Friday, March 7, 2014
I plopped in the DVD review copy of the new two-hour documentary The Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead simply because I found the title intriguing.
I stayed to watch the entire two-hour production because it is a mesmerizing true life story of a brilliant PhD who admits he sometimes reverts to his former crack addiction.
The premiere is Sunday night at 9 on CBC's Documentary channel.
Most TV documentaries are well balanced on-the-one-hand and then on-the-other-hand accounts that normally run 42 tightly edited minutes --the rest of the hour is for commercials.
Dr. Crackhead is equally dense but it wears its heart on its sleeve --the story is all about Dr. Peter Ferentzy who cooperated fully.
He often holds court with a glittering array of acolytes.
One of them not taken in is cagey film maker Jennifer Di Cresce (The Autism Enigma). Her odyssey of discovery takes us all over the place right back to Peter's troubled adolescence which here comes to life with the requisite home movies.
Peter is even holding court then as part of an immigrant Hungarian family --papa was a very busy restaurateur and mama the waitress and the comfortable life they provided for their two boys had dark under pinnings. For young Peter there was the constant need to get good grades --like his parents he started drinking to hide anxieties and by 14 was well into the sauce.
Peter is our often good natured guide through the labyrinth of his early life which would finally lead to an addiction problem. Unlike other addicts living on the street his was a privileged world of a graduate student at York University.
I figure Ferentzy cooperated with Di Cresce not only because he craves attention but also because he has a book to sell --Why The 20th Century was Wrong which attacks our conventional theories about how addicts can beat their problems and become sober citizens once again.
At first it seemed to me film maker Di Cresce was somewhat in awe of her subject. She gives him ample space for his erudite rants and shows him wowing crowds in both Toronto and Vancouver.
But gradually the focus shifts to a more skeptical stance. Dr. Peter is on and off his drug problems. He always has an explanation for each lapse. Life with a troubled girl friend Katy seems to exacerbate all his problems.
And as Di Cresce investigates deeper she finds other experts out there who think he is just plain wrong in the way he sees addiction.
Crack addiction lost him his health, he admits at one point. But he still can't stop.
The bits of his lectures we see are fascinating --he's a true spell binder. Yes, he is onto something when talking about the politics of prohibition. In his own family alcohol was the demon yet both parents drank copiously --drugs was outside their world view.
At another point he admits to being a "spoiled rich kid" who became fascinated with the simplistic worlds offered in comic books.
Di Cresce then talks to other addiction specialists advocating complete abstinence. It's clear she's moving away from Dr. Peter's position, particularly when she notices how quickly he can revert to crack if it is available.
What should keep you watching is the often brilliant cinematography of Michael Savoie who stays right in Dr. Peter's face giving us a view of the brilliant talker that is warts and all ( for Rat Pack Productions).
The Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead takes us inside the mind of a brilliant and manipulative guy who is battling addictions, battling life. I was exhausted watching it but recognize here is a true TV event, a must see inner life investigation.
THE ADVENTURES OF DR. CRACKHEAD PREMIERES ON CBC DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL SUNDAY MARCH 9 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I enjoyed chatting up the stars of CTV's police procedural series Motive when the first batch of episodes ran last season.
The show which is shot in and around Burnaby B.C. was an instant hit on both sides of the border (ABC runs it in the summers) and got a pick up for a well deserved second season.
I've previewed the first two new episodes which are even tighter edited than the first season and introduce the new character of Team Commander Sergeant Mark Cross played by Warren Christie.
It just so happens Cross is an ex-confidante of Homicide Agent Angie Flynn played with such dash by Kristin Lehman.
The first new episode premieres on CTV Thursday March 6 at 10 p.m.
It just so happens that I first interviewed the very talented Lehman on the Toronto set of the series Forever Knight in 1995 --that was the one about the blond vampire.
Since then she's hopped and skipped through such series as King Fu (1996), Poltergeist (1998), Felicity (2001), Strange World (1999), Judging Amy (2002), Century City (2004), Tilt (2005), Killer Instinct (2005), The Killing (2011).
And always doing outstanding world with close attention to character.
In Motive she's finely cast as a breezy homicide officer who once had a relationship with new boss Cross and now knows what he is capable of in so many ways.
Last season the show also examined Angie's fractured home life as she tried to maker her teenaged son more motivational about his life --so far he has not even been mentioned this season.
Lehman told me she thinks Angie began focusing solely on her work as her personal life shut down.
Angie's partner seemed to look familiar to many readers of this column --it's veteran Louis Ferreira. Some readers wrote in to say they felt he was an older look alike to actor Justin Louis.
Actually folks it's the same talented guy --I first interviewed him on the set of CBC-TV's Urban Angel when he was using the name Justin Louis.
A few years he changed back to his original name to honor his mother. By either name he's just fine as the ballast in Angie's office relationship.
First of all Motive looks unlike any other TV procedural. It's the way cinematographers Matthies Herndl and Ryan McAllister in the first two new episodes bathe everything in a glow that is unique to British Columbia.
And there's the twist because audiences at the first of each episode are told who the killer is --we then watch as the police squad sift through the evidence to try and find the culprit. Yeah, I know this was already done in the series Columbo.
The first hour looks at a suspected suicide and the clues that make Angie think it was all staged.
Far better is the second episode with big name guest stars Martin Donovan and Jennifer Beals as middle aged parents with one of them in a suspected romantic relationship that seems to go foul.
Also in every episode as the beauteous coroner is Lauren Holly.
Motive, created by Daniel Cerone, is just that different it shows how much to expect of an hour long procedural with all characters three dimensional.
MOTIVE RETURNS FOR SEASON TWO ON CTV THURSDAY MARCH 6 AT10 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Whatever possessed Toronto mayor Rob Ford to make a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel?
The appearance was a near disaster for Ford who is gearing up for a tough re-election campaign in October.
Even Kimmel seemed initially surprised Ford had shown up.
"Why are you here," he asked Ford."What good could come of this?Have you ever seen the show."
Kimmel said Ford was dressed like a magician. And Ford seemed to think he'd only be lobbed softball questions. Instead Kimmel was often stinging in his rebukes and the very nervous mayor sweated up such a storm Kimmel had to take some tissues and mop Ford's brow.
Kimmel always had the upper hand particularly when he got Ford to stand and explain embarrassing video after video.
However "the" video of crack smoking was not seen.
Ford couldn't match Kimmel in wisecracks and sometimes that smile on his red face seemed very much forced.
I'm not sure what viewers outside Toronto would have made by all this --does anybody else care.
But I feel Ford made a really bad call by his clownish appearance. Kimmel was well researched and basically kept coming up with every single time the mayor has been caught on camera drunk or stoned.
What did Ford expect? He wasn't well prepared and kept mumbling about all the money he's saved Toromto which Kimmel said was highly disputed.
When Kimmel ended by pleading with Ford to get help you could have hard a pin drop.
Instead Ford said he didn't need help and kept grinning and smiling. He should have admitted he has a problem and said he welcomed the opportunity to make life changing decisions.
Ford had been asked to change for the better and declined. And the interview ended on a tense, sour note.
I don't think Anderson Cooper or Peter Mansbridge could have done a better job of carving up a guy who is all hot air.
Anybody who watched has got to feel Ford is certainly his own worst enemy. In terms of politics Ford made a disastrous decision. He'd bound to suffer politically from his buffoonish appearance.
Jimmy Kimmel was laughing at Ford the politician --he wasn't laughing with him.
Monday, March 3, 2014
This column took a full mon th off so I could contemplate the future of Canadian TV.
And I'm surprised by my own conclusions namely that Canadian TV does have a future.
I'm now convinced all networks up here should devote two orthree nights a weeek solely to Canadian shows and leave the other nights to the American imports.
It can be done and to prove it I previewed all the Canadian shows on CBC-TV Monday night. I liked what I saw --all shows are resolutely Canadian and all are basking in fairly strong ratings.
The episode of Murdoch Mysteries (Monday at 8) is titled Friday the 13 1901 and the title tells all.
This one is a sort of Victrian slasher as Julia and Emily go off with gal pals to a secluded island for a weekend with a mad slasher out there in the woods.
The secondary story has Constable Crabtree drunkenly challenging a local team of curling enthusiasts to a game with Murdoch dryly contemplating theensuing chaos.
Fine directing by Michael DeCarlo helps and sharp editing which keeps jumping back between the two very different story lines.
Murdoch Mysteries keeps building in the ratings because old episodes are constantly rerun by Citytv and are also available in DVD collections.
A lot of fine Canadian series of the past --think ENG, A Gift To Last, The City--never even got to DVD.
CBC picked up Murdoch Mysteries when Citytv faltered and the series now in its seventh season is still growng in ratings, an indication some Canadian hits of the past were cancelled too quickly.
At 9 CBC-TV brings back Mr. D for another season. The show is very comical, that I grant, but I hated public school as much as high school and the teachers here are eerily similar to the ones I had at that time.
However the episode titled Old School involves a horrible fashion show featuring Gerry and the usual accumulation of sad sack students trying to impress the always bored teachers.
At 9:30 there's a new episode of Ron James. Whatever did Ron do to inherit such a bad time slot. Mr. D. is an 8 p.m. show and Ron would work far better at 8:30.
However, changes have been made in the show --Ron now performs directly in front of the enthusiastic audience --almost in the round.
And some of the skits are very smart including one called Scared Apostles as the twelve watch Jesus walk on water and wonder how that was done. Also back is L'il Ronnie, always my favorite part.
The thing is if CBC can successfully program an entire night of Canadian hits why not the others? Why not indeed.
I asked a group of friends who said they intended watching the Oscars on TV how many of the actual films they had watched.
Several admitted they never went to the movies anymore.
Only one had seen more than two of the nominated movies.
The fact is the academy awards is the longest advertisement on TV every year.
And last night's tepid affair hosted by the incredibly bland Ellen DeGeneres was about as dull and listless as they come.
Where were all the genuine stars past and present?
Only a feeble Sidney Poitier managed that certain grandeur we once associated with great stars.
That's because in this modern era there are few if any stars as big as Garbo, Gable, Crawford, Tierney and Monroe.
TV is the villain.
All those mediocre talk shows eat up celebrities at a huge rate.
The "stars" we saw sitting so placidly through three hours of Dale Carnegie speechifying have been turned into mere mortals by their multiple turns on Jimmy, Ellen, Jay etc.
I'm not blaming Ellen who I think was forced to perform under certain tight restrictions.
But when she started doling out pizzas that seem to indicate she had been told to avoid the controversial at all costs. Her job was to sell the product --the current batch of movies.
The event opened with the standard red carpet affair --this was only tolerable when Joan Rivers was the original host and really socked it to the stars who wear for free various designer duds.
As always it was who lost that interested me.
American Hustle failed to hustle and lost big.
I loved the reaction on the faces of such big stars as Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep when they lost the all important best actress category -now that surely is great acting.
The In Memoriam section missed Cory Monteith, Jonathan Winters and great director Alan Renais.
Did anybody out there understand Matthew McConaughey's wonderfully weird speech? I doubt if even Matthew did.
Winner Kate Blanchett is a great diplomatist --she artfully avoided the whole nasty Woody Allen controversy in lines I'm sure she must have memorized in advance.
A friend who has actually seen some of these films says the best movies went unrewarded --namely The Wolf Of Wall Street and Nebraska.
There seemed no enthusiasm for 12 Years A Slave as if voters had to acknowledge its importance.
And I'm betting Ellen will not be asked back to host next year's marathon.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
I may be the only TV critic around who actually visited the set of the original made-in-Toronto series Fraggle Rock.
Let's see that would be way back in 1983 when I was riding high at the Toronto Star which then had four TV critics merrily covering the most popular part of the entertainment world.
In those long ago days CBC-TV was making programs deemed great enough to be shown worldwide.
Another CBC hit of those days Kids In The Hall ran late nights on NBC to great acclaim.
A lot of big CBC directors toiled on the original FR show including Norman Campbell , Eric Till and George Bloomfield --and I remember chatting up the series lead the fine character actor Gerard Parkes who played the inventor Doc along with his dog Sprocket.
Parkes always played guys older than his real age --he's still around these days, now aged 77.
British TV used a different wraparound starring a sea captain --these have since been wiped and no longer exist.
Lisa Henson who is now CEO of The Jim Henson Company says the tiny Doozers of the original also became so poppular on their own that she often discussed with her late dad the idea of giving the litttle green engineers their very own show,
But CBC isn't the network it used to be. And this time the spin off has gone to TVOntario which is very serious these days about its own line up of quality kids fare.
In these Doozers there are a Pod squad of four youngsters (voiced by actual kids): Daisy Wheel, Spike, Molly and Flex.
Animation techniques are well advanced and each of the 26 episodes looks at various science and technology challengers with help from the adults when the youngsters fail.
Co-producer is DHX Media of Canada which maintains a high standard.
The series goes weekdays at 9 a.m. on TVO and can be watched by adults as well as preschoolers.
I hear there's a Fraggles movie currently in the development pipeline to be co-produced by Ivan Reitman.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Vikings are back for a second season of mayhem, betrayal and lust.
This ambitious Canadian co-production returns to History Thursday night at 9 and it's a pretty solid return on all fronts.
First of all there's the majestic visual splendor of the Norse country even if this miniseries was largely filmed in the fjords of --Ireland.
The creator, Michael Hirst, resists the obvious chances at parody and has a big picture vision in his account of betrayal, family unity, and an emerging nation that is about to be challenged by the forces of Christianity.
Don't forget Hirst also created The Tudors which had the same bold themes as its structure.
Starring is the weathered Travis Fimmel, once an Australian model with perfect features, now a seasoned actor who leads a cast through many emotional ups and downs in the first new episode.
New this season is Alexander Lidwig (The Hunger Games) as Ragnar's growing son Bjorn. Also new: Linus Roach who last starred on U.S. TV in Law & Order --he plays the ambitious King Of Wessex, determined to stand up to Ragnar in all matters.
In terms of old and new shows returning with new episodes one critic has dubbed February as the new January
Meaning the Vikings has a lot of competition to garner its anticipated audience.
Time certainly has advanced with Season Two --the plot segues right into an epic confrontation between brothers Ragnar and his king (Donal Logue) arraigned against Ragnar's physically huge brother Rollo (Clive Stanton).
Canadian cast members include Katheryn Winnick as first wife of Ragnar named Lagertha. She has fought in the shield war beside her husband and brothers and now must face his infidelity.
But she is strong in her own right --her decision of how to respond is powerful and determining --much like all that she does.
Other Canadians in the cast include Jessalyn Gilsig (as Siggy) and Donal Logue (as King Horik).
Canadian directoers include Ken Girotti, Jeff Woolnough and Kari Skogland,
And the Canadian executive producers include Sheila Hockin (Queer as Folk) and John Weber (The Tudors) for Canadian film company Take 5 Productions.
The pedigree may be complicated but The Vikings should hold your attention with its outstanding outdoor photography and complicated, nuanced story telling.
THE VIKINGS RETURNS TO HISTORY ON THURSDAY FEBRUARY 27 AT 10 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.