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by Garon Cockrell
Family Movie Favorites DVD Review
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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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