That's me and Grapes giving two thumbs up to "Keep Your Head Up Kid; The Don Cherry Story." The four hour, two-part TV-movie premieres Sunday night at 8 p.m. and concludes Monday at 8.
CBC threw a little press bash for the film Wednesday in Toronto in a 10th floor studio at the broadcast centre. Ace photographer Marko Shark--a guy I used to buy photos from way back in the day when I was photo editor at TV Guide--snapped the shot of me and Grapes right on the set of Coach's Corner. Beauty, eh?
The movie was written by Tim Cherry, Don's son, and tell the true life story of Don's career in the minor leagues and later his NHL coaching career, most memorably with Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. Jared Keeso (left) plays Cherry and does a good job capturing the 'tude and swagger, managing to find the essence of the man from his young 20s as a tough blueliner through to his 40s and 50s as an AHL and NHL coach and eventual TV star.
Trying to cram too many freelance tasks into another busy week, I brought a DVD screener of the movie with me on a recent trip to Beverly Hills. Warner Bros. had me booked at this posh boutique hotel; the rooms were very Austin Powers. I finally figured out the flat screen TV was hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling wall of tinted glass that faced the bed. There was a little slot at the side and I figured that's where DVDs go. Good guess, and that's how and where I screened "Keep You Head Up Kid."
I thought it started a bit slow--or maybe it just took me a while to get past the fact that it is a sports biopic (two words that usually send a chill up the spine of a critic). The story seemed a bit distant, too. You have to see Cherry as a bruising young defenseman bounced between Hershey, Springfield and several other AHL towns to get who he is and what he becomes. There is no doubt that it was a tough life, but, for me, that part of the story could have been trimmed.
There are also too many shots of Cherry's late wife Rose (played by Sarah Mannninen, right, with Keeso) sitting at a kitchen table pasting hockey stories into a scrap book. She breaks out of that two dimensional role as the story moves into later years, when the family faced a crisis at home when young Tim needed a kidney transplant. Rose's quiet heroics counters Cherry's bluster. These two were an odd pair, but you can see that they were a team.
The more I watched, the more I was drawn into the story. I really liked the hockey scenes, including the recreations of game action shot at a brisk speed, generally a failing in most hockey dramas. It helps that Keeso played Junior with a couple of Ontario teams. (Even Cherry jokes that if he could have skated like Keeso, maybe he would have lasted more than one game in the NHL.)
An added bonus was the mix of actual Hockey Night in Canada footage from those classic Bruin-Canadien playoff runs in the '70s. Habs fans will cheer again when Lafleur ties it up after that fatal too-many-men-on-the-ice call. Bruin fans will hate that part, but love seeing tough guys like Stan Jonathan beat the living daylights out of all comers.
Ian Tracy, always terrific, brings presence to his role as Cherry's mentor/tormentor, Bruins GM Harry Sinden. The film takes us up to Cherry landing his iconic gig as a CBC commentator.
I enjoyed the film, but couldn't figure out how to get it unstuck from the hi-tech DVD wall gizmo back at the shagadelic Beverly Hills hotel. As a consequence, for the last week and a half, guests at room 201 at the SLS have enjoyed the exclusive Los Angeles preview of "Keep Your Head Up, Kid."
Canadians don't have to book a flight down to LA to see the movie. Catch it tonight and tomorrow night at 8 on CBC.
That's when Cherry himself will be watching, alone, at home, with Blue. He chose to duck out of Wednesday's Toronto preview. Grapes confessed he gets a little emotional watching the scenes with Rose, commending Manninen for capturing his late wife's Pennsylvania accent (something the actress did by studying an old CBC Life & Times tape of Rose over and over again).
Grapes is afraid he could get a little choaked up tonight, and this way if he does, only Blue will know.