Join yours truly and show host Frankie Picasso for looks at six new films on the upcoming November movie review edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast, to begin airing Thursday November 30 at 1 pm ET. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Monday, November 27, 2023
Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday November 28, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Podchaser, Audible, Deezer, Podcast Addict and Jiosaavn.
Sunday, November 26, 2023
“Rustin” (2023). Cast: Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen, Johnny Ramey, CCH Pounder, Jeffrey Wright, Gus Halper, Michael Potts, Maxwell Whittington-Cooper, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Adrienne Warren, Audra McDonald, Lilli Kay, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Carra Patterson, Rashad Demond Edwards. Director: George C. Wolfe. Screenplay: Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black. Story: Julian Breece. Web site. Trailer.
Fighting against a system determined to hold individuals back requires as much determination as the opposition puts forth. It can be frustrating to the activists taking on such a challenge, especially when progress moves along at a snail’s pace. However, when inspired, committed, fervent leaders step forward to address those issues, it’s remarkable how much momentum it can generate to move things forward, yielding tremendous backing and prompting surprising rapidity. One such advocate’s efforts in this regard illustrate these outcomes with sparkling clarity and zealous inspiration, as seen in the uplifting new film biography, “Rustin.”
As the film opens in 1960, Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) (Colman Domingo) has developed quite a reputation for getting things done. The often-outspoken civil rights activist spent years working on various initiatives, and, in 1956, he became a trusted aide and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Amil Ameen), who was emerging as the preeminent leader of the movement. In particular, Rustin taught King about the nonviolent resistance tactics developed by Mahatma Gandhi, a strategy that would come to define King’s subsequent protest efforts. Rustin also worked with King in establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, one of the most highly visible organizations involved in the civil rights movement.
For the upcoming 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Rustin and King began work on plans for a civil rights march in conjunction with the event. However, influential Black leaders at the time – most notably Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY) (Jeffrey Wright) – had reservations about Rustin’s involvement, particularly when it came to how much visible he would be. The reason? Rustin was open about being gay – a rarity at the time – and had a 1953 sexual misconduct arrest on his record. At one time, he had been affiliated with the Young Communist League (a connection he later rejected). And he was also an avowed conscientious objector to military service, a decision that prompted many to view him as a draft-dodger. Powell and others did not believe Rustin was a suitable representative for African-Americans seeking to make their equal rights case to a still-often-reluctant public, even in some of the country’s more open-minded regions. So, to assure that he would get his way on this matter, Powell said he would circulate rumors of a fictitious, albeit convincing gay love affair between Rustin and King, a threat that prompted King to back down on his plan.
With plans for the Los Angeles march called off, King and Rustin parted ways. Rustin took a job in which he maintained a low profile while he assessed what his next step would be. He kept in contact with his activist peers, but he was less involved than he had been previously. But, as plans for a proposed 1963 March on Washington were heating up, Rustin was approached to play a key role in organizing the event, largely with the backing of labor union and civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph (Glynn Turman) and Ella Baker (Audra McDonald). And, when Rustin and King reached an agreement to reconcile their differences, they managed to make peace with one another and recommit to the alliance they had so successfully forged years earlier.
Inspired by the potential for the march and with significant pieces of the puzzle in place, Rustin decided to get behind the effort. But, once committed, he again ran into opposition from community leaders like Powell and NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock), citing the aforementioned reservations about the propriety of Rustin’s appointment. However, with the firm backing of staunch allies like Randolph, labor organizer Cleve Robinson (Michael Potts), activist/writer/educator Dr. Anna Hedgeman (CCH Pounder) and Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Chairman John Lewis (Maxwell Whittington-Cooper), Rustin was given the mandate to coordinate plans for the event. But the downside in this was that he was operating on a tight time frame – eight weeks – with a long list of fundraising and logistical considerations to address, and some wondered whether he would be able to meet the deadline and the demands being placed on him.
Rustin’s enthusiasm and charisma proved to be infectious. Not only did he garner the support, assistance and cooperation of the movement’s notables, but he also won over a team of dedicated, hard-working volunteers, like 22-year-old Rachelle Horowitz (Lilli Kay), who coordinated transportation for thousands of marchers traveling to the nation’s capital. Like him, the volunteers believed in the cause and put in long hours to make sure the march would come off as hoped for. And, when they saw Rustin’s diligence at work in solving issues related to safety, security, first aid, the supply of basic necessities, and recruiting marchers from far and wide, they doubled their efforts to pull everything together.
As events played out, though, there were incidents that threatened to derail Rustin’s efforts. For example, he became embroiled in a somewhat less-than-discreet affair with a young, married, sexually curious minister, Elias Taylor (Johnny Ramey), a composite fictional character based on several of Rustin’s romantic partners at the time. It was a relationship that, if exposed, could blow the top off of his efforts. The affair also placed strain on Rustin’s on-again/off-again involvement with his roommate, Tom Kahn (Gus Halper), one his most trusted aides and occasional bed mates. There were also strong public criticisms from politicians like Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC; later R-SC), who openly denounced Rustin for his homosexuality, onetime-Communist leanings and conscientious objector status. What’s more, as Rustin’s organizing success began to snowball, he again faced opposition from Powell, who took an almost-perverse glee in wanting to see him fail, especially now that Rustin was beginning to draw attention away from the influential Congressman. But Powell’s scheming and skepticism soon placed him in the minority when it came to his view of Rustin; he and other detractors soon became marginalized when they saw how much the activist had accomplished in such a short time.
With things in place as much as they were going to be, the time came in August 1963 when the event was to take place. For all of his hard work, though, Rustin still couldn’t help but wonder whether the march was going to succeed, observing on the day of the event that he “hope[d] people would show up.” Those fears proved unfounded, however. While he and his peers had hoped that the march would draw 100,000 participants, it ended up attracting approximately 250,000, making it the largest peaceful demonstration ever to be held on the Washington Mall. It featured appearances by such noteworthy performers as vocalist Mahalia Jackson (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), and it became famous as the event that showcased King’s now-famous “I have a dream” speech.
Not a bad outcome for someone who was reviled for speaking his mind, being himself and making the world aware that it was indeed time for a change.
These qualities, of course, played a vital role in Rustin’s success, primarily because they were at the core of the beliefs he held most dearly. And that’s important given the part they play in the manifestation of the existence we experience, the result of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon these resources in the materialization of our reality. It’s unclear whether Rustin was familiar with this way of thinking, but, based upon the results he achieved, it’s apparent that he was well versed in its principles and how to apply them.
From how Rustin is portrayed in the film, it’s obvious he believed in the ideas behind the equal rights, civil rights and gay rights movements. They were part of who he was, and he naturally wanted to see them implemented for everyone in the wider world. His enthusiasm, faith in the process and hope for the future were visible to all, and he made no efforts to conceal these feelings and beliefs, no matter how unpopular they may have been in some quarters, including, ironically, among those who themselves would have benefitted most from their acceptance and implementation. His fervor was compelling, and others who agreed with his perspective couldn’t help but be impelled to follow suit and take action because of it.
Rustin’s belief in his determination was too strong to be denied. Even when he was attacked and criticized by the likes of Powell and Wilkins and experienced his falling out with King, he recoiled, coming back stronger than ever after taking time to regroup, alter his beliefs and rework his strategies. That willingness to reinvent himself when necessary carried the day and enabled him to step forward and fulfill his objectives. And those objectives were indeed crucial to his being, for they represented the destiny he was meant to live out, a practice in conscious creation terms often known as exercising his value fulfillment.
Rustin’s achievements were indeed significant in many endeavors, including in those not addressed in the film. He played an active role in the Freedom Riders movement and would later go on to be a vocal advocate in the gay rights movement. Even though this picture focuses primarily on one aspect of his accomplishments, it nevertheless gives viewers a clear look at who he was, what he believed and the kinds of accomplishments that came to characterize him, attainments that, in the end, we should all be grateful for.
Unsung heroes often don’t get their day. Fortunately, however, for Rustin, he finally gets his due in this new biopic. The flamboyant, outspoken activist shines in this feature from director George C. Wolfe, showing Rustin as the determined champion that he was. The film presents an informative period piece biography, even if the approach is somewhat conventional and, admittedly, gets off to a rather rocky start in the first half hour. However, that’s made up for by a strong second half and the picture’s powerhouse cast, including Domingo (a strong Oscar nominee contender), Wright, Ameen, Turman, Pounder and Ramey in fine supporting performances. While this offering may not be everything it could have been, “Rustin” nevertheless reminds us of what so many people fought so hard to achieve – and why it’s so important that we strive to protect those accomplishments against backsliding and those who might seek to undermine the fulfillment of those much-cherished attainments. The film is available for streaming as a Netflix exclusive.
At times when things seem bleak, it’s all the more important that we have committed leaders who can step up, take charge and rally supporters to their causes, especially when so much is on the line. Lethargy, ambivalence and disinterest get us nowhere in the face of such issues, which is why the kind of uplifting enthusiasm generated by someone like Rustin is so important to furthering these initiatives. In an age where it’s become all too easy to step back, watch and remain uninvolved, it’s become crucial that we have films like this to ignite the flames of activism to address the injustices that remain and are allowed to continue unabated. Bayard would undoubtedly have been pleased with what’s become of his efforts – and be the first one to stand up and tell us we need to get back to work to finish the job.
Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Thursday, November 23, 2023
“Nyad” (2023). Cast: Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifan, Eric T. Miller, Anna Harriette Pittman, Karly Rothenberg, Garland Scott, Jeena Yi, Johnny Solo, Luke Cosgrove, Grace Subervi, Belle Darling, Pearl Darling. Directors: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Screenplay: Julia Cox. Book: Diana Nyad, Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream. Web site Trailer.
It’s been said that it’s never too late to pursue one’s dream. But how many of us who are getting on in years actually make the effort to accomplish that? As time passes by, we may begin to feel like life is passing us by, too, sweeping away the opportunities to fulfill those aspirations and leading to relentless disappointment, frustration and depression. However, must it be that way? Sometimes we can succeed by adopting an unexpected approach. And, when we combine that with a firm belief in ourselves, there’s no telling what we might accomplish, as seen in the inspiring new fact-based biopic, “Nyad.”
Marathon open-water swimmer Diana Nyad had quite a ride when in her prime. In the 1970s, while in her 20s, she set a women’s record in the Gulf of Naples race, followed by a successful 28-mile circumnavigation of Manhattan Island and then setting another record in the 102-mile swim from North Bimini Island in the Bahamas to Juno Beach, FL. In fact, she succeeded at every venture she undertook except one – making the 103-mile swim across the Straits of Florida from Havana, Cuba to Key West, FL, an undertaking cut short by strong winds and 8-foot swells that pushed her off course. Those conditions also slammed her against the walls of the protective steel shark cage in which she swam. It was an unfulfilled dream that would haunt her for many years thereafter.
As the film opens, Nyad (Annette Bening) is approaching 60 and feels dissatisfied with her life. After 30 years working as a successful writer and broadcast journalist, she nevertheless feels restless and unfulfilled. She craves a new challenge to reignite the lost spark she felt when she was younger, but nothing she attempts fills that void. And this lack of fulfillment has caused her to withdraw from virtually everyone except her longtime friend, Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster), who has always been her confidante and touchstone. So what is she to do to relieve this seemingly endless ennui?
After reflecting on her circumstances, Nyad comes to realize that the only thing that would give her genuine satisfaction is getting back in the water and attempting the one swim she left uncompleted – the Florida Straits crossing from Havana to Key West. But, when Diana announces her intention to Bonnie, her friend is stunned. She then less than politely tells Diana that she’s being patently unrealistic. Bonnie says that undertaking a swim of that length at her age would be foolhardy and dangerous. Although Nyad’s physical condition is great for a woman of her years, Bonnie contends that it’s not what it was three decades ago. Add to that the hazards of dangerous, unpredictable currents, problematic weather conditions, and the perils of sharks and jellyfish, and the endeavor becomes a near-impossible challenge for virtually anyone, no matter what their age or physical prowess.
But, despite Bonnie’s impassioned concerns, Diana is undeterred. What’s more, to up the ante in this attempt, she insists on swimming in open water without the “encumbrance” of a protective shark cage. And, to help solidify Bonnie’s reluctant support for this venture, Diana names her as her coach, a prospect she rails against due to a lack of experience in such a role. But Nyad also knows that her best friend won’t abandon her in a time of need, a belief that proves correct when the reluctant trainer agrees to sign on for the project.
As training begins, it quickly becomes apparent that Nyad may not be up to the challenge she’s set for herself. Her physical state is strong, but it may not be as strong as she thinks it is, a scenario that worries Bonnie, as it may be proof of her reservations. The coach also has to address challenges like finding a way to protect the swimmer against ocean predators without the benefit of a shark cage. And then there are the challenges posed by fickle ocean currents and weather conditions and finding someone who can successfully guide Diana and her support crew through those potentially ominous waters.
As these scenarios play out, viewers get an unadulterated view of how focused and determined Diana can be when it comes to fulfilling her goals. She’s so preoccupied with success, in fact, that she often comes across as obstinate, rigid and uncompromising, the kind of unbending person that many might readily be unwilling to support, especially in the pursuit of what seems to be improbable and unfathomable in the first place. Indeed, it’s not a good way to win over (or hold onto) allies – or even friends.
One might legitimately wonder what caused Diana to become like this. While she’s obviously a perfectionist – a quality that’s not exactly unusual – Diana often appears over the top in this regard. Yet, as the film shows, it’s a trait rooted in her past, when her younger self (Anna Harriette Pittman) became a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her coach (Eric T. Miller), someone whom she implicitly trusted. This incident would come to haunt Diana throughout her adult life, because she believed that she should have had the toughness to fight back, a “failing” that she refused to allow to happen to her again. This steely determination thus translated into the resolve she carried with her into all of her undertakings, undoubtedly a valuable skill in helping her achieve success. But, as various aspects of this undertaking reveal, she sometimes carries things too far, running the risk of alienating those who could help her most.
This is where Bonnie’s role as coach plays such an important part. As someone who is aware of Diana’s history, she brings an understanding to the endeavor that others do not possess. With this insight, she’s able to run interference for her friend when needed. It also enables her to put up with much more than what others might be willing to do. And it also inspires her to make an extra effort at looking into solutions for some of the project’s more important challenges. For instance, that’s how Bonnie finds a way to keep sharks away electronically, enabling Diana to swim without the benefit of a protective cage. Likewise, Bonnie’s efforts help to secure the expertise of navigator John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans), a seaman skilled in interpreting the interface of weather conditions and ocean currents in determining the best times to launch swim attempts. Then there’s the advice provided by jellyfish expert Angel Yanagihara (Jenna Li), who helps the crew find the best ways for dealing with these sea creatures when they appear.
Over time, Diana’s conditioning improves, and, with a capable crew behind her, she’s ready to undertake the crossing. But, no matter how well prepared everyone might appear to be, there are intangibles that factor into the mix, complicating their efforts. And, over the next two years, Nyad makes four attempts at completing her mission. The first three are aborted due to physical impairments, currents that push her off course, stormy weather, and jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings. These recurring problems also cause her crew to lose enthusiasm for the venture, including Bonnie, decisions that prompt Diana to become more relentlessly demanding and single-mindedly unyielding than ever.
Is the dream dead? It certainly looks that way. But, given Diana’s determination, she’s convinced that her goal’s fulfillment is somehow attainable. And, as she would later write in her inspiring memoir, Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream, Nyad figured it out, much of it coming about in an uncharacteristic manner. Indeed, as Diana’s story shows, achieving what we most dearly seek sometimes involves adopting an unexpected approach, one that no one sees coming but that works out nevertheless.
Of course, of utmost importance in scenarios like this is how firmly we believe in our abilities to accomplish these ventures. From what we see of Nyad’s character, it’s obvious she doesn’t have any problems in that area, and that’s crucial given the role that our thoughts, beliefs and intents play in the manifestation of these objectives. Such are the outcomes of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these intangible resources are responsible for what turns up in our existence. It’s not clear how many of us have bought into this thinking, but Nyad sure has, even if she’s never heard of the name of this school of thought.
However, one might reasonably ask, if she’s so committed to attaining her goals, why did it ultimately take five attempts before Diana eventually succeeded? There could be a variety of reasons for this, depending on what belief mix she adhered to at the time of each swim. It could be, for example, that there were certain lessons she needed to learn in connection with each attempt, something that becomes apparent in the depiction of each of her bids to make the crossing. The knowledge gained from each attempt thus helped her to make improvements in subsequent trials.
But what was different about the last one that helped her succeed? As noted previously, when Diana set her mind to something, there was generally no stopping her. That single-mindedness helped her stay focused on the objective. However, that resolve sometimes got taken too far, not only in terms of pushing herself too hard, but also in pushing those on whom she depended for support. And, when many of them began losing their enthusiasm for the project after the fourth attempt, she was suddenly and seemingly without the backing she needed to make another bid.
Those who understand how the belief-based manifestation process unfolds are aware that we’re engaged in a collaboration with a divine partner that has our best interests at heart but that needs to be sure we’re ready for the success we seek. And, if we start to work against that process, the results often don’t turn out as hoped for. This is frequently called “pushing the Universe,” and, if we push too hard, our partner pushes back. At the same time, though, if we grasp this, we can also come to see that “the Universe leans in our direction.” This is something Nyad needed to learn when it came to the ways she treated herself and the members of her support crew, and it would seem that this is a lesson the Universe wanted her to get. Once she implemented these beliefs in her thinking, circumstances turned around for her, and fulfillment of the goal was hers to be had.
Admittedly, this had to have been a hard lesson for someone who was committed to the notion of “Never say die.” And there’s certainly tremendous merit and nobility in a belief in one’s confidence and determination for making dreams come true. But, when we become obsessed and inflexible in this regard, we can set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Is that what we really want? If not, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reassess how we’re approaching what we hope to achieve. Nyad did that, and so can we. Perfectionists take note.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that Nyad was so successful as she was at her swimming endeavors. In addition to her diligent training in the water, a skill that she honed from the time she was a youngster (Belle Darling, Pearl Darling), Diana was repeatedly reminded by her stepfather, Aris (Johnny Solo), that her adopted last name translated as “water nymph” in Greek. It was almost as if swimming was her destiny, and she so staunchly came to believe in that idea that it manifested in her life experience. We should all be so fortunate to be so attuned to what we’re meant to do. But, with the right combination of determination, flexibility and belief in ourselves, there’s no reason why it can’t happen for any of us – no matter what the endeavor or time of life. Diana proved that, inspiring us all to our own greatness. Indeed, when in doubt, just find a way.
First-time feature directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi bring Nyad’s story to life in this engaging biopic, chronicling her remarkable odyssey and never shying away from portraying the fabled swimmer from all angles, both as a heroic, determined role model and as an off-putting, obstinate pain in the butt. The storytelling approach is admittedly somewhat formulaic and a tad overlong, but the picture’s overall execution provides an authentic depiction of the grueling ordeal Nyad and her crew underwent, all effectively brought to life by the star power of Bening and Foster in their respective roles. The film also provides Nyad’s childhood back story, illustrating how she transformed trauma into a lifelong resolve for success and refused to play the part of a victim when the going got tough. It’s also refreshing to see a release that’s not afraid to showcase the story of an older woman, an often-overlooked demographic in contemporary cinema, who just might have something worth saying. “Nyad” probably doesn’t qualify as epic filmmaking, but it certainly makes the most of everything it has to work with, presenting viewers with an entertaining and inspiring watch, especially for those who feel cast aside and reconciled to their circumstances but who still have a burning desire for excellence aflame within them. The film is available for streaming as an exclusive on Netflix.
Many of us reach a point in our lives where we feel like we have nothing left to say or do. But, with sparks of commitment and fortitude in place, we can accomplish a lot – and in surprising magnitude. And, if we add to that a solid belief in our abilities, we have a combination that’s hard to beat. Whether it’s writing a memoir or overcoming a challenging illness or swimming from Cuba to Florida, they’re all attainable if we set our minds to it. These may sound like daunting tasks, but, in the end, pursuing any of them is far preferable to settling for the rocking chair and biding our time. Just ask Diana.
Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
“After Death” (2023). Cast: Interviews: Raymond Moody, Michael Sabom, Mary Neal, John Burke, Jeffrey Long, Ajmal Zemmar, Karl Greene, Howard Storm, Dale Black, Don Piper, Eva Piper, Steve Kang, Paul Ojeda; Archive Interviews: Robert Spetzler, Pam Reynolds; Re-enactments: Doug Lito, Koko Marshall, Nick McCloud, Nicholas Saenz, Kate Duffy, Fabian Jaime, Ryan Mcarthy, Chetavious Davis. Directors: Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke. Screenplay: Stephen Gray. Web site. Trailer.
Talking about the subject of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) was once about as taboo as speaking about UFOs or seeing a psychiatrist – sure signs that someone was probably psychologically unstable, even if he or she merely believed in these things, let alone having had experiences with them. Thankfully, however, those days are largely behind us now, and speaking about them openly and honestly has become much more rational and commonplace. But what exactly are they all about? That’s the focus of the enlightening new documentary, “After Death.”
This new offering from directors Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke provides viewers with a comprehensive look at a subject that was once considered suspect – even laughable – but is now taken quite seriously, including by those who were once among its greatest detractors. The film presents a detailed look at the phenomenon, featuring interviews with such researchers as Raymond Moody, who’s often credited as being primarily responsible for bringing NDEs into the mainstream dialogue, and those who have experienced these events. It also presents a series of NDE re-enactments, including depictions of what led up to them and what happened as the experiences unfolded, all backed by stunningly gorgeous CGI effects of an admittedly indescribable reality and a beautifully emotive original score.
So what characterizes these events? While everyone’s experience is highly personal, there are several elements that occur frequently and often typify what NDEs are all about. Those who are victims of accidents or trauma or who have undergone medical emergencies generally find themselves floating above their bodies, witnessing everything that’s transpiring underneath them. They’re often able to describe the scenes as they unfolded in remarkable detail, including particulars that they couldn’t have otherwise known about, given that their corporeal selves were unconscious at the time. They’re able to recall who was present, what they were saying and what measures the caregivers took to treat them. And these accounts are often extraordinarily credible for their specificity.
Consider, for example, the experience of pilot Dale Black, whose twin-engine plane crashed into the 100-foot-tall Portal of the Folded Wings aviation shrine in Valhalla Cemetery in Burbank, CA in July 1969. At the time of the crash, the plane was traveling at approximately 135 mph, and Black was the sole survivor. But, when the tragedy happened, Black was initially unsure what had happened. He looked around and saw the debris field, as well as the dead bodies of the other passengers. But what was going on with him, especially when he saw himself unconscious on the ground? After recovering, he would later describe the crash site in great detail, something he could only have seen if he were viewing the scene from above, a viewpoint that most of us typically don’t associate with conventional waking consciousness.
After such disembodied viewings, experiencers next usually find themselves in states of what appear to be perfect health, cured of whatever put them in the NDE state of mind. And, from there, they frequently experience feelings of tremendous peace, free of whatever worldly concerns may have been troubling them. They see brilliantly bright light and hear angelic music, what they often describe as the most beautiful sound they’ve ever heard.
Such was the experience of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mary Neal, who traveled to South America for a whitewater kayaking trip, one of her great passions. However, not long into her first river run, her kayak overturned, submerging her in a location that was difficult for rescuers to reach. She was underwater for 30 minutes, during which she had an NDE characterized by the foregoing conditions. But it went beyond that, too, connecting her to the next set of elements that many experiencers encounter.
Many of those who return from their NDEs say that they next find themselves in the company of a divine presence, one that can take various forms, be they angels, Jesus or God, generally based on the religious or spiritual traditions from which they adhered. They’re also frequently greeted by deceased loved ones who provide them with warm, loving, welcoming greetings. At this stage, they frequently receive guidance on what is to happen next, be it moving forward to the next state of existence or returning from whence they came, typically to complete unfinished business and/or to carry out new earthly missions. The choice is placed in the hands of the experiencers, who are free to decide what is best for them and for those closest to them.
So it was for Don Piper, whose car was struck head-on by a semi-truck in 1989. He was declared dead at the accident scene, but, 90 minutes later, he was revived, having had an experience in which he had a profound encounter with God. This incredibly vivid experience changed his life, prompting him to change course, something he did after a long recovery involving 34 surgeries. It enabled him to find a “new normal” for his daily existence.
As uplifting as these experiences can be, however, not everyone undergoes conditions that are quite as pleasant. Some have nightmarish encounters with terrifying beings that bring them face to face with some of the harsh truths of the lives they’ve been living. It forces them to take drastic measures to save themselves, often making pleas to the divine for assistance and guidance, requests that are subsequently answered with advice on how to proceed.
Such was the case with Steve Kang, who attempted a violent suicide in front of family members, and Howard Storm, who experienced an acute medical emergency as a result of a duodenal perforation. Both underwent what could only be described as descents into hell that called upon them to tap into their consciousness to save themselves with the aid of divine intervention. They came back from these experiences as changed individuals, initiatives they put into action upon their return.
The implementation of such fundamental changes is the single-most important takeaway that NDE experiencers have in common with one another. In many ways, experiencers are different people afterward than they were beforehand. They also openly acknowledge that they’re no longer afraid of death; having experienced “a preview” of the afterlife is generally enough to put their minds at ease, a message that they actively seek to convey to others as one of their chief reasons for coming back.
However, despite the consistent uniformity of the descriptions of these events, there are ample skeptics who chalk up these accounts to recollections of hallucinations that we may experience when on the verge of death. It’s an argument that could conceivably have some merit, too, given that there’s no definitive way of proving that they happened. On the other hand, there’s no way of proving that they didn’t happen, either. And experiencers have increasingly found allies to their cause among health care professionals and NDE researchers, who have found that the widespread consistencies in their accounts are hard to dismiss. The corroborating views of these experts, based on their interactions with these experiencers, are provided here to help support their accounts, including those of psychiatrist Dr. Raymond Moody, cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom, oncologist Dr. Jeffrey Long and researcher John Burke, among others. What’s more, there may even be some hard evidence to back up the contentions of NDE experiencers, as evidenced in a segment involving documented brain scan results that would appear to offer a signature blueprint of what takes place physiologically at the time of such events.
Considering the intangible nature of NDEs, what’s ultimately most important in all this is what we each believe about them, as our beliefs determine how our reality plays out, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy governing the manifestation of what we experience. According to this school of thought, our beliefs are highly personal, individualized perspectives on how we view such matters. Yet, when it comes to this subject, it’s uncanny how many of us have similar experiences. Could it be that the beliefs governing this aspect of existence have a certain universality underlying them, one that impacts all or most of us in this endeavor? And could it also be that the manifestation process that applies to crossing the threshold to the afterlife arises from the same fundamental belief-based foundation that’s employed in manifesting our lives in physical existence?
Some might argue that, if the manifesting beliefs are basically the same for all of us when we undergo this transition, then how do we account for the particularized aspects of personal intents? Admittedly, that’s a point with some merit. However, as the examples in this film illustrate, even though NDEs tend to possess certain similarities, there are nuanced differences in each individual’s beliefs at the time of death, which, in turn, affect what’s experienced. Some embark on a heavenly odyssey, while others go through trials, tribulations and passages to redemption. Likewise, some interact with the Christ consciousness, while others commune with the avatars of other faiths. And still others are sent back, while others are given a choice about what they want to do.
These variations are not unlike those that we experience on the physical plane. We all possess certain attributes and have mutual experiences in common, but there are distinguishing qualities that set us apart, too. Some of us become artists while others become laborers. Some of us are tall, thin and athletic while others turn out short, fat and clumsy. Moreover, some of us are jovial and gregarious while others are painfully shy wallflowers. In each of these cases, though, the particulars of our existence in the physical world emerge from the beliefs we put out, just as they apparently do when we die and move on to whatever comes next, despite whatever commonalities we might possess.
That’s an important notion to keep in mind as we approach our time of transition. In death, as in life, it seems that we possess the power of choice to help determine how things turn out. And that power is driven by the beliefs we hold as we move forward. That being the case, then, we should be prepared to choose wisely.
This consideration can prove particularly helpful when it comes to making choices about the life lessons we’re seeking to learn and experience, be it making decisions about the life to which we plan to return or in moving on to whatever comes next. As often becomes apparent during NDEs, experiencers frequently gain a new understanding of and appreciation for what life is all about – the opportunity to learn valuable lessons that aid in the personal and spiritual growth of our soul. It’s an insight not to be taken lightly and one for which we should carefully consider the choices we make.
In light of that, based on what’s depicted here, the time of passing would appear to be a time of opportunity, one in which our beliefs play a vital role in what manifests. And, considering the NDEs of the experiencers profiled here, we shouldn’t fear what lies ahead, given that many of us can face the prospect of being welcomed into a warm and lovingly supported existence, one in which a divine partner has our best interests at heart. It’s a time when this celestial collaborator is ready to assist us in our afterlife endeavors in much the same way as it does in our corporeal ventures. What’s to be afraid of in that?
The filmmakers behind this release present viewers with an excellent overview of what make up NDEs while simultaneously conveying the obviously heartfelt emotions associated with them, bringing the experiences home to audiences in a way that other documentaries on the subject haven’t previously been able to accomplish. It sheds profound light on what can happen when one goes through these existential gateways and how returnees are often fundamentally changed by the experiences, giving them new outlooks on life and their purpose in it. While it’s true that this offering doesn’t present much that’s especially new about NDEs and that its pacing can be a little slow (and redundant) at times, it nevertheless does a superb job of immersing viewers in the material, again, a big improvement over previous attempts at addressing this subject. And pay no heed to the cynics who have erroneously called this little more than religious propaganda; while it’s true there are some Christian-oriented references scattered throughout the film, the overall take here is more spiritual in nature, an ecumenical approach at examining the afterlife than one that’s exclusively rooted in any particular theological tradition. Viewers who may have been skeptical, unfamiliar with or skittish about this subject may find themselves surprisingly enlightened by what this release has to say. And the fact that it has been playing widely in mainstream theaters to astonishingly well-attended audiences also speaks volumes about the appeal of this title, a rare feat for a documentary on an esoteric topic. As this film so astutely shows, death isn’t the end – and it’s high time we stopped looking at it that way.
Charting new territory can be a daunting prospect for some of us, especially when it comes to a subject like this, one that has long been tainted by fears and unknowns. However, if knowledge is indeed power, then what this documentary has to offer could prove to be invaluable to those filled with doubts and apprehensions. It makes a compelling case about what lies ahead and why we shouldn’t fear it. To be sure, no one wants to go before his or her time, but, with that said, we shouldn’t be afraid of what will happen when that time eventually comes. And, given what we see here, we can assuredly take comfort in that.
Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Monday, November 13, 2023
Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday November 14, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Podchaser, Audible, Deezer, Podcast Addict and Jiosaavn.
Sunday, November 5, 2023
“Fingernails” (2023). Cast: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White, Luke Wilson, Christian Meer, Amanda Arcuri, Annie Murphy, Albert Chung, Heather Dicke, Tameka Griffiths, Juno Rinaldi. Director: Christos Nikou. Screenplay: Christos Nikou, Sam Steiner and Stavros Raptis. Web site. Trailer.
How do we know when we’re in love? And, even if we suspect we are, how do we know if we’re with the right person? In an age where individuals are increasingly out of touch with their own feelings – especially the one they seem to crave the most – these are pressing questions that desperately beg answers. So what should we do? Maybe technology is the answer. But how reliable is it? Can we trust it to give us definitive, accurate, meaningful results? Those are the issues raised in the heartfelt yet delightfully offbeat new romantic comedy-drama, “Fingernails.”
Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) have been a couple for three years. They got that way thanks to a radical new medical test that had been developed to verify the truthfulness of their compatibility and love for one another. Strangely enough, the researchers who developed the technique found that bona fide amour for another person (regardless of sexual orientation) begins in, of all places, one’s fingernails. So, to determine the validity of those feelings for one another, test participants are required to each have one of their fingernails removed (talk about an act of commitment), which are then simultaneously run through a specialized electronic device that reveals the results, providing supposedly unquestionable proof of a couple’s true love (or lack thereof) for one another. And, thanks to the test results for Anna and Ryan, they were scientifically declared a perfect match.
Despite such seemingly convincing evidence, however, not everyone is sold on the procedure and its supporting technology. Some doubt its accuracy, and others believe that good old-fashioned gut feelings are better romantic indicators for finding prospective mates. Many are also afraid to undergo the procedure for fear of what results might turn up, given the test’s supposed infallibility and the fact that negative responses heavily outweigh positive outcomes. Nevertheless, those who are pleased with their findings swear by the procedure, especially since the number of positive results has been steadily rising, despite still being in the minority of outcomes. And, while taking the test is not compulsory, its advocates’ numbers have been growing, and they have actively sought to encourage others to take it.
But, even with the procedure’s allegedly impeccable record of accuracy, can it really be trusted? That’s something Anna speculates about, especially since her relationship with Ryan appears to have been growing progressively stale over time. She can’t help but wonder if she and Ryan have simply fallen into a rut or whether their test results were wrong. She quietly decides to investigate further.
As a schoolteacher by profession, Anna tells Ryan that she’s looking for a new job while discreetly seeking employment at a company called The Love Institute. This organization, the brainchild of its founder, Duncan (Luke Wilson), administers the test to would-be partners. However, in an effort to help bolster positive results (and lessen the anguish for those who receive negative outcomes), the Institute offers various training exercises designed to measure the intimacy of aspiring couples. Most of these exercises are based on placing participants in scenarios where the depth of their feelings for, and commitments to, their romantic prospects are demonstrably drawn out, a supposed indicator of whether their compatibility is sufficient enough to move ahead with the test – and to help prepare them for the results they get.
While the intent behind these exercises is seemingly sincere and rooted in what is apparently sound logic, they are, nevertheless, largely romantically clichéd, superficially naïve and often preposterous, making them hilarious to witness, despite the genuine faith that their participants and facilitators appear to place in them. The exercises include situations like skydiving together to measure the couples’ responses to one another under potential duress. Another requires them to give themselves minor electric shocks with tasers when one of them departs and leaves the other alone, a gesture designed to evoke the pain of separation anxiety and thereby deepen their feelings for one another. And still others are in the development stage, such as placing the couples in a movie theater and (unbeknownst to them) simulating the outbreak of a fire to examine their commitment to one another in a crisis situation. (Yeah, like those are all going to work.)
Despite the strangeness of all this, Anna forges ahead and lands a job at the Institute, serving as an exercise facilitator. She hopes that spending time learning these concepts for herself will help her assess the state of her relationship with Ryan. However, in an effort to keep him from becoming unduly worried about the reasons behind this unexpected employment decision (and potentially undermining the health of their relationship, whatever is left of it), Anna says nothing about the new position, instead pretending to have landed a job at a new school. Ryan doesn’t suspect that anything is wrong, but he seems a little perplexed by some of her behavior and uncharacteristic suggestions for leisure-time activities, all of which are based on insights she gleans from her new job. She tries to keep her true intentions low key through this process, but, as these situations unfold – and the outcomes from them further raise her suspicions about the viability of their relationship – she grows increasingly uncomfortable and unsure about how long she can remain silent about what she’s doing.
Circumstances grow more complicated when she’s assigned to shadow a fellow facilitator, Amir (Riz Ahmed), to learn the ropes of the job. They get along famously, and, as time passes, it becomes apparent that there’s more going on here than the development of a collegial working relationship. An undeniable, decidedly sensuous mutual attraction begins to surface, but they keep their feelings to themselves, never saying a word about what’s quite obviously emerging. In part that’s due to the fact that they’re both in verified committed relationships, Anna with Ryan and Amir with his partner of two years, Natasha (Annie Murphy). In part, that’s also due to their status as co-workers. And, in yet another part, that’s due to the fact that they’ve made relationship decisions based on the results of a procedure in which they’ve supposedly placed their complete trust. But are those considerations reasons enough to keep them apart? Is it possible that what’s in their hearts can trump what’s in their fingernails?
As these feelings intensify, Anna approaches Duncan with a hypothetical – is it possible for someone to develop feelings of true love with more than one person? He insists that the answer is “no.” He compares such a scenario to that of a woman six months into a pregnancy who suddenly and simultaneously becomes pregnant for a second time – an innately physical impossibility. She’s dejected by his response, but she also can’t ignore her emotions. What is she to do?
While Anna attempts to sort out her feelings, she also becomes aware that Amir’s relationship with Natasha is not everything he claims it to be. This, coupled with the growing sense of loneliness she’s experiencing in her partnership with Ryan, leave her uncertain about her future. How can she resolve this situation? And what will it bring her? Love may be a many splendored thing, but it can also be as confusing as hell.
When it comes to something as important as love – arguably the most important consideration in our lives – in the end, it all depends on what we believe about the subject. And that’s crucial, given that our beliefs determine what ultimately manifests in our existence, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy governed by this essential cornerstone principle. It’s not clear how many of us have bought into this notion, as evidenced by the character of the narrative driving this story. But, for those of us who have done so, the results generally speak for themselves, especially if we’ve been able to find “the one” who makes our lives worth living. And, almost assuredly, that’s because, on some level, we believe in the materialization of that possibility as a given in the unfolding of our reality, be it in romance or otherwise.
The fact that many of the individuals in this story feel the need to draw upon something outside of themselves – namely, the procedure and the technology that together dictate results to us that we can’t figure out on our own – in itself illustrates the lack of faith we place in our beliefs to guide us in answering our own questions, determining what we want for ourselves and envisioning what will transpire down the road. Consider the examples set by two of the couples seeking assistance in the film, Rob and Sally (Christian Meet, Amanda Arcuri) and John and Maria (Albert Chung, Heather Dicke). Simply by watching how they handle the exercises and interact with one another, it should be patently obvious what kinds of test results they’re going to get, and, as a consequence of this, they’re likely to formulate beliefs (consciously or not) that carry them in the direction they’re destined to head, for better or worse. But, either way, in their cases, their own internally developed convictions don’t appear to be enough to provide the necessary clarity, and so they rely on the findings of a dubious procedure and a machine resembling a microwave oven to give them the answers.
Can’t these couples genuinely tell for themselves? Seriously? It’s been said that, because we can be so unavoidably close to some situations, we’re unable to see them for what they really are, that we really can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. Or, put another way, love truly may be blind; otherwise, it might see too much. But is this sentiment a viable explanation for this perspective or a convenient cop-out that allows us to grow comfortable with the denial of our own insights?
That’s an intriguing question, to be sure. And it takes on new light when it’s put to the facilitators at The Love Institute – the supposed experts in these matters – when it comes to looking at their own relationships. Even the casual observer can see that things aren’t exactly working between Anna and Ryan and between Amir and Natasha. For instance, when Anna seeks to cozy up with her man for a warm, intimate evening at home, one might think that would involve something more romantic than sitting on the couch and watching a wildlife documentary about caribous, especially when Ryan seems to be paying more attention to the film than to the person next to him. This cringeworthy discomfort is further echoed by Anna’s reluctance to tell Ryan about taking a job at the Institute; if he’s truly her loving partner, why can’t she be honest with him about something so basic as this?
Similarly, when both couples attend a party one evening, Anna is surprised that Natasha seems unaware of Amir’s gluten allergy, something that Anna became aware of in passing while she and Amir shared lunch at work one day. Anna legitimately wonders how an individual supposedly so intimately involved with another could not know something as potentially important as that.
In both of these cases, the unsettled partners suspect that something is amiss in their relationships, but they don’t see the handwriting on the wall. Is it because they don’t believe in such disconnects? Or is it because they don’t want to believe in them? If the latter is the case, that’s probably because they’re afraid of the ramifications of embracing the true beliefs that they hold about their circumstances deep down inside. Doing so could readily cause everything to unravel in their partnerships. What’s more, though, buying into these notions would shake their faith in the validity of the procedure and the supposedly infallible results it yields. That would clearly undermine the work they’re doing as facilitators and make them feel (and possibly look) like hypocrites. But, even more profoundly, such an admission would put the responsibility for making their own romantic decisions squarely back on their own shoulders. They would no longer be able to abandon their accountability for their actions by putting it in the hands of a cold, unfeeling medical procedure and arbitrarily relying on the results its technological cohort spits out. That would ostensibly be more blind than love itself. Relationships, it would thus seem, can be very scary undertakings indeed.
But doesn’t that consideration come with the territory where love is concerned? Love is an exploration that takes us into uncharted territory potentially filled with great wonders that exceed our imaginations. It tests us, both in terms of our willingness to explore such possibilities and to do so with a caring, endearing companion who accompanies us for the ride. There are no guarantees in this, however, and that can be incredibly frightening to those who aspire to live in a reality where they insist upon certitude up front. But imbuing our existence with such rigid, intractable certainty also removes much of the spontaneity and exhilaration that come with such a wondrous journey. So which of the foregoing options is preferable in the end?
Those who are willing to take the risk must therefore be willing to make a commitment to such an unscripted odyssey, and that calls for examining one’s heartfelt beliefs to determine who would make a suitable traveling companion – someone we can believe in, someone who is the right person to take the plunge with, not someone who’s the product of a computer-generated readout based on potentially suspect research. The evidence of that is ironically borne out in a scene early on in the film at a meeting of the Institute’s new facilitators in which one of the fledgling recruits (Tameka Griffiths) innocently asks Duncan, “What do we do if someone [seeking to take the test] has no arms?”, to which he simply replies, “I don’t know.” No arms, no fingernails, no proof of innate compatibility. So much for science having all the answers when it comes to love. Game, set, match.
As potentially implausible yet delightfully quirky as “Fingernails” is, this insightful romantic comedy-drama nevertheless takes viewers on a heartfelt, albeit absurdist, odyssey about the nature of love. Writer-director Christos Nikou’s second feature outing, an excellent follow-up to his superb debut, “Apples” (“Mila”) (2020), hits his second cinematic home run in a row. The filmmaker explores the subject in a highly unconventional way, presenting audiences with a decidedly offbeat but thoroughly thoughtful “what if” approach to something for which we all seek guidance, feedback and answers. In an age where the many lost souls among us seek enlightenment and verification of our feelings through almost any means possible, Nikou shows us a good place to start, one that many often unwittingly overlook (or willfully ignore). The film accomplishes this by skillfully weaving together these profound ideas with sublime yet sidesplitting humor and eccentric, enigmatic theoretical concepts that give us much to ponder, qualities that helped to stylistically establish and distinguish Nikou as a director, both in his first film and again here. In this offering, however, he builds upon that artistic foundation by adding themes aimed at promoting truly genuine feelings aimed at plucking the heartstrings without becoming manipulative or sappy, creating a layered, thought-provoking, richly rewarding viewing experience.
This is all brought to life by the fine performances of the three protagonists and an excellent supporting cast, backed by skillfully crafted humor parodying a number of other films (such as a hilarious send-up of a famous scene from “Ghost” (1990)) and a nuanced soundtrack consisting of deftly chosen selections that definitively set the mood for countless scenes. Admittedly, the generally solid pacing could have used some tweaking in a few sequences, and the ending could have been a little better developed, but these modest shortcomings detract little from the overall quality of this fine production. If you doubt that, see this one for yourself and let your own mind – and not some technical contraption or overly intellectualized abstraction – decide for you. The film has been playing the festival circuit and had a brief, limited theatrical release, but it’s now available for streaming online as an AppleTV+ exclusive.
Can old-fashioned intuition legitimately trump allegedly solid science, particularly at a time when technology is being trumpeted as a panacea for all of our problems, including those of an emotional nature? If you have to ask the question, you may well miss the point that this picture is trying to make. But, if you’re unsure about that, give this one a look to see what it has to say. And, if you’re still not clear about the answer after that, consider taking up residence at a cloistered monastery, a step that should allow you to cross off one of the biggest line items on your life’s to-do list.
Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Join yours truly and show host Frankie Picasso for looks at four new films and two film festival wrap-ups on this month’s movie review edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast, to begin airing Thursday November 2 at 1 pm ET. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!