Tuesday, April 23, 2013

‘The Company You Keep’ explores the implications of beliefs

“The Company You Keep” (2012 production, 2013 release). Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Chris Cooper, Jackie Evancho, Stanley Tucci, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Stephen Root, Gabrielle Rose. Director: Robert Redford. Screenplay: Lem Dobbs. Book: Neil Gordon. Web site. Trailer.

Just what is “truth”? Is it a hard and fast, easily quantifiable commodity, or is it something more elusive? Some might say it depends on what one believes, for that forms the basis of what ultimately materializes in our lives. Such is the premise that drives the underlying story of director Robert Redford’s absorbing new thriller, “The Company You Keep.”

Attorney Jim Grant (Robert Redford) leads a busy life. As a committed public interest lawyer and single father of an 11-year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho), he maintains a modestly comfortable, moderately visible profile in Albany, New York. That stability quickly evaporates, however, when an acquaintance, Billy Cusimano (Stephen Root), informs him that a friend needs legal counsel for an impending high-profile case. Although initially interested, once Jim learns who the would-be client is, he abruptly declines the inquiry, citing a full case load and a personal inability to provide an effective defense. Billy is understandably mystified, given Jim’s accomplished professional reputation, but the reluctant attorney has his reasons, none of which have to do with his case load or his legal skills.

Public interest attorney Jim Grant (Robert Redford, left) cares for his 11-year-old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho, right) while trying to protect a 30-year-old secret in the absorbing new thriller, “The Company You Keep.” Photo by Doane Gregory, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Rather, Jim’s decision hinges on the client’s identity, former ʼ70s antiwar activist Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon). As a member of the radical, sometimes-violent protest group known as the Weather Underground, Solarz was implicated in the death of a security guard during a bank robbery sanctioned by the organization 30 years earlier. She had been on the run and in hiding since then and was recently captured while en route to turning herself in. Jim’s hesitation has nothing to do with the nature of the case, but it has everything to do with the defendant, who turns out to be an associate from his own activist past. Taking the case would thus force him out of hiding as well, revealing his true identity as Weatherman Nick Sloan, a fellow suspect wanted in the bank guard’s death.

When word of the arrest surfaces, newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) is assigned to cover it by his editor, Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci). As an aggressive investigative journalist, Ben jumps on the story. He begins by compiling background information, thanks to a lead provided by an FBI source (Anna Kendrick). Through that tip, Ben learns that Jim declined to take the case and decides to find out why. In a supposedly off-the-record interview, Jim anxiously reiterates his reasons for turning down the representation request, but Ben is not satisfied with the seemingly evasive answers he receives. He decides to look into matters further, but the focus of his investigation shifts from Solarz to Jim. And Jim, suspicious of Ben’s motives, knows that the journalist is onto him.

While researching the story of a lifetime, investigative journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf, right) frequently locks horns over procedure with newspaper editor Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci, left), the one who gave him the plum assignment in the first place, in director Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep.” Photo by Doane Gregory, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Fearing that the truth of his real identity will come out, Jim (i.e., Nick) quietly vanishes into the shadows. He places his daughter in the custody of his brother Daniel (Chris Cooper) and embarks on an unexplained, but seemingly purposeful cross-country journey that reunites him with a number of his former operatives (Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott), all the while dogged by both Ben and by the lead FBI investigator on the case (Terrence Howard). Meanwhile, Ben also stumbles into a related story involving the police chief responsible for initiating the original investigation 30 years earlier (Brendan Gleeson) and his adopted daughter (Brit Marling). How it all plays out depends on how effectively Nick manages to stay ahead of those pursuing him – and whether the real truth of things manages to surface, for things aren’t always what they seem to be.

Beliefs, as conscious creators know, provide the foundation for the “truth” we each experience, and they’re examined from a variety of perspectives in this film. For example, what we think of someone forms the basis for our experience of that individual. Those who believe Jim/Nick to be a criminal, for instance, employ those notions to create circumstances that paint him in that light. After all, some might contend, if he were indeed innocent, why is he hiding? So the belief that he must be guilty of something automatically arises among those who buy into that idea, and they consequently manifest a reality in line with that thinking.

However, circumstances indicate that there might well be something more going on here. The fact that Jim chose to become a public interest lawyer – one who’s interested in seeing justice done – and that he somehow managed to successfully slip under the radar in realizing that goal suggest that he has a mission to fulfill, despite whatever he may or may not have done in his past. By specifically engaging in a profession that itself embodies the concept of justice suggests that he’s pursuing the fulfillment of a principle very near and dear to him, and his beliefs align with the reality he’s created for himself. Suddenly, the unquestioned belief that he’s guilty of something seems much less clear-cut than it might have at first glance.

When fugitive Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is arrested while en route to turning herself in, she sets in motion a chain of events with implications far more sweeping than anyone could have imagined in director Robert Redford’s engaging new thriller, “The Company You Keep.” Photo by Doane Gregory, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Beliefs related to ethics and ideology also play a major role in the picture’s narrative, and, accordingly, they impact both the events that transpire on screen as well as those that make up the characters’ back stories. The realities that spring forth from the beliefs that underlie one’s ethics and ideology can take myriad forms, ranging from what many of us would consider “reasonable” to those that we would likely see as “extreme.” While most of us might justifiably look upon such characterizations as patently “obvious,” we must also bear in mind that, in conscious creation terms, such distinctions disappear, because the philosophy maintains that all probabilities are valid and equally capable of materialized expression, no matter what they entail.

Now, this is not to condone all of the manifestations that are capable of arising; the acts of violence carried out by the Weather Underground members depicted in this film, for example, are morally unsupportable. But, to keep manifestations like this from materializing again, it’s important that we understand what gives rise to them. By doing so, we have an opportunity to appreciate how they arose – and to discover why the beliefs that spawned them went awry.

As author and conscious creation proponent Jane Roberts wrote (in conjunction with her noncorporeal channeled entity, Seth) in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events, idealistic beliefs carried to their extremes sometimes morph into unbridled fanaticism. In such instances, “noble” intents that go perpetually unaddressed eventually reach the point where their associated beliefs take on exaggerated forms, transforming into perverted expressions of their original conceptions. Once again, this is not meant to suggest that such distortions should be sanctioned. However, if we were to take time to understand – and address – the issues (and underlying beliefs) that give birth to them before they explode in such inflated forms, we significantly increase our chances of curtailing their materialization. By doing so, not only can we stave off potentially needless tragedies, but we can also look to solve the problems that prompted their manifestation in the first place.

Of course, being able to understand the beliefs that birth such extreme measures requires us to expand our own vision, to broaden our own perspective, to contemplate other viewpoints that we might not have previously considered. As conscious creators are well aware, we all have an infinite range of probabilities available to us, so embracing a mindset that allows for wider consideration of the spectrum of possibilities enables us to examine them more readily.

That notion is raised repeatedly throughout the film, and it’s significant for a variety of reasons. For starters, it speaks to the question of judgment and whether it’s employed fairly or unfairly in assessing others and their circumstances (especially where Jim/Nick is concerned) by both those on- and off-screen. It also relates to the degree of discernment we draw upon in making such assessments, a consideration that sheds light on the importance of actively developing and making use of our intuition as part of the evaluation process.

The picture draws particular attention to these matters in the context of generational belief differences, highlighting the distinctions between them. Because of differences in age, wisdom and life experience (and the less than fully developed beliefs that tend to accompany such qualities among those of fewer years), Ben is sometimes quick to judge the subject of his investigation. His limited knowledge of the period in which Jim engaged in his alleged acts prompts him to develop beliefs – and to manifest conditions – reflective of such thinking. By contrast, Jim’s presence in Ben’s life is to expose him to beliefs of a more seasoned nature, to help enlighten him about the events of the past, as well as to help him develop a more open mind, an attribute that will ultimately aid him both personally and as a journalism professional. His more mature approach to life serves as an example that his junior colleague can look to for inspiration, especially when it comes to the formation of beliefs where matters of ethics, honor, and personal and professional integrity are concerned.

The need to accept the personal responsibility that comes with the formation of our beliefs (and the realization of the creations that arise from them) is also apparent throughout the film. This is particularly true for manifestations of significant magnitude. Jim and his former associates, for example, must come to terms with their past actions, owning up to what they did (or failed to do) and how those deeds affected everyone they touched (including, interestingly enough, each other). Likewise, Ben must be aware of the impact of his reporting, for covering a story is ultimately about more than just getting the scoop, a principle that many contemporary journalists have lost sight of (both for better and worse) and that the picture doesn’t hesitate to point out.

When newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf, right) stumbles into the story of his career, he diligently seeks background information from the FBI investigators (Terrence Howard, left, Anna Kendrick, middle) handling the case in “The Company You Keep.” Photo by Doane Gregory, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The degree to which we accept such responsibility often rests with our sense of personal honor, with how honest we are with ourselves. Being true to ourselves (and our beliefs) is the hallmark of an effective conscious creator, one who operates with a sense of integrity and whose manifestations ultimately have meaningful impact. But those who betray themselves must be prepared for the consequences that accompany such actions. Those who doubt themselves or who knowingly engage in acts that are considered illegal, unethical or wrong will eventually pay a price, no matter what “justification” they draw upon for participating in them, as some of Jim’s colleagues – and foes – find out the hard way.

Those who are faithful to their convictions, however, can be confident in their creations, never having to second-guess themselves, their beliefs or their actions. Even those who facilitate seemingly “deceptive” acts can be assured that they’re doing the right thing, provided that they are free of any doubt about their words and deeds. The integrity underlying such actions becomes evident for all to see, making favorable outcomes – even ones that include forgiveness as part of the equation – possible.

“The Company You Keep” is an engaging, thoughtful thriller that holds audience attention well from start to finish. Its well-paced storytelling effectively maintains viewer interest throughout, revealing its plot elements in deftly measured increments but without unduly stringing audiences along. It’s easily Redford’s best directorial work since “Ordinary People” (1980) and a picture that’s more relevant for today’s times than the subject matter might initially suggest.

Of course, the film wouldn’t have come off as well as it does were it not for its positively stellar cast, one of the best assembled ensembles I’ve seen in a long while. As capable as Redford and LaBeouf are in the lead roles, though, the supporting players are the real stand-outs, particularly Christie, Nolte, Jenkins, Tucci and, most especially, Sarandon. Their efforts are effectively complemented by a great soundtrack and gorgeous cinematography.

Former ʼ70s radical Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) is one of many members of the Weather Underground who must come to terms with her past in the “The Company You Keep.” Photo by Doane Gregory, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Unfortunately, the film has received ample criticism for some of its content, particularly for its allegedly “romanticized” portrayal of a radical insurgent group, a complaint that arose even before the recent tragic events that took place in Boston and that, regrettably, could grow in the wake of that atrocity. However, to oversimplify this picture as a vehicle that somehow glorifies terrorist acts is a gross mischaracterization, one that fails to consider the entire story and that glosses over many topics worthy of discussion and debate, subjects that, in many ways, are even more pertinent today than they were during the Vietnam Era. But then selling the picture short, without adequate assessment of its merits, is, as noted above, one of the very themes the film attempts to convey through its narrative. (Quite ironic, if you ask me.)

The beliefs we hold and subsequently employ in materializing the world around us have wide-ranging implications that we would be wise to consider carefully. That applies not only in what we do, but also in how we assess what others do, for appearances don’t always tell the entire story. “The Company You Keep” shines a bright light on such notions, providing us with an illuminated perspective that goes beyond surface features to reveal the truth that lies beneath.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

‘Disconnect’ shows what’s missing in life

“Disconnect” (2012 production, 2013 release). Cast: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Alexander Skarsgård, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Max Thieriot, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Colin Ford, Jonah Bobo, Aviad Bernstein, Norbert Leo Butz, Marc Jacobs, Haley Ramm, Kasi Lemmons. Director: Henry-Alex Rubin. Screenplay: Andrew Stern. Web site. Trailer.

Feelings of detachment are, unfortunately, all too prevalent these days. So many people believe themselves to be so removed from one another that they often wonder whether or not they’ll ever be able to get those feelings back. Correcting such failings may require drastic measures, too, as becomes all too apparent in the compelling new drama, “Disconnect.”

The narrative of “Disconnect” weaves a number of story threads together, creating an intriguing interconnected tapestry:

* Shy, sensitive high school musician Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo) feels isolated from his family and most of his classmates. His father, lawyer Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman), mother (Hope Davis) and sister (Haley Ramm) are preoccupied with their own lives and interests, paying little attention to him, and his peers see the enigmatic recluse as something of an inscrutable freak. To cope, Ben loses himself in his music, tuning out much of the world around him. So it comes as quite a surprise when he takes an active interest in a lonely young woman, Jessica Rhony, whom he befriends – and falls for – through a social network connection. The kindred spirits develop a bond, sharing intimate thoughts and confidences with one another. There’s just one hitch, though – there is no Jessica. Her profile is the fabrication of a pair of prankster classmates, Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein). The impish wags get a good laugh out of their geeky target’s online reactions and responses, but their scheme backfires when things take a shocking left turn. (So much for fun and games.)

* Cindy Hull (Paula Patton) and her husband Derek (Alexander Skarsgård) are sliding toward a breakup. Having tragically lost their young son, they’ve grown apart, rarely speaking to one another. Derek, a hardened military veteran, refuses to deal with his grief, losing himself in his work and in protracted online gambling sessions. Cindy, meanwhile, escapes her circumstances by frequenting the chat room of an online grief support network, communicating extensively – and quite intimately – with a fellow survivor who goes by the screen name “fearandloathing.” But, if this growing chasm of emotional separation weren’t enough, Cindy and Derek soon find themselves the victims of identity theft, their bank accounts having been emptied and their credit cards having been maxed out for all kinds of fraudulent purchases. They hire cyber crime investigator Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo), a tough-nosed former cop, to look into the matter, a painful process that winds up exposing the many secrets that Cindy and Derek have been keeping from one another. The investigation also identifies a suspected culprit (Michael Nyqvist), a middle-aged out-of-town dry cleaner who goes by the all-too-familiar online alias fearandloathing. Feeling violated and seeking justice, Derek decides to take matters into his own hands, but his decision carries its own share of unforeseen consequences, circumstances that no one involved is expecting – or adequately prepared to handle.

* Reporter Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough) has grown tired of doing endless puff pieces for her television station’s local news broadcasts. She wants to do work that’s more meaningful and substantive. And she gets her shot at that when her editor, Peter (Norbert Leo Butz), agrees to let her do a report about the life of a young internet sex worker named Kyle (Max Thieriot), who unabashedly flaunts his wares over web cams for cash. Kyle agrees to Nina’s proposal as long as she guarantees his anonymity, fearing repercussions from his boss, Harvey (Marc Jacobs), who runs an online network of live erotic web sites, some of which involve allegedly legitimate (but obviously underage) cyber models. Nina’s reporting is well-received, even capturing the attention of CNN. But, given the age of some of the parties involved in Harvey’s network, the broadcast also gets the attention of the FBI. Investigator Roberta Washington (Kasi Lemmons) wants to contact Nina’s sources, but, given the promise of anonymity she made to Kyle, Nina resists divulging what she knows. Faced with suspension from her job and possible criminal charges, Nina must decide whether to keep her word or to keep herself out of jail, a hard choice that has implications for everyone involved.

As the story progresses, the interconnecting threads of the various plot lines become apparent, revealing connections that are peppered with highly synchronistic twists. For example, Mike Dixon, Cindy and Derek’s internet investigator, turns out to be the father of Jason, one of the teens posing as Jessica in the mercilessly cruel online teasing of his emotionally vulnerable classmate. Likewise, when Nina’s employer needs legal advice in the wake of the pending FBI investigation, Peter calls on the station’s lawyer, Rich Boyd, for counsel. And, as events play out, characters once thought to be widely separated from one another come together for ironic encounters as the film approaches its dramatic climax.

Of course, that illusion of separation is what this film is ultimately out to dispel. As anyone versed in any number of metaphysical disciplines (including conscious creation) can attest, there is an intrinsic connectedness binding everything. The notion that any of us or any of the elements that make up our reality are somehow separate, distinct and apart from one another is the height of folly, a grand misconception of how the Universe operates. And, regrettably, it’s also the source of the isolation that so many of us are feeling these days.

Getting reacquainted with our sense of connection as a means to overcome our feelings of separation is at the heart of what “Disconnect” is all about, but it doesn’t take a direct route in reaching that destination. In fact, its path is deliberately convoluted, an approach that ultimately serves to heighten viewer awareness and appreciation of what’s missing, and the fulfillment that comes from getting it back, by intentionally focusing, at least initially, on its palpable absence. The picture accomplishes this by showcasing characters who, as the movie’s title implies, feel disconnected from one another. They turn to the internet to reach out to others, a tool that, at least in theory, has the potential to strengthen our connections to one another, ultimately bringing us closer together. But, as the protagonists discover for themselves, surfing the web can sometimes have exactly the opposite effect, creating even greater emotional distance and deeper isolation, leaving us feeling more disconnected than ever. Indeed, technology is no substitute for intimacy.

So why does this happen? By attempting to employ something outside of ourselves as a means for fixing something that inherently arises from within us, we not only fail to repair what’s broken, but we also reinforce the prevailing dissatisfaction. Trying to eliminate our isolation by making use of a technology that can sometimes promote it only exacerbates our circumstances. Now, this is not meant to demonize the internet, because comparable results will arise with any externalized materialization that we attempt to use to rectify an internal deficiency. As conscious creators know, to change our reality, we must change the beliefs that spawn it. So, in order to effectively rid ourselves of our feelings of isolation, we must look inward and eliminate the thoughts that give rise to them in the first place. We get what we concentrate upon, so if we’re focused on feelings of separation, that’s what will be reflected back to us in all we experience, even in the externalized tools we use to try to correct the problem.

In attaining what we want, however, we must often first experience (and then sometimes even endure) what we don’t want. In this case, the characters must create, and then tire of, their sense of isolation as a means to eradicate it and to open up space for something to replace it – like a renewed awareness of connectedness. Clearing that space can be an arduous undertaking, though, especially if the beliefs that perpetuate the prevailing conditions are particularly entrenched. Reaching that goal, then, may require drastic measures, including the introduction of beliefs and the ensuing manifestation of circumstances and events that dramatically upend the status quo, ripping out the roots of the metaphysical weeds that threaten to overgrow the garden of one’s happiness and contentment. Such experiences may be anything but pleasant; however, they also hold the promise for ushering in a renewed sense of peace, enjoyment and fulfillment.

Derek and Cindy’s relationship, for example, is so far gone that there’s precious little to save it if they continue down the path they’ve been on for so long. They obviously must significantly change their circumstances if they hope to hold on to their marriage. The revelation of hurtful secrets and the need to fight for their collective economic survival are volatile conditions, but they’re also incentives powerful enough to raise the question, “Is this relationship worth salvaging, or do we end it now?” The beliefs that created those events, and the beliefs that will arise to address the foregoing question, will determine how things ultimately play out between them.

Taking such radical steps to change one’s circumstances may seem unnecessary, but, then, sometimes there may be no other way to achieve that goal under such intractable conditions. In films like “Crash” (2005) and “Ordinary People” (1980), for instance, we see characters so desperate to feel anything that they’re even willing to experience negative emotions just to be able to restore their ability to feel at all. So it is also with the principals in “Disconnect,” who are so desperate to restore their sense of connection that they’re willing to endure anything to be able to reestablish their capacity for it. For their sake, we can only hope they succeed.

“Disconnect” is a real knock-out of a picture. Filmmaker Henry-Alex Rubin’s debut fictional feature is an impressive effort, excellent in every respect but especially in its writing, editing and direction. The picture’s deft fusion of live action and on-screen text graphics make for imaginative storytelling (given the subject matter), and its innovative use of sound and its engaging soundtrack provide added dimensions to the material. The film also features terrific performances across the board, especially Bateman (who shows surprising depth), Grillo, Riseborough and Patton, as well as the young performers (Thieriot, Ford, Bobo and Bernstein), who demonstrate an acting maturity beyond their years.

Some viewers and critics have labeled “Disconnect” an overwrought melodrama whose messages aren’t especially original. However, I would contend that heartfelt emotion – the kind often on display in this film – is not the same as melodrama, and it’s refreshing to see a movie that reflects this quality as well as this one does. And, even if its messages aren’t particularly groundbreaking, either in terms of their cyber world cautions or their metaphysical precepts, they’re far from trite or insignificant (and certainly can’t hurt by being repeated). “Disconnect” is easily the best release of 2013 thus far, and I sure hope it doesn’t get forgotten at awards time (though its release this early in the year, unfortunately, could hurt its chances in that regard).

Restoring our connections to one another, as well as to our awareness of the innate connectedness of all things in the Universe, is one of the chief challenges we face these days. Movies like “Disconnect” help to remind us of that, providing us with insights into its importance, as well as illustrations for how we might go about getting it back. And we’d be wise to pay attention, for the stakes are quite high – both for the future of our species and our planet.

Photo courtesy of LD Entertainment.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 12, 2013

‘Jurassic Park 3D’ instills respect for the power of creation

“Jurassic Park 3D” (1993 original release, 2013 3D re-release). Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, B.D. Wong, Wayne Knight. Director: Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Book: Michael Crichton. Web site. Trailer.

The power behind acts of creation, no matter how seemingly trivial, is tremendous. The process of bringing forth an idea into manifestation is truly miraculous, something not to be taken lightly. But, when we treat this notion casually, we run the risk of paying a high price. Such is the message of a recently re-released screen classic presented in a new format, “Jurassic Park 3D.”

Theme park developer John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has a full plate of problems to resolve. He’s heavily invested in getting his latest venture off the ground, routinely proclaiming that he’s “spared no expense” in doing so. Even with that, though, the project is beset by technical glitches, untrustworthy employees, worker safety issues and investor jitters, concerns so worrisome that major backers have asked attorney Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) to investigate the attraction’s viability. But then that should probably come as no surprise for an undertaking as audacious as Jurassic Park, a unique fusion of Disneyland and a prehistoric version of the Bronx Zoo where the main attraction is truly something to see – live dinosaurs.

To qualm investors’ fears, John decides to seek the endorsement of several experts, convinced that their stamp of approval will lend legitimacy to the project and enable plans to move forward. He contacts paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), whose field excavations he’s been bankrolling for some time, and invites them to tour the park. Although initially hesitant, Alan and Ellie quickly relent with the promise of three years’ additional funding for their research, a handsome payoff for one weekend’s work. And so, before long, the scientists, along with attorney Gennaro and mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), are off to Isla Nublar, a tiny island west of Costa Rica, to see John’s newest playground. It’s an experience they relish with wonder and anticipation, but little do they know what they’re getting themselves into.

Upon arrival at Jurassic Park, the visitors are blown away by what they see. Wide-eyed idealists Alan and Ellie witness their life’s work come to life – literally. Gennaro, meanwhile, gleefully envisions dollar signs filling his head (and his backers’ pockets). But, despite his peers’ enthusiasm, Malcolm, as an expert in the unpredictability of chaos theory, sees trouble – big trouble – at the prospect of what this place represents. And, when his fellow scientists learn how the Jurassic Park staff managed to create this spectacle, their amazement quickly turns to skepticism, too. Alan, Ellie and Malcolm raise their concerns with John, who tries to deflect their criticisms with deft touches of spin, but the only one sold by his arguments is Gennaro, who’s too busy counting the money investors will make to truly hear what the others are saying.

Despite the visitors’ doubts, John nevertheless convinces them to take the park tour, joined by two additional guests, his grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards). And so, with a curious mixture of hope and anxiety, the visitors set out on a narrated afternoon excursion. Anticipation quickly turns to disappointment, however, when the featured attractions seclude themselves in the tropical underbrush, out of sight. The hoped-for excitement dissipates as the stars of the show fail to make an appearance. But that all changes when the park’s shortcomings begin to make their presence felt. What was supposed to have been a pleasant day at the park turns into a nightmare beyond expectations. Needless to say, John’s problems suddenly get a lot worse.

On the surface, Jurassic Park probably sounds like a really cool idea. So why do the scientists (especially Malcolm) see it as such a potential danger? Well, when’s the last time you had an up-close and personal encounter with a dinosaur? And, if you’ve never had such an experience, do you have any idea how you might react? Not a clue, right?

On one hand, delving into such unexplored territory can indeed be exhilarating. But, at the same time, it can also be fraught with a host of unknowns. Now, since humans and dinosaurs have never been known to co-exist, there’s no telling what could happen, even with whatever well-meaning “precautions” we might take. Such precautions may seem sufficient, based on our expectations, but they might ultimately prove to be wholly inadequate, given that we have no practical experience interacting with these creatures. Our beliefs about their behavior could be fundamentally way off base, so, if they act differently than anticipated, we’d be left with problems to solve for which we’re totally unprepared. Then what?

The foregoing exemplifies one of the key problems that can result when we approach the act of creation recklessly, both materially and metaphysically. By seeking to manifest our conceptions without due consideration for the consequences, we disregard the innate power underlying conscious creation, as well as the inherent responsibility that comes with the materialization process. This practice, known as un-conscious creation or creation by default, can set us up for real trouble if we’re not careful, perhaps resulting in wide-ranging impacts far beyond anything we can conceive of. Indeed, as Malcolm so astutely points out, just because we can create something doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. Using the dinosaur example for illustration, Malcolm notes that nature selected these creatures for extinction, that they represented a line of evolution that played itself out, and that, even though we may be able to facilitate their return, perhaps it’s an idea best left alone. When viewed through the lens of conscious creation, the dinosaurs represented a line of probability that was carried through as far as it could go, and their disappearance marked the end of a line, one not to be revisited.

The act of going back – no matter what the endeavor – seldom pans out as hoped for. In part that’s because, as conscious creators are well aware, “everything is in a constant state of becoming.” The consciousness that permeates all things in the Universe – what some might call the essence of God – seeks to continually discover itself through its myriad manifestations (with us serving as its corporeal emissaries of discovery). In doing so, however, it’s not disposed to staying put for any length of time, let alone returning to revisit an expression of itself that it has already experienced. If this sounds a bit abstract, think about what it’s like to peer down the tube of a kaleidoscope, noting that the colorful patterns it creates never repeat themselves. So it is also with the constant state of becoming, a phenomenon we physical beings might more commonly know as “evolution.”

Based on the foregoing, and for what should be obvious reasons, “evolution” is integral to the narrative of this film. It applies on multiple levels, too, not only where the dinosaurs and their progeny are concerned, but also in the nature of the characters and their relationships with one another. Their experiences in Jurassic Park help to foster their own personal evolution, helping them to discover parts of themselves they never knew existed and allowing them to go through their own process of becoming. Alan, for instance, is not comfortable around children, a quality that impinges on the evolution of his romantic relationship with Ellie. However, when faced with imminent peril in the company of two defenseless youngsters, his outlook toward kids changes drastically, a realization that gives him access to a previously unexplored aspect of himself and that holds promise for making a significant alteration in the nature of his romance with Ellie.

While such self-discovery is often accompanied by tremendous wonder, it also speaks to the unpredictability factor that Malcolm raises. Unpredictability often makes us uncomfortable, because we can’t see what’s coming, filling us with feelings of vulnerability. This is where becoming “conscious” has its benefits, because it provides us with a deeper understanding of how and why things materialize as they do. By “waking up,” we have an opportunity to fashion realities more to our liking. But, as noted earlier, manifesting in this way comes with conditions we must bear in mind (such as the aforementioned power and responsibility considerations).

The aim of conscious creation, of course, is creation. But, in arriving at that outcome, we must be aware of the driving forces behind it, our beliefs and intents, for they ultimately determine the result. Being clear, or conscious, about them is essential to getting where we want to be.

So, in light of that, how do the characters in “Jurassic Park 3D” end up under the circumstances they experience? When we consider where each of them is coming from, they’re exactly where their beliefs put them. Alan and Ellie, for instance, are quite awe-struck with what the park’s creators have wrought, and given that it embodies their life’s study, they can’t help but behave like the proverbial kids in a candy store. But, like those giddy youngsters, they also may not be aware of the consequences of consuming too many gumdrops until it’s too late.

In a similar vein, John is a grand visionary who dreams large and is exceedingly successful at bringing his imagination to life. However, he’s so focused on an idealized outcome that he can’t fathom that others, such as some of his closest associates, might not operate from the same noble intent. For instance, while he no doubt wants a fair return on his investment, he’s not the shameless greed monger that Gennaro is, who can hardly contain himself when he thinks about the cash this venture will generate. But, even worse, John’s oblivious to the devious schemes of shifty computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), who self-servingly tries to manipulate circumstances to his advantage and ends up setting in motion a chain of events destined for disaster. (So much for John’s honorable vision.)

As things fall apart, John reflects on where he went wrong, citing a need for having better control over the conditions he employed in realizing his vision. But Ellie correctly points out that such hoped-for control is an illusion, akin to trying to place an undersized lid on an oversized pot and hoping it will suffice for an extended period. Conscious creators are well aware of the futility of this misconception, cognizant of the principle that the present moment is the only time at which we have any direct control over our circumstances. If a creation is inherently “faulty” or if its attributes are fundamentally inadequate, they’ll continue to be so going forward, no matter how much we might like to think we have “control” over it. Wishing for something to be true without adequate beliefs to support it simply doesn’t work. This is particularly true for co-creations, because the parties involved in the undertaking may not be approaching it with the same underlying intents. Considering where John and Dennis are each coming from, for example, it’s no wonder that things play out as they do.

All of this is not to suggest that we should never try the untried; no progress would ever be made if we took such a timid approach to life. However, we must bear in mind the beliefs we employ in shaping our existence, for if we don’t, we just might end up sharing the fate of the occupants of Jurassic Park – and I don’t necessarily mean the dinosaurs.

“Jurassic Park 3D” is a thoughtful, edge-of-your-seat thriller that holds viewer attention from start to finish. It’s classic Steven Spielberg in the same vein as “Jaws” (1975), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), pictures the director made when he was clearly at the top of his game. It features an excellent, substantive screenplay co-written by famed science fiction author Michael Crichton, terrific performances across the board (particularly Goldblum and Attenborough), and one of composer John Williams’ more underrated musical scores. In fact, perhaps the only disappointment is the picture’s 3D effects, which don’t really add much to the movie (not unlike other recent retrofit re-releases, such as “Titanic” (1997 original release, 2012 re-release)). That said, however, the film’s truly outstanding special effects have held up well since its original release 20 years ago, elements that earned the movie three Oscars (on three nominations) for sound, sound effects editing and visual effects.

Those who tempt fate by casually tampering with the power of creation should take this cautionary tale to heart. Such carelessness can yield disastrous consequences, with outcomes that might be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. We’d be wise to heed the lessons of “Jurassic Park 3D,” not only for the sake of our well-being but perhaps for our very survival as well.

Photo courtesy of Universal City Studios, Inc. and Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sparkling ‘Sapphires’ reveals how to shine

“The Sapphires” (2012 production, 2013 release). Cast: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Tory Kittles, Eka Darville, Cleave Williams, Lynette Narkle, Kylie Belling, Gregory J. Fryer, Don Battee, Hunter Page-Lochard, Meyne Wyatt, T.J. Power. Director: Wayne Blair. Screenplay: Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs. Play: The Sapphires, by Tony Briggs. Web site. Trailer.

Stepping into the spotlight is something many of us have likely fantasized about at one time or another, but how many of us actually follow through on that dream? Some of us end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Others among us lack the courage or conviction to carry through. And others still simply don’t know how to make things happen. But there are steps we can take to achieve success, many of which are outlined in the delightful new comedy-drama, “The Sapphires,” a story inspired by actual events.

The Australian Outback may not seem like the birthplace of a pop singing sensation, but don’t tell that to a talented quartet from the Aboriginal community of Cummeragunja. At one time, the long odds of anyone from Australia’s native population making it big in the face of the country’s oppressive, but legally sanctioned, segregation policies might have easily deterred those who dared dream of a better life. But even those challenging circumstances were no match for the determination of the Cummeragunja Songbirds.

In 1958, three young sisters (Gail, Julie and Cynthia) and a cousin (Kay) formed an impromptu singing group, mainly to perform at family functions. However, no sooner did the aspiring artists get their start when Kay, a light-skinned biracial Aborigine, was forcibly seized (and subsequently relocated) by government authorities to acculturate her into the conventions of “white ways.” Like other natives of fair complexion, Kay was thus coerced into abandoning her way of life, her family and her fellow musicians. The Songbirds’ prospects suddenly looked bleak.

Fast forward 10 years to 1968, where the film’s main story picks up with the older, wiser and more musically polished sisters seeking to launch their singing careers. They’re encouraged by the recent passage of new laws granting civil rights to Australia’s black citizens, hopeful that conditions might at last be changing enough to make their dreams possible. But, despite the legal abolition of discrimination, prejudicial attitudes linger, as the girls find out firsthand when they put their skills on the line in a local talent contest.

And that’s just the beginning of their challenges. In addition to their tepid reception at the contest, Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) each have personal and family matters that they’re grappling with, as well as performance-related rivalry issues that sometimes get quite contentious. Then there’s their ill-conceived choice of country music as singing material (even the most broad-minded audience members can’t help but snicker at an Aborigine threesome crooning a Merle Haggard tune, no matter how beautiful the rendition). And, of course, as gifted as the trio is, it’s just not the same without their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who now lives “the white life” in Melbourne.

Fortunately, an unlikely savior comes to the Songbirds’ rescue in the guise of Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), a boozy, struggling Irish musician who emcees the talent contest – and who promptly gets blown away by their singing. After the competition, Dave chats with the girls, who show him a newspaper clipping about auditions seeking musicians to perform for American GIs serving in Vietnam. They admit to knowing nothing about that faraway land or the war that’s raging there, but they also know an opportunity when they see it. And, even though Dave is aware of the conflict and what that could entail for a successful concert tour, he nevertheless sees this unconventional gig as a chance to strike it big. So the would-be impresario agrees to take on this high-stakes challenge on one condition – that the Songbirds forego their country tunes in favor of soul music, a genre he loves and one that he knows the troops will dig.

Before long, Dave and the Songbirds are off to Melbourne for their audition. Once there, the sisters are reunited with Kay, who agrees to rejoin the group. The girls also undergo their dramatic transformation from country crooners to soul sisters, a change that proceeds surprisingly easily. And, shortly thereafter, Dave and the renamed quartet – now known as the Sapphires – are winging their way to Saigon and their concert tour of Vietnam, a journey filled with diverse experiences that enable them to grow both as performers and as individuals. Their odyssey infuses change in their lives in many ways, including their music, their love lives, their relationships with one another and, most importantly, how they see themselves. It’s truly a time for the Sapphires to sparkle.

Getting to the top often means getting out of one’s own way, something that both Dave and the Sapphires must do if they hope to attain success. And, fortunately for them, they’re sharp enough to realize this as they climb the ladder of accomplishment. They’re thus able to scale the heights of personal growth and development, attainments that allow them to be all that they can, enabling them to live up to their potential and to fulfill their individual destinies. And, in doing so, the protagonists employ a number of key conscious creation principles in materializing the new realities they each experience:

* The point of power is in the present moment. The only time over which any of us has any power to directly control what transpires in our existence is the present. Therefore, if we hope to make the most of our manifestation efforts, we must strive to be conscious of this concept, as well as the particulars of what is actually unfolding around us at the time, for it is only in that moment that we can prompt meaningful, desired outcomes. For instance, when the girls meet Dave and pitch him on their idea, they’re clearly aware of the elements that are coming together to make their future possible, and they don’t hesitate to pounce upon the synchronicity playing out before them. It subsequently propels them to results that more than exceed their expectations.

Letting go of the past and refraining from unduly pinning our hopes on the future are crucial to remaining present. Failing on either of these points can hold us back, leading to frustration and futility. Gail, for example, discovers this for herself in a number of ways, particularly in her dealings with Kay, a love-hate relationship based on past events that keeps Gail from moving forward, not only in her connection with her cousin but also in her own understanding of herself. Only when Gail gets past these self-imposed hurdles can she begin to see significant improvements in her relationship with Kay – and with herself.

* To thine own self be true. As self-evident as this might seem, we often lose sight of it, drifting away from our “true” selves in an attempt to become people we’re not. Making proper use of this concept requires us to draw upon our inner sense of knowing and to realistically assess the beliefs we employ in creating the reality around us. Julie, for instance, knows that she’s the linchpin to the Songbirds’ success, and she fights for her place in the group, even when others, like her mother (Kylie Belling), try to hold her back. Her resolute insistence on assuming her rightful role within the group garners her the attention and support she needs to make that outcome happen and to help the group fulfill the destiny it was meant to attain.

Similarly, Gail needs to come to terms with her role as the group’s “mama bear.” As the eldest member of the ensemble, she’s “the responsible one,” always looking after her younger relatives, a calling she takes seriously and succeeds at, even if it’s not the most glamorous role. However, as the eldest, she also believes she’s entitled to the limelight, an aspiration that can be difficult to fulfill when one’s always busy looking after others. Indeed, reconciling ourselves to our destined roles can be difficult, especially when belief conflicts become wrapped up in the equation, but the sooner we recognize the part we’re meant to play and follow through on it accordingly, the quicker we’ll shine at living out who we are ordained to be. Ironically, on some level, Gail realizes this, too, as seen in her impassioned efforts to encourage Kay to acknowledge her innate black ancestry rather than continuing to embrace the faux white “heritage” that was involuntarily thrust upon her. One can only hope that Kay follows her elder cousin’s advice – and that Gail recognizes the wisdom of her own teachings for herself.

The merits of being true to oneself become apparent when one looks at the biographies of the women who provided the inspiration for the characters in this film (presented just prior to the closing credits). Sisters Laurel Robinson and Lois Peeler and cousins Beverley Briggs and Naomi Meyers courageously followed through on their aspirations, becoming the performers – and the people – they knew they could be. And the example they set, in turn, inspired Beverley’s playwright/screenwriter son Tony, who went on to tell their story through the play he wrote about them and the script he co-wrote for this picture. So, if anyone doubts the value of living genuinely, one need only look to the experiences of these artists to see the validity of this concept.

* Don’t be afraid to evolve. As we grow and develop as individuals, either personally or professionally, we’re almost certain to evolve as our true selves and true talents emerge from the formless world of our inner being into the outer materialized world of our daily existence. Leaving ourselves open to change, being willing (as necessary) to rewrite the beliefs that manifest the reality we experience, recognizing the synchronicities that contribute to the unfolding of our existence as they occur and moving forward without fear all combine to bring about that essential evolution, allowing us to blossom in ways we might have never thought possible.

Upon hearing the Songbirds croon their country tunes, it’s difficult to knock them for their talent, especially since this music seems to make up a big part of who they are as artists. But, considering who they want to become, it’s obvious they need to leave it behind in the Outback. For many of us, abandoning something that’s such an intrinsic aspect of our being might be difficult, but the girls don’t hesitate to make much-needed changes, because they know what’s at stake. They’re amenable to letting the Songbirds morph into the Sapphires, willingly trading their soft serenades of tearful country melodies for belting out soul numbers like nobody’s business. And, because they don’t resist making these essential changes, their rise to success comes that much more easily, an example we’d all be wise to emulate.

* See the “roadblocks” for what they are. Whenever we encounter difficulties along the path to success, we may be tempted to abandon our plans, seeing them as inevitable impossibilities. But this approach overlooks the true intent of what underlies roadblocks. In most cases, they’re designed to help galvanize us in our resolve, making us more determined to see our plans through. In other instances, they’re intended to help us make adjustments in our trajectories, prompting course corrections to get us on a more suitable path. Thus, if we view these “setbacks” in this light, we’re much more likely to roll with the punches (and a lot less likely to throw in the towel).

The protagonists in this story all encounter their share of roadblocks, but they generally don’t let them get in the way of their progress. As a single mother, for example, Julie is initially discouraged to pursue her music, but her passion for singing is so great that she won’t permit those who would block her from having their way. And then there are the many dangers of going on a concert tour in a war zone, but Dave and the girls refuse to let those potential obstacles derail their efforts. Solutions always seem to arise when needed, enabling them to keep making music – and enjoying the journey along the way.

* Relish the joy and power of creation. This should go without saying, but all too often we don’t allow ourselves to experience this simple – yet quite natural – principle. We frequently deny ourselves such enjoyment either through acts of self-sabotage or a fundamental disbelief in the possibility itself. However, if conscious creation makes all options possible, then this one is just as viable as all of those others that, regrettably, we’re all too eager to embrace.

Again, the Sapphires are well aware of the joy and power associated with acts of creation (especially those that spring forth from their own hand), and they unhesitatingly immerse themselves in such undertakings with passion and commitment. They clearly have fun doing what they’re doing, getting the most out of every minute of bringing joy into the lives of those who have precious little of it. That’s the way life should be, though many of us have unfortunately lost sight of it; maybe watching this film can help some of us restore that feeling.

If it’s not already apparent, “The Sapphires” is a real charmer of a film, a genuine feel-good picture deserving of the label. The superbly written screenplay develops its characters well and leaves no story threads unresolved, accomplishments sorely lacking in many scripts these days. It’s also a great period piece with authentic reproductions of ʼ60s hairstyles and outfits, right down to the signature white patent leather go-go boots. But, above all, it’s the music that makes the film; its soundtrack includes many soul and Motown standards like “I’ll Take You There,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “What a Man” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” performed faithfully but with just enough restrained kitsch to bring a wry, nostalgic smile to one’s eye. Admittedly, the pacing could be a little livelier in the first 30 minutes, but that minor drawback doesn’t detract significantly from the picture’s overall quality.

“The Sapphires” is currently playing in limited release, though I’m hoping that this picture finds an audience for itself through word of mouth, much the way other sleeper hits like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) and “The Full Monty” (1997) did in years past. This one is worth seeing, not only for the inspiration it evokes but also for the sheer entertainment it provides. It’s indeed a pleasure to see a picture that delivers on both fronts in the same fun-loving package.

Director Wayne Blair has made an impressive debut in his first feature film, and I’m anxious to see what he comes up with next. This picture provides a clear roadmap of many of the principles needed for successfully creating a reality to one’s liking. And, after all, isn’t that what life is all about? Creating an existence that’s meant to be enjoyed, rather than just endured, should be the aim of our conscious creation efforts. The Sapphires clearly know how to do this, and we should follow their lead. And, by doing so, we all just might be able to shine.

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti, courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.