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Film Reviews - Recent Releases
Welcome to Cinema Noēsis!
Dedicated to film reviews of new and recent movies that will expand your heart-mind and push the boundaries of what you think you know. These films represent the leading edge of an emerging genre, "transformational movies": festival-quality and festival-winning films, both theatrical and independent, that will change the way you see yourself or the world around you. Please Note: With a few exceptions, new reviews and content are not currently being added to the site; join the mailing list below or visit our Facebook page to keep track of the latest films and media!
— Matthew Gilbert, Founder/Curator
(Still) On My Radar:
Three troubled women move to the tropical forest of Costa Rica hoping to transform their lives. From Sweden.
Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters trade in their guns and hatred for a chance at peace.
The true story of otherworldly events that led Darryl Anka to channel the ET being known as Bashar. James Woods narrates.
A big-picture cinematic journey emphasizing the truth of our interconnectedness and the rise of a global consciousness.
Despite its infomercial qualities, this film challenges viewers to question -- and remake -- their reality through plant medicine, yoga, and meditation.
New from acclaimed producer-director Yann Arthus-Bertrand, about the beauty – and decline – of the planet’s biodiversity and what that may mean for human survival.
2018, 87 min.
Any film about veterans that starts with an ayahuasca ceremony warrants attention, and this powerful movie delivered. Michael Cooley and Matthew Kahl served multiple missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and their battlefield traumas followed them home, threatening to destroy both themselves and their families. The emotional and psychological pain they feel are vividly captured by the filmmakers, who follow them over a three-year period. Mike: “I spent my formative years learning how to kill people.” Matt: “The first time I tried to kill myself . . . ” (Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives.) Both were taking up to 20 prescriptions at any given time. Out of options, they first discovered cannabis, which turned out to be “much better than pharmaceuticals” but it wasn’t enough. It could only take them so far. A three-day ayahuasca weekend changed everything. Rare, intimate footage of actual ceremonies provide a poignant look into their experience, revelations, and the beginning of a journey to deep healing. Fifteen months later, both Mike and his wife Brooke (another war vet who opted for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy) acknowledge that while these powerful medicines were life-changing, the personal work doesn’t end. Given war’s dehumanizing cruelty and brutality, the movie begs another question, “Is it avoidable?” This is a powerful, raw, and sensitive film that ultimately is full of heart and hope.
2016, 82 min.
If you’re ambivalent about the promise of technology to save us from ourselves, The University may – or may not – convince you. Think big! Be disruptive! Conquer the world! The movie pulls back the curtain on Singularity University, created in 2009 by techno-futurist Ray Kurzweil and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis in an old dirigible hangar on a NASA research base in Silicon Valley. Every summer dozens of brilliant students from around the world are invited to learn about the cutting edge of not just technology but their own passion and drive. It’s a high-pressure incubator that challenges these young visionaries to birth ideas that in ten years will somehow help one billion people – and make the inventors (and investors) plenty of money. A preposterous goal to be sure that puts no lid on ambition. The film follows the founders of four fledgling companies over several years as they address such obstinate problems as resource waste, automotive overwhelm, and the medical needs of remote villages. Their brilliance and dedication are inspirational to watch, the marriage of idealism and profit a bit more ambivalently appreciated.
2016, 93 min.
When the self-help movie/book The Secret was released in 2006, one of the featured authorities was James Arthur Ray, a motivational speaker in the mold of Anthony Robbins. Its mega-selling success, followed by Ray’s several appearances on “Oprah,” catapulted him into visibility, which over the next few years he fashioned into a revenue-churning business model of workshops and challenging retreats. Until 2009, that is, when three people died during an intense sweat lodge ritual after an arduous few days of fasting and emotional processing at a “Spiritual Warrior” retreat near Sedona. Ray was ultimately convicted of negligent homicide in 2011 and sentenced to two years in prison. This engrossing movie works on several levels – as a biography, a character study, a modern-day tragedy, and, ultimately, a primer on the $10B self-help industry and people’s hunger to improve their lives. The film artfully weaves history, backstory, and the larger canvas of human insecurity and ambition as Ray’s budding empire and credibility collapse. His efforts to reinvent himself after his release add a poignant epilogue of personal reckoning. Produced by CNN Films and available only on Netflix.
2017, 108 min.
I don’t generally review “talking heads” films that advocate for a particular topic, but I thought the insights presented in HEAL, which premiered at the 2017 Illuminate Film Festival, were worth sharing. It was directed by Kelly Noonan Gores who co-produced with Adam Schomer, and if her name is familiar, you might have seen her in various television dramas and films. I point this out because the photogenic Noonan isn’t identified until the final credits and yet is frequently in front of the camera, giving the film a kind of Hollywood sheen. That said, the cast of interviewees, both familiar (e.g., Bruce Lipton, Marianne Williamson, Joe Dispenza, Gregg Braden) and less so (Anita Moorjani, Anthony William, Kelly Turner), speaks as one about the ability of our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions to be powerful forces for healing – or disease. This isn’t a new message, but its importance bears repeating. Woven throughout are the stories of two women with debilitating conditions who navigate their own precarious healing journeys.
Los Angeles, CA
9/27 - 10/7, 2018
Marin County, CA
10/4 - 10/14, 2018
New York, NY
10/18 - 10/21, 2018
10/25 - 10/28, 2018
Tel Aviv, Israel
10/25 - 10/27, 2018
For a comprehensive list of film festivals in the U.S. and across the globe, go here.
2017, 84 min.
In a high-stakes, winner-take-all battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and protect water supplies and native lands, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, joined by tribal members and activists from around the world, faced off against state and federal law enforcement. The drama played out in front of a global audience and occupied headlines during the final months of 2016. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration rolled back protections that President Obama had put in place and the bulldozers started to roll in early 2017. Nevertheless, the peaceful resistance of the protesters and the issues they raised made an indelible mark on our awareness of what's at stake in the fight for social justice and resource protection. The film is currently available to stream; all proceeds go to the Indigenous Media Fund and a Pipeline Fighters Fund supervised by the film’s creators and a council of indigenous leaders.
2016, 75 min.
We often associate “personal transformation” with images of psychological and spiritual breakthroughs achieved in meditation or on extended retreat. But in the gritty world of poverty, crime, and substance abuse, its meaning is much more basic – a literal struggle between life and death. Beyond the Wall chronicles the efforts of inmate-turned-counselor Louie Diaz in Lowell, Massachusetts, as he throws lifelines to a handful of men recently released from jail. Their lives have been hard, they’ve made mistakes, and jail time did little to help them. When they get out, they return to the same situations they left with no handbook on how to survive. As Diaz keeps reminding them, “If you continue doing what you’ve always done, you’ll continue getting what you’ve always gotten.” Their intentions to change are earnest but the cycles run deep – childhood traumas, family dramas, lack of work, and the tenaciousness of addiction conspire against them. Most are articulate, introspective, and frustrated. Some break through; some do not. Nine million people are released from jail each year, and most end up back in. The film and its accompanying campaign, “After Incarceration, There’s Life,” aim to change that reality. From the creators of The Dhamma Brothers, about the introduction of Vipassana meditation in a maximum security Georgia prison.
2016, 98 min.
Thirty years ago, Nassim Haramein embarked on an audacious quest to mathematically map that visceral sense of “oneness” many have felt and ancient texts have taught is the foundation of all reality. This film is the story of his journey, driven by the search for a “unified theory” that connects the physics of the cosmos with the physics of matter at the quantum level – a quest that has bedeviled physicists for decades. The self-taught Haramein eschewed traditional academics and its built-in restraints for the wide-open space of his own curiosity and hunger for truth. The results of his research are tantalizing – and possibly ground-breaking – but not without controversy. (Read this Quora community discussion for some background on why.) The Connected Universe, directed by Malcom Carter and narrated by Patrick Stewart, charts Haramein’s work with a phantasmagoria of striking imagery, scientific primers on Planck particles, protons, gravity, and black holes, and inspirational urgency. There’s a lot to take in but it’s worth the effort, if for no other reason than to spark a conversation. As Rumi once said: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
2016, 42 min.
First-time producer-director Megan McFeely was ensnared in the web of 24-7 ambition when personal tragedy and professional burnout sent her into free-fall. She had known no other way to live and had no idea where to turn. Countless hours spent quietly in nature revealed an unexpected path to healing: rediscovering the feminine. But what did that mean? McFeely began by exploring her childhood. Clips of early family life give way to ruminations on how she'd internalized such “masculine” traits as competition, hierarchy, and emotional rigidity – ultimately leading to her breakdown. She interviews teachers and thought leaders around the world whose insights into and embodiment of the feminine further shaped her quest; the heart-centered teachings of the Sufis stand out. Juxtaposed against contemporary society’s separation from the sacred and the looming threat of multiple upheavals – What kind of dominant consciousness would manifest such a world? – As She Is gently suggests that our future depends on the regenerative power of empathy, intuition, surrender, and love.
2016, 96 min.
If you didn’t catch the free online October rollout of this exceptional film, courtesy of the National Geographic Channel, it’s still available on multiple streaming services (e.g., iTunes, Amazon, Hulu). The title comes from Hieronymus Bosch’s transfixing triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” painted in the early 1500s. As you will discover, it’s an apt metaphor for where we are globally in the journey of humankind from Eden to, well, to be determined. Leonardo DiCaprio, the force behind the film and its narrator, has the activist bonafides (including U.N. Messenger of Peace “for the environment” – though not without some controversy) and sober vision to guide the viewer through the undeniable realities of climate change. The implications are meticulously and scientifically presented by DiCaprio who, in making it personal, brings it closer to home. This s--t is real and it’s happening now no matter the smoke blown from ideologues and climate deniers. How will you – how will we – respond?
2016, 116 min.
Promoted as a “thinking person’s” sci-fi movie (meaning the absence of laser battles, exploding planets, and other CGI wizardry), Arrival is adapted from the 2000 Nebula-winning short story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. The mood is eerie and haunting as a dozen massive obelisks show up simultaneously in different parts of the world, hovering mere feet above the earth’s surface. No one knows why they’re here or what they want, and it’s up to an affected linguist played by Amy Adams to find out, working against time as global fear ripens and begins to explode. Despite some storytelling loose ends and a romance that lacks heat, the first-contact scenes are mesmerizing and the aliens themselves are truly other-worldly. The power of language, the relativity of time, and the intimacy of memory add philosophical weight to the mystery. For my longer review of Arrival, go here.
2016, 96 min.
There are plenty of activist films out there, and I’ll highlight those that are especially well-made, offer clear analysis and root-level solutions, and make you feel as if positive changes are already underway. Sustainable is one of them. Told through the experiences of those on the front line, the movie takes aim at our industrial food system and makes a powerful case that changing the way we grow and distribute food is critical to ecological and economic stability. Current studies show, for ex., that once you strip away the subsidies and consider such externalities as water waste, soil erosion, pollution, and food-related health problems, industrial farming is more expensive and less efficient than organic – which also provides such benefits as carbon sequestration, resource conservation, and local empowerment. Healthy food, clean water, nourishing earth – the basic needs of life. Why keep putting them at risk?
2016, 119 min.
In this marvelously original film, Viggo Mortensen is a backwoods Renaissance man trying to raise his six kids in forested northwest Washington as home-schooled survivalists in a dystopian world. The scenes of their lives in the wild celebrate the potential of intelligent counter-existence, but they also operate in a closed loop of human emotional experience. The death of their ailing mother, who spent her final months confined in a medical facility, forces them out of the woods and into the open chaos of civilized society to attend her funeral. The movie excels at juxtaposing the learned and instinctual wisdom of the kids against the digital tunnel vision of their real-world counterparts but also shows the limitations of that wisdom and the difficulty of living pure in a world that never seems to leave you alone.
2016, 81 min.
First performed in 1952, American composer John Cage’s piece entitled 4’33” was four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence. It was, not surprisingly, controversial, but in time became his most famous work and anchors the meditative spirit of this mesmerizing film. Filmed in eight countries over two years, from the Orfeld Labs in Minneapolis (“the quietest place on Earth”) and the Urasenke Tea House in Kyoto to the street-level mayhem of Mumbai (“the loudest city in the world”) and the elevated trains of New York City, numerous scenes of nature, solitude, and beauty are juxtaposed against the noise that engulfs modern life. “Noise takes us away from that which makes us human . . . silence is the resting place of everything essential.” Studies show that nature heals – literally; even better, listening to nature may help us fall back in love with it. As celebrated in this film, never has the absence of noise looked so beautiful, felt so healing, or sounded so transcendent.
2016, 125 min.
Columbia's 2016 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film, this powerful tale is an anomaly in filmmaking – bewitching you with visuals as it challenges your innermost beliefs about humankind’s past, and its future. It’s loosely based on the diaries of German explorer Theodor von Martius, who arrived in South America in 1909. It reveals a culture war in the Amazon between science and nature, modern and ancient values, that still rages today. Central to the story is the conflicted motivations of a local medicine man – as a young man and then as an elder – whose tribe was decimated by robber barons and Christian zealots. The movie’s ultimate message of sacredness defiled continues to define our troubled world. Gorgeously filmed in B/W.