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by Garon Cockrell
Family Movie Favorites DVD Review
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By Garon Cockrell
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Feb. 19, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Family Movie Favorites is a new three-disc set which includes ten
films, most of which have been hard to find on DVD, and several of which have
been previously unavailable on DVD. The set claims to include twelve films, but
two of them – Million Dollar Babies
and Revenge Of The Land – are long
films that have been divided into two parts. These movies are of varying
quality, the best two being Clown White,
a delightful and surprising gem of a film, and Million Dollar Babies, a truly engaging movie about quintuplets
that are taken from their parents by the government.
All of the films are
presented in a full screen format, which, as far as I can tell, preserves the
original television aspect ratio. The three discs are all double-sided, with
two films on each side.
Here is a rundown of all
the films included in this set, in the order they’re presented on the discs:
Sally Marshall Is Not An Alien (1999) – Pip Lawson (Helen Neville) is
a young girl who loves her telescope and wants to discover a new comet so that
she can name it. She comes off as kind of bratty, until you compare her to
Rhonnie (Thea Gumbert), a mean girl in her neighborhood who is constantly
annoying Pip, and who wants to see aliens with the telescope. Sally Marshall,
Pip’s new neighbor, is introduced hanging upside down on a bar, reading. And
for some reason that’s weird enough that all the children gather around to
watch her, which doesn’t seem believable. The kids think she’s an alien because
she wears sunglasses and is not afraid of Buster, Rhonnie’s dog. Pip gets
wrangled into making a bet with Rhonnie. Rhonnie tells Pip she has to prove
that Sally is not an alien. If she can’t prove it by Sunday, Pip has to give
Rhonnie her telescope. Of course, you can’t prove a negative, so it’s a stupid
bet. Pip uses her telescope to go all Rear
Window on Sally (or, as that hack Brian De Palma would call it, Body Double). She sees Sally’s brother
dancing awkwardly while wearing just his motorcycle helmet and underwear. Pip
has a male friend, Ben, who at first helps her, but then is bullied into
betraying her by Rhonnie. Ben is constantly carrying a skateboard, but
apparently has no idea how to ride it because we never seem him on it. It’s
just one more distracting detail in a film that often doesn’t work. (The most
laughable detail, however, is the pink inflatable life ring.) Even more
annoying than the Ben character are his five completely pointless sisters, who
for some reason all dress alike and squeal. That’s all they do. But, anyway,
Pip and Sally develop a friendship that is more important than the telescope,
and everyone learns a lesson. Sally
Marshall Is Not An Alien was directed by Mario Andreacchio.
The Secret Garden (1994) – This is the only animated film in the collection. It features the
voices of Anndie McAfee, Honor Blackman, Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, and Victor
Spinetti. Mary (Anndie McAfee), a little brat, wakes up to find she is not
being pampered by her servants. They have all fled, and her parents have died
from cholera. So she is sent to live with her uncle in a large, gloomy house
run by an evil, demented housekeeper. She becomes curious about a walled-in
garden that is locked. She meets Colin, her bedridden cousin, and Dickon, a boy
who talks to animals. Soon Mary too learns how to understand the animals, and a
cat named Darjeeling shows her some secret passageways in the mansion, and a
bird tells her where the key to the secret garden is. It’s kind of a cute film,
but seems a bit rushed. And, by the way, this film, like many animated
features, is something of a musical.
Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story
(2001) – This films tells the tale of the first person to swim across
Lake Ontario. When we’re introduced to Marilyn Bell, she’s a swimmer who is not
that great, but who loves swimming. Her mother is not supportive and tells her,
Let’s just try to find you something
that you’re good at, dear.” Her father is at first meek, and doesn’t speak
up. Marilyn doesn’t want to give up, and approaches Gus Ryder, hoping he will
train her. She’s not fast enough to make his team, but she keeps at it for two
hours, trying to improve her time. And he realizes she could be a great
marathon swimmer. So there are lots of scenes of her training. Meanwhile George McBlair is trying to
come up with an event that will compete with television, and decides to host a
swimming event where Florence Chadwick, the most famous swimmer at the time,
will be the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. Sixteen-year-old Marilyn
Bell is allowed to compete with her. There are lots of moments that don’t quite
work, but where this film truly succeeds is in the scenes of Marilyn Bell
swimming across the lake. Those scenes are actually pretty intense, and I
totally feel for her. And Caroline Dhavernas does a good job as the
young swimmer. I also like Ron White as Gus Ryder. Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story was directed by Manon Briand.
The Whole Of The Moon (1997) – This film is about a teenage
boy named Kirk (Toby Fisher) who is rollerblade competitor who learns he has
cancer and may have to lose his leg. We see his treatment, step by step, which
is – honestly – hard to watch. He strikes up an awkward relationship with Marty
(Nikki Si’Ulepa), a girl in the cancer ward. This is definitely one of the
weakest films in the collection. The scene in the dance club is particularly
awful. And there is a weird, pointless cross-dressing bit. Still, the movie
does have some heart. It was directed by Ian Mune.
Bonjour Timothy (1995) – This is a sweet teen comedy
about a somewhat dorky guy named Timothy (Dean O’Gorman) who early on tackles a
popular student named Derek (Richard Vette) during a rugby practice. Derek
retaliates by later shoving him into a locker in the girls’ changing room and
locking him in there. Timothy gets in trouble for spying on the girls, but for
some reason he doesn’t explain what happened. Doesn’t anyone wonder how he was
able to lock the locker after he was inside it? So the principal hints that he
won’t suspend Timothy if his family takes in a foreign exchange student named
Michel Dubois. It’s a somewhat absurd premise, and it turns out there was a
spelling mistake on the forms, and Michel is actually Michelle (Sabine Karsenti),
a quite pretty girl from Montreal. Timothy is immediately smitten. However, the
scene where they meet is awful, with Timothy being overly awkward. And, in
fact, there’s way too much of Timothy being awkward. But Dean O’Gorman does a
good job with the character. The Michelle character is interesting too. She’s
presented as a bit fearless, as when a teacher asks her for her first
impressions of New Zealand, she responds by mimicking the teacher: “First impressions: Everybody here speaks
very slowly and clearly.” But she is unhappy about being there, as her
parents forced her to be an exchange student to get her away from a 22-year-old
French guy that she was dating in Montreal. Timothy attempts to woo her by
trying to be French. But Michelle doesn’t trust him and seems to take a shine
to Derek. There are some really good scenes, like the bit where Michelle makes
a video to send to her parents. By the way, Timothy mispronounces the word forte,
saying “for-tay,” a common error. Bonjour
Timothy was directed by Wayne Tourell.
Both Sides Of The Law (1999) - This film is about two children who are at first
great friends, but who take very different paths after the death of one’s
father. Pete (Mpho Kaoho) and Jake (Ricky Mabe) play baseball on a team coached
by Adam, Pete’s dad. Adam is a police officer, and is killed on duty. The look
on his face just before he’s shot indicates he knows the killer. It’s a great
moment, but of course it also tells us straight away who the bad guy is. The
rest of the film takes place two years later, when Pete is trying to do the
right thing, and secretly helping the police (it was established early on that
he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a cop), and Jake has
turned to a life of crime. Jake is part of a thievery ring, which is organized
by two adults, but basically run by a small group of teenagers. Yes, it’s kind
of ridiculous, but I still got caught up in it. And it’s interesting, because
you get the feeling that Adam’s death had a much worse effect on Jake than on
his own son. The film has a good message about not giving up. And sure, they
may be at least one or two too many speeches, but it’s not a bad film. Both Sides Of The Law was directed by
Bruce Neibaur.
Clown White (1981) – Clown White is my favorite film in the collection. This is due in
part to its cast, including Saul Rubinek as a teacher, and Michael Ironside as
Max the bus driver. The film tells the tale of Jason (Mark Christopher Dillon)
a nearly deaf kid in a class for the hearing impaired. He has trouble
communicating, but likes to draw on the walls. So he’s not allowed on the bus
trip to the city. He sneaks aboard the bus anyway. Then, from the school bus,
he sees a mime in a store window, and is drawn to her. Melissa (Lorene Yarnell), the mime, is being criticized by the store owner. Jason sneaks away
from the group and goes to find the mime. And they strike up an unusual
connection. I’ve never seen a film like this one. Sure, there are a couple of
problems – it’s not perfect. But it’s so original, so endearing, so beautiful.
It was written by Jeffrey Cohen and Paul Shapiro, and directed by Paul Shapiro.
By the way, the music was composed and performed by Bruce Cockburn, who also makes
a brief appearance in the film.
The Best Bad Thing (1997) – The Best Bad Thing opens with a bit of voice over narration: “During the summer of 1935, when I was twelve
years old, I spent every afternoon I could in the Rialto Theatre with my friend,
Frances Parker.” The problem is the narrator sounds like she’s
still twelve. Shouldn’t they have hired an adult to read the narration? Or,
better yet, cut all the voice over, as most of it is terrible. The girl’s name
is Rinko (though she thinks she’ll have to change it when she’s a movie star,
as no one can pronounce it), and her parents send her to help out Mrs. Hata on
her farm, as she’s going through a tough time. Rinko (Lana McKissack), of
course, doesn’t want to go live out on the farm away from her friend and the
movie theatre. Her father tells her, “Sometimes
things that seem bad turn out to be good.” And yes, this film takes a
simplistic view of things. There is a lot of awful narration throughout the
film, such a bit about things happening in threes (and this after only one bad
thing has happened), and “I didn’t like
the man from the bank” and “Things
seemed to be going from bad to worse.” But suddenly Mr. Sulu shows up and
gets in a fight with some racist guy who was trying to frighten the children
away from some coal near the railroad tracks. The racist guy tells Sulu he’s
seen him “sneaking up and down these
tracks,” and then says, “Smells
pretty fishy to me.” Yes, seriously,
that’s what he tells him. Anyway, Sulu is an illegal immigrant who makes pretty
kites and lives in a barn. Mrs. Hata’s farm is in danger of being taken away
because she hasn’t made the payments. This is a coming-of-age story that has
nothing new to say on the subject, and seems to be aimed at fairly young children.
It was directed by Peter Rowe.
Million Dollar Babies (1994) – This film is a completely
engaging and moving account of the true story of quintuplets born in Ontario
during the Great Depression. When the film begins, Elzire Dionne (Celine Bonnier)
is seven months pregnant. She and her farming husband Oliva (Roy Dupuis)
already have five children, but, as we learn later, her dream was always to
have ten children. She goes into labor early, and delivers quintuplets. They
are creepy-looking babies, all very small and – according to Doctor Dafoe (Beau
Bridges) – unlikely to survive the night. But they do survive, and the local
paper puts an article about them on the front page. Very quickly they are
celebrities, and people begin donating food and other items to the family.
Helena Reid (Kate Nelligan), a famous radio personality in New York, picks up
the story (because, as she says, people want to hear that miracles are still
possible in this world). She focuses on the good country doctor, who becomes a
celebrity himself. After Oliva tries to make a deal with some Chicago interests
who wish to exploit the children, the quintuplets are taken from their parents
and placed in the care of Doctor Dafoe (not so much for the sake of the
children, but to keep them in Canada, so that that country can benefit
financially). The family then has to fight to regain custody, and even to visit
their children. There are lots of interesting angles to the story, even brief
plot points such as the corruption in the church when a priest offers to be
OIiva’s business manager for a percentage of the profits. It is interesting
because of course you side with the parents, but it really was the father who
first caused the problem by dealing with the people from Chicago. And then the
Canadian government exploits the quintuplets in the same way the Chicago people
would have, setting them up as a carnival show. This film boasts an excellent
cast and a great look, as well as an engaging story. It was directed by
Christian Duquay.
Revenge Of The Land (1999) – This film tells the tale of a
small town in Saskatchewan that could become an important town because of the
railroad. It becomes a story of the struggle of the farmers against the corrupt
and greedy land owners and railroad men. It is divided into two parts, each
approximately an hour and a half. The first part takes place in 1893. John
Hawke (Kenneth Welsh) is a real estate broker who sees a chance to become
incredibly rich. His wife, Caroline, is unhappy. And their son, Finn
has been accepted to Harvard School of Theology. Ceilidh Carmichael goes
to work for Caroline after Caroline’s two bratty young girls take a shine to
her. There is a love interest with Ceilidh and Finn. Ceilidh is absolutely gorgeous,
by the way. The second part of the film takes place in 1900, when the town is
doing well, though the farmers are still struggling to stay afloat. It’s an
interesting story and an interesting period, and there are some good
performances. It was directed by John N. Smith.
Bonus Material
The third disc contains a
bonus feature, The Making Of Million
Dollar Babies. This feature is approximately twenty-four minutes, and is
nearly as interesting as the film it discusses. It features footage of the
actual quintuplets, their parents and the doctor. It also includes bits of
interviews with several cast members, including Celine Bonnier, Roy Dupuis and
Beau Bridges. (Bridges had audio recordings of the real doctor, and would
listen to them before doing a scene.) There are also interviews with key crew
members, including the producer and the costume designer. And we see some
behind-the-scenes footage of the animatronic babies used in the production. But
perhaps most interesting is the footage of the three surviving quintuplets, who
visited the set. They speak of their memories of being on display. Interestingly,
they all speak French. One other thing that got to me in this feature is the
footage of the auditions for the children, and the mother of triplets used in
the film expresses concern that she is exploiting her kids the same way the
quintuplets were exploited. This is one of the best behind-the-scenes features
I’ve seen.
Family Movie Favorites was released on February 19,
2013 through Mill Creek Entertainment and Cookie Jar Entertainment Inc.

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