In Theaters

The longer we live, the luckier we’re supposed to believe we are, right? But what if that long life is devoid of meaning? In those cases, it seems like we just keep going on and on but without purpose or a sense of what life’s all about. Is that enough? And will we be satisfied when we finally reach the end? Those are among the challenges posed to a 90-year-old atheist in the meditative new character study, “Lucky” (web site, trailer).

Living life as a recluse in a small town in the Arizona desert is almost as barren as the surrounding landscape. So it is with Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton), a retired World War II Navy cook who has outlived nearly everyone he has ever known. By all rights, outsiders might wonder how he’s managed to live so long, too, given his nearly incessant chain smoking and routine alcohol use. It’s a complete mystery to his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.), who tells the nonagenarian that, by most measures, Lucky should have keeled over a long time ago. Yet somehow he keeps going, probably thanks to his robust walking and yoga regimens, practices that seem to keep him surprisingly healthy for his age. Some would say that’s what makes Lucky lucky.

Ninety-year-old atheist Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) comes face to face with the meaning of life in the thoughtful new cinematic meditation, “Lucky.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

A wrinkle occurs, however, when a minor unexpected health incident strikes Lucky, leaving him and his physician perplexed. With no apparent cause for the episode, Lucky is left to figure out what caused it. But, as he gradually comes to discover, what’s more important than its cause is why it occurred in the first place.

In particular, Lucky realizes that he must come to grips with the meaning of life, especially now that its end may be nearing, a preview of which the health incident provided. But, as someone who has long put off ruminating on such issues, Lucky is unsure of how to proceed. What should he look for? Who should he turn to for advice and guidance? And will he recognize the answer when he finds it? That may be rather challenging, too, given that, as a longtime atheist whose general outlook on life is somewhat dour, he seems to hold out little hope for happiness and salvation, both for himself and mankind in general.

Amazed at his 90-year-old patient’s remarkable health, Dr. Christian Needler (Ed Begley Jr., right) discusses the regimens employed by Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton, left), a spry but reclusive retired military vet, in director John Carroll Lynch’s debut feature, “Lucky.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Through a series of everyday encounters that prove to be deceptively insightful, Lucky begins to see glimmers of the answers he’s been looking for. These include conversations with the jovial owner of a local diner (Barry Shabaka Henley) and his kindly waitress (Yvonne Huff); a chance meeting with a fellow World War II vet (Tom Skerritt); frequent interactions with the staff and patrons of a local nightspot (Beth Grant, Hugo Armstrong, James Darren); two intense confrontations with an estate planning lawyer (Ron Livingston); a birthday celebration with a convenience store clerk (Bertila Damas) and her sweet mother (Ana Mercedes); and several dialogues with an aging gentleman obsessed with the disappearance of his elderly pet tortoise (David Lynch). These seemingly innocuous encounters lead to personal revelations that shed light on the protagonist’s mindset – and what he might want to do with it as he heads into his own future.

Lucky is indeed fortunate to have been given the gift of time to sort things out in his life. And, considering that he’s put off doing so for so long, he’s lucky that he has still has the opportunity to figure out matters while he still has the chance. It’s something many of us never get around to, but, as Lucky’s situation demonstrates, better late than never.

In his search for the meaning of life, 90-year-old Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton, right) discusses the subject with his friend, Howard (David Lynch. Left), whose primary focus is on the whereabouts of his missing pet tortoise, in “Lucky.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Though sometimes a little too cryptic for its own good, this otherwise-reflective meditation on life, existence, mortality and human relations provides viewers with much to ponder about the state of one’s reality and how it’s shaped. With an excellent, career-topping performance by the late Harry Dean Stanton, coupled with a strong supporting ensemble, this quiet, low-key debut feature from actor-director John Carroll Lynch explores the meaning of life and the secrets to help make it fulfilling, both while we’re here and as we’re about to make our ultimate transition. Like the circle of life so aptly addressed in this offering, “Lucky” fittingly represents a promising first effort from a filmmaking newcomer and the crowning achievement of a veteran performer’s repertoire, all wrapped up in one thoughtful, beautifully filmed package.

Taking time to take stock of our existence, even when the clock is about to get us, is always a worthwhile pursuit. And, like the hero of this quiet drama, should we find the answers we seek, we, too, could readily consider ourselves lucky.

A complete review will be available in the near future by clicking here.

A tense confrontation between a 90-year-old atheist, Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton, left), and an estate planning lawyer, Bob (Ron Livingston, right), leads to some surprising insights for the searching nonagenarian in the thoughtful new cinematic meditation, “Lucky.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

A Long-Awaited Sequel Arrives

Our love of freedom is undeniable. But, if we consider it so important, then why do we continue to shackle ourselves and our peers to various forms of enslavement? Some of these permutations may not be readily obvious, but their impact serves that very purpose. And, when we imbue our existence with elements reflective of the foregoing, we have to ask ourselves what kind of reality are we manifesting, even if we dress it up in palatable packaging. Those are among the questions raised in the long-awaited (and long-overdue) sequel to a legendary 1982 sci-fi classic, “Blade Runner 2049” (web site, trailer).

Set 30 years after its predecessor, “Blade Runner 2049” continues the story begun in its forerunner in which renegade artificial life forms known as “replicants” are “retired” by special police forces, known as “blade runners,” before they can wreak havoc. Designed as servants to their human masters, replicants have long been known to become dangerous and unpredictable as their preset life-spans near an end, despite measures aimed at ameliorating such tendencies. And, ironically, those charged with carrying out the retiring these days are themselves artificial life forms whose stability has been improved upon compared to older models.

In the world of 2049, a time in which prevailing conditions have declined even further from the dystopian conditions present in this story’s predecessor, LAPD blade runner “K” (Ryan Gosling) is charged with retiring an aging replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). In doing so, however, he stumbles upon a mystery – one involving the discovery of an ossuary buried on Morton’s property. Under the guidance of his superior officer (Robin Wright), K launches into an investigation with potentially staggering implications, including the fate of his fellow artificial life forms, as well as the future of humanity itself.

To say more would reveal too much of the plot, suffice it to say that K’s investigation brings him face to face with a variety of issues, including his own origins, the meaning of existence, the role of memory in our lives, our treatment of others and the impetus to rise to our own greatness. And, as he proceeds through this journey of discovery, K encounters an array of intriguing characters, including the head of the corporation that manufactures replicants (Jared Leto) and his trusty but cunning aide (Sylvia Hoeks), a Fagin-esque child slave dealer (Lennie James), an artificial memory programmer (Carla Juri), the leader of an emerging replicant rebellion (Hiam Abbass), and a pair of blade runners from the past (Harrison Ford, Edward James Olmos). What K ultimately uncovers will prove startling, with ramifications beyond imagination.

Like its predecessor, “Blade Runner 2049” explores what it means to be “human,” be it in a natural or artificial form. In many ways, it’s also a significant cautionary tale to us all, with important messages on multiple levels, advice we’d all be wise to consider in terms of how we treat one another and what we should demand to expect for ourselves. Should we ignore these warnings, though, we may well put ourselves on the path to the kind of future depicted here. Is that what we really want? If not, we’d better pay attention.

Stylistically beautiful and imaginative, impeccably well acted, and incredibly intelligent in its narrative, “Blade Runner 2049” hits many of the right notes right on the head. It’s especially impressive that the film does not place an overreliance on special effects or action sequences to carry the story. However, despite these many strengths, a few elements feel forced and decidedly off. Several unduly intrusive subplots and narrative twists needlessly dilute the main story, impinging on the main thrust of the film. Certain elements also seem deliberately aimed at setting up a sequel, with questions left decidedly unresolved. And, with a runtime of 2:45, the film easily could have used some judicious editing. Director Denis Villeneuve’s effort is so well executed in so many ways that it’s unfortunate these shortcomings keep this offering from achieving the true cinematic greatness it otherwise could have attained.

A complete review will be available in the near future by clicking here.

Big Things Are Here! 

I’m thrilled to announce that the print version of my long-awaited new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies (ISBN 978-1976207501), is now available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and the CreateSpace eStore. This exciting new title will be available soon in an ebook format from all major online retailers, including Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books and the iTunes Store. Additional retail outlets for the print version will be available soon as well.

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment.

And, in support of my new book, I’m also pleased to announce the even longer-awaited launch of my redesigned web site, This gorgeous new web site, designed by Bear Creek Apps & Media, is a big step up from its predecessor, featuring a new home for my Blog Page, as well as a host of other features, including access to some wonderful free materials. Check it out, and enjoy everything it has to offer.

Rescheduled Radio

The Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio with host Frankie Picasso that was slated for earlier this month has now been rescheduled for Thursday October 26 at 1 pm ET. I’ll join Frankie for the entire show to talk about my new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies (ISBN 978-1976207501), as well as a number of inspiring new film releases. Be sure to tune in for some lively movie talk!

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Life Animated”

Finding our way in the world is difficult enough for most of us, but what if we were to be burdened by the challenges of autism? Would it be possible to make our way as independently functioning beings? Even more so, would it be possible to understand the world around us? As unlikely as those prospects might seem to some of us, there are always possibilities. Indeed, as the saying goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way, and that notion underscores the efforts of a remarkable young man as depicted in the uplifting documentary, “Life, Animated” (web site, trailer), available on DVD and video on demand.

When Owen Suskind went silent at age three, his parents, Cornelia and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, were shocked. Having been a vibrant, engaged toddler, Owen suddenly withdrew, uttering few sounds except for occasional gibberish. Needless to say, Ron and Cornelia wondered, how could this happen?

Not long thereafter, Owen was diagnosed with regressive autism. His parents did their best to care for him, though little seemed to help. However, the one thing that appeared to make a difference was showing Owen videos of Disney’s animated movies. Those pictures gave Owen joy before he went silent, and they seemed to spark something in him after his diagnosis. But what?

Over time, it became apparent that Owen had internally memorized the dialogue from all the Disney films he watched. And, years later, when Owen again began to utter fragments of phrases and sentences, it became obvious that he was using the Disney material as a filter for processing his understanding of the world. This realization unlocked the mystery of Owen’s “disappearance” – and provided the key to help his parents reach out to him once again.

With special guidance and counseling, Owen gradually became less withdrawn, emerging from his silence and re-engaging with others. And, as the film shows, he even took big steps toward becoming a highly functioning, independent adult, all thanks to the colorful characters first introduced to him through his beloved cartoons.

Autistic adult Owen Suskind finds a unique way to reconnect with the world in the inspiring documentary, “Life, Animated.” Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

Based on Ron Suskind’s best-selling book Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism, the documentary chronicles Owen’s personal history, intercut with segments profiling his efforts at becoming self-sufficient. It features heartfelt interviews with its subject, his parents, his older brother Walt, his counselors and two of Owen’s favorite Disney voiceover artists, Gilbert Gottfried and Jonathan Freeman. The film also incorporates clips from many of Owen’s animated favorites, including “Aladdin” (1992), “The Little Mermaid” (1989), “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “The Lion King” (1994), “The Jungle Book” (1967), “Peter Pan” (1953), “Pinocchio” (1940), “Bambi” (1942) and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996).

Director Roger Ross Williams has created a candid, intimate and engaging chronicle of a remarkable young man challenged to find a way to reconnect with the world at a time when all seemed lost. This enlightening and informative documentary will change your mind about what’s feasible, shedding light on inventive ways to tackle problems that are seemingly unsolvable. With an acute eye toward avoiding sentimentality, “Life, Animated” keeps things real and does so with integrity and a great sense of style. This highly recommended offering may well provide the inspiration for those looking to see possibilities where none are thought to exist.

A full review is available by clicking here.

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