Richard appears on “CTV News at 6” with anchor Andria Case to talk about the best Canadian movies and television to watch this weekend. This week he has a look at Gordon Pinsent in the charming “The Grand Seduction” on Netflix, the coming-of-age story “Beans” on Amazon Prime and Tantoo Cardinal in “Falls Around Her” on Crave.
Don McKellar is best known as a movie director, writer and actor but says, “I’ve always found the feature film format slightly restrictive.”
The director of big screen gems like Childstar, Last Night and The Grand Seduction is behind the camera once again, this time for Michael: Every Day, a CBC television comedy debuting Sunday, Jan. 15.
“I’ve always been interested in television and whether it is attention deficit disorder or something, I’ve always liked short formats,” he says. “My first films were short and then I did 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. I like the road movie format because it is episodic, so fracturing narratives is always something I have always been interested in.
“Television is a natural home for me. I like breaking up stories. In a way I think it throws off the viewer’s expectations. If it is done well in some ways it can have more surprises than a feature film which you know, one way or another, is going to wrap up after a couple of hours. We don’t know anymore with television how long the narrative is going to be. It could go on forever or just a few episodes.”
The new show is a revival of sorts. Michael: Every Day is the continuing story of the relationship between title character, played by Matt Watts, and his psychiatrist, played by long-time McKellar collaborator Bob Martin. In 2011 the first season, then titled Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award before being cancelled.
“I can’t pretend it was our idea [to bring the show back],” says McKellar. “There was a regime change at the CBC and as I understand it when the new people came in they said, ‘OK, let’s look and see how the CBC has been doing over the last while.’ They looked at our show and said, ‘That’s the kind of show we should be doing.’ They reordered it and we said yes. It was not our intention but it was very exciting once we had the option. The five-year gap, once we thought about it, was an interesting hook. What happened to these characters in five years?”
It’s an unusual trajectory for a show and McKellar thinks it is a brash move.
“As has been discussed widely, TV is having a moment and I think Canada is catching up,” he says. “I think there was a feeling for a long time that the American cable shows were doing something interesting and now, finally, it has tilted down to network television. In Canada the CBC has realized they have this licence to do more ambitious stuff. I give them credit for going for it. They have made some bold choices and this is one of them. I hope the audience responds because these things don’t last forever.”
The new climate in television offers more interesting shows for the viewer and, according to McKellar, a new freedom for the creative side.
“For me as a director, I think that people are just now staring to realize that directors can actually do things in television. It’s not just mechanical.
“It gives me a bit of space to get in there and try some more filmic stuff. I think that is happening in television in general.”
“We’ve been looking for a doctor eight years,” says the mayor of Tickle Head, Newfoundland in the new Don McKellar comedy “The Grand Seduction.”
“Well,” replies Murray (Brendan Gleeson), with perfect logic, “let’s stop looking and start finding.”
And that’s just what they do, using every underhanded and dirty trick in the book. These are decent people who try and do the right thing, but they also understand that sometimes you have to bend the rules to get what you want.
Tickle Head, “a small harbor with a big heart,” has had more of its share of hardship since the bottom fell out of the fishery. Unemployment is high and the only jobs are “in town” in St. John’s, a ferry ride away.
The town fathers have a bid on a petrochemical byproduct repurposing plant that makes… well, it doesn’t matter, as they say in the film, it makes jobs. That’s what’s important. One key element is missing, a doctor. The factory deal won’t go through unless there is a local doctor.
When Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), a city slicker plastic surgeon, lands in the harbour for a month long residency, the entire place (population 121) bands together to convince him to stay… by any means necessary.
Not everyone in town is on board. Kathleen (Liane Balaban) doesn’t want an oil company to set up shop in her harbor and certainly doesn’t want to be used as bait to attract the new doctor.
A remake of the French-Canadian hit “La Grande Seduction” is a comedy with a poignant edge. The set-up is outrageous—they spy on Dr. Lewis, tap his phone and even stage a tournament of cricket, his favorite game—but this is a story of a town fighting for survival of their town and their way of life.
There are plenty of laughs along the way—Gordon Pinsent is particularly effective as the deadpan Simon, who has never left Tickle Head—but the heart and soul of the film is in its fondness for the people and their harbor.
The Grand Seduction premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, but the movie’s star was more concerned about an audience a little east of there.
“I felt they would let us know if they didn’t like it,” says Brendan Gleeson.
The film is set in a small Newfoundland harbour named Tickle Head where the town fathers have a bid on a petrochemical byproduct repurposing plant that makes … well, it doesn’t matter, as they say in the movie, it makes jobs.
One key element that’s missing, however, is a local doctor.
When Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), a city slicker plastic surgeon, lands in the harbour for a month-long residency, the entire place (population: 121) bands together to convince him to stay — by any means necessary.
“I really wanted to be at the premier in St. John’s,” said Gleeson, who is best known as Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody in the Harry Potter series, “because to me, if the movie worked there, I could let it go.
“That’s all I cared about, really. It needed to have the imprimatur of the Newfoundlanders on it for me. Their reaction was quiet until they felt the reassurance that it was OK, that they could trust it a little bit more.”
The production spent seven weeks shooting on The Rock.
“The land and the sea in Newfoundland has a way of worming itself into your heart where you don’t feel quite complete without it,” said Gleeson.
Co-star Kitsch concurs. “It’s a very simple (way of life),” he says, “and obviously the pace is a lot slower, but once you get into that, you don’t want to leave it.
“They are very in the moment when you’re talking to them.
“You feel like they are incredibly genuine and grounded and there’s no ulterior motive,” he said. “Maybe I’m a bit jaded because of the business, but it is refreshing. It is kind of what it means to be a Canadian.”
Kitsch spent his off hours training for Lone Survivor, a Mark Wahlberg war film he shot immediately after wrapping on The Grand Seduction but he took some time to enjoy a great Newfoundland pastime — fishing.
“My best friend is an avid fisherman,” he says, “so he’d be figuring out what was going on with the moon and what the best tide is and when we should go and would get genuinely upset if we weren’t there at exactly 6:12 a.m. dropping lures into the water.”
The Kelowna, B.C.-born Kitsch is an in-demand actor these days and can currently be seen in the HBO movie The Normal Heart, but says he’d love to do more work in Canada. “I absolutely loved being in Canada,” he says, “working on home soil with a bunch of Canadians. “If the opportunity presents itself and it’s right, I’m in.”