By Marc McRae
This week I really wanted to share, three of my absolute favourites in Canadian cinema. If you are a movie lover, chances are you have watched them. If you haven’t, run out there right away and take a peek.
The really great thing about all three of these movies is they are filmed in Canada and spotlight some great Canadian talents like Katharine Isabelle and Liane Balaban.
New Waterford Girl (1999)
Directed by Allan Moyle
Written by Tricia Fish
Starring Liane Balaban, Tara Spencer-Nairn and Andrew McCarthy and set in New Waterford, Nova Scotia during the 1970’s, this film always puts a giant smile on my face.
It follows the adventures of a 15 year old girl, Mooney Pottie (Balaban), that can’t wait to escape the small town she feels imprisoned to and move to New York. She is considered odd by both her family and her classmates, and until the new girl (Spencer-Nairn) moves in next door, her closest friend is one of her teachers (McCarthy).
After seeing another girl shipped away to an “aunt” after getting herself pregnant, Mooney gets an idea to get herself out of her small town for good. What follows is a series of very funny and often touching family moments, a great appearance by Mark McKinney of the Kids in the Hall, and boxing match.
The movie does a brilliant job of portraying life in a strict, god fearing small town. The type of town where there are few secrets and mountains of gossip. It is also a great start to Liane Balaban’s career, while not a huge star, is a great actress that has been involved in many great projects. The highest accolade of course was “Last Chance Harvey” alongside the amazing Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
People will also of course recognize Tara Spencer-Nairn due to her Corner Gas fame and if you don’t know Andrew McCarthy you’ve likely never seen a movie from the 1980’s. As a side note involving McCarthy, if you’ve never seen St. Elmo’s Fire, add it to your must see list.
If you want a fun, quirky comedy you will definitely enjoy these films.
The Last Casino (2004)
Directed by Pierre Gill
Written by Steve Westren
Starring Charles Martin Smith, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemke and Albert Chung, “The Last Casino” is set in Toronto and Montreal and follows three students who are taught how to count cards by an out of luck, dead beat professor.
Katharine Isabelle and Kris Lemke are known from their various roles in other films such as “Final Destination 3” (Lemke) and the “Ginger Snap” movies (Isabelle). They both put on stellar performances in the TV movie that if given more money could have been an extremely successful theatre release. It rates highly on most critic boards and among fans.
Smith plays Professor Barnes, a greedy gambler that has gotten himself banned from every local casino for counting cards. Unfortunately for him, he is on a cold run and if he can’t get back into the casino’s he can’t pay back the money he owes to an extremely creepy money man, Orr, played to perfection by Julian Richings.
His solution is to recruit three very bright students to create a team of card counters that can take down blackjack tables with ease. He reels them in with promises of easy money and a better, easier life opposed to struggling to pay tuition fees and rent.
The film follows their early struggles as the team and their quick rise into more money than they have ever seen. Things start to fall apart just as quickly though, and with pressure from Barnes threatening death if they fail, they are forced to go on a crazy run to try and make half a million dollars over the course of a few days.
It’s a great ride and brilliantly directed and acted. For me, it was one of the top 5 films of 2004 and one I still watch on a regular basis. Isabelle is stunningly beautiful as Elyse. Albert Chung does a great job trying to steal every scene he is in, and may be the best performance in a movie full of great performances.
Owning Mahowny (2003)
Directed by Richard Kwietniowski
Written by Gary Steven Ross (book) Maurice Chauvet (screenplay)
A rollercoaster movie starring the supremely talented Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the beautiful Minnie Driver. It is based on the actual events of one of the largest cases of embezzlement in Canadian history.
Seymour Hoffman plays Dan Mahowny, a young assistant branch manager that is given access to a multi-million dollar account. His employers do not know he is a gambling addict and the million dollar access he has creates too much temptation for him.
His girlfriend Belinda, played by Driver, sees the gambling problem but does little to try and stop it, instead just does what she can to fight for his attentions. Meanwhile, a money thirsty casino manager sees Mahowny as a mark with too much money and treats him like royalty to keep him coming back.
The movie continues to build to a massive 9 million dollar winning streak for Mahowny that eventually ends in disaster. Along the way we see standout performances by John Hurt as the Casino Manager, Chris Collins as Bernie, the casino employee instructed to keep Mahowny happy and coming back.
The real life event it is based on is the embezzlement of over ten million dollars across a period of 18 months by Brian Molony of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He was sentenced to six years in prison and now lives with his wife and three kids working as a financial consultant.
It is a great film and one that few people know despite it starring a couple of Hollywood stars that tend to draw out large crowds. If you are one of those that haven’t had the pleasure of this movie and you enjoy films based on real events, you will love it.
If you haven’t watched all three of these films before reading this, give them a look and let me know what you thought.