by porfle, published on Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:48 PM|
This 2003 Canadian made-for-TV film was originally known as "Mrs. Ashboro's Cat" and has appeared as an Animal Planet original movie. Now, North American Motion Pictures is giving it a Sept. 22 DVD release as the somewhat more intriguingly-titled GHOST CAT, with special emphasis in the ads on Oscar-nominated Ellen Page (HARD CANDY, JUNO, X3) in an early starring role.
At first I thought this was going to be a zany combination of THAT DARN CAT and CASPER, but it's actually a pretty serious movie. Michael Ontkean ("Twin Peaks", "The Rookies") plays Wes Merritt, a recently-widowed writer moving to his deceased wife's New England hometown with his young daughter Natalie (Page). While house-hunting they meet a nice elderly woman named Mrs. Ashboro (Shirley Knight) whose weaselly banker nephew Boyd (Tom Barnett) is trying to get her to sell her house so he can replace the money he's been embezzeling before the bank examiners find out.
Mrs. Ashboro withdraws her savings from the bank with the intention of helping her friend Brenda (Lori Hallier, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, MONTE WALSH) who's being pressured to sell her animal shelter to a crooked land developer named Riker (Nigel Bennett). But soon after stashing the money in her house, Mrs. Ashboro dies suddenly and her loyal cat Margaret expires soon after out of grief. Wes and Natalie move into Mrs. Ashboro's now-vacated house and soon become involved in Brenda's struggle to keep her animal shelter as the increasingly ruthless Boyd and Riker join forces against her. Meanwhile, the good guys discover they have an unexpected ally--the ghost of Mrs. Ashboro's cat, Margaret.
Low-key and thoughtful, GHOST CAT has a subtle charm and warmth that sets it apart from the Disney Channel-type film you might expect. The characters, for the most part, behave in a realistic manner. This is especially true of Wes and Natalie, who still display a wistful melancholy after having lost wife and mother respectively, and Brenda, whose lifelong dream of operating her animal shelter is being wrested away from her. Tom Barnett's "Boyd" comes closest to stepping over the line as the stereotypical villain, but even he has an air of clumsy desperation not unlike that of William H. Macy's "Jerry Lundergaard" in FARGO, which keeps him believable.
I liked Lori Hallier as the "hardware widow" in 2003's MONTE WALSH and her down-to-earth performance here is very good. Ontkean does a nice job as the understanding single dad (who you just know is going to get romantic with Brenda sooner or later), and Ellen Page manages to portray a teenage girl without being flighty or precious or insufferable, which is no small feat. Of course, Shirley Knight is wonderful as Mrs. Ashboro and it's a shame her character disappears so soon. The rest of the cast is up to par, particularly Shawn Roberts as Natalie's budding love interest Kurt, whose troubled past makes him a suspect in some of the vandalism that takes place at the animal shelter.
I can't recall any scenes that are supposed to be out and out funny--in fact, the funniest thing about GHOST CAT is that it could've gotten along as a fairly serious drama without having a ghost cat in it at all. Not that I'd want that, since I'm a cat lover and Margaret is a very sweet and likable character. But she isn't really necessary to the plot at all and exists mainly to either lighten things up or to give the filmmakers an excuse to include some mildly spooky stuff like a seance, or a scene where Natalie is awakened in the middle of the night to find the piano playing itself.
In addition to that, Margaret's other functions are to wake people up when the barn's on fire or to lead them to the hidden stash of money, or to attack the bad guys when they're escaping in their car. And with all of that stuff going on, the last third of the movie manages to build a fair amount of suspense.
Direction by "Road to Avonlea" vet Don McBrearty is good; cinematography has that "Canadian made-for-TV" look. The DVD is 16 x 9 widescreen with 2.0 stereo audio. I watched a screener with no bonus features, but the official disc should include a stills gallery and closed captioning.
GHOST CAT is a fine choice for family viewing since the story is interesting, suspenseful, and heartfelt enough for adults, and since it has a ghost cat in it for the kids. Although they're liable to be disappointed that the movie isn't as kooky or as spooky as they might expect a movie called GHOST CAT to be.