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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.

THE BEACHCOMBERS (TV Series)

(1972-1989)   * * 1/2  Bruno Gerussi ("Nick Adonidas"), Pat John ("Jesse"), Robert Clothier ("Relic") with Rae Brown ("Molly") (-13th), Jackson Davies ("Cons. John Constable") (3rd-), Bob Park ("Hughie"), Nancy Chapple ("Margaret"), Janet-Laine Green (15th-), Charlene Aleck ("Sara"), many others.....Family comedy-drama about a west coast beachcomber (Gerussi), his Native Indian partner (John), and their rather unscrupulous rival (Clothier), and the various other characters who hung around the local diner, Molly's Reach. Brown was the owner of the diner and Park and Chapple played her grandchildren for the first few seasons. There were many other actors who came and went over the show's long run, among them were Davies as the local Mountie, Aleck as "Jesse"'s little sister, and Green as the new owner of the diner.

This TV series was hardly the best show ever made in Canada, but with it's flamboyant characters (particularly Clothier), off-beat milieu and location shooting, and strong core performances from Gerussi and Clothier, it managed to be hugely popular and the longest running fiction series ever produced in Canada. Characters who joined the series as kids and teens ended up growing into adults as the viewers watched. In fact, many felt its cancellation was an executive decision rather than a ratings one. In its final season, it was taken from its traditional Sunday night timeslot (where it brought in 2 million viewers) and was bumped around. When the ratings, not surprisingly, dipped, instead of returning it to Sunday, the CBC brass cancelled it. More than a decade later, the TV movie, The New Beachcombers, was made. Created by Marc Strange (also a respected actor) and Lynn Susan Strange. Developed by Philip Keatley. Half-hour episodes originally on the CBC.

A BEACHCOMBER'S CHRISTMAS  * * 1/2 setting: B.C.
(2004) Dave Thomas, Graham Greene, Jackson Davies, Cameron Bancroft, Deanna Milligan, Francoise Yip, William MacDonald, Michael Eklund, Gabriel Hogan, Kendall Cross, Susan Hogan, Dan Joffre, Shaun Johnston.....As Christmas approaches, the folks of Gibson's Landing get embroiled in various situations, from Milligan being offered a job that would require moving away, to an attempt to throw together a charity hockey game...with some less than honest hockey agents. Light-hearted flick is inoffensive and good natured, but seems like it thinks we've been living and caring about these characters for years, counting on our affection for them to interest us more than the story...when most only appeared in one previous movie! The loose plot is mainly a collection of various sub-plots that kind of meander about, being light- hearted without being entirely funny, serious without being entirely dramatic. Not a movie you can hate -- the actors are pleasant, and it has some cute bits -- but not quite riveting either. If your in the spirit of Christmas, and don't expect much, it's okay. Hockey goalie Manon Rheaume appears, and there are cameos by other pro hockey players. sc. Chaz Gillis. dir: Anne Wheeler.

BEAR ISLAND  * 1/2
(1978) (/U.K.) Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Regrave, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Bridges, Lawrence Dane, Christopher Lee, Barbara Parkins, Michael J. Reynolds Nicholas Cortland.....Mysterious goings on and murder plague an international arctic outpost, seemingly connected to an old German U-boat base. Good-looking suspenser, with an impressive cast, too bad it's so slow and the characters never become involving. Sutherland plays an American, natch. In fact, the sole "Canadian" character gets killed off early. The end credits promise another MacLean adaptation that never materialized. sc: David Butler, Don Sharp with additional material by Murray Smith (from the novel by Alistair MacLean). dir: Don Sharp. 118 min.

A BEAR NAMED WINNIE * * * 1/2  setting: CDN./other
(2004) (/U.K.) Michael Fassbender, Gil Bellows, Jonathon Young, Aaron Ashmore, Ted Atherton, David Suchet, Stephen Fry.....Story of how a WW I Canadian army veterinary corps lieutenant (Fassbender) reluctantly adopts an orphaned bear cub, he nicknames "Winnie", even bringing her to England while he and his friends try to slip it under the eye of their disapproving c.o. An odd inspiration for a movie...taking the real life historical trivia that A.A. Milne was inspired to write Winnie the Pooh, in part, by a real life Canadian bear...and turning it into a CBC TV movie! Fassbender's character is real...but one infers most of the actual scenes are fabrications. And who its audience is is also questionable. Kids would enjoy the concept, and the bear's adorable misadventures...yet it's wrapped up in a slightly darker, grittier, more adult tale of wartime. Yet, surprisingly, the result is quite strong...regardless of the intended demographics. Superbly acted all around, with a generally deft handling of the funny and the serious, the result is a compelling, occasionally touching, well-paced comedy-drama. The movie was originally aired around Christmas...but might actually be appropriate as an off-beat, family-aimed Remembrance Day movie, in which the shooting and fighting is barely depicted, but the war nonetheless omnipresent. sc: John Goldsmith, John Kent Harrison (story Simon Vaughan). dir: John Kent Harrison. app. 90 min.

BEAR WALKER  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2001) (/U.S.) Renae Morriseau, Sheila Tousey, Shirley Cheechoo, Greta Cheechoo, Maximilian Martini (a.k.a. Max Martini), John Tench, Dennis O'Connor.....Story of a Native Indian woman (Morriseau), who kills her abusive husband, and how her eccentric sisters try to help her, and the corrupt cop (Martini) who investigates. Decidedly uneven, downbeat drama mixes mysticism (a bear walker is an evil spirit that is blamed for the various goings on), some unsettling drama that is placed right next to comedic scenes, with performances of varied quality (some are very good, some are more problematic...though kind of grow on you) and even a confusing presentation, with the story jumping back and forth in time. But the movie remains interesting for all that, with some strong scenes and a raw vitality overall that's undeniable. Though principally in English, there's an appealing eclecticism as characters slide into Cree and French as well (with subtitles). Tench, usually cast as bad guys, gets a change-of-pace role as a more sympathetic cop. a.k.a. Backroads. sc./dir: Shirley Cheechoo. - violence, sexual content, casual male nudity.- 83 min.

Bearing the Burden, a book by Elizabeth Wilton about the notorious Toronto baby derby, was part of the source for the TV movie The Stork Derby.

BEASTS OF THE BIBLE  * * *
(2010) Narrator: Maurice Dean Wint.....Documentary looking at various monsters and beasts referenced in the Bible -- from the serpent in Eden to the whale that swallowed Jonah to the cherubim and others -- and examining whether they had origins in fact, pre-history, or simply allegory. Entertaining docu-flick, enlivened with computer graphic dramatizations and Wint's dramatic (but slightly tongue-in-cheek) narration, is a mishmash of various fields, from legitimate zoology and cryptozoology, to Bible analysis, with intriguing interpretations based on alternate translations and theories (including an interesting explanation for Jonah being swallowed in the "belly of the whale"), and some good ol' outlandish paranormal theories. Resulting in a mix of genuine education...and some unapologetic cheesiness which the filmmakers' embrace. Though some wild life footage of animals eating each other was not really needed. Simcha Jacobovici was executive producer. sc./dir: Graeme Bell. - violence.- app. 90 min.
 
BEASTMASTER (TV Series)

(1999-2002) (/Australian)  * *  Daniel Goddard ("Dar"), Jackson Raine ("Tao"), Monika Schnarre ("Sorceress") (1st, 3rd), Dylan Briek ("Sorceress"), (2nd-), with Grahame Bond ("The Ancient One") (-2nd), Emilie de Ravin ("Curupira") (-2nd), Steven Grives ("King Zad"), Sam Healy ("Iara") (-2nd), Natalie Mendoza ("Kyra") (1st), Marjean Holden ("Arina") (2nd-), David Paterson ("King Vodon") (2nd), Marc Singer (3rd),  others.....Adventure/fantasy set in a mythological time about a wandering warrior (Goddard) who can communicate with animals -- especially his pet tiger, Ru, his two ferrets, and an eagle. Raine plays his fast-talking, spiritual buddy, better with his head than his hands (shades of Xena and Gabrielle from "Xena: Warrior Princess"). Schnarre played a fey, morally ambiguous sorceress and Bond her more sinister, nigh omnipotent, mentor. Schnarre left early in the second season and was replaced by Briek as another sorceress, though Schnarre was back for the third season. Mendoza played the Beastmaster's true love, the search for whom formed a story arc for season one, but she was then killed off (kind of undermining those early episodes). Holden then was added as a beautiful mercenary. de Ravin played a goddess of the animals who gave the hero his powers, and Healy a more sinister demon. Grives played the hero's chief nemesis, an evil warlord. In the second season Paterson was more the main villain, playing another warlord, but by season three it was back to Grives. Like a lot of modern fantasy/sf series, the series relied heavily on the (frankly repetitious) idea of a recurring antagonist. Many of the characters and elements in the first two seasons seemed intended to give the series a surreal sense of Gods manipulating humankind, again evoking "Xena" and "Hercules", and something not really a part of the movies this series is based upon. But by the third season, most of the mythological cast of gods and demons and sorcerer's had been dropped from the series, with the emphasis now squarely on Zad and the Sorceress (now free of the Ancient One) making an alliance with a Devil-like entity, and a sub-plot of "Dar" looking for his real family (his previous knowledge of his origins being inaccurate). Also in the third season, Singer was added in a recurring role as "Dar"'s enigmatic Spirit Guide -- Singer had starred in the original movies, and his presence, even in a kind of annoying part, was a welcome addition, injecting a lot of energy into the proceedings. Schnarre, and Briek, were the only Canadians in the regular cast. Holden's American (and Singer's a Canadian-born American). Everyone else is Australian (but spoke with American accents).

Yet another entry in the wave of fantasy series inspired by "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena", this one boasts a competent cast, but suffers from lethargic, annoyingly thin and humourless plots, and kind of blah characters. The airy cut-away scenes involving Schnarre in the first season often seemed to have no relation to the main plots and were curiously repetitive (episode after episode reiterating how, unbeknowst to herself, Dar's pet eagle used to be human, and her lover, until they were both cursed by the Ancient One). Like a lot of modern series (fantasy and non-fantasy) this embraced the comic book idea of continuing sub-plots and story arcs. The problem is that in order for that to work a series needs to accomplish two things. 1: make the individual episodes and characters interesting enough (and coherent enough) that the viewer will stick around for the sub-plots to unfold and, 2: convince the audience the cryptic lines and promised plotlines are headed somewhere. Neither of which this series quite pulls off. Equally problematic, in a "buddy" series, was that Goddard and Raines kind of lack on-screen chemistry/rapport; even by the third season they seem like aquaintances more than best friends. Ironically, villain Grives delivered the most interesting performance. Still, whatever my ambivalence, in the final episode the series reiterated this clever like aphorism: "Life is what happens while you're making other plans".

This was based on a 1982 American movie -- arguably the best fantasy/barbarian movie of its time (which isn't saying much, admittedly) -- and its inferior sequels, which, in turnn, were based very, very loosely on an Andre Norton novel. Marc Singer's ingratiating performance was a highlight of the original movies. Goddard is a capable actor, but lacks Singer's personability. Hour long episodes in syndication. 

BEAUTIFUL DREAMERS  * * * setting: Ont.
(1990) Colm Feore, Rip Torn, Wendel Meldrum, Sheila McCarthy, Colin Fox, David Gardner, Tom McCamus, Marsha Moreau, Angelo Rizacos, Albert Schultz.....In 1880, radical American poet Walt Whitman (Torn, who's tackled the role before) befriends earnest, Canadian psychiatrist Richard Bucke (Feore) and helps him put his sensitive therapy ideas into practice, as well as alienating half the town and re-invigorating the doctor's polite marriage (to Meldrum). Good-natured, entertaining drama is well-acted and slightly sensual (in a wholesome sort of way). Amusing and touching. Based on a true story. sc./dir: John Kent Harrison. - female nudity and brief male nudity.- 107 min.

BEAUTY & THE BEAST (TV Series)

(2012-)  (/U.S)   * * *   Kristin Kreuk ("Catherine Chandler"), Jay Ryan ("Vincent Keller"), Max Brown ("Evan Marks") (1st), Austin Basis ("J.T. Forbes"), Nina Lisandrello ("Tess Vargas"), Brian White ("Joe Bishop"), Sendhil Ramamurthy ("D.A. Gabe Lowen"), with Rob Stewart, Khaira Ledeyo, Nicole Gale Anderson.....Crime-fantasy about a New York police detective (Kreuk) and her secret relationship with the believed-dead sole survivor (Ryan) of a government black ops experiment to create super soldiers...giving him feral abilities but an, at times, murderous berserker fury. While investigating various crime-of-the-week mysteries, an on going sub-plot involves sinister government types hunting "Vincent"...and the mystery of how the long ago murder of "Cat"'s mother ties into the project (as the first season progressed, and the characters and premise became established, the case-of-the-week plots became fewer, the episodes focusing more the on-going plot lines and character arcs, including a police investigation into "Vincent"'s vigilantism). Lisandrello plays "Cat"'s partner; Basis "Vincent"'s best friend who is hiding him; Brown the suave police pathologist. White plays the police captain. Ramamurthy joined the cast midway through the first season as a DA with his own mysterious agenda. Stewart recurred as "Cat"'s dad and Anderson her sister and Ledeyo the mom (in flashbacks). In terms of American/Canadian co-productions, this seems to be most likely an American production with some Canadian companies involved as junior partners. Filmed in Toronto (though set in New York) it ironically flips the traditional formula on its head, where an American star will headline a Canadian supporting cast, because here star Kreuk is Canadian...but none of the supporting regulars are! (Though Ryan is actually from New Zealand, and Brown from England, and recurring guest players are often Canadian, like Stewart).

Marketed as a reimagining of a 1980s U.S. series with a still loyal fandom, this TV series left the gate with a seeming target on its back. Fans of the original were quick to denounce it and given how little similarity it bears to the original, one wonders if they'd have been better to market it as just a new series sharing a title, rather than recycling character names and inviting comparisons (funnily, it bares more smilarity to a short-lived 2003 "Tarzan" series!) As well, critics were quite harsh (some reports declaring it the worst reviewed series of the 2012 season!) Which is weird...'cause it's actually a perfectly enjoyable series, with well paced plots and some quirky banter (and seemed to enjoy decent ratings). Eschewing the stylized romance/fairy tale of the original for a mix of detective series (ala "Bones", or what-have-you) with "X-Files" conspiracy and super hero, the romantic connection is a little subtler portrayed...and therefore, in a way, more believable, and with "Cat" the lead and a competent detective, rather than simply there to be rescued. The switching the theme of the original (where Vincent was a gentle soul in beastly body, to one where the "beast" is internalized, an inner demon "Vincent" must resist) is intriguing. Willowy Kreuk and Lisandrello may not be physically that realistic as big city cops and their characters tend to chat about their love lives at crime scenes like teenagers hanging in the girl's washroom! -- but, hey, it's not supposed to be "Dragnet". And Kreuk brings a sympathetic earnestness to her role that bolsters the scenes. And the cast and characters overall are likeable enough. Sure, it ain't high art, and can be cheesy and uneven, but bottom line: it's sprightly, with plots and it doesn't have you glancing at your watch. The fact that critics would denounce it as the worst series of the season while praising, say, the decidedly problematic "Arrow" just boggles the mind (and, arguably, raises questions of gender prejudices). Developed by Sherri Cooper, Jennifer Levin. Hour long episodes shown in Canada on Showcase.

BECAUSE WHY  * *  setting: P.Q.
(1993) Michael Riley, Martine Rochon, Doru Bandel, Heather Mathieson, Tod Fennell, Maggie Castle, Victor Knight.....Odd-ball drifter (Riley) comes back to Montreal, unsure of what he wants in life or why, moves into an apartment building and becomes involved in various relationships. Comedy-drama is amusing and eccentric at times, but gradually wares away any viewer involvement. It wants determinedly to be an ART film, which means it's obvious, largely plotless and slow, with opaque characters and lots of pregnant pauses between lines. Good-looking, well-acted and not terrible, but uncompelling. sc. Arto Paragamian with Eric Parenteau, Claude Gagnon. d. Arto Paragamian. - brief female nudity.- 105 min.

BEDROOM EYES  * * setting: Ont.
(1985) Kenneth Gilman, Dayle Haddon, Barbara Law, Christine Cattell, Lawrence K. Philips, Jayne Catling, Alf Humphreys, Angus MacInnes, Nick Nichols.....Peeping Tom (Gilman) becomes fascinated with a menage-a-trois, then witnesses a murder and finds himself the chief suspect with only his psychiatrist (Haddon) to whom he can turn. A decent performance from Gilman gives a boost to this otherwise middling humourous erotic thriller. sc: Michael Alan Eddy. dir: William Fruet. - partial female nudity, sexual content, violence.- 94 min.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs  * *  setting: other
(1992) Neil Munro, Illya Woloshyn, Fiona Reid, Paul Soles, Albert Schultz, Sheila McCarthy.....In the early 1800s, a young boy (Woloshyn) at first resents, then befriends, his family's border, the eccentric composer, Ludwig van Beethoven (Munro). Hour long family drama starts out pretty bad but gets better, thanks mainly to Munro's performance and the musical score. Though as an introduction to Beethoven, the man (and his work), it doesn't offer a lot. sc: Heather Conkie (based on the original work by Barbara Nichol). dir: David Devine.

BEFRIEND AND BETRAY  * * 1/2   setting: Ont.
(2011) Tim Rozon, Byron Mann, Tom Jackson, Klea Scott, Christine Horne, Steph Song, Terry Chen, Aaron Poole.....Story of an ex-con (Rozon) who is recruited by the authorities to go undercover and infiltrate a crime mob, thanks to his past -- and passing -- association with one of the crooks (Mann). Made-for-TV crime-drama is an energetic, briskly-paced effort, with a solid cast all around -- always nice to see Jackson on screen, and with some particularly stand out turns from Mann as a loose cannon and Chen as his immediate boss. But it can feel glib and superficial (despite trying for some deeper emotional aspects). The scenes and the tempo can hold your attention, even as it can be confusing, and the whole can maybe seem like it's trying too hard (or, being made for TV, like they're trying too hard to make sure you don't start flipping during the commercial breaks). The fact that, though a stand alone movie, it was also a hoped-for series pilot, may have also affected their approach to the narrative. Still, enjoyable enough. Though made for Showcase, there's no attempt to make this any grittier or edgier than any network TV movie (and probably just as well). Loosely inspired by the real life Alex Caine. sc: Michael Amo (based on the book by Alex Caine and Daniel Sanger). dir: Ken Girotti. 88 min.

BEHEMOTH  * * 1/2 setting: USA.
(2010) (/U.S.) Ed Quinn, Pascale Hutton, William B. Davis, Cindy Busby, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Ty Olsson, Garry Chalk, James Kirk....Seismic disturbances in a small American mountain town (and similar events globally) seem to portend a looming volcanic eruption -- but locals discover the cause is far less prosaic...a huge subterranean creature (no -- really huge)! Mix of disaster movie and creature feature lags in the middle and it's kind of awkward that the creature idea isn't revealed until well into it, as if intended as a surprise twist...when the movie is called "Behemoth". But, surprisingly, it's a notch or two above the usual Sy-Fy Channel Canadian-made movies (of which there's a whole sub-industry) thanks to some quirky dialogue that tries to give the characters, well, character, and with a likeable enough cast (including some nice scenes between Davis as bi-polar retiree and Kennedy as a young pretty waitress). Plus, decently budgeted...for a TV movie (including some nifty creature effects). Oh, don't misunderstand -- it's still a ridiculous, cheesy B-movie...but on that level, as a Saturday afternoon time-killer, it's better than many. Though some of the female parts tend to involve a lot of screaming, damsel-in-distress moments -- surprising given it's a woman screenwriter. sc: Rachelle S. Howie. dir: W.D. Hogan. - violence.- 86 min.

BEHIND THE BLUE  see L'enfant d'eau

BEING AT HOME WITH CLAUDE * *  setting: P.Q.
(1992) Roy Dupuis, Jacques Godin, Jean-Francois Pichette, Gaston Lepage.....Cynical cop (Godin) interrogates a prostitute (Dupuis) to find out why he murdered his respected male lover. Unsuccessful drama is hurt by its glossy, too-slick direction, scenes that are played all on the same level, and a lack of substance in the first half. The flashbacks undermine what little tension has been created. Godin and especially Dupuis try hard, though. In French. sc./dir: Jean Beaudin (from the play by Rene Daniel Dubois). - sexual content, extreme violence.- 85 min.


BEING ERICA (TV Series)

(2009-2011)   * * 1/2  Erin Karpluk ("Erica Strange"), Michael Riley ("Dr. Tom"), Tyron Leitso ("Ethan"), Vinessa Antoine ("Judith Winters"), John Boylan ("Gary Strange"), Kathleen Laskey ("Barb Strange"), Joanna Douglas ("Samantha Strange"), Adam MacDonald ("Josh McIntosh"), Paula Brancati ("Jenny"), Sarah Gadon ("Katie Atkins"), Reagan Pasternak ("Julianne Giacomelli"), Morgan Kelly ("Brent"), Laurence Leboeuf ("Claire"), others.....Serio-comic fantasy/drama about thirtysomething Erica (Karpluk) who feels her life is a long string of bad decisions and missed opportunities, then meets a mysterious psychiatrist (Riley) who allows her to go back in time to relive key events and try to change them with the advantage of hindsight...while also spending equal amounts of time just with her modern, everyday life and trials and tribulations. Since many in her circle of friends and family she had known for years, many of the actors appeared in both the contemporary and the flashback scenes. Leitso plays her best friend, a guy for whom she had more than platonic feelings. Antoine plays her best (female) friend; Boylan and Laskey her parents, etc. As the series progressed, the fantasy element was explored more, with "Erica" even acting as a supernatural psychiatrist-in-training to others.

TV series was seen as being a bit like "Quantum Leap", but is equally comparable to Twice in a Lifetime or Fetching Cody. Slick with good performances, but the overall results were...mixed. A fantasy series with aspirations to be Slice-of-Life, a "comedy/drama" where the comedy isn't that comedic and the "dramatic" events Erica wished to change were often trivial, the life lessons learned (and frequently spelled out in the voiceover narration) usually pretty obvious, and the execution/rules seemed inconsistent, as if each writer had a different take on how it worked (sometimes she wouldn't change things, sometimes she would, sometimes the past event visited...had little real relevance to/impact on her contemporary dilemma) and often the plots offered little in the way of narrative intrigue or surprises. And, frankly, the character and -- by extension -- the series could seem awfully narcissistic, "Erica" a little too obsessed with her own needs and crises in a TV landscape usually populated by more altruistic protagonists (in an episode where a character comes to her from the future, and tells her he couldn't find her in the aftermath of a mysterious disaster that killed many, her initial horrified reaction is "what happened to me?!?") Still, a decently "off beat" idea, certainly for a Canadian series (and for one that actually admitted it was set in Canada), and those who liked it seemed to like it a lot. Critics were supportive though ratings have been generally middling. Created by Jana Sinyor. Four seasons of hour long episodes.


 

BEING HUMAN (TV Series)

(2011-2014) (/U.S.)   * * * 1/2   Sam Witwer ("Aidan"), Meaghan Rath ("Sally Malik"), Sam Huntington ("Josh"), Kristen Hager ("Nora"), with Mark Pellegrino ("Bishop"), Dichen Lachman ("Suren"), Kyle Schmid ("Henry"), Connor Price ("Kenny"), Susanna Fournier ("Zoe"), Amy Aquino ("Donna"), Sarah Allen, Xander Berkeley, Deanna Russo, many others.....Supernatural/horror-drama about three twentysomething housemates in Boston, Massachusetts who share an unusual characteristic -- they're all supernatural beings. Witwer is a vampire, Huntington a reluctant werewolf, and Rath is a ghost that only they (or other supernaturally sensitive people) can see. All of them trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life -- the werewolf is conscientiously trying to find a cure for his affliction, while the vampire has tried to curb his need for blood...but still finds himself being drawn back into the machinations of his vampire clan. Hager plays "Josh"'s girl friend -- who also becomes afflicted with werewolfism. The series was comprised of various multi-episode arcs, meaning there were various supporting characters who would be regulars for a number of episodes, then be written out (or might recur again later), so Pellegrino, Dichmen, Schmid, etc. were signifcant characters but only for limited runs. Witwer and Huntington are American, Rath and Hager Canadian. The various supporting characters were a mix of Canadian and imported actors. Trivia note: Schmid had played a vampire in the TV series Blood Ties -- also called Henry! And though Hager hadn't played a werewolf before, she had tackled vampires in the webseries Valmont.

This is based on the identically titled British series, and the early episodes did aparently just mirror the U.K. version, but as it progressed it took the premise and characters in its own direction. This is a quirky addition, and perhaps culmination, of the horror/fantasy trend that has been burbling along on TV since the days of "The X-Files" or at least "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." In the sense that previous fantasy series had already begun playing around with a "human drama" undercurrent (Buffy, or "Charmed", for example) even if it was usually seen as secondary to the horror-adventure plot. But in Being Human, though there is still plenty of horror, thriller and suspense aspects, the tone can equally be that of a drama (or, given the quirky scenes and witty interplay, comedy-drama) that then veers into traditional horror and suspense areas. (Often the humour is how jaded and blasť the characters become when dealing with the bizarre and supernatural). And it works quite well, with enough of those latter aspects to keep things edgy, with creepiness and suspense and adventure, but with the characters and their dilemmas intriguing and emotionally involving enough that you don't really miss them in the other scenes. Of course, the "human drama" aspect is still intrinsically tied into the fantasy and supernatural themes, it's just not all scenes are about battling monsters or the like. Slickly put together, with a thoughtful maturity and a good, engaging cast (with Rath arguably the most appealing). Granted, it perhaps isn't saying or doing anything with its traditional archetypes that hasn't been done before in TV series, movies and novels (the werewolf who locks himself up to keep from prowling; the notion of an involved, hierarchical vampire sub-culture) -- it's the tone, more than the actual concepts or themes, that give the series its identity. Speaking of identity: some TV series are American series, filmed in Canada, and some are Canada-U.S. co-productions, and in the case of Being Human, it's co-produced by Canada's Muse Entertainment, and even the opening credits refer to the premise being "developed for North American television" (as opposed to simply "U.S. television") -- yet often in the Canadian press, and even on the website for its Canadian broadcaster, it was identified as the "U.S." version of a "U.K." series, as if they felt it might delegitimize the series if they admitted Canadian involvement! Sheesh! Four seasons of hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Space.

BELIEVE  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1999) Jan Rubes, Ricky Mabe, Elisha Cuthbert, Ben Gazzara, Andrea Martin, Stephanie Morgenstern, Charles Powell, Christopher Heyerdahl, Jayne Heitmeyer, Chip Chuipka.....After being expelled from boarding school, an American teen (Mabe) is sent to stay with his estranged grandfather (Rubes) until his parents can make other arrangements; while there he and the girl next door (Cuthbert) investigate a ghostly apparition. Good looking, O.K. family film, though it's maybe not (quite) spooky enough to be scary, but not quite sprightly or humourous enough to be a Disney-esque romp. The movie actually seems like two films, with an extended middle sequence where the heroes stage a fake haunting to get back at some bullies (presumably 'cause the main ghost story didn't have enough to it to make a movie). Moderately fun. Other than the three leads, most of the cast have just small parts. Co-scripter LaFortune is better known as an actor. sc: Richard Goudreau, Roc LaFortune (story Robert Tinnell). dir: Robert Tinnell. 96 min.

BELLEVILLE RENDEZ-VOUS  * * *  setting: other
(2003) (/France/Belgium).....Animated fable about a plucky grandmother whose devotion to her grandson leads her to helping him become a cross-country bike racer and, when he's kidnapped by nefarious goons, sets out (with his dog in tow) to find him. Comedy boasts impressive and captivating sets and character designs, flawless movements, and an intriguing, truly bizarre imagination. You hardly need an English-translation, as there's very little dialogue spoken -- it's mainly pantomime. Has a surreal opening sequence that might put one in mind of U.S. counter-culture animator Ralph Bakshi...but don't let that put you off. It's funny and kind of sweet and endearing, particularly as the unflappable grandmother and dog are true characters...but it's also weird and, frankly, a little nightmarish and grotesque, making it maybe not suitable for littler kids. Received the Best Picture Genie. English title: The Triplets of Belleville. sc./dir: Sylvain Chomet. - brief female nudity.- 78 min.

BELLS  * * 1/2
(1981) Richard Chamberlain, John Houseman, Sara Botsford, Robin Gammell, Gary Reineke, Barry Morse, Alan Scarfe.....An ecology professor (American Chamberlain) has trouble getting anyone to believe him when he suspects a series of grisly deaths is caused by lethal electrical impulses...over the telephone lines. Thriller has a bit of a split personality: on one hand, it can be seen as a horror/thriller arising from its era of "slasher" flicks (with a crazed killer using, not a knife and a hockey mask, but literally phoning his victims to death) yet equally wants to be part of the post-Watergate conspiracy genre with the little guy battling corporate and political cover ups. It's that latter part that gives the film some spark (even if the phone company might seem like an odd target) and some character nuance (with Chamberlain as an ex-radical who has kind of retreated from the fight, and Houseman as his mentor who advocates working within the system). The result isn't a great film, suffering from some cheesiness and clunky scenes...yet, conversely, is a notch or two above a lot of its era of "Hollywood North" programmers and gets better as it goes. There are some decent concepts (you can't hear a phone ring after watching this and not flinch!), some moderately suspenseful scenes, and Chamberlain brings his usual earnest credibility to the part. Botsford is effective as the romantic interest, and these movies can be fun for spotting the many familiar Canadian actors in bit parts, including The Royal Canadian Air Farce's Luba Goy as a receptionist! Nothing to plan your evening around...but maybe worth a look while channel surfing. Though that "split personality" applies equally to location: it not really clear where it's set, with sometimes a Canadian flag in the background, but American currency. Co-scripter Harrison is better known for historical and family dramas! The American prints run only about 79 minutes under the title Murder by Phone. sc: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack, John Kent Harrison. dir: Michael Anderson. - violence; sexual content.- 94 min.

BEN HUR (TVMS)  * * *  setting: other
(2010) (/U.K./Spain) Joseph Morgan, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily VanCamp, Kristin Kreuk, Simon Andreu, Hugh Bonneville, Lucia Jimenez, Ray Winstone, Ben Cross, Kris Holden-Ried.....At the time of Christ -- and the Roman occupation of Israel -- a Jewish businessman (Morgan) is wrongly implicated in a crime, loses his family, his wealth, and is sentenced to slavery, but through circumstances gradually reclaims power and position...driven by a burning desire for revenge on the childhood friend, and Roman centurion (Moore), he partly blames for his ordeal. Classic novel has been filmed before (most notably the 1959 Hollywood version with Charlton Heston), and this mini-series (aired on the CBC) stands up as a lavishly mounted, well put together version, with solid performances from all. Doesn't maybe have any particular novel spins on the familiar material, which mixes pulp fiction twists and lurid melodrama with a touch of piety -- basically The Count of Monte Cristo meets a Biblical fable. The original novel was marketed as "a tale of the Christ" and the movie walks the line of acknowledging the religious themes, but not in a way liable to distract a secular audience (indeed, one suspects the filmmakers themselves weren't overly interested in the religious undercurrents). Indeed, an occasional raciness (including nudity in its uncut version, though not shown on the CBC broadcast) might seem likely to offend the more overtly religious viewers. Primarily a British production, with the only Canadians in the cast being VanCamp, Kreuk, and Holden-Ried (as another centurion) -- with VanCamp having the biggest role as romantic interest Esther. An enjoyable, old fashioned costumed epic. 4 hours. Sharp (from the novel by Lew Wallace). dir: Steve Shill. - violence, sexual content, partial female nudity.-

Benny Cooperman movies: Novelist Howard Engel's slighty nebbishy private eye was featured in two excellent CBC TV movies starring Saul Rubinek. Too bad there weren't more. They were: The Suicide Murders and Murder Sees the Light.

BEOWULF & GRENDEL * *  setting: other
(2006) (/U.K./Iceland) Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgard, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Sarah Polley, Eddie Marsan.....Re-telling of the classic 11th Century poem about a village plagued by a monster and the warrior, Beowulf (Butler), and his men who come to help. Beautiful Icelandic scenery, and decent performances, this was marketed as a "revisionist" telling...unfortunately, revisionist here seems to mean it's a story about warriors battling a monster...that has little action and fewer scares, with flat direction and dialogue that veers inconsistently between archaic and modern (including lots of modern profanity). The "liberal" spin, in which the monster, Grendel, had been wronged by the villagers first, still doesn't really pad out the thin plot (particularly as we learn this in the opening scene!). Another loose variation on Beowulf was the Hollywood film, "The 13th Warrior". sc: Andrew Rai Berzins (from the ancient poem). dir: Sturla Gunnarsson. 104 min. - extreme violence; sexual content.- 105 min.

BERLIN LADY (TVMS) * *  setting: other
(1990) (/France) Robin Renucci, Giulia Boschi, Carl Marotte, Alain Doutey, Monica Randall, Lloyd Bochner, Robert Atzorn, Myriam Cyr.....In Europe in the early '30s, a freewheeling, wannabe French photographer (Renucci) -- not above a little (friendly) blackmail or playing a gigolo --, infatuated with his beautiful cousin (Boschi), a German movie star, inadvertently finds they're both in trouble with the rising Nazi party over a picture he took -- a picture with a clue to a conspiracy. Comedy-drama/suspenser suffers from an obnoxious hero and the weaknesses of a lot of co-productions: awkward dubbing (even though the actors seem to be speaking English); too-broad, even hysterical, performances; poor dialogue; obvious music. The meandering story has the elements of a good idea (the unrequited love, the gradual uncovering of a conspiracy) but handles them poorly. This may not have aired in Canada until 1998. 4 hours. sc: Simon Michael, Dan Franck, Jean Vautrin, and Donald Martin (from the novel La Dame de Berlin by Franck and Vautrin). dir: Pierre Boutron.
 
THE BEST LAID PLANS (TV Series)

(2014-)   * *  Jonas Chernick ("Daniel Addison"), Kenneth Welsh ("Angus McLintock"), Jodi Balfour ("Lindsay Dewar"), Raoul Bhaneja ("Bradley Stanton"), Sarah Allen ("Rachel Bronwin"), Mark McKinney ("George Quimby"), Barbara Gordon ("Muriel Parkinson"), Ron Lea ("Norm Fontana"), Eric Peterson ("Jerry Stockton"), Jordan Johnson-Hinds ("Peter 1"), Varun Saranga ("Peter 2"), others.....Comedy about a reluctant political speech writer (Chernick) who wants to get out of politics but agrees, as one final act, to run a doomed campaign in an impossible to win riding, latching onto a curmudgeonly, opinionated eccentric (Welsh) who will run only so long as he doesn't have to actually campaign, and "Daniel" agrees to take over teaching his university class. But while keeping this deal from those around them, they find the campaign starts to gain popular momentum. Balfour plays the nice girl he falls for. Bhaneja the party campaign chief; Allen a speechwriter (and "Daniel"'s ex); McKinney the party leader. Gordon plays a retiree and party campaign organizer, along with Peterson; Lea a local reporter. Johnson-Hinds and Saranga two enthusiastic student volunteers.

This was billed as a "mini-series" but it seems pretty clear it's intended as just the first season of an on going series (one giveaway is the season only adapted the first half of the novel upon which it's based!) and is, frankly, mostly a misfire. It's bad in the way that only something that has no right to be bad (given the cast, the concept, and the background) can be bad. One can quibble about doing hour long episodes of something that really seems like barely more than a mild sitcom. But a big problem is a seeming inability to settle on a definite vision, or to reconcile contradictions. Some scenes seem like it's meant to be a low-key dramedy, wryly observing life...and other scenes are played like a slapstick farce with mugging and hand waving (McKinney and Bhaneja inparticular seem like they are auditioning for the Three Stooges) -- almost as if the actors or director thought if they hammed it up that would make mild jokes funnier. Then there's the contradiction of a hero who is supposed to be a political idealist, yet with no sense his party is worth voting for (McKinney and his camp could be goofy and dumb -- but still sincere); he gets angry when Welsh's character resists the campaign, and angry when he speaks publicly. At times it can seem like they decided the comic rule was: "Daniel is perpetually frustrated -- so whatever is going on in a scene, Daniel will be opposed to it...even if it seems inconsistent with the last scene in which he was opposed to something." And the characters don't really pick up the slack. Chernick is a perfectly good actor -- really! -- but I'm not sure he's an especially compelling or endearing actor (based on this and other things). "Daniel" is supposed to seem frazzled and vulnerable, but often just seems whiny and self-pitying. While Balfour's character is underwritten and barely a plot device -- and a middle-aged producer's fantasy (that she would be instantly smitten by a nerd 15 years her senior). Only Welsh really scores, both as an actor, and as an interesting character (though even his character can slide a bit into caricature at times). Gordon also brings some class, as does Allen, funny given her character. Add to all that a political satire that is often toothless (save some sincere points about the problems of the First Nations) and arguably old fashioned (it's hard to credit in this day and age that a sex "scandal" -- involving free and consenting adults -- would be quite the career killer envisioned here). Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Terry Fallis. Six hour-long episodes on the CBC.  

THE BEST OF SCTV  * * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1988) (/U.S.) John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Dave Thomas.....Compilation of sketches from the hit satirical TV series, loosely strung together by a plot involving a license renewal hearing for the SCTV network. Everyone will have sketches they feel should have been included but it's generally hilarious and a good retrospective. A shorter version, with more Canadian sketches, was made for the CBC and called SCTV on Trial" (but rates about the same). sc: the cast (and many others). dir: John Blanchard (and others). app. 100 min.
 
THE BEST YEARS (TV Series)

(2007, 2009) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Charity Shea ("Samantha 'Sam" Best"), Brandon Jay McLaren ("Devin Sylver"), Jennifer Miller ("Kathryn Klafer"), Athena Karkanis ("Dawn Vargaz"), Niall Matter ("Trent Hamilton"), Randal Edwards ("Noah Jensen"), with Sherry Miller, Alan Van Sprang, Yanna McIntosh, Ron Lea, Siu Ta, etc ......Drama-cum-soap about life at an Ivy League Boston University, focusing on a freshman (American Shea), a wrong side of the tracks orphan trying to negotiate her way threw the blue blood snobbery of (some) of the students, as well as romantic complications, and learning the secrets of her own family history. McLaren plays her boy friend, the school's basketball star; Miller her snobby and catty room mate; Karkanis her best friend, a former TV teen star; Matter the bar tender at the local, whom "Sam" was also attracted too; Edwards a good natured Canadian student. Miller plays a wealthy University patron who took Sam under her wing for her own not-so-mysterious reasons; McIntosh the University Dean; Van Sprang, the owner of the bar where Sam worked and her friends hung out; etc. The relationships are hard to categorize as they tend to be in constant flux, as the friendships, and romantic entanglements, wax and wane and the characters can be cast in new light (Miller goes from heroine's friend, to enemy, to something in-between). 

Initially some press was written about the contrast in Canadian and American reviews -- Canadian reviewers were largely unimpressed, American reviewers were more favourable. But the contrast may have said as much about marketing/expectations in the different countries. In Canada the series was aired at 10:00 pm, and creator Aaron Martin likened it to the well remembered U.S. series "Felicity", fuelling expectations of a "grown up" show...while in the U.S. it airs on a cable station aimed at teens. Martin had previously worked on the teen series, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and the series ultimately seems more aimed at teens and pre-teens in style and writing, although "sexed" up to make it adult-friendly. Taken that way, it's not terrible, but not really great either. It's unabashedly pulpy entertainment and briskly paced (maybe a little too much so, as plot threads -- many that do seem lifted shamelessly from "Felicity" -- are whipped through that might better have been slowly developed) and the actors are pleasant enough. Shea is reasonably personable, if non-descript, though, arguably, Karkanis has more charisma (and some of her scenes with Van Sprang, as an avuncular old friend, are some of the series' most emotionally effective). But the characters themselves aren't that interesting, nor do we really empathize with them a lot of them time. And the series' emphasis on boozing and partying can make the characters seem a bit vapid, and is awkward given that most of the characters are actually supposed to be under-age! 

The series had a rather tumultuous behind-the-scenes process. Partly due to the co-production nature of different networks in different countries, there was a lot of mixed signals at the end of the first season: it was cancelled, no!, it was renewed, no!, it's been cancelled. Eventually it did return...after a long hiatus, with some changes in the supporting cast, and, in Canada, moving to a cable channel rather than a network.

Another sub-text to the series is one of classism and elite snobbery, as the heroine butts heads with Old Money students...yet, ironically, the heroine has a wealthy patron who bails her out of trouble that would get other students expelled, McLaren plays the star jock able to flaunt the rules with impunity, her best friend is the TV star who can get them the best tables at night clubs and who is handed the lead role in the school play, despite a poor reading -- far from a criticism, the series seems an ode to the value of privilege! (Interestingly, the series shies away from any racism issues, yet, given the snobbish, class conscious environment, is it likely the black jock's relationships with white women would go unremarked upon?). Created by Aaron Martin. Hour long episodes, the first season shown on CanWest-Global, the second on E!. 

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