Wednesday, December 30, 2015

‘Joy’ celebrates pursuing one’s dreams

“Joy” (2015). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Ken Howard, Melissa Rivers, Drena De Niro, Isabelle Crovetti-Cramp, Emily Nuñez, Madison Wolfe, Aundrea Gadsby, Gia Gadsby, Alexander Cook, Bates Wilder, Bill Thorpe, Marianne Leone, Donna Mills. Director: David O. Russell. Screenplay: David O. Russell. Story: Annie Mumolo and David O. Russell. Web site. Trailer.

It’s a pretty safe bet to say that most of us have dreams we would like to see realized. But how many of us actually follow through even partially, let alone at all? Perhaps it’s because we don’t know how to make them happen. Or maybe we don’t have the gumption for what it takes. But perhaps it’s a matter of our outlook, the set of beliefs we hold about the viability of our dreams and how they can be made manifest. Those in search of inspiration on this front may find what they’re looking for in the new fact-based comedy-drama, “Joy.”

Based on the lives of several successful women entrepreneurs (most notably inventor and cable television product sales mogul Joy Mangano), the film follows the misadventures, exploits and accomplishments of a composite character simply named Joy (Jennifer Lawrence). When viewers first meet the film’s heroine, she lives a harried and frustrating life. As the divorced mother of two, she works a thankless job as an airline ticket counter agent, barely eking out a living to support her largely dysfunctional family. Besides her two kids, Joy shares a cramped house with her divorced, soap opera-addicted mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), a socially challenged recluse who almost never leaves her bedroom; her ne’er-do-well ex-husband, Tony (Édgar Ramírez), an aspiring but mostly unsuccessful lounge singer who lives in the basement; and her recently arrived father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), a genuinely loving and supportive influence in Joy’s life but who, thanks to a history of failed relationships, has now been forced into sharing the basement with his former son-in-law. In addition to the challenges of her crazy housemates, Joy also has to contend with the routine wranglings of her malicious half-sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm), with whom she has had an ongoing, inexplicably spiteful rivalry ever since childhood.

But Joy is not without her supporters either. First there’s Joy’s childhood friend, Jackie (Dascha Polanco), who has faithfully stood by her through the years, even when things were at their worst. And then there’s the bright spot of Joy’s household, Mimi (Diane Ladd), her adoring grandmother (and the film’s narrator), who sees great things for her granddaughter (even when she can’t envision them for herself).

The ability to envision those grand accomplishments, however, is precisely what Mimi believes will be Joy’s ticket to success and abundance. She sees sparks of this in her granddaughter’s ingenuity for coming up with ideas for simple, inventive products that fulfill important consumer needs and hold the potential to make piles of cash. But, given Joy’s frantic schedule and lack of funds, she seldom has time or money to devote to these pursuits. That all changes one day, however, when a little domestic accident gives rise to an idea that proves to be the seminal brainchild for launching a new career.

While on a sailing excursion with her family on the boat of Rudy’s latest love interest, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy widow, a wine bottle falls and breaks, spilling its contents and shattering glass all over the deck. Joy volunteers to clean up the mess, but, while manually wringing the mop head, she cuts her hand by glass shards that became embedded in the cloth. As painful as this is, however, the incident gives her an idea for creating a new type of self-wringing mop.

Not long thereafter, Joy develops a prototype and seeks backers, like Trudy, to finance her efforts. Jackie, Rudy and Tony lend their support, too, running interference against detractors like Peggy, who repeatedly snipes at her sibling, claiming that she knows nothing about running a business. So, with such tangible, intangible and backhanded assistance, Joy forges ahead, finding sources to create molds and supply materials for her product.

With her new Miracle Mop in hand, Joy begins marketing her wares but without much success. Her fates change dramatically, however, when Tony introduces Joy to an old friend, Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an influential programming executive at an up-and-coming powerhouse in the cable television home shopping industry, QVC. As an enterprise featuring such high-profile spokespeople as Joan Rivers (Melissa Rivers), QVC and its principals look upon an upstart like Joy with much skepticism. But, when Neil is sold on the product’s capabilities, he relents and decides to give Joy a shot. Thus begins a rollercoaster ride that Joy never could have imagined, one involving phenomenal success, devastating setbacks, internal family squabbles, fraud and personal heartache. But it also marks Joy’s emergence as a personal dynamo, a true force to be reckoned with, one who many underestimated – and very much at their peril.

Living our dreams is something that most of us hope to realize for ourselves, but many times we’re at a loss to figure out how to do so. When “life happens to us,” we often lose our focus, frequently becoming discouraged, unable to make much, if any, headway on reaching our goals. However, all need not be lost, especially if we make judicious use of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience in all of its various aspects.

The core of this practice rests with our beliefs, the driving force in shaping our existence. They provide the conceptual template for our reality, and, when they are coupled with the energy provided by our divine collaborator (the Universe or whatever comparable name best suits you), they spring forth into tangible form. But, to make the process work to our liking, it’s important that we identify what those beliefs are. And, for those with an inherently creative bent, it’s crucial that we identify those beliefs with specificity to make the most of the process.

When inventive types (like Joy) seek to make use of the process, they must be able to envision the output of their ideas to bring them into being. This often involves thinking outside the box and pushing the limits of their creativity. Some might see this as an overwhelming task, but, for those who are able to conceptualize the solutions necessary to address their particular problems, the beliefs – and their physically manifested progeny – frequently follow.

The more one is able to embrace the foregoing, the more likely one is able to get the desired results. This is where the concept of faith comes into play. By imbuing our conceptions with an unshakable sense of certainty, we develop a greater sense of confidence in the viability of our ideas and the ability to see them realized as tangible materializations. And, the stronger the faith, the better the outcome.

There are several steps we can take to enhance our effectiveness at this. For instance, following our intuition can pay big dividends, because it provides clues about what we should consider pursuing in the formation of our beliefs. Joy picks up on this, for example, when the idea for the mop comes to her. She sees the potential and subsequently forms the beliefs necessary for bringing it into physical existence.

Intuition (and the beliefs that arise from it) can also show us what to avoid by birthing creations that depict what doesn’t serve us. In Joy’s case, this becomes apparent when she looks at her mother’s soap opera addiction. The show that Terry incessantly watches features a cast of pathetic, squabbling, self-serving characters (Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Alexander Cook) reminiscent of Joy’s own family. Segments from the program are intercut with incidents from Joy’s everyday existence, paralleling her own reality and reminding her of what she doesn’t want out of life.

Mirrors like this are unmistakable, prompting us to identify what’s wrong and what needs to be changed. For Joy, they trigger memories of her younger self (Isabelle Crovetti-Cramp), an ambitious, enterprising young girl who believed she could do great things, like create marvelous inventions, and those flashbacks help to set her on a new course. And, when those insights are reinforced with Mimi’s supremely confident encouragement, Joy is able to adjust her prevailing outlook, enabling her to get back on track with her plans, to get back to those original beliefs about herself and what she wanted to do with her life.

In part successful materialization also depends on identifying the synchronicities that help foster our creations. These meaningful coincidences, which also spring forth from our beliefs, provide the catalytic sparks that prompt new rounds of more defined beliefs that further the manifestation process. For example, had Joy not recognized the opportunity available to her when the wine bottle broke on Trudy’s boat deck, she might not have invented her mop – or reaped any of the rewards that flowed from that.

These simple concepts are important for all of us, but budding entrepreneurs and inventors may find them particularly useful. They provide the inspiration we need to make things happen. And the example set by Joy just might be the impetus for helping us get our own plans off the ground.

While watching “Joy,” I couldn’t help but repeatedly remark to myself, “What unusual subject matter for a movie.” Given Hollywood’s current penchant for recycling story lines, unduly extending movie franchises and needlessly launching reboots, I appreciate the attempt at originality, something director David O. Russell has come to be known for, as seen in movies like “American Hustle” (2013) and “Flirting with Disaster” (1996). And its inspiring ideas are truly helpful for those seeking to live their dreams and to chart a path to success.

However, to make a movie such as this work, it has to fire on all cylinders, which, unfortunately, “Joy” does not do consistently. The film works well in a number of ways (acting, casting, inspirational themes) but drops the ball in others (writing, pacing, staying on point). Had the script and film editing gone through some additional tweaking, this might have been a truly terrific movie, but, as it stands now, it’s merely above average. With that said, however, be sure to give sufficient props to Jennifer Lawrence, Isabella Rossellini and Virginia Madsen for great acting turns in their respective performances.

Despite its shortcomings, the film has garnered a modicum of attention in this year’s awards competitions. Thus far it has earned two Golden Globe Award nominations for Lawrence’s stellar performance and as best comedy film. It has also captured comparable recognition in the Critics Choice Award contest, grabbing three nominations for best comedy film and two nods for Lawrence as best actress overall and best actress in a comedy.

When life doesn’t pan out as hoped for, it’s easy to become discouraged. We may reconcile ourselves to our circumstances, giving up on ever seeing our dreams come true. But sometimes simple adjustments in our thinking can bring about significant changes, as Joy’s experience illustrates. And who knows, if we go about it correctly, those changes just might prove to be the kind that allow us to mop up the rewards.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Courage, hope and inspiration heralded in ‘The Danish Girl’

“The Danish Girl” (2015). Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Adrian Schiller, Sebastian Koch, Pip Torrens. Director: Tom Hooper. Screenplay: Lucinda Coxon. Book: David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl. Web site. Trailer.

To get through awkward times during our upbringing, most of us were probably advised at one point or another to “just be yourself,” a nebulous suggestion we likely found difficult to fathom. But consider what that might mean for someone who lacks a clear sense of his or her own identity, even when it comes to something as fundamental as gender. Imagine how frightening such a prospect would be. If you can appreciate that, then you’ll have an idea of what goes on in the mind of the protagonist in the new fact-based biopic, “The Danish Girl.”

In 1926, life was good for Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander). The couple lived comfortably in Copenhagen as aspiring artists; Einar specialized in landscapes, and Gerda painted portraits. When not working, they enjoyed a lively social life, hobnobbing with the city’s social elite and members of the arts community, such as their good friend, Ulla (Amber Heard), a colorful though somewhat flighty ballet dancer. But, above all, they were madly in love with one another. They were also anxious to start a family, a process that wasn’t going too well (but at which they nevertheless kept trying).

Life took a strange turn one day, however, when Gerda made an unusual, though seemingly innocent request of her husband. For some time, Gerda had been working on an oversized portrait of a ballerina for which Ulla had been modeling. But, true to her unreliable nature, Ulla didn’t show up for her appointment, leaving Gerda without a model. Given that the painting was nearly finished, Gerda was eager to complete it, so she asked Einar if he wouldn’t mind serving as a stand-in. Einar was reluctant, but Gerda assured him that she didn’t need him to don the full outfit; she merely needed him to model the ballerina’s shoes and stockings, a request to which he eventually agreed.

However, as Gerda began painting, she found she didn’t have sufficient perspective to continue with her work; she told Einar that she needed him to hold up the tutu so she could see how the stockings and shoes related to the rest of the outfit. He again agreed somewhat reluctantly, but, as he drew the costume close to him, it cast a spell over him. He felt a certain inexplicable comfort with this gesture, and Gerda could sense that almost instantaneously. She found Einar’s ease with the clothing somewhat provocative, even titillating, since it lent him an unexpectedly natural grace and beauty.

Einar and Gerda got a few laughs out of this incident, too, and those chuckles prompted an idea for an interesting little prank – wouldn’t it be fun if Einar went out in public dressed up in full female garb, perhaps even to one of their high-profile social events, to see if anyone would recognize him? And so, after a little coaching, that’s just what they did, a move that drew more of a reaction than they bargained for.

When the pair arrived at the event, Gerda introduced her female companion as Lili Elbe, Einar’s cousin. But Einar’s transformation was so convincing that no one but Ulla recognized him. His clothes, makeup and mannerisms were so alluring that he quickly drew the attention of a host of would-be male suitors, such as Henrik (Ben Whishaw), who made no attempt at hiding his affection. And, when Gerda saw this, suddenly the little joke didn’t seem quite so funny anymore.

Still, despite Gerda’s now-conflicted feelings about what might be going on with her husband, she also saw an opportunity emerge. Einar as Lili provided fertile subject matter for Gerda’s paintings, and, before long, she had ample interest from the Paris arts community in her newest works. But, while Gerda seemed to be finding herself, Einar was losing himself, and no one seemed to be able to help. Even a doctor (Pip Torrens) who claimed to be able to assist him was quick to give up on his patient, ready to subject Einar to sanctioned treatment for “perversion.”

News of the doctor’s diagnosis prompted a hasty move to Paris. Einar, who now spent much of his time as Lili, lost nearly all interest in painting. He saw several more doctors, but they were all quick to label him either a homosexual or mentally ill, diagnoses that both he and Gerda knew weren’t true. With little hope, Einar withdrew from life, lost and unsure what to do.

Gerda, meanwhile, saw her profile rise in the Paris arts community. She befriended an influential arts dealer, Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), who turned out to be a childhood friend of Einar – and with whom she was developing a growing attraction. Together Gerda and Hans sought to find help for Lili, which they found through a progressively minded German doctor, Kurt Warnekros (Sebastian Koch). Through a series of counseling sessions, Prof. Warnekros came to realize that Lili was neither homosexual nor mentally ill; he recognized the real nature of her circumstances – the dilemma of being a woman trapped in a man’s body.

However, even with such an accurate diagnosis, what was Lili to do? Prof. Warnekros suggested a radical, experimental approach to addressing her circumstances – gender reassignment surgery. The procedure was untried, and success was far from guaranteed, but Lili seriously had to consider the option. Balancing the risks and rewards called for a big decision, but it was one that might be her only way to find peace.

When confronted with such a painful predicament, it’s understandable how one might not want to deal with it, especially when potential resolution involves making a painful choice. However, to remove the agony, having the courage to forge ahead may be the only way to alleviate the suffering. This is thus a prime example of how important it is to get in touch with our feelings and beliefs, the driving forces of the conscious creation process, the means by which our reality unfolds.

For Lili to be able to make a decision like this, it’s crucial that she examine her innermost beliefs about herself, and she must be brutally honest in doing so. Indeed, is she truly the woman she claims to be, or is the presence of this recently emerged persona some delusional creation of Einar’s? Facing down that question, then, is essential to understand those heartfelt intents.

In some ways, this may be a tricky proposition, given our intrinsic multidimensional nature. Conscious creation maintains that there are many parts to our greater selves but that we’re usually only aware of our “localized” personas, the ones into which we focus the lion’s share of our consciousness. However, sometimes we find that previously unknown aspects of our localized selves begin to emerge, which can cause conflict and confusion, especially if those new attributes tend to run counter to what we’ve typically come to believe about who and what we are.

In light of the foregoing, then, is it possible, for instance, for someone to identify with both a male and a female self simultaneously? From a conscious creation perspective, the answer could potentially be yes or no (and to varying degrees). This again depends on our beliefs, particularly those associated with how willing our localized selves are to allow the various aspects of our greater selves to express themselves, either individually or in tandem.

This is at the heart of Einar and Lili’s quandary, yet they must address it to know how to proceed. As the film unfolds, viewers learn that the emergence of Lili’s persona is not entirely the recent phenomenon that everyone has been led to believe. Einar acknowledges that he sensed her presence as far back as childhood but suppressed the idea; after all, he was in a man’s body. But does the body alone define one’s persona? As time passes and Lili begins to forge beliefs that allow her to give expression to her repressed self, her true identity starts to emerge. And, with that realization, perhaps now it’s time to finally let her come to life.

Once this question is answered, the next step is to determine whether or not one possesses the fortitude to press on, moving beyond whatever fears lie ahead. This, too, is crucial, for fear-based beliefs undercut our manifestation abilities by presenting our divine conscious creation collaborator with an unsolvable contradiction. The Universe (or God, Goddess, All That Is or whatever other term best suits you) is unable to comply with our materialization request because of this inherent paradox. So, to move head, our fears (and the beliefs that drive them) must be eliminated.

Given Lili’s willingness to embrace her true identity, it’s obvious the fear issue is something she’s ready to leave behind. It’s something that no longer serves her (or Einar for that matter), so she can press ahead with her newest creation – becoming a full-fledged woman in every sense of the word. It’s something she apparently wants badly enough, too, considering how adept she has become at drawing to her the synchronicities she needs to make it possible.

Synchronicities – those meaningful “coincidences” that seem so perfectly suited to our needs that they can’t possibly be instances of random chance – play a huge role in Lili’s transformation. For example, would Lili’s emergence have occurred if it had not been for Ulla’s failure to show up for her modeling appointment? Similarly, what would have happened if Gerda had managed to become pregnant? But, perhaps most importantly, would Lili have ever met Prof. Warnekros (and everything that came with that) if Gerda had not painted the portraits that raised her artistic profile and subsequently prompted the couple’s move from Copenhagen to Paris?

Such seemingly little incidents might superficially appear to have little significance at the time they occur. However, as events transpire, their importance grows in magnitude, ultimately proving to be quite fortuitous in helping Lili attain her goal. But, then, they also would not have occurred were it not for Lili putting out the beliefs and intents that manifested them – and everything that they birthed – in the first place. And, by drawing them into her existence, she demonstrates how conscious creation (or, as it’s sometimes known, the law of attraction) truly works.

In pursuing this course, Lili also lives out her value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept associated with being one’s best, truest self for the benefit of ourselves and those around us. This becomes apparent in a number of ways, too. For example, by providing subject matter for Gerda, Lili gave her onetime spouse a significant boost to her artistic career. But, perhaps even more importantly, Lili was a pioneer in the transgender movement. By taking such fearless steps at a time when gender reassignment surgery was experimental and when the mere thought of something so radically taboo as a sex change was considered positively scandalous, Lili courageously led all those who would follow her in generations to come. Her efforts ultimately benefitted many, none of whom she would know, but her legacy left an indelible mark that would help bring peace of mind to those who might not have otherwise known it.

As “The Danish Girl” aptly illustrates, director Tom Hooper seems to keep finding ways to knock it out of the park, much as he did in previous efforts like “The King’s Speech” (2010) and “Les Misérables” (2012). This sensitive, moving, lavishly produced period piece is easily one of the year’s best. Its superb performances by Redmayne and Vikander, backed by excellent production values, gorgeous cinematography and a sweeping soundtrack, make for heartfelt, affecting viewing. The pacing is a bit sluggish in a few spots, but everything else is top shelf across the board.

From my perspective, perhaps the film’s only troubling aspect is that it’s based on a novel, and not a biography, of historic figures. While such works tend to make for good entertainment, they’re not the most reliable when it comes to authenticity. Sticklers (like me) may take issue with this (to varying degrees), but, for those who can successfully look past it, good, inspiring storytelling nevertheless awaits, and it all comes wrapped up in a gorgeously executed package.

“The Danish Girl” is racking up significant recognition in this year’s awards competitions. Thus far it has earned three Golden Globe Award nominations for the lead performances by Redmayne and Vikander, as well as its original score. In the Screen Actors Guild contest, Redmayne scored another nod, as did Vikander but in the supporting actress category. The film’s biggest haul, however, has come in the Critics Choice Award competition, where it captured nominations for Redmayne and Vikander (again in the supporting category), as well as recognition for production design, costumes, and hair and makeup. Look for the picture to earn its share of Oscar nods when those nominations are announced.

Taking the first bold step toward discovering one’s destiny is rarely easy. That’s particularly true when such a step involves charting new territory, especially when it entails pursuing objectives that others ridicule or even persecute. But progress depends on pioneers who venture into unexplored realms, and that’s where courageous souls like Lili Elbe make their mark. They provide inspiration to those who walk in their footsteps – impressions that never would have been made were it not for the bold moves they were willing to make.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

‘Youth’ explores what we make of life

“Youth” (2015). Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda, Abe Macqueen, Dorji Wangchuk, Madalina Ghenea, Luna Mijovic, Roly Serrano, Wolfgang Michael, Ed Stoppard, Paloma Faith, Robert Seethaler, Lee Artin Boschin, Sumi Jo, Nate Dern, Alex Beckett, Mark Gessner, Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie, Sonia Gessner, Emilia Jones, Heidi Maria Glössner, Helmut Förnbacher. Director: Paolo Sorrentino. Screenplay: Paolo Sorrentino. Web site. Trailer.

The meaning of life is something that has mesmerized, perplexed and confounded mankind throughout the ages. And, much of the time, we come away from asking this question with no definitive conclusions. But making the effort to find answers is ultimately what counts, especially before the end arrives, an undertaking pursued in earnest by a colorful cast of characters in the moving new cinematic meditation, “Youth.”

British composer and orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), former maestro of the Venice Symphony, has spent years vacationing at a luxury spa in the Swiss Alps, enjoying the exquisite scenery and the company of his long-time friend, Hollywood filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). In some ways, the octogenarians have a lot in common, such as years of memories, mutual prostate problems, and the marriage of Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), to Mick’s son, Julian (Ed Stoppard). But, in other ways, the pair couldn’t be more different; Fred is perfectly content to kick back and enjoy his retirement in seclusion, while Mick remains active and in the public eye, working on yet another new movie.

Long-time friends Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine, left) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel, right) share memories and good times while vacationing together at an exclusive Swiss Alps resort in director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest release, “Youth.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Despite Fred’s insistence that he’s put his working life to rest, there are those who try nudging him back onto the conducting podium. Lena, for example, calls her father “apathetic,” urging him to become more active musically as a means to remain vital, aware and alive. And then there’s Queen Elizabeth’s emissary (Alex Macqueen), who informs the maestro that Her Majesty would like to bestow the honor of knighthood upon him in exchange for conducting a command performance in celebration of Prince Philip’s birthday.

In both instances, however, Fred flatly refuses. He becomes particularly incensed when the emissary reveals the Queen’s request that he conduct his signature composition, Simple Songs, a piece the Prince is particularly fond of. But it’s also a work that holds personal – and painful – significance for Fred, and the thought of performing it again, even for a command performance and with the collaboration of famed soprano Sumi Jo (as herself), troubles him deeply, for reasons he’s highly reluctant to admit.

Mick, meanwhile, continues actively working on his new film with a coterie of young screenwriters (Nate Dern, Alex Beckett, Mark Gessner, Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie) whose wide-eyed enthusiasm helps keep him young. However, despite Mick’s insistence on remaining active, he’s also aware that the years are catching up with him. So, with that in mind, he’s intent on making this film his testament, a consummate expression of who he is and the pinnacle of his artistry. He envisions the picture as a showcase for his favorite actress, Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), an aging but prolific and profoundly versatile star with whom he has worked on many previous occasions. In doing all this, Mick’s clearly placing a lot of pressure on himself, but, with the clock winding down – and his health becoming questionable – he’s committed to seeing things through on this project while he’s still able.

As Fred and Mick attempt to sort out these matters, they also have ample opportunities to sort out their feelings about their lives. They frequently lounge by the pool or go on leisurely mountain walks, engaging in philosophical discussions about everything from their work to their families, their friendship, their love lives, their emotions, their regrets and, perhaps most importantly, what to do with the time they have left.

Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz), daughter of a former orchestra conductor, encourages her retired father to keep active to remain vital, one of the principal themes of the emotive new release, “Youth.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In their attempts at arriving at meaningful conclusions about these issues, Fred and Mick often draw upon the examples set by other guests at the spa, such as Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a young actor desperately seeking to find his voice as a performer, the spark that will give meaning to his career. Additional inspiration comes from other visitors, such as the recently crowned Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea), an aspiring child violinist (Lee Artin Boschin), an ever-smiling Buddhist monk (Dorji Wangchuk), and an obese, middle-aged South American celebrity (Roly Serrano) in failing health who valiantly fights to stay vital. Even the resort’s employees have something to offer, such as the insights of a shy but proficient mountain-climbing instructor (Robert Seethaler), an amusing staff physician (Wolfgang Michael) and an intuitive young masseuse (Luna Mijovic).

Over the course of their stay, Fred and Mick’s vacation turns out to be as much an exercise in personal revelation as it is an enjoyable respite, and what they find out about themselves surprises as much as it enlightens. One can only hope that whatever newfound understanding they attain will serve them well as they move forward into the future – one that’s likely going to be just as uncertain now as it was when they were younger.

When we reach the point in life that Fred and Mick have, there’s a tendency for many of us to look back and ask, what has it all meant? Have we made the most of it? Have we done all that we wanted to do? What, if anything, would we have done differently (and, if so, how)? These are “the big questions” of life, the kind that often arise when our time grows short, which, as noted earlier, also usually leads to the all-important inquiry, what do we do with the time we have left?

In assessing these questions, we nearly always end up taking a serious look at our beliefs, for they ultimately determine how our realities – and our lives – unfold, the essence of the conscious creation process. So, if we truly want to find the answers we’re supposedly looking for, the first thing we need to do is ask ourselves, what do we really believe?

This is a question we seldom pose when we’re young; in fact, most of us don’t even recognize its relevance or importance in our youth. But, even if we do, we often put off addressing it until our sunset years (if then). Nevertheless, it’s an inquiry that’s pertinent at any age, whether we’re 19 or 90, because the underlying principle is just as true when we come of age as it is in our waning days. And, in light of that, this is why the answer becomes so crucial when our time is short; if we want to take full advantage of those dwindling days, we had better have a good handle on what we hope to accomplish – and the beliefs that will make it possible – with the time we have left.

Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a young actor seeking to find his voice, looks to draw inspiration from the wisdom of elders to bring meaning to his work in director Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Of course, if we really want to get the most out of life, we’d be wise to ask this question sooner rather than later. By grasping this concept as early on as possible, we significantly increase the likelihood of creating the life we want (and a full one at that). Unfortunately, many of us evade it, allowing ourselves to become distracted by incidentals, worrying about trivial obsessions, and frequently whittling away valuable time, energy and consciousness on irrelevancies, ill-conceived pursuits and unproductive endeavors.

To that end, then, think about how much potential grief, disappointment and regret we might be able to avoid by addressing this issue in our 20s rather than our 80s. Admittedly, some may contend that it’s easy to reach that conclusion in hindsight, arguing that the experience of making “mistakes” and engaging in other assorted missteps is part of our learning curve, an often-problematic but necessary step on the path to the sage wisdom that comes with age. But, if we’re able to successfully fathom this realization and put it to work in our youth, we may find ourselves astonishingly pleased with the results.

As Fred and Mick come to discover, there are a number of principles that we should consider to increase our chances of success on this point, no matter how old we are:

• Allow ourselves to feel, because our emotions often provide clues about our beliefs, and the more clarity we have about them, the better we’ll understand how and why our reality materializes as it does. Of course, we must also believe that it’s acceptable to allow ourselves to feel in the first place; if we have problems with this, we may encounter undue difficulty in getting a handle on the intents that truly drive us. Several of the film’s characters wrestle with this, and often with regretful consequences.

• Be willing to live in the moment, not in an unchangeable past or an uncertain future. As conscious creators are fond of saying, the point of power is in the present, the only moment over which we have any meaningful direct control. By getting in touch with, and having faith in, the beliefs we hold at such time, there’s no telling what we might accomplish. The fulfillment achieved in such a state of mind could startle those around us, not to mention ourselves. (If you need proof of that, look to the example set by the Buddhist monk noted earlier.)

• Give yourself the time and space to deeply examine this issue. That’s where vacations can prove invaluable. By freeing up those precious resources and removing the everyday diversions that often get in the way, we enable ourselves to pursue (and, one would hope, achieve) this goal. Vacations, retreats and other such getaways provide ideal conditions for this kind of self-examination, as the protagonists come to discover with stunning clarity.

• Warmly embrace beliefs that allow you to give yourself permission to pursue your ambitions. This is particularly true when seeking to manifest your most cherished desires or when looking to extricate yourself from situations that no longer serve you. Of course, this also requires overcoming fear- or doubt-based beliefs that undercut intents aimed at realizing such dreams; by holding on to those outmoded notions, you run the risk of sabotaging the materialization of your heart’s desire, a potentially huge source of regret as the years add up.

• Remain active, both physically and mentally, at any age. When we allow our thoughts and beliefs to atrophy, we become less engaged with our manifestation skills and, consequently, with the reality we create. This may be fine when we’ve made peace with moving on to the next phase of our soul’s evolution, but, if we’re not ready to give up on our current incarnation, we had better remain involved with the realization of our existence. It’s not dependent on age or health, either; even those in the prime of life and who possess a vigorous sense of well-being may be tempted to withdraw, especially if their journeys have been full of disappointment. However, we must remember that our beliefs create our reality, for better or worse, and, if we don’t like what we’ve materialized, we had better get busy and make the necessary adjustments. And, because such modifications depend on us taking action, this is clearly something we need to address while we still have the chance.

Aging screen idol Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) discusses her latest film project with a long-time friend and collaborator, a filmmaker near the end of his career, in “Youth.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In the end, the principal life challenge we all face – just like Fred, Mick and all of their cohorts at the spa – is to sort out our beliefs to make some sense of it all. This is essential for understanding why we have experienced what we have, thereby giving us a newfound appreciation of the nature of existence. And, with the attainment of such enlightenment, there’s nothing that will make us feel more young at heart.

“Youth” is a sublime, thoughtful treatise about aging, what we do with the years we have and how well we understand it all as we move through the process. The picture stylistically recalls director Paolo Sorrentino’s previous offering, the Oscar-winning best foreign language feature, “The Great Beauty” (“La grande bellezza”) (2013). With its gorgeous cinematography, its superb performances by Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda, its diverse and emotive musical score, and its deftly nuanced, beautifully layered writing, the film is a feast for the senses and leaves viewers with much to think about in its wake. Despite a few slow passages in the first hour, “Youth” tends to grow on you the further you get into it, effectively wiping away any memories of that minor shortcoming. Allow yourself to be moved by the experience, and you’ll come away richly rewarded.

For its efforts, “Youth” has received a modest share of accolades thus far, including a Palme d’Or nomination earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, the event’s highest honor. In current contests, the film has earned two very deserving Golden Globe Award nominations for Fonda’s superb supporting actress performance and for the picture’s signature musical piece, Simple Song 3, an honor also bestowed on the composition in the Critics Choice Awards competition.

When we reach the end of the line, many of us would like to hope we come away from the experience having learned something about life and, more importantly, about ourselves. But doing so requires some effort on our part to assess how it all came into being, a process that, for what it’s worth, intrinsically begins with each of us and what we believe. By regularly taking stock of this, we increase the likelihood of getting the most out of the experience. To be sure, life truly is what we make of it, and films like this serve as valuable reminders of that. We can only hope we heed that advice while we still have the chance to do so.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Spread Some Holiday Cheer!

Why are these people smiling? They just got their copies of Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction!

Photo by David Castillo Dominici, courtesy of

These books, available in print and ebook formats, make ideal gifts for movie lovers and followers of conscious creation/law of attraction principles, so pick up copies for everyone on your holiday shopping list – including yourself if that’s you! For a sample of Get the Picture?!, click here, and for a sample of Consciously Created Cinema, click here.

To find our more about these titles, visit their dedicated web sites. For Get the Picture?!, click here, and for Consciously Created Cinema, click here. The books are available from all major online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo, among others. You can also keep up with the latest developments about these titles on Facebook, Pinterest and Google+, and be sure to follow me on Twitter (@Brent_Marchant).

Happy Holidays, everybody, and best of luck with your creations in the New Year!

For Get the Picture?! on Amazon, click here
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For Consciously Created Cinema on Amazon, click here
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Book cover designs by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment

Project Bring Me To Life Radio Show Now Available on Multiple Web Sites

In case you missed last week's broadcast of my interview on the Project Bring Me To Life radio show with host Christopher Closson, you can now hear it in podcast format for on-demand listening from the following sources: iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Reality Sandwich and Disinfo. And, while you're at it, check out the show's YouTube preview and my PBMTL profile on the web site's home page. Tune in for a lively discussion about conscious creation/law of attraction principles in the movies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Another Holiday Gift

If once is fun, twice is nice, so, to say thank you again to my loyal readers who have supported me and my writing over the years (and to share my gratitude with those who are still learning about it), I’d like to present everyone a second gift for the holidays – an excerpt from my book, Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction, my review of the emerging Christmas favorite, “The Blind Side.”

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What You Don’t See Coming

“The Blind Side”

Year of Release: 2009
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head, Lily Collins,
Ray McKinnon, Kathy Bates, Adriane Lenox, Sharon Morris, Omar Dorsey
Director: John Lee Hancock
Screenplay: John Lee Hancock
Book: Michael Lewis, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

Often in life we think we know where our lives are headed, but then something happens that takes us down a completely unexpected path. What we don’t see coming, however, can be truly transformative, taking us places we might never have envisioned (despite having drawn the conditions to us that make such events possible). Such a remarkable set of circumstances provides the basis for the touching, fact-based comedy-drama, “The Blind Side.”

Based on the life story of professional football player Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), the film recounts how this African-American teenager from the Memphis projects overcame gut-wrenchingly sad circumstances and wound up playing for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. It’s quite a moving and remarkable story indeed. But his personal metamorphosis was not the only one to take place in the film. His story touched others who underwent comparable transformations of their own.

When viewers first meet Michael, this soft-spoken gentle giant seems adrift, having been largely abandoned by his drug-addicted mother (Adriane Lenox). Yet Michael also has a strong survival instinct and a unique wisdom (despite apparent learning difficulties), qualities that ultimately prove to be his saving graces. With the help of a friend (Omar Dorsey), he first gets enrolled in an upscale private school. And then one night, through a seemingly chance encounter, he connects with an unlikely ally, one who would help him turn his life around in unimagined ways.

At first glance, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) might not seem like the type to take in a homeless kid from the poor side of town. As a successful designer happily married to her well-heeled college sweetheart (Tim McGraw) and the mother of two bright kids (Jae Head, Lily Collins), Leigh Anne has lived a charmed life of affluence and privilege; in fact, she openly admits to never having visited the part of Memphis where Michael grew up. However, something about Michael’s circumstances inexplicably compel Leigh Anne to welcome him into her home, giving him things he never had—security, a family and a future. She quickly becomes an impassioned advocate for his success, helping to open doors for him that were once previously closed.

One of the doors that opens widely for Michael involves football, a game for which his ample physique makes him an ideal candidate. But it’s also a sport about which he knows almost nothing. This is another way in which Leigh Anne’s influence comes into play. As a former college cheerleader who married a one-time basketball star, she has a long history of involvement in sports, so who better to introduce Michael to the game at which he was destined to excel? Thanks to the guidance and catalytic spark Leigh Anne provides, coupled with Michael’s considerable natural talent, the young man’s abilities as a football player soar, first at the high school level, then in the collegiate ranks and eventually in the pros. The kid from the streets transforms himself, materializing abilities he never knew he had. But, more than that, with Leigh Anne’s support and encouragement, Michael begins to believe in himself, manifesting a life that at one time he only could have dreamed of. And, in the process, he also gives Leigh Anne something to brag about.

By focusing on the magical, synergistic interaction between Michael and Leigh Anne, “The Blind Side” shows us how their connection allows each of them to grow and develop in ways neither of them thought possible. They were both “blindsided,” to use a football analogy, by the impact that they would have on one another, but that unanticipated contact enables personal transformation for both of them in ways beyond measure. And, in reaching that point, the protagonists demonstrate how to make effective use of a number of transformative conscious creation principles, including:

* how we can formulate (or change) our beliefs to create better-than-expected outcomes, thanks to the beliefs that we have in ourselves and that others have in us, thereby enabling transformation on a grand scale;

* how having the courage to live heroically—particularly by taking chances that have the potential to pay off handsomely—can yield rewards beyond our wildest expectations;

* how charting the evolution of our beliefs about ourselves over time can lead to the development of skills and expertise we never knew we had; and

* how all aspects of our individual and shared realities are intricately connected and how we can benefit from such connectedness, both personally and collectively, in countless transformative ways.

“The Blind Side” is also a thoughtful treatise on values, especially those having to do with qualities like kindness, compassion, charity and humanity. It sheds light on the results such ideals can yield, especially when we form suitable beliefs that enable those notions to come to fruition, providing benefits both to those who hold them and to those toward whom they’re directed.

Some viewers were critical of the film at the time of its release, claiming it to be a fundamentalist propaganda piece, given its candid portrayal of the Tuohys as a family of devout Christians who aren’t afraid to openly practice their religion or to allow their faith to permeate their everyday lives. As seen in the film, they attend church regularly, enroll their kids in a private Christian academy and attempt to live lives that reflect the noble values noted above. Leigh Anne and her family obviously have tremendous conviction behind these beliefs, too, as evidenced by the degree of success they achieve with them. Their power is so great that it truly works wonders, even miracles of transformation, both for practitioners and beneficiaries alike.

But the claims of the detractors raise an interesting question: Since when do authentically depicted acts of sincere kindness, compassion, charity and humanity automatically equate to self-serving missives of Christian propaganda? These are qualities we’d all be wise to emulate, no matter what religious affiliation (or lack thereof) we may have. Such values arise from the beliefs that the Tuohys hold, and they have merit in and of themselves, regardless of whether they’re enacted in a religious context or otherwise. Indeed, Christians have not cornered the market on kindness, so cynical attempts at characterizing the film in such a spurious way is patently unfair, to say the least. If more of us acted as charitably as the Tuohys do, even without any religious connotations in our efforts, we’d all be in a much better state these days.

“The Blind Side” is a thoroughly entertaining film. Its well-written script combines just the right amount of humor with a judiciously tempered sense of sentimentality that keeps the picture from becoming overly schmaltzy. The protagonists’ stories are well told, though Leigh Anne’s character development might have benefited from a little more back story (at the very least to the same degree afforded Michael’s character). Bullock and Aaron are terrific in their respective roles, and they have an unusual but affecting chemistry together. In fact, Bullock’s convincing performance earned her an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best lead actress, while the film itself received an Academy Award nomination for best picture.

“The Blind Side” initially appeared in theaters during the holiday season, so I tend to associate this picture with the timing of its release. Given the themes and values it promotes, the film makes a fine addition to the repertoire of holiday staples, joining the likes of such endearing classics as “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) and “A Christmas Carol” (1951). All in all, it makes for a very nice holiday package—even if it isn’t under your tree.

That which we least expect in life often provides us with the greatest degree of satisfaction, especially when it comes to exceeding our perceived limitations. Such revelations only occur, however, when we leave ourselves open to the possibilities, allowing ourselves to grow and develop in ways other than the tried and true. Indeed, letting ourselves get blindsided sometimes proves to be the best course of all.

If you doubt that, just ask Michael or Leigh Anne.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little sample of Consciously Created Cinema. If you’d like to see the entire book, it’s available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo Books, as well as other fine online retailers (for a complete list, click here). And, if you want to check out my first gift, a review of “It’s a Wonderful Life” from Get the Picture?!, click here.

Happy Holidays, everybody!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Frankiesense & More on Podcast!

In case you missed my recent appearance on Frankiesense & More with host Frankie Picasso, the show is available in podcast form for on-demand listening by clicking here. Tune in for some lively chat about conscious creation/law of attraction principles in the movies!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Holiday Gift

To say thank you to my loyal readers who have supported me and my writing over the years (and to share my gratitude with those who are still learning about it), I’d like to present everyone a little gift for the holidays – an excerpt from my book, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies, my review of the perennial Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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Finding Happiness by Finding Oneself

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

Year of Release: 1946
Principal Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers,
Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame,
H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson, Todd Karns, Samuel S. Hinds,
Bill Edmunds, Sheldon Leonard
Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling
Story: Philip Van Doren Stern

The search for happiness in life sometimes gets stymied by a lot of overwrought, self-induced frustration. We think we want something that never materializes, causing us to brood mercilessly, all the while overlooking the real joy we’ve created that’s right before our eyes. But, if we’re able to perceive things as they really are, we just might have a chance to discover true, unconditional happiness for ourselves. Such is the odyssey of the likable hero of the perennial Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

This is another of those cinematic icons that’s so entrenched in popular culture that it’s hard to imagine anyone not knowing its fabled story line. But, for the few who haven’t had the good fortune to see it, here goes.

George Bailey (James Stewart) has big plans for his life. He wants to build things, travel the world and make a name for himself. If nothing else, he wants to flee the confines of Bedford Falls, the “crummy little town” (as he calls it) in Upstate New York where he grew up. But, each time he tries to make his escape, something happens that locks him into staying put. For example, when his father (Samuel S. Hinds) suffers a stroke, George puts off his own plans to manage the affairs of the family business, the Bailey Building & Loan. And, just when he thinks he can crawl out from under that responsibility, other setbacks arise that keep him from moving forward. Over time, his mounting sacrifices take their toll.

As if that weren’t enough, George is forced into regularly matching wits with the town’s curmudgeonly robber baron, Old Man Potter (Lionel Barrymore). He owns practically everything in Bedford Falls except the Building & Loan, a definite sore spot for the greedy old miser. He wiles away the hours counting his money and hatching schemes to take over the one business in town he can’t seem to get his hands on, thanks in large part to George’s intervention.

Of course, not everything goes against George. He courts and weds his adoring wife, Mary (Donna Reed), starts a family and builds many long-lasting friendships with the citizens of Bedford Falls, mainly by making decent, affordable housing available to them through the Building & Loan.

But, no matter how well George takes his misfortunes in stride, life seems to keep tossing curve balls his way. The worst of these comes one Christmas Eve morning, when he’s suddenly thrown into a severe financial crisis that threatens to ruin him, his business and his family, launching George into deep despair and anguished desperation. He even contemplates making the ultimate sacrifice so that a life insurance policy payout will save the day for his heirs. It’s when that ominous prospect looms that the time comes for divine intervention, and it arrives in the form of a good-natured, though oft-befuddled cherubic soul named Clarence (Henry Travers), George’s guardian angel.

Clarence has a vested stake in the outcome of George’s ordeal, too. As a second-class angel in search of his wings, he must successfully guide George through his turmoil and restore his sense of hope to receive them. But how?

After Clarence succeeds in preventing George’s suicide, George grouses over yet another set of failed plans, lamenting that he can’t even kill himself properly. With his financial woes still unresolved, he sputters rhetorically that perhaps everyone he believes he’s let down would be better off if he’d never been born. That statement gives Clarence the inspiration he needs to help show George the way out of his troubles. He then proceeds to give George a glimpse of what the lives of those he’s touched would have been like if he hadn’t been born. As George watches this dark alternate reality play out before him, one in which those he cares about suffer miserably in his absence, he comes to see the magnitude of his contributions to bettering their lives, which makes his current problems and his long-unrealized plans seem trivial by comparison. He realizes, as Clarence says to him with the utmost sincerity and compassion, “You see, George, you really had a wonderful life.” George is thus reborn, his perspective renewed, his life reaffirmed. But, as good as all that is, it’s just the beginning. Things are about to get even better, in ways beyond anything he could possibly imagine.

From a tender age, George always had a good grasp on the nature of his value fulfillment. He was right on target in recognizing that he’d carry out big plans someday. Unfortunately, he doesn’t acknowledge their manifestation when it happens. He’s so hung up on envisioning the physical form his plans should take that he fails to recognize the materialization of their underlying intents when they come into being, and, when his expectations of form aren’t fulfilled, he’s sorely disappointed. Yet his creations surely are big, if not in scope then at least in terms of impact.

For example, the countless Bedford Falls residents who have affordable housing because of George would be leading very different lives if it weren’t for him, but he downplays his role in this. What’s more, he even gets to live out his dream of being a builder through the homes he constructs. But he again discounts this, seeing the houses as small potatoes compared to the bridges and skyscrapers he’d much rather be building. Even from the standpoint of being a good, helpful friend, George fails to see the significance of his efforts, including in life-or-death situations. No matter how he tries to dismiss the influence of his contributions, George does more to meaningfully enrich the lives of his peers than anything his so-called big projects ever could have.

What George needs to realize and appreciate his accomplishments is the metaphysical equivalent of a good stiff poke in the ribs, which is where Clarence comes in. Clarence helps lift the self-imposed fog that’s obscured George’s view of things, helping to give him vision about his visions, a clarity of perspective that has long been lacking. He helps George get out of his own way, to value the meaningful outcomes of his labors and not just the tangible results. With such a clarified view, George can then see how his beliefs and value fulfillment have been realized. Their form may not be what he anticipated, but their impact lived up to the expectations he carried around with him since childhood. With a fresh perspective now in place, there’s no telling what George could do next. He can revel in being himself and all the resplendent glory that goes along with that.

The payoffs to George for his newfound awareness are tremendous. Besides the satisfaction of knowing he accomplished what he set out to do (at least from an underlying intent standpoint), as well as the tangible and intangible rewards that come with that (which vastly exceed his expectations), he can take pride in having given life to his value fulfillment. George lives up to the nature of the concept in its strictest sense, too, for his actions benefit both him and others around him. What joy there is in creation like that! To see it manifest as abundantly as it does, and then to witness it benefit so many, is indeed a blessing.

Of course, an outcome like this is not unexpected when we’re aligned with our value fulfillment, for life’s true purpose is given realization. The degree of success that results from such an alignment is not surprising, either, for the support of the Universe is behind us when we’re in line with our value fulfillment. As films like “The Secret” (see Chapter 3) show, the Universe gets behind those who follow their aspirations with gusto and sincerity. In George’s case, that support takes the form of direct intervention, personified through the appearance of Clarence in his life. But, no matter how divine assistance manifests itself, it’s an integral characteristic of our Universe. As Jane Roberts and Seth wrote in The Nature of the Psyche, it abundantly provides the aid we require, overlooking no one in doing so. Or, put another way, “the Universe leans in your direction.”1

It’s hard to imagine anyone not liking this movie, a contemporary fable presented with warmth, emotion, hopefulness and an overriding sense of compassion, magical in every respect. It seems like it should have been just the picture for battle-weary Americans to flock to in the wake of World War II. However, it received a tepid response when initially released, despite earning five Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture, best director and Stewart’s performance as lead actor. Amazingly, it went home empty-handed, and two of its strongest performances, those of Reed and Barrymore, were even overlooked as nominees. The only major recognition it received was a much-deserved Golden Globe Award for director Frank Capra.2

By finding ourselves, we find our happiness, as George discovers, albeit a little late but better than not at all. And that, as I’m sure we can all appreciate, truly has the makings for a wonderful life.

1 Jane Roberts, The Nature of the Psyche (San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing, 1995), p. 220 (Seth Session 800, April 4, 1977) (emphasis in original). This quote, incidentally, served as the theme of the 2007 Colorado Seth Conference.

2 Thankfully, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has since gone on to receive the recognition it richly deserves. It has earned numerous accolades in the years since its release, most notably the top ranking in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Cheers” salute to the most inspirational films of the previous century, presented in 2006.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little sample of Get the Picture?!. If you’d like to see the entire book, it’s available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo Books, as well as other fine online retailers (for a complete list, click here).

Happy Holidays, everybody!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

‘Spotlight’ exalts the courage to crusade

“Spotlight” (2015). Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton, Jimmy LeBlanc, Richard O’Rourke, Gene Amoroso, Richard Jenkins (voice, uncredited). Director: Tom McCarthy. Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. Web site. Trailer.

Crusaders come in many forms. Some are obvious, like those who fearlessly take up arms in the pursuit of justice. Those who rely on other tools, like the power of the press, are probably less known, though their contributions are certainly no less noteworthy. Such is the case for a group of courageous journalists whose investigative efforts helped bring about groundbreaking change, as depicted in the new highly acclaimed historical drama, “Spotlight.”

For many years, troubling rumors about sexual abuse involving Roman Catholic priests and underage parishioners had been bubbling to the surface of public awareness, but few, if any, details were substantiated. That all changed in 2001, however, when an intrepid team of reporters from The Boston Globe took on the story.

When newly arrived editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) assumed the reins at the Globe, he suggested that the paper’s Spotlight team – the nation’s oldest continuously operating investigative reporting unit – look into the matter. But the idea initially received a somewhat guarded response. In part this was because Spotlight was accustomed to operating autonomously in picking the stories it covered. There was also genuine apprehension how the paper’s predominantly Irish Catholic readership would react to such potentially inflammatory reporting, an unsettling prospect for the publication’s bottom line at a time when newspaper subscription revenues were already in decline. And then there was concern about Baron himself, whose Jewish heritage led some to question whether his suggestion to purposely butt heads with the Church had some kind of agenda attached to it.

However, with Baron’s reassurances that the story would make for good, responsible journalism, the investigative team decided to proceed. Under the auspices of Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) began looking into the matter. Initial progress was slow, but, once doors began to open, the investigation exploded, becoming something much larger than anyone expected.

The team got one of its biggest breaks from attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a flamboyant, outspoken but doggedly committed victims’ rights advocate, who helped connect the Spotlight reporters with sources who were willing to go on the record about their experiences. And the closer the journalists looked, the more they found. In fact, the Spotlight team quickly discovered a widespread pattern of abuse – and an even more disturbing intentional campaign to cover it up.

Through the reluctant admissions of sources like attorneys Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) and Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan), who quietly helped facilitate the settlement of numerous abuse cases involving priests, the Spotlight team found that the conspiracy permeated the Boston Archdiocese. And, given the breadth of this matter, it became obvious that there was no way those at the top, including Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), could have been in the dark about it.

With the publication of a series of articles in early 2002, the Globe exposed the scandal, shaking the Boston Archdiocese to its core and leading to Cardinal Law’s resignation. Revelation of this news sent shockwaves through the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, leading to the subsequent exposure of comparable cover-ups around the globe. And, for its efforts, the paper won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. That’s quite an impressive legacy for an investigation that almost didn’t get off the ground.

When a bombshell story like this finally gets told, many are not only astonished at the nature of the disclosures, but also at why it took so long for such news to come to light. So why did this happen? To look for an explanation, we must examine the beliefs of those involved, because, as the basis of the conscious creation process – the means by which our reality materializes – they determine how matters ultimately unfold.

For instance, as becomes apparent in the film, many of the faithful willingly turned a blind eye to the indiscretions. Some feared the power wielded by the Church and its representatives, while others believed that the Archdiocese and its minions – as the bestowers of God’s will – could do no wrong. This was even true for some of the victims (Michael Cyril Creighton, Jimmy LeBlanc), many of whom came from broken homes and trusted their parish clerics implicitly. When the priests showed them the kind of compassion they didn’t receive from their own families, they freely expressed their gratitude by complying with whatever was asked of them, no matter how questionable they may have found the requests.

When no one is willing to talk about such incidents, however, stories like this tend to stay buried. That’s where the value of the reporters’ efforts becomes so important. As firm believers in uncovering the truth, investigative journalists are willing to pursue it, no matter how unseemly it may be. They have the courage to dig up the facts, go on the record and state explicitly what happened.

Of course, to be able to do their jobs effectively, reporters require the assistance of sources who share their values regarding the truth and who possess the courage to reveal it. For the victims who came forward and provided information for the Globe articles, their ability to overcome their fears and speak their truth is undeniably heroic. Their efforts often necessitated a fundamental shift in their beliefs, but their candor was rewarded with an even more profound change in the nature of the prevailing reality.

In addition to courage, discernment plays an equally important role in scenarios like this. For members of the press, this figures largely in the beliefs they employ in their work, especially when it comes to knowing where to look and what to look for. And, because of that, this is where the influence of intuition is felt strongest, for it aids significantly in belief formation, particularly when it comes to separating the credible from the implausible. Unfortunately, we don’t always heed it, which can seriously dilute the effectiveness of our powers of discernment. Indeed, even the most seasoned investigators sometimes fail on this point, as one Globe staffer is forced into reluctantly admitting in hindsight during the course of the investigation; had that error in judgment been previously avoided, the story may have been uncovered long before it finally was, potentially sparing numerous victims years of abuse.

Discernment tends to function best when employed in conjunction with integrity. Without the influence of this additional component, it’s possible to twist what we believe to be judicious discernment into erroneous assumptions, leading to potentially questionable actions and distressing outcomes. This explains, for example, why one priest in the film sincerely believes he didn’t do anything wrong because his indiscretions didn’t involve engaging in particular types of sex acts, activities that he considered essential for his behavior to legitimately constitute abuse. Likewise, foggy discernment also sheds light on the rationalization behind the victims’ capitulation to their abusers’ whims; beliefs that their unconditional compliance would somehow translate into unqualified salvation sadly leads to profoundly painful experiences, not to mention the lingering anxiety that follows them.

Being honest with ourselves, then, is crucial if we’re to manifest the reality we truly desire, not one in which we blindly conform (or in which we willingly give away our personal power). Beliefs are incredible sources of empowerment, for they shape what materializes in our existence. We should never lose sight of that, even when confronted with those who would attempt to coerce us – or even if there are champions like the Spotlight reporters to come to our rescue.

“Spotlight” is a meticulous chronicle of the Globe’s heroic efforts, recalling such classic newspaper movies as “All the President’s Men” (1976) and “Zodiac” (2007). Its solid though occasionally plodding narrative methodically details the team’s exploits, including the challenges associated with carrying on when faced with stonewalling sources and the need to juggle reporting resources for covering breaking news stories (like the 9/11 attacks, which came in the midst of Spotlight’s investigation). After a somewhat slow opening 30 minutes, the film takes off, working best when the reporting team is out in the field, interviewing sources and uncovering leads. The picture’s capable ensemble delivers with earnest, committed sincerity, despite a dearth of meaningful character development outside the workplace.

Because of the film’s powerful message, it’s bound to be a strong awards season contender, with some calling it the early favorite for best picture honors. “Spotlight” has already earned three Golden Globe Award nominations (best dramatic feature, director and screenplay) and two Screen Actors Guild Award nods for best cast and for Rachel McAdams’s supporting actress performance. In addition, the film has captured four Independent Spirit Award nominations (best feature, director, editing and screenplay) and has been named winner of the competition’s Robert Altman Award, presented to the picture’s director, casting director and ensemble cast. More accolades in other contests are sure to follow.

Knights in shining armor – be they dressed in traditional garb or more contemporary apparel – are undoubtedly valuable allies to have in our corner, as the work of the Spotlight team proves. But, to protect ourselves in the absence of such heroic figures, we would be wise to examine our beliefs (especially those associated with fear, courage, discernment and integrity), for they will loom largely in the reality we ultimately experience. Making it a practice to purposely become our own crusaders could serve us well when faced with circumstances that could potentially cause us great harm, allowing us to rise above the fray and flourish.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tune in for Project Bring Me to Life

Join me and host Christopher Closson for the Project Bring Me to Life podcast, premiering this Tuesday, December 8, at 8 pm Eastern, by clicking here. Tune in for a lively conversation about conscious creation and the movies accompanied by a live chat session on the topic.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

‘Room’ assesses our perceptions of reality

“Room” (2015). Cast: Brie Larson, Jason Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Tom McCamus, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Cas Anvar, Randal Edwards. Director: Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay: Emma Donoghue. Book: Emma Donoghue, Room. Web site. Trailer.

When it comes to understanding our existence, most of us probably believe we have a good handle on the subject. But do we? Are our perceptions of reality on target, or are they skewed by faulty or incomplete beliefs? And how do we correct such misperceptions (or would we even want to)? Those are among the thorny philosophical questions raised in the new suspenseful thriller, “Room.”

Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jason Tremblay), lead a rather unconventional existence. Their world is considerably smaller than what most of us are accustomed to, living their lives within the confines of a 10-foot by 10-foot backyard garden shed, a “home” Joy has generically designated “Room.” Their only view of the outside is through an overhead skylight, one that provides little illumination – and an even more limited glimpse of what lies beyond.

Despite her confinement, Joy is aware of the wider reality outside, having been part of it for the first 17 years of her life. But Jack is totally unaware of it, having been born into the captivity of Room, spending his entire life within its confines. All he knows about existence is what he has experienced firsthand, what his mother has told him and what he has seen on a television with spotty reception.

So how have Joy and Jack come to live this life? Seven years ago, while Joy was walking home, she met a middle-aged man who claimed he needed assistance with his sick dog. Ever the Samaritan, the cheery, eager teenager agreed to help him, not realizing that she was about to be kidnapped, taken hostage by a captor whom she would come to know as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Joy’s abductor proceeded to lock her in the shed, which had been fitted with such basics as running water, heat and a kitchenette. But, despite these minimal accommodations, Joy was essentially caged, confined behind an electronically coded door that only her captor knew how to open. Thus began her harrowing imprisonment, a traumatic experience that would lead to Jack’s birth two years later.

Strange as it might sound, though, Joy does all she can to give Jack as “normal” an existence as possible. She endeavors to remain upbeat, striving to be the best mother she can be to her young son. In fact, Joy’s love for Jack is one of the few things that keeps her going under such trying circumstances.

But spending all of one’s time in close quarters with an inquisitive youngster in his formative years can be challenging. When confronted with endless questions about the nature of existence, Joy makes up stories to address Jack’s inquiries, partly to appease him and partly to make life sound magical enough to give him a positive outlook about it. These fantastic yarns may not be entirely truthful, but she hopes they’re sufficient to satisfy Jack’s curiosity under such trying and unusual circumstances. That’s quite a tall order. After all, how realistic is it to expect someone to be able to accurately describe the nature of the world at large to someone who only knows about existence based on his experience of the limitations of Room?

Besides caring for Jack and giving him as good an upbringing as possible, Joy has another equally important item on her agenda – figuring out how to escape. However, given the degree of control Old Nick wields over Joy and Jack, combined with the meticulous thoroughness of his plans for keeping them captive, that’s easier said than done.

To find a way out of these circumstances, Joy will need to get creative. But, even if she manages to devise a successful escape plan, then what? Will she be able to liberate both herself and her son, or will she be forced into making a difficult choice? Moreover, even if she and/or Jack manage to escape, will they be able to deal with their newfound emancipation? Given that Joy has not experienced such freedom for a long time – and that Jack never has – will they be able to cope with their liberation? Indeed, will their release live up to hoped-for expectations?

In that regard, this film provides viewers with an insightful look at how our beliefs about the world ultimately come to shape it. This is the fundamental essence of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the existence we experience, no matter how extensive or limited it may be. And this is just as true for Joy and Jack in their experiences as it is for the rest of us.

This is particularly intriguing where Jack is concerned, given that his entire experience of the world is based on the confines of Room. His reality springs forth from his perceptions of, and his beliefs about, that very limited space, essentially the totality of what he considers to constitute existence. His ability to envision a reality that goes beyond the manifestation of Room is effectively constrained by his beliefs. The prospect of there being something more to the world is almost impossible for him to fathom, particularly when Joy tries speaking to him about the existence of what lies beyond the shed’s walls.

In many ways, Jack’s experience parallels that of a group of prisoners in Plato’s famous cave story. According to this legendary allegory, the prisoners have lived their entire lives chained inside a cave, effectively unable to move. They face a blank cave wall, watching shadows projected onto it from people and objects that pass in front of a fire located behind them. These shadowy images are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality, providing them with a fundamentally incomplete depiction of existence. Plato observes that this distorted view does not present the entire picture, that there’s more to reality than the limited impressions provided by the shadows. Thus someone who is able to see beyond this limitation, to see the broader spectrum of the nature of reality, is able to gain a fuller appreciation of the true character of existence.

In the cave scenario, the prisoners’ perceptions of the shadows temper their beliefs, which, in turn, govern what they consider constitutes reality. So it is with Jack, too (and for all of us, for that matter). Thus, if we suspect that our view of existence is somehow incomplete, we should examine the beliefs we hold about our reality, for it may expose an inherent limitation that prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.

This is a key challenge for Joy in her efforts to prepare Jack for what to expect about the outside world if they successfully manage to escape their captivity. Based on his experience, Jack has become galvanized in his beliefs about what constitutes existence, especially in light of the stories his mother has told him, which effectively solidified the character of his prevailing outlook. If Jack is to cope with emancipation, he’ll have to address something as potentially limiting as the confines of Room – the limitations of his own beliefs.

This is something we all often wrestle with when looking to change the character of our existence. Our beliefs can become stubbornly entrenched, frequently enduring even when they no longer effectively serve us. Such persistence is in many ways what makes the “certainty” and “continuity” of physical existence possible, but it’s also what might prevent it from changing, something we should be aware of when we look to alter our reality.

The removal of belief limitations is also crucial for Joy in formulating her escape plans. Considering the obstacles she faces, she’ll need to get creative to intentionally deceive and/or overpower her captor. This requires pushing the envelope of possibilities, something that may become particularly difficult under the prevailing atmosphere of limitation under which she lives.

But, as noted earlier, even if Joy’s escape plans were to succeed, what would happen when she and/or Jack found themselves on the outside? Having spent so much time in an existence inherently characterized by extreme limitation, would they be able to handle a reality with endless possibilities open to them?

One might think that having seemingly limitless choices available to us would be highly desirable. However, some might readily view this prospect as patently overwhelming. When we’re accustomed to having our routines and accommodations clearly spelled out for us, we can take comfort in that familiarity. But, if that certainty were suddenly replaced by a broad palette of undefined options, we might easily find such ambiguity daunting. In many ways, some might even long for what they left behind, a prospect essentially embodying the notion of “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

In light of that, then, reintegrating into a world of choice may necessitate making some significant adjustments, especially where our beliefs are concerned. It would require becoming aware of the potential benefits afforded by having a range of possibilities available to us, especially in terms of how preferable it is to not having such options open. Such a realization could allow us to discard our outmoded mindset, enabling us to adopt a new outlook for reinventing ourselves and materializing a new reality. For those who have experienced painful physical and psychological ordeals like Joy and Jack, such a metamorphosis might be just what’s required for promoting the much-needed healing for overcoming those traumas. But, if such a positive transformation is to occur, we must always bear in mind that the change begins with us, particularly when it comes to the beliefs we use to manifest our experience.

“Room” is an engaging, suspenseful thriller about coping with trying circumstances, especially when it comes to the bond between mother and child and the lengths she’ll go to in protecting him. The film’s outstanding lead performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay captivate throughout, despite some occasionally uneven pacing (especially in the picture’s sometimes-meandering second hour). As one of the more unusual releases in recent years, this offering won’t appeal to everyone, but, for those who appreciate cinematic experiences outside the mainstream, this is one worth screening.

The film has already netted three award nominations, earning accolades for best lead actress, best editing and best first screenplay in the Independent Spirit Awards competition, with more almost assuredly to come. Look for Larson, in particular, to capture more honors for her efforts, as she has become a leading contender in this year’s awards competitions.

Our freedom of choice is one of our fundamental metaphysical birthrights, as well as a precious commodity to be carefully protected. Unfortunately, our awareness and appreciation of that capacity might not become apparent until it’s seemingly no longer available to us, and restoring our faith in and reliance on it may not happen as readily as we might think it would. By establishing, monitoring and preserving beliefs that support such awareness and appreciation, we increase the likelihood that we’ll be able to successfully tap into, and make use of, this power when we need it most.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tune in to Frankiesense & More

How can movies help you create the life you want? Find out by listening to my interview on the Internet radio show Frankiesense & More with host Frankie Picasso. The show airs today at 1 pm Eastern. Visit the show's web site or download the podcast. Tune in for some fun, lively chat!