Ender’s Game and My Father and the Man in Black play this month

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Cinecenta is starting off the year with its usual eclectic mix of films, this time including Ender’s Game and the documentary My Father and the Man in Black.

In the movie Ender’s Game, a distant future alien race named Formics have attacked Earth wiping out millions. In order to better prepare themselves for a possible future attack, the human race begins picking its brightest young people and training them in a military-style boot camp.

The titular character, Ender, is played by Asa Butterfield, who has shown he is a capable actor in films like Hugo and The Boy in Striped Pajamas. But in Ender’s Game, it feels like his skills are being held back. Ender is relatively monotone most of the film, other than the occasional outburst of anger and the even more rare show of enjoyment. The cold delivery of the character Ender makes it hard to relate to him on an emotional level, which makes the audience feel more like observers of the plot than participants in the character’s struggles and unfortunately makes it difficult to invest emotion in his story.

Ender moves quickly through the different levels of training, which allows the audience little time to become accustomed to the rules of the film. It would have been better if, along with the brief narrative introduction, the film had spent more time developing the reality of the world and the rules of it.

The child characters are trained in combat, deprived of sleep, cut off from the outside world of family and friends. It is frustrating to see the children more manipulated than moulded into soldiers, while the capable adults themselves do not mention any intention to participate in battle. The adult cast of the film is composed of seasoned actors Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, and Viola Davis, and they do a decent job, but as with Asa’s performance, their performances come across flat. Ford is the stereotypical gruff commander and Davis is the voice of reason who worries about pushing Ender too far. It’s a film that could have benefited from some more attention to smaller details and didn’t quite measure up to other children’s films in similar genres.

My Father and the Man in Black is a documentary film from Jonathan Holiff, who is the son of Johnny Cash’s long time manager, Saul Holiff. The film explores Jonathan’s troubled relationship with his father and his father’s struggles to manage Cash, who was more than a handful. To further explain this tumultuous documentary, a Q&A with Jonathan Holiff will follow the Cinecenta screening.

Holiff and his father have local connections; the film shows that they moved to Vancouver Island after Saul ended his management relationship with Cash. Saul also went back to school in Victoria, graduating from UVic. Unfortunately Saul would take his own life in Nanaimo, and it is with his suicide that the film begins. A lot of this event is left to the imagination, but it is still quite disturbing.

The suicide is re-enacted by an actor, with the sounds and visuals of a screaming, black and white crowd, waiting for Cash, superimposed in the background. The film includes some strange mixes and surreal blendings in this style, which don’t completely work, but also aren’t completely out of place. The re-enactments, which make up most of the film, are reminiscent of those on a true crime show. They don’t feel as if they belong in a film termed a documentary, and they feel unfitting. It would have been better had the film included actual footage from the events, but perhaps Holiff was unable to get the rights to the footage.

The film doesn’t reveal many surprising tidbits about Cash, yet sometimes it feels more like the story of Cash and less of Saul. It was interesting how many Canadian shows and how much of Canada was featured in Cash’s career. It was also nice to get a little more insight into Cash’s relationship with Saul, seeing Saul putting June Carter and Cash together, his handling of Cash’s divorce instead of a lawyer, and their continued mutual respect for each other, even after Saul quit his job as manager.

Despite the strangeness of the re-enactments and the lack of new insight into Cash, the film is wrapped up and carried by the look at the relationship between Jonathan and his father, Saul. Saul is a man who would sign contracts with his children, and when Saul stopped talking to Jonathan altogether when he was a teenager, he would still slip written lectures under his door. Jonathan’s parents set up a trust fund for him, but Saul had also kept track of the money he spent on Jonathan and withdrew money to replace that money. However, upon Saul’s death, Jonathan discovers his father had a different side, and wasn’t necessarily the one-dimensional person Jonathan thought he was.

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