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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television
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Review: Murdoch Mysteries gets wild in Western themed tale

After having the first two episodes of Murdoch Mysteries deal with some pretty dark subject matter–human trafficking and the after effects of Brackenreid’s awful beating–I was glad for a rollicking good ride thanks to a couple of miscreants from the annals of history.

“Glory Days,” written by Peter Mitchell and Jordan Christianson and directed by star Yannick Bisson, welcomed Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh–also known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid–to Toronto where they became embroiled in a storyline focusing on William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (Steven Ogg), the frontier lawman, gambler and sports writer who pulled a gun on the notorious duo moments before a prize fight featuring Canadian boxer George “Little Chocolate” Dixon. Higgins and Jackson were in the audience and tackled Bat before he squeezed off a shot in the packed room.

Bloody hell indeed.

With Bisson directing, the somewhat light-hearted episode turned its focus to not only whether the dastardly duo was in Toronto but to Murdoch and Julia’s upcoming nuptials. Turns out Margaret Brackenreid wanted to take over the planning of their happy day. Or something as small as taking care of the flowers. Anything, Brackenreid confessed, to get Margaret to stop talking about it during dinner. Speaking of the wedding, Julia wasn’t so sure she wanted to have the ceremony in Murdoch’s Catholic church, so she went to speak to Father Clements (Anthony Lemke) about it and was challenged to consider her own faith in the church.

As it turned out, the men Bat saw at the fight weren’t Butch and Sundance but the lawman (who took great pleasure in showing Julia his, um, six-shooter) wasn’t about to give up on the hunt. He grew only more bold when two men robbed the Bank of Toronto at gunpoint and were identified by the stuttering manager that Butch and Sundance were on the loose. Things got serious when a train headed to Simcoe, Ont., was robbed of its Grand Trunk Railroad payroll by the criminals and a man was killed in the process. It was then the truth came out: Butch and Sundance weren’t really in the city but Bat lied they were because he missed his “glory days.”

There were several funny moments during the chase, most notably Brackenreid, Crabtree and Murdoch standing outside a house of ill repute while Bat “questioned” a young woman who claimed to have seen the two. Murdoch Mysteries can be serious to be sure, but it can be very, very funny too. Who else howled when Murdoch stumbled into the table after he was proffered by the prostitute or snickered in anticipation of Crabtree’s bachelor party for the detective?

And a special thank you to Mitchell and Christianson for including “horseback ride” in Monday’s script; having the Toronto coppers play cowboy–complete with an expansive accompanying soundtrack–was a great nod to the wild West. And Murdoch’s football tackle of a baddie through the wall of a hay loft? Just awesome.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

StrangeEmpire

Review: Strange Empire explores the hearts of darkness

So that John Slotter, he’s not such a bad guy after all, right? In this episode, “Other Powers,” he had a preacher shot in cold blood, desperately turned desperate people out of their shelters and cut off their access to supplies, and he’s skimming from his father’s railroad and acting as a pimp to fund his lavish lifestyle … I mean, sinking his mine … and he may or may not have had a caravan full of men murdered and put their women to whoring.

But there is a heart in there somewhere. I’m not saying it’s a large one, but he was dismayed when his father shot at Kat and seemed relieved to learn she was still alive. No taste for senseless murder, as his father thinks, or a bit of a taste for Kat?

Plus he seems to have genuine affection for Isabelle. She thinks so, anyway, even if daddy dearest thinks John married her to spite him. Captain and Mrs. Slotter aren’t exactly romance novel material but she does occasionally “gentle” him into thinking he’s a good man, as Kat put it last episode – or at least gentle him into not completely poisoning himself with alcohol and whatever else is eating him up inside. “I am to burn in hell.”

Aaron Poole is killing it (heh) by painting Slotter with many shades of grey. All of them dark, crossing over into black, but nuanced nonetheless.

The miners are threatening to leave if they don’t get their late payroll now, but Cornelius is not letting his supposed grandson or his son — a son who didn’t merit inheriting his name the way the fake grandson did — sway him into giving them the funds they need to not lose everything. It takes Isabelle’s wiles and her steely will to do that.

The child’s natural mother, little more than a child herself, soothes the crying baby while creepy Cornelius paws at her, but the secret seems safe after Isabelle’s earlier threats. “You sold your boy and I bought him. What kind of a mother does that?” Good question, Isabelle. What kind of mother buys a child?

With few options and her husband destroying himself rather than agreeing to a minority share, Isabelle gives herself to Cornelius.  She’d been his whore before, but this is another example of the lengths she’ll go to in order to make her new life work, and how little regard the man has for his own son. The first thing Janestown needs, after Mrs. Briggs gets her saloon/bakery, is a family therapist.

Beautifully directed by Amanda Tapping, the episode starts with a shot of the telegraph wire, bringing news from far away, turning into a shot of the preacher, offering news from their dead — and charging $1 a shot for holy water, but even a preacher’s gotta eat. While telling people the money goes to charity.

Mrs. Fogg and her tarot cards and Isabelle and her seances are nothing compared to Robin’s ability to see dead people. She first demonstrates the gift when the women go to bury their dead while Kat crosses the Montana border to get reinforcement. Robin is calm and even comforted by the sight while the women digging graves bond in their grief.

Meanwhile in Montana, a powerful lens flare and Jeremiah’s horse waiting at the trading post makes Kat believe she sees her missing husband walking toward her. Instead another attractive man steps into focus. It’s hard not to side with the girls who believe Jeremiah must be dead, even if Kat is determined to wait for him to find her, but as long as she has hope, I will too. Neil — one of the boys they adopted — has resurfaced, after all.

The Montana visit is a reminder that south of the border is at least an attempt at law and order, with Marshal Caleb Mercredi (Tahmoh Penikett), half Indian like Kat, trying to prevent the US army from clearing the land of Indians.

Though Kat has demanded her place in the what-passes-for-society of Janestown, becoming mother and protector for many of the outsiders, Mercredi is dismissed as a half-blood and as powerless north of the border, where he tries to talk to the women and to Slotter about the massacre. “I’d have to be a genius or a madman to work such evil,” Slotter reassures him unreassuringly.

This strange empire is “birthing a town” as one of the women puts it, envisioning a newspaper, school, a whole community. At some point law and order will probably have to enter into it as well, but that day is not today.

It already has two medical professionals, though. Rebecca continues her socially awkward ways by flirting with a kind man without knowing there was flirting going on. She’s strangely — and I do mean strangely — good at it, until she learns the valuable lesson that disclosing the man three times your age is your husband and not your father is a sure-fire way to end that kind of encounter.  I wouldn’t bet on her understanding why.

When Rebecca tells Thomas about killing her attacker and shows him the drawing the aorta where she stabbed him, he’s horrified by her sangfroid. He’s reassured that the killing was justified and that Mr. Case, who buried the man, will stay silent, but not reassured by her single-minded desire to understand what she was raised to try to understand.

When she wishes she could shock the preacher’s faintly-beating heart, Thomas slaps her for her vision. He’s not wrong that his foster daughter-turned-wife is not blessed with an abundance of empathy or social mores, but maybe he needs to learn the lesson that if you raise someone as a science experiment, they might see the world as a science experiment.

Mrs. Briggs is among those who have a vision of what Janestown could become, putting out feelers about how to get supplies so she can fill the miners’ bellies. The Slotter’s cook sneaks some supplies for her, but knowing that all supplies into the camp go through Slotter doesn’t bode well.

Neither does the fact that Cornelius Slotter laid down the edict that no union or community must be formed in his son’s nascent mining town, causing his son to wreak even more havoc than his usual havoc making.

Even so, these women are up for a fight. With the help of sharpshooter Kat, Mrs. Briggs and her daughter steal the wagon full of provisions and leave the drivers pantsless. It’s a laugh out loud moment in a show that doesn’t dole out many smiles.

After the preacher is buried, Rebecca confesses to Kat that she cares less about the men below the ground as the science within them she could learn from. “I am no believer but in nature.” Kat, who is likely more used to being called the savage than asked if she sees savagery, smiles and asks Rebecca to walk with them.

The episode ends on a more hopeful note than some, with Robin seeing the beatific figure of the preacher with his hands full of roses. “He’s at peace. He’s promising peace for us too,” she shares. Probably not within the next several episodes, I’ll wager.

But Cornelius Slotter is too late. This is a community already. A brutal, strange, in-progress one, but a community nonetheless.

APTN sets Season 4 of Blackstone for Nov. 11

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From a media release:

Blackstone, the critically acclaimed hit drama recently highlighted in the New York Times, returns to APTN for season four with eight new episodes. Winner of 28 television awards, Blackstone is an authentic drama that explores the raw and real dynamics of family, power and politics on a First Nation reserve.

This season, Blackstone delves into the often taboo topic of residential schools – and their lasting effect that reverberates in communities today, the high number of Aboriginals in prison, and the plight of missing Aboriginal women. Actors Jennifer Podemski and Glen Gould join the all-star ensemble. Produced by Prairie Dog Film + TelevisionBlackstone season four airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. starting Nov. 11 on APTN

The fourth season picks up on Blackstone as the community tries to rebuild after the reserve was set on fire. Manipulative and tormented Andy Fraser (Eric Schweig of Longmire, Maïna, The Last of the Mohicansfaces his demons in the remand prison while trying to elude a murder charge. Leona Stoney (Carmen Moore of Arctic Air, Supernatural, Godiva’s) searches for two missing youth when rumors arise they may be involved in an underground human trafficking circle in the city. Gail Stoney (Michelle Thrush of Jimmy P., Hell on Wheels, Fargo) continues to be haunted by the stabbing of Darrien, the death of her child, and past addictions. Actress Jennifer Podemski (Empire of Dirt, Jimmy P., Degrassi) joins the cast as a psychologist, Dr. Crowshoe, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Glen Gould (Mohawk GirlsRhymes for Young Ghouls) plays estranged brother to Leona and Gail, Smokey Stoney.

Canadians can catch up on seasons 1, 2, and 3 at www.aptn.ca/fullepisodes/blackstone/. In the US, viewers can watch on Hulu.com and Hulu Plus. As well, Blackstone will be featured at the Canadian International Television Festival this November in Toronto.

Blackstone is produced by Prairie Dog Film + Television, with Ron E. Scott as Executive Producer, Writer & Director and Jesse Szymanski as Co-Executive Producer. The series currently broadcasts in Canada on APTN, in the United States on Hulu and HuluPlus, in New Zealand on Maori Television, and in Australia on SBS/NITV. Blackstone has been nominated for 75 awards, including Best Dramatic Series, and Best Dramatic Writing at the Canadian Screen Awards this year.

Blackstone is produced in association with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the Canada Media Fund, with the assistance of the Government of Alberta, Alberta Media Fund, with the participation of Rogers Cable Network Fund, and with the assistance of the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit.

Link: Murdoch Mysteries continues its long run

From James Bawden:

Murdoch Mysteries Welcomes Bat Masterson
No doubt about it –Murdoch Mysteries would be battling Heartland for the coveted title of longest running CBC hour drama. Heartland hit episode 803 on Sunday night to be followed by Murdoch Mysteries Monday night at 8. But Murdoch’s first five seasons ran on Citytv which ditched the Victorian cop drama several seasons back because the cost got too pricey. Continue reading.

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Interview: Flashpoint’s Amy Jo Johnson tackles filmmaking

Credit Flashpoint with re-energizing Amy Jo Johnson. The American actress–she’s currently working on getting her Canadian citizenship–had moved to Montreal and was giving up on acting for good. Then her agent called with an audition that changed and made her fall in love with acting again.

CTV’s Flashpoint ran for five seasons, garnering critical and fan acclaim and turning Johnson, Hugh Dillon, Michael Cram, Enrico Colantoni, David Paetkau and Sergio Di Zio into household names. Johnson says the experiences on Flashpoint gave her the confidence and education to head down the path she’s currently on, writing and directing her own projects. The latest, The Space Between, stars Cram and Sonya Salomaa as Mitch and Jackie, a couple who are desperately trying to get pregnant with no success. The movie recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to amass funding in advance of a spring 2015 shoot.

Before we talk about The Space Between and what’s coming up for you, let’s go back in time to Flashpoint.
Amy Jo Johnson: OK, I like going back to that.

Flashpoint was a multiple award-winning drama that really ushered in a new group of great dramas in this country. What was it like to be a part of that while it was happening?
It was amazing. I had actually just sort of quit acting before I got the show. I had moved my life to Montreal and was trying to decompress and sort of switch gears. And then I got a call for an audition for Flashpoint the same moment I learned that I was pregnant. I was like, ‘OK, I’ll go if they know I’m pregnant.’ And they were like, ‘Yup, we love her, we want her on the show.’ I came to Toronto to shoot and I got a look at the original pilot and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I just hit the jackpot. This is an amazing show.’ I fell back in love with acting again. Those five years were just amazing. I sort of found my confidence and found my new home as well. I love Toronto.

When you say you regained your confidence … does that mean you had lost it?
I think so. I was turning 35, I was living in L.A., I was single, I was starting to panic about not having a family and children yet. I found the environment in L.A. … that I was constantly comparing myself to the people around me and it was destroying me. I needed to get out of that. I thought that I didn’t like acting. I thought that I was quitting acting, but I was just letting go of that part of my life.

I constantly hear from actors and actresses about the grind that pilot season is. Now it’s a year long thing and it must be a grind.
I can’t stand it. I’m driving my agents nuts right now because I’m so focused on The Space Between. I had an audition for Suits today. Who wouldn’t go in for an audition for Suits? Guess what? This girl is not going in. [Laughs.]

Why not audition?
Right now it’s because it’s taking every second I have to get The Space Between off the ground while balancing being a mom and having the time for that. And then also, honestly, I think I’m in a transition period in my life too. Getting older, the heartache that you go through getting yourself ready, putting yourself out there that way is so draining. In your 20s it’s fine and it’s fun, but now … [Laughs.]

Well, if you’re in control of your own stuff, writing and acting in projects that you’ve created…
Exactly. That’s fun and amazing. I did Covert Affairs earlier this summer and that was really fun. They offered me the part and it was so amazing of them to do that. That was a little blessing.

Was it hard to shake off the character of Jules Callaghan after playing her for five seasons?
No, it wasn’t hard. I miss wearing the tactical uniform!

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Working with the show’s creators, Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis, was kind of your eduction for what you’re doing now.
I certainly found it incredibly inspiring. They made this fantastic show and they were actors before and started writing and now they’re doing their second show. They were very, very inspiring.

OK, let’s shift gears to The Space Between. You’ve already written and directed shorts … how did the idea for this one come about?
The first short I did was called Bent and that was about lifelong friends and there was a part in Bent where this pregnant woman confessed during the story that she had slept with somebody else and the baby wasn’t her husband’s. That’s where I got the idea and the characters in The Space Between are based off of Jackie and Mitch from Bent, but it’s a different story because it’s a departure. In The Space Between they’re trying to get pregnant and can’t because of infertility on Mitch’s part. She goes and gets pregnant with somebody else who happens to be a red-headed university kid. She does this behind Mitch’s back and the beginning of the movie is him finding out the baby is not his. It’s a comedy.

Let’s talk about the Indiegogo campaign for The Space Between. How important is it for a budding writer and director like yourself to have a community that helps you create your own projects?
For me, it’s the only way at this point to create this new career for myself. It gives the film a life and a following even before it’s been made, which is such a gift. It’s nice to have the supporters, the people who have followed my career through the years, come on this journey with me as well. Through the campaign there are ways for people to become part of the film and be a part of the process. I like creating a community around the movie before it’s even made.

Is your goal to ultimately use these smaller, community funded projects as a stepping stone to bigger things?
It’s definitely a stepping stone for so many reasons. It’s proving to me that I can do this and it’s giving me practice. I have a script called Crazier Than You which is really may baby and the one that I’ll do maybe after The Space Between, but it’s the one that I wrote about my mother’s life and I can’t wait to make that film. But I want that to be a $5 million budget. So, we’re going to make my first feature and prove that I can direct and make a good little film with a much smaller budget.

Check out Johnson’s Indiegogo campaign for The Space Between and make a donation.