Monday, December 19, 2016

‘Collateral Beauty’ explores the wonder of existence

“Collateral Beauty” (2106). Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Jacob Lattimore, Ann Dowd, Kylie Rogers, Mary Beth Peil, Alyssa Cheatham. Director: David Frankel. Screenplay: Allen Loeb. Web site. Trailer.

Reality can be a funny thing. We can be going along just fine when something suddenly comes out of left field to totally disrupt everything. What’s that all about? And how are we supposed to cope? Much depends on how we view the fundamental functioning of existence – and the role we play in it. Those are the issues that play out in the wondrous new holiday offering, “Collateral Beauty.”

When successful New York ad agency owner Howard Inlet (Will Smith) loses his child (Alyssa Cheatham) to a rare illness, his life falls apart. He becomes withdrawn, abandoning virtually all of his personal and professional relationships and disposing of most of his material possessions. He rarely eats, sleeps or speaks, and he spends most of his office time pointlessly setting up elaborate domino arrangements that he takes little joy in when he finally activates them. In fact, about the only contact he has with outsiders is occasional attendance at the meetings of a support group for parents who’ve lost children, sessions moderated by a sensitive facilitator named Madeleine (Naomie Harris).

Needless to say, Howard’s business begins to suffer seriously, largely because he’s no longer putting any time or attention into the company’s most lucrative accounts, many of which are based on the personal relationships he’s cultivated with client contacts over the years. This worries three of his partners, Whit Yardsham (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet) and Simon Scott (Michael Peña), who are helplessly watching the agency racing toward financial ruin. Thankfully, there’s a possible solution to their fiscal woes – a potential buyout. However, for the deal to go through, Whit, Claire and Simon need Howard to vote his majority shares in favor of the deal, and, given his state of mind, it’s unclear he’s even competent enough to grasp the nature of the transaction, let alone see through his part of the plan.

In assessing the situation, Whit, Claire and Simon conclude that their only hope is to somehow get Howard declared mentally unfit to participate in the share vote. They dislike the idea, but they also believe they don’t have any other option. So, to build a case against him, they reluctantly hire private detective Sally Price (Ann Dowd) to follow him in hopes of gathering evidence indicative of his state of mind.

After skulking about behind Howard’s back, Sally collects some intriguing information about her subject. Howard, it seems, is writing letters to vent his feelings, though he’s not penning them to anyone in particular. Rather, he composes (and even mails) missives to abstract concepts – love, time and death. His pointedly critical screeds venomously attack these notions, which is ironic, given that he once credited the impact of these principles with the growth and development of his business.

But are these letters enough to demonstrate the instability of Howard’s mental state? As Claire observes, such writings could be construed as a form of therapy. If she and her collaborators hope to make a case, they need something more substantive, something that can be documented to prove their partner’s allegedly delusional behavior.

Nothing immediately comes to mind, but, one night, while Whit is at home caring for his aging mother (Mary Beth Peil), a stroke survivor, he gets an idea that he shares with Claire and Simon. In the time he has been looking after his mother, Whit has come to realize that her mental state sometimes becomes a bit wonky. He initially tried communicating with her based on his perceptions of reality, but that often became frustrating for both of them, mainly because she couldn’t understand where he was coming from. So, eventually, rather than trying to force her to relate to him on his terms, he began trying to relate to her on her terms, a decision that seemed to solve most of the communications and interpersonal relationship issues.

In light of that, then, Whit proposes that they employ a comparable approach in handling their investigation into Howard’s behavior. After a chance encounter with a trio of talented stage actors, Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Lattimore), Whit suggests hiring them to portray the concepts to whom Howard writes his letters. By talking to Howard on his level, the actors can engage in esoteric exchanges with him, conversations not unlike those that Whit has with his mother. To turn such dialogues into “proof” of Howard’s delusional state, Whit proposes that they be held in very visible, highly public places, with Sally surreptitiously recording the “evidence” in the background. And, to further bolster the strength of their case, Whit recommends making the recordings appear one-sided – by deleting all visual and audio references of the actors. It’s a tactic that no one is especially comfortable with, but, again, Whit, Claire and Simon believe they have no choice if they’re to make their case stick.

Not long thereafter, Brigitte (portraying death), Amy (depicting love) and Raffi (playing time) begin meeting with Howard, carrying out the partners’ plan as envisioned. Interestingly, these dialogues begin drawing Howard out of his self-imposed shell, getting him to address the issues that helped cocoon him in the first place. But what’s even more intriguing is that Whit, Claire and Simon unexpectedly find that they each benefit from their interactions with the actors, too. All of which raises the question, who are these people anyway? Convincing thespians? Benevolent spirits in human guise? Something in between? Or something even more cryptic than that? Such is the mystery that plays out as the story moves toward its conclusion, taking viewers on a journey full of feeling, inspiration and wonder.

“Collateral Beauty” is a profoundly engaging – and largely misunderstood – film, one that explores life’s big issues and how we relate to them. In plumbing the depths of those subjects, the picture makes it quite apparent that how we view such concepts as love, death and time depends greatly on our beliefs about them. That’s a crucial point, too, for our beliefs play a pivotal role in the manifestation of the reality we experience. This is the cornerstone concept underlying the functioning of the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the existence around us through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, in many ways, this picture offers audiences a primer on this philosophy as seen through the experiences of characters in need of grasping these principles to create more fulfilling lives for themselves.

What matters most here is how we react to what we’ve manifested. In particular, do we see our circumstances from the perspective of a half-full or half-empty glass? Are we focused on the collateral damage of our existence? Or do we see the collateral beauty that comes out of it, even from circumstances that otherwise appear devastating? It all depends on the beliefs we employ as the lenses through which we perceive our reality. We can view our losses with utter devastation, as Howard does. Or we can look at everything that comes out of such situations, an analysis that might provide us with meaningful and even joyful insights into them, an approach Madeleine takes in coping with her tragedy.

There are no right or wrong answers in this – only choices. Do we want to choose perpetual disappointment? Or are we willing to choose to cherish the joy we experienced, no matter how fleeting? That’s the key question here.

Choice also figures largely into the lives of Whit, Claire and Simon. Collectively, they feel as though their backs are against the wall where the business is concerned, and they’re decidedly uncomfortable with the choices they make for how to resolve it. They’re convinced that they’ll lose a good friend when they present the evidence against him at a competency hearing before the buyout share vote. But is that a faît accompli? Or is another outcome possible? Given the personal feelings that the partners share for Howard, they clearly care about his well-being. And, considering the opportunities he helped make possible for them, the reverse is true as well. So, in light of that, is it guaranteed that the seeming betrayal they’ve orchestrated against him will necessarily result in ill will? Again, it comes down to the beliefs they all share about the nature of their relationships with one another – interactions that are based on belief choices just as much as those employed in the manifestation of virtually any other type of situation.

Choice also looms large in the beliefs governing the private lives of the various partners. Whit, for example, is divorced from his wife after having had an extramarital affair, an incident that has severely strained his relationship with his young daughter, Allison (Kylie Rogers). Claire, meanwhile, has devoted her life to her career, and, with her biological clock now ticking, she’s concerned she’ll never become the mother she’s always dreamed of being. And Simon, whose health is failing, wrestles with disclosing his condition to his family and co-workers, fearing that such an announcement will cause them great emotional harm.

In all three of these cases, the characters can’t see any way out of their circumstances. They feel locked into positions from which they can’t extract themselves. But, again, as conscious creation provides, there are always choices, even if they aren’t easy ones to make. Given their respective circumstances, they could choose to stay stuck in their mindsets; or they could select alternate paths, following courses of dealing that lessen their loads and make their journeys more rewarding in unimagined ways.

From the foregoing, choice is obviously a key component in belief formation, one that’s inherently highly personal in nature. We need not surrender ourselves to the dictates of philosophical, religious or scientific dogma in shaping our own views of reality. Some might even say conscious creation, as a metaphysical philosophy of its own, is fair game for such criticism. However, in its defense, it at least offers us a comparatively broader range of choices for the beliefs we adhere to and the realities we create. We can certainly choose those other options if we believe they best suit us, but we needn’t do so, either, following our own hearts and minds instead.

In his search to find meaning, Howard is coming to understand this. He attempts to explain himself on this point in an impassioned dialogue with Brigitte in which he runs down the flaws of a litany of philosophical, religious and scientific disciplines, schools of thought that offer the promise of figuring out how life works and why it unfolds as it does but that ultimately come up short. On some level, he knows his happiness and well-being come down to the belief choices he makes, but, as this is a comparatively new concept to him, he’s unclear what to do with it or how to proceed. However, those are precisely the lessons he must learn if he hopes to bring himself out of his imprisoning depression – choosing to be happy and on his terms, based on his choices and beliefs, an option that conscious creation makes possible.

To a great degree, this is where Howard’s interactions with Brigitte, Amy and Raffi prove so valuable. Their dialogues help him unlock his pent-up feelings, bringing his intangible inner beliefs to the surface, manifested as tangible, physically expressed materializations. The actors ostensibly speak to him on his level, just as Whit predicted they would when he came up with the plan to hire them. Brigitte, Amy and Raffi provide Howard with the means to transform his thoughts into actions (even if it’s just talking), something that was not (or that he had not allowed to be) available to him previously. They afford Howard a chance to express his most heartfelt feelings about love, time and death, making themselves available as corporeal sounding boards for expressing his thoughts about these notions. In turn, they also provide Howard with a safe opening for giving life to his beliefs, a sheltered starting point for exploring how he wishes to actively employ them in manifesting his reality going forward.

This principle is reflected in the partners’ relationships with the actors, too. Whit, Claire and Simon are each wrestling with their own issues, and their respective interactions with Amy, Raffi and Brigitte enable them to explore their challenges on their levels. Just as Howard manifested the sounding boards he needed, the partners have done the same, even if they weren’t aware they were doing so at the time they were hired. But then, considering their individual circumstances, who better to deal with a broken heart than love? Who better to address a biological chronometer than time? And who better to reconcile our response to a potentially fatal disease than death?

Some have seen this film’s exploration of the foregoing principles as preposterous, absurd and implausible. But, given the standpoint from which its central narrative springs, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s spot-on when it comes to its examination of conscious creation concepts, and it does so quite elegantly and succinctly. In light of that, in my view, the issue here doesn’t lie with the movie but with those who are criticizing it; maybe they’re having trouble appreciating what the picture has to say because, like Howard and his partners, they, too, are mired in their intractable beliefs about how reality works and unable to envision alternate possibilities. It would indeed be wonderful if they could muster the courage, vision and imagination to open up their perspectives just a bit to see what’s on offer here, to genuinely appreciate the collateral beauty of “Collateral Beauty.”

Admittedly, this offering is somewhat manipulative and more than occasionally sappy, yet it effectively redeems itself with its heartfelt earnestness, clever premise and stellar ensemble cast. To be sure, the writing could have been crisper (especially in the first 30 minutes), the sentimentality could have been turned down a few notches and a stronger lead would have made a better casting choice, yet the film also provides viewers with ample thoughtfulness about how to view life’s big issues.

Given the Christmas backdrop for this story, I’d like to hope that it could eventually become a new holiday classic in the tradition of enchanting and heartwarming pictures like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “A Christmas Carol” (1951) and “The Blind Side” (2009), though it may take some time for the impact of this film’s message and meaning to sink in and become appreciated. In an age of rampant smugness and cynicism (and even more smug and cynical film critics), it’s refreshing to see a movie come along that doesn’t apologize for its own forthright emotionalism or its willingness to rely on a little out-of-the-box magic to make its point. (Remember, no one liked Frank Capra’s Christmas fable when it was originally released either.)

Life’s tragedies can surely knock us down. The question is, do we stay down once we’re there? Do we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by despair over the loss of a loved one, or do we choose to bask in the glow of having had the opportunity to share part of our lives with someone we so adored? It all comes down to what we choose to believe and where we decide to place our focus. We can lament the collateral damage that befalls us, or we can rejoice in the collateral beauty we were so privileged to experience. The choice is ours, and, in the end, that’s the essence of the wonder of existence.

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

Friday, December 16, 2016

‘Jackie’ profiles grace under fire

“Jackie” (2016). Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Caspar Phillipson, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, Richard E. Grant, Sunnie Pelant, Aiden Weinberg, Brody Weinberg, Georgie Glen, Gaspard Koenig, Craig Sechler, Rebecca Compton, Vivienne Vernes. Director: Pablo Larraín. Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim. Web site. Trailer.

How would we cope when tragedy strikes? Would we rise to the occasion or fall apart? What would our priorities be in handling it? And would we allow ourselves to be overcome by the circumstances, getting caught up in rhetorical ruminations about why events have unfolded as they have? Those are among the questions faced by a high-profile public figure wrestling with unspeakable grief in the audacious new biopic, “Jackie.”

November 22, 1963 is a date most of us will never forget, even all these many years later. The nation and the world were sent into a collective shock with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) while his motorcade was traveling through the crowded streets of downtown Dallas, Texas. Many of us felt the pain of this tragedy deeply, so much so that it became personal. But no one was more devastated than his wife, Jackie (Natalie Portman), who was sitting beside him when the fatal gunshots rang out, her now-infamous pink designer suit spattered with the blood of her husband.

Jackie’s life changed in countless ways in an instant, and this newly released biopic attempts to examine the myriad conflicted feelings she was experiencing at the time. In many ways, the film is more of a psychological exploration of a turbulent time in her life than a straightforward recounting of her personal history.

The picture opens a week after the President’s storied funeral, an event whose images have become indelibly seared in our memories (especially for those of us of a certain age). Jackie is in seclusion at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, attempting to sort out what’s next for her and her children, Caroline (Sunnie Pelant) and John Jr. (Aiden Weinberg, Brody Weinberg). In light of what just happened, she seeks the shelter that isolation provides. But, with rampant speculation swirling about what she must be thinking, her firsthand view of the tragic events and how posterity would view the late President’s legacy, she’s compelled to speak out, to let the public know her thoughts and feelings. And so she invites a journalist (Billy Crudup) to visit her at the compound so she can tell her side of the story.

The grace and elegance of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) became known around the world, as depicted in director Pablo Larraín’s new biopic, “Jackie.” Photo by Pablo Larraín, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Through Jackie’s conversations with the journalist – a writer modeled after LIFE magazine scribe Theodore H. White, who met with Jackie at Hyannis Port in the wake of JFK’s assassination – viewers are let in on the most intimate thoughts of the widowed First Lady. Jackie and the journalist touch on a wide array of subjects, ranging from her personal feelings to her concerns for how history would view her husband’s abbreviated presidency, a term in office that lasted a mere two years and nine months, far short of the eight years that many believed he ultimately would have served.

Intercut with these conversations is a series of flashbacks, beginning with Jackie’s televised 1962 tour of the White House after its extensive restoration, a sequence designed to show the poise and grace of the First Lady, qualities that would later come to serve her well when providing a source of inspiration and solace to a grieving public. Flashbacks of the fateful day in Dallas follow, covering everything from the shooting to the swearing in of incoming President Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) to Jackie’s lonely return to the White House. These depictions are followed by a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the planning of the President’s funeral, a grand public memorial patterned after that of another fallen leader, Abraham Lincoln, an event that Jackie researched thoroughly while under the pressure of a significantly compressed time frame.

On their arrival in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963, President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson, left) and First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman, right) greet a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers in the new biopic, “Jackie.” Photo by William Gray, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Public events aside, Jackie also had much to contend with personally; after all, her husband had just been brutally murdered, and she needed to sort out her emotions, largely on her own and under an umbrella of quiet desperation. But, if that weren’t enough, she also had the unenviable tasks of explaining to her children what had happened to their father and hastily having to prepare to move out of the White House (and on to an uncertain future) to make way for the new President.

Fortunately, she had remarkable support from her longtime friend and confidante Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and her brother-in-law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard). However, even their ample compassion and encouragement weren’t enough to help Jackie resolve her many emotional and spiritual questions, the kinds of issues that only one skilled in guidance and counseling could offer. That’s where Jackie’s meetings with a priest (John Hurt) proved invaluable. Views of those intimate talks are thus woven into the narrative, intercut among the conversations with the journalist and the flashbacks. These dialogues are quite engaging in that they don’t dissolve into spoutings of empty platitudes. Jackie speaks pragmatically, uninhibited in candidly expressing herself and freely touching on everything from her husband’s infidelity to the horror of his killing to her love and devotion for him in spite of everything.

Incoming President Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch, center) is sworn into office as successor to assassinated President John F. Kennedy as incoming First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (Beth Grant, left) and widowed First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman, right) look on in “Jackie.” Photo by Bruno Calvo, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Taken together, the film paints a portrait of a complicated individual, an enigmatic, larger-than-life public figure who also happened to be a real person with genuine human thoughts, feelings and emotions. We witness the strength she demonstrated publicly during the solemn yet highly visible events in the aftermath of her husband’s death, as well as the private vulnerability she struggled with in her personal seclusion. We thus come to see Jackie as a complete person, one not that very different from the rest of us, in her attempt to hold everything together under phenomenally extraordinary circumstances.

Like many of us who lived through that tragic period, Jackie desperately sought to understand why events played out as they did. Having been raised a devout Roman Catholic, she placed considerable faith in her religion and its teachings. But, given everything she endured during the fateful days of November 1963, not to mention the frustrations, trials and tribulations she experienced prior to that (such as the loss of two children and her husband’s less-than-veiled dalliances), she wondered how a supposedly loving God could allow such incidents to occur.

Her faith in her fellow countrymen was tested in the wake of JFK’s death, too. The President made his trip to Texas in part to help shore up his support in the state with the 1964 election looming, But Texas was unfriendly territory in many ways, too. Some of his progressive policies were vehemently opposed, with some detractors even going so far as to create “Wanted” signs with Kennedy’s image emblazoned upon them. She wondered how this could be in a country that supposedly adhered to the notion of everyone being created equal with liberty and justice for all.

Upon arriving back in Washington, widowed First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman, right) is joined by her grieving brother-in-law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard, left), in director Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie.” Photo by Pablo Larraín, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

What’s more, as noted earlier, Jackie was also concerned with how posterity would view her husband’s time in office. She saw the tremendous potential JFK possessed as a leader, one who was capable of accomplishing great things but who barely had an opportunity to scratch the surface of what he hoped to achieve. Would the public remember him for his civil rights initiatives and his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, or would his legacy be characterized by events like the Bay of Pigs incident?

In short, Jackie struggled with trying to understand why she was burdened by all this, as well as how she was supposed to respond to it. And that must have been devastatingly difficult; after all, these events affected her personally, not just by extension as a constituent. In planning the funeral, for example, her thoughts regarding the staging of a grand memorial vacillated between seeing it as a fitting tribute to a fallen leader and something indulgent that she was doing for the benefit of her own emotional needs. Under circumstances like this, one could argue that it’s entirely feasible to legitimately view the grandeur of that event from either of those perspectives. But what was it really?

In situations like this, our perceptions are colored by our beliefs, which are ultimately responsible for the manifestation of the events as they unfold. That’s the essence of the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize (and subsequently interpret) the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, as implausible as it might be to examine circumstances such as these from a philosophical standpoint, the principle nevertheless validly applies here just as much as it would with any other materialization.

Jackie’s role in the manifestation of this very public drama was pivotal. As devastated as she was personally, as the now-widowed First Lady, she also realized she needed to serve as a symbol of public strength to a grieving nation. She poured her energy into the creation of events that allowed her fellow Americans, as well as the citizens of the world, to adequately express their despair and to suitably show their appreciation and gratitude to a leader whose time at the helm was cut short. In doing so, she made it possible to realize the manifestation of a tribute befitting someone of presidential stature, an event that went a long way toward helping to frame the legacy for JFK that she hoped to cultivate.

Jackie also assumed the role of a pillar of strength in her personal dealings. She did what she could, for instance, to reciprocate the support her brother-in-law Bobby showed her (after all, he had just lost his brother and was grieving himself at the same time he was trying to console her). And then there were the children, both of whom were quite young at the time; she needed to break the news of their father’s death to them tactfully but in a way that they would understand what had happened. She even tried to preserve as much of a sense of normality as possible, as evidenced by the party she hosted for John Jr.’s birthday, which fell in the middle of the tragic events.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) presides over her late husband’s casket in preparation for transport to the Capitol rotunda in “Jackie.” Photo by Bruno Calvo, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

At the same time Jackie was trying to be the face of courage for the nation, she also took symbolic steps to make her personal feelings known publicly. When Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office, for example, she attended the ceremony aboard Air Force One wearing the same blood-stained outfit that she wore at the time of her husband’s shooting. Despite encouragement from others to change her clothes for an event that was certain to be documented photographically, Jackie refused. She wanted those who openly wished ill will toward JFK to clearly see the quiet anger and the personally devastating fallout that emerged from the violent act that took him down. Some may have seen this purely as an act aimed at generating sympathy, but Jackie saw it differently. She knew what she was doing, firm in her beliefs that her actions would send a message that would significantly shape public perceptions.

Still, despite Jackie’s admirable responses to all of these challenges, the underlying question that kept arising through them was trying to understand the meaning of it all. Jackie certainly did her best to look inward and find the answers – only to find that they were elusive. Those sentiments were even echoed back to her by the priest, who told Jackie during one of their conversations that “There comes a time in man’s search for meaning when one realizes that there are no answers.”

In light of that, then, what is one to do under such conditions? From a conscious creation standpoint, this is where learning to have faith in our creations becomes vitally important. Since our manifestations mirror our beliefs, then the materializations that arise from them originate from us. That, in turn, means that there’s something that comes out of them that we’re meant to learn or experience, even if we can’t fully appreciate the essence of the creation at the time of its appearance. Indeed, Jackie probably never heard of conscious creation, but, through her acts and deeds during those difficult days, we can see the impact she and her beliefs had at the time (and subsequently) through what they manifested. Even in the midst of her profound personal grief, she still served as a source of strength and inspiration to those who witnessed her efforts and gestures at that time.

Given Jackie’s circumstances, audiences may not view some of the priest’s advice as especially compassionate or even appropriate. However, just as Jackie tried to reassure her kids that everything would be alright, the priest tried to do the same for her, gently nudging her to recognize that, despite the recent tragedy, she still had much of her life ahead of her, that she could start anew and reinvent herself. But, in coming back, she would have to take things one step at a time, living in the moment as she moved forward into the future.

When widowed First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman, right) seeks solace over her loss, she confers with a priest (John Hurt, left) for comfort and guidance in the new biopic, “Jackie.” Photo by Pablo Larraín, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

That’s a cornerstone principle of the conscious creation process, the notion that the point of power is in the present moment. And, to a great degree, Jackie grasped this idea in her own way, especially when looking back upon her days in the White House with Jack. During her conversations with the journalist, Jackie speaks fondly of how she and her husband would often listen to the phonograph before going to sleep at night, their favorite record being the Broadway cast soundtrack of the Lerner and Loewe musical, Camelot. The couple identified with the music and the story it told, the epic days of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere during the Knights of the Round Table era, a glorious time, brief though it may have been. Jack and Jackie saw many parallels between their days in the White House and those of the residents of Camelot, a period when would-be heroic figures sought to accomplish great things and make the most out of each moment in which they lived. They relished the promise of their age in the same way that Arthur and Guinevere did in theirs.

Unfortunately, Jack and Jackie didn’t envision the brevity of their golden days, an irony that also paralleled the experience of their fictional counterparts. Still, in looking back on her White House years after JFK’s death, Jackie saw the splendor of those brief shining moments that she and her husband shared during that time. She relates these memories to the journalist, even seeing her time in Washington as a modern-day Camelot, a notion that would come to define the nature of the Kennedy presidency – a heritage that has lingered to this day. Even if such a view wasn’t necessarily accurate, as many observers have come to see since then, the image nevertheless persists. Crafting that legacy was chiefly Jackie’s creation, because she believed in its veracity. We can thus thank her for this fond recollection of a strong leader and a storied time in American history, images that still inspire those who aspire to their own personal greatness today. And that’s Jackie’s legacy, the gift of someone capable of elevating us about our own ambitions, even in the face of adversity, allowing our own grace under fire to emerge and blossom.

From the foregoing description, it’s obvious that “Jackie” is far from a typical biopic. The film features a stellar performance by Portman, who supremely captures the protagonist’s look, mannerisms and vocal inflections, right down to Jackie’s distinctive lilting manner of speech. In delivering her portrayal, she’s backed by a first-class supporting cast (with the exception of Sarsgaard, who, regrettably, is very much out of his league here). The picture’s meticulous re-creation of historic events, combined with superb production values in all of its technical areas (costumes, hair and makeup, production design, cinematography), make for an elegant look on the screen, one that captivates in many ways.

Considering the unique approach taken in telling Jackie’s story, the film effectively shows the many sides of its subject, both privately and publicly and in both her positive and less-flattering moments. However, at the same time, this alternate take on the biographical genre sometimes feels like it’s lacking something, especially when it comes to pulling in viewers emotionally (something that should have been easy to accomplish given the story’s subject matter). Audiences may find themselves coming away from the film realizing what a complex individual Jackie Kennedy was, though we never get as close to her as many of us might have thought we would going into the theater. The film’s uneven soundtrack – sometimes sublimely fitting, at other times comically jarring in its dissonance – and its somewhat-jumbled handling of the seminal events and their aftermath don’t always work, either, occasionally leaving viewers a bit confused about the timeline.

Despite the unevenness of director Pablo Larraín’s finished product, the picture has garnered its share of accolades. In the recent Critics Choice Awards, the film took home three statues (best lead actress, costumes, hair and makeup) on six total nominations. It has also earned its share of honors in upcoming awards competitions, including four nods in the Independent Spirit Awards program (best picture, female lead, director, editing), as well as best actress nominations in the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award contests.

When misfortune strikes, the mettle of our character is sure to be tested. But, based on the magnitude of such calamities, coupled with our beliefs and experience in such matters, it’s hard to know how we’ll respond until we find ourselves in the thick of things. That’s where sources of inspiration, like that demonstrated by Jackie Kennedy during her own unthinkable tragedy, can prove valuable in helping us cope. We can only hope that we’re able to muster the same grace under fire that she did when a family – and a nation – needed her most.

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Check out Reviewers Roundtable!

Join me and fellow reviewers Miriam Knight and Cynthia Sue Larson this Wednesday, December 14, when we’ll get together to discuss some of the latest book and movie releases on the quarterly Reviewers Roundtable broadcast of New Consciousness Review radio on the OmTimes Radio Network. Tune in at 2 pm ET by clicking here, or listen to the podcast on demand thereafter. Join us for some lively chat!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mea Culpa

My apologies to those expecting to see my latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network. Regrettably, the network's web site was senselessly hacked, preventing new entries from being posted and, even more disturbingly, wiping out all of the existing posts. Events like this just make one wonder what's to be gained from such pointless acts.

In any event, network creator Frankie Picasso assures me that a new web site is being constructed, and new Movies with Meaning entries will resume once it's available. As for the archived entries, I'm afraid they're probably gone for good, but, if there's anything in particular that anyone would like information about, please feel free to contact me at, and I'll see what I can do.

The good news is that the network's archived podcasts, including Frankie's own Mission Unstoppable and Frankiesense & More radio shows, are unaffected by this unfortunate attack, since they're hosted on a separate site. This includes the latest Frankiesense & More podcast with this month's Movies with Meaning segment, which originally aired on Thursday December 8 and is now available for on-demand listening by clicking here.

Once again, my apologies for this inconvenience, but I look forward to the web site's return, bigger and better than ever!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

On the Radio This Week

Because of the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays, this month’s Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio is being moved up two weeks to this Thursday, December 8 at 1 pm ET. Join host Frankie Picasso and me as we examine several new film releases. Tune in live or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk by clicking here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Keeping Ourselves Honest

When life doesn’t turn out as hoped for, we often scratch our heads in bewilderment. “Why did that happen?” we ask ourselves. It's at that point when we should probably take a look at the integrity of the beliefs that manifested such experiences. Find out more by reading "Keeping Ourselves Honest," my latest article in the Conscious Cinema series of New Consciousness Review magazine, available by clicking here.

In addition, this latest edition of the magazine features the HAPI Guide, a valuable resource that lists the profiles and contact information of professionals whose practices focus on Happiness, Awakening, Purpose and Inspiration. The listings cover professionals working in a wide range of services and disciplines. (You just might find a profile for someone you know, too.) And, as always, there's an array of articles covering many topics from spirituality to healthy living, so be sure to check it out to find everything it has to offer!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Judges Have Spoken

My thanks to the judges of the 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards competition for their thoughtful analyses of my books, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction, both of which I entered in the contest. Their kind words and generous support of my work are truly appreciated, and I wanted to share their insights with the readers of this blog.

Both books were entered in the Inspirational category and were judged on the following criteria: Structure, Organization, and Pacing; Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar; Production Quality and Cover Design; and Voice and Writing Style. Each area of evaluation was graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding.” And I’m pleased to announce that both books scored 5 across the board.

As for the specific comments of the judges, here’s what they had to say about each title:

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment

GET THE PICTURE?! CONSCIOUS CREATION GOES TO THE MOVIES by Brent Marchant is a superb book that amazingly combines two disparate topics: movies and metaphysics, for an excellent read. This book will especially appeal to students of metaphysics, and will enlighten and entertain movie aficionados as well.

“Interesting that the title uses an interrobang sentence. I’m sure that will get attention! The cover is well done. I like the colors, and the eye in the lens. Very creative. The back cover copy is well done and tells what the reader can expect. The author photo is nice, and the information on the author is wonderful. I like how the author gives his readers several ways to contact him on the Internet. In this age when readers want to stay in touch with their favorite authors, this is a great marketing tool.

“The author chooses excellent movies that are well known to ardent movie lovers. Those who keep up with movies and want to explore their deeper meaning will love this book. Reading this book is akin to taking a college course in cinema – but without the high price tag. Believe me, I know. I took two courses in cinema in college – one in European film and the other in American film. I never looked at films the same way again – and neither will the readers of GET THE PICTURE?! Nice work.”

Source: Judge, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment

CONSCIOUSLY CREATED CINEMA: THE MOVIE LOVER’S GUIDE TO THE LAW OF ATTRACTION by Brent Marchant is an excellent book for those who want to see the deeper meaning behind many popular movies. A fascinating book for cinema lovers and those who want to know more about the Law of Attraction.

“The cover is amazing. Very creative. I like the colors and how the eye’s pupil is a camera lens. The back cover copy is excellent. The blurb tells the reader the book’s purpose. The author photo is great, and the author biography tells the reader why Brent Marchant is uniquely qualified to write this book. I like that he also shares where to find him online, and even his email address. I hope he doesn’t get too overwhelmed by his IN box!

“Inside, page after page of endorsements really are impressive. I like that the chapters are well laid out, showing the reader which movies are being covered. The reader can choose to read the book in sequence, by the movie, or by the subject such as “Perspective” and “Change.” I thought the entry on “The Social Network” under The Power of Belief was especially good. This is a great book to present as a gift to the movie lover. The unique and thoughtful perspective will be appreciated.

“All in all, a great book that skillfully covers the topics. Nice work.”

Source: Judge, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

It’s always gratifying to hear such positive feedback about one’s work. I hope my readers share the judges’ opinion. If you would like to find out, you can learn more about these titles by clicking here and here. Happy reading!

Cover designs by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment