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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.
* * 1/2 setting: Man.
(2002) Troy Ruptash, Vincent Corazza, Lynda Boyd, Cherilee Taylor (a.k.a. Cherilee Garofano), Thom Allison.....Gay artist takes a job, incognito, at a little diner run by a husband-and-wife (Corazza and Taylor), hoping to find inspiration, but ends up having an affair with the, ostensibly, straight husband. Serio-comic drama is a mixed bag, veering all over (seeming more about AIDS and artistic inspiration than the relationship at times) with a mix of sharp, sassy dialogue...and some clunky, heavy handed lines. Writer/director Fraser seems most comfortable with his quirky gay and artist characters, but is more awkward with his, nominally, straight, middle class couple (which maybe affects the performances, with Ruptash, Boyd and Allison being stronger than Corazza and Taylor). A thematic thread involving Superman comics ("Metropolis" is Superman's home) has been, apparently, somewhat neutered from the original stage play (after grumbling from DC Comics), robbing it of some of its significance, and first time director Fraser still seems to be feeling his way with the medium (apparently erroneously assuming the audience will simply intuit things that aren't actually on the screen!) Energetic enough to be interesting, but not wholly successful. Taylor doffs her top a few times, presumably to emphasize this is aimed at everyone, including straight men. sc./dir: Brad Fraser (from his play, Poor Super Man). - sexual content; partial female and male nudity.- 88 min.
* * setting: USA/other
(2000) (/U.S.) Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Chelsea Noble, Clarence Gilyard, Janaya Stephens, Colin Fox, Gordon Currie, Daniel Pilon, Tony DeSantis, Jack Langedijk, Sten Eirik, Krista Bridges.....An American reporter's (Cameron) investigation of hints of a global conspiracy coincides with a chunk of the earthly population simply vanishing, leaving those left behind to suspect they are witnessing the coming of the Bible prophesied apocalypse. Christian sermonizing dressed up in a sci-fi conspiracy thriller -- really! Surprisingly, even for a secular audience the movie starts out pretty good, with a good cast (though Cameron looks a little young, and seems less convincing than others), and decent scripting and direction. But gets more uneven as the propaganda aspect becomes more overt and, even more, because the story doesn't really resolve (it's based on the first of a series of novels) making for an unsatisfying stand alone view. Nor is it even successful as preaching, since its Christian philosophizing is often vaguely presented. And since Bible prophesies are supposed to outline the future, the characters can't really alter them, making for wishy-washy drama. Should appeal to Fundamentalist and Orthodox Christians, but to moderates, atheists, and those of other faiths, it peters out. More off-putting than the Christian dogma is the (perception) of right-wing rhetoric, with the villains (or at least the well meaning dupes of the anti-Christ) represented by the United Nations, peaceniks, philanthropists, and, of course, Jews -- in fact, the movie's oft-used phrase "International Banker" (applied to some of the villains) is, apparently in some ultra right circles, a euphemism for Jew. One would like to believe most of those involved in the making of this film were unaware of that. Followed by a sequel (Left Behind: Tribulation Force) and a possible series. The four top-billed actors are all American. sc: Alan McElroy, Paul Lalonde, Joe Goodman (from the novel, the author of which is uncredited here). dir: Vic Sarin. 100 min.
THE LEGEND OF EARTHSEA a.k.a. Earthsea
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
* * setting: USA.
(1999) (/U.S.) Brent Carver, Rachelle Lefevre, Paul Lemelin, Vlasta Vrana, Kathleen Fee, Richard Jutras.....Period story of a prim and pompous school teacher, Ichabod Crane (Carver), who arrives in a small American town and sets about to woo the daughter (Lefevre) of a wealthy land owner while hearing tales of a ghostly Headless Horseman. Made-for-TV adaptation of the famous story is, arguably, the most faithful version put to film. Unlike, say, the contemporaneously released theatrical film, "Sleepy Hollow" (which was the story in title only), this stays generally true to the tone, scenes, flavour, and intent of the story (save the obligatory last act attempt to suggest there really is something supernatural at work). And those unfamiliar with the story might be a bit surprised -- like the fact that Ichabod is a connivinng cad and isn't supposed to be likeable. As such, it's hard to fault those involved (Carver, inparticular, delivers a great, enthusiastic performance) so much as the material itself just may not have aged well, peopled by basically unlikeable characters -- nor maybe does a short story lend itselff to a feature length adaptation. The result is admirable in a "Classics Illustrated" way...but kind of dull and uninvolving. sc: Joe Wiesenfeld (from the story by Washington Irving). dir: Pierre Gang.
LEGEND OF THE RUBY SILVER
(1996) (/U.S.) John Schneider, Rebecca Jenkins, Jonathan Jackson, Bruce Weitz.....A hustling dreamer (Schneider), a widow and her teen-aged son (Jenkins and Jackson) and a crusty old miner (Weitz) head off together to work an abandoned silver mine. Made-for-TV pic has a good cast and nice scenery, but not too funny, not too serious, it's ultimately a bit bland and ill-defined: the movie is essentially about the relationship between Jackson and Weitz, but you wouldn't really know it for most of the film. Curiously, this movie aired only a couple of weeks after Rugged Gold -- another Canadian TV movie about a man, a widow and her son, and a crusty miner. sc: Pete White. dir: Charles Wilkinson. 92 min.
LEGENDS OF THE NORTH *
1/2 setting: Yuk.
(1994) (/France) Georges Corraface, Randy Quaid, Macha Grenon, Sandrine Holt, Serge Houde, John Dunn-Hill, Billy Merasty.....A French gentleman and his rougish guide (Corraface and Quaid) go in search of Yukon gold in the 1800s and encounter a tribe of Indians ruled by a white man. What could go wrong with this entry in the Tales of the Wild series: a comedy-drama promising old fashion epic adventure? How about a middling script, flat direction, endless scenes of people walking, and so-so performances. Though Corraface isn't bad, Quaid is largely ineffective. However, the characters (with different actors) were obviously deemed worthy of their own series of films under the title The Adventures of Smoke Belliou. sc: Robert Geoffrion (from the novel Smoke Bellew by Jack London). dir: Rene Manzor. 95 min.
LEN DEIGHTON'S BULLET TO BEIJING a.k.a. Bullet to Beijing
LEN DEIGHTON'S MIDNIGHT IN SAINT PETERSBURG a.k.a. Midnight in Saint Petersburg
* * setting: P.Q.
(1992) (/France) Maxime Collin, Ginette Reno, Julien Guiomar, Pierre Bourgault, Giuditta Del Vecchio, Yves Montmarquette, voice of Gilbert Sicotte.....Story of a young French-Canadian boy, Leo (Collin), who escapes for his troubled and unstable family through his writings. Strange, highly original dream-like film jumps around in time and plays with reality. Visually striking, moody and haunting, but it never quite becomes more than a collection of unconnected scenes. Though with scenes of masturbation, defecation, beastiality and insanity it's definitely not for those easily shocked...yet neither is it as offensive as it might sound. Elements of the story were taken from Lauzon's own childhood. That's filmmaker Denys Arcand as the guidance counsellor. Won 3 Genies including Best Script. sc./dir: Jean-Claude Lauzon. - sexual content, partial female nudity.- 1108 min.
LEOPARD IN THE SNOW
* * setting: other
(1977) (/U.K.) Keir Dullea, Susan Penhaligon, Jeremy Kemp, Kenneth More, Billie Whitelaw, Gordon Thomson.....Stranded in the middle of nowhere during an English blizzard, a young woman (Penhaligon) finds herself the guest of an embittered, American recluse (Dullea) and his butler (Kemp). Romantic drama starts out fine: mildly intriguing (in a Bronte-esque sort of way) and decently acted (exceptionally so by the supporting cast, especially Kemp) but it runs out of steam (and questions) literally halfway through, becoming, not terrible, but just kind of dull. The title comes from the guy's habit of keeping a pet leopard. This was the first film made by the Harlequin Publishing house; subsequent attempts (see Harlequin and Shades of Love) would be Made-for-TV. sc: Anne Mather, Jill Hyem (from Mather's novel). dir: Gerry O'Hara. 91 min.
LESLIE, MY NAME IS EVIL
* * setting: USA
(2009) Kristen Hager, Gregory Smith, Ryan Robbins, Peter Keleghan, Kristin Adams, Kaniehtiio Horn, Anjelica Scannura, Sarah Gadon, Travis Milne, Tom Barnett, Peter MacNeill, Don McKellar.....1960s-era Americana telling parallel stories of a troubled girl (Hager) who gets drawn into a psychotic cult, and a straight-laced young man (Smith) who ends up on the jury when she is tried for murder. Ambitious, audacious, flick attempts to dramatize the notorious Manson Family murderous cult, but as part of a look at the broader era...even, provocatively, asking where's the separation between murderous criminals...and the state sanctioned murder of war? And instead of a straight docudrama, it's an episodic mix of drama, and satire, and camp parody, at times genuinely evoking its era of counter culture cinema (with an evocative soundtrack), at other times employing pastel hues and stagey sets to parody a kind of "Leave it to Beaver" reality. For the first half, it holds your attention enough...but runs out of steam, and things to say, half way through (when it becomes largely a courtroom drama). And the whole lacks discipline, or a clear vision (maybe the lack of a credited writer is telling), being pulled in so many directions at once (comedy, drama, homage, parody). Even whether it's supposed to be a "true story", or simply inspired by events, is vague (the promotional material emphasizes it's about the Charles Manson cult...but in the movie itself, full names are never used). Heck, the fact that the title is lifted from the title song (by The Pink Mountaintops), but the lyrics are actually "my name is Eva" makes you wonder if the filmmakers were indulging in a few chemical stimulants themselves! Robbins is exceptionally good as the cult leader. And gets marks for its all-Canadian cast, implying it's aiming to be a "real" movie as opposed to just some quickie programmer headlining a minor Hollywood star. sc: uncredited. dir: Reginald Harkema. - violence; sexual content; female nudity, partial male nudity.- 84 min.
From the stylish opening credits (and the whimsically melancholy theme song -- "One Great City" by the Weakerthans) this slick series starts out nicely sure-footed and comfortable in its skin (unlike some Canadian series, which are shy about their "Canadianness", this embraces the Winnipeg location as, in a sense, a character in its own right) -- and could almost be seen as "what if Mordecai Richler had turned his hand to a coming-of-age sitcom?" (albeit with more warmth and empathy than Richler might employ). The humour veers from wryly low-key (the high school is named after Kim Campbell...one of Canada's shortest serving prime ministers!) to laugh-out-loud, from tritely familiar (the teen-age schlemiel initially with the crush on the unattainable pretty girl) to quirky and eccentric, from traditional family sitcom material to more coarser four-letter word stuff (perhaps explaining its shift from City TV to HBO Canada), with lots of bickering and infighting...yet underscored by a genuine warmth and affection. Good performances all around, anchored by Camacho's sympathetic protagonist (and Palsson's a definite scene stealer!). Veteran Chaykin was brilliant...but sadly passed away during the series, a fact incorporated into the narrative. Definitely worth a look. Created by Marvin Kaye, Chris Sheasgreen. Half hour episodes -- the first season on City TV, the later ones on HBO Canada.
* * setting: USA.
(1995) Jeff Fahey, Kim Coates, Carrie Anne Moss, Gary Busey, Denis Akiyama, David Mucci, Karen Dwyer.....Thungs (led by Coates) take over a Chicago water filtration plant with a cop (Fahey) inside. One of a zillion Canadian-made straight-to-video action movies taking its inspiration from "Die Hard". But too much of it is just taken up with the villains as a bunch of sadistic psychopaths tormenting people, while Fahey and Moss (as the nominal heroes) seem more like supporting players, accomplishing very little. A good rule of thumb: if the villains seem to get more scenes and lines than the heroes, it's time for a rewrite. sc: Tony Johnston. dir: John Bradshaw. - violence.- 93 min.
LETTER FROM WINGFIELD FARM
* * * setting: Ont.
(1991) Rod Beattie.....One man show about a stock broker (Beattie) who decides to shuck it all for a small town farm where he encounters various eccentric neighbours (also Beattie) and relates his misadventures in weekly letters to the local paper. Filmed versions of live performances are often hurt by the incompatibility of the two mediums of TV and and stage: not so here. Delightfully amusing record of the succesful play (the first of a series) with a crackerjack performance from Beattie. Much later, it was turned into a weekly TV series. sc: The play by Dan Needles. dir. for stage: Douglas Beattie. dir. for TV: Alan Erlich. 93 min.
LEXX: The Dark Zone Stories (1997) (/Germany/U.S.) Brian Downey, Eva Habermann, Michael McManus, Jeffrey Hirschfield.....Four science fiction TV movies, black comedy-dramas (pilots for the series) about a group of misfits fleeing an evil galactic dictator in the Lexx, a stolen state-of-the-art starship that takes then into the Dark Zone, a parallel universe. The heroes: Stanley Tweedle (Downey), a whiney, ex-security guard in the evil empire until a bureaucratic whim made him an outlaw; Zev (Habermann) a woman transformed into a beautiful sex slave, only with a warrior's personality; the sombre Kai (McManus) an animated corpse, the last of the Brunnen-G, who prophesy foretold would destroy the evil dictator; and 790 (Hirschfield), a robot head hopelessly in love with Zev because he accidentally got the love-slave personality meant for her. Tom Gallant provided the voice of the Lexx.
Co-producer/co-scripter Donovan was quoted as saying their goal was to make the most violent things ever made for TV, and they probably succeeded -- unfortunately, there's a lot more to storytelling than that. The stars struggled earnestly with the material but, with one notable exception (see the individual movie reviews below), were let down by the scripts. A shame, too, because, unusual for a Canadian co-production, the leads were actually Canadian (and not expatriates) and German, and there was nary an American flag in sight -- in other words, unlike just about every other "Canadian" produced SF/fantasy project, this had guts enough to go it without kowtowing to an American-centric fetish (and they had U.S. funding, indicating the Americans obviously didn't mind). As well, the films boasted wall-to-wall state-of-the-art f/x (by Toronto-based C.O.R.E. Digital Effects), and some imaginative ideas and images (even if there was a tendency to imbue many of the sets and props with a human genitalia motif) but, for the most part, the stories and dialogue seemed as though written by drunken University students -- and not very talented ones at that. An almost criminal waste of potential (particularly when compared to the tepid, unimaginative Canadian-made SF/fantasy like The Adventures of Sinbad, Earth: Final Conflict and so many others). Someone needs to sit Donovan (Paint Cans, A Switch in Time) down and explain to him that he just ain't funny!
Each film featured an imported Hollywood actor but, with the exception of Lexx 3.0, they were in curiously small parts and often playing most of their scenes removed from the other actors. All scripts were written by Paul Donovan, Jeffrey Hirschfield, Lex Gigeroff. In the States it was called Tales From a Parallel Universe. Shown originally as four TV movies, it was subsequently broken up into eight, hour-long episodes of the TV series (reviewed below). The individual movies are reviewed as follows:
LEXX 1: I Worship His Shadow * 1/2.....guest stars: Ellen Dubin, Barry Bostwick.....The first film takes so long, so very very long, just establishing its premise and introducing its characters that you wonder how they'll have time to work in a story -- then you realize: they don't have a story per se, it's all just establishing the background. Gets marks for imaginative ideas and images, though it's more than a little reminiscent of the old 1970s-1980s "Micronauts" comic book. dir: Paul Donovan. - extreme violence.- 93 min.
LEXX 2.0: Super Nova * 1/2.....guest stars: Ellen Dubin, Tim Curry.....Our heroes search for the planet of Kai's ancestors hoping they might have the technology to bring him back to life, only to find it deserted and themselves at the mercy of both a renegade computer program (Curry) and the machinations of the Shadow brains in Lexx's storage who're in league with the (annoying) cannibal (Dubin). Even worse than the first movie, partly because there's a greater emphasis on "comedy" in the first part. The highlight is Habermann's shower scene about 15 or 20 minutes into it (the only nudity in these supposedly sexy movies...and it was cut when the movies were broken up into eight, hour-long episodes), but then we have to get back to the plot -- what little there is of it. dir: Ron Oliver. - extreme violence, partial female nudity (almost full nudity.)- 93 min.
LEXX 3.O: Eating Pattern * * *.....guest stars: Rutger Hauer, Doreen Jacobi.....Needing to refuel the Lexx, our heroes land on a seemingly deserted planet, a galactic garbage dump -- only to find it inhabited and with a sinister secret. Wow, did I judge too soon? This entry is actually pretty good thanks to a better plot (thanks to a plot, period!) that's focused and fast-paced with a few twists, good performances from the leads and guest stars Hauer (in an atypical performance) and Jacobi, and a better integration of the humour with the story. Still doesn't work as the comedy the filmmakers probably intended, but as a quirky, occasionally amusing suspense/horror flick it scores nicely. Violent and grisly (albeit in a glib almost tongue-in-cheek way) so be warned. dir: Rainer Matsutani. - extreme violence.- 93 min.
LEXX 4.O: Giga Shadow
* *.....guest stars: Malcolm McDowell, Michael Habeck, Andy Jones.....After
lo-ong debate our heroes return to their universe to find the proto-blood
needed to keep Kai alive, only to discover everyone's been ritually murdered
to pave the way for the coming of the ominously named Giga Shadow; and
Stanley encounters some sadists (Habeck and Jones) who abused him years
before (in a "comic" sub-plot). Fourth and last film is back to form
with a thin, meandering story (the movie's almost half over before the
gang decide to do anything!), humour that ranges from unfunny to appalling,
plus some awkward direction in some of the action scenes. Improves
slightly midway through, and some of the (dramatic) scenes between Habermann
and McManus aren't too bad, boosting its rating just a little. But
like 1 & 2, it's a waste of potential. Followed by the TV
series. dir: Robert Sigl. - extreme violence.- 93 min.
(1998-2002) (/Germany/U.K.) * * Brian Downey ("Stanley Tweedle"), Xenia Seeberg ("Xev") (2nd-), Eva Habermann ("Zev") (1st), Michael McManus ("Kai"), with Jeffrey Hirschfield ("790), Tom Gallant (voice of the Lexx), Nigel Bennett ("Prince") (3rd-).....Science fiction/suspense/comedy about a gang of misfits tooling around a dark, decadent galaxy in their giant, semi-sentient spaceship, the Lexx. Downey plays a whiney nebbish who, by accident, was the only one who could control the Lexx, making him, by default, the captain. Habermann, replaced by Seeberg a couple of episodes into the on-going series, plays a woman with a warrior's personality with a sex slaves' libido (due to another accident where she was merged with a cluster lizard) -- though, in essence, she is the level-headed, normal one; both actresses were attractive (at least once Seeberg dumped that awful wig she wore in her inaugural season). McManus is the sombre Kai, a living-dead warrior and the last of the Brunnen-G, as well as the series' Fonzie, called upon to save the day most episodes (and McManus was an instant heart-throb among female viewers, quirky hair notwithstanding); Hirschfield plays a disembodied robot head, originally infatuated with "Zev", but hating "Stanley"; subsequently his erotic infatuation shifted to "Kai"! Bennett cropped up as, basically, the Devil. The first season was just comprised of eight episodes edited from the four original TV movies. Subsequent seasons featured new episodes and usually formed their own story arcs, with the third season the most audacious as the characters become embroiled in a strange conflict between a water world and a desert world that they realize are, literally, Heaven and Hell. The final season had the characters arriving on earth.
What's frustrating about this, sometimes interminable, series, is that with its off-beat characters, unique production design, and special effects easily on a par with any U.S. TV series, it becomes an almost criminal waste of an opportunity to create something great. Still, it should be noted that the series has developed a cult following, so my negative opinion must be considered in that light.
Unfortunately, the series rarely rises above its sophomoric, snickering-over-a- beer-in-the-college-dorm mentality. The somnambulent, often rambling plots seem like the writers came up with ideas for half hour episodes, then strrrrretched them out to an hour (thanks in large part to apathetic characters who never seem to want to do anything...even when a crisis was obvious). And the series' eagerness to be nihilistic at times clashed with other episodes which genuinely wanted to deal with the humanity of its characters. It was billed as being action, horror, comedy and sexy -- but the comedy was rarely funny, and the sex, despite Seeberg being hyped as a sex symbol, seemed decidedly of a homoerotic/s&m/"Mad Max" nature (which might be a good thing, I suppose, depending on your point of view). It wasn't clear though, whether creator Paul Donovan and company considered -- say -- scenes of 790 being raped as something that fell under the heading of "comedy" or "sexy" (and I'm not sure I want to know). Some good performances are wasted, particularly from Downey and McManus. However, occasionally, when the series underplayed (what it thought was) humour, and emphasized plot and story and some audacious ideas, you could catch a glimpse on some genuine potential (such as in the moderately exciting episode, "Battle", in which the characters become involved in a fight-and-flight using passenger-balloons). And the melancholic Brunnen-G battle hymn, used as the intro to the series' theme, was oddly affecting. Although the series was constantly emphasized as sexy, and pushing the envelope, actual nudity seemed rare (Habermann's shower scene in the original movies was even edited when shown as an episode of the series) though there were occasional episodes with nudity (such as "Boomtown"). With its emphasis on violence, brutality and just plain grunginess, it's not suited to sensitive viewers. Best bets: "Brigadoom", an unusual musical episode in which the characters learn the history of Kai's people (and, as such, an episode where the main plot is largely removed from the series overall). 65 hour long episodes (including the 8 derived from the TV movies) show in Canada on Space and in syndication. - extreme violence, sometimes partial nudity.-
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