Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bruno & Boots Effortlessly Transfers To TV

I remember young cousins of mine were all over the books about Bruno & Boots adventures at Macdonald Hall not so many years ago.
And now Bruno & Boots: Go Jump In The Pool has been effortlessly translated to TV and I watched it all so it must be OK for adults my age to enjoy as well.
It premieres on YTV Friday April 1 at 7:30 p.m. Got that?
The adventures were filmed in Toronto with a strong Canadian cast. I'm still trying to figure out the high schools which were used.
My first reaction: more please.
I was lucky to talk on the phone with the author Gordon Korman who said he wrote the first novel vwhen he was just 15.
The result is so well put together I tried to nudge him into saying it might just spawn a TV series of adventures. Finally, he confessed that was just possible.
It wouldn't be the first time a Toronto production aimed at the youngher set had success.
Of course I'm thinking of the Anne Of Green Gable books which led to the vastly popular series The Road To Avonlea.
Anpother successful title I'm thinking of is The Prodigious Hickey  (1986) filmed in T.O. with Edward Herrmann and Zach Galligan.
Here it's the challenge of adapting a 100-page children's book so for TV purposes characters move at a must faster clip.
I asked a friend who grew up on these stories and she says the books are enjoying something of a comeback because of the fine writing.
Korman wrote five more books before graduating from high school which just astonishes me.
'The setting is the boarding school: MacDonald Hall and there is the inevitable stern headmaster
 named Mr. Sturfgeon as in "fish".
A cousin of mine who read them as a kid says she's not so sure about  recent attempts to insert techno advances that obviously would not have been in the original books.
Bruno Walton is played by Jonny Gray ( Max & Shred) and Mel "Boots" O'Neal is played by Callan Porter (Stratford Festival) and both are well cast and very personable.
I spied a great number of talented Canadians in the large cast.
 I first interviewed Jayne Eastwood when she was making her movie debut in Goin' Down The Road way back in 1971.
Scott Thompson I';ve been covering since his Kids In The Hall days.
Peter Keleghan I first met on the set of CHCH's Comedy Mill in 1987.
Caroline Rhea is especially funny as Headmistress Eugenia Scrimnage --a girls' school is conveniently across the street.
Adam Barken (Killjoys) wrote the fast moving script which successfully captures the atmosphere of the books.
Vivieno Caldinelli (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) gets a lot out of the predominantly youthful cast.
Anthony Leo and Andrew Rosen produced it for Aircraft Pictures.
It's been quite a drought on Canadian TV in terms of homegrown fictional stories so here's hoping Bruno & Boots is the beginning of a new trend.
MY RATING: ***1/2

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Go Back To Where You Came From: Must See TV

Few Canadian ever get a chance to watch much Australian TGV.
But there's a series from Down Under running Thursdays on TVOntario that positively ranks as must-see TV.
Titled Go Back To Where You Came From it poignantly depicts the plight of refugees from the Middle East and Asia through the experiences of native Australians.
You'll watch and wonder why there hasn't been a Canadian spin off although it might generate too much controversy.
The series debuted on Australian TV in 2011 and has since gone through three seasons.
I watched the first episode in a state of high tension.
The series is on the face of it a bit of a reality TV outing but there's nothing silly or shallow about the subject matter.
Canadians are so immersed in the American political race as well as our own efforts to place Syrian refugees that we might be surprised Australia is experiencing similar controversy.
Six "ordinary" Australians are picked to see if they can experience what refugees to Australia might be feeling.
One is a surviving boat refugee from the fall of Vietnam.
Then there are two sisters on the opposite side of the political controversy.
There's a male teacher who is skeptical of some of the claims of persecution by refugees.
Another lady worked at a refugee detention center and is intensely sympathetic to the plight of newcomers.
A tough talking woman believes the country is being flooded with these people.
First of all six are stripped of wallets, cellphones, passports --those modern day appurtenances by which we identify themselves.
Divided into two groups, one group goes to stay at the house of Palestinian refugees who some how made it to Indonesia and then charted a rickety boat to get to Australia.
There are estimates that over a few years hundreds may have perished in the surrounding waters.
They talk about persecution in the camps in Syria and feared for their lives.
And we get to gauge the reaction of the Australians moving from great sympathy to outright denial these people count as genuine refugees.
Cold hard facts clash with genuine human emotions.
Watching the participants verbally attack each other as they defend their positions makes for exciting TV.
'Massage therapist Jodi simply believes "They are jumping the queue."
Three Aussies visit with a refugee from Miramar --as a Muslim he was among the most persecuted of minorities, forbidden citizenship and even needed permission to marry.
It is all too much for the refugee from Vietnam who revisits his own escape by boat as Vietnam fell to the Communists --he was a boy of eight and lost his fgamily.
The Aussies then visit a camp for refugees  Wikham Point, that looks suspiciously like a prison with its barbed wire enclosures.
And finally the six board a leaky vessel like the one thousands took from Indonesia to Australia for a harrowing journey --they are given a bottle of water and some noodles just like the thousands of hopeful refugees.
No other TV series I've seen has confronted the refugee situation as powerfully as this one.
Surely some Canadian network has the guts to plan a sequel from the Canadian point of view?
GBTWYCF was directed --brilliantly --by Ivan O'Mahoney, prtesented by Dr. David Corlett and narrated by Colin Friels.
If you start watching you won't be able to stop!
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The War At Home: Must See TV

"It was a true story I felt compelled to tell," says veteran director Shelley Saywell.
She's talking about her profoundly disturbing new documentary The War At Home which premieres on CBC-TV's Firsthand Thursday night at 9 p.m.
The way Saywell sees it for years she had been fascinated by stories about the plight of women around the world which resulted in such award winning documentaries as In The Name Of The Family and Kim's Story.
"And then I read about the situation in British Columbia where six women were shot and killed in acts of domestic violence in one month. And I realized it was time for me to act."
The more Saywell researched her project the more disturbed she felt.
"There was one study that said 24 per cent of those polled believed women on the receiving end actually deserved the violence unleashed on them. That was most unsettling of all."
The result titled The War At Home was her biggest ever challenge.
First of all it had to be encompassed in one hour TV documentary --42 minutes after commercials are inserted.
But because it was for CBC and thus reached a national audience Saywell accepted the challenge and she chose a completely personalized approach telling the story through the experiences of just five female subjects.
"We shot the interviews for hours --getting the accounts just right was always my goal."
There's the 33-year-old mother of two, Celeste, who worked as an  abuse counsellor at a Regina woman's shelter.
Her sad plight resulted in her death by her boyfriend and bookends the film as her best friend. visits her home --the murder site --and says "It could have been me."
Because she, too, has been in an abusive relationship.
Then there  is Lara, well, spoken but living in fear --we follow her and her layer to Criminal and Family Court hearings.
Representing her is Toronto lawyer Pamela Bhardwaj and licensed paralegal Galit Menahem--we see how the system continually favors the accused and not the victim.
"I had to get Lara in there," Saywell says "to show that violence is not just the lot of aboriginal women or immigrant women. She lives constantly in fear. Yet, she is soft spoken and very tuned in."
Also profiled is the former police officer who was taken into the country by her husband and repeatedly battered with an aluminum bat .
If she is "lucky"to be alive she had to leave her policing bob because she was not longer physically able to fill the requirements.
I asked Saywell if the women han't been attentive enough before marrying these men.
"Well, it starts after courtship. One husband insisted his wife's paychecks be deposited into his bank account giving him total control.
"Another kept the couple's passoports.
"Another told his new wifew she was now completely under his control --control was the common denominator."
Saywell gives full marks to the two cinematographers (Michael Grippo, John Tran) who unobtrusively photographed the subject- credit also goes to editor Michael Hannan. There isn't a wasted second in this hour. but it never seems to be rushed
I ask: Is there going to be a longer version?
"I'm working on that now," Saywell reports but she gives CBC full marks for tackling such a difficult subject. CBC's legal teams was all over the hour vetting it and requesting minor changes to avoid lawsuits.
"My objective was to tell these women's stories and show how the system is stacked against them. "Obviously the system has to change and quickly, the violence has to stop right now.
"I'm hoping the film starts a debate which is needed to help many thousands of desperate Canadian women."
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Colwater Cowboys: True Canadian TV

I had a delightful telephone chat with skipper Rick Crane one of six captains to star in the series Cold Water Cowboys.
The third season has just started on Discovery running Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
I've been watching since the debut and so have my English cousins  who love all these Canadian reality outings like Ice Truckers.
I should note they catch it on Portugal TV at their seasonal cottage.
The characters are all amazing and I like their matter of fact attitude even when trapped in a fierce storm.
And unlike most Canadian shows there's no need to disguise the location --this is as Canadian a show as one can get.
The hit series is a testimonial to the late reality film maker John Driftmier who was killed in ac accident in Kenya while filming another series Dangerous Flights.
His partner Tyson Hepburn has kept going and delivered a series that shows us how intricate and indeed dangerous deep sea fishing can become.
Discovery says the show has been sold to 51 other countries from Angola to Portugal to Estonia to Montenegro and Turkey.
Crane is a fascinating star of reality TV.
He's a born and bred Newfie who worked in the Alberta oil fields until giving it all up to return home to Cox's Cove and spending $200,000 for a new boat and all the trappings.
"I know all the other captains," he tells me. "And I respect them. We're all in the same boat so to speak. And when one does well we all cheer."
Crane fishes within the 200 mile limit reserved for Canadian boats. He rarely sees foreign vessels he says although he knows they are farther out.
And he went through the different seasons when he tries to fish for different species.
"It's my living --the danger part doesn't bother me."
Nothing in each episode is made up --there's only a rough plot outline/ Usually there are only two team members aboard each ship and both carry cameras.
It makes for very cramped quarters and during one storm scene I watched I wasn't sure the crew would get out alive.
The camera crews had to take water safety lessons and wore life jackets at all times.
Cameras have to be specially wrapped to withstand the waves --and salt water erosion.
I think the appeal of the show is that very strangeness and the threat at any time that nothing will be caught .
As Crane admits "We never know in advance. Some days it's richness of a catch, other times virtually nothing."
Hovering over every scene is the sheer awfulness of the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992.
Crane admits cod is still endangered but is hoping for an eventual comeback.
Meanwhile herring seem as plentiful as ever.
Crane laughs at the suggestion he's becoming one of the top reality Canadian stars around.
"It is a tough way to make a living. But I love it, I'm doing what I've always wanted to do."
The executive producer is cagey veteran David Paperny who has also given us Timber Kings and Yukon Gold.
Says Rick: "The title in Europe is Cold Water Hp;d/ I like Cold Water Cowboys better."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why Dr. Jennifer Gardy Deserves Her Own TV Series

It hasn't been the best of TV seasons for the CBC.
Big new series have flopped badly, I'm afraid to say.
What's needed is an influx of new shows that can guarantee sturdy ratings.
Which is why I'm proposing CBC-TV hire Dr. Jennifer Gardy to front a second science show --she's been excelling for years on occasional specials for the venerable The Nature Of Things.
And this week she does so again with While You Were Sleeping --the title is a take off on the (Sandra Bullock movie of 1995, remember?
Gardy is a perfect TV host --she's bright and personable but also has the academic credentials--this time out she's looking at what happens inside our brains as we snore away.
The locations as usual are dazzling from a Harvard University music student deciding whether or not he should stay up all night to cram on a Chopin recital to the mass insomnia induced by revelers in the city that never sleeps --Las Vegas.
To pack so much information in an hour --46 minutes actually --is a fearsome feat of tight editing and writing but I never once felt rushed watching it.
And after watching I saw it was 2 a.m. so I went to bed and slept like a stone.
Turns out the quality of our sleep determines what we can accomplish the next day.
I think what Grady does is show how sleep affects our every waking moment --or should I say restful and deep sleep.
First startling revelation is that on average we spend something like 52,000 hours dreaming --that's equivalent to six years of our lives.
In one fascinating study Baby Morris is  introduced to a fluffy puppet and shown how to interact with  it.
Then after a nap that can last as much as four hours when he is reintroduced to the figure  he can do all the tricks were shown. him
The babies who didn't take the nap are confused about what to do --it's clear babies use sleep to absorb their daily life lessons.
Men tend to have more action filled dreams--I found this fascinating as women's dreams tend to be far more subtle and often about relationships..
I liked the segment where Grady tries to walk up ro sleeping Canada geese in a park --half the birds' brains are sleeping while then other part remain active to look out for predators.
An hour like this needs a wide variety of great visuals or the audience would doze off.
And so we do get to Vegas to consider the possibility of lack of sleep.
And we do visit a clinic where people volunteer to be assessed for sleep deprivation --most begin eating far more than usual because the brain is no longer obeying the two hormones used to regulate food intake.
At Mackenzie Hall, University of Rochester we see studies on Alzheimers patients and the way the brain at sleep routinely cleanses itself of plaque and impurities. I think an entire hour could be devoted to this segment alone.
Through it all Gardy shines as our host. She asks the right questions, she jumps right in as our guide.
Infield Fly Productions made it and it's a perfect blend of great visuals and tight writing skills.
And it shows once again how well adapted scientist Gardy is to television's demands  -- consider it a sort of pilot for a series of her own.
How about it CBC?
MY RATING: ****.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Is TV Becoming A Drag?

Is it just me or has TV become a drag?
No, I'm perfectly serious about this after sampling the new series Delmer & Marta.
I mean every week I'm watching Mrs. Brown's Boys (starring Brendan O'Connor) on BBC Canada.
And there's Dame Edna from times back who keeps making farewell tours.
And now it's APTN's Delmer & Marta which premieres Wednesday night at 10 p.m.
Forty-three year old Howie Miller is quite a scream as an indigenous woman named Marta (his co-star Sheldon Eter is Delmer).
So I've been previewing the show with the clips seen on You Tube as part of a series called Delmer & Marta Do The West.
At first it was a struggle. I guess I just didn't get it.
Then it hit me --I was watching the Two Stooges.
In the first clip they visited Vulcan, Alberta, where there's a Star Trek museum including artifacts from the show.
The segment was watchable and the humor obvious.
Far better was a visit to a meat processing plant in Mundane, Alberta.
There's a gigantic faux sausage out front but Marta was told not to caress it as "You don't know where the sausage has been.
And there was a look at the 3,000 rings of sausage being processed every day .Look, I could call the episode a load of baloney and that's the level of humor.
I was starting to warm to the concept.
Then they went to Elk Island National Park and I discovered the differences between buffalo and bison.
"You can tell the age of a bison by its poop," the guide tells us.
 And about then I collapsed in laughter. Hey, this was fun.
Next up was a visit to the official town grouch in Evansburg, Alberta.
It's a yearly job voted on by the town seniors and the woman filling the job currently is very grouchy indeed.
She even lives at --get this 10 Frowning Street. But she has a beef against these two guys.
"You make me laugh" is her charge.
And finally I went into a 1903 coal mine with the duo and a guide and this was the best of all.
I learned about all the hazards of coal mining and how so many miners perished over the decades.
And this was the best of all.
So I guess I'm getting used to Delmer and Marta whose humor is never over the top.
And I want to watch some of their first series Caution: May Contain Nuts.
In the new series Delmer and Marta move to Morningsiode where Marta gets a gig as host of a morning TV show.
Kevin McDonald from Kids In The Hall is the boss and his old pal Dave Foley is scheduled to make a cameo later on.
So after watching all those episodes of Mrs. Brown's Boys I'm full prepared for Delmer & Marta.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Canadian TV Producers Don't Want To Make A Downton Abbey

So there I was Saturday night at a fancy dress party and all the upscale guests were making plans for stating home Sunday night to watch the last episode of Downton Abbey.

"Why can't Canadian TV make a Downton Abbey?" one guest asked me and everybody stopped eating to listen to my reply.
I patiently explained that first of all Canadian TV simply hasn't that kind of money these days to finance such an expensive undertaking.
Hw m,any TV adaptations of great Canadian novels have you seen on CBC or anywhere else ion the last few years?
"None!" shouted the hostess.
I rest my case.
Canadian TV movies have virtually disappeared as ratings go south.
One of the last ones I recall was the TV biography of Don Cherry which got good notices and strong ratings here.
And how many other countries bought it?
Just Finnish TV, that's all, presumably because Cherry hired a number of Finnish hockey stars over the years.
Successful Canadian series have been shipped to American TV: Motive, Saving Hope, Flashpoint, Combat Hospital.
All of them disguised their Canadian origins so unsuspecting American viewers would think they were watching just another homegrown series.
And as far as replicating Downton Abbey?
I was the kid TV critic at The Hamilton Spectator way back in 1973 when CBC premiered its hugely expensive version of that old chestnut Jalna.
The stars includes Kate Reid, Blair Brown, Paul Harding --the original star was supposed to be William Hutt but he told me later he faked a serious illness to get out of his contract --he had read the first few scripts and shuddered.
The trouble was the adaptators who included George Jonas and Timothy Findley didn't stick with the original source material but unwisely added a modern day story --featuring the same actors but as more modern ancestors.
Viewers were understandably confused when they saw Kate Reid as two different characters in two diffderent scenes.
I attended the lavish premiere of the first two episodes at St. Lawrence Centre which played to an overflow crowd who pointedly did not applaud at the end.
I found the executive producer Fletcher Markle standing by the bar looking completely ejected.
Miss Reid guzzled champagne and talked darkly about the train wreck/ we'd just witnessed.
CBC even forced the producer of Masterpiece Theater Joan Wilson to siut through a New York screening in hopes of selling it to PBS.
"I wondered why they just didn't film the original novel which could have been very successful," she told me.
CBC later made a number of historical epics including The National Dream, Laurier and Riel but there were few international sales.
These days CBC cannot afford anything like the expenses sunk into Jalna.
Which is why we were all watching Downton Abbey Sunday night--it's the kind of lavish TV making that long ago disappeared on Canadian TV.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Equalizer Pits Past And Present Sports Legends

I remember in 1971 when I was a lowly summer student at The Globe And Mail I was ordered at short notice to rush out to Toronto';s Park Plaza hotel and interview Olympic running great Jesse Owens.
He'd dazzled at the 1936 Olympics but when we met 35 years later I saw a shy, halting speaker battling various health problems but still one of the nicest guys in the business.
And that's why I wanted to preview The Equalizer, this week's fine installment of CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things which premieres Thursday night at 8.
It was a chance to see Owens at his prime again and ready to compete with one of today's best: sprinter Andre Grasse.
How was this possible? Jesse Owens died in 1980 after all.
Call it a miracle of TV and the inspired work of documentary filmmaker Robert Lang (for Kensington Communications).
Modern TV technology makes it all possible and there's the sturdy work of UK-based  sports scientist Steve Haake to recreate the events and interview today's top athletes.
His brilliant concept is to recreate the conditions that made Owens immortal way back in 1936.
He gets De Grasse to try to use the same conditions Owens used in 1936 to see who was or rather is the superior racer.
We know that these days sprinters are a whole lot faster but is this because of better training or is it due to improved conditions?
De Grasse must use the same racing shoes worn by Owens and must run not on a modern track but on the same surface Owens used --I found this "contest" to be quite wonderful, it will inspire all sports buffs to argue endlessly about then versus now.
Of course who wins can't be revealed here.
It also should inspire a thorough discussion of how important modern training methods can be and how far modern equipment can be used.
I remember Owens telling me that day he'd subsequently raced a horse in a Hamilton Ontario derby --and won!
And, of course, the complete conditions of the Berlin Olympics can't be duplicated --there are no cheering crowds as De Grasse races around the reconstructed track.
Then modern champeen Sarah Hammer used a Sixcties bike to compete against the legendary racing champion Beryl Burton who was a seven-time World Chasmpion.
What I liked about all these modern athletes was the sense of reverence and awe afforded their illustrious predecessors.
Paul Biedermann then races against legendary Mark Spitz --Biedermann won one of his medals wearing a modern almost full body swim suit subsequently banned from competition.
But it should provoke comments about how far conditions can be changed to allow for better results.
Then javelin tosser Christina Obergfoll competes against 1980s world record champion Fatima Whitbread using the old style javelin --her unfamiliarity with it seems natural enough.
Then Canadian kayaker Adam van Koeverden tosses aside his modern carbon fibre kayak for the traditional wooden model (a superior replicated one) to challenge 1940s Swedish legend Gert Fredriksson who won eight medals.
I think Lang and Haake are on to something big --I can see a whole series devoted to baseball and hockey in the future.
MY RATING: ****.