Monday, April 29, 2013

Hail And Farewell: CBC's Kirstine Stewart

Kirstine Stewart, for seven years CBC-TV's top programmer, is jumping ship to join Twitter Canada.
Her CBC tenure has been a rocky one and she collected the usual hits and misses along the way.
What she might have done given adequate resources is another story.
Because our federal governments, whether Liberal or Tory, just haven't been giving CBC adequate funds to defend itself against a mounting wave of American imports.
CBC's immediate predecessor Slawko Klymkiw tried to stem the invasion with a philosophy that would have turned CBC into a PBS of the North.
And that made for weaker than ever ratings which was a downer because CBC still requires half its revenues from advertising.
Under Stewart and her immediate boss Richard Stursberg CBC jettisoned any pretense at becoming a public broadcaster. Stursberg pursued ratings at a tragic cost for the CBC brand.
Almost all arts programming on TV was junked meaning the chattering classes had to turn to PBS for nourishment --they also began sending record amounts of dollars during those PBS pledge drives.
Stewart inherited a great sitcom with Little Mosque On The Prairie but couldn't develop the genre any more than that for years through such stinkers as Men With Brooms and InSecurity.
TV movies virtually disappeared save for biographies of Don Cherry and Gordie Howe.
A proposed series of TV movies on Canada's march to Confederation was jettisoned after one two-hour effort which CBC brass hated so much there was almost no publicity.
Stewart cagily took over The Murdoch Mysteries when Citytv canned the series after five seasons. Ratings have been strong in season six with a season seven ordered up.
And Republic Of Doyle is another lasting success of her tenure.
Stewart can also point to the longevity of Heartland and Arctic Air in Season Two as two more dramatic successes.
But the verdict is still out on this season's new entry Cracked which I personally like for the edgy acting skills of star David Sutcliffe.
Old reliables like Marketplace and Nature Of Things chugged right along despite the indifference of the front office.
And the lack of NHL hockey for much of the TV year proved how dependent CBC's cash flow is on this popular stand by --no wonder the private networks continue to hope they can cart it off one day.
A lot of the lethargy in the schedule is due to money woes.
I personally found Stewart bright and attentive and I wish her well in her new duties. I  sincerely doubt she could have done more considering the thin resources she was given.



Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Big C Returns: Final Season

I've only been an irregular viewer  (by choice) of The Big C, a Showtime made cable series I find too demanding to be included among my regular TV favorites.
Yes, I know Laura Linney is impressive, she always is. But facing her weekly bouts with cancer has sometimes been too much for me.
The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin has brilliantly made the point The Big C is another of those Showtime shows made for women who get themselves into troubling situations.
Included in Franklin's equation is Nurse Jackie with Edie Falco as a nurse who's also an addict.
And then there's Weeds with Mary-Ellen Parker which I found engaging at first and more lately completely off course.
The Big C revs up again Monday April 29 at 10  p.m. on Super Channel for its fourth and final season.
Once again I'm being challenged by brilliant writing and Linney's no-nonsense acting that takes me inside her character who is facing great battles with chemotherapy.
Linney brilliantly captures the nervous energy of a person perpetually living on the edge. The first new episode gets Cathy to bark up at a hamburger joint and have a diarrhea attack in her back yard in front of her astonished family.
We see her decide to resign her history teaching job at high school because she finds the teaching of mere facts to be a nuisance.
So she barricades herself in the high school office and goes on a rant on the P.A. system that surprises and delights the kids who have been doing badly on traditional tests because she hasn't been teaching the basics.
In fact almost everything about life makes her nervous in someway. There's the offhand way her primary chemo doctor (so well played by Alan Alda) treats her --but then he has hundreds of other patients to look after and he isn't feeling well himself.
Look, the acting is as usual exceptional. Oliver Platt as the pudgy husband is fine and so are John Benjamin Hickey as brother Sean, Gabriel Basso as Cathy's 16-year old son Sean, Gabourney Sidibe as college student Andrea and Liz Holtan as Paul's talkative and annoying assistant Amber.
Two new actors join up this season: Kathy Najimy as the no-nonsense therapist and Isaac Mizrahi appearing as himself --he'll be Andrea's mentor as she tries for design school.
And this is what really scares me about The Big C. I watched the first episode of this last season and can see how it is going to enfold.
There'll be no happy ending --there can't be.
Cathy is going through all the stages and will soon reach the final one: acceptance.
The laughter mixed with tears of the earlier years has gone.  Cathy knows everything now depends on timing which is why she quits teaching and must prepare her son's 16th birthday party to be a great blow out.
Death on TV? It happens every week on CSI and those other procedurals and I never feel a thing.
But the one death coming up on The Big C is different, it feels totally real which is why I'm so totally affected.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Changing A Lot Of Channels

When I was the young hotshot TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator in the Seventies I was told I HAD to cover all hearings of the CRTC in Toronto and Ottawa.
At that time the CRTC was building the cable future as new stations and networks tumbled into being and the cable TV landscape developed.
The meetings were thrilling with Chair Pierre Juneau and Vice Chair Harry Boyle in superb fighting form. I was often invited along with The Toronto star's Jack Miller behind the curtain to take tea with the tired commissioners --there even was a one TV critic in those fdays from Montreal.
I loved those moments when the great intellectual Northrop Frye who always seemed to be dozing would wake and ask a question that simply stunned the supplicants. Then he'd go back to sleep again.
But these days Juneau and Frye have departed and the CRTC is a train wreck I'm sorry to say.
The Cadian TV dial which just hit 954 channels is just plain overcrowded with junk.
Canadian content guide lines are routinely ignored by many commercial broadcasters and on some nights it's difficult to find a single quality Canadian show outside of the news.
What's more the cable dial has grown like topsy and doesn't make any sense at all.
CRTC hearings going on right now in Gatineau, Quebec, are focused on mandatory coverage on the cable TV dial.
And these days I no longer have to travel to view this circus --I can watch it all live on CPAC.
My big beef has to do with the continued discrimination against Canadian channels. After all this is still Canada or did I miss something?
When the cable dial was first set up a few prime American cable channels got pride of place.
They included TLN (The Learning Channel) and A&E(Arts And Entertainment).
Both have devolved over the years into low rent boutiques for the likes of Storage Wars and American Hoggers. Send them packing to the outer reaches I say!
The last time the cable channels were changed Buffalo's classy PBS outlet, WNED-TV, was dumped from Cable Channel 18 to Cable Channel 61.
CRTC bureaucrats hated its a classy success story and Torontonians have continued to tune in to Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey and Live At The Met in near record numbers.
They also deposit their dollars with the non-profit station. So I'm saying WNED-TV deserves to get back to Channel 18 or 19 as soon as possible.
There's a stink going on right now with SUN TV trying to grab a lower spot on the dial so it will be eligible for an 18 cents a month handout.
I try to watch SUN TV from time to time but speaking as a life long conservative I find it preposterous and not very lively.
I mean how can these right wingers get all agitated when we have a Tea Party mayor in Toronto and an ultra Conservative prime minister in Ottawa. That leaves only the provincial premier as the sole liberal out there,
I just got a note from Rogers saying Spike TV which is dog awful is getting bounced to the nether regions with AMC getting the spot --remember AMC now hosts the most popular U.S. series The Walking Dead plus the continuing brilliant Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
Another cable channel that gets me mad is Outdoor Life. There are reruns of Storage Wars and Ghost Hunters every time I look in.
I'd banish OLN to way up the dial.
The Oprah Network is just plain boring and irrelevant to most fans with its dismal ratings. Give it the heave ho to way up the dial.
CBC's Canadian Documentary channel should be brought in from the cold if the CRTC is at all interested in preserving the little Canadian content we still get.
My biggest recent disappointment is BBC Canada which has multiple reruns of Top Gear and Graham Norton and very little of the classy BBC drama we should be expecting. Only one new show Phil Spencer Secret Agent is hitting it with me.
Metropolis is a string of American repeats, it's hardly a Canadian channel.
There are too many repeats from HGTV on DYI if you ask me.
On the other hand National Geographic Channel is working just fine. On History I'm currently watching World War II In High Definition although I've already seen a few of these episodes.
The time is right for the CRTC to regain its moxie and start handing out tough love sentences to some of these cable webs which are no longer performing.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gordie Howe Is Mr. Hockey

Was Gordie Howe the greatest ever Canadian hockey player?
With appropriate apologies to Rocket Richard, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky I 'm guessing it's true.
And as Howe celebrates his 85th birthday CBC-TV unveils a sort of mini-biographical TV movie that examines one part of his career.
These days it seems the only TV movies that succeed on Canadian TV are hockey themed --think those twin Don Cherry TV epics.
You can see for yourself how Howe gets treated Sunday night at 8 on CBC.
Unlike the Don Cherry features this one actually has a U.S. play date --it will air shortly on Hallmark Channel.
Sentimental? You betcha! Also cornball, obvious, cliche ridden but just try turning away.
The story centers around Howe's determination in 1973 to come out of retirement and play at least one season with Houston in the WHA just for the sheer satisfaction of playing with his teenaged sons Marty and Mark.
First problem is the casting of ultra smooth Michael Hanks (Saving Hope) in the lead. He scarcely looks like battle scarred Howe and he's way too articulate as well as handsome.
But Shanks pulls it off quite nicely by capturing the competitive essence of the man as well as his deep family roots.
And at least in the medium shots that's Shanks actually skating.
Cast as bossy wife Colleen is Hamilton's Kathleen Robertson who is way too pretty and very young to have such teenaged children,
What is it with Robertson and Canadian TV. Last time we saw her she had aced the part of accused murderess Evelyn Dick in another TV movie.
Andy Mikita directs briskly and the cast includes Lochlyn Munro (as Bobby Hull), Emma Grabinsky (Cathy Howe), Dylan Playfair (Marty Howe), Andrew Herr (Mark Howe) and Donnelly Rhodes as an NHL lawyer.
The saga starts when Howe's famed Number 9 sweater is retired and he goes into the Detroit organization as a vice president doing very little with his time.
He's bored at being typed a has-been and when his two boys are drafted by Houston in the WHA Howe gets this grand vision to suit up for just one more season.
The domestic scenes work well because it's apparent Colleen was the dynamic one. She determined her two eldest sons would go to the WHA rather than spend two more season in the juniors.
She made the decision they'd all move to Houston. She monitored the boys' lives, Gordie's life and everybody agreed she was mostly right.
The only truly fine TV movie about hockey was Gross Misconduct: The Life Of Brian Spencer directed by Atom Egoyan.
So let's be agreed Mr. Hockey is agreeable hokum perfectly timed to run right before the hockey playoffs. Howe didn't drink much, did not womanize and adored his children provided they agreed with him.
And yet there is drama here in the nicely staged hockey encounters as a very old man tries for one more grab at the brass ring.
I kept watching even though I knew the ending as will all true hockey buffs.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Canadian TV Conundrum

"How can I help save Bomb Girls?" asks an earnest lady at the streetcar stop.
My advice?"You can't!" And then I board the vehicle.
Because the newly cancelled Bomb Girls is only the latest casualty in the Canadian TV wars.
Think Intelligence. Think This Is Wonderland. Think Godiva's. Think The Border. Think Power Play. Think The Eleventh Hour.
All these proudly Canadian TV dramas crashed and burned although ratings were OK if hardly dazzling.
But none of them could be peddled to a major American network for big bucks.
And so the Canadian networks reluctantly had to cancel them.
Many of these dramas never even got a run on DVD and are considered "lost" at the present time.
It's the same story year after year.
And it is happening because the Canadian TV system is the only one in the world that discriminates against home grown product.
It wasn't always like this.
In 1984 I wrote a TV column for The Toronto Star that noted the Canadian TV spectrum had produced a record 11 domestic hour long dramas that season.
When the dust cleared on E.N.G. and Road To Avonlea were left.
 Included were such hits as ENG, Road To Avonlea.
So what happened?
The commercial networks successfully lobbied the CRTC to drop its insistence on a quota for scripted dramas. The promise was made the same number of dramas would continue.
But the next season Canadian content consisted of cheaply made reality series and documentaries.
And Canadian TV drama has never been the same.
In fact the state of Canadian content has deteriorated with the whole sale use of simulcasting which means a Canadian web buys a U.S. show at a fairly inexpensive price and then runs it exactly the same time as its U.S. counterpart.
By CRTC mandate satellite companies must black out the incoming American signal and substitute the Canadian one giving each imported show a double bang in the ratings which no Canadian show can ever equal.
Every American show has buckets of prepaid publicity including magazine covers and filmed interviews while Canadian producers tell me they really have to hustle to get any mention in the local press.
It's an unfair advantage on all levels. A Canadian drama usually runs for 13 weeks compared to 22 weeks for the American competition.
Budgets are usually half of an American show and the shooting schedule isn't as long either.
And yet Canadians will still flock to a  quality Canadian show if offered half a chance.
These days there's a new breed of "hybrids" out there: a Canadian made show that craftily disguises its origins so it can be sold to the States.
And I have nothing against such hybrids as Rookie Blue which also score on U.S. TV.
The trouble here is a fine show like Combat Hospital was a summer hit on Global but didn't fare as well in the U.S. So it was dumped.
Also, the Canadian broadcaster usually has to simulcast it against the American run and thus has no say in the scheduling.
I've already been asked if CBC might pick up Bomb Girls. But remember CBC already picked up Citytv's Murdoch Mysteries (which continues to draw over 1 million viewers a year).
And don't forget because of simulcasting virtually all Canadian TV movies have been dumped.
Veteran producer Laszlo Barna told me his TV movie on Don Cherry only managed a sale to one foreign broadcast: in Findland!
And his TV movie life of Jack Layton this season? Barna told me he's not even bothering to order up an international print for possible sale abroad.
Canadian TV drama has never been in as desperate shape as it is today.
One solution has CRTC forcing the broadcasters to spend as much on their Canadian content as they toss away on U.S. series which we can already receive from American border stations.
Another solution involves severely limiting the number of hours a Canadian network can simulcast. Last fall Global simulcast 161/2 hours of U.S. imports in its 18 hours of weekly prime time.
I'm saying it's time the CRTC start standing up for Canadians who want to watch Canadian stories on Canadian TV.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I Remember Rita McNeil

As part of my duties as TV critic for 38 years at three great Canadian papers (The Globe And Mail, The Spectator, The Toronto Star) I was expected to interview Rita MacNeil from time to time.
How I came to dread those initial encounters --the awkward silences, the desperateness of both of us as we failed to connect.
Rita was extremely shy at the best of times and usually gave me back one word answers.
Undaunted I sat down and read everything ever written about her. Her distrust of prying interviewers was at the top of her "hate"list.
And then I discovered a common bond.
We had both worked at Eaton's mighty department store in Toronto. I had toiled there 1964-1970 in the summers and as a part timer the rest of the year. She'd been mainly in customer accounts, also in the Sixties.
And that became our bridge over troubled conversational waters.
I floored her the next time by casually mentioning my Eaton's experience --at the Hayter Street delivery depot interspersed with sorting parcels deep in the bowels of Eaton's Annex and all night stints sorting parcels out at Eaton's Scarborough delivery depot.
"I worked at Eaton's too!" Rita chirped in. And that's when I knew I had her.
And then we'd go right at it --the terrible day-old sandwiches in the employee lunch room in the old building on Bay Street which has since been demolished for Eaton Center.
The sight around Christmas time of aged John David Eaton tottering around tipsy as he wished employees all over the building a Merry Christmas.
"My favorite times were being rushed up to the sortation floor at College Street," I blurted out.
"The building with its Manitoba limestone finish had been voted the most handsome department store in North America but it attracted so few customers that I could sit around most days and read.
" On a busy day we'd send out fewer than 200 parcels to be delivered the next day compared to a few thousand from the downtown store."
"The food was always so much better at College Street," chirped in Rita who spent her time mostly in customer accounts at the downtown store. "The furniture floor was heaven, I'd walk around during my breaks."
After that Rita would open up to me as to an old friend. She always remained indiscreet but she did talk about her continuing weight issues, how she felt she was plain. About other Canadian singers she'd offer expert commentary on what they were doing that was right and where they were making mistakes.
In other words she came to trust me.
And it got so that every time I'd phone Rita would deluge me with news about "our" department store.
When the whole shebang closed I instantly wondered what Rita was thinking --but this was a period she wasn't on TV as much.
Both CBC and CTV programmers did not know quite what to do with her. When she was singing it was glorious. The specials always hit home for Canadians posting huge ratings.
But any banter with the other guests made her cringe.
So a weekly show like Tommy Hunter's was out of the question. I once spent an evening with Tommy out at his Oakville home and we even went out shopping for lamps for his new den. Tommy couldn't stop talking. Rita would avoid conversation if she could get away with it.
Then there was the time Eric Malling on CTV's W5 kept pressing her about her continuing weight problems.
And finally Rita had had enough and for the first time I can remember she snapped back.
"So why do you drink?" she suddenly asked Malling who looked lost for words.
I saw the rough draft and when the interview ended that retort had been cut out.
Eric died oh so very young aged 52 in 1998 from alcoholism.
And Rita could never win her own battle of the bulge --she passed last week after an operation at 68.
But it's funny as I was sorting out boxes of effects this past weekend I suddenly came across an Eaton's flyer guaranteeing sales on all items all the time.
And I immediately wondered : what would my fellow Eatonian Rita MacNeil think?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Black Mirror: The Darkest Satire

The new British satire series Dark Mirror is the blackest of satires.
It plays like a modern remake of The Twilight Zone mixed with Tales Of The Unexpected.
The simply stunning debut is on Super Channel Monday April 22 at 8 p.m.
In the opener titled The National Anthem a British Prime Minister named Callow must bow to the demands of kidnappers of a royal princess.
All he has to do to save her life is have sex with a pig on live TV.
Of course we never actual see the act --this is still TV after all.
But all the events leading up to that moment are excruciatingly detailed.
We see the mayhem of the news outlets, the completely deserted streets of London as everyone fixates on the impending tragedy.
The PM's aide is wonderfully played by Lindsay Duncan (as Alex Cairns) and Prime Minister Callow is finely portrayed by Rory Kinear.
This is an expensive production that recreates a completely believable 10 Downing Street and  all the details of the demands of the kidnappers who somehow seemed egged on by the demands of 24/7 television newscasts.
But is it in any way believable?
When the finger of the princess is delivered to the authorities the cops make no attempt to ascertain if it is authentic (turns out it is a man's finger).
To be thoroughly convincing satire as scorching as this must have a firm underpinning of authenticity.
But creator Charlie Booker does have an ear for dialogue. He covers the mass confusion as government spin masters over react only to be told by a techno-savvy younger aide that "It's trending on Twitter."
Meanwhile an ambitious female anchor is offering herself to another young government aide if only he will break the story exclusively to her.
But here is a television story that dares us to keep watching and mercilessly skewers much of modern society.
It's bold, ambitious and completely watchable. And unlike anything I've ever seen on TV.
The second episode, 15 Million Merits, is far more brilliant and corrosive and stars Rupert Everett as Judge Hope on a horrid TV talent show (think American Idol).
Candidates must accumulate credits mainly by pedaling exercise bicycles so they'll be eligible to cop an appearance on the ultimate TV talent show.
Our hero here is young black man Bing (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who lives sometime in the near future where his dreams can be dialed into. He seems to dwell in some type of modernistic prison cell along with dozens of other inmates who have similar dreams of making it as performers.
And then the moment comes when he holds hands with Abi, the loveliest girl in the establishment (played by Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton ) and when he gives her his accumulated points it's quite thrilling.
But whole gobs of scenes are stolen by Ruper Everett as Judge Hope (think Simon Cowell) who is rude, argumentative and compulsively mean spirited.
The recreation of this other universe is magnificent --the spectators at the TV show are all animated. It's mind chilling more than anything else.
TV was never more adult than here. There are no pat answers. The series tries to be as strange as possible and it succeeds as a sarcastic and chilling vision of the future.
It's no wonder Black Mirror copped an International Emmy as Best TV Movie or Mini-Series.
There are three hour long installments in the first season.
You should watch to be reminded how searing and brilliant TV can become even when violently criticizing itself.
MY RATING: ****.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Republic Of Doyle: Season Ender

CBC's biggest drama hit Republic Of Doyle wraps up its successful season with a rollicking two-parter that begins this Sunday night at 8.
Ratings are way up this season because of the prime Sunday night slot but also because the writers seem to finally know what kind of  a show they're delivering: long on comedy characterization.
I've never yet seen Jake Doyle  (Allan Hawco) turning to CSI techniques to solve one of his cases.
And the producers have trotted out the big names, too: Gordon Pinsent in a mesmerizing turn as a crafty old con lord Becker bellows and dominates the screen as he always does aided and abetted by Paul gross as Doyle's former partner Crocker.
The whole shebang is dressed up with car chases galore, shootings, and the implied threat to the safety of Crocker's police officer daughter Tinny (Marhe Bernard).
But the best scenes, surely, involve the attempted robbery of The Duke pub by the completely incompetent (but slightly lovable) rogue Gossad (Joel Thomas Hynes) which is completely botched and involves Gossad wailing in a back room that he has this fear of being trapped in an enclosed space.
And just to make matters worse Leslie (Krystin Pellerin) gets a major offer to move to Ottawa. It would certainly advance her career but what about the relationship with Jake?
But hey every series needs a cliffhanger, right?
Things get even funnier in the second part which revs up next Sunday night.
Cast as the Odd Couples of crime Crocker and Becker run around all over town with Doyle in hot pursuit. There are some big laughs here but it's all in character. In fact Hawco takes a back seat to the antics of these two authentic Canadian TV super stars.
And a huge dollop of pleasant St. John's scenery get featured although the weather looks typically uninviting.
Make no mistake about it Republic Of Doyle is at its high water in terms of performance details and bright writing and it hasn't exactly been easy fighting back against AMC's The Walking Dead which on some nights became American TV's most watched series.
But CBC has renewed ROD for another season and with additional new episodes ordered up. And in a major break through the series has been sold to an American syndicator.
I've always feflt that having only 13 episodes to fight off U.S. competition with 22 episodes was unfair.
In fact ROD has always reminded me of The Rockford Files meaning characterization comes first, relationships second and only then is there the kicker of a mystery. It's deliberately paced to absorb the charms of the principals as well as the "exotic" scenery (for most Canadian TV viewers).
But the greatest character of all still remains "The Rock" in all its scenic glory.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Watergate Revisited

Has it really been 40 years since the Watergate scandal began slowly unfolding--the end result was the toppling of an sitting American president?
We learn nostalgia comes in many strange guises in the new must-see TV documentary All The President's Men revisited on Discovery Sunday April 21 at 10 p.m.
Or as the New York times so aptly puts it: "What did Robert Redford film, and when did he film it?"
This compulsively watchable two-hour special divides the honors between the two intrepid reporters for the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and Robert Reford who bought the movie rights and ran with it producing a film that he says still has footprints all these decades later.
Redford executive produced this blazingly good TV special and also narrates the story and stars in it.
One highlight is an initially awkward reunion with co-star Dustin Hoffman who played Bernstein so brilliantly.
At first the two grand old actors look searchingly at each other. Of course they've changed physically.
Finally, the ice is broken and they provide choice anecdotes about the making of the film (which is only 36 years old).
There's also a reunion of  the real Bernstein and Woodward --they were in their late 20s when they broke the story --you do the math.
They reconnect and go back into the  washington Post newsroom along with the considerably aged editor Ben Bradlee who is now 91 (played in the movie by Jason Robards who won an Oscar).
Bernstein immediately notices how quiet the newsroom has become since computers replaced typewriters.
And the question is asked if the scandal could have unfolded today in quite the measured pace of 40 years ago. Don't forget these days we have all day TV newscasts, tweeting, and a desire to get the news as quickly as possible.
On the other hand no president since President Richard Nixon would ever get caught again secretly tape recording conversations --the tapes were to prove Nixon's ultimate down fall.
Unfortunately some recent criticisms about details in the original investigation are not addressed. This would have been the time to do so.
We do get all the drama of Deep Throat  (Hal Holbrook in the movie) but we already know it was FBI assistant director Mark Felt who leaked information. His daughter explains his reasons for doing so.
There are  contemporary remarks from the likes of Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart which do not really belong.
Far more interesting are the ruminations of such protagonists as John Dean and Alexander Butterfield as well as lead Republican counsel Fred Thompson who went on to an acting career on TV's Law & Order.
May I just say here that as a young and impressionable TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator I had to review live TV coverage and I always thought CBC's Don McNeill's nightly 30-minute specials constituted the best summary around.
This grand reunion is well edited --there are no stunning revelations but it has been awhile and a few more years on and many of the participants might not still be with us.
Woodward and Bernstein opened the doors for a new age of investigative journalism which is now dying out because newspapers are in decline and no longer have the resources to sustain such expensive reporting.
But as a sharp, definitive look at the scandal in all its ugliness this one is must see viewing of the highest order.
It does teach us that every U.S. president has tried to operate to the reaches of his constitutionality --and then some.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Money Morons: Gail Vaz-Oxlade Is Back

"Yes, you're perfectly right. I'm b-a-c-k!"
And Gail Vaz-Oxlade lets out that mighty laugh of hers.
Without missing a beat she's jumped from one hot reality series, Til Debt Us Do Part to the more toughly titled Money Morons.
But the basic premise of both shows remains remarkably similar.
Gail is still dishing out her brand of tough love when it comes to balancing the books and escaping from a life free of debt.
"I think after the seventh series of TDDUP I wanted not out but a different emphasis," she says on the phone to promote the premiere of Money Morons which revs up with back-to-back new episodes Friday April 19 at 9 p.m. on Slice.
"The first series was on for quite a while --we eventually did nine seasons of 13 episodes. But people keep asking me why I only helped couples.
"And I came to agree with them that the concept could be broadened to include singles, seniors, the divorced, you name it, anyone experiencing money difficulties. And that's what we're going to do here although we actually start with a young couple."
The couple in question, young sweethearts James and Deanna are both prospective actors living in the basement of her parents.
But they are knee high in debt and facing more challenges by the day.
"You have to understand I play no part in selecting the guests," Gail says. "It's an arduous process that involves screening prospective candidates, doing a screen test.--a demo reel. I think we want to avoid doing the same story week after week."
The host gets involved only at a later stage when she reads what they've written up --in this case she finds a young couple with $40,000 worth of debt and facing more in the future.
And then there's the girlfriend's desire for a hefty wedding that would have them owing more than $55,000.
"It's really a simple story," Gail admits. "They aren't making enough for the life style they're trying to maintain and that debt keeps growing. At the rate they're paying it off they'll be 67 before they're debt free."
"My approach certainly is no nonsense. In one upcoming episode a couple got very mad at me and that continued right to the end of the program. But that's their problem. I'm there to criticize what mistakes they are consistently making. And I help them if they really want to become debt free.
"I crunch the numbers. it usually hits them hard because they have no idea what they're doing.
"It's true that becoming a debtor knows no gender bias. Both sexes do it. Some of these people are actually affluent. One study I saw said these people should pay off small debts, too. Which is crazy --that teaches these people to just keep on with their life styles."
There are plenty of dramatics in every story. "The thing is these emotions are real. We just stand back and let them react. I see so much denial at first. Because their actions have been shocking."
In the case of James and Deanna part of the recovery process involves getting these two aspiring actors to put on a show where they act out (comedically of course) their frustrations and their road to economic recovery.
"You see me at the show. It was funny, they do have talent. For another girl I get her to paint out her troubles on canvas."
Gail believes there's been a fundamental switch in household economics starting in the Sixties when credit cards replaced real money."We just as a society are no longer used to paying our bills all time. Eventually it builds up and there's a meltdown."
The saga of  love birds Deanna and Jameswasn't the first new episode Gail filmed --"but it's the one the producers thought the most dramatic. We shoot an enormous amount of material for each show --up to 30 hours. And then it is tightly edited down to 21 minutes. I think there's a lot of real drama there."
Gail laughs she's recognized "all over the place. I have to be careful out there. When I was buying clothes for my young son years ago the sales lady asked if I really wanted to buy that much. It was for half a year but she though she'd caught me being too spendthrift.
"I think I had educated her through the show and now she wanted to protect me!"
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

History's Vikings: Second Sight

Here's good news for fans of The Vikings: History has renewed the sprightly Norse series for another 10 episodes.
This is the first scripted series for History (both the U.S. and Canadian channels).
In Canada The Shaw Media Channel started off with 942,000 viewers for the first installment of the Irish-Canadian co-production.
Episode Nine, the season finale is set for April 28.
But I'm boldly going forth where few TV critics chose to go. I've secured Episodes Seven and Eight and watched them in one go.
Sunday April 14 at 10 p.m. there's an hour titled A King's Ransom and it's directed by Ken Girotti (Bomb Girls).
The well crafted story looks at the dilemma of the Norse warriors as they storm the very heart of power in eastern England --the Royal Villa of King Aelle. Chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) is shown to be a man of many moods --he's curious but also vengeance seeking and his ascent to leadership is based on a capacity to kill enemies before they kill him.
Creator Michael Hirst set his story in the Dark Ages where the clash between pagan customs and emerging Christianity is about to begin.
Some reviewers have called it an evolving family saga. There is much attention to Ragnar's family values and his devotion to wife and children and also his deep devotion to his gods and what that entails.
The solid historical facts are there but this story is unusual because it is from the invaders' point of view. The Anglo Saxons consistently underestimate these strange people and do not understand they are a warrior race and in the end mostly prevail.
They also had families to support and this meant seizing the resources of other competing societies.
Technical details of the Viking ships sailing into the English ports are superb and Fimmel has matured as an actor since his Tarzan days. He now has the authority to dominate a scene and portray Ragnar as a true hero for his people.
Even better is next week's episode, Sacrifice,  (also directed by Girotti) which runs Sunday April 21. This one is a frank and open discussion between the competing forces of the old religion and the newly emerging Christianity.
It takes place during the traditional pilgrimage to the holy site of Uppsalla where human sacrifice must be made to appease the gods.
Ragnar must try to explain to himself his wife''s miscarriage and he does so by believing in the anger of the gods. He also drags along the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) who is tortured by what he sees and must undergo his own odyssey of discovery to see if he can remain strong to his Christian roots.
Often compared to Game Of Thrones the Vikings stands on its own and gets better by the week.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Borgias Return For Season 3

TV's most conniving, despicable family is back.
Here's a group that enjoys swindling others, exalts power over sincerity, kills off all enemies and engages in sex with anyone who comes along.
The Ewings of Dallas?
It's The Bogias --the series is back for its third season of 10 new episodes Sunday April 14 at 10 p.m..
Watch this true tale for any length of time and you'll understand why the Reformation happened in short order.
The second season ended with a mighty pop as prophet Savonarola (Steven Berkoff) thundered away about the lewd and lascivious behavior of the current claimant to the papal throne one Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons).
For his daring the prophet was forced to recant and then burned at the stake as a heretic.
Whatever he may have done even J.R.Ewing never went quite that far.
Then to best every one son Cesare Borgia (Quebec actor Francois Arnaud) told papa he indeed had ordered the murder of brother Juan (David Oakes).
And for the grand finale Alexander gets poisoned by his arch rival Della Rovere (Canadian actor Colm Feore).
This season begins with the anticipated death of Alexander VI.
But if that happened there would be no new season, right?
Arch manipulator and wayward daughter Lucrezia Borgia (Holliday Grainger) sports a brain on those pretty little shoulders.  Turns out she has been perusing books on poisoningall along . Why? Guess!
And she immediately comes up with a solution: grind up charcoal and plop it down the sick man's throat and we'll all see what happens!
And so begins a third season. It may well be the last one. The series is primarily produced for U.S. cable weblet Showtime which really isn't into ornamental  costume melodramas.
Ratings continued to decline in Season 2 and there's a weary feeling of sameness about all the plots and subterfuge.
Sex and venality are the real stars --no wonder devout Italian Catholics howled up a storm when the show recently debuted on Italian TV.
Poor Lucrezia --her fiancee is Duke Alfonso of Naples (Sebastian De Souza) and he tells her he prefers remaining a virgin until their wedding night.
What's a girlie like Lucrezia to do? Why storm into the willing arms of brother Cesare, of course!
Threatened with the rack and other mechanical torture devices Della Rovere uses every stratagem to fight back.
The series does stay true to the concept of creator Neil Jordan who contrasts the lushness of the papacy with the sincerity of Alexander who truly believes he is doing God's work. Period details are amazing and the first new hour has all the texture of a big budget movie --iut was shot in Budapest.
Considered a Canadian-Irish co-production the Canadian executive producer in charge of quality control is  Sheila Hockin who oversees post-production.
But (he was pope a more 11 years)  the big question is how much longer The Borgias will last --the reign of Alexander VI was short and he was succeeded  by  --Della Rovere in 1503.
Meaning there might be a sequel called The Della Roveres? Stay tuned.
9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Remember Annette Funicello


In my 38 years as TV critic  I was lucky to meet  and interview many top Hollywood living legends:  Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, Hank Fonda, Bette Davis, Jim Garner, Roz Russell, Jimmy Stewart.
Right at the top of my favorites list was Annette Funicello.
When we met at a Disneyland function in 1971 she proved as warm and likable as in her Mousketeer days and later beach outings with Frankie Avalon and Fabian.
It was NBC's tradition to shut down Disneyland for a night during the annual TV critics tour which took place in early June.
A lavish supper was laid out and tables set around the main pool.
The Disney organization was always intensely loyal to its stars past and present.
At one of these functions I saw Tommy Kirk from Little Yeller. He had retired to run a rug cleaning business.
And I also spotted Kevin Corcoran --sister Noreen had co-starred on the TV series Bachelor Father. After growing too old for kids' parts Kevin retired to become a top Disney executive.
By chance Annette was seated at my table in 1971 and we talked the night away.
The next year I was seated next to Hayley Mills who was almost as nice.
Born in 1942 Annette was four years my senior --I'd run home from Withrow Ave. Public school to catch the antics of Annette and her fellow Mouseketeers every afternoon at 4 on Buffalo's ABC affiliate, WKRP.
I asked her how she got chosen.
"We were always going on auditions," she remembered. "I mean my mother and me. I was a performer at the age of 4! I was born in Utica but we moved to California for dad's work. Uncle Walt chose me for his show in 1955 and that was that."
I didn't ask Annette about her nose job --Kirk told me that story. But look very closely and her nose does chance. Apparently Uncle Walt didn't want any of his cute kidlets to be considered ethnics.
The show ran from 1955 to 1959 and at her height Annette was receiving 8,000 fan letters a month.
"Did I answer all of them? I didn't even read all of them. That was all done by a separate Disney department. I had school work to do, we were mandated to have four hours a day of schooling."
How did Mr Disney treat you, I asked.
"Like a daughter. I had a crush on Guy Williams star of the Zorro series and Mr. Disney arranged for me to guest star on that show. He controlled my singing career, some of those records went gold but I never considered myself a singer."
I told her I'd read in one of the fan mags how much she hated rival Disney star Hayley Mills.
Annette said sharply "I know about those stories. Planted by Disney publicists. But I always liked Hayley, we were so different we never were up for the same roles. I remember receiving an award for her once when she was sick."
I wanted to know how she got into the Beach movies beginning with Beach Party in 1963?
"I was asked to join the cast so I  went to Mr. Disney. I was still under personal contract to Disney Studios.  He read the script and said certain risque lines had to go. And he made me promise I'd never appear in a two piece bathing suit. I had an image to protect. I remember his warning:  You must never show your belly button. And I never have!"
The other films in the series included Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965),  Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine (1965).
"The stories were all the same. Mistaken identity. Falling in and out of puppy love. It was all very innocent.  There was always a goofy guy like Dwane Hickman or Jody McCrea, My galpals might be Linda Evans or Debrah Whalley. we even had older stars like Bob Cummings around for laughs."
And then what happened?"We ran out of beaches."
What really happened was Annette married agent Jack Gilardi in 1965, settled down and raised their three children. Occasionally for fun she'd be seen on an episode of Love American Style or Fantasy Island.
"The only serious gig I had was for Skippy peanut butter."
She divorced Gilardi in 1983 and married horse breeder Glen Holt.
In 1987 she made a comeback with Avalon in the frail comedy Back To The Beach (1987) which was not a success.
It was on location that Annette began experiencing the first signs of multiple sclerosis. In 1996 she underwent brain surgery to slow down the resulting tremors.
In 2011 wheelchair bound Annette was hospitalized for smoke inhalation when her mome suffered major damage in a fire.
But I much prefer memories of Annette on that summer evening in 1972, radiant at 29, still very much a Mousketeer, back home on the Disney lot one more time.
In 1998 old pal Avalon summed up her appeal this way: "Annette was very attractive,very pretty and voluptuous. But Annette never flaunted it."
Annette Funicello died from complications associated with MS on April 8, aged 70.

Take Time For Save My Pet

You'll notice other TV critics are busy reviewing the first new episode of Mad Men.
I'd be doing the same except for a challenge by a 12-year old girl I recently met in the Toronto Central Reference Library.
"Why don't you ever review my favorite show?" she asked plaintively.
"And that show would be?" I innocently asked.
"Save My Pets," she said so here I go.
The second season of what may be the only pet TV series filmed in Newfoundland (by St. John's-based Best Boy Entertainment)  revs up Monday April 8 at 7 p.m. on Animal Planet.
Make that 6.30 p.m. in Newfoundland, of course.
This one is a real tear jerker about the amazing attempts by owners to save their pets in near death situations.
First up there's a salute to "Maggie". She was a badly neglected German shepherd who somehow tugged at the heart strings of twentysomething Ryan Hurley.
Sadly neglected and just skin and bones she was taken in by Hurley who nursed her back to full strength.
Like many German shepherds she needed double hip surgery to be able to walk again without pain. And Ryan nursed her through a long post operative period involved in building her strength back.
More tragedy strikes when Maggie is hit by a ski plough and must undergo surgery on three of her four legs.
First Maggie must be flown by air to a regional center where Ryan can drive the poor dog another 700 miles as an orthopedic team of specialists stands by.
We're never told the cost of all this but I'm reckoning most owners would surely elect to have the dog put down.
The real Ryan and his parents guide us through these adventures but it's strange that in the dramatic re-enactments they are played by actors who don't closely resemble them. And Maggie is played in these scenes by a canine actor who is a different color.
Of course I watched right to the happy ending. This is perfect fare for the entire family.
Next week two teenaged sisters buy a California king snake.  Then in episode three Sherlock, a pet dalmatian, is stricken by a serious kidney disease. Need I go on.
Yes, it is a canny blend of ER and Search For Tomorrow with animals in the leads.
And about Mad Men? I'll get to that one later but I did notice the absence of animals from all these swinging Sixties couples.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Perfect Storms Is Almost Perfect

Just a few years ago a series as ambitious as History TV's new offering Perfect Storms would have been impossible to make.
It literally requires a cast of thousands in each episodes and special effects that sees the complete destruction of major cities.
But the wonders of CGI has changed all that.
You can judge for yourself with Episode One's thorough look at the 1900 hurricane that virtually leveled the Texas town of Galveston.
It premieres on History Monday April 8 at 9 p.m.
Today all we can see of the destruction are a handful of still photographs but here everything comes magically to life in this brilliant recreation.
It all begins with the city's official weather specialist down at the beach eight hours before the tornado hit.
He had been warned by telephone a gigantic storm was somewhere in the Gulf. Before satellite imaging all he could do was survey the ocean swells and then he made the mistake of thinking the hurricane would not make shore near the city.
Here was a city on the brink of greatness --only New York boasted more millionaires. But after September 8 Galveston was in ruins --almost 10,000 people were dead and the city was razed. It would never regain its former pre-eminence.
I've also caught Episode 4 (Monday April 29) that looks at the disappearance of one of Rome's finest legions in the dark forests of Germany in 9 AD. The Romans are trapped by a massive thunderstorm and betrayed from within by a German warrior they thought was one of their own.
I find this episode too speculative. But fascinating details of Rome's stunning defeat are presented. The severed head of great Roman general Varus was shipped back to Rome in a box. And Rome's expansion stopped dead in its tracks.
The best one I've seen is Episode 5 called "God's Wrath" looking at the earthquake and tsunami that hit Libson on All Saints Day 1755. Ironically the city was devastated at the height of the Inquisition. We know details from an English traveler Daniel Braddock who kept a detailed diary and magically survived..
Because it was a feast day many citizens were in the great old stone churches which crumpled under the impact of the earthquake. Fires were started that raged through the city and one burial site recently opened shows some of the dead literally perished when their brains expanded from the intense heat and cracked open their skulls. Temperatures were over 1,000 degrees celsius.
The shots of the city on fire are brilliantly done and the wealth of Lisbon at the time --gold from Brazil and riches from the slave trade--could never again be equalled. This one is filled with rich irony.
The real series stars  are art director Jack Babcock, production designer Andrew Berry and producers Steve Gamester, Michael Kot and Betty Orr.
It's a Canadian production from Entertainment One and Shaw Media. Put it down as the "must see" entry of the TV season.
MY RATING: ****.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Disaster Reigns Supreme on HGTV

I've just figured out the favorite word for the programmers at HGTV.
It's "disaster".
Already up and running is Disaster:DYI with Brian Baeumler.
Now stay tuned for Disaster Decks --this one starring Paul Lafrance. It revs up Tuesday April 9 at 10 p.m.
Baeumler and Lafrance plus Scott McGillivray and of course Mike Holmes are the reigning titanic handymen of Canadian cable TV.
Since their shows are all made in and around Toronto there's a basic Canadian niceness you simply won't find on such American reality shows as Storage Wars or Pawn Stars.
These guys are all polite and clean and neat --they aim to please.
And they talk a mile a minute as they carefully explain very step of what they're trying to construct.
All of us have been watching these shows for years and years.
Which means the basic concept has to be diddled every once in a while or boredom will set in.
That's why McGillivray has climbed out of the basement to do whole houses on this season's Income Property.
Mike Holmes has already gone through several formats although each of his series is essentially the same as the one before.
It must be working because HGTV is one of Canada's most watched cable weblets. And these shows are also peddled to the American version (also called HGTV).
Lafrance has taken to TV very well.  He seems diminutive on Canada's Handyman Challenge next to burly Holmes --anybody would be.
In the first new show he takes a couple whose back deck is literally falling apart --wife  Anne steps right through the rotted floor boards.
Lafrance sports an easiness in front of the Camera --at one point he says that husband Leo reminds him of a character from Star Trek.
We watch as the designers map out a new deck and show where Leo went wrong along the way.
And then the trick is to get Leo to cut some of the planks, hammer in some of the nails --showing just how difficult it is for amateurs.
A lot of first hand knowledge gets passed around but I surely wouldn't like to try one of these constructions on my own.
The couple of the week seem genuinely at ease on camera --maybe they've watched so much reality TV it seems like second nature to them.
HGTV went out on a casting call as the weblet does for Live Here, Buy That, Leave It To Bryan, Sarah Richardson's new HGTV Canada series and so many others.
And I'm presuming there was some rehearsing before the shoot and an acknowledgement that certain topics had to be covered or the camera unit would be there all day recording the program.
Don't forget the typical reality half hour runs 21 minutes meaning a ton of info has to be presented without dawdling on anybody's part. These shows are all tightly edited.
One warning: the cost is never mentioned. I'm thinking this new deck cost a small fortune although on some of these shows couples who participate get some sort of discount.
Anyhow I liked Disaster Decks. Will Disaster Property Virgins be next? Or how about Disaster House Hunters?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger Ebert: Last Great Movie Critic?

When Roger Ebert started coming to the Festival Of Festivals (renamed Toronto International Film Festival) he told me it was to meet and chat with fellow movie critics from around the world.
That was in the days when every rinky dink paper boasted a movie critic, a theater critic, a TV critic and probably half a dozen more.
And Ebert reigned supreme in the Era Of Great Critics. I happen to think he was more influential than even Pauline Kael of the New Yorker who usually shared her beat with Penelope Gilliatt.
He was also a most competitive person. When one profile mentioned he was writing for the Chicago Sun-Times while rival Gene Siskel wrote for the larger and more prestigious Chicago Tribune Ebert went berserk saying the writer should have added the New York Daily News which also carried his column--then he would be number one.
When I go to a TIFF event these days the conspicuous absence of film critics is the first thing I notice.
Many newspapers have ditched movie (and TV) critics altogether.
When newspapers started downsizing they figured (wrongly as it turned out) that critics were expendable,
Many smaller papers (including The Toronto Post) chose to run Ebert's reviews rather than commissioning reviews of their own.
Ebert could see this coming a decade or more ago. He wondered if he and fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel had inadvertently been part of the problem with their fast paced TV show. Thumbs up or down --ithe gimmick caught on much to Ebert's chagrin.
But these days even the review shows have mostly been cancelled for snappy five minute reviewlets on such shows as E!. and Access Hollywood.
Once when Ebert and Siskel were tub thumping for their review show At the Movies  before visiting TV critics assembled in L.A. I was surprised to learn Ebert followed no TV series and usually only watched the news on TV.
Siskel was much more of a fan and rattled off a list of TV series he was enthusiastic about --I seem to remember Hill Streeet Blues was one of them.
Ebert was disinclined to admit that as TV got better the scope of most movies was shrinking and all those super spectacles filled special effects couldn't come close to matching the reach of a great TV series like Mad Men or The Walking Dead.
A few times The Star forced me to cover movie junkets while I was on the road.
I remember how obsequious movie publicists became when Ebert entered a conference room. When one of them brought him a muffin he ordered her to go fetch some butter before the screening could begin.
And at TIFF I noticed Ebert's amazement that City's TV interviewer Brian Linehan was getting all the best guests for his program. Later on Ebert and Linehan became fast friends and Ebert even spoke at Linehan's memorial.
The sad part is the power of print critics declined as their outlets shrank in circulation.
Growing up in Toronto I was eager to read the opinions of Nathan Cohen and Patrick Scott at The Star, Herbert Whittaker at The Globe and Ron Poulton on TV at the Tely.
There just aren't those types of outspoken critics these days.
Roger Ebert was one of the last of his breed and I think he came to realize it.
In his last full year as a critic he wrote 306 reviews as if summing it all up was important for him.
Ebert's death at 70 has unleased a flood of appreciation about what a great critic he was.
It was also a chance to acknowledge that his kind of  influential critic has just about vanished from the print world.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Beetles are Coming: Watch It!

Only this morning the check out cashier stopped me to snap: "You've been writing about coyotes. Then dogs. Then beavers. What's up with ya?"
I had to carefully explain that as a TV reporter I have to criticize what's coming up on TV.
But she was having none of that.
"I mean did you see that Joan Rivers call Adele fat? Write about that will ya?"
Which is why I approached the latest The Nature Of Things documentary The Beetles Are Coming with some trepidation.
It premieres on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things Thursday night at 8.
Have I turned into a nature freak? I decided to proceed cautiously and watch only a few minutes of this new production. After all it was directed by International Emmy winner David York.
And it's based on Andrew Nikiforuk's book Empire Of The Beetle.
But I couldn't stop watching --this one will surely win some awards later on.
I thought I knew everything about the deforestation of British Columbia forests by this predator that's about the size of a grain of rice. Somehow I'd gotten it all mixed up because this is not another example of the invasion of a foreign insect into Canada.
Turns out pine beetles and the mighty lodgepole pines have been co-existing for millions of years.
The beetles' natural enemy has always been the severe B.C. winters that routinely decimate 80 per cent of larvae.
But over the past 20 years or so as global warming increased more of these beetles have survived balmy winters to the extent they can now be seen on radar as vast clicking clouds chewing their way across the province.
York has done his customary excellent job with the visuals and he's enlisted an army of experts to carefully explain what is happening.
But then we see whole valleys of bright orange tress which are slowly dying and other swathes where only dead trees exist.
And there's York's saga of how the provincial government stepped in and encouraged unrestricted logging of the forests in an attempt to stop the march of the beetles.
In quick succession all types of trees were over logged and the price of lumber plummeted with all this product on the market. The fragile ecosystem was placed in peril, tourism (a major industry) was affected.
And still the beetles marched forward. There's fantastic photography of how beetles bore into the trees and use evasive techniques to avoid the tree's own defenses. And it suddenly struck me that this hour is far scarier than watching an entire season of The Walking Dead.
So far an area the size of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick has been destroyed. And there's every expectation that the forests of Ontario may be next.
Made by Media 52 Inc. this one is perhaps the most important NOT hour of the season. Director of photography Michael Ellis has done wonders. But the film never sensationalizes. The story is laid out brilliantly. And it is all true.
And I still don't care what Joan Rivers called Adele.
MY RATING: ****.