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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.
(2008-2010) * * 1/2 James McGowan ("Mike Kessler"), Graham Abbey ("Gray Jackson"), Sofia Milos ("Special Agent Bianca LeGarda") (-2nd), Jonas Chernick ("Slade"), Nazneen Contractor ("Layla Hourani") (-2nd), Grace Park ("Agent Liz Carver") (2nd-), Mark Wilson ("Al 'Moose' Lepinsky"), Jim Codrington ("Darnell Williams"), Catherine Disher ("Maggie Norton"), Athena Karkanis ("Khali") (3rd), with Nigel Bennett ("Andrew Mannering"), Debra McCabe ("Yvonne Castle"), Daisy Beaumont ("Charlotte Bates"), Sarah Gadon ("Zoe Kessler"), others .....Suspense-drama about an elite Immigration and Customs Security bureau whose mandate is to police matters involving immigration and border security, tackling everything from terrorists to smugglers. McGowan plays the no-nonsense head of the unit, Disher his level headed second; Abbey the reckless man-of-action; Chernick the eccentric, arrested adolescent computer whiz; etc. Milos played their liason with U.S. authorities, replaced by Park.
Though not breaking any records, this CBC TV series initially proved a modest success, with
respectable ratings (for a Canadian series) that remained reasonably
consistent (CanWest-Global's The Guard, for instance, opened with slightly
bigger numbers...that plunged dramatically; The Border's numbers remained
more steady). Initially billed as "24 (the US spy series) but with a
conscience", the series incurred a lot of criticism at first from
conservatives for an assumed liberal/left bias; but such bias remains more
tentative than definite. The characters occasionally butt heads with their
American counterparts, and the series will take token, cartoony, swipes at
Ottawa's Conservative government, but it's also just as likely to endorse more
conservative (even fascist) views. The series itself seems to have trouble
deciding whether it wants to be a drama dealing with serious social issues, a
simple cops n' robbers show, or an over-the-top James Bond wannabe. The first
season was uneven, showing some teething pains, as solid episodes would be
squeezed between uneven, ill-conceived episodes. Strangely, the sophomore
season was even worse, and the series can suffer from erratic
characterization, inconsistent ideology, and plots ripped by plot holes and
implausibility. Benefitted half way through the second season from the
addition of Park (as the new American liason agent) -- sure Park's gorgeous,
but she also has a genuine on screen personability. And just to be crass, with
her and Contractor, The Border makes a good claim to being the most babe-a-licious Canadian series of its time -- though Contractor was gone by the third season (having jumped, ironically, to the U.S. series "24") the new female/Muslim agent was played by the eminently appealing Karkanis. The series was axed after three seasons and though tepid ratings had surely put the writing on the wall, the filmmakers still chose to end the third season on a cliff hanger (as they had season two)...this time to go unresolved!
If taken, not as the serious,
thoughtful drama the series purported to be, but as a series with no greater aspiration than to be a
modern version of "Charlie's Angels" or "The A-Team", some of the series' flaws can
be forgiven...a bit. But suffers from scripts that can feel like rough drafts and with contradictory elements (like Kessler, supposedly guardian of Canadian sovereignty, beginning a long running affair with a British spy -- played by British actress Beaumont -- apparently unconcerned that she's involved in illegal black op missions on Canadian soil!) It boasts a solid cast all around, and one can enjoy the
Canadian-centric nature of it (some detractors dismissed it as just an
American series with a Canadian perspective...but that's the point!) But a far
cry from the provocative, thinking man's adventure that was implied...or the
liberal/left drama right wingers feared. Best bets: the one where "Kessler"'s daughter is involved with protesters; the
one about the European gangsters trying to make inroads on a Mohawk reserve;
the one about the hijacking and smuggling of armaments from a CF base.
Three seasons of hour long episodes on the CBC.
If taken, not as the serious, thoughtful drama the series purported to be, but as a series with no greater aspiration than to be a modern version of "Charlie's Angels" or "The A-Team", some of the series' flaws can be forgiven...a bit. But suffers from scripts that can feel like rough drafts and with contradictory elements (like Kessler, supposedly guardian of Canadian sovereignty, beginning a long running affair with a British spy -- played by British actress Beaumont -- apparently unconcerned that she's involved in illegal black op missions on Canadian soil!) It boasts a solid cast all around, and one can enjoy the Canadian-centric nature of it (some detractors dismissed it as just an American series with a Canadian perspective...but that's the point!) But a far cry from the provocative, thinking man's adventure that was implied...or the liberal/left drama right wingers feared. Best bets: the one where "Kessler"'s daughter is involved with protesters; the one about the European gangsters trying to make inroads on a Mohawk reserve; the one about the hijacking and smuggling of armaments from a CF base. Three seasons of hour long episodes on the CBC.
* * 1/2 setting: Ont./USA.
(2000) Robin Dunne, Caterina Scorsone, Corbin Bernsen, Stephanie Zimbalist, Michael Ironside, Eugene Lipinski, Will Sanderson, Eric Johnson.....Teen (Dunne) commutes back and forth across the U.S.-Canada border between his bitterly divorced parents (American actors Bernsen and Zimbalist), while being on the track team of his Canadian high school, and becoming involved with another student (Scorsone). Moderately interesting drama is watchable on a from-scene-to-scene basis, though it seems like awfully mundane stuff to build a feature film around. Plays like some teen-aimed After School Special about broken homes -- except for some decidedly adult material, like a mid-story sexual assault that seems out-of-place, particularly as the rest of the film deals with it rather poorly. A movie where, by the end, too little is resolved or even dealt with satisfactorily. That may well have been the filmmakers' intent (y'know, the "we're not doing some trite, Hollywood movie" attitude), but it still makes for uneven drama. The constant harping on the Canadian-American thing, though well intentioned (in an industry that too often refuses to acknowledge its Canadian origins), often seems obvious and unconvincing. sc: Larry Mollin. dir: Jeff Beesley. 95 min.
Pretty unsubtle TV series was billed as a "family" program (because it kept the smooching to a minimum and the violence and gunplay to a maximum, I guess) and presumably to excuse the uneven performances and flat scripts. Still, Western-genre fans might get a kick out of the novel premise (though the Mountie rarely actually wore his proper uniform). Cute idea of alternating from episode to episode who got top-billing (Comar or Brennan). Set in Alberta but filmed, incongruously, in B.C. The core premise, though not the execution, could be seen as inspiring Due South (both shows were produced by Alliance films). The third season was completed for the '91-'92 season, but CTV didn't air it until a year later. Three seasons of half hour episodes, originally shown on CTV.
BORDERTOWN CAFE *
* 1/2 setting: Man./USA.
(1992) Susan Hogan, Janet Wright, Gordon Michael Woolvett, Sean McCann, Nicholas Campbell, Ric Reid, Lora Schroeder, Victor Cowie.....Story of a small town family's bumpy relationship, focusing on a single mom (Hogan), her teen-aged son (Woolvett), and the arrival of her ex-husband (Campbell). Good-looking serio-comic pic tries hard for a realist feel, but the performances, though good, rarely convince (except maybe Campbell) and the direction's kind of dry. Still, interesting with good dialogue. Wright received the Best Actress Genie. sc: Kelly Rebar. dir: Norma Bailey. 101 min.
* * * setting: CDN.
(2013) Ty Olsson, Patrick Gallagher, Michelle Harrison, Christine Horne, Bryan Dick, Cristina Rosato, Greyston Holt, Mayko Nguyen, Karan Oberoi, Josh Emerson, Terry Chen, Darren Shahlavi, Paulino Nunes, Dewshane Williams.....In the mid-21st Century, global warming has turned the Arctic into a new frontier, with rival nations controlling various zones and all jockeying for access to the natural resources, with a cynically roguish (but generally good hearted) ex-fighter turned bar owner turned Canadian customs agent (Olsson) caught between thuggish Russians (led by Nunes), an environmental activist (Harrison), a newly arrived League of Nations overseer (Horne) and many other factions. Probably the first movie actually commissioned for the Space Channel, this is an off-beat -- and ambitious -- mix of sci-fi done as a western (some likening it to the U.S. cable series "Deadwood"); it's good looking, with a nice mix of grundge and hi-tech, set against a truly breathtaking Northern Alberta landscape that gives it a visual ambience unlike most other sci-fi, and boasts great performances all around (with special nods to Olsson, generally a supporting actor who occupies the centre seat here as though born to it, and Gallagher as his taciturn Inuit best friend). And the milieu of international rivalry, diplomacy, and conflicting agendas arguably makes it the ideal for a truly Canadian SF drama. With all those unarguable pluses, it makes the minuses more frustrating. Namely, for all the large cast and multiple agendas, the Russian villains are a one-note, arguably racist cliché, and what starts out seeming like a mystery (involving a dead body) isn't...with the audience learning who's doing what and why pretty early. But most damning is that the movie was a pilot for a never realized series (Space opted not to go ahead before it ever aired) and, unfortunately -- it shows. It doesn't end on a cliff hanger...but doesn't really resolve much by the end, either (despite building to a climactic fight). With all the truly good things about it, if the writers had written it as a movie that then could've become a series, it might well enjoy the position of being Canada's greatest SF movie. As it is: it's a good, well put together, generally entertaining...pilot. sc: Andrew Rai Berzins, Andrew Wreggitt. dir: David J. Frazee. 85 min.
Joining the ever multiplying list of made-for-cable (ie: PG-13 or R-rated) historical dramas, this has the problem that the characters are, after all, rather reprehensible (the tag line billed it as being about the "first crime family"). Actually, there was even another Borgias-themed series made around the same time, this one just titled in the singular -- "Borgia"). Of course, the "guilty pleasure" appeal of rooting for amoral anti-heroes has been proven with series like "The Sopranos" and The Tudors. And it makes some effort to find the human, sympathetic motivation behind their actions, giving the characters shading and nuance (and remembering that in the context of the times, those they opposed were often no nobler than they). Irons' Borgia may be ruthless...but is also shown as a bit of a comical ditherer, and one who, in his way, does care about his family...and has convinced himself God is on his side. Although this does result in inconsistent characterization, as a character who might in one episode react with consternation at the villainy around him...might, in the next episode, be the orchestrator of villainy that another character recoils from! Making it all a bit superficial...and how much of this is historically accurate (and, for that matter, how much of the accepted history is actually verifiable or just based on rumour and innuendo) is for historians to debate. Still, setting aside ethics, and enjoyed just for the subterfuge, and machinations, it's initially quite compelling, boasting a striking production design (albeit it's a little too underlit) and strong performances all around (Irons is a bit hammy, though fun, and seems to have evolved into Boris Karloff over the years). But it would probably work better as a mini-series than as an on going series where the lack of sympathetic heroes gradually erodes interest over time, and the initial novelty wears away, leaving not very nice people doing not very nice things episode after episode -- worse, not very interesting people doing not very interesting things as even the scheming and machination becomes rather dull and predictable. Plot threads can seem a bit like shaggy dog stories, teased along for a while, then resolved with anti-climactic simplicity -- dilemmas solved less by clever strategies, and more simply because, being popes and nobility, they can pretty much do whatever they want! It's engrossing at first...but starts to lag after a few episodes. Interestingly, like in a lot of these international co-productions, the Canadian actors are few -- yet, more surprisingly, the few are in plum roles. If The Borgias is to be likened to a historical version of The Godfather Saga, then that would make Arnaud Al Pacino, and arguably more of the lead than even Irons, while Feore plays the Cardinal leading the fight against the Borgias which, in a sense, makes him the closest the series has to a "hero" (though I use that term loosely). Though a cable series with sex and violence, it is not overly gratuitous (the nudity brief) -- though the gore during some battlefield sequences is quite extreme, so be warned. Created and largely written by filmmaker Neil Jordan. Hour long episodes shown in Canada first on Bravo!, then on CTV. - extreme violence; partial nudity; sexual content.-
BORN FOR HELL a.k.a. Naked Massacre
BORROWED HEARTS: A Holiday
Romance * * 1/2
(1997) Roma Downey, Eric McCormack, Sarah Rosen Fruitman, Shawn Alex Thompson, Hector Elizondo, Kevin Hicks, Catherine Fitch.....A working mom (Downey) and her daughter (Fruitman) are hired by her rich boss (McCormack) to pose as his family to impress a potential business associate (Elizondo) during the Christmas season. Made-for-TV romantic comedy/drama has a solid premise, but starts out poorly with the actors, particularly Hollywood import Downey (who was one of the executive producers) and young Fruitman unconvincing, and a script and direction that's pretty mundane (and the daughter's more obnoxious than precocious). It gets better all around as it goes along, with even a touch of the obligatory Christmas mysticism (the daughter thinks American actor Elizondo's character is an angel). Worth a look. And, hey, though squarely aimed at the U.S. TV market, it doesn't actually say it isn't set in Canada (which, in this country, and for an Atlantis Films production, is a cultural triumph!). sc: Pamela and Earl Wallace. dir: Ted Kotcheff. 90 min.
* 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1995) Rae Dawn Chong, Kari Wuhrer, Lou Diamond Phillips, Lance Henrikson, Joel Bissonette, Judith Scott, Amber Lea Weston.....Story of a young woman (Wuhrer), on the run from her abusive boyfriend, who gets taken under the wing of an independent hooker (Chong) in Toronto and their run-ins with a nasty pimp (Phillips). Fairly effective, gritty, drama-suspenser seems earnest enough, though it's a bit flatly directed and only occasionally sparks with originality. Gets better as it goes along...including a surprising twist in the characters' relationship. As an actress, Wuhrer seems a bit out of her depth, though. Henrikson plays a quasi-sympathetic cop. Of the four leads, only Chong is Canadian...and she lives in Hollywood! sc: Andrea Wilde. dir: Penelope Buitenhuis. - female nudity, sexual content, violence, partial male nudity.- 95 min. (video)
Bound by Honor, the biography by Bill Bonanno, served as part of the source for the mini-seriesBonanno.
BOUNTY HUNTERS 2 a.k.a. Hardball
BOXCAR BLUES a.k.a. Thunderground
THE BOY IN BLUE *
* setting: Ont./other
(1985) Nicolas Cage, Cynthia Dale, Christopher Plummer, David Naughton, Sean Sullivan, Melody Anderson.....Fictionalized bio of turn of the century rower, Ned Hanlan (American import Cage): his rise to the top of the racing world, despite interference from a mobster (Plummer), and his attempts to woo the man's daughter (Dale). Uninspired performances and the silly, cliched story is never really involving, despite a sense of humour and generally fast pacing. sc: Douglas Bowie (story John Trent). dir: Charles Jarrott. - sexual content, partial female nudity.- 98 min. (video)
BOY MEETS GIRL
* * setting: Ont.
(1999) Sean Astin, Emily Hampshire, Kevin McDonald, Kate Nelligan, Joe Mantegna, Sook-Yin Lee, Mary Long, Louis Di Bianco, Joseph Scoren, Silvio Oliviero.....As Valentine's Day approaches, an anglophone writer of Italian photo-comic strips (Astin) romances an Italian immigrant (Hampshire) who thinks he wrote a poem that was really written by a local romantic poet (Mantegna). Whimsical romantic-comedy mixes magic realism and homages to '60s New Wave Italian movies and its heart is most definitely in the right place. But the end result is a movie that's more curious than funny, or romantic. Kind of reminiscent in its use of magic realism of the U.S. film "Simply Irresistable" which came out around the same time -- but that film worked its charm a little better (though was, admittedly, a critical and commercial failure). Astin and Mantegna are American imports. Oliviero, an under-valued Canadian actor, nearly steals the show in a bit part as the proprietor of a rundown restaurant. sc: Timothy Lee, Doug Bagot. dir: Jerry Ciccoritti (a.k.a. Gerard Ciccoritti). 98 min.
The Boyd Gang, the non-fiction book by M.Lamb and B.Pearson, was the source for the TV documentary The Life and Times of Edwin Alonzo Boyd.
LES BOYS *
1997) Marc Messier, Remy Girard, Patrick Huard, Serge Theriault, Michel Barrette, Paul Houde, Luc Guerin, Yvan Ponton, Roc Lafortune.....Story of a small town amateur hockey team and what happens when the manager (Girard), in debt to a mobster, stakes all he has on winning the final game of the season. Comedy is good looking with a good cast, and is another one of those films that apparently was a hit in Quebec. Now, admittedly, subtitles (or dubbing) can interfere with comedy (which is often about how things are said as what)...but it just ain't funny. Worse, there's an underlying mean-spiritedness (and sexism) to much of the humour, making for often unappealing characters. It's a movie that seems like it was inspired by a zillon other sports comedies...without supplying the necessary scenes and character stuff to actually make the thin and over-long story work logically, or viscerally. Messier and Ponton are old hands at hockey-themed stories, both having been regulars in He Shoots, He Scores. Followed by some sequels. sc: Christian Fournier, dialogue: Christian Fournier, Rene Brisebois, Louis Saia, Francois Camirand (concept by Richard Goudreau). dir: Louis Saia. - partial male nudity, brief female nudity, violence.- 110 min. (video)
THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT (TVMS)
(1992) Henry Czerny.....Fictional drama about child abuse at a Newfoundland orphanage, the cover-ups and the eventual trial of those involved. Controversial after a court injunction forbid its airing in Ontario and parts of Quebec because of worries it would prejudice the trials of Catholic Brothers charged with sexual abuse, it went on to win numerous awards and critical praise. Not aired nationally until 1993. Won a number of Geminis including for Mini-Series, Actor (Czerny), Supporting Actress (Roy), Script and Direction. Since the two parts are substantially different (the second is even given a subtitle) they're reviewed separately. A total of 4 hours. sc: Des Walsh, John N. Smith, Sam Grana. dir: John N. Smith. (video)
THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT *
with Johnny Morina, Brian Dooley, Philip Dinn, Brian Dodd, Michael Wade, Greg Thomey, Sam Grana.....Part 1 chronicles sexual and physical abuse in a Catholic orphanage, and the attempts by some to expose it. Drama doesn't live up to the advance critical praise (nothing could), but is still compelling and evokes the helplessness of the victims. But there isn't a lot in the way of characterization, with performances that vary (though Czerny, inparticular, is quite good, as is Wade). The graphicness (including nudity), though no doubt defended on "realism" grounds, seems in poor taste, intended to shock rather than enlighten. After all, no amount of explicitness or "grittiness" is going to change the fact that these are just actors in a movie and the viewer knows that.
THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT - FIFTEEN YEARS LATER*
with Sebastian Spence, Lise Roy, David Hewlett, Timothy Webber, Kristine Demers, Mary Walsh, Bryan Hennessey.....Part 2 is about Lavine being brought to trial and how this affects some of the now-adult boys. Seems like nothing more than an afterthought tacked onto the first episode, with a rambling plot, static scenes, liberal use of flashbacks, and dreary, pseudo-documentary scenes like an inquiry into the cover-up and Walsh as a voice-of-God DJ. It offers no insight into the first episode (the whys and hows), and seems intended only to show the long term trauma victims suffer...which it fails to do since we never get inside anyone's head. They should've stopped after the first one. Ed Riche is given a co-story credit.
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