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.

LIAR'S EDGE   * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1992) David Keith, Shannon Tweed, Joseph Bottoms, Nicholas Shields, Kathleen Robertson, Christopher Plummer.....Teen (Shields), scarred by his daredevil father's death and given to hallucinations, may or may not have witnessed a murder.  Decently acted but smarmy suspenser starts out really slow, then deteriorates deeper into sleaze and gratuitous violence, lacking interesting characters or much of a plot.  Nice use of Niagara Falls locales.  sc./dir: Ron Oliver. - extreme violence, sexual content, brief male nudity.- 105 min. (video)

LIAR LIAR   * * 1/2  setting: B.C.
(1993) Art Hindle, Vanessa King, Rosemary Dunsmore, Kate Nelligan, Susan Hogan, Michelle St. John, Janne Mortil, Ashley Rogers, Philip Akin.....Young girl (King), prone to lying, accuses her father (Hindle) of sexual abuse, which he denies.  As the case goes to court, the question is: who's lying?  Competent, jarringly graphic (and therefore, arguably, insensitive) made-for-CBC TV film has some good scenes but suffers because it's too cold and clinical, never getting inside anyone's head.  Manipulative, too, presenting many of the characters in black and white (good people believe one character, bad people believe the other) making it unsettling, but not always for the right reasons.  Ultimately more of an intellectual excercise than a human drama.  sc: N.J. (Jane) Isaak. dir: Jorge Montesi. app. 93 min. (video)

(2002) (/Germany/U.S.) Linda Fiorentino, Wesley Snipes, Oliver Platt, Martin Cummins, Hart Bochner, Jonathan Scarfe, Ian Tracey, Brian Markinson, Jeff Seymour, Roger R. Cross, Tanya Allen.....American arms manufacturer executive (Fiorentino) is held hostage at long distance in the middle of a busy park by a sniper (Snipes) with an agenda. A respectable cast in this seeming well intentioned stab at a socio-political tinged suspense flick. Starts out promising, but quickly just starts to drag, not really succeeding as a thriller, nor as a polemic (it's hard to even be sure what the point is, given that Snipes' actions are so reprehensible). Too bad. And did I just misunderstand the dialogue, or did the filmmaker not seem to realize that Tiananmen Square ended tragically in a massacre? Despite the best of intentions, the most interesting things about it are Fiorentino's cleavage (and which seems to vary from shot to shot) and the fact that this came out before "The Phone Booth" -- the Hollywood film about a man held in one spot by a sniper, which also wanted to be as much a morality tale as a thriller. U.S. actors Fiorentino, Snipes and Platt (as her morally ambiguous husband) are most of the show, with the Canadians in relatively small, thankless parts. sc./dir: Kari Skogland. - violence.- 96 min. (video)


(1995-1996)   * * 1/2  Joel Bissonette ("Mack Fischer") (1st), Kimberly Huie ("Janet Beecher"), Melissa Daniel ("Christine"), Henriette Ivanans ("Annie Hammer"), Jhene Erwin ("Teena") (1st), Katherine Ashby ("Lucille"), Richard Zeppier ("Ernie"), Dean Paras ("Stuart"), L. Dean Iffil ("Wade Malone"), Marcia Laskowski ("Marsha"), Billy Merasty ("Nathan Jones"), Pat Mastroianni ("Frank Pagnozzi"), Reiner Schwarz ("'Drive Home' Dave").....Drama about various twentysomethings living in an apartment building called 'The Pit'.  Bissonette played the reformed junkie handyman; Huie a single mom studying law and Daniel, her daughter; etc.  Mastroianni played the upwardly mobile manager and Schwartz his uncle, a sleazy D.J. who owned the building.

This TV series started out as the campy TV movie X-rated, but after that film received generally bad reviews, went for a more realistic, understated style when it became a series, keeping some actors and re-casting others.  Now, you may ask, if it needed such a major overhaul, why did it get the go-ahead to be a series?  Answer: hey, this is Canada folks!  Slick, likeable and mildly entertaining, with a good cast (particularly Bissonette, who was largely the show's heart and soul...but he was gone by the 2nd season) but the series was rarely what you'd call...gripping.  Created by Linda Schuyler (of Degrassi fame).  Theme song by the Cowboy Junkies.  Two seasons of half-hour episodes (about 24) on the CBC. 

LIE WITH ME  * 1/2
(2005) Lauren Lee Miller, Eric Balfour, Polly Shannon, Ron White, Kate Lynch, Don Francks, Kristin Lehman.....A young woman (Miller), who glides from one night stand to one night stand, begins an affair with a man (American Balfour) but isn't sure how to react when it threatens to become more than just a meaningless sexual relationship. Take an ex-super powered mutant, one American perpetually supporting actor, add a visually lyrical but sometimes narratively challenged director, and get them to make one of those movies which is intended to shock and provoke with its sexually graphic love scenes (from "Last Tango in Paris" to "9 Songs") -- and what do you get? A moody film that does, indeed, manage some eroticism, at least at first, but starts to drag as the not altogether fathomable, underwritten characters never really make us care about them...or understand their motives. Superficially effective performances, but even then... (Miller plays most of her scenes as if her character is perpetually stoned). Yet another Canadian movie that assembles a respectable supporting cast...then wastes them in nothing parts, often with only a handful of lines! Yes, that is Mayko Nguyen standing beside Shannon during some of the rave scenes. There's plenty of nudity from the two leads, explicit sex, and heavy breathing, delivered with sumptuous atmosphere, so on that level, it's fine. But it wants to be more, and that's where it seems more, um, impotent. sc: Tamara Faith Berger, Clement Virgo (from Berger's novel). dir: Clement Virgo. - male and female nudity, explict sexual content.- 92 min.

LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME   * * *  setting: P.Q.
(1975) Yossi Yadin, Len Birman, Marilyn Lightstone, Jeffrey Lynas, Ted Allan.....Story of a young boy (Lynas) in the '20s who adores his ragman grandfather (Yadin), much to the chagrin of his father (Birman), an unscrupulous, would-be inventor with get-rich-quick schemes.  Engaging serio-comic film which, despite the run-into-the-ground "growing up" genre, manages to be fairly fresh with a good sense of time and place.  Though some scenes are a little over the top.  Won the Best Picture Etrog.  sc: Ted Allan. dir: Jan Kadar. - brief female nudity, sexual content.- 102 min. (video)

THE LIFE  * *  setting: B.C.
(2004) Bruce Greenwood, Brian Markinson, Alisen Down, Nancy Sivak, Duncan Fraser, Terry Chen, Ian Tracey, John Cassini, Katharine Isabelle, Nicholas Campbell.....Day-to-day life of a couple of compassionate inner city Vancouver beat cops (Greenwood and Markinson) and the various junkies they're trying to help; and how the cops decide to make a video record of the junkies' lives. Earnest, undoubtedly well intentioned made-for-CTV flick...but, ultimately, it ain't really a movie. Too little in the way of a consistent plot/narrative, or character development, as though the filmmakers kind of just wanted to do a documentary, but thought it'd be easier to do it with actors and a script. But despite a decent cast (Down is particularly good as one of the junkies) it never evokes that neo-realism that some of the NFB docudramas of the 1980s managed. Made by some of the people behind the CBC's DaVinci's Inquest, and good intentions aside, it's not convincing enough to be a pseudo-documentary, nor fictional enough to be good drama. And since the film is based on the real life documentary, Through a Blue Lense, one might ask: what's the point of doing a fictional docudrama essentially recreating a real documentary? Received the Best Script Gemini. sc: Alan Di Fiore, Chris Haddock. dir: Lynn Stopkewich. 91 min.

LIFE AFTER LOVE  see Vie apres l'amour

(2005) Matt Murphy, Natalie Radford, Kris Kristofferson, Donnie Fritts, Phil Kaufman, Jordan Prentice, Lyriq Bent, Merle Haggard.....Faux-documentary chronicling the short career of a fictional Bob Dylan-esque early '70s Canadian country-rock legend (Murphy). Surprisingly authentic-seeming mockumentary isn't quite an out-and-out spoof ala "This is Spinal Tap" in that, though funny, and sometimes absurdly so, there are also aspects that function more straight. And with interviews with real life celebrities (including Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm, Blue Rodeo) reflecting on Guy, there's also an aspect of a real documentary (when Kristofferson reflects on his first time playing before a huge audience, one assumes he really is speaking from the heart, or when Hawkins repeats what he supposedly told Guy about life on the road...that really is what Hawkins is supposed to have said to members of The Band). The result may be a film that kind of evolved in mid-production, but is ultimately both an amusing satire and a nostalgia-tinged look back at a fertile-if-tumultuous time in musical culture -- think of it as one part parody and one part paean, with a refreshingly Canadian twist. Surprisingly convincing performances from the ostensible non-actor interviewees (you might not even realize that Guy's supposed manager, Phil Kaufman...isn't an actor, but a real manager), and helped by the fact that Murphy is a real musician, lending credibility to the concert and recording scenes. Some effectively Dylan-esque tunes (often only heard in snippets) add to the illusion. Though some of the actors, like Radford as his wife, aren't sufficiently made up in the contemporary interview scenes to quite convince you they're supposed to be in their 50s! sc./dir: Michael Mabbott. 86 min.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EDWIN ALONZO BOYD   * * *  setting: CDN. (1982).....Gordon Pinsent hosts this documentary on the notorious fifties bank robber, and plays him in monologue sequences.  Good little made-for-TV film is helped by its fascinating subject matter.  Pinsent is almost better playing Boyd than himself.  Years later, Boyd's story was re-told as a full-out big screen dramatization as Edwin Boyd. sc: Les Rose, Barry Pearson (from the book The Boyd Gang by M. Lamb and B. Pearson). dir: Les Rose.

THE LIFE BEFORE THIS* *  setting: Ont.
(1999) Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pantoliano, Sarah Polley, Stephen Rea, Emily Hampshire, Alison Pill, David Hewlett, Jacob Tierney, Jennifer Dale, Bernard Behrens, Fabrizio Filippo, Martha Burns, Joel Keller, Leslie Hope, Alberta Watson.....A shoot out at a coffee shop leaves many innocent bystanders dead; then the movie jumps back in time, showing the day's events that led various characters to be there. Except the shoot out is (slightly) different at the end of the film than it is at the beginning, presumably demonstrating the movie's oft repeated idea of how random life can be...except we don't know in what specific ways the characters' actions over the course of the film -- leading to the shoot out at the end -- diverge from what they did that led to the shoot out at the beginning. You following all that? Sort of interesting concept, and arguably well intentioned and even cathartic (coming a few years after a well-publicized shooting at a Toronto coffee shop), and it boasts some good scenes. But overall, it's slow moving and cuts between some only mildly interesting stories to some, frankly, kind of dull stories, diffusing whatever momentum it has. Nothing really goes anywhere or resolves, nor is it clear what events impact on what (like why characters do things differently to make the beginning "end" and the end "end" different). A movie where they had a concept...but not necessarily an idea what to do with it. Dale appears unbilled. sc: Semi Chellas. dir: Jerry Ciccoritti. 91 min. (video)

LIFE CLASSES  * * 1/2  setting: N.S.
(1987) Jacinta Cormier, Leon Dubinsky, Frances Knickle, Mary Izzard, Jill Chatt.....Pregnant woman (Cormier) leaves her home town for the big city, has the kid, then trys to earn a living as a model for an art class where she begins to stretch her own artistic skills.  Watchable but a somewhat muddled little drama, hurt by huge time jumps.  So-so performances, though Dubinsky is good.  sc./dir: Willaim D. MacGillivray. - female and male nudity.- 117 min.

THE LIFE OF CHARLES PATHE see Voila le cinema

LIFE WITH BILLY  * * 1/2  setting: N.S.
(1993) Stephen McHattie, Nancy Beatty, Ted Dykstra, Matthew Ferguson, Nancy Marshall, Andy Jones, Hollis McLaren.....True story of Jane Hurshman (Beatty) who killed her husband (McHattie) while he slept after years of physical and emotional abuse.  Restrained handling of a potentially sensationalistic subject in this undoubtedly well-intentioned made-for-CBC TV drama.  But films like this are difficult to rate: not entertainment, but neither does it offer any insights beyond what you could read in an article...and if you need a feature-length recreation to understand the horrors of domestic violence (and torture) then it's questionable whether you'll ever get it.  It received Geminis for Best Actress (Beatty), Actor (McHattie) and Director.  sc: John Frizzell, Judith Thompson (from the book by Brian Vallee). dir: Paul Donovan. - violence.- 100 min.

LIFELINE TO VICTORY   * *  setting: CDN./other
(1993) Michael Riley, Simon Reynolds, Michael Hogan, Henry Czerny, Robyn Stevan, David Hemblen, Elizabeth Marmur, Adrian Hough.....A run-down Canadian ship and her untried crew must escort supply vessels through the Atlantic and past German subs during W.W. II.  Respectable cast and (for Canada) unusual subject matter, but this made-for-Global TV film never becomes more than a history lesson.  Attempts at characterization, plot and suspense have the right idea, but don't go far enough.  A movie that isn't willing to be a movie!  sc: Tony Sheer (partly inspired by the book The Sea is at Our Gates by Tony German). dir: Eric Till. app. 91 min. (video)

LIGHTHOUSE  * * 1/2  setting: B.C.
(1991) Deborah Wakeham, Ryan Michael, Stephen E. Miller.....Couple whose relationship is in trouble (Wakeham and Michael) rent a house on a deserted island, where they are watched and hear ghostly voices.  Standard gothic suspense-drama is well-done but unexceptional.  An O.K. time waster.  sc: Boon Collins with Stanley Park, Dan Vining, Deborah Wakeham (story Daniel D. Williams). dir: Paul Tucker. - sexual content, brief female nudity.- 90 min.

(1991) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Wings Hauser ("Matthew Alan Coltrane"), David Stratton ("Winston Chruchill Staples"), Guylaine St. Onge ("Marie Joan Jacquard"), Marc Gomes ("Zaid Abdul-Rahmad").....Action-thriller about an elite, multinational strike-team called in for various missions (despite the military fatigues, the stories ranged from the to-be-expected action plots -- infiltrating a neo-Nazi compound, etc. -- to more investigative stories -- looking into mysterious deaths at a research base, etc.). Unusual, this multi-national team really was supposed to be multi-national: Hauser played an American, Stratton a Canadian (that's right, a Canadian series that actually had a Canadian character!), St. Onge a Frenchwoman, and Gomes, in the series' most atypical move, played an Islamic Egyptian. And the characters were treated as equals!

Not, perhaps, a great series, nonetheless this was surprisingly...O.K. A good cast (headed by American actor Hauser, with everyone else Canadian) supported by decent badinage and stories that, though rushed for the half-hour, even tried to be thoughtful. Much better than the higher profile Counterstrike. One season of half-hour episodes in syndication.

LA LIGNE DE CHALEUR * * 1/2  setting: P.Q./USA.
(1988) Gabriel Arcand, Simon Gonzalez, Gerard Parkes, Charlotte Boisjoli, Gerard Poirier.....Troubled man (Arcand) takes his young son (Gonzalez) with him to Florida to pick up his dead father's body, and their already cool relationship becomes even more strained.  Interesting, moody, well-acted but somewhat pointless drama.  English title: The Heat Line.  sc: Micheline Lanctot, Hubert-Yves Rose. dir: Hubert-Yves Rose. 95 min.

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