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Roadkill

Music Video Distribution

Starring Valerie Buhagiar and Don McKeller

Written by Don McKeller & Bruce McDonald

Directed by Bruce McDonald

Rating: Not Rated

Original Release: 1989

Rating: ★★★★☆

Roadkill is part of a rock ‘n’ roll trilogy.  This film was the beginning.  Bruce McDonald’s story and Don McKellar’s screenplay became an immediate classic Canadian film.

Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar) was born and bred in Toronto.  Having lived in a big city and never really travelled, she had never even learned how to drive.  Her boss sends her to Northern Ontario to end The Children of Paradise’s tour.  Hailing a cab to take her to the train station, Ramona realizes that the cab driver wants to take her all the way to Sudbury.  Ramona meets some interesting characters along the way, including a young man who has taken a vow of silence (Shaun Bowring); Russell (Don McKellar), an aspiring serial killer; and Bruce Shack (Bruce McDonald), the documentary filmmaker.  Ramona must realize what her role is in this story as she wanders from character to character.  She realizes that she is what everyone is missing and figures a way to solve their problems.

As with most Canadian films, not many people have heard of this film or seen it.  Not even Canadians.  Shot low budget on 8mm film in black and white, the film immediately has a style of its own.  More attention seems to have been focused on the visuals and audio is ignored.  This does leave something to be desired as the audio levels drop during conversations. 

The Roadkill DVD has more extras than would be expected from an independent Canadian film made in 1989.  Two short films are added, Elimination Dance and Fort Goof, both of which were directed by Bruce McDonald.  A very funny audio commentary is also available with Don McKellar and producer Colin Brunton.

McDonald’s rock ‘n’ roll trilogy began with this film, continued with Highway 61 (which was also penned by McKellar), and ended with an adaptation of Michael Turner’s book Hard Core Logo.  Each film seems better than the one that preceded it, but the bare elements of Roadkill and Ramona’s story make Roadkill a classic.

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Cheers: The Complete First Season

Paramount

Starring Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Nicholas Colasanto, George Wendt, Rhea Perlman, and John Ratzenberger.

Original Release: 2003

Rating: ★★★½☆

Cheers is a Boston bar where you can go and feel at home.  The NBC sitcom, starring Ted Danson and Shelley Long, began its eleven-year reign in 1982 and it was arguably the best sitcom since The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Through its long run, Cheers told great stories with a great heart and a lot of laughs.  While some television series take a few years to get into their groove, this one started with a bang.  After a slow pilot that stumbled to introduce the characters properly, the first season of Cheers had some great episodes including “The Coach’s Daughter,” which featured Coach’s daughter wanting to marry an asshole, and “Pick A Con… Any Con,” which featured guest star Harry Anderson (as Harry the Hat) helping Coach get back his money from a card shark.

What made Cheers so great in the beginning was the chemistry between Diane Chambers (Long) and Sam Malone (Danson).  Sam seems obsessive about a challenge, feeling he can get any woman he wants.  Diane proves the first challenge in his romantic life, and whether or not he actually likes Diane, he feels he still must conquer.  Diane and Sam are so obviously wrong for each other, yet the audience enjoyed watching their relationship as their personalities clashed.

The romantic tension helps build two very strong characters in Sam and Diane that are supported by the one-liner quirkiness of innocent and simple bartender Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), the bitter barmaid Carla (Rhea Perlman), self-depricating barfly Norm (George Wendt), and his cohort Cliff (John Ratzenberger), the know-it-all mail carrier.  All of the characters marvel in watching Sam, the master of seduction, get the ladies and provide the humour as Sam works to advance the plot.

After watching Cheers: The Complete First Season on DVD, it became apparent that some of the best moments of the series were during this season, and it’s a great laugh.  The worst part of the DVD set is the lack of special features.  The fourth disc features a handful of clip compilations that compress the season into 10 minutes and a short interview with Ted Danson telling the audience that he likes all of his fellow cast members.  Paramount could have done a much better job at digging up old interviews with the cast and crew and/or putting in audio commentaries.

All in all a great season that loses points for its lack of extras, but definitely deserves a place on the DVD shelf.

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Jersey Girl

Miramax

Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, George Carlin & Liv Tyler

Written & Directred by Kevin Smith

Rating: ★★★★☆

“Why in gods name would I wanna keep writing about characters whose central preoccupation are weed and dick and fart jokes? I mean, ya gotta grow man. Don’t you ever want anything more for yourself?” – Holden, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back

If you are looking for jokes about gay sex and farts, Jersey Girl is not where you will find them.  Writer and Director Kevin Smith takes this opportunity to do something different.  After putting to rest the title characters in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith is moving ahead.  Now a father himself, Smith writes about a single father who must raise his daughter while trying to come to terms with a life he never saw himself in.

Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) had the perfect life.  A wonderful wife (Jennifer Lopez), a child on the way, a great job and lots of money.  Everything changes when his wife dies during their daughter’s birth.  Leaving his daughter with his father, Trinke tries to balance work with raising a child and ultimately loses his sights on her.  After losing his job, Ollie reluctantly takes the job as Gertie’s father while still keeping his eyes open for his old job to return.

George Carlin plays Ollie’s father Bart. Carlin gives an incredible performance, guiding and teaching Ollie to be a father.  There are three emotional arcs to the movie: the featured arc between the Jersey girl Gertie and Ollie, the arc with Ollie and new romance Maya (Liv Tyler), and between Bart and Ollie.  Bart and Ollie’s relationship is what keeps the movie and Ollie grounded.  Bart is whom Ollie can turn to when he needs a hand.

Jersey Girl is about Ollie’s realization that being a father is more important than what he had lost before.  Smith creates a wonderful story and executes it well.  Funny, smart, romantic, and silly, Jersey Girl provides the audience with humour that is true to Kevin Smith’s previous movies.  Comparable to Smith’s third film Chasing Amy, The film is serious while still giving the audience some laughs.

The DVD is packed with special features.  Two audio commentaries: one featuring Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck, and another with Kevin Smith, Scott Moser (producer) and Jason Mewes (who played Jay in all of Smith’s previous movies but does not appear in this one).  As Smith’s DVDs always have been, the audio commentary is funnier than the movie.  Also featured on the DVD are half a dozen short films made for The Tonight Show.  Those should also keep you laughing.

Kevin Smith will have a hard time living up to the high point that was Dogma, but Jersey Girl tries to get there kicking and screaming.

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DVD Review: Nero Wolfe Complete First Season

Starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton
A&E Home Video
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Nero Wolfe (played by Maury Chaykin) is a fat man who rarely leaves his home, is easily enraged, loves his orchids and only enjoys the finest foods. Fortunately, Archie Goodwin (Timothy Hutton) knows how to get what he wants. Goodwin is the narrator for the story and the man who provides the audience with the insight. Through the eyes of Wolfe’s right hand man, the audience gets a front seat in the action.

The series is based on a collection of novels and novellas written by Rex Stout, who began publishing his stories just after World War II. The television series is set during this time period. The art direction in this series is absolutely wonderful and it leaves no doubt in your mind that what you are watching is happening during the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.

The best part of this series is the relationship between Wolfe and Goodwin. The constant bickering and mutual respect that the two have for each other is just great and gets the viewer hooked onto the series.  With a solid and very enjoyable supporting cast, Colin Fox plays the often hilarious chef Fritz while Bill Smitrovich’s Inspector Cramer tries to solve the mysteries before Wolfe can.

Timothy Hutton not only stars in this series as Archie Goodwin, but he also takes on the role of executive producer for the series.  Hutton also does an excellent job at pointing the series in the direction it will take by directing the first few episodes. The style of the drama’s narrative is superb, and is a direct translation from the books.

The stories unfold exactly as the books do. Having read the story “Door To Death” before seeing the episode, I was disappointed to see that little changed through the adaptation. This is perhaps one of the most upsetting aspects of the show, because the creative staff didn’t try to provide an interpretation of the book, like film versions of Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings did so well.

The three-disc DVD set of the complete first season of Nero Wolfe is an amazing set of mysteries with great characters and an excellent cast. However, the DVDs contain absolutely no extras. No commentaries, not even promo spots.  Nothing to entice people to buy it, other than the great stories, and the fact that the episodes are no longer aired on A&E.  I would have given the series four stars, but with the lack of any special features, it must be knocked down to three.  Still, it’s well worth the money.

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