Friday, August 29, 2014

‘The Giver’ probes the essence of human nature

“The Giver” (2014). Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift, Emily Tremblay. Director: Phillip Noyce. Screenplay: Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide. Book: Lois Lowry, The Giver. Web site. Trailer.

Like an enormous dam holding back a huge reservoir, efforts aimed at intentionally quashing the essence of human nature pose quite a challenge for those seeking to implement them. And, should the occasion arise when those metaphorical floodgates need to be opened, those in charge of monitoring those relief mechanisms had better be prepared for what flows through them. The consequences of mishandling such an important task could be devastating for those seeking to maintain control. But, then, perhaps control isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, a notion capably explored in the new sci-fi adventure, “The Giver,” based on the best-selling young adult novel by author Lois Lowry.

Life in “the Community,” a pristine, well-mannered society of the future, seems like a utopian enclave. But, as quickly becomes apparent, looks can be deceiving. While political, social and economic problems like war, famine and poverty have been eradicated – systematically dispensed with in the wake of “the Ruin” – those benefits come with a cost:

• Everyone’s behavior is rigidly controlled, and their actions are tightly monitored, with Community residents receiving daily drug injections to ensure tranquility and cooperation – not to mention quietly coerced compliance.

• Nearly all decisions – both big and small – are handled by a Council of Elders, with major pronouncements delivered with ostensibly convincing sincerity by the Community’s Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).

• Even though family units resemble the traditional model, their makeup is determined by considerations other than biology – or even basic emotional bonds.

• Each resident’s calling in life is predetermined, with lifetime vocational assignments doled out upon turning age 18. Community members retain these assignments until retirement, when they are quietly relocated to a new life in “Elsewhere.”

Seems like paradise, right? Community members apparently believe so. But that’s all about to change with the coming of age of a gifted young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites).

During a ceremony in which lifetime work assignments are handed out, Jonas learns that he has been given a special designation, “the Receiver of Memories.” Unlike his peers, who are assigned comparatively mundane tasks like groundskeeper and child nurturer, Jonas is given this charge because of his unique capabilities, most notably his gift of second sight, an ability to see beyond the ordinary and accepted aspects of daily life. He’s chosen for this task because only one who possesses such qualities is deemed worthy of such a challenging – and potentially dangerous – assignment.

When Jonas begins his training, he’s assigned to work with the current holder of memories. And, since Jonas is to become the Receiver of such information, the one charged with imparting it to him is known simply as “the Giver” (Jeff Bridges), an aging mentor who is all too familiar with the arduous responsibility Jonas is about to assume.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, right), the newly appointed Receiver of Memories for a future society known as the Community, learns the ropes from an aging mentor simply known as the Giver (Jeff Bridges, left) in the new sci-fi adventure, “The Giver.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

In the course of his training, Jonas learns many things previously unknown to him (or to any of his peers for that matter). As the Receiver of Memories, he’s exposed to knowledge of all the aforementioned ills that have been purged from Community life and consciousness. But, at the same time, he also discovers the many joys that have been expunged from the residents’ awareness. Beneficial and uplifting concepts that we take for granted, like love and happiness, are totally foreign to Jonas and his peers. What’s more, Jonas is strictly forbidden from sharing these ideas with them; his knowledge is only to be used for “consultations” with the Elders when they need memory-related advice for solving problems. But, thanks to the aid of the Giver, Jonas and his fellow residents are about to embark on an odyssey filled with remarkable revelations.

Of course, there are tremendous risks in what Jonas is about to undertake. The Giver is well aware of this, too, especially in light of his unfortunate experience with a previous Receiver (Taylor Swift), who struggled with the power of such knowledge and its attendant ramifications. On top of this, those interested in protecting the status quo frown upon the dissemination of such radical ideas, and they’re willing to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve their way of life. They even try turning Jonas’s friends (Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan) and family (Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Emily Tremblay) against him to get him to abandon his plans. But, considering the risks – and rewards – involved, Jonas forges ahead, despite a highly uncertain future.

The quietly coercive Chief Elder (Meryl Streep, foreground, left) of a future society known as the Community tries to thwart plans for reform initiated by the aging Receiver of Memories, a.k.a. the Giver (Jeff Bridges, foreground, right) in director Phillip Noyce’s “The Giver.” Photo by David Bloomer, courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

Those well-versed in conscious creation, the means by which we create the reality we experience, understand that our beliefs determine what unfolds before us. The nature of those beliefs, in turn, depends on the input afforded them by our intellect and intuition. Both are essential to make the process work effectively. And that’s where the Community’s founders got themselves, the residents and their progeny into trouble.

Given the virtual absence of emotion and feeling – hallmarks of the intuitive side of the belief equation – in the Community, it’s obvious that those who established the foundations of this new society did so on the basis of logic and reason, key indicia of the intellect. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the intellect, but relying upon it exclusively to determine the nature of one’s beliefs (and everything that stems from them) is a recipe for disaster (especially when employed on a scale as wide as that of an entire population). It stifles creativity and even hampers the functioning of everyday skills, like basic problem-solving (as is apparent from the Elders’ need to have someone with the Receiver’s knowledge on hand to begin with). And, should glimmers of awareness of these “volatile” concepts begin to emerge, those who try to squelch them have no idea what they’re up against.

So why are the Elders so preoccupied with stifling such “radical” notions? They sincerely believe that the fallout from the Ruin was so intolerable that they must take all necessary steps to prevent its recurrence. The cure for that, in their estimation, is to rein in the causes that prompted it, most notably the power of choice. The Elders have successfully convinced themselves that this fundamental human birthright is the root of all of the ills that gave rise to the Ruin and that it must be contained at all costs. Choice, they surmise, leads to differences, which lead to comparison, which then lead to jealousy, envy and greed, qualities that ultimately brought down the world of before. So, by eliminating the source of the problem, they maintain, the problem is itself eradicated. Or so they think. Indeed, as the Chief Elder ardently observes (and sincerely believes), “When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.”

As parents of a gifted young man, a concerned Mother (Katie Holmes, left) and Father (Alexander Skarsgård, right) grow worried when their son embarks on what appear to be socially unacceptable plans in the young adult sci-fi adventure, “The Giver.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

In light of human history, some would contend that a good argument could be made for the Chief Elder’s outlook. However, eliminating choice carries other consequences. It stifles such natural human tendencies as the need and desire to create, to evolve, to overcome limitations and to pursue our intrinsic constant state of becoming. By removing such abilities from our manifestation toolbox, we leave ourselves open to being unprepared for the challenges we face, some of which could have implications tied to the nature of our humanity – and possibly even our very survival.

It’s futile to think these innate stirrings can be suppressed indefinitely. As has been demonstrated previously through the experiences of the inhabitants of other would-be utopias, such as those portrayed in films like “Brave New World” (1998), “Logan’s Run” (1976), “THX 1138” (1971) and even “TRON: Legacy” (2010), the denial of our inherent nature as beings whose fundamental purpose is to live to create is destined to fail. That can be a difficult lesson for those who would attempt to thwart us in the pursuit of our basic human mission, but it’s one that must come to pass for those who try to block its fulfillment.

Haunted by the painful memories of a previous protégé (Taylor Swift, right) unprepared for her responsibilities, the aging Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges, left) recalls a happier time in their ill-fated relationship in the movie adaptation of author Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

The young adult dystopian future movie genre has been somewhat overworked in recent years with the release of such pictures as “The Hunger Games” films (2012, 2013) and “Divergent” (2014), among others, but “The Giver” nevertheless does a respectable job of delivering the goods. Its inventive cinematography, offering a carefully crafted mix of black-and-white and color photography reminiscent of the techniques used in “Pleasantville” (1998), lends a poetic touch to the narrative (especially in its duotone depiction of the Community, a world where virtually everything is metaphorically seen in black and white). Capable acting and an emotive background score complement the imagery well.

With that said, however, the film’s writing leaves much to be desired at times. Some sequences go on too long, others are underexplained and some are wholly improbable, even with a healthy stretch of the imagination. A half-hearted attempt at incorporating a love story between Jonas and his friend Fiona (Rush) comes up short, too. But, even with these failings, the picture still provides ample fodder for contemplation and discussion, especially for those who are new to the metaphysical concepts explored here, the young adult audience at which this film (and its source material) are targeted.

With the intention of creating a better life for his friend Fiona (Odeya Rush, right), Jonas, the newly appointed Receiver of Memories (Brenton Thwaites, left), prepares to embark on a perilous personal journey in “The Giver.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

In an age when so many of us have been so willing to surrender so much for the sake of comfort and security, “The Giver” should serve as a cautionary tale about what we stand to lose if we give away too much. It’s likely that those losses ultimately won’t endure, given the power of human nature, but recapturing what we willingly forfeit may be a major hurdle to surmount. So, in light of that, we should keep a finger on the button to those aforementioned floodgates – just in case we need it.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Check out!

Look for my new author and book profiles on! Just click here. And, while you're at it, check out the site's many other fine author and book posts!

And, if you haven't seen it yet, check out my book trailer video on YouTube.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take a Peek at 'Consciously Created Cinema'!

Want to read an excerpt from the Introduction to my new book, Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover's Guide to the Law of Attraction? Just click here, and enjoy!

Cover deign by Paul L. Clark,

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

R.I.P., Mr. Williams

In the midst of the many tributes being paid on the passing of Robin Williams, it's ironic that one of his best films -- and one that many movie fans seeking solace are now taking comfort in -- was, in fact, about the subject of death and the afterlife, the visually stunning "What Dreams May Come" (1998). I wrote about this excellent picture in my first book, "Get the Picture." And here's a fine Huffington Post article addressing the significance of this tremendous film, available by clicking here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

‘Moonlight’ seeks to expose the magic of life

“Magic in the Moonlight” (2014). Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Jeremy Shamos, Erica Leerhsen, Catherine McCormack. Director: Woody Allen. Screenplay: Woody Allen. Web site. Trailer.

Life would be pretty tedious if everything could be explained in purely rational terms. As valuable as logic and the intellect are, they don’t take into account the mystery of magic and the intuition, elements that add spice and flavor to our lives and the realities we create for ourselves. And forgoing one of those components of existence at the expense of the other can be a painful experience, to be sure. Learning to strike a balance between the two is important to our well-being and happiness as a beleaguered protagonist discovers for himself in the latest offering from director Woody Allen, “Magic in the Moonlight.”

Stanley Crawford (a.k.a. Wei Ling Soo) (Colin Firth) enjoys quite a following as a master magician touring the capitals of 1920s Europe. Ironically, though, for all the seemingly astounding feats he performs on stage before captivated audiences, Stanley is a scrupulously rational man who believes everything can be explained with logic and facts. And, because of his proficiency in magic and his unshakable faith in the power of reason, he has developed a reputation as a leading debunker of the wildly popular spirit mediums of his day, a talent not unlike that of famed contemporary Harry Houdini (1874-1926).

After one of his performances, Stanley is approached by longtime friend, colleague and fellow magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) to investigate the claims of an up-and-coming psychic, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has been retained by wealthy friends to perform séances for them. Howard is concerned that Sophie and her manager mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are out to fleece his friend Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver) and her son, Brice (Hamish Linklater), who has become quite smitten with the beautiful young spiritualist (and is ready to practically hand over the family fortune to her). However, despite Howard’s doubts, Sophie comes across as so convincing that he believes she just might be the real deal. Stanley remains steadfastly skeptical, though, and he’s confident that he can expose Sophie for the fraud that he believes she is.

Master magician and psychic debunker Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, second from right) seeks to expose allegedly fraudulent spirit medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, second from left) in her attempts to fleece her wealthy clients, Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver, right) and her son, Brice (Hamish Linklater, left), in Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight.” Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Not long thereafter, Stanley is on his way to the Catledge villa in the south of France to conduct his investigation. He looks forward to the opportunity to unmask yet another con artist. He also welcomes the trip as a chance to visit his favorite aunt, Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), whom he looks upon like a mother figure. But, as much as he relishes this assignment, Stanley may also be taking on more than he bargained for.

Upon his initial meeting with Sophie, Stanley is convinced she’s a fake. However, when she begins making pronouncements concerning matters she couldn’t possibly know anything about, he’s floored. And, when she invokes what appear to be inexplicable miracles during séances, he’s utterly dumbfounded. He’s not sure what to think, especially when he begins succumbing to her charms.

So is Sophie for real, or is she yet another imposter? That’s what Stanley – and the audience – are left to figure out. And, in the process, Stanley just may find his world turned upside down.

Psychic debunker Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, right) journeys to the south of France on an assignment at the behest of his colleague, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney, left), a trip that also gives him an opportunity to visit his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins, center), in director Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy, “Magic in the Moonlight.” Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

In many ways, Stanley is a walking contradiction. He’s such a stickler for all things rational and scientific, yet he practices magic without reservation. Even though he acknowledges that there are logical explanations behind all the tricks of his craft, he nevertheless promotes a belief in the supernatural among his audiences. Yet, at the same time, he unreservedly tells people that they shouldn’t believe in such nonsense. What are people to think?

The conscious creation process requires us to learn how to strike a balance between the influences of science and spirituality, of logic and metaphysics, of reason and magic, of intellect and intuition. In his own way, Stanley seems to understand both, but he dismisses the magical out of hand, despite his on-stage efforts at promoting it. He’s so confident that rationality reigns supreme – and that his belief in it is inherently superior to other ways of thought – that he never considers what might happen if those alternative viewpoints appear to have any credibility.

So why does he so stubbornly hold onto this view? Perhaps it’s because he’s such a hard-nosed control freak, believing that everything can be understood with certainty and logic. But, when his beliefs get shaken, he suddenly feels less in control, uncertain of what’s really transpiring in his world. His discernment abilities are clearly being tested.

Wealthy socialite Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver, left) discusses financial arrangements for psychic services with Mrs. Baker (Marcia Gay Harden, right), mother and manager of a supposedly gifted spirit medium, in “Magic in the Moonlight.” Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Sophie’s presence in Stanley’s life is designed to stir the pot of his beliefs, and, on some level, he must have wanted that; otherwise, he wouldn’t have drawn her into his reality. The same can be said of Aunt Vanessa, who has long tried to convince Stanley that we should embrace the magic in our lives, for it often brings us joy greater than we can imagine. But will Stanley recognize what these influences have to offer? It all depends on what he’s willing to believe.

As conscious creators know, there’s a place for both intellect and intuition. We just need to know which to draw upon and when, again spotlighting the importance of discernment. This is not to suggest that we should automatically buy into the phony claims of charlatans, but it also means that we shouldn’t reject magic out of hand just because it doesn’t comport with the strict regimens of logic. (Pay attention, Stanley.)

“Magic in the Moonlight” is a modestly amusing, though not especially stellar, offering from Woody Allen. The picture could have benefited from better lead performances (Firth is too bombastic, while Stone often sleepwalks through her role). Even more surprising, however, is the inconsistent writing. The film starts out crisp but fizzles as the story unfolds, especially in the meandering final 30 minutes. The narrative also rehashes story elements found in some of Allen’s earlier films, such as “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (2010), “Shadows and Fog” (1991) and “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001). A fine supporting cast (particularly Weaver, Atkins, McBurney and Linklater), gorgeous cinematography and terrific period piece production values help to shore up these shortcomings, making for a visually appealing and mildly entertaining, though not especially memorable, time at the movies.

Spirit medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, right, back to camera) is relentlessly wooed by the smitten son of a wealthy client, Brice Catledge (Hamish Linklater, left), in Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight.” Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Just as the intellect gives us a rational basis for our existence, the brilliance of sunlight illuminates all we see and gives life to our world. But, as crucial as this is, we also need the magic and mystery of the intuition – the illumination metaphorically afforded by the moonlight – to give life character and, ultimately, make it worth living. May we all have the wisdom to recognize and embrace both the sun’s rays and the moonbeams that come our way to make our existence truly magical.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

The August Issue of New Age News Is Now Out

I'm pleased to announce that the August edition of New Age News magazine containing my latest article, "Exploring Probabilities -- For Success!", is now available from the iTunes Store! Check out this jam-packed issue by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

‘Get On Up’ shows how to tap the spark within

“Get On Up” (2014). Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Jill Scott, Brandon Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Tika Sumpter, Jacinte Blankenship, Jamarion Scott, Jordan Scott. Director: Tate Taylor. Screenplay: Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. Story: Steven Baigelman, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. Web site. Trailer.

We all possess an inner spark of creativity that, if tapped, enables us to do great things. Recognizing and making use of that spirit within, however, is something many may never attain. But, when we’re cognizant enough to do so, the results can be astounding, as a music industry trailblazer discovers for himself in the entertaining new biopic, “Get On Up.”

Doing justice to the life story of an iconic figure is never an easy undertaking, but “Get On Up” does just that for music industry giant James Brown (1933-2006). As one of the most original and most influential artists of the 20th Century, Brown (Chadwick Boseman) created a sound all his own. And, in doing so, he broke down barriers in the music he created, the audiences he reached and the way the industry does business. (Not bad for an impoverished kid from the South Carolina backwoods.)

The film follows Brown’s life from his youth until his early 60s. Viewers first witness his stormy childhood, during which he’s abandoned by his indifferent mother, Susie (Viola Davis), and then by his abusive father, Joe (Lennie James), ending up in the care of his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer), who quickly puts the young James (Jamarion Scott, Jordan Scott) to work rounding up “company” for her bevy of female “companions.” Then there’s Brown’s troubled adolescence, when he’s arrested and imprisoned for stealing a suit, a crime for which he receives a sentence of up to 13 years. However, while in jail, he gets an unexpected break from gospel singer Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who, during a performance for inmates, recognizes Brown’s considerable talent and helps get him paroled so he can join his group.

But, while singing in a gospel group helps to get Brown’s career off the ground, it’s obvious that it’s a little too constrained for his burgeoning talent. He quickly emerges as the front man of the group, now known as the Famous Flames, which trades in gospel music for R&B, leaving behind its comparatively subdued sound for a groove that really cooks. And, after a brief but enlightening encounter with a little-known but upcoming artist named Little Richard (Brandon Smith), Brown is on his way. With the aid of manager and agent Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), Brown rapidly rises to national prominence, playing to huge crowds and winning over a fan base that transcends what had been the traditional R&B audience.

Throughout the 1960s, Brown becomes one of the biggest (and richest) stars in the music business. But success carries a cost. With an ego as large as his following, Brown grows increasingly demanding and inflexible. Relations with band members, such as saxophonist Maceo Parker (Craig Robinson), become strained, especially when artistic differences and financial issues surface. Challenges arise on the home front, too, when Brown divorces his first wife, Velma (Jacinte Blankenship), and grows unduly suspicious about the fidelity of his second wife, DeeDee (Jill Scott), a relationship that often turns violent. And, when things sour with his longtime friend and collaborator Bobby, Brown begins a downward spiral that lands him back in prison, a time that gives him pause to reflect on what he had – and lost. However, as Brown’s childhood experience illustrates, he’s a survivor, one who’s determined to come out on top, no matter what.

It’s easy to see why Brown was such a survivor, though; he had a good, innate grasp on his conscious creation abilities. And, even if Brown didn’t recognize this skill as such, others, like Aunt Honey and even his mother, saw the “spirit” that resided within him, a quality that they knew destined him for greatness one day, an observation they shared with him repeatedly. Brown apparently embraced these observations, too, an act that helped him galvanize his beliefs in himself and in the talents he possessed. That, in turn, enabled him to move forward with tremendous confidence when his career took off; he intuitively knew what he wanted to accomplish – and didn’t hesitate to act upon it when the time came. He readily brought forth that inner spirit in all he created, manifesting materializations indicative of a conscious creator firing on all cylinders.

Given the many trials and tribulations of Brown’s life, however, one might rightfully wonder why he created all his difficulties as well. But, as is often the case, incidents like that provide valuable opportunities for significant life lessons, painful though they may be. What’s more, they often serve as preludes to fortuitous synchronicities that enable us to thrive. For example, if Brown hadn’t been imprisoned for stealing a suit, he might never have met Bobby, who played such a crucial role in helping launch his career. Brown even recognizes that fact in the film, noting that he felt his incarceration was destined to lead him to Bobby and his family, who graciously took him in and helped him get back on his feet when he needed it most. On some level, Brown was aware of his inner spirit’s existence, even if he didn’t fully appreciate its nature or what it was capable of.

Brown’s ability to envision the outcomes of his conscious creation efforts was quite strong, so much so that it enabled him to push through barriers and limitations, both personally and professionally. He could hear sounds in his head that others couldn’t, and his ability to transform them into finished pieces was uncanny. At the same time, he could also picture how to reach new audiences and to employ new promotional tactics for his live performances, practices that defied the conventional wisdom but that were immensely successful – moves that made him wealthy and famous.

As noted above, however, Brown often let his ego get in the way. Indeed, he knew he was good at what he did, but he became so enamored with his own expertise that it began to get in the way. And, to get what he wanted, he did whatever it took (it’s no wonder he was often referred to as “the hardest working man in show business”), even if such efforts produced “unintended” consequences.

Metaphysically speaking, an attitude like this often stems from difficulty in distinguishing between the ability to create and the desire to control. Acts of creation occur naturally, almost effortlessly, but acts of control frequently feel forced, pushed into existence at almost any cost. And, even though control-based efforts may yield envisioned outcomes, they’re often accompanied by the aforementioned unplanned consequences, like the alienation of collaborators or romantic partners. This was a difficult lesson for Brown to work through and may have even been an outgrowth of his own survivor mentality. Nevertheless, his experience provides a valuable example to anyone wrestling with comparable issues of their own.

Still, despite the challenges Brown drew into his life, he also accomplished much, manifesting creations that have since inspired many. He truly earned his reputation as “the Godfather of Soul.” But, then, that probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t recognized and tapped into the creative soul that resided within him – the same powerful, creative force that resides within each of us.

“Get On Up” is a great homage to James Brown, featuring a masterful portrayal by Boseman, who has truly established himself as one of Hollywood’s preeminent new talents. As good as he was in his breakout performance as baseball great Jackie Robinson in “42” (2013), Boseman has clearly shown the movie world what he’s capable of in this role, capturing Brown’s voice, mannerisms and dance moves with remarkable precision. With this performance, he has staked a claim as a leading contender for accolades come awards season.

But “Get On Up” features more than just a terrific lead performance. Director Tate Taylor, who distinguished himself in his work on “The Help” (2011), has delivered another fine effort in this film. It’s an excellent period piece, effectively capturing the look, feel and mood of several decades’ worth of clothes, hairstyles and sets. It also serves up ample kitschy humor, often simply in its attitude, without having to fish for laughs. The superb supporting cast features an array of capable performances, including those turned in by Aykroyd, Ellis, Davis and Spencer. And then there’s the music, which includes a fine selection of works by Brown and other artists, such as the Rolling Stones, Percy Mayfield and Lesley Gore.

Despite the picture’s many strengths, it nevertheless is not without its problems. Most notable among these is the screenplay, which often wavers between a traditional biography and a character study focused on the influences that shaped the protagonist’s life (an approach skillfully used in films like “The Iron Lady” (2011) and “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” (2004)). As a consequence, the chronology in “Get On Up” is presented out of order, forgoing a straightforward linear timeline, jumping about from decade to decade, an approach some viewers may justifiably find annoying or confusing. The screenwriters would have served audiences better by picking one format and sticking to it. Thankfully, the movie’s other fine attributes compensate for this shortcoming rather well; it’s unfortunate, however, that the script quality didn’t measure up to the same level as the picture’s other elements.

Living up to our creative potential can be a daunting endeavor, especially when we don’t even know what that might entail. But, when we know what we’re supposed to achieve and then set out to do it, we can take pride in our accomplishments, and others are sure to applaud us for our efforts. The rewards associated with that are immeasurable, too. And to think, all it takes is a little spark to set off a creative inferno, one that casts a brilliant light for all to see.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 1, 2014

‘I Origins’ choreographs the dance of science and spirit

“I Origins” (2014). Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi, Kashish, Cara Seymour, Venida Evans, Crystal Anne Dickinson, William Mapother. Director: Mike Cahill. Screenplay: Mike Cahill. Web site. Trailer.

The relationship between science and spirit is an often-precarious one. Each of these metaphysical dance partners tries to lead or sometimes even dominate the steps they take together. But, considering it takes two to tango, they need to collaborate and achieve a proper balance if they’re to work together successfully in creating the reality we experience. That elaborate, intertwined footwork is the subject of an intriguing new science fiction release, “I Origins.”

Many of us believe that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” But, for Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist, they’re the key to scientific proof of evolution. The New York City grad student believes that, if it’s possible to conclusively document that contention, it would not only prove the theory, but it would also finally, and definitively, put an end to what he considers the childish, nonsensical notions of the nature of existence put forth by religion and spirituality. In essence, he’s out to disprove the notion of intelligent design, a conclusion that would, for all practical purposes, make God irrelevant.

Ian’s study focuses on eyes, because he believes they’re the piece of the evolutionary puzzle that’s missing to irrefutably prove the theory. He’s fascinated by their unique character and takes countless photos of the irises of innumerable subjects, known and unknown, to further his research. With the aid of two colleagues, first-year research assistant Karen (Brit Marling) and fellow grad student Kenny (Steven Yeun), he diligently pursues his investigation into this singular marker of one’s being. And, despite his obviously passionate obsession with the topic, he nevertheless takes a scrupulously dispassionate approach to his work, summarily eschewing any considerations that are even remotely unscientific.

That all goes out the window, however, when Ian meets a beguiling woman at a Halloween party. They share a brief encounter, including one of his ocular photo sessions, but they quickly part ways. Yet, despite the brevity of this seemingly chance meeting, Ian can’t put her out of his mind, and, before long, they’re reunited through a series of undeniable synchronicities that even he can’t dismiss. Ian subsequently gets to know this mystery woman, a cosmetics model named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), and soon falls in love with her – her fascination with, and faith in, the supernatural notwithstanding.

A New York City billboard is one of many intriguing synchronicities responsible for drawing together separated lovers in the captivating new sci-fi romance, “I Origins.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Sofi is especially interested in reincarnation. She believes she and Ian have known one another before and will know one another again, their souls being drawn together by the same kinds of synchronicities that fortuitously reunited them in this life. For his part, Ian looks upon Sofi’s ideas as simple and naïve, but, because he cares for her so deeply, he’s willing to humor her. Besides, it’s something he’ll have to get used to, particularly once they’re married.

The marriage, however, never takes place due to a tragic accident. Ian is devastated by Sofi’s loss, but he takes comfort in the arms of Karen, who sees him through his grief. In fact, they eventually fall in love and marry. Through his work and this new relationship, Ian is able to heal, and, seven years later, he becomes a respected expert, a published author and a father-to-be.

Molecular biologist Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, left) is mysteriously drawn to cosmetics model Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, right) in director Mike Cahill’s engaging new feature, “I Origins.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

On the surface, life is good – or so it would seem. But, when fond memories of Sofi resurface, a new string of intriguing synchronicities begins to unfold, leading Ian and Karen down a path neither of them could have foreseen. Through a series of captivating twists and turns, Ian embarks on a journey of discovery that takes him from his Connecticut home to a dairy farm in Idaho and a community center in India. These experiences, coupled with unexpected interactions with a high-ranking research scientist (Cara Seymour), a community activist (Archie Panjabi), a missionary businessman (William Mapother) and a young orphan girl (Kashish), spur revelations that hold the potential to radically challenge Ian’s beliefs – and his prevailing worldview.

As any conscious creation practitioner knows, the process is based on the beliefs we draw upon to manifest the reality we experience. Those beliefs form as a result of the input provided by our intellect and intuition, attributes correlative to the disciplines of science and spirit, the primary themes explored in this film. And, as noted earlier, striking a balance between the two is crucial to make the practice work effectively. Indeed, refusing to acknowledge the functioning or existence of either component provides a skewed and often-bewildering impression of how things work.

This is a challenge Ian obviously must come to terms with. His stubborn denial of the spirit world hampers his progress in making use of conscious creation, not to mention his understanding of how his reality comes into being. His resolve is so strong that he’s reluctant to acknowledge the influence of the metaphysical, even when it impacts him directly. He demands extraordinary proof of these concepts before he’ll even consider them. But, thankfully, for his sake, he’s also unwittingly adept at manifesting such proof just when he needs it most.

Sofi plays a key role in helping to make Ian aware of these ideas. She makes a particularly convincing argument when she asserts that all creatures perceive their reality based on whatever sensory capabilities they’ve created for themselves. She observes, for instance, that worms, the subject of one of Ian’s evolution experiments, perceive their world with only two senses, smell and touch. Humans, by contrast, generally assess their existence with the benefit of the five senses we all know. However, Sofi suggests, what if some of us have developed additional sensory capabilities that go beyond the basic five faculties most of us possess? Are such individuals to be dismissed for having a sixth sense? We would never fault the worms for having only two senses, so why should we assume that the five senses we’re familiar with are the maximum we’re capable of materializing?

Molecular biologist Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, center) seeks to definitively prove the theory of evolution with the aid of his research assistant, Karen (Brit Marling, left), and fellow grad student, Kenny (Steven Yeun, right), in the unusual new science fiction release, “I Origins.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Ian, of course, yet again demands proof of such a contention, but, Sofi counters, how can we produce proof for something that someone with lesser capabilities isn’t even capable of comprehending in the first place? How could a worm, with no eyes, comprehend a concept like light? Yet light, as we all know, is a phenomenon that exists, one we perceive with our sense of sight, and we would never consider denying its existence. The lack of “proof” of an extraordinary sense to someone lacking it, she asserts, doesn’t mean the faculty doesn’t exist; it just can’t be substantiated by conventional means.

To further bolster her metaphysical contentions, Sofi points to the synchronicities that reunited them. She knows that he’s aware of them on some level and that they quietly captivate him. Which is why it also puzzles her that he’s unwilling to embrace them. Their significance has been clearly demonstrated to him, so doesn’t that constitute the kind of “proof” he seeks? Why, she wonders, would scientific proof be considered valid but metaphysical proof isn’t? Is it because metaphysical proof can’t readily be replicated? Or is it another case of just plain stubbornness?

Synchronicities are significant, because they shed light on the inherent connectedness of all things in the Universe. This is an integral component of conscious creation philosophy. But it’s also a key consideration in quantum physics, conscious creation’s scientific cousin. The principle of quantum entanglement, for example, implies an innate connection between anything and everything, and synchronicities lend credence to the validity of this notion. Indeed, if related quantum elements can exist across the span of space (as Ian’s and Sofi’s experience suggests), what’s to say that they also couldn’t exist across the span of time (as Sofi’s reincarnational beliefs propose)? Once again, Ian demands proof of this notion, and, one would think that, as a scientist, he should readily be able to recognize such evidence when it appears. And, if materializing proof of such ideas is so important to him, one can only begin to imagine how amazed he will be if he’s actually able to achieve that. Sofi would undoubtedly take it all in stride, but, for Ian, it would be quite a revelation, to be sure.

After a series of unexpected interactions, such as an encounter with an Indian community center worker (Archie Panjabi, right), molecular biologist Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, left) is on the verge of an earth-shattering discovery in director Mike Cahill’s “I Origins.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

“I Origins” is an intriguing film that effectively weaves together elements of science fiction and interpersonal relationships, much like Cahill’s previous offering, “Another Earth” (2011). The story is solid and engaging, exploring its heady themes with sublime elegance. Admittedly, the writing is a bit too technical at times, the pacing is a little slow at the outset and some of the picture’s attempts at humor don’t always work. However, the overall narrative is captivating and generally well presented, providing viewers with much to ponder about the nature of existence and what makes it work.

The dance of life – both in its current form and across the ages – is a wondrous creation in all its various permutations. We’d serve ourselves well by enjoying – and embracing – all it has to offer. But, to do that, we must leave ourselves open to all of the metaphysical resources at our disposal. Cutting ourselves off from the elements available to us only harms us in the long run, robbing us of the opportunity to show off what we’re really capable of achieving on that Universal dance floor.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Lucy’ asks, ‘What are we doing with our lives?’

“Lucy” (2014). Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Pilou Asbæk, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jan Oliver Schroeder, Luca Angeletti, Analeigh Tipton, Paul Chan. Director: Luc Besson. Screenplay: Luc Besson. Web site. Trailer.

A heightened sense of self-awareness is often accompanied by the realization that we each have a destiny in life. Even if we can’t always pinpoint what we’re supposed to accomplish, many of us nevertheless have an undeniable sense that we’re supposed to achieve something during our terrestrial visit. But, once we begin to understand what we’re meant to do, it’s up to us to carry through on our objectives, even if we don’t know precisely how. That’s particularly crucial when our time runs short, a concern not unlike that faced by a supremely gifted but seriously challenged protagonist in director Luc Besson’s new metaphysically themed action-adventure, “Lucy.”

When Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a carefree American student living in Taiwan, is tricked by her shady new boyfriend (Pilou Asbæk) into delivering a locked briefcase to a mysterious recipient, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), she can’t begin to fathom what she’s gotten herself into. Before she knows it, Lucy is seized and drugged. Upon waking, she discovers something has been surgically implanted in her abdomen, a plastic bag filled with a powdery blue substance, the same material previously locked up in that ill-fated briefcase.

Lucy soon learns that she’s been forced into becoming a drug mule ordered to smuggle the substance, a potent new synthetic chemical known as CPH4, overseas. She and three other similarly equipped mules have been coerced by Mr. Jang to transport their illicit cargo to eager markets in Europe and the U.S. And, to make sure the unwitting couriers carry out their tasks, Jang and his thugs have threatened their lives – and those of their families – to ensure compliance.

Not long after Lucy embarks on her journey, the plastic bag containing the drug ruptures, and she’s inadvertently dosed with an enormous amount of the mystery substance. But CPH4 is more than just your garden variety hallucinogen. Lucy learns that it’s a chemical produced in pregnant women to jump-start the growth and development of fetuses. In its natural form, even small quantities of the substance can yield seemingly miraculous results. However, in an enhanced synthetic form, CPH4 significantly amplifies those effects. What’s more, while it’s known what CPH4 does for an unborn child, it’s not at all clear what it will do to a fully grown adult. And now that Lucy has absorbed an amount far in excess of what a developing fetus would absorb or what an addict would snort during a typical fix, all bets are off as to what it will do to her as it courses through her bloodstream.

In no time, the drug begins transforming Lucy in inconceivable ways. Most notably, the substance significantly enhances how much of her brain she utilizes. While most humans are thought to use approximately 10% of their cerebral cortexes, Lucy’s capability quickly reaches 20%, a figure that quickly, continually and exponentially rises. She develops a range of new powers, such as the ability to control her metabolism and bodily organs, as well as the means to sense gravity and affect ambient electromagnetic fields. Her intellect and comprehension skills soar, too, a development that affords her access to all manner of cosmic wisdom. Within hours, she easily becomes the most advanced human being ever to have walked the face of the Earth.

So what is someone to do with such powers? Well, for starters, Lucy seeks to exact revenge against those who put her in these circumstances. She learns that one of the couriers is headed for Paris, so she contacts a local detective, Capt. Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), informing him how he and his colleagues can apprehend the other mules upon their arrival in Europe, an action intended to help authorities find those heading up the operation. But, with powers – and wisdom – like this, is vengeance all that they’re to be used for?

Given her expanded consciousness, Lucy decides it’s important to share what she knows with all of mankind. Through an incredibly accelerated Internet search, she learns of the work of Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), a researcher focused on evolution and brain development. She discovers that he, too, is currently in Paris and agrees to meet with him to impart her newfound wisdom.

But, as Lucy’s odyssey unfolds, she also realizes she’s in a race against time. With her mental capacity continually expanding, she’s losing touch with her humanity. She’s also not sure what will happen as she approaches 100% use of her brain capacity. With her consciousness so expanded, she fears that she may no longer be human – or even physical – by the time she reaches that point of development. With the aid of Capt. Del Rio and Professor Norman, Lucy’s trip to Paris is about to become an appointment with destiny, both in terms of confronting her foes and fulfilling her purpose in life, circumstances that carry ramifications of a magnitude no one can possibly predict.

With one’s very existence threatened, be it from “outside” sources or one’s own consciousness-generated materializations, many of us may become obsessed with accomplishing what we set out to achieve in this life before the clock gets us. Ideally, we should probably think more about our destiny before the temporal pressure mounts, making use of as much of our gray matter (and the consciousness that drives it) to fulfill these goals while we have ample time. But how many of us really do that?

The question of what are we to do with our lives probably seems like it should be a no-brainer, yet it’s amazing how many of us fail to seriously consider it until it’s almost too late, if at all. Lucy brings this concern into sharp focus, and it’s very important to her given the depth of knowledge she has to impart once her transformation begins. That truly is her destiny, and she needs to draw upon all of her conscious creation skills to make it happen while she still has the chance.

Fortunately, the kinds of cosmic wisdom to which Lucy now has access probably help to make that process easier for her. But, considering the sheer volume of what she has to share, she’ll undoubtedly have to draw upon all her metaphysical wherewithal if she’s to make that happen in time and in a form that the rest of us can access. This requires ingenuity on her part, pushing past her personal limitations – and perhaps even those of humanity itself – if she’s to succeed. But, then, this is one of the inherent aims of conscious creation itself, and, given her immensely expanded consciousness, the means for this should now be more than readily apparent to her.

To move beyond where she has been all of her life, Lucy must evolve, another of conscious creation’s cornerstone principles. This is something that, obviously, occurs during her personal transformation. But it’s important that her awareness of this change, not to mention its relevance, also take place while her physical and intellectual capabilities transform. This consideration, as Professor Norman eloquently points out, has played a crucial role in the development of all life on the planet since its inception, from the earliest of single-cell organisms to the first invertebrates to the earliest mammals and even the first-known human (a woman ironically nicknamed “Lucy”), the first Earth creature to advance knowledge beyond such simple acts as mere survival. In many ways, then, the protagonist thus represents an echo of her ancient ancestor, playing a role as significant to the forward development of contemporary man as her predecessor did in the evolution of us. She sets an inspiring example for all of us to follow.

In the course of evolving, Lucy’s expanded consciousness enables her to envision a broader range of probabilities than she – or likely anyone else – has ever been able to do. In that regard, she can see for herself – quite literally and perhaps more clearly than ever before – what conscious creation (and quantum physics, for that matter) postulates, namely, that we all have access to an infinite range of choices for existence at any given moment, based on where we put our focus. In conjunction with that, she’s also able to understand and appreciate the connectedness of everything in the cosmos across the spans of space and time. And, in this way, Lucy is able to grasp the very meaning of being in its myriad permutations and, most importantly, in its simplest and most essential nature. Talk about evolution!

If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in this movie, you’re right. “Lucy” is one of the most innovatively jam-packed pictures I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a kickass sci-fi/metaphysical thriller that packs a wallop, both in its visuals and its content. The film’s depiction of complex metaphysical concepts (many of which have likely never been examined on screen before) is handled cogently and beautifully. And its action sequences never disappoint, with Johansson serving up an intelligent, sexy, determined heroine who comes across like a badass Debbie Harry on steroids.

Regrettably, the film has come under a great deal of unfair criticism for being “unrealistic,” a disparagement I find more than a little perplexing. The picture undeniably operates from a fundamental premise of pushing the boundaries of consciousness and awareness, unexplored territory where even experts like Professor Norman are unable to speculate as to what might transpire. So, given that, then, how can the ideas being put forth here realistically be considered unbelievable? How can we presume to know what might happen if we don’t even know what’s possible under such circumstances? I, for one, find such ridicule, ironically enough, unrealistic in itself.

If I were to have a criticism of “Lucy,” it would be that it sometimes leans a little too heavily on action and violence to carry the story. While the film never becomes blatantly gratuitous in this regard, it nevertheless pushes the limits on these fronts, regardless of how well these sequences are depicted. Still, despite this minor shortcoming, the picture is nonetheless a cinematic thrill ride that also delivers on its profound, thought-provoking subject matter. Indeed, if you want some depth from an action-adventure film, go see this one – you won’t be disappointed. Just be sure to tune out the naysayers – and keep an open mind.

While not all of us are meant to fulfill a destiny as utterly groundbreaking as Lucy, we all nevertheless have something to contribute to the ever-unfolding expression of existence, and one could easily argue that it’s incumbent upon each of us to see things through. If we fail on this point, we miss our chance to realize that aspect of our being, depriving the world of our unique contribution to the creation of its reality. Whether we allow ourselves to be restrained by fear, doubt, cloudy thinking, a preoccupation with irrelevancies or a simple lack of initiative, in each case we let our potential slip away from us and those who might benefit from our singular gifts, talents and ingenuity. And that would be a shame indeed. So, to get matters right, no matter how great or how small our contributions are destined to be, it would behoove us to pay attention to Lucy and follow her lead, making the most out of our lives while we have the opportunity to do so. To do any less would be a waste of our consciousness and humanity, a genuine tragedy if there ever were one.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.