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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.
FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE
* 1/2 setting: other
(1992) (/France/German) Kate Nelligan, Geraint Wyn Davies, Jennifer Beals, Werner Stocker, Madeleine Robinson, Manfred Lehmann.....In Germany, a psycho (Davies) kidnaps his former U.S. army base teacher (Nelligan), with whom he's infatuated, while a cop (Stocker) pursues an escaped convict. Disjointed suspenser (the plots do converge -- sort of) poorly directed and edited (look for a hand silhouette during the end credits), and scenes that never work despite some clever ideas and a couple of genuine thrills. Part of the Mary Higgins Clark Collection. a.k.a. Terror Stalks the Class Reunion. sc: Marc Princi, additional dialogue Terence Feely (from the short story "Terror Stalks the Class Reunion" by Mary Higgins Clark). dir: Clive Donner. 96 min.
FOR THE LOVE OF AARON *
* * setting: Ont.
(1994) Meredith Baxter, Nick Mancuso, Keegan MacIntosh, Joanna Gleason, John Kapelos, Malcom Stewart, Blu Mankuma, Matthew Walker.....True story of writer Margaret Gibson's (Baxter) struggle to overcome mental illness and retain custody of her son from her husband (Mancuso). Well-done, well-acted drama. Imported Baxter does a fine job, but when private networks (this was made for CanWest-Global) cast an American, it's frustrating because it's so bloody...inevitable. The movie Outrageous! was based on one of Gibson's stories. sc: Peter Silverman. dir: John Kent Harrison. 93 min.
FOR THE MOMENT *
* setting: Man.
(1994) Russell Crowe, Christianne Hirt, Wanda Cannon, Scott Kraft, Peter Outerbridge, Sara McMillian, Bruce Boa.....Story of various characters in 1942 Manitoba, focusing on a suave Aussie air force trainee (Australian actor Crowe shortly before hitting it big in Hollywood) and his relationship with a married local woman (Hirt); and a prostitute (Canon) and her relationship with a flight instructor (Kraft). Good-looking drama suffers from dispassionate direction and too many obvious, predictable scenes. The filmmaker wants so much to do justice to the period (even dedicating the film to "the men and women...") but forgets he needs a fleshed-out story and interesting characters. And the film never entirely evokes war-time Canada anyway. sc./dir: Aaron Kim Johnston. - brief female nudity.- 123 min.
For the Record.....Label for a series of hour-long dramas aired on the CBC from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. Generally earnest, issue-oriented dramas culled from the headlines, the series boasted an impressive list of actors and directors and writers, and reflected a raw, realist style that made many of the episodes quite exceptional. It was later re-aired under the title Moments in Time and hosted by Al Waxman. Controversial, too. One episode, "The Tar Sands" -- the only one to actually use real names -- has been pulled from circulation entirely due to threats of legal action. Three of the episodes were actually feature-length: Dreamspeaker, Katie Ford, V.P. and A Far Cry From Home, but many are reviewed under their individual titles.
FOR THOSE WHO HUNT THE WOUNDED
DOWN * * setting: CDN.
(1996) Callum Keith Rennie, Brent Stait, Brooke Johnson, Maggie Huculak, Michael Hogan, Jonathan Whittaker, Paul Jarrett, Kelli Fox, Nancy Beatty, Niklas Konowal.....An ex-crook (Rennie) drifts about his small home town where half the people are a little scared of him, worrying about his leukemic son (Konowal), while grimly awaiting the arrival of an escaped convict (Stait) with a grudge against him. Muddled, unconvincing made-for-CBC TV drama. Rennie isn't really convincing as an intimidating guy with a dark and dangerous past...and the film relies heavily on him to make it work. Despite a female director, the female parts are pretty thankless, even insulting. Received the Best Screenplay Gemini. sc: David Adams Richards (from his novel). dir: Norma Bailey. - violence.- 91 min.
* * * setting: CDN.
(1992).....Documentary (subtitled "The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives") looking at lesbian lifestyles in the '50s featuring modern interviews and focusing on gay bars and pulp novels. Fascinating, well-structured film manages to be funny, hip and engaging thanks to the lively interview subjects. It never entirely evokes its period, though, leaving a modern audience confused at times. Interspersed between the interviews is a mini-drama (and eventually a fairly explicit one) in the style of lesbian pulp novels featuring Stephanie Morgenstern and Lynne Adams and narrated by Ann-Marie MacDonald. sc./dir: Aerlyn Weissman, Lynne Fernie. - partial female nudity, sexual content.- 85 min.
* * 1/2 setting: USA.
(2005) (/U.S.) Kristy Swanson, David Keeley, Christopher Bondy, Charles Powell, Marianne Farley, Richard Jutras.....Troubled, recently divorced woman (import Swanson) moves into her childhood home, stirring up memories of her traumatic childhood...and begins to suspect there was more to her past than she remembered. Modest little suspenser is a bit slow moving, and has some unintentionally goofy scenes at times, and suffers because the villain isn't hard to guess if you do the math...but has a personable enough cast, and keeps your interest with a few vaguely suspicious characters and disparate clues. So, lacking finesse, but nonetheless an okay time killer if you're looking for a low rent "Gaslight". Keeley's name is misspelled in the credits as "David Kelley". sc: Karen Craig. dir: Richard Roy. - sexual content.- 88 min.
This TV series is an odd melange -- it's definitely soft core erotica (with plenty of explicit sex scenes -- though not, y'know, too explicit...hence "soft" as opposed to "hard" core). And yet...it actually has ambitions to be more than just the sum of its sex scenes. The storyline mixes on going sub-plots, involving both the sinister goings on, and some more character/soap opera threads, with one-off plots, even occasionally seeming almost like an anthology, with a guest star taking prominence in some episodes. There's also humour and comedy. Even the telling of the episodes can reflect a certain ambition (telling a story via flashbacks), so that individual episodes can seem to have their own tone or style. And the result...is mixed. Better than you might expect it too be...while not as good as it needs to be. Low-budget, and the acting is uneven (blame the performers...or the script, direction, or even just lack of rehearsal time) yet the stars are nonetheless personable, the lead actresses pretty (if of similar body types) -- and do take part in the naughty scenes. Funnily, even the sex scenes don't (always) come across as sordid as they might -- maybe because many are between characters who are supposed to be emotionally involved. Heck...DuBois somehow can seem sweetly adorable even while gyrating graphically! At the same time, those just looking for sex might be put off by all the fully clothed talking head scenes (there's little attempt to create a sensual ambience outside of the bedroom scenes)...while there's too much explicit sex for those put off by erotica (and, ambition aside, the technical execution overall is uneven). Making it neither fish nor fowl...but maybe worth a token look, if only as a curiosity. Created by Doug Brode. 13 half-hour episodes. - explicit sexual content; female nudity; partial male nudity-.
FORD: The Man and the Machine
(TVMS) * * setting: USA.
(1987) Cliff Robertson, Hope Lange, Heather Thomas, R.H. Thomson, Michael Ironside, Denis Forest.....Saga of American automobile manufacturer Henry Ford (Robertson), and how he abused and disregarded everyone around him, including his son (Thomson) and his mistress (Thomas). So-so bio covers too much in too little; scenes and characters come out of nowhere, then disappear, events aren't clearly explained, and Ford is presented as such and S.O.B. that it's hard to care. Robertson and Thomson are good. 4 hous. sc: Robert Hamilton (from the book by Robert Lacey). dir: Allan Eastman. - violence.-
So-so TV series certainly had the right idea with flamboyant storylines (involving spies, family secrets, smugglers, lost loves, new loves, jealousies, etc.) and a genuinely off-beat milieu, but it looked kind of cheap and there was the very real sense no one was being given rehearsal time -- with actors stumbling over their lines and awkward pauses in conversations. A nice try. Filmed in Buenos Aries, Argentina, though it's hard to tell from all the indoor locations. Approximately 154 half-hour episodes, aired originally on CanWest-Global.
Finkelman virtually exploded on CBC screens with his black comedy sitcom, The Newsroom, which proved both a commercial and critical hit. In an industry that has so few successes, this seemed to give Finkelman a teflon coating as the CBC has indulged him in successive, but less successful, efforts including More Tears and Foolish Heart. This time out, he seems to be using the series as an excuse to just try everything he ever wanted to try, with episodes ranging from attempts at a gritty pseudo-documentary about ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia, to a satirical one about Jesus Christ returning to earth and how the media manages him, to "character" ones about the Findley character and his infidelities (which are getting just a tad overdone as Finkleman's repeated them in all his series), and more. He employs homages to European Art films, Japanese Samurai epics, and British TV writer Dennis Potter. Some of the episodes were based on existing material (short stories, a news article, and the play "The 47 Ronin", though that last wasn't credited).
Employing rear screen projections, straight narrative scenes, characters addressing the camera, cinema verite, Art House pretension, scenes played out in various languages (with subtitles) and more, it's an eclectic and impressive technical achievement. As an artistic and intellectual effort, though, it's less effective. Finkelman too often tackles concepts as if he genuinely thought he was the first person in the world to think of them (ethnic strife is bad, the media is shallow) without tackling them in an incisive or novel way. His use of Art Film influences, instead of seeming to be filtered and interpreted through his own experiences, at times seemed more like a man who was just parroting something he'd seen and thought was nifty keen. Perhaps the biggest weakness, overall, is that Finkelman seems to regard human beings as abstractions, rendering the whole affair cold...ironic in a series meant to criticize the shallowness of others and the way people dehumanize each other. The funniest gag in the series is when Rebecca Jenkins, as a TV producer, blows her top at a German executive -- it's funny becomes it stems from the characters. This was also Finkelman's least "Canadian" series, in that there was little indication the characters or the setting were supposed to be Canadian.
Though filmed to be six 24 minute, weekly episodes, the CBC aired it in hour long batches, without commercials (but with brief interviews with Finkleman conducted by Gary Michael Dault), and over three consecutive nights. This was applauded by critics as a prestigious treatment for the series, but more likely seems like programmers figured it wouldn't get an audience, and certainly couldn't keep one over six weeks, so they hoped to get it over with quickly. I believe it's called "dumping" in TV terminology.
FOREIGN NIGHTS *
1/2 setting: Ont.
(1989) Terri Hawkes, Youssef Abdel-Nour (Abed-Alnour), Bushra Karaman, Mohammad Bacri, Paul Morasutti, George Randolph.....Generational conflict between a Palestinian-immigrant father and his Canadian daughter (Hawkes) causes her to run away from home. Seemingly well-intentioned, if cliched, drama suffers from weak performances and a muddled narrative. Sometimes too sugary and simple, other times a little...sordid. sc: Alan Zweig, Izidore K. Musallam. dir: Izidore K. Musallam. 91 min.
(1963-1966) * * * 1/2 Ralph Endersby ("Chub"), Rex Hagon ("Pete"), Peter Tully ("Mike"), Susan Conway ("Kathy"), George Allen ("Ted"), Barbara Pierce ("Denise") with adults: Graydon Gould ("George Keeley"), Michael Zenon ("Joe Two Rivers"), Gordon Pinsent ("Sgt. Scott"), Rolland Bedard ("Uncle Raoul").....The adventures of a group of kids who're junior forest rangers in Ontario.
Above average family TV series was sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes suspenseful, and for many years reruns were scarcely ever gone from the air-waves. And it's easy to see why. The larger-than-life premise -- kids who live in a big fort and don't seem to have any parents -- put together with good performances from both young and old (with Zenon a particular stand-out), colourful characters, and a willingness to be fanciful makes this one a staple of anyone's childhood. Half-hour episodes, originally on the CBC.
This brooding TV series has become a cult hit with fan clubs and everything. The first season was unremarkable with just tired cop-show cliche plots (though apparently the early episodes had actual nude scenes -- not involving the regulars -- shot for German television but not shown in North America). It was made for CBS' Crimetime After Primetime, but when CBS dumped its nightime shows after aquiring David Letterman, the series went on hiatus for 18 months (an almost unheard of break), then came back with something like a vengeance. Moodier and a little more willing to be off-beat and generally better all around...though its increasing reliance, particularly by the 3rd season, on teasers involving the murder of scantily-clad women was unfortunate.
Though its genesis was a 1988 U.S. TV movie called "Nick Night" (starring Rick Springfield), and its principle market the U.S., it was actually set in Canada -- increasingly blatantly. Sadly, Canadians have been making shows set in the U.S. for so long that writers don't entirely know how to be Canadian anymore: because even here they made occasional slip-ups (like sometimes calling the Crown Attorney a "D.A." and other cultural faux pas). Davies, the heart of the show, was extremely good. The two-part opener was a scene-by-scene remake of the TV movie "Nick Night".
The series had yet another resurrection beginning in 1997, this time as a series of original paperback novels published by the American Boulevard Books (a division of Berkley Press) by such authors as Susan Sizemore and Susan M. Garrett. Such spin-offs are not uncommon for U.S. series, particularly fantasy/SF ones, but are rarer for defunct shows...and one set in Canada, yet. Another spin-off: Bennett co-wrote a vampire-thriller novel with American writer P.N. Elrod; again, a common occurrence in the '90s, tapping into the SF/fantasy fandom of an actor by having him or her write (or co-write) a theme-related novel (half the actors in the U.S. "Star Trek" series have done it), but again it indicates the (perceived) success, and audience-identification, of the series. Best bets: the weirdly apocalyptic "A More Permanent Hell" wherein the characters fear the world will be destroyed by a rogue meteor; others. See also the Highlander TV series for a similar premise. Three seasons, totalling about 70 hour-long episodes (including a couple of two-parters), shown only sparodically in Canada on CTV and later rerun on Showcase.
* * setting: B.C./USA/other
(2011) Max Thieriot, Laurence LeBoeuf, Demian Bichir, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Frewer, Juliette Lewis, Gary Farmer, Thomas Dekker.....Young man (American actor Thieriot) suffering from (but managing) Cystic Fibrosis grudgingly agrees to a road trip to take a friend's ashes to a shrine in Mexico, accompanied by the friend's pretty sister (LeBoeuf). Serio-comic flick has a solid cast but most appear in only a scene or two (Mexican actor Birchir is a particular stand out as an unorthodox priest). But road movies are a dime a dozen, as are road movies involving an ill person on a quasi-quest. And though there are some good scenes, some thoughtful scenes (when Frewer, as a funeral home director, reflects on how coffins represent so much craftsmanship only to be buried in the ground you think, "hey -- what a neat metaphor for life"...except then it's belaboured to the point where you just want to say: "okay, okay -- we get it already!"). And a lot of it just isn't that interesting a trip, with inconsequential "episodes", and without any particular layers to peel back from the two leads -- who they are in the first few minutes is pretty much who they are. Undoubtedly sincere -- director McGuire has CF himself. Though the movie can occasionally seem like a public service spot as much as a drama, and overly self-aware like when the characters complain that CF isn't a "sexy" disease in the public's mind. The movie, technically, starts out in Canada (you can see Vancouver listed on an envelope) but the dialogue and colloquialisms are "American-ized" (funnily, for a movie trying to depict the "reality" of CF, it doesn't get into the question of how easy it would be for a young adult to travel across two national borders with a bag full of pharmaceuticals!) a.k.a. Forever Land. sc: Shawn Riopelle (story McGuire). dir: Max McGuire. 93 min.
Weak He Shoots, He Scores-styled soap opera suffered from the usual, and most obvious, problem a soap can suffer from: characters that weren't especially interesting or engendering of sympathy. And the auto racing industry isn't the most dramatic of milieus. The series was so little heralded when it aired dubbed-into-English, it's not clear whether it was much of a success in Quebec to begin with. Hour-long episodes first shown (in English) on Global, then re-run on Showcase. - brief female nudity.-
(2000-2004) * * 1/2 Sophie Lorain ("Anne Fortier"), Gilbert Sicotte ("Gabriel Johnson"), Pierre LeBeau ("Jean-Marie Dufour"), Jean-Francois Pichette ("Claude Mayrand"), Francois Chenier ("Etienne Parent"), Valerie Blais ("Katleen Giroux"), Carl Marotte ("Jacques Savaria")..... Mystery-drama about a criminal psychologist (Lorain) who works for the police, helping them solve crimes both with her analysis of the culprit, and her work with the victims. Sicotte plays the avuncular police Inspector; LeBeau and Pichette the somewhat seedy but, more or less well-intentioned, detectives; etc. Marotte plays a defence lawyer who hangs around the precinct with a, more or less, amiable relationship with the others.
TV series may have been inspired a little by the British "Prime Suspect" series, both in its focus on a female lead in a predominantly male squad, and also in the way cases would spill over from episode to episode (making it a hard series to just randomly sample an episode, as your liable to come in in the middle of a story). Ultimately a decent enough, if unexceptional series, that's maybe a little overly reliant on grisly and shocking cases (not that the visuals are graphic, but the ideas can be, such as the one about a serial killer of pregnant women who replaces the foetuses with dolls!) Benefits from Lorain and, especially, Sicotte's amiable performances. Aired irregularly a few years later, with English sub-titles, on the CBC. Hour long episodes.
(2006) * * * Cedric de Souza ("Dr. Cedric Ferreira"), Dhirendra ("Harry Grewal"), Beverley Elliott ("Jeannine"), Lowela Jotie ("Josie"), Agan Darshi ("Rajanpreet"), Rekha Sharma ("Jaswinder Bophal"), Elizabeth Thai ("Lydia"), Rosette Sharma ("Puja Grewal"), Sonny Litt ("Baldeep Kumar"), Mina E. Mina ("Mr. Kumar"), Camille Sullivan ("Brooke"), Rohan Mathew ("Giles Ferreira"), others.....Try-out soap opera set within a multi-ethnic (predominantly East Indian) neighbourhood of Vancouver, stirred up by the arrival of a new doctor (de Souza).
One of two soaps commissioned by the CBC (the other was North/South) where the intent seems to emulate the more working class, urban feel of British soaps like Coronation Street than the slick, up-scale suburban American soaps. And also with a more low-key, mundane approach to the stories -- everyone's not sleeping with everyone, ppeople aren't being killed and kidnapped. 49th and Main is a bit raw and unpolished, clearly struggling with its budget limitations, and with the writers, actors and directors getting a feel for the gig. Frankly, it kind of evokes Canadian series of a few decades ago that could seem a tad, well, amateurish in spots. And yet...And Yet...AND YET...the bottom line in a drama is: does it interest you and, in a series, does it kind of woo you back for the next episode? And that answer is...yes! De Souza is personable as the (nominal) lead, and gradually the other characters/actors start to make an impression. The mix of drama and humour (unlike the dour American soaps) is appealing, and the dramas revolving around money troubles and tentative romances can be involving, also effective is the willingness to deal unflinchingly with its milieu of clashing old world and new world values (including touching on issues such as sexism and domestic violence). Ironically, despite its technical roughness that might put off viewers not willing to forgive it its shortcomings, it really does draw you in, perhaps even moreso that the slightly slicker, more polished North/South (though that too is entertaining). Perhaps most interestingly, its "multiculturalism" isn't just token (ie: mainly white characters with a few ethnic characters on the peripheries). Created by Barbara Ellison and William B. Davis (the latter appearing on screen as an enigmatic customer at the local restaurant). a.k.a. 49th & Main. Six half-hour episodes on the CBC.
Another edgy cable comedy, with lots of four-letter words and gags pushing the limits of good taste. The actors are decent enough, and the concept has potential...it just never really becomes that funny. Beyond that "look how sleazy and shameless these guys are" it just doesn't really muster the laughs, being maybe a bit too obvious in its targets (as opposed to sly and wry). Other than Wilmot's character, most of the other characters are more functional than emerge as personalities in their own right. Northan plays essentialy the show's conscience...without being an interesting enough character, or well drawn renough, to make her a character we actually care about, or anything more than, well, the character who acts as a contrast with the others. It wants to be a comedy that pushes the limits of good taste...but without bigger laughs, it's just a series that kind of seems in poor taste. Some saw it as a pointed criticism of charities -- but I'm not sure it was going for any kind of true social or political expose, so much as the makers just thought it would make a funny black comedy. And it might. But this doesn't quite achieve it. Created by Michael Dowse, Jennifer Wilson, Five half-hour episodes on Showcase.
The Four Arrows Feasko, a novel by Randall Beth Platt, was turned into the CBC TV movie Promise the Moon.
* * setting: P.Q.
(1999) Kevin Zegers, Colm Meaney, Lolita Davidovich, Anne-Marie Cadieux, William Forsythe, Patrick Goyette.....Obeying his dad's plan, a teen (Zegers) absconds with stolen loot and intends to meet with his dad at a camp resort, hooking up with a flirtatious woman (Davidovich) along the way; but he's unaware that his dad was killed during the robbery and the dad's partner (Meaney) is pursuing him, having hooked up with the dad's good-hearted girlfriend (Cadieux). Forsythe plays the dad in flashbacks. Comic-drama wants to be many things: funny, serious, and ultimately profound, though not very suspenseful since Meaney doesn't come across as very menacing for the most part. It's never as clever or incisive as it needs to be, and occasionally gets mired in Art House pretensions that veer toward surreal (such as a black dog that keeps showing up). Worse, when the (dark) ending shows up, it doesn't really feel as though enough's happened, story-wise or character-wise, to have made a movie! Davidovich enlivens things considerably as the brassy, seductive "older" woman, but is let down by her character's denouement. Interesting casting against type, with Irish actor Meaney as the heavy and American actor Forsythe as the dad...but it might've worked better to have the actors switch roles. Stephen Reid, novelist and real life bank robber, appears as the security guard at the beginning. sc: Pinckney Benedict (from the novel Four Days by John Buell). dir: Curtis Wehrfritz. - sexual content, brief female nudity, viollence.- 90 min.
Popular radio comedy quartet, The Frantics (now disbanded), tried their hand at a TV series but (reportedly) found the medium too stressful and the series died quickly, but not before producing some of the funniest, most off-the-wall skits ever to come out of this country, or any other for that matter. 12 half-hour episodes originally on the CBC.
FOUR STIFFS AND A TROMBONE see L'assassin jouait du trombone
THE FOURTH ANGEL *
1/2 setting: other
(2001) (/U.K.) Jeremy Irons, Forest Whitaker, Charlotte Rampling, Briony Glassco, Jason Priestley, Lois Maxwell.....When his family is killed during a botched hijacking, and the killers set free, a mild mannered English journalist (Irons) seeks out the Serbian mercenaries responsible, many hiding out in England. Revenge thriller starts out promising, being slick looking, with a strong performance from the ever dependable Irons, and seeming to want to be a thinking man's thriller, asking moral questions about vigilantism...but soon goes off the rails. Confusing, even incoherent (as if crucial scenes were cut), while also being fairly predictable (evocative of an earlier Canadian-made thriller, The Amateur) where all the higher philosophical aspirations turn out to be nothing more than window dressing. Whitaker is awkwardly cast as an American F.B.I. agent who somehow seems to be in charge of a British investigation, and most of the cast, like Rampling, have thankless parts. Canadians Priestley and Maxwell have just bit parts (not playing Canadians, of course) -- Maxwell plays Irons' mother or mother-in-law or something (I told you it was a small part). sc: Allan Scott (from the novel by Robin Hunter). dir: John Irvin. - violence.- 95 min.
"Fourth Daddy", a story by Russian writer Yuri Nagibin, inspired the movie, A Passage to Ottawa.
LES FOUS DE BASSAN
* 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1986) (/France) Steve Banner, Charlotte Valandrey, Laure Marsac, Marie Tifo, Jean-Louis Millette, Lothaire Bluteau.....Unstable young man (Banner) returns to his stormy Gaspe home and becomes infatuated with his cousin (the stunningly beautiful French actress Valandrey). Stylish filming can't hide the fact that this is a confused, pretentious drama that has nothing to say. A triumph of style over substance. And why would anyone try to adapt Hebert's highly stylized novel anyway? The marquee poster showing a semi-naked Valandrey (sans shadow in some versions), is a lie: only Banner takes his clothes off. English title: In the Shadow of the Wind. sc: Sheldon Chad, adapted by Marcel Beaulieu, Yves Simoneau (from the novel by Anne Hebert). dir: Yves Simoneau. - sexual content, partial male nudity.- 107 min.
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