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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.


(2011) (/U.S.)  * * *   Michelle Borth ("Rebecca Kincard"), Luke Mably ("Simon Hill"), Terry Chen ("Bonny Trang"), Elias Koteas ("Col. Xavier Marks"), Deborah Kara Unger ("Grace Penderson"), Arnold Pinnock ("Will Royal"), Gord Rand ("Sean Kelly"), Hamza Jeetooa ("Vans"), Ellen Wong ("Susie"), Lisa Berry ("Pam"), others.....Drama set at an army field hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Borth and Chen play the newly arrived army Doctors, Mably a civilian neurosurgeon (and so able to flaunt military protocols a little), Koteas the world weary c.o.; Unger the psychiatrist; Pinnock the head nurse; Rand the colonel's chief aide; Jeetooa the interpreter; Wong another nurse. This series joins the recent spat of Canada-US co-productions (begat by Flashpoint) that bucked the old formula -- where traditionally such co-productions would pretend to be American through and through, now some such series actually acknowledge their Canadianness on screen -- and even securing spots on U.S. network primetime! Indeed, though this is set at a coalition hospital, with doctors and patients from a variety of countries, it's supposed to be Canadian run, with a plethora of Canadian flags in the background...and on sleeves! Even more surprising -- the series occasionally uses the Canadian/multinational idea for more than just shoulder patches (from a light sub-plot involving the Canadian and U.S. soldiers staging a grudge hockey match, to more dramatic, like a sub-plot involving contradicting medical policies employed by the U.S. and Canadian armies). Borth is American, Mably and, I believe, Jeetooa, are British, most everyone else is Canadian, though there is some mixing and marching of roles. Borth is American but, in a nice little turnabout on the traditions, plays a Canadian, while Canadians Chen and Unger play an American and an Australian.

In many respects, this TV series is just M*A*S*H up-dated to a contemporary conflict and expanded to an hour -- or, at least, if M*A*S*H was a comedy skewing toward drama as it went, Combat Hospital is a drama...but skewing towards comedy from time to time. It's not hard to feel the M*A*S*H influence in various scenes, only with beeping pagers replacing the voice on the speakers announcing "incoming". And the pretty good. A good cast all around playing likeable characters (Koteas is perhaps the stand out, both for his performance and his character, which avoids the cliche of the hardnosed c.o. for a more soft-spoken boss -- stern, but compassionate). Each episode usually has a few plot lines, mixing light and dark, which resolve by the end of the hour. Mixing the familiar medical drama with a combat setting allows it to stand out from the lion's share of medical and military series. Admittedly, the mix of comedy, drama, medical dilemmas and soap opera isn't always seamless -- cutting from some grim crisis to a joke sub-plot, or the characters having flippant coversations while struggling with life-and-death procedures could be clumsily juxtaposed (like in the season finale where a regular character's death still seems to take a backseat, emotionally, to the romantic entanglements). But the overall result is entertaining, the light and dark mix keeping the series from veering too far in either direction.

Unlike the earlier M*A*S*H (which was filmed in the '70s but set in the '50s), perhaps because this is set during an on going conflict the series avoids any overt politicizing -- it's neither an anti-war, nor a pro-war series, concerned more with the men and women on the ground then why they are there. Of course, even that elicited some controversy among veterans, feeling it was crash and insensitive to do entertainment about the war (apparently those veterans not considering how insensitive the average cop drama is for victims of crime, or medical drama for people suffering from serious illness). More to the point: isn't that a storyteller's job? To try and interpret and dramatize the world around them? Liberties have been taken for the sake of drama (one suspects a real field hospital would be busier, more chaotic, and with a much larger staff) but ultimately it's a fictional drama giving just a glimpse of the real life situation. Though bringing in "hit" ratings in Canada, its U.S. ratings (on ABC) were more tepid (with previous -- critically acclaimed -- U.S. war shows like "Over There" and "China Beach" also having trouble rallying an audience). This lead to ABC cancelling it -- and Global, despite its Canadian popularity, decided to follow ominous statement about programming priorities when Global will cancel a ratings hit, while keeping much lower rated series running for multiple seasons. Created by Douglas Steinberg, Jinder Oujla-Chalmers, and Daniel Petrie Jr. 13 hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Global.

(1989).....Adult documentary presents an overview of the last fifty years of U.S. comic books, with a look at superheroes and horror but focusing principally on the alternatives and underground. Interviews with the likes of William Gaines, Robert Crumb, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, etc. Innovative techniques make the comics come alive and it's at its best when the creator's read from their work. Interesting, though hardly comprehensive. In addition to the perfunctory treatment given superheroes, other genres (romance, funny animals) are only touched on. And Canadian and other non-U.S. comics are ignored completely. The film may have inspired the TV series Prisoners of Gravity. A later documentary by another filmmaker, Once Upon a Time, gave greater focus to the genre of super heroes. dir: Ron Mann. 85 min.

COMING OF AGE  * * *  setting: CDN.
(1993) Marion Gilsenan, Jan Rubes, Bernard Behrens, Jennifer Phipps, Julie Stewart, Esther Hockin, Jacelyn Holmes.....A recently widowed grandmother (Gilsenan) finds herself taking in borders to make ends meet: a flamboyant handyman (Rubes) and a man (Behrens) whose wife (Phipps) has alzheimers. Serio-comic pic occasionally seems too formal and stiff, with forays into the obvious, but has a good cast all around and some memorable scenes. Rubes was associate producer. Behrens and Phipps received the Best Supporting Actor and Actress Geminis. sc: Donald Martin, Betty Jane Wylie. dir: E. Jane Thompson. 79 min.

COMING OUT ALIVE  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1980) Helen Shaver, Scott Hylands, Michael Ironside, Christopher Crabb.....When her son (Crabb) is kidnapped by her ex-husband (Ironside), a woman (Shaver) runs out of options until finally turning to a troubled mercenary (Hylands) -- and they discover there was much more to the husband than meets the eye. Suspense-drama starts out a For the Recordish drama, then becomes pulpier as it goes along. Good performances (with bit parts by Doug McGrath, Winston Rekert and Barbara Gordon) and Hylands is particularly notable in a rare flamboyant lead role. But the filmmakers don't quite seem to grasp the finer points of doing a thriller, making it mildly diverting, but with a lot of wasted potential. Still, it's a nice reminder that the CBC once did things other than true-crime stories and L.M. Montgomery adaptations. sc: John Kent Harrison. dir: Don McBrearty. 77 min.

(1989) (/France) Isaach de Bankole, Roberta Bizeau, Maka Kotto, Myriam Cyr, Antoine Durand, Julien Poulin, Roy Dupuis.....Story of an aspiring writer (de Bankole) and his friend (Kotto) and of his affairs with various white women. Breezy serio-comic film has some cute scenes and good performances from de Bankole and Kotto but is too insubstantial and indulges in its own racist and sexist stereotyping. English title: How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. sc: Dany Laferriere, Richard Sadler (from the novel by Laferriere). dir: Jacques W. Benoit. - partial female nudity, sexual content.-- 99 min.

COMMON BONDS a.k.a. Chaindance

(1990) Alice Diabo, Beth Webber, Catherine Roche, Cissy Meddings, Constance Garneau, Mary Meigs, Michelle Sweeney, Winifred Holden..... Eight women, most elderly, find themselves stranded in the middle-of-nowhere when their bus breaks down and, as they wait for help, learn survival skills (sort of) and about each other. Likeable, effective comedy-drama, using a realist, semi-scripted, semi-improvised style and non-professional actors. A big hit with critics and audiences. U.S. title: Strangers in Good Company (so it wouldn't be confused with the simultaneously released U.S. film, "The Comfort of Strangers"). sc: Gloria Demers, with Cynthia Scott, David Wilson, Sally Bochner. dir: Cynthia Scott. 101 min.

THE CON ARTIST  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2010) Rossif Sutherland, Sarah Roemer, Donald Sutherland, Rebecca Romijn, Greg Germann, Russell Peters, Jed Rees, Mac Fyfe.....Ex-con (Rossif S.) is drawn back into his old life of stealing cars because he owes money to his old crime boss (Donald S.) -- but also has a chance out of that life when his hobby of making sculptures out of scrap is discovered by an aggressive art agent (Romijn). Light-hearted crime drama boasts nice performances, and an energetic tempo and is a perfectly okay way to kill an hour and half...without rising above a certain No Name brand genericness -- nor does it really try. Little true tension, as it is light-hearted, and some scenes feel like they're missing, even as other scenes feel like padding -- they're perfectly enjoyable scenes, but repetitive, not really furthering the plot. Nor does it convincingly evoke the sense of him being an artist, as if they could just as easily have made it be that he is good at math and is discovered by a high powered accountant. Roemer (as the love interest) and Romijn are American imports...but the movie itself is refreshingly unapologetically set in Toronto. The two Sutherlands are father and son, and though they don't play father and son, there is an effective undercurrent along those lines (as crime boss Donald views his protégé with a certain avuncular affection). An okay time killer...and a clever title (even if, at first glance, it seems generic). sc: Michael Melski, Colin Friesen. dir: Risa Bramon Garcia. - sexual content.- 84 min.

LE CONCIERGERIE  * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(1997) Serge Dupire, Macha Grenon, Jacques Godin, Michel Forget, Tania  Kontayanni, Maka Kotto, Dorothee Berryman, David La Haye, Caroline Neron.....An ex-cop turns private eye (Dupire) after his partner's unsolved murder (Godin, in a small part) and investigates the murder of a prominent author/entrepeneur, the chief suspects all being inhabitants of a ritzy half-way house the dead man owned. Plodding thriller is sometimes actually silly and suffers from too many bland performances and belaboured delivery. Too many (interchangeable) suspects leads to endless, repetitive scenes of characters being interrogated that never go anywhere. Dupire's character remains a blank slate for the most part, despite what should be workable characterization involving his murdered partner, the break-up of his marriage (to Grenon), etc. La Haye is good as one of the half-way house residents. Still, you can admire it on one level, since the idea of doing a private eye thriller that's actually set in Canada is almost unheard of these days from English-speaking filmmakers. English title: The Haven. sc: Benoit Dutrizac, Michel Poulette (from the novel Le Conciergerie des Monstres by Dutrizac). dir: Michel Poulette. - sexual content, violence.- 107 min.

Le Conciergerie des Monstres, the novel, became simply Le Conciergerie.

LE CONFESSIONNAL * *  setting: P.Q.
(1995) (/France/U.K.) Lothaire Bluteau, Patrick Goyette, Jean-Louis Millette, Richard Frechette, Francois Papineau, Marie Gignac, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Billy Merasty.....Parallel stories of a man (Bluteau) trying to find the real father of his adopted brother (Goyette) and flashbacks to their parents in 1952 -- coinciding with Alfred Hitchcock filming "I, Confess" in Montreal. Theatrical wunderkind LePage's film directorial debut was praised by many critics, almost as if he'd reinvented the art form; but it's hard to see what the fuss was about. Unenthralling film isn't quirky or off-beat enough to pass itself off as an Art House novelty while not being sufficiently strong in plot or characterization to work as a simple drama.  Muddled and dull. Won a number of Genie Awards. Once more, white sub-titles on white backgrounds hurt some scenes. sc./dir: Robert LePage. - brief female and male nudity.- 101 min.

(1986) August Schellenberg, Chapelle Jaffe, Neil Munro, Tom Butler, Linda Goranson.....In the '50s, an American p.i. (Schellenberg) investigates the disappearance of a reporter who was investigating a 40 year old murder trial. Pointless, boring tribute to fifties crime-dramas. sc./dir: Bruce Pittman. - sexual content, casual female nudity, violence.- 95 min.

CONNECTIONS  *  setting: other
(1993) (/France) Jacques Penot, Teri Austin, Luca Barbareschi, Gioele Dix, Steve Kalfa.....American reporter (Austin) in Switzerland finds herself the target of a serial killer who meets women through video dating services. Pretty awful slow-moving low-budget thriller. sc: David Preston (story Preston and Edith Rey). dir: Patrick Jamain. 89 min.

A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the classic American novel by Mark Twain, was the (uncredited) source for the cable TV movie A Young Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

CONQUEST  * * 1/2  setting: Sask.
(1998) (/U.K.) Lothaire Bluteau, Tara Fitzgerald, Monique Mercure, David Fox, Eugene Lipinksi, Guyen Huya.....In the run-down town of Conquest, Saskatchewan, the idealistic banker (Bluteau) tries to keep the town going with extended credit and schemes -- like trying to persuade a city woman (British actress Fitzgerald) whose car, and money, has left her stranded, to take over the local hardware store. O.K. serio-comic flick has a good cast (even Bluteau is ingratiating) but its forced whimsy and heavy-handed pretentions keep it from entirely coming together as a human narrative. Mercure received the Best Supporting Actress Genie. sc: Rob Forsyth. dir: Piers Haggard. - casual male nudity, brief female nudity- 93 min.

THE CONSPIRACY  * * 1/2   setting: CDN./USA.
(2012) Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Alan C. Peterson, Bruce Clayton, Laura de Carteret, Julian Richings.....Pseudo-documentary about a couple of filmmakers (Gilbert and Poole) doing a human interest film about an eccentric "global conspiracy" theorist (Peterson) -- but when he goes missing, they start to investigate his ideas more thoroughly, wondering if he was genuinely onto something. Suspense flick boasts good performances (particularly from the always reliable Peterson) -- a necessity when trying to create an aura of realism -- and the documentary format is a clever approach. But because of that, there isn't really any secondary narrative layers to invite additional emotional involvement (little in the way of character sub-plots, no romantic interest) and the conspiracy itself is a deliberately generic -- and vague -- one, so the movie doesn't offer any real twists or take you anywhere you weren't expecting. In short, it's the movie they set out to make -- but nothing more. And, as often happens in such films, the occasional use of real footage (the JFK assassination, the 9/11 attacks) can seem in questionable taste. sc/dir: Christopher MacBride. 85 min.

CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE (TVMS)  * * * *  setting: Man.
(1991) Michael Mahonen, Carl Marotte, Stephen Ouimette, Ian Tracey, Jonathan Potts, Dawn Greenhalgh, James B. Douglas, Brooke Johnson, Catherine Disher.....Fact-based story of the murder of Native teen Helen Betty Osborne and the town that, for 16 years, wasn't interested in helping the police solve the crime -- despite the fact that many knew who had done it. What should be a schlocky, "based-on-the-shocking-true-story" affair turns out to be a searing, riveting, disturbing drama, expertly put together with a strong script and a great cast, especially Mahonen as one of the troubled killers. Made-for-CBC TV, and subsequently aired in the U.S. on CBS. Won 7 Geminis including Best Mini-Series, Screenplay, Actor (Mahonen), Supporting Actress (Johnson) and Director. Four hours. sc: Suzette Couture. dir: Francis Mankiewicz. - violence.-


(2012-) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2   Rachel Nichols ("Kiera Cameron"), Victor Webster ("Carlos Fonnegra), Erik Knudsen ("Alec Sadler"), Brian Markinson ("Insp. Dillon"), Tony Amendola ("Eduoard Kagame"), Stephen Lobo ("Kellog"), Roger R. Cross ("Travis"), Lexa Doig ("Sonya"), Omari Newton ("Lucas"), Luvia Petersen ("Garza"), Jennifer Spence ("Betty"), with Ian Tracey, Janet Kidder, William B. Davis, John Reardon, others .....Science fiction/action about a cop from the year 2077 (Nichols) stranded in modern day Vancouver, B.C. hunting a group of future-era anti-capitalist terrorists also marooned in modern times. While keeping the time travel aspect secret (except from those close to her) she pretends to be an American special agent charged with finding the terrorists. Webster plays the local cop she's partnered with and Knudsen a teen-age computer genius who helps her...and whose destiny is entwined with future events. Markinson plays the police CO. Amendola the leader/guru of the terrorists, with Cross as his second, Doig "Travis"' lover, etc. Lobo played a more ambiguous figure -- one of the initial villains but who ends up playing both sides. Nichols is an American actor, as is Amendola (though he previously had a recurring role in the Vancouver shot StarGate: SG-1). Most everyone else is Canadian. And this series reflects a growing trend of such Canadian-made series of actually acknowledging its Canadianness on-screen (when a few years ago -- it would've been set adamantly in the U.S.). Though it seemed to reflect a curious need to "learn" how to be Canadian over the course of the episodes, the use of terms and pronunciation becoming more Canadian as it went (Markinson's character goes from being identified as a "lootenant" to a "leftenant" to finally an "Inspector").

This TV series opened big -- huge, really, at least for a cable series -- though the numbers dropped precipitously after the premier (but still respectable for a cable series) and enjoys a genuine cult fandom. But it can feel like a throwback to an earlier era of straight-to-syndication and cable Canadian co-produced SF series like (among others) First Wave, Code Name: Eternity, Tracker and perhaps most obviously, the American series "Time Trax." It's basically the same heroes and villains doing the same things, week after week, having the same conversations about the same things (the heroine pines for her husband and son). Of course the series underwent creative growths, the early episodes relying heavily on violence and action scenes (with even the cops seeming to carry machine guns in their trunks!) as though mainly an "action" series. But as it went, the balance shifted more toward plot and investigation and playing around with timelines and paradoxes -- by the third season, some of the characters weren't necessarily the same characters they started out as, representing alternate timelines.

There is a genuine attempt at philosophical complexity: the looming corporations-controlled future "Keira" serves is a Dystopia and the terrorists might have a legitimate point -- even as "Keira" is well-intentioned and the terrorists can be homicidal psychos (though they are softened a bit as the series progressed). It's an intriguing moral ambiguity that, based on some message board debates, seemed to confuse some viewers uncomfortable with shades of grey (right wingers accusing the series of being left wing, and being too sympathetic to the villains, left wingers accusing it of being right wing and assuming it was endorsing the future quasi-totalitarian reality). But such moral ambiguity, though intriguing at first, can run out of steam after awhile, the characters repeating the same arguments without really developing it any more (since it's an on-going series). And if only the series' makers had carried that ambition over into the characters, the plots and the scenes. But the generic plots/cases-of-the-week are often paper thin and simplistically developed. And despite the increasingly twisty story arcs involving paradoxes, overlapping timelines (and possible futures), and even introducing a third party time police organization, even story arcs themselves can feel undeveloped or meander about as if even the writers don't really have any idea where they want it to head (sometimes abruptly killing off characters, almost as though house cleaning). And the heroes are kind of bland and undeveloped played by capable but bland actors -- a fault perhaps more with the roles than the actors (even after several seasons, Webster's character remains best defined as simply "the partner"). The villains are often played by the more compelling, charismatic actors with the more interesting characters and interaction. Ultimately, it has a genuine fandom that can't be dismissed, and improved as it went, but it can feel like a doggedly middle brow series with pretensions to be more. Made for cable, reflected in some saltier language than most network TV series (but nothing more). Created by Simon Barry. Three seasons (so far) of hour long episodes shown in Canada on Showcase.

CONTROL  * * 1/2  setting: other
(1987) (/France/Italy) Ben Gazzara, Kate Nelligan, Burt Lancaster, Kate Reid.....Fifteen multi-national people are placed in a nuclear bomb shelter to see if they could survive it and each other. Drama doesn't really start moving until more than halfway through, when the characters fear it may no longer be just an experiment...but the real thing! Given the subject matter, the film isn't as powerful as it should be. European title: The Day Before. sc: Brian Moore, Jeremy Hole. dir: Giuliano Montaldo. 90 min.

CONVERGENCE  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1999) Cynthia Preston, Adrian Paul, Christopher Lloyd, Rachel Hayward, Blu Mankuma, Johanna Lebovitz, Marie Stillin.....American tabloid reporter (Preston) and her world weary partner (American actor Lloyd) investigate various strange occurrences, while she herself experiences weird mood swings and bizarre phenomenon. Supernatural suspense flick is heavy on the brooding and the enigmatic, with a decent cast, and some effectively moody scenes. Some will find its seeming episodic and meandering story, and heavy handed "mysteriousness" (as the actors look pensive muttering cryptic lines), a little silly, but if you're willing to forgive it its obviousness, you can kind of be intrigued as to where it's headed...which is the problem. Unlike, say, "Donnie Darko", where the scenes and the characters can be involving on their own, here the scenes mainly exist to make us curious about the solution -- and the umbrella solution doesn't really answer why these specific events occurred. Beware movies where even the characters sum up the story with lines like "There's nothing to understand" and "It didn't make any sense..." Too bad, particularly as it had its moments, and Canuck Preston got to play the, more or less, lead, as opposed to just the love interest. a.k.a. Premonition. sc: Raul Inglis, Gavin Wilding, John Fairley. dir: Gavin Wilding. - sexual content.- 93 min.

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