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We Were Children (2012)
Parallel Paralyzing Pain in a Docu-Drama.
At times, the interspersed interviews with the real life Glen Anaquod and Lyna Hart seemed intrusive. That's because the dramatizations were so strong. However, without this real life touch by the two children as elders, the overall impact of the film would have been lessened. The abuse (psychological, physical, spiritual, emotional, sexual, cultural) of the girl from Manitoba and the boy from Saskatchewan was so similar the viewer gets the sense that their experience was typical of all residential students at that time. The director, Tim Wolochatiuk, does a good job of bringing these parallels together. I also enjoyed the symbolism Wolochatiuk employed, especially that of Lyna's horses in her secret place. In the midst of the Idle No More and similar grass roots movements, this docu-drama is very timely. Showing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary apology at the end of the show seemed to be done tongue in cheek, the irony apparent to all who know of Mr. Harper's plans to dismantle the First Nations people's rights.
Dark Shadows (2012)
Great Gothic Romp
Despite the very disappointing and unpromising trailers that tried to make this movie look like a spoof or satire, Tim Burton has actually created a very worthy tribute to the late 60s TV cult classic. The characters names remain the same and some even resemble the originals (ex. Roger Collins). Even names of minor locations (Windcliff Santorium, Blue Whale pub, Widow's Hill) remain the same. Of course, some composite characters and unique plot lines are used trying to cram 1500 plus episodes into 2 hours. As a fan of the TV series and Tim Burton, I am pleased with the outcome. The soundtrack is amazing with great songs from the era. Alice Cooper is a very good choice for the Collin's "happening" as he is the Godfather of Goth. So, if you are a fan of "Dark Shadows", don't be dissuaded by the trailers and go and see this dark gem.
Love Handles (1996)
A bland Great White North version of THE NEWLYWED GAME.
Viewers flipping the channel selector on Canadian satellite might end up watching "Love Handles" and think they are watching "The Newlywed Game". The host Stu Jeffries is now, as always, smug and unoriginal. On radio in Yorkton, he used to blatantly copy whole routines from a DJ from Moose Jaw. On TV in Vancouver, he did not last long when he tried to pretend he was Terry David Mulligan. On "Love Handles", he doesn't so much copy Bob Eubanks as make as long for him. Some of the amateur couples produce much more laughs and spontaneity than the bland host. The man who pretended to love rock music on Yorkton Radio and CBC's "Good Rockin' Tonight" has recently been demoted to cover Country Music on CMT. If you prefer smarmy over charming, than you might enjoy "Love Handles". If not, stay clear.
Money-puck: How to win with character rather than money.
Jared Keeso returns two years later to continue the story of Don Cherry. This one covers his segue from coach to commentator in a 2 part mini-series (3 parts if you consider KEEP YOUR HEAD UP, KID as the first part).
The makers of this sequel wisely chose to intersperse flashbacks of Cherry's early years to balance the more familiar events of recent times. We see him working on a railroad team at the behest of his father, leaving home at 15 years of age, playing junior with the Boston Bruins farm team, and playing (mostly fighting) with the Rochester Americans where he played with such greats as Al Arbour and Ed Litzenberger. The production of these flashbacks (1940s Kingston, 1950s Springfield, 1960s Rochester, 1970s Denver) is meticulous with automobiles, clothing, furnishings appropriately provided. As coach and general manager, Don Cherry built competitive teams out of, as he put it, "character not money" both battling the frugal Harry Sinden in Boston and the cash strapped owners in Denver. For example, he tries to convince Rockies' management to hire grinder Ron Delorme and the ilk to make his team tougher.
The second part of the story covers Cherry's controversial but maddeningly popular tenure on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada". Here, the film makers cover his anti-Francophone comments and his adamant adoption of hockey advise. Part 1 ends with a comment of his dislike of hockey visors. These issues did not endear him with many viewers, especially calling all-stars Mario Lemieux a "floater" and Brian Propp "a coward" for promoting visors.
Keeso seems to be perfecting his Cherry mannerisms and Tyler Johnston ("Less Than Kind") does a good version as the teen Cherry. Another beauty, eh!
Mr. D (2012)
Education, or as they say in French, Edu-CAY-SHAWN
CBC seems to be looking for "Mr. D" to be the replacement to Monday night's popular "Little Mosque on the Prairie" which is ending in 2012. By the looks of it, they have a keeper. Gerry Dee plays Mr. Duncan, a substitute Phys. Ed. teacher starting his full time career as a Social Studies teacher. His lack of historical knowledge is hilarious. He says he will teach his kids such Canadian history as learning who the other three Dionne Quintuplets are, besides Marcel and Celine and promises to teach them all about the Underground "Subway System". When a parent asks him to name the first man on the moon, Mr. D says, "Louie Armstrong" but then quickly corrects himself with "Lance Armstrong". Joining Gerry Dee in the cast is stand up star Bette MacDonald as the school secretary, reality youth sensation Jonathan Torrens as the principal, and the great Booth Savage as the school Sports head. The sit com should appeal to not only teachers but parents and anyone who was ever a student, in Canada or, really, anywhere.
Mixed Blessings (2007)
A endearing Canadian version of "The Brady Bunch"
"Mixed Blessings" is a real blessing for Canadians. It showcases 3 popular cultures from our mosaic landscape: the Cree Indians, the Ukranians, and mixed families. The makers of this series seem to be making this series in a piecemeal style, releasing about 5 episodes a year, not exactly prolific by USA standards but creating a nice body of work. The makers include Drew Hayden Taylor, a man well known in the Native Theatre circles. "Mixed Blessings" usually includes DHT's patented blend of humour and sentiment. The film is set in the bustling community of Fort MacMurray, Alberta which is appropriate as it is a town that nicely intersects the White and Native populations of Canadian North West. The series begins as a Canuck "Brady Bunch". By the third season, with the arrival of a new baby, the plot lines become reminiscent of YOURS, MINE, AND OURS. Besides the ready made step brothers and step sisters, we have other extended family members coming and going. One of the most interesting of the secondary characters in the sexy, self absorbed sister in law played by the charming Michelle Thrush who played Nobody's wife in Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN. The father is also played by an actor with Hollywood experience: Gary Basaraba was one of the disciples on Martin Scorsese's LAST TEMPTATION OF Christ. I can see this show having a successful syndication run in countries like Australia and Germany but it seems to have universal appeal that may allow it into many more homes than the originators may have ever imagined.
It's a beauty.
This biography of Don Cherry is a labour of love but for Canadians and hockey fans it will be well received. Written by Grapes' son Tim and dedicated to his wife Rose, KEEP YOUR HEAD UP KID is another fine hockey biopic, a worthy companion to NET WORTH. The story is well cast. The familiar faces of the Boston Bruins (Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, etc.) bare striking resemblances to the star players. Notorious miser Harry Sinden is played by Ian Tracey who has appeared as many real life Canadians in past films (David Milgaard, Dwayne Johnston, Tommy Douglas supporter Charlie Lawson). The star, though, is future star Jared Keeso who plays the arrogant coach turned commentator ringing true. The film is at turns touching and humorous. It will have you cheering on Cherry whether you know the outcome or not. The Canadian soundtrack (BTO, Lighthouse) adds to the 1970s feel of the film. Overall, it's a beauty, eh!
18 to Life (2010)
A Canadian comedy with universal teen appeal.
Michael Seater really has the magic touch with teen sitcoms. Up until now, the greatest Canadian sitcom with teen appeal was "Life With Derek"; the show was of high enough quality that Disney picked it up for its channel. Now, Michael Seater (who played Derek) stars on the next best teen sitcom to come from Canada and is arguably the best teen sitcom on the air today. Michael plays a teen newlywed married to the girl next door played by Stacey Farber. This new "Life" series is hilarious. The supporting cast, especially the four parents, are played to perfection. My favourite character is Michael's father played by the incomparable Peter Keleghan. US viewers will recognize him as Ranger Gord from "The Red Green Show". Keleghan's square-jawed good looks and comic timing make him perfect for sitcoms. Some might remember him as the pretentious boss Alan Roy in "Made In Canada". Many who know this character will find Roy Donaghy's character in "30 Rock" less than impressive as Keleghan puts Alec Baldwin to shame. I hope "18 to Life" lasts longer than "Made in Canada" did. I watched the pilot quite by accident when I turned to CBC waiting for "Little Mosque" and I have been hooked ever since. I don't watch a lot of television anymore but "18 to Life" is going to be a Monday evening ritual, just like "Corner Gas" was.
Battle of the Blades (2009)
An originally Canadian reality show.
Canada has had its fair share of Reality Shows but most of them are Canadian versions of popular American shows: Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance Canada, etc. We have had some semi originals like DRAGON'S DEN and TRIPLE SENSATION but they usually have a Hollywood feeling to them. While some may same BATTLE OF THE BLADES is a rip off of DANCING WITH THE STARS, it is uniquely Canadian. By that I mean that no other country has had the ice hockey and figure skating success as Canada and would dare take a chance on a show like this. I think it is safe to say that we put skaters on a higher pedestal than any other country and would be the only country that could make a show like this succeed. The success is partly due to the blending of its demographics. People who love figure skating (mostly women) and people who love hockey (mostly men) can actually enjoy a skating competition together. No more fighting over the remote control as husbands and wives can peacefully watch TV together. Take back the Nobel Prize from Obama and give it to the creators of this show. Some hockey players are naturals (like Stéphane Richer); some of the token goons are clearly a fish out of water (Ken Danyeko and Tie Domi). The results overall are quite impressive thanks to great training and choreography people. The Jamie Salé and Craig Simpson performance on Sinatra night was particularly impressive. I can't wait for CBC to create more deadly combinations. Perhaps Curling stars can perform with Canadian musicians. They can call it "Get Your Rock Off".
Iron Road (2008)
The National Dream of Two Nations.
Not long ago, I was watching Cecil B. DeMille's film UNION PACIFIC and started thinking that they should make a new film about building the Canadian railroad. Sure, we have Pierre Burton's THE NATIONAL DREAM but that to me seemed too documentary like and lacked a human element like UNION PACIFIC. I also thought it would be good to have a large part of the plot involve the Chinese contribution. About a month later, I heard about a project called IRON ROAD that was nearly ready to air on CBC. Needless to say, I anticipated this miniseries. After seeing it, it held some similarities to UNION PACIFIC: the romantic element, the sense of urgency to get the railroad done, etc. Even Barbara Stanwyck's Irish accent is echoed by Ian Tracy who plays a villain to rival the best Lloyd Bochner or Kenneth Welsh villain. The movie was not what I expected but it was entertaining. Betty Sun's character Little Tiger is one of the strongest female characters I have seen in a while. A 19th century Chinese woman with her skills (martial arts, explosives expertise, psychology) would be truly amazing. Couple that with the fact that she refuses to be Luke MacFarlane's Celestrial mistress makes her a heroine par excellence. Betty Sun gives a forceful performance as does MacFarlane, an actor many Americans will know as Scotty Wandell from "Brothers and Sisters". The miniseries does connect to this dynamic era in Canadian history but should have universal appeal with its handsome stars, romantic subplots, mystery, martial arts action, and cliffhanging (literally, at times) suspense. It is the NATIONAL DREAM doubled. It deals with two nations' dreams: Canadian pioneers' dream to unite their country by rail and Chinese immigrants' dream to make a good life for its citizens, free from gangsters and corrupt leaders. The Chinese workers dealt with poor wages (the Irish workers made twice as much as them), dangerous conditions (working with short fused dynamite), political prejudice like the exorbitant head tax they had to pay after the railroad was built. Despite this, they saw potential in this new land and their efforts will never be forgotten, thanks to movies like this.