Monday, November 29, 2010

Remembering Leslie Nielsen

So there I was chatting up Canadian comedy legend Leslie Nielsen just a few short years ago when he was filming a stint as host of a CBC salute to Canadian comedy legends.'
He remembered the first time I interviewed him in the early Seventies he was a dead serious actor.
"Airplane changed all that," he chuckled. "Nobody takes me seriously any more."
"No, Les," I interjected. "One line turned you into a class funnymam."
The line?
In 1980's Airplane Nielsen wonderfully cast as Dr. Rumack was told "Surely, you can't be serious."
And he retorts: "I am serious and don't call me Shirley."
Nielsen died from effects of pneumonia in Florida at the age of 84.
Credits indicate he was still working with one completed movie Stonerville ready for release and another The Waterman Movie in production.
Way back in the Seventies he was one of the staples of American TV. He mentioned a recent gig as Barbara Stanwyck's lover in the 1973 TV flick The Letter. And he'd costarred during the 1970 season as John Bracken in the series Bracken's World.
Born in Regina, he'd lived in the Northwest with his RCMP constable father and a mother who often had to look after three obstreperous young boys. The senior lad grew up to be Conservative cabinet minister Erik Nielsen.
Nielsen had originally studied acting and TV announcing at Lorne Greene's Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto but in 1950 aged 26 decided to venture to New York where he worked constantly in the pioneering medium of live TV.
"We'd open and close in a production the same night, it was the greatest experience possible fpr a young guy."
In 1956 he'd been signed by MGM to a star contract and made his debut opposite Glenn Ford in Ransom. But his second feature Forbidden Planet was a wild success as was 1957's Tammy And the Bachelor opposite Debbie Reynolds.
"That was it, MGM was quietly going to seed. I stayed in L.A. to do filmed television and I always worked. Occaasionally I'd come back home for a CBC TV production like Death Of A Salesman because I've always remained a proud Canadian."
Nielsen made multiple appearances on The Fugitive, Wagon Train, The Defenders, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Peyton Place.
"It's easier to list the few series I never was on."
After Airplane his movie career soared: Prom Night (made in Toronto),The Naked Gun, Dracula: Dead And Loving It, Mister Magoo.
But here he was in a Toronto TV studio at 80 doing pratfalls with abandon and loving all that attention. A icer guy I've never met and totally talented.
"Nobody told me comedy was so much fun. But I'm still loving every time I'm back in my home country."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

E! Comes Back To Canadian TV

Another Canadian cable channel switches titles --this time it's poor, unfortunate Star! which began its short, ratings anemic life as a CHUMCity-tv weblet that was supposed to focus on Canadian television.
But come Monday it metamorphoses into E!
And, yes, you're right if you think you've heard that title before --CHCH used to be E! at one time in its rapid ratings descent.
A bunch of preview DVDs landed on my doorstep featuring E! product --E! seems to be a mostly reality channel dedicated to celebs we've never heard of.
Among E!s highlights:
Keeping Up With The Kardashians answers all our questions about these brawling sisters. I'm still not sure who they are but I certainly know what they are: insatiable publicity hounds who dominate the supermarket tabloids but never seem to have accomplished much.
Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami runs Sundays at 10 p.m. and follows two of the sisters to the sunny city where they're supposedly opening a new clothing store.
Kim happens to arrive which results in a four letter barrage from ever loving sister Kourtney.
This is reality TV in the style of The Hills. I can't believe anything here is spontaneous. The talk can be dirty and the making out is always within camera range. Every Sunday night there are two half hour episodes.
On Mondays Keeping Up With Kardashians shows us her "colourful blended family" and the sisters are always at odds. It runs in a huge three hour time block of six half hour episodes.
Not to be undone on Tuesdays at 10 there are back to back episodes of Kendra. Girl watchers this is for you.
Another unknown celebrity, ex-Playmate Kendra Wilkinson, was once shacked up with octogenarian Hugh Hefner who is deep into his anecdotage.
Now Kendra is all married and anticipating the birth of her first child. She's still an extrovert, showing off her baby tummy, letting her hubby make a plaster cast in full front of the cameras, going to see her doctor with viewers in tow.
This is entertainment? It turns us all into voyeurs which is its sole purpose..
On Wednesdays True Hollywod Stories promises the latest on Justin Bieber, 15 Hottest Bods, Jersey Shore Unleashed. If you're anticipating Masterpiece Theater this is not for you.
On Fridays come the two series that are the strongest. First up there's The Soup, an hilarious take on all those trashy TV reality things with clips of the most outrageous stuff of the week leeringly presented by Joel McHale.
In the first episode I previewed he went after aged Regis Philbin plus clips from such currently running TV trash as Swamp People, Sister Wives, plus a segment called Chat Stew that sent up CNN's current diva Nancy Grace.
Is this what entertainment reporting has become on TV. Well, it wouldn't flourish without viewers taking it all in would it.
E! promises 40 per cent Canadian content in prime time but what could that be? Specials like Friendly Giant: The Truth or perhaps The Hidden Juliette?
For once I'm thankful there isn't more Canadian content on this "Canadian station".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Letters, I Get Letters

Here's a compenium of recent "Dear Jim" stuff you've been asking my way:
1. "Dear Jim: I'm just watching DVDs of that wonderful series All In The Family. As we all know it was a spinoff of a British hit. Just wondering if there ever was a spinoff of a Canadian show that made it to American TV?" G.T.,Thornhill.
Dear G.T.: Actually The Plouffe Family became a very short running series titled Viva Valdez. And I can report both Fox and CBS had the rights to that fine CBC series Intelligence but passed on remaking it. there was also a U.S. series based on Pierre Berton's Klondike. Does that count?
2. "Dear Jim: Been watching the Gillers and wondering how you rate them against the Geminis?" L.Z, Vancouver.
Dear L.Z.: First of all the Gillers had a better time slot! You know I worked next to the late, great Doris Giller at the Toronto Star and we marched together on the picket line in 1992. I know she'd be delighted with the actual presentation although apparently it's tough getting the book that won! As far as the Geminis go I'd like to propose going back to the format of the old ACTRA awards which I first attended in 1971. Make the whole evening a celebration of the many wonders of Canadian TV. Make it high on talent with comedy spots and a few songs here and there. And you'd have a hit, I fearlessly predict.
3. "Dear Jim: Tell me it ain't true --that Medium has been cancelled." H.B, Sarnia.
Dear H.B.: I checked with my CBS sources and the series has yet to receive an official cancellation slit but it doesn't look good. The network scaled back its order this season from 20 episodes to just 13. Is that a vote of confidence or what?
4."Dear Jim: What new series are you actually going out of your way to watch?" L.T., Ottawa.
Dear L.T.: Blue Bloods is one I'm following and enjoying very much. It hasn't been that great a year, has it? Other shows I watch like CSI:NY are old shows with new cast additions --I watch because of the presence of the ever beautiful Sela Ward.
5 Is CHCH's new/old policy of running vintage movies gonna make it?" L.R., Russell.
Dear L.R.: Well, it's up against freshly minted prints of classics on Turner. And the other night the Hedy Lamarr flick running on CHCH was so fuzzy it was hard to make out the images. So, better prints are needed right away!.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is Network TV Finished?

Check out the brilliant story on simply titled "Why are People Abandoning TV?"
It sums up quite accurately what I've been feeling for some time.
You see I live in Toronto's Riverdale area quite close to spacious Riverdale Park and the Don Valley.
And over the last few months people have been telling me they're switching off cable TV and going back either to rabbit ears or antennas.
In fact when I bought my new TV set in the summer the salesman offered to toss in an antenna and told me the name of the neighbourhood guy doing the connections for a minimal fee.
To put it bluntly viewers are fed up with the high cost of cable TV.
"Why am I paying for Buffalo TV when the good stuff gets blacked out and the Toronto signals are substituted," one lady told me at a summer's block party.
She said with her "new" antenna she got the Buffalo stations clear as a bell as well as the Toronto stations from the CN tower.
She misses CNN, BBC Canada and Turner Classic Movies but so far is adjusting to her loss.
Movies? She orders them up from Netflix which ship directly to her new Apple computer, the one with the 29 " screen. Ditto movies she gets from her Apple store.
She can also rent DVDs and run them on her computer an that's fine, too.
She also watches stuff on and other internet services run by conventional TV networks.
And she's thinking of buying a gadget a local nerd recommended that substitutes a faux U.S. email address so she can tune into services like hulu which is currently blocked out in Canada.
The techland story says there have been significant disconnects in the U.S., too, and this is certainly due to increased viewer sophistication about the other ways to watch TV shows than on a TV set via expensive cable services.
Hulu Plus is currently running at $8.00 (U.S.) a month and offering hundreds of new programs every month.
American cable giants are saying they intent to cut prices to compete with hulu but so far the disparity in prices remains very high.
Hulu is sure to reach Canada someway either through the back door or as part of a package offered by Apple, I believe. And that means the over priced Canadian cable brands will be in big trouble.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Digital Dummies A Must See

So there I was in a taxi roaring down Toronto's busy University Avenue when I spotted the driver of a roaring Mercedes that passed me.
The elegant blonde was texting with one hand, eating a ham sandwich with the other and tenuously holding the steering wheel with --get this --her knees.
And that's why I couldn't get enough of the new CBC documentary Are We Digital Dummies?
The answer in my case is pretty much in the affirmative. You'll have to take a look and make up your own mind.
The fast flowing documentary packs a whole lot of information in its 47 minutes. And that's one reason why I'm still watching TV when I could spend my time googling, tweeting and Facebooking.
Other minds more profound than my own have been wondering for years whether this great burst of technology is producing a dulled populace. The statistics used here are mind numbing: 12 billion text messages sent daily (but who's counting).
An amazing 13 million Canadians are Facebook users.
The number of personal computers used around the planet will double in the next five years.
As a newspaper TV critic for 38 years I can attest to the dwindling resources of the old fashioned newspaper.
Once upon a time every commuter in Toronto seemed to be reading a Toronto Star or Globe in the morning transit.
On the GO train recently to Oakville I could count on one hand the old codgers reading a hunk of newsprint. Other, younger passengers were twittering away, reading on their Kindles, or chattering away on their cell phones.
Look at the experiences of U.S. president Barrack Obama who was the first of his kind to communicate with a blackberry.
He has just been soundly trounced in midterm elections by a volatile electorate who demand quick answers to a lingering recession-- they get their news on cable or even on their iPods.
And the computer horizon changes daily --Facebook is now out to eat up the email world.
As a laugh I'm including the horrendous machine I used to lug around when reporting from Los Angeles. No wonder I wound up with a sore back.
Digital Dummies shows us everybody wants to get into the instant communications act including our Queen who's shown visiting Waterloo recently and getting her own personal blackberry.
Experts tell us the digital revolution means there no longer is a hierarchy --everyone is an authority. But many of us want to communicate all the time. Some people set their blackberry to send out messages at 3 a.m. just to assure their bosses they're always on top of things.
Studies indicate people with blackberries work longer than those who don't because they can never relax, never shut down.
Internet addiction is the next big medical problem. We visit a Washington State facility where blackberries are turned off and participants allowed to become whole once more.
Children seem especially affected --many no longer read books and have trouble with personal interaction. Their attention spans are shrinking.
One hidden camera shows a bus driver texting instead of looking at the road --the inevitable accident rattles his handicapped passengers.
And a plane from San Diego to Minneapolis overshot the runway because pilots were busy texting.
Director-writer Andy Blicq (The Secret World Of Shoplifting) has done an exceptional job in marshaling the evidence, visiting the right experts and producing a blast at the technological revolution that is chock full of fascinating scenes.
So stop your texting for an hour, will ya--and watch what is certain to be a Gemini nominated best documentary entry for the next awards ceremony.
MY RATING: ****.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Admire David Thomson's Film Dictionary But...

Of course I admire David Thomson's New Biograhical Dictionary Of Film. I rushed right out to get a copy, then hesitated because of the huge mark up in Canadian bookstores so I finally bought it online at pleasantly reduced prices.
I 've been a big Thomson fan ever since I read his magisterial biography of David Selznick.
And I happen to be one of the few journalists who ever met Jennifer Jones. Oh, all right, it was on the set of The Towering Inferno and was purely accidental.
When Fred Astaire told her I was a critic she ran from the set to her dressing room.
I don't completely agree with Thomson on everything but I've read almost every entry. The book is a must read for film enthusiasts.
But I was hoping examples from earlier editions of carelessness would have been corrected.
Take the Jane Wyman entry which I consider pretty fair. Thomson says after Miracle In The Rain (1956) "she went into semiretirement" interrupted only by Polyanna (1960).
Not at all.
In 1955 Wyman jumped to TV as producer, host and occasional star of NBC's Fireside Presents The Jane Wyman Theater (1955-58) for the then incredible sum of $3 million for three years work (no cancellations). She then sold the rerun package of 93 half hours to ABC for a cool million and returned to films in 1959's Holiday For Lovers.
That's not retirement, is it?
Similarly on Barbara Stanwyck Thomson says after 1957 "she then went into reluctant retirement".
No! Instead she she departed for episodic TV work culminating in starring in NBC's The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1960-61) which won her an Emmy award as best series actress of the season.
Ann Sothern's two TV series as star (Private Secretary from 1953 to 1967 and The Ann Sothern Show 1958-61) are not even mentioned. TV made her a star again and her TV movie work in the Sixties and Seventies should have been included --it would have taken a few lines.
One last omission: Walter Brennan was a treasured movie character actor for decades but on TV he finally became a recognizable star with his starring series The Real McCoys and The Guns Of Will Sonnet. Thomson should have listed these titles.
I have this idea these omissions happened because Thomson simply never saw any of these TV series being a resident of England at the time. Not that many U.S. series travelled across the pond in those days.
The next edition should carry these additions, I'm hoping.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Where Are All The Canadian DVDs?

For enthusiasts of Canadian TV the battle has already been lost --in the DVD stores.
I've been meandering around Toronto DVD outlets searching for Canadian DVD titles and finding they're few and far between.
In one store I found that great miniseries Slings And Arrows with Paul Gross in the British TV section.
I asked and was told it was an assumption that people who crave Masterpiece Theatre type fare might want to pick it up, too.
And why no Canadian TV section?
I was told at several stores they don't want to ghettoize Canadian TV.
Talking to Michael Riley a few weeks back I reminded him that only Seasons One and Season Two of his series This Is Wonderland have appeared on DVD.
Season Three never made it and nobody seems to know why.
But another great Riley series Power Play has never appeared at all although I used to hear from a farmer in Idaho who had his own VHS set out and claimed they were selling like hot cakes.
Other Canadian hit series never making it to DVD include ENG with Art Hindle and Street Legal with Sonja Smits.
In fact I don't think Smits' subsequent hit series The Eleventh Hour has made it either.
Some Canadian shows are on DVD and still selling briskly: Red Green remains a best seller as does Corner Gas.
CBC's current hit Being Ericka is out and selling as are all seasons of Little Mosque On The Prairie.
Intelligence is out and should be picked up --it's among the best ever Canadian TV dramas.
But I'd love to get a complete run of Twitch City with Don McKellar and I can't.
There are three seasons of Paradise Falls still running on Showcase but no DVD boxed sets as yet.
Metropia currently on OMNI would sell in a boxed set I feel but it still doesn't exist.
Wendy Crewson starred in a series of Joanne Kilbourne murder mysteries for CTV that still appear on the late night schedule. But I can't find them in the stores.
CBC is one of the culprits here.
Years ago CBC had a retro series called Rearview Mirror that showcased past opera and ballets directed by Norman Campbell plus choice episodes of such shows as Front Page Challenge and Periscope.
Then the show suddenly went off.
Why? I heard CBC was embarased at showing such riches compared to its present paltry schedule.
A DVD of FPC highlights might include Martha Mitchell on Watergate, prime ministers from Louis St. Laurent and onward, Sarah Churchill on her famous father, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Mary Pickford in her last public appearance.
But CBC evidently feels it would not sell.
And that lethargy also means there are no DVDs of Tommy Hunter or Juliette or such treats as Edith Evans in The Importance Of Being Earnest --the only time she did it for TV was on the CBC.
I was the one at the Toronto Star who covered the howls of outrage when Emmy winning director Harry Rasky discovered CBC had sold off two of his best documentaries --profiles of Tennessee Williams and George Bernard Shaw --to BBC. And BBC promptly included them in BBC DVD collections!
Rasky's other poifles on the likes of Chris Plummer, Bill Hutt, Raymond Massey, Teresa Stratas sit gathering dust in the CBC Archives. Why not a DVD collection titled "Rasky's Great Canadians"?
CTV has a wonderful DVD collection of the Vancouver Winter Games. But why nothing on Lloyd Robertson reporting on the great political crises he's covered?
Johnny Carson's best Tonight Show episodes are out on DVD. But not Peter Gzowski's --his late night CBC talk show had all the great Canadians on.
And Brian Linehan had several decades of star gazing --just you tube his name and you'll find some great episodes. Linehan had better interviews than currently available on Live At The Actors Studio.
Other Canadian shows can never be out in DVD format.
The wonderfully tacky Party Game placed for 20 seasons but costs were so low the master tapes were wiped every season and new programs recorded over old ones.
A few choice episodes wete kept by Billy Van --the only examples left of an unique Canadian hit.
And that destruction is so very Canadian.
When Pierre Berton went back years later to look up his Vivien Leigh interview done in London he discovered it had been erased by Screen Gems --only the audio remained.
That's show biz, Canadian sty;e.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Conan O'Brien Deserves Another Chance!

Wouldn't it be sweet if Jay Leno becomes Conan O'Brien's first guest on his new talk show?
It debuts on Canadian TV Monday at midnight on Comedy (repeated an hour later on CTV).
Not likely! But just maybe?
Leno and O'Brien haven't been talking much lately.
Spme seven years ago NBC announced Conan would take over the Tonight Show from Leno in the fullness of time and when that happened all hell broke loose.
To keep Leno from defecting NBC president Jeff Zucker gave him the 10 p.m. slot in prime time --for the entire week night, canceling all the expensive hour dramas that were going nowhere.
And Conan finally got his coveted Tonight Show.
But Leno's ratings at 10 predictably tanked and that meant the local newscasts at 11 for NBC affiliates also tanked and the weak lead ins meant the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien tanked.
What a mess!
NBC was forced to pull the plug on Leno at 10 and to prevent him from bolting to the opposition NBC created a new half hour show for Leno smack dab in his old 11:30 p.m. time slot.
That meant Conan was moved back to 12:10.
And then Conan broke ranks and NBC settled $32 million on him to decamp which he did amidst the constant blare of tabloid publicity.
Leno then got back his beloved Tonight Show but ratings have been seeping away and he now draws fewer eyeballs than Letterman.
Conan launched a comedy tour, then signed with TBS. Why TBS? Because Fox's affiliates demurred at the price tag (or so I am told).
Since Canadians don't get TBS we'll be able to see him via the Comedy Channel at midnight Monday through Thursday.
John Stewart and Stephen Colbert will precede him starting at 11 p.m.on Comedy. They were too powerful in the ratings to be slotted any later.
Now it just so happens I've been a big Conan fan from way back when.
When Conan came on NBC in September 1993 I was one of the first TV critics to interview him.
I sat in the audience during a taping at Rockefeller Center and later chatted him up in his rather small and dreary dressing room.
My first impression: he really was freckled, stood taller than I expected and seemed genuinely eager to please.
He'd only been on air for a few weeks but he was improving every night. That initial nervousness was something I found oddly appealing --he definitely was not another stand up comedian.
At first he had troubles attracting guests and joked to me he was interviewing Suzanne Somers too much.
His chubby sidekick, Andy Richter, wandered in, changed in a closet and wandered out only pausing to say "Good night" to both of us.
Then I went upstairs to interview expatriate producer Lorne Michaels who as executive poducer had packaged the show for NBC.
Likeability has always been the key to Conan's success, that and a kind of colleiate humor that grows on audiences.
He's been joking that after pairing down the contestants he has three choices for his first guest: Jack Nicholson, the Sultan of Brunei and Arlene Wagner, curator of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum.
I don't know, I'm still thinking it will be Jack Nicholson because Conan needs big ratings for TBS to brag about
But I've got bad news for you: all those regular comic bits we loved so much are the intellectual property of NBC.
That means the new Conan must reinvent his shtick and I think that's all for the better. But I'll miss the old standards and I'll miss Max Weinberg who is retiring as Conab's band leader.
So the current late night situation is this: Letterman is actually on top many nights iver Leno but at least they're still on full networks with Conan banished to basic cable.
Maybe Conan should have stayed on the Tonight Show at 12. Who knows?
I'd just like to wish this very nice redhead all the best and let's leave it at that.
POSTSCRIPT: So I've now seen the first episode of Conan. My Opinion: it lacked oomph.
Yes, there were the anticipated pot shots at NBC, some mildly funny. But my advice to Conan is to get over it.
Let's see, you ditched NBC because they wanted to run you at 12:05 and now you're on basic cable and with the time difference thing 11 is really midnight anyway. Oh, well.
Ricky Gervaise was the funniest guest. But Seth Rogen, quite slim these days, wasn't much fun at all. The Masturbating Bear made a very odd appearance. Jack White was a great musical guest. The girl from Glee was nice.
It was all very nice.
But remember in U.S. markets Conan will be competing with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for the same basically hip audience. And he's also on a rather obscure basic cable channel in the U.S.: TBS. So good luck.
The set looked basic cabley. It was a woody exterior with a gyrating moon.
And one more thing about Conan. I think he should shave off that skraggly beard.
Will I watch again? Of course. But will you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Melinda Shankar Is On A Roll

Melinda Shankar only had time to phone me on Wednesday. And no wonder.
She's the star of two current Canadian TV hits --the durable Degrassi: The Next Generation which she joined in 2008 and the newer How To Be Indie which showcases her as petite and rambunctious 14-year-old Indie and which revs up for season two Thursday evening at 6:30 on YTV.
And she was also preparing for the Gemini Awards --on the first (and untelevised night) she was up for an acting award for Indie as well as rehearsing to be a presenter.
"Normally I'm not quite this busy," she exclaimed.
Did I also mention Melinda is also taking high school credits so she can go on to university?
"I want to study writing" she says. When she's acting she works for two hours a day with a tutor on set.
That's a pretty onerous schedule for any adult but the actress is only 18. On How To Be Indie she plays the title character who is only 14. She's a bit older as Ali Bhandari on Degrassi --she joined the cast in 2008 during the eighth season.
Normally the shows shoot in different times of the year.
"But there was this crazy five-day block when both were going and I had to travel between the two, it was very confusing at times because the two characters are completely different. Degrassi tackles the real issues of going to school."
On Indie she was a scream as a scheming but very well brought up eighth grader who's always getting into tight situations.
On Degrassi as Alli: "I always seem to be crying. Very deep stuff."
But in both parts she's excelling and she reports she's recognized sometimes as Indie and sometimes as Alli.
In fact when we were on the phone she had to stop for a minute to talk to fans who were walking by and recognized her.
I had heard about Indie before plopping on the preview DVD of the second season.
Was I ever surprised --it's very funny and painless for oldsters --anyone not in their teens --to watch.
The comedy style is the comedy of exaggeration. In Indie's tween world everything is a crisis that gets resolved in comical ways.
It was created by executive producer Vera Santamaria(Outsourced) and the executive producing team of John May and Suzanna Bolch (Our Hero) make it for Heroic Television and Sudden Storm Television.
Also starring as her best friend is Marline Yan as Abi. Plus there's Dylan Everett as the boy who's always around then, Marlon.
As Indie's Mom and Dad Ellora Patnaik and Vijay Mehta avoid stereotypes to become quite winning. When Dad does a victory dance to show that he's been right it's the highlight of the first new episode.
And joining the cast this season are Tim Lai as Aiden described as a sporty guy and Cassius Crieghtney as bumbling cook dre.
As the granddad with a strange taste for tofu Errol Sitahal is a scream.
Melinda reports every episode is filmed in just three days, an amazing feat. "We'll tackle 20 pages a day compared to about nine on another series. We shoot on standing sets that look completely realistic. There's no studio audience --the crew help us out as an audience."
Born in Ottawa to Guyanese Canadian parents Melinda credits her father for perseverance. "When I had to go to an audition to Toronto he'd drive me. That meant five hours and sometimes it was a five minute interview. we did it twice in one week."
So far Degrassi is the great Canadian TV success story going out to dozens of countries around the world.
How To Be Indie just might give it competition in important markets like the U.S.
MY RATING: ***1/2.