Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Sunday, October 7, 2018
“Love, Gilda” (2018). Cast: Interviews: Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, Martin Short, Paul Shaffer, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Lorne Michaels, Anne Beatts, Alan Zweibel, Michael Radner, Judy Levy. Archive Footage: Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Gene Wilder, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Buck Henry, Garry Shandling, G.E. Smith, Tom Schiller. Director: Lisa D’Apolito. Web site. Trailer.
It’s been said that the ability to make others laugh is one of the greatest gifts anyone can possess. Laughter lifts spirits, brings joy and, as the old adage contends, serves as the best medicine. That’s something a beloved, gifted comedienne successfully discovered for herself – on all of those fronts – as fittingly and lovingly depicted in the heartwarming new documentary, “Love, Gilda.”
Gilda Radner (1946-1989) broke ground on many levels. As the first cast member selected for the audacious new late night sketch comedy series Saturday Night (now Saturday Night Live) in 1975, Radner played a key role in redefining humor, TV and the American popular cultural landscape. With her warm, bubbly persona, combined with her talent for enlivening such memorable characters as crotchety, hard-of-hearing senior Emily Litella, opinionated Latina news commentator Roseanne Roseannadanna, spaced-out punk rocker Candy Slice, linguistically challenged TV reporter Baba Wawa and effervescent, overly imaginative preteen Judy Miller, Gilda became an overnight sensation and audience favorite. She left an indelible mark on the television world and the hearts of millions while inspiring countless aspiring comedians.
[caption id="attachment_10173" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Comedienne Gilda Radner (second from left) appears with staff writer Tom Schiller (left) and fellow cast members John Belushi (center), Dan Aykroyd (second from right) and Jane Curtin (right) on the set of Saturday Night Live, as seen in the heartfelt new documentary, “Love, Gilda.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.[/caption]
But, in many ways, this came as no surprise, given that this talent seemed to come naturally to the Detroit-born comic. From early on in her childhood, Gilda was a cut-up, finding it effortless to disappear into comedic character and making others laugh, a gift she freely shared with friends and family.
What’s less known, however, is that this ability served a purpose other than entertaining those around her; it also gave Gilda a defense mechanism to protect herself from the criticisms of others. As a chubby child, she was frequently chided about her weight. But Gilda wouldn’t allow this to get her down; whenever she would be bullied about her chunky appearance, she’d simply make a joke about it, defusing the situation and turning things around on her detractors. This skill would later prove to be an important element of her professional success as well, one that she would readily make use of whenever she found herself in the middle of a routine that wasn’t working out as hoped for. By impulsively doing or saying something funny to compensate for such unfolding failures, she could successfully transform poorly conceived material into a source of uproarious laughs, allowing even the worst routines to sparkle and appear completely natural.
As Radner grew into adolescence and adulthood, she parlayed her talents into successes in high school and college productions, followed by stints in the Canadian company of Godspell and Toronto’s Second City troupe and then as a cast member of the National Lampoon Radio Hour. Through these involvements she met longtime friends and collaborators John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Paul Shaffer. These experiences also provided the springboards for the immense success awaiting her during her five years as a cast member of Saturday Night Live.
Radner’s contributions to that show helped establish the legacy of a program that has lasted for over 40 years. As part of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, she and fellow collaborators Belushi, Murray and Chase, along with her other colleagues Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris, set a standard that has endured and influenced the many cast members who have since become part of the show’s heritage. Interviews with Chase and Newman, longtime producer Lorne Michaels, staff writers Alan Zweibel and Anne Beatts, and subsequent show hosts and cast alumni Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph reveal the tremendous respect, gratitude and admiration that they hold for Gilda and her comic contributions, all of them truly honored to have worked with her or follow in her footsteps.
Gilda’s accomplishments did not end with SNL either. She staged a tremendously popular one-woman Broadway show in 1979, and she subsequently went on to make five feature films, three of them (“Hanky Panky” (1982), “The Woman in Red” (1984) and “Haunted Honeymoon” (1986)) with co-star and future husband Gene Wilder (1933-2016). But, for all of the challenges she successfully took on through these endeavors, her greatest one was yet to come.
[caption id="attachment_10174" align="aligncenter" width="203"]Comedienne Gilda Radner (left) poses with comic John Belushi (right), one of her cohorts on the National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live, as depicted in director Lisa D’Apolito’s new loving tribute to the comedic genius, “Love, Gilda.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.[/caption]
In the mid-1980s, Gilda began feeling tired and suffered from pelvic cramping. She sought medical help, which repeatedly concluded that everything was fine. However, as a subsequent CAT scan revealed, there was something very wrong – Gilda was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer.
According to those who knew Radner, she was initially woefully depressed. However, she soon realized that, if she were to beat this disease, she would need to tackle it head on. And, in typical Gilda fashion, she did so by employing the same tactic she used to take on her childhood detractors – humor. With the assistance of her SNL colleague Alan Zweibel, Gilda took the bold step to attempt something that no one had tried before – finding a way to make cancer funny.
Given the prevailing taboo about laughing at a debilitating, often-fatal illness, Gilda took a big risk with this venture. But, believing she had nothing to lose, she moved forward with her plan, making a critically acclaimed appearance on the comedy series It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1987 in which she lampooned her illness. This cutting-edge material raised some eyebrows, but it also successfully challenged one of life’s seemingly untouchable sacred cows. Gilda had thus broken through yet another barrier, the first comic ever to do so.
Unfortunately, Radner’s appearance on that show was her last time on TV. Even though the disease had apparently gone into remission, it came back. Gilda continued treatment, but fighting back became progressively more difficult. However, despite the lack of public appearances, Gilda wasn’t done yet. She wrote a memoir titled It’s Always Something, a reference to the signature tagline of her Roseanne Roseannadanna character. She also became actively involved with cancer support groups. Although initially reluctant to participate, she had a complete change of heart after attending a meeting at a wellness center. With the uplifting humor that made her so famous, Gilda picked up where she left off in this new venue. The stage may have been different and considerably smaller, but the impact she had there was just as important as what she accomplished in the limelight.
Through her involvement with these support outlets, Gilda left an impact that’s still being felt to this day. With the enthusiastic assistance of husband Gene Wilder, Gilda launched efforts aimed at encouraging ovarian cancer screening for women, especially those in high-risk groups. Her courageous battle against her illness also inspired the formation of Gilda’s Club, a nationwide network of affiliated clubhouses where cancer patients and their families and friends can meet to offer one another support and to discuss their circumstances. Thankfully, Gilda’s spirit lives on through these programs and institutions. And, because of that, she continues to prove, as she did in all of her other endeavors, that laughter truly is the best medicine.
[caption id="attachment_10175" align="aligncenter" width="300"]In happy times, comedienne Gilda Radner (left) shares the tremendous love she felt for husband and feature film co-star Gene Wilder (right), as seen in the heartfelt new documentary, “Love, Gilda.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.[/caption]
Although she died young, Gilda packed a lot of living into her 42 years, and much of it involved her doing what she wanted to do. Despite the sometimes-unfavorable conditions that dogged her at various times in her life, she overcame these circumstances by doing what she did best – successfully drawing on her talents and abilities. She was so proficient at this both personally and professionally, in fact, that virtually everything she undertook succeeded brilliantly.
That kind of success stems directly from a firm belief in one’s capabilities, the kind of conviction that yields the sort of hoped-for outcomes made possible by the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains the reality we experience is a direct result of the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. It’s not clear whether Gilda knew of or ever heard of this concept, but, based on what she accomplished, it’s obvious she was a master of its principles. For example, from early on in her life, she knew she had a knack for making people laugh, and she drew upon this belief in herself for decades to come. Firmly ensconced in her awareness of her abilities, she grabbed the ball and ran with it, transforming herself into a legend in the process.
This is not to suggest that she didn’t experience challenges along the way. The aforementioned childhood criticisms about her weight, for instance, were a source of personal frustration and irritation, a creation that, at first glance, might seem to have served little purpose. But, despite the difficulties this caused, it had an upside, too, in that it pushed her to continue honing her comedic talents, humorously making light of those who criticized her. Indeed, sometimes subjecting ourselves to a little adversity serves to strengthen us in ways that we may not be able to envision or understand at the time we experience it, proof that our beliefs can work to our benefit, even when the impact of their manifestations isn’t readily obvious at the time.
By galvanizing herself in her beliefs and abilities, Gilda broke through fears that might have held her back. It enabled her to live courageously, to take risks that other might shudder at. And, in the process, it allowed her to smash through barriers that benefited herself, as well as those who followed in her footsteps. For example, Gilda was the first person to say “bitch” on network television. But, because this once-forbidden word was uttered by her character Emily Litella, censors saw its usage coming from a sweet old lady as benign, reasoning, “What harm could there be in that?” And, then, of course, there was Gilda’s lighthearted take on cancer, something that once would have been considered unthinkable. But, since she knew how to make this sensitive subject funny, she got away it and did so successfully, opening a door previously sealed tight.
[caption id="attachment_10176" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Gene Wilder (left) and Gilda Radner (right) appear on the set of their film “Haunted Honeymoon” (1986), one of three pictures they made together, as seen in the new documentary, “Love, Gilda.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.[/caption]
Of course, if she was so adept at employing conscious creation principles, one might ask, “Why didn’t she manifest a better outcome for herself in the end?” As I have written on numerous previous occasions, Gilda’s reasons – like those of all of us – were her own, and it’s not our place to question why circumstances played out as they did. However, when we look at what came about from her influence in the time since her passing – the cancer screening programs, Gilda’s Club and a better understanding of the impact of using humor as an additional weapon in helping to fight illness – she left a meaningful legacy, one that transcended her tremendous accomplishments as a comedic talent. She did more than just make people laugh; she left a legacy that has touched countless individuals, including some who may have never seen any of her brilliant routines. That’s a lot to leave behind.
Like the protagonist herself, it’s hard not to like “Love, Gilda.” This heartfelt tribute to one of the comedy greats of the last century pays sincere homage to her body of work through footage of her routines and the recollections of those who knew her or followed in her footsteps. With a wealth of archive material (some of it quite rare) and interviews with an array of those who shared the personal and professional stage with Gilda, director Lisa D’Apolito’s feature film debut provides a comprehensive look at the comedienne’s life, one sure to evoke both laughter and tears and doing so in a way that genuinely earns those emotions. In addition, through voiceovers, readings and graphic displays, the film features excerpts from the extensive collection of personal journals that Radner kept, revealing, for the first time, her innermost feelings about herself, her work, her battle against cancer and her outlook on life. Through this combination of elements, Gilda comes back to life, even though, in many ways, it’s always felt like she never left us.
We’re all a little better off for having had this loving and laughing spirit spend some time with us, no matter how short, on this plane of existence. She made us smile, she made us cry, but she also made us happy. And we can never thank her enough for that.
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
“Fahrenheit 11/9” (2018). Cast: Michael Moore, John Podesta, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michael Hepburn, David Hogg. Archive footage: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Steve Bannon, Gwen Stefani, Roseanne Barr, George Clooney. Director: Michael Moore. Screenplay: Michael Moore. Web site. Trailer.
How did this happen? For many Americans, this is the question that’s on their minds when it comes to the current political landscape. With the polarizing election of Donald Trump in 2016, many have been left scratching their heads, wondering how we’ve ended up with such a divided nation with a President whose actions and policies often baffle the members of his own political party, let alone the opposition. So, again, in light of this, what happened? That’s what controversial filmmaker Michael Moore attempts to answer in his latest work, “Fahrenheit 11/9.”
If the title of this film sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it’s a variation on the director’s previous release, “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004), Moore’s take on the Iraq War and policies of President George W. Bush. That title is a reference to both the 9/11 terrorist attack and to the novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by author Ray Bradbury, a dystopian saga in which books are purposely burned by the state to squelch independent thought, a disturbing trend that Moore believed was fast becoming a reality under Bush’s leadership, justified by inflated national security considerations to intimidate the citizenry into quiescent, docile conformity. The filmmaker’s latest work, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” mimics the title of its predecessor and contains a reference to the date in 2016 on which Trump was declared the victor in the presidential election. That date also marked the launch of what Moore saw as an administration whose policies and practices were built upon the same principles addressed in his previous film. As the director contends, though, there’s a big difference between what happened in 2004 and what is happening now, chiefly that those policies and practices have been juiced up with a hefty dose of rhetorical steroids. Because of this, the heat has been turned up on the population considerably, making the “Fahrenheit” reference in the title all the more significant – and ominous. It gives us significant pause to think about what this all means for the future.
Through this film, Moore examines how we’ve arrived at this point – the political developments, the social developments and, most importantly, the behind-the-scenes maneuverings that have led to our current situation. And the answers to the picture’s central question are eye-opening, revelations that show there’s plenty of blame to go around, some of it attributable to sources that might not be readily apparent, especially those most ardently opposed to the Trump presidency.
In telling this story, Moore addresses a number of subjects, including some that seem somewhat unrelated to the film’s central narrative, such as the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the West Virginia statewide teachers’ strike. However, as important as these ancillary issues are, they tend to take the focus off the picture’s central thrust, clouding matters and creating a scattershot message that comes across as disjointed at times.
Ironically, though, when the director stays on point, he turns out what is arguably some of his best work. Unlike his other projects, this time the diehard liberal filmmaker doesn’t hesitate to criticize the real source of the problems with the current American political system – the system itself, not right nor left, Republican nor Democrat but the whole stinkin’ system. The Trump election, in his view, is a symptom of a larger problem, and that’s what needs to be addressed. In this regard, then, it’s heartening to see a picture that finally say what’s really wrong with things, to unequivocally say that the emperor is indeed naked, no matter what color cloak people might like to believe he’s wearing.
Because of that, this is a picture sure to offend viewers on both ends of the political spectrum. But then maybe that’s what needs to be done to get the ball rolling toward meaningful change instead of incessant rounds of futile and unproductive finger pointing. It’s not a case of “the other side” causing problems; it’s a case of both sides wreaking havoc to the detriment of the average American citizen.
For many viewers, this revelation may well come as a shock (provided they’re paying attention to it, that is). But this message is important, because it’s essential to recognizing where the real issue lies, a realization that’s essential for identifying where to start in bringing about change.
To make that happen, though, we need to do more than just recognize the source of the problem. We simultaneously need to change our outlooks, the beliefs we hold about the process of governing and addressing society’s needs. And that’s crucial, because those beliefs provide the foundation for what materializes. This is the cornerstone principle of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.
While Moore doesn’t address these matters on point, there’s certainly an implication here that, if we want to invoke change, we need to be the ones to start implementing it. We need to draw on Gandhi’s famous recommendation that we should seek to become the change we wish to see in the world. And, if we want to do that, we must first look to the beliefs we employ to bring about such a result.
In practical terms, this involves eliminating outmoded beliefs that no longer work, such as blindly placing our faith in those who are running the current power structure. Beliefs that those individuals will take care of us and work for our best interests – regardless of their party affiliation or ideological background – need to be purged, because the track record evidence clearly indicates that’s unlikely to happen. Ridding ourselves of such naïve, Pollyanna notions is essential if we ever hope for things to be any different. Indeed, it really is time to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee.
In tandem with that, we need to embrace beliefs about holding on to our power rather than giving it away to those who don’t have our best interests at heart. Allowing that to happen has played a huge role in how things have evolved to the state we’re currently in. The time has come to take our power back.
Given the oppressive nature of where matters stand, however, some might see such recommendations as overly optimistic. And, to be honest, reversing present circumstances may not be easy or quick. But, based on some remarkable initiatives that Moore cites, that need not be the case. Drawing upon such examples as the favorable resolution to the West Virginia teachers’ strike (a movement that has since spread to other states), the nationwide student-led gun control protests in response to the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, and the rise of citizen politicians defeating well-heeled incumbents in recent primary elections. Moore presents viable solutions that can, in fact, work. In each of these instances, these programs call upon everyday citizens to rise up and take the reins to fix things, efforts requiring determination, patience and tenacity. But, based on the kinds of results that are truly possible, such measures represent valid, worthwhile efforts that could provide harbingers of things to come if we put our minds to it. The question, of course, is, are we up to the challenge?
In making this case, Moore has essentially thrown down the gauntlet to the American people. If we’re to prevent circumstances from getting any worse, we need to adopt a realistic view of our situation, embrace beliefs free of foolhardy wishful thinking and take back the power we’ve wastefully squandered. It’s a significant challenge, one that we’d better take seriously. If we don’t, we risk a lot, including potentially having to ask ourselves “What happened?” all over again.
As important as this message is, though, it’s unfortunate that it sometimes gets bogged down in the telling. Moore’s signature showmanship, along with his inclusion of too much extraneous material that obscures his primary contentions, combine to hinder the clarity and effectiveness of his execution at times. A little judicious editing, as well as some restrained tempering of his infamous on-screen antics, would go a long way toward getting the word out better. But, to his credit, he definitely deserves kudos for bringing this message to the forefront of the public’s attention. Let’s hope we’re taking heed of it.
To be sure, the evidence Moore offers about his subjects is quite damning. Yet, at the same time, there’s an implication here that we played a part in how events unfolded, a role we can’t truthfully deny. The filmmaker illustrates what can happen when we allow our vigilance to lapse and let things slip through our fingers. If we don’t want a repeat of these actions, we need to proactively take charge of our circumstances, diligently implementing beliefs that set us on a new course – and keep the heat from getting turned up any further.
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Join host Frankie Picasso and me for the return of Movies with Meaning on The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More broadcast on a special day and time, Tuesday, September 25, at 1 pm ET. We’ll discuss a number of new movie releases and other film-related news. For the video version, tune in on Facebook Live by clicking here. And, for the audio only podcast edition, check out The Good Media Network’s home page by clicking here. Join us for some fun movie chat!
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
“The Land of Steady Habits” (2018). Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann, Bill Camp, Connie Britton, Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Gaston, Charlie Tahan, Victor Slezak, Josh Pais. Director: Nicole Holofcener. Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener. Book: Ted Thompson, The Land of Steady Habits. Web site. Trailer.
For many of us, certainty and stability have a definite comforting appeal. We enjoy the predictability and reliability, a soothing reassurance that life will go on as we’ve known it. However, such an existence can also become a stifling trap, one the suffocates us, often without us becoming aware of it until it’s almost too late. This is where the value of change and pushing past established limits becomes desirable, if not essential, to our happiness, concepts explored in the new character study, “The Land of Steady Habits.”
Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn) feels lost. The recently divorced, recently retired former financial professional seeks the happiness that eluded him in his former life. But, no matter how hard this middle-aged suburbanite looks, he never seems to find it. Of course, it doesn’t help that he makes more than his share of bad decisions along the way (more on that later).
As Anders pursues a new life in earnest, he professes what appears to be a sincere desire to be a better person than he was in his old existence. For instance, he claims to have given up being a financial advisor because, in his view, the profession is built on principles of inherent greed with no moral compass, all designed to simply feather the nests of its practitioners, many of whom don’t realize or care what they may be doing to their clients. What’s more, he looks back on his old life – one not unlike that of many of his fellow Westport, Connecticut residents – as an endless exercise in mindless tedium, full of daily conscience-numbing ordeals designed to pursue illusions of happiness that never quite pan out and that do nothing to help shape or improve one’s personal character.
So, having come to these realizations, Anders decided to chuck it all. In addition to abandoning his profession, he divorced his wife, Helene (Edie Falco), an attempt to escape an empty marriage and an overstuffed house filled with materialist comforts that became more constraining than liberating. He also left behind many of his former friends, most of whom remain blindly stuck on the treadmill of their conventional conformist lifestyles, such as his onetime close companions Sophie and Mitchell Ashford (Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Gaston). In fact, about the only connection to his past that he has deliberately tried to maintain is his relationship with his son, Preston (Thomas Mann), a twenty-something college graduate recovering from substance abuse issues who’s now working dead-end jobs to stay clean and make ends meet.
However, having purged himself of so much, Anders now has a lot of space to fill up in his life. He spends most of his time decorating his new townhouse, but, beyond that, there’s little to occupy his days. Consequently, he ends up becoming embroiled in those aforementioned bad decisions. For instance, he pursues a string of meaningless sexual encounters, most of which end up disappointing (for various reasons). But, more troubling than that, Anders has a knack for landing himself in the middle of some highly questionable situations, such as an unlikely (and some would say unhealthy and enabling) friendship with Charlie (Charlie Tahan), the Ashfords’ drug-abusing teenage son, who desperately looks for a way to escape an impending stint in rehab after an overdose incident. And then there’s his involvement with Barbara (Connie Britton), a woman whom Anders meets in a strip club men’s room after she binges on liquor, presumably to ditch the date who brought her there in the first place.
Given these situations, one might understandably question the protagonist’s judgment. But, in spite of these highly problematic circumstances, Anders genuinely seems to want to do the right thing; he just doesn’t know how. And, because of that, his handling of these incidents rarely turns out for the best. Are these matters that simply get out of hand? Or is Anders just ignorant?
What’s more, despite his contention of wanting to escape his old life, there are times when Anders seems drawn back to it, almost as if he regrets his previous decisions. But a desire to go back solves nothing, especially since the conditions of his former existence have now changed. For example, in a moment of weakness (some might say stupidity), he pays a drunken, impromptu visit to his old home in the middle of the night, a move that nearly gets the uninvited intruder’s head bashed in by Donny (Bill Camp), a former professional colleague who has now become Helene’s new live-in love interest. Indeed, it would seem there really is no going back.
So what is Anders to do? That’s what he needs to sort out, not only in terms of how to get these particular situations resolved, but also for what he wants to do with himself and his life going forward. Having courageously freed himself from the shackles of his former life, he has a clean slate at his disposal. And, with a potentially brave new future in front of him, he faces the prospect of brighter days ahead and becoming the better person he wants to be. The trick, though, is figuring out how to get there.
Starting over in life is often fraught with challenges. Breaking away from those “steady habits” can be liberating, but, when the pillars holding up our lives disappear from beneath us, we find ourselves grasping for whatever means of support we can find to keep us from going under. For many of us, we become so accustomed to our lives following set, predictable patterns that we don’t know what to do when all of the familiar, readily recognizable signposts are removed. As a consequence, we desperately search for solutions to build a new foundation.
But, as Anders’s experience illustrates, how do we proceed with that? In essence, it comes down to what we believe constitutes the basis of our existence. And it’s through those beliefs that we need to make our start, for they provide the cornerstones of what goes into manifesting our reality, the chief underlying principle of the conscious creation process. Through our thoughts, beliefs and intents, we shape the existence that materializes around us, providing us with the world we experience.
Where Anders is concerned, he’s basically starting from scratch. With virtually his entire reality wiped away, he’s creating anew from the ground up. And, since his canvas is blank, he’s free to manifest whatever he wants. But, as someone who’s used to life defined by a limited number of predictable parameters, he’s obviously having trouble envisioning – and subsequently materializing – something different, despite the open-ended creative freedom he’s now afforded himself.
With no practice at creating a life that diverges from what he has long known, Anders fumbles about trying to find his way. And, given his lack of experience at thinking outside the box, he has trouble getting things right. He doesn’t know what to manifest, because he’s not entirely sure what he believes. That muddled uncertainty is thus reflected in the chaotic outcomes he materializes.
To be sure, Anders knew enough that he needed to get out of his previous existence, a realization for which he should be heartily commended. However, with no clue what to implement as a replacement, it’s no wonder that his life is such a jumble. That, of course, requires some serious sorting out. But, again, with a lack of experience in this area, it’s a process that might not fall into place right away – at least until he figures out how to get a handle on recognizing and affirming his beliefs.
Some may look upon Anders’s actions, choices and beliefs with disapproval, disdain or even contempt. But such assessments are patently unfair. After all, how many of us get things right on the first try, especially when we lack experience in these areas? We all make “mistakes” as part of our learning curves (goodness knows I’ve made some beauties along the way). However, this is a process of trial and error, of testing out different lines of probability, helping us rid ourselves of what doesn’t work and moving us closer to what ultimately does.
This is a core life lesson that nearly all of us go through, largely because it’s a means of addressing (and, one hopes, solving) all of the subsequent life lessons that come along in various areas of our lives. Those who try to deny that they’re going through this are deluding themselves, especially when they judgmentally point fingers at others for their “missteps.” It’s a notion that calls to mind that familiar Biblical adage “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” None of us deserves to be subjected to such treatment – even Anders.
As noted above, Anders should be saluted for his decision to move on when he could see that his life was no longer serving him. Despite occasional pangs of wanting to retreat into the comfort of his past, he’s generally committed to forging a new existence, something that many of his peers – indeed many of us – may never muster the courage to tackle. And, even though he may not have been fully aware of the reasons why he needed to move on at the time he made his decisions, it becomes apparent as his story plays out that he had good cause to justify his beliefs and actions to make a change. This demonstrates that, on some level, he’s successfully tapped into his intuition, the essential but often-underused tool that contributes to the belief formation process. This in itself implies that he’s on the right path toward realizing a more fulfilling future through conscious creation. We should all wish him well.
Despite a slight tendency to meander at times, “The Land of Steady Habits” provides an atmospheric look at the illusory joy that necessarily comes from living a life of routine and conformity, damningly skewering many widely held misconceptions about what it takes to be and stay happy. This sometimes-humorous, sometimes-melancholic exploration features excellent performances (especially Mendelsohn) and characters who are more real than what audiences typically see on screen, something that some viewers may find distressing. But such affecting reactions are a telling tribute to the impact of the filmmaking. Indeed, director Nicole Holofcener again proves that she’s one of the most insightful auteurs in the business today, delivering yet another fine offering in her excellent repertoire.
Those interested in seeing this picture may have to do some searching to find it. As a Netflix release, the film’s current theatrical run is limited and likely to be short before the production transitions to the company’s streaming service, an approach employed in the distribution of such previous titles as “Beasts of No Nation” (2015) and “Mudbound” (2017). So, if you want to see this offering on the big screen, act fast!
Change can be a scary prospect, but it’s often one of the best and healthiest experiences we can have. It opens up new vistas and provides us with opportunities to explore aspects of life that would otherwise escape us. But, even more importantly, pushing past limitations reveals elements of ourselves that we never knew existed, giving us a shot at all manner of new adventures, a practice well worth making a habit.
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Saturday, September 8, 2018
“The Wife” (2017 production, 2018 release). Cast: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Elizabeth McGovern, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke, Alix Wilton Regan, Karin Franz Körlof, Nick Fletcher. Director: Björn Runge. Screenplay: Jane Anderson. Book: Meg Wolitzer, The Wife. Web site. Trailer.
When we wonder why our reality turns out as it does, if we want an honest answer to that question, we have to ask ourselves what motivates us. All too often we drift through life not taking stock of our intentions, letting life unfold seemingly on its own, as if we’re oblivious to the part we play in its manifestation. But, even if we believe we have no hand in the process or are afraid to see what those motivations might entail, in the end we can’t ignore them or how we employ them, a subject explored at length in the new domestic drama, “The Wife.”
Famed, best-selling author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) is on the verge of the biggest accomplishment of his storied career. As a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, he nervously awaits word from the awards committee beside his ever-supportive wife, Joanie (Glenn Close), who has spent many years dutifully attending to his every need. And, when word finally arrives that he’s been named the winner, he’s ecstatic. However, the same can’t be said for Joanie. Sure, she puts on a smiling face, but, somewhere amidst all the celebrating, she just doesn’t seem to share in her husband’s happiness. The question, of course, is why.
[caption id="attachment_10116" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Best-selling author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce, right) and his dutiful wife, Joanie (Glenn Close, left), prepare to celebrate his win of the Nobel Prize for Literature in the new domestic drama, “The Wife.” Photo by Graeme Hunter, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]
As the couple prepares to head to Stockholm, Sweden for the awards ceremony, Joanie’s mood grows ever more perplexingly dour. And the more her celebrated spouse is thrust into the limelight, the harder it is for her to contain her feelings, which gradually surface as part melancholy, part resentment and part rage. But what’s behind these emotions? For what it’s worth, that begins to emerge, too, thanks to the increasingly inquisitive and intrusive questioning of her son, David (Max Irons), and of an ambitious would-be biographer, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), both of whom accompany Joseph and Joanie on their trip.
In quiet moments between the festivities, Joanie turns reflective, thinking back to the days when she first met her future husband while she was his creative writing student at Smith College. Through a series of flashbacks, viewers discover how a young Joanie (Annie Starke) and a young Joseph (Harry Lloyd) came together. Details of their romance and of their respective literary aspirations are revealed, aspects of which helped forge and fuel the feelings that Joanie is experiencing now. The question is, can she handle the revelations that are finally breaking through and demanding attention? And, perhaps even more importantly, what implications will they carry as she and Joseph look to move forward with their lives.
[caption id="attachment_10117" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Ambitious, would-be biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater, right) aggressively tries to coax information about a Nobel Prize-winning author from the writer’s wife, Joanie (Glenn Close, left), in director Björn Runge’s new domestic drama, “The Wife.” Photo by Graeme Hunter, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]
Joanie’s reflection process deals with many issues, but it principally focuses on her motivations, the reasons underlying what she does and did. This is essentially the same practice we engage in when we employ the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. It can be a trying process, especially if we come up against motivations that we were unaware of, particularly if they involve matters we dislike. It can also be disheartening, exasperating and troublesome if we had been engaged in such practices for a protracted period of time. Thoughts of wasted efforts, foolishly expended energy and other worrisome concerns come to the forefront. And it’s those issues that Joanie must now face front and center.
For instance, as a creative writing student, Joanie obviously had a love of the craft. And, from all indications, based on the glowing feedback from her professor-turned-spouse, she had real talent. Yet, from all appearances, she simply walked away from it, without hesitation, seemingly because of the discouraging advice she received from author Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern), a prolific and gifted but commercially unsuccessful writer who told Joanie that women couldn’t cut it in the male-dominated publishing industry of the late 1950s.
So why did Joanie cave? Fear of failure? A desire to spare herself the kind of frustration that Ms. Mozell endured? Or did she instead decide to refocus her efforts on being a devoted wife and mother? But was the domestic life enough for someone who obviously had so much to say? And now, years later, seeing Joseph experience such success, can she live with her past decisions?
[caption id="attachment_10118" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Philandering author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce, right) takes a liking to a photographer (Karin Franz Körlof, left) assigned to document his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in the new dramatic release, “The Wife.” Photo by Graeme Hunter, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]
As becomes apparent, though, such considerations ring hollow. There’s more to the feelings that are now surfacing, and they suggest that she’s been concealing some bigger, even more troubling secrets for decades, revelations that she can no longer contain. What is she to do with them as she struggles to keep a lid on them that will no longer stay in place?
Then there’s also Joanie’s relationship with Joseph. As the flashbacks reveal, she fell for her future husband rather easily – while he was already a married man and father of a young daughter. Were they truly in love and destined to be together, or was she an impressionable young admirer who took advantage of an opportunistic situation? And, if the latter, could she realistically live with that?
What’s more, after many years together, it became apparent that Joseph was a serial philanderer, pursuing affairs without being especially discreet about them. This penchant even follows the couple to Stockholm, where Joseph engages in a less-than-veiled flirtation with a photographer (Karin Franz Körlof) assigned by the Nobel Committee to document his time in Sweden. This is another consideration that Joanie must wrestle with.
[caption id="attachment_10119" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Best-selling author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce, center) gives thanks for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature at a banquet in his honor in “The Wife.” Photo by Graeme Hunter, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]
On top of all this, Joanie must consider her feelings about the way Joseph treats David, an aspiring author in his own right. As a protective mother, she’s naturally concerned about her child’s feelings. This instinct is particularly strong, given that she can see the talent that her son possesses, something that Joseph tends to dismiss out of hand. His hypercritical assessment of David’s work clearly eats away at him, and Joanie is troubled by this, seeing Joseph’s heavy-handed scrutiny as unduly harsh. She can’t help but wonder if her husband feels threatened by their son’s talents and if his scornful treatment is legitimate criticism or perverse jealously. In light of that, then, she begins to question the respect she holds for Joseph. Can she genuinely continue to support him the way she has for so many years?
Joanie’s introspection on these issues is a lot to bear, especially in the shadow of all the praise being heaped on a man she’s beginning to have serious doubts about. The questions raised by David and Nathaniel exacerbate this process, too, as if they’re prodding her into accelerating her scrutinous activity. It’s as if she’s intentionally drawn these taskmasters into her existence to keep her on track, to continue the process of evaluating motivations she’s long kept at bay.
Indeed, the process is difficult, but it also has the potential to pay significant personal dividends. For example, it holds the promise of facing fears and prompting Joanie to live courageously, perhaps for the first time in decades. It also makes it possible to unearth some long-buried personal integrity, enabling her to openly be her true self, again for the first time in ages. These are significant personal gains not to be minimized.
[caption id="attachment_10120" align="aligncenter" width="300"]In a moment of panic and realization, Joanie Castleman (Glenn Close, left) comes to understand her true life purpose during a conversation with King Gustav of Sweden )Nick Fletcher, right) in the new domestic drama, “The Wife.” Photo by Graeme Hunter, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]
But, perhaps most importantly, Joanie’s motivation assessment enables her to see clearly her true purpose in life, perhaps for the first time. This becomes apparent at a banquet honoring the Nobel recipients in which the presenter of the awards, His Royal Highness Gustav of Sweden (Nick Fletcher), speaks of his “job” as king, after which he asks Joanie if she, too, has a job of her own. After a protracted, reflective pause, she waxes poetic with a response that she indeed has a job – that of kingmaker. Yet, even with such a frank, insightful acknowledgment – a realization that she has perhaps come to for the first time in her life – there’s a certain discontentment with her own answer, suggesting that her evaluation of her motivations is still incomplete, that she must continue to dig deeper into the amalgamation of thoughts, beliefs and intents that has shaped her reality as it has materialized – and to decide if she wants to keep manifesting it the same way that she has throughout all that time.
For all of the film’s many worthwhile metaphysical strengths, though, there are aspects of the picture that come up short. The biggest issue is the story’s predictability, some of which is apparent even in the trailer and the remainder of which tends to become fairly obvious early on in the movie. This lack of suspense consequently undermines a plot where there should have been intrigue aplenty. What saves the film from this innate shortcoming, however, is the power of the performances by Close, Pryce and Slater, all of whom are outstanding in their respective parts. In fact, this could be the role that finally earns Close her long-overdue Oscar, considering that she shows a range here not previously apparent in most of her other performances. If strong portrayals and philosophical insights are enough for you, by all means see this one, but, if you find formula story lines tiresome, you might want to skip this release.
Motivations can be tricky to deal with, because we can convince ourselves to turn a blind eye toward them, especially if we’re afraid of what we might see. But, nevertheless, they’re always with us, like companions for the journey. So, if we’re to make the most of our trip through life, we should pay attention to what they are and what they’re intended to achieve. To do less is to face a lifetime of disillusionment and disappointment, the makings of tragedy far more troubling than anything even the most talented novelist could ever conceive.
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Monday, August 20, 2018
“BlacKkKlansman” (2018). Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Ryan Eggold, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Michael Joseph Buscemi, Robert John Burke, Ken Garito, Jasper Pääkkönen, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Frederick Weller, Corey Hawkins, Nicholas Turturro. Director: Spike Lee. Screenplay: Charlie Wachtell, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee. Book: Ron Stallworth, Black Klansman. Web site. Trailer.
Bringing hateful practices to light takes guts. Sometimes it also takes creativity, especially when those vile matters are carefully hidden or carried out by those who operate in the shadows. But, when courage and innovation successfully join forces, the ugly truth can be exposed for all to see, drawing attention to the detestable nature of these concerns, a notion explored in director Spike Lee’s new fact-based film biography, “BlacKkKlansman.”
When Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) joined the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1972 as its first African-American officer, he was initially assigned to the records department, a dead-end job in which he was routinely mistreated by co-workers. That soon changed, however, when the department’s top cop, Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke), tapped Stallworth for an undercover intelligence mission – to attend and gather information about the mood and attitudes of the Black community at a rally featuring Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) (Corey Hawkins), one of the founders of the Black Power movement.
[caption id="attachment_10106" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Undercover detectives Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, right) and his impersonating doppelganger, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, left), seek to infiltrate the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in director Spike Lee’s new fact-based film biography, “BlacKkKlansman.” Photo by David Lee, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]
Based on the success of that mission, Stallworth was soon appointed to a full-time position in the intelligence department. While reading a newspaper one day, he came across an ad seeking recruits for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Acting on an impulse, he responded to the notice, seeking to infiltrate the White supremacist organization. There was just one problem: Given his ethnicity, there was no way he could have any face-to-face contact with any of the Klan’s members. And, because he couldn’t conduct an investigation entirely by phone, he needed to come up with a creative solution to proceed.
To compensate, Stallworth called upon his fellow detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to impersonate him. This was a risky proposition, not only for the potential slip-ups that could undermine their operation, but also because Zimmerman was Jewish, a community the Klan scorned almost as much as it did Blacks. Consequently, they had to get their stories straight, because, if either of them should act or speak inconsistently, their cover would be blown and the investigation compromised.
Nevertheless, despite these possible pitfalls, “the Stallworth brothers” proceeded with their plans. Zimmerman met with the leader of the local Klan chapter, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), and his radical, hot-headed lieutenant, Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen). While Walter appeared to trust the newcomer and his motivations, Felix – ever the skeptic – suspected that the new recruit might be either a cop or Jewish (or both). He actively sought to verify Flip’s “sincerity” by trying to force him to prove his intentions, such as coercing him into taking a lie detector test, an incident that seriously tested the viability of the investigation.
[caption id="attachment_10107" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) takes a personal interest in a new recruit for the organization and officiates at his initiation ceremony in the new fact-based film biography, “BlacKkKlansman.” Photo by David Lee, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]
Considering the delicate nature of their operation, the detectives obviously needed to progress cautiously. At the same time, though, Stallworth wanted to move things forward aggressively. For instance, given the slow pace of getting “his” membership application approved, Stallworth sought to expedite matters by reaching out to the Klan’s national leader, Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), to see if he could intervene on his behalf. And, after a phone conversation in which he thoroughly charmed the big boss, Stallworth managed to get his request granted. Before long, Flip had his new membership card in hand.
As all this played out, Stallworth also wrestled with striking a balance between his personal feelings and his professional duties. While he naturally wanted to see his fellow African-Americans become empowered and respected, he needed to make sure that his work didn’t turn into a personal vendetta, a significant challenge to be sure.
Avoiding such potential conflicts of interest also became apparent in Stallworth’s budding romance with Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), president of the Black student union at Colorado College, which sponsored the Kwame Ture rally where the two first met. Again, Stallworth needed to balance his personal feelings with his professional duties, given that Dumas was a potential contact in an official capacity. What’s more, even though he appreciated Patrice’s passion for her cause, Stallworth also believed that the pursuit of personal empowerment and the need for law and order were not mutually exclusive issues. This is why he kept his profession a secret from Patrice, because he knew that, if he revealed this information to her, considering her disdain for the police, she would drop him in a heartbeat, both as a professional contact and as a would-be romantic partner. This was yet another tightrope to be navigated.
[caption id="attachment_10108" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), head of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, warmly welcomes a new recruit to his organization, not realizing that he’s dealing with an undercover detective, in director Spike Lee’s new fact-based film biography, “BlacKkKlansman.” Photo by David Lee, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]
All of these elements came to a head when Duke announced that he personally planned to visit Colorado Springs to officiate at Flip’s initiation. To complicate matters, this ceremony was scheduled to coincide with a high-profile presentation to the Black student union by Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte), a witness to the historic and horrific 1916 lynching of teenage farmhand Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas. Thus, with the two events running parallel to one another, the fuse was lit. This combination of events carried the potential for explosive consequences, circumstances that could easily plunge the community and its various constituents into peril.
When attempting to snare potential or alleged perpetrators who employ unconventional, underhanded tactics, it often takes comparably unconventional measures to catch them in the act, especially when such bad actors are practiced at skillfully using camouflaged methods to conceal themselves. This requires thinking outside the box, pushing the limits of tried and true methods to accomplish sought-after goals. It’s not always easy, yet it’s a cornerstone principle to achieving success with the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.
Even if he never heard of this practice, Ron Stallworth was a master at this. For instance, his hiring into the Colorado Springs Police Department as a Black applicant – the first person ever to have done so – illustrates his ability to envision outcomes that defied custom. However, this was just the beginning of his string of successes. When he pitched his superiors about transferring into investigative work as a rookie, he was taking on what most everyone saw as a Quixotic task – yet, despite such seemingly long odds, he managed to land an undercover assignment not long thereafter, one that led to the fulfillment of his objective of securing a job as a full-time detective. And then, of course, there was his proposed sting operation for taking on the Klan, something that peers initially scoffed at but that, with a little creativity, flourished and took on a life of its own.
Stallworth wasn’t the only one who succeeded at this. Zimmerman was equally adept at making things work. On numerous occasions in his dealings with Klan members, for example, he was faced with big challenges at passing himself off as one of them. He frequently had to represent himself as something he wasn’t. And, when confronted with circumstances where he had to respond on the fly, he had to act fast – and convincingly – to keep his cover. But, despite the seeming difficulty involved, on some level, he knew he could do this; when he had to think on his feet and come up with outlandish responses on the fly, he always managed to rise to the occasion – and made it look easy.
[caption id="attachment_10109" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, left) and Black Power activist Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier, right) struggle with uncomfortable personal and professional relations in director Spike Lee’s new fact-based film biography, “BlacKkKlansman.” Photo by David Lee, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]
So why did these extraordinary plans work? It was their beliefs – specifically their beliefs in themselves and their abilities to accomplish their goals. Even if Stallworth and Zimmerman didn’t necessarily know how to achieve them when they first started out, they were each able to tap into a wellspring of self-confidence, tremendous faith in their capabilities and an unshakable knowledge that their plans would work.
The beliefs driving such attributes exude personal power. That’s because they’re backed by underlying core notions that they knew their divine collaborator – the Universe, All That Is or whatever you want to call it – would support them in their efforts. This belief foundation thus bolstered their faith in the process and in themselves in their search for success.
It’s also interesting to see how creativity gets put to use in this context. It shows that it can be employed for purposes other than what we typically associate it with. Using it in creating works of art is certainly a lofty pursuit, but infusing it into more practical, everyday matters shows how widely it can be applied. That’s a valuable point to bear in mind when it comes to any kind of problem-solving exercises. And, the more we engage in such practices, the more adept we become at it, improving our overall conscious creation skills. Who would have thought that such creative proficiency could come out of measures not directly related to what we think of as traditional applications?
Most importantly, though, Stallworth and company effectively put the process to use creatively in seeking justice, arguably one of the most noble pursuits to which it can be employed. This calls upon us to overcome our fears, to live courageously and heroically, one of the most significant endeavors we can undertake as conscious creators. Doing so not only helps us not only surmount our own personal challenges, but it also aids our fellow beings, especially those who are persecuted or subjected to discriminatory treatment. Succeeding on this front represents a prime example of living our value fulfillment, the conscious creation principle associated with us being our best, truest selves for betterment of ourselves and the world at large. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine it being put to use for a more important, more impactful application than this.
Director Spike Lee’s latest explores a variety of issues, all of which are just as relevant today as when this story was set. The film examines what it means to be true to one’s feelings, a challenge that can be made especially difficult when potentially conflicting beliefs are involved. This draws attention to the need for striking a balance, one that may not be easy to achieve and almost certainly calls for creative solutions to achieve resolution. Most importantly, though, the picture examines what it means to address the bald-faced prejudice and hate of those who would try to keep others down, making it clear where lines are to be drawn – and what simply won’t be tolerated.
“BlacKkKlansman” is easily one of the filmmaker’s best movies in years. Washington, Driver and Grace excel in their roles, bringing their characters to life with undeniable authenticity, and the period piece production values are top-notch across the board. As with most of Lee’s work, the film admittedly suffers from some occasional issues with choppy storytelling, awkward cinematography and message overkill (problems that always seem to intrude on the filmmaker’s work), yet this latest offering nevertheless serves up a deft mix of suspense, humor and social commentary in a generally well-crafted period piece. It’s good to see the director getting back into good form once again.
The film is already garnering some awards buzz, having taken home some notable trophies. Earlier this year the picture won the Grand Prize of the Jury and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Palme d’Or, the Festival’s highest honor. Don’t be surprised if it picks up additional honors as awards season gears up.
The experiences of individuals like Ron Stallworth and his peers offer us an emboldening, inspired example for taking on those who seek to hold us down with intimidation and hate. Their tactics may frighten, but their numbers are often small, far from insurmountable. And, with an effective mix of bravery and inventiveness, these foes can be vanquished. After all, with a bright light squarely shining on them, there’s no place to hide – even under the sheets.
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.