Thursday, March 31, 2016

‘Hello, My Name is Doris’ celebrates starting over

“Hello, My Name is Doris” (2016). Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Peter Gallagher, Beth Behrs, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Elizabeth Reaser, Isabella Acres, Caroline Aaron, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Wisecky, Rich Sommer, Don Stark, Kyle Mooney. Director: Michael Showalter. Screenplay: Laura Terruso and Michael Showalter. Short Film Source Material: Laura Terruso, “Doris & the Intern.” Web site. Trailer.

For those who feel life has passed them by, the onset of one’s golden years can be demoralizing. It’s easy to embrace regrets, feeling as though there’s no hope for the future. But need it be so? Can we realistically start over late in the game? Those are some of the questions put to an aging eccentric spinster in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Hello, My Name is Doris.”

Doris Miller (Sally Field), a sixty-something accounting clerk who recently lost the mother she lived with all of her life, leads a rather lonely existence. She spends most of her free time with friends Roz (Tyne Daly) and Val (Caroline Aaron) or secludes herself in the home that, over time, has become a hoarder’s paradise. That starts to change, however, when she has a somewhat flirtatious crowded elevator encounter with a handsome, new younger co-worker, John Fremont (Max Greenfield). Doris is quite taken with her colleague, and he shows her much attention. But is he genuinely interested in her, or is he just being friendly? Doris decides to find out.

Doris Miller (Sally Field), a quirky, sixty-something accounting clerk without much of a life, seeks to rejuvenate her existence in the new comedy-drama, “Hello, My Name is Doris.” Photo by Aaron Epstein, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

With the help of Roz’s computer-savvy teenage granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres), Doris creates a bogus social media account as a means to befriend John. After he accepts the friend request she sends him, Doris looks to find out all she can about John and his interests. She soon starts listening to the same music he enjoys, as well as engaging in mutual pursuits. Before long they’re spending a lot of time together, both at work and socially.

Doris is rejuvenated by the experience. She feels alive again. Her life seems to have meaning for the first time in decades. But is she correctly interpreting John’s behavior? Is she being realistic, or is she engaged in some heavy-duty wishful thinking? She frequently envisions grand and glorious outcomes for herself, only to have her hopes dashed when reality rears its ugly head – especially when John introduces Doris to his girlfriend, Brooklyn (Beth Behrs).

Doris Miller (Sally Field, left), an eccentric spinster, finds her life recharged when she befriends her new younger co-worker, John Fremont (Max Greenfield, right), in “Hello, My Name is Doris.” Photo by Aaron Epstein, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Needless to say, Doris is devastated by the revelation. She withdraws and engages in behavior even more questionable than her typical quirkiness, developments that seriously trouble Roz, Val, Doris’s brother Todd (Stephen Root) and her counselor (Elizabeth Reaser). Almost as quickly as her life began to turn around, Doris is headed for what seems like a potentially catastrophic fall.

Is Doris wrong to abandon hope, to give up her beliefs that change and renewal are possible? What’s more, isn’t it possible that there may be more going on than meets the eye? These are among the possibilities that Doris needs to discover for herself.

As in many other recent films that have dealt with seniors seeking to rejuvenate their lives, such as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011), “Grandma” (2015) and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (2015), “Hello, My Name is Doris” follows the lead of those pictures. It enthusiastically insists that it’s never too late to begin again, even if you think life has passed you by, something that distinguishes this release from its counterparts, which primarily focus on starting over after life-changing events. But, as in those other offerings, the key lies with discovering how to go about this.

For many, embracing the principles of conscious creation – the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents – provides a powerful starting point. To make use of it, though, it helps to understand its capabilities, such as its potential to materialize virtually any result, its possibilities limited only by the nature of the beliefs we hold.

The thrill of social media comes to life for eccentric spinster Doris Miller (Sally Field, right) when introduced to it by a friend’s granddaughter (Isabella Acres, left) in director Michael Showalter’s new comedy-drama, “Hello, My Name is Doris.” Photo by Aaron Epstein, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

With that in mind, then, conscious creation can be employed to realize a wide range of outcomes. Even the seemingly unlikely can become plausible through our manifestation beliefs. By eliminating limitations, thinking outside the box and envisioning previously unconceived possibilities, truly miraculous results can materialize. Indeed, if Doris genuinely wants to change her life, she should embrace these notions, regardless of whether or not her plans ultimately include John as part of the mix.

So how do we recognize if we’re making any progress? This is where the importance of synchronicities comes into play. These meaningful coincidences offer us valuable clues that we’re on the right path toward making our dreams come true. They provide us just what we need, when we need it, as if tailor-made to our requirements (which, in actuality, they are, since they’re based on the beliefs we put forth and end up materializing in kind). And seizing the opportunities they afford can prove quite fruitful, taking us ever closer to where we want to be. Again, this is something that Doris should bear in mind.

However, in interpreting synchronicities, we must do so accurately by making astute use of our intuition. The meaningful, though often-inexplicable impressions it provides give us a sort of emotional confirmation about what’s transpiring in our lives. To employ it to best advantage, though, we must first be sure to listen to it (something we’re often loath to do because of its seemingly illogical nature) and then heed its feedback correctly, primarily by avoiding the trap of wishful thinking.

Failure to follow these cautions may cause us to miss out on valuable opportunities or to misconstrue their intended purposes. But these pitfalls can generally be avoided by approaching this process with a sense of integrity, primarily because our beliefs (and responses to them) typically operate most effectively when they spring forth from our own personal sense of truth. Fudging our interpretations or inappropriately bending them to fit hoped-for outcomes won’t serve us in the end, potentially leading us astray from reaching our goals.

Embracing the truth in this way can be difficult, but this is not to suggest that we can’t get what we want, even if we’re prompted into taking some unforeseen or undesirable detours on our journeys. Such diversions may actually lead us to where we want to go, even if we can’t see that at the time they arise. But, if they’re in line with our integrity, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re destined to lead to the fulfillment of our desired objectives.

A heartbreaking moment for an aging spinster occurs when she meets the girlfriend (Beth Behrs, left) of a young co-worker (Max Greenfield, right) she has romantic designs on in the offbeat new comedy-drama, “Hello, My Name is Doris.” Photo by Seacia Pavao, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

The most important consideration in all this is that we take charge of our destiny and follow the dreams that we want, not those that society or others might try to dictate to us as a means to fulfill their agendas. Doris is often challenged on this front, especially when her counselor, brother and sister-in-law (Wendi McLendon-Covey) try to lay down the law to her. But, in her own special way, Doris ultimately knows what’s best for her, no matter how unconventionally she may go about it, thanks in large part to the advice of a motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher) whose books inspire her. By doing so, she lives the conscious creation principles that make her life – and its new look – possible.

Despite some uneven treatment of certain plot elements and occasional lapses in character development, this entertaining, quirky comedy-drama delivers ample laughs and showcases a positively outstanding lead performance by Field (which, one can only hope, won’t get forgotten come awards season). Above all, though, the film offers inspiration to those who are well on in years and may have thought that life has passed them by. “Hello, My Name is Doris” proves it’s never too late for a new beginning, and it does so in a way that’s sure to leave a smile on your face.

It’s heartening that the film doesn’t resort to treating its story as yet another cougar saga. Doris’s character is crafted more sensitively than that. Her quirky charms, though decidedly not the norm, make the protagonist seem like a real person and not a cliché. The filmmakers are to be congratulated for this, keeping the heroine from becoming trite or predictable.

When faced with the prospect that there are fewer rather than more years ahead, we had better appreciate the value of this precious commodity. It’s not a time to squander this valuable resource on engaging in unrealistic pursuits, shelving cherished dreams or allowing ourselves to become reconciled to what we see as unchangeable stagnation. Rather, it’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to start over and to make the most of what life has to offer.

Just ask Doris.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

‘Embrace of the Serpent’ seeks to define our place in the world

“Embrace of the Serpent” (“El abrazo de la serpiente”) (2015). Cast: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolívar Salvador, Brionne Davis, Yauenkü Miguee, Luigi Sciamanna, Nicolás Concino. Director: Ciro Guerra. Screenplay: Ciro Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde. Source Material: The diaries of Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evan Schultes. Web site. Trailer.

What happens when individuals from two very different worlds come into contact with one another? In some instances, such clashes of cultures can have devastating effects. But, in other cases, the interaction can lead to entirely new understandings of one another, especially for those whose eyes have been closed to revelatory insights and blinded by superficial and materialistic concerns. Such is the experience of two Western explorers who journey into the remote Amazonian rainforest in the stunningly beautiful new Colombian epic, “Embrace of the Serpent” (“El abrazo de la serpiente”).

“Embrace of the Serpent” tells two separate but related stories linked by common threads. Based on the diaries of explorers Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evan Schultes, the film follows the exploits of two similar but fictional adventurers, Theo (Jan Bijvoet) and Evan (Brionne Davis), as they make their way into the jungle in search of the rare yakruna plant, a hallucinogenic botanical related to the rubber plant. The shared element linking these two journeys, which take place 40 years apart, is their shamanic guide, Karamakate, who meets his Western companions first as an impassioned, indignant youth (Nilbio Torres) and later as an old man with a failing memory (Antonio Bolívar Salvador). Through their complex, sometimes-contentious, sometimes-enlightening interactions, Karamakate and his companions bring meaning to one another’s lives – and in ways none of them may have anticipated.

European explorer Theo (Jan Bijvoet, center), accompanied by his caboclo, Manduca (Yauenkü Miguee, left), and shamanic guide, Karamakate (Nilbio Torres, right), travel up river in the Amazon rainforest in search of the mysterious yakruna plant – and an uncertain future – in the Oscar-nominated feature, “Embrace of the Serpent.” Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

In the course of Theo’s journey, set shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, the European explorer becomes seriously ill during his travels and seeks out the legendary yakruna plant as a possible cure. Accompanied by Manduca (Yauenkü Miguee), his caboclo (an acculturated native who works for Westerners and is often viewed disparagingly by his peers), Theo searches for someone familiar with the plant and its possible whereabouts. They soon meet Karamakate, who knows how to find the mysterious botanical. But the shaman is reluctant to offer help, given that he is the last of his people, his tribe having been massacred by white rubber barons who plundered the Colombian jungle in their quest for this valuable commodity. In the end, however, Karamakate sets his anger aside and relents, agreeing to lead his traveling companions up river in search of Theo’s hoped-for salvation.

Fast forward four decades to a time when Evan retraces Theo’s footsteps based on his predecessor’s published diaries. Though he’s not ill, the American adventurer also seeks yakruna, as well as someone who can help him find it. He meets an aged Karamakate, whose memory has failed him considerably. He believes he has become a chullachaqui, a mythological figure of the Amazon who takes human form but is empty on the inside and roams the jungle waiting to find someone to deceive. Karamakate agrees to help Evan in his search, though he’s not sure how to find the plant – or even why he’s doing so – because his memory has faded not only when it comes to his familiarity with his surroundings, but also for his very mission in life.

With these twin story lines set up, the film then follows the adventures of each expedition, intertwining the experiences of each explorer and the younger and elder Karamakate and showing the parallels between their respective journeys. Both narratives illustrate the characters’ interaction with the region’s indigenous people, the environment and outsiders who have descended upon the rainforest. In particular, the parallel story lines pay special attention to the impact of Western religion on the natives, first through the dogmatic teachings and brutal conversion practices of a missionary priest (Luigi Sciamanna) and later through the cultish ravings of maniacal self-proclaimed messiah (Nicolás Concino) who grew up under his evangelizing predecessor’s tutelage.

Through their respective experiences, Theo, Evan and Karamakate come to a variety of revelations about themselves. And what began as journeys with specific purposes gradually morph into odysseys far different from what was expected, changing everyone concerned in ways they probably never could have imagined.

In his younger days, Amazonian shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) leads a Western explorer into the heart of the Colombian rainforest – and a journey of self-discovery – in the Oscar-nominated epic, “Embrace of the Serpent.” Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

“Embrace of the Serpent” is rich in themes related to the principles of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. For nearly everyone concerned, these journeys shed light on the nature of their respective underlying thoughts, beliefs and intents, notions that have eluded them for the most part. Their experiences help to enlighten them of their purpose for being not only in the Amazon, but also in the world at large, by showing them what their true beliefs are, not the superficial, ego-driven considerations that seem to preoccupy the bulk of their attention.

The foregoing is certainly true for the Westerners, but it’s especially relevant for the elder Karamakate, who must come to rediscover his reason for being (something many metaphysicians contend is true for all of us who have chosen to incarnate in physical existence). As a shaman who has somehow lost his way, the elder Karamakate must find his way back, to once again recognize, embrace and embody his purpose in life. This is a lesson many of us today should take to heart.

Adopting such an outlook is crucial for understanding how we fit into the greater scheme of things, to realize that we’re all connected to one another and to everything. This has ramifications on many levels. For instance, in purely physical terms, it illuminates our connection to our tangible surroundings, most notably the earthly environment of which we’re a part. Campaigns aimed at drawing attention to the plight of the Amazon rainforest in recent years have become the poster children for environmental causes, highlighting the integral connection between it and all of us – and how we had pay better heed to it. The film makes the essential nature of this bond obvious, showing not only its importance, but also how an appreciation for it is a form of ancient wisdom that we must all rediscover before it’s too late. Karamakate serves as a sentinel of this knowledge, reminding his companions – and, by extension, us – of its relevance to our well-being, if not our very survival.

But the sense of connection explored here goes beyond just physical considerations. Karamakate’s reawakening experiences ultimately show us how we’re also linked to a greater existence of which we and our corporeal reality are a mere part. This larger sense of being transcends the tangible, taking into account the greater whole in which we dwell, one that includes the intangible portions of our selves, parts that we may not understand or recognize but that are nevertheless just as integral to us as those with which we’re more familiar.

European explorer Theo (Jan Bijvoet, center) interacts with the indigenous people of the Amazon in director Ciro Guerra’s latest release, “Embrace of the Serpent.” Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

With such an expanded awareness, we’re likely to take a different view of things. For example, in light of this, we may well treat our world far differently, putting forth beliefs about its maintenance and ongoing creation that are much more considerate than what we employ presently. This is illustrated through the intents of the Westerners in the film, who frequently put short-term considerations before the bigger picture, a cautionary tale we can all learn from.

But this applies on a larger scale, too. When we realize that we’re more than just our physical trappings, that we’re part of a larger, interconnected intangible whole, we may well take a very different view of the reality we create – and not just in purely physical terms. This makes possible a whole range of probabilities never before considered.

By embracing this broader view, it’s possible to set aside potentially unproductive manifestation practices, such as the process of un-conscious creation, the approach to this philosophy where we let existence unfold by default, without due consideration for what we put into it. When we concern ourselves with the consequences of our actions and take responsibility for what we materialize, the thought of letting our existence manifest seemingly at random suddenly seems anathema to us.

This expanded view also gives us a new appreciation for the range of probabilities for existence available at any given time, and the film symbolically represents this concept beautifully. For example, as Karamakate and the explorers travel up river, they follow a set course, one that’s symbolic of a single line of probability. However, the river flows through the darkness of the jungle, symbolic of a defined path cutting its way through the intangible realm of limitless though unexpressed probabilities. And, as the travelers wend their way further into this dominion of possibilities, they learn there is more to existence than the here-and-now with which they’re most familiar, enabling them to push limits aside, broaden their mindsets and envision options that they hadn’t previously considered. This gives them – and us – a broader appreciation for what’s possible, defying whatever limitations we’ve imposed on ourselves or allowed ourselves to embrace, dividends with payoffs that are potentially substantial – for all of us.

Years after his first journey up river, an elder Karamakate (Antonio Bolívar Salvador, foreground) leads American explorer Evan (Brionne Davis, background) on a second expedition in search of the mysterious yakruna plant in “Embrace of the Serpent.” Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Despite some occasional pacing issues and a periodically under-explained back story, “Embrace of the Serpent” is a gorgeously filmed release that explores a variety of issues, from reverence for the environment to respect for other belief systems to understanding the true nature of our place in the Universe. With narrative and cinematic elements reminiscent of “The Mission” (1986), “Apocalypse Now” (1979) and even “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), this unique production offers viewers an intriguing array of images and ideas, all framed within a backdrop of stunning black-and-white cinematography. It’s easy to see how this picture deservedly became one of 2015’s Oscar nominations for best foreign language film and an award winner at the Cannes Film Festival. It also won the Sundance Film Festival’s Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize for movies that promote cross-cultural understanding.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the film is definitely something worthwhile for those who appreciate decidedly different viewing options. It’s currently playing in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema.

Considering how easy it is to become preoccupied with the minutiae immediately before us, it’s often helpful to be reminded of the greater scheme of things and how we figure into it. “Embrace of the Serpent” does just that, prompting us to take a wider view – and what it all means.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

On the Radio This Week

Join me and host Frankie Picasso for this month's edition of Movies with Meaning on Frankiesense & More radio, Thursday March 31 at 1 pm ET. We'll look at some enlightening new film releases. Tune in here for some lively movie chat!

Monday, March 28, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Eye in the Sky," "Everything Is Copy" and "Hello, My Name is Doris" are all available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.

Photo by Dan Greenburg, courtesy of HBO.

Photo by Aaron Epstein, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

‘Creative Control’ dives into the heart of defining reality

“Creative Control” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Benjamin Dickinson, Nora Zehetner, Dan Gill, Alexia Rasmussen, Reggie Watts. Director: Benjamin Dickinson. Screenplay: Micah Bloomberg and Benjamin Dickinson. Web site. Trailer.

It’s easy to distinguish reality from fantasy, right? Are you sure? But what happens when the lines start to get blurred? For some, making the distinction may prove more problematic than one might think, a conundrum explored in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Creative Control.”

When a hip New York ad agency is hired to come up with a marketing campaign for a new form of computer-based eyewear with interactive capabilities, the organization puts its best man, David (Benjamin Dickinson), on the account. To learn about the product, David decides to try it out for himself. He soon discovers that these augmented reality glasses are truly groundbreaking: Not only do they provide enhanced perceptive capabilities of one’s environment, but they also make it possible to integrate computer-generated elements into one’s surroundings, creating a truly life-like representation of virtual reality.

David quickly finds the technology’s capabilities quite compelling. Indeed, the eyewear’s appeal is so seductive that he begins losing his capacity for distinguishing what’s “real” and the virtual existence he’s created using the product. This seductiveness soon overtakes him and, ironically, begins affecting his dealings in his personal relationships.

In particular, the glasses allow David to create an interactive avatar of a co-worker with whom he’s become obsessed, Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen). But, even though the virtual Sophie responds positively to all of David’s advances, her real-life counterpart does not, in large part because she’s the significant other of his best friend, Wim (Dan Gill). Needless to say, Sophie’s failure to respond in the same way as her computer-generated doppelganger frustrates David greatly, causing him to become irritable and leading to friction in his relationship with his girlfriend, Juliette (Nora Zehetner).

A hot-shot ad agency executive (Benjamin Dickinson) seeks to create a compelling marketing campaign for a remarkable new computer technology while simultaneously trying to maintain his grip on reality in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Creative Control.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Meanwhile, plans for the ad campaign don’t go well either. In an effort to create a cool, cutting-edge marketing plan that appeals to the youth market, David hires musician-comedian Reggie Watts (as himself) to come up with something appropriate. Unfortunately, Watts’s proposals are so outlandish and radical that there’s no way they’ll fly with either the client or the target audience. The powers-that-be don’t hesitate to express their displeasure with the ads or with David, prompting him to escape into periodic binges with reality-altering substances, further complicating his already-compromised ability to nail down the nature and character of his existence.

With his world crashing down around him, David struggles to get a grip. But, with so much going on in the different expressions of reality unfolding around him, what’s a guy to do? That’s the puzzle David tries to figure out – while he still has a chance to do so.

Considering the confusion that the protagonist experiences, the story in this film naturally raises questions about what characterizes reality and, by extension, how it arises. And, while the answers to those questions may elude David, they’re abundantly clear to those who practice conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. However, becoming proficient at this practice requires us to be able to identify and sort out those beliefs in the first place, but, given the perplexity that David undergoes, for him that’s easier said than done.

A hot-shot ad agency executive (Benjamin Dickinson, center) meets with his staff to create a compelling marketing campaign for a remarkable new eyewear-based computer technology in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Creative Control.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Why is David so confused? In part it’s due to the multiple “reality platforms” he’s dealing with. In his case, that includes the physical existence to which he has become accustomed, the virtual reality he’s now able to create with his special eyewear, and the altered state of mind he concocts through his alcohol and drug consumption. Is it any wonder that distinctions might start to become blurred?

More than that, however, David’s bewilderment stems from his jumbled beliefs. While learning to appreciate the breadth of our innate multidimensional selves is certainly laudable, it can become overwhelming when they all begin materializing at the same time, as they do for David. And that simultaneous manifestation originates in his consciousness, with different sets of beliefs spewing forth all at once. Their sometimes-contradictory nature complicates matters further, presenting David with an array of possibilities that are difficult to sort out.

For instance, David has a long-standing, apparently committed relationship with Juliette. But, at the same time, he has an all-consuming fascination with Sophie. So how does he reconcile the two? What’s more, the virtual Sophie responds to David in whatever way he wishes – something that clearly appeals to him – while her real-life counterpart doesn’t, something that confounds – and confuses – him to no end. “Why,” he wonders, “can’t she behave just like her virtual twin?” On top of all that, David’s preoccupation with the dual Sophies complicates his relationship with Wim; after all, Wim is David’s best friend, and Sophie is his girlfriend.

Obviously there are many different beliefs at work in creating these circumstances. However, David is either incapable or unwilling to sort them out. By doing so, he lets reality happen to him, a process otherwise known as un-conscious creation or creation by default. With no clear sense of direction at work here, is it any wonder, then, that David can’t get a handle on why his existence is unfolding as it is? And, the longer he puts off trying to grasp what’s transpiring, the greater the confusion he experiences – and the more intense the consequences become.

An overworked advertising executive (Benjamin Dickinson, left) develops a consuming fascination with one of his co-workers (and the romantic interest of his best friend) (Alexia Rasmussen, right) in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Creative Control.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

To a certain degree, David’s problems are the result of a fundamental inability to distinguish between the concepts of “create” and “control” (how ironic that both notions find their way into the film’s title as well). Conscious creation philosophy maintains that we can use our beliefs to create virtually anything we desire. However, the qualities that make up those creations are essentially front-loaded into their manifestation. Once materialized, they continue to exist with their qualities intact; we can’t manipulate them into another form through acts of control on a purely physical level. Indeed, if we want our manifestations to take on new attributes, we must essentially create them anew by formulating beliefs and stating intents that take our desired alterations into account. They must originate in this intangible form – just as with any entirely new creation – before they can emerge as tangibly expressed materializations.

David obviously has problems with this. He’s so taken with the capabilities of the new technology that he’s convinced he can rely on it to make his dreams come true. But can he? In metaphysical matters, there’s clearly no substitute for what we put forth from our own minds, no matter how dazzling our technological toys may seem.

All of this sheds light on the importance of one of our most valuable conscious creation tools – our power of choice. It makes anything possible, yet it’s a power we must wield carefully, one that must be tempered with deliberation, discernment and an appreciation for consequences. Having options is by all means desirable, but we must manage them carefully, especially when they come flooding at us in volume and simultaneously, as they obviously do in David’s case.

As a corollary to the foregoing, we must also be prepared to accept responsibility for what we create and the choices we make. But the question we must ask ourselves, of course, is “Can we handle it?” That’s especially true when we manifest powerful tools, such as the augmented glasses, that give us the impression they create reality for us, something that can lead to undue confusion and an abrogation of our sense of responsibility. It’s also crucial when we hand over our power to others, as happens when David entrusts Reggie to come up with significant portions of the ad campaign that he’s supposed to design. In the end, these are issues that David must grapple with if he’s to regain his grip on an existence that’s rapidly slipping away from him, a cautionary tale for us all.

A stressed-out ad executive (Benjamin Dickinson, right) attempts to manage his strained relationship with his girlfriend (Nora Zehetner, left) in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Creative Control.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Creative Control” is a smartly written, superbly acted offering about modern technology, what we’re doing with it and what it’s doing to us, presenting a scathing indictment of modern culture and its questionable effects. The picture’s wry but relevant metaphysical underpinnings give us pause to think about what we’re creating, what we’re becoming as a result of it and, even more fundamentally, what it means to be human in a rapidly changing paradigm. Actor/writer/director Benjamin Dickinson, a bona fide rising star, offers up an insightful picture whose thoughtful messages are delivered with incisive and ironic humor. The film’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and simple but impressive special effects serve up a stunning visual package well suited to the picture’s subject matter.

I was fortunate to initially see “Creative Control” at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival. At that time, the picture’s release status was unclear, but, in light of its many fine qualities, I was hopeful that it would get picked up by a distributor and receive the wider exposure it truly deserved. Thankfully that happened, and the film is now playing in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema, with DVD and Blu-ray disk releases scheduled for the near future.

In an age when technology is making the once-impossible entirely plausible, we’d be wise to heed the cautions of this film. Our lives, our sanity and even our very existence may well depend on it.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

‘Miracles from Heaven’ puts faith to the test

“Miracles from Heaven” (2016). Cast: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Queen Latifah, Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler, Eugenio Derbez, John Carroll Lynch, Kelly Collins Lintz, Brandon Spink, Rhoda Griffis, Erica Allen McGee, Wayne Péré, Bruce Altman, Hannah Alligood, Zach Sale, J.M. Longoria, Gregory Alan Williams, Suehyla El-Attar. Director: Patricia Riggen. Screenplay: Randy Brown. Book: Christy Beam, Miracles from Heaven. Web site. Trailer.

When our lives are challenged, it’s easy for our faith to get tested. So it is for a kindly, spiritual young mother when her 10-year-old daughter becomes gravely ill. But there’s always hope, and sometimes help arrives in the most unusual and inexplicable ways, as long as we believe in the possibility, circumstances detailed in the new faith-based family drama inspired by true events, “Miracles from Heaven.”

The Beam family of Burleson, Texas leads what appears to be a happy, contented, storybook life. Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner), a young mother lovingly devoted to her three daughters, Abbie (Brighton Sharbino), Anna (Kylie Rogers) and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler), tends to the needs of her kids and the family homestead, while her veterinarian husband, Kevin (Martin Henderson), works long and hard to meet the demands of his newly expanded farm-based practice. They’re grateful for their many blessings, success they attribute directly to their devout Christian faith.

This idyllic life changes drastically, however, when Anna becomes seriously ill with a mysterious digestive disorder. Despite the severity of her symptoms, early diagnoses suggest that she’s merely suffering from severe bouts of relatively innocuous conditions like lactose intolerance and acid reflux. But, when one of Anna’s physicians, Dr. Burgi (Bruce Altman), looks into the matter further, he discovers she is suffering from a rare digestive disorder that prevents her body from processing the food she ingests. And though stopgap measures may help her in the short term, her long-term prognosis is bleak, with few viable treatment options available.

In light of this, Dr. Burgi recommends that Christy contact one of the leading specialists in the field, Dr. Samuel Nurko (Eugenio Derbez), a renowned researcher based out of Boston. However, when Christy tries to schedule an appointment, she learns that Dr. Nurko is in such demand that there’s a nine-month waiting list just to get an initial consultation, and all attempts at seeking to get her request fast-tracked go unheeded. Hope seems so close and yet so far.

Needless to say, these circumstances prompt Christy to seriously question her faith. Why, she wonders, would a supposedly loving God put her and her child through something so devastating as this? She prays intently, asking for answers and solutions that seem to go unaddressed. For the first time in her life, she’s on the verge of abandoning the spiritual beliefs that have sustained her so well all these many years, and there’s little that others can do to convince her otherwise. Even the reassurances of her husband and pastor (John Carroll Lynch) offer little comfort. And matters grow even more troubling when allegedly well-meaning parishioners (Rhoda Griffis, Erica Allen McGee) chime in with observations that perhaps Anna’s illness is attributable to sins that she may have committed, with her condition being the result of some sort of divine payback, a suggestion that positively outrages Christy.

With Anna’s body weakening and her treatment options running out, Christy decides to take matters into her own hands. She and Anna travel to Boston, where she makes an impassioned plea for her daughter, a tactic that, though initially seemingly futile, results in an appointment and the beginning of a long-running relationship with Dr. Nurko. But, even with his committed and compassionate care, Anna fails to improve, and, before long, she essentially goes home to die.

Still, where there’s life, there’s hope, and that’s true for Anna as well. While spending time with her sisters, Anna and Abbie decide to climb an old tree on the family’s property, an activity that had often given her great joy. Unfortunately, the tree’s hollowed-out trunk can’t support the weight of the girls when they reach one of its upper branches. The branch cracks, causing Anna to plunge 30 feet within the trunk, trapping her inside and necessitating a Herculean rescue effort. Remarkably, Anna survives the fall, but that’s just the start of the miraculous events that are about to happen. Thanks to a near-death experience, Anna undergoes a transformation that not only changes her, but also her family and even others far removed from her circumstances – and all for the better.

So what exactly is at work here? How does such a dramatic turnaround come into being? Is it a case of divine intervention? Or is it due to Christy’s determined efforts to secure the assistance she and her daughter need? For those who practice conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in conjunction with our divine collaborator, the answer is both.

In many regards, when devoutly religious followers pray to a Supreme Being, they’re stating an intent for what they would like to see materialized. In essence, though, how is this any different from conscious creators forming beliefs and putting forth notions of what they would like to see made manifest? Even Christy’s pastor muses about this during one of his sermons, when he observes that what happens or doesn’t happen in our lives often depends on what we are or aren’t doing, and, while he’s addressing this point in a religious context, it’s fundamentally based on the same underlying metaphysical principle that conscious creators use in their manifestation efforts.

Given the foregoing, it seems we may very well be dealing with two sides of the same coin here. Indeed, whether one intends to engage in a religious practice or a metaphysical pursuit, the sought-after results in both cases are virtually identical. And, even though some may be intent on going out of their way to draw a distinction between these practices, it may ultimately be little more than a question of semantics.

To appreciate this, look at the elements that drive each process. In both cases, practitioners base their intentions on beliefs that certain outcomes will materialize, and the strength of their faith in those notions is what drives the likelihood of their manifestation. Whether we’re talking prayer or intention, the underlying mechanics are virtually indistinguishable.

Understanding this concept is crucial for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important of these is that, the sooner we realize we’re all essentially relying on the same principle for how we conceive of and create our existence, the sooner we’ll realize that we’re all in this together and that the artificial distinctions we draw about what we call it or how we go about it are fundamentally irrelevant. The implications in many endeavors, such as religious wars, should be obvious.

An awareness of these ideas is also important for understanding how our reality comes into existence. For example, when we realize that we partner with the divine in the creation of our world, we gain a new appreciation for what’s truly possible. Given that our celestial collaborator is capable of materializing anything, we shouldn’t mistrust its capabilities. Therefore, we also shouldn’t allow undue influences like doubt or fear to creep into the beliefs and intentions we put forth, for they’ll ultimately undercut what we hope to achieve. In fact, by doing so, we send a mixed message that our manifestation partner is incapable of interpreting accurately, leading to materializations that are distorted or stillborn. Why would we want such results?

Christy’s experience also illustrates that the manifestation process is a joint effort between us and All That Is. For instance, when she prays to God for assistance, she states her intent. And, then, when she takes the initiative to travel to Boston to obtain an appointment with Dr. Nurko against all odds, her actions yield results because her divine collaborator has cleared a path to make that happen once she decided to take the appropriate action.

Skeptics might look at the foregoing example and contend that it was coincidence, that things just happened at random. But those who practice conscious creation (or whatever comparable term one considers appropriate) realize that this is the process of synchronicity at work, the materialization of “meaningful” coincidences that are so perfectly tailored to what’s needed at the time that they easily defy the qualities of happenstance occurrences.

This phenomenon is apparent throughout the film, and all the members of the Beam family benefit from its effects. Just when things seem potentially hopeless or impossible to overcome, circumstances arise to overcome the prevailing difficulties. This can be seen in the unexpected kindness of one of Anna’s classmates (Brandon Spink), the good-natured generosity of a waitress (Queen Latifah), the intervention of a sympathetic receptionist (Suehyla El-Attar) and the unforeseen altruistic acts of an airline ticket agent (J.M. Longoria). All of these seemingly arbitrary and insignificant occurrences pop up out of virtually nowhere but have tremendous impact. Though they may seem trivial at the time of their appearance, they play integral roles in how circumstances unfold, a sure sign that they bear the mark of the divine at work.

Of course, recognizing these influences is critical to fully appreciating their significance. This is where the role of intuition comes into play. This nebulous perceptive ability that we all possess is often dismissed as “irrational,” because it frequently defies logic. But its influence is something we ignore at our peril, for it often steers us in the right direction, no matter how seemingly absurd, unreasonable or illogical it may appear.

This, too, is apparent in the film, such as when Kevin seeks to reassure Christy that everything in their lives will turn out fine, despite appearances to the contrary. And even Christy comes to realize this, such as when she decides to go to Boston to secure an appointment with Dr. Nurko, even though everything suggests such a move would be utterly fruitless.

Thanks to the impact of intent, synchronicity and intuition, the seemingly impossible suddenly becomes entirely plausible. Results that seemingly come from out of the blue emerge and take root, flying in the face of expectations and producing the outcomes hoped for. And, if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

When such events occur routinely, we have an opportunity to adopt a new outlook for our lives. Indeed, miracles become a way of life, characterizing our reality as something that happens almost matter-of-factly. Miracles no longer seem like unbelievable, inaccessible phenomena that only make their presence felt in the pages of ancient religious texts. And, when we see life from that perspective, it becomes enriched, giving us a greater awareness of, and appreciation for, our existence.

With a focus that’s more spiritual and metaphysical than religious, “Miracles from Heaven” delves into some rather heady topics through its refreshingly candid writing, backed by fine performances and appealing special effects reminiscent of films like “What Dreams May Come” (1998). Even though the narrative is fairly predictable and has a distinct point of view, it tells its story without relying on overly simplified dialogue, blatant evangelizing or one-dimensional characters who look like they’ve just stepped out of Sunday school class. It’s definitely a cut above most of the trite, formulaic, dogmatic offerings typical of this genre.

Interestingly, “Miracles from Heaven” doesn’t hesitate to take some potentially controversial stances, another way the film distinguishes itself from its counterparts. For example, during Christy’s tense encounter with her parishioners, the script readily calls them out for being the holier-than-thou, know-it-all busybodies that they are, something most other faith-based dramas would never do. The picture also incorporates an almost-unheard-of scene involving children freely discussing the prospect of death, as depicted in an amazingly thoughtful conversation between Anna and her hospital roommate Haley (Hannah Alligood), a terminal cancer patient. Such elements take this film to a level not generally seen in this genre.

With Easter right around the corner, “Miracles from Heaven” makes a fine movie choice for the holidays, especially for family audiences. But even cinema buffs who aren’t especially religious might find this a surprisingly good option. Don’t let the cynics or the subject matter steer you away from this one; give it a fair shake, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Faith often requires much of us. It means setting aside our need for apparent certainty and putting our trust in something far more tenuous, a decidedly uncomfortable prospect for those who depend on verifiable assurances in all of their daily dealings. But, when we learn how to set aside such matters and give ourselves over to the joys that come from seeing our faith fulfilled, we can attain a sense of satisfaction that defies logic – and our expectations.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Movies with Meaning Is Back!

Reviews of "Miracles from Heaven," "Embrace of the Serpent" and "Creative Control" are all available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Photo courtesy © CTMG, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

‘A War’ examines the ‘rules’ of combat

“A War” (“Krigen”) (2015). Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novatny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Charlotte Munck, Alex Høgh Andersen, Cecilie Elise Sondergaard, Adam Chessa, Andreas Buch Bogwardt, Martin Tamm Andersen. Director: Tobias Lindholm. Screenplay: Tobias Lindholm. Web site. Trailer.

Can we realistically say that there are rules to be followed during wartime? If so, what would be considered acceptable and unacceptable? And how does one address these questions if an issue should arise? Those are among the thorny subjects raised in the new Danish drama, “A War” (“Krigen”).

Danish peacekeeping commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk, right) confers with colleague and long-time friend Najib Bisma (Dar Salim, left) about how to handle his duties in Afghanistan in the Oscar-nominated drama, “A War.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

When a Danish peacekeeping unit assigned to Afghanistan comes under fire and becomes trapped, Commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) must make some hasty decisions to save the lives of his men, particularly that of a soldier seriously wounded in the firefight (Dulfi Al-Jabouri). But, in the wake of that incident, questions arise about the propriety of those decisions, specifically whether Claus had adequate confirmation of who was responsible for the attack and how he responded to it.

Claus is subsequently charged with violating the rules of war for having possibly ordered a counter-offensive against a civilian, rather than a military, target. He’s sent home to Denmark, where he comes before a tribunal to answer for his alleged transgressions. Claus comes under fire in the courtroom from an aggressive prosecutor (Charlotte Munck), but, just as his men (Dar Salim, Martin Tamm Andersen) had his back on the battlefield, he has a zealous advocate (Søren Malling) defending him during this latest trial. How everything shakes out for him will depend on what his judges believe about his intents, his actions and the very nature of war itself.

Danish peacekeeping commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk, foreground) desperately seeks a way to escape with one of his soldiers (Martin Tamm Andersen, background) while under fire in Afghanistan in the battlefield saga, “A War.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

In evaluating the events in a scenario like this, those responsible for rendering judgment are faced with deciding whether the actions in question are acceptable or unacceptable. But, under circumstances like these, is it even possible for there to be meaningful rules of engagement? After all, conflict is conflict, and lives are at stake, regardless of whether they involve civilian or military casualties. In light of that, then, is it indeed realistic to believe that there can be legitimately “acceptable” acts under the conditions of war, that the inherently uncivilized circumstances that prevail during combat can truly be litigated in a civil manner?

Rulings in cases like this boil down to what one believes about the nature of war, which, in turn, are based on assessments of the acts that transpired – events that also arise from beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process through which we materialize the reality we experience. And, just as there are infinite possibilities for the beliefs we employ in manifesting our existence, there are innumerable options when it comes to the beliefs we hold about the nature of war, with an equally innumerable range of outcomes that spring forth from those notions.

As a starting point, one of the first questions we should ask ourselves in this regard is, why do we create conflict in the first place? In turn, we should then pose such follow-ups as, what is the point of it? What do we get out of it? How do we justify it? How do we rationalize and/or distinguish the acts that occur during combat as either acceptable or not? And, if we start to doubt the merits of what transpires, why do we question what we’ve materialized once we’ve done so (and how do we alter what we’ve created going forward)?

Accused of war crimes, Danish peacekeeping commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk, foreground) testifies before a tribunal regarding his battlefield conduct in “A War.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Curiously, in situations like this, the creation of the overall event is fed by the beliefs of both individuals and the collective, each with their own agendas and hoped-for expectations for what they hope to experience through this overarching scenario. These intents vary from party to party and are capable of change over time, depending on how circumstances unfold. These differing considerations thus account for the assorted viewpoints of those involved in the creation of this mass event, including everyone from the war hawks championing its manifestation to the pacifists protesting its existence.

As events play out, the propriety of the particulars need to be sorted, and that’s where scenarios like the one depicted in this film come up for scrutiny. In this instance, the beliefs associated with the correctness of attacking foes versus the inappropriateness of assailing innocents are up for debate. The beliefs at work here maintain that one course is “proper” while the other is not, and the verdicts for or against the commander hinge on an assessment of that distinction based on the presented evidence (and how convincing that proof is or is not to the judges).

But, as noted earlier, the lives lost represent the deaths of individuals, regardless of whether they’re friend or enemy. So, given that, can the deaths of opponents somehow be considered “acceptable” while those of allies or innocents are not? In the end, the verdict depends on the beliefs of those rendering judgment. However, this alternate consideration provides food for thought for those charged with making a decision – or with writing the “rules” of conflict in the first place. That’s something to think about, an outlook that could lead to a change in our beliefs about the appropriateness of – or perceived necessity for – conflict to begin with.

“A War” seeks to assess these questions while depicting the personal impact on those involved, including not only the commander, but also his troops and his family, including his wife (Tuva Novatny) and children (Cecilie Elise Sondergaard, Adam Chessa, Andreas Buch Bogwardt). The film’s narrative during the first hour is admittedly a bit scattered, somewhat reminiscent of “The Hurt Locker” (2009) only less focused. However, the picture decidedly redeems itself in the second half, providing viewers with a powerful experience. Director Tobias Lindholm has produced a thought-provoking picture here, an effort that earned the movie an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film in the recent Academy Awards competition. The movie is currently playing in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema.

Upon his return from Afghanistan, Danish peacekeeping commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk, center) receives hugs from his daughter (Cecilie Elise Sondergaard, left) and son (Adam Chessa, right) in “A War.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

It’s been said war is hell, and, in a scenario like this, that becomes apparent both on and off the battlefield. The insights afforded by “A War” give us all much to ponder about the nature of conflict itself – and whether it’s all ultimately worth it in the end.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

‘Eddie the Eagle’ inspires us to soar

“Eddie the Eagle” (2016). Cast: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jim Broadbent, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Iris Berben, Tim McInnerny, Mark Benton, Edvin Endre, Rune Temte, Tom Costello Jr., Jack Costello. Director: Dexter Fletcher. Screenplay: Sean Macauley and Simon Kelton. Story: Simon Kelton. Web site. Trailer.

What are the chances that a geeky, somewhat-uncoordinated wannabe athlete is able to overcome his challenges and become an Olympic competitor? Most would probably say not very likely. But, as in any audacious undertaking, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Just ask the infectiously enthusiastic British ski jumper whose inspiring life story is the subject of the new, uplifting, fact-based feel-good movie, “Eddie the Eagle.”

Ever since Eddie Edwards was a child (Tom Costello Jr.), he desperately wanted to be an Olympic athlete, despite health challenges and the nonstop criticism of naysayers, including his own father (Keith Allen). But Eddie was not deterred by these obstacles; he was determined to see his dream realized, especially when his health improved as a teen (Jack Costello). He tried his hand at many sports, though not with much success, prompting even more ridicule from virtually everyone except his mother (Jo Hartley). He seemed reconciled to spend his life working as a plasterer like his dad – that is, until he discovered winter sports.

Eddie took up downhill skiing and fared well, just missing out at a spot on the British Olympic team. But Eddie was not willing to be left out of the Olympic experience. He decided to try a different path – by taking up the sport of ski jumping. And so, while in his early 20s, he began training for competition in a sport that most participants started learning while in childhood.

In 1987, Eddie traveled to Garmisch, West Germany, home of one of the world’s foremost ski jumping facilities, to begin his self-directed training. While there, he met some of the sport’s biggest contenders, like “the Flying Finn,” Matti Nykänen (Edvin Endre), winner of two Olympic medals at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games and several individual and team world championships. He also encountered a new round of critics, like the coach of the powerful Norwegian team (Rune Temte) and his squad of smug, self-assured competitors. But he also met some new supporters, like Petra (Iris Berben), a bar owner who gave the cash-starved competitor a place to stay, and Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a hard-drinking slope groomer and former American ski jumper who was booted from the U.S. team by his coach (Christopher Walken) for a lack of discipline.

Eddie’s hope was to qualify for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada by becoming the sole member of the British ski jumping team, a sport in which his country hadn’t fielded a contender in nearly 60 years. Unfortunately, the British Olympic Committee was reluctant to support Eddie’s bid for fear that the neophyte competitor would embarrass the team and his country, an opinion openly expressed by BOC President Dustin Target (Tim McInnerny).

Again, however, Eddie refused to be held back. Given the sport’s lax qualifying rules in place at the time, Eddie found a way to participate that wouldn’t allow the Olympic Committee to ignore his bid. That, combined with the valuable assistance afforded by Bronson’s impromptu coaching, allowed Eddie to qualify as Britain’s official ski jumping representative at the Calgary Winter Games. Before long, he was off to Canada to meet his destiny.

Even though Eddie’s Olympic performance was far below that of his fellow competitors (he finished dead last in both the 70- and 90-meter ski jumping competitions), Eddie the Eagle (as he came to be known) captured the hearts of spectators around the globe for his zealous enthusiasm. Sports commentators like those from the BBC (Jim Broadbent) sang his praises, despite his comparatively unimpressive results. The nerdy, bespectacled Brit thus became an overnight global celebrity for embodying the spirit of competition, a symbol for what it means to never give up.

Considering the odds that Eddie was up against, it might be tempting to think that his seemingly wrong-headed efforts were truly Quixotic. However, no matter the challenges, he continued to persevere, mainly because he believed he could succeed. Indeed, as anyone who practices conscious creation – the means by which we manifest the existence we experience through our thoughts and intents – beliefs are exceedingly powerful manifestation tools. And, based on his results, Eddie was a master at it.

In the case of an underdog like Eddie, he held onto beliefs that were off the scale compared to what many of us might be tempted to believe. But Eddie’s intents for what he was attempting to materialize were firmly supported by associated beliefs related to abilities for overcoming limitations and envisioning grand outcomes. His faith in those accompanying notions provided a substantial foundation for his manifestation skills, making the realization of his pie-in-the-sky objectives not only plausible but likely.

Eddie’s experience thus sets an excellent example for the rest of us, especially when we aspire to exceed the limits of our (and others’) perceived capabilities. Holding fast to such beliefs makes it much easier for us to reach our goals. What’s more, this practice enables us to silence the critics, which, in turn, further quashes any doubts that may be tempted to creep into our consciousness and undermine our efforts.

Taking such an approach also helps us to vanquish any fears we might have, perhaps one of the most virulent mechanisms for sabotaging ourselves. These restraining beliefs hold us back, keeping us from discovering what we’re capable of before we even make the attempt. That’s unfortunate, too, for it often leads to regrets, perhaps even resentments, toward ourselves or others. But by being willing to live courageously, we stand ourselves in good stead for seeing exactly what’s possible, especially results that may be beyond what we ever could have envisioned for ourselves.

This happens for Eddie, for example, when he tries the 90-meter ski jump for the first time. Having previously made attempts only on the 15-, 40- and 70-meter courses, tackling the big hill represented a huge step for the inexperienced competitor. But what made Eddie’s initial attempt at this height even more impressive was the fact that he did so at the Olympics, participating in a contest in which he hadn’t originally considered competing. Rising up to meet our destiny in such a way usually proves rewarding beyond measure.

Holding firm to our beliefs not only makes it possible to realize our dreams, but it also makes the process easier by opening doors when needed most. The appearance of fortuitous synchronicities frequently provides us with the tangible tools we need to foster the materialization of our hoped-for objectives.

For instance, when Eddie arrives in Garmisch, he’s in need of lodging and training assistance, both of which “just happen” to make their presence felt, as if on cue. Some might look upon such developments as mere coincidence, but, as conscious creators well know, synchronicities like this routinely materialize – quite naturally – as part of the manifestation process. This is the handiwork of our divine collaborator joining forces with us to see our intangible aspirations come to life, offering us valuable assistance in the realization of our most cherished desires. And, as a general rule, the greater our faith in our beliefs, the greater the number of synchronicities that emerge to make our dreams come true.

Synchronicities sometimes have a tendency to work both ways, too. When Eddie first meets Bronson, for example, he comes upon someone who can supply him with the much-needed coaching he requires. But Eddie’s appearance also provides something Bronson needs – a chance at redemption for achieving a measure of greatness in a sport from which he was banished years before.

As conscious creators well know, we’re all in a constant state of becoming. For those who may have “failed” at some previous manifestation attempt, this is an important consideration to bear in mind, for, even if one effort at achieving something didn’t work, this does not mean later ones won’t. We all have a chance to redeem ourselves for past “failures,” provided we believe in the possibility. And, if we do, the synchronicities that may have been absent before frequently show up subsequently, especially if the beliefs supporting a new materialization attempt are firmly grounded and free of undercutting influences like fear and doubt. For someone like Bronson, Eddie might not seem like what he needs to make up for his past disappointments. But, when the potential for Bronson’s redemption becomes apparent, Eddie proves to be just what his mentor needs.

Ultimately, though, Eddie’s efforts benefited others besides just Bronson. His love of competition for its own sake inspired countless fans worldwide, demonstrating the innate value in making an effort at achieving something, no matter what the outcome. Eddie’s personal heroism was even singled out at the Calgary Games’ closing ceremonies by Frank King, president of the event’s organizing committee. But, then, as conscious creators well know, making an impact in a way that benefits oneself and others is one of the aims of the philosophy, a practice known as value fulfillment. In his own way, Eddie lived out this concept, setting a shining example for an enthused world of onlookers.

“Eddie the Eagle” is purely formula feel-good movie material, but it’s extremely well-executed formula feel-good movie material. In many ways, the film echoes the spirit and sentiments of another picture about the Calgary Games, “Cool Runnings” (1993), the story of the Jamaican bobsled team, another of the many unlikely heroes to come out of the 1988 Winter Olympics. In this offering, Egerton delivers a terrific, faithful performance as the protagonist, effectively portraying someone seeking to succeed despite the odds. Even though a number of the picture’s story elements are, regrettably, fictionalized (such as Bronson’s character, a supposed composite of several of Eddie’s real-life coaches), the film provides big fun, great cinematography and a wonderfully nostalgic look at the ʼ80s. For those in need of a potent shot of adrenaline and encouragement, this one shouldn’t be missed.

When life seems stacked against us, it’s easy to roll over and walk away. It takes real courage to face the challenges before us and move forward, especially when seemingly everyone and everything is going against us. But Eddie Edwards refused to let that happen to him, and his story shows us how, making it possible for us, like the Eagle himself, to soar.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 7, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Eddie the Eagle" and "Kabbalah Me" and a second look at "Tomorrowland" are all now available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Radio Network by clicking here.

Photo by Larry Horricks, courtesy © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

‘Where to Invade Next’ reveals how to fix a broken system

“Where to Invade Next” (2015). Cast: Michael Moore. Director: Michael Moore. Web site. Trailer.

America likes to think of itself as the birthplace of all great ideas. But, considering the current state of the nation and its various institutions, the country can use all the help it can get. So what is the U.S. to do? What sources of ingenuity should it tap to rejuvenate itself? And are those aims realistic? Those questions are among those that controversial filmmaker Michael Moore has attempted to tackle in his new and perhaps most ambitious effort, “Where to Invade Next.”

In the spirit of how the U.S. typically goes after what it needs these days, Moore took it upon himself to lead his army of one and “invade” a number of countries that have employed good ideas in their societies, all with the intent of stealing those notions and bringing them back home to the Land of the Free. The results of those efforts are now chronicled in the director’s latest documentary.

Over the course of the film, Moore travels to nine countries, mostly in Europe, to look at various institutions and to see how those nations handle them. Specifically, he visits the following locales to address these topics:

• In Italy, Moore examines employee rights and compensation, illustrating how companies have managed to provide ample wages and benefits while remaining profitable and creating a healthy work/life balance for their staffs.

• While visiting France, the filmmaker looks at school lunch programs, specifically how children even in the poorest school districts are being provided nutritious, almost gourmet-style meals on a daily basis, a practice that teaches good eating habits for life.

• In Finland, Moore shows how the nation’s “radical” education policies have led to its children becoming some of the smartest in the world. And what do those reforms include? A shorter school day, free-form curricula and virtually no homework, practices that keep kids from becoming bored and that free them up for what are seen as more important pursuits, like developing their own interests, piquing their own curiosity, fostering relationships with others, spending more of their time engaged in play and exercise, and learning how to lead happier and more balanced lives overall.

• On a stop in the tiny nation of Slovenia, Moore looks at the country’s free university system, one that provides a quality (and in many ways more challenging) education to those wishing to attend – regardless of whether or not they’re Slovenian citizens, an option that has fostered growing appeal among loan-strapped Americans seeking to complete college.

• In Germany, Moore details the benefits of the nation’s health care system, specifically its provisions covering preventive well-being measures, such as enabling citizens to attend all-expense-paid visits to facilities like spas that offer such services as yoga, relaxation programs and massage.

• While in Portugal, the filmmaker outlines the country’s drug decriminalization program (one spanning the full range of substances) and how this hands-off policy has led to lower rates of incarceration, drug use, and the need for rehabilitation and recovery services.

• In Norway, Moore shows how the country has revamped its prison system, establishing facilities with minimal security (including guards who carry no guns) and an emphasis on rehabilitation (through developing skills and encouraging creativity), all of which has led to some of the world’s lowest crime and recidivism rates.

• On a visit to the North African nation of Tunisia, Moore profiles the country’s progressive women’s health programs (especially its contraceptive practices) and how they (and other reforms) emerged from citizen-led initiatives against a once-inflexible government, an extension of the Arab Spring movement that was born there and swept through other neighboring lands.

• Saving the best for last, Moore’s trip to Iceland shows how greater involvement by women in business and politics has led to significant improvement in correcting the nation’s once-severe economic ills. Moore also details how the tiny island country has successfully prosecuted and jailed many of the corrupt bankers who caused the nation’s monetary issues in the first place.

Through interviews with thought leaders in these various areas, Moore illustrates what these countries are doing right – and how far short of the mark the U.S. falls by comparison. The result is an eye-opening look at meaningful solutions to thorny issues, plans that can be implemented relatively simply and at little cost – and all of which pay big dividends in the end.

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore searches the world for good ideas to steal and bring home to a beleaguered U.S. in his latest effort, “Where to Invade Next.” Photo courtesy of Dog Eat Dog Films.

Many people (especially American politicians) might look at these ideas and think them unrealistic, concepts that are too good to be true. Yet these programs and institutions obviously exist and are flourishing in the nations where they’re present. So how is this possible? In the end, it all comes down to the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

In essence, these programs and institutions exist because their creators believe that they’re possible – and the proof is in their very real, tangible materialization. Those who conceived the ideas behind them were, on some level, convinced that their creations could indeed be realized. And, with the power of their creators’ thoughts behind them, they subsequently came into being.

But the mere existence of these programs and institutions doesn’t tell the whole story. Their effectiveness, both in terms of results and costs, is equally important, and those attributes of these creations have also been made possible by beliefs. Admittedly, such outcomes require some rather proficient and sophisticated envisioning capabilities, as well as the concurrence of the masses, but those prerequisites can be developed to produce results that clearly speak for themselves. By pushing the limits of what’s thought to be possible and combining those notions with an unshakable faith in them, the creators of these programs and institutions have brought forth models worthy of emulation.

Of course, if those seeking to copy these ideas harbor doubts, they’re unlikely to achieve success, since doubts are themselves a form of belief, one that generally undercuts (and usually cancels out) the intents aimed at realizing particular outcomes. Eliminating these contradictory notions is thus essential for success, though it’s sometimes easier said than done, especially if the belief in those doubts is strong.

However, those who have overcome their doubts (and fears) stand to reap tremendous rewards for their efforts. Not only do they have an opportunity to see their dreams realized, but they also place themselves in a solid position to yield additional dividends. The preventive nature of many of these programs, for instance, ultimately saves money in the long run by keeping unwanted issues from getting out of hand in the first place. What’s more, the good feelings and positive outlooks these initiatives inspire lead to a generally happier and healthier populace, one that’s more productive, creative, and compassionate toward others and the needs of the collective.

In light of that, then, one can’t help but wonder, “Why wouldn’t a country want to create and promote such affirming conditions for its citizens?” That’s a good question, especially for a nation such as the U.S., which likes to think of itself as the land of opportunity, a place where anyone can realize his or her most cherished dreams. But that’s hard to accomplish when the majority of its residents are overworked, underpaid, undernourished and stressed out, as well as often inadequately cared for by a profit-driven health care system. If Americans hope to turn things around, these are some essential questions they should begin to ask themselves, paying particular attention to the beliefs they hold and the creations they’re ultimately manifesting.

Perhaps the greatest irony in all this is the misconception that these progressive ideas were born overseas. However, as Moore points out, many of these notions, ironically enough, are based on ideas that originated in the U.S. For example, many of the workers’ rights and benefits programs prevalent throughout Europe today are rooted in American initiatives from the late 19th Century. Similarly, the Icelandic litigation program used to prosecute the nation’s corrupt bankers was actually based on an American plan employed against the guilty parties in the U.S. savings and loan scandal of the late ʼ80s and early ʼ90s. Interestingly, in the wake of the global financial meltdown of 2008, Iceland has jailed nearly 30 corrupt bankers, while the U.S., by comparison, has prosecuted only one. This disparity speaks volumes, not only in terms of outcomes, but also with respect to the priorities of the two nations.

Fixing the present circumstances is genuinely possible, as these examples clearly illustrate. What it takes, though, is the will and desire to make it happen, something that stems from our beliefs, both individually and collectively. But, with that behind us, truly remarkable results are possible – and we don’t even have to invade anybody to make it happen.

Even though Moore’s films (and politics) don’t jibe with everyone’s sensibilities, “Where to Invade Next” provides an excellent survey approach to its subject matter, with segments that link nicely from one to another and ultimately serve to provide an integrated comprehensive whole. The signature humor that typically infuses the director’s movies is present here again, but it’s toned down somewhat from his previous efforts, providing just enough chuckles to keep the picture entertaining without becoming too smug, self-serving or partisan. The interview segments hit all the right notes without overkill, providing valuable, meaningful insights in a number of areas. Admittedly, the pacing slows a bit in the last half hour, but otherwise this is easily the filmmaker’s best effort to date.

Given the challenges beleaguering us these days, we can’t really afford to rule out anything to set matters right. Keeping an open mind and having the courage to pursue the seemingly outlandish may be just what it takes to resolve today’s pressing ills. The inspiration and ideas provided by films like this could well serve as shining examples of what we can and should do to repair a broken system – and we don’t even have to steal anything to make that happen.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reviews, the Power of Choice and More on Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "A War" and "Meru," Movies and the Power of Choice, and an Oscar report card are now all available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Photo by Renan Ozturk, courtesy of Music Box Films.