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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.
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS *
* setting: USA.
(1991) (/U.S./Germany) Jennifer Rubin, Peter Outerbridge, Sally Kellerman, Stephen Shellen, Lindsay Merrithew, Dwight Bacqule, Robert Bockstael.....A novice New York fashion model (Rubin) finds herself being stalked and those around her murdered. So-so suspenser suffers because most of the thrills are cliched and anticipated, and American import Rubin's a bit of a weak lead. Michael Ironside has a cameo at the end. a.k.a. Victim of Beauty. sc: Nolan Powers (story Harriet Steinberg). dir: Paul Lynch. - violence.- 90 min.
(2000-2002) * * 1/2 Merwin Mondesir ("Dennis"), Mark Taylor ("Jeff"), Michie Mee ("Divine"), Shamann ("Craft"), Omari Forrester ("Mego"), with Ingrid Veninger ("Lola Gallo").....Drama set at a Hip Hop University radio station in Toronto, focusing on two buddies, one level-headed (Taylor) and the other impetuous (Mondesir). Mee, a real life Hip Hop performer, plays the station's beautiful M.C./rapper; Shamann her D.J. (again, his real life profession). Quick note: a D.J. in this context isn't the guy who says: "Good morning, Toronto, it's 7 am...", but a guy who physically manipulates the records for artistic/musical effect (I think). Forrester plays the technician and Veninger the station manager.
This TV series, spun-off from the teen drama Straight Up (where some of the characters had first appeared) is an O.K. slice of inner city pop culture. Better than Straight Up, it nonetheless suffers from similiar problems of uneven dramatic rhythms and episodes that, despite all their earnestness, are a little vapid. One episode looking at neighbourhood rivalries and turf wars concluded that riots were a bad thing (duh-uh)...but failed entirely to expose/examine the underlying roots/motivation behind such violence. Still, as a pretty, well acted piece of attitude-fluff it maintains interest for its half-hour. When first aired, much was made of whether mainstream society would be able to follow the HipHop/inner city dialect. Ironically, it's not the colloquialisms that can be bewildering, but the technical ins and outs of the music biz.
Though it does smack a little of being a "black" series (though a couple of the regulars were white) intended to distract attention from the fact that almost every other Canadian series then airing (at least those set in Canada) featured exclusively white actors. Even then, a TV news report on the Canadian TV industry cited this series as an example of a show geared toward the American market, not the Canadian one. Why? It's blatantly set in Canada featuring Canadian actors discussing Canadian issues -- how is it not Canadian? Surely not because the leads are black and it focuses on inner city/Hip Hop sub-culture? If that was the news commentator's point, that attitude is not necessarily a reflection of Canada, but speaks (unpleasant) volumes about problems in the industry. Besides, it's unlikely this series was banking on much U.S. distribution. The show's occasional use of profanity is generally a sign of a series intended for domestic consumption, because it limits its saleability to American stations. About a dozen half hour episodes over two seasons, originally on the CBC.
* * 1/2 setting: Sask.
(1963) Frances Hyland, James B. Douglas, Lester Nixon, Mary Savage, William Fruet, Don Francks.....Saga of a family who moves out to the prairies in 1907 to become farmers and their successes and failures. Surprisingly, this no-frills story isn't bad, though stylistically it plays like something out of the '40s. Filming was completed in 1961. This was the first English-language feature released by the NFB. sc: M. Charles Cohen with William Weintraub. dir: Donald Haldane. 69 min.
DUCT TAPE FOREVER *
1/2 setting: Ont./USA.
(2002) Steve Smith, Patrick McKenna, Bob Bainborough, Wayne Robson, Jeff Lumby, Jerry Schaefer, Richard Fitzpatrick, Peter Keleghan, Melissa DiMarco, Darren Frost.....Forced to pay off court ordered fines -- or lose their beloved Possum Lodge -- RRed Green (Smith) and the gang plan to enter a giant goose in a duct tape sculpture contest, but a greedy developer (Fitzpatrick) will do almost anything to keep them from arriving in time. Enormously disappointing first feature film for Smith and his TV alter ego from The Red Green Show. The plot isn't really detailed enough to succeed as a story, while not really being used as an excuse for a bunch of self-contained comic vignettes (you know, basically doing a sketch comedy, strung together by a plot). Key elements of the TV series -- building insanely wacky, but almost plausible, items out of trash and duct tape, and the Possum Lodge gang getting involved in various nutty schemes -- is almost entirely absent from the story. Maybe instead of having them enter the duct tape contest at the beginning, and the main movie being a road trip, the first half should've been showing various ill-fated schemes the characters attempt to raise money. Or maybe the stand up comedy nature of the TV show, with Smith relating bizarre misadventures with a deadpan delivery, doesn't work as well when such scenes are actually enacted. Smith's still a comic talent, and the TV series is amusing...but you might not guess that from this movie. And are there even Sheriffs in Canada, at least in the capacity portrayed here? Bit parts and cameos include Graham Greene, rocker Ronnie Hawkins as a pump jockey, and venerable Dave Broadfoot -- one of Canada's funniest stand up comics -- as a border guard...but given no funny material to work with! sc: Steve Smith. dir: Eric Till. 91 min.
DUE SOUTH *
* * 1/2 setting: CDN./USA.
(1994) (/U.S.) Paul Gross, David Marciano, Wendel Meldrum, Charles Shamata, Joseph Ziegler, Page Fletcher, Ken Pogue, Kaye Ballard, Jim Millington, Eric Schweig.....After his father's murder, a super-straight northern Mountie (Gross), who's never been to a big city, tracks the killer to Chicago and back again, teaming up with a hip U.S. cop (Marciano) along the way. Thoroughly entertaining and, at times, hilarious comedy/drama (kind of like a Canadian "Crocodile Dundee"...only better) with fine performances, a couple of memorable action scenes, a deaf dog named Diefenbaker and Gordon Pinsent in a cameo as the dead father...what more could you ask for? Highly recommended. This is a film that has fun with its broad stereotypes, it doesn't make fun of them, and there's a big difference. Gross' wholesome "Dudley Dooright"-type character, one part camp, two parts sincere, is a refreshing change from the usual cynical anti-heroes. However, a subsequent revelation that the filmmakers actually killed a caribou for a scene calling for a carcass (it still looks fake) completely undermines the movie's environmental pretensions! Won Best Movie/Special Gemini. It subsequently became a TV hit series. sc: Paul Haggis. dir: Fred Gerber. 84 min.
This entertaining and off-beat TV series was polished, quirky, and fun, though the episodes too often suffered from thin, overly generic plots (often padded with pop music interludes -- selections that became increasingly haphazard in later seasons). After a hiatus, the series returned with changes: Gross was now executive producer...and Marciano was gone (the explanation raging from Marciano having other commitments, to his refusal to take a pay cut...and even rumours of off-camera personality clashes between Gross and Marciano). Whatever the behind-the-scenes reasons, on screen the story was that "Ray" was undercover. To maintain his cover, a new cop was brought in pretending to be "Ray" (presumably a way to avoid extensive rewriting of scripts). Rennie (who's real-life Canadian accent made him an unlikely Chicago cop) was O.K. but ultimately lacked Marciano's versatility and energy. The series itself, though not noticeably hurt by the lack of U.S. dollars, lacked some of its earlier energy, though still given to quirky, high-concept (and frustratingly thin) plots. Ultimately, the final episodes were certainly O.K., with flashes of genius, but underwhelming...leading some fans, perhaps, to wish the had quit while they were ahead.
Running gags included the fact that all the female characters had crushes on "Fraser" and the use of famous names for various characters: Thatcher, Kowalsky, Huey-Duey-Louis (a gag that got increasingly cloying as time went on). Spin-offs include a CD collection of songs used in the show and a non-fiction companion book.
The production history was almost as fascinating as what went on on-camera. It started out as a TV movie (reviewed separately) which was a ratings hit in both Canada and the U.S., and a critical hit with U.S. critics (Canadian critics, generally, hated it) this led to it being one of the first Canadian-made series to land a spot on U.S. prime time (ignoring brief runs of Night Heat and Adderly and series that crop up on U.S. specialty channels). But the U.S. ratings gradually dropped, leading the U.S. network (CBS) to pull out...which would normally mean the Canadian backer would ape its move. Only by then, Due South was a ratings hit in Canada, besting most U.S. series, and sweeping the Gemini Awards...and becoming a cultural icon. Cancelling it would have jeopardized the entire myth of an autonomous Canadian entertainment industry (y'know, that thing billions of our tax dollars are supposed to be supporting). The Canadian producers decided to press ahead with a second season, hoping CBS would change its mind, which it did (thanks to the overall poor performance of its shows that year making Due South's middling ratings more attractive). It cancelled it again after the second season, and that was supposed to be it with the final episode the nostalgia tinged "Flashback" wherein Fraser gets amnesia while investigating a kidnapping, and various characters relate key moments from the series to jog his memory (my recollection was it was filmed a little later as an after thought, and not initially shown in the U.S. -- but other reports contradict this). Apparently the first season finale, a "Rear Window" riff with Fraser convalescing in hospital, was quickly made to follow the two-part "Victoria's Secret" when it looked as though the series might be cancelled then. But the success of the series overseas led to one final attempt to get financing, this time without major U.S. participation. This they did, with money from British, German and French backers. A final 26 episodes were filmed, to be split over two seasons in Canada (and the States, this time in first-run syndication). Some of the episodes (particularly in the first season) brought in American actors as guest stars. Best bets: the haunting two-part "Victoria's Secret", others. 66 hour-long episodes, including a couple of two-parters, but not including the original TV movie, all shown in Canada originally on CTV.
THE DUKE *
* * setting: other
(1999) (/U.K.) James Doohan, Courtnee Draper, Jeremy Maxwell, Oliver Muirhead, Sophie Heyman, Judy Geeson, John Neville, Frank C. Turner.....When a benevolent English Duke (Neville) dies, he leaves his estate to his dog -- in the care of his butler's American-born niece (Draper) -- but his conniving relatives seek to disrupt the arrangement. Family comedy is very much in the old-fashioned Disney mold, and is briskly-paced and moderately fun for adults, but its main target is younger viewers who should get a real kick out of the physical humour, prattfalls, lots of cute dogs doing absurd things, and the occasional bit of, uh, flatulence...with a touch of poignancy supplied by the old duke's death. The slapstick is handled with surprising aplomb and confidence. Canadian-born actor Doohan is best known as Scotty on "Star Trek", but here adopts an English accent to play the butler. sc: Craig Detweiler, Anne & Robert Vince. dir: Philip Spink. 88 min.
DUPLESSIS' ORPHANS (TVMS)
* * setting: P.Q.
(1997) Lawrence Arcouette, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Louis-Phillippe Desjardins, Michel Goyette, Julien Poulin, Helene Gregoire, Michael Caloz.....Inspired-by-fact tale of orphans in 1950s Quebec (under provincial Premier Maurice Duplessis) whose lives in Catholic run orphanges, already problematic, are thrown completely upside down when the orphanges are reclassified as mental asylums and many of the normal children are reclassified as mentally handicapped in order to secure more lucrative funding. The problem with stories about disturbing events is how to tell the tale in such a way that the facts, and the outrage, are conveyed, yet it's also watchable as "entertainment" -- in other words, how to make the story ppalatable, without over-sanitizing it. This mini-series succeeds surprisingly well, with good performances (including the child actors), mood and compelling characters. A truly disturbing story, because the evil here (though including abuse) is mainly that of simple...expediency. It wasn't that those involved intended to hurt the children...the welfare of the children was just completely irrelevant to them. Unconscionable, and yet, disturbingly familiar. The dubbed version of this aired in English on the CBC in 1999. I lifted the cast list from the final episode, and so may have inadvertently missed crediting (some of) the child actors. sc: Jacques Savoie, with Pierre Olivier (inspired by the story and characters created by Bruno Roy). dir: Johanne Pregent.
(2007-2010) * * 1/2 ... * * Hugh Dillon ("Mike Sweeney"), Helene Joy ("Audrey Sweeney"), Laurence LeBoeuf ("Sadie Sweeney"), Greyston Holt ("Ray Jr."), Cicely Austin ("Maddie Sweeney"), Patrick Labbe ("Tom Bykovski") (-2nd), Claudia Ferri ("Roxy Clabert") (-2nd), season 1: Justin Louis a.k.a. Louis Ferreira ("Ray Praeger"), Sonya Salomaa ("Tracy Praeger"), Kathleen Munroe ("Nathalie"), Michele-Barbara Pelletier ("Simone"), season 2: Michelle Forbes ("Pen Verrity"), Romano Orzani ("Ray Praeger"), Michael Dopud ("Glenn Stuckey"), Geordie Johnson ("Johnathan Verrity"), Alex Cardillo ("Mark Verrity"), season 3: Michael Nardone ("Ivan Sujic"), Benedicte Decary ("Eva"), Andreas Apergis ("Miro"), Krista Bridges ("Sabina Leung"), Shannon Kook-Chun ("David"), Byron Mann ("Julian").....Dark crime/drama set, atypically, in the rural suburbs, focusing on a troubled police detective (Dillion), with temper issues, and his family. LeBoeuf plays his teen-age daughter, sharing some of her dad's emotional issues, as well as an interest in police work, and directly embroiled in the mysteries; Joy his sometimes estranged wife; and Austin his younger daughter. Each season of six episodes wrapped around a particular case/villain, even as other threads carry over from season-to-season. In season one, while investigating a serial killer, "Mike" becomes convinced his popular next door neighbour (Louis) is a sociopath, responsible for the murder of a local school teacher (Munroe, seen in flashbacks)...an investigation complicated because "Mike" himself had had an extra-marital affair with her, and would be a primary suspect if that was discovered. In the second season, "Mike" becomes involved (on various levels) with an attractive police psychiatrist (American import Forbes) involved in a bitter child custody dispute...unaware she's becoming completely unhinged (with a sub-plot involving the now incarcerated "Ray" -- now played by Orzari). The third season continued the theme of a killer lurking behind the mask of authority, as while investigating a grisly gang war, "Mike" is partnered with another detective (Nardone), a conscience-striken Serbian immigrant ex-soldier who has secretly murdered his own wife -- and whose brother-in-law is involved with the gangsters.
This TV series (initially marketed as a mini-series for its first season) was deliberately going for a dark, unsettled ambience (the opening credits more evocative of a horror or supernatural thriller than a detective series) of damaged souls, where even the "good" guys are troubled...and the villains, though reprehensible, not without their inner pain, intentionally skirting the edges of the viewer's comfort zone...and good taste. It works hard to be moody, disturbing, and off-kilter...but too mixed effect. The problem with many of the characters having psychological baggage is it can almost become a crutch, the characters saying and doing implausible things and justifying it because, well, they've got "issues" -- but you can find yourself chuckling at their actions as often as you are caught up in them. And this can apply to the plotting itself, which can seem a bit erratic and suffering logic and plausibility holes (the second season, inparticular, completely falls apart in the season finale, as if something went very wrong behind the scenes, and they were scrambling unsuccessfully to pull it together). The hero himself often came across as an incompetent cop, missing obvious signs and clues, or easily detoured down the wrong track -- there's a problem when the sidekick (Labbe) comes across as smarter than the lead! And the problem with "anti-heroes" is there's a fine line between that...and an obnoxious hero. It was hard to especially care about most of the characters (save, again, for Labbe as, essentially, the most up-standing of the cast) -- indeed, the villains were often more interesting and sympathetic! Heck, in the third season, Nardone actually came across as the most normal, most sympathetic of the characters! The pacing, though deliberately slow and creeping, can lean toward plodding, the plotting and conversations repetitious (or conversely, contradictory) as though straining to justify its six episode arcs (perhaps a problem with the fact that they're more suspense plots than true mysteries with twists, turns, and surprises to keep us intrigued) -- the seasons probably could've been shortened to three or four episode arcs, and be the better for it. Dillion is okay, and got better each season...but is actually kind of eclipsed by some of his co-stars, like Joy, Labbe, etc. Indeed, the show stopping performances belonged to the "villains", with Louis (in season one) mesmerizing, delivering a complex, nuanced turn, repellent but not without his humanizing motivations, and Forbes (in season two) astonishingly compelling (and alluring) in a brittle performance that is both hair raisingly creepy...and heart breaking. Nardone was also good (though the scene stealer in season three was arguably Kook-Chun as a sympathetic teen crook). Unlike some Canadian series, this one admitted it was set in Canada...though some of the Francophone cast were pretending to be Anglophone! Ultimately, conceptually ambitious, with a definite tone and singular identity it was aiming for...but intentions aside, the execution was uneven. Created by Laurie Knizhnik, Adrienne Mitchell and Janis Lundman. Three seasons, totalling 18 hour long episodes, made for cable. - extreme violence.-
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