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.

JOAN OF ARC (TVMS)  * *  setting: other
(2000) Leelee Sobieski, Chad Willett, Peter O'Toole, Peter Strauss, Neil Patrick Harris, Jacqueline Bissett, Powers Boothe, Olympia Dukakis, Robert Loggia, Maximillian Schell, Jonathan Hyde, Maurcy Chaykin, Shirley MacLaine, Jaimz Woolvett.....Jeanne d'Arc, the 15th Century peasant girl who claimed God spoke to her and became a leader of armies during a French civil war before being betrayed and martyrized, is an intriguing but problematic subject for a movie. Does she really hear God -- in which case it's a religious epic ala "The Ten Commandments"? Or is she crazy? A wishy-washy interpretation is just one of the problems with this expensive, occasionally interesting, but mainly flawed mini-series. O'Toole is excellent as a Bishop, and Harris surprisingly fine as King Charles, and Strauss is good as a general, but many of the performances just seem awkward, most particularly Helen Hunt lookalike Sobieski as Joan and Willett, who both seem too modern, and frankly too inexperienced as Thespians, for their roles. The first hour or so is pretty bad, though it improves as it goes along. But the movie still seems as though it was a much longer work edited, none too carefully, down to four hours. Scenes are choppy, characters come and go, pathos is supposed to arise from death scenes...of people we've only just met, etc. There's a feeling that you'll only be able to follow some of the story if you're already familiar with it...and what's the point of that? In an early scene a character tries to explain the political situation that is rather crucial to following the subsequent events...but director Duguay throws in flashy edits and cuts, rendering the scene incoherent! If Duguay, a generally flashy but hollow director, ever demonstrates that he realizes movies are about people and plot, not camera tricks and snazzy effects, I'll probably have a heart attack. Most of the all-star cast appear in small supporting parts. Of the principals, only Willett is Canadian, though Chaykin and Woolvett have small parts, as does Ron White. This was released around the same time as the big budget motion picture, "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc", which was also flawed, but the two make for intriguing comparisons. Four hours. sc: Michael Alexander Miller, Ronald Parker. dir: Christian Duguay.

The Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries (formerly titled Criminal Instincts).....A series of TV movies made for CTV based on mystery novels by Gail Bowen, featuring her amateur detective, single mom, Joanne Kilbourn (played by Wendy Crewson). The movies were made in batches of two at a time (then one at a time). Though based on specific books, there were some alterations. Kilbourn, a University professor, was given the added history of being an ex-cop and Victor Garber was created as her ex-partner, and the stories were re-located from Saskatchewan to Ontario. But the changes didn't entirely gel: an amateur detective and a hard-nosed ex-cop don't really combine well in the same character, and Garber started out as a real S.O.B. in the first two movies, but by the second batch had been softened into a romantic interest (and was gone entirely by the fifth movie, replaced by Shawn Doyle as another cop/possible lover). And the relocation just seemed like the Central Canadian-centricness that causes other provinces to despise Ontarians, since there was no need for the change and every reason not to do it (namely, it would make it slightly different from every other Canadian movie/series). Overall, the films were slick-looking and well-acted, but maybe not entirely gripping. More stoic dramas that happen to revolve around murders than fun, "Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick"-type whodunits. Most movies feature a collection of Canadian, American, and Europeans as guest stars (perhaps filling out co-production deals). Though made ostensibly for Canadian TV, it gives some insight into the producers' ultimate goal that one of the books, Murder at the Mendel, was filmed under its American book title: Love and Murder. Titles so far: Love and Murder (2000), Deadly Appearances, The Wandering Soul Murders, A Colder Kind of Death, A Killing Spring, Verdict in Blood.

Jody, a book by Jerry Hulse, served as the basis for the CTV TV movie Family of Strangers

JOE'S SO MEAN TO JOSEPHINE * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1998)  Eric Thal, Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, Waneta Storms, Sabrina Grdevich, Jason Cadieux, Dixie Seatle.....Generation X drama about a would be writer and good girl (Polley) who hooks up with a surly bad boy (imported Thal). Drama seems more like a collection of thesis skits for a film or drama class, with rambling scenes of Polley stammering and Thal brooding, but the characters and the story are never very interesting or likeable. Good looking, but more surface than substance and, frankly, boring. sc./dir: Peter Wellington. - sexual content- 89 min.

JOE'S WEDDING  * *  setting: Ont.
(1998)  D.W. Moffett, Kate Vernon, David Hewlett, Tammy Isbell, Aidan Devine, Sabrina Grdevich, Jayne Eastwood, Harvey Atkin, Peter Keleghan .....Days before his wedding, a Toronto executive (American Moffett) is kidnapped by a disgruntled performance artist (Vernon), while his eccentric friends and soon-to-be in-laws carry on obliviously with the wedding preparations. Energetic romantic-comedy has a good cast and some amusing -- even clever -- scenes, but the whole is less than the sum, with the "main" story seeming too much like just one of the sub-plots at times. Comes frustratingly close to succeeding, but it's ultimately borderline, maybe depending on how benevolent a mood you're in...and I guess I just wasn't feeling benevolent enough when I saw it. Patrick McKenna appears, unbilled, as the priest. And why is it that so many Canadian filmmakers see humour in brutality to animals (in a movie that, otherwise, isn't a black comedy?)...I mean, other than the fact that they were probably abused as kids, or something else that screwed them up so bad? sc: Tony Johnston, John Dolin. dir: Michael Kennedy. - partial male nudity, sexual content, partial female nudity- 100 min.

JOHN A.: Birth of a Country * * * 1/2  setting: CDN./other
(2011) Shawn Doyle, Peter Outerbridge, David La Haye, Aidan Devine, Michelle Nolden, Peter MacNeill, Cedric Smith, Rob Stewart, Patrick McKenna, Ted Atherton.....Drama about the birth of Canadian confederation in the mid-1800s, of John A. Macdonald (Doyle) and of his bitter rivalry with George Brown (Outerbridge). Made-for-CBC TV historical drama eschews the usual dry earnestness of such flicks for a pulpy, energetic dramatization, where rallies can degenerate into riots, and the Legislative Assembly can resemble a room of unruly children (unlike today when...oh, wait!). It mixes backroom deals and machinations with a nice eye for character nuance and motivation. It's a character drama, trying to explore why these guys did what they did (or changed and evolved), with vices and virtues...rather than simply presenting them as ciphers or historical paragons. It looks like a TV movie (though with good costumes, make-up, sets) but the material keeps you riveted, to the point where it was billed as a "political thriller" -- that may be a slight exaggeration, but there is something of that spirit to it. Doyle is an intense Macdonald, cunning and wily (as history has portrayed him) -- but also, more atypically, dynamic, witty, passionate, charismatic; you can believe his Macdonald as the enduring, popular politician the real one must've been. And Outerbridge's Brown is fire-and-brimstone humourlessness...but becomes more rounded and nuanced as the thing goes. Indeed, it's fine performances all around, including Smith, memorable, as a Governor General. Educational value aside, it really does succeed as simply entertainment and makes the era and the personalities come alive, even stirring. Shockingly, Doyle is probably only the third actor to essay the role of Macdonald in a major film/TV production (after William Hutt in the dramatized documentary The National Dream and Christopher Plummer in Riel -- neither of which treated him as the central figure) and this may well be the first time Brown and Georges-Etienne Cartier (La Haye) have been portrayed at all in such pivotal roles! sc: Bruce M. Smith (from the book John A., The Man Who Made Us by Richard Gwyn). dir: Jerry Ciccoritti. app. 90 min.

JOHN AND THE MISSUS  * * *  setting: Nfld.
(1986) Gordon Pinsent, Jackie Burroughs, Randy Follett, Jessica Steen, Neil Munro, Timothy Webber.....In 1962, a rooted miner (Pinsent) resists the notion of being relocated by the government when the local mine, and the town itself, is shut down. Fine and effective drama, though a little slow, relies a lot on Pinsent's powerful performance (for which he picked up the Best Actor Genie). sc: Gordon Pinsent (from his novel). dir: Gordon Pinsent (his first feature). 90 min.

JOHN WOO'S ONCE A THIEF (movie) a.k.a. Once a Thief


(1997-1998)  * * 1/2  Sandrine Holt ("Li Ann Tsei"), Ivan Sergei ("Mac Ramsey"), Nicholas Lea ("Victor Mansfield"), Jennifer Dale ("The Director"), with Howard Dell ("Dobrinsky"), Vicky Pratt a.k.a. Victoria Pratt ("Jackie"), Julian Richings ("Camier), Greg Kramer ("Murphy")..... Action/comedy-drama about two ex-thieves (Holt and Sergei) and an ex-cop (Lea) who fight crime for an elite government organization under the command of their eccentric, omnisexual chief (Dale, vamping -- and camping -- it up). Dell cropped up as another agent with a comic hostile relationship with Sergei's character (the role was played by Nathaniel Deveaux in the original TV movie). Pratt, in her first screen role, was introduced in one episode as a teen-aged, fitness-oriented, Valley Girl...and mob boss...who then joined the team after her arrest (the leads were ex-crooks, too, of course). Richings and Kramer appeared occasionally as "The Cleaners" -- eccentric agency assassins.

This TV series, spun-off from the very good TV movie, was quirky enough to avoid the generic blandness of some other Canadian-made action series (like COBRA and FX: the Series) and was clearly trying for an "Avengers"/"New Avengers" style of witty badinage between the leads. Though not as "cutting edge" as the producers claimed, it was actually set in Canada (more or less) but suffered enormously from an overall vacuity...even when trying to deal with character stuff, or moral issues, it seemed terribly light-weight. Flashy editing (by David Wu), and flamboyant, comic villains (though most seemed like carbon copies of each other), but thin on story and clever twists (in favour of choreographed fight scenes) with too many scenes that weren't serious, but weren't actually funny either. The series' chief selling point was its style, the quick edits and weird direction, but these pretensions were part of the problem. Direction should help the scene, instead, the "arty" technique tended to sap a lot of the energy out things: that's right, a funky action comedy that's downright sluggish at times.

Lea and American actor Sergei were nicely kinetic, though Holt often seemed a little lost...perhaps a symptom of a part that seems the least written of them all, more intended to be beautiful and act as one corner of a love triangle than a fleshed out role (despite being top-billed). The rest of the cast was also good, but none of the characters really made the leap from ciphers to living, breathing people who the audience invests in emotionally. A moderately fun series, but an empty one that can quickly wear away viewer enthusiasm. To use an obvious simile: this supposedly Hong Kong-flavoured series is a little like the old joke about Chinese food -- an hour later, you're hungry again.

Presumably aware cancellation was imminent, the final episode ended with the three leads getting killed off in the final scene (though not in a way that they couldn't have been brought back in the event of a last minute renewal). It was also one of the more "Canadian" episodes in this otherwise "soft" Canadian series (as if figuring if they were going to be cancelled, they might as well be shot for patriots as sell-outs), throwing in some place names and an in-joke of having the villain hum the folk tune "Early One Morning" which, to Canadians, is indelibly associated with the kids show "The Friendly Giant" (the villain even says "Look up. Look wa-ay up." which was the Friendly Giant's signature line). Created by Glenn Davis & William Laurin and loosely based on concepts by Hong Kong director John Woo (who served as executive producer). The original TV movie was made with a U.S. network, but the series was made without U.S. financing. a.k.a. Once a Thief. 22 hour-long episodes on CTV, reruns leaping to Showcase almost as soon as soon as it was cancelled. 

JOHNNY  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1999) Chris Martin, Gema Zamprogna, Kris Lemche, Vanessa Sharp, Clinton Walker, Rainbow Sun Francks, Daniel Enright, Kyra Harper.....Story of a sociopathic street kid (Martin) who gets a video camera and starts encouraging his peers to stage dangerous and criminal stunts for him to film. Film establishes its core idea...then doesn't seem to have anywhere to go with it, filling up time with a lot of repetitious scenes. But the characters, and the plot, never evolve or grow. Not altogether convincing in either its portrayal of group dynamics, or even in its portrait of street life. Curiously, the director claims he won't be billed (in adherence to some Art Film movement called Dogma 95)...then credits himself anyway. What's that about? sc./dir: Carl Bessai. - brief female nudity.- 85 min.

JOHNNY MNEMONIC  * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(1995) (/U.S.) Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi, Ice-T, Dina Meyer, Udo Kier, Denis Akiyama, Henry Rollins, Barbara Sukowa.....In the future, an American courier (Reeves) who transports data down-loaded to his brain, finds himself on the run from a variety of goons while the data overload threatens to kill him. Violent, confusing SF action thriller cost $30 million (making it one of the most expensive Canadian films ever) and manages to seem like a bad low-budget quickie. Poor dialogue, direction (by first time American Longo) and editing; a thin, cliched plot; uneven performances (there's Reeves, but also singers-turned-sort-of-actors Ice-T and Rollins, and B-movie stalwart Lundgren) -- essentially, a bit of a mess. Since Reeves lives in Hollywood, that makes Akiyama the only genuine Canadian in the main cast (that's right, $30 mil and we get one actor out of it!). Ironically, the film was honoured with the Golden Reel Award at the Genies as highest grossing Canadian movie of the year (about $3 million -- not nearly enough to actually turn a pprofit) while U.S. magazines carried articles with titles like "What Went Wrong With Johnny Mnemonic?" -- a paradox illustrating some of the problems with the Canadian film industry. A novelization of the film was published, though not written by William Gibson. sc: William Gibson (from his short story). dir: Robert Longo. - extreme violence.- 96 min.

JOHNNY SHORTWAVE  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1995) Emmanuel Mark, John Tench, Mona Matteo, Dougie Richardson, Valerie Buhagiar.....In a near-future, fascist Toronto, a pirate radio broadcaster (Mark), who uses his transmissions to speak against the system, must decided whether to stay or flee as the authorities close in on him. Low-budget cautionary drama sparks in spots, but never manages to catch fire. Decent performances from Mark and Matteo and seeming well-intentioned, but, despite its righteousness, it's not really that fresh. sc: Michael Bockner, Peter Boboras. dir: Michael Bockner. - violence.- 92 min.

JOHNNY TOOTALL  * *   setting: B.C.
(2007) Adam Beach, Nathaniel Arcand, Alex Rice, Sheila Marie Tousey, Ben Cotton, Miranda Frigon, Shawn Reis, Randi Knighton.....Emotionally scarred ex-soldier (Beach) returns to his Indian Reserve after many years only to find it embroiled in a conflict with a local logging company, and his estranged brother (Arcand) is leading the militants. Frustrating made-for-TV drama suffers from a lot of clunky, heavy handed scenes, an awkward voice over and other problems...yet also an interesting -- and multifaceted -- basic story, playing with complex motives and emotions (on both sides) and some nice, nuanced scenes between the characters, particularly whenever Tousey (as the mother) is on the screen -- though Rice, as the woman loved by both brothers, is given little to do. The good scenes are good...but, unfortunately, don't sufficiently out-number the weak ones. Young Knighton is good as the precocious niece. One isn't sure if it's because of budget limitations, or a desire on the part of the filmmakers not to actually say it's set in Canada, but strangely in the battlefield flashbacks, Beach isn't dressed in a military's uniform, but more like some Partisan resistance fighter! sc: Andrew Genaille, Shirley Cheechoo (story by Michael Giampa, with Danielle Prohom Olson, Douglas Berry). dir: Shirley Cheechoo. app. 90 min.

JOHNNY 2.0  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1998) Jeff Fahey, Tahnee Welch, Michael Ironside, John Neville, Michael Rhoades, Von Flores, Cliff Saunders, Eugene Lipinski.....Man (Fahey) awakens only to be told he's decades removed from the world he remembers and is, in fact, only a clone of the person he thinks he is. Created by the sinister corporation that rules this gone-to-hell America, and told his life span is only a matter of days, he is sent out to find the person he was cloned from, a scientist who may have joined with a rebel group. Better-than-average straight-to-video sci-fi action flick, with genuine attempts at good dialogue and off-beat ideas. Still suffers from the static pacing that can plague such movies, a pretty cliché future, and the usual straight-to-video reliance on a lot of machine gun fire (what -- do these producers get bulk discounts when it comes to blanks?) Not to mention that most of the characters, save Fahey, aren't really that likeable...even the supposed good guys are bitter, hard line rebels. Still, more ambitious than most, with some genuine twists and turns in the climax. Not to be confused with the later, short-lived Hollywood series, "Jake 2.0". sc: Wynne McLaughlin. dir: Neill Fearnley. - violence.- app. 90 min.

JOHNNY'S GIRL  * *  setting: USA.
(1995) (/U.S.) Treat Williams, Mia Kirshner, Gloria Reuben, Ron White, Shirley Douglas, Dianne Debassige, Janne Mortil, Dave "Squatch" Ward .....Story of the rocky relationship between a level-headed teen (Kirshner) and her hustling, exotic dance club owning dad (American Williams) in Alaska in 1969. Made-for-TV drama has a good cast and an energetic style, but is weak on plot -- y'know, that thing that pushes the film foward, provoking questions in the first part and answers in the later part? -- with hints of interesting ideas that are left unexplored. Principally a character study, but the characters run out of facets long before the end. Trivia question: how can you spot a Canadian movie? Answer: it's so American, the character has to study the Declaration of Independence! sc./dir: John Kent Harrison (from the novel by Kim Rich). 91 min.

(2003)  * 1/2  Jonathon Torrens ("Jonathon Cross), with Daniela Oliveri ("Taylor Dalton"), Gary Pearson ("Philip").....Parody of human interest/light information series like On the Road with Wayne Rostad -- while also lampooning its polar opposite of elitest, bourgeois intellectuals. Cross is the hopelessly conceited, patronizing -- but ultimately dimwitted -- reporter travelling the highways and bi-ways of Canada in a winebago to report on eccentric little people. The joke is that he often misses what's going on under his very nose (in one episode reporting on a Heritage Village set up, oblivious to the fact that it's not really a time lost village). Oliveri plays another reporter, providing filler stories (often allowing Torrens to appear as multiple characters each episode) and Pearson his, unspeaking, producer/assistant. 

This TV series joins the seeming ever expanding list of Canadian comedy series that (a) lampoon the media (begat by the Newsroom) and (b) in which a writer-creator-star is given seeming carte blanche to create a vehicle for himself. And a tendency to utilize "experienced" talent...even if that prior experience shouldn't necessarily be a recommendation, such as occasional co-scripter Diane Flacks (PR) or Torrens himself who appears concurrently in no less that two other sitcoms (Rideau Hall and Trailer Park Boys). To be fair, Torrens nails his character pretty well, including the dronning delivery, and is sufficiently versatile in some of the other roles he essays that it takes a moment or two to recognize him. But, as always, the bottom line is the yokes: does it generate laughs? Not generally. The series also suffers from the plague that has marred so many recent Canadian series: a smary, mean-spiritedness. The humour stems almost entirely from making fun of people: both the snobbish Cross, and the "everyman" characters he encounters. So wrapped in their own superiority to their characters, Torrens and his co-writers forget that humour doesn't just come from situations, but lines and delivery as well. Alas. Created by Jonathon Torrens. Half-hour episodes on the CBC. 



(2016)  * * * * (/U.K.)   Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Marc Warren, Charlotte Riley, Alice Englert, Ariyon Bakare, Enzo Cilenti, Samuel West, others..... Historical fantasy set in an alternate reality 19th Century England (during the Napoleonic Wars); magic once existed but has long since disappeared (in the time of the mysterious Raven King) and is studied now mostly as an academic abstraction. A bookish magician, Mr. Norrel (Marsan), arrives with true magic powers, becoming a national celebrity, but with very restrictive views on what magic can and should do -- determined to promote "respectable" English magic; while simultaneously another magician emerges, Jonathan Strange (Carvel), with little formal training but an inate magical appitude. At first they ally, but soon Norrel's narrow (and self-serving) view of magic and Strange's more open and curious approach makes them enemies -- complicated by the war, and other machinations set in motion (unintentionally by Norrel's own secret conjurings) involving a sinister Fairy King (Warren) and its affects on a noble woman, her bulter, and even Strange's own wife (Riley).

A truly lavish and ambitious production (based on the novel) that brings all the style and class of some high class British period drama (of the sort that might be expended on Dickens or Austen or whomever) but applied to this fantasy saga, with good production values and performances -- and especially great turns from Carval and Marsan. It moves along at a good pace with colourful characters, multiple plot threads, high drama, and also wit and humour. It especially succeeds because of its eye to nuanced characters and motives, so that it's not simply about good guys and bad guys, but complicated, emotionally richer figures. Only hurt a little by the vague ending. Although officially a "Canada-U.K." co-production the Canadian involvement seems mostly minor: some shooting locations perhaps, but doesn't seem to extend to any of the casting. Seven one-hour episodes.  

JOSHUA THEN AND NOW * * *  setting: P.Q./other
(1984) James Woods, Gabrielle Lazure, Alan Arkin, Linda Sorensen, Michael Sarrazin, Kate Trotter, Alan Scarfe, Chuck Shamata.....Scandle causes a famous author (Woods) to reflect on his life and experiences as he rose from a Jewish ghetto to try to become part of WASP high-society. Flawed but enjoyable comedy/drama thanks mainly to imports Woods' and, especially, Arkin's performances. Despite the big budget, though, there's something sloppy and clumsy about it. Lazure's voice was dubbed by Susan Hogan. Won Best Picture Genie.  Slightly better as an expanded 4 hour mini-series. sc: Mordecai Richler (from his novel). dir: Ted Kotcheff. - casual female nudity.- 127 min. >

JOSHUA THEN AND NOW (TVMS) see Joshua Then and Now

(2007) (/Denmark) .....Saga of Inuit life in the 1920s and a tribe who takes in some Danish travellers/traders. Fact-inspired drama (apparently inspired by journals kept by one of the Danes) but fails to gel into a cohesive whole. It sort of just wants to be a dramatized documentary...except even a documentary would try to assemble the scenes into some sort of logical order, and would probably tighten things. As it is, there's lots of scenes of dancing, or wandering across the barrens, or characters relating long, rambling anecdotes about their life or superstitions (there's even a ten year time jump near the beginning!) but with little effort to tie it together, and much in desperate need of editing (as though you're watching the raw footage before the director and editor have worked with it). There are story and character threads that recur, and threaten to make the movie interesting...but they too never fully coalesce, and are spread too far apart. It's the sort of movie where you can read descriptions of it and find yourself saying: "Oh, was that what was supposed to be going on?!?"...'cause it doesn't come across in the scenes themselves. Made by some of the same people as the critically acclaimed Atanarjuat, this suffers from similar pacing problems...but even less focus and can seem self-indulgent. Heck, it's hard to even figure out which of the characters is supposed to be the eponymous Rasmussen! Filmed in the Inuktitut language (with occasional English) -- though, strangely, sometimes the sub-titles just gloss over what is being said! sc/dir: Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn. - brief female nudity, sexual content.- 112 min.

JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS: The Bruce Curtis Story * * 1/2  setting: USA./N.S.
(1991) Simon Reynolds, Jaimz Woolvett, Kenneth Welsh, Richard Donat, Dawn Greenhalgh, Bruce Boa.....True story of a Nova Scotia teen (Reynolds) who visits the home of his American school chum (Woolvett) for a weekend and winds up being charged with murder. Handsome docudrama with strong performances, particularly Reynolds, and Campbell's usual stylish direction, but the movie is unsatisfying, failing to emphasize the key points and events. Won five Geminis including Best Movie, Director, Script and Supporting Actor (Welsh). sc: Keith Ross Leckie. dir: Graeme Campbell. app. 96 min.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR  * * 1/2  setting: other
(1975) Sam Waterston, Yvette Mimieux, Zero Mostel, Donald Pleasance, Vincent Price, Stanley Holloway, Shelly Winters, Ian McShane.....American geologist (Waterston) in the middle-east finds people are out to kill him before he can return to the U.S. with what he knows. All-star (non-Canadian) cast gives a boost to this so-so thriller. Filmed once before in the U.S. in '43. sc:. Trevor Wallace (from the novel by Eric Ambler). dir: Daniel Mann. 103 min.

(2007) (/U.S.)  Rick Schroder, Victoria Pratt, Steven Grayhm, Mike Dopud, Peter Fonda.....A 19th Century American heiress (Pratt) hires an anthropologist (American Schroder) to help her search for her husband who vanished in the wilds of Alaska looking for a legendary passage to a lost, subterranean world. Surprisingly, this TV movie sincerely tries to stay true to its chaste, old fashioned roots, as opposed to jazzing it up with modern-style flippancy, colloquialisms, and violence. It has nice scenery, some striking cinematography, director Scott is restrained (forgoing the camera tricks he used to over-use). The actors are capable, occasionally delivering nuanced performances (especially Pratt). Unfortunately, it's true to its 19th Century inspirations in that it's a bit...bland, with pleasant but uninteresting heroes and relationships, and an episodic plot that can seem a bit like a travelogue, with a third Act that seems rather perfunctory. Not to mention that for all the scenes that show some care in the writing and execution...there are others that seem shrugged off and illogical (just as a minor example, in an early scene Grayhm offends his fiancee by wanting to join the expedition -- and she storms off in a huff -- and then, seconds later, when told he can come, he runs off to tell her the "good" news). The result is more respectable than just a quickie TV movie hoping to cash in on a Hollywood movie (a big budget -- even less faithful -- version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth was also being released) without actually succeeding as a fun adventure. Though "based" on the Jules Verne novel, it only loosely resembles it (and, indeed, seems to cannibalize bits from other stories, like The Lost World and even Heart of Darkness) and is itself basically just a remake -- or a recycling -- of a 1999 version by the same writer (Baum) and executive producers (the ubiquitous Robert Halmi father & son)! sc; Thomas Baum, William Gray (from the novel by Jules Verne). dir: T.J. Scott. app. 90 min.
JOZI-H (TV Series)

(2006) (/South Africa)  * * *   Sarah Allen ("Jenny Langford"), Billoah Greene ("Greg Nash"), Tumisho Masho ("Zanemvula "Zane" Jara"), Neil McCarthy ("Michael Bellman"), Thami Ngubeni ("Ingrid Nyoka"), Vincent Walsh ("Russell Monsour"), with Ilanit Shapiro ("Dr. Elize "Lizzy" Hirsh"), Terrence Bridgitt ("Dr. Leonard September"), Moshidi Motshegwa ("Nurse Nomsa Mangena"), Louise Barnes ("Nurse Jocelyn Del Rossi"), Lindelani Buthelezi ("Dr. Nthato Moroka"), others.....Drama set at a rough and tumble Johannesburg, South Africa emergency room at Johannesburg Metropolitan Hospital, with its staff of both local and international personnel (including Allen and Walsh as a couple of Canadian doctors). 

TV series is basically just a riff on the hit U.S. series, "E.R." -- with its rapid fire pacing and multiple medical cases per episode, ranging from grim dilemmas, to quirky and light-hearted, mixed with on-going soap opera-y threads involving the various doctors and nurses -- but given a fresh patina by its "exotic" setting, and the new world/old world clashes inherent in a modern big city rubbing shoulders with thousand year old cultures. And it pulls it off fairly well. Yes, the mix of accents can sometimes test the ears, particularly when mixed with often confusing medical jargon typical of medical shows, and the pacing can almost be a little too brisk, sometimes rushing through plots that might benefit from a little more development -- a fact also true of the on-going character arcs, which can almost seem to jerk about a little too erratically (not to mention the fact that so many of the regulars have hidden secrets or traumatic backgrounds it can get a bit overdone). But all that serves the fact that this is meant to be unabashed, full octane entertainment. And it generally succeeds, whatever the flaws and roughness around the edges. The characters are generally effective and nicely shaded, so that even superficially unpleasant characters seem real and you can empathize with them. It also more convincingly evokes a medical establishment than a lot of medical dramas -- trust me. Although clearly more South African-driven than Canadian, it still emerges as one of the most engrossing Canadian series of 2006. Created by Mfundi Vundla. Hour long episodes on the CBC. 

The Judas Goat, a Spenser novel, was aired as Spenser: Judas Goat

A JUDGEMENT IN STONE a.k.a. The Housekeeper

Julia, a novel by Peter Straub, became the movie The Haunting of Julia which was also known as Full Circle.

JULIE AND ME  see Revoir Julie

THE JULY GROUP  * *  setting: Ont.
(1981) Ken Pogue, Nicholas Campbell, Chapelle Jaffe, Maury Chaykin, Tom Butler, Les Carlson, Calvin Butler.....Kidnapper's (led by psycho Campbell) take over a pacifistic family of Quakers and demand ransom, underestimating the determination of the latter. Made-for-CBC TV flick has some good ideas and isn't as repellent as you might think, but it never really takes off as a drama or a thriller. Performances vary (Chaykin comes off best). sc: Lister Sinclair (from the novel Stronghold ). dir: George McCowan.

JUNGLEGROUND  * * *  setting: USA.
(1996) Roddy Piper, Peter Williams, J.R. Bourne, Torri Higginson, Nicholas Campbell, Rachel Wilson, Christopher Kennedy, Jeff Wood......Cop (Piper) finds himself in a race for his life when caught in the 'bad' part of town by a street gang and its messianic leader (Bourne). Low-budget action flick is better than expected -- a lot better. Though set in modern times, there's a decidedly surreal, quasi-sci-fi ambience to it evoking post-Apocalyptic adventures like "Escape from New York". It's still a low-budget action flick, but it's fast-paced and Stokes actually wrote a real script with some good twists, lines, characterization and even, wonders of wonders, irony. Canadian-born ex-wrestler Piper is no worse than a lot of action movie stars (Van Damme, Schwarzenegger) and the rest of the cast is good including the likes of Victoria Snow, Jason Blicker and other respectable actors in bit parts (Campbell likewise just has a bit). sc: Michael Stokes. dir: Don Allan. - violence.- 87 min.

(2002-2003) (/U.S.)  * * *  Elizabeth Lackey ("Alexandra DeMonacco"),  Richard Thomas ("Hamilton Whitney"), Shaun Benson ("Patrick Heller"), with Khaira Ledeyo ("Peggy"), Roger C. Cross ("CJ Leon"), Mark Hildreth ("Kasslebaum").....Drama about an American law firm specializing more in civil litigation than the more traditional criminal cases of TV lawyer shows (though those cropped up, too). The heroine is an ex-convict (wrongly convicted) who works for the firm as an assistant and leg-woman; Thomas plays the slightly stuffy but canny head of the firm whose suppressed idealism is re-ignited by the heroine; and Benson (just fresh off another legal series, The Associates) a more mercenary lawyer, and ex-cop. Ledeyo plays the secretary; Hildreth the firm's private eye; and Cross the superintendent at the half-way house "Alex" lived at. Although each episode was self-contained, the on-going sub-plot had "Alex" trying to find her daughter, absconded with by her ex-husband when she was arrested. 

This enjoyable TV series obviously takes its cue from the hit movie, "Erin Brockovitch" (as well as, one can assume, other legal dramas like "A Civil Action"), with its story of a crusading firm taking on corruption and malfeasance in big business. The cast is appealing, particularly Australian-born Lackey (adopting an American accent) -- and looking a little like Katie Holmes' older sister -- and American actor Thomas who nicely anchors things, conveying a quiet dignity. Most of the other actors are Canadian. With its populist, little-guy-against-the-system attitudes, it's unlikely to find favour with the political right, but its social outrage seems genuine, without becoming bogged down too heavily in didactic diatribes (though the happy endings are, often, a tad convenient and simplistic at times). It's meant to be entertaining, compelling mystery-dramas first...but with a social conscience. Lacking the stylistic "edge" of, say, Da Vinci's Inquest or The Eleventh Hour, but arguably boasting more gut level sincerity, the series is enjoyable precisely for its lack of pretensions. If one were cynical, one might wonder whether its cancelation was brought about as much by its politics as any ratings shortcomings -- but only if one were cynical. Created by Gail Morgan Hickman, Jacqueline Zambrano. One season of hour long episodes (including a two-part opener), shown in Canada on The Women's Network.

JUST MY LUCK!  * 1/2  setting: Alt.
(1988) Gary Lloyd, Larry Messer, Bill Meilen, Karen Twa.....Scheming talent agent plans to pass off a nobody musician (Lloyd) as a superstar in order to bankrupt a night club. Low-budget, amateurish comedy doesn't quite make it even though everyone seems to be trying real hard. sc./dir: Donald C. Archbold.

JUSTICE  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1999) Julie Khaner, Gary Farmer, Stephane Archambault, Deanna Milligan, Sean McCann, Martha Burns, Greg Ellwand, Shawn Doyle.....Story of various characters at the Justice Department during a case involving the legality of Quebec separation, sort of dovetailing with a police investigation into some White Supremacist killings. Pretty dreadful CanWest-Global TV movie is too obviously what it is: a pilot for a series, with a rambling, fractured plot that's an excuse to introduce the various characters rather than functioning as a dramatic whole. Oblique scenes and dialogue mix with muddy sound (and a droning score by the Tragically Hip) to make much of the film incoherent...and then, when you can figure out what's going on, the story and the characters just aren't interesting. Even the legal stuff seems half-hearted. Undoubtedly well-intentioned, but annoyingly dumb in spots (like citing Israel as a monolithic society, or cop Farmer leaving his gun lying around the house when he's got kids). Still, a quintessential premise for a Canadian movie...a show about Constitutional Law! Despite bad reviews (mine isn't the only one, apparently) and dismal ratings, it was confirmed as a series for the 2000-2001 season! But apparently cooler heads prevailed, because it never manifested itself (there was some claim it morphed into the completely unconnected series, The Associates). sc: Alyson Feltes. dir: Richard J. Lewis. 95 min.

JUSTICE DENIED * * *  setting: N.S.
(1989) Billy Merasty, Thomas Peacocke, Peter MacNeill, Wayne Robson, J. Winston Carroll, Daniel MacIvor, Steve Marshall, Ron White.....True story of Micmac Donald Marshall Jr. (Merasty) who served eleven years in jail for a murder he didn't commit because of police bungling. Earnest, well-done docudrama is effectively true-to-life, but, as such, not as dramatic as it might be. Sometimes confusing, and some issues are only touched on (like whether racism played a part). Marshall's real-life parents play themselves, but Steve is no relation. sc./dir: Paul Cowan (from the book by Michael Harris). - violence.- app. 100 min.

(1991) Guido Piccone, Richard Niquette, Deano Clavet, Charles Royer, David Pomerleau, Roberta Giannotti.....Private eye (Piccone) finds his sister's family are the victims of a psycho who wants revenge against him. Tedious, weakly acted, cliche riddled suspenser (in which most scenes recap the previous scene) tries to pass itself off as a serious look at inadequacies in the judicial system. Piccone produced. This is French-language movie, and so should be listed under its French title, but I don't know what it it. sc./dir: Michel LaFlamme. - violence, sexual content, casual male nudity.- 82 min.

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