of the ironically protracted minimalist dialogue could have used some judicious trimming, director Jim Jarmusch’s latest nevertheless delights with its observations about existence through the medium of verse, which is inventively presented through an intriguing combination of voice-overs and on-screen graphics. The picture’s exquisite production design and colorful characters, be they human or canine, offer a whimsical look at reality, one that simultaneously amuses and inspires, beautifully punctuated by the film’s ethereal soundtrack. Just don’t expect a lot to happen in this one; rather, let it wash over you, and savor the simplicity that many of us have lost the ability to appreciate.

It’s somewhat surprising that this release has not earned wider recognition in this year’s movie awards season. Nevertheless, it did receive honors at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palm Dog award for Nellie the bulldog, as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor.

In one of her more insightful observations, poet Muriel Rukeyser noted “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” As “Paterson” so eloquently demonstrates, that line might just as easily be rephrased to replace the word “stories” with “poetry.” And, thanks to the film’s protagonist and director, we’re able to gain a new appreciation of that sentiment, one that, if taken to heart and employed on a routine basis, can provide us with a whole new perspective on a wonder that, regrettably, we all too often take for granted.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Movies with Meaning Is Back!

It's back! The Movies with Meaning page on the web site of The Good Radio Network has returned with reviews of "Hidden Figures" and "Fences," along with a radio show preview, a magazine article link and lots of other good stuff. Check it out by clicking here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

‘Things to Come’ extols the joys of liberation

“Things to Come” (“L’avenir”) (2016). Cast: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Elise Lhomeau, Daniel Dray-Rabotnik, Guy-Patrick Sainderichen, Yves Heck, Rachel Arditi. Director: Mia Hansen-Løve. Screenplay: Mia Hansen-Løve. Web site. Trailer.

Having it made is something we all crave, right? The prospects of all of our material, vocational and emotional needs being met probably has tremendous appeal for most of us. But what happens when what we thought we wanted becomes a trap that keeps us from exploring other options? We may come to feel stifled, restricted and unfulfilled. But what do we do about it? Those are the questions raised in the thought-provoking new French melodrama, “Things to Come” (“L’avenir”).

By all rights, Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) would appear to be living a great life. She’s been happily married to her husband, Heinz (André Marcon), for many years, and she’s the proud mother of two grown children, Chloé (Sarah Le Picard) and Johann (Solal Forte). She’s also built a successful career as a respected philosophy teacher and author of several highly regarded textbooks. And, with residences in Paris and Brittany, she’s surrounded by culture, beauty and all the joys that come with living in modern-day France.

So, with a life like that, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, plenty.

Seemingly out of the blue, Nathalie’s life begins falling apart. First, she learns that her publisher has hired several brash new book marketing specialists (Yves Heck, Rachel Arditi) who are eager to implement a number of changes to new editions of her long-established titles. Nathalie views their proposed alterations – changes that are designed purely to boost sales – as tacky and pandering. And that’s just the beginning of her publishing woes.

But the problems don’t stop there. Nathalie’s aging mother, Yvette (Edith Scob), a former model who’s prone to panic attacks and depression and has been teetering on the edge of dementia for some time, grows increasingly needy, challenging her daughter’s ability to realistically care for her. Nathalie routinely receives frantic overnight phone calls from her and is frequently left to deal with warnings from irritated EMTs, who grow increasingly frustrated at having to respond to Yvette’s repeated false alarms. The time may have come for Yvette to move into a senior facility, a proposal that she’s always railed against whenever it’s been suggested, claiming she’s fully capable of independent living, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

And then there’s Heinz, who is forced into admitting that he’s having an affair. Chloé learns of the clandestine relationship and subsequently confronts her father about it, insisting that he make a choice between her mother and the other woman – and that he do it soon. He begrudgingly agrees to his daughter’s wishes and shortly thereafter informs Nathalie that he’s preparing to move out, despite his claims that he still loves her.

With her world collapsing, Nathalie’s left with her head spinning, rhetorically asking herself, “Now what?” All of the pillars that have supported her have now come crashing down around her, leaving her without a clue or sense of direction. And, as a philosophy teacher, someone who’s supposed to have answers for dilemmas like this at her fingertips, she’s adrift in a fog, not sure what to do or which way to turn.

The sense of predictability that Nathalie has long enjoyed evaporates before her eyes. The elements of her life that she thought she could count on to give it direction, meaning and continuity disappear one by one. Even the time-honored philosophical disciplines that she teaches – concepts that she has consistently believed she could rely upon to guide her – suddenly seem murky, inadequate and less assuring. Needless to say, for someone accustomed to such a sense of certainty, these new circumstances are disorienting at best, deeply troubling at worst.

Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) relishes the freedom that personal liberation affords her in the engaging new French melodrama, “Things to Come” (“L’avenir”). Photo by Ludovic Bergery, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

However, as unexpected as these developments are, Nathalie soon discovers new influences coming into her life. For instance, she begins spending time with one of her former students, Fabien (Roman Kolinka). She enjoys the company of her young colleague and is pleased to see that he’s become a sort of protégé, working on profound philosophical writings of his own. At the same time, though, Fabien also defies some of Nathalie’s expectations, such as announcing that he’s leaving the cosmopolitan sophistication of Paris to live on a farm he’s bought in rural France. He sees this as an opportunity to get away from the complexities of city life to clear his mind, to lead a simpler, slower-paced existence, and to spend more time writing.

Although initially surprised at Fabien’s decision, Nathalie’s also intrigued by the prospects of someone of her scholarly stripe taking such a radical step. Before long, she’s so captivated with the idea that she decides to pay him a visit, a journey that gives her a chance to get away from it all and to enjoy the idyllic charms of country life. By doing so, she comes to realize – and to whole-heartedly acknowledge – that the recent changes in her life have actually been a blessing, allowing her to feel liberated and free from restrictions, arguably for the first time in her life. It’s a feeling that’s new to her, but it’s also one that she relishes with gusto, even in its intrinsic unfamiliarity. Indeed, if this new approach to life has enabled her to feel so much better so quickly, she can only imagine what it will permit if she allows herself to become immersed in it for the long term. And that’s what she’s about to discover.

Witnessing Nathalie’s transformation is truly heartening. Admittedly, the journey is somewhat intimidating for her at first, since it represents such new and uncharted territory. But, once she embraces the qualities this existence has to offer, she finds it refreshing and freeing. It affords her an opportunity to appreciate joys that she has either never known or denied herself. It also gives her a new perspective on the things that really matter in life. Her consuming focus on philosophy, for example, becomes somewhat less important. She comes to recognize that pondering life’s mysteries may be an interesting exercise, but, in the end, does it really provide the same degree of satisfaction that comes from beholding a mountain landscape, stroking the fur of a beloved pet or holding a baby in one’s arms?

What makes such changes in outlook possible? It’s a matter of one’s thoughts, beliefs and intents, the cornerstones of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience. It’s a philosophy that makes any outcome possible depending on what underlying forces are driving it. And, for all of her years of study, it’s something that Nathalie has never really taken the time to explore in practical terms. Now, though, with her new liberated perspective, she’s free to do so to her heart’s content.

By adopting this outlook, Nathalie makes it possible to plumb several of conscious creation’s key concepts. For instance, one of the philosophy’s primary aims is to push through our personal, self-imposed limitations. Given how she lived her life prior to all of the recent changes, it’s apparent that Nathalie allowed herself to be hemmed in by a rather restricted worldview. Most everything she did was for her career, her publisher, her husband, her mother and even her mother’s cat. But what was Nathalie doing for Nathalie? With those “impediments” removed, she’s now free to explore aspects of existence that she wants to investigate. That’s a significant change, one that has pushed through some once-formidable barriers.

In opening up herself like this, Nathalie now has an opportunity to look into another of conscious creation’s hallmark principles, the idea that we’re all in a constant state of becoming. By embracing such an evolutionary outlook, we free ourselves to explore an array of manifestation possibilities, both personally and in the conditions of our prevailing reality. There’s tremendous potential for wonder, creativity, fulfillment and awe in circumstances like that, and, again, Nathalie’s just beginning her journey in this regard.

As her life begins to change, newly divorced philosophy teacher Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert, left) increasingly enjoys the company of her former student and protégé, Fabien (Roman Kolinka, right), in director Mia Hansen-Løve’s inspiring new release, “Things to Come” (“L’avenir”). Photo by Ludovic Bergery, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

To make these explorations possible, Nathalie invokes her capacity for exercising her innate powers of choice and free will. Obviously, in years past, this is something she didn’t avail herself of as much as she might have, and, on some level, she must have recognized this, too. Having denied herself access to a wealth of metaphysical and manifestation possibilities for a long time, at some point, she must have chosen to change her beliefs to change her reality. The results of this decision subsequently became reflected in how her existence unfolded – the collapse of her old way of life and the emergence of a new one, a world full of the many wonders she wants to experience and explore, all driven by the beliefs that she puts forth.

Having personally gone through an experience like Nathalie’s, I can relate to her circumstances. At the beginning of the breakdown, things were indeed scary. But, over time, I came to recognize the new possibilities that were now available to me, all dependent on what I wanted to do with them and their underlying beliefs. Feelings like that are truly exhilarating, if only we’ll allow ourselves to experience them. Getting past our fears and adopting an attitude of being willing to live heroically certainly help, but recognizing that the power to bring about exciting new creations rests with us is crucial if we’re to make the most of the opportunities. I’d like to think I did well with my choices, and it’s apparent that Nathalie looks forward to the adventures that await her. Anyone facing comparable conditions should take these examples to heart, and this film drives that point home with humor, heartfelt emotion and sparkling clarity.

“Things to Come” is a smartly written, exceedingly well-acted character study deserving of a wider audience than what it has garnered thus far. The film is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema, but it’s certainly worth searching for, especially for anyone facing circumstances similar to its lead character. With yet another outstanding performance by Isabelle Huppert (this is her year it seems), director Mia Hansen-Løve’s production provides much to ponder in terms of what we value and what we believe is important, especially when we embrace the freedom that personal liberation affords.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, sometimes it takes losing everything to discover what we want but don’t have. How easily we move through a process like that depends greatly on how we view developments as they unfold. If we realize that, as conscious creators, we’re responsible for manifesting everything that happens to us – including our perceived setbacks – then we have an opportunity to recognize that such changes are a means to get us somewhere new (and preferably better), psychologically cushioning their impact. That outlook in itself is quite liberating, but, when we apply it to the actual outcomes that occur, we give ourselves a chance to progress with greater ease and less stress – and with open arms to welcome the things to come.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

A Schedule Change

My apologies to those of you expecting to hear me on Thursday's Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio. Due to a scheduling conflict, the segment has been moved back to next Thursday, February 2, at 1 pm ET, available by clicking here. So sorry for any inconvenience, but check back again next week!