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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.
* * * 1/2 setting: P.Q./USA./other
(1977) Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, David Gardner, James Hong, Gerard Parkes, Patrick Watson.....Dramatization of the life of Norman Bethune (Sutherland), doctor, rowdyman, crusader and eventual communist in the '20s and '30s. Teleplay -- even the exteriors are filmed on sets -- starts out a bit restrained, even stilted, though buoyed by Sutherland's strong performance, but gradually it gets better and better untill absolutely griping. An interesting companion piece to the bigger-budget 1990 feature. Good performances also from Gardner, Nelligan and Watson. Sutherland, at the peak of his moviestardom, agreed to do this CBC TV movie out of his fascination with the title figure...a fascination that saw him play the role before, in Witness to Yesterday, and subsequently in Bethune: The Making of a Hero. sc: Thomas Rickman (from the biography by Roderick Stewart). dir: Eric Till. - violence.- 88 min.
BETHUNE: The Making of a Hero*
* * 1/2 setting: P.Q./other
(1990) (/China/France) Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren, Helen Shaver, Colm Feore, Ronald Pickup, Goa Da, James Pax, Harrison Liu.....True story of Dr. Norman Bethune (Sutherland), a crusader for socialized medicine in the '30s and a hero to the Chinese for his medical work during their war with fascist Japan. Strong, visually handsome epic is more substantial than other big screen bios like "Lawrence of Arabia", with a fine cast, especially Sutherland (who played the role before in a CBC TV movie and the TV series Witness to Yesterday). A bit dry and choppy in spots, with forays into the really obvious, but also highly dramatic and provocative. Ironically, this big-budget feature works better on the small screen. Legendary for the bitter fighting over interpretation, with Sutherland and the director on one side and the producers and writer Allan (who had been trying to make this film for over forty years and who knew Bethune -- Feore's character is loosely based on him) on the other. Also infamous for the difficult location shoot (chronicled in the documentary Strangers in a Strange Land), the fact that it was, then, the most expensive Canadian film made and, supposedly, the first official co-production between China and the west. a.k.a. Dr. Bethune. Expanded for a TV mini-series. sc: Ted Allan. dir: Philip Borsos. - violence.- 116 min.
BETHUNE - THE MINI-SERIES see Bethune: The Making of a Hero
* * setting: Sask.
(2003) Kari Matchett, Michael Hogan, Raoul Trujillo, Janet Wright, Alex House, Aislinn Paul, Robert Moloney, Joy Coghill, Paul Coeur.....A nursing assistant (Matchett) moves with her kids back to her hometown, just as an outbreak of deadly e-coli bacteria sweeps the community caused, unbeknownst to most, by the water...but her father (Hogan), in charge of the town's water supply, tries to cover it up. Made-for-CBC TV movie is one of those "ripped from the headlines" affairs, but ends up kind of workmanlike, lacking a clear artistic vision as if unwilling to commit itself to any one vision -- is it a pulpy, "disaster movie" thriller, an examination of a social issue, a soap drama, or what? It's a little of this and that, but not enough of any of them (failing even to evoke the fear and paranoia that would, surely, be a part of that situation). There's too little suspense, and Trujillo has a seeming pointless part as Matchett's ex-lover, and the father of her troubled teen-age son -- threads that aren't integrated into the main story, but aren't developed much on their own. Disappointingly toothless, too, making a couple of references to "budget cuts" but ultimately keeping the focus on Hogan as the villain, rather than examining the broader social and political factors. In one province where an incident like this really occurred, the government had been warned months in advance that their cost cutting would precipitate such a tragedy, there were cover ups, and the premier eventually resigned -- citing unrelated reasons, of course. Noow that's a movie. Wright, as the head nurse, received the Best Supporting Actress Gemini. sc: Jeremy Hole, Anne Wheeler. dir: Ane Wheeler. 90 min.
BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE *
* setting: B.C.
(1999) Wendy Crewson, Karyn Dwyer, Christina Cox, Peter Outerbridge, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Marya Delver, Kevin Mundy, Tony Nappo.....Young woman (Dwyer) in a lesbian relationship (with Cox) isn't sure what to do when her unsuspecting mother and brother (Crewson and Mundy) move in with her. Comedy is slickly put together, with a good cast, avoiding the "low-budget" stigma of some gay-themed movies, but the actors haven't decided what type of movie they're in: Dwyer and Cox play it real, Crewson and MacDonald like they're in a farcical sitcom, and Outerbridge (as a transsexual) tries to bridge the gap. It's a romance, erotica, a comedy, a drama (touching on prejudice like skinhead gay bashers or the way Canada Customs sometimes impounds gay books at the border) while trotting out all the gay movie cliches (coming across like Outrageous!-lite at times). Largely inoffensive (as long as you don't mind some sex and aren't homophobic -- and if the latter, who cares?) and unrelentingly upbeat, where even the dark, gritty scenes usually get diffused. Not funny enough to just be a comedy, but thin on story and real character development. Not terrible, it'll play better if you're in an easy going mood, particularly for a lesbian audience looking for a relief from more "heavy" gay-themed movies, but somewhat undeveloped. sc: Peggy Thompson. dir: Anne Wheeler. - sexual content, female nudity.- 100 min..
BETWEEN STRANGERS *
* 1/2 setting: Ont.
(2002) (/Italy) Sophia Loren, Mira Sorvino, Deborah Kara Unger, Pete Postlethwaite, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Malcolm McDowell, Gerard Depardieu, Wendy Crewson, Robert Joy, Andrew Tarbet.....Story of three unrelated women, each dealing with her own secrets and buried grief (a phantom little girl who appears occasionally represents different things to each). Slick, expensive-looking drama is like a lot of recent high brow films where it's essentially an anthology except with the stories intercut (that is, there's no overt connection between them). Occasionally gets mired in its own self-important pretension, but not as badly as a lot of comparable Canadian movies, and is generally a moderately interesting film. Top heavy with imported actors, and made by an Italian filmmaker, but unapologetically set in Toronto. Directorial debut for Ponti, Loren's real life son. sc./dir: Edoardo Ponti. 96 min.
BETWEEN THE MOON AND MONTEVIDEO
* * 1/2
(2000) Pascale Bussieres, Attila Bertalan, Gerald Gagnon, Kena Molina, Armando Soler, Tony Robinow, Russell Yuen, Carlos Massola.....On an orbiting slum in the future, populated by drifters and schemers, a junk dealer and sometimes boxer (Bertalan) plots to hustle enough money to buy a ticket back to earth. Low-tech, "soft" science fiction film -- except for occasional sci-fi references, the premise and the setting might just as well be about a characters in an impoverished Latin American country. Starts out slow and kind of disjointed, as if writer-director-star Bertalan was more interested in just establishing his broad canvas milieu than telling a story -- or as if he'd seen "The Wages of Fear" wa-ay too many times. Improves somewhat, as the plot and the complications assert themselves, but still fails to entirely make the characters come alive. Top billed Bussieres has a pivotal but, frankly, kind of small, undeveloped part; Molina is noteworthy as the (admittedly stereotypical) tempestuous, Latino bad girl. Heavy use of voiceover narration smacks a little of a post-production patch up, to clarify a movie that otherwise might be incoherent. The fact that the movie is filmed on location, under the sky, as opposed to the claustrophobic, underlit sets of most low-budget SF movies, helps. Filmed in Cuba. sc./dir: Attila Bertalan. - partial female nudity, sexual content, violence.- 110 min.
"Beyond Mozambique", a play by George F. Walker,
became the movie Rats & Rabbits.
This likeable TV series often had highly original and inventive story ideas, but was more uneven in execution, often suffering from poor plotting, dialogue and direction -- making it a show you need to see a few episodes of before deciding whether you like it or not. The main characters were a little blah and the series benefitted from the addition of de Boer's character, but the show's humanity and compassion, as well as its varied stories (from the expected horror, to suspense, character dramas and comic episodes) gave it a different tone from similar shows like Friday the Thirteenth: The Series and the U.S. show, "The X-Files" (Beyond Reality bears a passing similarity to that series...and actually predated it by a few years). Marotte was especially good. Filmed in Toronto but set in the States (despite sometimes using landmarks like the Skydome). Spooky theme by Fred Mollin (who did the honours for many Canadian-made fantasy series) and title sequence designed by Stephen Roloff. Created by Americans Richard Manning & Hans Beimler. Best bets: "Inner Ear", where Cilia develops unwanted telepathy; the amusingly clever "Let's Play House" about a man who draws them into a bizarre, stereotypical 1950s reality; others. Approximately 44 half-hour episodes in syndication.
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(1999) (/U.S.) Andrew McCarthy, Matthew Laurance, Michael Ironside, Jayne Heitmeyer, Suzy Jochaim, Sean Day Michael, L. Harvey Gold, Lauren Diewold..... An atheistic cop and his partner (imports McCarthy and Laurance) investigate a religious motivated serial killer, while the cop must also deal with his own emotional baggage, like the fact that his little daughter is in hospital. Suspense-drama is slick and well acted, with a script that wants to be smart and philosophical...but seems so hung up on its themes, it short changes the characterization and the thriller-plot itself (which just seems to plod along). Worse, when the end comes, the big socio-psychological pay off doesn't -- pay off, that is. The killer's motivation and intent is confusing (not to mention the fact that all the "clues" are held back till the last ten minutes or so). Too bad. Heitmeyer, who is prominently featured on the box cover, actually has just a small part as McCarthy's wife. Ironside, too, has relatively little screen time, though his part is more pivotal. a.k.a. A Twist of Faith. sc: Richard Zywotkiewicz. dir: Chris Angel. 93 min.
BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST
* 1/2 setting: other
(2009) (/U.S.) Robin Dunne, Erica Durance, Julian Sands, Katharine Isabelle, Mark Gibbon, Cainan Wiebe, Richard de Klerk, Brent Staite, Bill Dow....Robin Hood adventure mixing familiar scenes and staples with a heavy supernatural element, involving Robin (Dunne), Marion (Durance) and the gang battling the evil Sheriff (British actor Sands) who controls a were-dragon (Isabelle and some CGI) and also involving a magical, otherworldly section of Sherwood forest. Low-budget made-for-TV adventure-fantasy is a mix of ups and downs (some okay f/x...and some poor ones), awkward action scenes, and suffers from uneven performances -- ironically some of the supporting players are more effective than the leads, such as De Klerk as Will Scarlet, Gibbon as Little John, and David Richmond-Peck is quite memorable in a small part as a syphilitic Prince John. But Dunne and Durance are uninspired (even though it's nice to see Canadians get the top roles!) and import Sands is, as often the case, problematic at best. Has occasional scenes where writing, acting and direction come together, particularly as it goes along, but mainly...not. sc: Chase Parker. dir: Peter DeLuise. - extreme violence.- app. 90 min.
BEYOND SUSPICION *
1/2 setting: USA.
(1994) (/U.S.) Jack Scalia, Howard G.H. Dell, Stepfanie Kramer, Francesco Ferrucci, Roger R. Cross, Douglas H. Arthur, Mark Acheson, Lily Shavick.....U.S. photojournalist (Kramer) becomes involved with an overzealous cop (Scalia) who may be on the take...and she may have the evidence to prove it. Violent suspenser suffers from a dull story and characters, uninspired performances (though Scalia does a decent job) and really static scenes. Made for The Movie Network, which made the toplessness by Kramer (or, at least, her body double) surprising. sc: Simon Abbott. dir: Paul Ziller. - violence, partial female nudity, sexual content.- 98 min.
BEYOND THE SILHOUETTE a.k.a. Silhouette
BIG BEAR(TVMS) *
* 1/2 setting: Sask.
(1999) Gordon Tootoosis, Tantoo Cardinal, Lorne Cardinal, Kennetch Charlette, Patric James Bird, Michael Greyeyes, Ben Cardinal, Diane Debassige.....Story of the Cree chief in western Canada in the 1880s who was caught between the uncaring, invading White bureaucracy on one side, and the radical militants of his own people on the other, eventually leading to his people's involvement in the 1885 rebellion against his wishes. Handsome CBC mini-series starts out fine and compelling, focusing on the human drama, but stumbles a bit in the second half, as the focus shifts to the events (battles, massacres) while the characters and their motivation become muddy and opaque. Still, eminently watchable, just disappointing (and a bit long). In the end, though, Big Bear himself seems like a problematic hero for a movie: unable to stand up to the whites, unable to restrain his more ruthless associates, he seems ultimately an ineffective figure. Clever (and extremely effective) turnabout technique of having the Indian characters speak perfect English, and the White characters speak incomprehensible gobbiligook -- forcing the viewer to see the scenes always from the Native viewpoint. Nice job by documentary filmmaker (and Native Indian) Cardinal on his first dramatization. All those Cardinals aren't related. 4 hours. sc: Rudy Wiebe, Gil Cardinal (from the
novel The Temptations of Big Bear by Wiebe). dir: Gil Cardinal. - brief female and male nudity, sexual content, violence-
BIG DEAL *
(1985) Jeff Wincott, Tina Theberge, Allan Katz, Dan Lett, Louis Negin, Cordelia Strube, Theresa Tova, Geza Kovacs, Marvin Goldhar, Christine Cattell.....Confusions and mistaken identities snowball when an entrepeneur (Wincott) gets into trouble with a loan shark (Kovacs). Farce has a genuinely -- and admirably -- convoluted, twisty interaction of a huge cast...but it's weighed down by the plight of so many Canadian-made comedies: an embarrassingly amateurish unfunniness and the idea that violence, sexism, and unpleasantness make for big laughs. A better-than-usual cast is a plus, though only Strube really scores. Some of the action takes place at Toronto's "Honest Ed's" department store. sc: Peter Mohan, Tim Dunphy, Stefan Gommerman (story Gommerman). dir: Barry Healey. - partial female nudity, sexual content.- 86 min.
THE BIG HEIST *
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(2001) (/U.S.) Donald Sutherland, John Heard, Jamie Harris, Janet Kidder, Joe Maruzzo, Nick Sandow, Robert Morelli, Rocco Sisto.....True story of a gang of misfit hoods who pulled off the Lufthansa heist in New York in 1978 -- which, unwittingly, turned out to be one of the biggest cash robberies in U.S. history. Made for the A&E cable station in the U.S., this crime drama/caper flick starts out with fine performances (particularly Sutherland as Jimmy Burke) and the whole thing is played light and bouncy, almost a comedy. It starts to lose its way half way through when it shifts from the characters being lovable misfits to people gunning each other down (and the light-hearted tone and '70s pop score begins to seem tasteless given that these were real people, dying real deaths). The problem is, in part, that the filmmakers can't entirely be sure of who did what to whom or why (since most of those involved were either killed or never admitted their part) -- and it kind of shows. Moderately entertaining, but the story isn't complicated enough, nor the characters (mostly amoral gangsters and thugs) sympathetic enough, to really be great. Sandow plays Henry Hill, the real life figure also portrayed (by Ray Liotta) in the Hollywood film, "GoodFellas". sc: Jere Cunningham, Gary Hoffman (from the book The Heist by Ernest Volkman, John Cummings). dir: Robert Markowitz. - violence.- app. 90 min.
THE BIG SLICE *
1/2 setting: USA.
(1990) Casey Siemaszko, Leslie Hope, Justin Louis, Heather Locklear, Nicholas Campbell, Kenneth Welsh, Bruce McFee, Henry Ramer.....While researching for a book, two U.S. writers (Siemaszko and Louis) find themselves at odds when one ingratiates himself with a mobster (Campbell) and the other a cop (Welsh). Sounds more interesting than it is. Capable cast in this comedy which seems, at times, like it should be funny...but rarely is. No real characterization -- despite the potential in a couple of scenes -- to interest the viewer. sc./dir: John Bradshaw. 87 min.
(2001) * * Greg Evigan ("Bill Sutton"), Deanna Milligan ("Jessie Polt"), Colin Cunningham ("Nick Keester"), David Steinberg ("Gabe Moss"), with Meredith Henderson ("Phoebe Sutton"), Anne Marie Loder ("Michelle Sutton"), Enuka Okuma ("Donna"), Philip Maurice Hayes ("Artie"), others.....Sitcom set at a Vancouver-based music management agency. Evigan plays a manager and Milligan his flakey secretary; Cunningham another, geeky manager; and Steinberg appears, from time to time, as the head of the company. Henderson plays Evigan's teen-age daughter and Loder his ex-wife. Okuma another, junior manager and Hayes the manager of the company's recording studio.
Another series that seems likely to have been green lighted after the success of the Newsroom, Big Sound has no laugh track and satirizes the media industry with black humour. Though reasonably slick, and capable of being almost, sort of, amusing in spots, generally it just wasn't very funny. Worse, it follows the same nihilistic pattern as Made in Canada. While the Newsroom was a vicious satire of unscrupulous people, where we understood they were horrible people, Big Sound has its characters behave in truly abhorent ways...but doesn't entirely seem to recognize just how appalling and unsympathetic these people are! Yikes!
Despite the presence of American actor Evigan, this was ostensibly made strictly for the Canadian market. Steinberg, a Canadian born, Hollywood-based comedian, was sold as being the show's driving force (so we know who to blame). Like all other "media" satires, the series recruited real life celebrities to play themselves (Canadian and American) though the jokes won't always work since, if you aren't into the modern music scene, you can't be sure who is an actor playing a character, and who's a real musician playing themselves. Interestingly, many of the actors are also musicians (Evigan has even recorded some albums). One season of half hour episodes on Global.
(2006-2008) * * Fabrizio Filippo ("Sam Camponelli"), Brandon Firla ("Clark Claxton III"), Jennifer Baxter ("Robin Howland"), Aron Tager ("Mortie Fagin"), Ennis Esmer ("Zoltan"), with Jane Luk ("Cam") (1st), Dov Tiefenbach ("Stu") (1st), Robin Brule ("Millie") (2nd-), Arnold Pinnock ("Vic") (2nd-), Jayne Eastwood ("Maxine"), others.....Comedy set at a big city law firm (though the business is largely incidental) focusing mainly on two associates (Filippo and Firla), nihilistic best friends often involved in petty rivalries (who gets the new office chair) and double crossing schemes. Baxter plays another friend, often drawn into the schemes. Luk plays their easy going supervisor; Tiefenbach their long suffering junior associate and general dogsbody; Tager the slightly senile senior partner; and Esmer the high strung maintenance man. Filmed more like a drama (ala The Newsroom or "The Office") than a conventional sitcom.
Made for Showcase, this muscles in on the current trend of "edgy"/"shock" comedies, with a free usage of profanity and racial epithets (the protagonists have a combative friendship, leading to them often playfully slurring each other...and since Firla's character is a WASP and Filippo's character both Jewish and Italian, that opens the door to a variety of ethnic snipes) and plot threads that are meant to skirt the edge of good taste, lampooning everything from handicap services to religion. The result is...mixed. Only sporadically amusing, it nonetheless has an infectious energy and enthusiasm, benefiting from the performances from Filippo and, especially, Firla, as well as the cast in general. The result is a show that isn't that great...but can kind of draw you back, willing to give it a second or third chance. Created by Fabrizio Filippo and Adam Till. Half-hour episodes on Showcase.
BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR
* * * setting: Ont./other
(1982) (/U.K.) Eric Peterson.....Peterson is excellent playing all the parts in this one man show (with John Gray on piano) about the W.W. I flying ace. Entertaining comedy-drama is innovatively put together with fine songs, though Bishop himself may have been a bit too insubstantial for them to really make it great. sc./dir: John Gray with Eric Peterson (from their play).
THE BINGO ROBBERS
* * * setting: Nfld.
(2000) Lois Brown, Barry Newhook, Phil Dinn, Sheila Redmond, Roger Maunder, Jody Richardson, Geoff Younghusband.....During a night, two fringe dwelling, thirtysomething best friends (Brown and Newhook) drive around St. John, meeting up with friends and acquaintances, intermittently hooking up with the garage band he's in and she manages, and bungling various attempted hold ups, while arguing about their lives and their obsessive infatuation with their ex-lovers. Amusing, eccentric comedy boasts a quirky script, cleverly erudite badinage, and ingratiating performances. Though some directorial tricks -- quick cuts, sped up film, punk rock soundtrack -- presumably intended to distract from itts obvious modest budget (it's filmed on video -- decent looking video, but still video) can be distracting. But not too much so. Nice sense of place adds to the thing, too. sc./dir: Lois Brown, Kevin Newhook. 83 min.
THE BITTER ASH
* 1/2 setting: CDN.
(1963) Alan Scarfe, Lynn Stewart, Philip Brown, Diane Griffith, Lee Mackenzie, Larry Kent, Leo Burdak.....Story of a cynical working stiff (Scarfe) and a struggling, self-deluded playwright (Brown) and of how the two eventually collide when the playwright's wife (Stewart) chances to meet the working man. Arguably sincere riff on the "angry young man" theme, as bitter characters rage against their fates, but it's extremely thinly plotted, disjointed, obvious and, frankly, interminable at times. Filmed in black & white, with obvious budget short comings like poorly synched sound. Controversial at the time thanks to a bit of sex and nudity (scenes that would barely raise an eyebrow today). Mainly of interest now for Scarfe's film debut. sc./dir: Larry Kent (his first feature). - partial female nudity, sexual content.- 80 min.
BIZARRE (TV Series)
Sparodically amusing TV series was more miss than hit, using tired gags and such ill-conceived concepts as "bleeping" out swear words. The funniest bits were the ones that played with the conventions of the genre, such as Einstein's interruptions and the airing of rehearsals that had gone awry. Though the "bleeping" may not have been a gag, per se: apparently there is a version of the series (not well circulated it seems) in which the swear words weren't censored, and which even had some nudity! Einstein would return to Canada subsequently to film his Super Dave weekly series. Half-hour episodes on CTV.
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