Friday, March 30, 2018

‘Keep the Change’ looks at love in its own unique way

“Keep the Change” (2017 production, 2018 release). Cast: Brandon Polansky, Samantha Elisofon, Jessica Walter, Tibor Feldman, Will Deaver, Nicky Gottlieb, Gabe Rhodes, Dylan Rothbein, Dorsey Massey, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Christina Brucato, Anna Suzuki, Sondra James. Director: Rachel Israel. Screenplay: Rachel Israel. Source material: “Keep the Change,” short film (2013). Web site. Trailer.

It’s been said that love knows no bounds. But how widely are most of us willing to apply that notion? Does that include only the limited sorts of romantic circumstances with which we’re most familiar? Or are we capable of envisioning it on a broader scale, applying it to scenarios that aren’t neatly compartmentalized into tidy little boxes? For those who have special needs or who represent constituencies outside the mainstream, we may not readily consider their situations and requirements, even though the need is just as valid – and viable – as it is for the rest of us. Those are among the issues explored in the inventive new romantic comedy, “Keep the Change.”

When David Cohen (Brandon Polansky) is assigned to attend sessions at a support group for adults with special needs, he’s not thrilled with the idea. Having committed some kind of minor, unspecified criminal infraction, the 30-year-old would-be filmmaker is ordered to spend some time at Connections, an organization aimed at assisting adults living with various forms of autism and learning disabilities. But David, who lives a comparative life of privilege with his affluent parents, Carrie (Jessica Walter) and Lenny (Tibor Feldman), strongly resents the idea, finding the group, its participants and its programs unduly limiting. And, after his first session, he rails at having to go back. However, Carrie convinces him to return in order to restore all of the rights and privileges to which he’s grown accustomed.

Not all is lost, however. During his time at Connections, David gradually becomes acquainted with another of the organization’s clients, Sarah Silverstein (Samantha Elisofon), a bubbly, enthusiastic, fully engaged participant in many of the program’s available activities. Although David initially finds Sarah somewhat annoying, a mutual attraction slowly simmers, especially when she unreservedly admits that she finds the newcomer “smokin’ hot.” Before long, David and Sarah become an item, with the warmth between them obvious for all to see.

But not everyone is thrilled about the new couple’s romance. Sarah’s onetime beau, Will (Will Deaver), for example, is more than a little jealous. Carrie and Lenny have their reservations, too, convinced that Sarah is a gold-digger, someone not worthy of their son’s affections (or assets). What’s more, the relationship itself is not without its challenges, given the condition (and attendant ramifications) that each of them must cope with. Considering their lack of “filters,” for instance, each of them unwittingly engage in what some might characterize as inappropriate behavior, creating potentially embarrassing or awkward circumstances for themselves, with each other and for those around them.

Adult autism support group members David Cohen (Brandon Polansky, left) and Sarah Silverstein (Samantha Elisofon, right) get off to a rocky start but slowly build a loving relationship in the charming new romantic comedy, “Keep the Change.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Nevertheless, David and Sarah show us what it means to really be in love, no matter what others may think, say or do. They thus demonstrate the undeniable power of this emotion and what it can do for us in transforming our lives – and in allowing us to truly be ourselves. In fact, in some ways, the couple may have an advantage over pairs with more traditional sensibilities because of their lack of the aforementioned filters. They don’t know how to be phony, letting their true selves, feelings and beliefs come flowing forth.

That can be a decided advantage when it comes to employing the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience though the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Those who tend to get the best results with this practice do so when these underlying metaphysical building blocks are expressed in their truest (i.e., least tainted) sense. The thoughts, beliefs and intents in those situations are honest, unfettered by the often-contrived (and less than genuine) considerations designed to accommodate what are often seen as perfectly acceptable social graces, taboos and personal façades. The absence of these forms of artifice thus allows David and Sarah to be themselves and to express themselves freely, without reservation.

Because of this, one gets the impression that those who operate from such a standpoint probably have the best chances of creating workable, harmonious relationships. They needn’t worry about pretense or the “what would people think” issues that frequently inhibit – and may even sabotage – the success of many other pairings.

The principles involved in this are applicable to more than just romance, too. Taking such a direct, integrity-laden approach to our beliefs makes it possible to achieve desired outcomes more easily in pursuing virtually any form of endeavor or in manifesting any other aspect of our existence. Indeed, those of us who are uncomfortable around such unencumbered individuals – or who may even feel “embarrassed” for the nature of their situations – could end up learning a lot from these unlikely role models, especially in terms of being honest with ourselves, our beliefs and what we intend to manifest with them.

When an adult autism support group member announces his budding new romance to his affluent parents, Carrie (Jessica Walter, left) and Lenny Cohen (Tibor Feldman, right), he’s met with a less-than-enthusiastic response when they reveal their concerns, as seen in the new independent release, “Keep the Change.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

A large part of the success David and Sarah experience stems from their willingness to think outside the box, to sincerely ask themselves “why not?” when it comes to forging a relationship of their own. This requires an aptitude for envisioning alternatives that aren’t necessarily mainstream. It also calls for shedding the fears that can hold us back and keep us from attaining the true happiness that’s just a few unconventional beliefs away.

Through their experience, then, David and Sarah show us much about love and life. While it’s true they may have their share of challenges to contend with, they also have skills to teach us, abilities that we can adapt to produce fulfilling outcomes for ourselves, be it in love or otherwise.

Based on a short subject by the same name, “Keep the Change” represents an impressive feature film debut for director Rachel Israel, one that’s justifiably been drawing raves among both critics and audiences. This touching, sweet romantic comedy has a definite point of view, as well as a definite edge, one that takes chances other films in this genre probably could not get away with (don’t be surprised if you often find yourself snickering at things you think you shouldn’t be laughing about). The heartfelt romance between the developmentally challenged leads comes across as nothing but genuine while successfully maintaining a high degree of irreverence and ever-present unpredictability. And the filmmaker’s bold decisions to cast actors coping with autism and to employ innovative directorial techniques designed to encourage spontaneity among the cast members add ample degrees of authenticity that make the picture truly unique and wholly believable. This charming offering definitely pokes fun at a lot of sacred cows while simultaneously poking viewers in the ribs virtually nonstop from start to finish. It’s a flat-out winner for sure.

What begins awkwardly slowly builds into a solid romance between adult autism support group members David Cohen (Brandon Polansky, left) and Sarah Silverstein (Samantha Elisofon, right) in director Rachel Israel’s acclaimed debut feature, “Keep the Change.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Some may find the notion that “love conquers all” a little naïve, perhaps even unrealistic. Yet, as many of us well know, it can prove to be a valuable ally in helping us deal with difficult circumstances, especially those that might otherwise sap all of the life and enthusiasm out of us. So, in circumstances like that, it’s comforting to know that it can help steer us through the rough patches and make them more tolerable – maybe even outright enjoyable – especially when we find the right companion to come along with us for the journey.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

‘The Death of Stalin’ skewers unrestrained ambition

“The Death of Stalin” (2017 production, 2018 release). Cast: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Adrian McLoughlin, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine, Olga Kurylenko, Dermot Crowley, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Rupert Friend, Tom Brooke, Karl Johnson, Diana Quick, Gerald Lepkowski. Director: Armando Iannucci. Writers: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows. Original Screenplay: Fabien Nury. Comic Book Source Material: Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, The Death of Stalin. Web site. Trailer.

When opportunity knocks, it may be tempting to pursue it with all the gusto we can muster. The rewards awaiting us can be incalculable. But what if such a quest prompts us to engage in questionable, almost Machiavellian behavior? Is the prize still worth it if we must go to such extreme, unethical, immoral lengths? It probably depends on one’s mindset and ambition, qualities examined in detail in the dark new political satire, “The Death of Stalin.”

In 1953, longtime Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) met his demise, opening up the door to a host of prospective new leaders. But, like the aggressive residents of a koi pond all jumping over one another to get to the fish food tossed their way, the coterie of would-be successors who once unabashedly sucked up to the old man eagerly began positioning themselves for a power grab, their true intentions and natures at last surfacing. However, given the complicated dynamics of this situation, who would come out on top? For each of the contenders, this represented a challenge that meant balancing a number of complex issues, some personal, some political – and all of them heavily invested in self-interest.

The leading candidate was Stalin’s deputy, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). But, as a weak-willed, often-clueless apparatchik, he often didn’t know what to do now that he didn’t have his boss around to dictate his every move. Then there was rising politico Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), a savvy operator who claimed to be a reformer but who always looked out after himself first, never hesitating to screw over others in the inner circle if it would work to his advantage. Of course, Malenkov and Khrushchev also had to deal with Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), the sinister, scheming head of the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police force, which was known for its efficiency in making enemies of the state – or the premier – disappear on a moment’s notice.

As the big three battled it out, several other ministers (Michael Palin, Dermot Crowley, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi) vied for their place in the thick of things, too. But they, like everyone else, also had to contend with the involvement and influence of others, such as Stalin’s children, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), a somewhat-sheltered but often-hysterical protector of her now-deceased doting father’s reputation, and Vasily (Rupert Friend), a manic, self-important ne’er-do-well with alcohol issues and a history of being shuttled off to projects to keep him occupied (and out of sight) but who now wanted to play an active role in glorifying his old man’s legacy. And then there was Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), head of the Soviet Red Army and a decorated World War II hero, who wanted to make sure his voice was heard, especially now that Beria and the NKVD were trying to marginalize the role of the military and his influence in affairs of state. Meanwhile, lurking in the background were dissidents like concert pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), who quietly tried to undermine everything – and may have unwittingly had more influence in setting off this scenario than anyone knew.

Set against this backdrop, then, the games – and gamesmanship – began as the country’s leadership (if one could call it that) attempted to sort out its challenges and find direction for its future, a process that proved far easier said than done. With everyone trying to one-up one another, unlikely alliances began to form, arrangements that led to outcomes even more unpredictable than anyone might have imagined.

While this story is loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on the truth, it nevertheless illustrates the pitfalls inherent in these kinds of power struggles. What’s more, even though this story is superficially a dark comedy, it’s ostensibly a potent cautionary tale, one that might easily be viewed as no laughing matter, given the actions that take place and the stakes involved for the population of an entire nation, if not the whole world.

An ailing, incapacitated Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin, foreground) is surrounded by wannabe successors to the Soviet leader, including Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi, left), an up-and-coming politico, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor, second from left), Stalin’s lapdog deputy, and Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale, right), head of the secret police, in the outrageous new dark comedy, “The Death of Stalin.” Photo by Nicola Dove, courtesy of IFC Films.[/caption]

If things don’t always work out as planned for the principals, it’s largely due to the thoughts, beliefs and intents they each harbor, the cornerstones of the conscious creation process and, by extension, the building blocks of the respective realities they manifest for themselves. Given that this process faithfully materializes what we’re focused on, it naturally follows that the existences we experience will reflect their source material, right down to the finest of particulars, whether or not we’re fully cognizant of what they are. The would-be politicos depicted here are by no means immune from this, either, so, if they hope to get the results they want, they – like us – need to have a good grasp on the nature of their beliefs in every respect.

As often happens, however, we may have a handle on the basic thrust of our intents but lack an awareness or understanding of the nuances that further define them – and frequently have influence over how the resulting outcomes manifest. For instance, for the aspiring leaders who claim to be reformers of the brutality of the Stalinist system, they may genuinely believe in the nobility of their cause but lack mindfulness of some of the measures that may be required to achieve that end. The presumed “need” of eliminating enemies who get in the way, for example, might get overlooked or could be viewed as merely part of the process of attaining “a greater good.” In circumstances like that, the manifesting beliefs associated with such “pesky details” may easily be ignored or dispensed with, conveniently rationalized away in the name of “progress,” despite the actual nature of the acts required and the underlying intents involved. But, hey, if an adversary needs to be bumped off to achieve a laudable outcome, there’s nothing wrong in that, is there?

This is where the conscious creation process can get tricky. When our beliefs are qualified by other related intents, the outcomes are generally imbued with elements that embody those underlying qualifying aspects, whether we like it or not. But, because we’re unaware of those influences or willfully choose to ignore them, we may find ourselves disappointed when such results show up as part of the mix. This leaves us with new challenges to sort out, which could prompt new materializing beliefs that are, in their own way, just as compromised as those that led to the unexpected outcomes in the first place.

In many instances like this, such warped results arise from a fundamental intent of attaining success at any cost, regardless of the associated fallout, a practice sometimes called un-conscious creation or creation by default. In such scenarios, we often take an approach that essentially assumes a stance of “consequences be damned.” But that kind of willful shortsightedness nearly always carries unanticipated complications that can range from annoying to catastrophic.

In cases like this, we frequently engage in a practice known as pushing the Universe, our divine collaborator in the conscious creation process. As those well versed in this philosophy know, the energetic and metaphysical co-collaborative resources provided by the Universe are designed to work toward the faithful fulfillment of our underlying thoughts, beliefs and intents. To that end, as it’s often said, the Universe naturally “leans in our direction,” giving us exactly what we need when we need it. However, if we become too aggressive in our approach, we may end up trying to force matters by poking and prodding our collaborator to bring about the results we seek on our time and terms. This usually leads to compromises in the source materials behind our manifestations, which, in turn, frequently result in outcomes reflective of those concessions – as well as disillusionment and unwanted disappointments.

Is that what we really want? Probably not. But it’s what we’re often left to contend with when we don’t pay close attention to our beliefs, as the Keystone Cops of Communism find out for themselves in this film. Seeking power may not be a regrettable goal in itself, but, when its pursuit becomes unduly tainted by intents that cause such a quest to become perverted or compromised in unintended ways, that quickly becomes a problem, one that may carry implications far removed from what was originally envisioned.

Keeping up appearances of grief proves challenging for the would-be successors to Soviet strong man Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin, background), most notably up-and-coming politico Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi, middle) and deputy head of state Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor, second from right), in “The Death of Stalin.” Photo by Nicola Dove, courtesy of IFC Films.[/caption]

The cautions in this should be obvious. But, all seriousness aide, “The Death of Stalin: is nevertheless a devilishly funny romp that skewers the lunacy of bureaucracy and the buffoonish behavior of the power hungry (the fact that it’s based on a comic book of all things should say a lot about it!) The film’s stellar international cast, combined with a wickedly funny script and endless touches of high camp, make for uproariously funny viewing. Not all of the jokes work, and sometimes the film gets a little too political for its own good, but, these shortcomings aside, director Armando Iannucci serves up loads of big laughs, an effort that earned the picture BAFTA Award nominations for best adapted screenplay and best British feature film. Enjoy, comrade!

Getting what we want need not be a difficult process unless we make it so, and that’s where this picture gives us an excellent look at the pitfalls involved in such distorted game plans. And the message here is by no means limited to the comic madness of the now-defunct Soviet system as it entered into its long, slow, inevitable decline. Those of us who live under conditions afflicted with comparable problems should pay attention if we hope to avoid a similar outcome where we, too, find ourselves eventually coming apart at the seams.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

‘A Wrinkle in Time’ illustrates how to grow into ourselves

“A Wrinkle in Time” (2018). Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Zach Galifinakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, Rowa Blanchard, David Oyelowo, Daniel MacPherson, Conrad Roberts, Yvette Cason, Will McCormack, Bellamy Young, Lyric Wilson. Director: Ava DuVernay. Screenplay: Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell. Book: Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Web site. Trailer.

Life’s challenges sometimes appear daunting, especially to those of us still growing into our maturity. We may see life as unfair and insurmountable, conditions that lead to frustration and behaviors that ultimately don’t adequately prepare us for what lies ahead. But this doesn’t mean we should just roll over in the face of these circumstances; we can grab ahold of our personal power and look for inventive ways to resolve these matters. And finding out what that means is an undertaking explored in the whimsical new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

When physicist Alex Murry (Chris Pine) goes missing, his disappearance creates a mystery – and a variety of problems. At the time he vanished, Alex had been studying the theoretical notion of folding over time, creating a “wrinkle” in the fabric of the Universe that would make it possible to traverse great distances instantaneously. This audacious idea was groundbreaking but largely considered implausible by Alex’s peers, who openly laughed at him when he publicly presented his theory. Even Alex’s scientist wife, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who helped him develop the concept, believed that he should proceed cautiously in publicizing it, given its radical nature and the fact that not all of the details were worked out, conditions that left him open to ridicule.

But Alex, eager to see things though, was undeterred by the doubt and scorn. And, even though the nature of his disappearance was never officially confirmed, those close to him believe that he figured out how to make things work and went on a journey across the cosmos. But was this indeed true? And, if so, where was he now?

Physicist Alex Murry (Chris Pine) tests out his inventive theory about how to instantaneously traverse the Universe in Disney’s new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.[/caption]

Alex’s unexpected absence creates more than a scientific conundrum; it also raises a number of issues for his family, especially his 13-year-old daughter, Meg (Storm Reid). As a bright but somewhat temperamental teen, she experiences the usual adolescent issues of fitting in, challenges made worse by her dad’s absence and by the routine taunting she receives from those who mock her father and his ideas. These circumstances land her in trouble at school, further complicating her life.

All is not lost, though, thanks in large part to the support Meg receives from her protective, encouraging friend, Calvin (Levi Miller), and her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a prodigy who believes in his older sister’s ability to resolve her challenges. However, Charles Wallace has even higher hopes for Meg; he believes she’s capable of finding their missing dad.

Before long, Charles Wallace introduces Meg to a trio of magical interdimensional guides whom he believes can help her find Alex, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). They share insights into how Meg can proceed with her quest, providing the means and the wisdom to move forward. And so, in no time, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin, accompanied by their guides, pass through their own wrinkle in time to search for the missing scientist.

Troubled teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid) faces a variety of challenges at home and in school when her physicist father mysteriously disappears in the inspiring new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.[/caption]

As their journey unfolds, the travelers visit a number of beautiful and mystical locales where they meet a number of unusual individuals, such as a seer known as the Happy Medium (Zach Galifinakis). But, even with the newfound knowledge and experience they amass during their trek, Meg and company are no closer to finding Alex. Eventually their travels take them to a foreboding land known as Camazotz, a place characterized by ever-present deception and an ever-growing evil. If this band of seekers is ever to achieve their goal, they’ll need to tackle a number of additional challenges, many of which relate to their personal growth and development. But, if successful, they’ll be able to embrace skills and traits that they can employ in taking on the perils of Camazotz – and that, one hopes, they can take back home with them (that is, if they ever manage to escape).

Fortunately, Meg and company figure out ways to rise to the occasion, thanks in large part to the principles of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we materialize the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. While this band of explorers may have never heard of this discipline, they nevertheless engage in many practices reflective of its concepts, as evidenced by the results they attain.

For instance, extraordinary challenges require extraordinary measures to overcome them, something that innately calls for thinking outside the box. As Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace wend their way through their journey, they’re frequently called upon to do this, conceiving of and implementing the means and methods to succeed in their tasks. This may push them outside of their respective comfort zones, especially when it involves considering and making use of ideas that run counter to the restraints of the conventional wisdom (something they run up against routinely in their everyday dealings before embarking on their quest). However, when they see the payoffs that come from such unconventional undertakings, they can take pride in having successfully embraced and employed these notions.

Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), a sage old soul, is one of three metaphysical guides charged with aiding a troubled teen search for her missing father across the cosmos in the new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.[/caption]

Of course, making such bold moves and surpassing such restrictions takes courage, specifically a willingness to confront and conquer our fears, something that often holds us back in our lives and manifestation efforts. By doing this, however, we can successfully forge ahead, making it possible to implement innovative solutions that solve our problems and empower us as masters of our destiny. That’s quite a bargain for being willing to take a few chances now and then, especially if we believe in the realization of our desired outcomes, as well as our own abilities.

This is not to suggest that we should proceed recklessly; it means assessing our prospective beliefs carefully, evaluating the intellectual and intuitional input that goes into their creation, selecting the belief candidates that appear more likely to succeed, and putting them into place. This is the power of discernment at work, a key component in the efficient functioning of the conscious creation process. It’s something that may take a little trial and error to perfect, but it often proves invaluable, especially when we find ourselves embroiled in our own personal versions of Camazotz. It’s a skill that helps us cut through the deception, and the examples set by Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace provide valuable insight into how we can make use of it.

Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a magical, shape-shifting spirit, helps a troubled teen search for her missing father across the dimensions of the cosmos in director Ava DuVernay’s latest release, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.[/caption]

Taken together, experiences with these principles reveal to the intrepid travelers aspects of themselves that they were unaware of before launching into their journey. Coming face to face with parts of ourselves we never knew existed can prove quite revelatory, not to mention personally empowering. It shows that we have talents that we can employ in addressing all kinds of challenges, as well as in pursuing ventures we may have never previously considered. To that end, the travelers’ multidimensional adventures are inherently a metaphor for their multidimensional selves, showing them their true nature and providing them a valuable learning experience in how to tap into it.

Thus, as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin explore these far-flung exotic dimensions, they learn a variety of valuable life lessons, teachings that are just as pertinent to their peers in the viewing audience as they are to the characters on screen. In that regard, then, the film is highly instructive to impressionable young minds in need of hefty doses of such noble qualities as responsible thinking, courtesy, consideration, compassion and personal self-empowerment. That’s not a bad message for those growing up in an age typified by rampant cynicism, self-absorption, incessant fear mongering and less-than-honorable behavior.

Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), a storehouse of inspirational quotes, provides insights that help a troubled teen search for her missing father in “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.[/caption]

However, with that said, “A Wrinkle in Time” is also a frustrating watch at times. As ambitious as it is, the picture is somewhat uneven, an issue attributable mainly to its problem-ridden screenplay. Having not read the Madeleine L’ Engle book on which the film is based, I can’t personally vouch for how faithful it is to its source material, though I have seen many accounts that suggest that the original story would undoubtedly make for a difficult adaptation, largely due to the breadth of topics addressed in it. And, as I screened the film, I truly got that sense, that there had to have been material that was left out – and whose exclusion from the script had to have impaired the flow (and sometimes the comprehension) of the story. What’s more, some of the screenplay’s treatment of the source material seems rather anachronistic. For example, hordes of scientists scoffing at Alex’s radical theories may have been the norm in 1962, when the book was written, but they’re far from laughing matters among contemporary physicists, many of whom consider the notions presented in the film quite legitimate.

Also, given the sensibilities of the movie’s target audience – pre-teens and adolescents – the film includes elements that I can’t help but think would be either a little too complex and/or a tad frightening, especially for younger tykes. While I applaud the picture’s efforts to incorporate and disseminate information about such enlightened topics as the inherent harmonious nexus between science and spirit, the related principles (especially those of a scientific nature) are often explained in ways that could easily sail over the heads of viewers not well versed in the subject matter (most likely younger viewers).

Yet, despite these shortcomings, “A Wrinkle in Time” also represents a valiant cinematic undertaking. It’s indeed refreshing to see a film boldly take on the kinds of subjects it addresses, especially for a younger audience. Director Ava DuVernay does a commendable job in crafting a finished product that makes the most of the script she had to work with. The film’s dazzling special effects are worth the price of admission, presenting gorgeous images reminiscent of such releases as “Avatar” (2009) and “What Dreams May Come” (1998). And the picture’s genuine warmth comes through loud and clear, thanks to the heartfelt performances of the ensemble’s principals.

When life hands us circumstances that seem patently unreasonable or inequitable, we may be tempted to lash out, especially if we’re not equipped with the coping skills and creative thinking needed to address such issues. But all need not be lost. With a little ingenuity and a properly focused moral compass, we can take on these challenges and overcome them. And sometimes all it takes is a little wrinkle in our thinking – or our existence – to reach our goals.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Keep the Change" and "A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream," as well as a radio show preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tell Me Your Story

Looking for something different to do this weekend? How about a story -- my story, that is. Hear it on "Tell Me Your Story" with host Richard Dugan at 10 am ET, Sunday March 25, by clicking here, or catch the show later on the podcast. Listeners can also find the show on Richard’s Soundcloud page by clicking here. We'll discuss my latest book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, as well as how film reflects the principles of this empowering and inspiring philosophy. Tune in and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "A Wrinkle in Time" and "The Death of Stalin," as well as two radio show previews, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tune in for The Cinema Scribe

Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, tomorrow, March 21, at 12:45 pm ET, available by clicking here. And, if you don't hear it live, catch it later on demand!


Monday, March 12, 2018

‘A Quiet Passion’ surveys the evolution of an artist’s worldview

“A Quiet Passion” (2017). Cast: Cynthia Nixon, Keith Carradine, Jennifer Ehle, Catherine Bailey, Duncan Duff, Emma Bell, Rose Williams, Benjamin Wainwright, Joanna Bacon, Annette Badland, Jodhi May, Eric Loren, Simone Milsdochter, Trevor Cooper, Stefan Menaul, Sara Louise Vertongen, Noémie Schellens. Director: Terence Davies. Screenplay: Terence Davies. Web site. Trailer.

Geniuses are often misunderstood during their lifetimes. Their eccentricities and alternative viewpoints frequently draw criticisms – sometimes even ostracism – from contemporaries who fail (or refuse) to understand and appreciate them for what they are. In later times, their contributions to humanity often seem patently (and obviously) brilliant. But, in getting to that point, we must first examine how they arrived at their insights, assessing the influences that helped to make them who they were and what their accomplishments are, ideas explored in the engaging, fact-based biopic, “A Quiet Passion,” available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand.

Nineteenth Century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) (Cynthia Nixon) is widely regarded as one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time. Her thoughtful, emotive, enigmatic verse is seen as some of the best poetry ever composed. But where did it come from? How did those insightful stanzas arise? That’s what “A Quiet Passion” seeks to explore.

In bringing Dickinson’s story to life, director Terence Davies attempts to show viewers the many influences that inspired the poet’s work, much of it based in fact, some of it somewhat fictionalized for dramatic effect. Regardless of the authenticity of these inspirations, however, the filmmaker effectively presents them to depict how they can help to shape an artist’s thinking and finished works, using Dickinson as an example.

The mind and motivations of 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) are explored in director Terence Davies’s fact-based biopic, “A Quiet Passion.” Photo © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films, courtesy of Music Box Films.[/caption]

For instance, as presented in the film, Dickinson’s disdain for the control-based aspects of religion figures largely in her outlook and output. Believing that one can come to know the divine for oneself – without others having to dictate how to do so – plays a significant role in her worldview and writings, a development brought about in large part from her schooling at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, a women’s college that, though officially nondenominational, nevertheless encouraged regular and rigorous religious participation. The aversion to such a dogmatically prescribed notion by a young, independently minded Emily (Emma Bell) undoubtedly helped frame her perspective, even if it was generally met with stern derision by university staff, like the stoic Miss Lyon (Sara Louise Vertongen).

In fact, such questioning of officialdom, authority and arbitrarily sanctioned institutions played a large role in much of Dickinson’s thinking. She abhorred the concept of slavery, as well as the second-class treatment accorded to women of the day. In turn, she wouldn’t hesitate to make her opinion known, especially to the men in her life, such as her father (Keith Carradine) and brother (Duncan Duff), as well as the newspaper owner who published her works (Trevor Cooper). What’s more, she often gravitated toward the company of those of like mind, such as her free-spirited friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), and routinely came to the defense of those whom she believed were being treated wrongly, such as her sister-in-law, Susan (Jodhi May). She also sought to inspire those who might all too easily capitulate to the whims of others, such as her sister, Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle).

However, because Dickinson often saw the world so clearly, no matter what façades others may have tried to put up about it, she frequently fell into bouts of melancholy, a condition that grew more pronounced and prevalent over time. This disheartened outlook, combined with the sorrow that came with the loss of loved ones, the senseless horror of the American Civil War and her own failing physical health, led Emily to become increasingly secluded within the confines of the family home. She rarely left the house and even began speaking to others – including family members – from behind the closed door of her room.

The complex relationship of American poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon, left) and her often-stern father (Keith Carradine, right) is one of many complicated personal interactions explored in the fact-based biopic, “A Quiet Passion,” available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films, courtesy of Music Box Films.[/caption]

Yet, despite the troubled nature of her worldview, it wasn’t enough to deter Dickinson from writing, and the influences that went into the formation of this outlook became reflected in her verse. Samples of this work, presented through voiceover narrations by the protagonist, appear throughout the film, fittingly accentuating the events unfolding on screen, functioning like cinematic epigraphs to help set the tone for the action playing out at the time. The result is an enlightening portrait of an inspired, if burdened mind.

As should be apparent by now, Dickinson’s poetry is an eloquent metaphor for her worldview, one derived from her thoughts, beliefs and intents. This is significant, for such influences provide the basis of the conscious creation process, the means by which our reality comes into being. So it should come as no surprise, then, that Emily’s verse, like her existence overall, is a mirror of those underlying building blocks.

But why these particular influences? Only Emily herself can answer that, and she might not know herself. In fact, it’s unlikely that she ever heard of conscious creation philosophy. However, as practitioners of this process are well aware, energy tends to flow where consciousness goes, so, if we focus our attention on certain concepts, those are the ones most likely to materialize, be it in our surroundings, the individuals we associate with or even our poetry.

Given the nature of Emily’s beliefs, it would seem that she was functioning as a change agent of sorts, regardless of whether or not she was aware of it, helping to make others aware of ideas that may have received little, if any attention previously. Her views on such notions as feminism, abolitionism, personal spirituality and other progressive ideas were anything but mainstream at the time. But, if they were to ever catch on, someone would have to make others aware of them to get the ball rolling, and who better to achieve this than an accomplished wordsmith?

Poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon, left) enjoys a quiet moment in the garden with her sister, Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle, right), in “A Quiet Passion.” Photo © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films, courtesy of Music Box Films.[/caption]

At the same time, though, Emily saw her world so clearly that she seemed to have some trouble separating herself from it. In a reality she saw as being in need of alteration, she unfortunately succumbed to some of the same weaknesses that afflicted the existence surrounding her, as if the elements that went into its creation bled through into her own personal space. This is something conscious creators – especially those who work in reform efforts or the healing arts – should be aware of. It’s one thing to observe and identify the shortcomings of one’s existence, but it’s something else to allow oneself to be consumed by them. That’s certainly a risk in anything we create, and experiencing the attendant pitfalls may even be part of the life lessons associated with such activities, but that need not be the case, as long as we build in beliefs making the appropriate accommodations. Emily’s experience in that regard thus provides us with a significant cautionary tale in what we create and how we create it.

Appropriately titled, “A Quiet Passion” aptly captures the essence of Dickinson’s world and mindset, showing viewers how she came to be who she was. Nixon delivers a superb performance as the conflicted soul, effectively depicting the many moods, from reflectiveness to desperation, of the troubled protagonist. The film also contains some of 2017’s best writing, with a screenplay that deftly combines wit, poignancy, sagacity and resolute indignance, revealing the many sides of a poetic enigma. Admittedly, the picture has some pacing issues, perhaps an unavoidable problem given the nature of the narrative (and one that may not even be resolvable with editing tweaks). However, despite this issue, the film is worthwhile viewing as long as you’re not in any hurry to get to the end.

Appreciating geniuses usually takes some effort – getting to know the individuals, the thoughts that go into their thinking and the true meaning behind their work. Failing to do so may cause us to lose out on becoming acquainted with a truly inspired mind. Thankfully, films like “A Quiet Passion” help to show us what we can avail ourselves of when we make that effort – and the rewards that can come from doing so.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Loveless’ exposes the perils of self-absorption

“Loveless” (“Nelyubov”) (2017). Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasileva, Andris Keyshs, Aleksey Fateev, Nataliya Potapova, Artyom Zhigulin, Aleksandr Sergeev. Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev. Screenplay: Oleg Negin and Andrey Zvyagintsev. Web site. Trailer.

How we treat those close to us often speaks volumes about how we care about others in the wider world, even if the parallels aren’t patently obvious. The compassion, caring and courtesy – or lack thereof – that we show them is quite telling, even if we can’t or don’t want to see it for ourselves. Whether such concerted attentiveness or deliberate slights occur on an individual or collective scale, their presence and expression are nevertheless undeniable, as seen in the troubling new Russian drama, “Loveless” (“Nelyubov).

When Zhenya and Boris Sleptsov (Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin) plan to divorce, the upwardly mobile Moscow couple meticulously plans the dissolution of their marriage with one exception – what to do about their 12-year-old son, Aleksey (Matvey Novikov). In many situations like this, couples often squabble over custody (namely, who gets the child). But, in this case, there’s a twist – neither of them wants the boy, and they each look for ways to pawn him off on one another or a third party. (Some parents.)

Twelve-year-old Aleksey Sleptsov (Matvey Novikov) faces an uncertain future when his parents divorce in the gripping new Russian drama, “Loveless” (“Nelyubov”). Photo © by Anna Matveeva, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

Of course, it’s probably hard to plan for your son’s well-being when you’re busy with other, more pressing concerns. Zhenya, for example, is preoccupied with running her salon and spending time with her new boyfriend, Anton (Andris Keyshs). Boris, meanwhile, quietly tries to figure out how he can hold on to his job, given that he works for a company owned by Christian fundamentalists committed to employing only happily married workers, a variation from which could carry serious consequences. He’s also concerned how he’ll provide for his new girlfriend, Masha (Marina Vasileva), especially now that she’s carrying his child. Indeed, there’s so much to do that tending to Aleksey’s needs just gets in the way. Zhenya and Boris seem wholly unconcerned about him, even when he breaks down and cries, something he does often.

However, the divorcing couple’s attitude changes drastically when Aleksey goes missing. Suddenly Zhenya and Boris are worried – not so much about their son’s safety but about how his disappearance will affect them. The thought of a police investigation and all of the potential implications associated with it send shudders through the parents, each concerned that their hopes and plans for the future will be severely – if not irreparably – disrupted. Authorities assure Zhenya and Boris that Aleksey is likely a runaway, upset over the deteriorating conditions at home, and that he’ll probably come back in a few days, a scenario seen quite often in their experience. But, after those few days pass, there’s no sign of Aleksey, raising more troubling concerns.

With no sign of the child, Zhenya and Boris take additional steps to find him. They reluctantly pay a visit to Zhenya’s beastly mother (Nataliya Potapova) on the off-chance that he may have run away to live with her in the Russian countryside. They speak with Aleksey’s friend Kuznetsov (Artyom Zhigulin) to see if he knows anything. And they seek assistance from the coordinator (Aleksey Fateev) of an organization committed to conducting searches for missing children. But, for all these efforts, nothing turns up.

Soon-to-be-divorced, self-absorbed salon owner Zhenya Sleptsov (Maryana Spivak) dreads having to care for her 12-year-old son, hoping to be free of the responsibility after she’s on her own, as seen in the Oscar-nominated drama, “Loveless” (“Nelyubov”). Photo © by Anna Matveeva, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

So where is Aleksey? That’s a good question. However, considering the treatment he received during the waning days of his parents’ marriage (and, apparently, even before that), who would realistically want to continue living under such conditions? And, faced with the prospects he was up against, why would he want to return? That doesn’t definitively explain his disappearance, but it’s certainly quite revelatory about his possible methods and motives.

This scenario naturally raises the question, how did circumstances get to this point? Well, when one sees Zhenya’s mother, for example, it’s obvious this cynical now-adult daughter didn’t learning anything about effective parenting from the woman who raised her. What’s more, when one looks at the unrestrained materialism that Zhenya and Boris relish, it’s apparent that the responsibilities that come with being parents aren’t nearly as entertaining as all the shiny new toys that their affluence now affords them. And, when one takes such unconcerned, self-absorbed attitudes and enlarges them from an individual to a collective scale, it’s easy to see how they would come to plague the downtrodden of an entire community, a sentiment echoed in the film through periodic background news reports about the nation’s inadequate response to the plight of ethnic Russians living in nearby Ukraine. With attitudes like this, is it any wonder that events transpire as they do?

Of course, for events to have unfolded as they have, one need only look to the attitudes of those – both on a small and large scale – who brought these conditions into being. This is a process that begins with their thoughts, beliefs and intents, the cornerstones of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon these intangible building blocks in manifesting the corporeal existence we experience. And, as this film illustrates, those determiners of reality carry considerable inherent power, for better or worse, within them, as  borne out by the existence that materializes.

Boris Sleptsov (Aleksey Rozin), a soon-to-be-divorced father, is more concerned about keeping his job than the welfare of his 12-year-old son, a worry addressed in the new Russian drama, “Loveless” (“Nelyubov”). Photo © by Anna Matveeva, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.[/caption]

The manifestations that appear in this film illustrate a kind of vicious circle, too. Circumstances that originate on a small scale, such as the materialized values drawn upon in raising a child within a particular family, get passed from one generation to the next, which, in turn, share them even further and wider. At that point, the values become embedded in the culture, so much so that they get imparted back into individual families, repeating the cycle and perpetuating it within the culture at large. The beliefs – and their outcomes – persist, making their conceptions institutions that growing increasingly resistant to change. Sooner or later, the underlying values in these situations affect not only individuals, but also entire groups, and it all becomes so commonplace that the conditions become accepted – and, worse yet, acceptable.

Is this really what any of us want? When we take a good, hard look at these circumstances, probably not. However, if we allow ourselves to fall into such belief complacency, we may find ourselves unwittingly embracing these notions, not questioning them and enabling their unfettered continuation.

Change is indeed possible, both at home and in the wider world. However, we must first recognize what constitutes our reality and how it came into being, and that begins with assessing the beliefs that birthed them. If they’re steering us in the wrong direction, then it’s time to rewrite them to set things right. Conscious creation, as anyone who practices it understands, makes all options for existence possible. But, if we’re to realize outcomes different from what are depicted in this film, we must get our beliefs in order to make the desired result become a reality – literally.

“Loveless” sends a pointed message about the fallout of what comes from a deliberate lack of compassion. It presents a raw, cold treatise on the perils of self-absorption, one that’s sometimes difficult to watch and sometimes hard to believe but all too often right on the mark when it comes to its depiction of the slow but relentless erosion of qualities like courtesy, consideration and compassion. The pacing is a bit slow at times, and some of the cultural references are likely lost on non-Russian audiences. But the overall message is clear and undeniable – and not limited to the film’s country of origin.

Despite the picture’s daunting nature, it’s truly powerful, something widely recognized during the recently completed awards season. “Loveless” earned best foreign language film nominations in the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Independent Spirit and Academy Awards competitions. It also received a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the event’s Jury Prize. In addition, the National Board of Review named the picture one of 2017’s top 5 foreign films.

The cost of a lack of compassion can be considerable, often in ways we may not initially see. But, if left unchecked, the price in the long run can be quite high, in many ways – one that we might not want to pay.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 9, 2018

‘The Party’ brings us face to face with our innate selves

“The Party” (2017 production, 2018 release). Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall. Director: Sally Potter. Screenplay: Sally Potter. Web site. Trailer.

Celebrations are supposed to be festive occasions, times for us to enjoy ourselves and recognize the accomplishments of others. They’re a good time to let our hair down, to open ourselves up to others and, one would hope, to have a good time. But sometimes we might expose our inner selves a little too much at these events, revealing more than we originally may have planned. So it is for the guests at the darkly satirical new comedy of ill manners, “The Party.”

When Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), a newly appointed British Minister of Health, hosts a small celebratory reception for a select group of friends in her London home, she approaches the soiree with the best of intentions. She attends to every detail, including making the food herself. But handling all the arrangements on her own is unavoidable, given that Janet’s woozy, withdrawn husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), a university professor, is preoccupied with obliviously imbibing on wine and spinning an eclectic selection of classic rock songs on the living room turntable.

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas, right), a newly named Minister of Health, and her best friend, April (Patricia Clarkson, left), confront a guest at a social affair gone awry in the new black-and-white satire, “The Party.” Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions.[/caption]

Such is the setup when guests begin to arrive, including April (Patricia Clarkson), Janet’s outspoken cynical best friend from across the Pond, and her relentlessly upbeat boyfriend, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a life coach steeped in seemingly every New Age discipline conceivable; Martha (Cherry Jones), a women’s studies professor and colleague of Bill’s, with her young partner, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), in tow; and Tom (Cillian Murphy), a manic, uptight, cocaine-snorting high-finance professional who obviously has some sort of issue on his mind, given that he brings a concealed holster and pistol to the party.

With all but one guest (Janet’s overworked aide and Tom’s tardy girlfriend, Marianne) present, April proposes a toast to Janet’s good fortune. But Janet’s success is only one of several pieces of news revealed as the festivities begin. At the risk of stealing the host’s thunder, Martha announces that Jinny is pregnant and that the couple is expecting the arrival of triplets. And, if all that weren’t enough, Bill manages to sober up enough for an announcement of his own – the revelation that he’s terminally ill, news that helps to explain his uncharacteristic behavior – and that puts quite a damper on the evening.

Needless to say, Bill’s announcement shocks everyone, but it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In short order, he makes additional unexpected declarations, setting in motion a chain reaction of revelations – some intended, some not – among all of the guests that take the event in directions no one, least of all Janet, ever saw coming. Some of the pronouncements involve the disclosure of individual secrets, while others expose previously unknown involvements among the guests – connections that no one ever knew anything about.

Uptight high-finance banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) has anything but a good time at director Sally Potter’s latest offering, “The Party.” Photo by Nicola Dove, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.[/caption]

As more and more secrets are revealed, relations among the guests become strained as the event’s prevailing tone grows increasingly tense. With nerves frayed, raw emotions emerge, prompting this band of haughty intellectuals to quickly chuck their logic and rationale in favor of more base feelings. As everyone attempts to sort out his or her reactions, Gottfried tries to intervene, serving as a sort of impromptu sounding board or father confessor. But even his attempts at being a calming force are no match for the shrill, uncensored sentiments swirling about. And, as the stakes get raised, viewers need to bear in mind that a gun is still present on the premises.

So how do things get so out of hand? Listen to what the characters have to say about themselves and how they conduct their lives. The seemingly reasonable, sufficiently restrained statements they make amidst the torrents of emotional tirades that come rushing forth are indeed quite telling, revealing them to be far different people from the eminently civil, supremely erudite sophisticates they claim to be. Keeping up such façades takes considerable effort on their part, not like the strain placed on a seawall holding back an ocean that’s just waiting for one small crack to emerge and spring a leak. In this case, though, there has been so much held back for so long that it’s unclear whether the flood can be contained once unleashed. “The Party” thus illustrates what it means to be our authentic selves – and what can happen when we’re not.

The painful but truthful revelations that come rushing forth mirror who these people really are. Their exposed selves thus become reflections of their inner selves, most notably the beliefs that make up their character and that subsequently typify the reality they create for themselves. These are the end products of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains the reality we experience manifests from these underlying building blocks. And they do so in complete fidelity with their source, for better or worse, warts and all.

Partners Martha (Cherry Jones, right) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer, left) wrestle with issues regarding the impending birth of their triplets in the revelatory new satire, “The Party.” Photo by Nicola Dove, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.[/caption]

If the party guests are upset with what they see in themselves and one another, they must look to themselves first, for they’re the ones responsible for how things materialize as they do. They’re not permanently saddled with such circumstances, but they nearly always must be recognized for what they are – and how they arose – before they can be changed to something more palatable. Where these individuals are concerned, invoking such change will likely require a great deal of work, from being honest with themselves to being honest with one another to making amends for any harm they may have caused. In some cases, it may even be more than they’re capable of handling, but at least the revelations that emerge at the party provide a starting point – if they even want one in the first place.

Having someone on board for the guests to come clean about their true nature is where the importance of Gottfried’s presence comes into play. Though he takes a great deal of ribbing about his demeanor and sensibilities from other guests (especially his own significant other), he ultimately plays a pivotal role in helping to sort out the complexities of the unfolding drama. He gives the others an opportunity to open up about themselves, to help them come to terms with the true nature of their beliefs and beings, to give them a chance to make appropriate changes – that is, if they’re willing to do so, something that’s far from guaranteed.

In any event, the party provides the guests with a place to potentially begin changing their beliefs and, by extension, their lives and realities. Will they do so? That’s what remains to be seen as the festivities unfold.

Despite some occasional pacing issues and a few instances where cynical satire spills over into outright nastiness, this wry, witty account of a celebration gone terribly wrong features an excellent script, a marvelous ensemble cast and stunning, poignant black-and-white cinematography. There’s plenty to chew on with this offering, from the incisively written dialogue to the razor sharp insights to the big laughs that result from many of its spot-on one-liners. While this project would probably work better as a stage play, it nevertheless generally delivers the goods in its on-screen format and does so with a positively wicked sense of humor.

Towing the party line – be it of a political nature or of the personal images we envision of ourselves – can require much effort, especially if we go about it in an inauthentic or hypocritical way. Sooner or later, such discrepancies and/or lack of integrity will surface – and probably at an inopportune time, when we least expect it. And there’s nothing to celebrate in any of that.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Annihilation’ challenges our notions of existence

“Annihilation” (2018), Cast: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi. Director: Alex Garland. Screenplay: Alex Garland. Book: Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation. Web site. Trailer.

Many of us probably like to believe that we have reality all figured out, that we know how it works and how the process of its unfolding takes place. But do we? Are we sure that the rules we believe apply are true across the board, in all situations and permutations? And what happens if something comes along that challenges those seemingly rock-solid assumptions? How do we explain these anomalies? What’s more, can we cope with such puzzling, unexplained phenomena, particularly if they significantly differ from our established worldview? Those are among the considerations raised in the gripping new sci-fi saga, “Annihilation.”

When something unknown and otherworldly crashes into a lighthouse in a remote state park, conditions in the surrounding environment begin to change drastically. A phenomenon that comes to be known as “the Shimmer” encompasses the area, and, by all accounts, it appears to be slowly growing, consuming everything nearby. Bounded by an energy field characterized by an ethereal, rainbow-like glow, the Shimmer is a genuine enigma, one that top-secret government investigators desperately want to understand – before it’s too late.

Lena Kane (Natalie Portman), an intrigued biologist, is on the verge of discovering mind-blowing new insights about the nature of existence in director Alex Garland’s riveting new sci-fi adventure, “Annihilation.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

To get a handle on the nature of the phenomenon, the investigators establish a research facility known as Area X on the Shimmer’s perimeter. But, because the Shimmer distorts the operation of their monitoring equipment, they’re unable to obtain any meaningful readings about how it functions or what’s going on inside it. Thus the only way to find out about it is to send special ops military reconnaissance teams inside to gather data. The problem with that, however, is that all the teams that go in never come back.

Circumstances change, however, when something unexpected happens – one of the team members from the most recent expedition, Sgt. Kane (Oscar Isaac), mysteriously returns after a year’s absence, long past the time when he was presumed missing and dead. Kane is now different, though, seemingly disoriented and suffering from memory loss, not only of his time inside the Shimmer but also about much of his life before he left on his mission. This proves seriously disturbing to his wife, Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier turned biologist, who’s stunned by his return and can’t fathom his current state of mind. But, then, that’s not entirely surprising, given that she knew nothing of the nature of his mission before he departed. Nevertheless, she would still like answers about his disappearance and how he came to be how he is now.

Lena has little time to get her answers, though, since Kane quickly falls seriously ill, hemorrhaging severely. She contacts paramedics, who rush him off to the hospital. But, along the way, the ambulance encounters a convoy of black SUVs that force it off the road. Kane and Lena are forcibly removed and whisked away to an unknown location.

Upon awakening from an apparent involuntary sedation, Lena finds herself in Area X. She’s met and questioned by a cryptic psychologist, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who asks Lena about her husband, the circumstances of his return and his confused state of mind, but she’s unable to offer much in the way of insight. And so, with that, the mysterious doctor decides to inform Lena where she is, showing her the unexplained phenomenon that looms just beyond Area X’s perimeter.

Biologist and former army specialist Lena Kane (Natalie Portman, left) is puzzled by the mysterious return of her missing husband (Oscar Isaac, right) after a year’s absence on an enigmatic classified mission in the captivating new sci-fi saga, “Annihilation” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

After seeing the Shimmer, Lena is captivated, despite the disappearance of virtually all members of the previous expedition teams. Ventress says that she and her colleagues believe the mission specialists were either killed or went mad and killed themselves, a circumstance that makes Kane’s return that much more mystifying. Ventress also reveals that she’s organizing a new team to enter and explore the luminous spectacle, one this time made up entirely of scientists, including herself, anthropologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez). Given her expertise in biology and her vested interest in understanding her husband’s mysterious disappearance and return, Lena asks if she can join the team, to which Ventress readily agrees.

Within days, the team embarks on its journey into the Shimmer – and the vast unknown. What they find defies virtually everything they know about science and the nature of existence, presenting them with an even bigger puzzle than anything they’ve encountered up to that point. To say more would reveal too much about the mystery of the Shimmer and what it represents, but suffice it to say that the discoveries that come out of the expedition will turn all of our theories about evolution, physics and even metaphysics upside down and inside out, presenting an entirely new way of looking at the nature of existence. The boundaries between science and spirituality will become blurred – and fused – in utterly remarkable ways, providing stunningly brilliant and insightful revelations about what actually constitutes creation – and annihilation – and what it means to experience them firsthand.

As physical beings, we generally like to think we’re pretty sire-footed in our convictions and understanding of how our existence comes into being and functions. We also tend to think that this is how reality operates everywhere, that the rules that determine things here are as applicable in Peoria as they are on Saturn and in galaxies far, far away. So it’s not surprising that we might become utterly disoriented if we find evidence to the contrary, especially if it involves rules that we can’t fathom. Such is the case with the Shimmer.

Why is this so? In many ways, this comes about as a result of the functioning of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience as a consequence of the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. The existence with which we interact originates from those beliefs, and the seeming consistency of its operation results from beliefs that compel such an outcome.

However, given that conscious creation maintains we have an infinite number of possibilities for existence available to us at any given moment, based on the underlying manifesting beliefs involved, there’s an equally infinite number of possibilities for how our reality can unfold. We’re accustomed to the existence we’re most familiar with, because it’s based on the set of intents with which we’ve become most comfortable – so much so, in fact, that we’ve generally come to believe that it’s the only game in the Universe. But, as this story so aptly illustrates, that’s not so.

A team of intrepid scientists, including (from left) psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), biologist Lena Kane (Natalie Portman), anthropologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), embarks on an exploration of a mysterious luminous phenomenon known as “the Shimmer” in director Alex Garland’s latest release, “Annihilation.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

Ironically, as self-assured as we’ve become with this supposedly unshakeable understanding of the nature of existence, we often don’t have as astute an awareness of the manifesting beliefs as we believe we do. In fact, many of us are now just beginning to grasp the notion that our beliefs have anything to do with the materialization of our reality, let alone what those specific manifesting beliefs are. So it stands to reason that we’d naturally become perplexed when our reality doesn’t “behave” as we think it should.

Imagine, for example, what it might be like to suddenly find ourselves in a reality where our thoughts transform into tangible expressions of existence on demand and without hindrance. Given that most of us are unaccustomed to such phenomena – largely because we’re either unaware of the beliefs that drive our existence or because our beliefs consist of entangled amalgamations of ideas and intents that sometimes contradict one another and negate or distort the materializations that result from them – we might easily freak out if we were to have an experience that runs counter to what we’re typically accustomed to. The disorientation resulting from such an experience could be overwhelming. Yet, based on how conscious creation works, there is a bona fide possibility out there where an existence that functions on that basis indeed exists, even if we’ve never experienced it before or unable to envision how it might come into being.

Moreover, it may also be disorienting if we were to suddenly find ourselves in an existence where elements familiar and comfortable to us are replaced with new and different manifestations – including some that would fly in the face of logic or “common knowledge” – seemingly at the drop of a hat. This notion thus aptly reflects the conscious creation concept that we’re all in a constant state of becoming, that everything is continually evolving. It also makes clear that there’s often an element of destruction – or “annihilation” – in any act of creation, no matter how counterintuitive that notion might seem. The occurrence of such materializations could easily leave us confused, wondering how they came into being, especially among those of us who are unaware of or unfamiliar with the conscious creation process and the means that make it work. Yet, again, outcomes that embody these principles are wholly feasible, even if they’re foreign to us.

As the expedition team makes its way through the Shimmer, hints at such ideas begin to appear. In addition, there’s evidence of other profound phenomena, such as the re-emergence of the divine feminine in the world, the theory of panspermia, and the inherent harmony between science and spirituality, not to mention a host of other elements reflecting principles found in Buddhism, Christianity and New Age thought, to name but a few. All told, it’s a lot to take in for the mission specialists, especially among the team members – all scientists – who likely aren’t well schooled in such lofty metaphysical and spiritual notions, all of which helps to explain why the elusive nature of the Shimmer is so difficult to understand. But making the effort to do so is important, both for the reality in which we find ourselves and for any into which we may someday move.

“Annihilation” is a mind-blowing, sophisticated sci-fi tale masterfully brought to the screen by director Alex Garland, who has upped his game considerably here, even outstripping the success of his previous work, “Ex Machina” (2014). The film’s richly layered, deftly nuanced script, combined with gorgeous cinematography and an inventive production design, make for riveting viewing. Note, however, that this is not a picture to be watched casually or when easily distracted. An attentive screening is sure to reward viewers, providing endless captivation and much to think about in the film’s wake, possibly forever changing one’s views on the heady subjects it so eloquently addresses.

As wondrous as we already believe existence to be, it has the potential to be far more astounding than we can possibly imagine, and “Annihilation” skillfully opens the door to give us but a mere glimpse of what’s potentially in store. Admittedly some may find these notions somewhat jarring or upsetting, but, for those who appreciate and willingly embrace the opportunity to expand their consciousness, this film provides the means to adopt a glorious – and entirely new – worldview.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

‘Black Panther’ urges us to follow our own destiny

“Black Panther” (2018). Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, John Kani, Atandwa Kani, Ashton Tyler, Denzel Whitaker. Director: Ryan Coogler. Screenplay: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. Source Material: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Web site. Trailer.

Can a good man truly lead without being corrupted by the power that comes with it? History is certainly replete with plenty of examples to the contrary, and, in an age where widespread greed and self-serving attitudes sometimes seem ubiquitous, the question takes on added significance. That’s why it’s so important to have role models who seek to live up to that ideal, an example of which provides a central theme in the new action-adventure, “Black Panther.”

In the latest offering from Marvel Studios, audiences witness the adventures of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), king of the mythical African nation of Wakanda, a technologically advanced society shrouded from the outside world, a kind of high-tech Shangri-La. When T’Challa unexpectedly assumes the throne after the untimely assassination of his father, T’Chaka (John Kani), the young monarch must grow up fast. But, as an idealistic leader, he willingly takes on the challenge, daunting though it may be.

Young King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, left) and longtime confidante W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya, right) face multiple challenges to protect their mythical African homeland of Wakanda in the new action-adventure, “Black Panther.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios.[/caption]

One of the biggest issues T’Challa must tackle is his country’s isolation and its longstanding unwillingness to share the resources and technology that have made it such a paradise. Should he continue this policy, one based on fears of what the outside world might do with the things that have made his homeland great? Or is it time for a change?

These are questions that T’Challa doesn’t get much time to ponder, though, as outsiders soon force his hand. Nefarious foes, like arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and former black ops soldier Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), seek to plunder and exploit Wakanda’s resources and use its technology to help an alliance of underprivileged countries rise up and assume power over the planet as a unified force. And the only one standing in their way is the noble monarch and his alter ego, the Black Panther, aided and supported by his onetime romantic interest, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his loyal military aide, Okoye (Danai Gurira), his tech whiz sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), his courageous, resourceful mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and an old acquaintance, CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman).

As events play out, complications develop, making the job of T’Challa/the Black Panther ever more difficult. The forces he takes on grow increasingly powerful, especially once they get their hands on the keys to the kingdom. He even has cause to question the loyalty of friends, such as his longtime confidante W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya). It’s also disheartening for T’Challa to discover that the roots of these current issues partly stem from mistakes made in the past by those near and dear to him, errors in judgment that spawned personal ill will, as well as the seeds of the kingdom’s present-day troubles. The young leader learns what it means to grow up and into one’s power more quickly than expected – and, in doing so, to tap into one’s own sense of right and wrong, a sensibility of his own making and not necessarily based on the lessons imparted to him during his grooming for the throne. His odyssey truly becomes one of finding out whether it’s indeed possible for a good man to rule justly and effectively.

King T’Challa’s alter ego, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), matches wits with an array of evildoers in the new action-adventure tale, “Black Panther.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios.[/caption]

How well T’Challa succeeds depends on his beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which he manifests the reality he experiences. To find his own greatness, he must find his own path, embracing those beliefs that reflect his true self, those that enable him to tap into his personal integrity, and those that allow him to express his own sense of value fulfillment, the principle associated with being our best selves for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

This is important, for, if T’Challa were to strictly adhere to the beliefs he was raised with, his effectiveness could be compromised, as those notions might not fully or adequately align with his intents and values. Yet brushing aside those beliefs could prove difficult, especially if they were imparted to him by those whom he believed were utterly trustworthy or innately infallible. Such acts could be seen as a personal betrayal, even if he knew there were aspects of those teachings that were somehow incomplete, inadequate or flawed.

Former black ops soldier Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) seeks to plunder and exploit the resources of a nation in “Black Panther.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios.[/caption]


Ramonda (Angela Bassett, left), widow of an assassinated king, and her daughter, Shuri (Letitia Wright, right), seek to aid a new monarch in peril in “Black Panther.” Photo by Matt Kennedy © Marvel Studios.[/caption]

This is where learning how to practice discernment and to overcome our personal fears is crucial. Being sufficiently circumspect and courageous to determine and follow our own intents – even if they go against what we were taught to believe – can prove to be vital in attaining our goals, especially where the stakes are high and the well-being of others is in jeopardy. These are qualities that T’Challa and the Black Panther must embrace to succeed in their endeavors. After all, the fate of a nation – indeed, that of the entire world – hang in the balance and depend on the good king’s ability to live out his values, not to mention his destiny.

These sentiments, coupled with the inherently noble attributes typically accorded a superhero, provide the basis for the central narrative in “Black Panther.” However, the film’s excessive earnestness and the protagonist’s nearly complete lack of any character flaws at times lead to a story that begins to border on implausibility. What’s more, as much as I’ve admired Boseman’s stellar performances in pictures like “Get on Up” (as soul singer James Brown, 2014) and “42” (as baseball great and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson, 2013), he seems somewhat miscast here, coming across as one of the blandest superheroes I’ve ever seen on screen. In fact, when you find yourself more drawn to a villain like Jordan’s Killmonger, that speaks volumes about the ineffectiveness of the casting. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the protagonist and the rest of the cast have to work with a script full of cookie cutter predictability and an insufficient back story for T’Challa’s alter ego, not to mention an array of generally underwhelming special effects.

Still, despite these flaws, the film does have some inspiring ideas to offer, such as those illustrating our intrinsic connectedness and our need to work together as a species if we hope to have a future. It also features an array of fine supporting performances, such as those turned in by Jordan, Serkis, Nyong’o, Wright and Bassett. Nevertheless, though, for a movie that’s been drawing raves, I expected a lot more than what it actually delivers.

In the end, though, we come back to the question raised at the top. Is it possible to successfully maneuver the minefield of perils that await those who attempt to traverse such a difficult path? Tune in to find out.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tune in to The Cinema Scribe

Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, tomorrow, March 7, at 12:45 pm ET, available by clicking here. And, if you don't hear it live, catch it later on demand! 

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Annihilation," "The Party" and "Loveless," as well as an Oscar wrap-up, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.