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.

J.A. MARTIN, PHOTOGRAPHE * * 1/2  setting: P.Q./USA.
(1977) Monique Mercure, Marcel Sabourin, Jacques Bilodeau, Yvan Canuel, Jean Lapointe, Guy L'Ecuyer.....A woman (Mercure) decides to accompany her withdrawn photographer husband (Sabourin) on his annual business trip in the 1800s, hoping to revitalize their dead marriage. O.K. drama benefits from nice performances and ambience but is the sort of flick where you'll either be drawn in by its slow, deliberate pacing, or you'll just find it silly. Still, the scenes are often concise, despite the slowness, making it move along surprisingly well. Won Best Picture Etrog. English title: J.A. Martin, Photographer. sc: Jean Beaudin, Marcel Sabourin. dir: Jean Beaudin. 101 min.

J.A. MARTIN, PHOTOGRAPHER see J.A. Martin, Photographe
jPOD (TV Series)

(2008) * * *  David Kopp "Ethan Jarlewski", Emilie Ullerup "Kaitlin Joyce", Steph Song "'Bree' Jyang", Ben Ayres "Cowboy", Torrance Coombs "John Doe", Sherry Miller "Carol Jarlewski", Alan Thicke "Jim Jarlewski", with Colin Cunningham "Steve Lefkowitz", Raugi Yu "Kam Fong", others .....Comedy revolving around a twentysomething videogame programmer (Kopp) in Vancouver, his eccentric co-workers...and his even more eccentric parents (Miller and Thicke). 

TV series, based on the novel by cult author Douglas Coupland, brims with quirky, anything-goes, ideas (where else will you see a character who needs an operation to remove her absorbed foetal twin?), in a way that evokes the U.S. cult series, "Arrested Development", as well as a raunchy sensibility that's part of the CBC's attempt to prove it can out "R" the cable stations. The series has a sprightly tempo, agreeable performances, and seems comfortably enmeshed in its demographic milieu of twentysomething video gamers (though some of the hip references are going to skim over the heads of others). Part of the appeal is that for all that these are largely hedonistic characters, working on ultra-violent video games ("Ethan" is the gore specialist), or with marijuana grow-ops in their basements, or brag about their sexual conquests on on-line "players clubs", and they seem to rack up a major body count (did I mention the humour was frequently of the black humour variety?), the characters generally lack a meanness -- kind of like smut talking Smurfs. You llike them 'cause they don't mean any harm, 

But it's essentially a sitcom...done as an hour long drama, and can get a bit over extended. Most reviews seemed to agree it got better as it went along, with the later episodes stronger, and generating a bit more of the emotional heart that can sustain an hour (particularly involving "Ethan's" secret infatuation with "Kaitlin") -- where you actually are interested in what happens to the characters! Although apparently a survey seemed to indicate those who liked it, really liked it...those who didn't, really didn't, and the series was cancelled after one season. And the creators chose to end on a cliff-hanger (a weird one, which seemed out of place in the comedic series), kind of thumping their nose at their audience (surely they were aware renewal was not guaranteed?). But despite its unevenness, I think of all the 2007/2008 Canadian TV season -- as Dorothy said of the Scarecrow -- I'll miss it the most. Hour long episodes on the CBC. 

JACK  * * *  setting: CDN.
(2013) Rick Roberts, Sook-Yin Lee, Erin Karpluk, Zachary Bennett, Victoria Snow, Wendy Crewson, Diana Ha, Judah Katz, Joel Keller.....Story of the political life of NDP leader Jack Layton (Roberts) and his wife, Olivia Chow (Lee), from his early days in municipal politics and their burgeoning romance, but focused mainly on the triumph/tragedy of the 2011 federal election when, though ailing, he led the perpetually third place NDP to official opposition...only to succumb to cancer shortly thereafter. Made-for-CBC TV drama is clearly banking on audience sympathy (Layton a popular politician given a touch of the martyr by his untimely death) perhaps more than because it inherently makes a "great" drama (is moving a party from 3rd place to 2nd necessarily one for the long-term history books?) And the movie approaches its subject as a puff piece...though, conversely, stops short of proselytising for the NDP, being human interest more than manifesto. All of which...makes it surprising it works as well as it does. But benefitting from a brisk tempo and scenes that generally stay away from being too hokey, it banks a lot on the charm of its characters (and the engaging performances of Roberts and Lee, both delivering good turns while evoking their real life counterparts), and for its backroom look at political campaigning (always fun for fans of political dramas). Arguably a light weight on the scale of political movies...but holds your attention. Ironically, right wingers sneered only an NDPer could enjoy it...but that's a two-edged argument as one could equally argue a hardcore right winger wouldn't have liked it, no matter what. And I suspect NDPers would be disappointed by its soft approach to the issues. sc: Andrew Wreggitt (story Shelley Erikson, Andrew Wreggitt). dir: Jeff Woolnough. 89 min.

JACK AND JILL  * *  setting: Ont.
(1998) Shawna MacDonald, John Kalangis, Kathryn Zenna, Tara Johnson, Scott Gibson, Noam Jenkins.....Story of a common law couple (Kalangis and MacDonald) and how they start eyeing other people when he gets cold feet and calls off their proposed wedding. Low-budget relationship comedy, with Kalangis angling to be the Canadian Woody Allen -- playing a neurotic, whiny, narcissist wwho, nonetheless, is supposed to be oddly appealing. Amusing at times, but also kind of draggy; clever at times, but also kind of dull and thin. Not terrible, but not sufficiently compelling. sc./dir: John Kalangis. - sexual content.- 85 min.

JACK HIGGINS' MIDNIGHT MAN (TVMS)  * * /2  setting: other
(1996) (/U.S./U.K./Luxembourg) Rob Lowe, Kenneth Cratham, Deborah Moore, Hannes Jaenicke, Michael Sarrazin, Daphne Cheung, Ellen Cohen, Samantha Giles.....Ex-IRA terrorist, Sean Dillon (Lowe), now freelancing for the British Secret Service, finds his latest assignment becoming personal when a plot to assassinate members of the British monarchy is being carried out by a former friend (Jaenicke)...who accidentally murdered his wife. Easily the best of the Sean Dillon/Jack Higgins films (which isn't saying much admittedly). Plods along, only sporadically suspenseful, with a lot of scenes that exist just to fill up time and a plot where the viewer is told most of the significant plot points early on (is it just me, or shouldn't a thriller feature revelations as the story unfolds?). Conversely, a baseline of professionalism, and a decent cast (particularly Cratham as Lowe's superior, and Jaenicke) maintains a modest level of interest throughout. Though the film indulges in the usual questionable ethics of these Higgins' films. Interestingly: though Dillon was the hero of other Higgins' novels (adapted into the other movies), in the source novel for this story, Dillon was the villain! A sequel to On Dangerous Ground and followed (a few years later) by Thunder Point. Three hours (without commercials). sc: Jurgen Wolff (from the novel Eye of the Storm by Jack Higgins). dir: Lawrence Gordon-Clark. - violence.-

JACK HIGGINS' ON DANGEROUS GROUND * 1/2  setting: U.K./other
(1996) (/U.S./U.K./Luxembourg) Rob Lowe, Kenneth Cranham, Deborah Moore, Jurgen Prochnow, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Daphne Cheung..... Mercenary Sean Dillon (Lowe) is recruited by the British Secret Service and gets involved in a search for a lost treaty between Britain and China. Low-budget made-for-cable thriller manages to be both staggeringly simplistic and muddled and small feet. Pretty awful. The first of a series of Jack Higgins movies featuring the Sean Dillan character (a character who was actually Irish in the books, but played by American actors in the movies). sc: Christopher Wicking (from the novel by Jack Higgins). dir: Lawrence Gordon-Clark. - violence.- 105 min.

JACK HIGGINS' THUNDER POINT * 1/2  setting: CDN./other
(1999) (/U.S./U.K.) Kyle MacLachlan, Pascale Bussieres, Chris Wiggins, Jean LeClerc, Kenneth Welsh, Cedric Smith, David Hemblen, Michael Sarrazin, Steve Adams.....American-born British agent, Sean Dillon (MacLachlan), must protect a Canadian woman (Bussieres) from neo-Nazis after her father discovered an old Nazi attaché case...but died before telling anyone where he hid it. Seedy, low-budget made-for-cable TV suspenser -- where even the "hero" is a sadistic, ex-terrorist anti-hero -- has only one question to carry the entiire film: where's the case (not even what's in it, which we're told early) and is just filled with numbingly repetitive scenes that rarely go anywhere. A good cast is wasted. Still, rarity of rarities for one of these films: it's actually set partly in Canada! And the nude scene is Bussieres' (often in these kind of low-budgeters, nudity is provided by extras in obligatory strip club scenes, not the star). One of a series of Sean Dillon movies, with MacLachlan reappearing in Jack Higgins' The Windsor Protocol. sc: Morrie Ruvinsky (from the novel by Jack Higgins). dir: George Mihalka. - extreme violence, partial female nudity, sexual content;- 92 min.

(1999) (/U.S./U.K.) Kyle MacLachlan, Alan Thicke, Macha Grenon, Chris Wiggins, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, John Colicos.....American-born British agent, Sean Dillon (MacLachlan), investigates a respected U.S. politician (Thicke) with secret ties to a neo-Nazi movement. Sequel to Jack Higgins' Thunder Point (though not based on anything written by novelist Higgins) is slightly better thanks primarily to an all around good cast. Scenes occasionally start to work, but the thin, poorly developed plot is just kind of meandering, rarely generating any suspense...or much interest. Still, avoids the penchant for sadism of that earlier film...for the most part. This was the 2nd of the "Sean Dylan" films to feature MacLachlan in the role (earlier movies had Rob Lowe as the character), but when aired on TMN, it was actually shown first!!! sc: Stephen Zoller, David Preston (story Morrie Ruvinsky). dir: George Mihalka. - partial female nudity, violence.- 96 min.

a.k.a. Call of the Wild

JACK PARADISE: Les nuits de Montreal  * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(2004) Roy Dupuis, Dawn Tyler Watson, Genevieve Rioux, Gregory Hlady, Marie-France Lambert, Warren Slim Williams, Tyrone Benskin, Dorothee Berryman.....Decades-spanning story of a 1930s jazz pianist (Dupuis) in Montreal and the women in his life. Well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing drama is one of those flicks where you know what sort of movie they were trying to make -- a nostalgia-tinged homage to a romantic, slightly seedy, milieu of all-night clubs, jazz, and passion -- but they don't really succeed. Some intteresting (if overly clever) techniques, like filming the club scenes in colour, and the streets in black & white in a "Wizard of Oz" sort of way (presumably) to suggest another world. But too much of it is handled too shallowly, not to mention kind of confusing in spots, where you never really feel like you know the characters...even the main ones! Too bad, particularly with its slightly refreshing Canadian spin on the clichés, including a different approach to race (Canada didn't have the same sort of rigid segregation as the U.S., meaning mixed race bands -- and clubs -- weren't unheard of) and a nonchalant bilingualism (mainly in French, but with characters sliding in and out of English). Jayne Heitmeyer briefly crops a couple of times as one of Hlady's (as the club owner) mistresses. sc./dir: Gilles Noel (from an idea by Richard Langlois). - sexual content.- 97 min.

(1979) Stephen Rosenberg, Alex Karras, Guy L'Ecuyer, Joy Coghill..... Mordecai Richler's famous children's story comes to the screen, sans budget. Might appeal better to kids who don't know what "production values" are. Remade in 1999. sc: Mordecai Richler. dir: Theodore J. Flicker. 80 min.

(1999) Max Morrow, Gary Busey, Mark McKinney, Miranda Richardson, Ice-T, Maury Chaykin, John Evans, Dixie Seatle.....Six year old Jacob Two Two (Morrow) gets knocked out and imagines he must escape from a nightmarish prison for children guarded by slime creatures and ruled over by the dreaded, pro wrestler-like Hooded Fang (Busey). Some big sets in this children's fantasy, and played with gusto by the actors (of which Busey, Richardson and rapper/actor Ice-T are all imports), but it still ends up being a bit flat, particularly in the supposed production numbers which look as though they took all of half an hour to choreograph. The main question mark is the material itself. The story is considered a Canadian "classic", but it seems a little unrelentingly dark for little kids who won't recognize its tongue is in its cheek. A nice idea to turn the story into a musical...but the songs are pretty weak, and badly orchestrated. Look for author and media personality, Daniel Richler (Mordecai Richler's son) as a reporter in the court house. sc: Tim Burns (from the book by Mordecai Richler). dir: George Bloomfield. 95 min.

JACQUES ET NOVEMBRE  * *  setting: P.Q.
(1984) Jean Beaudry, Carole Frechette, Marie Cantin, Pierre Rousseau, Reine France.....A man (Beaudry), dying of an unnamed disease, makes a video diary of his last days. Good premise, but only half-hearted results. Lots of potential for gut-wrenching drama, quirky humour, character exploration and reflections on life, but all we get are hints of those things. English title: Jacques in November. sc: Jean Beaudry, Francois Bouvier (with Claude Laroche, Marcel Simard). dir: Jean Beaudry, Francois Bouvier (with Marquise LePage, Marcel Simard). - sexual content, brief male nudity.-

JACQUES IN NOVEMBER see Jacques et novembre

JAILBATE!  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2000) Matt Frewer, Mary Gross, Kevin Mundy, Reagan Pasternak, Alycia Purrott, Scott McCord, Mo Gaffney, Deborah Pollitt.....Teen-age American boy (Mundy) two-times his girlfriend with the local "trailer trash" (Purrott), only to have her get pregnant, and himself arrested when it's discovered she's under-age, leading to a media circus. Very broad, frenetic, comedy-satire is all over the map, trying to be a modern, vulgar-shock comedy (with scenes of characters trying to induce an abortion, and talk of masturbation, etc.) and teen sex comedy (with a bit of nudity in the first fifteen minutes) and a social satire; it makes fun of musical montage sequences...then includes them anyway, etc. And next to none of it works. Moyle, who's maybe seen "Election" once too often (but didn't grasp its finer points), often directs his actors like he's trying to emulate a Ralph Bakshi cartoon, with predictable results. The filmmakers are so busy making fun of their characters, they forget that it helps to actually care about someone. One gets the feeling that we're supposed to take the film's attack on statutory rape laws seriously, and maybe such laws are too Draconian, but the filmmakers lose much moral high ground when the sub-text seems to be that they don't see what the big deal is about knocking up a minor anyway -- after all, she is a little tramp, right? Egad! Even the outtakes aren't very funny (though seem to indicate they were rewriting scenes while filming!) McCord's performance, as the boy's lawyer, shows promise, and maybe with funnier material it would've worked. The movie's set in the U.S. (and according to some sources, inspired by a real case) but there's a shot of a Canadian flag in one scene, and Lieutenant is pronounced the Canadian way. sc: Tim Garrick, Scott Russell. dir: Allan Moyle. - sexual content, partial female nudity.- 95 min.

(2001)  * *  Albert Schultz ("Jake"), Camilla Scott ("Jillian").....Sitcom about a childless yuppie couple. This series was an intriguing experiment, essentially almost like a play a week, with each episode taking place on one set (the characters' apartment) and featuring only Schultz and Scott, discussing things that had happened off camera during their day. Although occasional uses of dream sequences and voice-overs made use of the tricks the TV medium could provide. 

Intended as a sophisticated, grown up comedy about contemporary relationships, the series avoided being "bad", with Schultz and Scott capable performers. But it wasn't all that good either. The wit just wasn't that witty, made even more awkward by the fact that the characters were supposed to be clever, frequently laughing at their own jokes (well, I guess if the viewer won't laugh, might as well get the characters to). And for all that it wanted to be smart and insightful, "insight", like "humour", is subjective, and the series just never seemed that penetrating. The characters were kind of nihilistic and the unfortunate tendency to see humour in brutality to animals also made the series not exactly endearing. And though the series' unabashedly Canadian jokes were welcome and appreciated...they seemed too much like the sort of jokes someone would write who didn't know as much about Canada as they wanted to pretend they did. Ultimately, an interesting experiment, and nothing to be ashamed of (which is no small feat with Canadian sitcoms), but not particularly successful. 

Intended only to run as a limited series of 6 episodes, this series sat on the shelf for a couple of years, much to the chagrin of the producers. The CBC claimed it was just trying to find a suitable time slot (which ended up being Saturdays a 7:30, which some felt was an odd time for a series aimed at grown ups). Created by Gordon Farr and Simon Muntner. Half-hour episodes on the CBC. 



(1995-1997)  * * 1/2  Shaun Johnston ("Jake Trumper"), Ben Campbell ("Ben Osborne"), Patti Harras ("Julia Osborne"), with Lorne Cardinal ("Moses Lefthand"), Marty Chan ("Henry") (1st), Fred Keating ("Repeat Golightly"), Jenny Levine ("Molly Gatenby") (1st), Brian Taylor ("Albert Ricky"), Warren Ward ("Lazurus Lefthand") (1st), Julie Khaner ("Emily Henchbaw") (1st), Tom Cavanagh ("Paul Krauss") (2nd), Michael Hogan ("Gate Gatenby"), Gabrielle Rose (2nd), Chad Krowchuk (2nd), others; and voice of Joe Norman Shaw (1st) and Henry Ramer (2nd) as the narrator, the adult Ben.....Family drama about a farm boy (Osborne) growing up in 1950s Saskatchewan, and his friendship with the hired hand, Jake (Johnston). Harras played the boy's widowed mom. Others in the cast included Cardinal as a native handyman, "Jake"'s friend, and Ward as his son, "Ben"'s friend; Keating as the barber; Levine, the store owner; Taylor, a town 'leader'...usually up to something; Khaner, a schoolteacher with a possible thing for "Jake" and Cavanagh as a teacher who fell for "Julia".

This TV series was based on the classic amusing short stories by W.O. Mitchell (which had already seen life as a radio series starring John Drainie as Jake) and, not surprisingly, received raves from the critics...and I say that cynically. Like Road to Avonlea, this series was O.K. and professional but often dry and overly mannered. It also seemed like a homogenized bastdardization of Mitchell's stories, turning it into a paean to '90s family values, siphoning off much of the mischievous humour and energy of the original. In the stories Jake is kind of a big-hearted kid, given to outlandish storytelling (as I recall). In this series, well, he's a proper father-figure and might as well have been played by Gregory Peck. The 2nd season, with a cast shake-up, put a greater emphasis on adult-aimed romance, and Johnston -- who had been made-up to look grizzled and older than his actual age in the first season -- looked conspicuously younger. Attempts at dealing with issues like racism were admirable however...though some of the non-white actors were gone by the second season. Developed for TV by Laura Phillips. Two seasons of hour long episodes on CanWest-Global (about 26 in all) and rerun on YTV. 

JALNA (TVMS)  * *  setting: Ont.
(1995) (/France) Danielle Darrieux, Serge Dupire, Catherine Mouchet, Jacques Bonnaffe.....Story of the trials and tribs of the wealthy Whiteoak clan in Ontario in the early part of the twentieth century. Dubbed French-language adaptation of the English Canadian classic (already the source for a CBC mini-series twenty-odd years before, and a Hollywood movie in the 1930s) which aired, in French, a year or two earlier. So-so soap opera benefits from an expensive look and decent performances, but it's too cloying at times and the characters and their situations have trouble encouraging great interest, or sympathy. 16 hour long episodes. sc: Jean-Pierre Sinapi, Daniel Tonachella, with Claude Fournier (from the Whiteoaks of Jalna books by Mazo de la Roche). dir: Phillipe Monnier. - sexual content.-


Jane of Lantern Hill, the novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, became the CBC TV movie Lantern Hill

(2006-2008)  * *  Teresa Pavlinek ("Jane"), Patricia Zentilli ("Susan"), Darren Boyd ("Walter"), Andrew Misle ("Iggy"), Hardee T. Lineham ("Cary"), Kate Trotter ("Stella").....Comedy about a woman, belatedly entering the workforce (after a failed attempt at being an author) and landing a job at the sales department of a brewery, and dealing with her eccentric co-workers and the alien world of "office politics". Zentilli plays her relentlessly perky best friend; Boyd a repressed ultra-conservative; Misle the mischievous prankster; Lineham the milquetoast; and Trotter their suave boss. 

TV series began as a half-hour pilot, set at a different business, with a mainly different supporting cast, and with the emphasis more on the heroine's personal life. Green lighted as a series, the premise was re-thought and the focus shifted to the more familiar milieu of an office sitcom (ala, well, "The Office"), with maybe a nod to CTV's Corner Gas (filmed without a laugh track, and with the occasional cut aways to flights of fancy). Pavlinek heads a capable cast (particularly Boyd) and it's a perfectly respectable stab at a sitcom and modestly amusing...but is modestly amusing enough to drag you back week after week? Or does it need to be out-and-out, y'know, funny? It is, after all, aiming to be a straight forward, mainstream-style sitcom. Even within an episode you can chuckle amiably periodically...but still find yourself fingering the remote control. An episode where the characters panic on receiving a package with what they think is an Arabic name on it seemed...awkward, bordering on racist (yes, it was supposed to be ridiculous, and the package ultimately harmless, but the subtext when half the characters panic is that it's a reasonable reaction to assume "terrorist" when you see an Arab name). Created by Teresa Pavlinek & Ralph Chapman. Two seasons of half-hour episodes on CanWest-Global.

JASON X  * *  setting: USA.
(2002) (/U.S.) Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, Chuck Campbell, Jonathon Potts, Peter Mensah, Melyssa Ade, Kane Hodder.....Superhuman serial killer, Jason (Hodder), is cryogenically frozen and awoken on board a space ship hundreds of years in the future, where he proceeds to slaughter his way through a mix of military and (teenage) scientific personnel. Horror-action flick is technically the tenth in the American "Friday the 13th" film series (good lord -- 10?!?), but given a facelift by turning it into a sci-fi flick, borrowing shamelessly from previous SF films (notably "Aliens"). The sets and f/x are decent, and the cast is competent enough (all-Canadian save Hodder), so that it starts out seeming as though it might be O.K. But there's too much of a sense that it's running on empty, with too little genuine suspense at work. Yet its tongue-in-cheek attitude isn't maintained with enough consistency, so that the quips and gags can almost be distracting (and one isn't sure if the final rescue is meant to be as a silly as it is). There's probably more character development than one would expect for a "Friday the 13th" film...without that being followed through on enough, either, to make it a real movie (Doig is top-billed in, essentially, the Sigourney Weaver role, but is given so little to do, you can't really call her the star). Canadian horror director, David Cronenberg, is fun in a bit part at the beginning, and Doig and Ryder filmed this before the TV series Andromeda (it sat on the shelf for a while), here doing a role-reversal -- Ryder's an android and Doig's human. Ultimately, better than one might expect, with death scenes that may be grisly, but not belaboured, but it can't decide what it wants to be. And it may not be, technically, Canadian...but filmed in Canada with its largely Canadian cast, I've decided to include it. sc: Todd Farmer. dir: Jim Isaac. - extreme violence, partial female nudity, sexual content.- 91 min.

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