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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.

BLACK CHRISTMAS * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1975) Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Doug McGrath.....A psycho is hiding in the attic of a sorority, making obscene phone calls, killing people, and it may or may not be an angry boy friend. The daddy of all slasher flicks is still better looking and acted than most of its imitators (on either side of the 49th parallel) but still not great. Its mixing of horror-violence with a whodunnit mystety plot, though, set the tone for most subsequent Canadian entries in the genre. a.k.a. Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. sc: Roy Moore. dir: Bob Clark. - violence.- 98 min. (video)

Black Death, a novel by Gwyneth Cravens and John S. Marr, was turned into the TV movie Quiet Killer

BLACK FOX  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1994) Christopher Reeve, Raoul Trujillo, Tony Todd, Janet Bailey, Nancy Sorel, Chris Wiggins, Chris Benson, Dale Wilson, Cyndy Preston.....A couple of Texas ranchers, white man Alan Johnson (Reeve) and his blood-brother, freed-slave Britt Johnson (Todd), must protect their families and community from marauding Indians in 1861; when they fail, Britt goes off to try and bargain for the freedom of their kidnapped women and children. Made-for-TV drama is a really standard Cowboys vs. Indians flick, despite the added element of Todd being black and the racism his character faces. Trujillo (in a part smaller than his billing would imply, no doubt as a Canadian content thing) upstages Hollywood stars Reeve and Todd who are both a little...dispassionate. Not bad, but a little slow and unremarkable and sensitive viewers might beware of the brutal language relating to racism. First of three movies, made together. Followed by: Black Fox: The Price of Peace and Black Fox: Good Men and Bad. sc: John Binder (from the novel by Matt Braun). dir: Steven H. Stern. - violence.- 92 min.

BLACK FOX: Good Men and Bad* * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1995) Christopher Reeve, Kim Coates, Tony Todd, Janet Bailey, Nancy Sorel, Kelly Rowan, David Fox, Lawrence Dane, Rainbow Francks.....When his wife is murdered in 1865, Alan (Reeve) goes on a bender, then decides to go undercover with an outlaw gang (led by Coates) who can lead him to the killer (Fox); meanwhile Britt (Todd) tries to hunt the man down using a more conventional method -- by becoming a deputy. Third (and final) TV movie starts out slow, doing the character-thing but, like the previous entries, not quite getting the guts of the emotion. It gets better, and more exciting, as it goes along, particularly with the addition of Coates, Rowan and Fox. But like the previous movies, despite the '90s sensibilities, there's little that's truly fresh here. sc: Michael Michaelian (story John Binder). dir: Steven H. Stern. - violence.- 92 min.

BLACK FOX: The Price of Peace  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1995) Christopher Reeve, Raoul Trujillo, Tony Todd, Janet Bailey, Nancy Sorel, Chris Wiggins, Cyndy Preston, Rainbow Francks.....Two Texas ranchers (Todd and Reeve) are caught in the middle when the local redneck bully (Wiggins) plans to raid the local Indians because his wife (Preston) has chosen to live with the Chief (Trujillo). Second made-for-TV film is handsome but slow and thinly plotted (with obvious padding -- such as repetative scenes and lengthy sequences of horse riding). It's mainly about the characters -- such as Reeve's bitterness over what happened to his wife (Sorel) in the first film -- but the film seems too aloof from the emotion. Warning: there's some rough language involving racism. sc: Jed Rosenbrook, John Byrne, John Binder (story Binder). dir: Steven H. Stern. 92 min.


(1996-1999)  * * 1/2  Rebecca Jenkins ("Katherine Haskell"), Geraint Wyn Davies ("Nick Haskell"), Alex Carter ("Paul Isler"), Joseph Ziegler ("Len Hubbard"), with Melanie Foley ("Tasha Haskell"), Barrett Porter ("Anonda Haskell"), Joan Gregson ("Frances Hubbard"), Rhonda McLean ("Vicky Isler"), Simon Peter Duvall ("Michael Isler"), Carol Sinclair ("Brenda Hubbard"), others.....Drama about a woman (Jenkins) who moves back to her Nova Scotia hometown with her American husband (Davies) and kids (Foley and Porter) to look after her ailing mother (Gregson) and they end up taking over her family's boatyard. Carter played her childhood sweetheart, who worked at the yard, and had an unstable wife (McLean); Duvall played their son. Ziegler played Jenkins' antagonistic brother, a would-be entrepeneur; Sinclair played his wife.

This expensive-looking TV series wants to be a grim, teeth-gnashing, drama-with-a-capital-"D" sort of thing, but ends up more often than not with the characters just seeming bitchy, as if their underwear is too tight. Later attempts to lighten the mood, though, tend to just lie there flatly. A better title might have been "Hissy-Fit Harbour". Still, professionally put together, though the characters don't entirely ingratiate themselves with the audience, which is surely crucial in a weekly series. More than a little reminiscent in mood and premise (city mouse meets country mouse) of North of 60 -- not surprisingly, it has the same creators, production company, and network. An interesting sidebar: the lead actors are fine -- really -- but a historic complaint in Canadian film is that "stars" aren't nurtured or encouraged in this country; yet, here, Jenkins (Destiny Ridge), Carter (Taking the Falls and Traders), and Ziegler (Side Effects) had all just come off poorly rated, failed series (Traders wasn't a failure, but no thanks to its limp ratings) -- indicating "stars" are decided upon moree by executives than audiences. Go figure. In fact, only Davies had just finished, at three seasons, a reasonably successful show, Forever Knight -- in which he also was named Nick. Createdd by Barbara Samuels and Wayne Grigsby. Hour-long episodes on the CBC.

BLACK ICE a.k.a. A Passion for Murder

(1998) Michael Ironside, Tahnee Welch, Currie Graham, Anne Marie Loder, Walter Mills, Lori Hallier, Billy Morton.....A blind psychic (American Welch) aides a police detective (Ironside) during an investigation of a child killer. Part of the problem with this thriller, aside from suffering from the common place problems of low-budget movies of being slow moving and turgid, is that the ideas are awfully generic and the characters thinly drawn. The movie's main original idea (involving computer technology that, accidentally, allows the heroine to project her visions onto a screen) turns out to be almost entirely irrelevant to the plot! sc: Vincent Monton. dir: Michael Storey. 94 min. - violence.- (video)

BLACK LIST see Liste noire

BLACK ROBE  * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(1991) (/Australia) Lothaire Bluteau, August Schellenberg, Aden Young, Sandrine Holt, Tantoo Cardinal, Harrison Liu.....To reach his mission, a Jesuit priest and his aide (Bluteau and Young) travel with Algonquin Indians (led by Schellenberg) who distrust him, braving both the wilds and the hostile Iroquois. Embarrassing historical drama lacks plot or characterization, relying only on scenery and a few cliches. Terrible, impersonal direction; flat, expressionless performances from Bluteau and Schellenberg, and no real insight into the characters or cultures (native or Jesuit). Beautiful Holt shows promise, but Cardinal is wasted in a thankless part. The Hurons are, in fact, speaking Mohawk. Won six Genies including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Script and Supporting Actor (Schellenberg). sc: Brian Moore (from his novel). dir: Bruce Beresford. - extreme violence, sexual content, partial female nudity and brief male nudity.- 100 min. (video)

The Black Stallion, the classic American novel by Walter Farley, was turned into a couple of U.S. movies and subsequently a Canadian-made TV series under the title The Adventures of the Black Stallion

BLACK SWAN  * *  setting: N.B.
(2002) Melanie Doane, Michael Riley, Ted Dykstra, Matt John Evans, Stephen Morgan, Wally McKinnon, Rob Pinnock, Pam Lutz, Peggy Gedeon, Hannah Clayton, Sammy Jay Osborne.....Waitress (Doane) in a small town plots to get out, while also being worried that her low life boyfriend (Riley) may've been involved in a robbery and possible murder. Comedy-drama benefits from good performances (including singer Doane who is quite appealing in her film debut), nice maritime ambience, and scenes that can be, on their own, energetic and interesting. But as an overall production, the characters and the environment can get abrasive, till you don't blame the heroine for wanting to leave. And the characters and situations are more quirky than funny, and sometimes not even that (with Riley verbally belittling her, and physically rough). The big cast and twisty plot is admirable, but maybe tries too hard. Oblique cutaways to a couple of kids don't really come clear till the end (the kids are adorable, but not always understandable). Doane and Dykstra (as a drifter) are married in real life. sc: Wendy Ord, Matt John Evans, Christopher Bruce. dir: Wendy Ord. 91 min.

BLACK SWARM  *   setting: USA.
(2007) (/U.S.) Sebastien Roberts, Sarah Allen, Robert Englund, Rebecca Windheim, Jayne Heitmeyer, Sheena Larkin.....Single mom and deputy sherrif (Allen) returns to her American hometown just as a strange species of killer wasps appear -- which have the added characteristic of turning some people into zombies (though, curiously, no one really seems to notice that for a long time) -- a crisis which also embroils her with the twin brother of her dead husband (Roberts), a pest control expert. Yeah, killer bug movies don't engender high expectations in general. A seeming okay budget and an okay cast can't do much with a story that literally seems as though it was spliced together from three or four different drafts, resulting in scenes where characters seem to know things they shouldn't, or don't know things they should, and a confused, disjointed plot in general, mixing horror, action, romantic tension, humour -- even a kiddie flick (the daughter, played by Windheim, has a big part)! One hates to say it: but you can literally find yourself laughing at the screen...and not because it's a comedy! sc: Todd Samovitz, Ethlie Ann Vare. dir: David Winning. - violence.- app. 90 min.

(2000-2002)  * *  Ron James ("Blackfly"), Shauna Black ("Lady Hammond"), Richard Donat ("Col. Boyle"), James Kee ("McTavish"), Cheri Maracle ("Misty Moon"), Colin Mochrie ("Corporal Entwistle"), with Marcel Jeannin ("Tit-Jean"), Lorne Cardinal ("Chief Smash-Your-Face-In"), others.....Comedy set around a fur trading fort circa the 18th Century in Upper Canada. James plays the everyman dogsbody and Kee his boss, the post's Scottish chief. Donat plays the senile head of the military garrison, Black his spoiled adult daughter and Mochrie a soldier; Maracle a savvy Native Indian who runs the local bar. Jeannin appeared as a devil-may-care voyageur fur trader. Cardinal cropped up occasionally as a local Indian chief. 

This TV series runs hot and cold (O.K., it runs luke warm and cold). The flamboyant, unpretentious, off beat (and very Canadian) premise offers a lot of grist for the mill, and the actors attack it with gusto...but it veers from being almost amusing to just plain not-funny. The plots want to be those Byzantine, farcical things where schemes snowball and various plots weave in and out of each other, but more often than not the scripts just aren't smart enough and the gags too often just sit there limply and the acting is, sometimes, a mite too broad. Moments of genuine inspiration are few and far between. Ironically, Jeannin, who only has a recurring (rather than regular) role, is the stand out: his outrageous (and perhaps questionable) portrayal of a hedonistic but amiable Frenchman not only gets the laughs, but is oddly endearing. You actually like the guy, which is more than can be said for most of the other characters -- not that they're all unlikeable, but theey can generate a certain...indifference. Cardinal is also fun. Still, the milieu is appealingly off-beat and the theme song catchy, and maybe it can evolve into something a little more sure...maybe... (Or not, as it was cancelled after two seasons). It aired shortly after the U.S. series "Jack of All Trades", another historical comedy. James was largely credited as the driving force behind the series. Best bets: The episode where Tit-Jean and Blackfly are accused of espionage. Half hour episodes on CanWest Global. 

BLACKHEART  * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1998) Richard Grieco, Christopher Plummer, Fiona Loewi, Maria Conchita Alonso, Alan Peterson, Lisa Ryder, William MacDonald.....Con artist (Grieco), after dissolving his partnership with his psychotic partner (Alonso), ingratiates himself with a young woman (Loewi) he knows is about to come into a great inheritance. Plummer plays an eccentric private eye suspicious about the timing. Suspenser is slick enough to be watchable, but doesn't really offer any surprises or unexpected turns. And Grieco's character remains a bit of a blackhole, motivation-wise. Grieco and Alonso are American imports, but it actually admits it's set in Canada, which is pretty rare for this kind of film. sc: Brock Simpson, Brad Simpson (from a novella by Steven A. Finly). dir: Dominic Shiach. - sexual content, violence.- 92 min. (video)

BLACKOUT  * *  setting: USA.
(1978) (/France) Jim Mitchum, Robert Carradine, Belinda J. Montgomery, June Allyson, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Ray Milland.....Psychotic hoods (led by Carradine) rob, rape and murder their way through a New York apartment building during a power blackout, while a cop (Mitchum) keeps arriving about ten minutes too late. Unpleasant suspenser is technically so-so. Some of the imported "names" have just small parts. sc: John C.W. Saxton (idea John Dunning, Eddie Matalon). dir: Eddie Matalon. - violence.- 89 min. (video)


(2010-)  * * 1/2   Carmen Moore ("Leona Stoney"), Eric Schweig ("Andy Fraser"), Michelle Thrush ("Gail Stoney"), Nathaniel Arcand ("Victor Merasty"), Justin Rain ("Alan Fraser"), Ashley Callingbull ("Sheila Delaronde"), Steven Cree Molison ("Daryl Fraser"), Gordon Tootoosis ("Cecil Delaronde") (1st), Andrea Menard ("Debie Fraser"), Gary Farmer ("Ray Delaronde") (2nd-), many others.....Drama set on an Native Indian reserve plagued by poverty, despair, drug abuse, and a corrupt, mobster-like chief (Schweig). Moore plays a former local, returned to the fold, who spearheads the opposition to the chief, while also trying to tackle the more general societal problems through a community centre. Thrush plays her ex-junkie sister. Arcand another of those fighting the chief. Rain plays "Andy"'s son in a kind of Romeo & Juliet relationship with Callingbull's character. Molison plays "Andy"'s strip-club owning brother. Tootoosis played a good hearted elder, and guardian to Callingbull's character, but Tootoosis himself sadly died after the first season. Farmer, an always welcome performer, was then brought in to serve a similar function. Etc.

This dark, unsentimental drama is basically cut from a similiar cloth as Moccasin Flats and makes the reserve in North of 60 look like Disneyland! One can appreciate the attempt to grapple whole heartedly with the problems facing some reserves, and not santitize or romanticize it. And Moore is a solid, engaging anchor. But in execution the results are more mixed. It's trying so hard to be gritty and raw and unvarnished in order to seem real...that initially it can almost tip too much the other way, of seeming too cartoony and mannered. In a way, it seems modelled a bit after some of Chris Haddock's series like DaVinci's Inquest and Intelligence, both in that it's trying for a gritty, cinema verite vibe...and not fully pulling it off, and in the approach to storytelling, where individual episodes aren't really meant to stand on their own, yet without enough of a clear push to the narrative that it really works as a serialized saga (story editor Hiro Kanagawa was also a story editor on many of Haddock's series). The result can be a series that is deliberately bleak, yet not fully pulling off the catharsis appeal of entertainment, and not quite convincing enough in execution to succeed as a realist human drama. WITH THAT seemed to improve as it went along, getting a bit more sure footed, and once you start grooving to the characters, more involving. The contrasting impulses -- a pulpy melodrama (with Schweig's character even trying to cover up a murder!) and an earnest "relevant" drama (with plot threads like one involving an alcoholic mother whose child is taken away by social services) -- can still clash a bit, though, with the series not sure if it's "entertainment" first, or "earnest". Stylish opening credits. The series premiered as a one-hour try out pilot, in which Moore's character manages to get elected chief over Schweig...but for the weekly series, Schweig was quickly re-elected, the makers clearly feeling it made for a more compelling narrative for her to be battling the corrupt chief, than to be the chief herself. Hour long episodes on APTN.

BLACKTOP  * *  setting: USA.
(2000) Meat Loaf Aday, Lochlyn Munro, Kristin Davis, Victoria Pratt.....Woman (import Davis) in the U.S.A., having a fight with her travelling comedian boyfriend (Munro), hitches a ride with a truck driver (import Meat Loaf)...but her boyfriend, hot in pursuit, suspects he's a serial killer; and the sinister driver wants him to follow them. Disappointing thriller has a kind of intriguing set up, and is slickly directed with a decent cast, but doesn't generate much...suspense. Perhaps it's because the symbolism (the driver is a Trickster figure "testing" the couple) almost takes precedence over the thriller aspects, so you don't quite believe in the situation. Though, conversely, that makes it a more palatable watch than the dark, unpleasant premise would imply. The movie can seem like an odd melange of other films. Munro, though a capable actor, never stops being a whiny hero, partly because he spends the whole movie reacting, rather than acting. Rocker turned actor Meat Loaf is surprisingly good, being genuinely charming in the early scenes, in contrast to his later demeanour. Pratt, an actress with a lot of charm, is wasted in a small part. Actually, there are a number of notables in bit parts: Amanda Tapping (of Stargate SG1) as a waitress, Jeremy Ratchford as a mechanic, and Blu Mankuma as a horseman. sc: Kevin Lund, T.J. Scott. dir: T.J. Scott. - violence.- 99 min. (video)


BLANCHE (TV Limited Series) * * *
(1993) Pascale Bussieres, Robert Brouillette, Marina Orsini, Roy Dupuis, Patrice L'Ecuyer, Celine Bonnier, David La Haye, Jean-Francois Blanchard, Pascale Montpetit.....Story of a determined young woman, Blanche (Bussieres), daughter of Emilie, and her battles with sexism when she decides to go into medicine in the 1920s, eventually taking a job among pioneers in northern Quebec...and of her various relationships. Well acted, visually handsome follow-up to Emilie is superior thanks to a more dramatic narrative, better characterization and subtler dubbing. Interesting, though some characters and scenes are never really developed. And it's a curious blend of ideas, with a feminist lead, yet neither she nor the filmmakers seem to realize that her would-be beaus are, well, pigs. 11 hours shown in one-hour episodes. sc: Louise Pelletier, Andree Pelletier (from the novel Le cri de l'ole Blanche by Arlette Cousture). dir: Charles Biname.

BLAST 'EM  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1992).....Documentary look at paparazzi in the United States, the so-called "assault photographers" who'll do practically anything to get a picture of a famous actor or singer which they can sell all over the world. Interesting, kinetic and kind of surreal look at a little known part of the cult of celebrity, but the film says all it has to say long before the end...and leaves a lot of avenues unexplored. sc: Joseph Blasioli. dir: Joseph Blasioli, Egidio Coccimiglio. 102 min. (video)

BLEEDERS a.k.a. Hemoglobin

BLESSED STRANGER: After Flight 111  * *  setting: N.S.
(2001) Kate Nelligan, Hugh Thompson, Stacy Smith, Janet Kidder, Gerard Parkes, Peter MacNeill, Kristin Booth, Shaun Johnston, Bill MacDonald, Jeremy Akerman.....Story of the aftermath of the real life tragic airliner crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, focusing on a newly arrived mother (Nelligan) whose daughter was on the plane, and a local fisherman (Thompson) traumatized after helping in the "rescue" effort (there were no survivors). Fictionalized made-for-CTV drama is extremely slow-moving, like they were struggling to fill the running time (padding things with endless pantomime scenes of characters wandering about with heavy handed, melancholic chamber music playing on the soundtrack). Depending on your attitude, the filmmakers will either be sensitive artists, attempting to deal with a tragedy...or crass exploiters hoping to cash in on same. Well enough acted. Look fast for Andrew Tarbet holding a baby toward the end. sc: Michael Amo. dir: David Wellington. 92 min.

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