In Theaters

When the chips are down, it’s comforting to know that there are those who have your back. That’s especially true for the residents of countries that have social services systems in place to provide the needed support in times of events like unemployment and health crises. It’s truly reassuring that those structures will be there when they’re needed. But will they really? Do the agencies responsible for administering these services live up to their billing? And what happens if someone in need fails to properly comply with bureaucratic dictates by not dotting an “i” or crossing a “t”? Those are the maddening frustrations explored in the moving new British drama, “I, Daniel Blake” (web site, trailer).

When 59-year-old Newcastle construction worker Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) suffers a heart attack while on the job, he’s laid up while he recovers. He subsequently undergoes cardiac rehab and manages to bounce back relatively well, seemingly fit to return to work. But, when his medical evaluators fail to clear him for employment, he’s unable to return to his job. At the same time, though, because of his improved health, he’s deemed ineligible to receive government-sponsored support to see him through the remainder of his recovery. Caught between these conflicting assessments, Daniel is thus left without a source of income. He then attempts to sort matters out, a task that proves much more difficult than expected when dealing with an oblivious, uncaring, inept bureaucracy.

Frustrated by the bureaucracy of the social services system, construction worker Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, right) and single mother Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires, left) seek to support one another through their hardships in the new British drama, “I, Daniel Blake.” Photo by Joss Barratt, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

While appealing his case at a local job assistance center, Daniel befriends a young single mother, Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires), and her two children, Daisy (Brianna Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan). He helps Katie get back on her feet, and she returns the favor when she’s able. More than anything, though, they provide one another with much-needed support when facing a common foe – one that shouldn’t even be a foe in the first place.

As Daniel, Katie and the children attempt to navigate their way through a system that’s anything but user friendly, they come to see the reality of an establishment that’s fundamentally more intent upon discouraging constituents from seeking assistance than actually providing them with the benefits to which they’re entitled as taxpayers. This is perhaps best illustrated by the formal reprimand given to a concerned case worker (Kate Rutter) after she attempts to assist Daniel in deciphering the confounding requirements with which he’s expected to comply. It’s also apparent through the bureaucracy’s cold, unfeeling reliance on Internet-based procedures and protocols, tasks that applicants are expected to become proficient at – and skills unlikely to be on the radar of a 59-year-old laborer whose working life has never brought him into contact with a computer.

Single mother Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires, second from left) confronts an uncaring social services manager (Stephen Clegg, left) when she unsuccessfully seeks assistance for herself and her two children, Dylan (Dylan McKiernan, second from right) and Daisy (Brianna Shann, right), in director Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake.” Photo by Joss Barratt, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

Despite the lack of compassion in officialdom, however, there are those in society who indeed feel for those who are down on their luck, as Daniel and Katie discover when they avail themselves of the generosity offered by charitable organizations. Those groups know what people need and rise to the occasion accordingly. They set an example their government peers should follow.

Populist filmmaker Ken Loach serves up one of his best offerings in this release. Despite a slight tendency to meander at times, the film nevertheless poignantly shows the myriad hardships that individuals like Daniel and Katie must endure when faced with the kinds of circumstances they’re saddled with. The fine performances of Johns and Squires, as well as Paul Laverty’s excellent script, bring these conditions down to a truly human level, showing us what our less fortunate peers need and, one would hope, inspiring us to call for fixes to a system sorely in need of repair.

Although “I, Daniel Blake” is just now making its way to North America, it’s been widely screened in Europe and has been richly rewarded in overseas awards competitions. The picture was named best British film in the BAFTA Awards, the UK’s equivalent of the Oscars, a competition in which it also received nominations for best film, director, screenplay and supporting actress (Squires). In addition, the picture captured three awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d’Or, the Festival’s highest honor.

Construction worker Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, second from right) and single mother Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires, second from left), along with her two children, Dylan (Dylan McKiernan, right) and Daisy (Brianna Shann, left), battle an unfeeling social services system in “I, Daniel Blake.” Photo by Joss Barratt, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

“I, Daniel Blake” isn’t always the easiest film to watch, but it effectively tugs at the heart strings and even rouses a certain degree of justifiable ire. It also demonstrates what it means to be truly compassionate in the face of adversity, be it through the efforts of collective or individual efforts. Those in government who willfully bury their heads in their rulebooks can learn a lot from this film – provided they take the time to lift their heads out of those rulebooks in the first place. (Let’s hope they do.)

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

“Third Real” Is Coming!

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment.

I’m delighted to announce the upcoming release of my new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, which will be making its official debut this fall. This new title, the latest in my series of books designed to show how movies illustrate the principles of conscious creation (also known as the law of attraction), is a follow-up to its two predecessors, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction. It builds on the principles introduced in those books, showing how readers can enhance their conscious creation practices to make them more effective and better targeted.

Third Real will be available in print and e-book formats from all major online retailers. Watch for further details about the release date, radio interviews about the book, social media pages dedicated to this title and other exciting news. You, too, can learn how to draw from the inspiration of the movies to write the script of your life!

Cover designs by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment.

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Mia Madre

Coping with the impending death of a loved one presents each of us with a unique challenge. How do we respond? Do we approach it directly, seeing circumstances for what they are? Or do we hold out hope against hope, running the risk of drowning in denial? What’s more, what impact does such an event have on our outlook regarding our own mortality? Those are among the questions posed in the emotional Italian comedy-drama, “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”) (web site, trailer), now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Middle-aged filmmaker Margherita (Margherita Buy) and her brother, Giovanni (Nanni Moretti), are slowly watching their elderly mother, Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), die in a Rome hospital bed. Giovanni has taken a leave of absence from his job to address Ada’s many health care issues head on, while Margherita struggles to maintain a normal routine in between hospital visits. That’s quite a full plate, too, given that she’s working on a new film with a popular but temperamental American actor, Barry Huggins (John Turturro), and preparing for a visit from her teenage daughter, Livia (Beatrice Mancini). But is Margherita’s attempt at trying to do everything some kind of statement about her organizational skills, or is she putting up a façade to hide her feelings about what’s really happening?

Middle-aged filmmaker Margherita (Margherita Buy, right) struggles to cope with the impending death of her elderly mother, Ada (Giulia Lazzarini, left), in the touching new comedy-drama, “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

As Ada’s condition deteriorates, Margherita finds herself becoming embroiled in various distractions – some ridiculous, some pleasant, some troubling – in a less-than-veiled attempt to take her mind off things. But, no matter how much she tries to focus on addressing these diversions and other everyday affairs, the reality of her mother’s circumstances increasingly creeps into her consciousness. These thoughts become reinforced through her memories of Ada (told through flashbacks), several poignant dream sequences and incidents evidencing her mother’s failing mental state, all of which serve to bring present circumstances front and center. They also compel Margherita to look at what she’s done with her own life and what the future might hold, realizations that force her into facing the fact that whatever transpires is all on her, something she doesn’t seem to have examined quite so pointedly until now. 

Death, as we all know, is an inevitability. But, until that time comes, so is life, and how we approach it is just as important as what we do as the end draws near. We can choose to view our existence as a sequence of situations that never quite measure up to expectations, or we can look upon it optimistically, with hope for tomorrow, even if that tomorrow never comes. As noted above, it all depends on us and what we do with our circumstances, a lesson we’d best learn while we still have the chance.

Frustrated director Margherita (Margherita Buy, left) struggles to keep her wits about her when dealing with a popular but temperamental American actor, Barry Huggins (John Turturro, right), in filming her latest production in the touching new comedy-drama, “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Though slow to start and occasionally uneven, “Mia Madre” presents an ambitious look at life, death and how we approach each that gets progressively better the further one gets into the film. Excellent performances abound, with many scenes that are raucously funny and others that are sublimely touching. Be patient with screening this one; it takes a little time to develop, but the wait is worth it. 

A full review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.