Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Crash: Must See TV

The first thing you'll notice about Calgary Stampeder lineman Edwin Harrison is how much he resembles his fabled grandfather, Winnipeg Blue Bomber linesman Calvin Jones.
That physical likeness is indeed amazing but after you get over that settle back to watch The Crash, the fifth installment of TSN's excellent Engraved On A Nation, a centenary salute to the Grey Cup.
The hourlong The Crash premieres on TSN Friday night at 8 and is must see TV.
It documents the terrifying crash of  Trans Canada flight 810 which crashed right into a mountain near Chilliwack, British Columbia, killing all 62 people onboard including Harrison's grandfather Calvin Jones plus four members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (Mel Beckett, Mario DeMarco, Gordon Sturtridge, Ray Syrnyk).
Certainly Jones, 23, was an amazing talent. At 23 he already was an All Star and had just finished his rookie season in the CFL after a dazzling college football career.
"I took on the assignment from Infield Fly Productions without realizing the great story I had," says writer-director Paul Cowan.
Because Cowan soon discovered that Jones had just learned he was the father of a baby boy --who he'd never see.
His grilfriend Sandra Lee discovered she was pregnant and rerurned to live with her parents.
After Jones' death the grandparents adopted the boy, Edwin Harrison and raised him as their own.
"I got into the story just as it was enfolding some more," Cowan says. He actually got to document the sometimes awkward reunion of the Jones and Harrison families in an airport waiting room. All there is a wonderfully happy wedding ceremony with Edwin Harrison II in Houston that is a must see.
It turns out he is Edwin's son (and also named Edwin Harrison) and had been researching his family tree and already was beginning to piece together his grandfather's remarkable  but tragically short career.
It's hard to believed but despite his storied college career  (he was a three time All American) Jones was never a first place draft pick of any of the NFL teams.
Racism still dominated U.S. pro-football and indeed all American sports and Jones was black in a lily white era.
So he opted to become a player in the CFL. The salary was actually more at the time --remember this was before TV coverage inflated NFL salaries.
And Canadians couldn't have cared less about Jones' color --it was his ability on the field that dazzled them. Cowan's first rate documentary touches all the bases. The family reunion scenes will have you in tears.
There's genuine suspense as a research team tries to locate the reasons the crash happened crash --the Canadian government has declared it a national cemetery. But Cowan reports "Looting has been going on for a long time. There were stories that an Asian businessman had a large cash stash on board.
"But avalanches have pushed the debris down the slope. Remember at the time there were no satellites. Nobody knew what had happened or where the crash was even located."
For the two Edwins this was a journey to closure.
For the elder Edwin  who has suffered two heart attacks and a broken neck it involved uniting with a part of his family he had never met. For Edwin Jr. it involved constructing a biography of what a great footballer his grandfather really was.
The Crash takes the great game of Canadian football and uses it as a metaphor for survival and continuance. It proves a great ride for viewers like me who only vaguely knew about this tragedy.
MY RATING: ****.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Brides Of Beverly Hills Is Back

I've got to get over my strange fascination with Storage Wars and Pawn Stars.
My bizarre need for some Reality TV in my viewing life needs a fix, I'm telling you.
And I think I've found the answer with the second season of Brides Of Beverly Hills.
Would you be surprised to learn it's from a Canadian company, Planetworks Inc. , which has been around since 2003 and makes Arresting Design, Style By Jury and Chef Off.
Look, I know there are a whole lot of bridal shows out there. I've had to review them all but Brides Of Beverly Hills is different --it has its own fun sense of style.
Part of the reason is Renee Strauss who owns the boutique --in Episode One she vacates her salon of 30 years which was becoming dated and movies to La Cienega and Melrose --is that still Beverly Hills I'm asking.
Strauss knows where to crack the jokes and when to be sympathetic. But the whole show depends on the bizarre roundup of very strange guests.
Episode One features Linda Hogan who is not getting married but wants to try on gowns anyway --there's a back story to all this which I'm not going to reveal here.
The second prospective bride is simply called "Tati" and it's this difference in the two women that makes the show zing. Every moment of her wedding experience is being recorded for posterity by her fiancee who Strauss promptly dubs "Baby James".
The prospective brides in Episode 2 star first of all a Lady Gaga look alike, an Italian named Sabrini and her strange request --she needs an unique dress because she'll ride a camel to her affair and then sprint across the sand.
The look on Strauss's face is wonderful.
And there's a "cougar-in-law" to be dressed --she's 48 and wants to out dazzle her daughter at the wedding.
Episode 3 has the craziest request of all --Carla comes with husband number three and her present, a number four and an octogenarian to boot who is pleasingly described as looking like Clint Eastwood.
Carla sports a red scream wig and enough cosmetics to look like a clown and her segment is simply the best.
And matched with her story there's the saga of Ilnaz whose father wants to spurge $10,000 on a wedding gown.
Here's the big point: her divorced parents who rarely speak are both there staring daggers at each other.
But ilnaz remains calm and poised. It's Strauss who gets the laugh lines.
Produced by Toronto's Romano D'Andrea, Carolyn Meland and Jeff Preyra, Planetworks's Brides Of Beverly Hills just might wean me off Storage Wars for good.

Anderson Cooper: Latest Afternoon TV Casualty

Anderson Cooper better hold on tight to his night job as senior anchor of CNN News
His pleasantly inconsequential afternoon chatter show titled simply Anderson just didn't make it.
The news has been dribbling out that  the syndication arm of Warner Brothers studio has declined to order a third season and the show is slated to die in the summer of 2013.
Many of the  U.S. stations that pick up Cooper have been quietly shopping around for a replacement because of continuing disappointing ratings.
The Warners unit's terse statement includes the promise "We will continue to deliver top-quality shows throughout the summer."
In truth Cooper's attempt to become the next Oprah never had much of a chance.
Anderson giggled his way through the programs but the inconsequential nature of the show was rather off putting. On Friday he devoted most of the hour to a look at Halloween costumes.
There are simply too many bland American talk shows out there these days.
Katie Couric is so far mired in bad ratings, she has yet to find her niche.
Ricki Lake's return to talk is equally dire.
I'm thinking the era of these kind of shows may be over. Viewers want something more than aimless chatter.
Right now the health series hosted by Dr. Oz seems to be the wave of the future.
Warners says it invested heavily in a new set but since when did a new set attract viewers.
One of the big losers is CTV which competitively bid for Canadian rights to Cooper only to see the show sink like a stone.
We all met Cooper when he came to the CTV launch last year. He seemed smaller in person and was super nice.
His CNN series is also slipping in ratings. I figure U.S. viewers suspect CNN was less than critical in covering the Obama presidency.
CTV could always try a Canadian talk show in the afternoon instead of importing an American one. But that would be too expensive I'm figuring.
It was Kelly Ripa who said last August that Cooper was her number one choice to be her new co-anchor.
I'm thinking maybe he should have jumped ship at that time.
Cooper is out covering Hurricane Sandy for CNN so at least he's still got a night job.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Canada AM's 40th Anniversary: I Remember

Canada AM and I, we go way, way back.
Right back to 1972, Sept 11, 1972 to be precise when the morning information show debuted on the CTV network.
Am I the only one still around remembering that CTV's first breakfast news show was in 1966 and was titled Bright And Early and was a big flop closing within its first year?
The instigator behind Canada AM was the wise Ray Peters who headed CTV's Vancouver affiliate CHAN and hated the huge numbers NBC's Today Show was drawing in the Vancouver TV market. Peters argued forcibly that this was an audience CTV could not afford to lose every morning and he lobbied at the network for its own morning show.
Be aware that in those days CTV was an uneasy amalgamation of TV stations all of whom exercised some control over head office.
Peters saw the new morning show as being produced out of Vancouver but that was not the way burly John Bassett head of all important Toronto flagship CFTO saw things. Bassett demanded and got Canada AM's headquarters to be located at his new Agincourt TV plant which at the time had the world's largest studio for videotaping shows.
The first time I was out at CFTO I remember driving for what seemed like hours through farmers' fields to get there --today it's all built up. Originally I went there as a reporter for The Globe And Mail in 1970 to watch Ed Sullivan tape a Christmas special.
Ironically Sullivan's show was on CBC but CBC had no studio big enough for Ed's cast of hundreds.
I'd spent much time up at CFTO when I became the TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator. I was on the set of such CFTO produced classics as Half The George Kirby Comedy Hour, Stars On Ice, Pig 'N Whistle (to interview Jessie Matthews) and Starlost (in 1973) with Keir Dullea.
I made the journey once again to spend a day on the set of Canada AM a month after the show debuted. I couldn't possibly get up so early so I simply stayed up all night.
The first two hosts were veteran Percy Saltzman who was the very first face viewers saw when CBC-TV debuted in 1952. He was a superior interviewer, cranky at times but he was among TV's best at getting subjects to open up.
In a case of mismatching CTV had plopped him down beside lovely Carole Taylor.She was among TV's most lustrous beauties but make no mistake about it she also shone as a perceptive interviewer.
One of her biggest boosters was gadabout Cleveland Amory who was on the show the day I was there --he told he he'd fly in from New York for his 15-minute segments just to get a glance at Taylor and then head home on the next plane.
Taylor got most of the initial ink simply because she was so gorgeous. And Saltzman grew very angry at this. When I interviewed him he said things I couldn't print and I told the producer Craig Oliver who merely sighed.
In 1973 Taylor jumped to W5 and later got an offer from CBS to join 60 Minutes which she turned down-- she told me because she didn't want to leave Canada.
Helen Hutchinson was a sturdy replacement --I was back on the set to interview her and we talked about her difficulty getting up at 4 a.m. every weekday.
Years later in a telling interview with Mike Wallace she got the famed newsman to open up about his mental breakdown when he was sued by General Westmorland over a 60 Minutes piece. Wallace told me at the time he regarded Hutchinson as just about the best interviewer he'd ever encountered.
Hutchinson was partnered by Norm Perry who lasted the longest of the early hosts simply because of his inquisitive nature. What got many Canada AM hosts going was the relatively short time they got for their interviews. Perry turned this into a challenge and was always in peak form --he told me Mother Teresa was among his most favorite interviews.
Later on Pam Wallin shone. But not with J.D. Roberts who returned from U.S. TV for the gig. The years away from Canada made him among the least impressive of Canada AM hosts and he soon returned to American TV.
Canada AM these days is still at it, still battling Today, still serving as a stepping stone for such personalities as Lisa LaFlamme. Like all network TV there has been some ratings erosion but it holds up well particularly when the talk turns to Ottawa politics.
So now I'd like to wish Canada AM a Happy 40th Birthday from one who was there at the start.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Babies: Smarter Than We Think?

How does one pitch a show to CBC-TV about the moral development of babies?
Well, writer-director Eileen Thalenberg did exactly that and the result Babies: Born To Be Good ? makes for  an absorbing hour of TV.
"I think it's all about a re-thinking of how babies develop," she says. "The old school insisted babies were fairly amoral creatures. Now we're seeing babies seem to be born with qualities where they seem to prefer goodness."
The result is on The Nature Of Things on CBC-TV Thurs. Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.
I mean we're really talking babies here. A cute three month old watches the actions of a nasty otter and a nice one and picks --the good ottter. I mean this kid is only beginning to learn how to sit up --he can neither crawl nor speak but there he is already is making a moral judgment.
And as the babies grow into tykes their moral judgments become even more complex but almost always still veer to the side of goodness and fair play.
In fact some scientists are almost insisting this concept of good and evil may be hard-wired into our tiny human brains.n
"A lot of breakthrough research convinced us there was a big story here," Thalenberg explains. "And then we went filming both here and China and were amazed how very tiny children can make judgments."
Thalenberg always operated with a hidden camera  (or two) making this a kind of infants' version of Candid Camera.
"A few times we were spotted out by the children but it was always the boys who noticed. And in most cases they just went on with the game at hand."
At a very young age many children seem willing and able to provide help if asked. One little girl gives up all her toys willingly in this way and another two-year-old jumps out of her wading pool and her toys to help an adult.
But Thalenberg really hits home with her comparison of the differences between Asian and Canadian children. The young Asians come from a culture admiring group effort and modesty.
The North American model seems to be more individualistic and boasting.In one test spanning the continents a teacher leaves her messy floor to get some supplies. The Asian children clean up after the teacher refuse to be boastful about it.
The Canadian children also clean up but they also say so because in our society the act might be considered a positive step.
Thalenberg is a widely respected veteran documentary film maker --I especially liked her 2010 portrait of fiddler Oliver Schroner Silence At The Heart Of Things.
But what about working with literally hundreds of very small children. "A challenge for sure" is how she terms it and says there were comparitively few breakdowns.
"In fact when we had a showing recently some of the older kids in the film  --I mean around six--sat and watched throughout and I feared they'd soon be fussing." Perhaps they were making another moral judgment as well?
Thalenberg wrote and directed it for Stormy Nights Productions.
MY RTATING: ***1/2.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Biggest And Baddest Is Completely Riveting

Like I keep telling people who are bitching about the awful fall TV season: look elsewhere for good new series deep in cable land.
And I'll point to the new Canadian series Biggest And Baddest --I watched the pilot starring biologist Niall McCann and this wildlife show is as good as it gets.
The hour series premieres on Animal Planet wed. Oct. 24 at 9 p.m.
This one is wonderful in every way --it is shot and crisply edited in a way to make us feel right in the midst of the action. And McCannn tosses off enough trivia tibits to keep everyone involved. For example: did you know an anaconda only has to eat three times a year to sustain itself.
In this hour McCann starts in the swamps of Venezuela in search of the biggest anaconda and he offers anecdotal evidence that there are 25 foot ones out there.
But finding the big critters is a hazardous job --McCann plods barefoot through one swamp as he prods in front of him with a large stick. Then he does find somehting quite large, but it's an ornery cayman.
In other episodes McCann will take DNA samples of giant hogs, films the biggest Asian elephants and helps tag ferocious crocodiles.
Anacondas are the world's heaviest snakes but they do not have a venomous bite. Instead they are skilled in squeezing life out of their prey and as stories are told to McCann sometimes the prey are human.
Then it's off to tributary rivers where McCann enthusiastically finds bigger and bigger snakes. He also finds huge crocs , vampire bats and assassin beetles (one kiss from this beetle and a human is toast).
There's just thrill after thrill here including McCann climbing down a mountain gorge with a thundering waterfall in the backround.
In other words this is exciting TV and it's all true and seems less staged than other reality TV outings.
Upcoming episodes will highlight the deadliest bird in the world, Australia's Cassowary bird with a reputation for maiming humans.  There's a jaunt to examine Nepal's man-eating tigers, And what about the feral hogs of Louisiana?
Just don't tell me the new TV season is boring.
Biggest And Baddest is directed by Peter von Puttkamer and produced by Sheera and Peter von Puttkamer for Gryphon/Wild Planet Productions Ltd.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ann Sothern, Maisie And Me

Way, way back --1974 to be specific --when I was the young and thin TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator I happened to be in L.A. on the TV Critics Tour and with a day off phoned the great Ann Sothern for an exclusive interview.
The next day she appeared at the Century Plaza for lunch --she drove her own Rolls up to the entrance, a star turn if ever there was one.
But instead of appearing as one of TV's greatest stars there stood before me --a Baby Jane Hudson look alike!
"Relax, she whispered, I'm doing a photo shoot later today for my latest picture The Killing Kind and I'm in character."
We had a grand luncheon and the waitresses all recognized her under her fright wig and potato sack dress which somehow distressed her,
The interview duly appeared in The Spec and the entire Q and A later popped up in the film magazine Fiilmograph.
And now all these decades later I'm re-reading my notes for my latest assignment. An American editor wants me to review the new boxed sets of the Maisie movies starring Sothern togerher with such guests as Red Skelton, Robert Young and Maureen O'Sullivan.
I've just finished watching the complete Part One: the boxed set sports the first five (of 10 titles): Maisie (1939), Congo Maisie (1940) and Gold Rush Maisie (1940) and Ringside Maisie (1941) and Maisie Was A Lady (1941).
The second box will include the last five: Maisie Gets Her Man (1942), Swing Shift Maisie (1943), Maisie Goes To Reno (1944), Up Goes Maisie (1946) and Undercover Maisoe (1947).
When I mentioned that I'd seen most of the Maisie pictures Sothern stopped eating and started frowning.
"I positively hated making those low rent movies," she snapped.
"But they saved your career," I shot back.
"Well, bub, they still collectively stink."
The fact is that back in the movies' heyday every studio had movie series. Warners had Torch Blane movies starring Glenda Farrell.
Universal had Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman features.
At Fox Charlie Chan, Mr. Motto and Michael Shayne programmers were all the rage.
MGM was the leader with The Thin Man films (Bill Powell and Myrna Loy), Tarzan epics with Johnny Weissmuller, Andy Hardy comedies starring Mickey Rooney and Dr. Kildare programmers with Lew Ayres.
In 1939 MGM decided to add Maisie movies based on the book Dark Dame which the studio had bought for Jean Harlow.
When Harlow died and MGM needed a successor and it just happened Ann Sothern was available --she'd been in double bill films since 1934 at Columbia and RKO and was titled "Queen Of the B's".
"God, how I hated that title,"Sothern groaned.
She signed with MGM in a deal that would have her also starring in splashy big budgeted musicals.
Maisie (1939) is an amiable beginning for the series --the Maisie features were designed to run on a double bill and here Sothern was paired with Robert Young and Ruth Hussey.
She plays a Brooklyn showgirl stranded on a dude ranch and the whole thing ran a mere 75 minutes.
MGM quickly ordered a sequel Congo Maisie which was a remake of Red Dust (1932) and was later remade yet again as Mogambo (1953).
"We shot that one in the Tarzan jungle on the back lot," Sothern told me. "At one point I turn to one of the chimps and say 'Go back to the Tarzan pictures, will ya!"
Next up there was Gold Rush Maisie (1940) which Sothern told me she enjoyed making "because little Virginia Weidler was in it and we really got along just fine. "
Ringside Maisie was "a boxing story. Awful. Let's jump that one."
Sothern neglected to mention she met her second husband Robert Sterling on that one --he was years younger but before they split daughter Trish Sterling was born.
In Maisie was A Lady (1941) "the MGM powers thought it would be cute to borrow Lew Ayres from the Dr. Kildfare pictures and Maureen O'Sullivan from the Tarzan pictures. I was stranded as a maid in high society in that one."
In between her Maisie adventures Sothern told me "I did the great (1940) musical Lady Be Good  and in 1942 I made Panama Hattie from the Cole Porter Broadway hit. Why don't you ask me about those."
Sothern says she'd finally had it with Maisie and she went in to see president Louis B. Mayer to ask to be excused. "He took me to the window and showed me the construction of a new soundstage and said it was being paid for by profits from my Maisie pictures. He claimed Congo Maisie had made double the profits of Greta Garbo's Ninotchka."
After finishing with Maisie in 1947 Sothern left MGM and then had her biggest movie hit with A Letter To Three Wives (1949). In 1953 she jumped to CBS-TV as star of two huge sitcoms: Private Secretary (1953-57) and The Ann Sothern Show (1958-61) before settling into a new career as a respected character actress ending with her Oscar nomination for The Whales Of August (1989).
Wish I could give more than **1/2 stars for Box 1 of The Maisie Collection. But all Ann Sothern fans should be overjoyed. And Box 2 is already out in some markets.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Canadian TV Finally Gets The Magical Mystery Tour

"Yeah, it took awhile," volunteers Ellen Baine, VP of programming at Canadian TV's elusive Hollywood Suite.
She's referring to the Canadian TV premiere of the Beatles' classic 1967 TV feature film Magical Mystery Tour which premieres Frid. Oct. 19 at 9 p.m. on Sony Movie Channel.
Hollywood Suite is a new service of four exclusive HD movie channels: WarnerFilms, MGM Channel, Sony Movie Channel and AXN Movies (plus Hollywood Suite On Demand). All run commercial free and uncut.
The rapidly expanding service, already a hit in western Canada, has yet to be picked up by Rogers meaning a whole lot of readers of this column keep asking me why it isn't as yet available. And I keep telling them to hold tight.
Magical Mystery Tour is exactly the kind of fare to get people demanding entry to Hollywood Suite.
I watched it at one go and was amazed. First up it must be just about the very first music video made with the kind of carefree whizz that characterized the 1967 Beatles.
And yet when it first ran on BBC on Boxing Day in 1967 there was a tumult of criticism, some reviewers feeling it was inappropriate holiday fare. Although we never see any of the key participants doing drugs it's clearly influenced by the culture of the day and has a free floating hallucinogenic feeling that shocked and terrified older TV viewers.
The plan was to get into a tour bus and just zoom around the English countryside much as John and Paul had done as kids with their families. Magical Mystery tours were a British thing --families went off on chartered busses never knowing the final destination.
McCartney who clearly is the auteur had a vague idea of going off in a bus with a film crew shooting the reactions of the passengers --there never was a script.
The whole thing begins with Ringo Starr and his stocky Aunt Jessie clambering down a street to get on board. We then watch as various bad jokes are pulled off and the English countryside is discovered to consist of abandoned air fields and airplane hangers. The desolation contrasts with the madcap antics of the Fab Four.
You should also watch the documentary about the making of the movie -- a much aged Paul has some anecdotes and so does Ringo Starr who has aged better. And then it will hit you: there are only two of them still alive.
Critics of the time considered it one heck of a self indulgent acid trip. But it very much defines 1967 where there remained so much promise about the future. One highlight: John Lennon singing for the first and only time I Am The Walrus. And another: the one choreographed number as beautifully dressed dancers strut to the tune Your Mother Should Know.
Fully a quarter of the population tuned in that Boxing Day--it was wedged between a Petula Clark special and a Norman Wisdom movie.
But why the film was never marketed to North American TV networks remains a mystery. Of course way back then there was nothing like MTV. Would CBC have bought it? I doubt that very much. So in 1967's 10 channel universe there were no takers.
I loved catching glimpses of such greatish British character actors as Jessie Robins (Aunt Jessie),  Ivor Cutler (Buster Bloodvessel) and Derek Royle (Jimmy Johnson). One of the key members Victor Spinetti recently passed on, Robins died in 1991,Cutler in 2006 so watching is one way of remembering them.
Baine says HS had to wait until BBC reran it last week.
But Magical Mystery Tour is still wonderfully new to Canadian TV. And it only took 45 years to get here.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Kid From La Puente: Must See TV

It would be a rotten shame if the greatish new Canadian TV documentary The Kid From La Puente were only watched by diehard football fans.
This blazing hour of revelations from Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo is much more than a saga of a great footballer.
Tune in to the premiere on TSN Thurs. Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. to see if you don't agree with me.
It's part of a series of specials collectively entitled Engraved On A Nation commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup.
But Bell Media thinks it will find a wide audience and is scheduling instant replays on CTV2 Sat.  Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. and on Sun. Oct. 21 on CTV at 5 p.m. Got that?
"The idea didn't come from me but from our team of researchers." says producer Dugald Maudsley (for Infield Fly Productions) "But the more I explored Anthony Calvillo's life the more I saw it had everything. And we got full cooperation from the family, there are times when his brother David is in tears and has to walk out of camera range. It's a family saga of survival and success."
Maudsley chose veteran director Shelley Saywell (In The Name Of The Family, A Child's Century Of War) because it's the kind of personal story she does so well.
"Again, it's a story that will attract as many women as men. And it's Shelley's first with a sports background."
Calvillo was born in 1972 in tough circumstances in East Los Angeles where drive-by shootings were not uncommon and youngsters drifted in lives of drugs and crime.
By chance the family had made wonderful Super 8mm family films that highlight the saga of this poor but determined family. The parents were teenagers when they married and there were three boys all of whom were victims of their surroundings. The eldest David , 13 when his parents separated after many scenes of violence, drifted into petty crimes that ended when he was convicted of attempted second degree murder, spending eight years behind bars.
But this was not the fate of Anthony who found athletics blocked his pain. With a series of mentors to protect him he'd spend his free time passing footballs in the neighboring park and eventually developed throwing skills few others could match.
Tose skills got him to Utah state University where coach Jim Zorn spotted his abilities and it got him into the CFL --NFL teams passed because at 185 pounds he was considered on the small side.
"This story needed Anthony's support and his brothers,"Maudsley says. "Without them we wouldn't have the story. With them it springs alive."
It took years in the CFL before true stardom came.  These days Calvillo is celebrated as professional football's all-time leading passer. And under his leadership Montreal has won three Grey Cups.
But there was more tragedy --both Anthony and his wife have successfully battled cancer scares.
At 40 Anthony seems eager to share his story with less fortunate kids --that will be a mighty part of his legacy.  To make it a truly family affair brother Mario narrates.
And there are tears and more tears at a testimonial dinner as Calvillo acknowledges how many people helped him along the way to become the man he is today.
Saywell pushes most of the buttons, and he hour is so successful the story could be expanded into a TV movie like the one that starred David James Elliott as footballer Terry Evanshen.
Infield Fly has two more documentaries in this series The Crash on TSN Fri. Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. and The Photograph on Fri. Nov 9 at 10 p.m.
MY RATING: ****.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Buffalo Wolves: Canadian TV At Its Best

There may yet be hope for Canadian TV.
Take a look at the perfectly realized new Canadian TV documentary The Buffalo Wolves by famed documentary maker Jeff Turner and you'll see what can be accomplished.
The Buffalo Wolves premieres on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things Thurs. Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.
While other "Canadian" TV networks are engaged in orgies of simulcasting American imports CBC with The Nature Of Things shows what Canadian TV truly is capable of.
And Jeff Turner's work is as good as it gets in the field of nature documentaries.
And this time he chose to concentrate on a specific pack of wolves in Wood Buffalo National Park --the only wolves in the world who concentrate on bringing down bison.
The photography is splendid particularly in long shots done from helicopters where images zoom right in and we watch the pack mentality as the wolves hone in on an attempt to bring down one of the great buffalos.
"No doubt about it, this is an uneven struggle," says Turner."And it really can only be done in the winter snow. The wolves must try to stampede the buffalo and then isolate one and bring it down when they act as a team. The buffalo are so great in size and weight over a tonne --they are 20 times larger than a wolf so they can certainly defend themselves."
And as we see one inexperienced member of the wold pack gets too close and is gorged and dies.
In summer it's not as easy and that's when the mortality of the wolves is threatened. They need the meat to feed their young who often starve to death. In one amazing shot we see the young wolves near their den threatened by an equally hungry black bear.
Turner shot his film in two stages --both summer and winter. After 25 years of shooting he knew where to go and what he'd find. Yet, some shots are clearly serendipitous --he catches scenes of a veteran wolf following an aged bison --the wolf seemed to know the buffalo was in trouble. When Turner returned the next day he caught remarkable scenes of the wolves feasting on this bison corpse --it appears the animal died a natural death.
Although Turner tells me he shot "from some distance" he gets scenes that seem completely intimate. "In the air we could approach the pack and they didn't seem to mind --sometimes a wind shift would help.  I've been doing this a long time and much is simply experience. Wolves are very cautious but during a hunt they can be preoccupied. It's just a feeling, how close can I get."
Turner says he also wanted to show how the wolves can only survive by acting as a unit --led by a remarkable dominant father and mother. Without their leadership the pack would be lost. In one amazing scene the father leads his part of the pack across a lake in search of prey while the mother and her group decline to follow. The mother's instincts are correct in this case.
Turner works often for BBC --on such acclaimed series as Frozen Planet, The Natural World, Planet Earth. He says for PBS and BBC he'll be delivering a longer version of Buffalo Wolves. "The BBC hour is exactly that whereas CBC's is now 42 minutes."
Turner and wife Sue Turner have made more than 25 documentary films for their River Road Films and won numerous awards.
And the end of Buffalo Wolves is indeed poignant because the Alberta Tar Sands project is not so very far away and threatens to change if not destroy the delicate wilderness setting that permits both both wolves and buffalo herds to survive.
"I'm worried about it. The climate is changing --I now see deer and caribou and that's only recently. So I'm ending it with some words of caution."
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Deadly Affairs: TV's New Type Of Soap Opera?

Over the past few seasons the U.S. networks have been dumping most of their long running soap operas.
The shows remained popular but are simply too expensive to produce on a daily business.
But what's a soap opera fan to turn to?
I have a hunch the new series Deadly Affairs might just be the answer.
It contains all the usual soap elements from lust to murder but packages them in the Reality format --meaning the players we see on the scene don't actually say anything --the narration is left to the host. That means the participants aren't paid expensive actor's salaries but it can make for some dramatic clumsiness.
It means that an hour can be packaged fairly inexpensively while satisfying all the requirements of a soap fan.
And Deadly Affairs sports soap diva Susan Lucci as the hostess. The stories are speeded up and not told over many meandering months and who knows. The format of Deadly Affairs just might be satisfying enough.
Lucci is caught all dolled up purring at poolside as he explains the romances she's introducing --the common thread is that they all end in murder.
The actual police investigators are interviewed as are the real neighbors and acquaintances of the subjects,
First up there's the saga of funeral director Michael and his pert wife Jan. Michael inherited a funeral parlor and as he's quoted business is recession proof. Then he meets lusty Angie, a suburban temptress, and pretty soon Jan is found drowned in the family pool.
How the police untangle the web and pin the blame on him is told with lots of pert comments from Lucci.
Then we look at high school sweet hearts Melinda and David who married when just 20. Deeply devoted Christians all seemed well until Melinda began wandering off with college student Mark.
This murder took almost 20 years to solve and how it was done complete with recanting from Melinda forms the basis of the story.
One critic calls the phenomenon "Days Of Our Knives" which is cute.
And it's entirely appropriate that Erica Kane --alias Lucci-- gets the job of hostess.
In the U.S. Deadly Affairs has already debuted strongly making it the second highest series debut in the history of Investigation Discovery.

Friday, October 5, 2012

White Collar: Season Three

Get set for Season 3 of White Collar which premieres Monday Oct. 8 at 10 p.m. on Bravo.
Stop! I know what you're going to say!
And it's true --Season 4 of White Collar premiered on USA Network in July.
So what gives?
Well, remember USA is one of those American cable weblets not allowed on the Canadian cable TV spectrum.
Bravo was late in picking the  U.S. series up and is currently running a season behind.
But my Bravo sources say the Canadian network is determined to play catch up in the near future.
To to remind all WC is all about sophisticated ex-thief Neal Caffrey (the impossibly handsome Matt Bomer) and his strange, uneasy relationship with the dedicated FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay who is a fine actor).
Call it a bromance if you want. Or a strangely dysfunctional relationship.
But put the two together and you have a crack team dedicated to ferreting out the baddies.
White Collar almost plays as a comedy despite its chases, gun fights --heck in the season opener there's even a sword fight.
The other, more serious procedurals sport  huge body counts and are packed with grisly details of murders.
White Collar stretches its plots so thin that one is tempted to shout "Oh, come on now!"
I mean the plot for this one involves a Nazi sub that deposited rare European art masterpieces in the last days of World War II and naturally Neal was onto the cache and in a convoluted strategy wanted to take all that art for himself.
So he arranged for some of his own faux art to be destroyed in a blaze so he could abscond with the real stuff.
If you believe it, you'll believe anything. And added to the mix was an old adversary of his who turned out to be a fencing master. In other words the whole set up could have been the ultimate con.
Big news about WC involves the probability Anne Rice is going to write an episode --she's submitted an outline but it is still in the future.
WH always goes very broad in its plots which is one of the reasons for the popularity. I think the show is very much like those old standards The Rockford Files and Simon And Simon. Which means the however the intricate plotting at the end the stars are everything.
I met Bomer once in Toronto when he was peddling his first series, the Vancouver made Traveler  (2007) which NBC thought was going to be very big. But it only lasted eight episodes.
DeKay I first remember from Party Of Five --he's always been a favorite character actor of mine.
One big  plus of WH is the act it is actually shot in New York City. It just oozes authenticity in its location work unlike  another USA series Suits which is shot in T.O.
White Heat could have functioned in the old days of such classic shows as Magnum or the NBC Mystery Of The week.
All the plot strands are neatly resolved at the end of each episode. Thankfully there is less to nothing devoted to the scientific advancements of CSI procedures.
The conflict between Neal and Peter is never ending. They need each other. They never trust one another. Neal is always being tempted to cross over to the other side where he came from. At heart he is always a con man and sometimes he may even be conning himself.
Peter pulls Neal from one side while the great character of  swindler Mozzie (nicely played by  Willie Garson tugs him to return to a life of  high crime.
But the FBI shackle bracelet works both ways --it keeps him tied to the Agency but also away from Mozzie. Not that I've ever heard of any law agency hiring embezzlers to help them fight crime. That's one of the structural conditions you'll have to accept to enjoy the series.
And Season 4 may be coming sooner than we think.
MY RATING: ***1/2.