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Sample: Title; rating; principal setting; year of release; international co-producer (if any); cast; description; scriptwriter; director; content warning; running time.
 

AFFLICTED * * 1/2 setting: other
(2013) Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Zeitoun, Zach Gray, Edo Van Breemen, Jason Lee.....Two Canadian friends make a video diary of their trip around Europe, but one develops a strange, mutating condition after being bitten by a woman during a one night stand. Yet another entry in the "found footage" style low-budget horror movie -- popularized by "The Blair Witch Project" and of which Canadian examples include Apollo 18, The Conspiracy and the webseries Guidestones. This one boasts good performances, particularly from its principles (and co-filmmakers), and largely avoids over-using the shaky-camera-syndrome that can make such films difficult to watch. And some special f/x sequences are surprisingly effective (the fact that it's shot on location perhaps suggests it has more money than you might assume). But this kind of sub-genre isn't really prone to Byzantine plotting or complex character drama, making for a simple story that unfolds pretty much as you expect (particularly given his "affliction" is a horror staple). When it's not dealing with the horror, it can seem a bit too much like home movies of someone's vacation, and when dealing with the horror, and how the characters react, it isn't always as convincing as it wants to be (since the whole point is to try and apply a "realist" spin on fantasy cliches). Still, worth a look for fans of the sub-genre. sc./dir: Clif Prowse, Derek Lee. - extreme violence.- 86 min.

AFGHAN LUKE * 1/2 setting: other/CDN.
(2011) Nick Stahl, Nicolas Wright, Stephen Lobo, Vik Sahay, Steve Cochrane, Pascale Hutton, Ali Liebert.....A journalist (American actor Stahl), determined to pursue a story about Canadian soldiers possibly mutilating the corpses of Taliban soldiers, returns to war-torn Afghanistan for an odyssey across the wilds with his naive, druggie best friend (Wright) and their savvy translator (Lobo). Well-intentioned but disappointing (and oddly toothless) drama-satire. Stahl leads a good cast (though Wright and Lobo deliver the more memorable turns) and it's set against evocative badlands (astonishingly filmed, not in Afghanistan, but in Canada!) But it has four writers (and suggestions that actors ad-libbed some) and it kind of shows, as though each contributor had a different focus (or past war movie they were imitating) resulting in a meandering collection of disconnected scenes, cliches, and obvious homilies (war is crazy!) with nods to "Apocalypse Now" and others, seeming convinced of their own self-importance...while failing to shape it into a compelling story, building to a shaggy dog resolution. There's a problem with a movie when even characters in it keep telling Stahl his objective isn't really that earth-shaking, kind of bleeding any drive out of the narrative. Scenes go on too long, and aren't as quirky or eccentric as they're supposed to seem (the best is probably the plummer sequence). And the storytelling itself can be confused (characters they saw just a few scenes before act as if they haven't spoken in months, or characters days behind them on the road suddenly reappear). Ultimately, a more audacious take on such conflicts might be ZOS (albeit, with a harder R-rated edge). sc: Patrick Graham & Douglas Bell and Mike Clattenburg & Barrie Dunn. dir: Mike Clattenburg. - violence.- 96 min.

AFRICAN JOURNEY (TV Limited Series)  * * * 1/2  setting: other
(1990) (/New Zealand) Jason Blicker, Alan Jordan, Pedziasi Sithole, Eldinah Tshatedi, Jesese Mungoshi.....Story of a Canadian teen (Blicker) arriving in Africa to visit his father, and of his friendship with an African teen (Sithole). Family drama had a weak opening episode, but was generally well-done and engaging, benefitting from on-location filming and intelligent cultural exploration. Filmed in Zimbabwe. Though an official Canada-New Zealand co-production, it had backing from a number of countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, Holland, Finland, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, West Germany and Sweden. Six half-hour episodes, written by different writers, but all episodes were directed by George Bloomfield. From an idea by Jean Tetrault. 
 

AFRICAN SKIES (TV Series)

(1993-1995) (/U.S.)  * *  Catherine Bach ("Margo Dutton"), Simon James ("Rory Dutton"), Raimund Harmstorf ("Raymond"), Rouxnet Brown ("Jam"), Lilian Rabeobi ("Andotti"), Robert Mitchum ("Sam Dutton").....Family drama about a Canadian teen (James) living on a wildlife ranch in Africa with his mother (American Bach). Brown played his best friend, a local teen. Harmstorf was the German ranch hand; Rabeobi Brown's grandmother; and American Mitchum the hero's wealthy grandfather who appeared briefly each episode, usually via a phone call.

So-so TV series benefitted a lot from the exotic locale and James' performance, but the adult actors left much to be desired. Created by Phil Savath, Larry Mollin. Filmed in South Africa. Half-hour episodes on the Family Channel.

AFTER THE HARVEST * *
(2001) Sam Shepard, Nadia Litz, Alberta Watson, Liane Balaban, Evan Sabba, Shawn Mathieson.....In the 1920s, a young school teacher (Balaban) enters the lives of a farming family, ruled over by a seeming personable, but controlling and cruel patriarch (American import Shepard). Made-for-CTV drama is a dark and dreary prairie Gothic. However dreary is one thing, plodding is something else, and that's what this is. There's little in the way of depth or undercurrents to the performances, so that when things actually occur in the later half, they seem to happen more because the story dictated it, rather than the characters justified it. There are no car chases or explosions, as no doubt the filmmakers would smugly brag, but then all that leaves is the characters and their actions...and that's where the movie stumbles. Litz is memorable as the spunky, eldest daughter. When first aired, it was billed as being based on a "Canadian classic"...but not so much a classic, apparently, that a name change wasn't felt to be in order! sc: Suzette Couture (from the novel, The Wild Geese by Martha Ostenso). dir: Jeremy Podeswa. 94 min.

L'ÂGE DES TÉNÈBRES * 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(2008) (/France) Marc Labrèche, Diane Kruger, Sylvie Léonard, Caroline Néron, Rufus Wainwright, Emma De Caunes, Macha Grenon, Rosalie Julien, Didier Lucien.....In a (possibly) near future Montreal of urban decline and pan-epidemics, a low level government bureaucrat (Labrèche) muddles through his futile job and his loveless family while escaping into whimsical fantasies often involving beautiful women. Cynical satire is meant to be darkly bitter and quirkily funny, but feels as though writer-director Arcand made a grocery list of societal things he wanted to comment on or otherwise take digs at...and then just started checking them off. It can feel like just a collection of monologues and sketches (even veering off into an extended sequence at a medieval themed village), but might have been better to have had some sort of nominal plot to string them together. It's essentially "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" as envisioned by the Italian New Wave of the 1960s -- and can feel just as dated. Some of the digs are on target, some broad and clumsy, and some seem -- frankly -- misogynistic, racist, and like neo-conservative reactionism, as though its target fan base is aging white males who no longer feel the world belongs to them. Labrèche is excellent and more compelling than the material, though most of the rest of the (huge) cast have thankless parts, including import Kruger as one of his fantasy women. Donald Sutherland appears briefly as himself and Pierre Curzi, in a bit part as a supplicant to Labrèche's office, is possibly a reference to/reprise of his role in previous Arcand films. Singer Wainwright, despite his billing, has only a small (singing) part as an opera singer. Kruger has a shower scene in the first 5 minutes...and, frankly, that's the film's high point. Some cuts are 103 minutes. English title: Days of Darkness a.k.a. The Age of Ignorance. sc./dir: Denys Arcand. - partial female nudity; brief male nudity; sexual content; extreme violence.- 108 min.

AGE-OLD FRIENDS * * 1/2 setting: USA.
(1989) (/U.S.) Hume Cronyn, Vincent Gardenia, Tandy Cronyn, Michele Scarabelli, Esthe Rolle, Barry Flatman, Murray Westgate.....Story of cynical, hides-behind-his-acid-tongue old man (Cronyn) in a retirement home, and his best friend (Gardenia) who's in better shape physically, but worries he's developing Alzheimers disease. Made-for-TV drama is basically what you expect it to be, which means it's not bad, but doesn't really offer many surprises either. Wears its stage origins a little too mustily, with some contrived dialogue and characters talking to themselves. Gets better as it goes along. Though why are old people in movies always portrayed as foul-mouthed? sc: Bob Larbey (from his play, A Month of Sundays). dir: Allan Kroeker. app. 90 min.

AGENCY  * *  setting: USA.
(1979) Lee Majors, Robert Mitchum, Valerie Perrine, Alexandra Stewart, Saul Rubinek, George Touliatos, Gary Reineke, Michael Kirby.....U.S. advertising executive (Majors) becomes suspicious of his new boss (Mitchum) when shake-ups occur at the company and a friend dies mysteriously. Slow suspense-drama works better if you're tuned into its light-hearted, almost-British sensibilities, though Perrine is miscast and Mitchum just sleep-walks. Nicely over-the-top music by Lewis Furey -- even if it does sound like his score foor The Rubber Gun. sc: Noel Hynd (from the novel by Paul Gottlieb). dir: George Kaczender. 94 min.

AGENT OF INFLUENCE * * 1/2  setting: CDN./other
(2003) Christopher Plummer, Marina Orsini, Ted Whittall, Shaun Johnston, Kurtis Sanheim, Alain Goulem, Terry Lawrence, Paul Coeur, Gregory Hlady, Cas Anvar.....In 1964, Canadian diplomat John Watkins (Plummer) is interrogated by R.C.M.P. officers over American C.I.A. allegations that he's a Soviet double agent...but one initially hard-nosed Mountie (Orsini) begins to suspect they're being played as dupes by the C.I.A. "Inspired" by fact -- Watkins and his interrogation was real, but much of the film is supposition, or told with dramatic license (like implying Watkins was just returning from being Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. when he actually held that post 10 years earlier, or having Orsini as an R.C.M.P. Inspector at a time when there were no female R.C.M.P. Inspectors!). This made-for-CTV movie aired, coincidentally, at an unusually pertinent time. With Canada's refusal to support the U.S. in its war on Iraq and the U.S. government's bullying rhetoric toward Ottawa, a movie about sinister Americans dictating Canadian security matters seems oddly propitious. As a movie, the film is well intentioned and moderately interesting. But it can't shake a certain made-for-TV tinny-ness, having trouble generating the murky mood of Cold War paranoia, and with even heavyweight talents like Plummer and Orsini doing competent work, but nothing more. Canadian movies are so rarely political, that one can admire the nerve of this film, but it's almost overly didactic and jingoistic, the characters not so much talking as pontificating, its very lack of subtlety hurting its ability to make its point. Similar material was covered in the wholly fictional CBC movie, External Affairs -- though with a different emphasis, focusing less on international politics and more on social mores. Whittall received the Gemini for Best Supporting Actor playing the sinister C.I.A. agent. sc: Ian Adams, John Riley Adams (from Ian Adams' book). dir: Michel Poulette. 91 min.

Aguguk, the famous novel by Yves Theriault, was turned into a big-budget English-language movie under the title Shadow of the Wolf, though its French-version title remained Aguguk.

"Air Raid", a short story by John Varley, was expanded to become the movie Millennium

AIR-BUD  * * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1997) (/U.S.) Michael Jeter, Kevin Zegers, Wendy Makkena, Bill Cobbs, Brendan Fletcher, Norman Browning, Eric Christmas, Stephen E. Miller, Jay Brazeau.....Withdrawn American boy (Zegers) is befriended by a stray dog with a talent for basketball, and the boy eventually tries out for the school team...with the dog not far behind. The synopsis doesn't entirely capture this, in some ways, surprisingly complex family comedy-drama (I left out Jeter as the dog's sinister original owner, or Cobbs as the school custodian...who used to be a basketball star). At times almost embarrassingly cliched, at other times clever and original (and silly and flamboyant), it's a bit leisurely-paced, but overall, an entertaining flick...even expressing some decent "values" along the way. The dog, both as an "actor" and as a basketball player, is amazing, and was trained by Kevin DiCicco, who appears as the (thinner) referee. How "Canadian" this film was, given that many of the people behind and in front of the camera (actors Jeter, Makkena and Cobbs) weren't, is hard to say, but it picked up the Golden Reel award for most successful Canadian movie of its year and spawned a series of sequels. sc: Paul Tamasy, Aaron Mendelsohn. dir: Charles Martin Smith. 97 min.
 

AIRWAVES (TV Series)

(1986-1987)  * *  Roberta Maxwell ("Jean"), Ingrid Veninger ("Zoe"), Roland Hewgill ("Bob"), Christopher Bolton ("Matt") (2nd), Kimble Hall ("Mark") (1st), Patrick Rose ("Dale") (2nd), Taborah Johnson ("Ariel""), Alec Willows ("Alex"), with Gordon Woolvett ("Greg") (2nd), Patricia Hamilton ("Kate") (2nd).....Light-hearted family drama about a single mom (Maxwell), her daughter (Veninger), and her father (Hewgill). Bolton was added in the second season as her nephew whose parents were abroad. Hall played Maxwell's boss at radio station CJEX 790 in the first season and Rose an on-air personality in the second. Johnson and Willows played a waitress and owner, respectively, of The Alibi, the restaurant where Veninger's character worked. Woolvett played Bolton's best friend; and Hamilton a romantic interest for Hewgill's character.

Innocuous TV series, not quite drama, not quite comedy, was squarely aimed at those who feel most television shows are foul-minded tripe. Not terrible, but broadly played. Created by John Frizzell and Janice L. Platt, Michael MacMillan, Seaton McLean. Filmed in Toronto. Two seasons of half-hour episodes (approximately 25) originally on the CBC, but subsequently rerun on TVO and Showcase.


 

AIRWOLF (TV Series)

(1987)  *  Barry Van Dyke ("St. John Hawke"), Geraint Wyn Davies ("Maj. Mike Rivers"), Michelle Scarabelli ("Jo Santini"), Anthony Sherwood ("Jason Lock").....Right-wing espionage about a U.S. government team using a hi-tech helicopter, the Airwolf, to battle bad guys.

This low-budget spin-off from the U.S. TV series of the same name (which starred Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine) was made to help the original fill-out an episodes quota necessary for syndication...and was embarrassingly bad. American actor Van Dyke played the brother of Vincent's character and Scarabelli the niece of Borgnine's -- both original characters were killed off in the first episode, a move unlikely to endear the new series to the original's fans (write them out if you must, but kill 'em???). Unable to afford a chopper, all the full shots of the Airwolf (including people getting on and off) were stock footage from the original series! Still, your heart goes out to the actors. Best bets: you've got to be kidding! Filmed in B.C., but not admitting it. 24 one hour episodes shown on Global.

ALADDIN AND THE DEATH LAMP * * 1/2
(2012) (/U.S.) Darren Shahlavi, Kandyse McClure, Noam Jenkins, Eugene Clark, George Ghali, Suresh John.....In ancient Arabia, treasure hunter Aladdin (Shahlavi) and his friends accidentally release an evil Djinn (who grants wishes that kill the wishers) and set out on a quest to prevent a mystical portal from unleashing thousands of Djinns on the world. Different movies can be assessed different ways. In an empirical sense, this isn't a great movie...or even a particularly good one. But considered in the context of the average made-for-SyFy Channel movie, and as a throwback to old Saturday matinees and Ray Harryhausen flicks...it's better than you might expect. It's got a meagre budget, logic is tenuous, characterization inconsistent, and it's gorier than it needs to be (if you're harkening to an Old School style of film, shouldn't you maintain Old School sensibilities?) With that said...it's briskly paced, and oddly atmospheric (benefitting from rugged locations) and, most significantly, boasts solid performances from the four principals (especially Jenkins as Aladdin's morally conflicted best friend) -- McClure (under-utilized) even bares her midriff for a few scenes. So -- what's not to like? Ironically, it's probably got more characterization/emotion than the old Harryhausen-style flicks (Sinbad films, Jason and the Argonauts) that are so fondly remembered. So, not a "good" movie...unless you've a soft spot for low-budget adventures of CGI demons and sword play...in which case, it's actually better than many! sc: Joe Morganella, Angela Mancuso, Kevin Commins. dir: Mario Azzopardi. - extreme violence.- 86 min.

a.k.a. ALBERT WALKER * * * setting: other
(2002) (/U.K.) John Gordon-Sinclair, Alan Scarfe, Sarah Manninen, Lesley Dunlop, John Benfield, Paul Copely.....An unassuming British police detective (Gordon-Sinclair) investigates a drowning murder that leads him to a sinister con artist (Scarfe). Inspired by the case that was heavily covered in Canada (due to its Canadian connection), this TV movie has been somewhat fictionalized: the hero, the lovably rumbled detective, is a fabrication...but he takes up most of the screen time, leading one to wonder how the case was really investigated. Taken as fiction, the film is an entertainingly laid back, wryly amusing detective story, well acted and craftfully put together, though the last act manhunt tends to drag. Probably benefits the less you're familiar with the case, as the fun is watching the initially straight forward case unfold and the unexpected twists and bizarre revelations that ensue. However, taken as docudrama, it can be seen as in bad taste, exploiting and trivializing a real case in which real people suffered and, in one case, really died by turning it into a quirky romp. Largely a British production, with the only Canadians in the cast being Scarfe and Manninen. An indication of how clearly the BBC viewed the film as basically fiction was the fact that Gordon-Sinclair's character will be spun off into his own weekly series. a.k.a. The Many Lives of Albert Walker. sc: Philip Palmer (inspired by the book Nothing Sacred by Alan Cairns). dir: Harry Hook. 90 min.

Albert see Short films

ALEGRIA  * 1/2
(1997) (/France/Netherlands) Rene Bazinet, Frank Langella, Mako, Julie  Cox, Clipper Miano, Heathcote Williams, Brian Dewhurst.....Story of a (talking) mime (Bazinet) who fals in love with a beautiful circus performer (Cox) to the disapproval of her ring master father (Langella), told from the P.O.V. of the mime's street kid friend (Miano) who has his own problems with a sinister Faggin-like figure (Williams). Surrealistic fairy tale, made in association with the famed Canadian circus troupe, Cirque de soleil, and based on one of their routines. Unfortunately, there's not enough realistic plot or characterization to make a story, nor enough of the circus performances to just make a piece of dreamlike theatre. Threatens to work in spots, particularly in the scenes with American actor Langella, but ultimately...not. American actor Mako plays the narrator...but his voice is dubbed by Chuck Shamata (probably the only Canadian actor in the cast)! What's the point in that? sc: Rudy Barichello (from the performance piece). dir: Franco Dragone. 90 min.
 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (TV Series)

(1988)  * * 1/2 Cast: various.....Suspense (and sometimes fantasy) anthology featuring new stories with introductions by the late Alfred Hitchcock taken (and colourized) from the '50s U.S. series of the same name.

In the U.S. an attempt was made to resurrect the old show. When that failed, Canadians picked up the rights (for a similar tale, check out the entry under The Twilight Zone). Slight TV series often eschewed genuine suspense in favour of a broad, tongue-in-cheek style and often outlandish twist endings. The stories were set in the U.S. and starred the usual American not-quite-stars. Somewhat clunky, it had its moments -- though not too many. Best bets: the comic "Romance Machine", a science fiction episode about a man who builds a robot-Romeo of himself. One season of half hour episodes, originally aired on Global and subsequently re-run on Showcase and Space. 

ALIAS WILL JAMES  * *  setting: CDN./USA
(1988).....This documentary is only partly about James, the American cowboy/novelist/painter who was actually Ernest DuFault, a French-Canadian; the rest is a look at modern rodeo life. Depending on your point of view, this is either a so-so film about modern cowboys, or a disappointing, poorly chronicled biography of James. The film's subtext of cultural assimilation (both James and his modern counterparts hid their French-Canadianness) is interesting, but it seems to really bug the filmmaker, giving the film a condescending, even hostile attitude toward its subjects. sc./dir: Jacques Godbout. 83 min.

ALICE (TVMS)  * * 1/2  
(2009) (/U.K./U.S.) Caterina Scorsone, Andrew Lee Potts, Matt Frewer, Philip Winchester, Kathy Bates, Colm Meaney, Timothy Webber, Charlotte Sullivan, Tim Curry, Harry Dean Stanton, Zak Santiago, Eugene Lipinski.....When her new boyfriend (Winchester) is kidnapped, a young woman (Scorsone) pursues and falls through a magical mirror...only to get caught up in adventure and revolution in the weird and dreamlike world of Wonderland, while aided by the roguish Hatter (Potts). American producers Roberts(s) Halmi Sr & Jr have produced a slew of classics-inspired fantasy productions over the years -- indeed, with director Willing, they had already done "Alice in Wonderland" a few years earlier...but as a more traditional adaptation. This time it's a re-imagining of the story (hence why the altered title) set years after the original story in a modern, urbanized Wonderland -- with a more logical, coherent narrative (though still with its surreal moments). Although a few of the Halmi productions have been made in Canada, some good (Snow White) some not so much, there can often be a feeling Canada gets their B-productions, with lesser money and care. But this time out it's a grandiose, big budget production, with a cast of largely Canadian and U.K. actors (save Bates, as the evil Queen, and Stanton, in a smaller role as Caterpillar). It's an enjoyable enough, at times imaginative effort. But perhaps suffers from that ol' "inbetween" trap -- sort of youth-aimed, as the source material would warrant, yet sort of adult aimed (with Alice a woman as opposed to a girl, some PG subject matter and innuendo), it's light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek more than truly witty or out-and-out funny, and though with danger and running about, not necessarily that suspenseful, being more a romp (despite some attempts at emotional moments). Affects more gravatus in the second half, and with some scenes that do tip towards a little edgier (such as Lipinski's scenes as interrogators Dee and Dum). Ultimately...an enjoyable, well put together adventure (as long as you aren't expecting a faithful adaptation...but there are plenty of those out there) without quite leaping any bars. 4 hours. sc./dir: Nick Willing.
 
 
ALICE, I THINK (TV Series)

(2006)  * * *  Carly McKillip ("Alice MacLeod"), Dan Payne ("John") Rebecca Northan ("Diane") Connor Price ("MacGregor") Gaig Sutherland ("Finn Calhoun"), Michael Eklund ("Marcus") Ryan Robbins ("Bob Lundren"), Lori Triolo ("Geraldine"), others.....Comedy about a misfit teenage girl (McKillip), home schooled by her quirky, up-beat, hippy-esque parents (Payne and Northan), now trying to reintegrate with the mainstream of her small home town. Price plays her younger and intellectually precocious brother. Sutherland and Eklund, locals who moonlight with her dad in a bar bad (and Sutherland's character is gay); Robbins "Alice"'s upbeat, new-age therapist; and Triolo her mother's earthy best friend. 

Likened a bit to the U.S. sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle" (blending a traditional "family" sitcom form with an anarchic sensibility), this TV series boasts an infectious energy and quirkiness, given a boost by McKillip's performance as the lead and narrator. The off beat milieu, set within the stereotype of B.C.'s "Lotus Land" bohemian sub-culture, makes for a refreshingly unusual setting and for some atypical characters not generally seen in most sitcoms. Part of the trend toward outrageous/politically incorrect humour (though aimed at a mainstream audience) the series deliberately skirts good taste, like having Alice literally beaten bloody by a school bully and the writers seeing that as a source for jokes! And the series, it could be argued, reflects a slight conservative bias, lampooning lefties and left wing ideas - - while right wing values aren't really invoked, so remain free from satire. Still the fact that Alice isn't just the level headed lead, but a misfit herself, and yet the audience is, one assumes, supposed to empathize with her (and her family) even as they are being mocked, could go its own way to encouraging tolerance for other views. But that heavy analysis aside: it's uneven but generally funny and off-beat and, well, addictive. Based on books by Susan Juby. Half-hour episodes shown on the Comedy Network and, subsequently, CTV. 

ALICE'S ODYSSEY  seeL'Odyssee d'Alice Tremblay

ALIEN THUNDER  * *  setting: Alt.
(1973) Donald Sutherland, Gordon Tootoosis, Chief Dan George, Kevin McCarthy, Jean Duceppe, Francine Racette.....In the 1890s, a Mountie (Sutherland) becomes obsessed with bringing in Almighty Voice (Tootoosis, in his film debut), the Cree Indian who killed his partner (imported McCarthy). Good atmosphere in this historical drama, but uneven and not very coherent. Sutherland has since named this film as the worst of his career (a bit of an overstatement given some of his movies, but he may have meant the process of making it more than the end result). Inspired by a true story. a.k.a. Dan Candy's Law. sc: George Maleo (alias W.O. Mitchell). dir: Claude Fournier. 90 min.

ALIEN TRACKER
Movie edited together from a couple of episodes of the TV series Tracker.
 
 
ALIENATED (TV Series)

(2003-2005)  * *  Sarah-Jane Redmond ("Sarah Blundell"), Jonathon Whittaker ("Roger"), Iris Graham ("Isabelle"), Andrew Robb ("Cameron"), Campbell Lane ("George Crickmore"), with Linda Darlow ("Roxann").....Sitcom revolving around the phenomenon of Alien Abduction Scenario -- with a suburban, somewhat dysfunctional family who finds itself the subject of alien experiments. Redmond and Whittaker play the parents, Graham and Robb the teenage kids (with the former concealing her secret lesbianism), Lane the crotchety granddad. Darlow plays a neighbour who begins an affair with Lane. Members are frequently kidnapped (disappearing for hours) and return with alterations (the aliens, seemingly interested in reproduction experiments, increase the libido of the males, etc.) In fact, the implication is that it's more than just a story-of-the-week affair, and that there may be a story arc of sorts being developed. This show takes its low budget and runs with it, by doing a series meant to emulate, in a sense, the spat of "reality" series on the air -- filmed cheaply on video with lots of hand held cameras. The aliens themselves are never depicted, and special effects are restricted to occasional bright lights. 

This TV series deserves points for its, admittedly, off beat premise. But ultimately, it just ain't that funny -- even allowing for the fact that the humour is often supposed to be deadpan and understated as the actors play it straight-faced. The actors are certainly O.K. -- with Whittaker and Robb coming across the most natural. Although if the point is to truly evoke a mock-umentary, the series never achieves that level of realism. One can get a sense of a sub-text (the dysfunctional characters are already alienated from each other, with the alien experiments only exacerbating things) but, again, appreciating the effort isn't the same as enjoying the result. Intentionally vulgar at times, with lots of sex references, and profanity (that's "bleeped" out) and even nudity (likewise, pixalated out) -- whether that's the point, or whether there's actually an R-rated version of the show floating about, I don't know. 

Ultimately, it's a series that seems more than a little inspired by -- or at least, given the production green light by -- the cult success of Trailer Park Boys (another low-budget deadpan sitcom with an R-rated sensibility). Created by Mark Sawers, who also wrote and directed most episodes. Two seasons of half-hour episodes, totalling about 22, shown in Canada on Space, The Imagination Station.

ALINE  * *  setting: P.Q.
(1992) (/Belgium) Philippe Volter, Veronie Quinn Chasle, Dominique Leduc, Rodrigue Proteau, Stephane Desormiers.....While on vacation, a devil-may-care man and his daughter (Volter and Chasle) become involved with a beautiful woman (Leduc) and her junkie ex-boyfriend. Well-acted drama has good dialogue and direction, but the muddled story never manages to build up any dramatic steam. In French. sc./dir: Carole Laganiere. - brief female nudity.- 86 min.

ALL AROUND THE TOWN * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2002) (/U.K./France/Germany) Nastassja Kinski, Tobias Moretti, Kim Schraner, Andrea Roth, Michael Shanks, Ron Lea, Kevin Jubinville, Ellen Dubin.....Young American woman (Schraner), suffering from psychological scars after having being kidnapped as a child, is implicated in a murder, and even she, her District Attorney sister (Roth) and her psychiatrist (Shanks), aren't sure if she did it or not; meanwhile, the couple who once kidnapped her (Moretti and Dubin) are hovering about, pursuing their own agenda. Kinski has a decent-sized part, but not the lead role her top billing implies. O.K. made-for-TV suspense-mystery has solid performances and a decidedly multi-layered plot. But it could've been a brooding psychological thriller, and instead has all the finesse of an old "Murder, She Wrote" episode. A couple of revelation scenes aren't milked as well as they might be, and there are a few plot holes, but it maintains a modest level of interest throughout, with a nice twist about fifteen minutes into it. Schraner does good in the "splashy" part, but ironically it's Lea who's the stand out as an investigator looking into the case; maybe it's precisely because his part could've been just a walk through that one can appreciate the texture he brings to it. Kinski and Moretti are imports. One of a legion of Canadian made movies based on American novelist Mary Higgins Clark's work. a.k.a. Mary Higgins Clark's All Around the Town. sc: Peter Mohan (from a novel by Mary Higgins Clark). dir: Paolo Barzman. 93 min.

ALL FOR ONE (TV Limited Series) * * *  setting: other
(1990) (/New Zealand) Paikea Skold, Lottie Irvine, Frank Whitten, Stephanie Millar, Nathaniel Lees, Jeremy Reagan, Chris Whaanga, Moana Schwalger, Louise Nicholas.....Misadventures of a group of misfit kids in New Zealand who first form a co-ed soccer team, then try to put on a play. Millar is the helpful teacher, Lees a professional soccer player (who becomes her husband), and Whitten the conniving teacher continually trying to undermine the kids' efforts. Amusing, entertaining family show is actually two stories: the first four episodes cover the soccer team storyline, the last four the play. Barbara Gordon and Phillip Jarrett, the only Canadian elements, play the mother and new stepfather of Irvine's character.  8 half-hour episodes. sc: Ken Catran (from the novels The Worst Soccer Team Ever and Break a Leg by William Taylor). dir: Lex Van Os.

ALL HAT * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(2007) Luke Kirby, Keith Carradine, Noam Jenkins, Lisa Ray, Rachel Leigh Cook, Ernie Hudson, Joel Keller, David Alpay, Graham Greene, Gary Farmer, Charlotte Laurier.....Recently released from jail, a man (Kirby) returns to his rural hometown, where the main industry is race horses, and to its various inhabitants, including his nemesis, the corrupt wealthy scion (Jenkins). Familiar light drama has a solid cast, but way too many characters floating about to really develop most of them properly (with Stephen McHattie, Michelle Nolden, and others cropping up in bit parts), and it has trouble focusing on a specific plot. It eventually becomes a caper movie in the last act...but not a particularly clever or interesting caper (it involves horse racing -- you can probably guess the rest). It's as if the filmmakers just fell in love with the characters and the milieu, and figured that was enough, but in style it comes across like a TV movie, or an over-long episode of Heartland (with occasional profanity and strip clubs) and the characters aren't that interesting, their behaviour isn't consistent, and they spend time on scenes that seem extraneous...while other scenes seem missing. Self-described as a "western", but it ain't especially -- though maybe appropriate given the title. sc: Brad Smith (from his novel). dir: Leonard Farlinger. - sexual content.- 91 min.

ALL THE FINE LINES  a.k.a. Full Disclosure

Allan Quatermain, the novel by H. Rider Haggard, and its famous fictional hero, served, in part, as the source for the film King Solomon's Treasure

THE ALLEY CAT see Le Matou

ALLIGATOR SHOES  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1981) Garry Borris, Ronalda Jones, Clay Borris, Rose Maltais-Borris, Len Perry.....Story of working-class hustler (G. Borris), his more level-headed brother (C. Borris) and their young, schizophrenic aunt (Jones). O.K. story in this serio-comic pic, but the mainly amateurish performances hurt it too much. Jones is O.K., though. sc./dir: Clay Borris. 98 min.

ALMOST AMERICA  * * 1/2  setting: Alt./other
(2001) (/Italy) Sabrina Ferilli, Henry Czerny, Massimo Ghini, Dominic Zamprogna, Gioia Spaziani, Cosmio Bani, Veronica Niccolai, Tony Nardi, Frank Crudele.....Trials and tribulations of a strong-willed Italian woman (Ferilli) who moves her family to Edmonton, Canada in the 1950s to be with her husband (Nardi)...only to find he's created a new life for himself and she and her kids are on their own. Sprawling drama is a bit long and mayhap more workmanlike at times than truly inspired, but certainly O.K. Ghini is particularly effective as the charming Mario, though prominently billed Czerny has a relatively small part as a doctor. The first half is mainly in Italian (with sub-titles) -- even from the Canadian actors like Nardi -- though, ironically, becomes a little harder to follow when it later switches over to mainly English because Ferilli and Ghini's accents are pretty strong. Odd title seems to just be part of the mindset that says any American reference is good for the box office -- it's not like the characters had intendded to emigrate to America or even refer to America. A Canadian-Italian co-production, it seems more Italian-driven: it's actually (sort of) anti-Canadian, at least in the sense that the implication is the characters would've been happier staying in Italy, and there are a few technical lapses (would red-suited Mounties really escort prisoners in juvenile court?). sc: Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli. dir: Andrea Frazzi, Antonio Frazzi. 132 min.
 

ALMOST HEROES (TV Series)

(2011)   * *  Paul Campbell ("Terry"), Ryan Belleville ("Peter"), Lauren Ash ("Bernie"), Athena Karkanis ("Rayan"), Colin Mochie ("Boyd"), Dave Hemstad ("Dan"), Meghan Heffern ("Candi").....Comedy about two brothers who run a comic book/coffee shop -- the straight-laced business major (Campbell) who returned home reluctantly after their father's funeral, with little interest in or sympathy for the nerd sub-culture, and the flaky, arrested adolescent comic book geek (Belleville). Ash plays their friend, who works at the boutique next door (and has a crush on "Terry"); Heffern her belittling boss; Karkanis the manager of the strip mall itself; Mochrie the bumbling security guard; and Hemstad the obnoxious owner of the local sporting goods store (and the guys' chief nemesis).

This comedy has a nice enough cast all around, and can elicit occasional chuckles, but is mainly struggling. There's a lack of plausibility and narrative logic (even given the forays into slapstick and surrealism). Even in an outrageous comedy (ala "Arrested Development"), even in a surreal comedy (ala "Father Ted"), even in a cartoon! (ala "The Simpson's") there needs to be an inner logic (to the characters, at the very least, but even to their "reality" -- however divorced from our own). Here, though, too often you can find yourself pushed out of the scenes because you don't really believe in why the characters are doing what they're doing, or behaving the way they're behaving. It seems too self-consciously a sitcom -- too many of the plots and scenes seem contrived, the characters being driven by the jokes, rather than the jokes dictated by the characters and the milieu. And as a cable series, occasional forays into "shock" humour (spurting blood, on-screen vomiting) is more jarring than amusing, simply because it seems out-of-keeping with the majority of the humour.

As well, over the years, the so-called nerd culture of sci-fi and comic books has, essentially, gone mainstream, whether it be with the commercial success of sci-fi and super hero movies, or in such pop culture allusions appearing in non-genre vehicles (most notably, the mega-successful US sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory") -- which would suggest Almost Heroes is tuned into the zeitgeist. Yet, ironically, that very "mainstreaming" maybe makes the series out-of-step: things have moved on from simply laughing at the nerds. The humour in The Big Bang Theory, f'rinstance, is that even as the characters are lampooned as nerdy goofs obsessed with comics and sci-fi...it's counter-balanced by the fact that they are, still, our protagonists, and brilliant achievers in their professional careers. Almost Heroes doesn't quite balance that mockery with affection, or necessarily give you much sense the writers know too much about the sub-culture other than what they crib from, well, watching Big Bang reruns! Perhaps tellingly, though set in a comic shop -- well a comic/coffee shop! -- of the entire regular cast, only Belleville's character is actually into that idiom (and most of the store's customers are just extras, as opposed to characters). Created by Jason & Ryan Belleville. Half-hour episodes on Showcase.

Altered Ego  * *  setting: Ont.
(1991) Peg Christopherson, Peter Spence, Chapelle Jaffe.....A new author (Christopherson) finds herself being forced to adopt the identity of her pseudonym by her editor (Jaffe) and her public. Slight, low-key hour long comedy never really grabs on. sc: ... dir: Maureen Judge.

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