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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 DAVID STEINBERG SHOW (TV Series)

(1976)  * * *  David Steinberg ("David Steinberg"), Bill Saluga ("Vinnie"), with Martin Short ("Johnny Del Bravo"), Dave Thomas ("James MacGregor"), Joe Flaherty ("Kirk Dirkwood"), John Candy ("Spider Reichman"), Trudy Young ("Margi"), others.....Sitcom set backstage at a variety show, with the requisite celebrity guests usually playing themselves (some who mean little almost thirty years later). Steinberg, essentially, played himself (or a fictional version anyway). American comic Saluga played his best friend, the owner of the local diner across the street, "Hello Deli" -- Saluga also cropped up in his then-popullar persona of Raymond J. Johnson Jr. ("You can call me Ray, and you can call me Ray Jay..." -- if you gotta ask...). Others in the cast (many associated with SCTV) included: Short as the show's conceited singer (and Short could actually sing!) who was Dave's cousin; Thomas the Scottish security guard; Flaherty the stage manager; Candy the band leader; and Young the waitress at the deli. 

Canadian-born Steinberg had a background as an "edgy" stand up comic from his days as a recurring guest on the ground breaking U.S. variety show, "The Smothers Brothers" (where showbiz folklore has it that it was one of Steinberg's routines that helped lead to that controversial show being axed by a skittish network -- though that may be more fancy than fact). But this series, essentially a sitcom, is pretty innocuous and tame...but also reasonably amusing and unpretentiously goofy. Worth trying a few episodes of to see if you can get on its wavelength: the set-ups are obvious, the gags unsubtle, but that's kind of what makes it good natured fun. The series, arguably, was also a little ahead of its time, with the concept of a show within a show later used (in varying ways) by "The Muppet Show" and "The Larry Sanders Show". However, what this series' relationship is to an earlier, hour-long "David Steinberg Show" (made in 1972 in the U.S.) I've yet to verify. 

Although filmed in Toronto with a mainly Canadian cast (except Saluga), the series seemed to try to pretend it was American, with even many of Steinberg's monologue jokes implying he was American...though at least once he referred to being Canadian, and the American comedians Bob & Ray (guest starring) referred to being in Toronto. The celebrity guest stars were usually American, or at least Canadians who were known for their American careers. Half-hour episodes, shown in Canada on CTV and recently rerun on The Comedy Network.


 
Da VINCI'S CITY HALL (TV Series)

(2005-2006)  * * 1/2  Nicholas Campbell ("Dominick DaVinci"), Mylene Dinh-Robic ("Rita Mah"), Benjamin Ratner ("Sam Berger"), Ian Tracey ("Mick Leary"), Venus Terzo ("Angela Kosmo"), Brian Markinson ("Bill Jacobs"), Stephen E. Miller ("Zack McNab"), Patrick Gallagher ("Det. Joe Finn"), Hrothgar Mathews ("Charlie Klotchko"), Charles Martin Smith ("Friedland"), Gina Holden ("Claire"), Alex Diakun ("Chip"), Hiro Kanagawa ("Roy Komori"), Colin Cunningham, Jim Codrington, Terrence Kelly, others....Drama spun off (or evolved) from Da Vinci's Inquest, as former coroner Dominick Da Vinci (Campbell) becomes mayor of Vancouver. It's sort of a new series (with new characters, and focusing on municipal politics) while also being just a continuation of Da Vinci's Inquest (with many carryover characters -- Tracy, now the new coroner, Terzo, etc.) and with some cops-n'-robbers subplots having nothing to do with politics, or Da Vinci). Dinh-Robic and Ratner play his aides; Markinson the police chief, and Mathews the chief's aide -- the bitter feud between the mayor and the police chief serving as the series' chief conflict. The chief plot threads for the series involved an escalating rivalry between the police and fire services, neither trusting each other...or the mayor; Da Vinci establishing a pilot Red Light district (a plot carried over from the previous series); and a tent city of homeless (headed by Smith) Da Vinci was trying to arrange housing for. Kanagawa, as the chief of a Fire House, was also the series' story editor. 

Though this reflects many of the same stylistic characteristics (and flaws) of DVI...it was a bit better, the political milieu more intriguing and unusual for a weekly series (contrasted with DVI's familiar crime drama idiom). But like DVI, Da Vinci's City Hall seemed to latch onto one or two plot threads...and then settle back to see how long they could drag them out, making a slow moving, kind of repetitious show where you could skip a bunch of episodes, and not really miss much. Though, it was, conversely, awfully hard to just jump into, as there was very little effort made to establish who was doing what per episode for any new viewers. Heck, some plot threads were even carried over from the previous series! Cunningham, as a crooked cop, had been a fixture of DVI for many seasons -- yeah, all those years and the characters never did manage to arrest him or even get him kicked off the force! Characterization was minimal (you never saw, or knew much about, the characters' private lives), the focus instead on the machinations...even as that stuff often wasn't all that clever. And the series' point was often vague, as even "hero" Da Vinci was given to questionable moral -- and legal -- lapses. Still, as noted, if you stuck with it, and got into its groove, it was decently acted and could be sort of interesting in a kind of hypnotic way. 

Ironically, despite my feeling it was better than DVI, it was cancelled rather abruptly after only one season (as part of mass axing that saw the CBC cancel half its fiction shows). True to the creators' tendency to just drag out plot threads endlessly, the season/series built to a climax...that really didn't resolve much, suggesting a second season would've just been more of the same. Though cancelled, the series produced a TV movie sequel (much as the earlier North of 60 resulted in some TV movie sequels). Created by Chris Haddock. One season of hour long episodes on the CBC. 


 
DaVINCI'S INQUEST (TV Series)

(1998-1995)  * *  Nicholas Campbell ("Dominick DaVinci"), Suleka Mathew (Sunita 'Sunny' Ramen) (-6th), Donnelly Rhodes ("Leo Shannon"), Venus Terzo ("Angela Kosmo"), Ian Tracey ("Mick Leary"), Gwynyth Walsh ("Patricia DaVinci") (-4th), Robert Wisden ("Dr. Jim Flynn") (-2nd), Gerard Plunkett ("Bob Kelly"), Sarah Jane Redmond ("Sheila Kurtz") (2nd-), with Jewel Staite ("Gabriella DaVinci") (-3rd), Sarah Strange ("Helen"), Alex Diakun ("Chick Savoy"), Peter Williams ("Morris Winston"), Emily Perkins, Kandyse McClure (6th-7th), others......Crime-drama about an ex-Mountie turned Vancouver coroner (Campbell) and those around him. Mathew and Walsh play medical examiners, with Walsh his ex-wife; Wisden plays his boss, now dating his ex-wife; Rhodes plays a coarse, old-school cop not above breaking the rules (and laws) and Tracey and Terzo younger cops; Plunkett a Crown Attorney who took over Wisden's position after he left; Redmond the cops' boss. Staite plays "DaVinci's" daughter; Strange his secretary; Diakun another M.E. and Williams an investigator for the coroner's office. 

Although this TV series is, ostensibly, about a coroner, and therefore evoking the classic 1960s Canadian drama, Wojeck, that isn't really the intention. Though, like Wojeck, it claimed to have been inspired by a real life personality -- in this case, Vancouver coroner (and politician) Larry Campbell. But whereas Wojeck was a drama series, tackling controversial social issues, with the occasional sprinkling of lighter weight crime and mystery episodes, Da Vinci's Inquest is much more a cop show that uses the coroner angle to distract attention from the fact that, conceptually, there isn't much new here (particularly coming, as it did, on the heels of CTV's Cold Squad). In many episodes, Da Vinci is actually a supporting character to the detectives -- and even then, Da Vinci himself is an exx-Mountie rather than a medical doctor. Even when it does tackle social issues, they seem more as intellectual abstractions, rather than stemming from any deeply felt social outrage, not really saying anything (save for the series' frequent call for Vancouver to establish a Red Light District, which is brought up so often in the series, one assumes the filmmakers really do feel strongly about it). And unlike the, at least nominally Liberal Wojeck, this series seems decidedly more reactionary, with odiously memorable scenes including "DaVinci" trying to coerce perjury from his ex-wife, and "Shannon" arranging the cold-blooded murder of a suspect. In fact the lead characters frequently abuse their positions and power...and it doesn't seem like the filmmakers see that as a bad thing! 

The series overall suffers from a bizarre, laissez-faire attitude toward plotting and character. The opening pilot story -- with Eric Peterson as a necrophilliac serial killer -- seemed awfully thin for one episode...and they stretched it out over three. Other episodes can make you just go, "huh?" as final act revelations...are basically things you kind of inferred in the opening scene! While, at least initially, Da Vinci seemed to be a recovering alcoholic, but drank all the time without it seeming to affect his life or work. Huh? Eschewing the tidier plotting of most series, the series increasingly employs cases bleeding over from episode to episode, so that, in later seasons, in any given episodes, half the scenes have no relevance viewed in the one episode. Indeed, many plots are spread over, not just many episodes, but multiple seasons! Yet the plots aren't sufficiently imaginative or unusual to entirely justify being spread so far. Fans enjoy this low-key approach to story, while others might be put off to turn on an episode and realize the characters are still discussing a case they were investigating two or three seasons earlier! As with all series that indulge in protracted story lines, the bottom line is whether the episodes-of-the-week hold your interest enough to stick around to see how (or frankly if) the story lines resolve. 

Easily the most critically acclaimed Canadian series of its day, in a sense, it's hard to evaluate. You don't really watch the series for characterization -- of which there is little -- or for its human drama -- ditto -- nor for its plots -- which are often rudimentary and poorly structured. Instead, it's all about the style. In content, the series isn't saying anything, or doing anything, that other shows don't do...particularly, say, the hit Canadian-financed U.S. series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators" (with the latters' emphasis on the gradually unravelling of a case through methodology, married to occasional social issues). Da Vinci's Inquest just goes about it at a much, much slower pace. The series is an attempt to bring a realist, cinema verite technique to weekly television, a kind of more-real-than-real attitude (in that sense, evoking the earlier -- and now somewhat lampooned -- American TTV series, "Dragnet"). The thin plots are sttrrretccched out by having the actors repeat their lines, toss in extraneous "right" and "let's go", and recap scenes ("so, what you just told me is..."). It can make you question whether they just don't have enough material to fill up the hour. But what it all gets down to is whether it works for you. Either you're swept up in its edgy reality...or you find it silly and distracting, as they try so hard to seem natural, it actually seems unnatural and goofy. Campbell pulls it off with reasonable aplomb, as do some of the others (Williams), but a lot of the actors, well, don't. 

Critically well regarded, but it seems more a case of flash n' sizzle over any true substance. It has repeatedly received the Gemini for Best Series...but it's a sign of the health of the Canadian TV biz that it wasn't clear what (serious) competition it had. Does it win 'cause people think it's great, or because they don't know who else to vote for? An extended sub-plot, of "DaVinci" contemplating political office, culminated in the series morphing into a new series: DaVinci's City Hall. In 2005 the series also gained some added publicity as it was picked up for syndication in the U.S. (presumably with some editing out of profanity) by the cable superstation WGN. Created by Chris Haddock. Hour long episodes on the CBC.

THE DAY  * * 1/2 
(2011) (/U.S.) Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Shannyn Sossamon, Dominic Monaghan, Cory Hardrict, Michael Eklund.....Quintet of young people wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape hole up in an old farm house where they must hold off a marauding horde of ... (well, that'd be telling). Mix of drama, action and horror is familiar but tightly-paced, stylish and moodily atmospheric (filmed in a quasi black & white) with good performances. Though given the plot revolves around a siege, the characters don't necessarily come up with clever strategies, and given so much of it is the characters...you don't really come to care about them. But the biggest problem is the filmmakers clearly want to revel in a gritty, fatalistic, "Deliverance" meets "Lord of the Flies" mentality (not that post-apocalyptic dramas are cheerfully up-beat in general) which, combined with some inconsistent characterization/motivation, means it can feel like they think they're saying something...but you're not really sure what! The result? Holds your interest while watching (which is half the battle of storytelling) but easily dismissed after the fact. Only Ashmore and Eklund are Canadian in the main cast. sc: Luke Passmore. dir: Doug Aarniokoski. - extreme violence; brief female nudity.- 84 min.

THE DAY BEFORE a.k.a. Control

DAY BY DAY see Les grands enfants

A DAY IN A LIFE * 1/2  setting: B.C.
(2000) Richard Bull, Barbara Collentine, Vernon Chapman, Frances Bay, Emile Genest, Joy Coghill, Shawn Pyfrom, Ann Turnbull, Norris Domingue, David Glyn-Jones.....Story of various seniors during a day at a retirement home, focusing inparticular on one feisty and slightly embittered man (Bull). Awfully familiar comedy-drama has decent performances from its older performers (though the actors under sixty are sometimes more problematic) but it's a movie that doesn't really seem like a movie, ambling about with various half-realized plot threads, as if the filmmakers figured they'd somehow coalesce into a fleshed out whole. There's a supposedly dramatic, climactic scene where a character reads a letter from his deceased son...but it comes out of nowhere: we didn't know he had a son, deceased or otherwise, earlier in the film! The comedy is often broad, like a clumsy sitcom, and the pathos is almost ludicrous in its heavy handed cloyingness. The overall result is a production that, though undoubtedly well intentioned, seems almost amateurish, as if made by people who haven't quite figured out the niceties of storytelling. And retirement homes are, surely, a place for people who can't look after themselves, so doesn't it kind of skew the argument by casting spry, healthy actors who are clearly not the average inhabitant of such places? sc: Pierre-Jules Audet. dir: Jean Mercier. 95 min.

THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (TVMS) * * 1/2  setting: other
(2009) (/U.K.) Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard, Jason Priestley, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Troy Glasgow, Jenn Murray, Julia Joyce, Shane Taylor, Adam Sinclair.....Near-future apocalypse in which a celestial phenomenon strikes most of the world blind, and as the few sighted people struggle to survive in England, discover anarchy and militants are only part of the danger when triffids -- carnivorous, mobile plants cultivated for their oils -- start roaming the countryside. SF thriller is expensively mounted (for a TV production) but is about the third filmed adaptation of Wyndham's classic novel (more counting radio versions) and it's been echoed in other post-apocalyptic adventures (such as "28 Days Later") and this doesn't do enough to distinguish itself, either with new ideas, or in executing the old ideas -- with some good scenes, some corny scenes, and too many sequences that play out precisely as you expect them to. Brisk and pulpy, it diverges enough from the novel to annoy purists, but maybe not enough to become its own entity -- though it is maybe stronger in the second half, precisely as it becomes less true to the novel (not because it's better, merely fresher) benefitting from the addition of Cox and with more focusing on the characters rather than the events. Izzard is also a stand out as a nobody who uses the crisis to become a kind of fascist overlord (a character I don't think was in the novel). The use of themes and metaphors gives it some bite, but it maybe has trouble settling enough on one (and can be interpreted various ways depending on your biases -- left and right both). And in some ways disagrees with, or at least ducks, some of the themes of the novel (which, depending on your point of view, might not be too bad, given the novel did have an -- arguably -- fascist undercurrent). Ultimately, if you're looking for a little post-apocalyptic escapism, with competent actors and decent production values, it's an okay way to kill a couple of nights, without muscling to the top of any lists. (A better adaptation was a 1981 British mini-series). Redgrave, in a supporting part, is Richardson's real life mother -- though their characters aren't related (nor do they have any scenes together). Primarily a U.K. production, with the main Canadian participation being Priestley in a supporting roll (playing an American, natch). 4 hrs. sc: Patrick Harbinson (from the novel by John Wyndham). dir: Nick Copus. - violence.-

DAYDREAM BELIEVERS: The Monkee's Story  * * *  setting: USA/other
(2000) George Stanchev, L.B. Fisher, Jeff Geddis, Aaron Lohr, Colin Ferguson, Wallace Langham, Stephen Bogaert, Polly Shannon.....Story of the rise of the '60s American rock group, The Monkees; how a TV producer (Ferguson) decided to manufacture a band, throwing together four unknowns culled from an audition, and turn them into both sitcom stars, and music stars. Lively made-for-TV bio-pic tries to juggle being both a realistic docudrama, portraying the artificialness of the process, the behind-the-scenes conflicts, and the groups' struggle to get greater control over their music, while also being a Monkees' type movie itself, with some music and the supposed hijinks of the foursome. As such, it's maybe not enough of one thing or the other, but still entertaining enough. Though, like the original product, the movie may play a bit fast and loose with facts, like letting the viewer infer the band composed certain songs that were actually written by others, or with Ferguson seeming to be playing real life Bob Rafelson...but that's not his character's name! The four principals do a nice job of evoking their real life alter egos (no small feat in that they have to play these comic personas, but make them real in dramatic scenes), and Ferguson is noteworthy as, basically, the straight man. In a global montage scene, showing the Monkees as being no. 1, various places are represented: the U.S., Britain, Australia, South America...but not Canada in this Canadian movie! sc: Ron McGee. dir: Neill Fearnley. 89 min.

DAYDREAM NATION  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2010) Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Reece Thompson, Andie MacDowell, Landon Liboiron, Rachel Blanchard, Katie Boland, Ted Whittall.....Disaffected and bored American teen (Dennings) moves to a small town with her widower dad and instigates an affair with a teacher (Lucas) while, as a cover, also dates another teen (Thompson) -- while a serial killer, and other oddities, lurk in the background. Serio-comic drama strives hard (transparently so!) to seem quirky -- except much of the style, themes and story ideas are cliches borrowed from past films. The filmmaker throws in ideas and characters willynilly, without developing, integrating or connecting them properly, and without a "plot" to hang them on, building to epiphanies that don't really mean anything. And the lead character is neither likeable nor -- worse! -- interesting. Despite the preponderance of Hollywood imports, Whittall (in a small part as the dad) delivers the most genuine and affecting performance. To be fair: it received some good reviews, but comes across like an imitation of the last few years of "smart" teen movies, but with little understanding of the substance of those films. (And let's not even get into the trend in movies to basically act as if adults having sex with teens is fine, and the girls are the ones in charge). sc./dir: Michael Goldbach. - sexual content.- 98 min.

DAYS OF DARKNESS  seeL'age des tenebres

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