Tuesday, June 27, 2017

‘Tanna’ meditates on the power of love

“Tanna” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit, Charlie Kahla, Albi Nagia, Lingai Kowia, Dadwa Mungau, Linette Yowayin, Kapan Cook, Mungau Yokay, Mikum Tainakou. Directors: Martin Butler and Bentley Dean. Screenplay: Martin Butler, John Collee and Bentley Dean. Web site. Trailer.

Who we love is something we should be able to decide for ourselves, but it hasn’t always been that way, especially in many of the world’s traditions-based cultures. With arranged marriages the norm – relationships frequently driven by considerations having nothing to do with love – those who choose to step outside that custom engage in what’s looked upon as radical or even taboo. But, given the power of love, sometimes even tradition can’t withstand such pressure. What it means to take such a drastic step – and the consequences that come from it – provide the focus of the fact-based, Oscar-nominated romance, “Tanna,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

On the Melanesian island of Tanna in the remote Pacific nation of Vanuatu, time seems to have stood still. The ancient tribal nature of the local culture continues to thrive to this day, one of the few places in the world where such a way of life has managed to persist. And, for the Yakel people of this South Seas island, these longstanding traditions apparently suit them just fine. But, in the late 1980s, those customs were called into question when it came to a fundamental aspect of life – marriage.

Having long practiced the tradition of arranged partnerships, tribal members learned to live with it, hoping that love would eventually emerge out of such arrangements, even if it wasn’t present at the outset. Such predetermined relationships generally had little to do with romance and everything to do with practicality. They were often set up to settle disputes between combative clans, a means of imposing peace by a bond of blood.

The forbidden relationship of Wawa (Marie Wawa, left) and Dain (Mungau Dain, right) threatens the peace among two rival tribes in the Oscar-nominated romance, “Tanna.” Photo courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment.

So it is in the film, when a young woman, Wawa (Marie Wawa), is offered up by her tribe to Kapan (Kapan Cook), a member of a rival faction, as a means to promote peace between the two groups. The tribes’ chiefs (Mungau Yokay, Mikum Tainakou) agree to the arrangement and are apparently happy with the plan. But no one ever bothers to ask Wawa, who is deeply in love with Dain (Mungau Dain), a member of her own tribe. And that’s a problem.

As plans proceed to hand over Wawa to her new husband, she’s plainly unenthused, showing little interest in the idea, an attitude that concerns her parents (Lingai Kowia, Linette Yowayin) and grandmother (Dadwa Mungau), particularly when she reveals the reason for her indifference. They tell her that they sympathize but insist that she carry through with her responsibility, given the stakes involved. But that pressure has little effect, especially when she quietly disappears for a tryst with Dain, a gesture that she’s convinced will so offend Kapan that he’ll summarily reject her when he hears of her allegedly disgraceful act. But, in the interest of preserving the agreement, Wawa’s family and her tribe’s leaders seek to keep that incident secret. And, to add an extra level of insurance, they banish Dain from the tribe. What they don’t count on, however, is Wawa disappearing, too, to follow her man – and her heart.

Those who dare question the status quo often open themselves up to serious scrutiny and dire consequences. However, sometimes those risks must be endured to follow what we know is right. Coming up with the means to make such situations work out is the aim of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, in a context as highly personal and intimate as this one, the desire to succeed is often strong. But it also requires commitment, determination and a will to make it happen.

Following her heart carries serious implications for Wawa (Marie Wawa) when she’s unwittingly caught up in a conflict between two tribes in the Oscar-nominated romance, “Tanna.” Photo courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment.

In circumstances like this, we must frequently draw upon everything we’ve got in terms of our envisioning skills. By forming beliefs about what we want to achieve and the means for making it happen, we stand a good chance of making our dreams come true. This usually requires us to consider options that we’ve never entertained before or that even go beyond any tried and true methods we’re aware of. If Wawa ever hopes to be with Dain, this is something she’ll certainly need to do.

However, if we’re willing to push past those barriers, there’s no telling what we might be able to accomplish, both for ourselves and others who are similarly situated. By setting such a confident and defiant example, we can change conditions that have sweeping implications, perhaps even altering the nature of the culture itself. This is a prime example of the conscious creation notion that we’re all in a constant state of becoming, ever evolving to something new in a continual process of self-discovery.

What’s more, whenever we help to bring about such beneficial new developments, we engage in the practice of value fulfillment, the conscious creation principle associated with being our best, truest selves for the betterment of ourselves and those around us. For something as fundamental as having the freedom to choose our own significant other in a culture that has typically prohibited such a practice, that’s a radical change indeed. Those who benefit from the implementation of something as heartfelt and personal as this owe much to those who helped usher it into place.

Violating local custom carries serious consequences for a lover who follows his heart (Mungau Dain) in the Oscar-nominated romance, “Tanna,” available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment.

“Tanna” clearly demonstrates what it means to be in love and the lengths we’ll go to for it. This innovative production was filmed on location on a shoestring budget with a skeleton crew and only the most basic cinematic technology. What’s more, the filmmakers drew entirely upon members of the Yakel tribe for the cast, none of whom had ever even seen a movie, let alone acted in one. Nevertheless, the result is an excellent offering reminiscent of time-honored classics like Romeo and Juliet set in a lush tropical paradise, with an array of surprisingly good performances and gorgeous cinematography. To be sure, there are times when the film plays a little like a National Geographic documentary, but, thankfully, those sequences are minimal and don’t detract from the picture’s overall quality. For its efforts, the Australian production earned a very deserving Oscar nomination for best foreign language film, whose dialogue is presented entirely in the native Nauvhal language.

Sometimes it takes a radical act to bring about change, even when it comes to something as basic as who we choose to share our lives with. Traditions can be challenged and without necessarily incurring undue consequences. But, should we attempt to stifle the heart, we may pay a heavy price, both for ourselves and the community at large. And, in that regard, the lessons of “Tanna” should serve as a potent cautionary tale to us all.

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

‘Logan Noir’ puts purpose into focus

“Logan Noir” (2017) Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse. Director: James Mangold. Screenplay: Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green. Story: James Mangold. Source Material: John Romita Sr., Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. Trailer.

What a difference cinematography can make. Thanks to a single production change, a good movie has been elevated to a great one, a film that carries far more meaning and impact than what was conveyed in its original incarnation. Such is the case with a new, limited edition, black-and-white version of the latest offering in the Wolverine films in the wildly popular X-men franchise, “Logan Noir,” now playing in theaters.

Released in theaters earlier this year in a full-color format and now available for home viewing on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand, “Logan” (web site) is the latest – and last – film in this X-men spinoff series featuring its original protagonist (Hugh Jackman) and his wise though sometimes-challenged mentor (Patrick Stewart). Even though it’s part of an ongoing series, the movie stands alone well enough so that viewers need not have seen previous installments to follow the story in this offering. And now that it’s been released in this special black-and-white version, “Logan Noir” has taken its inspiring, moving narrative to a whole new level.

Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) (Hugh Jackman), one of the original mutant X-men, faces the greatest challenge of his life as a superhero in a special, limited edition, black-and-white version of the latest film in this popular franchise, “Logan Noir,” now playing in theaters. Photo by James Mangold, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Set in 2029, the film follows the life of an aging Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) (Jackman), one of the original mutant X-men, whose steely claws have handily done in more than a few villains. With the mutant population diminished and his glory days behind him, he’s largely retreated from his superhero ways, now spending his days as a limousine operator for a ride service. His health is obviously failing, a condition made worse by his binge drinking and other unhealthy habits. But, despite these circumstances, he still manages to care for his elderly mentor, Prof. Charles Xavier (Stewart), who’s also suffering from his share of health and psychological maladies. Logan hopes to raise enough money from his work to buy a yacht on which he and Charles can quietly sail away into the sunset. But those hopes dim when conditions change that call him back to his old life, something he thought he had left behind for good.

When approached for help by a desperate woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and a child she claims is her young daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), both of whom appear to be on the run from unseen but menacing forces, Logan tries to shrug off their request. But, when circumstances quickly go south, he finds he can’t turn his back on them, especially when Charles advises him that he has been envisioning the young girl’s appearance. He insists that, as part of a new generation of specially gifted mutants, Laura must be saved from the evildoers pursuing her, making it possible for her talents to grow and flourish. And, when those nefarious forces confront the unlikely trio of Logan, Charles and Laura, they’re forced to flee, hitting the road for a mysterious sanctuary known as Eden.

While traveling north from Texas toward the Canadian border, a number of revelations emerge about Laura’s background and her previously unknown connection to Logan. At the same time, a number of troubling developments occur related to the health of her two protectors. And, all along the way, Logan, Charles and Laura face new challenges from those who would rather not see them succeed.

As the story plays out, viewers witness a number of incredible transformations. Logan, for example, initially allows his cynical, embittered, self-absorbed side to govern his actions, qualities that gradually vanish as he lets his noble self resurface. Laura, meanwhile, evolves from a belligerent, uncontrollable wild child to a more disciplined, compassionate soul who learns when it’s appropriate – and when it’s not – to let loose with her special gifts. A new sense of maturity and purpose slowly emerges from both of them, traits that serve them well as they resolve to live out their destinies, recognizing that their higher callings are far more important than fulfilling any personal aspirations.

In embracing these new undertakings, Logan, Charles and Laura begin making effective use of their conscious creations skills, the means by which they manifest the reality they experience through the power of their thoughts, beliefs and intents. This is particularly true when it comes the practice of their value fulfillment, the principle associated with using our beliefs to create an existence that enables us to be our best, truest selves for the benefit of ourselves and those around us. There’s a tremendous degree of nobility and purpose behind this concept, an embodiment of the destiny that we’re each meant to fulfill in life.

While the foregoing themes are certainly present in the picture’s originally released full-color version, the noir filmmaking style greatly accentuates them. The stark contrast afforded by the film’s black-and-white treatment gives the story a significantly heightened sense of drama, an urgency and importance that the full-color edition simply doesn’t capture as effectively. In essence, it takes an entertaining bubble gum action-adventure and effectively elevates it to the level of a serious screen drama. But, then, that’s what the noir approach helps to make possible, especially when it’s applied to a narrative well suited to it, as is the case here.

With his characteristic claws exposed, Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) (Hugh Jackman), one of the original mutant X-men, prepares to do battle with forces whose unspeakable plans threaten the future of the planet in a special, limited edition, black-and-white version of the latest film in this popular franchise, “Logan Noir,” now playing in theaters. Photo by Ben Rothstein, © 2017 Marvel and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

In my opinion, this is the version of “Logan” that should have originally been released. In addition to the aforementioned attributes, the noir approach makes the landscape shots positively gorgeous (a la Ansel Adams) and adds depth and dimension to the performances of Jackman, Stewart and Keen that weren’t previously apparent, taking them beyond being stars in a superhero movie and making them actors in a film worthy of note. It also magnifies the epic quality of this particular story within the context of the Wolverine mythology, given that this is the last installment in the series. That’s quite an accomplishment achieved with such a simple change in production. Admittedly, like the originally released version, the film still drags a bit in the middle, and some of the violence borders on being a tad gratuitous for sensitive viewers, but, these shortcomings aside, “Logan Noir” is truly a film worth seeing, not only for action-adventure fans, but also for cinema lovers of all stripes.

Living out one’s destiny is dramatic enough in itself. But, when the story behind that accomplishment is given the kind of treatment that elevates it to the level of legend, its impact is allowed to come through in all its magnificence. So it is with this special edition of the concluding segment in this cinema series. And, personally, I can’t think of a more fitting and more emotive way of finishing it off.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Logan Noir" and "Florence Foster Jenkins" and a magazine article preview are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Connecting Through the Movies

Ever feel like you were completely on your own, isolated and disconnected from everyone and everything? Yet, often within a short time after the onset of those feelings, we find ourselves comfortably connected to others. Movies help to remind us of this in those times of doubt. Find out more about our inherent sense of connection in "The Ties That Bind Us," my latest article in New Consciousness Review's Conscious Cinema series, available by clicking here and in the summer edition of the HAPI Guide, available by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "I, Daniel Blake" and "Mia Madre" and a new movie book preview are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

‘Daniel Blake’ issues a call for compassion

“I, Daniel Blake” (2016 production, 2017 release). Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Brianna Shann, Dylan McKiernan, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Stephen Clegg, Kema Sikazwe, Steven Richens, Micky McGregor. Director: Ken Loach. Screenplay: Paul Laverty. Web site. Trailer.

When the chips are down, it’s comforting to know that there are those who have your back. That’s especially true for the residents of countries that have social services systems in place to provide needed support in times of crisis, like unemployment and health emergencies. It’s truly reassuring that those structures will be there when they’re needed. But will they? Do the agencies responsible for administering these services live up to their obligations? And what happens if someone in need fails to properly comply with bureaucratic dictates by not dotting an “i” or crossing a “t”? Those are the maddening frustrations explored in the moving new British drama, “I, Daniel Blake.”

When 59-year-old Newcastle construction worker Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) suffers a heart attack on the job, he’s laid up while he recovers. He subsequently undergoes cardiac rehab and manages to bounce back relatively well, seemingly fit to return to work. But, when his medical evaluators fail to clear him for employment, he’s unable to go back to his job. At the same time, though, because of his improved health, he’s deemed ineligible to receive government-sponsored compensation to support him through the remainder of his recovery. Caught between these conflicting assessments, and with no spouse or family to back him up, Daniel is thus left without a source of income. He then attempts to sort matters out, but that proves to be a much more difficult task than expected when dealing with an oblivious, uncaring, inept, inflexible bureaucracy.

While appealing his case at a local job assistance center, Daniel befriends a distressed young single mother, Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires), and her two children, Daisy (Brianna Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan), who run into comparable issues in dealing with the system. He helps Katie get back on her feet, and she returns the favor when she’s able. More than anything, though, they provide one another with much-needed support when facing down a common foe – one that shouldn’t even be a foe in the first place.

As Daniel, Katie and the children attempt to navigate their way through a system that’s anything but user friendly, they come to see the reality of an establishment that’s fundamentally more intent upon discouraging constituents from seeking assistance than actually providing them with the benefits to which they’re entitled as taxpayers. This is perhaps best illustrated by the formal reprimand given to a concerned case worker (Kate Rutter) after she attempts to assist Daniel in deciphering the confounding requirements with which he’s expected to comply. It’s also apparent through the bureaucracy’s cold, unfeeling reliance on Internet-based procedures and protocols, tasks that applicants are expected to become proficient at – skills that are unlikely to be on the radar of someone like a 59-year-old laborer whose working life has never brought him into contact with a computer.

Frustrated by the bureaucracy of the social services system, construction worker Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, right) and single mother Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires, left) seek to support one another through their hardships in the new British drama, “I, Daniel Blake.” Photo by Joss Barratt, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

Despite the lack of compassion in officialdom, however, there are those in society who indeed feel for those who are down on their luck, as Daniel and Katie discover when they avail themselves of the generosity offered by charitable organizations. Those groups know what people need and rise to the occasion accordingly. They set an example their government peers should follow.

As their respective odysseys play out, Daniel and Katie continue to seek solutions to their problems, both through official channels and otherwise. But will they succeed in their efforts? That depends on what they do – and who’s willing to listen.

It’s both frustrating and heartbreaking to witness what the protagonists experience, especially knowing that their stories are based on the real-life stories of others similarly situated. It all seems so patently unfair, perhaps even prompting some viewers to want to jump into the screen to help out. But, alas, the characters are left to sort out their issues for themselves.

However, when watching what Daniel and Katie go through, some viewers – including those who feel for their circumstances – might wonder how these characters got themselves into the situations they now face. That’s not necessarily meant to be cynical or cold-hearted, either; it could be simply chalked up to mere curiosity.

In cases like this, that’s where an understanding of the conscious creation process – the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents – could help. But why on earth, one might ask, would they purposely create hardships like those they’re going through?

Single mother Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires, second from left) confronts an uncaring social services manager (Stephen Clegg, left) when she unsuccessfully seeks assistance for herself and her two children, Dylan (Dylan McKiernan, second from right) and Daisy (Brianna Shann, right), in director Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake.” Photo by Joss Barratt, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

As in any conscious creation scenario, what we ultimately materialize depends on the thoughts, beliefs and intents we maintain, the reasons behind which may only be known and understood by those putting them forth (and, in some cases, not even then, at least consciously). In many instances, our experiences may be tied to learning particular life lessons, for better or worse, good cases for which could clearly be made for both of these characters. In other cases, we may choose to experience certain difficulties to help draw attention to them, a means of garnering support for solutions to them so that we can eliminate them, both for ourselves and our progeny.

At first glance, some might look upon such explanations as wholly implausible: Why would anyone want to purposely undergo such hardships, especially to make a point? That’s certainly a credible argument, too. However, sometimes drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, and those who step up to the plate to make others aware of these situations are to be commended for their courage. Were it not for them and their experiences, we might not otherwise be motivated to take action to overcome these difficulties. Admittedly, this may not be the easiest or most ideal way to draw attention and resolve such matters, but sometimes we need to be hit over the head to take notice of what’s going on – and what can be done to devise and implement workable solutions so that no one has to go through them again.

These scenarios could also be employed for other purposes as well, such as engendering heightened levels of compassion. As the bureaucrats routinely demonstrate, this is a quality very much in need of cultivation, especially when those who exhibit it are unfairly called on the carpet for doing so.

Circumstances such as these also encourage us to push the levels of our creativity, both in getting through the day-to-day challenges of these hardships and in coming up with solutions that, one would hope, prevent individuals from being thrust into conditions like this in the first place. Of course, that calls for a willingness to open up our ability to envision alternatives to conventional thinking and established measures, something that the more enlightened among us might be encouraged to do but that would clearly prove difficult for those whose noses are stuck in an inflexible rulebook.

Even if none of foregoing accurately reflects the characters’ real reasons for manifesting what they have, these ideas may nevertheless provide us all with significant insight into these issues. Any efforts we make to address them might help ease the pain of those suffering through these challenges, even if they don’t exactly match the specific reasons behind the realization of their hardships. And, for those going through their share of difficulty, every measure of assistance can help, no matter how great or small.

Construction worker Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, second from right) and single mother Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires, second from left), along with her two children, Dylan (Dylan McKiernan, right) and Daisy (Brianna Shann, left), battle an unfeeling social services system in “I, Daniel Blake.” Photo by Joss Barratt, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

Populist filmmaker Ken Loach serves up one of his best offerings in “I, Daniel Blake.” Despite a slight tendency to meander at times, the film nevertheless poignantly shows the myriad hardships that individuals like Daniel and Katie must endure when faced with the kinds of circumstances they’re saddled with. The fine performances of Johns and Squires, as well as Paul Laverty’s excellent script, bring these conditions down to a truly human level, showing us what our less fortunate peers need and, one would hope, inspiring us to call for fixes to a system sorely in need of repair.

Although the film is just now making its way to North America, it’s been widely screened in Europe and has been richly rewarded in overseas awards competitions. The picture was named best British film in the BAFTA Awards, the UK’s equivalent of the Oscars, a competition in which it also received nominations for best film, director, screenplay and supporting actress (Squires). In addition, the picture captured three awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d’Or, the Festival’s highest honor.

“I, Daniel Blake” isn’t always the easiest film to watch, but it effectively tugs at the heart strings and even rouses a certain degree of justifiable ire. It also demonstrates what it means to be truly compassionate in the face of adversity, be it through the efforts of collective or individual efforts. Those in government who willfully bury their heads in their regulations can learn a lot from this film – provided they take the time to lift their heads out of their paperwork in the first place. Let’s hope they do.

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

‘Wonder Woman’ successfully charts the process of self-discovery

“Wonder Woman” (2017). Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Houston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Heart, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Lilly Aspell, Emily Carey. Director: Patty Jenkins. Screenplay: Allan Heinberg. Story: Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs. Source Material: William Moulton Marston. Web site. Trailer.

The process of self-discovery can be challenging enough in and of itself. But imagine what it might be like to go through that in the midst of trying circumstances in a world you barely understand. If you can picture that, you have an idea of what life is like for a superhero coming into her own, the story that provides the backdrop for the new summer blockbuster, “Wonder Woman.”

In a secluded land created by Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, an impressionable young Diana (Lilly Aspell) pictures herself becoming one of the Amazonian warriors who populate this beautiful, remote, protected enclave. In this land devoid of men, these heroic women (all of whom were brought to life by Zeus, who sculpted them from the sacred clay of the earth) learn the ways of doing battle for just and noble causes. They train for years under the tutelage of master warrior Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana’s greatest inspiration. But, despite her enthusiasm, Diana is discouraged by her peers (especially her mother, Queen Antiope (Robin Wright)) not to be too anxious to learn the ways of the warrior. She’s cautioned that this way of life involves skills to be used only when necessary, such as in the event of a challenge from Zeus’s son, Aries, the god of war, who at one time wrought devastation against mankind and threatened to do the same to the Amazons (a prospect that prompted Zeus to create their sheltered homeland, as well as a powerful weapon designed to vanquish the wayward deity if necessary).

Still, despite these cautions, Diana is eager to get on with her training, first as an adolescent (Emily Carey) and later as a young adult (Gal Gadot). Her skills gradually blossom, revealing her to be a force to be reckoned with. And, as fate would have it, she one day comes upon circumstances that provide her with an opportunity to put her training to use.

While gazing out upon the sea bordering her homeland, she sees a strange flying machine crash into the water. She dives in to save the sole occupant, a being of a nature she’s never encountered before – a man. That mysterious being turns out to be Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American undercover operative working for British military intelligence during World War I, the “Great War,” which is wreaking havoc throughout Europe. Steve accidentally stumbles upon the Amazon homeland while fleeing Germans seeking to capture him to retrieve information he stole from them about their secret weapons technology.

Upon witnessing the treachery of these evil outsiders for herself, Diana is convinced that they’re doing the bidding of Aries. And so, after Steve explains his situation and announces his intention to return to England to report his findings to his superiors, Diana decides to join him, determined to do her part to aid in the war effort. She’s determined to hunt down Aries and stop him from engaging in any further malevolence. Admittedly, Steve places little stock in her contentions about the god of war and whatever influence the mythical deity may be having on the conflict, but, when he sees what she can do in the middle of combat, he’s grateful to have her along for the ride. Before long, this unlikely duo, accompanied by a ragtag band of associates (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock), are off to the front line in Belgium to do battle with German commander Ludendorff (Danny Houston) and his secret weapons developer, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya).

As strange as this experience is for Steve, it’s even stranger for Diana, who suddenly finds herself in a truly foreign land, more bizarre than anything she’s ever experienced or might have even imagined. She struggles to learn the ways and customs of this strange new world, often with mixed results, but her keen observations shed a bright light on the absurdity and insanity that characterize it. Despite the awkwardness of this adjustment, though, Diana nevertheless comes to discover herself and her destiny, never losing sight of her training and how she can employ it to a situation where it’s clearly called for. Through this process, she learns her purpose and how to make use of it in what is arguably one of the noblest causes anyone might ever undertake, one with mythic implications.

Self-discovery is something we each go through at some point in our lives, but what we get out of this process depends greatly on how deeply we look into ourselves. Some are content to stop at more or less superficial levels, while others dive down, plumbing the depths of our being. When we pursue the latter course, we often examine not only ourselves but also the surroundings in which we exist, trying to understand how we got where we are and why. And scrutinizing our reality in this way thus often leads us to the conclusion that we had a significant hand in how it came into being. This is the starting point for grasping the workings of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

This is at the heart of Diana’s story. She wants to know who she is and why she exists. Given the mission of the Amazons, she realizes that, like her peers, she’s meant to fulfill a purpose of some kind. But what is it?

This is a question Diana wrestles with as she goes through her training. On some level, she believes that she’s meant to put it to use in some way. But, given the secluded life she’s led, it’s difficult for her to imagine to what end. After all, why learn to be a warrior in a land with no immediately perceived perils? Having heard the story of Zeus and Aries, Diana is aware that a threat could arise someday, but, in the meantime, why would she place herself in a reality with the kinds of conditions that prevail there?

One could argue that the protected seclusion of Diana’s homeland is a reflection of her inner self, one designed to suit her particular needs. As someone who’s focused on her training, she needs an environment with as few distractions as possible, one in which she can concentrate on her lessons, the very kind of reality she has successfully created. By doing so, she thus gives herself an opportunity to thoroughly learn her skills for a time when she will need them, as becomes apparent with Steve’s arrival.

The appearance of the mysterious visitor coincides with Diana’s readiness to at last put her training to use. Steve’s arrival is a synchronistic catalyst designed to launch Diana into the implementation of her life’s purpose. And, for her part, she’s astute enough to recognize it as such. She’s now ready to leave the safety of the nest and discover her destiny.

Once in the wider world, Diana grows into her life’s mission as a full-fledged, bona fide superhero. She begins to practice what conscious creators refer to as her value fulfillment, the act of being her best, truest self for the benefit of herself and those around her. She was meant to vanquish the evil that seeks to overrun the world, and her years of training to tackle that challenge are about to pay off. And, when she comes to fully recognize this for herself, she goes to work to make it happen.

Diana’s odyssey is certainly an inspiring one, a tale that stirs us and encourages us to embrace our own personal truth and what it means to discover that for ourselves. It engenders the kind of courage needed to move forward with our lives, no matter what challenges may cross our paths. And it shows us how we can do so with gusto, heroism, good humor and profound philosophical thoughtfulness.

“Wonder Woman” is a terrific thrill ride, serving up an array of terrific action adventure sequences and excellent special effects. But director Patty Jenkins’s offering doesn’t rely on these attributes to carry the picture. Rather, they’re integrated well into a narrative that incorporates other elements not typical of this genre or of a period piece film. All of this is carried off successfully thanks to the excellent performances of Pine and, especially, Gadot, both of whom are clearly in their element here.

Admittedly, the picture drags a bit in a few spots, though by no means oppressively. What’s more, the script is somewhat awkwardly burdened by having to tie this film’s story into that of the movie where Diana’s character was first introduced, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), a shameless (and completely unnecessary) marketing ploy that neither helped that cinematic predecessor nor adds anything meaningful to this offering. But, these minor shortcomings aside, “Wonder Woman” otherwise delivers the goods successfully, providing viewers with a fun, exciting and thoughtful time at the movies.

Finding ourselves can be a rewarding experience, and, when the stakes are high, a successful outcome can be eminently satisfying. “Wonder Woman” inspires us to attain that goal, showing us who we are and how we can put our character to use for the benefit of ourselves and others. Fewer goals are as noble as this, and Diana embodies this in a way that sets a shining example for all of us to follow.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Wonder Woman," "Tanna" and "Gleason" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on The Good Radio Network web site, available by clicking here.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

‘Miss Sloane’ seeks to balance power and intent

“Miss Sloane” (2016). Cast: Jessica Chastain, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Christine Baranski, Mark Strong, Jake Lacy, Chuck Shamata. Director: John Madden. Screenplay: Jonathan Perera. Web site. Trailer.

What does it take to push for a just cause? As much as we might like to think to the contrary, it often takes more than just good intentions; it frequently requires a concerted effort, one that may even include measures some of us would see as questionable, troubling or manipulative. Indeed, when it comes to achieving hoped-for outcomes in certain high-stakes issues, sometimes we may have to send a bulldog into the fight on our behalf. But where do we draw the line? How far are we willing to go when it comes to employing our personal power? Those are some of the issues raised and addressed in the gripping political drama, “Miss Sloane,” available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the best at what she does. As a high-powered Washington lobbyist, she’s as good as it gets when it comes to securing the results sought by her clients, some of whom clearly place their own interests above those of the public. She walks a fine line between what’s legal and what’s not, but she’s determined to get her way, all the while scrupulously insisting that everything she does is in accordance with the law.

Miss Sloane’s phenomenal success stems from her fanatical devotion to her work. She keeps a schedule that rarely includes sleep (she pops a barrage of pills to keep her going) and is almost entirely devoid of a personal life (except for occasional trysts with the best sex partner money can buy (Jake Lacy)). This may not be a lifestyle others would envy, but, if that’s what it takes to get the job done, she’s willing to do it.

High-powered Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) comes under scrutiny for her practices in the gripping political drama, “Miss Sloane.” Photo by Kerry Hayes © Europa Corp. – France 2 Cinema, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Meanwhile, because of her notable track record, Elizabeth’s boss, George Dupont (Sam Waterston), is favorably impressed with her work and increasingly steers big-name clients her way. She relishes the challenges and readily accepts them – that is, until George asks her to represent a constituency she finds personally objectionable: the gun lobby. It’s a proposal at which she draws a clearly defined line.

Elizabeth’s uncharacteristically flippant response to the proposal dumbfounds everyone, especially George, who has been trying to acquire the gun lobby account for some time. He’s outraged at her reaction, throwing her future with the firm into question. But, given Elizabeth’s reputation, it’s not long before another offer comes her way from a competing lobbying firm, one headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), whose organization is more than willing to oppose the controversial initiatives put forth by the firearms community.

Miss Sloane agrees to Rodolfo’s offer, but she’s adamant that she have free rein to carry out her plan as she sees fit, a proposal to which he agrees, albeit somewhat hesitantly. She also convinces most of her staff to follow her to the new organization, the lone hold-out being her protégé, Jane Molloy (Alison Pill). Elizabeth is disappointed by Jane’s decision, but she wastes no time getting on with her plans, which include a number of her prototypical unconventional measures.

Successful Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain, right) confers with her boss, Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong, left), about strategy in the gripping political drama, “Miss Sloane.” Photo by Kerry Hayes © Europa Corp. – France 2 Cinema, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

As the lobbying campaign unfolds, however, Elizabeth finds herself in deeper water than she’s accustomed to. She’s well aware that, if she succeeds in making her case, it will be the biggest triumph of her career. But, if she fails, it could mark the end of her days as a lobbyist. And so, to combat the most powerful forces she’s ever faced, she continually ups the ante, taking steps that stun her colleagues, such as trusted aide Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), as well as her boss and even herself.

How far will she go? Can she cope with the mounting criticisms of her tactics? What’s more, can she survive the growing onslaught of accusations being thrown at her, such as those raised by influential Congressman Ron Sperling (John Lithgow)? And is she even clear about why she’s doing what she’s doing – for the pursuit of a just cause or her own personal self-aggrandizement? In short, what does it all mean for her – and a public that’s to be seriously impacted by her efforts?

Those are questions that get answered as the film plays out, which is full of twists, turns and misdirections, many of which no one sees coming, even the spin mistress herself. It’s a thoroughly captivating story that grows progressively engaging the further you get into it, presenting the kind of edge-of-your-seat narrative that will keep you locked in place right up until the final credits roll.

At the heart of this story is the management of one’s personal power. This is an especially crucial concern when we make use of it through the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. As insubstantial as such intangible notions may seem, they’re not to be taken lightly; they possess phenomenal amounts of power capable of yielding equally impressive results once unleashed. They’re tools that we must treat with care and respect, tempering their use and management with a judicious eye and an ever-vigilant awareness of the responsibility associated with that.

Moreover, the greater the faith we place in these convictions, the stronger they’re likely to become, producing results commensurate with such enhanced potency. And, based on the outcomes Miss Sloane realizes, she’s quite obviously a master of faith in her beliefs, firmly entrenched in them and what they’re designed (and, in her case, destined) to achieve. This capacity can prove to be a real asset when it comes to envisioning and manifesting unconventional conceptions, the sort that have become Miss Sloane’s trademark.

Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain, right) schools her protégé, Jane Molloy (Alison Pill, left), in the ways of the system in director John Madden’s latest offering, “Miss Sloane,” available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo by Kerry Hayes © Europa Corp. – France 2 Cinema, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

But, given the lengths to which she’s willing to go, is Elizabeth taking things too far? Is she so singularly focused that she loses sight of the potential fallout that comes from her beliefs and actions? Does she slip into the practice of un-conscious creation, whereby a belief in results at all costs trumps all other considerations? What’s more, in light of her all-encompassing determination, isn’t it possible that she runs the risk of running roughshod over her divine conscious creation collaborator (“pushing the Universe” as it’s sometimes called), leaving herself open to all manner of backlash?

Like all of us, these are considerations Elizabeth seriously needs to address. This requires us to take stock of our beliefs, assessing them honestly in terms of what they’re meant to achieve. But that also demands that we get clear with ourselves. For instance, are our motivations governed by service to others or service to self? Are we employing means that are wholly ethical, or are we skirting the rim of illegality or immorality, to attain the goal we seek? Can we legitimately justify our intents, or are we backing into rationalizations of questionable authenticity? And, perhaps most importantly, are our proposed efforts benign, or will others be negatively impacted? If we verge into suspect territory in any of these regards, we may need to step back and reconsider what we’re doing. No cause, no matter how noble, can be justified by thoughts, beliefs and intents that lack integrity and carry the potential to unduly inflict harm.

“Miss Sloane” received comparatively little fanfare when it was released last December. It somehow got lost in the shuffle of all the awards season releases, somewhat unusual for a film with a major distributor behind it. Still, director John Madden’s latest received favorable critical acclaim, as well as a very well-deserved Golden Globe Award nomination for best lead actress in a drama, just one of many fine performances in the film.

High-powered Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain, right) places her faith in the support of her entrusted aide, Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, left), in “Miss Sloane.” Photo by Kerry Hayes © Europa Corp. – France 2 Cinema, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Some have criticized the story as implausible and unrealistic, that no lobbying effort would ever collectively incorporate so many extreme measures and incidents as are included here. However, that’s not to say that the events and initiatives depicted in this story haven’t occurred individually in connection with separate issues at one time or another. In that regard, then, the film gives us a frank look into what goes on behind the scenes in connection with high-profile lobbying efforts, what it takes to secure results and what that means for all of us who typically watch from the sidelines. Realizing that, it also shows us what we need to know about how these matters work – and what we might consider doing to help fix the system.

Seeking to sway others of the merits of a cause requires convincing arguments, commitment and an unwavering passion. But how much is too much? “Miss Sloane” helps to shed light on that for us. Let’s just hope we’re all paying attention.

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