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Sample: Title; rating (out of 4); principal setting; year of release; international co-producer (if any); cast; description; scriptwriter; director; content warning; running time.
A CORPS PERDU *
1/2 setting: P.Q./other.
(1988) (/Switzerland) Matthias Habich, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Michel Voita, Jean-Francoise Pichette, Kim Yaroshevskaya.....Bisexual photographer (Habich) returns to Montreal from abroad only to have to deal with the fact that his girlfriend and boyfriend (Tremblay and Voita), with whom he shared an apartment, have left him. Truly a director's film, with the emphasis on the moody visuals...and story and character coming second. Still, some people like that sort of thing. English title: Straight for the Heart. sc: Lea Pool, Marcel Beaulieu with Michel Langlois. dir: Lea Pool. - male nudity and partial female nudity, sexual content.- 90 min.
A NOUS DEUX *
1/2 setting: other/P.Q./USA.
(1979) (/France) Catherine Denueve, Jacque Dutronc, Jacques Villeret, Paul Preboist, Bernard LeCoy, Gilbert Geniat, Monique Melinand, Jacques Godin.....Story of two outlaws, a second generation bank robber and self-styled rebel (Dutronc) and a femme fatale (Denueve) who seduces, then blackmails, married men, who (eventually) meet up at a criminal safe house and end up going on the lam together. Odd drama is kind of slow-moving and seems deliberately confusing in structure (where the time/place relationship between scenes is often murky, and a few dream sequences are thrown in) and very European in tone -- not necessarily in a good way -- in that it involves a lot of scenes of poker-faced characters having supposedly profound conversations about individuality and nihilism. Some amusing bits -- in fact, the movie may be intended as more a comedy than anything -- but generally something where you don't much care about the characters or what happens to them. English title: Us Two. sc/dir: Claude Lelouch. 107 min.
* * setting: B.C.
(1986) Dan Haggerty, Roberta Weiss, Lawrence King Phillips.....Jogger (Weiss) is kidnapped by a crazed mountain man (Phillips) who wants her for a wife. Surprisingly effective, well-acted suspenser manages to avoid being repetitious as well as too sleazy, keeping a fast-pace and throwing in some unexpected elements (like Haggerty as another mountain man). A sequel was made eight years later. sc./dir: Boon Collins (story Collins, Lindsay Bourne). - violence.- 87 min.
ABOVE AND BEYOND (TVMS) *
* * 1/2 setting: CDN./other
(2006) Liane Balaban, Jonathan Scarfe, Allan Hawco, Richard E. Grant, Kenneth Welsh, Joss Ackland, Peter MacNeill, Robert Wisden, Jason Priestley, Mark Critch.....Story of the creation of the Atlantic Ferry Command during World War II -- a massive project to fly planes from Newfoundland, across the North Atlantic, to re-supply England (previously the planes were shipped by sea) -- and of various characters, some fictional, some real. Fact and fiction mix in this old fashioned, lavishly mounted CBC historical drama that can be kind of likened to a (low-key) answer to "Pearl Harbour" (the movie, that is, not the event); well acted (particularly by Scarfe and Hawco) and consistently compelling, though it doesn't fully let down its hair. There's a romantic triangle...but it's of a decidedly restrained, low-key nature -- which is a minus (or a plus depending on what you're looking for). Some jaw-dropping special effects, too (considering this was made for TV). The fact that some of the central characters are fictional means that you can take it, first and foremost, as a drama, rather than it getting caught up in the controversies that invariably dog movies purporting to be "based on a true story". You can still learn something of the real history, of course, though it does (apparently) suffer from a few technical inaccuracies. All in all, grand, old fashioned entertainment. Priestley has just a small part as Sir Frederick Banting. The significance of the Gander airfield during W.W. II had previously been utilized in the CBC movie Heyday. Four hours. sc: John W. Doyle, Lisa Porter. dir: Sturla Gunnarsson.
ABRAXAS, GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE*
(1990) Jesse Ventura, Marjorie Bransfield, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Michael Copeman, Francis Mitchell, Jerry Levitan, Damian Lee.....Alien cop (American ex-wrestler Ventura) in the U.S. must beat his evil nemesis (Thorsen, sounding uncannily like Arnold Schwarzeneggar) to the latter's innocent half-human child who contains a world-shattering formula buried in his subconscious. Low-budget "Terminator"-styled clone has poor performances and even worse dialogue...though the parsecs in-joke will be funny for "Star Wars" fans. Copeman too often appears in these kind of flicks and deserves better. Marilyn Lightstone and TV mogul Moses Znaimer provide computer voices and American actor Jim Belushi (!) appears, unbilled, in one scene. sc./dir: Damian Lee. - violence.- 87 min.
* setting: other
(2010) (/U.K.) Liane Balaban, Andrew Buchan, Adam Rayner, Sally Phillips, Daisy Haggard, Noam Jenkins, Maury Chaykin, Sean Cullen.....Plucky Canadian journalist (Balaban) gets her dream job -- working for a London fleet street newspaper -- but must deal with the office pecking order, and a series of romantic disasters. On one hand, this CBC comedy is nicely unpretentious and determinedly mainstream, borrowing elements from "Bridget Jones Diary", "The Devil Wears Prada", or any number of U.S. co-produced TV movies CTV and Global air -- but slicker than the latter, with a seeming bigger budget (and location filming). Balaban is a solid Anne Hathaway/Julia Roberts substitute -- indeed, the cast overall (a mix of Brits and Canucks) is good. But it's more light-hearted than actually funny, and can amount to just a collection of cliches. From the stereotypical depiction of British life, to her oh-so colourful -- and oh-so stock -- hedonistic friends, to "twists" you can easily map out ahead of time (like the romantic triangle where the charmer turns out to be the cad and the cad turns out to be the charmer). Admittedly sometimes cliches are fun because they're obvious...like slipping on a comfortably broken in pair of slippers. But the plot is thinner than, well, Balaban's waistline (and, let's face it, a strong wind would snap her in half). Despite a teasing opener (which turns out to be anti-climactic) much of the movie just seems to meander aimlessly about, with the characters themselves rather vapid and superficial (her social life just seems to amount to going out to one drunken party after another) -- ironic given a sub-theme is supposed to be about the clash between "serious" journalism and fluff pieces. Even when a plot does emerge toward the end, it kind of requires people saying and doing implausible things to push it forward. Ultimately...promising, but fails to deliver on the promise (admittedly, I haven't seen "Bridget Jones Diary" so -- who knows?). sc: Leah McLaren (created by McLaren and Meredith Caplan). dir: Philip John. - sexual content.- app. 90 min.
THE ACCIDENT *
* setting: Ont.
(1982) Fiona Reid, Terence Kelly, Frank Perry, Esther Hockin, Anne Anglin, Laura Bruneau, Errol Slue, Charmaine Boyde, Michael Hogan, Timothy Webber, Victoria Snow, Joseph Ziegler.....After an accident at a community centre kills some children, their various families struggle to cope with the emotional aftermath. Made-for-CBC-TV movie is strong in spots, but drags too much in between. Uneven production suffers from too much clinical earnestness, while never asking if they really had a movie here...or just a really long public service spot? See also The Sweet Hereafter, made 15 years later, for a similar premise. sc: Bill Gough. dir: Donald Brittain. 101 min.
ACCIDENTAL TRUTHS see Les yeux rouges
ACROSS THE RIVER TO MOTOR CITY (TVMS) * * setting: Ont./USA
(2008) Sasha Roiz, David Fox, Anne Openshaw, Joe Pingue, Charlotte Sullivan, Matthew Deslippe, Peter Stebbings, Alan C. Peterson, Raven Dauda, Howard Jerome.....Mystery-suspenser set in the border nexus of Windsor/Detroit cutting between modern times, when an elderly, retired insurance investigator, Ben Ford (Fox) is investigated by the police after the bones of his long ago fiancee are uncovered...and 1963, when the young Ben Ford (Roiz) first investigates his fiancee's mysterious diappearance against the turmoil of the JFK assassination. Made-for-CHUM TV mini-series is unabashedly ambitious, with its story jumping between times and places and trying to evoke the '60s milieu...but can seem a bit like the creators stretched farther than their abilities. Looking a bit low-budget (despite the period costumes and details), and with some perfunctory direction, the story itself wants to be murky and cryptic...but is often just muddled and confused (often hard to even keep track of whether the scenes are in Detroit or Windsor), and wants to mix in elements of conspiracy thrillers, historical detail, and human drama (with the aged Ben estranged from his daughter). A definite mix of pluses and minuses -- mostly solid performances (especially Peterson as the young Ben's business partner) and doesn't lack for ambition (though do we really need another playing around with JKF conspiracy theories...even one with a Canadian angle?) but the exceution lets it down. Even the jumping back and forth in time can seem a crutch to pad the story. Perhaps the fact that the aged Ben already knows the answers the young Ben is searching for bleeds some of the tension out of it. But you can find yourself losing interest in who did what and why long before the end. 6 hour-long episodes. sc: Robert Wertheimer, Denis McGrath. dir: Michael DeCarlo.
ACROSS THIS LAND WITH STOMPIN'
TOM CONNORS * * 1/2
(1973).....Concert film of Canadian country/folk singing legend Connors at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, with a few guest performers and interspersed with animation and other clips (kind of anticipating music videos). Competently put-together flick should appeal to the singer's fans, especially with its inclusion of stage-banter and jokes, but Connors' particular brand of working man novelty songs can out stay its welcome after a while. dir: John Saxton. 90 min.
THE ACT OF THE HEART *
* * * setting: P.Q.
(1970) Genevieve Bujold, Donald Sutherland, Monique Leyrac, Bill Mitchell, Sharon Acker, Eric House.....Story of a troubled, obsessively religious girl (Bujold), convinced there will be some great meaning to her life, and of her growing romantic infatuation with a monk (Sutherland). This classic of Canadiana (and the second film collaboration between Bujold and her then-husband, Almond) is a haunting, extremely atmospheric and, ultimately, unforgettable drama. Powerful performances from Sutherland and, especially, Bujold. It received five Etrogs including Best Actress (Bujold) and Director. sc./dir: Paul Almond. 103 min.
Ada see For the Record
Uneven but entertaining TV series was at its best going for the funny bone, rather than when it emphasized thrills. Rekert's charisma, coupled with some witty dialogue, carried it over most of its flaws and Seatle was equally charming (and both picked up Geminis for their performances). As well, Welsh showed a surprise talent for physical comedy. Filmed in Toronto, but set in Anytown, North America. Created by Elliott Baker. Two seasons of hour-long episodes made for CBS late-night, though six episodes (featuring American guest stars) were given a trial run in U.S. prime time. Shown in Canada originally on Global and subsequently rerun on Showcase.
THE ADJUSTER *
(1991) Elias Koteas, Arsinee Khanjian, Maury Chaykin, Jennifer Dale, Gabrielle Rose, David Hemblen, Patricia Collins, Gerard Parkes, Don McKellar.....Story of an insurance adjuster (Koteas), his censor board wife (Khanjian), and the various characters they encounter. Good-looking but rambling drama about dysfunctional people and video technology suffers from Egoyan's usual heavy-handed approach -- what should be undercurrents are, in fact, the main plot! A few clever ideas and a couple of good lines, but that's it. The good cast is wasted in parts that haven't really been written. The film clip on TV is from Suzanne (which also starred Dale). sc./dir: Atom Egoyan. - casual male nudity and brief female nudity, sexual content.- 102 min.
The Adolescence of P-1, a SF novel by Thomas J. Ryan, served as the inspiration for the TV drama, Hide and Seek.
* setting: Ont.
(2009) Arsinee Khanjian, Scott Speedman, Devon Bostick, Rachel Blanchard, Noam Jenkins, Kenneth Welsh, Maury Chaykin.....An orphaned teen (Bostick), raised by his embittered uncle (Speedman), is encouraged by his teacher (Khanjian) to pass off a writing essay about being the son of a notorious terrorist as autobiographical. There's a good movie lurking in here somewhere, but it's scattershot, trying to be too many things (a saga of dysfunctional families, a parable about living in the age of terrorism, an examination of prejudice, a treatise on the electronic internet age) without doing them well, or tying them together into a cohesive whole. There are good moments, even scenes, and with solid enough performances (particularly from Speedman and, at times, Khanjian), but like a lot of Egoyan films, it's very slow, and sometimes sombrely serious, sometimes quirkily humorous...and sometimes unintentionally goofy when it's trying to be serious! (And repeats his recent style of jumbling the chronology of the scenes to little point). The themes and heavy handed symbolism too often hijack the characters and the human drama, rendering it a self-conscious cinematic exercise rather than a story about real people and real emotions. sc./dir: Atom Egoyan. 100 min.
* setting: USA./other
(1993) Kate Jackson, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Rowan, Kenneth Welsh.....U.S. couple (Jackson and Welsh), alone on a yacht in the middle of the ocean, pick up another derelict couple (Greenwood and Rowan) who turn out to be psychotic. Standard premise in this unimaginative, repetitive made-for-TV thriller. It's more irritating than suspenseful and the sociopolitical undercurrents don't go anywhere. Imported, perpetually wide-eyed Jackson is, frankly, a little unsuited to the dark material. Rowan received the Best Actress Gemini. sc: Graham Flashner & Ed Gernon and Terry Gerritsen (story Gerritsen). dir: Christian Duguay. 95 min.
THE ADVENTURE OF FAUSTUS BIDGOOD
* * * 1/2 setting: Nfld.
(1986) Andy Jones, Greg Malone, Robert Joy, Maisie Rillie, Brian Downey, Mary Walsh, Tommy Sexton.....Faustus (Jones), a nobody clerk in the Newfoundland provincial government, has hallucinations and finds it's very hard to tell what's real. Meanwhile, the Premier has disappeared...again; there's a child murderer loose; a mad scheme to institute "Total Education"; and that's just in this reality! Truly bizarre, surrealistic black comedy features many in the cast from the Codco comedy troupe. Definitely not for all tastes. It took ten years to complete. sc./dir: Dave Jones, Andy Jones. - violence.- 110 min.
(2002-2003) (/U.K./France/USA) * * Michael Biehn ("Judson Cross"), Karen Cliche ("Mackenzie Previn"), Jesse Nilsson ("Gabriel Patterson")..... Fantasy-adventure, about a professional trouble-shooter, archaeological explorer, and adventurer (Biehn) and his team: the beautiful, gun-proficient tough gal (Cliche) and the technocratic novice (Nilsson). They travel the globe seeking lost artifacts, sunken tresure, or mounting rescue missions. Biehn is American, Cliche and Nilsson Canadian...though their characters are supposed to be American. The series is billed as being inspired by the real life exploits of one Barry Clifford, but given the heavy emphasis on the supernatural (magical artifacts, ghostly apparitions) and darying escapes and shoot outs, one can assume the "inspiration" is pretty peripheral, at best. Tragically, Nilsson died during the first season (of pneumonia complicated by asthma)
If this series seems vaguely familiar, that's probably because it came along shortly after the cancellation of Relic Hunter -- another Canadian co-produced series about a globe-hopping Indiana Jones wanna-be. Like Relic Hunter, this isn't a great series, suffering from a certain low-budget clunkiness, with plots, and characterization, that don't exactly stretch artistic abilities. However, it's marginally better than that earlier series thanks to a more sprightly tempo, and a moderately ingratiating cast. The three leads establish an on-screen camaraderie early, allowing you to believe they're friends, and Biehn's character is allowed a little more human dimension than Tia Carrera had in Relic Hunter, even vulnerability. Again, not a great series, not even a particularly good one, but probably O.K. as an occasional time killer. Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd is a heavy weight American producer ("Terminator", etc.) proving that even a big name executive can't guarantee big budgets in TV syndication. One season of hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Space.
ADVENTURES IN HISTORY (TV Series)
This National Film Board produced TV series boasted stand-out production values and performances to make generally superior dramas. Most episodes are available on video (through the NFB). Best bets: "Teach Me to Dance" (directed by Anne Wheeler) in which a young girl discovers prejudice when she befriends a Ukrainian-Canadian school-mate. Approximately half-a-dozen half-hour episodes.
This TV series seemed a poor man's Forest Rangers (Conway was even one of the stars of that earlier show) but suffered from thin stories, sluggish pacing and a sense the actors, young and old, weren't all that sure of their parts. It benefited, naturally, from the rustic setting and scenery and some nice atmosphere. Created by William Davidson, who wrote a novel spin-off in 1975 called Return to Rainbow Country. Half-hour episodes, originally on the CBC.
THE ADVENTURES OF BOB AND DOUG McKENZIE see Strange Brew
THE ADVENTURES OF SINBAD
(1996) (/U.S.) Zen Gesner, George Buza, Jacqueline Collen, Tim Progosh, Oris Erhueso, Julianne Morris, Ian Tracey, Lawrence Bayne, Wayne Robson.....Sinbad the sailor (Gesner) is called upon to gather a crew and rescue a princess from an evil sorcerer. Pilot for the TV series has some O.K. special effects and a certain novelty appeal -- after all, Sword & Sorcery films, traditionally, work better in theory than fact anyway. But ultimately much of the writing, acting, direction, lighting and set design seem like something out of a high school play -- really! Also shown as two episodes of the series under the title "Return of Sinbad". sc: Ed Naha. dir: Clay Borris. app. 90 min.
This TV series was inspired by the surprise success of the New Zealand-filmed U.S. series, "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", and its spin-off, "Xena: Warrior Princess". Those shows were a mix of strengths and weaknesses, but unfortunately Sinbad was almost all weaknesses, from the poor scripts and (seeming non-existent) direction, to actors who seemed like they just stepped out of a high school play -- honest! The second season promised a "new attitude" (the same slogan used by another failed Atlantis Films effort: Destiny Ridge ) but was more of the same, though with a slightly better visual look (good), a greater emphasis on lethal violence (bad), Gesner played it meaner and less affable (bad) and was beefier (so what?), and the Dim-Dim plotline was dropped unceremoniously (huh?). Ironically, early (Canadian) guest star Rob Stewart might have made a more logical, and dynamic, lead...though he still couldn't have saved it. Some O.K. special effects are its only virtue, along with the novelty fun of a Sword & Sorcery series, so that even though it's almost as bad as Taking the Falls, it rates an extra half point.
To give the Devil his due, the series had its fans, and although it was part of a torrent of S&S series following on the heels of the above mentioned "Hercules/Xena", many of the other shows like "The New Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Conan" seemed modeled after Sinbad rather than "Hercules" and "Xena". Not just because they weren't very good, but in the emphasis on action at the expense of story and character, the use of ensemble casts, and even the dynamics of the characters ("Robin Hood" featured a blank-eyed lead, a lady warrior, a strong man, and Friar Tuck as...an inventor of anachronistic devices; while "Conan" had a mute character). "Conan" was cancelled after one season, and "Robin Hood" after two (despite major cast changes). Created by Ed Naha. Filmed in South Africa. Two seasons of hour-long episodes (including a double-length pilot, reviewed separately) and shown in Canada on Global.
THE ADVENTURES OF SMOKE BELLIOU
(TVMS) * * setting: Yuk.
(1996) (/France) Wadeck Stanczak, Michael Lamport, Michele Barbara Pelletier, with Serge Houde, Lorne Brass, James Bradford, Jean-Guy Bouchard, Cecile Pallas, Jack Langedijk.....Misadventures of a French tenderfoot, Charles Belliou (Stanczak), in the Yukon during the gold rush and his friendship with an eccentric schemer, Shorty Gorman (Lamport), and Joy (Pelletier), the feisty daughter of a store owner (Bradford). This series of four made-for-cable-TV movies aired monthly and was inspired by the Jack London story "Smoke Bellew" which had already been filmed the year before as part of the Tales of the Wild series under the title Legends of the North (but with a different cast). Though more expensive-looking than Tales of the Wild, these movies suffered from slow, meandering storylines that made each film seem like a compilation of unrelated stories, broad humour that wasn't funny, and 'suspense' that was just brutal and unpleasant. Decent performances (though Lamport seemed to think he was Popeye) and Stanczak grew on you -- but not enough. Houde and Brass played llocal thugs (giving these 'family' films a "Deliverance" ambience); Bouchard and Pallas an entrepreneur and Opera singer respectively; and white-man Langedijk -- demonstrating another of the films' fatal flaws -- played an Indian (yes, this is the 1990s folks) speaking pidgin English that will make you cringe. Guest stars (often in bit parts) included John Neville, Michael Sarrazin, Barry Morse and American actor Richard Moll. Titles in order of broadcast: Stake Your Claim, Gambling on Paradise, The Golden Egg and The Motherlode of the Yukon .
Good youth-oriented TV series was decently acted but a bit clumsily put together. It benefited from the off-beat milieu and, as the show progressed, the often larger-than-life plots. Filmed, variously, in B.C. (not admitting it was), France and New Zealand. Derived from the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley and the U.S. movies (which starred Rooney). Some episodes are available on video. 78 half-hour episodes, originally shown in Canada on YTV.
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