The Control

At the start of 2015 I decided to slow down my blog posts to focus on fiction. I still thought I’d be able to post once or twice a month, but this obviously hasn’t happened. But my time away from blogging wasn’t in vain; I’ve co-written a feature film with Mike Stasko, and we go into production tomorrow.

Mike and I outlined this script for nearly two years, meeting weekly to discuss the broad strokes and working our way down to the finer-grained details. Then we worked on the actual script for more than a year. Now we find ourselves with a whole team of enthusiastic people, a bunch of professional gear, and we’re scrambling to make sure we’ve thought of everything before production starts at 8 AM in the morning.

It’s too early to spill the beans on what the film is about, but what I will say is that it’s a truly independent science fiction thriller called The Control. Being big science fiction fans, Mike and I wanted to put an interesting idea on the table and wrap it up in an exciting structure. We’ve called in a lot of favors, put in long hours, and only now does the real work begin.

Independent movies succeed for fail on the strength of those supporting them. Please check us out on Facebook and Twitter, tell friends, retweet, like, and do whatever it is we do these days to help support indie films.

(Check back for that Facebook link if I can ever figure out how the internet works.)

3 Reason to See The Birder at Carlton Cinema


Watch A Funny Movie With Heart

The Birder is a comedy that will leave you feeling good, not jaded. While most blockbuster comedies try to clobber you over the head with gags and vulgarity, this movie, like its central character Ron Spencer, is looking to dig out a little corner for itself in a world that rewards flare and loud slogans instead of genuine content. Feel free to take a break from all the cynicism for 90 minutes and check out this film.

If you go to comedies because you want loud, drunken montages that remind you of beer commercials, The Birder might not be for you. But if you’re a fan of character-driven movies, or Wes Anderson films like Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, Bezaire’s comedies might float your boat (see Things To Do as well). Dry wit and deadpan delivery make The Birder quietly amusing throughout.

Because movies can be funny without envelope-pushing sight gags, you won’t see a droopy naked ass like The Hangover, Snoop Lion will not make a guest appearance, and there will be no explosive projectile vomiting. What you will see is a thoughtful buddy comedy with a catchy indie soundtrack.

Support Canadian Film (and friends of mine)

Making films in Canada is a tough racket to break into. A surprisingly small number of Canadian films ever make money, including the larger budget Telefilm-funded movies with stars attached (Paul Gross’s Passchendaele, the largest Canadian-funded production in our history at $20M, was also one of our biggest box office losers).

A large part of this problem is that many Canadian moviegoers don’t care to see Canadian films. Many of our homegrown movies feel Canadian, and this can be awkward, like inviting someone you want to impress to your parent’s house. You notice every flaw and tick and bad habit like a cynical outsider and it makes you self-conscious.

But The Birder is a polished film. It looks and sounds professional, it’s entertaining, it has some solid talent behind it, and it was pulled off on a tiny budget thanks to years of perseverance by many friends of mine, including Gerry Lattmann of The Dot Film Company, Theodore Bezaire, and Mike Stasko.

Support Carlton Cinema

I was surprised to learn that Carlton Theater now serves alcohol. This shouldn’t be a big deal, because all theaters everywhere should have always served alcohol. Audiences will enjoy a movie more if they can casually drink a nice beer while watching. You don’t need social science to figure out that this is true. It feels nice to be treated like an adult. And beer is good.

Carlton serves some of the standard lager selections, as well as selections from local craft big shots Mill Street. They also serve wine and liquor. Don’t let a lack of alcohol make you skip a movie ever again. Reward the theater’s decision and reward yourself, and do it this week. The Birder pairs well with Mill St. Tank House Ale.

The movie plays at Carlton until Friday, and if it does well, it will play longer. The Carlton is willing to occupy one of their screens with a Canadian indie movie instead of a sure sell like Neighbors or any other very-well-funded Hollywood movie in no need of support. If you want theaters to continue to take their chances with indie movies, go see those movies in those theaters.

Adapting Ender’s Game

Ender's GameEnder’s Game strikes me as a good example of the pros and cons of adapting novels for the screen. In a novel, psychological complexity is on full display and the internal life of the protagonist generally occupies our attention. Movies are visual and aural, so they are more spectacular, but movies can only show us so much psychology. This is why most adaptations miss the mark.

The book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is a beautiful, insightful science fiction novel in which a young cadet comes to terms with his destiny as humanity’s savior in a war against a powerful alien race. His training, begun from a very early age, is emotionally ruthless and isolating, and our hero is deprived of an outlet for his gentle nature. Instead, all his hours are occupied by the schemes of Colonel Graff, whose job it is to hone Ender Wiggin into a mercilessness, strategic genius, even as Ender struggles against bullying and the playground politics of his fellow cadets.

The “plot”, the external actions taken, the strange environments, and the other characters are in the novel totally subservient to Ender’s emotional journey. It’s this journey that makes the novel great, and these elements are the most difficult to translate to the screen. For one thing, Ender’s sustaining love for his sister and the fear he has of his brother are almost completely cut from the film simply to accommodate a normal run-time for a blockbuster.

Much of the emotional nuance also has to be cropped from the screenplay for time, so what remains are the larger emotional notes, the most obvious conflicts with the least subtlety. All the minor wins and losses Ender experiences in the novel must be swept under the rug, and only when they’ve cut that content and finished the screenplay do they begin looking for an actor to portray what’s left.

Actors have a tall order when it comes to adapting literature. They bring their own experiences to bear when they read a screenplay, and do what they can to express their roles. But they can’t really compete with our imagination, which in a novel fills the ambiguous details and idealizes characters and action. Asa Butterfield played Ender and did a fine job, though I felt none of the deep empathy that I felt with the character in the novel.

But movies do have their own weaponry that novels cannot touch. Where the movie really delivers is in its special effects. Unlike reading the novel, watching Ender’s Game is a treat because we actually get to see the amazing sets, the charismatic faces of Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, and the slow ballet of a zero gravity practice chamber. We get to experience it empirically. The novel describes these elements very well, but it’s a different experience altogether to engage your eyes and ears, visual and auditory cortices with the crafts of Hollywood.

Unfortunately, what I loved most about the book, what I thought truly made it a great one, didn’t make it into the movie. The novel was fairly inspiring while the movie was merely entertaining. I wasn’t surprised by this, as I can probably count on one hand the number of film adaptations that stand up to their prose counterparts.

Cinematic Ontology: “World on a Wire” vs. “The Matrix”

Ontology is the study of being, or reality as it pertains to our existence. Film is arguably the most absorbing art form for dealing with this issue. After all, films represent realities of their own. 8 1/2; Blade Runner; Solaris; Inland Empire and The Tree of Life are all masterful ontological film-essays. Film effectively orchestrates sense data to engage the mind. In this way, it’s kind of like real life.

I just had the pleasure of watching World on a Wire, recently released on Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection. Rainer Werner Fassbiner offers up a three-and-a-half-hour psychological detective story set in the merging realities of a dystopian future and the virtual reality it has created. This German masterpiece is Chinatown set in the world of The Matrix, though it predated both.

World on a Wire is a smooth, stylized film noir that that happens to be “science fiction”. It avoids projecting future technologies that might in time look outdated or embarrassingly naive. Here the technology is incidental; it’s the psychological journey that counts.

Fassbinder’s protagonist leads the action, and this is what makes the film great. All philosophers and scientists at some point, despite their metaphysical babble and mathematical systems, have to deal with reality through experience. Whether experience is sensuous, cerebral, or mysterious depends on the individual’s character, and character is story.

People may say that plot is story, but I would argue that plot is simply the sequence of a character’s actions and reactions. There are, after all, no stories devoid of characters.

The protagonist is the character the audience empathizes with. You can get a sense of the intended audience of a movie by looking at the protagonist. In World on a Wire, Fred Stiller is a smart, cynical guy searching for meaning. By contrast, Neo from The Matrix is a confused geek.

I remember people raving about The Matrix. Watch World on a Wire. Originality in The Matrix took the form of newly-realizable computer-cartoon effects. The ideas behind The Matrix were good enough, just unoriginal. Obviously ridicule is the only reason for me to mention Avatar. Ever.

I once saw a philosophy book based on The Matrix in which the Wachowski brothers claimed they crammed more philosophy into the movie than anybody will ever know (I’m paraphrasing; I didn’t read the book). This strikes me as the statement of someone who wants you to think they’re smarter than they are.

Don’t get me wrong, when I saw The Matrix I thought it was okay. Films made as showcases for new special effects have a way of being amusing. This is a dangerous thing. In this way, producers get kids to spend their time watching stupid nonsense. See Transformers or 300 for an example of a bunch of stupid nonsense.

Perhaps the most recent film along these lines is the remake of Total Recall. I don’t remember enjoying the original movie despite it being based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (I’m an admitted Philip K. Dick-head). By the looks of the trailer, they’ve put most of their efforts towards making the movie look like a video game. Does anybody else get the impression that, since The Matrix, the plan has been to assault our senses to distract us from the story?

World on a Wire, though made for German television in 1973, felt fresh like a true classic. It isn’t afraid to ask about reality, and its final moments roll out a beautifully enigmatic truth.