Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Check out The Cinema Scribe

Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, Wednesday, July 18, at 12:45 pm ET, available by clicking here. And, if you don't hear it live, catch it later on demand!

Monday, July 16, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Leave No Trace," "Three Identical Strangers" and "5th Passenger" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

‘Leave No Trace’ asks us to understand the nature of our creations

“Leave No Trace” (2018). Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Dale Dickey, Jeff Kober, Dana Millican, Derek Drescher, Isaiah Stone, David M. Pittman, Mike Prosser, Spencer S. Henley, Art Hickman, Susan Chernak McElroy. Director: Debra Granik. Screenplay: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini. Book: Peter Rock, My Abandonment. Web site. Trailer.

Given the state of the world today, many of us have probably contemplated the notion of getting away from the stress of daily life, living off the grid to achieve a simpler existence. Eschewing a routine fraught with economic, social and even interpersonal tensions in favor of a more idyllic existence no doubt holds much appeal to those who feel overwhelmed by the spiraling demands of living in an increasingly frustrating world. Those who have a particularly difficult time coping with such conditions may find the prospect especially attractive. But is this really the answer? Or are other arrangements more suitable? And are we going back exercises like this with a clear mind and for the right reasons? Those are the issues faced by a father and daughter seeking to find answers for themselves in director Debra Granik’s emotionally powerful new drama, “Leave No Trace.”

Will, a middle-aged single father and former Marine (Ben Foster), and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), live an unconventional life in the forests near Portland, Oregon. Their secluded base camp provides them the necessities of life, as well as a few modest comforts and the materials necessary for Tom’s education. They grow or hunt for much of their food, but they periodically venture into civilization to obtain what Mother Nature doesn’t provide for them. It’s a life that demands much,, but they seem fairly content, unburdened by many of society’s frustrations.

[caption id="attachment_10034" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Living off the grid in the woods offers single father and former Marine Will (Ben Foster, right) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, left), a chance to escape the frustrations of society in the powerful new drama, “Leave No Trace.” Photo by Scott Green, courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.[/caption]

Perhaps the biggest challenge Will and Tom face is keeping themselves from being discovered. They periodically conduct drills where they practice hiding from authorities who might try to forcibly remove them from squatting on public lands. Otherwise, though, they appear to have their bases covered and their stress level relatively under control. And that’s important for Will, given that he suffers from PTSD.

Try though they might to remain inconspicuous, however, Will and Tom are eventually found out. They’re removed from the woods and placed under the auspices of social services. Father and daughter are assigned to two social workers, Jean (Dana Millican) and James (Mike Prosser), to assist them in their return to society. They arrange housing for Will and Tom in a small but comfy home located in a rural setting, placing them in conditions not identical but similar to what they previously had. They also secure work for Will as a farmhand at a Christmas tree nursery, an offer extended by the company’s kindly owner, Mr. Walters (Jeff Kober). Tom, meanwhile, gets an opportunity to meet other local teens, enabling her to form social connections with peers, probably for the first time in her life. She takes a particular liking to Isaiah (Isaiah Stone), an aspiring farmer with an affinity for raising rabbits.

[caption id="attachment_10035" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Aspiring farmer Isaiah (Isaiah Stone, right) instructs his new friend, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, left), in the ways of raising rabbits at a 4H meeting in director Debra Granik’s latest offering, “Leave No Trace.” Photo by Scott Green, courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.[/caption]

However, despite the comparatively inoffensive nature of these new arrangements, Will quickly grows restless. He feels trapped, that he’s being forced into “adapting” to a world of which he wants no part. Tom tries to convince him that their new circumstances aren’t so bad, that they can learn to adjust to them, and that they always have the freedom to think their own thoughts, no matter how conventional their housing or work arrangements might be. But, as assuaging as Tom tries to make her arguments, she’s unable to sway her dad’s feelings, and, early one morning, he wakes her so that they can hit the road to escape – and to launch into a journey with an uncertain future.

With no definitive sense of direction, the duo quickly becomes lost, both literally and figuratively. Over the course of their odyssey, they encounter a number of challenges, some of which they’re not prepared to handle, despite their years of experience living off the grid. Several Samaritans cross their path to offer help and insight, including a friendly truck driver (Art Hickman), the manager of a small woodland trailer park (Dale Dickey), a former military medic (David M. Pittman) and a thoughtful beekeeper (Susan Chernak McElroy). But, even with such assistance, their fate is unclear, partly because of the unexpected perils they face, as well as a growing distance that’s opening up between father and daughter. With the emergence of differing agendas, the closeness that has long characterized their relationship is being put to the test.

Can the bond between Will and Tom survive this latest ordeal? That obviously remains to be seen. Much depends on their respective abilities to see their situation for what it really is. The time has come for them to examine why they’re living as they are, whether it will suffice for the future and what, if any, changes need to be made to suit their individual needs. The biggest question, though, is “Are they up to it?”

[caption id="attachment_10036" align="aligncenter" width="300"]When trouble strikes, Dale (Dale Dickey, left), manager of a small woodland trailer park, offers assistance to Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, right), a teen on the road with her father, in the new emotionally charged drama, “Leave No Trace.” Photo by Scott Green, courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.[/caption]

Whether Will and Tom can handle this ultimately depends on how they make use of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. But an assessment of their skills in this area may not be as clear cut as one might think.

For instance, considering how long (and apparently how well) Will and Tom managed to live off the land, one might be convinced that they are quite adept at using their beliefs to successfully create an alternate lifestyle. They were obviously able to envision such a result, handily having made a clear choice for themselves, overcoming any fears that might have stood in their way and pushing past limitations that could have blocked their path.

But is the creation of a successfully manifested material outcome all there is to this? While it’s true that Will and Tom are quite capable of working out the mechanics of achieving the result they want, can the same be said for them arriving at an understanding of why they did it? What were the beliefs that drove their reasons for why they did what they did?

Superficially speaking, one could say that their reason for creating a sustainable life in the woods was to enjoy the benefits of living off the grid, of getting away from the troubling trappings of modern society, an effort not unlike what Henry David Thoreau did when he moved to Walden Pond. However, as becomes apparent over the course of the film, Will, it seems, has also made this move to escape the pain of his past, including the loss of his wife and the trauma associated with his military service.

[caption id="attachment_10037" align="aligncenter" width="300"]To escape everyday life, single father and former Marine Will (Ben Foster, right) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, left), hit the road in “Leave No Trace.” Photo by Scott Green, courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.[/caption]

In light of the foregoing, one can’t help but ask, was Will invoking beliefs aimed at genuinely seeking solitude from his pain, or was he simply running away from his life? Based on how events unfold, one could make a good case for either contention. However, the further one gets into the story, it’s easy to see that Will’s anxious to hide at almost any cost, even going so far as to move forward without a plan for how to proceed, a circumstance that could lead to calamity. This is un-conscious creation at work, where attaining a desired outcome outstrips any associated considerations, most notably consequences, a potentially perilous prospect.

The ramifications behind this could be staggering, especially for Will. Even though he may be able to physically escape to the woods, can he really evade his personal demons? Unless he makes an attempt at implementing beliefs aimed at addressing this issue, it will continue to dog him, no matter how far he gets away from society.

What’s more, Will assumes that, because Tom is his daughter, she will automatically follow him, as her provider,  wherever he goes, even if his actions (and the beliefs behind them) don’t make sense or fail to meet their respective needs. But is that indeed true? With Tom reaching the age where she’s able to assert her independence, who’s to say that she will just go along with what Will does simply because he’s her father?

These considerations thus illustrate the importance of clearly understanding the nature of our beliefs, for what we experience in our reality will flow forth from them. We must also be honest with ourselves about them, because, if we’re not, we run the risk of falling prey to wishful thinking, leading to results that are distorted or could lead to disappointment and disillusionment. There are lessons in this for both father and daughter, but they’re especially critical for Will, not only in terms of his quality of life, but also for his relationship with Tom and, above all, his peace of mind. To put it metaphorically, the forest will always be there, even if we can’t see it for the trees; yet, if we hope to benefit from everything the woods have to offer, we had better make sure our vision is sharp, especially when it comes to the beliefs we employ for bringing it into being.

“Leave No Trace” offers viewers a powerful tale about living off the grid, dealing with adaptation to society’s expectations and reconciling our feelings about our past. The film’s superb performances and beautiful cinematography lend much to an engaging story that undoubtedly captures the kinds of smoldering sentiments many of us feel but don’t necessarily have the courage or wherewithal to act upon. Admittedly, he narrative meanders a bit much at times, but, considering the nature of the story, that’s probably not entirely unexpected. A little tightening in the editing, as well as a better fleshed-out back story, would have helped considerably, changes aimed at making a good film a truly great one (though, as it stands now, it’s certainly one of 2018’s better offerings).

Living our lives with personal integrity is undoubtedly a noble pursuit, even if it just means creating a satisfying personal existence that suits our individual perspective and not necessarily fulfilling lofty accomplishments that benefit greater mankind. But, in pursuing such a path, we must be conscious of what we do, to live with awakened, informed intent and presence of mind. To do otherwise can lead to an exercise in self-delusion, one that could possibly leave us interminably lost in the woods of our being with no way out.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Sorry to Bother You’ wrestles with destiny, integrity

“Sorry to Bother You” (2018). Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Armie Hammer, Kate Berlant, Michael X. Sommers, Steven Yeun, Robert Longstreet, Forest Whitaker, Indigo Jackson, Elaine Clark, Patton Oswalt (voice), David Cross (voice), Lily James (voice), Rosario Dawson (voice). Director: Boots Riley. Screenplay: Boots Riley. Web site. Trailer.

What does it mean to be in charge of your own destiny? Do you have a handle on what you want and what you’ve created for yourself? Or have you been swept up with the current, unwittingly fulfilling others’ agendas, bringing you material success but prompting you to compromise your values and integrity? And, if so, how do you proceed? Those are some of the thorny questions probed in the hilarious, biting, new satire, “Sorry to Bother You.”

[caption id="attachment_10028" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Successful telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield, right) runs into a rough patch with his fiancé, Detroit (Tessa Thompson, left), when their career goals conflict in the biting new satire, “Sorry to Bother You.” Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.[/caption]

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) desperately needs a job. The long-unemployed African-American Oakland resident lives with his aspiring performance artist fiancé, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), in the garage of a home owned by his Uncle Sergio (Terry Crews). He drives a clunker car and is months behind in his rent payments, threatening his uncle’s ability to hold onto the house. He really needs to get back to work.

For what it’s worth, Cassius lands an entry-level position at a somewhat sleazy telemarketing company run by a team of oily managers and supervisors (Robert Longstreet, Michael X. Sommers, Kate Berlant). And, at least initially, the job proves to be a rather thankless slog where his calls constantly meet with abrupt ends and success is highly elusive. However, thanks to the advice of his seasoned co-worker, Langston (Danny Glover), Cassius manages to reverse his misfortunes by effectively employing his “White voice,” an attribute to which customers respond favorably. He’s such a whiz at employing it, in fact, that he gets promoted to the position of “power caller,” a high-paying job reserved for a few gifted telemarketers who’ve demonstrated their ability to sell just about anything to anyone.

[caption id="attachment_10029" align="aligncenter" width="300"]High-powered telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield, right) runs afoul of his friends and former co-workers, Salvatore (Jermaine Fowler, left) and Squeeze (Steven Yeun, center), when he sells them out in the outrageous new comedy, “Sorry to Bother You.” Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.[/caption]

However, unlike the books he had been selling in his original position, Cassius now finds himself being tasked with peddling more questionable commodities, including, among other things, the services of indentured workers whose labor is tantamount to modern-day slavery. Such prospects give him momentary pause, but that hesitation quickly evaporates when he sees the kind of money he can make by going along with the program. Within no time, Cassius sees himself earning fortunes far greater than he ever could have imagined. He’s able to trade his uncle’s garage for a luxury apartment and to obtain a snazzy new set of wheels. He’s living large, to be sure, but it comes at a cost, most notably in his relationships with Detroit and with his friends and former co-workers, Salvatore (Jermaine Fowler) and Squeeze (Steven Yeun).

If that weren’t enough, though, the stakes soon get raised even higher when Cassius is offered a lucrative but dubious new job from Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), owner of a conglomerate that’s his employer’s largest client. However, when Cassius learns what would be expected of him, he’s appalled at the prospect, one that would require some truly unnatural efforts on his part. He must now decide what his soul is worth to him – and whether or not that’s something he’s willing to sell.

These are questions many of us face from time to time, be it in our work lives or in other significant contexts. They often push us to come to terms with who we are and what we’re willing to do, essentially meeting our personal integrity head on. And “Sorry to Bother You” never hesitates to squarely confront these issues from a variety of angles. In doing so, the film offers biting social commentary on a variety of fronts, including the conditions of the lives of the working class, the disparity between haves and have-nots, and the shocking lengths that the greedy will pursue in the name of wealth acquisition. What we think about these issues can have staggering implications.

[caption id="attachment_10030" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Conglomerate head Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) seeks to amass even more wealth than the fortune he’s already attained in director Boots Riley’s feature film debut, “Sorry to Bother You.” Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.[/caption]

What one thinks, of course, is a central theme in the film, especially where Cassius is concerned. Given the circumstances that unfold in his life, his beliefs about who he is, what he wants and what he’s willing to do are constantly put on the spot. How he responds through those beliefs is crucial, too, for that will determine what materializes in his everyday existence, thanks to the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Cassius’s responses vary from knee-jerk reactions to deliberate decisions. When his back is against the wall and survival is on the line, he needs to deal from a position of expediency, and his beliefs (and their resulting creations) assume forms that fulfill those requirements. But, once he attains a modicum of sustainability and comfort, his beliefs present him with choices – options unlike anything he’s had access to previously. And those choices place him in a position where he gets an opportunity to assess and act upon his values and integrity, qualities that are directly in line with the nature of his true self.

How will he respond? That depends on the circumstances and how he believes he can fit into them. Is he willing to turn a blind eye for a fat paycheck? Or is his concern for the society of which he’s a part a more important overriding consideration? In conscious creation terms, there are no right or wrong answers in this regard, only choices. But, in light of the consequences that can arise from our belief decisions, we’d be wise to evaluate our options carefully, for the fallout can have staggering implications – and they can materialize with surprising ease and speed, sometimes appearing before we ever realize what’s happened.

[caption id="attachment_10031" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Seasoned telemarketer Langston (Danny Glover) offers a co-worker advice on how to succeed in his career by making use of his “White voice” in the biting new satire “Sorry to Bother You.” Photo by Peter Prato, courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.[/caption]

These questions are largely addressed through career track considerations. That’s certainly significant, given that our very livelihood depends on what we do about them. But, as the film shows, there’s a carry-over effect that impacts other parts of our existence. Since our working life is based on the relationships we build with others – some of which are close, such as those we have with colleagues, and others that are more removed but nevertheless significant, such as those we forge with customers – there’s a personal aspect that comes into play as well, one that can have significant ramifications. If we take a cavalier attitude with our belief decisions, even with vocational concerns, there may be implications that leave lasting impressions, some of which can be hurtful in our interpersonal dealings. Are material gains worth the cost of potentially harming those we claim to care about? This is where paying attention to our integrity – and forming beliefs in line with it – become utterly critical.

However, in addressing all of these matters, the film is far from all seriousness and oppressive gloom and doom. Rather, it skewers these topics with biting satire that serves up big, outrageous laughs that also make viewers think. Without a doubt, director Boots Riley’s feature film debut is one of the weirdest, wildest movies I have ever seen – so strange, in fact, that I’m amazed (but thankful) that this project got the green light to go forward. This dark, poignant comedy weaves elements of satire, sci fi and social commentary along with a plot that keeps viewers guessing from start to finish, with unforeseen twists thrown in at seemingly every turn. Not all of the jokes land successfully, and even some that do work at times seem out of context, but the bulk of the humor is uproarious, over the top and tinged with thought-provoking observations. The picture also provides a superb showcase for Stanfield, who is clearly stepping up as an acting force to be reckoned with. To be sure, “Sorry to Bother You” won’t appeal to everyone, but those who have an off-the-wall sense of humor and enjoy unconventional offerings like “Get Out” (2017), “Brazil” (1985) and “Liquid Sky” (1982) will certainly appreciate this one.

Most of us will likely agree that aiming for the stars is a laudable goal. But how far are we willing to go to reach them? That’s something many of us are having to ask ourselves these days, and that’s certainly something none of us should look at as being a bother.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 9, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Sorry to Bother You" and "Boundaries," as well as a radio show preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Get Your Intuition On!

A Voice told Bill Bennett to slow down. "Slow Down?" he thought. "I want to speed up to catch the green light." Bill was on his way to the airport. The Voice told him again "SLOW DOWN!" So he did. Those precious seconds bought Bill his life. A transport truck barreled through the intersection, and Bill was within a hair's breath away from sure death. It made him wonder. "Who or what was that Voice? Where did it come from?" Join Frankie Picasso and yours truly on a special edition of The Good Media Network's Frankiesense & More as we interview Bill about his life-altering journey, as detailed in his new documentary, "PGS: Intuition is Your Personal Guidance System." Tune in by clicking here for a fascinating discussion.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

‘Boundaries’ explores the need for establishing healthy limits

“Boundaries” (2018). Cast: Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Christopher Lloyd, Kirsten Schaal, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Fonda, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolly Wells, Chelah Horsdal, Ryan Robbins, Jill Teed, Sean Tyson, Halldor Bjarnason, Emily Holmes. Director: Shana Feste. Screenplay: Shana Feste. Web site. Trailer.

When is enough enough? For some of us, the answer is obvious, and it marks the point where we put our foot down. But, for others, the line may not at all be clear; in fact, it could be essentially invisible, which can lead to all kinds of problems. Learning how to identify these demarcation points and subsequently implementing the requisite barriers can thus become a crucial life skill as a middle-aged mom struggling with the issue discovers for herself in the new road trip comedy-drama, “Boundaries.”

Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) desperately needs to set some boundaries in her life. The single mother from Seattle seems compelled to take on all of the world’s hard luck cases. For starters, she’s a serial rescuer of stray dogs and cats, adopting so many animals that her house has become a virtual kennel. Then there’s Laura’s teenage son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall), a bright, talented illustrator whose outspoken attitude (and even more brazenly provocative drawings) frequently land him in trouble with everyone from his mother’s would-be romantic interest (Ryan Robbins) to the school principal (Jill Teed). Even Laura’s job offers no relief; in her role as an executive assistant to a wealthy, needy, demanding socialite (Dolly Wells), she’s often put upon to perform miracles to fulfill her boss’s whims.

[caption id="attachment_10011" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Serial pet rescuer Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) needs to establish healthy limits for herself in the new road trip comedy-drama, “Boundaries.” Photo by Lindsay Elliott, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

However, as onerous as these circumstances are, Laura’s biggest challenge comes from her 85-year-old father, Jack (Christopher Plummer). Daughter and dad have a long history of issues that stretch all the way back to Laura’s childhood. As a shady, unreliable, often-absent parent, Jack spent more time working on an assortment of dubious business and gambling schemes than he did as an engaged father raising Laura and her sister, JoJo (Kirsten Schaal), frequently leaving the girls on their own. These circumstances thus forced Laura into becoming “the responsible one” at an early age, a quality that quite obviously carried over into her adult life. Unfortunately, given the lack of attention that she so desperately craved from her old man, these conditions also created a mindset that she could never do enough – for anyone – in her quest to receive the approval and acknowledgment she sought.

It’s no wonder that all of this has landed Laura in therapy. And even there she doesn’t let up, incessantly continuing her people pleasing ways with her counselor (Chelah Horsdal). Laura’s therapist tries to convince her that she’s basically doing well; all she really needs to do is set some healthy limits for herself, a message that Laura hears but that she doesn’t let sink in, because she fundamentally believes that she could (or should) be doing more, no matter what the circumstances. That’s a belief in which she’s about to get some truly powerful life lessons.

Even though Laura has been intentionally trying to implement some boundaries between herself and her long-absent dad, it’s become difficult, ironically enough, given his now-persistent cell phone calls. She tries ignoring the endless incoming messages, but conditions at home finally force her hand into making contact with Jack: When Henry gets expelled from his school for drawing yet another of his lascivious illustrations, it’s apparent he needs to attend an institution for those who have special needs and gifts, an expensive proposition to be sure. Which is where Jack comes in. Despite the questionable nature of his business dealings over the years, Laura is under the impression that the old man is at least fairly well off financially and that he’s someone she can call on to help her out. Unfortunately, that proves to be a false assumption, particularly when Laura learns that Jack is being kicked out of his nursing home and has nowhere else to go.

[caption id="attachment_10012" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Jack Jaconi (Christopher Plummer, left) and his daughter, Laura (Vera Farmiga, right), embark on a road trip to heal old wounds and sell a little pot in the new road trip comedy-drama, “Boundaries.” Photo by Lindsay Elliott, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

Jack asks to move in with Laura and Henry, but she won’t have it, believing that he would be a bad influence on her son. To counter that proposal, she makes arrangements to have Jack move in with JoJo in her Los Angeles apartment. Jack agrees but on one condition – that Laura drive him from Seattle to LA, an idea she resists – that is, until she learns that Jack will give her the money for Henry’s school if she complies.

Laura finds Jack’s proposal tempting but wonders what’s behind the road trip. In part, he contends that, because of his failing health, he wants to spend some time with her and Henry while he has the chance. But it’s also at this point when the reason for Jack’s expulsion from his nursing home and the source of proposed funding for his grandson’s schooling become apparent: In yet another questionable business deal, Jack has become a purveyor of high-end pot, with clients lined up all along the West Coast – conveniently enough from Seattle to Los Angeles. If he can make delivery of his wares via a road trip, he’ll collect the money and give it to Laura for Henry’s tuition.

Knowing that Laura won’t go for the idea, Jack tells her no details about his plan; he simply says he needs to make some stops along the way from Washington to California. He does tell Henry, however, recruiting him as a sort of apprentice, an idea the young man finds way cool. The teen thus becomes a de facto accomplice, as well as a guardian of grandpa’s back at times when the plan is in danger of being revealed.

[caption id="attachment_10013" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Octogenarian Jack Jaconi (Christopher Plummer, left) introduces his teenage grandson, Henry (Lewis MacDougall, right), to the world of dealing designer pot in the new road trip comedy-drama, “Boundaries.” Photo by Lindsay Elliott, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

And so it’s under these circumstances that the unlikely trio and an assortment of rescue pets set off on their journey. It’s one in which they’ll have a variety of adventures and many conversations about a past that desperately requires closure. They’ll also encounter an array of colorful characters, including some of Jack’s old friends (Christopher Lloyd, Halldor Bjarnason, Peter Fonda) and Laura’s ex-husband, Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), the man who walked out on her and Henry three years earlier.

Will the travelers find the answers they’re looking for? Will the wounds of the past heal? And will the boundaries in question be set to where they should be? That’s what the journey is all about. And, to paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip it is.

As I’ve written on a number of previous occasions, road trip movies provide the perfect metaphor for the journeys of our lives, and the trek in “Boundaries” is no exception. To find the lessons and answers we seek, sometimes we need to get away from familiar circumstances to clear away the clutter and the camouflage that might obscure our view in more familiar, more comfortable environs. The journey provides a progression of new events, experiences and perspectives that shake us up (and, one would hope, out of our complacency) in finding fresh ideas, beliefs and manifestations. In essence, it encapsulates our experience as ever-evolving individuals, leaving behind who we were and enabling us to become who we believe we can be.

In many ways, this is what lies at the heart of the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Such odysseys demonstrate how we’re all in a constant state of becoming, ever transforming from one milieu of existence into another through the conceptions of what we seek to manifest. And, as the scenario in this story shows, there’s a wide variety of probable experiences to be had, depending on what we conceive of and ultimately allow.

[caption id="attachment_10014" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Jack Jaconi (Christopher Plummer, right) and his old friend, Stanley (Christopher Lloyd, left), renew old ties while on a West Coast road trip in the new comedy-drama, “Boundaries.” Photo by Lindsay Elliott, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

There’s quite an irony in this case, though, given that the story deals with the question of boundaries, something that generally flies in the face of what conscious creation is all about. In most instances, conscious creation encourages us to break through the limitations that hold us back, to seek new adventures and experiences that are typically beyond what we associate with everyday life. However, in this story, the protagonist is in need to doing just the opposite – setting barriers that allow her to become a more effective conscious creation practitioner.

Why is this so? Laura obviously has no trouble giving of herself and seeing the need to step in and offer help when it’s required by those who are less fortunate or who require guidance. In those circumstances, though, it’s possible to adopt manifesting beliefs that allow us to spread ourselves too thin. This, in turn, can dilute our materialization efforts, and, in the process, we may unwittingly put our own needs on the back burner while in service to others. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be of assistance, but, when we employ beliefs that cause us to carry the idea to an extreme, we can readily shortchange ourselves. This not only keeps us from attending to our own requirements, but it can also ultimately hamper what we do for others by causing us to operate from a position of personal weakness instead of personal strength. That can leave us depleted, ineffective and of little use, both to ourselves and our beneficiaries.

This is where the benefits of boundaries come into play. One might assume that their establishment would be something seemingly easy to accomplish, yet many of us have trouble with this. Many of us keep giving and giving (often “until it hurts,” as many charities and religious institutions have encouraged over the years), never learning when to draw the line. For some of us, then, learning how to establish necessary, delineated limits may ultimately prove to be just as challenging as learning how to break down barriers. And, because of that, we may need to intentionally manifest circumstances where we give ourselves the opportunities to attain those very lessons, difficult or challenging though that may be.

In creating such scenarios, we may end up attracting to ourselves conditions that seem patently unfair. In Laura’s case, for example, she’s saddled herself with being the daughter of an unreliable father, the single mother of an unruly teen, the ex-wife of a self-absorbed former husband and the employee of a demanding boss. And, if that weren’t enough, she perpetually seeks to take on even more with all of the rescue pets she so unreservedly shelters.

Given these circumstances, anyone with a healthy sense of boundaries would likely and rightfully ask, when will enough be enough? How much more is she going to take on? Can’t she see what she’s doing to herself (and possibly those around her)?

While conscious creation has an inherent sense of responsibility associated with what we manifest, that naturally includes our responsibility to ourselves. Yet many of us have somehow lost sight of that, willingly if unwittingly allowing ourselves to forego our own needs in favor of what we do for others. This is not to suggest that we should become selfish or uncaring when it comes to those around us, but it’s also not an open invitation to treat ourselves as doormats in the fulfillment of our own needs.

Again, this is where boundaries come into play. But, if we’re to put them in place and are unsure how to do so, we must create for ourselves the circumstances where we come to see the need for their establishment. For those of us who are unpracticed at this or who fundamentally resist the idea of their implementation, we must often manifest situations that are so over the top that we can no longer tolerate what we’re experiencing. And this is how some of those seemingly unfair conditions may show up in our lives – they’re all part of our learning process, showing us what we are and are not willing to put up with.

For example, would Laura grasp this idea if she didn’t have such an irresponsible father, self-serving ex-husband or capricious boss in her life? It’s under circumstances like this when the barriers eventually start to go up to create the kinds of healthy boundaries we were meant to have. In fact, if these teachers had all been more conciliatory toward Laura, she may have missed out on the lesson of learning how to establish boundaries in her life, potentially drawing out her learning curve or preventing her from acquiring this skill at all.

Situations like this show us that there are reasons behind why things unfold as they do, even they don’t seemingly make sense at a surface level. The key is recognizing the underlying beliefs and what they were intended to achieve. This is where the “conscious” in conscious creation makes its presence felt. The more we recognition the nature and purpose of our beliefs, the more readily we’ll see how and why our existence materializes as it does – boundaries and all.

This pleasant, frequently amusing road trip/family comedy-drama deals in the realities of establishing healthy limits in a way that few movies are willing to take on as forthrightly as this one does. It does a fine job of examining knowing when to set limits, when to break rules and when to let go of expectations that are never going to be fulfilled. The picture’s excellent ensemble cast of both human and animal actors lends considerable credibility to the narrative, making for an enjoyable viewing experience. Admittedly, there is some occasional over-the-top wackiness that seems out of place, but “Boundaries” overall offers up a story that effectively weaves warmth, fun and heartfelt emotion into a pleasing, satisfying package.

In his legendary work “Mending Wall,” poet Robert Frost wrote “Good fences make good neighbours,” a sentiment apropos to this film. While Frost may not have been speaking about the kinds of boundaries addressed in this picture per se, he might as well have been, because his advice is just as sound, as many of us often find (and that Laura is beginning to discover for herself). May we always be able to locate the necessary metaphysical bricks and mortar when we need  them – especially when the neighbours start to become a little too intrusive.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 2, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "PGS: Intuition is Your Personal Guidance System" and "Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul," as well as a radio show preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

[caption id="attachment_9987" align="aligncenter" width="243"] Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).[/caption]

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

‘PGS’ explores the power – and value – of intuition

“PGS: Intuition is Your Personal Guidance System” (2017). Cast: Bill Bennett, Caroline Myss, James Van Praagh, Dr. Dean Radin, Dr. Norman Shealy, Dr. Judith Orloff, Lee Carroll, Dr. Rita Louise, Dr. Jeffrey Fannin, Michael Tamura, Paul Selig, Dr. Francesca McCartney, H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Foster Gamble, Kimberly Carter Gamble, Hansaji Jayadeva Yogendra, Zeyno Baran Bryza, Amanda Guggenheimer, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck. Director: Bill Bennett. Screenplay: Bill Bennett. Web site. Trailer.

Many of us have a vague idea of what constitutes what we call our “intuition,” that nebulous sense of “knowing” that ultimately proves to be uncannily on target, despite not fully understanding where the information it imparts comes from. To complicate matters, the contents of intuitive messages seldom seem based in logic, making the information’s validity seemingly suspect. But, despite its mysterious origins and the apparent red flags often raised with it, does this mean we should automatically dismiss the intuition as something unreliable and untrustworthy? Its track record would seem to suggest otherwise. So what are we to do? Perhaps taking a closer look at our intuition would give us a better understanding of what it is and how it functions, the objective of the excellent new documentary, “PGS: Intuition is Your Personal Guidance System.”

While on a trip to the US, veteran Australian journalist and filmmaker Bill Bennett was driving to the airport, somewhat pressed for time. As he approached an intersection, he heard a voice that told him to slow down, a suggestion that he contends he typically would have ignored under such circumstances. But, for whatever reason, this time he decided to heed the recommendation. And it’s a good thing he did: As he arrived at the intersection, an enormous speeding semi truck ran a red light at the cross street. Had Bennett continued as he had been going, he surely would have been seriously injured, if not killed, in a horrific crash.

Paying attention to “that little voice in his head,” that “gut feeling,” saved his life. He was so profoundly impacted by the incident that he began obsessing about what happened. He became consumed about trying to determine where that seemingly illogical but life-saving information came from and why it came to him when it did. He soon realized that this compulsion would not leave him alone until he did something about it. And it was from that experience that he began a three-year exploration into examining and understanding the nature of intuition, a journey that led to the creation of this film.

[caption id="attachment_10004" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Filmmaker Bill Bennett on location in the making of his new documentary release, “PGS: Intuition is Your Personal Guidance System.”[/caption]

As a longtime journalist used to ferreting out the truth by gathering cold, hard facts, Bennett knew that, in the course of his investigation, he would likely come up against material that didn’t readily fit his typical approach. He therefore realized that, if he were to succeed at this task, he would have to consciously set aside that preconception and keep an open mind about what he might encounter. And, based on some of the interviews he would conduct for the film, it’s apparent that some of the information he uncovered was likely far different from what he was accustomed to encountering through the kinds of stories he more typically researched. To his credit, though, Bennett stuck to his guns and put his journalistic assumptions aside as he proceeded, leaving himself open to whatever came his way.

In making the film, Bennett traveled the globe, visiting places as far flung as his native Australia, the US, India, Turkey and places in between. He interviewed a variety of experts from a range of fields, including those from “traditional” backgrounds, like science and medicine, to those more versed in the unconventional, like psychics, channelers and spiritual healers, as well as those from a variety of religious orientations. Through these conversations, the experts provide different pieces of the intuition puzzle, but, amazingly, their observations all fit together, creating a mosaic of insights, giving viewers a comprehensive picture of what constitutes this phenomenon.

Most of the film’s segments open with a question, such as “How Do I Tap Into It?” and “What Stops It?” From there, Bennett explores each question and presents comments from experts for elaboration, explanation and examples. This provides viewers with an easy-to-understand format that, collectively, paints a concise yet inclusive picture of what the intuition is, how it works and why it’s important. This is especially true when it comes to understanding how we can make use of it to better our lives. Effectively drawing on the power of this personal guidance system can be employed in countless ways, from seizing upon valuable opportunities to recognizing fortuitous synchronicities to, as Bennett found out for himself, saving your life.

Intuition is particularly valuable for the role it plays in the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the existence we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Its importance lies in its contribution to the formation of our beliefs, which, in turn, provide the basis for our reality’s manifestation. Along with intellect, with which most of us are already well (if not obsessively) acquainted, intuition provides input into shaping the intents we employ to materialize the world around us in all its myriad aspects.

Unfortunately, we often tend to downplay the validity and significance of intuition in this process. That’s primarily because it’s seen as illogical and irrational, making it appear – falsely – that it’s fundamentally less reliable. It seems to lack the “certainty” we associate with the intellect, which is generally given a free pass when it comes to belief formation. But such an approach is shortsighted, mainly because it’s incomplete. Without the input of the intuition, we may miss essential nuances that are critical to making our beliefs work. Intuition frequently fills in important gaps in our thinking, providing details that might be otherwise overlooked but must be addressed as part of the belief development and reality creation processes. The result could easily be disappointment, frequently accompanied by a sense of not knowing what went wrong.

Taking steps to hone our intuition, then, would be a wise course in becoming more proficient conscious creators. Many of the experts in the film recommend starting out with small steps; after all, if we’re not practiced at making use of our intuition, it’s unrealistic to expect that we can go from a standing start to cruising speed in a single leap, especially in our initial attempts. In this regard, making use of our intuition is comparable to exercising a muscle; if that muscle hasn’t been used in a while (or ever), it’s unlikely that it will be able to perform feats of magnificent strength straight out of the box without an opportunity to be sufficiently built up. With regular practice, however, a sense of comfort and confidence will grow that will enable us to use our intuition more effectively, consequently making it possible to employ it in forming better-targeted beliefs and more satisfying manifestations. (Not a bad deal for a little effort on our part.)

One expert recommends the oft-cited example of using our intuition to find a parking space in a crowded city neighborhood. Many people who don’t claim to make ready use of their intuition nevertheless invariably insist that they instinctively know how to locate these elusive spaces, despite the odds of their availability seemingly being heavily stacked against their discovery. Even though these individuals don’t attribute their success to effective use of their intuition, that’s precisely what they’re doing when they engage in such exercises. Applying this protocol to other applications, preferably of comparable magnitude, can help intuition initiates become more practiced in their skills and aid them seeing how it can be used for a wider range of uses than simply finding parking spaces.

If this is all so seemingly easy, however, why don’t we do it more readily? As noted previously, in large part, it’s due to our intuition being viewed as unreliable and untrustworthy. But what specifically drives those feelings? In most instances, it comes down to a question of fear. A number of the film’s experts cite this as something that holds us back from trying new things, particularly those that are unknown and untried and fall within the realms of uncharted territory. In many regards, that aptly defines how many of us tend to view our intuition. It’s not perceived as being as clear cut and seemingly verifiable as the way the intellect operates, so that in itself makes it something worthy of skepticism and caution.

However, while the experts understand that this is a natural reaction, they also advise that it’s an ill-considered viewpoint. They contend that intuition is infallible, that it never steers us wrong, that it always leads us to where we’re supposed to be. In fact, they caution, the only times we get ourselves into trouble come when we purposely ignore it, a practice we engage in at our peril. Thankfully, this is something that becomes more apparent the more we learn to trust – and follow – what our intuition tells us. And, once we have that down, there’s no telling what we can do with it.

In compiling this film, Bennett has assembled an impressive lineup of experts, including author and medical intuitive Caroline Myss, holistic medical practitioner Dr. Norman Shealy, after-death medium James Van Praagh, psychiatrist and author Dr. Judith Orloff, and Institute of Noetic Sciences chief scientist Dr. Dean Radin. (Biographies of these and many other experts can be found on the Interviews page on the film’s web site.) In addition, Bennett does an excellent job of framing his film’s subject matter, placing it in a clear, readily accessible format, one that leaves few stones unturned in explaining what the intuition is all about. It provides both an informative and personal take on the material, bringing it down to a level that audiences can more readily relate to. Overall, it’s the kind of film that aspiring directors of metaphysical documentaries could learn a lot from.

“PGS” is currently playing at special screenings in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. For dates and details, check out the film’s web site. To find out how to set up a screening in the US, click here. A companion book to the film is also currently in development.

There’s no doubt that the intuition exists and that it can be a valuable life tool. And now, thanks to this film, there’s a great resource for understanding how it works. The information it contains may prove invaluable whenever we approach life’s intersections, be they figurative or literal.

Note: Join host Frankie Picasso and yours truly for an upcoming special edition of Frankiesense & More in which we’ll interview Bill Bennett about his new release. We’ll speak with the director about the making of this wonderful new documentary, as well as what makes the intuition so special. Watch for details about its availability on the web site of The Good Media Network.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

‘Await Further Instructions’ cautions us about what we create

“Await Further Instructions” (2018). Cast: Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik, Grant Masters, Abigail Cruttenden, Holly Weston, Kris Saddler, David Bradley. Director: Johnny Kevorkian. Screenplay: Gavin Williams. Web site. Facebook Page.

We all like to think we’re masters of our own destiny. But are we? It’s really quite astonishing how readily many of us will capitulate when faced with the pressures placed on us by those in positions of authority. So how do we cope? That’s the central question raised in the thrilling new smart horror flick, “Await Further Instructions.”

Christmas is supposed to be a festive time of year, full of good times and good cheer, especially in the company of loved ones. As many of us know, however, that’s not always the case, especially when we spend time with family members. So it is with the Milgrams, who are getting together as a group for the first time in years – not that everyone wants that, though.

The family member dreading the occasion the most is Nick (Sam Gittins), a twenty-something young man who’s seeing his relatives for the first time after a prolonged estrangement. He’s bringing his Indian girlfriend, Annji (Neerja Naik), with him in hopes that her presence will make the experience more bearable. However, given the less-than-veiled prejudicial attitudes of Nick’s other family members, such as his insincerely effusive mum, Beth (Abigail Cruttenden), his dimwitted pregnant sister, Kate (Holly Weston), and his perpetually surly granddad (David Bailey), perhaps asking Annji to join him wasn’t the best idea. Then there’s Nick’s dad, Tony (Grant Masters), a self-important, hardline Christian fundamentalist with a Napoleonic complex, an overcompensating trait designed to conceal his nagging insecurity at never having made more of himself (a fact that granddad continually goads him about). Rounding out the festivities is Kate’s husband, Scott (Kris Saddler), an often-clueless sort who seems to have ample trouble thinking for himself. And so, set against this backdrop, the fun and games begin. But, before long, the Milgram family finds itself in the midst of a holiday get-together they never would have imagined.

[caption id="attachment_9996" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The Milgram family (from left, David Bradley, Neerja Naik, Kris Saddler, Grant Masters, Holly Weston, Abigail Cruttenden) assembles for Christmas dinner amidst trying circumstances in the chilling new smart horror film, “Await Further Instructions.” Photo courtesy of Goldfinch Studios and Shudder Films.[/caption]

As festivities ramp up, the family members witness a series of troubling TV news reports about power outages, suspected terrorist attacks and other strange phenomena. But that’s nothing compared to what they wake up to on Christmas morning. The Milgrams find their home completely encased in a durable black, strand-like substance. They have no view of the outside world through windows or doors. And though they still have electricity, they don’t have phone, cable TV or internet service. Their only connection to what’s beyond their walls is a cryptic message on their TV screen, presumably sent on a special government emergency frequency, that reads “Stay indoors. Await further instructions.” So now what?

In no time, those further instructions begin coming through, each one more ominous than what preceded it. Without giving too much away, those messages ask the family members to perform progressively more demanding tasks, some of which prompt them into taking drastic actions and questioning the home’s fellow inhabitants. Paranoia quickly sets in, and danger comes as much from the inside as it apparently does from the outside. Such circumstances raise the question, “Can they survive the holidays?” That’s something many of us do already, but this time the stakes are much higher.

As the story plays out, the Milgrams are forced into dealing with some heady questions: Is it indeed acceptable to question authority, be it from government, organized religion, the medical community and even the media? When is it permissible to cast aside the dictates of such sources and think for oneself? What does it mean to question one’s peers, including those we think we know and love? How do we keep prejudices from getting the better of us and dividing us? And what do we do if we work up the nerve to pursue our own beliefs? Even though these notions are presented in a horror film context, it’s easy to see how these considerations are just as applicable to the conditions of everyday life that we all face today – and potentially just as troubling.

[caption id="attachment_9997" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Nick Milgram (Scott Gittins, right) and his girlfriend, Annji (Neerja Naik, left), hold on for dear life in director Johnny Kevorkian’s excellent new smart horror film, “Await Further Instructions.” Photo courtesy of Goldfinch Studios and Shudder Films.[/caption]

The film also raises numerous questions about technology and the media. How much faith should we place in them? When do we cross a line where we allow them to control us rather than the other way around? And can we always trust what these devices and outlets are telling us? While these ideas are presented largely symbolically, they’re nevertheless easy to spot and definitely represent concerns that we must all contend with – perhaps more than we feel comfortable with, too.

Of course, the big question here is why is this all happening? How did the Milgrams find themselves in these circumstances? For better or worse, they’re the product of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, as much as the characters here would likely want to proclaim themselves victims, that’s something that deserves a closer look.

In our technologically advanced world, we no doubt want to proudly claim credit for the many tremendous accomplishments we’ve achieved in this area. Who would have thought, even as recently as 15 years ago, for example, that we would have been able to create what we have. But, in manifesting those mechanical marvels, we must be prepared to accept the fact that we’ve created everything that goes along with them, benefits and downsides alike. The same is true of our institutions, be they in government, religion, medicine and the media. The beliefs and intents that we collectively employed to produce these items and conventions brought us all of the applications associated with them, including those that may unfortunately trap us through the works that spring forth from our own hands – and minds.

So, when we witness these things starting to go haywire by becoming more intrusive, more demanding and more worrisome, we’re just as much behind those potentially negative developments as we are behind all of the positive functions they afford us, even if most of us dislike them or are unaware of these occurrences as such. On some level, we’ve allowed their existence, and, when they come into full materialization, we may face consequences that are dire and unanticipated, despite being backed by metaphysical building blocks that brought them into being. Indeed, if we try to protest these developments and claim no responsibility for them, we nevertheless must avow our involvement in these matters, regardless of how unpleasant they are and how much we try to deny our participation.

This begs the question, then, how do we get ourselves out of such circumstances? Well, there are a number of ways to counteract these conditions. For starters, we could do like Nick and Annji and deliberately think for ourselves, making our thoughts known, even if they go against convention and what authoritarian sources have to say. We could try pushing the limits of our beliefs and intents by infusing them with qualities that purposely screen out the undesired traits. We could even try conceiving of alternate scenarios in which we devise manifestations that counter those that are causing trouble in the first place.

The bottom line here is that we’re not permanently saddled with these circumstances unless we choose to be. And that’s the challenge faced by the characters in this film and in the real world at large today. If we purposely allow ourselves to tune out to the point where these influences can have their way in shaping our existence, then we’re surely doomed. We must consciously choose for our reality to materialize otherwise. If we don’t, we may well face a future not unlike what the Milgrams experience. Is that something we really want? If not, we’d better heed the cautionary tale served up by this film – before it’s too late.

It may take a little effort to find “Await Further Instructions” at present. I screened its world premiere at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival at Chicago’s Music Box Theater, and, for the near future, it’s slated to play only at other such events. However, according to the filmmakers in a post-screening Q&A session, distribution agreements appear to be in the works, with a possible release date of this fall. When the film receives the green light, I strongly recommend that interested viewers go see it. It’s that good.

[caption id="attachment_9999" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Chicago’s Music Box Theater, home of the Cinepocalypse Film Festival, which recently featured the world premiere of the new smart horror film, “Await Further Instructions.” Photos by Brent Marchant.[/caption]

Director Johnny Kevorkian and screenwriter Gavin Williams have put together an excellent production, yet another fine offering in the smart horror genre. “Await Further Instructions” combines poignant social commentary, ample humor and plenty of suspense, all without going over the top and descending into an endless gore fest, a combination that made “Get Out” (2017) such a huge hit. There’s much to ponder, a lot to laugh at and chills aplenty in this riveting, richly layered British offering, with influences from such diverse sources as Japanese cinema, classic horror films, Alfred Hitchcock and even TV’s “Twilight Zone” (particularly classic episodes like “The Shelter” and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”). It packs quite a punch, one that will leave viewers with much to discuss when they walk out of the theater.

In an age where many of us may feel like we’re losing ourselves, it’s important that we have films like “Await Further Instructions” to remind us of our humanity – and the need to hold on to it at all costs. Should we ever lose sight of that – and there’s a frighteningly increased risk of that these days – we could find ourselves in perilous circumstances from which there would be no recovery. Consider ourselves warned.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 25, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Hearts Beat Loud" and "Await Further Instructions," as well as a book award preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

‘Thoreau’ explores the life examined

“Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul.” Director: Huey (a.k.a. James Coleman). Screenplay: Huey (a.k.a. James Coleman). Web site. Trailer.

Exploring the nature of our life is one of the noblest pursuits in which we can engage, and writer-philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was undeniably one of the best seekers ever to have undertaken this endeavor. As a result of his experiences, he wrote a variety of works covering a range of subjects. But, while the name is a familiar one, many of us are unable to describe his work or ideas with specificity. Thankfully, that shortfall has now been addressed in great detail in the excellent new documentary, “Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul,” available for viewing on DVD and at special public screenings.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts, site of the first battle of the American Revolution, Thoreau seemed to have drawn from the revolutionary spirit of his birthplace throughout his life. The alternative views that infused his writings, philosophies, life choices and vocational pursuits set him apart from most of his peers at the time. But that’s no surprise, given that he was possessed of a natural curiosity and a desire to examine himself and his existence with a conscious deliberation that few exercise during their lifetimes.

Considering the diversity of pursuits that characterized his life, it’s difficult to pin down Thoreau to any one particular outlook or accomplishment. He invented technology to make pencil manufacturing more efficient. He was an educator who took an unconventional approach to teaching. He was a naturalist whose observational studies would  prove valuable to latter-day scientists studying climate change. He wrote a variety of books and essays covering a wide range of topics. And, as this film’s subtitle implies, he was an expert land surveyor. But, as should be obvious from these and other endeavors, he surveyed more than just topography; he truly was a surveyor of the soul.

[caption id="attachment_9987" align="aligncenter" width="243"]Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).[/caption]

Thoreau’s best-known experiment in personal introspection came in 1845, when he moved into the woods not far from his home. On July 4 of that year, he embarked on an ironically timed odyssey of personal independence, building a one-room cabin for himself on the shores of Walden Pond. His intent was to spend time making a concerted effort examining what it meant to live life in the moment and exactly who he was as an individual. The result of this two-year venture was Walden: Life in the Woods, arguably Thoreau’s most famous book.

Through his time at Walden Pond, a variety of travels, and the ordinary and extraordinary events of everyday life, Thoreau amassed a wide range of experiences that went into his writings. Over a comparatively short career, he compiled a thoughtful, impressive, eclectic body of work covering a variety of subjects ranging from transcendental philosophy to nature studies to social commentary and even travelogues.

But, despite the diversity of this subject matter, Thoreau often found ways to connect his topics. Understanding this inherent sense of connectedness was important to him, and he frequently sought to address various aspects of it through his work, most notably our connection to ourselves, our connection to nature, and our connection to our society and culture. As a corollary to this, Thoreau also believed it was important that we appreciate and make proper use of the resources afforded by man, nature and technology. He believed there was an intrinsic integration among these elements and that it was in our best interests to understand the nature of these interconnected relationships.

One reason why Thoreau believed that understanding these connections is important is his contention that our thoughts and existence fundamentally mirror one another. It’s an idea, for example, reflected in his work as a surveyor, an outward vocational representation of the “work” he did internally as a surveyor of the soul. Similar parallels can be found in his other writings, particularly his travelogues, which often show connections between what he witnessed and what he was experiencing personally at the time.

As an individual who was part of a larger society, Thoreau also believed it was crucial that we understand our connection to and role in that greater whole. This fueled his social activism efforts, particularly those as an ardent abolitionist. He was so fervent in his beliefs on this subject that some even considered him a radical. However, given his prevailing philosophical and metaphysical outlooks, he could not stand back in good conscience and condone a practice that he saw as a fundamental affront against humanity.

Various aspects of Thoreau’s life also reflected another innate quality – his willingness to go beyond conventional limitations and think outside the box. This thinking can be seen in activities as diverse as his abolitionist activism – far from a widely embraced outlook at the time – to the development of his improved pencil manufacturing technology. It’s also a central theme in his writing, something that genuinely set him apart from many others at the time.

From the foregoing, it’s obvious that many aspects of Thoreau’s thinking are embodiments of conscious creation philosophy, the doctrine that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Connectedness, surpassing limitations and seeing our external world as a reflection of our internal reality, for instance, are all concepts that feed into both Thoreau’s outlooks and the driving principles of conscious creation. It’s unlikely he ever heard of this philosophy, but, from what he thought and wrote, it’s apparent that he understood, practiced and believed in the validity and viability of its basic tenets. Had he lived a century later, he might well have become a master practitioner at it. Conscious creators who have never read his works or studied his life could significantly augment their understanding of this practice from his example, potentially learning much from one of the uncelebrated forerunners of this philosophy.

[caption id="attachment_9988" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin site and memorial rock cairn. Photo courtesy of Films by Huey.[/caption]

“Surveyor of the Soul” does an excellent job of profiling its central figure, providing great detail about Thoreau’s life and work, intertwined with thoughtful examinations of his philosophy and outlooks. The film fittingly shows how his life events inspired the writings that came out of them, again drawing upon the sense of inherent connection that was such an important theme in his writing and thinking. Intercut with this narrative are additional insights drawn from interviews with authors, historians, professors, Thoreau scholars and staff from the Walden legacy sites. In addition, the film includes commentary from those who have been inspired by Thoreau, including students who participate in educational programs based on his works and philosophy. In all, director Huey (a.k.a. James Coleman) has compiled a fascinating, comprehensive piece that could easily be considered the quintessential Thoreau biography. For those who want to know more about the enigmatic author, this is definitely the film to see.

Socrates famously observed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” a contention with which many of us would probably agree. But this need not be the case; with a little effort and guidance, it’s possible to conduct such an introspective review, and the advice Thoreau offered in this regard is as good a starting point as any. “Surveyor of the Soul” makes this process even easier, offering viewers an inclusive overview, one that can help the curious successfully launch their forays into the life examined. And, given what might come out of such an undertaking, it’s a pretty safe bet that Thoreau would likely approve.

Copyright @ 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Hearts Beat Loud’ joyfully celebrates creativity, choice

“Hearts Beat Loud” (2018). Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Quincy Dunn-Baker. Director: Brett Haley. Screenplay: Brett Haley and Marc Basch. Web site. Trailer.

Following our passion is something most of us dream about. But how many of us are able to see it through? Unfortunately, life often seems to get in the way. And sometimes we get in our own way, too. Clearing away the clutter, making a plan and working up the gumption to move forward all factor into the process, but how adept are we at these tasks? These are some of the challenges that a pair of would-be professional musicians face in the heartfelt new comedy-drama, “Hearts Beat Loud.”

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is restless. A onetime musician who’s now approaching middle age, Frank spends his days running a vintage vinyl store in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, a business that’s slowly going under, something that he’s not entirely sorry to see. While Frank definitely possesses an encyclopedic knowledge about records of every stripe, he nevertheless itches to make music of his own again. Thankfully, he’s got an outlet for that with his teenage daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a bright, talented musician in her own right. Like a kid on Christmas morning, he gleefully looks forward to their jam sessions together.

But, despite the joy and fulfillment these sessions provide, as soon as they’re over, Frank quickly feels the weight of reality crashing down on him. For instance, as talented as Sam is musically, she has her heart set on attending UCLA, where she’s been accepted into the pre-med program. Frank can’t help but wonder whether she’s tossing her talents aside (not to mention the fact that he feels her decision to leave him behind is like someone stealing his favorite toy). And, if that weren’t bad enough, he also has to contend with the responsibilities of being a single parent, caring for an aging mother (Blythe Danner) with a penchant for shoplifting and winding up the affairs of a failing business.

To cope, Frank seeks solace at the neighborhood tavern, bouncing ideas off the resident bartender, Dave (Ted Danson), a quirky, carefree sort with a unique wisdom. He also enjoys spending time with Leslie (Toni Collette), the landlady who owns his storefront property, a kind-hearted soul who seems to have his best interests at heart, even though the exact nature of their relationship is somewhat ambiguous. But, such support aside, Frank still spends much of his time trying to figure out things on his own.

In many ways, Sam is just as perplexed as her dad. She believes UCLA is her destiny. But, in the weeks leading up to her departure for school, the waters become muddied, especially when she and Frank record a song that makes its way to Spotify and starts drawing attention from fans and music industry professionals. Her heart strings also get sufficiently tugged when she meets and falls for a new romantic interest, Rose (Sasha Lane). As time grows short, she’s faced with the dilemma musically immortalized by the Clash, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.”

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman, left) and his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons, right), make great music together in the feel good new comedy-drama, “Hearts Beat Loud.” Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.[/caption]

Through the experiences of Frank and Sam, viewers witness the hard choices that artists of all kinds must address in developing their careers: How hungry are we? Are we truly willing to make an all-out effort to pursue our craft? Or are we going to let other interests and everyday considerations get in the way, potentially derailing our shot at artistic success? “Hearts Beat Loud” examines what it means to wrestle with these ideas. The choices involved in these decisions may not be easy ones, but the power to make them is clearly in our hands, and that’s something we must never lose sight of.

Choice, of course, is a crucial consideration in making use of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, given the circumstances of the two protagonists, choice is something they’re far from wanting. Each of them has a number of options to examine, each of which is viable in its own right. But which ones are the best for them? That depends on the beliefs Frank and Sam hold and what they hope to realize from those choices.

Fortunately, Frank and Sam are each astute enough to recognize their various options, a testament to their ability to see past accepted limitations, one of the greatest hindrances to the formation of truly creative manifesting beliefs. For instance, while Frank makes plans to close down his business, he’s offered an unexpected option to keep it open. Even though the specifics of the option didn’t originate with him, on some level, he put out a belief to make this outcome possible, a gesture that subsequently drew it to him. Whether or not he embraces the idea again comes back to the concept of choice, but, whatever he decides, the outcome stems from the beliefs he holds and what he considers to be the best prospect for him.

An element that plays an important role in any of these decisions is facing and getting past our personal fears, for they hold us back and keep our manifesting beliefs from activating. As a type of belief in themselves, fears often materialize as the absence of what we’re supposedly seeking to achieve. This illustrates their importance to the functionality and effectiveness of the conscious creation process. If we’re unable to get past them, we won’t be able to manifest what we believe we want.

This is a particularly important concern for Sam. Does she have enough confidence in herself to pursue a musical career? But what if it doesn’t work out – will this be a mistake not only in itself but also as one that potentially derails her shot at becoming a doctor? Such fear-based considerations are potentially paralyzing from a belief standpoint. In extreme cases, they may even prevent us from making decisions at all, leaving us with nothing. This is why it’s so crucial to dispense with these concerns as conscious creation practitioners. Life, choice and creativity all involve a certain inherent amount of risk, but, if we’re unwilling to address it, we may find ourselves filled with regret when we end up empty-handed.

One way to counter this consideration is to trust our intuition. It’s one of the key components that helps us aid the formation of our beliefs, if only we’ll heed what it has to say. Frequently we dismiss its impact, because it’s seen as illogical and irrational. Yet, as we often find out, it serves us well and proves to be right on target. And it’s not as if Frank and Sam don’t have any experience with it, either. When they write their songs, for example, it’s obvious that their ideas come to them from a source other than intellect, and they never question this inspiration. If they were to apply this same principle to their other pursuits, they just might find that it brings them satisfaction on a variety of fronts. And that kind of ongoing success is surely something that will make their hearts beat loud.

Director Brett Haley’s touching, fun-filled feel good movie genuinely inspires the artist within each of us. By no means does it sugarcoat what’s involved in pursuing such dreams, but its uplifting outlook and joyful approach to its subject matter definitely fill us with a desire to make the effort at realizing our aspirations. Offerman and Clemons have a great chemistry together, coming across as totally natural and convincing, not just in their character portrayals but also in their fine musical performances. Admittedly, some aspects of the story aren’t as fully developed as they might have been, but that’s a rather small shortcoming in light of everything else this delightful independent release has to offer.

Reaching for the top can be quite an undertaking, one filled with a curious mix of excitement and trepidation. But, when one considers the rewards, both creatively and otherwise, it’s hard to imagine not taking the chance to see it realized. Thankfully, “Hearts Beat Loud” provides a thorough, honest and entertaining take on what it’s like to pursue one’s own artistic odyssey.  Rock on, everybody!

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Check out AmericanBookFest.com

As an entrant in the 2018 Best Book Awards competition, I'm pleased to announce that my latest title, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, is now listed in the New Age Non-Fiction section of the AmericanBookFest.com web site! The listing includes the book's cover and description, as well as a link to the title's listing on Amazon.com. This post will be available for the next five months until the announcement of the winners in November. Wish me luck! In the meantime, check out the listing by clicking here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Won't You Be My Neighbor?", "I Am Somebody" and "Mountain" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network,  available by clicking here.