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The Hour (2004)
Finally ... the CBC has a winning program
It's been a very long time since there's been a Canadian late night talk show. Mike Bullard was probably the last one on the air and that was over five years ago. Strombo has picked up where Bullard left off and has an interesting line up of guests including many US actors filming up here in the great Hollywood North. But more importantly, he's provided a forum for conversation with many Canadian celebrities, including the final interview with writer/activist June Callwood. And it's a real hoot when the Trailer Park Boys are in the studio! George is a fast talking host and his show moves along very quickly, but he's got a good sense of humour. Comparable to the late Brian Linehan of City TV, he knows his subjects well and his questions are thought provoking and he can put the guests on the spot, but it's all in good fun. The Hour with George Stroumboulpoulos is one of the reasons we tune into our public broadcaster, the CBC. Should be a Gemini winner.
The Associates (2001)
Good Canadian drama despite its short run
Very well done Canadian legal drama series that apparently had not so good ratings in its original run, but the writers managed to put together broad story lines revolving around criminal law, insurance and fraud, personal injury, family law, and medical negligence. Unlike current shows such as Close To Home where much of the focus is on criminal law, here we get to see a broad spectrum of work performed by a young team of lawyers at the firm Young, Barnsworth & King (YBK).
The show is made for a Canadian audience with its setting in the Canadian courts with numerous references made to the controversial Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Consisting of only two seasons (31 episodes), the latter season shows off an important Toronto landmark, the CN Tower, and the finale episode leaves viewers on a happy note tying together previous story lines while adding a story about a very popular Canadian sport and utilizing both criminal and civil law. Fans of Traders and Street Legal should find some good entertainment in this series.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
Learning to excel in spelling can be cool
Excellent family entertainment combining both drama and some comedic moments about a working class 10 year old African American girl who is encouraged to enter a national spelling bee contest. Though she is coached by a retired award winning professor and does make it to the finals, success never gets to her head. The school and the community rally behind her and she finds a way to fit into popularity without looking like a geek. In fact, she encourages her competitors who are also her peers during the contest to do their best despite all the stress everyone feels in their efforts to win. This is a good message for young adolescents who excel in school activities. Good sportsmanlike conduct is important and little four eyes Akeelah was not only a competitor but also a coach and a leader.
Manners of Dying (2004)
The different faces of one actor in one role
How interesting it was to see Roy Dupuis in a film in which he presented different versions of the death-row inmate character Kevin Barlow in this film which was filmed in two versions, English and French. As other reviewers have mentioned, each version starts with the inmate's last meal and what could have happened and his behaviour affected the prison director and staff in how they carried out his execution by lethal injection. The director always maintained that he had a rigid schedule and followed a specific script, but depending on Barlow's attitude and resulting behaviour and how he interacted wth the staff, the outcome was the same. An interesting concept that leaves viewers with room to debate about why Kevin Barlow acted the way he did and what may have been going through the warden's mind as he carried out the sentence.
Goin' Down the Road (1970)
One of the best retro Canadian films
After reading so many good reviews on this film and seeing an in-depth and up-to-date documentary with some of the cast members and Trailer Park Boys' writer/producer/director Mike Clattenburg I finally caught an airing of this film on the IFCC. It's more a drama than a comedy though you can't help but laugh at these poor guys. Pete and Joey are a pair of East Coast bumpkins who come to Toronto for a better life, but they now face a new series of hurdles as they try to fit in to the metropolis but only land a string of short term manufacturing jobs. Life gets tougher and eventually becomes worse as they drift through a period of structural unemployment.
Cool to see the backdrop filming locations along the downtown Yonge/Dundas street corner and an old Loblaws sign. And when did grocery packers last wear bowties? Then there's a cameo with Stompin' Tom Connors who looks almost exactly today as he did back then. Few copies of a DVD release but one must see the televised documentary (seen on Star! and the Drive-In Classics channel) to complete the whole story.
Fans of The Trailer Park Boys TV series may enjoy this film for the story, though fans of the original cult horror hit Black Christmas, another Toronto filmed project that included Doug McGrath among the cast, may find Going' Down The Road interesting just to catch a glimpse of the city of Toronto, the way it was in the seventies.
Million Dollar Babies (1994)
Tragic tale about the exploitation of children by government and big business
This is an extremely sad movie from beginning to end. It's heartbreaking to see a poor Depression era family raise five children on the farm and then add another five all at once to their roster. Initially, it's a blessing when the family doctor takes over the Dionne quintuplets to ease the burden of looking after the underdeveloped babies with very little medical equipment and staff. But the doctor goes overboard when worldwide attention is given to the infant girls, and this translates into advertising endorsements for which he is handsomely rewarded but the earnings are not shared with either the parents or the quintuplets. Instead, the girls are put on display for the next five years, raising the doctor's profile and career to new highs.
Great performances by real-life couple Roy Dupuis and Celine Bonnier as the parents and also Beau Bridges as the unscrupulous doctor. The official DVD offers some commentary by the surviving quintuplets. Presented in two parts as a three hour mini series, it's lengthy and could have been shortened to a two hour movie. But it's a shocking story and is of interest not only to Canadians but perhaps to anyone who may have some ideas about placing their children into the business of entertainment. Yeah, the money may be good, but being part of the industry at such a young age may also be viewed as being part of a freak show.
The Man Who Lost Himself (2005)
Read the novel, watch the film, and then watch the actual documentary
This docudrama is based on the life of former CFL great Terry Evanshen after his horrific auto accident in the late 80s. The story is based on the novel by June Callwood and is an accounting of the events in the family's lives from the viewpoint of Terry's wife Lorraine who is played by Wendy Crewson. The role of Terry Evanshen is played by David James Elliott, well known to American audiences for his long running series JAG. Lorraine is the supporting wife who never gave up after a poor medical prognosis following her husband's post rehab report. Though the events took place over a period of several years in which the strong and supportive Evanshen family nursed Terry back to health, the film speeds up the events and concludes at a happy point, their daughter's wedding.
This made for TV movie had one of the highest viewer ratings for CTV in its original run. For viewers who have yet to see this film, it's recommended that you also read the Callwood novel and watch the actual biography on the Evanshen family produced by a series called W5 which is a more accurate and detailed account of the events in the Evanshen saga. The W5 documentary includes a visit to the Evanshen farm, and provides interviews with family members and friends.
In Her Defense (1999)
Can a lawyer tell the truth?
A "chance meeting" between a wealthy and beautiful but deaf woman and a struggling single family lawyer leads to a torrid affair when the woman learns how much wealth she could accumulate should she leave her abusive husband. Drama and suspense film set in the beautiful province of New Brunswick, in east coast Canada with Michael Dudikoff, well known for his leading roles in action and martial arts films, playing the role of defense lawyer Andrew Garfield.
Refreshing change to see Dudikoff in this role and he plays it well, as a man in love with a mysterious woman, who is a suspect in the murder of her husband. Film is actually set in Canadian courts with references to the Crown, and the lawyers appear in black robes and white neck tabs, a setting which differs from the American courts. Small blooper in one scene approximately 30 minutes into the movie, a police van with a logo "New Brunswick Sheriff" appears at the scene of the crime. In Canada, I don't think there are sheriffs. Provincial and federal levels of crime enforcement including the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police).
Excellent tale of deception that questions a lawyer's ethics vs. his or her personal feelings.
Learning can be fun!
If you thought the internet was the source of information on any topic, well, Oliver Cates has an invention which tops it all! A 15 year old computer genius brings back historical figures from the past vis a vis his computer he calls VisiCron to help him with daily issues and questions ranging from school work to everyday life problems. Each mentor lasts 36 hours on earth during which time he/she assists Oliver and his friend Dee tackle with family breakups, tragedy, sportsmanship, etc. Oliver leaves for university at the end of season 2, leaving VisiCron to his younger cousin Simon who tweaks the machine to make it even better and renames it The Time Machine. With the help of his sister Crystal, Simon experiments with virtual reality and time travel. Some darker story lines in the second half of the series as the kids get a chance to meet Dracula and horror author Mary Shelley.
Talented young series' leads with Chad Krowchuk starring as Oliver Cates and Stevie Mitchell as Simon Cates. An outstanding list of guest stars, including Peter Outerbridge as Dr. Milton Bradshaw, a character which seems to parallel the role of lead scientist Dr. David Sandstrom from the adult sci-fi series Regenesis.
Four full season half hour episodes great for family viewing. Mentors is more than just an educational program. Combining sci-fi, drama, and comedic moments the award winning story lines highlight select historical figures including Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Sir Frederick Banting, James Naismith, Nostradamus, Harry Houdini, Mack Sennett and many more.
If the above list of mentors don't ring a bell, it's advised that you tune it nightly on the Family Channel in Canada. Not just a show for kids. Parents and teachers will benefit as well. A great program for audiences of all ages.
The Ropers (1979)
Ropers better as supporting cast
An ambitious effort from Norman Fell and Audra Lindley as they portrayed the hilarious landlord couple Stanley and Helen Roper from the hit series Three's Company. In the spin off show, Stanley and Helen moved from their Santa Monica apartment to the upscale neighbourhood called Cheviott Hills and their new neighbour was not fond of having them as part of the community. The show just didn't seem to be as good as Three's Company. Stanley and Helen were better as supporting cast members rather than as series leads. The cast was small including Jeffrey Tambor as the neighbour Jeffrey P. Brooks III. He's not a likable character, but his dislike towards Stanley and his quirks behind closed doors made the show funny. Recurring cast included Helen's troublemaker sister Ethel, and her mother; these two characters did not appear on Three's Company.