Friday, April 29, 2016

‘99 Homes’ wrestles with issues of conscience

“99 Homes” (2015). Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee, Robert Larriviere. Director: Ramin Bahrani. Screenplay: Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi. Story: Ramin Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi. Web site. Trailer.

The pride of home ownership has long been a cornerstone of the American Dream. But that foundation of this long-sought-after way of life came crashing down for many in 2008 with the financial crisis and the housing bubble that triggered it. Countless people lost their homes – and, in many cases, their will to carry on – in the midst of that calamity, while others profited handsomely from their misfortune. The anguish of that crisis and how one homeowner attempted to bounce back from it provides the focus of the tense, heartfelt drama, “99 Homes,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

When construction worker Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) loses the childhood home he shares with his son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and mother, Lynn (Laura Dern), he reluctantly hands over the foreclosed property to an oily real estate broker, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who has craftily figured out how to manipulate the housing crisis to his advantage. However, when Carver learns what Nash can do as a hired hand, he offers him a job to do renovation and construction work on the foreclosed properties he handles. Before long, Carver grooms Nash for other kinds of work, such as conducting evictions. Ironically, in almost no time, Nash is making good money – for doing the very kind of work he was personally subjected to not long ago.

While Nash’s cash flow blossoms, so, too, do questions about the ethics of his actions, not to mention those of his boss. How can he possibly proceed with what he does knowing what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such treatment? He thus learns what it means to wrestle with his conscience. Indeed, can he continue to look the other way from his feelings simply for the sake of his pocketbook? And what is he to do when asked to engage in activities that cross the line of morality and, eventually, legality?

When it comes to setting our sights on what we want to achieve in our lives, how far are we willing to go? Is it acceptable to do whatever it takes? If not, then is it preferable to do anything that’s required as long as it’s legal, regardless of the ethics? Or should we follow our conscience and move ahead only with those acts and deeds that we know are morally and ethically proper? Those are the questions raised in this film. They’re also key considerations in the practice of conscious creation, the means by which we manifest our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents, which is squarely put to the test in this story.

Specifically, these questions raise the issue of responsibility, a key consideration in the nature of what we create when employing this philosophy. To be sure, we can use it to manifest anything we want, given that the process makes all probabilities possible. But, just because we can create anything we want, does that mean we should do so? What about the fallout that comes from our creative efforts? Should we take that into account, or is the realization of what we seek all that matters?

These are dicey questions for anyone who practices conscious creation, because they all come into play with what we look to materialize. The beliefs we employ will be reflected faithfully in what’s produced, right down to the smallest nuances. Even infinitesimally minute differences in our intents will be mirrored in the array of resulting creations, no matter how seemingly trivial or insignificant they may appear. Knowing this, then, it would behoove us to choose our beliefs – and what they yield – prudently.

One of the most important considerations we must confront in this context centers on the question, “Is doing what’s allowed necessarily doing what’s right?” This is something we must each address for ourselves, based on the nature of our conscience, what we’re seeking to create and what life lessons we hope to learn as a result of such an effort. The answers we arrive at will obviously vary from individual to individual, but taking stock of where we stand on these issues before we proceed may prove quite useful in what we conceive and eventually materialize.

These concerns play out loud and clear in how Dennis and Rick conduct themselves. In Dennis’s case, he seeks to restore what he lost, and he’s so preoccupied with the idea that he’s virtually willing to sell his soul to achieve that goal. Similarly, Rick freely pursues his ambitions in large part as a result of his upbringing; as the son of a father who worked hard and played by the rules (but never got ahead), he has no hesitation to disregard the so-called sage wisdom of his forbears, aggressively chasing his dreams and pushing the limits of what’s legally allowed, with little to no regard for whatever ethical concerns might be involved.

However, as the story unfolds, Dennis begins to question his actions, especially when he realizes what they do to others, such as a homeowner on the brink of foreclosure (Tim Guinee). He begins to see that actions (and creations, as well as the beliefs that inspire them) carry consequences – and not just for those on the receiving end of such manifestations. He’s thus forced into facing whether he should continue doing what he’s doing, especially when he starts feeling the impact personally, such as in his relationship with his family.

By contrast, Rick takes an approach of consequences be damned. He’s so set on the fulfillment of his objectives that he can’t see past the desired outcomes, a practice known as un-conscious creation or creation by default. Such an approach may yield what’s hoped for, but it might also sweep up a host of unforeseen or unintended side effects in the process. In many ways, this is like playing metaphysical roulette; it may pay big dividends, but it might also lead to tremendous losses. Given that, is this really the course we should pursue?

To avoid this pitfall, we must choose our beliefs and intents wisely. But this may be trickier than one might expect, because multiple beliefs can be involved in the creation of a particular outcome. For example, Dennis seeks to get his home back, but there’s more to this than just reacquiring a piece of property; he wants the house because it’s where he grew up and where his mother operates her hairdressing business. This intent thus illustrates his emotional connection to the property, which tinges the character of the beliefs he’s employing to fulfill his goal.

Some may view this qualifying attribute of his beliefs as somewhat unimportant, but it’s not, because it seeks the realization of a specific outcome, one inherently different, for example, from a goal driven by beliefs aimed at reacquiring the property for purely economic reasons. This is important to keep in mind, because emotions, like anything else, are creations, and the beliefs we employ to manifest them are just as powerful as those used to materialize tangible items. In fact, when emotion-based beliefs become linked to those used in the creation of physical objects, the manifestation of those items can become less clear-cut, obscured by murky qualities that can complicate the realization of the sought-after tangible articles. Interestingly, Rick recognizes this, as becomes apparent when he advises Dennis on several occasions not to become emotionally attached when it comes to real estate.

In the end, though, no matter what we seek to create, we should be sure to take care in how we go about it, and this is where our conscience comes into play. If we’re indeed true with ourselves, we’ll know what to do, following our heart and intuition in manifesting what we’re supposed to materialize. The examples set in this film make that clear, and we’d be wise to follow the cautionary tale presented here.

“99 Homes” serves up a taut, engaging commentary about what ever happened to the American Dream, as well as a compelling morality play about what it means to have a conscience when those around us don’t. With gripping performances by Garfield, Dern and, especially, Shannon (who earned best supporting actor nominations in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Awards competitions), this up-close-and-personal look at the debilitating effects of the 2008 housing meltdown bring the fallout of this calamity down to a human scale (think of it as “The Big Short” on the level of the Average Joe). It shows the full impact of what it’s like to have the rug pulled out from beneath oneself – and to have one’s heart ripped out – all in one fell swoop. The picture is easily one of 2015’s most overlooked releases – and one well worth a view.

Even if we don’t like owning up to our conscience, it never steers us wrong. It leads us to where we know we’re supposed to go, and we ignore it at our peril. Whether we’re talking the acquisition of real estate or the pursuit of our own peace of mind, the principle is the same in both cases. No matter what we’re seeking, we’d better pay attention – or be prepared to pay the consequences.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

‘The Dark Horse’ chronicles getting back into the game – of life

“The Dark Horse” (2014 production, 2016 release). Cast: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Kirk Torrance, Miriama McDowell, Wayne Hapi, James Napier Robertson, Niwa Whatuira, Shaden Te Huna, Dante Nathuran. Director: James Napier Robertson. Screenplay: James Napier Robertson. Short Film Source Material: Jim Marbrook, “Dark Horse” (2003). Web site. Trailer.

Battling our personal demons can be quite a challenge. It may even land us in debilitating circumstances that require us to struggle to find our way back. Such a descent can be especially hard when it involves someone who has attained success only to see it slip away. So it was for a fallen chess champion combating a host of issues in the inspiring new biopic from New Zealand, “The Dark Horse.”

Genesis Potini (1963-2011) (Cliff Curtis), a Maori tribesman who became a seemingly unlikely chess master (which earned him the fitting nickname “the dark horse”), may know the intricacies of the game he loves, but he has considerable trouble managing the affairs of his life. In part that’s due to his battle with bipolar disorder. But there’s more to it than that, namely, his impoverished background and troubled family life. That becomes all too apparent when he’s released from a psych ward and left in the care of his long-estranged brother, Ariki (Wayne Hapi), a gang member and the irresponsible father of a teenage son, Mana (James Rolleston).

Genesis realizes he needs something to ground him in his life if he’s to carry on. He knows he won’t find it through his brother and his violent lifestyle, so he returns to what he knows best – the game at which he excels. He thus becomes coach of the Eastern Knights, a chess club for underprivileged children organized by his friend, Noble (Kirk Torrance). He also hopes the club will provide a healthy alternative for his nephew, but coaxing Mana away from his father proves problematic and reignites the lifelong animosity between the brothers. Through it all, though, Genesis endeavors to bounce back and bring meaning not only to his life, but also to that of others.

Battling one’s way back to stability and peace of mind while ensconced in the depths of despair, depression and confusion is quite an ordeal. Many times we can’t see a way out, let alone be able to perceive where we hope to end up. But, for those who are able to successfully make use of the conscious creation process – the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents – there’s a possibility to transform those circumstances for the better.

Whenever we employ this process, we use our beliefs as a springboard to project our innermost thoughts and intents from the realm of the intangible into the world of the physically manifest. Much of the time we do this without even thinking. However, when we consciously seek to create what we’re musing about, we can produce astounding results, yielding outcomes that meet or exceed our expectations. And this can prove tremendously helpful for those looking to transform their circumstances, especially those, like Genesis, who need to turn their lives around.

The key in this is being able to envision the results we want to achieve. It provides us with an anchor, an objective to strive for, in our manifestation efforts. Projected outcomes will naturally vary from individual to individual, depending on what is being sought. But, for those who seek to establish a solid foothold in a grounded new reality, this practice can be particularly useful.

Unlike many of us, Genesis has an advantage when it comes to his envisioning skills. Because he’s a chess master, a game based on a seemingly infinite range of possible moves, he’s able to envision multiple probabilities for manifesting a desired outcome. In fact, ironically enough, that’s likely why he turns to chess itself as a means for finding his way out of his adversity. Since the game has familiarized him with the need to focus on his moves to realize his goal, he has ready access to a transferrable skill that he can employ in his larger life. By adopting beliefs commensurate with this ability, he thus has a strategy for seeing his way clear.

Interestingly enough, Genesis is able to take this concept and turn it around when teaching the game to his students. By making analogies between life and chess, he’s able to show his protégés how to play the game by drawing from life experience as an example. This approach proves particularly useful when he references mythological Maori stories to convey gamesmanship concepts and strategies to the many native members of the Eastern Knights.

Being able to picture multiple outcomes helps Genesis avoid further difficulties. For example, after his release from the psych ward, he clearly sees that following in Ariki’s footsteps won’t help him get his life back on track. In addition to the inherent dangers of his brother’s lifestyle, Genesis is well aware of Ariki’s innately negative world view, an outlook that he was able to see even when the brothers were youngsters (Shaden Te Huna, Dante Nathuran). Because of that awareness, Genesis is able to quickly rule out that problematic path and find a course of his own.

Genesis is also fortunate to possess a strong sense of personal integrity. Despite his mental state, he has a well-defined sense of what’s right and wrong, and he never hesitates to act on his convictions, something reflected in his character and actions. This, too, helps him to define what he wants to pursue and to make use of those insights in his envisioning practices. It also enables him to fend off the efforts of others who may try to impose their views on him; he knows what’s best for himself, despite what others might say to him – and who erroneously claim to have his best interests at heart.

Of course, the ability to envision multiple probabilities can be a dual-edged sword. Having so many options to choose from can be overwhelming, perhaps making it difficult to choose which path to follow. This may be something that comes with the territory for chess players, given their preoccupation for assessing moves and their associated consequences. It appears to have affected chess master Bobby Fischer, as depicted in the biopic “Pawn Sacrifice” (2015), and it may have contributed to Genesis’s life experience as well. It could even offer a possible explanation for his bipolar condition and why he created those aforementioned personal demons in the first place. Taming that tendency and adjusting the beliefs related to it may be necessary to avoid this manifestation pitfall.

Nevertheless, in the manner of a true conscious creation practitioner, Genesis is able to bring about a positive outcome for himself, and his influence rubs off on others, providing them with better lives as well. This is a prime example of the concept of value fulfillment, the principle of living our lives as our best truest selves for our own benefit and the betterment of those around us. Even though some might contend we’re simply talking about a game here, it’s ultimately much more than that. It offers a new beginning not only for Genesis, but also for those who learned from him and looked up to the example he set, both as a chess player and as a human being.

Despite intermittent pacing issues and some annoying sound quality problems during the first 30 minutes, “The Dark Horse” delivers on all other fronts, with superb performances from its excellent ensemble cast (especially Curtis) and a nuanced script that tackles its complex story line on multiple levels. This heartrending release is an inspiring tale for more than just fans of the game. The film is currently playing in theaters specializing in independent cinema.

Bringing oneself back from a dark and scary place is undoubtedly quite a challenge, one of the most difficult tasks many of us will ever undertake. And, while we’re embroiled in such circumstances, it may seem like we’ll never recover from them. But a rebirth is indeed possible if we set our mind to it. As this heroic story illustrates, the “genesis” of a new idea truly can emerge when we picture it and allow it, offering a fresh start to get back into the game of life.

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

A review of "A Will for the Woods," another look at "The Way, Way Back" and a radio schedule change are all featured in the latest Movies with Meaning post on The Good Radio Network blog page, available by clicking here.

Terminally ill lymphoma patient Dr. Clark Wang (left) and life partner Jane Ezzard (right) inspect the site of his eventual green burial in “A Will for the Woods.”

Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) dreads his upcoming summer vacation in the hilarious coming of age comedy, “The Way, Way Back.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

‘I Smile Back’ charts the struggle to hold on to one’s life

“I Smile Back” (2015). Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Skylar Gaertner, Shayne Coleman, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron, Sean Reda, Terry Kinney, Oona Laurence, Chris Sarandon. Director: Adam Salky. Screenplay: Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman. Web site. Trailer.

Having it all should be enough for happiness and contentment, right? But what if it’s not? What if it masks an underlying emptiness driven by inexplicable feelings of unrelenting sadness, past regrets and compulsive behaviors aimed at paving over that pain? That’s the struggle faced by an upscale housewife whose life is slipping away from her in the gripping drama, “I Smile Back,” now available on DVD and video on demand.

Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman), a married mother of two, would appear to live a charmed life. Her wealthy husband, Bruce (Josh Charles), provides well for his family, and her kids (Skylar Gaertner, Shayne Coleman) are an absolute joy. So why is mom so unhappy? That’s what she needs to find out.

In getting there, though, Laney routinely binges on alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit substances and unabashedly has affairs with other men, including one of her husband’s best friends (Thomas Sadoski). She also abandons the medications designed to treat her bipolar disorder, contending they’re making her fat. However, such reckless behavior eventually catches up with her, which lands Laney in rehab to get her life back together.

Through the course of her treatment and subsequent release, Laney toils to become the person she believes she’s supposed to be. But, no matter how much she attempts to conquer her demons and avoid the temptations always around her, she has difficulty staying clean, especially when directly confronting her past, as happens in a strained encounter with the father (Chris Sarandon) who abandoned her as a child. And the further Laney immerses herself in these challenging and sometimes-unhealthy circumstances, the harder she must try to hold it together – or risk losing her mind.

There’s often a tremendous difference between how we see the world and how we’re expected to view it, as Laney finds out for herself. That difference lies in our beliefs, and they can truly make a world of difference, as the aforementioned scenarios illustrate. That’s because our beliefs serve as the cornerstones of the reality we experience, all as part of the conscious creation process, the means by which our existence is brought into being.

Given Laney’s material circumstances, everyone believes that she should be enjoying her seemingly privileged life. But, given her state of mind, not to mention her life experiences (and the beliefs that helped shape them), Laney’s view of reality is anything but what others assume it to be.

So how is it that Laney’s bleak perception of existence is so contrary to that of those around her? As with all elements of reality creation, it has to do with her beliefs. On a number of occasions, she expresses her singular view of the world, one that’s reflective of those notions that distinguish her perceptions from those of others. And, given how stubbornly they persist, they offer evidence of their tremendous strength and staying power, something that she – like many of us – routinely takes for granted.

For instance, in a rather tense exchange with her husband about getting a dog, Laney argues against the idea, contending that the pooch is only going to die in 10 years, resulting in great sadness for all concerned. Bruce counters by saying that owning a dog will yield 10 years of love and happiness for the children, an experience that they, like all kids, should have. But Laney insists that the despair that comes from the dog’s eventual demise will cancel out those benefits, to which Bruce frustratedly responds that everything dies, and, if that’s the case, why should we bother loving anyone or anything – a retort with which Laney readily agrees. With a pessimistic outlook like that, is it any wonder how she’s developed the negative worldview she’s embraced?

To overcome such a viewpoint, a change in beliefs is required. But, in Laney’s case, adopting a new mindset may be easier said than done, since her beliefs seem to be quite entrenched. And, to compound matters, she’s clearly reluctant to alter them. That becomes apparent when she enters rehab, which she resists from the outset, an attitude that carries over into her counseling sessions with her therapist (Terry Kinney). What’s more, through those sessions, it’s obvious that these beliefs have been in place for some time, which accounts for their entrenchment and persistence. Laney even concedes that they probably don’t serve her any more, either. So, if that’s the case, then, why does she continue to hold on to them? Indeed, what does she get out of doing this?

That’s the $64,000 question Laney must address if she ever hopes to change her life. Could it be that holding on to these beliefs is designed to prove a point? If so, to what end? Is it possible that this attitude is intended to be directed toward someone, like her father, an attempt to show how his abandonment ruined her life? But, if he’s no longer part of that life, what’s to be gained from such beliefs and behavior? Or perhaps they’re part of a challenging life lesson she’s chosen to pursue, one that’s inherently difficult and that she may not even be consciously aware of. In any event, these are issues that Laney needs to sort out if she’s ever to find the answers she seeks in bettering her life.

In circumstances like these, there are steps we can take to overcome such harsh conditions. For example, attempting to envision and embrace a different path (and forging beliefs commensurate with it) is an excellent way to get past an outmoded outlook. It can be especially helpful if done holistically, applying it to all of life’s endeavors. This usually requires adjusting our beliefs on a core level, which may be challenging (though not impossible) but can pay handsome dividends in terms of an overall shift in one’s worldview.

None of this is not meant to minimize the effort that must go into such an undertaking. Indeed, Laney is to be commended for facing her fears and simply making the effort, no matter what the outcome, hallmarks of a truly strong, empowered woman. But working through entrenched beliefs that limit our capacity to move past self-imposed obstacles can nevertheless be challenging, especially if we continue to employ beliefs that allow the manifestation of distractions and temptations that keep us from attending to our personal growth work. In some cases, even with our best efforts, we may find that holding things together is difficult, perhaps even raising the specter of failure, with our reality seemingly slipping away from us – and being unable to do much about it.

All of this illustrates the importance of monitoring our beliefs carefully, for, as Laney’s experience shows, they’re powerful forces in shaping the world around us. This is particularly true with the beliefs we embraced in our past that have endured into our present, because, if they no longer serve us, they may carry on into our future as well – perhaps leading us to a point of no return.

While sometimes painful to watch, this cinematic cautionary tale is nevertheless compelling for Silverman’s breakthrough dramatic performance, which deservedly earned her a best actress nomination in last year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards competition. Even though she’s best known for her outlandish comedy work, Silverman proves here that she has the chops for serious drama, demonstrating a heretofore-unknown range that stands her in good stead for a more diverse repertoire of future roles.

Regrettably, some elements of the film’s narrative don’t feel fully fleshed out. But then maybe that’s the point: Sliding over the edge isn’t something we may always understand or for which we can pinpoint a definitive cause. Still, despite this shortcoming, “I Smile Back” is a tremendous showcase for an actress who has a lot more in the tank than she’s typically been given credit for.

In life we all hope for a happy ending. But attaining that outcome often takes us down a path full of trials and tribulations, some of which we may not understand or be able to cope with. Looking to ourselves, though, may very well provide the key we need to unlock the mystery of our circumstances and to turn a challenging and troubling situation to our advantage, one that may even lead us to that proverbial storybook outcome.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

‘Demolition’ probes tearing down old lives to build anew

“Demolition” (2016). Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Polly Draper, Heather Lind, C.J. Wilson, Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk, Blaire Brooks, Ben Cole, Brendan Dooley, Tom Kemp, Alfredo Narciso. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Screenplay: Bryan Sipe. Web site. Trailer.

What does it mean to have one of the most significant foundations of your life kicked out from underneath you? What’s worse, what does it mean if you don’t seem to care? That’s the challenge put to the surviving spouse of a tragic event as he seeks to put his life back together – by tearing down his old existence to build anew – as detailed in the new independent drama, “Demolition.”

When successful, button-down investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), in a car accident, he tries to grieve but, inexplicably, he can’t. Even with the passage of time, the shock never seems to set in, leaving family, friends and colleagues somewhat perplexed. Why won’t he let out his feelings?

Shortly after Julia’s funeral, while in seclusion, Davis remembers an incident that took place not long after her passing. He recalls being in a hospital waiting room adjacent to the trauma center where she died. He attempted to purchase some candy from a vending machine, but it failed to dispense the product. The incident curiously captivated him, and rather disproportionately at that; after all, as someone earning big money, why should the loss of a paltry $1.25 matter so much? He decides to write a letter of complaint to the vending company, going into extensive detail about the circumstances of the event, as well as his life overall. As time passes, this correspondence leads to a subsequent series of letters to the vending company in which he systematically outlines the details of his life, all in the interest of “being thorough.”

In supposedly happier days, investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal, left) shares a moment with his wife, Julia (Heather Lind, right), in “Demolition.” Photo by Anne Marie Fox, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In the meantime, Davis becomes more reclusive. He has a heartfelt conversation with his boss (who also happens to be his father-in-law), who advises him that rebuilding one’s existence begins with tearing down one’s old life, a recommendation that Davis promptly starts taking literally. He proceeds to disassemble his home refrigerator, his work computer and even a bathroom stall in the office restroom, acting out externally a process that has begun churning internally.

As Davis’s behavior grows progressively more bizarre, those who know and care about him, such as his parents (Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk) and his in-laws (Chris Cooper, Polly Draper), grow increasingly worried. The same is true of Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), a customer service representative from the vending company Davis contacted. Touched by Davis’s letters, Karen decides to phone him, asking if he has someone with whom he can share his thoughts. That call prompts further, increasingly personal contact, eventually leading to an impromptu in-person meeting and the start of an unusual new friendship.

Through their conversations, Davis learns that Karen, too, is deconstructing and reconstructing her own life, in her own unique way. She struggles to manage a dysfunctional romance with her boss, Carl (C.J. Wilson), and to preserve a deteriorating bond with her teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis), who has a host of issues of his own. Together, Davis, Karen and Chris seek to get their lives back on track by coming to terms with what they’re leaving behind – and what they’re about to replace it with.

Investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal, left) and customer service representative Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts, right) seek to put their fractured lives back together in “Demolition.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The process of demolishing our old lives to build new ones is seldom fully understood. Many of us like to think we can just start from the ground up in creating something fresh. However, for a new life to take root, we generally must make space for it by clearing out the clutter that could get in the way. This means intentionally disposing of what’s no longer working, something that usually feels more like a loss than a healthy purge.

So how do we decide what to trash? This involves examining what’s superfluous in our lives and why it has become so. But it’s a process that requires more than assessing the usefulness or practicality of what’s being eradicated; it also impels us to comprehend why those habits, items, relationships and attitudes have become obsolete. And, to understand that, we must look at the reasons why we drew those things into our lives in the first place, a practice that calls upon us to examine our thoughts, beliefs and intents, the building blocks of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience. This will tell us why our existence has unfolded as it has, why and in what ways it no longer works, and what we must do to chart a new course.

This helps to explain Davis’s inability to grieve. By subjecting himself to this process, he learns that his lack of feeling over Julia’s death is due to the fact that he never really knew her well in the first place. The bond between them wasn’t especially strong to begin with, so their emotional connection wasn’t inherently substantial. In fact, as Davis further discovers, marrying the boss’s daughter proved to be something of a convenience, yet another in a series of life events that allowed success and material comfort to come to him all too easily. Because of this, Davis has allowed himself to drift through life effortlessly, never really coming to know himself. With Julia’s passing, however, he’s forced into facing his true nature, a catalyst that prompts an exercise in self-discovery, one characterized literally and figuratively by deconstructing his old life to uncover a new one.

A concerned father-in-law (Chris Cooper, left) has a heart-to-heart conversation with his troubled son-in-law (Jake Gyllenhaal, right) in director Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Demolition.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Many of us experience life-changing events, but we frequently fail to recognize or acknowledge the full depth of their significance. Unlike Davis, we often get caught up in the emotion of such incidents, asking “why me?” and never delving any deeper to see what underlies them. However, by taking the time to examine them in terms of what we’re leaving behind and why, we begin to see the reasons for a new life opening up before us. By viewing these events as springboards for change rather than as capricious, random tragedies, we have an opportunity to make the most of these catalysts, to see the silver linings associated with them that many of us like to believe exist but that we frequently chalk up to wishful thinking. We can thus see why we drew such changes into our existence, enabling us to warmly embrace the beliefs that made them – and all the potential benefits they afford – possible.

The range of benefits is truly extensive and varies from individual to individual, depending on what we need to learn the life lessons we seek to experience. In Davis’s case, for example, he – like many of us – is searching for the true self he has long ignored. To do that, though, he must eradicate the impediments that hamper that quest, namely, his tendency to let things happen too easily. By never challenging himself, he deprives himself of the opportunity to see what really moves him, what’s really in line with his reason for being. However, once he becomes aware of the obstacles preventing that in his life, he has a chance to change it, to dissolve his former existence and reinvent himself so that his authentic self can shine through.

In conscious creation terms, the process of eliminating these impediments is often referred to as stripping away the camouflage in our lives. Camouflage can take multiple forms, such as the distractions that frequently keep us from focusing our attention on what’s most important – the formation of beliefs in line with the fulfillment of our life’s purpose. Life-changing events, like tragedy, illness or other forms of loss, are often intended to wipe away those diversions, to force us to eliminate limiting or unproductive beliefs that yield the camouflage that gets in the way of why we’re here. In essence, this encourages us to become metaphysically lean and mean, urging us to get serious about pursuing our value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept associated with us living our lives as our best, truest selves for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal, left), a widower seeking to come to terms with his grief, and Chris (Judah Lewis, right), a rebellious teen with a variety of issues, seek to find themselves in “Demolition.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

This introspective process pushes us to trust our gut, to follow our intuition to discover who we really are. Unfortunately, it’s a tool we often underutilize or ignore, because it’s frequently seen as illogical or irrational. However, it usually leads us to where we need to go, no matter how outlandish it may seem, either to us or to others.

To his credit, Davis doesn’t hesitate to follow his intuition’s recommendations. He may not understand the reasons for his actions, nor may he be aware of the implications. Nevertheless, he trusts the suggestions, regardless of what others may say or without regard to what his old self may typically have done. Such thoughts and actions are destined to lead him to where he needs to be, and, thankfully he has the wisdom to accede to them. If his true self is to emerge and his new life is to be born, this is positively essential, an example we’d all be wise to heed.

“Demolition” provides a compelling look at reconstructing oneself from the ground up, with grief (and the search for it) serving as a surprisingly intriguing catalyst. Despite a few too many subplots (some of which receive short shrift), a handful of somewhat implausible incidents and a slight tendency toward repetition in the narrative, the film nevertheless takes a unique look at its subject matter, providing insight into a valuable life lesson we could all learn from. Gyllenhaal and Watts prove once again that they are some of today’s best screen talents, and director Jean-Marc Vallée firmly establishes himself as one of the industry’s most solid, dependable filmmakers, capably following up his previous works “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) and “Wild” (2014) with yet another fine effort. “Demolition” certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but those looking for inspiration to build on in repairing and reshaping their own lives will likely find this offering meaningful and revealing.

Starting over may not be easy, especially if there’s much to be gotten rid of as we initiate the process. However, such purges usually prove highly beneficial, taking us to places we may not have previously imagined. Tearing down the old might be difficult, but, when we consider what it ultimately makes possible, the effort is well worth it.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Demolition," "I Smile Back" and "The Dark Horse" 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 Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.

Photo by Kristy Griffin, courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

They Listened!

Thank goodness AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron has come to his senses, announcing that the theater chain will not allow texting in its theaters, This is a victory for moviegoers everywhere, not to mention plain old common sense. Read more by clicking here.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Rant

I rarely engage in rants on this page, but, on this issue, I'm willing to make an exception. So here goes.

AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron has proposed relaxing his theaters' restrictions on texting and cell phone use. His reason is that the current restrictions are off-putting to younger viewers, who seem to have trouble making it through watching a movie without having to tinker with their electronic devices. (Read more by clicking here.)

So what do I think? Grow the hell up, people.

At the risk of sounding like an intolerant old fart, this is nothing but blatant pandering and enabling to an already-spoiled generation with an unbridled sense of entitlement. If people (particularly younger viewers) can't sit long enough to get through a movie without having to play with their cell phones, then they should just stay home and watch movies there. Please don't bother those of us who take our moviegoing experiences seriously with your annoying lack-of-attention-span habits.

I sincerely hope AMC gives serious consideration to public opposition to this proposal. If you feel as I do, please let the theater chain know how you feel and keep this ridiculous idea from taking root.

‘Eye in the Sky’ probes the responsibility of morality

“Eye in the Sky” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Phoebe Fox, Iain Glen, Aisha Takow, Armann Haggio, Faisa Hassan, Babou Ceesay, Francis Chouler, Richard McCabe, Monica Dolan, Jeremy Northam, Michael O’Keefe, Laila Robins, Gavin Hood, Lemogong Tsipa, Vusi Kunene, Emmy Weyime, Lex King, Ahmed Mohamed Ali, Mondé Sibisi, Ali Mohamed, Abdilatief Takow. Director: Gavin Hood. Screenplay: Guy Hibbert. Web site. Trailer.

Balancing the needs for security and morality often means walking a razor’s edge. In an age where the threat of terrorism looms in the shadows, this is an especially important concern. But who is going to take the responsibility for making such difficult decisions? Such is the debate that frames the story line in the suspenseful new military thriller, “Eye in the Sky.”

When British military commander Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is tasked with gathering credible intelligence concerning the whereabouts of a suspected terrorist in advance of a pending raid on a Kenyan radical safe house, the intent is to create conditions enabling the insurgent’s capture. The person in question, Susan Danford (Lex King), a radicalized British citizen, is believed to have recently arrived in Nairobi to collaborate with Somali extremists living there, perhaps to aid in carrying out a terrorist attack. With the assistance of Kenyan field operatives (Barkhad Abdi, Emmy Weyime, Vusi Kunene) and American military surveillance partners around the globe (Phoebe Fox, Gavin Hood, Lemogong Tsipa), Powell and her staff seek to confirm Danford’s identity to proceed with their plan.

However, when it becomes apparent that the safe house is harboring a group of high-profile insurgents preparing for an attack, the nature of the mission changes – to one involving a drone strike to take out the targets. But, before long, that new mission is called into question when a young girl (Aisha Takow) is found precariously close to the strike zone. How should the Colonel and her staff proceed in light of these new circumstances?

This new scenario prompts a series of debates among everyone involved, including the Colonel’s superior officer, Lt. Gen. Frank Benson, (Alan Rickman); advisors to the Prime Minister (Richard McCabe, Monica Dolan, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen); a military legal expert (Francis Chouler); U.S. diplomatic partners (Michael O’Keefe, Laila Robins); and the American drone pilot who would be responsible for firing the missiles into the target zone, Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul). These circumstances are further complicated by a race against the clock; with the window of opportunity quickly closing, there’s little time to make a decision.

As the various debates play out, the principals grapple with what a strike would mean legally, ethically and from a propaganda standpoint. But, considering the stakes, can these issues be given their proper due in the time that permits? What would it mean to carry out a strike in terms of public perception, morality and strategic importance? And can it be legally “justified”? Indeed, is a “satisfactory” outcome possible? These are the hot-button questions that must be addressed – and quickly.

When a hard choice surfaces, and everyone associated with it agrees that a certain difficult action must be taken, who will be the one to stand up and make the decision to proceed? That can be especially problematic when questions of life and death are involved, such as balancing the impact likely to result from a small but significant loss with that of a large and potentially greater catastrophe. What are the decision-makers to do?

Situations like this raise significant questions of responsibility. When we’re seeking to bring about a particular outcome, it’s something that almost invariably must be addressed. The reason for this is that, if we’re looking to create a particular result, we’re also the ones who must live with its associated consequences. But, in approaching something like this, how can we know we’re making the right choice?

This is where the conscious creation process comes into play. This philosophy, which maintains that we create the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents, ultimately leads to the manifestations that appear in our lives, including the fallout that results from their materialization.

Those who give little thought to what they wish to materialize seldom concern themselves with consequences. They may get lucky, or they may wind up mired in a bigger problem than what they started with. This approach, known as un-conscious creation or creation by default, tends to be a shortsighted and irresponsible tactic, full of uncertainties and potential catastrophe.

Those who take their responsibility seriously place themselves in a somewhat better position than their unconcerned counterparts. This is not to suggest that their task is any easier, though. However, by being able to envision their desired outcomes and the fallout that comes from them, they stand a better chance of seeing what their manifestation efforts will ultimately yield. Such prescience also makes it possible to consider alternatives, perhaps even those that enable the realization of more satisfactory results.

How this plays out depends on the beliefs, thoughts and intents we employ in the creative process, for what results from them will be a direct reflection of these intangible building blocks. This means choosing our beliefs, thoughts and intents carefully, which may not always be easy, depending on what they will be used to create. In a scenario like the one depicted here, for example, balancing the need for security with considerations of morality means we must handle our choices deftly, because one misstep can be potentially catastrophic. Indeed, given the specifics of this narrative, the choices can be especially dicey, where none of the outcomes is particularly palatable, where there are only degrees of acceptability involved.

In the end, circumstances like this ultimately bring us back to the aforementioned question of responsibility, an element that should be figured into the belief choices we make. As seasoned conscious creation practitioners know, if we buy into this philosophy as the basis for our worldview, we can’t realistically justify a contention that we purposely create some outcomes while others “just happen.” If we’re involved in any creation scenario, we’re involved in all creation scenarios. Which means that we’re equally responsible for the results in every situation, no matter how pleasant or deplorable they may be. Again, we must choose wisely.

To be sure, it’s heartening to see the characters in this film take their sense of responsibility as seriously as they do, as seen by their willingness to debate their actions. However, their reluctance to make a decision also suggests that they have serious reservations about their options. Should any of them be pursued? But, perhaps more importantly, rather than debate the largely unpalatable choices at hand, maybe the interested parties should instead ask themselves, “Why are we in the position of having to make this decision in the first place? What did we initially create that has wrought these consequences that we must now deal with?” By looking at these questions, perhaps a new awareness of our actions (and beliefs) might emerge that can help us avoid creating circumstances that force us to make such hard choices in the first place. Indeed, this could be the most responsible step we can take – and one that we should consider seriously to avoid such difficulties going forward.

“Eye in the Sky” examines the foregoing issues with an interesting mix of tense drama in the same vein as the recently released combat saga “A War” and biting satire a la “Dr. Strangelove” (1964). Walking this precarious narrative tightrope requires a real balancing act, but director Gavin Hood traverses it skillfully. The film admittedly drags a bit in the first 45 minutes, but, once the basic thrust of the story emerges, the picture becomes both gripping and darkly humorous in a highly distinctive way. Mirren, Paul and Rickman give terrific performances in a chilling yet thought-provoking tale that gives us much to ponder about the nature of conflict and its morality (if such a notion is even possible).

Living with our decisions may not be something we’re comfortable with, but it’s imperative that we do so, because the creations that arise from those choices all originate from us, like it or not. The sooner we accept our participation in these materializations – and the inherent responsibility that comes with that – the sooner we’ll become aware of the integral role we play in these scenarios. And, one would hope, such awareness will ultimately lead to better choices – and better outcomes – for us all.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

‘Marguerite’ wrestles with passion, truth and denial

“Marguerite” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Michel Fau, Christa Théret, Denis Mponga, Sylvain Dieuaide, Aubert Fenoy, Sophia Leboutte, Théo Cholbi, Astrid Whettnall, Vincent Schmitt, Boris Hybner. Director: Xavier Giannoli. Screenplay: Xavier Giannoli and Marcia Romano. Web site. Trailer.

It would be great if we could all realize our most cherished dreams, wouldn’t it? In many ways that’s entirely possible. But, in others, it can be a pipe dream, a frustrating exercise in wishful thinking – unless, of course, we figure out how to miraculously beat the odds. Those determined souls don’t know the meaning of failure or unrealistic expectations, as seen in the quirky new French comedy, “Marguerite.”

Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) adores the opera and longs to serenade audiences with her singular vocal renditions. There’s just one catch – she can’t hit a right note to save her life. But that doesn’t deter the wealthy baroness, especially since she’s convinced she’s a virtuoso just waiting to be discovered, one performance away from gracing world stages with what she sees as her stellar intonations. That notion gets fueled by the polite applause of others, most notably the members of her aristocratic music club, which she freely supports with her generous patronage.

Wealthy baroness Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot, center) aspires to become an opera singer, something that might happen if she could ever hit one right note, as seen in the quirky new French comedy, “Marguerite.” Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

In many ways, though, Marguerite is quietly seen as a joke, something that everyone knows but is reluctant to acknowledge in polite 1920s Parisian society. That’s especially true for her husband, Georges (André Marcon), who looks upon her as an embarrassment. He endlessly concocts contrivances to avoid her performances, particularly when he’s afraid she’ll put a damper on the high-profile business deals he’s trying to arrange (transactions, by the way, that frequently require her financial input to succeed). In distancing himself from her, he has also become a somewhat shameless philanderer, engaging in an affair with one of Marguerite’s best friends, Françoise (Astrid Whettnall).

Still, despite these circumstances, Marguerite’s profile somehow manages to rise, thanks in large part to the disingenuous praise of a young journalist (Sylvain Dieuaide) and his wily anarchist companion (Aubert Fenoy). She also has the undying support of her loyal butler, Madelbos (Denis Mponga), who looks after her every need, shielding her from criticism and even securing the assistance of a dubious vocal coach, Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau). Before long, the would-be diva seems to be on the verge of a professional breakthrough. But will it really happen? Or will someone step in with a reality check? And what will that mean for Marguerite and those who claim to have her (i.e., their own) best interests at heart?

With the accompaniment of her loyal butler Madelbos (Denis Mponga, left), wealthy baroness Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot, right) seeks to fulfill her dream of becoming an opera singer in the quirky new French comedy, “Marguerite.” Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

So, one might ask, how can somebody like Marguerite realistically allow herself to engage in such inexplicably delusional behavior? Is she so blind to her circumstances that she can’t see what’s happening or what others think about her? The short answer is, apparently not. But how can this be?

For those with a passion, there’s little stopping them in the pursuit of making their dream come true. They’re committed to creation for its own sake, regardless of whatever obstacles or derogatory comments may come their way. Such unrepentant souls are masters at practicing the art of conscious creation, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Marguerite clearly has her bases covered in this regard. She’s figured out how to formulate the right beliefs and how to manifest the right combination of conditions and support mechanisms to realize her ambitions. To her, what matters most is living out what she wants, regardless of what others might think – and no matter how oblivious she herself might be to what she has actually created. She knows how to relish the joys and power of creation.

On a closer look, though, Marguerite’s manifestations serve other, less apparent purposes as well. Her preoccupation with music helps to protect her from the many unpleasantries in her life. By devoting herself to her “career,” she manages to tune out the anguish her French homeland suffered during the recent World War, as well as her husband’s cheating and the parasitic, opportunistic behavior of the many who leech off her generosity. Having such a shield can indeed prove a valuable and palatable diversion in the face of potentially devastating circumstances.

When a tone-deaf would-be opera singer seeks to develop her talents, she turns to a dubious vocal coach (Michel Fau) to help her in director Xavier Giannoli’s new comedy, “Marguerite.” Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Of course, if conscious creation is truly responsible for everything we materialize, then one could readily argue that Marguerite manifested these disagreeable circumstances, too. Which naturally begs the question, why? As conscious creators are well aware, the philosophy makes all experiences possible, including those most of us would consider undesirable. But, even knowing that, why would anyone create such seemingly unwanted conditions?

In the evolution of our being, we ultimately seek to experience the full range of what life has to offer, for better or worse. This includes both active participation in these scenarios, as well as deliberate avoidance of their impact, something that Marguerite has obviously chosen to experience here. Some might see her choices as painful, regrettable or unrealistic, but, in their own way, they’re just one of the many life lessons we all seek to experience at some point in our soul’s journey.

In the long run, though, the truth is what we all ultimately hope to discover and embrace, including Marguerite. Throughout her unusual odyssey, nothing seems to get her down, no matter how potentially disheartening, except for her husband’s absence from her performances. She initially shrugs off his flimsy excuses, but, as time passes, her suspicions are quietly raised, providing her with glimpses of what’s really going on. This is due to subtle shifts in her beliefs, which produce different outlooks and outcomes from what she has been experiencing all along, leading to a new awareness about the nature of her reality, a dissolution of the aforementioned denial and yet another life lesson learned. To be sure, this may not be the easiest way to go about all this, nor might it be the way many of us would choose to pursue it. But, if that’s the path that Marguerite believes would be the most effective way for her to get the lessons and experiences she needs, then who are we to criticize her for employing the conscious creation process in this manner? In the end, we’re all free to pursue this practice in any way we so choose, Marguerite included.

In her own way, Marguerite is a truly empowered woman, even if we don’t share her goals or her means for reaching them. But, then, that’s what the spirit of a truly inspired conscious creator is all about, and her commitment to her own unique path provides us with an example we can emulate.

As she awaits her big break, tone-deaf would-be opera singer Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) envisions herself gracing the world’s stages with her singular off-key intonations in the new French comedy, “Marguerite.” Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

This entertaining though slightly overlong comedy, loosely based on the life of an aspiring opera singer with comparable vocal gifts, features fine performances by its ensemble cast, whose colorful characters are not unlike those one might find in a Fellini film. The protagonist’s positively dreadful renditions of classic operatic works are amusing but never become tiresome, especially when she comes up with ever-new and creative ways of mangling these revered vocal standards. Its meticulous period piece production values make for an impeccable visual feast, too. However, the picture’s tendency to get bogged down in the middle drags out the story a bit needlessly, delaying a surprising and heartfelt payoff. Nevertheless, director Xavier Giannoli has assembled a distinctive cinematic experience, one well worth the time. “Marguerite” is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in foreign and independent film.

Chasing our dreams can be one of the most meaningful and fulfilling pursuits in which we’ll ever engage. But, as “Marguerite” shows, let’s just make sure they’re the right ones.

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

Friday, April 8, 2016

‘Midnight Special’ explores finding ourselves

“Midnight Special” (2016). Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks, David Jensen. Director: Jeff Nichols. Screenplay: Jeff Nichols. Web site. Trailer.

We all possess our own special talents and abilities, and managing them is generally feasible with the right guidance. But what would happen if we were to start exhibiting capabilities that are literally alien to this world? That can be especially complicated when the individual in question is a child, one who has his own challenges with learning how to fit into a world he barely knows – let alone one in which he is decidedly different from everyone else around him. Such is the scenario that plays out in the enigmatic new sci-fi adventure, “Midnight Special.”

Who exactly is Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher)? The sometimes-gifted, sometimes-troubled young boy is seen by some as a savior (especially by his adoptive father (Sam Shepard), a cult leader who considers the child an avatar), while others (particularly those in the government, such as NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver)) view him as an unknown enigmatic force, possibly even a weaponized human. But to Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), the boy’s birth father, Alton’s merely his son, and he’s in trouble. So, with the aid of his wife, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), and a childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy is determined to get Alton the help he needs.

Superficially speaking, that help would appear to involve protecting Alton from his would-be captors, as well as obtaining specialized (but largely undetermined) treatment for an array of unusual health conditions. But, as Roy and his companions are well aware, Alton primarily needs help in coming to terms with who he really is. Considering the boy’s special skills, such as his uncanny knack for picking up and vocalizing radio signals (including those in languages he doesn’t speak) and his ability for cryptically conveying information through intense light beams that shoot out of his eyes, Alton’s obviously not your average kid. At the same time, he must also learn to cope with certain challenges, such as an adverse reaction to sunlight, necessitating him to wear goggles and to spend all of his waking time only at night.

Together, Roy, Sarah and Lucas need to unlock the doors that will help Alton understand the meaning of his life and his reason for being here. But, to do that, they must stay ahead of those who want to capture him for their own questionable purposes. These circumstances prompt them to take to the road, a journey that leads them across the American South. This trek turns out to be an odyssey of adventure and peril – not to mention heartfelt self-discovery.

As this incredible journey unfolds, with all its unusual twists and turns, the questions that keep coming up are, “Who is this kid?” and “Why does he possess these particular skills?” Ultimately, though, those are questions that Alton would like answered as much as viewers would. In fact, the search for such answers about ourselves is at the core of everyone’s story. Learning about ourselves in this way is a journey that we must all go through, and this film provides a compelling and insightful example of that process, especially when it comes to discovering and tapping into our singular gifts, talents and abilities.

One of the most effective ways of learning about ourselves involves understanding why our lives unfold as they do, a process that calls for getting in touch with our innermost thoughts, beliefs and intents. This is important, for these are the cornerstones of conscious creation, the philosophy and practice responsible for the manifestation of the reality we experience. Once we understand this, matters tend to become clear, and our destiny effortlessly materializes before us like the pages of an opening book.

Alton’s experience is particularly illustrative by showing us the potential that resides within each of us. This involves the discovery of those aforementioned gifts, talents and abilities, including both those of which we’re aware, as well as those that lie latent and await activation. When those attributes are ignited by the flame of belief, they spring forth into being, birthed into full-blown manifestation, even if we once doubted their existence or their capability for realization.

This is the challenge that Alton undergoes in the course of his journey, but he encounters his share of difficulties. Those obstacles arise from either a lack of awareness of, or an unwillingness to embrace, the beliefs that constitute his true self. However, once he overcomes these issues, he’s free to allow his genuine being to shine through (pun intended). It’s something we all go through, too, albeit usually somewhat less dramatically, but the underlying principle is fundamentally the same in each case – and for all of us.

Once our true self emerges, it opens up worlds of possibility, again, both for Alton and for all of us. Such experiences frequently show us that we’re far more than we think we are, both in terms of our capabilities and our understanding of our intrinsic multidimensional nature. This enlarged and clarified awareness enables us to fulfill that aforementioned potential, something that has the possibility to benefit both ourselves and others – and often in immeasurably untold ways.

“Midnight Special,” in my opinion, is what a science fiction movie should be – a gripping, smartly written adventure that hooks the audience early on and keeps viewers riveted all the way through. Director Jeff Nichols cleverly parcels out just enough information to keep us interested without divulging the whole story prematurely or all at once, keeping the picture from turning into an exercise in predictability. Its simple but effective special effects, coupled with thrilling but not overlong action sequences, make for exciting viewing. The film’s climax is, admittedly, slightly stretched out, but that’s a small price to pay for everything else this well-crafted release has to offer. If you like a hefty dose of intelligence and sophistication with your science fiction, don’t miss this one.

Coming to terms with who we are can be a challenging, perhaps even frightening, prospect, especially when we’re unaware of how and why things are happening. But the rewards that emerge from an enlightened understanding of this process can be astounding, often with far-reaching impact. Approaching this process with courage and a willingness to embrace the truth can reveal mysteries and miracles beyond description, making the journey well worth the effort.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

‘Everything Is Copy’ honors an artistic visionary

“Everything Is Copy” (2016). Cast: Interviews: Jacob Bernstein, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Mike Nichols, Steven Spielberg, Barbara Walters, Liz Smith, Gay Talese, Barry Diller, Rob Reiner, Rosie O’Donnell, Bob Balaban, Carl Bernstein, Delia Ephron, Amy Ephron, Hallie Ephron, Reese Witherspoon, Rita Wilson, Lena Dunham, Gaby Hoffman, David Geffen, Marie Brenner. Archive Footage: Nora Ephron. Directors: Jacob Bernstein and Nick Hooker. Web site. Trailer.

Moviegoers are truly blessed when they’re able to screen the films of an incredible talent. They’re especially fortunate when that talent is prolific, producing many worthwhile creations in many different milieus. It’s regrettable, though, when the creator of those works doesn’t always receive the recognition that’s genuinely deserved. So it was to some degree with writer-director-playwright Nora Ephron (1941-2012), who produced an impressive repertoire over the course of her career. Thankfully, Ephron finally receives the kudos she so rightfully earned, as depicted in the new made-for-cable TV documentary, “Everything Is Copy.”

As the eldest daughter of Hollywood screenwriters, Ephron grew up in the shadow of the movie business, though she did not immediately follow her parents’ path. She initially worked as a reporter and columnist at The New York Post and then as an essayist for Esquire magazine, positions that earned her considerable acclaim. It also helped garner screenwriting opportunities, such as the script for the 1983 Mike Nichols biopic “Silkwood,” for which she earned an Oscar nomination.

Consequently, Ephron forged an impressive network of friends and contacts, including writers, actors and fellow journalists, such as Washington Post Watergate investigator Carl Bernstein, whom she eventually married. That marriage ended in divorce, however, when Ephron learned of Bernstein’s infidelity, an event that prompted her to write the autobiographical novel Heartburn (1983), which would later be made into another Mike Nichols film (1986) for which she wrote the screenplay.

With her successes on “Silkwood” and “Heartburn,” Ephron’s film career was off and running. She would go on to write and/or direct a number of other pictures, including “This is My Life” (1992), “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) and “Julie and Julia” (2009), as well as “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) and “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), both of which earned her additional Oscar screenwriting nominations.

In addition to her movie work, Ephron would pen the script for the Broadway play Lucky Guy (2013), an elegy about the career of New York Post colleague Mike McAlary, who won a Pulitzer Prize but died of cancer not long after receiving the award at the age of 41. The play, somewhat uncharacteristic of Ephron’s other works, would not premiere until a year after her own death, also from cancer, something that many of her closest friends and peers speculated had prompted her to write the script in the first place.

The life and career of writer-director Nora Ephron provides the focus of the new made-for-cable TV tribute documentary, “Everything Is Copy.” Photo by Dan Greenburg, courtesy of HBO.

Considering Ephron’s body of work, it’s easy to see where she drew her inspiration from – her own life. But, then, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that her parents taught her early on that our lives are often our best sources of inspiration for our creative works, a notion they embodied in the expression “everything is copy” (hence this documentary’s somewhat enigmatic title). In this way, her creations became mirrors of her life, just as our lives are mirrors of our beliefs, thoughts and intents, the building blocks of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience.

Whether or not Ephron was a conscious practitioner of this philosophy, she nevertheless was an expert at it, materializing the “copy” necessary for creating her impressive body of work. That repertoire is noteworthy for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important of which being her incisive insights into the human condition, especially in the areas of personal relationships and vocational callings. As both an active participant and objective observer of these pursuits, she was subsequently able to translate her experiences and observations into finished works that encapsulated these ideas in engaging, heartfelt chronicles. Her ability to envision such results thus made her works truly inspired manifestations, creations that both addressed the subjects at hand and embodied the metaphysical principles that made them and their corresponding artistic counterparts possible.

Two elements played key roles in Ephron’s creative process – her keen intuitive skills to see the underlying truth of what was going on and her sense of integrity for being faithful to capturing and translating its essence into finished works. These qualities are true hallmarks of a proficient conscious creator, one who’s willing to examine what lies at the heart of a particular situation and who has the courage and nobility to portray it with fidelity. Ephron was a pinnacle of both.

In many ways, Ephron’s life serves as an inspiring example to us all, both in terms of reflecting what conscious creation makes possible and the personal attributes that make the process work. While we may not all be aspiring writers and directors, the principles Ephron employed in her approach to her work illustrate concepts that we all can use in the creation of whatever ventures we pursue for ourselves, be it cooking or child rearing or even basket weaving. The creative process is essentially the same, no matter what canvas we work on, and, for her part, Ephron was a true artist in all the efforts she undertook.

Through Ephron’s writings and films, we learn much about what it means to be alive in the ever-shifting ways of our times. Simultaneously, her works also enliven the universal truths of the human condition, especially in areas like relationships, family, vocation and our place in the world. This visionary gave us many gifts through her art, and, for that, we should be forever grateful.

“Everything Is Copy” is a fun and lively tribute to Ephron, lovingly compiled by her son, Jacob Bernstein. The film delivers consistently from start to finish, effectively chronicling her colorful and storied career. It features interview segments with Ephron through the years, as well as the observations of those who knew and worked with her, including Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Mike Nichols, Steven Spielberg, Barbara Walters, Liz Smith, Gay Talese, Barry Diller, Rob Reiner, Rosie O’Donnell, Bob Balaban, Carl Bernstein and Nora’s three sisters, Delia, Amy and Hallie. In addition, the film features clips from many of the movies that Ephron worked on as screenwriter and/or director, as well as narrated excerpts from many of her essays read by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Rita Wilson, Lena Dunham and Gaby Hoffman. It’s essential viewing for her fans and an informative portrait for those unfamiliar with her work. The film is currently airing on the HBO cable network, including its On-Demand video service.

Artistry is something not reserved just for artists; it’s something we’re all capable of expressing. But it helps to have inspiration to show us the way, and those who excel at this often provide us with the enlightenment and encouragement we need to make our own masterpieces. We can thank Nora Ephron for setting such an example – and can best pay tribute to her by doing our best to emulate what she so successfully achieved.

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Marguerite," "Midnight Special" and "99 Homes" 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 Cohen Media Group.

Photo by Hooman Bahrani, courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.