It’s Good To Be Back!
It feels like I’ve been gone forever.
As you’re probably aware, the web site of The Good Radio Network was senselessly hacked a few months ago, necessitating its complete refurbishment, and what a fine, fine job the web master has done. Still, events like that make me wonder what goes through the minds of the attackers. What’s to be gained from such a pointless act?
In any event, my apologies to those of you who’ve been expecting to see new entries to this page during that time. I’ve been itching to tell readers about all of the wonderful new releases that have come out during this movies awards season. And, now that the site has been rebuilt, I’ll once again be able to do just that.
Regrettably, because of the extent of the hacking, all of the previous entries to this page were completely wiped out. But, thankfully, that’s why we keep backups of things. So, while we’re not able to restore the pages in their original forms, we nevertheless have material that we can resurrect from the archives. And, since most of the movies that we’ve profiled here either have made it to DVD, Blu-ray disk or streaming services (or will do so eventually), they’re readily available for viewer screening. So, in upcoming issues, look for legacy entries of some of our past favorites under the “Best of Movies with Meaning” banner. If there are any movies in particular that you’d like to see us bring back, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It truly is good to be back. Now, on to the show…
In Theaters Now
Reaching for the stars, both literally and figuratively, is quite a lofty goal. It’s especially ennobling for those who seem to have the deck stacked against them but whose ambitions are so fervent that they refuse to be denied the pursuit of their goals. Success under such circumstances means a lot, as evidenced by the efforts of a trio of enlightened, irrepressible dreamers seeking to achieve greatness for themselves and for a cause near and dear to them, the subject of the inspiring new biopic, “Hidden Figures” (web site, trailer).
As the space race began heating up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the American effort needed the best and the brightest minds it could find to keep pace with an aggressive Soviet program that chalked up a string of impressive accomplishments. NASA recruited anyone who possessed the talents required to fulfill its needs, including those who were otherwise marginalized by mainstream society, such as women and minorities. That attitude afforded tremendous opportunities to those who might otherwise be left on the economic and professional sidelines, even if some of the challenges and prejudices they faced in the outside world reared their ugly heads inside the ranks of the space agency as well. But, for three gifted African-American women working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, those obstacles were not enough to keep them down – or from realizing their dreams.
Working with complex mathematical equations came naturally to Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a skill invaluable to an agency dependent on numerical precision (especially without the benefit of computers). As part of a team of human “calculators,” Katherine stood out, her abilities eventually landing her a position on the team charged with planning the launch and re-entry trajectories for NASA’s Mercury program. Although thrilled for the opportunity, Katherine quickly came to face the same kinds of discrimination inside her all-white, all-male workplace that she faced in segregationist Virginia society at large. In the view of close-minded co-workers like Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), the Mercury program team was no place for a woman, let alone one of African-American background.
So, to fit in (and to keep her job), Katherine put up with those conditions at first. This meant tolerating such institutionalized indignities as having to walk a half mile to a different building to use the only “coloreds” restroom available nearby, a severe inconvenience and a serious hindrance to her productivity. But such impediments didn’t keep Katherine from doing her job. And so, when it became apparent that her colleagues couldn’t get by without her, she began flexing her muscles, an action not lost on her boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Al saw what she was up against and unreservedly came to her defense, immediately leveling the playing field for her, regardless of how his other team members felt.
While Katherine was busy laying the foundation for the success of the Mercury program, colleagues from her calculator group were looking for their own springboards to success. For Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), the group’s de facto (though unofficial) supervisor, that opportunity came when she began looking into the technology that was threatening to put her and her peers out of work – a state-of-the-art IBM mainframe computer capable of performing thousands of calculations per second.
Aware of the job security implications associated with this new technology, Dorothy began studying how it worked, an investigation that gave her a novel idea: Even though the computer could perform calculations far faster than its human counterparts, it would need trained programmers to make it operate. And, given that trained programmers were a rarity at the time, even among the ranks of IBM’s employees, Dorothy made it a point to learn how to run the device and, in turn, how to train her colleagues. This enabled NASA to make use of its new toy while preserving the jobs of her group members. It also earned Dorothy the official title of supervisor, along with the pay and perks accompanying it.
Meanwhile, another calculator group member, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), followed a different course. Her knack for all things engineering landed her a spot on the team conducting performance testing on the Mercury capsules. Her aptitude for the work caught the attention of Karl Zielinski (Olek Krupa), one of the team’s engineers, who encouraged Mary to pursue becoming a full-fledged engineer in her own right.
Given her collegiate background, and with Karl’s support, Mary applied to become a NASA engineer, a dream that was very nearly quashed when her icy, by-the-book supervisor, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), informed her that she didn’t meet the qualifications. To come into compliance, Mary would have to complete several extension courses. There was just one problem with that: The classes were only taught at one local high school – and an all-white one at that. Mary wouldn’t be allowed to become an engineer without the required courses, yet she wouldn’t be allowed to take the classes where they were taught because she was black. Needless to say, Mary wouldn’t hear of that, taking matters into her own hands – and to court.
The contributions Katherine, Dorothy and Mary made to NASA were considerable, yet their efforts, until now, have largely gone unrecognized. And they were by no means the only women, the only African-Americans nor the only African-American women who aided the U.S. space program, both in the race to the moon and thereafter. That’s where this movie comes in, celebrating the meaningful lives and careers of those long “hidden figures” who made so much possible. Of course, those remarkable contributors were so passionate about their work and had such tremendous faith in themselves that they knew they would be able to succeed with their plans. Their resolute confidence and their sure-footed sense of themselves serve as a shining example to anyone seeking to fulfill grand aspirations.
This delightfully inspiring comedy-drama is a flat-out winner, an incredible crowd-pleaser that fires on virtually every cylinder. Its inspiring narrative comes across like a curious fusion of “The Right Stuff” (1983) and “The Help” (2011), films that celebrate personal heroism in their own unique ways. With the possible exception of the need for a better-developed back story, this thoughtful and humorous historical drama hits all the right notes and does so without going over the top, becoming excessively preachy or lapsing into heavy-duty schmaltz. The picture’s incisive script and superb ensemble cast performances make this one to see for audiences of all ages.
For its efforts, “Hidden Figures” has garnered considerable awards season recognition. The film won the National Board of Review and Screen Actors Guild Awards for best ensemble cast. In addition, the picture has earned three Oscar nominations (best picture, adapted screenplay, supporting actress (Spencer)), three Critics Choice Award nominations (best ensemble, adapted screenplay, supporting actress (Monáe)), two Golden Globe Award nominations (best original score, supporting actress (Spencer)) and two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations (best ensemble, supporting actress (Spencer)).
One of the things that keeps us going as human beings is our desire to rise to our own greatness. It’s an aspiration that can appear quite daunting, perhaps even impossible, but those circumstances often don’t stop us from pursuing that Quixotic quest. Like the mythical Sisyphus, we insist on continually rolling that giant boulder to the top of the hill, no matter how many times it may fall back down, all in the hope that our efforts will pay off – because, one of these times, they just might. That’s the sort of meaningful determination Katherine, Dorothy and Mary employed in their respective undertakings, and just look at what it got them. We should all be so motivated. And, if we were to be, we’d then know the joy, satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with us reaching for the stars – and getting there.
For a complete review, click here.
Wrestling with Our Personal Limitations
The parameters of our existence define the reality we experience. But who or what defines those parameters? Discovering a meaningful answer to that question has been a source of debate for eons, but, when we take a really close look at it, we find that the responsibility rests squarely in our own hands, an idea thoughtfully explored in the engaging new stage-to-screen adaptation of playwright August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, “Fences” (web site, trailer).
Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a walking contradiction. As someone with a somewhat checkered past, including a stint in prison, he’s spent much time and effort since his release trying to get things straight in his life. Having missed his shot at being a standout baseball player (partly due to his jail time cutting into what would have been a promising career), he has since worked hard to make something of himself. He now holds a regular job as a trash collector for the City of Pittsburgh, and he’s determined to move up to the position of driver, a promotion that would make him the first in the city, quite an accomplishment in the pre-Civil Rights Era of the 1950s.
Troy has also worked hard at being a good husband, father, brother and friend. He adores his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and he has done his best to instill a sense of responsibility in his sons, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo). He does everything he can to care for his brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), a victim of a severe World War II head injury that has left him emotionally unstable and routinely delusional. And he’s always generous to his good friend and co-worker, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who never hesitates to return the favor.
But, in spite of these laudable attributes, Troy has a darker side, too. Some might say he drinks a little too much. Despite his love for Rose, he’s been having an affair behind her back, one that has led to the unplanned conception of a love child. What’s more, despite his concern for his sons developing a sense of personal responsibility, he’s so hard on them that he often drives them away by continually doubting their reliability to keep their word or insisting that they pursue the ambitions he believes they should follow. And, even though he claims he’s got Gabe’s best interests at heart, some would say that some of his tactics in that regard aren’t entirely above board.
Troy’s conflicted behavior, to some, might indicate a proclivity toward self-sabotage. Despite his verbal protestations to the contrary, his actions often indicate otherwise. His own difficult past, it seems, has forced him into being unduly hard on himself. It’s as if he’s continually punishing himself for past mistakes. Just when he’s about to get ahead in some way, something always seems to come along – generally of his own making – to set him back. And, when he’s not inflicting harms on himself, he ostensibly projects this metaphorical form of self-flagellation onto others, like Lyons and Cory. Despite his claims of offering such “advice” for their own good, he needlessly drives a wedge between him and them, perilously endangering those relationships.
Unfortunately, Troy is trapped – and he doesn’t know how to resolve his circumstances nor how to remove himself from them. And, fittingly, that’s where this story’s title comes from. One of the long-standing home improvement projects Troy has been working on (or, more precisely, intending to work on) for years is the construction of a fence on the periphery of his property’s backyard. His protracted procrastination has even become a source of considerable ribbing. But, all jokes aside, as Mr. Bono astutely observes in one scene, “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.” In Troy’s case, he’s done some of both metaphorically speaking, keeping at bay those most able to help him and unwittingly penning himself within the confines of his own limiting outlooks. And, over time, it becomes an increasingly more imposing situation, one that threatens to keep him permanently locked in place.
For all of his attempts at changing his life, Troy is nonetheless bought in to an array of limiting beliefs that prevent him from meaningfully moving forward. Some of them no doubt stem from his upbringing and personal history. Others can be chalked up to an attitude of “that’s just the way things are.” Regardless of their source, however, these beliefs no longer serve him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they must remain in place as part of his prevailing worldview as he marches into the future.
At the same time, this is not to suggest that all is lost, either. On some level, Troy recognizes the need for assistance in getting himself out of his own way, and, to that end, he has successfully drawn others into his life to aid him in doing just that. His sons, for instance, set excellent examples of taking personal responsibility, even if their actions don’t necessarily match what Troy believes they should do to demonstrate that capability. Moreover, the presence of his beloved Rose illustrates that it’s indeed possible to attract loving, supportive souls into his existence to assist him with his various personal challenges. Even his unborn child holds incredible promise for helping him alter the course of his impending future. Troy truly has the potential to benefit tremendously from all of them, provided he allows their influence in to help him shape the tenor and character of his beliefs. Whether or not he does that, however, depends on how widely he’s able to extend his envisioning abilities and how courageously he’s willing to exercise his powers of choice and free will. In the end, that’s all on him.
“Fences” offers viewers a faithful theater-to-screen adaptation of its source material that, refreshingly, doesn’t feel particularly stagey (as often happens with such translations). The film features superb performances by the excellent ensemble cast, all of whom earnestly bring their characters to life and captivate us from start to finish. This is especially true for Davis, who is clearly in her element here, Washington, who turns in his best work since “Malcolm X” (1992), and Williamson, who delivers a performance that, regrettably, has stayed off the recognition radar this awards season. Playwright August Wilson’s screen adaptation of his own work generally sparkles, despite a slight tendency to drag a bit in a few spots. Nevertheless, the picture is a well-crafted vehicle for telling its story, deftly mixing humor, heartfelt emotion and riveting drama, not an easy fusion to realize.
For its efforts, the film is garnering a wide array of accolades, including best picture in the Critics Choice and Academy Award contests. But Davis has taken the lion’s share of the honors thus far, having won Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards as best supporting actress. Washington has earned considerable praise as well, receiving the Screen Actors Guild Award for best lead actor, a performance for which he also received nominations in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Academy Award contests, along with a best director bid in the Critics Choice Award competition. The picture’s excellent ensemble was recognized with nominations in the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice Award contests, and playwright August Wilson has captured Oscar and Critics Choice Award nominations for best adapted screenplay. That’s quite a haul.
The barriers we place around ourselves shape the existence we experience on the earthly plane, so, if we’re to get the most out of it, we had better set our sights carefully. We must also recognize that we’re not prisoners of our own fences, no matter how seemingly imposing or impenetrable they may appear. In the end, we can always rebuild them in ways that enable us to become enrapt in the kinds of joys and redemption we thought inaccessible. Indeed, we need not stay stuck; rather, we can attain all the wonders we’re capable of envisioning – as long as we allow it.
For a complete review, click here.
On the Radio This Week
Join host Frankie Picasso and me this Thursday, February 2 at 1 pm ET for the next Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio. We’ll talk about several current film releases and other movie news. Tune in live or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk!
Keeping Ourselves Honest
When life doesn’t turn out as hoped for, we often scratch our heads in bewilderment. “Why did that happen?” we ask ourselves. It’s at that point when we should probably take a look at the integrity of the beliefs that manifested such experiences. Find out more by reading “Keeping Ourselves Honest,” my latest article in the Conscious Cinema series of New Consciousness Review magazine, available by clicking here.
In addition, this latest edition of the magazine features the HAPI Guide, a valuable resource that lists the profiles and contact information of professionals whose practices focus on Happiness, Awakening, Purpose and Inspiration. The listings cover professionals working in a wide range of services and disciplines. (You just might find a profile for someone you know, too.) And, as always, there’s an array of articles covering many topics from spirituality to healthy living, so be sure to check it out to find everything it has to offer!
The Judges Have Spoken
My thanks to the judges of the 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards competition for their thoughtful analyses of my books, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction, both of which were entered in the contest. Their kind words and generous support of my work are truly appreciated. Read their specific comments about each title by clicking here.
The Top – and Bottom – 10 of 2016
So what were your favorite – and least favorite – movies of 2016? I’ve made my list, and you can read about it on my web site’s Blog Page by clicking here. Check it out to see how we compare!
Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.