Learning To Take Flight
Launching a new endeavor can be a daunting prospect, especially if we lack the practical experience and know-how for proceeding. However, if we’re to elevate our knowledge, wisdom and insights to new heights, we must take the initiative at some point to pursue the goal in question. The rewards of doing so can be immeasurable, enabling us to become experts in our fields that mere study from a distance alone cannot accomplish. Such was the case for a scientist who upped his game with a bold undertaking, an experience chronicled in the new, fact-based wilderness saga, “The Dark Divide” (web site, trailer).
When lepidopterist Dr. Robert Pyle (David Cross) initially contemplates a field study to find uncatalogued and endangered species of butterflies and moths in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest – one of the most remote and undeveloped wildlife areas in the nation – he’s torn about what to do. As much as he would like to make the journey, he’s guilt-ridden about leaving behind his wife, Thea (Debra Messing), who’s courageously but unsuccessfully battling ovarian cancer. Despite her illness, however, she urges him to pursue his dream, to get away from the stress of caring for her, which she can see is clearly taking a toll on him.
In making plans for the project, though, it becomes apparent that he’s woefully unprepared for the trip to the foreboding territory that even locals look upon with a healthy respect, calling the area “the Dark Divide.” He’s basically a neophyte when it comes to camping, and he has virtually no wilderness experience for dealing with things like the elements, bears and lack of a support network. Two of his professorial colleagues (Shelly Lipkin, Tom Doupe) pointedly remind him of this, too, asking him if he’s truly ready for what he’ll be up against. Then there’s Thea’s worsening condition, which prompts Robert to reconsider this undertaking – that is, until she makes the decision for him. And, with the subsequent awarding of a prestigious research grant not long after her passing, the deal is sealed for the intrepid professor to go butterfly hunting.
Now on his own, Robert embarks on his journey in almost Quixotic fashion, not knowing what to expect – and even less prepared for knowing how to respond. He initially experiences some significant stumbles, like losing his butterfly net (being left without it thus providing a fitting metaphor for the state of his life at the time). He also makes some beginning hiker’s mistakes, like starting out on his journey with a pair of boots that aren’t already broken in. Nevertheless, despite these foibles, he seems to adapt to his new surroundings reasonably well, even if not always as planned or hoped for.
Robert indeed accomplishes what he set out to do, discovering a number of new butterfly and moth species. But, more importantly, the trip provides him with an opportunity to reflect upon his life with his beloved (told through a series of flashbacks) and how to get on without her. He takes time to look inward, introspectively assessing who he is and finding himself growing in ways he likely never imagined. It’s as if he’s going through a metamorphosis of his own, finally getting a chance to do for himself what his lepidopteran companions innately consider second nature. He gains a new appreciation for his winged subjects, at last growing his own airworthy appendages as he seeks to symbolically take flight in his own unique way.
Mind you, even though Robert is by himself much of the time, he’s by no means alone. He encounters an array of colorful characters along the way, all of whom help contribute to his personal growth and development, including a skeptical supply store clerk (Carmen Esposito) who questions the wisdom of Robert’s venture, a Girl Scout troop more accustomed to wilderness ways than he is, and a disgruntled logging crew chief (Gary Farmer) who despises the local “tree huggers,” prompting the professor to keep mum about his preservationist leanings. He also comes upon evidence of phenomena outside his everyday experience, such as an oversized footprint that local Native Americans (Kimberly Guerrero, Dyami Thomas, Harvest Moon) matter-of-factly recognize as a hallmark of Bigfoot, a being they’re convinced is absolutely real, a contention that challenges (and helps to reframe) Robert’s iron-clad scientific worldview.
The further Robert journeys, the more “primal” his odyssey becomes. He strips away everything but the bare essentials both literally and figuratively, forcing him to come face to face with himself and his life. He ends up crawling through a lava tube clad only in his underwear, a painful experience that signifies his own rebirth. It’s an ordeal he manages to survive – and pushes him to ask himself, “What do I want for my new life?” It’s a question that only he can answer, but at least he recognizes the opportunity it affords, something we should all be so fortunate enough to experience and take advantage of when it presents itself.
It’s somewhat ironic how we can become so-called experts in a particular area purely on an intellectual level without ever engaging in firsthand practical experiences with our subject matter. Robert, for example, is quite knowledgeable about the study of lepidoptery, but he appears to have done most of his work in classrooms and laboratories; he’s never really engaged in the hands-on field work that allows him to know what it’s like to be the subjects he’s studying. When his life is turned upside-down, though, there’s nothing to hold him back from doing so, and so he plans to proceed with an undertaking to find out for himself.
For whatever reason, Robert has not pursued such a venture before. Now, however, with his other obligations fulfilled, he has an opportunity to make it happen. He thus sets in motion the process of setting up his field study, and, as the elements fall into place, he’s able to proceed. The reason those project components come together is because he now believes he can pull this off, despite his obvious lack of practical experience. Those beliefs, in turn, work like magnets, drawing the resources to him that he needs (such as the study grant), a prime example of the law of attraction at work, the philosophy that maintains we tap into our thoughts, beliefs and intents to manifest the reality we experience – even if it means taking us into highly uncharted territory.
Like the butterfly that morphs into its celebrated form from that of a mere caterpillar, Robert is about to do the same on his journey, even if he’s not entirely sure of how – or that – it’s going to happen. Fortunately for him, he experiences a number of synchronicities – those perfectly attuned “coincidences” that seemingly appear out of the blue just when we need them to provide us with exactly what we need at the moment. They enable his odyssey to unfold, taking him to where he needs to go, even if he doesn’t always know it at the time.
In the process, this allows Robert to rewrite his beliefs as a means to reshape his existence. He considers possibilities he hadn’t thought of before, especially in the area of expanding beyond established limitations. For instance, his encounter with evidence of Bigfoot – and its apparent validation by the Native Americans he meets – prompts the diehard scientist to think in terms he may have never previously contemplated. In fact, the real world counterpart of this fictionalized version of himself has since added study of this legendary cryptid to his work as a butterfly expert, quite a remarkable change indeed.
It’s interesting to see how Robert goes about all this, too. In many respects, he approaches this endeavor with a sense of playfulness, allowing his inner goofball to emerge. Some may question the wisdom of this given the conditions of the quest he’s embarking upon. In fact, there are some situations that truly place him in peril, yet he doesn’t unduly panic (at least most of the time). He goes with the experience, because that’s what he’s drawn to him, something that he apparently recognizes on some level is meant to provide him with a necessary learning opportunity. Such circumstances give him a chance to expand his life experience and to learn certain life lessons, all of which contribute to the ongoing unfolding of his personal growth, development and metamorphosis – again, just like the winged subjects he studies.
The upshot of this is that it allows Robert to go through a personal evolution and rebirth. And, in light of what he underwent prior to taking on this challenge, he’s in need of reinventing himself, of becoming Robert without Thea. Given how much he loved and cared for his wife, her death was a tremendous loss. But, in the wake of her transition, he’s still here and needs to build a new future for himself – something he can only do by reframing his destiny, an opportunity made possible by shifting his beliefs and the manifestations they enable.
Thanks to this experience, Robert comes to understand the concept that everything is in a constant state of becoming, again mirroring the existence of the butterfly. And, also like the butterfly, it enables him to learn how to take flight, to spread his wings and truly soar in ways he never dreamed imaginable. That’s quite an aspiration – especially when one sees it fulfilled.
Filmmaker Tom Putnam’s fact-based chronicle of Dr. Robert Pyle’s odyssey encompasses a range of emotions, from laughter to tears to revelation, a picture whose story line particulars parallel films like “Wild” (2014). The professor’s experience in discovering himself while working through profound grief is inspiring and cathartic, qualities that many of us may find easy to appreciate. Though somewhat episodic at times, the overall narrative rings true to its mission and does so with whimsical humor, beautiful cinematography and an excellent score. Its greatest strength, however, lies in its performances, with Cross and Messing (who is barely recognizable here) easily turning in the best work of their careers. The film has been playing the festival circuit and had a brief theatrical run before becoming available for online streaming on a number of internet platforms.
There comes a point in many of our lives when we’re faced with the choice of stretching or stagnating. The implications of each are often quite clear, too. But, even with that knowledge, we must take action – or purposely choose not to do so – to see them materialized. Making the decision and subsequently acting upon it may be challenging, even difficult. However, if we’re to move forward and realize advances in our lives, we must choose to forge ahead to see what grand opportunities await us – and avoiding regrets that we never chose to pursue them.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Gently Invoking Meaningful Change
When we’re stuck in a rut, it feels like change will never come. In severe cases, it’s as if we’re at the bottom of a deep pit from which escape is unimaginable. But circumstances need not remain that way, and making adjustments doesn’t have to be traumatic – provided we give ourselves permission to allow it. Such is the challenge brought up for review in the gentle domestic drama, “Driveways” (web site, trailer).
When the older sister of middle-aged single mother Kathy (Hong Chau) passes away, she’s forced into traveling out of town with her eight-year-old son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), to clear out her sibling’s home to get it ready for sale. The two sisters haven’t been close since childhood, so Kathy knows little about the adult sibling she hasn’t seen in years. Consequently, taking on such a task for a virtual stranger is not something she’s especially looking forward to. And that dread becomes all the more onerous when she discovers that her sister April was a pathological hoarder. Suddenly the undertaking becomes far more burdensome than Kathy ever imagined. However, as the heir to April’s estate – and her only living immediate family member – Kathy dutifully but reluctantly launches into what seems like an overwhelming venture.
As taxing as this task may appear, though, cleaning out April’s home is not the only challenge Kathy faces. She must also tend to Cody’s fragile emotional state. The sensitive, lonely youngster is growing up without a father and has few friends, and, now that he’s indefinitely living in a new town where he knows no one, he feels even more isolated. That situation becomes even more apparent when his mom informs him that they have to move into Aunt April’s house because their motel is quickly becoming too expensive for a long-term stay. Kathy’s and Cody’s circumstances haven’t been particularly encouraging for some time, and their future is beginning to look increasingly uncertain – and ever more bleak.
Not all is lost, though. In short order, Cody meets his late aunt’s neighbor, Del (Brian Dennehy), a kindly, widowed Korean War veteran. Even though Del has a few buddies (Jerry Adler, Stan Carp, Bill Buell) with whom he plays bingo at the local VFW post, he, too, is alone much of the time. His only other relative, his daughter, Lisa (Samantha Jones), lives across the country and rarely visits, so he welcomes the company afforded by the new arrivals. Del is especially taken with Cody, who helps the aging senior feel young at heart. Cody, in turn, enjoys having a grandfatherly figure in his life, the kind of positive, supportive male role model who has long been absent from his day-to-day routine. And, even though the neighborhood is home to peers closer in age to Cody (Sophia DiStefano, Jeter Rivera, Jack Caleb, James DiGiacomo), he still seems to prefer the company of someone who understands him, appreciates his presence and willingly helps to guide him on the ways of the road of life in a manner that his contemporaries are incapable of doing.
Kathy benefits from Del’s presence, too. In addition to having someone who can help her raise her son, she learns to begin trusting people again, something she obviously hasn’t been able to do for a long time (at least since the time she was left a single mother with no family support). She’s almost shocked at the kindness offered by strangers like Del and her socially awkward but well-meaning neighbor, Linda (Christine Ebersole). But, when she can see that their gestures are genuine and don’t have agendas tied up with them, she learns to let her guard down and graciously accept their help. Before long, this new neighborhood in which she finds herself begins to feel like a home, a startlingly welcome development if there ever were one.
Thus begins a warm, gentle story of friendship and connection that comes at a time when it’s least expected yet most needed. The premise here is a simple one, yet it’s astounding how it seems so incredibly foreign – not only to the characters in the film, but likely in the minds of many of the picture’s viewers. It’s sad that we’ve reached a point where something once considered the norm has become an almost inconceivable concept to many of us (even more so in the age of quarantining and social distancing). In that regard, then, this could be just the kind of story we need these days to help reacquaint us with, and to reaffirm, the merits of this kind of neighborly fellowship, a reminder that could prove valuable once we emerge from our lockdown cocoons and rejoin the world of the living (whenever that happens).
Of course, if we want that to happen, we must work at cultivating it, to intentionally bring it about for ourselves as the foundation of our existence. If we indeed wish to live in a world where such qualities are commonplace and attainable, we must forge and adhere to thoughts, beliefs, intents and actions rooted in those principles. In short, we must embrace the power of the possible to see it realized.
Kathy, Cody and Del all seem to have wanted this for some time, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t allow themselves to believe in its attainability. However, as their circumstances changed, so, too, did their perspectives and the beliefs underlying them. On some level, they must have tapped into this idea, regardless of whether or not they were consciously aware of doing so at the time. And, before they knew it, they found themselves in the midst of what they had been seeking for quite a while. From all appearances, it doesn’t appear they object to the changes, either.
Invoking change can be a daunting prospect, and that fear in itself can be enough to keep it from happening. The same is true for doubt and contradiction, which arguably could be said to have played roles to lesser degrees here. However, by failing to address these hindrances, we’ll never achieve any kind of meaningful change. Kathy, for example, truly dreads having to take on the task of clearing out her sister’s home, but, if it weren’t for addressing that obligation, she, Cody and Del never would have been able to reap any of the benefits associated with having assumed that responsibility. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
By overcoming the limitations that hold us back – no matter what cause they’re rooted in – we can achieve great things for ourselves, and the experience of the three principals in this film bear this out. They provide us with an excellent example to draw from in seeking to bring about meaningful change in our own lives. We’d be wise to pay attention.
This gentle, touching story exudes warmth, growing ever stronger as the picture progresses. Director Andrew Ahn’s latest effectively illustrates how to fill a huge void in our lives without succumbing to exercises in schmaltz or obvious manipulation. Though some of the picture’s themes are familiar, they’re often handled in unconventional ways and always addressed with deft skill and subtlety. There are a few story elements that could have used a little further development, and the ending – though effective – seems to come about somewhat abruptly. However, these minor shortcomings aside, “Driveways” is a genuine pleasure, especially for its performances, most notably that of Dennehy in one of his last roles, a virtual love letter to his fans. This fine offering is most worthy of its two 2019 Independent Spirit Award nominations for best first screenplay and best female lead (Chau). The picture is now available for streaming online and on cable TV.
There are times when the world feels like a terrible, scary, uncaring place whose trials and tribulations can seem relentless. But, just as easily as it got that way, it can be transformed to something more preferable as long as we can envision and are willing to enable the possibility. As this film illustrates, if a lonely little boy can accomplish such a change, it should be a snap for those of us who have more worldly experience and an ability to imagine alternatives. And it just may be possible that the solution is as close as our own driveway.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
The Rigors of Integrity
Operating from a standpoint of integrity can be difficult enough under the best of conditions, but, when extenuating circumstances adversely impinge upon it, that can make matters much more challenging. Indeed, it can be hard to remain respectable and forthright when conditions become demanding or menacing, threatening our interests or even our survival. But even making an honorable attempt at doing so can assuage any ill feelings we might have about our level of conscientiousness, yielding results that could prove ennobling or even rewarding. Such are the circumstances facing a group of vulnerable seniors in the new dark comedy, “The Weasels’ Tale” (“El cuento de las comadrejas”) (web site, trailer).
Life is not what it used to be for a quartet of aging Argentinean movie industry veterans. The once-famous cinematic icons live together under tenuous conditions on a rundown rural estate outside of Buenos Aires, making ends meet mainly through pension income, their entertainment fortunes having been frivolously squandered. And, even though the four colleagues have known each other for years, they frequently get on each other’s nerves, trading barbs and pushing their fellow residents’ respective buttons.
So who make up this cantankerous foursome? The matron of the household is Mara Ordaz (Graciela Borges), a glamorous former leading lady who spends most of her time watching her old films when she’s not overacting for her housemates or grasping to hold on to her reality (not unlike Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) from “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)). Mara is married to Pedro De Córdova (Luis Brandoni), a wheelchair-bound former actor who strived for (but never attained) the fame of his wife, especially once he was injured in a serious car accident; he now spends his days plying his talents as a would-be painter and sculptor, displaying about as much virtuosity at this as he did as an actor. The long-married couple is joined by Norberto Imbert (Oscar Martínez), an acerbic-tongued director of several of Mara’s past projects who now has a penchant for shooting the wildlife (mostly rats and weasels) overrunning the estate, and Martín Saravia (Marcos Mundstock), a once-brilliant screenwriter who fell on hard times after producing a controversial left-leaning documentary during the Argentine Dirty War of the 1970s, leaving him blacklisted and forced to pen inane projects like “Gertrude the Goose is on the Loose.” Norberto and Martín came to live in the house years ago when Mara extended an invitation to them to move in with their respective wives, Stella (Adriana Marcela Garibaldi) and Elvira (Dana Gabriela Basso), Mara’s sister and best friend, respectively. But, when Stella and Elvira mysteriously disappeared and died, Norberto and Martín stayed on, even if not formally invited to do so.
The estate on which Mara, Pedro, Norberto and Martín live is almost as much a character in the story as the four principals. It may not be much to look at, and it may be falling apart, but it is nevertheless home to its argumentative residents, even if they frequently complain about it – and one another. Yet, quite unexpectedly one day, it takes on a new significance that no one saw coming.
During one of their many grousing sessions, Mara, Pedro, Norberto and Martín receive unexpected visitors. While sitting on their front porch, the foursome is greeted by the arrival of two young, well-dressed visitors driving a nice car, Francisco (Nicolás Francella) and Bárbara (Clara Lago). They claim to be lost and running late for an important meeting in Buenos Aires. They ask to use the phone to get directions, and, when Bárbara makes her call, she learns that the meeting has been canceled.
While all this unfolds, Francisco suddenly realizes whose company he and Bárbara find themselves in. As a longtime fan of Mara’s work, Francisco gushes about her movies, lavishing her with praise that she eats up. And the more Mara swoons over the unsolicited compliments, the more Francisco and Bárbara skillfully manage to slip in additional requests for favors, most notably to tour the house and surrounding property. Mara gladly obliges, but the others smell a rat and turn a skeptical eye toward their uninvited guests.
The longer the visit goes on, the more Francisco sweet-talks Mara about her work and her talent – and how she should really consider making a triumphant return to the silver screen, something she has been secretly desiring for years. To do that, however, Francisco suggests that she needs to raise her public profile more, returning to the spotlight and becoming more visible, the sort of thing that can only be accomplished by living in a place where she can be more readily seen – like Buenos Aires. He recommends that she sell her house and move to the city, something that he can oh so conveniently help her with, given that he works in the real estate development business.
With Francisco having hit all the right notes, and given Mara’s contempt for her housemates, she decides to begin the process of putting the estate on the market. Mara blithely goes along with everything that Francisco and Bárbara recommend, raising the eyebrows of Pedro, Norberto and Martín. Not only do they fear that Mara is falling for a trap, but they also have concerns for what a sale of the house would mean for them. Where would they live? How would it affect them financially? And how would it change the lives that they seem to have grown comfortable with?
Thus begins an intricate game of cat and mouse as everyone seeks to protect their own interests, no matter what it takes. As Francisco and Bárbara work their scam with Mara’s complicity, Pedro, Norberto and Martín look to protect their stake in the game. And, as the sales process unfolds, new wrinkles develop in which long-hidden secrets are revealed, prompting everyone on both sides of the deal (and, in some cases, even on the same sides) to manipulate one another. They dig up dirt on one another and accumulate potentially damning evidence to throw everything out of whack. Personal, professional and criminal matters surface, weaving a tangled web whose successful disentanglement grows ever more questionable as time passes.
How will this all play out? That’s what remains to be seen. But viewers can be sure that there will be ample twists and turns along the way, some of which are rooted in the present and others of which dredge up the past, all the while pitting generational factions and alleged colleagues against one another. It’s quite a ride to a wild conclusion.
When adversity rears its ugly head in our lives, we may believe it to be patently unfair. By contrast, there are the optimists among us who insist that we can make lemonade from those proverbial lemons. But how exactly do we go about that? The notion may be easy to say but far more problematic to accomplish. In many instances, it comes down to the attitude we take when we approach the problem. And that attitude is governed by what we believe. That’s important to recognize, because our beliefs help to govern what we experience.
So are there any particular types of beliefs that are most useful in a scenario like this? If the players involved in this game want to realize the outcomes they seek, they had better approach them with intents rooted in integrity and living up to one’s responsibility. But, given the scurrilous nature of the characters here, that could prove to be quite a tall order.
The residents of the rural estate obviously have much to lose, and the ante is continually upped as the story progresses. There’s much more to be lost than merely a piece of property, and everyone has his or her own vested stake in the unfolding of events. But, when they operate from a standpoint of desperate self-interest and are willing to do almost anything to protect what they have – even if it means lying to or potentially shafting those whom they supposedly care about – that sense of integrity and responsibility fly out the window. By not upholding such crucial qualities in their beliefs – knowing full well that this is essential to successfully achieving their hoped-for results – they increase the likelihood of failure or, at the very least, distortions of what they seek. For seniors with much to lose, that could be disastrous.
As unfortunate as that could be, however, the situation for the con artists could be even worse. Given that their schemes are rooted in deception, integrity and accountability are absent from the outset. Francisco and Bárbara may think themselves eminently clever with what they perceive as an airtight plan, but, when they match wits with those who sincerely seek to preserve what they stand to lose, they’re suddenly up against opponents who do have integrity and responsibility factored in to their plans right out of the box. Care to take bets on who will come out on top in a conflict like this?
Mara, Pedro, Norberto and Martín have an added advantage that comes from working collectively. Their cooperative approach represents a co-creation, one in which their power is amplified by their mutual efforts. With four against two, those are some hefty odds in their favor. What’s more, even though they may be well on in years (and seemingly easy to take advantage of), they have far more life experience than their younger counterparts, a potent and valuable resource that they can tap to come up with creative solutions when matching wits with their less practiced adversaries. Indeed, as playwright David Mamet observed, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” Francisco and Bárbara would be wise to bear that in mind.
To be sure, there are a number of nasty influences afoot on each side of the equation in this tawdry little story, and no one is truly innocent. Nevertheless, considering what’s at stake, each player in this scenario must assess what needs to be done in light of his or her interests, examining the seriousness and magnitude of what stands to be gained or lost and how earnestly each is willing to pursue or protect what’s up for grabs. And that’s where those potentially thorny issues of integrity and accountability once again raise their stern and exacting heads. Good luck to all involved.
This devilish little dark comedy is a delicious guilty pleasure filled with tasty twists and turns, nicely seasoned with snappy writing, creative photographic effects, superbly campy performances, a spot-on soundtrack and a story line where cinema imitates life (and vice versa). Director Juan José Campanella’s latest offering sizzles throughout, nicely paced and crisp in virtually every frame, including those that cleverly poke fun at the movie industry through the picture’s narrative. The look and feel of the film and the tone of the story draw upon influences from a wide array of other movies, including “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), “Grey Gardens” (2009), “Knives Out” (2019) and “The Ladykillers” (1955), all making for a hilarious and visually appealing morality play that’s a bona fide joy from start to finish. “The Weasels’ Tale” is available for streaming online.
Remaining faithful to our sense of personal integrity can be challenging, much like trying to abide by the dictates of a conscientious taskmaster. But taking steps to make that happen can prove highly rewarding, even in dicey circumstances. It’s worth making the effort, too; if we don’t, we might find ourselves uncomfortably trying to weasel our way out of a tight spot.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Copyright © 2020-2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.