Friday, October 21, 2016

‘Birth of a Nation’ delivers a potent cautionary message

“The Birth of a Nation” (2016). Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Jr., Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomi King, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gabrielle Union, Tony Espinosa, Justin M. Smith, Allen Scott, Griffin Freeman, Kai Norris. Director: Nate Parker. Screenplay: Nate Parker. Story: Nate Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin. Web site. Trailer.

When pushed to the breaking point, there’s no telling how any of us might react. Some may walk away, but others may lash out, perhaps even violently. That’s particularly true for those subjected to an egregious injustice (or, worse, a series of injustices). Retribution often results, frequently with dire consequences, both for the perpetrators of those wrongs, as well as those looking to right them. Such is the case in the new film adaptation of the legendary cautionary tale, “The Birth of a Nation.”

In 1809 Virginia, the Turner cotton plantation was a thriving operation, in large part because of the hard (but coerced) work of its African slaves. However, while many of the area’s other plantation owners routinely treated their slaves brutally, the Turner family took a comparatively progressive approach. Even though they had their prejudices and condescending attitudes and didn’t hesitate to dole out punishment when deemed necessary, the Turners also realized they depended on their slaves for their fortune. Consequently, they tended to treat them somewhat more fairly than many of their neighbors, and they even sought to develop the skills of some of their more adept field hands. They also allowed their own children, such as young Samuel (Griffin Freeman), heir apparent to the family fortune, to play with the children of their slaves, such as young Nat (Tony Espinosa). Their camaraderie led to a friendship of sorts (at least as much as such relationships were allowed).

Plantation owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer, left) and slave Nat Turner (Nate Parker, right) explore the intricacies of their complex relationship in the new historical drama, “The Birth of a Nation.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

It became apparent early on that young Nat was also remarkably gifted. For example, he possessed a natural affinity for reading, a talent that Turner family matriarch, Miss Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller), sought to develop. Even though she refused to teach him about material in the books “that his people wouldn’t understand,” she nevertheless instructed him in the teachings of the Bible, training that qualified him to serve as a preacher to his fellow slaves. And, after years of such tutelage, an elder Nat (Nate Parker) routinely ministered to his peers. With Miss Elizabeth’s encouragement, he even gave occasional scripture readings at the local parish, drawing moderately receptive reactions from White members of the congregation, a response not lost on the resident pastor, Rev. Zalthall (Mark Boone Jr.).

Despite the plantation’s past success, drought and rising costs caused the operation to fall on hard times once an elder Samuel (Armie Hammer) assumed the reins. He needed a way to supplement his income, and Rev. Zalthall came up with a proposal that he believed might fill the financial gap. Given the comfort that Nat seemed to offer his peers, Rev. Zalthall suggested that maybe he could do the same for the slaves at neighboring plantations, many of whom had begun to grow increasingly “restless.” Rev. Zalthall suggested to Samuel that perhaps he could offer Nat’s services to nearby plantation owners for a fee, an arrangement that the Reverend believed would allow everyone to benefit.

Samuel was a bit reluctant to embrace this idea at first, but he eventually agreed, a decision he grew comfortable with once he saw the money begin to roll in. Nat, meanwhile, was pleased for the opportunity to do what he loved, but the experience was an eye-opener for him, especially when he saw firsthand how harshly other plantation owners treated their slaves. This, along with a series of other incidents, led to a simmering ire. When Nat was confronted with the unprovoked beating of his wife (Aja Naomi King) at the hands of bounty hunters, Samuel’s forced prostitution of a fellow slave (Gabrielle Union) to appease one of his financial backers and, eventually, a thrashing of his own for daring to debate scripture with Rev. Zalthall, he reached his limit and decided to strike back, supported by a cadre of peers from his own and surrounding plantations, a response with devastating and bloody consequences.

Field hand and occasional preacher Nat Turner (Nate Parker, left) marries his longtime love, Cherry (Aja Naomi King, right), in the haunting new historical drama, “The Birth of a Nation.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

When events like this occur, many enlightened, reasonable souls look upon them and wonder how they could possibly happen. However, if the causes behind such incidents are examined closely, it’s understandable how they arise. This, of course, raises the questions, “Can they be avoided? And, if so, how?”

In scenarios like this, both sides of the conflict need to take a serious look at their actions, which, in turn, means that they also need to examine the underlying beliefs, thoughts and intents that manifested them. This is at the heart of the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the reality we experience. Unfortunately, all too often in situations like this, those at the heart of these incidents neglect to take this step, leaving them perplexed, faced with circumstances that are difficult to resolve and often characterized by reactions ranging from challenging to downright harrowing, as was the case here.

Since conscious creation makes it possible to realize all things conceivable – for better or worse – it comes with the territory that even the unconscionable is capable of being made manifest, no matter how unthinkable such creations might seem to many of us. In light of that, one would also likely hope that, once such materializations are given tangible expression, their inherent deplorability becomes so self-evident that any inclination to re-create them would simply vanish without a second thought. Regrettably, however, that is seldom the case, and we fall back into patterns of repetitive creations and behavior.

This is where the power of example – particularly as illustrated through the power of story – can make a difference. By witnessing the impact of such manifestations, we have an opportunity to change our thinking, making it possible to embrace different sets of beliefs and, subsequently, to materialize different outcomes. They truly give us pause to think, “Do we really want to go down that road again?” And, in the case of this story, that question should be pertinent to those on both sides of the conflict portrayed here.

As history has repeatedly shown, inhumane treatment can’t go on forever; a backlash will eventually result, a reaction many would see as understandable. But, in the long run, does retribution really solve anything? It may lead to some reforms in the short term, but does it really get to the heart of the matter? In the case of the race relations issue, nearly 200 years have passed since Nat Turner’s uprising, and yet we’re still dealing with some of the same prejudices and injustices that prompted this incident in the first place. True, they may not be on the same scale as before, but they persist nonetheless. Indeed, if meaningful change is to come, we must address the underlying questions that have caused these issues to begin with. If we ignore the issue and fail to change our beliefs, we may regret our decision.

Rebel slave Nat Turner (Nate Parker, center) leads an armed uprising against Virginia plantation owners in “The Birth of a Nation.” Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

While “The Birth of a Nation,” on its surface, is a historical drama, it’s also a powerful parable with a strong cautionary message for us today. Its impact is obviously strongest with regard to the race relations issue, but the film’s significance is just as applicable to other contemporary conflicts. Given the current polarization in areas like economic status and political leanings, it’s easy to see the potential for conflict bubbling up from the collective consciousness and into physical existence. We’d be wise to take the picture’s message to heart and take appropriate measures while we have the chance to do so.

“The Birth of a Nation” is a beautifully filmed, well-acted, well-told rendition of Nat Turner’s legacy, even though the historical accuracy of the uprising’s brutality is somewhat downplayed. The picture profoundly depicts the harshness and indignities of slave life in a graphic (though, thankfully, never gratuitous) way, effectively showing viewers only what they need to see and letting their imaginations do the rest (unlike the often-nauseating portrayals wantonly showcased in the highly touted, excessive and cinematically inferior “12 Years a Slave”). Although somewhat episodic at times, the haunting narrative offers a potent, moving message that’s particularly relevant for today’s emotionally charged society.

The film also represents a breakthrough accomplishment for writer-actor-director Nate Parker. His efforts prove quite revelatory, especially since his prior pictures, like “Beyond the Lights” (2014), did more to showcase his physique than his talents. “The Birth of a Nation” has established Parker as a bona fide rising star, someone whose work is worthy of serious merit, perhaps even awards consideration.

We all have our limits, and we should seek to reconcile the differences that push us toward them before reaching them. “The Birth of a Nation” offers us a valuable cautionary tale on that point. And, for the sake of our future, we’d better listen to it.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Denial," "Operation Avalanche" and four Chicago Film Festival offerings are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

‘Operation Avalanche’ asks ‘What do you believe?’

“Operation Avalanche” (2016). Cast: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, Jared Raab, Andrew Appelle. Archive Footage: John F. Kennedy, James Webb. Director: Matt Johnson. Screenplay: Josh Boles and Matt Johnson. Web site. Trailer.

From time to time, it’s not unusual for each of us to stand back, take a look at our existence and ask ourselves, “What are we to make of our world?” When we ponder that idea, many of us invariably turn to deciphering our beliefs in an effort – sometimes successful, sometimes not – to make sense of our reality. That’s the conundrum faced by a pair of naïve, idealistic neophytes in the quirky new thriller, “Operation Avalanche.”

This new “found footage” offering takes the genre in an inventive new direction, going beyond the cheesy horror flicks that have long typified it. Set in 1967, the picture follows the sometimes-comical, sometimes-sinister exploits of a pair of fresh-faced college grads (Matt Johnson and Owen Williams playing “themselves”) recently recruited by the CIA as part of its effort to mine American universities for the best and brightest young minds. The newly arrived nerdy, clean-cut novices look to find their way within the agency. But, no matter what work they’re assigned, more than anything else, they fancy themselves would-be filmmakers seeking opportunities to put their skills to use in an official capacity.

When word leaks out that a Soviet spy may have infiltrated the US space program, potentially threatening NASA’s efforts at being first to the moon, Johnson and Williams make a pitch to be named to the CIA team charged with exposing the mole. They propose posing as filmmakers producing a documentary about the Apollo program, a ploy that would give them virtually unfettered access to Mission Control, as well as a credible cover for their true intents. Before long, the duo sets off for Houston, convinced that they’ll be able to find their man and have some fun doing it along the way. If only they knew what they were getting themselves into.

Once on assignment, Johnson and Williams soon find that there’s much more going on than they ever anticipated. Besides the Soviet spy threat, they also learn, through clandestinely recorded phone conversations allegedly involving NASA Administrator James Webb, that there may be big problems within the US space program that have nothing to do with espionage. With the US and the USSR at the height of the Cold War, their respective space programs carry tremendous propaganda value, and American officials express grave concerns about what a foul-up would mean, both scientifically and, more importantly, geopolitically.

Once again, Johnson and Williams step up with a solution. Given the nature of their proposal, their mission quickly changes, taking their work in directions they never envisioned. But, since the changes in their assignment still involve filmmaking, they happily go along with the program, especially when it affords them an opportunity to meet and interact with one of their directorial idols, Stanley Kubrick.

However, the deeper Johnson and Williams get into their assignment, the more ominous it becomes. The fun and games approach they started off with disappears, placing their mission, as well as their lives, in serious jeopardy, especially when it becomes apparent they no longer know who to trust. What’s more, when they begin to consider the implications of what they’re being tasked to do, they each begin wrestling with their conscience, especially if what they’re working on is allowed to proceed to completion. Indeed, can they truly live with what they’re doing, considering the ramifications involved? Of course, that will all depend on whether they’re able to keep themselves alive in the first place.

When we look at how our lives unfold, we’re often left with our heads spinning, especially if events don’t transpire as planned or hoped for. However, when we realize we’re at the center of the events we’re experiencing, we can’t deny the role we play in their manifestation. Recognizing that we’re responsible for what’s occurring gives us a new perspective on our world. Such an awareness is the starting point for understanding the existence of, and our role in, the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, if Johnson and Williams are to make it through their challenges, they had better grasp the concept sooner rather than later.

The biggest issues the filmmaking duo faces involve figuring out the true nature of what’s happening and who to trust. To do that, they need to get their beliefs in order, particularly those related to their power of discernment. By paying attention to the input provided through their intellect and intuition – the chief influences in belief formation – they have an opportunity to incisively sort out their thoughts and, one would hope, use them to turn them to their advantage.

Discernment is especially crucial here, given the many forces at work in the manifestation of this story. All of those involved in the co-creation of this scenario have their own agendas – some at odds with one another – even if they’re all ostensibly part of the same larger event. Thus the ability to truly understand the nature of circumstances like these is essential if we want our contributions to them to work to our benefit. For Johnson and Williams, the stakes in this couldn’t be higher.

The race to the moon, with all its attendant fallout, comes under serious scrutiny in the quirky new thriller, “Operation Avalanche,” the latest offering in the “found footage” genre. Photo courtesy of XYZ Films.

Interestingly enough, even those with nefarious intents can play a valuable role in affairs like this. Manifestations at cross-purposes with those of would-be heroes keep them on their toes, forcing them to get creative and to push past preconceived limitations to come up with solutions (and the beliefs that materialize them) that counter efforts driven by questionable intent. Challenging circumstances prompt the need for creative solutions, and pushing the envelope in that regard is one of the hallmarks of conscious creation theory.

The foregoing also draws attention to the role integrity plays in the conscious creation process. When we don’t make allowances for it in how we form our beliefs, results can become distorted, creating new and potentially bigger challenges (and the need for yet more boundary-pushing creativity). However, when we seek to manifest our existence in line with this principle, the results can be rewarding, fulfilling and spot-on in terms of its authenticity.

Of course, for those with inherently questionable agendas, integrity may take on a “different” appearance. Indeed, it may seem to be wholly absent when, in fact, it’s actually present, even if it takes a form most of us either wouldn’t recognize or sanction. Those who genuinely believe in the need for things like secret wiretapping and other dubious undercover tactics will likely get the results they seek, no matter how appalling others may view such measures. Ultimately, however, such steps may end up yielding bigger issues down the road, so attempting to envision the long-term consequences may prove the prudent course overall.

This once again spotlights the importance of discernment. By employing it when assessing integrity-related matters, we can better pinpoint the character of our beliefs in this regard. This is particularly crucial when the implications are substantial. Johnson and Williams should heed this caution as they proceed, as should the rest of us.

“Operation Avalanche” is arguably one of the most clever offerings ever to emerge from the found footage genre. The cinematography is particularly noteworthy, effectively mimicking the look of old, crumbling, faded 8-mm film, with its crackly images and jarring hand-held camera work. The picture’s intriguing story line, authentically re-created look of the ʼ60s, hilarious sight gags, offbeat humor and ample suspense make for an unusual mix, breathing new life into a style of filmmaking that has grown progressively stale. Space helmets off to the creators of this fun and poignant little offering.

Taking a hard look at our world requires us to take a hard look at ourselves, usually from multiple standpoints. But, if we’re to make sense of it, we must be hard on ourselves, deftly employing our discernment skills, particularly when it comes to assessing the degree of authenticity we bring to the manifestation table. To do otherwise invites potentially serious consequences, both for ourselves, those with whom we interact and perhaps even others with whom we have no perceived connection. That’s a tall order to satisfy, but it’s one truly worthy of serious consideration given what’s potentially at stake.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

‘Howards End’ extols the virtues of kindness, compassion, integrity

“Howards End” (1992, original release; 2016, re-release). Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, Samuel West, James Wilby, Adrian Ross Magenty, Nicola Duffett. Director: James Ivory. Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Book: E.M. Forster, Howards End. Web site. Trailer.

A little kindness goes a long way, sometimes much further than any of us might expect. That’s a meaningful lesson for those who need some gentle nudges in that direction, and it’s an imperative for anyone who brazenly puts self-interest before all else. Such is the message of the 1992 award-winning screen classic “Howards End,” recently released in theaters in a digitally restored 25th anniversary edition.

Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, the story of this engaging drama is rather involved, but it basically concerns the relationship of two sisters, Margaret (Emma Thompson) and Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter), with members of early Twentieth Century London society at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Margaret befriends Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), the kindly but dying matron of a wealthy family who adores the sanctuary of her country home, Howards End. Ruth so appreciates the compassion that her new friend shows her that she seeks to bequeath the estate to Margaret, a decision looked upon askance by Ruth’s husband, Henry (Anthony Hopkins), her son, Charles (James Wilby), and her daughter-in-law, Dolly (Susie Lindeman). The Wilcoxes’ efforts to thwart Ruth’s wishes, though, take a number of unexpected twists and turns after her death, especially when Margaret becomes close to those who initially oppose her.

Helen, meanwhile, befriends an economically troubled clerk, Leonard Bast (Samuel West), desperately seeking to support himself and his wife, Jacky (Nicola Duffett). Over time, the relationship between Helen and Leonard grows progressively more intimate, a development viewed disdainfully by the Wilcoxes – that is, until unsavory secrets about their own connection to the Bast family are unexpectedly revealed. These revelations complicate matters all the more for everyone involved, leading to a stormy climax with wide-ranging implications, as well as more than its fair share of irony.

Kindly, wealthy matron Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave, left) befriends kindred spirit Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson, right) in the screen classic, “Howards End,” recently released in theaters in a new, digitally remastered edition to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary. Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Given the intriguing story line of this film, it’s interesting to see how matters play out, with developments driven principally by the intents underlying them. The nature of those intents is important, too, not just here, but also in general, since they form the basis of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience – in all its aspects – through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

The beliefs that characterize the principals’ prevailing outlooks are especially crucial in this story, because they affect all of the particulars of their daily existences. Ruth and the Schlegel sisters, for instance, obviously believe in compassion and kindness, and their lives unfold with qualities and events reflective of this mindset. Outcomes may not emerge immediately nor without hitches, but the power and integrity driving the beliefs underlying them ultimately won’t be denied, no matter what obstacles may pop up. Prospective impediments inevitably can’t hold sway, because they inspire the creation and implementation of metaphysical workarounds aimed at dissolving whatever obstructions may appear.

In contrast to the beliefs of Ruth, Margaret and Helen, the self-serving worldview of Henry, Charles and Dolly yields results commensurate with their thinking. Their attempts at using beliefs to manipulate circumstances prove particularly telling, especially when they come into conflict with those driven by sincerity and altruism. The impact of these concocted intents essentially becomes thwarted, because those who put them forth know that they’re operating contrary to the stated wishes of others (and the inherent power of the beliefs that drive them). Gaming the system like this will only get someone so far, because the tainted nature of such manipulative beliefs can’t overpower those that emerge from genuine origins.

As stated above, this illustrates the significance of integrity in belief formation and implementation. If we work against this, we introduce contradiction into the mix, which, as with fear and doubt, throws a major wrench into the manifestation process. Results either don’t materialize or manifest in “distorted” forms, conditions that won’t change until genuine, full-fledged sincerity is introduced or reintroduced into the process. We should all bear that in mind if we think we can get away with swaying matters in directions that we know aren’t authentic. To attempt to do so will surely result in disappointment.

Sisters Helen and Margaret Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter, left, and Emma Thompson, center) confront Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins, right), widower of their deceased friend Ruth, when the wishes of her last will and testament are placed in jeopardy in the screen classic, “Howards End,” recently released in theaters in a new, digitally remastered edition to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary. Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Acts of empathy – and acts of deliberate deception – come with consequences, both good and bad, and “Howards End” showcases them beautifully. This is elegant, masterful filmmaking at its best in virtually all respects, but then such scrupulously high standards are to be expected from the famed direction-production team of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant. The performances, cinematography and period piece production values are top notch and made all the more glorious by the picture’s remastering for the big screen.

“Howards End” was widely acclaimed at the time of its original release, and it was lavishly honored in awards competitions at the time. The film earned three Oscars, including for Thompson’s lead performance and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay adaptation, on nine total nominations, including nods for by best picture, director, cinematography and supporting actress (Redgrave). It also captured a Golden Globe Award for Thompson’s lead portrayal on four total nominations, including nods for best picture, director and screenplay. The Cannes Film Festival bestowed further honors on the picture as the winner of the event’s 45th Anniversary Prize and as a nominee for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor.

At a time when disparities between the haves and have-nots grow ever wider and when compassion and kindness seem to be in increasingly short supply, films like “Howards End” mean a lot to us, helping to restore our faith in our capacity to care. Let us hope the message is not lost on us.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Miss Peregrine’ validates the ‘peculiar’ found in each of us

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (2016). Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Raffielle Chapman, Pixie Davies, Aiden Flowers, Nicholas Oteri, Helen Day, Philip Philman, Jack Brady, Scott Handy, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones. Director: Tim Burton. Screenplay: Jane Goldman. Book: Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Web site. Trailer.

In an age where many of us feel like we’re being coerced into various forms of social homogenization, it can be difficult for those who are “different” – perhaps even downright unconventional – just to get by. The pressure to conform can be unbearable, maybe even perilous, especially when confronted with the intolerance of the powers that be. Thankfully, though, there are those who are not afraid to stand up for themselves – or who are willing to protect those who are unable to do so – to keep dastardly influences at bay. That’s the drama that plays out in the delightful new Tim Burton fable, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”

Based on the book of the same name, this colorful adventure’s plot is too involved to detail here, but the picture essentially involves the exploits of Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), a somewhat geeky teenager who’s thrust into investigating the murder of the doting grandfather (Terence Stamp) he so dearly adores. His inquiry quickly leads him into a supernatural adventure involving time travel, protected temporal sanctuaries, and a host of unusual characters, including a home full of specially gifted youngsters (Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Raffielle Chapman, Pixie Davies), their loving protector, Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green), and a cabal of evildoers (Helen Day, Philip Philman, Jack Brady, Scott Handy) seeking to undermine the children’s efforts to be themselves, led by their nefarious mastermind, Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). The result is a rollicking, sometimes-frightening, sometimes-wondrous, sometimes-hilarious jaunt across time and alternate dimensions.

Geeky teenager Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield, left) befriends Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell, right), one of a number of unusually gifted youngsters, in director Tim Burton’s delightful new cinematic fable, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Photo by Jay Maidment, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Much of the narrative in “Miss Peregrine” deals with our willingness to keep limitations from holding us back. That’s particularly true for the children in this story, who possess remarkable powers, such as the ability to control the air (Purnell), the ability to project dreams as visual images (Keeler-Stone) and superhuman strength (Davies). Their protector, Miss Peregrine, has comparable talents of her own, like the ability to shape-shift, transforming herself into a bird (hence her name) at will. These talents are far from mainstream capabilities, abilities that easily might intimidate those who don’t possess them. The kids and Miss Peregrine recognize this, too, freely referring to themselves as “peculiars.” But they also don’t let these unconventional skills inhibit them from being themselves. They’re unafraid to make use of their faculties when warranted.

So how have the peculiars come to have these abilities? It’s because they believe they possess them, and those beliefs, in turn, shape the reality they experience. This principle is the cornerstone of conscious creation philosophy, the means by which we materialize the existence we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, based on the powers that the children and their protector wield, it’s apparent they’re quite proficient at it, too.

The beliefs that are most important here are those having to do with pushing boundaries and exceeding the kinds of limitations that tend to hold most of us back. When we open ourselves up to new possibilities through the power of our thoughts, unimaginable new vistas open up. The peculiars set a valuable example in this regard, and the one who benefits most from that in this story is Jake. His involvement with his newfound friends exposes him to possibilities he hadn’t considered before, a notion that will serve him well as he becomes aware of previously unknown abilities of his own.

Those who possess talents like this, however, often come under attack from others who would either seek to steal their powers or thwart them from exercising them. Challenges like this are often difficult to handle, but they also push us to affirm our beliefs and what they are intended to manifest. That’s the role of the evildoers in this story; they help to galvanize the strength of Miss Peregrine’s, Jake’s and the children’s convictions, as well as everything that come with them. Such situations may be frustrating in the short term, but they ultimately make everyone stronger in the long run, perhaps even opening up further possibilities that hadn’t been previously considered.

Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green), protector of unusually gifted youngsters, matches wits with a cadre of nefarious evildoers in the whimsical new fantasy adventure, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Photo by Jay Maidment, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Curiously, even though the peculiars aren’t afraid to be themselves, they’ve also intentionally chosen to sequester themselves for the most part in specialized temporal milieus known as “loops.” One might legitimately wonder what underlies such a withdrawal. But, when we become practiced at creating our own reality, doesn’t it make sense to manifest an existence specifically tailored to our liking, even if it means separating ourselves from much of mainstream society and everyday life? In many ways, this is just a further extension of the peculiars’ conscious creation skills. And, based on what they’ve been able to create for themselves, they’ve materialized a pleasant sanctuary, one in which most of us would probably feel right at home. To live under circumstances we enjoy with peers we find compatible is the best of all worlds, and the peculiars show us how to achieve it.

The story line of this film delves into a number of other themes as well, such as questions about life, death and aging, and it offers an intriguing parable about historical events. Given everything that’s going on in the picture, some have criticized it for being needlessly complicated, even undecipherable. However, I prefer to think of it as offering a banquet of intriguing and thoughtful ideas, many of them intricately intertwined, all wrapped up in one neat little package. Decide for yourself, but, if you go in with an open mind – pushing past conventional limitations (the central point of the film) – you’re likely to come away with having had an entertaining cinematic experience.

Though a little slow to start, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is full of macabre fun, splendid visuals and subtly effective metaphors. It’s also a celebration of what it means to be different yet to demand the acceptance and recognition to which we’re all rightly entitled. Admittedly, the pacing in the first hour needs a little quickening (which could have been accomplished with some astute editing), and the screenplay could stand a little tidying in spots, but overall there’s much to like here, especially in the highly inventive areas in which director Tim Burton traditionally excels. Have fun with this one, and don’t forget to closely inspect the details – you just might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Rejoicing in our differences should be cause for celebration. But, as author Caroline Myss has observed, those who announce their intent to stand out from the crowd are often shot on sight, metaphorically speaking, by less adventurous peers who are afraid that they themselves may one day be forced into comparable circumstances of their own. Yet, if we’re to be true to ourselves, we must not be afraid to recognize and embrace the qualities that distinguish us and then act on them in creating the reality we experience. To do less is to deny ourselves and to obstruct the expression of our true being, and fewer tragedies are greater than that. No matter how “peculiar” each of us may be in our own right, in the long run, it’s better to let those qualities shine than to keep them from ever seeing the light of day.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 10, 2016

‘The Beatles’ celebrates the beauty of collaboration

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” (2016). Cast: Interviews: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, Elvis Costello, Larry Kane. Archive Footage: John Lennon, George Harrison, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Yoko Ono, Ed Sullivan, Pete Best, Billy Preston. Director: Ron Howard. Screenplay: Mark Monroe. Story Consultant: P.G. Morgan. Web site. Trailer.

When one thinks of a cultural icon that helps to shape the character of a generation, a rock ‘n roll band probably wouldn’t be the first candidate that comes to mind. Yet, for those who came of age in the 1960s, fewer symbols hold nearly as much meaning, both personally and collectively, as a quartet of musicians from across the pond – the Fab Four, the Liverpool moptops, the band that became virtually synonymous with a generation, the Beatles. Their impact on music, culture and the sensibilities of Baby Boomers coming into their own – especially in the band’s early days – is the subject of a fun and lively new documentary, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years,” currently playing in a limited theatrical run and streaming on demand on Hulu.

Director Ron Howard, a longtime Beatles fan, has created a fascinating picture, deftly chronicling the band’s early days, the touring years from 1962 to 1966. The film presents an impressive collection of restored archive footage – some of it quite rare – and present-day interviews with surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as vintage clips of their collaborators, John Lennon and George Harrison. These elements are effectively complemented by conversations with fans who grew up with the Beatles, including Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver and Elvis Costello, as well as those who were associated with the band at the time of their tours, including filmmaker Richard Lester (director of the band’s films “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and “Help!” (1965)), Miami radio reporter Larry Kane (who accompanied the band on one of their tours) and longtime producer George Martin (presented in voiceovers covering archive footage).

In addition to the historical record, the film provides a look at the impact the band had at the time and the legacy it has left ever since. In the early 1960s, for example, the group’s revolutionary sound, the band members’ radical haircuts and their cheeky, sometimes-irreverent playfulness were symbolic of a generation of teenagers stepping up and charting their own path, a departure from the conformist ways of the previous decade. Then, as the turbulence of the ʼ60s unfolded, the band’s outspoken views mirrored and helped shape the social changes emerging at the time, particularly in areas like the civil rights movement. And, as the Beatles’ career soared, the group became an innovator in the music industry, launching the modern era of rock concert performances and, eventually, an increasingly sophisticated and inventive sound, one that opened the door for countless acts that followed.

When one looks at the overwhelming success the Beatles achieved and the impact they had, it quickly becomes apparent that they were masters at the practice of conscious creation, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Admittedly, they may not have been aware of this philosophy (though, given John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s explorations in to alternative and Eastern thought, that may not have been the case), but they certainly knew how to make it work for themselves, their peers and, ultimately, the world at large.

So how did they make it work? Well, for starters, given the prolific nature of their work in so many different milieus, not to mention its consistent quality across the board, they obviously knew what they were doing as artists. Be it as live performers, recording artists, songwriters or movie stars, they always rose to the occasion, never failing to come through and to please the ever-swelling ranks of their fans. But, then, they were able to accomplish this because they believed in themselves and their talents, notions clearly reflected in their output.

This success resulted chiefly from their collaborative efforts, with all band members working together, with their thoughts, beliefs and intents all on the same page. This should be obvious from their work. But it also becomes evident during interviews in the film, when they admit that nearly all of their creative decisions arose from unanimous decisions, adding that, if they didn’t achieve unanimity, proposed ideas didn’t proceed. This is an excellent example of co-creation at work, one that anybody seeking to collaborate on a joint effort can draw from for inspiration.

It should be added that such collaboration went beyond just the four band members. The Beatles also engaged in inspired co-creation with their manager, Brian Epstein, their producer, George Martin, and with supporting musicians, like Billy Preston, who played a significant role in the group’s music in its later years. The success of this metaphysical team effort illustrates our innate connectedness to others and the role it plays in the magnitude of the results we can achieve when we work together effectively, both on a conscious and subconscious level.

Of course, no matter how confident and self-assured we may be about our beliefs in ourselves and in our joint undertakings, it won’t matter much if we fail to recognize and avail ourselves of the synchronicities that emerge to help make the realization of our opportunities possible. These seemingly perfectly tailored “coincidences” provide the means for materializing our aspirations, but they don’t mean much if we’re unable to spot them and/or don’t act on them. Like all of our creations, synchronicities also arise from our beliefs, but recognizing their existence and significance is crucial if we’re to take things to the next level.

For their part, the Beatles were experts at this. As the film shows, they knew how to take advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, capitalizing on them with an almost incredible ease. It’s as if virtually everything they touched turned to metaphorical gold, whether it was creating the opportunities for meeting the right people, forming the right associations, undertaking the right creative projects and so on. In each case, though, these outcomes always arose from the synchronicities that made their potential – and subsequent fulfillment – possible.

The Beatles’ success, in turn, made it possible for them to become innovators and trend setters. They used their talents, both artistic and intangible, to shape and change the face of the music business and, over time, the very culture of society at large. That’s a phenomenal accomplishment, and virtually no other artists have had comparable impact. They not only made a mark of their own, but they also opened the door for those whom would follow them, enabling the birth of a vast array of previously untried artistic conceptions. Those who walked in the Beatles’ footsteps owe them a lot, for they showed the way for how to transform the conceptual and the intangible into fully fleshed out manifestations.

In the end, this may well have been the Beatles’ biggest and most meaningful accomplishment. And, given that it benefitted both themselves and others, it’s a prime example of the concept of value fulfillment in full flower. The film shows how their efforts in this area all began and what they eventually led to, taking viewers through the steps of their journey on this magical mystery tour of their own.

For those who grew up with the Beatles, such as yours truly, it’s difficult to accurately express what the band meant to the children of that generation, especially since no group has ever had quite the same degree of sweeping musical and cultural influence as the Fab Four did. However, this picture captures the spirit of this impact quite effectively, providing aging Boomers with an opportunity to wax nostalgic and for those born later to get a taste of what the fuss was all about.

“Eight Days a Week” is a fun, lively, nostalgic but never star struck look back at the early days of the band. Just as the Beatles helped provide an enjoyable diversion from the challenges of the time, so, too, does this film in giving viewers a refreshing respite from today’s myriad challenges. Its good feelings are so infectious that I dare you to try sitting through the picture without tapping your toes or swaying in your seat.

More than 50 years have passed since the Beatles emerged on the scene, yet we still applaud them, their music, their collaborative spirit and everything that made them who they were. I guess that’s what it means to have real staying power, and the moptops keep on proving it – eight days a week.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "The Birth of a Nation," "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" and "Howards End" and a Chicago Film Festival preview are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.