Wednesday, August 31, 2016

‘Lo and Behold’ dissects the joys – and challenges – of connectedness

“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” (2016). Cast: Elon Musk, Dr. Leon Kleinrock, Danny Hillis, Kevin Mitnick, Sebastian Thrun, Lawrence Krauss, Lucianne Walkowicz, Jonathan Zittrain, Shawn Carpenter, Werner Herzog (narrator). Director: Werner Herzog. Screenplay: Werner Herzog. Web site. Trailer.

It’s almost inconceivable to think of life without the Internet. As if out of nowhere, this remarkable technology quietly emerged from modest beginnings and proceeded to explode, revolutionizing the world in countless ways – as well as in countless ways we have yet to imagine. But, given how unexpectedly this remarkable phenomenon arose, not to mention how it has come to so completely dominate many aspects of our lives, are we fully aware of its current influence and potential future impact? Do its benefits blind us to its pitfalls? And what does that mean for the future? Those ideas are among the many raised in director Werner Herzog’s thoughtful new documentary, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.”

Making a film about a subject as overarching as the Internet is no small task. The sheer volume of material available for possible inclusion is itself overwhelming. There’s so much to cover that it’s impossible to believe any one picture could do it justice.

Given that, Herzog wisely chose not to address all facets of this potentially unwieldy subject through this project. Rather, he selected a handful of relevant topics, illustrating them with specific examples. This material is effectively complemented by interview segments with such experts as entrepreneur Elon Musk, Internet pioneer Dr. Leon Kleinrock, computer scientist Danny Hillis, former hacker Kevin Mitnick, educator and robotics expert Sebastian Thrun, visionary physicist Lawrence Krauss, Internet law professor Jonathan Zittrain, cyberespionage expert Shawn Carpenter, and astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz, among others.

Among the topics covered in the film are the Internet’s origins and its future, as well as a number of key questions about its current and evolving character. Through the picture’s various examples, Herzog examines such net-inspired innovations as virtually instantaneous universal connectivity, technological wonders in areas as diverse as robotics, smart phones and self-driving cars, and the capacity for unfettered global participatory problem-solving. By contrast, the film then depicts the darker side of the electronic world, such as its potential to inflict devastating emotional harm, the debilitating impact of some forms of wireless technology on physical and psychological health, and the implementation of web-based platforms and hacking programs for intentionally wreaking economic, social and political chaos. The film also explores a number of pending developments, such as Internet-based applications for use in space exploration and interplanetary colonization, brain mapping, and even the creation of highly personalized residential units incorporating “the Internet of Me.”

Internet pioneer Dr. Leonard Kleinrock is one of the featured interview subjects in director Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

But, as becomes apparent in the film, what ultimately happens with the Internet and related technologies depends not so much on hardware and software but on what we do with it, considerations driven more by human nature than by microchips and algorithmic protocols. Of course, as the technology evolves, so, too, is human nature, especially when we look at what electronics now make possible, capacities for creativity and productivity not previously envisioned, let alone capable of being deployed. And none of this takes into account the impact of what’s in the pipeline, developments whose influence can hardly be predicted at this point (if you doubt that, consider the fact that virtually every 20th Century futurist who speculated about the nature of life today never saw the Internet coming).

So what does all this mean? Essentially it’s a rallying cry that we choose carefully what we do with this amazing technology. That may be easier said than done, though, given the volume of new information that is being added to the Internet on a daily basis. As Herzog astutely points out, if we were to copy to CD all of the data that is being added to the web every day, the stack of disks containing it would extend from Earth to Mars. That’s 365 new interplanetary CD piles every year. That’s some serious food for thought – and a lot to digest.

For all of their pluses and minuses, though, at bottom, the Internet and its related technologies are fundamentally about fostering our links to one another. This is especially true in terms of how it helps promote our awareness of our intrinsic connectedness. As obvious as that might seem to some of us, for many it’s still a rather novel concept, a consequence of the persistence of a long-standing paradigm based on beliefs that we live in a compartmentalized reality, one that consists of a set of separate component parts. Fortunately, that skewed worldview is fading away, and a new sense of connection is emerging, with the Internet mirroring those sensibilities.

Those changes are occurring as a result of shifts in our collective beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience. In a nutshell, the Internet and its related technologies are the centerpieces of those alterations in our thinking. It’s somewhat ironic that we should see this change reflected through a tangible expression of what is essentially an intangible technology, but the net nevertheless mimics this shift in our consciousness, and it does so quite effectively, almost poetically.

In a sense, the Internet embodies the philosophies of famed spiritualist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who believed in a concept known as the noosphere. According to Chardin, the noosphere is the realm of infinite consciousness that surrounds our world, a cosmic storehouse of limitless information, knowledge and wisdom capable of being tapped for the growth, development and evolution of the human species. But, at the time this idea was first postulated, our consciousness had not developed to a point where most of us knew how to access it. What’s more, as beings focused on experiencing a reality based on physicality, it was virtually impossible for us to conceive of how we could tap and make use of such an intangible resource. Clearly we needed some kind of “tool” to show us the way, and that’s where the Internet comes in.

Because of that, from a conscious creation standpoint, the net is as much a part of our species’ evolution as any biological changes we undergo. It’s playing a central role in the emergence of our sentience, our self-awareness and our understanding of our inherent connectedness. At some point, our proficiency in this regard may surpass our need for something like the web, but, for now, as our capacities continue to emerge and grow in sophistication, it’s the best we’ve got.

Thanks to advances in computer and cyber technology, researchers at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University have begun engaging in studies involving advanced robotics, as depicted in the new documentary, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Understanding this is crucial to understanding why the Internet has evolved as it has. One might legitimately wonder, for example, why does it have both negative and positive attributes? If it’s something that’s supposedly so great, then why is it also afflicted by such problems as computer viruses, identity theft scams and the perpetuation of hate speech? Couldn’t we have done a better job in what we’ve created?

These are good questions. But, because the Internet is a tangible expression of our collective intangible beliefs, it’s naturally going to reflect the entire spectrum of that mass consciousness, for better or worse. Thanks to conscious creation, which makes all expressions of existence possible, that all-encompassing inclusivity will, of necessity, be reflected in the end result.

However, that’s not to suggest that we’re irretrievably stuck with those circumstances. As in any conscious creation scenario, what we do in collectively creating the cyber world will mirror whatever thoughts, beliefs and intents we put forth. If we don’t like what we’ve created, then it’s time to go back and assess what brought it into being in that undesirable form, tweaking what it takes to yield a more satisfactory result.

Even though the Internet has been around since 1969, and given the many advances that have occurred in that time, we might be tempted to give ourselves a hearty self-congratulatory pat on the back. But, despite these developments, the technology is nevertheless in its infancy. We’re still becoming conscious of what it is, what it can do and what we should do with it. If we like what we’ve created, that’s great. And, if we believe it’s in need of change, then we need to take that into account going forward, too, infusing our manifestation efforts with the metaphysical means that support a desired outcome.

Though occasionally uneven, “Lo and Behold” is a fascinating documentary about what is arguably one of the most transformative inventions in human history. The bulk of the segments make their cases clearly and succinctly, though a few of them receive less attention than others, and one in particular, in my opinion, suffers from an undermining credibility issue. There’s also a slight tendency to succumb to inadequately explained computer jargon, leaving the technically uninitiated in the dark. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here. Geeks will assuredly adore the film, but even casual users of this technology will likely come away with an enlightened perspective.

Filmmaker Werner Herzog presents an intriguing, example-based look at the Internet in the engaging new documentary, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

When the first telegraph message was sent in 1844, inventor Samuel F.B. Morse transmitted the Biblical quote “What hath God wrought” as the first words to be conveyed by this then-radical technology, an appropriate tribute to the power of creation. Ironically, when the Internet was launched 125 years later, the first email message successfully sent echoed this sentiment, even though it was actually a truncated version of what was supposed to be transmitted. When UCLA researchers were writing their Stanford colleagues, in line with the technology’s transmission protocol, they began their message by intending to type in the word “login.” But no sooner did they begin when the receiving computer crashed. Rather than sending the intended word, the UCLA team instead sent only the word “lo.”

How fitting! It’s as if the net’s creators somehow knew – even if only subconsciously – that they were unleashing something astonishing into the world, that their one-word message captured the awe associated with the experience and what would come from it. And that was just the beginning. What came from it since then – and what’s likely to come from it in the future – can hardly be put into words. But, in the end, what really matters is what thought we put into it, especially as our sentience and awareness of our connectedness grow, develop and evolve. As that happens, we can only imagine what will emerge – and what we can do with that to create a better, more harmonious world.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" and 11 home viewing options, along with a movie-related podcast link, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On the Radio Today

Join me and host Frankie Picasso for this month's Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio today at 1 PM ET, available by clicking here, or listen to the podcast on demand thereafter. Tune in for some lively chat about current movie and DVD releases with food for thought!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

‘Flowers’ celebrates empathy, kindness

“Flowers” (“Loreak”) (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast: Itziar Ituño, Nagore Aranburu, Itziar Aizpuru, Josean Bengoetxea, Egoitz Lasa, Ane Gabarain, José Ramón Soroiz, Jox Berasategui, Mikel Laskurain, Aitor Odriozola, Unax Odriozola. Directors: Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga. Screenplay: Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga. Web site. Trailer.

In a world filled with coldness and cynicism, acts of unsolicited kindness have, unfortunately, come to be seen by many as anomalous gestures, deeds almost to be viewed with suspicion. It’s truly sad that we’ve reached such a point, one where we question the sincere altruism of others, convinced that there must be an agenda behind those actions. But need it be that way? That’s one of the key questions posed in the meditative Spanish drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”), now available on video on demand.

When Ane Goñi (Nagore Aranburu) starts receiving weekly floral deliveries from an anonymous source, she’s perplexed but pleased. Given the personal rough patch she’s going through, brought on by early onset menopause and the general indifference of her husband, Ander (Egoitz Lasa), she’s happy to benefit from the joy the flowers bring her. Still, she’s curious to find out who’s sending them, especially when she learns it’s not from Ander, who himself is somewhat indignant that a stranger is showing his wife such attention.

Not long thereafter, however, the flower deliveries inexplicably stop. Curiously, this development, along with several other surprise revelations, coincide with the accidental death of a co-worker, Beñat Sanz (Josean Bengoetxea), whom she barely knew. Could he have been the source of the flowers? But, if so, why? After all, Beñat seems to have had enough problems of his own, trapped in a marriage to an often-agitated wife, Lourdes (Itziar Ituño), who frequently quarreled with his mother, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru), leaving him haplessly caught between the two.

After investigating matters further, Ane comes to believe that Beñat was indeed responsible for the flowers, and she’s now anxious to return the favor by leaving bouquets as a sort of makeshift memorial at the site of the car accident that killed him. She then finds herself befriending members of Beñat’s family, except, of course, for Lourdes, who can’t fathom why anyone would engage in such selfless gestures toward her deceased husband and his relatives – especially when she can’t bring herself to do the same.

Ane Goñi (Nagore Aranburu), who once received flower deliveries from an anonymous source to cheer her up, returns the favor to honor the memory of the person she believed sent them, acts of kindness depicted in the thoughtful meditation, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Acts as simple as sending flowers and extending common courtesies might not seem like much, but they serve as catalysts to help awaken emotions long dormant in many of us. They illustrate what it means to be kind to someone else, even if we don’t know them, just because it’s the right thing to do. They’re not actions to be questioned or looked upon with circumspection; they’re to be recognized and celebrated for what they are – gestures of goodwill, well-being and thoughtfulness.

So how is it that we have become so far removed from such attitudes? That’s difficult to say, but it’s unlikely that it was the result of a single individual act. Rather, it came about as a sea change in the mass consciousness, one that has subsequently manifested extensively as a result of a co-creation produced through the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, given how widespread it has become, it’s unfortunate that this outlook has blinded us to the way things can be, so much so that we don’t even recognize those gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness for what they really are.

Allowing ourselves to buy into such beliefs can take on a life of its own, spreading like a virus. But it’s far from irreversible. Antidotes to such beliefs and creations can take root just as readily as those suspicious attitudes have; all we need do is invoke them. Envisioning the outcome and deploying beliefs to make them happen are what it takes, and, if enough of us do that, the practice can spread through the mass consciousness, becoming a co-creation that’s part of the prevailing culture.

Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Imagine what the world could be like with such attitudes characterizing the present paradigm. This film challenges and inspires us to produce such a result – and to see just how beautiful and endearing it can be. We could all learn a lot from the acts of unprompted kindness and generosity on display here.

Lourdes Sanz (Itziar Ituño), who loses her husband in a car accident, has trouble relating to his death and the survivors of his family in the compelling drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Of course, a picture like this naturally begs the question, “How did we go astray in the first place?” As the experiences of the characters illustrate, sometimes we create chaos, heartache and despair in our lives (generally as part of our individual learning curves, even if we don’t recognize such developments as such). These incidents, in turn, often lead to responses where we become sad or embittered, perhaps even causing us to lose our faith in the world, including its positive and empathetic attributes. This leads to cynicism and suspicion, particularly when we encounter others who exhibit behavior that runs counter to our expectations. In those situations, we seldom know how to react, because those gestures don’t fit out worldview. We may be fundamentally incapable of comprehending how others can possibly act in such ways.

At the same time, though, those gestures can also serve as a starting point for turning things around. When we witness or are the beneficiaries of such acts, our beliefs may begin to change. They might even encourage us to respond in kind when we encounter others in need of such support. If enough of us do that, the idea may spread like wildfire, infusing itself into the culture of the prevailing paradigm, perhaps even changing the world. And to think it can all start with something as simple as sending someone a bouquet of flowers.

“Flowers” is a gem of a film, one that may be a little difficult to find but one that’s well worth the effort. This Basque language picture features gorgeous cinematography, an intriguing story line that will keep viewers continually guessing and an excellent cast, many of whom deliver what should have been award-worthy performances (especially Ituño and Aizpuru). But, most of all, the empathy this thoughtful picture evokes, one would hope, should inspire us all.

Tere Sanz (Itziar Aizpuru), who loses her son in a car accident, has trouble understanding her daughter-in-law’s lack of compassion over her loss in the thoughtful Spanish drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Changing the world doesn’t always require massive undertakings. Sometimes the process can begin with simple acts whose impact ripples like waves in a pond. The result may not be instantaneous, but the eventual outcome is almost assuredly undeniable. And what a beautiful creation that would be.

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tune in to Self-Discovery Radio

Join me and host Sara Troy on this week's edition of Self-Discovery Radio, when we'll discuss Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies. Tune in for some lively chat about current and past movies with conscious creation/law of attraction themes by clicking here. And be sure to visit the show's bookstore, available by clicking here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

‘Remember’ seeks to distinguish justice from vengeance

“Remember” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Christopher Plummer. Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris, Jürgen Prochnow, Heinz Lieven, Henry Czerny, Liza Balkan, Peter DeCunha, James Cade, Sofia Wells, Jane Spidell, Stefani Kimber. Director: Atom Egoyan. Screenplay: Benjamin August. Web site. Trailer.

When does the cause of justice cross the line into the pursuit of vengeance? Even if the outcome in both instances turns out to be the same, doesn’t the intent leading to such a result make a difference? Those are thorny issues, to be sure, and they come center stage in the gripping suspense thriller, “Remember,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) and Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) have much in common. The two octogenarians knew one another while incarcerated in Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp, where they both lost their entire families. But, despite the horrors of this shared experience, Zev and Max managed to survive, eventually emigrating to America to build new lives. And now, all these years later, their respective odysseys have led them to become residents of the same New York City nursing home.

Even though Max’s advanced years have plundered him physically, he’s still as sharp as ever mentally. Zev, meanwhile, is remarkably fit for his age, but the ravages of dementia have left him with severe memory loss issues – so devastating, in fact, that he can’t even remember the recent passage of his wife, Ruth. Given their conditions and histories, one might think Max and Zev would be content to live out their days in peace. But, unbeknownst to their friends and loved ones, some serious scheming is afoot, highly clandestine plans with tremendous potential for danger and manipulation. These plans carry serious risks for both men, too, but it’s especially perilous for Zev considering his fragile mental state.

Not long after Ruth’s shiva ends, Max calls his friend aside to remind him of the plan they had agreed to carry out once Zev’s beloved had passed. In a detailed set of written instructions – prepared so that Zev would never forget them – Max outlines their crusade to hunt down the blockführer responsible for the deaths of their families in Auschwitz.

Having worked with Simon Wiesenthal, the famed hunter of escaped Nazis, Max became aware that a number of fugitive war criminals evaded capture by adopting new identities (usually those of their Jewish victims) and quietly fleeing to America. For years, Max firmly supported Wiesenthal’s belief that such heinous offenders deserved to be put on trial in high-profile public proceedings in an aim to seek justice. But, after Wiesenthal’s death in 2005, and given the advancing age of the remaining fugitives (many of whom probably wouldn’t be physically able to undergo extradition and the rigors of formal proceedings), Max has since come to believe in taking more direct action – summarily eradicating the guilty, convinced that they would almost assuredly befall the same fate they would experience as a result of a trial verdict.

Max is certain that the guilty party, Otto Wallisch, took the name Rudy Kurlander at war’s end. But the problem with tracking down Kurlander is that, apparently, four individuals in the US and Canada bear the same name. So who is the bona fide target? That’s what Zev must find out, and that’s where the detailed instructions come in. They’re so meticulously prepared that they make allowances for contingencies, giving Zev details about what to do if he should encounter the wrong individual while carrying out the plan.

One might question why someone with dementia would be tapped for a task like this. However, considering Zev’s history and his mental state, Max sees him as the perfect choice, a sort of “Manchurian Candidate” with an apparent motivation for seeking revenge who can be prompted into carrying out his instructions without the “liability” of remembering what he did (or who put him up to it). And so, with his instructions in hand, Zev sets off on a journey spanning two countries in search of the man he’s been instructed to kill, even if he’s not sure of what he’s doing – or why he’s doing it.

The narrative of “Remember” brings the matter of our beliefs – the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the conscious creation process – front and center. Much of the time, our beliefs operate in the background, materializing our existence without much awareness on our part. Admittedly, this can be somewhat problematic in itself, leading to such precarious pursuits as un-conscious creation or creation by default, practices in direct conflict with the aim of making the manifestation process more intentionally “conscious.” However, should we manage to become more purposely aware of our beliefs and what they yield, we have a greater opportunity to realize exactly what we envision.

In Max’s case, though, such heightened, deliberate awareness would appear to be directed toward the fulfillment of a somewhat questionable goal. While conscious creation indeed makes all options for manifestation possible, for better or worse, it’s still incumbent upon each of us to scrutinize the beliefs we employ, especially with regard to what we intend them to materialize. That’s certainly true where Max’s plan is concerned, partly because of its outcome and partly because of the methods being used to achieve it.

Then there’s Zev’s role in this scenario. Why is he involved? Is his belief in revenge the principal motivation here? Superficially speaking, some might say yes, but, given his personality – very much that of a kindly, grandfatherly sort – and his actions – which seem to be dictated purely by his written instructions and not any volition of his own – he hardly seems like a crusading vigilante type. In fact, given his mental state, he seems to require nearly constant reminding to keep him on track, not the kind of behavior one would readily associate with somebody hell-bent on exacting vengeance.

More importantly, given Zev’s dementia, one might legitimately wonder why he would create such a condition in the first place. Is it to forget a painful past? Is it to disavow the sadness of recent events? Is it to dull his senses to the acts he’s about to perform? Is it a combination of these elements? Or is it something else entirely? That’s something Zev must come to terms with for himself, no matter how difficult or perplexing it may be.

For Zev and Max, just like any of us, getting to the bottom of the beliefs that create our reality requires us to take a look at what prompted their formation, namely, the input provided by our intellect and intuition and how much stock we place in that information. In Max’s case, for example, he’s certain about the course he’s pursuing, and he’s comfortable with what he’s seeking to manifest, no matter how others might see it. But what makes him so sure of himself? From a conscious creation perspective, it would seem that he’s exceedingly confident in the validity of the input that led to the formation of those underlying beliefs, even if he doesn’t share his insights into what has prompted him to think this way. And, when someone is that self-assured about what they’re doing, they just might know something the rest of us don’t.

This naturally raises issues about judgment. The beliefs that many of us hold about justice and vengeance may cause us to look at Max’s plan with skepticism, perhaps even disdain. But are those contrary views necessarily correct? One of the chief aims of the conscious creation process is to reveal the truth, and, if someone is so set on achieving a particular objective, as Max is, then maybe there are significant revelations that need to emerge through its materialization. Should someone like that be proven correct, that, in turn, should give us pause to reassess our own beliefs, particularly any associated with judgment. We may find our assumptions, and the beliefs behind them, are not as fully informed as they need to be.

Revelations like this frequently lead to the vanquishing of such conditions as blind ignorance and entrenched denial. That, in itself, can be viewed as a worthwhile goal, even if the means for achieving it (and the beliefs underlying it) might be considered somewhat dubious. Again, this is where a rush to judgment may prove problematic until everything comes out. And, at that point, matters could very well be seen in an entirely new light.

Even with what many would see as a rightful justification for their actions, can the vengeance Max and Zev seek be sanctioned? Most would likely say no, even under these circumstances. But, given the foregoing, one should not be too hasty to judge, especially when elements of the plan prove to be more brilliantly conceived than anyone could have possibly imagined.

“Remember” is a knock-out from start to finish, with phenomenal performances by Plummer, Landau and a superb supporting cast, as well as a host of intriguing cinematic allusions. As viewers will surely find, not everything is as it seems, with twists and turns that will shock, surprise and give one serious pause to think, and therein lies the genius of this picture as one of the most adeptly told suspense thrillers to have graced the screen in a long time. Despite the picture’s troubling subject matter, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off of this one, with its narrative effectively holding a taut level of tension right up until the very end. But, most of all, there’s much to ponder beneath the surface of the film’s story line, leaving viewers with much to consider upon its conclusion. Don’t miss it.

The search for justice is often a struggle, especially when it’s tied to such emotionally charged incidents as the Holocaust. With the passage of time, bringing the guilty to justice has grown increasingly difficult, too, adding to that aforementioned frustration. So, to achieve that goal, those who champion the cause must increasingly pursue creative solutions, employing unconventional methods or plans not previously tried. But, as long as the intent is a noble one, the truth will come out, and justice will be served.

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ wrestles with life’s lessons

“Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016). Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend, Allan Corduner, Christian McKay, David Haig, Brid Brennan, John Kavanagh, John Sessions, Davis Mills, Nat Luurtsema, Mark Arnold. Director: Stephen Frears. Screenplay: Nicholas Martin. Web site. Trailer.

Passionately following one’s dreams, no matter what the cost, is a noble endeavor, to be sure. Pursuing what gives us joy is truly an undertaking to which we should all aspire. But what if the pursuit of that goal has the potential for public humiliation – should we continue under such circumstances? What’s more, what if others deliberately shield us from such criticism – are they really doing us any favors, even if they seem to have our best interests at heart? Those are some mighty big life lessons, and they’re among the issues raised and addressed in the bittersweet new biopic, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”

Wealthy socialite and arts patron Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) generously supports the cultural scene in 1940s New York, doting over the music club she founded and frequently organizing salon recitals for her wealthy friends. She’s also eager to offer financial assistance to those whom she considers her peers, like famed, though sometimes fiscally strapped, conductor Arturo Toscanini (John Kavanagh). And, with the aid of her loving husband and onetime aspiring Shakespearean actor, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), Florence relishes her little soirees. But what gives her the greatest pleasure is performing her own renditions of the pieces she loves. There’s just one problem – she can’t hit a right note to save her life.

Arguably the worst vocalist ever to grace the stage, Florence “sings” with such blatantly off-key coloring that it would make even the most tone-deaf among us cringe. But, somehow, most everyone overlooks or doesn’t seem to notice the shrill nature of her shrieking, thanks in large part to St. Clair’s efforts to protect his beloved from the ravages of those who would criticize her, such as New York’s fickle newspaper columnists. She’s also fawned over by others like her vocal coach (David Haig), who’ll gladly tell Florence she’s a virtuoso as long as she pays him his pricey lesson fees. And, if anyone dares raise an eyebrow, such as Florence’s new classically trained accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), St. Clair is quick to pounce, putting out the fires before they ever have a chance to smolder.

So why does everyone put up such a façade over Florence’s woeful crooning? For starters, as already noted, she’s an exceedingly generous patron, and money speaks volumes with financially challenged artists. Then there’s her unflappable enthusiasm for her art; she’s so passionate about performing that no one is anxious to discourage her, no matter how ear-splitting her screeching may be. But, above all, no one has the heart to deflate the spirits of a dying woman; as a syphilis patient in the last stages (an illness she contracted from her now-deceased first husband), Florence’s health is fragile and fading fast, so who would be so cruel as to deny someone her passion with the clock quickly winding down?

Still, the question remains, is anyone doing Florence any favor by being so overprotective? Are they really sparing her feelings? What would happen to her if the truth were to ever come out? Could she handle such a rude awakening? Those questions get called when Florence takes it upon herself to make a record as a Christmas gift for her music club friends. But what would happen if someone outside the club got hold of a copy, such as a radio show host? If that weren’t problematic enough, though, the calamity potential looms even larger with a subsequent development. While St. Clair is away for a weekend with his mistress, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), Florence books a date for a solo recital at Carnegie Hall, primarily as a benefit for American servicemen. These challenges are bigger than anything St. Clair has previously tried to contain, and the risk of the truth coming out – and its potentially devastating effects – hover like a storm cloud sure to unleash an uncontrollable downpour.

As this film illustrates, honesty is trickier to manage than one might think, despite it generally being considered the best policy. No matter how much we might try to finesse the truth, there are bound to be consequences – perhaps even collateral damage – associated with such efforts. It’s at times like this when we must search our souls to determine what course of action truly is best, regardless of how painful it may be. And the best starting point is our beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience.

Given the particulars of this scenario, of course, one can’t help but ask why the principals have manifested what they have. Obviously their reasons are their own. But, in the pursuit of learning particular life lessons, all options are on the table through conscious creation, no matter how dubious some of them might seem, as Florence’s experience clearly illustrates.

If one were to speculate about the reasoning behind the protagonist’s creations, several possibilities emerge. For example, Florence’s love of music and her pursuit of it for its own sake appear to provide her with sufficient motivation to bring these passions to life through the power of her beliefs. These are certainly laudable ambitions, too, regardless of how adept (or inept) she might be at materializing them. Such unabashed gumption is something we can all learn from, especially if we unduly hold ourselves back from living out our dreams.

At the same time, though, it’s possible that Florence has also sought to experience other, more problematic life lessons, such as the prospects of ridicule, humiliation, willful denial and being kept in the dark. One might wonder what possible value there is in these kinds of unpalatable experiences, but, as souls who are continually evolving, who ultimately seek to engage in the full range of physical existence, everything is fair game, potential calamities included. If, indeed, such experiences are part of Florence’s metaphysical agenda, then their manifestation is certain to occur in one form or another.

Meanwhile, those who share in these co-creations with Florence afford themselves an opportunity for life lessons of their own. For instance, given the fiercely protective nature of St. Clair’s and Cosmé’s actions, they have access to circumstances to teach them (and those around them) the merits of compassion. In an age when so many of us are quick to criticize, Florence’s backers provide us with a fine example of what it means to nurture our support for others – and to cut them some much-needed slack.

In various ways, these manifestations embody several key principles that characterize the conscious creation process. Most notably they illustrate how to push through limitations, knocking down barriers that many may see as insurmountable. At the same time, they also demonstrate the value of overcoming fears and living courageously, despite the odds. In that regard, Florence shows us the way, as do her most ardent supporters. And these may be among biggest and most important life lessons depicted in this film.

If the narrative of this picture sounds familiar, it’s because Florence’s biography provided the basis of the plot of the fictional French production “Marguerite”, which came out in limited release earlier this year. There are a number of similarities between the two films, but there are enough differences to distinguish them as well. A number of elements, such as Florence’s numerous eccentricities (like her inordinately ravenous appetite for potato salad and her penchant for perpetually toting a well-worn leather briefcase whose contents are a mystery), are present here, despite their exclusion in the film’s fictional counterpart. In terms of similarities, both pictures feature the protagonists’ off-key vocalizations as centerpiece elements, but, despite their prevalence in each production, they’re so effectively done that they never grow tiresome in either case.

The stellar performances of Grant, Helberg and, especially, Streep (a virtually guaranteed Oscar nominee) definitely make this film, elevating its sometimes-unfocused screenplay and imbuing it more spit and polish than it might have had in lesser hands. The main problem with the script is that it occasionally has trouble striking the right balance between comedy and drama, never quite finding the right mix of when it’s acceptable to laugh at Florence and when to feel sorry for her. The film certainly hits the right notes in its lavish period piece production values and its hilarious “musical numbers,” and director Stephen Frears does his best to make it all work, but the pacing and writing never quite even out as effectively as they could. Enjoy this one for the performances but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Life’s lessons take myriad forms, both pleasant and devastating. They all ultimately make up who we are, both as physical beings on the earthly plane and as enlightened entities on the soul level. How we gain those experiences is up to us, thanks to what the conscious creation process makes possible, but, in the end, they all play a part in furthering our metaphysical education and spiritual evolution. To that end, then, we would be wise to welcome, even relish, those experiences for what they’re worth, no matter how uplifting or disappointing they may be in the creation of the works of art that are each of us.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Florence Foster Jenkins" and "Remember" and a preview of a special David Bowie movie screening are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network available by clicking here.

Perpetually off-key vocalist Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep, left) prepares for her Carnegie Hall debut with her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, center), and husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant, right), in director Stephen Frears’ latest offering, “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Photo by Nick Wall, courtesy © 2016 by Paramount Pictures.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

‘Gleason’ honors the hero within

“Gleason” (2016). Cast: Steve Gleason, Michel Varisco, Rivers Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita, Blair Casey, Paul Varisco Sr., Kyle Gleason, Gail Gleason, Jim Eutizzi, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, John Elway, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder. Director: Clay Tweel. Screenplay: Clay Tweel. Web site. Trailer.

What makes a hero? Many of us probably think of comic book figures, first responders or combat vets. Those examples are certainly inspiring, and their contributions (especially those of the real world figures) are definitely laudable. But, as the new documentary “Gleason” illustrates, heroes sometimes come in the unlikeliest of forms.

Former NFL player Steve Gleason didn’t really fit the profile of your typical football star. He was a little undersized, and his cerebral, somewhat reserved personality didn’t exactly lend itself to that of the prototypical grid iron hero. But what he may have lacked in stature he made up for in tenacity and drive, giving his all to the game and making quite a mark on the field.

As a safety for the New Orleans Saints, Gleason is best known for having blocked a punt that led to a touchdown in the first home game held at the Louisiana Superdome in 2006 after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina a year earlier. The play was seen as a symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth, and it has since been immortalized in a statue outside the stadium. But, despite the impact of that accomplishment, the mark Gleason has left since his football career ended makes this achievement pale by comparison.

In 2011, Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease that leads to the degeneration of the muscles while leaving one’s mental faculties intact. The disease, which has affected such others as Lou Gehrig and Stephen Hawking, leaves its victims unable to walk, talk and eventually breathe. The typical life expectancy from the time of diagnosis is two to five years. So, when faced with such a prognosis, Gleason deliberately chose to make the most of the time he had left.

For example, Steve and his wife, Michel Varisco, decided that his illness was no reason to prevent them from becoming parents, and, nine months after his diagnosis, Michel gave birth to their son, Rivers. Steve wanted to be involved in his son’s upbringing as much as possible, but, knowing what the future held, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to do many of the typical things that dads do. So, to help ensure that Rivers knew who his father was, Steve began making a series of video blogs to share his thoughts. The blogs, many of which are featured in the documentary, cover a broad range of topics, from love to spirituality to the meaning of life. That’s quite a gift to one’s child, something we all could learn from.

Former NFL star and ALS patient Steve Gleason cradles his son, Rivers, in director Clay Tweel’s candid, heartfelt documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Gleason’s efforts at squaring things in his life didn’t stop at becoming a father. He consciously made an effort to settle his accounts with others, particularly in his personal relationships, such as with his own father, Mike. Through a series of candid, heartfelt exchanges, the documentary depicts how father and son come to terms with years of issues left unsaid and unresolved, an eye-opening experience to be sure.

With time for fully appreciating what life has to offer running out, Steve also chose to pursue long-cherished experiences while he was still able. He took an extended road trip to Alaska, seeing sights beyond description. It proved to be a life-changing experience.

Upon his return from Alaska, Steve undertook his biggest venture yet. He went public about his illness and created Team Gleason, a foundation aimed at helping ALS patients by making long-held dreams come true and by improving the quality of their lives through technology and other supporting means. The effort quickly garnered the enthusiastic backing of others, including former teammates Scott Fujita and Drew Brees, fellow NFL players Kurt Warner and John Elway, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Pearl Jam members Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder. The organization demonstrated its resolve through its signature slogan, “No white flags.”

Proud parents Steve Gleason (right) and Michel Varisco (center) share a moment with their son, Rivers (left), in the inspiring and touching new documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Team Gleason’s efforts have since expanded from its original mission. Its programs have led to such accomplishments as securing the enactment of federal legislation guaranteeing Medicaid coverage of technology enabling ALS patients to communicate when they can no longer speak and the wildly successful ice bucket challenge aimed at raising funds for ALS research. And who says a football player’s heroics only occur on the grid iron?

Living the life of the hero is an important component of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. It represents the surmounting of our fears and moving forth courageously to live out our destiny. It may not always be the easiest undertaking we pursue, but it’s certainly one of the most fulfilling, especially when our efforts leave a mark on the world. And Gleason has left more than a few.

For instance, in his football career, Gleason brought renewed hope to a city whose collective spirit was broken, not only by the forces of nature but also by the rampant failings of an inept government bureaucracy. His legendary play at the Saints’ first home game in almost two years – at a facility, the Louisiana Superdome, that had come to symbolize the horrors of social breakdown during and after Katrina – validated that New Orleans was indeed back, filling citizens of the Crescent City with an emboldened new hope for the future.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (right) is one of many notable supporters of Team Gleason, a foundation established to support ALS patients formed by former teammate and ALS patient Steve Gleason (left), as seen in director Clay Tweel’s outstanding new documentary, “Gleason.” Photo by Lori Burns, courtesy of Open Road Films.

But, in the time since his retirement from the game, and particularly since his diagnosis, Steve has shown the true nature of a hero, both in his personal dealings and in what he has done for others. He recognized what needed to be done in these various areas of his life and stepped up to address them. By coming forward publicly about his illness, for instance, he helped draw awareness to a heartbreaking, debilitating disease that traditionally has not received the same level of attention as other conditions. And then, in launching Team Gleason, he provided valuable assistance to those who may not have received such support were it not for what he did. His accomplishments in these areas show a strong affinity for living out his value fulfillment, the quality characterized by putting our best selves forward for the benefit of ourselves and those around us, hallmark qualities of conscious creation and the spirit of heroism.

In both his football career and his subsequent philanthropic efforts, Gleason made things happen through the sheer power of his intents. Even when he was no longer physically able to do the work himself, he successfully drew into his life others who could help out. His track record of achievements, either through his own direct efforts or those of his surrogates, shows the strength of his character and the faith he has placed in the beliefs needed to realize such objectives, an example we could all learn from.

Of course, while it’s easy to recognize the value of these heroic creations, one might legitimately wonder why he materialized such a debilitating condition. That’s a difficult question but not one for us to answer, since it’s part of his journey, whatever the reason and manifesting beliefs behind it. As becomes apparent in the film, even he’s not sure why he’s been affected by ALS, frequently speaking to the issue in his video blogs, especially when frankly addressing spiritual topics and his connection to God.

However, considering Gleason’s public standing and what that notoriety has helped make possible for so many – benefits that may not have been otherwise realized – perhaps this illness was part of that heroic effort. It’s not something that many of us may have been willing to put ourselves through, and Gleason himself openly expresses his doubts and reservations. But, by having endeared himself to so many, Steve rallied countless supporters to his cause, making it possible to carry forward with his mission to help others similarly afflicted. And, as he states unequivocally in the film, he knows, despite the hardships of his journey, that his soul is indeed saved. Spoken like a true hero.

As part of his effort to live his life to the fullest, ALS patient Steve Gleason (right) creates video blogs to share his thoughts and to interview those important to him, such as Pearl Jam lead vocalist Eddie Vedder (left), a band Gleason grew up with, as depicted in the new documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

“Gleason” is an excellent, compellingly candid documentary about a remarkable man on a remarkable odyssey. The raw honesty and uplifting inspiration showcased in director Clay Tweel’s offering are astounding, portrayed with an unrestrained frankness rarely depicted on screen. Its celebration of personal heroism and the spirit to carry on despite the odds is touching, enlightening and mesmerizing.

For all of its inspiration, though, the film also has its share of heartbreaking moments, such as its uncensored depiction of the decline of Gleason’s physical state. It shows the stress and hardships placed on the marriage of a couple whose partners obviously love one another but who must contend with changes and challenges far greater than what either of them probably envisioned. But, as a clip from the couple’s wedding aptly illustrates, the true strength of a marriage comes through not when things are good but when things are difficult. And, from what this film illustrates, this is obviously a couple that loves one another very much, yet another source of inspiration we can draw from, even through the sadness.

Rising to the occasion provides us with an opportunity to rise to meet ourselves. Such an experience may astonish us by revealing capabilities and reserves of inner strength we never knew we possessed. And, through this extraordinary film, Steve Gleason shows us how, and he does so with a heroism we can only hope to emulate.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Gleason" and "Mediterranea" and a podcast preview are all available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Former NFL star and ALS patient Steve Gleason cradles his son, Rivers, in director Clay Tweel’s candid, heartfelt documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

‘The Family Fang’ urges us to look behind the scenes

“The Family Fang” (2016). Cast: Justin Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett, Kathryn Hahn, Harris Yulin, Jason Butler Harner, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Taylor Rose, Jack McCarthy, Kyle Donnery, Marin Ireland, Linda Emond, Grainger Hines, Frank Harts, Edward Mitchell, Patrick Mitchell. Director: Justin Batemen. Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire. Book: Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang. Web site. Trailer.

Our parents always have our best interests at heart, right? Are you sure? What if they have agendas riddled with unusual, self-serving plans and schemes? What kind of impact would such undertakings have on impressionable young minds? Would the effects be detrimental or beneficial (or possibly both)? Questions like these are at the core of the offbeat comedy-drama-mystery, “The Family Fang,” now available on DVD and video on demand.

Annie and Baxter Fang (Nicole Kidman, Justin Bateman), the adult children of performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang (Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett), have issues with their parents. They haven’t seen their folks in years, and they’re not in any hurry for a reunion. But, when Baxter is injured in a freak accident, the entire family is unexpectedly reunited for the first time in ages.

So why are Annie and Baxter at odds with their parents? When the brother and sister were kids (Jack McCarthy, Mackenzie Brooke Smith), they were frequently cast as players in their parents’ (Jason Butler Harner, Kathryn Hahn) highly unconventional performance art pieces. Caleb and Camille’s outlandish projects usually involved shocking incidents that were caught on videotape and released to an often-aghast public. They believed their thought-provoking performances pushed the limits of art and stimulated public discussion, especially when their creations placed their kids in questionable, compromising circumstances, such as a phony bank holdup or an impromptu Central Park concert where Annie and Baxter crooned a macabre little ditty, titled Kill All Parents.

Caleb and Camille were thrilled by their children’s contributions. In fact, they soon came to realize that the kids were what made their projects work. And, while it seemed they truly adored Annie and Baxter, there was some genuine doubt amongst spectators – and eventually the kids themselves – whether Caleb and Camille regarded them as bona fide family members or as mere extras in their productions. This became especially apparent when Annie and Baxter were teens (Taylor Rose, Kyle Donnery), when they became part of a project in which they themselves were played for fools, an incident that prompted the schism between children and parents.

As adults, Annie has struggled to build an acting career, while Baxter has tried his hand at being a novelist, but neither sibling has lived up to the success each had hoped for, failings that Caleb doesn’t hesitate to point out during their unexpected reunion. Caleb tries to bully the kids into believing that their mainstream artistic efforts are exercises in mediocrity, that they were at their best when they were involved in the performance art projects. In fact, Caleb and Camille try to convince Annie and Baxter to join them for one last artistic undertaking, one that they claim will mark the pinnacle of their careers.

Needless to say, Annie and Baxter refuse, prompting an argument between them and their parents. Caleb and Camille decide to go away for a few days to cool off, but, while gone, their car is found abandoned and covered in blood. Police authorities (Grainger Hines, Frank Harts) are worried, given that this discovery has occurred in an area where similar incidents have taken place. The kids, meanwhile, pay little heed to these cautions, believing that this is just their parents’ latest stunt. The question is, though, how can they prove it?

What ensues is a bizarre comedy-drama-mystery to find out what really happened to Caleb and Camille. It’s an undertaking that also brings Annie and Baxter face to face with themselves, their relationship with their parents and what they want to do with their futures. They must at last come to terms with their past and what it did to them, for better or worse. The answers are sure to surprise them, not to mention captivate viewers.

Performance art, by its nature, frequently pushes the boundaries of what most people consider art. Limits are routinely exceeded, and results seldom mimic anything previously tried. Those who engage in it, like Caleb and Camille, often argue that its controversial nature is intended to encourage discussion about the very character of art, as well as whatever subject matter it incorporates and what points it seeks to make.

In many regards, performance art embodies the notion of exceeding limitations, one of the core principles of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, based on their works, Caleb and Camille are certainly expert at that. Admittedly, some of what they do is purely for shock value, but it nevertheless gets people talking and thinking about the topics at hand and what innately constitutes art. Because of that, their creative efforts not only set an example for their field of endeavor, but it also provides inspiration that transcends the world of art, employing underlying principles applicable to any type of undertaking, especially where the pushing of boundaries is concerned.

When it comes to such innovations, one might wonder where the ideas for them come from, but the answer is simple: Like any type of manifestation, the impetus comes from one’s beliefs. They provide the juice that makes the process work. Those who are expert at envisioning outcomes and crafting the beliefs that put them into motion are most adept at realizing such materializations. This is true both in terms of the creations themselves and the ideas that they’re metaphorically meant to reflect.

Pushing the envelope, of course, sometimes raises the question, “How far is too far?” When onlookers witness children engaging in what many would consider questionable acts, eyebrows naturally get raised. Are those kids willing participants, or are they being exploited by adults with self-serving agendas? What impact will those experiences have on the youngsters, and how will it affect their futures?

As “The Family Fang” illustrates, however, the answers to those questions may not be as clear-cut as one might initially think. Would Annie and Baxter have even considered careers in the arts were it not for their childhood experiences? Moreover, given the nature of their parents’ projects, isn’t it possible that such horizon-stretching exercises might eventually help them push the limits of their own creativity? Couldn’t it be that their parents are, in their own backhanded way, helping to give them a push in the development of their art and careers? Sometimes we have to dig deeper, past surface trappings, to see the true underlying intents involved. And there’s no telling what unexpectedly remarkable outcomes might arise from that.

One might be especially suspect when parents are involved. Some would be shocked at how they could do such things to their own children. But, if there’s no form of abuse involved and the aforementioned stellar results emerge, is it really fair to question the parents’ motives? Isn’t it possible that such acts, bizarre though they may be, are actually intended to help the kids in the long run? And isn’t that one of the most loving acts that parents can engage in for their children? Again, the superficial aspects of these scenarios may not tell the whole story, and spectators – indeed, sometimes even participants – might have to look past such considerations to see what underlying beliefs are truly at work here.

“The Family Fang” is a wickedly funny, somewhat ghoulish offering that’s fresh in virtually every regard. With an excellent cast, an engaging narrative that continually keeps viewers guessing and a deliciously twisted sense of humor, this underrated indie production pushes a lot of buttons about what we should expect out of art and our parents. This offering certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but, for those who enjoy cinema that pushes the envelope, this one is definitely for you.

The next time you find someone’s motives suspect, stop and take a good, hard look at what’s involved. You might be surprised at what you discover, especially when delving beneath the surface of the situation to see what lies below. There’s often more than meets the eye in scenarios such as this, and the hidden gems that lie therein may ultimately prove to be worth their weight in gold.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

‘Don’t Think Twice’ instructs us on living in the moment

“Don’t Think Twice” (2016). Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, Ben Stiller, Seth Barrish, Erin Darke, Sondra James, Maggie Kemper, Kati Rediger, Steve Waltien, Emily Skeggs, Gary Richardson. Director: Mike Birbiglia. Screenplay: Mike Birbiglia. Web site. Trailer.

Striving for success in the world of entertainment is full of hopes, dreams, challenges and frustrations. When we pursue it on our own, it can be terrifying, bewildering, exhilarating and, above all, lonely. But, when we aspire to greatness as part of a group, we at least have the support of others to make the struggle more tolerable and, one would hope, creatively fulfilling. Of course, being part of a collective is also fraught with the competition (sometimes friendly, sometime far from it) that comes with seeking to stand out from one’s peers, a potential threat to professional friendships and collaborations. Journeys like this are full of many distinct, meaningful moments, some euphoric, some bittersweet, but few of them dull. Learning how to address these kinds of issues is central to the lives of the protagonists in the outstanding new indie comedy, “Don’t Think Twice.”

Making one’s way in the world of improv comedy is an uphill battle to get recognized. Just ask the members of the Commune, an exceedingly talented, enthusiastic Brooklyn-based troupe that, regrettably, struggles to get by performing for small audiences. But, for Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher), the hope of one day making it big keeps them going.

The tightly knit group performs together like a well-oiled machine. However, when word comes down that the building housing their theater has been sold and slated for conversion, it looks like the end of the line for the Commune. With the troupe’s possible dissolution pending, the individual members begin thinking about their future, particularly getting a shot at auditioning for the cast of Weekend Live, a popular, late night network sketch comedy show.

Some troupe members, like Jack, are ready for the change. Others, like Samantha, clearly have the talent but lack the self-confidence and the desire to move forward. Others still, like Miles, think they’re prepared, but are they really being honest with themselves? Then there are those who seem adrift, like Allison, Lindsay and Bill, who aren’t sure what’s next and may be ready to hang up everything once and for all.

Members of the Commune improv comedy troupe (from left, Tami Sagher, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci) seek to make it big in “Don’t Think Twice.” Photo courtesy of Jon Pack/The Film Arcade.

Then, of course, there are the relationships, friendships and collaborations among the group members, all of which are thrown into jeopardy with the impending changes. Can those aspects of their lives survive what is about to transpire? What will happen to them individually and collectively? Can they truly handle the success, failure and changes that loom?

And, through it all, there’s the work itself. It’s what all the troupe members (like countless other improv artists) strive to master. In fact, ironically enough, improv’s core nature could even be the Commune members’ saving grace when it comes to managing their lives and careers. As the film capably illustrates, improv is all about being in the moment, unquestioningly following one’s impulses and intuition. The operative commandment here is “don’t think” (let alone “don’t think twice”), because such an approach is essential to allowing one’s best work to come out. With so many significant changes hanging over the group, maybe they should take a page from their artistic playbook to find new paths for themselves as individuals. But will they?

That ability to live in the moment is crucial for anyone who practices conscious creation, the means by which we manifest the existence we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. As practitioners of the philosophy are well aware, the present is where the real point of power lies, for we cannot change a past that has already occurred or a future that is yet to happen. However, in the present moment, we have access to an infinite range of probabilities for materialization, all of which can be pursued based on the beliefs, thoughts and intents we employ in activating them. By recognizing this concept and how to make effective use of it, we can move in virtually any direction desired.

Of course, to succeed at this, we must clearly identify the beliefs we wish to embrace, which may not be as easy as it initially sounds. For instance, if we put forth a set of mixed signals to our divine collaborator, it won’t know how to respond. Consider Samantha’s situation as an example. She contends that she’s ready for the big time, but she’s also content to continue doing what she has been all along. She also feels somewhat insecure about possessing what it takes to get ahead. So, given a jumble of contradictory beliefs like that, what do you think the chances are that she’ll hit pay dirt? Maybe if she sets those worries aside, believes in herself and goes with the flow in the moment (as she routinely does well when on stage), she might realize a very different outcome.

Living in the moment also means allowing ourselves to faithfully follow our impulses and intuition. This may not seem wise in a world driven by logic and reason. Consequently, we often overlook such influences as untrustworthy and suspect. But acting upon such impressions – which may truly seem irrational and rash – could be just what we need. After all, our intuition is a major contributor to the formation of our manifesting beliefs, one that’s inherently just as vital as our intellect. Giving free rein to our impulses and intuition allows fresh, unfettered creations to come rushing forth, resulting in truly inspired outcomes. Indeed, anyone who has ever seen improv comedy done well – like that demonstrated in this film – can attest to the validity of this.

In many ways, improv itself is directly in line with the spirit of one of conscious creation’s guiding principles – that there are no “mistakes” involved in it. It’s an art form fundamentally based on trying out new ideas (following unexplored lines of probability when put in conscious creation terms) to see what they turn up. Some manifestations will undoubtedly be viewed as more effective than others, but such conclusions wouldn’t be reached were it not for trying out those untried notions in the first place. In effect, this practice validates the life lesson and learning curve aspects of conscious creation, both of which are essential to our personal growth and development, not to mention the expansion of the art form.

Because of this, improv created through the conscious creation process pushes limits, another chief aim of the philosophy. When those barriers are surpassed, the results can be remarkable, introducing us to entirely new types of manifestations never conceived of before. This represents the evolution of the art form, something that illustrates the conscious creation notion that everything is in a constant state of becoming. And that’s no laughing matter.

Members of the Commune improv comedy troupe (from left, Tami Sagher, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Keegan-Michael Key) try out a variety of innovative routines in the hilarious new comedy, “Don’t Think Twice.” Photo courtesy of Jon Pack/The Film Arcade.

These principles are equally applicable to other aspects of our reality. As seen in the film, they’re apparent not only in the characters’ art but also in their relationships, collaborative efforts and careers. The results that they (and we) each get depend, of course, on the beliefs they hold about these matters, especially when it comes to how well they respond to the initial appearance of their own manifestations. If they willingly buy into the idea that our evolution is an ongoing process characterized by intrinsic change, they’re likely to find it smooth and revelatory. But, if they put up resistance and try to unduly hold on to what no longer serves them or impedes their personal progress, they’ll likely encounter a very different result. (Maybe they’d better follow their impulses and not think about it.)

“Don’t Think Twice” is a lively, funny, irreverent look at the world of improv and the struggle for that proverbial big break. From start to finish, the film feels genuine in its storyline, its humor, and its portrayal of the hopes, dreams and frustrations of making it big while remaining true to oneself, one’s peers and one’s art. It’s a sure-fire winner in virtually every regard. But its underlying messages transcend the comedy stage and are applicable to those looking to make a name for themselves, in no matter what field of endeavor.

Living in the moment is often seen as an inspired approach to life. But actually practicing it may prove more challenging than simply singing its praises. However, if we intentionally make an effort to follow through on it, especially when it comes to listening to our impulses and intuition, we may surprise ourselves at the results we get.

No joke.

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