UPDATE: Current Activities

Hey folks. Life’s gotten hectic. Here’s what’s happening: I’m currently enrolled in York University’s Screenwriting MFA program. Having a great time meeting people and honing my craft. I’m also contributing a little bit of work to thecompassnet.com. You can see some recent drafts of my feature scripts there, and even catch a review of Wonder Woman on the Compass Echoes podcast.

Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to update this site sometime in the near future. If free time ever finds its way back into my life, that is.

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UPDATE: Recent Adventures

Hey everybody. Just thought I’d pass along some info. Lately, I’ve been doing a little work for a website called soundonsight.org in the comics section. You can check out my stuff here.

I’ve also recently started my MFA in Screenwriting at York University here in Toronto. If my fellow students should find this page to be a resource at all, maybe there will be more updates to come.

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Cadencemag.com Pieces: Deadfall review

I did a review for the recent Eric Bana thriller a while back. Check it out.

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Cadencemag.com Pieces: Alexisonfire/City & Colour review

Did a review for a couple new releases: Alexisonfire’s farewell cd, and a two song EP by City & Colour. Check it out.

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Cadencemag.com Pieces: Interview with Producer of 'Strip The City'

Strip the city is a Discover Channel series that breaks down the ecology, infrastructure, architecture, and history of some of the world’s great cities. You can read my interview with Producer Robert Hartel here.

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UPDATE: Where I've been.

If anyone’s been wondering why SBM has seen a decline in production lately, I thought it was time to pass along some good news. Lately, I’ve been doing freelance writing for cadencemag.com, a website dedicated to Canadian Entertainment in and around Toronto. I’ve covered music, film, theatre… all sorts of fun stuff. That, along with attempting to earn a meager living, has pretty much monopolized my time. From now on, I’ll be passing along when something goes up here at SBM.

Click here to see everything I’ve written so far. Hope you enjoy.

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Fresh Blood For The Old Guard: The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives follows three soldiers returning from war to a small American town. The film is unique among its era for the courage with which it tackles the consequences of war on simple, peaceful domestic life. Homer, Fred, and Al are three men with differing backgrounds and histories, and their tales are easy to envision happening all throughout the United States and the world at large. For all its dread and unease, though, The Best Years of Our Lives is obviously a deeply optimistic and positive movie that can’t help but give its characters all the joys and comforts they deserve.

Harold Russel’s dual Oscar winning Homer Parrish has to be one of the most instantly sympathetic characters in film history. Despite losing both his hands in the war, he proves an indefatigable spirit. As he first meets fellow soldiers Fred and Al, he’s totally at peace with his lot in life, and shockingly agile with his prosthetics. As he returns home, though, anxiety sets in. He knows he’s a different man than the one that left his family behind. So when they greet him back with open arms and unconditional joy, it’s a huge relief and a genuinely moving moment.

Fred, the man with the most success and highest rank of the three in the military, struggles the most to find a place. He returns home to a loveless marriage with no marketable skills. He takes a demeaning job as a Soda Jerk at a pharmacy, and he hates himself for his inability to provide a manageable living for himself and his wife, whom he married on a whim before heading overseas. Fred found purpose and esteem at war, but at home he has nothing.

Al… well, Al sort of falls off the map after a brief moment of awkward readjustment. At first, his son and daughter are practically strangers, and he embarrasses himself in front of his wife after a night of heavy drinking, mistaking her for someone else. Lucky for him, she takes it with gentle good humor, happy to have him back. Of the three, he has the most to return to: wealth, love, family. With a new found appreciation for the little man, he seems perhaps the only one richer for the experience. He aids fellow soldiers with finances as the vice president at a local bank, and stands up for their rights at gala dinner. Before long, his family respects and appreciates him more than ever.

Really, the only criticism I can lob the film’s way is that it maybe doesn’t go dark enough. The film is incredibly powerful when it plays with the dread of an uncertain future. The anxious moments right before the men return to their loved ones are tense and powerful, and they make the loving reconciliations all the move heart warming. Nuclear terror and the fear that the world simply won’t survive another war also makes for some especially powerful conversations. But that all fades.

The Best Years of Our Lives wants to tackle the consequences of war on small town American life, but it’s unwilling to truly be cruel to its characters. Sure, adjusting back to small town American life has its hiccups, but all three come out better and happier than ever. Homer fears being excluded or treated differently because of his handicap, but his family and girlfriend treat him with dignity and respect from beginning to end. Fred’s marriage falls apart, but it was doomed from the start, and he finds a much better love. Al’s family loves and cherishes him, and work promotes him instantaneously. The Best Years of Our Lives doesn’t really address the possibility that the scars war can leave are anything but fleeting.

That’s fine, though. In the wake of an enormous conflict like World War II, The Best Years of Our Lives tries to tell the stories and share the pain of thousands of men across America. So what if it suggests that misery is temporary. It can hardly be begrudged for looking to the future with a healthy sense of optimism.

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Fresh Blood For The Old Guard: Modern Times

For me, what first popped out about Modern Times was it’s release date: 1936. That’s kind of mystifying. Countless sound masterpieces that established the new cinematic language had already come and gone. M, It Happened One Night, Top Hat… the list goes on. Monster productions like Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind were just a few years away. So, in many ways, Modern Times is the last great gasp of silent film making from its lone remaining megastar. It’s also very much of a particular time and place: the Great Depression, and all the economic tensions that go along with it.

In Modern Times, Chaplin posits his famous Tramp character as an unwitting symbol of industrial discontent. He accidentally leads workers of a factory on a strike, and becomes the leader of a socialist movement, despite the fact he is obviously horrible at whatever job he’s handed. Chaplin’s sympathy is obviously with the working class of America, so the metaphor would perhaps be better served if his Tramp was actually worthy of work, but the comedy certainly wouldn’t be. Comic heroes who win the world’s favor don’t often do it by competence or superiority. Everyone loves the underdog.

History can’t help but lend a little irony to Chaplin making his fortune and empire by milking his adorable Tramp character for so long. Regardless of their origins, when a wealthy, successful captain of industry like Chaplin claims to speak for the unwashed masses, it usually fosters resentment and contempt. But somehow, since Chaplin is himself a dinosaur on the very precipice of becoming obsolete, the Tramp makes the perfect hero for a proletariat call to arms. Never mind Chaplin’s immense fortune and world wide acclaim. He perfectly captures the tension between the workers he’s presenting and the industrial revolution that threatens to rob them of their livelihoods, just as the technological advent of sound on film felled so many silent film stars. Modern Times works as metaphor because even as it broaches social tensions, it’s always grounded in an intensely personal place.

Modern Times is not without its fat. There are numerous inessential yet pleasant diversions with a love interest taking the form of a young street urchin (Chaplin’s then wife Paulette Godard). It’s not the place of comedy to be lean and mean, but there’s certainly a loss of forward momentum in the Tramp’s fantasies of domesticity. That sort of sentimentality is one of the primary traits that separates Chaplin and the great stone faced Buster Keaton. Obviously, Keaton tried to tug at the heart strings too. But I think Chaplin has a deeper longing to be loved than Keaton. He mugs for the camera, he makes googly eyes, he frames himself tightly in shots and plays cute. It’s no surprise that Chaplin remains an icon and star in ways that Keaton never achieved despite being a similarly gifted performer and (in the views of many) a more accomplished, imaginative film maker. Chaplin courted stardom. He branded.

There’s a great scene where the Tramp is forced to enter into the world of sound. Working at a musical theatre/restaurant, the Tramp is forced to perform a little song and dance routine, to which he’s lost the lyrics. So, the Tramp improvises a quick routine that involves pantomime and some nonsensical babbling. It doesn’t matter what the Tramp says, or who can understand him, because he’s delightful and captivating regardless. It’s a great thumbing of the nose to the very notion that technological advancements would render the old ways archaic. Old and new could exists side by side, and need not compete.

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Fresh Blood For The Old Guard: Sunrise

Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans casts a pretty monumental shadow in the arthouse sector. When Sight and Sound released its Greatest Films of All Time poll, it was Vertigo that got all the headlines, finally toppling Citizen Kane. Sunrise, released in 1927, came in at number five. It’s not hard to see why. It’s dark but sweet, simple yet revolutionary.

Sunrise is a tale about the rediscovery of love. A sad, angry man finds himself adrift in a small farming town. When a girl from the city arrives to the tiny community on vacation, the man finds solace in her arms, or at least a little bit of fun and adventure. As they fall deeper into lust, the girl attempts to convince the man to return to the city with her. One thing stands in their way: the man’s family, specifically his adorable, neglected wife.

A murder is plotted. A murder most foul. The man resolves to invite his wife on a small, romantic boat ride and trip into the city, with the intention of drowning her in the lake, far from from the prying eyes of witnesses. Naturally, the sweet, meek wife jumps at the opportunity, grateful for a modicum of affection. Much to the relief of us softies in the audience, the man can’t bring himself to carry out his heinous plot. When he begins towards her, and sees the horror in his loved one’s eyes, he pulls back. The man then sets himself on salvaging his life and his love.

The rest of the movie follows the man and his wife’s adventure through the big city, reconnecting and rediscovering their love. Consequently, Sunrise still feels novel as far as love stories go. Romances are so fixated on the new: first kisses, first loves, first heartbreaks. So the Man and his Wife instead falling back into love plays as fresh, and somehow more adult. The extreme depths to which these two souls plummet imbue their reconciliation with enormous heft and tenderness. Young love can feel ignorant or naive, but since Sunrise starts so dark, with its heroes at such a loss, its later innocence becomes all the more endearing, and even compelling.

Films don’t end up on Sight and Sound’s list unless they’re important pieces of filmmaking. Many images are impactful well beyond their storytelling significance. The scope and grandeur of Sunrise’s scenes inside a carnival are magnificent to behold. Unreal, yet delightfully so. Ambitious special effects shots such as the girl from the city’s initial plea for the man to follow back home are similarly magical.

Sunrise is a lovely fairy tale of a movie built on an incredibly dark foundation. It’s a simple story that relies on pretty broad archetypes (The Man, The Wife, The City are the only names given) to communicate its themes with conviction and love. Inevitably, anything that bears its heart so completely can come off a little quaint with the passage of time, but Sunrise‘s flirtations with profound evil save it from playing too sugary sweet.

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Scattered Thoughts: In Defence of Live Free or Die Hard

With Len Wiseman releasing Total Recall next week, I thought I’d take a look at his last reboot of a classic action movie, the extremely divisive Live Free or Die Hard. As many have guessed from the title, I fall squarely in the ‘pro’ camp, to the point where I find the criticisms (and vitriol) lobbed this film’s way downright mystifying. I can get not liking it. I can’t get liking the previous Die Hards and not liking this one.

For one, the actual action is so obviously excellent that attacking it seems like a total waste time. Wiseman and his crews did spectacular work in this film, and I’d go as far to say it’s the current high water mark for Hollywood stunt work. Many, however, claim it’s too over the top and sanitized, that it makes John McClane into an absurd, superhero type figure. I suppose that’s a subjective criticism, and maybe I just have a higher threshold for that sort of thing. To me, the action is certainly unlikely, but the film makes it just plausible enough to fly. The CGI is extremely limited, and when it is present, it exists solely as a threat to McClane, which is actually thematically appropriate, just as the apparently limitless power of the actual technology at work is. Personally, nothing seems out of the norm for the series. The Die Hards have always been a celebration of how badass John McClane is while making the best of a bad situation, be it while he’s jumping off the roof of an exploding building, ejecting out of a grounded fighter jet, or surfing a cement mixer through a flooding tunnel. It’s not like scenes have been robbed of stakes or a sense of danger, have they? That’s really a truck hanging precariously in an elevator shaft, that’s really a transport truck getting shredded on an exploding freeway.

Besides the action McClane takes part in, many object to how the film characterizes him, which I find equally befuddling. Some claim he’s become too capable. But he’s always been inexplicably capable, hasn’t he? It’s not like he failed to save the day in any of the first three movies. He’s always in been the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s never truer here. In the first Die Hard, he’s the hardened New York Cop in elegant, liberal California, and now he’s the archaic dinosaur in an era that has no use for him. He’s a timex watch in a digital age. The Matt character does a great job of highlighting this, while also revealing other virtues and subtler courage foreign to McClane’s classic, masculine action hero.

That’s what bothers me about the hate this movie gets. It’s an extremely well written action movie, and it’s clearly put together by some absolutely enormous fans who have pondered the ins and outs of the series and McClane’s status as a film icon. It paints McClane as the reluctant hero he always was, but also delves into the tragic life of a guy who keeps stumbling into these sorts of situations. Life has constantly forced him to up his game, and he’s alienated himself from those he holds most dear. His loneliness is poignant when put in the context of all his great achievements, and his reconciliation with his tough as nails daughter feels merited.

Speaking of Lucy McClane, she’s an example of how Live Free orDie Hard manages to address some (dare I say?) weaknesses of the original. As great a movie as the first Die Hard is, there’s no denying that there’s a profound, insidious sexism at work all throughout it. McClane resents his wife’s success and independence from the beginning. He believes her pursuit of prestigious work is tearing up their family. His climatic removal of her watch, a gift from her company, in order to save her life is a particularly hideous metaphor. Thankfully, in the context of the series that moment becomes a lot more forgivable, as McClane’s attitude is revealed to be toxic. By being divorced from Holly in Live Free or Die Hard, the plot rightly punishes him for his behavior in the first film. Plus, there are quite a few ass kicking females in this movie, so that helps too.

Basically, if you like Die Hard and hate Live Free or Die Hard, you’re probably a bad person. Just kidding. But people’s reaction to this movie does speak to something I’m finding out more and more: you can’t make all the fans happy, no matter how strong a film you put out. Guys like Len Wiseman, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, were doomed from the start because their biggest fans are simply different people than the wide eyed youths that saw and cherished the original movies. So, warts that were always inherent to the series become absolutely glaring on late additions in the cold light of cynical adulthood. Anyway, as an enormous Die Hard fan, I offer Live Free or Die Hard a much deserved (and much delayed) tip of the cap. It may be the only great late addition to a beloved trilogy. I’m excited to see Wiseman and company get back to work.

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