The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) Presents...


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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.

Harlequin .....The Canadian-begat publishing giant of romance novels has made a few forays into film. First with the theatrical release Leopard in the Snow, then with two different series of made-for-TV movies. The first series was under the title Shades of Love (see that entry for details), the second (starting in the mid-'90s) was just under the Harlequin name. This latter group, produced by Alliance, were expensive, good-looking films, based on published books (by Harlequin or one of its imprints). Slightly inferior to the Shades of Love series, these films too often seemed workman-like, with everyone -- writers, actors, directors, cinematogrraphers, etc. -- doing their job but seeming without much enthusiasm. Most of the early entries featured a Hollywood import as the female lead (and sometimes supporting roles as well) with a Canadian guy as the romantic interest, but this became less rigid in later flicks (in Loving Evangeline, both leads were Canadian). In Change of Place this was reversed. Most were about Americans, but a few actually admitted to being Canadian! The early films often aired in the States a year before being shown in CAnada, but it was unclear whether the later entries had much U.S. distribution. By the late '90s, these were practically the only "Canadian" movies CTV showed. titles: Treacherous Beauties, Broken Lullaby, Change of Place, At the Midnight Hour, The Awakening, This Matter of Marriage, Hard to Forget, Diamond Girl, Loving Evangeline, The Waiting Game, Recipe for Revenge, and the best: Another Woman.

HARMONY CATS  * *  setting: B.C.
(1993) Kim Coates, Jim Byrnes, Lisa Brokop, Hoyt Axton, Alec Willows, Byron Lucas, Beverely Elliott, Charlene Fernetz, Dave "Squatch" Ward..... Unemployed classical violinist (Coates) reluctantly takes a job with a touring country & western band. Light-hearted drama is slick enough, but it's just a collection of vignettes with abrupt scenes and unexplored characters and ideas. Some nice performances, especially Willows, but singers-turned-actors Byrnes, Brokop and Axton (in a small part) seem like just that. The busker is John Mann from the band Spirit of the West. sc: David King. dir: Sandy Wilson. 100 min.

(1995) Sean Astin, Miranda de Pencier, Christopher Plummer, Nigel Bennett, Richard Monette, Buck Henry, Linda Goranson, Diana Reis.....In a future U.S.A. where intelligence and talent is suppressed to make everyone equal, a smart teen (Astin) is initiated into a secret organization of smart people who run things behind the scenes. Serio-comic made-for-TV pic about a mediocre future is just a mediocre clever! Potentially interesting idea (albeit an elitist, even fascist one) but too thin for a feature and never as smart as the filmmakers apparently think they are. And there's something hypocritical about criticizing a world lacking individual identity, where art has to conform to an established blueprint, when this Canadian film is set in the U.S. with an American actor and based on an American story. Lots of well-known actors in bit parts, from American John Astin (Sean's dad) to Anthony Sherwood. Co-produced by Altantis films who did Kurt Vonnegut's Monkey House. sc: Arthur Crimm (from a short story by Kurt Vonnegut). dir: Bruce Pittman. - violence.- 102 min.

HARRY TRACY  * *  setting: USA.
(1981) Bruce Dern, Helen Shaver, Michael C. Gwynne, Gordon Lightfoot..... Story of a turn of the century American out-law (Dern), his love for a woman (Shaver) and his final run from the law (Lightfoot). Inspired by fact, this handsome western is undermined by poor characterization, a cliched script and values that, if taken seriously, are down right scarey. Possibly singer-songwriter Lightfoot's only (film) role. sc: David Lee Henry. dir: William A. Graham. 100 min.

HARRY'S CASE  * * *  setting: Ont.
(2001) Brian Markinson, Adam Beach, Tom Melissis, Sherry Miller, Janet- Laine Green, Conrad Dunn, Mark Lutz, Kim Schraner, Diane Debassige, Martha Burns.....Down on his luck lawyer, Harry Decker (Markinson), agrees to a little private eye work helping a young man (Beach) find his sister who disappeared two years before while searching for her father. Made for CBC TV mystery-suspenser is extremely well put together: well-paced and well acted with a gritty, vivid edge. Strong performances from Markinson and Beach (making more of a buddy-combo than simply hero and client) and a notable supporting turn from Dunn as a colourful transvestite. Nice acknowledgement of Beach's Indian ethnicity -- neither ignored, nor belaboured. With all that being said, it never quite becomes more than a standard example of the genre (despite some attempts to give things a deeper resonance involving themes of redemption and ethical choices). It trots out a lot of the cliches both in character and even in plot twists (even forcing the story to leap a few logic ditches), and by the end is a bit too obvious in its hope to spawn sequels, or even a series. sc: Peter Lauterman. dir: Stephen Williams. - violence, sexual content.- 90 min.

HARVEST  * * *
(1993) (/U.S.) Ted Shackelford, Rebecca Jenkins, Ken Pogue, Ron White, Zack Ward, Benjamin Vieweg, Shane Meier, Nikki Jansen.....Story of a farming family (headed by White and Jenkins) and its various troubles, including the return of his brother (Shackelford) who ran off 20 years before...leaving Jenkins at the altar. Solid, nicely done made-for-TV drama boasts strong performances and manages to avoid cliches. Imported (and top-billed) Shackelford actually has just a supporting part. sc: Malcom MacRury. dir: Michael Scott. 94 min.

HAS ANYONE HERE SEEN CANADA?: A History of Canadian Movies 1939-1953  * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1978).....NFB documentary chronicling the early days of Canadian sound cinema, focusing primarily on the rise of the National Film Board. Interesting movie, but not quite a fascinating one. Part of the problem is simply the subject matter -- looking at an industry that never quite was -- but also a failure to conjure up the catchy anecdotes or to entirely shape the thing into a narrative whole or even to go into as much detail as it should. Probably more effective for those unfamiliar with the subject. Narrated by Michael Kane. Sequel to Dreamland. sc: Donald Brittain. dir: John Kramer. 84 min.

(2005) * *  Mary Walsh ("Mamesanne Lou Furey"), Rick Boland ("Phonse Furey"), Jonny Harris ("Troy Furey"), Joel Hynes ("Nick Crocker"), Susan Kent ("Darkene Furey"), Adriana Maggs ("Alma"), Sherry White ("Myrna Furey-Meaney"), Shaun Majumder ("Cyril Pippy"), Mark McKinney ("Todd Meaney").....Raunchy comedy about a rural Newfoundland family that runs a combo funeral home, ambulance service, and wedding service. 

Not for those easily offended, this comedy revels in its salty, crude characters, vulgar humour, and copious profanity -- all on the CBC in an effort to show that, when it comes to pushing boundaries and the limits of good taste, Showcase and Bravo! have to make a place at the table for the Mother Corp. Often episodes are less about plot, than a series of vignettes following the various characters around (or addressing the camera in a pseudo-documentary style), and if you're in the right mood...can be sort of amusing, in fits and starts. It works best because the actors and the filmmakers have their characters and their Newfoundland milieu down pat, giving an air of almost plausibility to the bizarre shenanigans (rather than seeming like a hammed up sitcom). Not for all tastes, clearly, and not a complete success, and with the lack of stronger plots meaning episodes can just kind of meander aimlessly. Great theme song. This premiered as an hour long pilot before being green lighted as a half-hour sitcom and even after the season aired there were claims it would be back after some re-tooling...but that didn't seem to happen. Co-created by Mary Walsh. Half-hour episodes on the CBC. 

HATLEY HIGH  * *  setting: CDN.
(2003) Nicolas Wright, Rachelle Lefevre, Robert Jadah, Nwamiko Madden, Paul Van Dyck, James A. Woods, Ilona Elkin.....In a town where members of the high school chess team are the superstar jocks, the son (Wright) of a former chess prodigy moves back to town...and bewilders everyone when he doesn't want to join the team. Low-budget comedy tries mixing low-key, coming-of-age teen movie scenes...with whimsical absurdism (a priest who has God talk to him, or the core running gag of a town where the chess jocks are the big men on campus). It's good natured and kind of likeable, and Wright and Lefevre are very good...but it also tends to lose steam, being more cute even when it's trying for hilarity. And because it's basically a comedy that's sort of spoofing the kind of movie it resembles, it means it doesn't really deliver on any deeper level. The climactic match isn't really supposed to be suspenseful, and the hero's decisions to not play/play are rather loosely developed. A borderline call, depending on how easy going a mood you're in. One kind of gets the impression the filmmakers latched onto the concept because it was a cute idea...not because they had any real interest in chess. sc: Myles Hainsworth (story Hainsworth & Price). dir: Phil Price. 88 min.

HAUNTER * * 1/2  
(2013) Abigail Breslin, Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, Stephen McHattie, Peter DaCunha, Samantha Weinstein, David Hewlett, Sarah Manninen, Eleanor Zichy.....A teenage girl (American actress Breslin) lives with her family in a perpetually fog enshrouded house...and she's the only one who realizes there's something odd about it, or is aware of strange sounds and a sinister presence (McHattie). Horror-thriller takes place mainly in the one location with a limited cast (following director Natali's other minimalist genre efforts like Cube and Nothing) and it's nice to see a modern supernatural thriller that isn't relying on gore or excessive violence. It has solid performances and some twists (hence why my synopsis is deliberately a bit vague) and is enjoyable enough. But the very element that is its thing -- namely, the minimalism -- is also a flaw as it can feel a bit thin and repetitious in spots, with everyone but Breslin a supporting player. And maybe the fact that the heroine is a teen means it doesn't quite feel like an adult movie while being too creepy and spooky at times to be a young adult flick. sc: Brian King. dir: Vincenzo Natali. 97 min.

THE HAUNTING OF JULIA * * 1/2  setting: other
(1976) (/U.K.) Mia Farrow, Keir Dullea, Tom Conti, Jill Bennet, Robin Gammell, Cathleen Nesbitt.....After her daughter's death, a troubled woman (Farrow) moves into an old house and investigates its history when strange things start happening. Supernatural thriller is suitably spooky, albeit pretty predictable. The two leads have trouble with their English accents and Gammell (the flick's sole Canuck) has about 5 minutes of screen time. a.k.a. Full Circle. sc: Dave Humphries, with Harry Bromley Davenport (from the novel Julia by Peter Straub). dir: Richard Loncraine. - violence.- 96 min.

HAVANA 57 * *  setting: other
(2012) Juan Riedinger, Elisabetta Fantone, Paulino Nunes, Tony Nardi, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Nicola Correia-Damude, Daniel De Santo, David Calderisi, Gerry Mendicino.....A lone honest cop (Riedinger) in 1957 Cuba (pre-communist revolution) must navigate the systemic corruption, brutality and student protests incurred living under a dictatorship, while investigating the death of a lowly showgirl which may lead him to high places. Suspense-drama (filmed in Cuba but with mainly Canadian actors using Canadian accents) boasts an authentic sense of time and place (period cars, clothes) and sprawling street scenes and diverse locations -- yet in other respects seems modestly budgeted (presumably filming in Cuba, a dollar stretches farther). There are some solid turns by familiar character actors like Nunes (as his corrupt partner), Nardi (as a military officer), Calderisi (as a mobster), and a likable performance from De Santo (as a guileless beat cop) but a lot of the acting isn't that compelling. It's not that the actors are bad, just lacking chops, or gravitas, at least given the script and the direction. The story itself is practically a genre: honest cop in a corrupt regime whose dogged investigation of a dead "nobody" ruffles highly placed feathers. But it never seems like more than a low-rent version of a cliche, not really offering fresh twists, or surprise revelations and, as mentioned, without the scenes and the acting enlivening the telling. Well-intentioned and ambitious, but doesn't quite pull it off. sc./dir: Jim Purdy (from the novels of Harlan Abrahams). - violence; female nudity.- 98 min.

HAVE MERCY  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1999) Alisa Wiegers, Clark Johnson, Nancy Beatty, Ingrid Veninger, Jackie Burroughs, Greg Spottiswood, Carlo Rota.....Story of various female patients at a psychiatric hospital, and how they are encouraged to put on a talent show. So-so drama maintains a decent tempo that keeps it watchable, but it doesn't really deliver a focal character the audience can invest in. Wiegers, as the title character who's arrival and departure opens and closes the film, would seem to be that -- but her character isn't developed or used as an anchor. Likewise, Johnson (in a nice turn) as the caring therapist, is undefined. In fact, with some of the characters it's never explained why they're even there...which is a problem since the movie is supposed to be about how (some of them) grow over the course of the film. An observational film more than an involving one...and smacks a little too much of a dramatist's view of mental illness. sc./dir: Anais Granofsky. 86 min.

HAVEN (TVMS)  * * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(2001) (/U.S.) Natasha Richardson, Colm Feore, Henry Czerny, Anne Bancroft, Sheila McCarthy, Sebastian Roche, Robert Joy, Tamara Gorski, Daniel Kash, Bruce Greenwood, Hal Holbrook, Martin Landau, William Petersen.....True story of U.S. government official, Ruth Gruber (Richardson), and how, near the end of World War II, she oversaw the bringing of 1 000 Jewish refugees to a refugee camp in Oswego, New York -- and the anti-Semitism they faced both from some of the local town folk and the government. Interesting drama, exposing the prejudice of the very people who were rescuing them (though the town folk come around eventually, particularly in a manipulative but undeniably effective "I am Spartacus"-type scene). Rarely quite makes the leap to making you forget you're watching actors in a well-intentioned TV movie, but neither is it bad either. Gorski, as a gamine-like refugee, is particularly effective, and her relationship with Czerny, as another refugee, has the potential to really click, but ends up kind of perfunctorily handled. Kenneth Welsh has a cameo as U.S. president Turman...the same role he played (as the lead) in the mini-series Hiroshima. Of course, need I say what I say for half these reviews? Having Canadian producers do a movie like this about the U.S. just makes you wish they'd expend the same energy on a similar Canadian project. As often happens with Holocaust movies, there's a brief sequence using real footage of death camps that's, of course, disturbing. Four hours. sc: Suzette Couture (from the book by Ruth Gruber). dir: John Gray. - violence.-
HAVEN (TV Series)

(2010-) (/U.S.) * *  Emily Rose ("Audrey Parker"), Lucas Bryant ("Nathan Wuornos"), Eric Balfour ("Duke Crocker"), Nicholas Campbell ("Chief Wuornos") (1st), with Richard Donat, John Dunsworth, others.....Supernatural/suspense set in a small New England town where strange things occur, and people sometimes manifest supernatural abilities -- reminding locals of the cryptically referred to "Troubles" that had occurred two decades earlier. An F.B.I. agent (Rose) arrives on a case, and ends up staying on with the local police, both to investigate the rash of bizarre cases...and for personal reasons, as she suspects her own mother might have been in the town years before. The mystery surrounding her mother, and the long ago Troubles, serving as an on going sub-plot beneath the cases-of-the-week (along with the usual "conspiracy" theme common to such series, with the heroine not knowing as much about what was going on as some others). Bryant plays the local cop she's partnered with, himself possessing unusual abilities (he can't feel pain). Balfour a local charming rogue, sort of involved in shady doings. The three forming a romantic triangle. Campbell plays the local police chief...and "Nathan"'s dad. Rose and Balfour are American, the rest of the cast Canadian.

This TV series was marketed as based on the Stephen King novel, "The Colorado Kid" -- a novel apparently even a lot of King fans didn't like! But, in truth, it has next to no connection to the novel. What it has is an obvious "X-Files" vibe (an FBI agent investigating spooky events) but with a slightly gentler -- and lighter -- tone. Though definitely trying for the spooky and creepy, the mysteries often have a Human Interest aspect, where the crimes can turn out to be accidental (the culprit unaware of their own abilities) or with episodes where no one actually gets killed (though with a threat of death ever present). The actors are personable, and the gently humorous scenes of the characters just wandering around, bantering, have a kind of folksy charm as if we've just wandered into Mayberry. But it's in the supernatural-mystery aspects that the seams start to show. Obviously, the trick with any fantasy story is how to convincingly deal with (and to show the characters reacting to) things that aren't, after all, really a part of human experience. One viewer's realism is another's unbelievable. With that said, the treatment of the supernatural is often just goofily unbelievable, the characters just wa-ay too nonchalant (even if they acknowledge that, like in one scene where the heroine says something like, "I can't believe how calmly I'm accepting this.") Within the town itself, sometimes the characters react (as we all would) incredulously to claims of the bizarre...and other times (because of the town's history) accept it without question, making for an inconsistent tone. And even aside from the supernatural, the mysteries are often poorly developed, suffering plot and logic holes. The result is a series that can be sort of effective as a small town comedy-drama...but pushes you out of the reality when dealing with the central themes and plots of the episodes, eliciting unintended chuckles for the wrong reasons. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Showcase and CanWest-Global. 

THE HAVEN  see Le Conciergerie

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