Tuesday, May 31, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "X-men: Apocalypse," "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" and "The 33" are all available in my latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an omnipotent resurrected being, seeks to bring about his namesake as a devastating worldwide event, in “X-men: Apocalypse.” Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

‘Vaxxed’ provides food for thought

“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” (2016). Cast: Andrew Wakefield, Del Matthew Bigtree, Brian Hooker, Doreen Granpeesheh, Polly Tommey, Jonathan Tommey, Sheila Ealey, Temple Ealey, Rachael Ross. Director: Andrew Wakefield. Screenplay: Del Matthew Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield. Web site. Trailer.

Despite concerted efforts to discredit the film and its director, the controversial documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” offers a rather damning indictment of the US government agencies that appear to have seriously and deliberately misled the public about the safety of the pediatric MMR vaccine. This combination product, used to protect youngsters against measles, mumps and rubella, has potentially been linked to a skyrocketing rise in autism, especially among boys and, particularly, those of African-American descent. It provides ample food for thought for parents who are assessing the decision of whether or not to vaccinate their children.

Through the recorded confessions of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whistleblower William Thompson and an impressive (and cogently explained) dossier of supporting data, filmmaker Andrew Wakefield has compiled a convincing case against the MMR vaccine in its current form and usage. But it’s important to note that, unlike what some reviewers have incorrectly contended, this is not a blanket rejection of all vaccines, nor is it a conspiracy theory diatribe run amok. The film clearly states, for example, that the individual vaccines used against measles, mumps and rubella appear to be safe, despite the alleged problems with the combination product. Instead, the film is a reasoned assessment of information about the combination vaccine that appears to have been intentionally deleted, tweaked or covered up to suit the needs of those who benefit from such acts. Whether comparable conditions exist for other vaccines is open to debate, but, since no evidence is presented making such claims, no definitive contentions to that effect have been asserted here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo © “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.”

So why does this film matter? Despite emphatic claims from official sources that the MMR vaccine is safe, there are countless anecdotal incidents that contradict such claims. And, when combined with the whistleblower’s statements, there would seem to be something here that’s worthy of further investigation and not blanket dismissal because of inconvenient facts.

The foregoing was borne out in part during the special screening I attended, which included a question and answer session with Wakefield, co-writer Del Bigtree and several other activists. At the start of the Q&A, the speakers asked how many people in the audience had family members who have been affected by the vaccine-autism link. It was shocking to see half of the theater stand up. This, it would seem, is more than just paranoia or conspiracy theory me-toosim. Something is going on that at least merits thorough, unbiased scrutiny and not dismissiveness out of hand.

Earlier this year, the film became the subject of controversy when it was withdrawn from New York’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival not long before its scheduled screening. There was considerable hue and cry over the decision, which many saw as capitulation to special interests. That cancellation, however, proved to be a boon; the uproar created so much interest in the film that it was suddenly in demand for other festivals and special showings. (Who now doubts the notion that there’s no such thing as bad publicity?)

Admittedly, the picture gets a little bogged down in experimental design jargon at times. But this minor shortcoming is offset by concise explanations of effects and implications, punctuated by heartbreaking case studies that, unfortunately, could be a preview of what’s to come if actions to explore the matter definitively aren’t taken soon. With the possibility that one in two children and 80 percent of boys could be diagnosed as autistic by 2032 if this regimen of vaccinations continues, it would seem only prudent to give this issue another look.

To find out how to take action – and which specific actions to take – regarding this issue, watch the film and then visit its web site.

Film reviewer Brent Marchant (left) and filmmaker Andrew Wakefield (right). Photo by Trevor Laster.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

‘The Lobster’ wrangles with conformity, individuality, personal power

“The Lobster” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Léa Seydoux, Jessica Barden, Ashley Jensen, Angeliki Papoulia, Ariane Labed, Garry Mountaine, Anthony Dougall, Emma O’Shea, Michael Smiley. Director: Yorgos Lanthimos. Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou. Web site. Trailer.

Courting rituals in the 21st Century certainly aren’t what they used to be, but they could be a lot worse. What if being coupled were mandatory, regardless of one’s desire for it, putting pressure on singles to become partnered at all costs? To facilitate this, what if the unattached were encouraged to seek compatibility with others based on the most superficial of qualities? But what would the imposition of such conditions mean for issues like conformity, individuality and the employment of personal power? And, under such compulsory circumstances, what would it mean to love someone (if that were even possible)? Those are just some of the questions raised in the new offbeat, thought-provoking comedy-drama, “The Lobster.”

When a middle-aged architect (Colin Farrell) suddenly finds himself single, he’s whisked off to a special “hotel” where he’s given 45 days to find a new mate from among the other guests. The circumstances are far from ideal, mainly because the guests are largely dispassionate, mechanically going through the motions of dating, looking for anything to latch onto that might hint at potential instant compatibility. Singles who mutually possess seemingly insignificant traits, like walking with a limp (Ben Whishaw), an affinity for breakfast biscuits (Ashley Jensen), lisping (John C. Reilly) or being prone to spontaneous nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), gleefully view these mundane attributes as possible foundations for romantic kismet.

Finding that amorous magic is important, too, considering that the price of failure is being turned into an animal (of the guest’s choice, of course). The thinking is that, if people can’t find love as humans, then they’ll at least have an opportunity to do so in a new set of skin. And, from the film’s title, viewers can probably guess which animal the architect has chosen for himself should he fail in his mating quest.

If all that weren’t bad enough, hotel guests must be particularly careful not to do anything that smacks of individuality for fear of being labeled “loners,” relationship scofflaws who militantly lead lives on their own in the wilds of nature but who also run the risk of being hunted down (literally) for their antisocial lifestyle. Guests who engage in even the simplest expressions of individuality, like acts of self-love, risk harsh reprimands for such heinous crimes, their punishments coldly and methodically doled out by the hotel’s staff, including the facility’s icy manager (Olivia Colman) and her perfunctory minions (Ariane Labed, Garry Mountaine, Anthony Dougall).

With his days running short and his prospects of finding a mate dwindling, the architect desperately attempts coupling with a woman who has a reputation for being heartless (Angeliki Papoulia). But, when that doomed arrangement doesn’t work out, he makes his escape from the hotel, finding his way to a loosely organized community of loners who live in the nearby woods. Once there, however, he finds life among these radical individualists almost as dogmatic as what he fled, with community members forced into obeying the dictates of the group’s Napoleonic leader (Léa Seydoux). Anything that even remotely hints at being coupled is severely punished, a circumstance that becomes quite problematic for the architect when he meets a fellow loner who proves to be a genuine romantic interest (Rachel Weisz). In attempting to navigate these two polarized worlds, he’s increasingly faced with a dilemma of “damned if you do, and damned if you do.”

As we seek our place in the world, one of the fundamental issues we often face concerns the question of conformity versus individuality. When do we assert one of these notions over the other? Is one of them inherently preferable? Or is a well-considered balance of the two what we should strive for? And, if so, how do we achieve that? As in any undertaking we tackle in life, it comes down to our beliefs, the foundation of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience.

Conformity and individuality are clearly put on trial in this film, but each definitely has its place. Conformity, for example, is integral to the smooth functioning of an organized, mutually beneficial society. When it incorporates elements and calls for behaviors that are reasonable, most will concur that conformity is a worthwhile proposition. Indeed, there’s much to be said for an agreeably conceived, harmoniously functioning co-created mass materialization such as this.

But how far should we take it? At what point does the push for conformity become overly intrusive? What happens to concepts like choice, free will and personal liberty? Pressuring individuals to follow spurious rules – especially those set down by a select few for the alleged benefit of the many – can have seriously deleterious effects, a variety of which are depicted here: social tyranny, capitulation and apathy, as well as the contrary responses they sometimes spawn, such as rebelliousness, violence and even anarchy.

Individuality, by contrast, is what makes each of us who we are, what distinguishes each of us as readily identifiable beings. It plays a huge role in personal satisfaction and fulfillment, even what makes life worth living. When tempered by such considerations as concern for others, respect of individual sovereignty and the well-being of the collective, it enables meaningful self-expression while protecting the welfare of the masses.

But, again, how far should we take it? When does the push for unrestrained individuality undercut the mutual concerns of the group? What happens to notions like cooperation, social harmony and joint ventures? Unreasonably imposing the wants of the individual on the concordance of the collective threatens to derail the efficient functioning of such well-crafted co-creations. When allowed to get out of hand, it can lead to the rise of self-centeredness, a lack of concern for others and callousness, which, in turn, can provoke chaos and discord, qualities that can subsequently prompt such overwrought reactions as intolerance, oppression and despotism in an effort to get things back on track.

So what’s the answer? This is where striking a balance comes into play. But that won’t happen unless carefully considered beliefs supporting it are put into place. And, given that a mutually acceptable solution requires the belief input of the masses, everyone involved must cooperate to reach the necessary concurrence.

“The Lobster” aptly illustrates what happens when that balance is lost and matters get out of hand on both ends of the spectrum. The hotel guests, for instance, have generally bought into conformity without reservation: They’ve gone along with the mandatory partnering requirement, embraced the rules, sanctions and trappings of the hotel (right down to the unimaginative, outdated, standardized clothing supplied to them), and willingly subjected themselves to the transformation process for failure to find a mate. They barely even identify with their own names, instead recognizing one another by their distinguishing physical traits, personal habits or behavioral quirks. In many ways, they’re barely a cut above walking zombies (only without the cravings for human flesh).

The loners, by comparison, have embraced individuality to such an extent that they rarely care about anyone else except when their dogma is being violated. Their acts of defiance against socially sanctioned partnering have led to narcissism on steroids. Self-preservation and self-service are paramount in virtually everything they do. Loners are even free to masturbate whenever and wherever they want, but they don’t dare consider intercourse out of fear of an unimaginable punishment for such an unthinkable transgression. They’re walking embodiments of self-importance and conceit, unconcerned with the needs and welfare of others except for what it gets them in the end.

The architect, meanwhile, sees each community for what it is and does whatever he can to mitigate their respective pitfalls. His escape from the hotel shows his disdain for mainstream society, while his pursuit of romance with a fellow loner reflects his rejection of the individualists’ manifesto. He thus seeks to strike his own form of balance in the face of the oppressive conditions confronting him from both sides. He accomplishes this by employing manifesting beliefs that make it possible, specifically those associated with asserting his personal power. He rejects the nanny state run amok imposed by mainstream society and the dictates of the self-absorbed anarchists who surround him. He has managed to retain a semblance of self-awareness that others in both camps have abandoned, forgotten or lost sight of. His existence may not be an easy one, but at least it’s one where he calls the shots. He stays true to his own self and his own brand of personal integrity to stay afloat.

The empowerment the architect exercises serves as an inspiring example to anyone who needs to find or to rediscover this capability, one of our basic birthrights. That’s important, because it carries implications related to such matters as our power of choice and our ability to change, fundamental elements that factor into the healthy functioning of the conscious creation process. His peers in both camps no longer make use of this ability, because they’ve allowed themselves to be dumbed down and/or numbed by their circumstances, which, in turn, has prompted them to forsake this personal attribute (and even to formulate the beliefs required to make use of it). The hotel guests in particular have abrogated their awareness and deployment of this trait to such a degree that they diligently attend (and blindly heed the advice of) ludicrously simplistic workshops heralding the benefits of being coupled versus being single (sessions laughably similar to those depicted in the over-the-top comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999) in which gay teens go through a structured deprogramming regimen in an attempt to “restore” them to the heterosexual lifestyle).

Giving away our personal power in this way has devastating consequences, as evidenced by the prevailing ways of life apparent in this film. In addition to surrendering our ability to balance collective cooperation and personal individuality, we allow those setting up the prevalent paradigms to call the shots – and to run roughshod over us. This becomes evident in the behavioral hypocrisy exhibited by the leadership of the two dominant camps, who freely exercise rights denied to those they oversee. One might rightly ask why they get away with it; and the answer is “Because we let them,” mainly by holding fast to beliefs that give them carte blanche to do as they want while we kowtow to their whims.

In light of this, the narrative of “The Lobster” can be seen as an allegory for contemporary society and its various institutions, especially those related to religion, politics and even sacred cows like political correctness, regardless of which end of the ideological spectrum one adheres to. It also shows us that, even when we’re willing to forego one viewpoint in favor of an alternative, we’re just as likely to fall prey to equally intolerant attitudes and outlooks by switching sides. Changing tribes doesn’t mean we’re able to escape tribal mentality; it just means setting ourselves up for a different form of mentality (something to bear in mind with regard to highly charged events, such as this year’s hotly contested US presidential race).

In a similarly symbolic way, the story line painfully portrays the effects of personal detachment, something that has, unfortunately, run rampant in today’s society, especially when it comes to matters of emotional engagement. All too often, we limit ourselves to contemplating mere surface considerations, never going deeper to anything more meaningful. Again, because we’ve allowed ourselves to become dumbed and numbed, we’ve bought into beliefs that support such woefully shallow conditions, keeping us more removed from one another than ever before (an amazing irony given the heavy-handed emphasis placed on sanctioned coupling in the film’s narrative).

Only when we assert our personal power – and formulate beliefs that support it – can we avoid becoming ideological automatons. This is especially crucial for striking the aforementioned balance required to square the needs of society and the individual. Let’s hope we figure that out before we find ourselves headed for a pot of boiling water and a cup of drawn butter.

“The Lobster” is one of the most unusual – and most provocative – films to come along in quite a while. Its decidedly bizarre humor and wry symbolism work wonders in skewering everything from contemporary courting rituals to relationship dynamics to social institutions. The picture regrettably becomes a little bogged down in the second hour, going off on several tangents that could have easily been deleted. On balance, however, “The Lobster” offers a thoughtful, satirical look at where we stand as a society – and, one hopes, where we’ll resist the temptation to go.

Even though the picture is just now being released in North America, director Yorgos Lanthimos’s offering debuted overseas in 2015 and racked up an impressive dossier of film awards and nominations. Among its many honors, “The Lobster” captured three awards at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, including the Jury Prize, and it was a Palme d’Or nominee, the event’s highest honor. It also earned a nomination for best British film production in the BAFTA Awards program, the UK’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Striking the right balance between conformity and individuality may be one of the most daunting ventures we’ll undertake in our lives, and finding the right mix may take a lot of effort. But, if we look into our hearts and minds to identify our true selves, and then formulate manifesting beliefs in line with our authentic being, we can materialize an existence that harmonizes the aforementioned attributes, offering us a chance at lives truly worth living on all fronts, both for ourselves and for those with whom we share it.

A Postscript: If you were faced with having to decide which animal you would become, what would you choose? Find out by taking a quiz on the movie’s web site to see which creatures might best suit you.

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Money Monster" and "The Lobster" and a summer movie preview are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) hosts the colorful financial news show Money Monster in director Jodie Foster’s gripping new thriller, “Money Monster.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy © 2016 CTMG, Inc.

Looking for love in a world bereft of meaningful emotion poses quite a challenge for a pair of loners (Colin Farrell, left, and Rachel Weisz, right) in the unusual and moving new satirical comedy-drama, “The Lobster.” Photo courtesy of A24.

A Summer Movie Preview

If you missed my metaphysical summer movie preview on The CoffeeCast with host Tom Cheevers, you can now catch the podcast by clicking here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

‘Viva’ urges us to find our voice

“Viva” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García, Renata Maikel Machin Blanco, Luis Manuel Alvarez, Paula Andrea Ali Rivera, Laura Alemán, Oscar Ibarra Napoles, Luis Angel Batista Bruzón, Jorge Eduardo Acosta Ordonez. Web site. Trailer.

Identifying our own form of self-expression can be a challenging process, but, once we find it, we generally want to move forward with it enthusiastically and unimpeded. However, despite such fervor, sometimes we encounter hindrances that keep us from proceeding, frustrating our progress. We often wonder why this happens, but many times we eventually come to discover that they serve a purpose, one that we fail to understand at the time they unfold. Such is the case in the heartfelt new drama, “Viva.”

Jesus Gutierrez (Héctor Medina) struggles to get by in the slums of Havana, Cuba. The young hairdresser has no family, but his friends (Laura Alemán, Paula Andre Ali Rivera, Luis Angel Batista Bruzón) and customers do what they can to look after him. In addition to his small pool of regular clients, Jesus coifs the wigs of the performers at a local drag club. But, when those efforts don’t generate enough income, he takes to the streets as a hustler, servicing the needs of visiting tourists and assorted locals. Turning tricks is not something he’d rather do, though, so he seeks another option, one that he finds right under his nose – trying his hand at being a drag queen.

With the somewhat tepid support of the club’s owner, Mama (Luis Alberto García), Jesus takes to the stage under the performing name Viva. His initial outing leaves much to be desired, but Mama agrees to give him another shot. With pointers from fellow performers (Luis Manuel Alvarez, Renata Maikel Machin Blanco), he learns how to improve his stage presence. They also show him how to coax money from audience members. But that suggestion backfires when Jesus is slugged while soliciting tips from a middle-aged patron who proves to be an angry, homophobic drunk – a man who also turns out to be his long-estranged father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), a one-time boxing contender jailed for murder.

Angel informs Jesus that he’s returned to take back the life that he believes was taken from him. He moves in with his son and quickly proceeds to start dictating to him how he’ll live his life – including giving up drag. Just when Jesus thinks he’s found his calling, he has the rug pulled out from underneath him.

Jesus refuses to be deterred, though. He does his best to cope with Angel’s return, taking whatever steps are necessary to support them both while quietly keeping his own dream alive. It’s an exercise in learning what it means to build his own inner strength, much of which, interestingly enough, comes from the power of forgiveness. Through his stormy, gut-wrenchingly emotional relationship with Angel, the would-be drag queen truly learns what it means to be fierce.

Jesus Gutierrez (Héctor Medina), an aspiring drag queen who performs under the stage name Viva, seeks to find his own voice in “Viva.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Fighting for our goals takes tremendous fortitude, but, even with the best of intentions, we’re often faced with having to ask ourselves if we have enough of what it takes. In many instances, this is where the power of belief (specifically, our belief in ourselves) comes into play. And this is crucial, since our beliefs, along with our thoughts, emotions and intents, form the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience.

To a certain extent, the degree of stock we put into our beliefs makes a difference. When we give ourselves lukewarm support, we may prevail in materializing our dreams, but we may not, either, especially if the undertaking involves a substantial aspiration. So, the more fervor we pour into our beliefs, the greater our chances of seeing our objectives fulfilled. This, in essence, is the nature of faith.

For his part, Jesus has tremendous faith in his abilities, even if he’s initially lacking in practice and poise. However, he knows he can pull off his drag act, and he grows ever more confident and convinced of that as time passes. What’s more, the more he sheds conflicting beliefs that undercut his efforts – particularly those related to fear and self-doubt – the more grounded he becomes in his convictions. He thus sets an inspiring example for us all to follow, no matter what we may be pursuing in our lives.

Ironically, Jesus draws some of his inspiration from Angel, someone who literally once fought for his dreams. However, what separates Jesus from his father is his faith in himself. He’s willing to hold fast to his goal, despite whatever obstacles appear in his path.

Angel, by contrast, apparently gave up on his goal of becoming a boxing contender by falling into a life of crime, drinking and, eventually, failing health. Unlike his son, he lacked the degree of faith in himself that he needed to see things through, succumbing to influences that sabotaged his dreams. And, even though his release from prison renewed his ambition of getting back into the game (by becoming a boxing coach), he still struggles with mustering the conviction he needs to realize that goal, especially now that his life has become dominated by daily alcoholic binges.

Angel Gutierrez (Jorge Perugorría, left), a one-time boxing contender jailed for murder, returns home to his estranged son, Jesus (Héctor Medina, right), an aspiring drag queen, in an attempt to get his life back in the engaging new drama, “Viva.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Still, ironically enough, the boxer ends up teaching the drag queen how to fight for his voice. In this way, Angel looks to turn things around for himself, even if his methods are somewhat backhanded and unconscious. In doing so, he thus avails himself of one of conscious creation’s greatest (and often most overlooked) blessings – an opportunity for redemption. While this may not enable Angel to undo his past, it nevertheless gives him a chance to make amends for it, to give a gift to himself and to the son he abandoned, to accomplish something meaningful and contributory while he’s still able to.

At the same time, Angel’s actions benefit Jesus by showing him the way toward gratitude and forgiveness (and everything that comes from them). These qualities make it possible for Jesus to appreciate what his father has given him, even if those gifts have come to him in a roundabout manner. They further bolster his beliefs in himself and his talents, which may not have materialized to the same extent were it not for his father’s influence. Such self-awareness, in turn, allows Jesus to galvanize himself in his beliefs, planting the seeds for his career and a promising future. Having endured his circumstances and identified the silver lining in them, Jesus finds the inner strength needed to rise to his own greatness.

While the narrative of “Viva” is somewhat formulaic, the picture’s unique setting and characters help to distinguish it from other similar dramas. This touching, sometimes-humorous, sometimes-gritty film explores what it means to find one’s voice while simultaneously plumbing the depths of concepts like forgiveness and redemption. It’s also refreshing that the picture doesn’t rely on an endless repertoire of musical numbers to carry the story, despite the importance of drag to the film’s story. Admittedly, the pacing slows a bit too much in the final half hour, but “Viva” comes through on all other fronts, delivering a tremendously powerful punch.

Expressing ourselves is something we all seek to do to make our mark on the world, to bring forth our inner self into tangible being. It’s often a struggle, even when we have a sense of what it entails. But it’s also an undeniable passion, one that’s not easily silenced or squelched, especially when fueled by our personal fervor and faith in ourselves. Finding a way to see it made manifest is the calling we must all address, and, if we’re fortunate enough to succeed, we’re able to live out the destiny we were intended to fulfill.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Check out Today's CoffeeCast

Whats coming to the movies this summer? Check out my metaphysical cinema preview on The CoffeeCast with host Tom Cheevers, today at 1 pm ET/10 am PT on Netroots Radio, by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

‘Money Monster’ surveys lessons in responsibility

“Money Monster” (2016). Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo, Carsey Walker Jr., Greta Lee, Makhaola Ndebele, Darri Ingolfsson. Director: Jodie Foster. Screenplay: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf. Story: Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf. Web site. Trailer.

We’re all no doubt aware of the notion that “actions speak louder than words.” However, many of us may be less familiar with the corollary that “consequences speak louder than actions” (even though we’ve often personally felt its impact). So how do we cope with the potentially troublesome effects of this principle? It often comes down to a question of responsibility, a concept explored from multiple angles in the gripping new thriller, “Money Monster.”

As host of the Financial News Network’s Money Monster, Lee Gates (George Clooney) presides over the cable channel’s hottest program. With his singular flair and outlandish showmanship, Gates serves up a daily digest of financial news and stock tips, punctuated by comical sound effects, old movie clips and even an opening dance number, a somewhat exaggerated take on shows like CNBC’s Mad Money. His colorful, high-energy on-screen presence makes him an audience favorite, though his inclinations for ad libs and confrontation frequently try the patience of his producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), a no-nonsense professional who toils to keep her star in check – and the show on the rails.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) hosts the colorful financial news show Money Monster in director Jodie Foster’s gripping new thriller, “Money Monster.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy © 2016 CTMG, Inc.

When one of Gates’s stock tips, Ibis Clear Capital, suddenly goes bust, he decides to address the issue on air in an interview with the company’s founder, Walt Camby (Dominic West). But, at the last minute, Camby is nowhere to be found. His unexplained disappearance raises some eyebrows and necessitates the implementation of a backup plan, an interview with Ibis’s chief communications officer, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe). This makeshift solution is far from ideal, but, as events unfold, it will turn out to be the least of the show staff’s worries.

Not long after the broadcast begins, trouble breaks out. A disgruntled Ibis investor, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), sneaks onto the set, armed to the teeth. With gun in hand, he takes Gates hostage on air, holding him and Camby responsible for the loss of his $60,000 investment, all of the money he had. And, to show everyone he means business, Budwell forces Gates to don a vest fitted with a bomb and demands to speak with Camby, for whom he has a vest of his own all prepared. He wants reimbursement and apologies for his loss, threatening dire consequences for their failure to comply.

Gates, needless to say, is stunned but struggles to keep calm, thanks in large part to Fenn’s composure to hold it all together. Much of the production staff is evacuated from the studio, and crisis management personnel from the police and Ibis corporate move in to address the situation. And, almost instantaneously, the story blows up into a worldwide phenomenon, with networks around the globe picking up FNN’s live feed. Audiences are captivated as they watch the drama play out, live on the air.

Host Lee Gates (George Clooney, left) and producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts, right) frequently disagree on their approaches to the hit financial news show Money Monster in the thrilling new drama, “Money Monster.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy © 2016 CTMG, Inc.

Various solutions are pursued to bring the situation under control. Attempts at negotiation are initiated by New York Police Captain Marcus Powell (Giancarlo Esposito), and even Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend, Molly (Emily Meade), is brought in to try and reason with him. But, as this tense scenario unfolds, it gradually becomes apparent that there’s much more to this story than just a hostage taking, as becomes apparent when Camby suddenly resurfaces, setting up an end game that has to be seen to be believed.

In a situation like this, one might be tempted to ask, “So who’s responsible for all this?” On first glance, it may be tempting to lay the blame squarely at Kyle’s feet. But is he solely at fault? If we take a wider view here, the answer would be “no.” And, in light of that, a more accurate answer to the question posed above would be “everybody.”

Why everybody? Because all of the characters in this multifaceted narrative have a role to play, they all contribute to its unfolding. In terms of conscious creation philosophy – the doctrine that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents – the story in “Money Monster” represents a jointly created mass event, one in which multiple parties partake in its materialization. And, of necessity, as conscious creators are well aware, with the act of creation comes the consequence of responsibility, something about which we must always be aware with whatever we manifest.

So how are others besides Kyle responsible? Let’s start with Camby, who created the investment opportunity. By making this stock issuance available, he has a responsibility to his investors in terms of how he structures it and how he conducts the affairs of the company, which will have a bearing on the investment’s returns. Granted, he can’t control everything associated with the investment or with Ibis’s performance, but he has an obligation to act responsibly in handling the offering’s setup and the company’s operation.

While on the air, disgruntled investor Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, foreground) takes financial news show host Lee Gates (George Clooney, background) hostage as revenge for alleged bad investment advice in “Money Monster.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy © 2016 CTMG, Inc.

Then there’s Gates, who disseminates information about the investment and the company. As someone who shares this with the viewing public, he has a responsibility to make available the most accurate and authoritative information he can find. Because he has influence with his audience, he contributes to the formation of their beliefs, the actions they take and the reality they experience, a crucial consideration given that their savings are at stake. However, if he abrogates his responsibility by taking the lazy way out – such as by merely passing along company press release information instead of investigating the organization’s claims directly – he runs the risk of passing along spin in lieu of bona fide data, a potentially misleading approach that could seriously impact the financial well-being of his viewers.

In turn, one could also argue that the investing public has its own responsibility. Failure to look into the stock issuer’s claims by merely following the recommendations of a cable TV guru (who may or may not have done his own homework) could be a potentially perilous path. Given that, then, would-be investors have a responsibility to themselves to investigate where they’re putting their money to avoid the possible pitfalls associated with slipshod scrutiny. Indeed, those who shirk their diligence had better be prepared for the consequences of their inaction (and the beliefs that inspire it).

Kyle, of course, has responsibility for how he responds to the news of his investment’s collapse. As in the initiation of any conscious creation endeavor, he has multiple options available to him, from the one he implements here to the many other, less volatile possibilities he eschews. Each option carries consequences – some more disruptive than others – but he’s ultimately responsible for what results in each scenario, whichever one he chooses. Given how events play out in the film, some might suggest he should have considered another path, that getting revenge nearly always backfires. But then, in light of what incited him, some might also contend that he took the path he needed to take. Whichever course he pursues, however, he (like all of us) must be prepared to deal with the fallout, for better or worse.

And then there’s the production staff, which also has a role to play in this scenario. By keeping the broadcast on the air, the Money Monster crew allows the world to view what’s transpiring, keeping the public informed, which some would say is a responsible act. But others might contend that maintaining the live feed carries such implications as inciting public unrest, inspiring copycat perpetrators and exploiting personal misfortune, all of which raise questions of propriety and carry potentially disastrous consequences. Finding a balance in circumstances like this may be challenging, but, no matter what the staff decides, they’re responsible for their actions and must be prepared for whatever comes from what they create.

Flamboyant TV show host Lee Gates (George Clooney, center) presents the latest financial news with a variety of gimmicks, like an opening dance number, in “Money Monster.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy © 2016 CTMG, Inc.

Viewers play a part here, too, regardless of whether or not they’re investors in the financial products in question. They participate through their investment in their viewing choices. By tuning in to FNN’s “programming,” they contribute to the creation of what we collectively consider worthwhile and acceptable television, which, in turn, impacts our responses to such media content. That can lead to shifts in public attitudes about what we tolerate, what outrages us, what leaves us unfazed and so on, all of which are traceable back to us, since we all contribute to what gets created initially and what results from it subsequently.

In sum, in all of these story elements (especially those related to finances), the film raises important questions about doing what’s right versus doing what’s legal. This is tricky territory, because the law may allow certain actions, even if they’re morally or ethically questionable. If one is uncertain how to proceed in situations like this, drawing upon the responsibility factor would be a prudent course to follow, especially in assessing potential consequences. Doing otherwise may prove calamitous, and that can be quite problematic (particularly when other people’s money is involved!).

Some may argue that the foregoing observations stretch credibility, that it’s a bit much to contend that one manifestation links to all others. But, as conscious creators well know, everything is connected to everything else, regardless of how seemingly disparate “unrelated” elements of reality may superficially appear. Indeed, when we unwind the chain of connections, we see how they’re all joined to one another, in much the same way that quantum physics principles maintain that the inherently entangled atomic building blocks of existence are intrinsically linked. When we view reality from this perspective, it becomes difficult to take it – and the role we play in its manifestation – lightly, no matter how seemingly incidental we may believe our participation is. The next time you doubt that, think about this movie, and you may well reconsider your position before you act – or before you form the beliefs that lead to debatable actions.

No matter how things play out, however, we can take comfort that we always have an opportunity to make amends for what happens, thanks to the concept of redemption. Given that conscious creation enables us to explore uncharted territory and to learn various life lessons, it also makes allowances for “mistakes,” the slip-ups that are part of our individual learning curves, including in matters of responsibility. While it would be ideal to forecast the consequences of our actions (and nail the beliefs that govern them) before engaging in them, sometimes we don’t assess such matters as effectively as we might, prompting missteps. However, we’re not without recourse in these circumstances; we’re always able to make up for our “errors,” enabling us to redeem ourselves and providing us with enlightened new outlooks.

Walt Camby (Dominic West, left), founder of a financially troubled corporation, and Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe, right), the company’s chief communications officer, go into damage control mode when bad news about the organization goes public in “Money Monster.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy © 2016 CTMG, Inc.

Though the plot is occasionally somewhat implausible, “Money Monster” is a genuinely taut thriller that consistently entertains and never disappoints. Filmmaker Jodie Foster has delivered her best directorial work here, with a nicely paced, well-acted, edge-of-the-seat offering that includes just the right touches of social commentary, satirical cynicism, comic relief and lessons in responsibility. Clooney, Roberts and (especially) O’Connell turn in excellent performances in bringing this showstopper to life.

Interestingly, “Money Monster” pays homage to a number of cinematic predecessors, either in terms of subject matter or the manner in which certain actions are portrayed. From a financial standpoint, for example, viewers will recognize elements and themes reminiscent of “The Big Short” (2015), “99 Homes” (2015) and “Wall Street” (1987). Similarly, in matters of media coverage of hostage situations, the film recalls such releases as “The China Syndrome” (1979), “Mad City” (1997) and “Kings and Desperate Men” (1981). The viewing public’s fascination with this picture’s version of reality TV echoes elements seen in “The Truman Show” (1998). And Kyle’s impassioned rants call to mind the ravings of delusional anchorman Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). But, in paying tribute to its influences, “Money Monster” is careful to reference them, though not to blatantly copy them, a fitting and skillfully handled approach.

Taking responsibility into account in our manifestation ventures may be seen by some as a chore, especially if it involves hard work and carries the potential for consequences we’d rather ignore. But putting in the effort on this up front often proves more manageable than having to mop up an unforeseen mess afterward. An ounce of prevention truly has metaphysical implications, and, in the end, it’s much easier to handle than that proverbial pound of cure.

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

'Get the Picture' named an award winner!

I'm thrilled to announce that the updated edition of Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies, my anthology of metaphysically focused movie reviews, has captured Best New Age Nonfiction honors in this year's National Indie Excellence Awards competition! The awards recognize outstanding achievements in self-published and independently published books, and I'm extremely pleased to have been include in this select grouping.

To see a complete list of winners, click here, and to learn more about the book, click here or visit the book's Facebook page.

My thanks to everyone who helped me achieve this accomplishment, especially cover designer Paul L. Clark of Inspirtainment, whose eye-popping creation (included on the winners' list) no doubt helped capture the judges' attention. And my heartfelt thanks to all my of faithful readers who have zealously supported me over the years -- I truly appreciate it.

‘Fireworks Wednesday’ puts marriage in perspective

“Fireworks Wednesday” (“Chaharshanbe-soori”) (2006 production, 2016 release). Cast: Hamid Farakhnezhad, Hediyeh Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Pantea Bahram, Matin Heydaria, Sahar Dolatshahi. Director: Asghar Farhadi. Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi and Mani Haghighi. Web site. Trailer.

What does it mean to be married? Does it live up to the hopes and expectations associated with it? Or is the reality destined to fall short of the mark? And what impressions does it leave on those considering it as an option? Those are among the issues raised in the Iranian drama, “Fireworks Wednesday” (“Chaharshanbe-soori”), a 2006 production recently released in North American theaters for the first time.

Mojhde (Hediyeh Tehrani) and Morteza (Hamid Farakhnezhad), an upscale Tehran couple with a young son (Matin Heydaria), have a troubled marriage. Erratic behavior, emotional outbursts, suspicions of infidelity and bursts of anger resulting in property damage are the norm, and keeping a lid on the discord is becoming increasingly difficult. That becomes all too apparent when the couple hires a housekeeper, Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young bride-to-be, to help clean up the mess that is their home – and, by extension, their marriage.

As the story unfolds, Rouhi becomes an unwitting party to the drama as it plays out. She’s even recruited by Mojhde to act as an impromptu spy to clandestinely investigate the divorced neighbor woman (Pantea Bahram) with whom she believes Morteza is having an affair. Thus, even though she inadvertently becomes part of the couple’s troubled life, Rouhi also has an opportunity to observe, from a somewhat detached perspective, what it means to be married. And, as tensions heat up, the fireworks begin going off, ironically enough all in the shadow of the Persian New Year, a celebration known for its own ubiquitous pyrotechnic displays.

How will things shake out for Mojhde and Morteza? And will Rouhi’s observations of their experience prompt her to change her mind about marriage? Those are the questions to be answered as the film plays out, for better or worse and, possibly, for later discussion.

Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti), a housekeeper and young bride-to-be, gets an eye-opening look at marriage when working for a couple in crisis in the Iranian drama, “Fireworks Wednesday.” Photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

If someone were asked to characterize the nature of the scenario playing out in this film, the most fitting description would probably be, “It depends on which character you ask.” Each clearly has his or her own perspective on the unfolding events, and their outlooks are framed by the beliefs they hold, the driving force in the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, ideas and intents. And, given their diverse viewpoints, an equally diverse number of interpretations of that existence is possible.

For example, Mojhde is convinced that her husband is cheating on her, and evidence suggesting that pops up at every turn. Her beliefs thus become self-fulfilling prophecies. But, because she only has suspicions, the available evidence doesn’t conclusively prove her allegations, making it difficult for a definitive claim to stick.

So what is Mojhde to do? If she’s unhappy with these circumstances, she could always pursue other options, such as choosing to embrace beliefs in a contented relationship. Nevertheless, her beliefs in her worrisome convictions are so strong that swaying her opinion in another direction would be difficult, if not impossible.

This outlook, in turn, prompts the emergence of the other conditions that surface in her life. Her fits of irrational behavior and moodiness, for example, arise as byproducts from her suspicious beliefs. And these manifestations consequently contribute to the discord she experiences with Morteza. One belief thus begets another, which begets another, and so on, leading to a spiral of events that almost seems to take on a life of its own, even though their origins can be traced directly back to the one who set this process in motion, Mojhde herself. If she continues down this line of probability, one can only guess where she’ll ultimately end up (though it’s probably not too difficult to predict the most likely outcomes).

Morteza, by contrast, believes his wife is delusional. As her husband, he tries to assuage her misgivings, continually comforting her and even going so far as to propose taking the family on a fun-filled New Year’s vacation to Dubai. But, when Mojhde’s frantic outbursts and unexplained, erratic behavior become increasingly commonplace and unpredictable (manifestations undoubtedly driven, at least in part, by the beliefs Morteza holds about her), he witnesses a commensurate spike in the volume of these frustrating events – and in the intensity of his reactions to them. He grows impatient when it seems there’s no pleasing her, especially when she engages in acts intended to air their dirty laundry publicly.

Mojhde (Hediyeh Tehrani, left) and Morteza (Hamid Farakhnezhad, right), a troubled married couple, struggles to find common ground in director Asghar Farhadi’s “Fireworks Wednesday.” Photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

Collectively, the conditions they each materialize in this co-creation intensify over time, affecting the quality – and perhaps even the viability – of their marriage. The interaction of their combined beliefs creates its own set of prevailing shared circumstances, conditions that impact the character of their relationship and that, in turn, serve to further influence their respective individual beliefs, perpetuating the spiral of evolution in their personal and collective outlooks. Given the state of mind that each of them possesses, it’s no wonder why the couple finds themselves where they are.

And then there’s Rouhi. As an outsider to the relationship, she has an opportunity to view what marriage is like. By being able to witness the example set by Mojhde and Morteza from an up-close-and-personal, yet ostensibly objective perspective, Rouhi has a chance to see what she might be in for, an important consideration in light of her upcoming betrothal. The operative word here, though, is “might.” The troubled couple’s example is by no means the only one the bride-to-be has to draw from; she can just as easily choose a different outcome for herself by embracing a different set of beliefs for characterizing the nature of her impending marriage.

Some may believe that the example set by Mojhde and Morteza is sufficient to make a case against marriage, that it could easily scare off Rouhi from following through on her wedding plans. However, one could also argue that they provide a valuable cautionary tale to those who are still committed to the idea of matrimony, showing prospective newlyweds what to avoid in their relationships. In any event, Rouhi’s experience with the couple provides her with an opportunity to explore possibilities, one of the primary benefits afforded by the practice of conscious creation. When we realize that we have choices, that we’re not reconciled to a path we cannot alter – be it with regard to marriage or any other undertaking for that matter – we can envision a wider range of options for ourselves, including those that we believe best suit our needs and desires. It also helps us to dispense with unrealistic, storybook notions about marriage, even if we don’t sink to the same depths as Mojhde and Morteza have.

Mojhde (Hediyeh Tehrani, left), a wife who suspects her husband is having an affair, seeks comfort from a relative (Sahar Dolatshahi, right) in “Fireworks Wednesday.” Photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

This intriguing look at marital life and strife is capably handled and deftly told, especially with its use of an outsider’s perspective for carrying the story. Its excellent performances (especially those of Tehrani and Farakhnezhad) are real stand-outs. At the same time, though, the sometimes-melodramatic narrative doesn’t come across as especially groundbreaking, at least in the world of cinema at large (even though it may have been audacious by Iranian audience standards at the time it was made). Also, the film’s less-than-subtle pyrotechnic metaphors grow a bit obvious as the movie progresses. “Fireworks Wednesday” provides an eye-opening examination of marriage, especially for those who look upon it naïvely, but it’s not quite in the same league as some of director Asghar Farhadi’s later works, such as “A Separation” (2011) and “The Past” (2013). The film is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema.

Perspective is everything in life, no matter what aspect is involved. But, to properly appreciate it, it helps to have an open mind, an open heart and, above all, open eyes, particularly in assessing the manifesting beliefs at work. “Fireworks Wednesday” shines a spotlight on this idea when it comes to marriage, and it encourages us to thoroughly scrutinize this institution before partaking in it – especially before the explosions start.

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

‘Infinity’ shows the way toward destiny

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Devika Bhise, Toby Jones, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Northam, Anthony Calf, Kevin McNally, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Arundathi Nag. Director: Matthew Brown. Screenplay: Matthew Brown. Book: Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity. Web site. Trailer.

Imagine that you know your destiny. Now imagine that you know what you need to do to fulfill it. But is that vision enough? Is it truly possible to translate those intangible insights into tangible outcomes? And what of any obstacles that appear in your path – what purpose do they serve? Those are the questions raised in the thoughtful new biopic, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.”

The film tells the life story of Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), an early 20th Century mathematical genius who devised a variety of groundbreaking theories, mainly by intuiting them from what he considered an unseen divine source. He knew he needed to share these ideas with the world by getting them published through reputable channels, such as the scholarly journals of the time. However, given the means by how he arrived at these notions, coupled with the fact that he was an “uneducated” clerk from Madras, India, he was met with much prejudicial opposition from the learned powers that be, especially those with the clout to give his work a fair review.

Ramanujan got a big break, though, when Cambridge University professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) – himself a somewhat radical mathematical innovator – decided to investigate his theories in greater detail. He invited his Indian colleague to join him in England to further explore the plausibility of these new ideas.

However, even the blessings of credible allies like Hardy and his colleagues, John Littlewood (Toby Jones) and Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam), were not enough for Ramanujan to get his work taken seriously. While his theories were seen as intriguing, he did not have the proofs to verify them, despite his impassioned insistence that they were indeed correct. Such “unsubstantiated” claims and his perceived unwillingness to prove them earned him the reputation of an arrogant charlatan, a label that his condescending English peers unreservedly slapped on him (something that came easily to them in light of their disapproving views of his ethnic background and lack of formal schooling). So, to ensure that Ramanujan received a fair shake, Hardy took him under his wing, shepherding him through the review process in hopes of his material being rendered legitimate. And, by following Hardy’s suggestions, Ramanujan came to understand what it means to have one’s dreams realized – and in ways that exceed expectations.

Cambridge University professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons, left) and Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel, right) discuss advanced numerical theory in “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Photo courtesy of Richard Blanshard, IFC Films.

A keen awareness of our destiny can be both a blessing and a curse. The clarity that comes with such heightened cognizance makes it feel almost effortless in realizing our aspirations. But that kind of unquestioned, self-assured personal understanding often runs afoul of the views of others, especially when placed under the microscope of skepticism. What’s more, given the unshakable faith we often have in such convictions, it’s easy to lose patience with naysayers who don’t share our vision, mainly because, to us, the validity of our contentions should be patently obvious.

So what accounts for such a discrepancy in outlooks? In a nutshell, it all comes down to the beliefs we each possess. And the differences in our respective perspectives become palpable when those beliefs are employed in the conscious creation process, the means by which we harness our thoughts, ideas and intents to manifest the reality we each experience.

For Ramanujan, his faith in his beliefs is so strong that he’s certain of the legitimacy of his ideas; he needs no further proof, and that contention characterizes the nature of his reality and outlook. However, those who require “evidence” of the authenticity of such notions employ a different set of manifesting beliefs in the existence they create, and that variance in intent accounts for the disconnect between their perspective and that of Ramanujan.

But, thankfully, not everything in a scenario like this is black and white. Because conscious creation and the beliefs that fuel it make it possible to materialize an infinite range of probabilities at any given time, there will always be many intermediate shades of gray available, and that’s where Ramanujan’s allies come into play. Since colleagues like Hardy can appreciate the innovative nature of Ramanujan’s work while simultaneously understanding the need for verification required by the skeptics, these intermediaries hold beliefs that take stock of both perspectives, effectively running interference between the two polarizing viewpoints and allowing each to have their say in the unfolding of this line of probability.

Those whose beliefs fall into “the middle ground” in situations like this symbolically help to illustrate how mediated notions metaphysically come into being. As conscious creators are well aware, our beliefs form through the synthesis of the input we receive from our intellect (signified here by the views of the skeptical Cambridge professors) and intuition (embodied in the unshakably poised outlook of Ramanujan). Ideally, though, we often get the best results when we strike a healthy balance between these two sources of inspiration (as symbolized by Hardy’s attitude).

The narrative in this film thus demonstrates how the belief formation process works – and how it can be finessed to work most effectively. However, to reach the point where we can fully appreciate this, we must often go through the process of experiencing the attributes of each opposing perspective (and the beliefs that drive them) to arrive at an equitable compromise, one in which we can value the benefits of both the intellect and the intuition and what arises when the two come into balance. When that happens, we have an opportunity to partake in the dance of the intellect and the intuition in belief formation for bringing forth the intangible into tangible being.

Indeed, while neither element should be allowed to ride roughshod over the other, this is not to suggest that either the intellect or the intuition is inherently damaging. Both clearly have beneficial attributes, and exploring them can prove useful in amassing our individual databases of personal experience.

For example, placing an emphasis on the intellect (as the Cambridge faculty does) enables us to hone our capacity for rational, logical thought. Fields like science and mathematics depend heavily on this, so the greater our intellectual capacities, the more adept we’re likely to become in these areas.

Similarly, focusing on the intuition (as Ramanujan does) allows us to develop an appreciation for feelings, emotions and gut impressions. Art and other creative endeavors benefit from this, enabling us to become more proficient painters, writers, chefs and musicians. But “creativity” is not limited to such tangible expressions; it encompasses anything we manifest through the conscious creation process, and a heightened intuition can help enliven this.

Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) seeks to get his revolutionary ideas published while in residence at Cambridge University in “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Moreover, a better grasp on our intuition can also help us foster a deeper, more intimate relationship with All That Is, our divine collaborator in all of our manifestation efforts. Ramanujan readily recognizes the existence and splendor of this partnership and doesn’t hesitate to make others aware of the role it plays in his work and the fulfillment of his destiny, no matter how reticent they may be about embracing such an outlook. Overcoming this resistance is challenging for Ramanujan, though, given the widespread skepticism among the intellectually driven Cambridge staff. Even Hardy, who is much more willing than his peers to give his protégé the benefit of the doubt on this point, has difficulty accepting Ramanujan’s contention; as an avowed atheist, Hardy has trouble appreciating such an esoteric concept, despite its undeniable influence on the existence and evolution of his colleague’s work.

Ramanujan’s belief-based faith in the role of the divine in his life has implications that extend beyond the mere development of his revolutionary theories. He knows that All That Is will see him through all of his trials and tribulations, like finding allies who will support him and locating the means to get his work published, because his beliefs enable it. But that faith even goes beyond such comparatively pedestrian challenges, extending into other areas of his life, like dealing with the rampant prejudice he faces in the dogmatic world of academia and, because of his ethnic background, in the world at large.

By going through the process of learning how beliefs form, all of the parties in this scenario (but especially Ramanujan and Hardy) develop an appreciation for the value of change. Again, because conscious creation makes all expressions of existence possible, reality obviously is not a static, unchanging state of being; rather, it is a fluid, dynamic phenomenon that is said to be in a constant state of becoming, with change (and the beliefs that drive it) being the agent of alteration.

Hardy, for example, a mathematical innovator in his own right, readily recognizes the importance of change (having been personally responsible for bringing about significant advances in the field long before he met his Indian colleague), and he’s open to additional new ideas, even if they don’t come from conventional sources. Ramanujan, meanwhile, comes to see that, if he’s to be taken seriously, he must change his ways in how he makes his ideas known, an adjustment that ultimately works to his benefit. And the Cambridge faculty members, like Major MacMahon (Kevin McNally), who have long been ensconced in their own dogma, have their eyes opened by their radical colleagues, making it possible for them to embrace changed outlooks that may have once seemed intractable.

All of these factors loom large in the fulfillment of Ramanujan’s destiny. But, thankfully, he recognizes the wisdom of these ideas as he moves through the process, with a payoff that’s beyond what he imagined – not only for himself, but also for those who benefitted from his work.

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” is a sincere, modestly intriguing biopic with excellent period piece production values and solid performances by Irons and Patel. In many regards, the film’s narrative and subject matter are somewhat reminiscent of “The Theory of Everything” (2014), effectively exploring a great mind’s attempts at overcoming obstacles in the fulfillment of one’s life purpose. The picture’s spiritual and metaphysical undertones are quite engaging, helping to elevate a story that, without them, might have otherwise been unendurably dull.

However, despite these strengths, the film comes up a little short on other fronts. Its depictions of the protagonist’s personal life – particularly his relationship with his wife (Devika Bhise), who remains in India while on his years-long journey to England – and of the impact of World War I on Ramanujan’s life at Cambridge are under-developed, their inclusion feeling more historically obligatory than meaningful and relevant. What’s more, while it’s easy to appreciate the twin collaborators’ passion for their work, the narrative is a little thin when it comes to explaining its importance, which may leave some viewers wondering why they should care about it. Shoring up these aspects of the story would have made for a better, more focused movie.

Living up to our potential is something most of us hope to do, and those who have a built-in understanding of what that entails have a distinct advantage. But knowing how to fulfill it is key, and appreciating the role of conscious creation can prove crucial, allowing us, like Ramanujan, to reach for infinity – and beyond.

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "The Man Who Knew Infinity" and "Viva" and an award-winning book announcement are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Richard Blanshard, IFC Films.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

On the Radio Today

Tune in to this month’s Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio when host Frankie Picasso and I will preview several new film releases and take a peek at the upcoming summer blockbuster movie season. Click here today at 1 pm ET or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

‘Sing Street’ uncovers a knack for hidden talents

“Sing Street” (2016). Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Kelly Thornton, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice, Ian Kenny, Don Wycherley, Lydia McGuinness. Director: John Carney. Screenplay: John Carney. Trailer.

When life seems to be falling apart, it helps to have something to latch onto to stay afloat. But whatever one reaches for, no matter how satisfying it may be, could lead to even bigger and better things, and much of it unexpected. Such is the case for an Irish teen seeking to find himself during deteriorating circumstances in the charming new musical romantic comedy, “Sing Street.”

In the mid 1980s, with the Irish economy in the doldrums, residents of the Emerald Isle suffered financially, with many, especially the young and talented, fleeing to England to seek new opportunities. For those who remained behind, life was hard, with many households having to make sacrifices, and even the middle class wasn’t immune. Such conditions often led to domestic strife, with couples squabbling over money and, eventually, a host of other relationship issues.

Such is life in the family of a soft-spoken, somewhat geeky teen named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). His parents, Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), seek to save money by transferring him from a pricey private academy to the Synge Street School, a public institution in a rough, inner city Dublin neighborhood. Needless to say, Conor’s not thrilled at the prospect, especially when he meets his loutish classmates, such as the resident bully, Barry (Ian Kenny), and the school’s no-nonsense headmaster, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley).

However, not all is lost. Shortly after arriving at Synge Street, Conor meets a mysterious young neighborhood girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who is said not to give anyone the time of day. But Conor is so taken with her beautiful, enigmatic looks that he can’t resist the opportunity to try chatting her up, a gesture to which she surprisingly responds. He quickly learns that she aspires to move to London and become a model, which gives him an idea to win her affections: He asks her if she’d like to appear in a music video for his band.

Much to his amazement, Raphina agrees, and everything between them seems good to go, with one little hitch – Conor needs to form a band to make the video. But, despite this minor complication, Conor is not deterred; with the aid of his buddy, Darren (Ben Carolan), who agrees to act as the yet-assembled group’s manager, he recruits a songwriting collaborator (Mark McKenna) and a coterie of musicians (Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice) to join him. And, with the tutelage and encouragement of his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), a one-time aspiring musician, Conor and his new band, Sing Street, are on their way.

The musicians and crew of an Irish high school band, Sing Street (from left, Karl Rice, Ben Carolan, Percy Chamburuka, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Mark McKenna, Conor Hamilton, Ian Kenny), make a splash in 1980s Dublin in the new musical romantic comedy, “Sing Street.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

What begins as a quest to win the heart of a would-be romantic interest soon takes another course. As the band hones its sound and Conor becomes polished as a musician and songwriter, his life moves in a new direction. He finds his calling and embarks on the pursuit of his unexpected destiny. And what of the amorous catalyst that launched this unforeseen endeavor? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

When beaten down by life’s setbacks, rebounding can be difficult, but that’s where having an inspirational spark to recharge ourselves can prove a godsend. So it is for Conor; when faced with the challenges of attending a deplorable new school, dealing with feuding parents destined for separation, and enduring the routine rants of dejected, disillusioned siblings, it’s no wonder that he needs something to give his life meaning and purpose. And that’s where he believes Raphina comes in. But, at the time they meet, little does he know that she’s merely the catalyst for something even more impressive.

Neophyte musician Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, right) receives advice from his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor, left), a one-time aspiring guitarist, in the new musical romantic comedy, “Sing Street.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

Approaching Raphina certainly takes courage, given the rumors of her aloof reputation. But the hearsay doesn’t intimidate Conor; on some level, he knows that he must at least make the effort to find out what this connection will yield, a hunch that ultimately pays off far more handsomely than he ever could have imagined. It’s quite a dividend for an ostensibly simple gesture.

So what would prompt Conor to take such a seemingly improbable step? Considering his mild-mannered nature and the conventional wisdom about Raphina’s icy receptivity to advances (particularly from strangers), the odds would seem to be stacked against him. Yet Conor proceeds because, on some level, he believes something will come out of it. And that inner awareness ends up being his saving grace, but then that comes with the territory for advocates of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

As this story illustrates, Conor is quite proficient at employing the conscious creation process. To begin with, he makes effective use of several of its key components. For instance, he trusts the input of his intuition, regardless of how dubious its messages may seem. On top of that, he obviously has a tremendous capacity for living courageously, overcoming his fears and moving forward despite them. The result is quite a substantial payoff.

But getting Raphina’s attention is just the tip of the iceberg. What Conor’s involvement with her yields is by far the bigger prize, revealing talents that he never knew he had. To be sure, he had long dabbled with music but mainly as a dilettante. However, by making an offer to feature Raphina in a video for a nonexistent band, Conor realizes he must now get serious about his art. Given how events unfold, it’s obvious he believes he’s capable of pulling it off – and, by implication, on some level, always has been.

The musicians and crew of Sing Street (from left, Karl Rice, Percy Chamburuka, Ben Carolan, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Conor Hamilton, Mark McKenna) make a splash at the Synge Street School, their band’s namesake educational institution, in director John Carney’s new musical romantic comedy, “Sing Street.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

As Conor embarks on this odyssey, his first steps are undoubtedly tentative and not without errors. But, as he gains experience, his skills improve, confirming his beliefs in his innate talents, which subsequently blossom in full-fledged tangible form. This builds his confidence, bolstering his self-reliance and abilities even more.

Conor is also proficient at drawing to himself the resources he needs to pull this off, a prime example of the law of attraction (the alternate name for conscious creation) at work. In addition to his catalytic association with Raphina, he successfully locates a band manager, a songwriting collaborator, a mentor and, of course, his band. Even the prevailing circumstances that prompted this scenario – difficult though they may have seemed at first glance – fortuitously appear and lead to the emergence of Conor’s new life path, paving a way for him that he might not have considered had they not materialized. In these ways, all of the puzzle pieces remarkably fall into place, as if by design (which, in fact, it is). This represents a clear demonstration of Conor’s ability to recognize and make use of the power of synchronicity, those meaningful coincidences that are tailor-made to meet the needs of our conscious creation undertakings.

The flowering of Conor’s previously unknown talents also illustrates the existence of our multidimensional selves. Many of us might be tempted to think that we’re merely the selves we already know, but, as Conor’s experience shows, there’s clearly more lurking within us than we may be aware of. Bringing those other aspects of our selves to the forefront is a primary aim of the conscious creation process, revealing those parts that have long remained hidden or obscured by self-imposed limitations. Their expression as physical manifestations marks their liberation and lends credence to one of conscious creation’s hallmark notions, the principle that we’re all in a constant state of becoming. And, in Conor’s case, what he becomes not only astounds those around him, but himself as well.

Aspiring musician Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, left) and music video model Raphina (Lucy Boynton, right) make quite a duo in the new musical romantic comedy, “Sing Street.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

“Sing Street” is a charming, funny, coming of age period piece about a hopeless romantic who discovers talents he never knew he had. This finely produced feel good offering both inspires and tugs at the heart strings, but it successfully resists the temptation to become schmaltzy or clichéd. The film deftly spoofs the early days of music videos, mimicking their unapologetic silliness but without going over the top in doing so. Its original songs, composed by director John Carney, echo the music of the period and mesh well with the soundtrack’s other artists, such as Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, Joe Jackson, The Cure and The Jam. And the picture’s fine ensemble cast (many of whom are first-time on-screen performers) shines throughout, living up to the spirit of the film itself. Admittedly, the narrative would have benefitted from a bit more back story and greater character development among the supporting players (such as the other band members and Conor’s family), but, on balance, “Sing Street” never fails to entertain, offering a raucously good time at the show.

Having a diversion to get us through hard times can prove incredibly beneficial, perhaps serving as more than just a stopgap measure to stop the bleeding, as Conor’s experience demonstrates. But, to take advantage of these circumstances, it’s imperative that we have the insight to recognize them and the courage to act on them. Should we do that, though, we may end up surprising everyone – including ourselves.

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