Posts tagged: metaphysical movie review

Metaphysical Movie Review: NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE

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I’ve visited the town of Lily Dale, New York, several times in the last few years. As a Spiritualist minister and medium, I’ve heard about Lily Dale ever since I began studying mediumship. Most Spiritualists consider Lily Dale to be the Mecca of the Spiritualist movement. Its own small town and community, Lily Dale was established in 1879 on the banks of a lovely lake in upstate New York as a place for believers in the new religion of Spiritualism to meet and exchange ideas. Ever since, people have been flocking to Lily Dale to experience its serene energy, to take classes and workshops presented by leading speakers and teachers in the areas of metaphysics, healing, and philosophy, and, of course, to have a chance to connect with their loved ones who have passed over to the Other Side.

Currently, 40 registered mediums live and work on the grounds at Lily Dale. To be a registered medium, one who is allowed to give private readings to those seeking these services during a visit there, a person is rigorously tested by the Lily Dale Board of Directors. I have a good friend, Rev. Jaccolin Franchina, who is a registered Lily Dale medium, and I often stay with her when I make my visits. I have had the opportunity to teach classes and workshops at Lily Dale several times in the last few years, this past June most recently, and it’s always an honor for me to present there. I enjoy the tranquility of the grounds and the sense of camaraderie I experience from being with like-minded people. I dream about Lily Dale often, and I won’t pretend I haven’t thought about becoming a resident there myself at some point in the future. So when Jaccolin told me about her appearance in the HBO documentary NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE, I was excited. I hoped that Spiritualism and mediumship would be presented accurately and fairly so that more people could see what this small, mystical town was really all about.

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The documentary, directed by Steven Cantor, was made during the 2009 summer season at Lily Dale. It mainly follows three people who have lost loved ones as they seek to communicate with them through the mediums at Lily Dale. The film shows these visitors, and others, attending Lily Dale’s daily message services and sitting with mediums for private reading sessions in their attempt to bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual worlds.

For the most part, I liked the documentary. It was quite moving to get to know the seekers who had lost loved ones and to hear their stories. I found myself in tears several times, understanding and deeply feeling the anguish the seekers were experiencing. Two of them had lost children; one had lost the man she’d hoped to marry. Any loss is hard to bear, but the pain carried by these people was quite palpable throughout the film.

I was especially interested to see the mediums and how they were depicted in this film, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although we didn’t get to know any of them in intimate detail, I enjoyed hearing from several of them about how mediumship works, why they live at Lily Dale, how they interact with Spirit, and other fascinating topics. Most of the mediums featured seemed very comfortable talking about themselves, their beliefs, their homes, and their work, and they were articulate and intelligent in discussing the matters of Spirit and Spiritualism. I appreciated this very much, because I know that for many folks who watch the film, this will be their first exposure to mediumship and the people who are its ambassadors. I hope the viewers will take away many positives from their encounters with the mediums in this documentary.

Of course, I loved seeing my friend Jaccolin and her sisters featured in the film. Jaccolin and her family amaze me, as they come from a family of Spiritualists and have participated in Spiritualism all of their lives. Jaccolin also happens to be the mother of my awesome office partner, Joanne Franchina, and they’ve always made me feel just as if I’m a part of their family. I loved seeing the sisters interact, talk about their spirit relatives together, and even participate in a seance with other mediums on the grounds. This sense of community and love is something I’ve been able to witness first-hand, and it’s a joyful experience.

I also appreciated the beautiful way the film was put together. Lily Dale is a lovely place to visit, and its grounds are a treasure trove of natural beauty. These sites were often highlighted throughout the documentary, and I could feel the peace and the balance of Lily Dale’s healing energy in each of these scenes. I applaud the director for including so much of this footage.

I do have a few criticisms of the film. Well, perhaps they’re more frustrations than anything else, but they are there. I was curious as to why a visiting medium, Michelle Whitedove, was featured so prominently in the documentary. Ms. Whitedove is not a registered medium at Lily Dale, and yet she was filmed doing a private reading for one of the seekers followed in the film. Granted, the seeker did seem to find some closure and some healing after her reading with Ms. Whitedove, but I couldn’t help wondering why another Lily Dale medium wasn’t suggested to this client. Ms. Whitedove has an entertaining and rather larger-than-life personality (and some killer shoes, no less), and I found myself thinking that she was selected to be featured in the film for this reason. That’s not a criticism of her work, simply an observation. I don’t make it a habit to criticize other mediums because I know that every medium receives her information differently and presents it in line with her own personality, and I like to believe that everyone who does this work is doing it from her heart and to be of service to Spirit and humanity. I was surprised, however, to see Ms. Whitedove give medical intuitive readings on the platform at Inspiration Stump (one of the venues where the public gathers daily at Lily Dale to receive spirit messages given by the student, visiting, and registered mediums). At every Spiritualist institution I have ever worked, giving medical advice is prohibited because mediums are not medical professionals. A medium giving medical advice can place the institution in legal danger by doing so, and Ms. Whitedove brought through a great deal of medical information while at Inspiration Stump. Perhaps Lily Dale bent the rules for her just for the filming of this documentary, but I hope that this won’t continue in the future. My student mediums don’t need to be confused by seeing someone do something they know they’re not supposed to do!

I was also a bit puzzled by one of the seekers that came to Lily Dale. This lady was a fundamentalist Christian, and she’d lost her son to cancer. Because the director had made a point of showing evangelical Christians protesting at Lily Dale’s gates about the damnation of the mediums and anyone who entered there (honestly, something I tend to think was set up for entertainment purposes, as I’ve never encountered or heard about other protests taking place at Lily Dale in all the years I’ve been going), I was very surprised to see this lady take any interest at all in anything a medium would tell her about her son on the Other Side. At first, she seemed open to receiving whatever healing she could through the experience; she said as much when she first appeared in the film. However, she certainly was not open to anything the medium who read for her had to say when she sat with him. I have encountered similar experiences, and it’s definitely not fun. Again, this lady is entitled to her opinions and her beliefs, and I’m sure it makes for entertaining viewing to see two people arguing about religion and the existence of Spirit. But honestly, I couldn’t figure out her motives. If she wasn’t really open to the idea of spirits communicating and felt it was wrong according to the Bible, then why come at all? I felt the medium dealing with her handled the experience very well, but it left me feeling sorry for him and even sorrier that she wouldn’t be able to receive the healing she so desperately needed.

I also found another seeker’s reaction to her first reading at Lily Dale to be rather exasperating. So many people come into a reading with a very definite expectation of what they want to happen. They want to hear what they expect to hear, and if they don’t, it negates for them the validity of the whole reading. Granted, we did not see the entire reading during the documentary, but the seeker was obviously dissatisfied with the results and complained bitterly about how she just didn’t believe it. I couldn’t help wondering what she wanted to receive from a reading that she felt was missing. This seeker did receive a second reading that seemed more in line with her expectations, but again, I think it’s unfortunate when folks can’t keep an open mind, which will help them to realize that not everything that comes through in a reading makes sense right away. It’s also important to remember that so many of these folks are grieving when they come for help, and this can block the process and make giving and receiving a reading more difficult.

All in all, I found NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE to be a rewarding viewing experience. Seeing Lily Dale on film was wonderful, and I do feel that everyone in the documentary, mediums and seekers alike, were treated fairly, respectfully, and compassionately. Death is not an easy subject to deal with or to document, and it’s difficult to even know what to say to someone who is grieving a catastrophic loss. Healing from this pain can happen through mediumship work — I’ve seen it myself countless times, and I’m always, eternally grateful for it — and I was especially glad to see that some measure of healing came to some of those who made the pilgrimage to Lily Dale.

I look forward to visiting Lily Dale many more times in the future. I hope you’ll consider a trip there, too. In the meantime, NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE can give you a taste of what this special place is really like.

Metaphysical Movie Review: SUNSHINE CLEANING

SUNSHINE CLEANING

Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, and Alan Arkin

Directed by Christine Jeffs

At first glance, SUNSHINE CLEANING may not look like an understandable choice for a metaphysical movie review. The tagline for the film is “Life’s a messy business,” and no one’s life is messier than Rose Lorkowski’s, the protagonist of the movie. Rose is the single mom of an inquisitive and impressionable 7-year-old son (Jason Spevack) who keeps getting into trouble at school. She cleans houses for a living–not a very lucrative profession, and a far cry from the aspirations she had for herself during her overachieving high school days. Rose is having an affair with her old high school boyfriend (Steve Zahn), who is now a married father, and she is constantly trying to help out her younger sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), a young woman who appears to drift through life without any passion at all. Their father, Joe (Alan Arkin), is a down-on-his-luck salesman who’s always looking for the next big money-maker. This foursome makes quite a dysfunctional family, one still reeling many years later from the death of Joe’s wife, the girls’ mother, when they were small. When Oscar, Rose’s son, is kicked out of school for licking the walls and the teacher (yes, there are some very funny moments in this film!), Rose must find a way to pay for a private school education. After receiving encouragement from her cop boyfriend, Rose decides to start her own business, Sunshine Cleaning, specializing in scouring and disinfecting crime scenes. She drags her reluctant and unemployed sister along, hopeful for good things to come.

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Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) and her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) take on their first job in SUNSHINE CLEANING.

I loved Amy Adams in Disney’s ENCHANTED, where she played a wide-eyed, fairy-tale, animated princess who somehow ended up in modern-day New York City. She’s been nominated for 2 Academy Awards and has talent galore. In SUNSHINE CLEANING, I loved her right from the start. Adams made me ache for Rose’s character: for her perky attitude in the face of devastation, for her quiet resolve and her determination to be responsible and to achieve her dreams, and for her vulnerability in her scenes with her son and her lover. Here was a woman who was still resolved to believe in herself despite the lousy cards she’d been dealt in life. Sure, she made choices, and some weren’t very good ones; every time she met her boyfriend at a sleazy hotel and put his needs first before her own, I wanted to beat my head against a wall. But I still wanted Rose to rise up, to be better than that, and to really connect with the powerful woman she knew she was inside. In one late scene in the film, Rose goes to a baby shower where the other women, people she hasn’t really seen since high school, ask her about her work. Rose explains cleaning up crime scenes while the other ladies paste frozen, incredulous smiles on their faces. But in that moment, Rose also has an epiphany–that she actually likes her work, and that she feels connected somehow to the people she is working for–the families left behind by those who died, and the deceased person himself. She understands in that moment that she is helping in some small way, and this makes her feel fulfilled.

I was also very impressed by actress Emily Blunt in this movie. I have never seen any of her other work (probably best known in America for THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA), but she was a revelation in this film. As Norah, she perfectly captured the apathy and depression of a young woman with no direction in her life. It was apparent to me that Norah had been this way since losing her mother; a slow, silent scene where Norah digs out an old box of her mom’s treasures and sits with them illustrates the incredible void her mother left when she took her own life. When Rose starts the business and Norah is enlisted to help, Norah also finds herself connecting to the stories of the people whose lives have ended. In one case, Norah takes this a bit too far, but her desperation to connect with someone in the living, someone who can understand her yearning for a mother, drives her to make her choices. Norah’s character is a catalyst for significant change in the movie, and she herself receives some of that very magic.

The movie clips along at a good pace, and it’s not a long film (1 hour and 42 minutes). There are some scenes, however, that give you pause, and several where I had tears in my eyes. One particular scene, where Rose sits with an elderly woman who has let them into her home to clean the room where her husband took his own life, will stay with you for a long time. And the funny idea that Oscar has, that he can use the CB in his mom’s cleaning van to talk to God and people in heaven, packs a wallop when Rose decides to use it to speak to her own mother. Poignant and powerful are two words that come to mind.

Don’t be afraid to try SUNSHINE CLEANING. The crime scenes are not too horrible (something that I was a bit afraid of when considering renting this movie), and the story and the evolution of the characters are well worth the time. From a metaphysical standpoint, it reminded me of something that I’ve always felt was true: we are all divine beings with unlimited personal power. Rose’s struggle and journey to recognize her own really resonated with me. I often have people ask me how I can possibly like doing massages for a living. I feel it’s a great honor to be able to touch someone in a loving, compassionate way and to be a part of their healing process. I think Rose feels the same way in SUNSHINE CLEANING about her contribution to society. And this movie treats the transition we call death with dignity and respect. No matter how someone dies, they deserve to be treated this way, and Rose brings this to her job. It doesn’t matter than she is not rich or famous. She understands that what she does is important. It’s a good lesson for us all to remember.

SUNSHINE CLEANING star rating (out of 5 stars): ****


Metaphysical Movie Review: GHOST TOWN

GHOST TOWN (2008)

Starring Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, and Greg Kinnear

Directed by David Koepp

When I originally saw the trailer for the movie GHOST TOWN, I thought it looked fairly predictable: man has near-death experience, triggering a new and annoying ability to see ghosts. Hilarity ensues. Even though I thought I had the whole romantic comedy angle of this one figured out, I still wanted to see it, simply because the subject matter was right up my alley, and I really wanted to see Ricky Gervais perform.

If you don’t know who Ricky Gervais is, you must be an American. He starred as the obnoxious boss in the original British version of the television show The Office after co-creating the project for the BBC. I’d read nothing but rave reviews of that show, along with his other big project, Extras, which I’d heard him speak about during an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. I expected that Ricky Gervais would be a brilliant comedian, and although GHOST TOWN looked rather mainstream, I rented it from Netflix, hoping for an entertaining couple of hours.

I did enjoy the film, especially Ricky Gervais’ performance. He plays Bertram Pincus, an uptight, misanthropic British dentist living in Manhattan. When he dies during a routine surgical procedure and is resuscitated, he wakes up with the baffling ability to see ghosts. The trouble is, these spirits are being held back from making their transition to the Other Side, and since they suddenly have found someone who can see, hear, and talk to them, they want him to take messages to their loved ones so that they can move on. Pincus, however, wants none of it–he doesn’t like his fellow human beings, and their being dead doesn’t endear them to him in any way. So when Frank (Greg Kinnear), a slick, Blackberry-addicted philanderer, promises Pincus that he can get rid of the other ghosts if the dentist will break up the impending marriage of his widow (Tea Leoni), Pincus reluctantly agrees. And although hilarity doesn’t really ensue, there are some truly funny moments along the way.

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Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) tries to hide from all the ghosts in Manhattan.

Ricky Gervais makes an amusing and endearing misanthrope. It’s hard to completely hate him, especially when you learn his backstory and see that he really does have quite a sharp wit. His scenes with Gwen, Frank’s widow, contain clever dialogue and bright acting, even if there isn’t much romantic chemistry between the two of them. And Greg Kinnear makes Frank an entertaining cad who delivers some of the best, most poignant lines in the film. It’s his scenes with Pincus that change the contrary, cynical dentist into a man who finally understands that compassion makes him a better, happier person. From a mediumship standpoint, I found myself shaking my head at the fantasy of it all, but the moments when Pincus finally accepts what he needs to do brought tears to my eyes nonetheless.

All in all, you won’t find any hilarious gags in GHOST TOWN, and you’ll probably see the ending coming a mile away (although one event in the movie certainly did surprise me), but you might turn off the DVD player feeling a little happier and lighter after watching one sardonic Brit realize his human potential.

GHOST TOWN star rating (out of 5 stars): **1/2

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So, do you like this idea of metaphysical movie reviews? I’m a film fanatic, so if you have any you’d like to recommend, please let me know! Blessings to all!

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