In Theaters

Have you ever felt so overburdened by your circumstances that you didn’t know which way to turn first? The workload is so great that you can barely keep up, yet everything has to get done, even when you don’t feel like doing it. Such conditions can be demoralizing, so much so that you stop taking proper care of yourself and even come to resent your own life. If you can appreciate that, you’ll be able to relate to the everyday routine of an overwhelmed mother of three watching her life slip away from her in the touching but brutally honest new comedy-drama, “Tully” (web site, trailer).

Marlo Morrow (Charlize Theron) has two kids, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), a special needs child, and Sarah (Lia Frankland), a sweet but sensitive eight-year-old. Mom adores the two youngsters, but caring for them can be a handful, especially where Jonah is concerned. She receives some help from her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), but, as the primary breadwinner, he works long hours to support the family. And, if all of that weren’t enough, Marlo is about to give birth to baby no. 3.

Marlo Morrow (Charlize Theron) feels put upon by the circumstances of her life as a mother of three in the touching new comedy-drama, “Tully.” Photo by Kimberly French, courtesy of Focus Features.

Considering the burden she’s carrying, Marlo is seriously weighed down by her life (pregnancy weight notwithstanding). She’s perpetually tired and feels that her needs are rarely, if ever, met. And, with the blessed event now just days away, circumstances are about to become that much more onerous.

Concerned for his sister’s well-being, Marlo’s wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), poses an intriguing proposal. As a gift for the new baby’s arrival, he offers to hire a night nanny to care for the child so that Marlo can at least get a good night’s sleep. He tells Marlo about the world of good hiring such a caregiver did for his wife, Elyse (Elaine Tan), when she had her children, and he encourages his sister to take him up on the offer. Marlo doesn’t share Craig’s enthusiasm, though. She’s not sure how she feels about a stranger nurturing her child when she should be the one doing so. What’s more, given traditional expectations about motherhood, she believes that she should be able to take care of things by herself, no matter how unrealistic or outdated that notion might be.

Once the baby arrives, Marlo tries to go it alone but soon finds herself overwhelmed. She decides to give the night nanny concept a shot. And, before long, the new caregiver, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), arrives.

To help an overwhelmed mother with her caregiving responsibilities, night nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis) breathes new life into a household in need of rejuvenation in director Jason Reitman’s latest offering, “Tully.” Photo by Kimberly French, courtesy of Focus Features.

At first, Marlo doesn’t quite know what to make of her new service provider. The bubbly but enigmatic twenty-something seems to possess a boundless amount of energy, as well as an unlimited capacity for nurturing, without ever showing any signs of stress. She also seems to have a special wisdom, specifically advising Marlo that she needs to take care of herself as much as she tends to her children. Yet, because it’s been so long since she did anything like that for herself, Marlo almost doesn’t seem to know how. However, with a little “practice,” she grows comfortable with these “foreign” feelings and begins slipping into a new routine where she looks after her own concerns as much as those of the kids.

The relationship between Marlo and Tully gradually evolves. Marlo comes to see the nanny as someone who cares for her as much as she does for the newborn. Tully attends to tasks like the oppressive housework Marlo never seems to have time to address and bakes cupcakes for Jonah’s classmates. But, beyond that, Tully helps out Marlo with her own personal needs, like pampering herself, finding ways to have fun again and even reigniting the long-dormant romance between Mom and Dad. It’s as if Tully has an uncanny insight into how Marlo’s mind works, and she always manages to come up with the solutions Mom needs.

New father Drew Morrow (Ron Livingston) pitches in when he can in the new comedy-drama, “Tully.” Photo by Kimberly French, courtesy of Focus Features.

As time passes, Marlo and Tully become more like friends than employer and employee. Tully makes it possible for Marlo to open up about herself, her life and her feelings. This raises a host of issues that the middle-aged mother has been ignoring or suppressing for a long time. It pushes her to confront emotions that have obviously been troubling her but that she’s been burying under the more immediately pressing needs of changing diapers and getting the kids to school on time. So what starts out as an arrangement to help Marlo get a good night’s sleep turns into a profound journey of personal exploration, one that forces her to examine how her life was, how it has turned out and where she would like it to go. And, as it all plays out, this process takes a number of unexpected twists and turns that will surprise the audience as much as it startles the evolving protagonist.

At first glance, “Tully” comes across as a no-holds-barred look at contemporary motherhood, and anyone who has gone through such an experience can probably relate to it. But, as the story moves forward, it takes on issues that anyone who has ever reflected on the unfolding of his or her life can undoubtedly appreciate, regardless of whether or not they’ve gone the parental route. It deftly delves into questions of the choices we make, the particulars of the lives we decide to lead and whether or not we’re satisfied with what we’ve ended up with. Did we get what we want? Did we get diverted? Is our experience everything we hoped for, or did we “settle?” That’s a lot to ponder, and the film covers these issues with a curious mixture of amazing depth and honest practicality.

A concerned brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), seeks to help his overburdened sister with the impending arrival of a new baby in the touching new comedy-drama, “Tully.” Photo by Kimberly French, courtesy of Focus Features.

This refreshingly pleasant offering delivers a wealth of heartfelt feelings and ample gentle humor in a comedy-drama that’s both brutally frank and full of surprises. Theron delivers yet another outstanding performance – easily one of the first award-worthy portrayals of 2018 – in a multifaceted role that’s not everything it initially appears to be. The film’s excellent script and uniform pacing – elements not always present in the works of director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody – make for captivating, thoughtful viewing that’s likely to touch viewers of all stripes, not just those whose stories seemingly resemble those of the protagonist. Don’t miss this one.

Life sometimes passes us by faster than we realize – or than we might like. Before we know it, we suddenly find ourselves 20 years older, having left parts of ourselves behind to suit the needs of a present very different from what we might have once envisioned. Are we happy with our decisions, or are the burdens that have resulted more than we can handle? It’s times like that when we need someone like Tully to come into our lives to help take care of us, to enlighten us to our own selves and to help us see more clearly than we may have seen in years.

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

Adrift in the Countryside

Finding the courage to assert ourselves and lead the life we want can be challenging, especially under unrelenting and oppressive circumstances. We can retreat from the world, drowning ourselves in various diversions, but, while that might take away the momentary discomfort, it doesn’t really solve the issue at hand. And the longer we put it off to the side, the longer the pain lingers and the more likely we’re to grow jaded and embittered. In the end, confronting the matter will provide the only real chance at a solution, but that can be difficult if we don’t know how to proceed. Such a dilemma may feel like a virtual prison sentence, but those are the circumstances faced by a young man stranded in the English countryside in the romantic drama, “God’s Own Country” (web site, trailer), now available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand.

When twenty-something Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is saddled with the responsibility of managing the family farm when his father, Martin (Ian Hart), is incapacitated, he’s far from thrilled with the idea. Given that Johnny’s seldom appreciated for his efforts by either his old man or his mother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones), he resents having to take on something that he has little interest in and for which he’ll receive virtually no credit. Also, as someone who’s interested in exploring the possibilities of his emerging gay life-style, there are few opportunities for self-discovery in the restrictive ways of conservative rural Britain.

Farm Workers Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor, left) and Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu, right) discover they have more in common than farm work in the romantic drama, “God’s Own Country,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand. Photo © 2017, by Dales Productions Limited/The British Film Institute, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

To cope, Johnny spends many of his evenings at the local pub, usually coming home thoroughly smashed, or pursuing anonymous, on-the-fly sexual encounters that amount to little more than momentary flings with no long-term potential. In many ways, he feels like one of the farm animals he tends to – penned in and constantly whipped by his keepers, biding time for an eventual demise (and, at the rate he’s going, one that might well be at his own hand).

When the busy season comes, the pressure gets turned up even further. With Martin unable to help Johnny during the impending lambing season, he can see that his unreliable son clearly needs assistance to get the work done. To help him out, Martin hires a Romanian immigrant farm hand, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), on a short-term basis.

Johnny sees this development as another insult from the old man and subsequently takes out his resentment on the new hire. Because he needs the work, Gheorghe puts up with Johnny’s uncivil attitude initially. But, when those offenses turn personal, the hired hand lashes out in response. A new level of respect is thus established, one that opens their relationship to an entirely new level. Johnny begins to see what a diligent, caring worker Gheorghe is, an attitude that even begins to rub off on his own work ethic. But, even more than that, Johnny comes to understand what a good man Gheorghe is – one who might even make a good life partner. And, fortunately for Johnny, that feeling is apparently mutual, too.

English farm owner Martin Saxby (Ian Hart) demands much from those who work under him, almost driving them to the point of alienation, in director Francis Lee’s debut feature, “God’s Own Country,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand. Photo © 2017, by Dales Productions Limited/The British Film Institute, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

While working in a remote area of the farm for an extended period, those sentiments begin to emerge. Johnny and Gheorghe give in to their romantic desires and freely explore their feelings for one another. But this is more than just off-the-cuff sex; this is genuine romance, something that Johnny’s experiencing for the first time. The nurturing care that Gheorghe so freely shows in his treatment of the animals becomes apparent in his treatment of Johnny, and, given the insufferable family background from which Johnny came, it’s something that he obviously treasures as well.

But will this budding romance last? What will happen when they return from their remote field work? How will they conduct themselves around Martin and Deirdre? Will Gheorghe’s work assignment be extended, or will it end as originally planned? And can Johnny and Gheorghe make things work in the real world in the same way that they did when by themselves in God’s own country? These are a lot of hard questions to be answered.

Farm wife Deirdre Saxby (Gemma Jones) fiercely defends and cares for her ailing husband, no matter what his demands, in “God’s Own Country.” Photo © 2017, by Dales Productions Limited/The British Film Institute, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Having had a taste of what he really wants out of life, however, Johnny now has a new incentive to make things work. For perhaps the first time in his life, he knows what it means to be happy, to be his own person, no matter what others may think. The test for him, however, is, can he rise to the occasion to pull it off for the long term? Being the mature soul that he is, Gheorghe seems prepared for this, but can he say the same about the man who claims to love him? That’s the challenge as their story plays out.

In many respects, this film reminds me a great deal of “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) but with a better narrative and script. Its fine performances are packed with considerable raw emotion, as well as a great deal of nuance, allowing the characters to come across as completely genuine. It’s also heartening to see a film that holds little back when it comes to its depictions of sexual content, presenting this material with an honesty rarely seen in mainstream cinema while avoiding the trap of becoming so unduly explicit as to be considered pornographic. But, most of all, the picture is filled with a tremendous sense of hope, one that will likely inspire most viewers to sincerely pull for the protagonists as they attempt to fulfill their dream. That’s somewhat common in many mainstream romantic releases, but it’s something not often seen in comparable offerings with gay leads. It’s nice to see it here.

Farm Workers Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor, right) and Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu, left) give “roll in the hay” an entirely new meaning in director Francis Lee’s debut feature, “God’s Own Country,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand. Photo © 2017, by Dales Productions Limited/The British Film Institute, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

If you’ve never heard of this picture, it’s because it had only limited domestic release in the U.S., playing mostly at film festivals and in other special showings in late 2017. However, it received more play in the U.K., where it earned wider distribution, as well as a well-deserved BAFTA Award nomination for best British feature. Given the various home viewing options available now, though, it’s well worth the screening time.

Getting what we want out of life sometimes involves risk, taking chances to express our feelings and to rise up against the people and circumstances that might stand in our way. But, when we see the payoffs that come from such efforts, we often realize how worthwhile they truly are. Such are the conditions that prevail in God’s own country, a land whose promise is worth pursuing for all it has to offer to all who seek it.

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

A Screen Classic Celebrates a Milestone Anniversary

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking film, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), a new 70-millimeter print of this cinematic icon is being released in theaters around the country. Produced from a true photochemical restoration printed off of the original camera negative, this new print is sharper and features better color than ever seen before. And, given how remarkably well this picture has held up since its original release, any improvement on it is a truly astounding accomplishment.

At the time of this celluloid enigma’s debut, few understood what Kubrick was trying to say through this film. It was – and still is – open to a range of interpretations, each equally valid in its own right. But, while some viewers may have been frustrated by this apparently intentional ambiguity, it also helps to characterize the picture for the masterpiece that it is. As one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, “2001” opened the door to a host of new cinematic experimentation, options that may not have been possible were it not for this unique offering and those who had the vision – and courage – to bring it to the public.

To this day, “2001” remains one of my all-time favorite films. In fact, my appreciation of this picture is so great that I included it as one of the featured entries in my debut book, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies (2007. 2014). And so, to honor this auspicious anniversary, I hereby present an updated version of my review from that title, my look at what I consider to be Kubrick’s greatest work.

The Next Frontier

“2001: A Space Odyssey”

Year of Release: 1968

Principal Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood,

William Sylvester, Douglas Rain (voice)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke

Story: Arthur C. Clarke, The Sentinel (uncredited)

“Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Those are questions that theologians, scientists and even the exasperated parents of inquisitive youngsters have wrestled with for eons. But another question that’s just as vital, yet doesn’t get asked nearly as much, is, “Where are we going next?” The answer to that is as important to us as a species as it is to us as individuals. One film that attempts to provide some insight is the enigmatic sci-fi adventure, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Even though we’ve long since passed the calendar year that’s part of this movie’s title, the picture itself is by no means outdated. In fact, in these days of shifting consciousness and changing paradigms, its message and mystique are perhaps more relevant than ever.

Although the film’s title makes the picture sound like a movie about space, it has more to do with evolution than astronomy. Director Stanley Kubrick’s cryptic yet poetic approach to the subject makes for a unique style of filmmaking, one that was decidedly way ahead of its time (and that baffled many viewers at the time of its original release).

In many ways, the plotline and characters are almost incidental to this picture. It’s really everybody’s story, that of the evolutionary journey of our species from the dawn of man to the time of our exploration of the heavens, first in our establishment of a base on the moon and then on a manned mission to Jupiter. The common thread linking all these seemingly disparate events is the spontaneous and unexplained appearance of a mysterious black monolith. The exact nature of this rectangular structure is never explained, but each of its appearances is immediately followed by some kind of significant leap in knowledge that helps further the evolution of the species.

Impressive as the monolith’s effects apparently are, however, one still can’t help but wonder what it is. Is it All That Is coming to us in physical form? A projection of the mass consciousness that somehow prompts us to greater self-understanding? A construct of an alien intelligence guiding our species’ progression toward ever-greater awareness? Or do none of these explanations suffice? And does it really matter what it is as long as forward movement results? All these questions are left ambiguously open, suggesting that perhaps the answers are bigger than our present level of comprehension is capable of assimilating but that each leap nevertheless takes us ever closer to discovering the truth.

The significance of this from the standpoint of conscious creation is that the flowering of our evolution is not unlike the constant state of becoming that author and conscious creation advocate Jane Roberts speaks of. That’s reflected in the narrative of the film, whose sequences are self-contained, with virtually no story line elements or characters that overlap or recur, except, of course, for the monolith. The mysterious structure acts like a bridge, linking the sequences, and a catalyst, sparking into existence whatever follows next.

Given that, one might understandably wonder how the monolith itself figures into the conscious creation equation. That’s difficult to answer, especially since its precise nature and function are never delineated. I can’t speak to this from personal experience, either, for I’ve never seen a giant black rectangle appear before me when I’ve been on the verge of a eureka moment. However, given the conditions under which the monolith appears in the film, it always seems to show up when man has been on the brink of needing to make one of those major leaps in cognition. So, if we’re all conscious creators by nature, then one could speculate that the characters who are on those thresholds of evolutionary advances are the ones who summon forth the monolith (and whatever powers its holds or represents) to help facilitate these changes.

In many instances, the needs for advancement depicted in the movie are driven by survival considerations, so one could argue that the monolith is an abstract embodiment of the belief that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Why these characters would feel compelled to manifest a physical symbol of this at all, let alone in the specific form depicted herein, is a bit of a mystery, but perhaps it’s simply meant to be an outward reminder of our innate materialization capabilities, serving like the proverbial string tied around one’s finger. But why an enigmatic black rectangle? Your guess is as good as mine. While a string around the finger might be eminently more manageable from a practicality standpoint, it would also make for far less engaging filmmaking.

Evolution is apparent in a number of ways in the film. It’s most obvious in terms of our physical appearance, first as apes and later as Homo sapiens (and beyond). It’s also present in our physical locations, first as earthbound primates and later as humans soaring toward the stars. It’s even reflected in the complexity of our physical creations, progressing from crude levels to ever-increasing degrees of sophistication, in everything from our tools to the meals we consume. It might be tempting to assume that it’s all possible thanks to a mysterious black rectangle, yet it’s we who manifest the creations that result after its appearance. Maybe the monolith is doing nothing more than trying to remind us, like Glinda in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), that we’re the ones with the power to create the realities we experience. Armed with that knowledge, it’s exciting to envision the possibilities for what comes next.

Kubrick was clearly at the top of his game with this masterpiece, deservedly earning an Academy Award for the production’s magnificent special effects. Viewing “2001” is more like watching a moving painting than a moving picture. The narrative unfolds before us slowly, like the pace of evolution itself, with its dazzling cinematography and spectacular visual effects shouldering much of the responsibility for telling the story. Backing all this is a classical-based soundtrack that features compositions as whimsical as the Johann Strauss waltz, On the Beautiful Blue Danube, and as inspiring as the introduction to the Richard Strauss tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra, a fanfare that has become virtually synonymous with the movie. In addition to Kubrick’s Oscar, the picture earned three more nominations, including nods for best director and best original screenplay.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is, in many ways, the ultimate road trip film, showing us where we came from, where we’re going and who we’ve been all along the way. The one trait that links all the stops along that path is the sense of awakening that arises within each of us with our passage through each stage of the journey. It affirms, for me at least, the idea that, if you’ve liked what you’ve seen so far, wait till you see what’s next. And that’s something to look forward to.

Cover design by Paul L. Clark/Inspirtainment.

Copyright © 2007, 2014, 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.