Tag Archives: B

THE DARK DIVIDE

Producers: Aaron Boyd, Ryan Frost, Tom Putnam, Jory Weitz and David Cross   Director: Tom Putnam   Screenplay: Tom Putnam   Cast: David Cross, Debra Messing, Cameron Esposito, Gary Farmer, Kimberly Guerrero, Patterson Hood, Peyton Dilweg, Dyami Thomas, Olivia Ritchie, Brian Adrian Koch and David Koechner   Distributor: Public House Films

Grade: B-

If you’re searching for a way to get out into nature again without leaving your living room, you might want to consider this little picture about a long walk taken through Washington State’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  It’s inspired by a trek taken by Robert Michael Pyle that led to his 1995 book “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,” and offers a healthy dose of humor as well as a few tears and much gorgeous landscape.

It also provides a rare leading role for actor David Cross, best known for television work in series like “Arrested Development.”  He plays Pyle, at the time a lepidopterist at a small college, who is encouraged by his terminally ill wife Thea (Debra Messing), to fulfill his dream by undertaking the trip to find new species of butterflies and moths, something made possible by the receipt of a Guggenheim fellowship. 

Cross’s abstracted but nervously self-confident manner is perfect for Pyle, portrayed in Tom Putnam’s script as something of a nerd who’s, temperamentally, woefully unprepared for such an arduous undertaking but waves aside warnings about the dangers he gets from colleagues at campus parties and locals he meets along the way to his destination.  He just drives to the preserve in his ramshackle car, straps on his backpack and lumbers awkwardly into the wilderness.

It’s no time before he runs into trouble, nearly getting run down by off-road cycles as he struggles to climb a slope and almost falling off a steep cliff as he absently-mindedly tries to snare a butterfly.  Naturally he loses his net in the process.  And that’s only the beginnings of his misfortunes, which will also find him running around in nothing but his underwear and getting lost in a cave.

But there are certainly compensations.   That cave episode comes as a result of Pyle’s thinking that he’s had a glimpse of Bigfoot and decides to confirm the sighting. He also has an encounter with a rare spotted owl.  And as he stumbles through the woods he is often awed by the sight of the magnificent sunsets and gorgeous vistas; he comes to appreciate nature as well as studying it.  And by the close he’s not trying to catch elusive creatures, but merely watches and records what he finds.  The journey teaches him to commune rather than control.  And periodic flashbacks to his life with Thea add touches of poignancy to the trip.

Much of the humor derives from Pyle’s occasional meetings with other humans in the wilderness.  There’s a session with some loggers, in which he has a talk with the always welcome Gary Farmer as Densmore, a Native American who gently but firmly disputes Pyle’s views on conservation, and a campfire evening with some hikers (one of whom fires a rifle at him before recognizing him as human), including David Koechner and Kimberly Guerrero, who talk about Bigfoot.  There’s also a pleasant exchange with an overworked forest ranger and a nice ending, in which Pyle stumbles upon a couple of campers who offer him a beer and a ride back to his car.       

Technically there’s a rough-and-ready quality to “The Dark Divide.” Putnam’s direction is so unhurried that it sometimes feels lax (he and Sam Hook edited), and though Sean Bagley’s camerawork captures some lovely images, at times it’s a bit ragged.  (The movie was, of course, shot on location in Washington and the Hood River area of Oregon.)  The background music provided by The Avett Brothers can also be intrusive.

But overall the picture is an unpretentious and refreshing jaunt through the woods.  And where else will you find a movie whose credits boast not only a butterfly and moth wrangler (Dana Ross) but an owl wrangler (Cash Morgan) and trainer (Jay Yost)?

ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY

Producers: Liz Garbus, Lisa Cortés, Stacey Abrams and Dan Cogan   Directors: Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés   Screenplay: Jack Youngelson   Cast: Stacey Abrams, Carolyn Abrams, Robert L. Abrams, Carol Anderson, Ari Berman, David Pepper, Sean J. Young, Lauren Groh-Wargo, O.J. & Barbara Semans, Kristen Clarke, Michael Waldman, Desmond Meade, Eric Holder, Marcia L. Fudge, Alejandra Gomez, Eric Foner, Debo Adegbile, Jayla Allen, Michael Parsons, Luci Baines Johnson, Frances Fox Piven, Andrew Young and Hans von Spakovsky   Distributor: Amazon Studios

Grade: B

Over the last two decades, each presidential election year has seen the release of a bunch of feature-length political documentaries, most highly partisan, and 2020 is no exception.  The most recent is “All In: The Fight For Democracy,” which wears its Democratic credentials proudly, one of its major emphases being the Georgia gubernatorial election of 2018, in which Stacey Abrams (a major commentator here) was defeated in a close vote by Brian Kemp, who as the Secretary of State actually directed the electoral process, which was marred by broken machines, long lines, and inaccurate voting rolls.

The film is an excoriation of efforts throughout U.S. history to limit the right to vote (or, more recently, the ability to exercise that right), the final third concentrating on what are described as voter suppression efforts that Republicans have spearheaded, especially since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Part of the film is historical, providing an overview of regulations concerning voting from the country’s founding, which restricted the right to vote to white, male property-owners, to the present.  Coverage is given to the extension of voting rights to black males after the Civil War, and to the success of the women’s suffrage movement in the early twentieth century.  But these are coupled with segments dealing, for example, with the creation of Jim Crow laws in the South after Reconstruction, which effectively disenfranchised the vast majority of black voters.  That is followed by coverage of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1963, pushed through Congress by Lyndon Johnson with prodding (via, among other things, the Selma march) by Martin Luther King, Jr..

It’s pointed out that in the mid-twentieth century, the issue was, on a national level, bi-partisan: it was Gerald Ford who signed an extension of the voting rights law that even expanded its scope.

But in recent years, the film argues, that situation has changed radically as Republicans, perceiving their electoral weakness as the country’s demographics change, have turned to various tactics of voter suppression.  The results of extreme gerrymandering are considered, but the major emphasis is on the legislative efforts at the state level unleashed by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case of 2013. These include the push for voter identification requirements supposedly designed to inhibit voting fraud but actually—as even some Republican operatives have admitted—to suppress Democratic (and particularly minority) turnout.  And the film brings the story down to Donald Trump’s denunciations of voting-by-mail as a purported vehicle for fraud—a claim widely derided as a hoax, to use the President’s own favorite locution.

The film’s argument is presented in stark, intense terms by Abrams and the small army of other commentators, political figures, activists, jurists and scholars enlisted to explain it in detail.  (The opposing viewpoint is represented primarily by broadcast clips, notably from Fox News.)     

With the new footage, mostly interviews, nicely shot by Wolfgang Held and seamlessly integrated with archival material and bits of Michal Czubak’s animation by editor (and co-producer) Nancy Novack, and accompanied by a propulsive score by Gil Talmi and Meshell Ndegeocello, “All In: The Fight for Democracy” is an effective presentation of its case as well as a ringing call to action (with instructions on voting offered alongside the closing credits), though it will find favor primarily with those who already agree with its message.  It probably won’t reach the eyes and ears of those who don’t agree at all—and if it does, they’ll doubtlessly shrug it off as naïve in a political sport that has increasingly become a matter of destruction rather than principle.