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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.

APARTMENT HUNTING * *  setting: Ont.
(2000) Andrew Tarbet, Kari Matchett, Valerie Jeanneret, Matt Gordon, Tracy Wright, Arnold Pinnock, Rachel Hayward, John Evans.....Writer (Tarbet), whose marriage (to Matchett) is sliding toward "polite", researches a piece on phone dating...and finds himself striking up a relationship with one of his subjects (Jeanneret). Relationship comedy is amiable enough, if a tad raunchy at times, and the scenes between Tarbet and Jeanneret (even by phone) sparkle, but in-between it lags a bit. The actors are fine, and the script goes for juggling a big cast of characters, where plot threads weave in and out, confusion and miscommunication abound, and everything collides in the climax. But, as such, it's almost trying to be a farce at times, but is more cute than funny, and kind of meandering, where you don't dislike the characters...but maybe don't entirely like them, either. Amiable, but not quite exciting. And the attempt to show off its "indie" film attitude, like with frequent whimsical cuts to singer Mary Margaret O'Hara as a street busker, are a tad annoying, actually. Kind of awkward having Jeanneret seeming to play a homely person, when she ain't. Media personality, Ralph Benmergui, has a bit as a book editor. sc./dir: Bill Robertson. - sexual content.- 88 min.

APOLLO 18  * * * 
(2011) (/U.S.) Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins.....Story of a hitherto unknown, top secret 18th Apollo mission to the moon (told through video flight records) which discover they aren't alone on the lunar surface. The pseudo-documentary/"lost footage" mini-genre of horror-thrillers (popularized, if not necessarily begat, by "The Blair Witch Project") is a way of doing a movie on the cheap...but this is technically ambitious and presumably required at least a modest budget what with the convincing sets (landing module, lunar landscape), special effects, and technical tricks (making the footage look glitchy and like something from the 1970s). Poorly received when first released and, sure, it has short-comings that might make it a lesser big screen release (like the fact that, setting aside, it is a pretty standard, minimalist, story) ...but it's also better than its rep, with a decent cast, and does slowly ratchet up the tension and chills as it goes, making it worth a look on DVD or TV. Though why, according to the end credits, they needed a dozen or so casting directors, representing at least five cities, I dunno...given there were only three significant actors, plus some ground control voices (including Andrew Airlie) and a few extras in home movie clips (including Ali Liebert as a girl friend) -- almost all of whom, save perhaps British actor Owen, were Vancouver-based Canadians. sc: Brian Miller. dir: Gonzalo López-Gallego. - violence.- 86 min.

(1974) Richard Dreyfuss, Micheline Lanctot, Jack Warden, Randy Quaid, Joe Silver, Joseph Wiseman, Denholm Elliott.....Story of a young, ghetto-bred hustler (Dreyfuss) and his determination to own land -- and be a "somebody" -- no matter who he has to step on. Well-acted and entertaining adaptation of the famous serio-comic novel, though it suffers, as did the source material, from its moral ambivalence. It received the Best Picture Etrog. sc: Mordecai Richler, adaptation Lionel Chetwynd (from Richler's novel). dir: Ted Kotcheff. 121 min.

APRES SKI  setting: P.Q.
(1970) Daniel Pilon, Mariette Levesque, Celine Lomez, Robert Arcand..... Sexual hi-jinks at a ski resort as the new instructor (Pilon) competes with his co-workers to see how many women he can bed. Appallingly bad, incoherent comedy could almost be classified as soft porn...except most of the film is taken up with interminable talking scenes (without exhibiting any characterization or story to justify them). Not very sexy either (though it is unappealingly sexist). The sort of film that has probably been found to cause stupidity in lab rats. English title: Winter Games. sc: Pierre Brousseau, Roger Cardinal. dir: Roger Cardinal. - female nudity, explicit sexual content, partial male nudity.- 105 min.

APRIL ONE  * *  setting: Ont.
(1994) (/U.K./Germany) Stephen Shellen, Djanet Sears, David Strathaim, Wayne Robson, Gordon Clapp, Pierre Curzi, Martin Julien.....Slightly unstable gunman, David Maltby (Shellen), takes the Bahamian vice-consul (Sears) hostage in Ottawa, and a level-headed cop (imported Strathaim) wants to resolve things before any shooting starts. So-so drama, a fictionalized look at the 1986 incident, tries to be both a taut suspense drama and a biting satire, but never entirely succeeds at either. It only really starts working more than half-way through, when we're finally allowed into the heads of the characters. Plays slightly better on TV. Slightly evocative of Tomorrow Never Comes. sc./dir: Murray Battle. 91 min.

ARARAT  * *  setting: Ont./other
(1993) David Alpay, Arsinee Khanjian, Christopher Plummer, Marie-Josee Croze, Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood, Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver.....Complex tale of various characters struggling with various personal traumas and their own ethnicity, while filming a movie about the little known Turkish genocide of ethnic Armenians in 1915. Egoyan's most ambitious -- and certainly most political -- film to date jumbles narrative chronology, plays with its movie-within-a-movie concept, and threads through weighty themes of memory and identity and perception-versus-reality...but it's so concerned with symbols and metaphors that it kind of forgets to let the characters be people. Enormously confusing, with the order of scenes having no relation to chronology, and, as is common with Egoyan, he directs ponderously, and writes dialogue, and directs actors, too often like they're ciphers rather than real people (which is fine, if you like that). Even the historical/political context is poorly explained for those unfamiliar with it. The more you reflect upon it and its various intertwining threads, the more you admire just how high Egoyan was reaching...even as you're aware it doesn't really work (such as many critics assuming the "movie" within the movie was supposed to seem like a cheesy, bad movie...but I'm not sure that was the intention). The history and issues the movie raises are important...but ultimately a movie, however noble its intentions, has to be evaluated as a movie, and on that level, it doesn't come together. Many of the normally good actors seem a bit awkwardly directed, but newcomer Alpay is surprisingly good as the lead, and Koteas is noteworthy as an actor hired to play a Turkish bad guy. Received five Genie Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Khanjian) and Best Supporting Actor (Koteas). sc./dir: Atom Egoyan. - violence, female nudity, sexual content.- 118 min.

ARCHANGEL  * *  setting: other
(1990) Kyle McCulloch, Kathy Marykuca, Sarah Neville, Ari Cohen, Margaret Anne MacLeod, Michael O'Sullivan, David Falkenberg, Michael Gottli, Victor Cowie.....During W.W. I an addled Russian soldier (McCulloch) mistakes a woman for his lost love...among other things going on; presented as though an old movie, complete with editing glitches, sound drops, etc. Admittedly atmospheric, technically impressive comedy suffers from its own cleverness and the self-reflective humour that's more smarmy than funny. Will appeal to film students, and fans of Madden-Toles, but others be warned. sc: George Toles, Guy Madden. dir: Guy Madden. - casual male nudity, extreme violence.- 90 min.


(2012-2014)  * * *  Adam Beach ("Bobby Martin"), Pascale Hutton ("Krista Ivarson"), Kevin McNulty ("Mel Ivarson"), Stephen Lobo ("Dev"), Carmen Moore ("Lorna"), John Reardon ("Blake"), Timothy Webber ("Cece Cooper"), with Emilie Ullerup ("Astrid"), Sera-Lys McArthur ("Hailey"), many others.....Drama-adventure about a struggling air charter service in Yellowknife -- modern bush pilots still often the only way to and from isolated Northern communities. Beach plays the prodigal city boy, returned to the fold and with a family stake in the company, still a bit green despite his dad having been a legendary pilot. McNulty the crusty owner, Hutton his pilot daughter. Lobo a novice pilot (emigrating from India with romantic dreams of the Canadian north). Moore the company's receptionist/general manager; Reardon another pilot; Webber the chief mechanic. etc.

Solid TV series is just a mix of night time soap with stand alone plots of (up-dated) Jack London-esque adventure...but it's a slick, well produced mixing of those themes, with a nice cast playing engaging enough characters caught up in generally involving dramatics. TV budgets (or f/x) have come a long way, because the series manages to pull off its rather technically ambitious premise convincingly, with plenty of airplane action and nice use of locale (as opposed to feeling they have to keep the plane scenes to a minimum and interior scenes to a maximum). It also reflects a nice regional and ethnic pluralism, harkening back to the CBC's earlier successful, big budget night time drama -- North of 60. Makes nice use of the snowy environment (depicting the boom and bust of modern-day frontierism, and the clash of old cultures and modern industry) when most series are set in generic warmer, southern climes, and with a mix of Native and white (and other) actors and characters. Indeed, this may be among the most refreshingly integrated, multi-cultural series of its kind on a major network -- most series are either white, with a token Native character (if at all), or essentially Native series, with a few token white characters, but this features a number of Native actors (including top-billed Beach), playing Native characters, touching on Native issues...but just as part of its milieu and its stories, as opposed to feeling that that's its raison d'etre or that was how it was pitched to the network. Making it an essential, but unapologetically nonchalant, aspect of the series. Created by Ian Weir. Three seasons of hour long episodes on the CBC.



(1992-1995) (/U.S.)  * * * 1/2  Cast: various.....Youth-aimed horror anthology introduced by a group of kids called the Midnight Society (played variously by Jason Alisharan, Rachel Blanchard, Ross Hull, Nathanial Moreau, Raine Pare-Coull, Jodie Resther, Jacob Tierney, Daniel DeSanto, Joanna Garcia, Elisha Cuthbert) who trade spooky stories around a campfire.

Solid TV series is light-hearted but might be a little intense for younger kids. Well done and it's even mildly engaging for adults. Followed by the similarly themed Goosebumps. 65 half-hour episodes on YTV. 

ARMEN AND BULLIK  * *  setting: USA./P.Q./other
(1993) (/France) Mike Connors, Roch Voisine, Maruschka Detmers, Tony Nardi, Frank Hoffman, Walter Massey, Jean-Pierre Bergeron, Dominique Briand, Aron Tager.....U.S. cop and his inventor/cop nephew (American Connors and Canuck Voisine) become involved in a search for a lost treasure of the Templar Knights. Tough call. Bad opening stretch plus poor dubbing and inept direction and editing mix with a nicely flamboyant story and fast pacing in this light-hearted adventure. Gets better as it goes along and would warrant a **1/4...if I gave out quarter points, which I don't. Some weak performances, but also some good ones, particularly the always reliable Bergeron as one of the villains. sc: Raffy Shart, story and dialogue by John Goldsmith. dir: Alan Cooke. 96 min.

ARRIVAL II  * *  setting: P.Q.
(1998) Patrick Muldoon, Michael Sarrazin, Jane Sibbett, Catherine Blythe (a.k.a. Catherine N. Blythe), Mike Scherer, Larry Day, Steve Adams.....Computer programmer (Muldoon) finds himself on the run with a lady reporter (Sibbett) after receiving information about a covert alien invasion...and the aliens know they know. The U.S. film, "The Arrival", was an unapologetically cliched, derivative B-movie science fiction thriller...but told with enough class and panache that it was an A-list version of a B movie. This Canadian made follow up (Muldoon plays the brother of the hero from the first movie, who was played by Charlie Sheen) is more of a B-movie version of a B-movie. Low-budget (though with occasional flashes of special f/x) and with weakish performances, it nonetheless has a few clever lines of light-hearted dialogue, and one or two surprise twists. And at least it's a opposed to a mindless shoot 'em up. All of which isn't enough to make it a good movie, but maybe on a slow night when you have to stay up for a phone call... Sarrazin has a fairly small part, but is prominently billed, presumably to distract from the fact that both Muldoon and Sibbett are American imports. Though kudos for the fact that the movie is actually set in Canada. a.k.a. Second Arrival. sc: Mark David Perry. dir: Kevin S. Tenney. - brief female nudity, sexual content.- 94 min.

THE ARROW (TVMS)  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1997) Dan Akyroyd, Sara Botsford, Ron White, Aidan Devine, Robin Gammell, Jonathan Whittaker, Art Hindle, Robert Haley, Ian D. Clark, Christopher Plummer, Frank Adamson, Colette Stevenson.....Story of the building of the Avro Arrow in the late '50s, the Canadian-made jet-fighter that was decades ahead of its time in design (it was the first delta-wing craft -- triangular-shaped to us lay people) and supposedly in performance, but was cancelled before it could prove itself. Flag-waving CBC mini-series postulating a superplane that could have changed the future of Canada through spin-off industries and advances (including putting Canadians in space) but was crushed by shadowy conspiracies and political incompetence (think Oliver Stone's "JFK", except about a plane, not a president). Competently acted, written and directed, without ever being inspired, it gets better, albeit blatantly manipulative, in the second part. Good f/xs. Intriguing, though simple-minded at times (space exploration, for instance, isn't just about having the technology, but cash) and, ultimately, how accurate its admittedly one-sided thesis is is open to interpretation (particularly its portrayal of Prime Minister Diefenbaker and even the capabilities of the Arrow itself). And of all the missed opportunities and blown chances for glory littering Canadian history, the idea that Canadians should get teary-eyed over a war-machine may make some viewers...uncomfortable. Michael Ironside and Michael Moriarty (as U.S. President Eisenhower) have just one scene each. Four hours. Based on research contained in the book Shutting Down the National Dream by Greg Stewart. sc: Keith Ross Leckie. dir: Don McBrearty.

The Art of Being see Short films

THE ART OF MURDER  * *  setting: USA.
(1999) Michael Moriarty, Joanna Pacula, Boyd Kestner, Peter Onorati, Nathaniel Deveaux.....An American woman (Pacula), cheating on her husband, is blackmailed, which leads to murder. Everything is reasonably competent in this suspense-drama (acting, dialogue, direction) without it ever gelling into anything particularly interesting. To be fair, there are one or two turns to the story, but not enough to keep it surprising overall, and it's a tad slow moving. Perhaps the biggest problem is that they never make us care about these people enough to care about what happens to them. There's a scene, part way through, between Pacula and Moriarty on a bridge that starts to put some flesh on the characters, but it's not enough. Pacula and Onorati (as the blackmailer) are imports. sc: Anthony Stark, Sean Smith. dir: Reuben Preuss. - sexual content, female nudity, violence.- 94 min.

THE ART OF THE STEAL  * * *   setting: USA./CDN./other
(2013) (/U.S.) Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Kenneth Welsh, Katheryn Winnick, Chris Dimantopoulos, Terence Stamp, Jason Jones, Stephen McHattie.....A stunt driver and ex-con (Russell) is reluctantly drawn back into his old gang -- which includes his smooth talking brother (Dillon) who sold him out years before -- for one final con/heist involving a rare manuscript being temporarily held by customs at the Canada-U.S. border. Slick, stylish, snappily-paced caper movie is unapologetically fun, scenes spreading from Europe to the U.S. to Canada. It boasts not just a funny script -- but a witty script, where the characters don't always say what you think they're going to say. And benefits from great performances all around (with its mix of American, Canadian, and British stars) -- they're funny without simply being comic caricatures. There are the requisite twists and turns and double-crosses (and one can quibble whether it entirely holds together, logic-wise). The main flaw is simply one of gravitas -- or lack thereof. Despite the fact that the underlining motives and emotions are grounded, like similar movies in the caper genre it can be fun to watch more than it's emotionally gripping. Maybe it lacks a sufficiently prominent romantic thread or something (Winnick, as Russell's girl friend, is easily the least defined/important role). Still, a fun romp that never drags. sc./dir: Jonathan Sobol. - suggestive material.- 90 min.

THE ART OF WAR  * * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(2000) (/U.S.) Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Marie Matiko, Donald Sutherland, Michael Biehn, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Liliana Komorowska, James Hong.....Snipes plays a secret agent who works for a covert branch of the United Nations (insuring global peace even if it requires a little blackmail) who ends up on the run after being wrongly implicated in an assassination, hooking up with a pretty translator (Matiko) along the way. Critically panned, but O.K. action movie wants to be James Bond, mixed with a touch of man-on-the-run movies like "North by Northwest", and told with modern, action movie stunts (ala John Woo films) that lose all sense of plausibility (sure, James Bond isn't realistic, but it's more realistic than this). It threatens to be a great action pic at times, with some imaginative scenes and, once you get into it, more to the plot than just a bunch of fight scenes. But it doesn't quite pull it off, with a few too many confusing bits, "surprise" twists that aren't very surprising, R-rated violence, and the movie just keeps you at arms length, emotionally speaking, too much of the time. Still, worth catching if you're looking for a James Bond-type fix. Of the above listed actors, only Chaykin, Sutherland, and Komorowska are Canadian, though at least Sutherland's character, the Secretary General of the U.N., is supposed to be Canadian (it's pretty rare for these kind of Canadian movies to make any reference to Canada). Snipes was one of the executive producers. sc: Wayne Beach, Simon Davis Barry. dir: Christian Duguay. - extreme violence, partial female nudity, sexual content.- 116 min.

THE ART OF WOO  * * *  setting: Ont.
(2001) Sook-Yin Lee, Adam Beach, John Gilbert, Joel Keller, Kelly Harms, Alberta Watson, Kelly Harms, Don McKellar.....Story of the relationship between a flaky art gallery curator and would-be gold digger (Lee), determined to marry for money, and the level-headed struggling artist (Beach) who moves into the adjoining apartment. Romantic comedy-drama has a decidedly old-fashioned heart, evoking Hollywood romances of the '50s and '60s -- though with a decidedly modern, and arguably very Canadian, ethnic pluralism. Uneven, and even a bit cryptic and muddled in some scenes, but there's an underlining charm that carries it along. Rough around the edges, but if a good movie is defined by one where you're curious to see where the, at times complex, Byzantine, plot threads are headed (both characters aren't quite what they present themselves as) and where you kind of, grudgingly, care about the characters -- then I guess that makes this a good movie. Beach inparticular has evolved into real leading man material. sc./dir: Helen Lee. - brief female nudity, sexual content.- 96 min.


(2015)  (/U.S.)  * *  Tricia Helfer, Brandon P. Bell, Brian Van Holt, Gil Bellows, Lauren Lee Smith, Jacqueline Byers, P.J. Boudousqué, Brad Carter, Wendy Crewson, Andea Roth, Aliyah O'Brien, many others.....Science fiction about a multi-generational American starship (whole generations will live and die never knowing anything but life on the space ship) that was secretly launched in the 1960s -- except, unbeknownst to them, the ship never left earth and is still being observed (and studied) in modern times as part of a secret government experiment. The story kicks off with a murder aboard the ship which catches both the crew, and those studying them, by surprise -- though it's equally just a soap opera involving a large cast. The actors are a mix of Americans and Canadians though the characters and the milieu is 100% American (American flags are, literally, in many scenes) despite airing in Canada on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (whose mandate was supposed to be a home for Canadian programs that actually admitted they were Canadian!) -- though that was partly because this was essentially an American production that acquired Canadian co-producers.

This SF series is a little hard to review, partly because of how it represented itself. It was marketed as an "event" mini-series (shown in three parts in the U.S. but aired in its intended 6x1hr format on the CBC) but is actually just the first season of a proposed TV series, building to a finale that leaves plenty of threads hanging and unresolved.

Unfortunately, the overall result is rather...bland. A neat idea that feels like it was pushed into production before anyone had really had time to let it percolate and the good ideas to come forward. Even the idea of the crew essentially being an "alternate reality" culture -- an extension of the 1960s -- is never really exploited (or explored) as much as it could be (either by having it be a rigid continuation of 1960s mores, or perhaps a 1960s ideal of the future, ala "Star Trek"), that aspect being more reflected in costumes and the colours than the culture, essentially "Mad Men" Space. (Interestingly, they chose to ignore 1960s racial issues, allowing for more open casting -- yet the main cast is still predominantly white, save for Bell!) There were attempts to explore this SF culture (such as a class structure and a regulated birth rate) while the "real" world scenes are pretty generic government conspiracy/black ops sort of stuff.

The main story threads struggled with what seemed like warmed over night time soap opera plots (including a lot of sleeping around, with the captain and his wife maintaining control partly through seduction) where even the opening murder mystery thread never really becomes compelling (who and why never really building to any big surprises -- or is even meant to) with the more fantasy aspects (including a child with preternatural abilities) left deliberately vague. And though the actors are competent, few of them, or their characters, emerge as interesting enough to really involve you emotionally (by the end it seemed as though we were actually supposed to be rooting for Helfer's character -- which you might not have realized!). Arguably the stand-outs are Canadian actress Byers as a sympathetic, level-headed teen and American actor Carter who brings real grit and conviction to his role as a ne'erdowell who finds himself learning more than he wanted about the world. Ultimately, it's one of those things that isn't really bad...but never really becomes that good, either. Whether or not it gets a second season will also affect its appeal; on one hand, it's not necessarily that compelling...on the other hand, a continuation might bring some closure to the threads. As it is, it's a "mini-series" that never really goes anywhere. Six one hour episodes shown in Canada on the CBC. - casual female nudity; sexual content; violence.-

(1991) Germain Houde, Anais Goulet-Robitaille, Julie St.Pierre, Raymond Bouchard, Gildor Roy, Claude Desparois, Norman Levesque, Marc Labreche.....Computer surveillance, an elusive trombone player, cops and hoods, all get in the way as a movie studio's bumbling night watchman (Houde) and his daughter (Goulet-Robitaille) try to clear him of some murder charges. Silly slapstick comedy is funny, if a little broad, once it gets going, with lots of off-beat ideas. English title: Four Stiffs and a Trombone. sc./dir: Roger Cantin. 100 min.

THE ASSIGNMENT  * *  setting: USA/other/CDN.
(1997) Aidan Quinn, Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley, Liliana Komorowska,  Claudia Ferri, Vlasta Vrana.....American navel officer (Quinn) is recruited for a top secret mission to get the real-life terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, by impersonating him. Slow-moving suspenser wants to be a thoughtful character-study (almost more than it is a thriller), but remains unsurprising and suffers because the lead character remains pretty opaque and the plot, when it finally arrives (half the film is just him training for the assignment), isn't particularly clever -- no elaborate caper scheme here. The same year Hollywood came out with "The Jackal", another movie about a fictional attempt to get the real-life Carlos. sc: Dan Gordon, Sabi H. Shabtai. dir: Christian Duguay. -  violence, female nudity, sexual content, casual male nudity.- 119 min.

THE ASSISTANT  * *  setting: USA.
(1997) Gil Bellows, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Joan Plowright, Kate Greenhouse, Jamiz Woolvett, Frank Moore.....Depression-era story of a drifter (Bellows) who helps rob a Jewish grocer (Mueller-Stahl) then, feeling guilty, ingratiates himself with the man, helping out at the store, while also becoming attracted to the grocer's daughter (Greenhouse), to the disapproval of the grocer's wife (Plowright). Frustrating drama starts out interesting, evoking its genre of inner city period melodramas, but then seems to lose its part because, belatedly, it seems to be trying for a high minded serious drama where the romance and the crime stuff is secondary to the central character's evolution. But that evolution isn't entirely well portrayed, with the lead character's motivation often murky and, ultimately, he loses our empathy in a transgression that too clearly reveals the source novel's 1950s sensibilities. Ambitious...but ultimately unsatisfying. There's also a side thought on social-politics. The story is, essentially, about a fallen gentile who finds redemption in Judaism. Which is fine. But now consider the reaction if the story was about a fallen Jew who finds redemption in Christianity? sc/dir: Daniel Petrie (from the novel by Bernard Malamud). 105 min.

(2001-2002)  * *...* * *  Demore Barnes ("Benjamin Hardaway"), Shaun Benson ("Jonah Gleason"), Tamara Hickey ("Robyn Parsons"), Gabriel Hogan ("Mitch Barnsworth"), Jennie Raymond ("Amy Kassan"), R.H. Thomson ("Angus MacGregor"), with Sean Sullivan ("Dale"), Ian D. Clark ("Terence"), David Calderisi ("Harris"), Marnie McPhail ("Cindy"), Steve Bacic, others.....Serio-comic drama focusing on junior lawyers at a prestigious Toronto law firm. Barnes plays the uptight, by-the-book character with no people skills; Benson the eager go-getter; Hickey (the show stealer) the guileless Texan; Hogan the affable but lazy Englishman who only got the job because his uncle was a partner; and Raymond the high powered ice queen. Thomson plays a senior partner. Sullivan is the lawyer who oversees the associates, Clark a senior partner (and the uncle of Hogan's character), Calderisi another partner, and McPhail and Bacic other senior lawyer. 

This TV series is slick and boasts some crisp writing, as well as a seeming genuine appreciation for the niceties of law (you believe the writers have done their homework). And it has an enthusiastic principal cast that plays well off of each other -- there aren't too many series where the actors seem to have established such an easy, on-screen rapport with each other, and their characters, right from the get go. Nonetheless, the first season was uneven. Eschewing the usual lawyer series formula (Street Legal, for one) of angst, weighty issues and court room histrionics, it instead went for a lighter tone, playing up the quirks and foibles and misadventures. But the result, though mildly diverting at times, tended to meander good-naturedly about rather uncompellingly...and vapidly. Clearly recognizing this wasn't the way to go, the second season shifted gears to more standard dramatic, provocative fair, resulting in better, more compelling episodes. But the change was too late to re-capture lost viewers and the series was cancelled. A shame. 

Ironically, this series is ostensibly intended primarily for the Canadian market -- that is, no Hollywood partners calling the shots -- yet three of the five leads are supposeed to be non-Canadians (though the actors are Canadian). At least, one inferred Barnes' character was American (but a later episode implied his parents lived in Toronto, so maybe not). Instead of peopling the show with a diverse cast of American and British characters, wouldn't it have been more Canadian -- not to mention realistic -- to have them reflect the diversity of Canadian life? Y'know, a Newfoundlander, an Albertan, a Francophone, etc.? Like a lot of modern Canadian series intended largely for the Canadian market, it was made with looser restrictions, indulging in profanity and occasional (male) nudity (at least, in the first season, but not so much the second). According to some reports, this series sort of evolved from the failed pilot, Justice, and it started airing a couple of months before a similiar, short-lived U.S. series, "First Years". Created by Greg Ball, Steve Blackman, Alyson Feltes. Two seasons on CTV, totalling about 28 hour long episodes. - casual male nudity.- 

AT THE END OF THE DAY: The Sue Rodriguez Story  * * * 1/2  setting: B.C.
(1998) Wendy Crewson, Al Waxman, Carl Marotte, Roberta Maxwell, Patrick Galligan, Miko Hughes, Monica Parker, Jesse Collins, Fiona Reid.....Story of Sue Rodriguez (Crewson) who is struck by the debilitating and fatal ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and then goes to court trying to fight to legalize physician assisted suicide. Made-for-CBC drama is well acted, particularly by the always reliable Crewson, the often under appreciated Marotte, and Waxman, in an atypical turn. Very well done, only occasionally straying into the hokey or obvious, and unflinching in its "warts and all" approach to the characters and relationships. It can be, admittedly, difficult to watch at times, particularly at first, then the focus shifts a bit more toward the legal fight. The real life M.P., Svend Robinson (here played by Galligan), appears briefly as a reporter during a press conference. sc: Linda Svendsen (from the book Uncommon Will: The Death and Life of Sue Rodriguez by Lisa Hobbs Birnie and Sue Rodriguez). dir: Sheldon Larry. app. 90 min.

(2006)  * *  Natalie Lisinska ("Jenny"), Matthew Edison ("Wolf"), Martha Henry ("Lucy Knowlton"), Benz Antoine ("Michael Quenton"), Carlo Rota ("Albert"), Hrant Alianek ("Zlawko"), Nigel Bennett ("Jacob Knowlton"), Matthew Bennett ("J.J. Knowlton"), Robin Brule ("Adelaide"), Brandon McGibbon ("Jeremy"), Raoul Bhaneja ("Harry Jindal"), Shawn Campbell ("William"), Samantha Weinstein ("Piper"), Walter Alza ("Slavic"), Frank Moore ("Frank Richards"), Jonas Chernick ("Danny Book"), others.....Comedy-drama about the denizens of an odd ball hotel, with a sort of plot thread involving a murder mystery running through the series. At once slightly different from creator Ken Finkleman's previous series...and very much rooted in the same mentality. Like some of them (Foolish Heart, Foreign Objects), it's kind of an anti-series, resisting a uniform flavour as he and his co-writers use it to exorcise a stew of impulses, veering from comedy, to drama, to social commentary, with surrealism, whimsy, and the occasional musical number, sort of about the regular characters, sort of about the guest stars, and all served up as a homage/rip-off of past film and TV, from Hollywood melodramas like "Sunset Boulevard" to European New Wave to 1950s teleplays -- though often without the depth or significance of the things being imitated. 

Some critics praised its "quirky characters"...quirky, maybe. Characters? They kind of need to be better developed to qualify as characters. The problem with the "anything goes" mentality is that it comes across like a stew full of interesting spices and ingredients...that someone forgot to leave in the oven long enough to actually bake into something, resulting in unfinished story ideas and undeveloped characters. There are some great elements, that often don't come together. In one episode Maury Chaykin is extraordinary as a down-and-out comic, reuniting with his ex-partner (Kathleen Laskey), and they have some brilliantly written and performed scenes (as though the writers were cribbing dialogue from some old Playhouse 90 script)...that never end up going anywhere! (Another memorable bit also involves an ageing comic -- this time it does go somewhere, but still seems a bit thinly developed). The "mystery" that acts as the series' unifying thread seems as though they couldn't really be bothered to come up with anything actually, y'know, intriguing. Even the over-the-top political stuff, involving sleazy right wing politicians seems, like so much of the series, a little like Finkleman and co. were just doing an homage to something else. The series also reflected a real "soft" Canadianism -- most of the references were American or European, as were the characters (Henry refers to her butler by the nickname "zee" -- the American pronunciation of the letter Z), as if the filmmakers were so caught up in their desire to evoke whatever had inspired them, they couldn't quite reconcile it with a Canadian identity. It's got a good cast...but they, like the dialogue, are often too self-consciously mannered. Stand outs include Bhaneja and Campbell as an English dilettante and his alcoholic lawyer, Matthew Bennett as a ladder climbing politician, and Lisinska and Edison, who start out as though intended as the series' nominal leads, but are let down by the narrative...particularly Lisinska who's character is completely mangled by the end! Ultimately, not so much a case of style over substance, as a case of style mistaken for substance. Colourful and audacious enough that, if I were to write this in a slightly less grumpy mood, I might give it an extra half star just for effort...but it's more disappointing than rewarding. Despite the two Bennett's playing father and son...they aren't related. Created by Ken Finkleman. 6 hour long episodes on the CBC. 

AT THE MIDNIGHT HOUR  * *  setting: USA.
(1995) Patsy Kensit, Simon MacCorkindale, Keegan MacIntosh, Cynthia Dale, Lindsay Merrithew.....American nanny (Brit Kensit) tries to mend the relationship between a widowed scientist (MacCorkindale) and his equally brilliant son (MacIntosh), while receiving threats from what may be the ghost of his dead wife...who may have been murdered! Made-for-TV drama and sort of suspenser sounds better than it is, and is mainly just slow and a bit dull. See Harlequin. sc: Joe Wisenfeld (from the novel by Alicia Scott). dir: Charles Jarrott. 87 min.

ATANARJUAT: The Fast Runner  * * 1/2  setting: N.W.T.
(2002) Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Madeleine Ivalu, Pauloosie Qulitalik.....Historical epic set among the Inuit about the rivalry between Atanarjuat (Ungalaaq) and the sinister son of the chief (Arnatsiaq). Adventure-drama, based on an Inuit legend, starts out rather confusing, but settles down to a more coherent tale of Shakespearean dimensions, about rivalry, feuds, romance, jealousy, murder, betrayal, patricide. Although the intrusion of mystical elements toward the end can be confusing in an otherwise realist film. The first feature made almost entirely by Inuit talent, and filmed on Hi-Definition Video in the Inuit language (with sub-titles), it's a cinematic milestone, and is a moderately interesting artistic success, benefiting from the atypical milieu. But it could've used another few sessions in the editing room, because it's far too long. Probably half an hour to an hour could've been cut, not by dropping any scenes, but by tightening the ones that are there and editing out some of the pregnant pauses. And the actors are too obviously what they are -- non-professionals (admittedly, being the first such film, it's not like they've had a lot of opportunities to hone their craft). Tulugarjuk, as the initially charming but ultimately duplicitous femme fatale, Puja, delivers a notable, natural performance. Received Genies for Best Picture, Direction, Screenplay, Editing and Music. sc: Paul Apak Angilirq. dir: Zacharias Kunuk. - male nudity, brief female nudity, sexual content.- 168 min.

ATLANTIC CITY  * *  setting: USA.
(1981) (/France) Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Kate Reid, Michel Piccoli, Robert Joy, Hollis McLaren, Al Waxman.....Story of an aging, two-bit hood (Lancaster) who inadvertently makes good and of an aspiring blackjack dealer (Sarandon) who hopes to make it to Europe. Critically revered film could have been a good serio-comic tale of small time losers and dreamers, but it's listless with unappealing characters. Grossly overrated. Sarandon's character is supposed to be Canadian...but the setting, the writer, the director and the lead actors aren't. sc: John Guare. dir: Louis Malle. 104 min.

(2003)  * * 1/2  Cast: various.....Limited series anthology adapting six short stories by -- as the title implies -- critically regarded Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood. 

Perhaps the biggest strength of this series is a general lack of self-conscious pretension. The source stories may be "literary", but the filmmakers are content to let the art speak for itself by dramatizing them in a matter-of-fact, just-tell-the-story manner, as opposed to getting mired in heavy handed artifice. The actors are capable, the pacing agreeable. All that leaves is the stories themselves and whether they're your cup of tea (how faithfully they evoke the source material is for others to evaluate). Some are O.K....some, like the one about two girls at summer camp, seem kind of like shaggy dog stories. Best bets: the one about the college student (Emily Hampshire) who finds herself distressed, but also secretly flattered, when a weird-o student becomes fixated on her. 6 half-hour episodes shown on The Women's Network. 

AU CLAIR DE LA LUNE * * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(1982) Guy L'Ecuyer, Michel Cote.....Story of the friendship between a homeless albino (Cote) and an arthritic older man (L'Ecuyer) who is preparing for a bowling championship. Whimsical, bittersweet, but at times disjointed comedy doesn't entirely sustain itself. sc./dir: Andre Forcier. - violence.- 90 min.

AUGUST 32ND ON EARTH  see Un 32 aout sur terre

L'AUTOMNE SAUVAGE  * *  setting: P.Q.
(1991) Serge Dupire, Anne Letourneau, Raymond Bouchard, Leslie Yeo, Raoul Trujillo, Marie-Josee Gauthier.....Man (Dupire) returns to his hometown and becomes involved in murder, corruption, Native rights, and his wealthy family's mill. Suspenser tries to be one of those sleepy small town thrillers where every closet has a skeleton, but neither the plot nor the characters become interesting, and the dialogue veers towards trite (not to mention awkwardly translated in the subtitles). Principally in French with some English. English title: The Indian Autumn. sc: Gabriel Pelletier, Bob Girardi (story Bruno Jobin). dir: Gabriel Pelletier. - sexual content.- 108 min.

AVALANCHE  * *  setting: USA.
(1994) Michael Gross, Deanna Milligan, Myles Ferguson, David Hasselhoff.....An American father (Gross) and his two kids (Milligan and Ferguson) are buried in their cabin in a winter avalanche...and a psychotic smuggler (Hasselhoff) is trapped with them. Interesting setting in this made-for-TV thriller, but though briskly paced enough to be watchable, it's not very thrilling. In fact, at times, it's downright silly, with lots of primordial screams and "boos" that don't work...and a use of duct tape that has to be seen to be believed! Milligan delivers a fine performance. sc: Tim Redman. dir: Paul Shapiro. 91 min.

(2002) Ed Marinaro, Nick Mancuso, Kirsten Robek, Wolf Larson, Tobias Mehler, Kirby Morrow.....An avalanche strikes near a ski resort, trapping various people on the slope...with an even bigger avalanche set to go off in a few hours! O.K. suspense-drama-disaster flick has an agreeable cast and does a decent enough job of mixing the to-be-expected soap opera-y stuff of the first half with the action-suspense of the second -- though there's not as much soap//character stuff as the genre usually entails. Nice effects, particularly given that this is, presumably, a modestly budgeted movie. sc: Paul Ziller, Elizabeth Sanchez. dir: Paul Ziller. - sexual content, violence, casual male nudity.- 92 min. 

(2013) (/U.S.) Alexander Mendeluk, Kate Nauta, Benjamin Easterday, Eric Scott Woods, Kelle Cantwell, Richard Gleason, Amy Ninh, Gina Holden.....An American ski resort during spring break is attacked by a bunch of space-bred sharks that burrow beneath the snow and can appear and disappear. Message to aspiring filmmakers: "Stop! Please -- Just Stop!" There has long been the idea of movies that are soooo bad they become, in a sense, good by virtue of becoming unintended comedy. This has led to a cottage industry of deliberately cheesy movies that are then marketed as "so bad it's good." Unfortunately, this is a crutch for filmmakers to churn out bad movies and then tell themselves they've accomplished something (here's a clue: if you're a filmmaker who makes a lot of these films, you're not making tongue-in-cheek bad're a bad filmmaker). Because most of these movies aren't spoofs, comedies, or anything that might denote creative effort -- they're just poorly made. A movie like this isn't "so bad it's good"'s just bad. And depressing. Indeed, some of the actors actually seem to be putting some effort into it, at least as far as the unwritten parts allow, the large cast basically just there to be shark bait. The absurdist premise is the main concession to being deliberately silly. Cheesy, "deliberately bad" shark movies have formed an entire sub-genre in recent years (many made for the U.S. Sy-Fy Channel), perhaps reaching its cultural acme with "Sharknado." There was even an earlier movie called "Snow Shark"! This movie has an opening and closing scene with Gina Holden and another actor (neither of whom appear in the body of the film) that is quirky and better made than the rest of the film, as if shot later by a second unit and tacked on (like how some foreign language horror films will be re-edited for American distribution by inserting scenes with better known actors -- Holden being the most familiar face in the cast). sc: Taj Nagaoka. dir: Scott D. Wheeler. - extreme violence.- 92 min.


THE AWAKENING see L'amour humain

THE AWAKENING  * *  setting: USA.
(1995) (/U.S.) Cynthia Geary, David Beecroft, Sheila McCarthy, Maurice Godin, David Ferry, Miguel Fernandes.....Mousey young American landlady (Geary) teams up with a bounty hunter (Beecroft) for a cross-U.S. road trip in pursuit of her former tenant -- an international antiquities thief (Ferry). Made-for-TV romantic suspense-comedy needs more of a plot -- the two leads are reasonably appealing, but not enough so when they, literally, are the whole show. Why do the makers of these "romances" feel that anything approaching conventional story development will interfere with the romance aspect? See Harlequin. sc: Maria Nation (from the novel by Patricia Coughlin). dir: George Bloomfield. - sexual content.- 91 min. /

AWAY FROM HER  * *   setting: Ont.
(2006) Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Wendy Crewson, Michael Murphy.....After reluctantly placing his Alzheimer's suffering wife (Christie) in a long term care facility, a man (Pinsent) finds she has started to forget him...while developing an attachment to a day resident (Murphy) -- and he's not sure what, or if, he should do about it. Critically acclaimed melancholy drama about love and sacrifice boasts nice performances from Pinsent and British actress Christie (and Thomson as a nurse) but they're often struggling with heavy handedly pretentious direction, self-conscious dialogue and a thin plot (adapted from a short story) -- basically the above synopsis is the movie. Not to mention some awkwardly contrived plot points (like that the home forbids visitors for the first 30 days -- right, 'cause the best treatment when dealing with people losing their memories is to cut them off from anyone they know for a month!) Gets better as it goes, and does boast some strong scenes...but not enough to fully overcome the Film 101 stylistics. Nina Dobrev has one scene as a disgruntled teen. Actress-turned-filmmaker Polley's directorial debut. sc./dir: Sarah Polley (from the short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro). 109 min.

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