Friday, September 24, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

Who says a guy can't get lucky on a rare occasion? Who wouldn't have the desire to attend a red carpet gala screening on the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. Paparazzi, limousines, the evening sky being lit by a massive amount of camera flashes. Also, it was the 35th anniversary of this Hollywood North event. Did I mention the film was shot in Canada? And that it is hockey movie?

In addition to all the pomp & circumstance,  I was really looking forward to seeing this movie - Score : A Hockey Musical. As a young lad I watched in awe the filming of Face-Off at Maple Leaf Gardens. As a school project, I did a book review on the Scott Young & George Robertson novel. The cover of the paperback edition declaring in colourful print "Now A Thrilling Motion Picture!

The motivation to produce hockey themed movies is not restricted to the Canadian Film Industry. As early as 1937, an American studio released Idol of The Crowds. It starred John Wayne as a retired hockey player, Johnny Hansen. Poor Johnny (Hansen not Wayne!) had to resume his career in order to pay the bills to expand his chicken farm. Nothing more needs to be said as to why this movie laid an egg at the box office.We just happen to produce the really good ones - The Rocket, Net Worth, Les Boys - to mention a few.

The international community (including our neighbours to the south) seem to concentrate on "feel good" or "underdog does good" plots to capture an audience. The storyline is often character driven with hockey being a secondary force. The attention to details concerning the hockey action is ignored or sloppy. The Mighty Ducks is a prime example. The one exception to the rule is Slap Shot. The filmmakers brilliantly hit the mark on portraying life in the minors. If only Hollywood would apply the same production values to hockey as baseball. The Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams is a wonderful blend of telling a story and not having the baseball angle suffer. Even the baseball musical , Damn Yankees, was a hit and gathered rave reviews.

Getting back to Score : A Hockey Musical. Indeed, it is truly a musical with tunes being belted out on and off the ice. We even get to hear Theo Fleury serenade us. In the story, Farley Gordon discovers he has the talent to play organized hockey, but is not a fan of the rough stuff. Can you say conflict? This puts him at odds with his teammates. Sure, this happens all the time in hockey - the skilled player who won't drop the gloves and skates away from a physical challenge. The difference in this case is that they don't talk it out, but sing it out. At this stage, for a true fan of the sport, all hope of seeing a "hockey movie" vanishes quicker than an Al MacInnis slap shot finding the back of the net. The focus becomes musical numbers instead of line rushes. This is not to say a fan can't enjoy this movie. However, do not anticipate the rush one had after viewing The Rocket. One must suspend belief and come to grips that this is a hockey musical. Yes the players sing, just like a lion sang in the Wizard of Oz.

On the hockey front,  Fleury shared screen time with the "we are always happy to see" Walter Gretzky. Broadcasters George Stroumboulopoulos and Steve Kouleas both did a fine job acting out their day jobs. My highlight? The magnificent performance turned in by Stephen McHattie. In the story, he plays the owner of the Brampton Blades who sign Farley Gordon. In The Rocket, McHattie plays coach Dick Irvin of the Montreal Canadiens.

One of the concerns with this being act one at TIFF, was how we looked to the international press. My take on this and their reaction - Canadians love hockey, but this wasn't our finest effort movie wise. As for the theory we make the best hockey movies - well to quote a famous character from Saturday Night Live "Never Mind". Perhaps, we should take a crack-at-the-bat and shoot the great Canadian North baseball movie.

That is a wrap!

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