Wednesday, August 28, 2013

‘The Butler’ charts the birth of a movement

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (2013). Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., David Oyelowo, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Clarence Williams III, Nelsan Ellis, Colman Domingo, Jim Gleason, Elijah Kelley, Alex Pettyfer, Adriane Lenox, David Banner, Yaya Alafia, Michael Rainey, Jr., Aml Ameen, Isaac White, Chloe Barach. Director: Lee Daniels. Screenplay: Danny Strong. Source Material: Wil Haygood, A Butler Well Served by This Election, The Washington Post, November 7, 2008. Web site. Trailer.

When a popular new idea takes root, it can quickly grow wild, encompassing all in its path and overcoming whatever obstacles that get in its way. That’s true for the notions underlying everything from new consumer products to Internet web sites to social movements. One of those crusades that got off to a rough start but blossomed once its viability gained broad support was the American civil rights movement, a cause profiled in the new historical drama, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

Loosely based on a Washington Post article about long-time White House butler Eugene Allen, the film presents a fictional tale modeled on the subject’s life story, told through the eyes of a similarly situated protagonist named Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). As a long-tenured African-American member of the White House domestic staff, Gaines served as a butler to all of the Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman). But the film is more than just a biographical account of the lead character’s remarkable life; it’s also a chronicle of a transformative era in American history, recounted by someone who witnessed firsthand how the groundbreaking policy decisions that shaped the nation’s civil rights movement came into being.

The history of the 20th Century American civil rights movement, as seen through the eyes of long-time White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), provides the focus of the new dramatic release, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Photo by Anne Marie Fox, courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

Through his years of dedicated service, Cecil was close to the seat of the power during one of the most significant periods in the country’s history. But working in the prestigious environment of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was a world apart from his upbringing on a cotton farm in 1920s Georgia. Unbeknownst to him at that time, young Cecil (Michael Rainey, Jr.) was being groomed for his future after he suffered a personal tragedy. When the farm’s owner, Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer), killed Cecil’s father (David Banner) in cold blood, Thomas’s mother, Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), took the boy under her wing, transferring the young field hand to the house staff, where he was rigorously trained as a domestic. He later took these skills with him when he fled Georgia as a teen (Aml Ameen) and moved north to Washington, D.C., where he eventually landed a servant’s position at one of the capital’s finest hotels. And, while employed there, he was spotted by White House insiders (Jim Gleason, Colman Domingo), who selected him to be the newest member of the Presidential butler staff.

Cecil’s vocational success paid many dividends. It enabled him to provide handsomely for his wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and their two sons, Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley). But the demands of his job also created friction in the Gaines household. Cecil’s long working hours left Gloria alone much of the time, prompting her to seek solace in a bottle. And Louis, like many young African-American college students who were joining the civil rights movement at the time, had frequent (and brutal) brushes with the law, skirmishes that radicalized his views and strained his relationship with his dad (whom Louis came to view, because of the nature of his work, as something of an Uncle Tom, despite never saying it to him outright). Charlie, meanwhile, remained loyal to his father – and to his country – eventually signing up to serve in the military in Vietnam, a decision that carried heavy consequences for the family.

White House domestic Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker, right) and his wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, left), struggle to raise a family in the midst of the turbulent 1960s civil rights movement in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Photo by Anne Marie Fox, courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

But not all of the struggles occurred on the home front. During his White House tenure, Cecil also witnessed up close the many daunting challenges that the nation’s leaders had to contend with related to the emerging civil rights movement (as well as the sometimes-tragic events associated with it). Beginning with the Eisenhower administration’s controversial handling of the desegregation of the Little Rock public school system, followed by the initiatives of John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) to institute equal rights protection nationwide (and the heartache of his subsequent assassination), the efforts of Lyndon Johnson (Liev Schreiber) to pass civil rights legislation during the social and political turbulence of the 1960s, and the cynical maneuverings of Richard Nixon (John Cusack) to “manage” the Black community in the days before his resignation in disgrace, Cecil saw everything from a front row seat. It was a lot to take in at times, especially for someone expected to maintain a façade of unflappable composure, no matter what the circumstances.

Through all of the high-stakes drama at home and at work, Cecil also wrestled with his own internal conflicts. He earnestly sought to reconcile his obligations for “knowing his place” with his heartfelt feelings for seeking equality for his people, both on staff and in the Black community overall. It took quite a balancing act to stay level, particularly in the wake of the period’s rapidly changing conditions, circumstances that would come to have profound impact on Cecil, his family, his peers (Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz), his friends (Terrence Howard, Adriane Lenox) and the world at large.

What a time it was indeed.

Beginning with the administration of Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams, left), White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker, right) served seven Presidents during his tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., as seen in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

While the film’s title suggests a focus on its principal character, it’s actually more the story of a movement, namely, the nation’s struggle to institute civil rights for all. In that regard, then, the picture would be more accurately characterized as the history of an era. And, when couched in conscious creation terms, the movie is perhaps best characterized as the chronicle of a mass event, one created out of the myriad beliefs of its many participants.

As the film clearly illustrates, a mass event as emotionally charged as this unfolded as it did as a direct result of the passionate, and diverse, beliefs that contributed to its creation. Because of that, the picture’s characters effectively serve as symbols of the many different (and often-conflicting) views that were being debated at the time. For instance, those who were dissatisfied with the status quo, like Louis and his girlfriend, Carol (Yaya Alafia), didn’t hesitate to openly challenge authority and make their feelings known. At the same time, those who wanted to preserve prevailing conditions, like Klan members and Southern segregationists, actively fought back against the upstart protesters. And then there were those like Cecil and his peers, minorities who enjoyed the economic benefits of upward mobility as long as they “knew their place” but who also struggled to quietly push the cause of their people from within the system (more on this below). All of these elements were present in the mass event that comprised the civil rights movement, and the beliefs that manifested them are all embodied through the characters portrayed on screen.

The impact of the creations that arose out of those beliefs was truly significant, too. When one considers how the events they inspired were ultimately persuasive enough to sway the conscience of a nation, its leadership and its citizens, one can’t help but marvel at the scope of the accomplishment. And, while the movement’s work may not be complete, even to this day, the unquestionably potent beliefs that gave rise to the crusade got it off to an effective and storied start (and who says beliefs aren’t powerful things?).

When we look back on where things stood years ago, many of us today may be tempted to wonder how we could have sanctioned such parochial outlooks – which, from a conscious creation perspective, naturally begs the question, why did those views prevail in the first place? To a certain extent, it’s because individuals and groups that held such restricted beliefs were present in sufficient numbers at that time to make their manifestations possible and prevalent. But that’s only part of the equation. These limited outlooks also prevailed because contrary viewpoints, though valid and existing as viable probabilities, didn’t receive sufficient belief support to make their materialization happen.

For better or worse, such is the nature of mass events; just as with all consciously created manifestations, we get what we concentrate on, whether one’s individual consciousness or that of the group is involved. Indeed, energy flows where thoughts go, regardless of the nature of the beliefs that propel it.

As the movement’s history and this film reveal, however, once beliefs began to shift, the new views took root and were given expression. Those who had never before envisioned such possibilities now had a tangible alternative to consider, the musings on which led to their eventual realization. And, given how events have transpired since then, it’s apparent that many of us, thankfully, have come to see the benefits of this expanded view.

Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman, right), accompanied here by First Lady Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda, left), would be the last of seven Presidents served by long-time White House domestic Cecil Gaines in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

As noted earlier, beliefs can work their magic in quiet, unexpected ways, too. While the overt acts of civil rights activists did much to get their message heard, the restrained, subtle gestures of others were significant to the movement’s progress as well. For instance, at the height of his activist undertakings, Louis had the opportunity to work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nelsan Ellis), and the young advocate was proud of this accomplishment. At the same time, however, he was embarrassed to admit to his mentor that his father was a domestic. But, when Dr. King learned of Cecil’s occupation, he reminded Louis that Black domestic workers often did just as much as protesters to further the community’s cause. Through the example they set with their dedicated work ethic, Black domestics proved their worth to society to those in positions of authority, engaging in behavior that King termed their own unique brand of “subversive” activism. According to the civil rights leader, by shattering preconceptions and giving those in power pause to reconsider their views, Black domestics helped change the paradigm as much as those who were marching in the streets. So, while the domestics’ actions may not have been as explicitly demonstrative as those engaged in by activists, the beliefs that birthed said gestures arose from intents that were ultimately just as focused on fostering change as anything conceived of by their more vocal counterparts. Indeed, as their example shows, not all progress toward the fulfillment of a cause need come out of the end of a bullhorn.

On balance, “The Butler” is a well-crafted period piece, telling a compelling story about a compelling time. Given all of the historic and biographical ground it seeks to cover, however, it probably would have worked better as a television miniseries (a la Backstairs at the White House (1979)) than as a stand-alone film. By trying to incorporate everything into a two-hour movie format, the filmmakers give short shrift to some aspects of the time frame in question (except for a few passing film clips, for example, the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter years are completely ignored). However, what is included is generally handled well, and in virtually every respect, from the writing to the acting to all of its expertly re-created period piece elements.

I’m extremely pleased that the filmmakers wisely chose to present this story as a fictional account involving fictitious characters, even though it was inspired by actual events and includes known historical figures. In my view, too many recent films “based on” actual events have stretched the credibility of the term “true story” through their inclusion of wholly fictitious elements and events for dramatic effect (such as in last year’s Academy Award winner for best picture, “Argo”), a move that I believe, as a trained journalist and historian, misleads moviegoers. The above-board approach employed in identifying the fictional nature of this story largely avoids that pitfall, providing viewers with a cinematic experience that’s entertaining and historically educational without being unduly deceptive.

The film is already receiving considerable awards season buzz (especially in the acting categories, primarily for Whitaker and Winfrey), much the way a similar late summer release, “The Help,” did in 2011. As good as this offering is, though, I’m not sure if it has enough of what it takes to earn the accolades to which it aspires. There have been many terrific releases so far this year, and high-profile awards season offerings have yet to hit the market. So I can’t say yet whether “The Butler” is capable (or worthy) of rising to the level of a bona fide contender, especially given the many commendable competitors it could be up against (including impressive releases like “42,” which, in my opinion, deals with the topic of civil rights just as well, if not better, than this film).

Having lived through the era in which the civil rights movement came into being, I can attest to the struggle its supporters encountered in giving birth to it. But, in the end, the effort and the sacrifices were worth it, for they energized the manifesting beliefs of the masses who made it happen. This film salutes that endeavor, showing that fewer things are more powerful than an idea that’s given sufficient backing. It also serves as an inspiration for all those other noteworthy causes that deserve a chance if only we’re willing to believe in them.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

‘In a World’ gives voice to one’s power

“In a World…” (2013). Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Ken Marino, Geena Davis, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Alexandra Holden, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Stephanie Allynne, Talulah Riley, Eva Longoria, Jeff Garlin, Don LaFontaine (archival footage). Director: Lake Bell. Screenplay: Lake Bell. Web site. Trailer.

When we seek to realize a dream, we start by envisioning the idea in our consciousness, forming beliefs to support it and then taking actions that, we hope, will bring it into being. But, to truly make that prospect a reality, we must also infuse the process with the personal power that drives its materialization. And the more we give voice to that notion, the more likely we are to see it manifest, a theme explored with loads of laughs in the uproarious new independent comedy, “In a World….”

For years, Don LaFontaine was the voice of the movie industry. In a career spanning four decades, he did voiceovers for more than 5,000 motion picture trailers. His velvety, booming intonation became virtually synonymous with film previews, especially those introduced with his signature catchphrase, “In a world....” In fact, LaFontaine’s services were in such high demand, and his industry presence was so ubiquitous, that it was virtually impossible for anyone to match the level of success he attained – that is, until 2008, when he died.

With the passing of this real-life industry giant, the door thus opened for the emergence of a successor, and that’s where this film comes in. It chronicles the fictitious jockeying that takes place among the contenders eagerly seeking to fill the king’s shoes.

Voice coach and accent specialist Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) seeks to break into the male-dominated business of recording movie trailer voiceovers in the hilarious new comedy, “In a World….” Photo by Seamus Tierney, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

According to the picture’s story line, one of the aspirants who grew up in LaFontaine’s shadow – and who began attaining wider prominence after the legend’s death – is Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed). Having achieved a respectable degree of acclaim throughout his career, Sam has come to be seen by many in Hollywood as the industry’s heir apparent. But, given his advancing age, others wonder about his future, viewing him as something of a relic and preferring a fresh, new voice instead – a realization that even Sam himself acknowledges, albeit begrudgingly.

So who’s going to don the grand master’s mantle? That’s where brash young vocal artist Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) comes into play. With a great set of pipes, an array of industry connections and Sam’s professional blessing, Gustav seems poised for boundless success. But is Gustav really the new “it” guy that he and Sam think he is?

Enter Carol Solomon (Lake Bell), a thirty-something voice coach and accent specialist who helps high-profile movie stars (like Eva Longoria, who plays herself) polish their delivery. She also just happens to be Sam’s daughter, and she has long dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps. But, in the good ole boy network that is Hollywood, the idea of a woman doing movie trailer voiceovers is tantamount to heresy, and doors swiftly close with each attempt she makes to break into the business. Even Sam openly discourages her, condescendingly urging her to be a good little girl and stick to what she does best. And, if that weren’t bad enough, he’s quick to tactlessly inform Carol that, despite her currently dismal career prospects, he wants her to move out on her own, mainly because his chirpy girlfriend, Jamie (Alexandra Holden), wants to move in.

Voiceover legend Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed, right) tries to keep the peace with the women in his life, daughter Carol (Lake Bell, center) and girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden, left), in the new independent comedy, “In a World….” Photo by Bonnie Osborne, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

With her life seemingly hitting the skids, Carol desperately looks to regroup. She moves in with her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), and brother-in-law, Moe (Rob Corddry), while she gets her professional act together. She soon gets a big boost in that arena, too, when Louis (Demetri Martin), a talented young sound engineer, helps her land her first voiceover gig, one for which she bests, of all people, Gustav.

When word of a woman landing a voiceover job hits the streets, the reaction is mixed. Some are suitably appalled that someone of the fairer sex would dare step onto the big boys’ turf. But others are so impressed by this novel, gutsy professional coup that Carol is fast-tracked into the running for a plum assignment, the voiceover work for a blockbuster “quadrilogy” under development by bigwig producer Katherine Huling (Geena Davis). The highly coveted pot for this job is further sweetened by the fact that the voiceover copy for the project leads off with the iconic words “In a world...,” the sacred text that has been conspicuously out of use since LaFontaine’s demise.

Landing the job will not be easy, though; Carol faces stiff competition, not only from Gustav, but also from dear old dad, who decides to pursue the work at the eleventh hour, mostly out of sexist, egotistical spite. Suddenly, professional rivalries turn highly personal. But, with so many supporters from so many camps pulling for Carol, she just might surprise a lot of people, including herself, and not necessarily for the reasons one might imagine.

Louis, a talented young sound engineer (Demetri Martin), looks to help an aspiring movie trailer voiceover artist in writer/director Lake Bell’s terrific new comedy, “In a World….” Photo by Bonnie Osborne, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

In a community as supposedly liberal as Hollywood and an industry as allegedly creative as cinema, it’s ironic that such limited, sexist, archaic conditions persist, even when it comes to something as seemingly innocuous as who narrates the text of a movie trailer. Yet, as conscious creators are aware, beliefs are amazingly powerful forces, and they can hold on incredibly stubbornly when allowed to become entrenched, as is clearly the case here. So it’s at times like this when revolutionary creative acts like those Carol undertakes are required to shake up the prevailing paradigm and move things forward. And moving things forward is indeed important, not only for avoiding the pitfalls of stagnation, but also for furthering the spirit of conscious creation, which, by its nature, maintains that we’re all in a constant state of becoming, especially where breaking through limitations is concerned.

I find it ironic that these ideas are symbolically explored in the context of the voiceover industry. Through Carol’s courageous actions, we witness her power being given voice. And, by making that happen, she thus sets an example for others, not just for those in her specific profession or for those of her particular gender, but for anyone seeking to stretch, grow and develop themselves, especially when it comes to pursuing their dreams. With her aspirations given voice, they’re allowed to manifest physically, thereby birthing yet another unexpressed aspect of existence, one that’s never been explored before.

Now that’s a message truly worth listening to!

“In a World...” is a funny, quirky romp from start to finish, smartly written with ample unexpected humor and terrific performances across the board, particularly those turned in by Bell and Melamed. It provides an intriguing look inside a business that few people see up close but whose product is something virtually all of us readily recognize. It’s also an inspiration to women who take delight in seeing yet another glass ceiling effectively shattered. Admittedly, the film sometimes gets a little bogged down in a few too many subplots, and some of the humor is a tad silly, but the picture never fails to entertain, and it makes its points without becoming hostile, preachy or sanctimonious.

This project represents quite an undertaking – and quite an accomplishment – for writer/actor/director Lake Bell. She has made an impressive debut as a feature film auteur, setting a high standard for movie comedy and establishing herself as someone to watch going forward. If this release is any indication of what she has to offer, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

“In a World…” is currently playing in limited release, mainly in theaters specializing in independent cinema. However, the picture has received much praise and considerable buzz in the media, so this bodes well for wider recognition and perhaps even wider release. If that doesn’t come to pass, however, be sure to seek it out once it’s available on DVD; it’s definitely worth the effort.

Seeing our heartfelt desires materialize is a genuinely rewarding experience, especially when we approach the challenge with passion, confidence and integrity. Carol comes to understand this, but not only for her own ego fulfillment; she recognizes the importance of blazing a trail, making it possible for others to follow her lead by setting an example that shows how it’s indeed possible to access what was once thought inconceivable. And, considering the nature of, and means behind, her mission, that’s something worth shouting about.

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

‘Elysium’ shows how we reap what we sow

“Elysium” (2013). Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, Faran Tahir, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Adrian Holmes, Emma Tremblay, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Valentina Giron, Yolanda Abbud L. Director: Neill Blomkamp. Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp. Web site. Trailer.

Envisioning the fulfillment of our dreams is something many of us hope to achieve in our lives. But the manifestation process can be a dual-edged sword, depending on what we do with it in birthing the reality we ultimately experience. Such is the lot faced by the characters from two very different worlds in this summer’s latest big-budget, sci-fi blockbuster, “Elysium.”

If you think life is hard now, consider what it’s like in 2154 (at least as depicted in this film). The Earth has become seriously overpopulated and environmentally devastated, overridden with disease, crime, pollution, corruption and cynicism. Control of a perpetually unruly population is managed by brutal robotic droids, highly intrusive surveillance drones and freely dispensed tranquilizers. Even the slightest transgressions, like using sarcasm in addressing authority figures, is treated harshly. It’s such an unimaginably horrible existence that one can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to hang around.

Elysium, a giant space station orbiting the Earth, serves as the beautiful – and intentionally segregated – home of the planet’s wealthy and privileged in director Neill Blomkamp’s disturbing new futurist tale, “Elysium.” Photo © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group Inc., courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

In fact, it’s that very logic that drove the planet’s wealthy and privileged to flee the Earth and resettle on Elysium, an enormous orbital space station, where all of life’s finery has been re-created and where all of the world’s ills, such as poverty and disease, have been virtually obliterated. Of course, to preserve and successfully manage that way of life, Elysium’s leadership has instituted strict measures to keep out the great unwashed masses. Access is seriously restricted, and anyone who attempts to do an end run around Elysium’s elaborate security systems is dealt with severely, thanks to the strong-arm tactics of Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Some of Delacourt’s measures are so stringent, in fact, that it worries Elysium’s ruling council, including President Patel (Faran Tahir). Nevertheless, despite these concerns, the “threat” of the volatility that might erupt if the two worlds were to cross paths is seen as so great that almost anything is tolerated to maintain order, as well as the self-imposed segregation. However, given these precarious circumstances, it’s only a matter of time before someone from the world below figures out how to successfully dodge the system and infiltrate Elysium’s supposedly impenetrable defenses.

Elysium’s hawkish Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) resorts to whatever tactics are necessary to preserve the privileged way of life on an orbiting space station reserved for the wealthy in the new summer blockbuster, “Elysium.” Photo by Kimberley French, © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group Inc., courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

That possibility surfaces when Max (Matt Damon), an ex-convict turned factory worker sincerely attempting to go straight, is injured on the job. Having been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and with only days to live, he’s desperate to get to Elysium to access its regenerative healing technology. He turns to Spider (Wagner Moura), a one-time partner-in-crime whose nefarious activities include the smuggling of unauthorized would-be Elysium émigrés. He agrees to help Max in exchange for a favor, namely, obtaining classified computer information – by way of a high-tech direct cerebral download – from a high-profile target, John Carlyle (William Fichtner), one of Elysium’s prominent residents and the owner of the company where Max was injured.

With nothing to lose, Max agrees to Spider’s proposal, but, in doing so, he unwittingly unleashes a chain of events with implications far greater than he or anyone else on either world could have envisioned. Before long, a newly armored Max becomes embroiled in a high-stakes conflict centered on possession of the download data, which proves to be far more significant than anyone realized. Along the way he does battle with a ruthless mercenary named Kruger (Sharlto Copley) and reconnects his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her terminally ill daughter (Emma Tremblay), all leading up to a conclusion that has far-reaching ramifications for Elysium and Earth alike.

Desperate to access the regenerative healing technology available on a space station reserved for the wealthy and privileged, terminally ill ex-convict Max (Matt Damon, center), aided by his friend Julio (Diego Luna, left), seeks the help of a onetime partner-in-crime, Spider (Wagner Moura, right), in “Elysium.” Photo by Kimberley French, © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group Inc., courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

When we engage in the practice of conscious creation, we create the reality that surrounds us through the power of our beliefs. Naturally, then, whatever results depends on where we put our focus, for we indeed get what we concentrate upon. And understanding that is crucial to appreciate how the narrative of “Elysium” plays out.

For example, the residents of the city in the sky are so preoccupied with preserving the sanctity of their environment against the encroachment of outsiders that they’ll go to almost any lengths to keep them out. Yet, for all their sweeping protective efforts, they’re still routinely besieged by those who audaciously attempt to penetrate Elysium’s defense perimeter (thanks to the smuggling operations of illegal immigration traffickers like Spider). Ironically, though, the Elysians’ obsession with keeping out the unwanted leads to continuing onslaughts by the disenfranchised seeking to gain entry at any cost. Thus, by putting their attention on what they don’t want, the Elysians “unintentionally” end up attracting precisely that. This explains why the conscious creation process is sometimes referred to as the law of attraction, for it operates, with uncanny reliability, to draw to us exactly what we concentrate on, consciously or subconsciously and for better or worse, as a result of the beliefs we put out to the world.

This principle is apparent in other ways in the film as well. For instance, from the time Max was a boy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), the young orphan dreamed that he and his childhood pal Frey (Valentine Giron) would one day find themselves on Elysium. Little did he know that the conviction of his beliefs would eventually make that happen (even if he didn’t end up there in quite the way he thought he would). Max’s improbable odyssey thus illustrates how faithfully this process works.

If it seems as though there’s an element of “destiny” in this, you’d be right, even if the outcome arises more purposely than serendipitously, with intent playing as much, if not a greater, part than “fate” in such a scenario. That’s because probabilities like this often unfold as a result of the concept of value fulfillment, the conscious creation principle related to living out our lives in line with being our best, truest selves for our own betterment, as well as that of those around us.

At first glance, Max might not seem like someone particularly concerned with such a lofty notion as this. Having lived a difficult life, and despite his recent efforts to improve his circumstances, he nevertheless comes across as someone who readily does whatever it takes to get by. But, no matter what “flaws” he may possess or whatever transgressions he may have committed, at heart he’s a good man, one who’s concerned with issues like fairness and justice. In fact, while he was growing up in the orphanage, a kindly nun (Yolanda Abbud L.) recognized these qualities in Max, telling him that he was destined for accomplishing something great one day. The sister obviously saw the value fulfillment aspect of his character, even if Max didn’t see it for himself at the time (or even much later on for that matter). Yet, despite his lack of conscious recognition of the beliefs that give rise to his value fulfillment, they make their presence felt in the reality he materializes. They serve to manifest an existence in line with their intrinsic nature, indisputably illustrating the inherent power associated with them.

Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a brutal mercenary, is one of the many weapons in the defense arsenal of a space station strictly reserved for the privileged in Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium.” Photo by Kimberley French, © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group Inc., courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Value fulfillment tends to play an integral role where beliefs related to implementing change are involved, and, given the disparate state of affairs on Earth and Elysium, it’s obvious that reform is long overdue. The challenges involved in evoking meaningful change are indeed daunting under circumstances like these, which, of course, increases the relevance of value fulfillment in bringing new conditions into being. And having someone like Max to champion such a cause significantly boosts the likelihood of seeing an initiative like this ultimately bear fruit. Witnessing the blossoming of such a scenario proves quite inspiring, too, for those both on and off the screen.

On balance, “Elysium” is a good, though not outstanding, film. Its excellent special effects, well-handled action sequences, capable writing and generally fine performances (except for Foster’s stilted, over-the-top portrayal) make for enjoyable viewing, even if the overall narrative is ultimately fairly predictable as both a cautionary tale and heroic saga. Its sociopolitical and religious/spiritual allusions cover their territory well, despite their sometimes less-than-subtle (if not downright heavy-handed) treatment. Despite these strengths, however, a little more attention to character development (especially in the area of motivations) would have gone a long way toward overcoming the picture’s tendency toward depicting the protagonists as monodimensional archetypes.

It’s also a little disconcerting that many of the movie’s attributes recall director Neill Blompkamp’s most recent offering, “District 9” (2009), only with a bigger budget and slightly rearranged plot elements. Given his artistic track record, we now know that the filmmaker is truly adept at probing the kinds of themes common to both pictures, but it would have been eminently more satisfying to see him attempt to stretch a bit more in this latest effort (something I sincerely hope he takes to heart in his next work).

The shortage of originality in the overall production can be seen in some of the film’s specific elements, too, such as the art direction, set design and costuming. Again, while these aspects are generally capably handled, they’re also all a little too familiar, reminiscent of such releases as “Blade Runner” (1982), “Total Recall” (2012), “THX 1138” (1971) and the “Mad Max” films (1979, 1981, 1985). Regrettably, as any good cook knows, warming over leftovers may make them tasty, but it doesn’t make them any fresher.

As any Bible student or conscious creation practitioner knows, we truly reap what we sow, so it would behoove us to select our seeds carefully. “Elysium” shows us the different kinds of harvests that can result from the belief choices we make and the nurturing we give to them. So, to realize the bounty we seek, we had better tend to our intents carefully – or be prepared to deal with the consequences.

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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

‘Still Mine’ unmasks the hazards of creative limitation

“Still Mine” (2012 production, 2013 release). Cast: James Cromwell, Geneviève Bujold, Campbell Scott, Julie Stewart, Rick Roberts, Jonathan Potts, George R. Robertson, Barbara Gordon, Ronan Rees, Zachary Bennett, Chuck Shamata, Verlyn Plowman. Director: Michael McGowan. Screenplay: Michael McGowan. Web site. Trailer.

The power of creation is one of our essential birthrights, one that enables us to manifest any of a number of infinite possibilities. But, when our efforts become unduly stifled by limitations, such hindrances can make for difficult times. The perils of these restrictions can lead to frustration and heartache, challenges that are clearly depicted in the new, fact-based drama, “Still Mine.”

New Brunswick farm couple Craig and Irene Morrison (James Cromwell, Geneviève Bujold) have lived a long, happy, love-filled life together. They’ve spent many a productive year in Maritime Canada, herding cows, growing strawberries and raising seven children, including their daughter Ruth (Julie Stewart) and son John (Rick Roberts). But, for all their sweat equity, they don’t have much to show for their efforts, at least financially speaking. Under typical conditions, they’ve managed to get by, but, now that the infirmities of age have set in, the shortage of funds has become something of a problem (universal health care notwithstanding).

New Brunswick farm couple Craig and Irene Morrison (James Cromwell, left, and Geneviève Bujold, right) gaze out upon an uncertain future in the heartwarming new release, “Still Mine.” Photo by Ken Woroner, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The biggest challenge the couple faces is Irene’s failing memory and declining motor skills. Try as she might to keep up her regular routine, she’s unfortunately succumbing to the ravages of time. Those problems are exacerbated by the ramshackle state of their two-story farmhouse, which is becoming difficult to maneuver about and hard to keep heated in winter. A new living space – one capable of accommodating Irene’s emerging special needs – is clearly in order. However, renovating the structure wouldn’t be practical, and, given its decrepit condition, the couple is unlikely to get much money for it if they attempted to sell it and buy something new. What are they to do?

While mulling over their options, Craig comes up with a novel idea. The two things the Morrisons have in ample supply are land and timber, so Craig proposes building something new – with his own hands. He envisions a smaller, one-story structure, one that would be easier to manage, less costly to keep warm and more accessible for Irene. And, since he would be doing the work himself, it would be eminently affordable, too. Irene likes the idea, so Craig decides to move ahead with his plan.

Would-be home builder Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) seeks to construct a new residence for himself and his memory-challenged wife in director Michael McGowan’s engaging new film, “Still Mine.” Photo by Ken Woroner, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Everything seems to be going well until the outside world begins to make its presence felt. The trouble starts when Craig applies for a construction permit from the local housing authority, where one of its officials, Rick Daigle (Jonathan Potts), begins quoting rules and regulations on everything from building plans to material quality certifications. And, despite Craig’s subsequent good faith efforts to comply, he’s thwarted at every turn. Faced with a stop work order, he’s forced into hiring an attorney, Gary Fulton (Campbell Scott), to plead his case and demonstrate compliance. But, even though Craig moves forward with determination, he’s in a race against time; as the construction delays pile up, Irene’s condition continues to deteriorate, necessitating drastic adjustments to their current living space and life-style.

Over time, the housing authority’s interference with Craig’s efforts intensifies, resulting in ever-increasing frustration. In fact, the government’s scrutiny grows so severe that it seems to move beyond merely enforcing building code considerations, tacitly becoming a sort of personal vendetta. With the breaking point reached, Craig resorts to extreme measures to further his plans. The question is, will he go too far? What implications are involved in his actions? Will the new house ever get finished? And what of Irene – will her needs be adequately met? It’s a lot for the octogenarian to handle, but, with determination and principle on his side, Craig forges ahead, no matter what consequences may await him.

Faced with the challenges of memory impairment and reduced motor skills, farm wife Irene Morrison (Geneviève Bujold) struggles to get by in the compelling new drama, “Still Mine.” Photo by Ken Woroner, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

One of the inherent qualities characterizing conscious creation is, of course, the act of creation. Indeed, as innately creative beings, engaging in such acts is what we do. In fact, one of the primary purposes of our existence is to explore the creative possibilities of physical existence, a process that, ideally, works best when we’re able to pursue it unfettered, without undue limitation or interference.

So, given Craig’s circumstances, it should come as no surprise why he experiences such mounting frustration. As someone who’s obviously quite capable of accomplishing what he’s set out to do, it has to be incomprehensibly vexing to encounter the incessant interruptions foisted upon him. His exasperation is no doubt compounded by the fact that the true agenda behind the housing authority’s resistance is not always made clear. Are the petty bureaucrats he deals with purely interested in safety concerns, or is there something else going on? While nothing definitive is ever stated, there are definite suggestions that there may well be more afoot than the authority’s stated concerns.

Of course, when we create our reality, we create the totality of it, too. So, as much as Craig is attempting to manifest a new house, he has also materialized the circumstances he’s encountering, including the frustrations he experiences with government officials. But why?

When hounded by government officials over the propriety of his home building efforts, farmer Craig Morrison (James Cromwell, right) hires attorney Gary Fulton (Campbell Scott, left) to represent him in the touching new fact-based film, “Still Mine.” Photo by Ken Woroner, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

As Craig’s story plays out, it begins to attract public attention, including through the reporting of a local journalist, Marty Klinkenberg (Verlyn Plowman). The reporter’s articles help to make the local community aware of what’s going on, not only of the particulars of Craig’s situation, but also, by way of implication, of several larger issues.

Most notably, Craig’s actions (and Marty’s reporting of them) help to shed light on the significant effects that interference and limitation can have on the exercise of creative expression, hindrances that can curtail whatever one seeks to create, whether it’s an oil painting, a work of poetry or even a new house. In that respect, then, Craig serves as a sort of metaphysical standard bearer to champion this cause and remind the world at large about it, even if others have lost sight of it. This is particularly important for encouraging the efforts of those who are truly gifted at transforming their visions into materialized expressions of physical reality. Those who are skilled at conceiving such creations and then bringing them into being (especially those who operate from a position of integrity and do so with supreme self-confidence) should be cheered on for their efforts. Moreover, those who would deliberately set up roadblocks to impede their initiatives should be called out for their actions, no matter what their motivations might be. On all of these fronts, Craig’s efforts serve to shine a much-needed light on them.

Craig’s story also illustrates how collaborative actions can work wonders in achieving desired results. The power of co-creation is truly an awesome force and can result in miraculous outcomes when allowed to play out. With the energy and support of his family, friends and the public, Craig just might accomplish what he set out to do. Again, he and his co-creators serve as an example of this principle, providing inspiration for those seeking to realize desired outcomes through collective effort.

This little-known independent release is easily one of the year’s best pictures thus far (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t get forgotten during awards season). It features excellent lead performances by Cromwell and Bujold (the best that they’ve each turned in for quite some time), as well as Potts as the petty bureaucrat. The picture is generally well written, evoking genuine heartfelt emotion without becoming schmaltzy or overly sentimental, despite a narrative that could have easily led to that. It’s also gorgeously filmed, showing off Atlantic Canada in a beautiful light. Writer-director Michael McGowan has truly come up with a winner in this picture.

In an age when our actions seem to be increasingly restricted by the whims and dictates of those in positions of “authority,” it helps to be reminded of who actually has domain over our power, particularly where the power to create is concerned. To that end, “Still Mine” serves a valuable purpose, prompting us to recall – and, when needed, act upon – our inherently creative nature. And, if we hope to avoid the perils that arise when we allow limitation to be imposed upon us, we had better pay attention.

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

‘Blackfish’ reveals the high cost of captivity

“Blackfish” (2013). Featured Interviews: Samantha Berg, John Hargrove, John Jett, Carol Ray, Jeffrey Ventre, Dean Gomersall, Dr. Dave Duffus. Archive Footage: Dawn Brancheau. Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Writers: Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres. Web site. Trailer.

Every year, thousands of tourists flock to marine theme parks around the globe to see performances featuring large sea mammals like bottlenose dolphins and, especially, killer whales. Facilities like the SeaWorld parks feature heavily promoted, high-profile orca shows that generate billions of dollars annually from sales of tickets, stuffed animals and other souvenirs. But those prolific profits come at a high cost, as the new documentary, “Blackfish,” articulately illustrates.

So what, exactly, are the costs involved? As the film clearly shows, it involves more than just money.

Tilikum, a male killer whale linked to the death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010, performs for the crowds in the riveting new documentary, “Blackfish.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

According to the experts interviewed for this picture, virtually all of the marine mammals in captivity are psychologically damaged in one way or another. This is especially true for killer whales, creatures who are known for being intelligent, highly social beings who live long lives in well-developed family groups in the wild. When held in captivity, however, they’re subjected to highly unnatural conditions for their species, generally confined to spaces far smaller than what they’re typically accustomed to and living out their days with whales who are seldom part of their native pods. But, if that weren’t bad enough, the offspring who are born in captivity are often taken away from their parents and transferred to other theme parks to meet marketplace demands, creating serious separation anxiety that exacerbates whatever other psychological ills these creatures may already be experiencing. (Think of what it might be like if your adoring two-year-old were suddenly snatched away from your loving arms and given to another parent in “need” of a child, and you get an idea what the whales go through, an emotional tragedy painfully depicted in the film.)

A pod of orcas swimming in the wild reveals the majestic beauty of these noble creatures, as shown in the powerful new documentary, “Blackfish.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Despite the parks’ claims that these creatures are better off in captivity than they are in the wild, the experts contend the exact opposite is true. They argue that captive orcas suffer from more health problems, social conflicts and behavioral issues than their wild counterparts, ultimately living much shorter and more stress-filled lives than they would in the open ocean. As one interview subject succinctly puts it, wouldn’t each of us go a little crazy if we were forced to spend 25 years in a bathtub?

But the whales aren’t the only victims in this scenario; the trainers who work with these animals are in potential peril as well. This became tragically apparent on February 24, 2010, when SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed in an incident involving a whale named Tilikum, a male orca with a history of unpredictable behavior and who was linked to other incidents that were quietly kept under wraps. What’s more, Tilikum’s unfortunate exploits are not isolated occurrences, either; other captive whales (some of whose genetic makeup includes Tilikum’s DNA) have been implicated in other incidents of violence against humans, something that has never been known to occur among orcas in the wild. Indeed, the fact that Tilikum’s DNA is in the genes of many orcas bred in captivity around the globe should give trainers worldwide cause for legitimate concern.

Knowing all this, then, one can’t help but ask how we can possibly sanction such activities in all good conscience. Isn’t such treatment unduly cruel, if not downright barbaric? And how would we feel if the roles were reversed? Wouldn’t we be pleading for our liberation as well? Moreover, is the pursuit of profit worth placing the lives of park staff members in perpetual jeopardy thanks to the whales’ erratic behavior? “Blackfish” addresses all of these questions, and it does so with unflinching candor.

SeaWorld Orlando killer whale Tilikum lives a life in captivity far different from his wild counterparts, as depicted in director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s powerful new documentary, “Blackfish.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film also says a lot metaphysically, at least by implication. As conscious creation practitioners are well aware, we each create our own realities through the power of our beliefs working in conjunction with the power of the Universe. Yet, despite the outcomes that arise from our individual efforts, we also work collectively to manifest co-created mass events, thanks to the intrinsic connectedness that binds everything in the Universe.

So how do these notions relate to the plight of captive killer whales? Our materialization of popular marine parks like those showcased in the film is an example of a mass event that’s designed, arguably, to draw our attention to (and thereby make us aware of) how we treat the other creatures who are part of our collective connected existence. At its heart, a co-creation such as this provides us with a much-needed lesson about ourselves. It essentially holds up a mirror that allows us to see ourselves in a light that we might not readily recognize otherwise. It prompts us to look at our nature, our beliefs and our behavior, some of which may be in serious need of significant re-examination. It forces us to ask ourselves questions like, knowing what we do, how can we allow this to go on? Are we really honoring our fellow earth creatures by keeping them captive and compelling them to perform inane stunts just to get fed? At bottom, are we really so superficial, self-centered and uncaring that we’ll go to such lengths for the sake of mere entertainment value?

Ideally, most of us would probably like to think we should be readily aware of the answers to such questions. But, if we’re indeed so oblivious about our actions that we can’t see the errors of our ways, then maybe we need to materialize creations like this – disturbing though they may be – to make the answers painfully obvious. Pointing out the folly of our ways, one would hope, would help to keep us from repeating them. What’s more, experiences like this should also help to enlighten us about the sacrifices the whales are making to further our maturation and education. By becoming aware of all this, we might be more likely to treat not only whales but all of our fellow earth dwellers more humanely (just imagine what a reality embodying that principle might be like!).

Whales are appropriate teachers for this, too. As pointed out in the film, their brains appear to be more developed than our own, suggesting that they may well possess an intelligence that exceeds ours, one that naturally, even matter-of-factly, recognizes the collective consciousness that binds all the members of their species. Such a heightened awareness enables them to act in concert with one another when the need arises, actions that are demonstrated repeatedly throughout the film, especially among orcas in the wild who are part of their native pods. This natural sense of collaboration allows them to accomplish things that serve the best interests of the collective. Indeed, by cooperating rather than competing, they can achieve much. They thus provide a shining example to follow, enlightening us to aspects of connectedness that right now we can hardly begin to fathom and thus encouraging our evolution as a species. However, it’s not realistic to assume they can teach us much of anything if we treat them unnaturally, subjecting them to harsh conditions for the sake of performing circus tricks.

Former SeaWorld trainers (from left) Samantha Berg, Dean Gomersall, Carol Ray and Jeffrey Ventre admire the majesty of killer whales in the wild in the new documentary, “Blackfish.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Blackfish” is a powerful documentary, technically brilliant and emotionally stirring. Its superb combination of whale footage, interviews with former trainers and marine experts, and media report segments is well packaged, skillfully edited, taut and to the point, without filler or padding. Its full disclosure of SeaWorld’s unwillingness to respond on-camera to the contentions raised in the picture lends credibility to the integrity of the reporting, too, demonstrating the filmmakers’ sincere desire for journalistic fairness, an effort that’s truly to be commended. Keep your eye on this film come awards season, as it stands a good chance to capture some well-deserved feature documentary honors.

Sometimes it takes “a dumb animal” to teach us some of our most valuable lessons, but, as “Blackfish” reveals, killer whales are anything but dense. In fact, they have the potential to show us much about ourselves, as well as who we’re capable of becoming. And, since conscious creators know that we’re all in a constant state of becoming, it truly helps to have mentors to help show us the way in that regard. “Blackfish” makes us aware of who some of those teachers are; now, if only we’ll let loose the shackles that bind them – and let them do their jobs.

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

Sunday, August 4, 2013

‘Blue Jasmine’ proves ignorance isn’t bliss

“Blue Jasmine” (2013). Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Max Casella, Alden Ehrenreich, Charlie Tahan, Kathy Tong, Ali Fedotowsky, Emily Hsu, Tammy Blanchard, Annie McNamara, Sharon Finn, Daniel Jenks, Max Rutherford. Director: Woody Allen. Screenplay: Woody Allen. Web site. Trailer.

Being willing to face the truth of our lives can be a difficult and painful lesson at times. Under such circumstances, it may be tempting to look away in hopes that the difficulties will somehow just evaporate. But such wishful thinking seldom pans out as hoped for, leaving us with problems that are even larger to contend with, as becomes all too apparent in the new Woody Allen comedy-drama, “Blue Jasmine.”

Fifth Avenue socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) has taken a very hard fall. Having once been married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), one of New York’s most successful financial wizards, she experiences quite a come-down when he’s indicted and convicted on a range of illegal activities. Her implicit trust in her crooked husband leaves her financially destitute. But, if that weren’t bad enough, she also learns that he’s been cheating on her for years with one of her best friends (Kathy Tong), their personal trainer (Ali Fedotowsky) and his lawyer (Emily Hsu). So, in addition to being fiscally broke, she’s emotionally ravaged, her outwardly cheerful façade shakily propped up by a combination of antidepressants, alcohol, therapy and, most of all, unbridled denial. One can’t help but wonder how she goes on.

After a hard fall, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) seeks to put her life back together in writer-director Woody Allen’s latest offering, “Blue Jasmine.” Photo by Merrick Morton © 2013 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Faced with few options for getting by, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Ginger’s considerably more modest life-style is quite a shock to someone accustomed to the finest things in life being served up on demand, but Jasmine is nevertheless forced to adjust. In conversations between the sisters, it becomes apparent that Jasmine let her circumstances happen to her, having turned a blind eye to all of Hal’s indiscretions, but such behavior has now left her ill-equipped to handle even the most basic challenges and responsibilities of everyday life. Through a series of flashbacks, viewers witness Jasmine’s gradual fall from grace, most notably how she essentially painted herself into her own corner.

Meanwhile, Jasmine seeks to get on with her life. She takes a job as a receptionist in the office of a leering dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and attempts to study interior design online. She also seeks to smooth over her sometimes-contentious relationship with Ginger, though past strains – such as the dissolution of Ginger’s marriage to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) after Hal embezzled the couple’s money – still linger and color the sisters’ current connection. In addition, Jasmine struggles to get along with Ginger’s new beau, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who sees Jasmine for the irresponsible phony she often is, circumstances that produce considerable tension in the couple’s budding relationship and even prompt Ginger to pursue a fling with a competing admirer, Al (Louis C.K.).

In happier times, New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, left) enjoys life at her summer house with husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, right) in the melancholy comedy, “Blue Jasmine.” Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

After long being stuck in a rut, Jasmine finally appears to catch a break when she attends a party and meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a career diplomat seeking to break into politics. The prospect of a romance with this would-be suitor holds much promise for both parties; Dwight would get the ideal politician’s wife, and Jasmine would be able to return to the opulent life-style to which she’s accustomed. The question is, will she take advantage of the opportunity, or will she sabotage herself as she did once before? Ultimately it’s all up to Jasmine – and what she decides to do with her life.

Anyone versed in conscious creation can spot Jasmine’s mistake at the drop of a hat – she’s mired in the practice of creation by default, letting life happen to her without making any effort to take charge of it. She willingly abrogates her responsibility for virtually everything in the belief that Hal will take care of her needs, no matter what. She openly admits to knowing nothing about his dealings or how to handle herself financially, as if she couldn’t be bothered with such trivial matters. She’s also the only one in their circle of friends who’s oblivious to her husband’s unabashed philandering. Such blissful ignorance may make her life “easier” initially, but this attitude comes back to bite her in the posterior in a very big way once all of Hal’s secrets are revealed.

A happily married couple, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, left) and Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, right), gets blindsided by the hardships of financial ruin in “Blue Jasmine.” Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

What’s worse is that, despite being a college dropout, Jasmine is by no means stupid; she clearly possesses the intelligence to see what’s going on if only she’ll allow herself to do so. Indeed, on an intuitive level, she truly seems to know better, yet she willfully chooses to look the other way, a choice that makes her eventual decline that much more painful to endure. This failing not only leaves her unprepared for dealing with the specific circumstances that arise in her life, but it also leaves her without the fundamental skill of how to create (or correct) her reality. She’s metaphysically helpless, having to fend for herself without even the most basic ability to figure out how to shape her destiny. And, unfortunately, these conditions set the pattern she’ll face as she attempts to move forward, circumstances that will continue until such time as she chooses to take the necessary steps to wake up and take control of her life.

Unfortunately, this approach to life does little to serve her. Jasmine generally follows the path of least resistance, selecting whichever option seems most convenient and expedient at the moment. This attitude makes it very easy for her to put on airs, to feign knowledge of certain subjects or even to lie if it gets her what she wants – that is, as long as others don’t see through her ruses, something that proves to be a major source of conflict in her dealings with Chili, for instance. And, when the reality of being found out comes home to roost, it may prove to be more than she can handle. Clearly, ignorance isn’t as blissful as it might seem at first glance.

With the arrival of an overbearing house guest, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, left) struggles to hold together her relationship with her new beau, Chili (Bobby Cannavale, right), in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” Photo by Merrick Morton © 2013 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Like “Midnight in Paris” (2011), “Blue Jasmine” is one of writer-director Woody Allen’s better efforts in recent years. It features an awards-worthy performance by Blanchett, who skillfully captures the many sides of a complex character and makes it look effortless. The supporting cast backs up their leading lady well, especially Hawkins, Clay, Baldwin and Cannavale, all of whom turn in fine efforts in their respective roles. The writing, though not as crisp as when Allen was at the peak of his career, is nonetheless generally solid, serving up ample laughs along with a healthy dose of wistful melancholy.

Perhaps my only major complaint with this film has nothing to do with the picture itself but, rather, with the trailer being used to market it. Like many other films in recent years, the trailer is somewhat misleading, portraying the picture as more of a comedy than it really is. To be sure, “Blue Jasmine” has more than its share of laughs, but it also has a more serious side that the trailer fails to bring out. Depression and mental health issues are subjects that are no laughing matter, and, while the film handles them sensitively, its trailer glibly glosses over them. While I realize the purpose of a trailer is to get viewers into theaters, this marketing tactic doesn’t serve potential viewers well when it neglects an integral aspect of the picture, as is very much the case here.

Living life in oblivion is a potentially treacherous prospect, no matter how seemingly benign the practice might initially appear. “Blue Jasmine” makes that point abundantly clear, providing viewers with a cautionary tale about how we view and subsequently create our reality and what happens when we eschew knowledge of that ability. Anyone tempted to look the other way – especially when he or she obviously knows better – would be wise to screen this film to avoid the consequences that come from conscious denial, as well as to discover just what made Jasmine so blue.

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