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.
 
 
MR. D (TV Series)

(2012-)  * 1/2   Gerry Dee ("Mr. D."), Jonathan Torrens ("Robert Cheeley"), Lauren Hammersley ("Lisa Mason"), Booth Savage ("Principal Callaghan"), Bette MacDonald ("Trudy Walsh"), Naomi Snieckus ("Bobbi"), Darrin Rose ("Bill"), Mark Little ("Simon Hunt"), Wes Williams ("Paul Dwyer"), Mark Forward ("Mr. Leung").....Comedy centred around an arrogant and obtusely narcissistic private school teacher (Dee), oblivious to the fact that he's an idiot. The rest of the cast play various school workers (save Rose as his best friend, a tavern owner). Torrens plays the obnoxious vice-principal (essentially "Mr. D" a few years down the line), Hammersley the pretty, well-intentioned teacher, etc. Presumably set in Canada, though it was a kind of "soft" Canadiana -- most of the topical references were American.

This TV series joins the list of "realist" comedies (ie: no laugh track, and shot more like a drama) and specifically the Rick Gervais-type satire series (or Chris Lilley). That genre can be a sly, wry, if sometimes uncomfortable form of comedy (what I label cringe comedy)...or it can misfire terribly. This series blasted out of the gate with impressive ratings (Dee himself a veteran stand up comic with a following) so clearly it has its fans. The other side, though, is to say it's painful effort that can literally sap your will to live! To be fair, as the episodes progressed it could muster the occasional, almost-chuckle -- occasionally. But mostly not. The problem is the lead character is basically a cross between Michael Scott from "The Office" and Sue Sylvester from "Glee"...only with even less charm. Presumably the point is that he's a kind of big kid himself, but there just isn't a lot of humour in watching an adult teacher verbally belittle and demean the kids in his charge (even if other scenes have him try to act avuncular) -- or in having him act like an idiot and simply watching others react to him as though he's, well, an idiot. The further problem is that instead of him being the anti-hero surrounded by a mostly likeable crowd (ala The Office)...most of the other characters aren't particularly likeable themselves (maybe the thinking is it would make him more the "underdog"...but all it does is make a series populated by unlikeable characters -- though, like with Mr. D himself, there may've been a bit of an attempt to soften them as the episodes progressed). Essentially Hammersley is the main nice person...although why she hangs out with Mr. D is the mystery (in "Get Smart" you could kind of believe Agent 99 had a sweet spot for Max...here, it's not clear why she willingly spends time with him). Still, I repeat -- solid enough ratings seemed to indicate a fan base. Created by Michael Vlope, Gerry Dee. Half-hour episodes on the CBC.

MR. HOCKEY: The Gordie Howe Story   * * 1/2 setting: USA/CDN.
(2013) Michael Shanks, Kathleen Robertson, Martin Cummins, Dylan Playfair, Andrew Herr, Emma Grabinsky, Lochlyn Munro, Donnelly Rhodes.....Story of Canadian-born American hockey superstar Gordie Howe (Shanks), focusing on his mid-1970s renaissance when, after having retired in his 40s (and already nicknamed "Mr. Hockey") he decided to make a professional comeback, playing on the same team with his own sons, and joining the then upstart World Hockey Association (which was challenging the established NHL). Made-for-CBC hockey drama joins a long list of hockey bio-pics, and is slick and well produced, with good performances (particularly Shanks) but suffers, like a lot of hockey movies, because it's more aimed at hockey fans than movie fans. There are various good themes (the aging star, the mixed feelings of his sons playing with their famous dad, and the politics of the WHA/NHL rivalry) without delving enough into any one of them to make it the emotional heart of the drama. Instead, it can feel kind of episodic, presumably dramatizing key anecdotes, without making them part of a sustained narrative. Put another way: if this wasn't a true story, it would be seen as a pretty tepid drama. Still, if you are a hockey fan...worth a look. sc. Malcolm MacRury. dir: Andy Mikita. app. 84 min.

MR. NOBODY   * *  setting: other/USA/CDN.
(2010) (/Belgium/France/Germany) Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh-Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little, Toby Regbo, Juno Temple, Clare Stone.....Story of a dying, 118 year old man in a hi-tech future who reflects back on his life (in modern times) -- or rather, various possible and alternate lives he might have led. Visually sumptuous film is one of those things that polarizes viewers: some declare it one of the best films they've ever seen...and others find it pretty, but empty. It's well acted, though some of the actors playing the characters as teens -- Regbo, Temple and Stone -- steal the movie from their adult counterparts (indeed, the adult women in his life: Polley, Kruger, and especially Pham, are a bit short changed -- though as they are Canadian, German and French, maybe were billed so prominently as part of a co-production quota; most of the cast is either from the U.K., or American, like star Leto). It's an expensive, lavishly mounted production, full of striking visuals, artful colour schemes, and quirky stylistic techniques, and can be seen as borrowing from "Slaughterhouse Five", "2001: A Space Odyssey" and with occasional nods to Terry Gilliam. Unfortunately, the flash and sizzle tends to swamp the simple human drama, too often reducing it to a backdrop for the production design, rather than vice versa (and fractures off into so many alternate timelines you can lose track of which reality is which). More about the mis-en-scene than a sustained narrative (the sequence with the teen hero finding himself the adopted brother of his true love is the most sustained). Maybe it would've been better to have it be the hero is aware he's living alternate existences, to provide a consistent protagonist -- as it is, it's almost like an anthology of unrelated stories just featuring the same actors. Well, except in one time-line he does seem aware of the others, which is maybe another problem: it doesn't stick to its own (vague) inner logic, particularly by the end! Ultimately, beautiful-looking and striking, but frustrating as a story...and wa-ay too long. sc./dir: Jaco Van Dormael. - sexual content; brief female nudity.- 157 min.

MR. PATMAN   * *
(1980) James Coburn, Kate Nelligan, Fionnula Flanagan, Candy Kane, Michael Kirby, Tabitha Herrington, Charles Joliffe, Les Carlson.....Troubled psychiatric nurse (Coburn) tries to provide sensitive care for his patients even as he, himself, is cracking up.  Drama has a lot going for it, including its cast, but it doesn't seem to have enough story (or events) to fill out the narrative -- while at the same time leaving questions unanswered.  Philip Hersh wrote the original script.  a.k.a. Crossover.  sc: Thomas Hedley. dir: John Guillermin. - female nudity.- 105 min.

MR. PATMAN   * *
(1980) James Coburn, Kate Nelligan, Fionnula Flanagan, Candy Kane, Michael Kirby, Tabitha Herrington, Charles Joliffe, Les Carlson.....Troubled psychiatric nurse (Coburn) tries to provide sensitive care for his patients even as he, himself, is cracking up.  Drama has a lot going for it, including its cast, but it doesn't seem to have enough story (or events) to fill out the narrative -- while at the same time leaving questions unanswered.  Philip Hersh wrote the original script.  a.k.a. Crossover.  sc: Thomas Hedley. dir: John Guillermin. - female nudity.- 105 min.

MR. RICE'S SECRET  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2000) David Bowie, Bill Switzer, Teryl Rothery, Garwin Sanford, Zach Lipovsky, Jason Anderson, Tyler Thompson, Richard DeKlerk, Tyler Labine, Campbell Lane.....Story of a troubled teen (Switzer), with Hodgkin's Disease, and the various antics he gets up to with friends, including, sporadically, trying to unravel various clues bequeathed to him by the enigmatic neighbour he had befriended (Bowie, in a small part). There's a sense this could've been a good film, but doesn't find a proper tone. Is it a brooding rumination on mortality? A boisterous Disney-esque romp involving kids getting into mischief? A supernatural flick (as it becomes, rather belatedly)? Or what? It seems too much like scenes and ideas are cobbled together haphazardly from other sources (it's not even clear how the character achieves his life affirming epiphany by the end!) But the real problem is that the filmmakers seem to derive their vision of childhood from "The Lord of the Flies", with the kids verbally abusing each other, kicking the Bejeezus out of each other, threatening each other, and stoning each other with baseballs. Even the nice guy dad is a proponent of corporal punishment! And one can't even say the filmmakers see this as bad, since even the "up beat" end involves kids beating up or verbally threatening each other. It's a movie that wants to explore the human condition...even as the filmmakers seem to have misplaced their humanity. Still, slick and competently acted (Rothery and Sanford are nicely restrained as the parents). Look for Terry David Mulligan as a guy looking at a house. For other takes on childhood mortality see Princes in Exile, The Whole of the Moon and Digger. sc: J.H. Wyman (a.k.a. actor Joel Wyner). dir: Nicholas Kendall. 93 min.

MRS. 'ARRIS GOES TO PARIS * * 1/2  setting: other
(1993) (/U.K./Hungary) Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, Omar Sharif, Lothaire Bluteau, Tamara Gorski, John Savident, Lila Kaye.....Widowed English maid (Lansbury) in the '50s saves up to go to Paris and buy a Dior dress where she befriends and helps various wealthy people.  Light-hearted drama does a fine job evoking its time and place, but is slow and simplistic.  Should appeal nicely to those who like its sweet, old-fashioned temperment, but others might get a toothache.  sc: John Hawkesworth (from the novel by Paul Gallico). dir: Anthony Shaw. 93 min.

MURDER AT NIGHT or Murder by Night

Murder at the Mendel, the mystery novel by Gail Bowen, became the TV movie Love and Murder (2000).

MURDER BY DECREE   * * * 1/2  setting: other
(1979) (/U.K.) Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Anthony Quayle, Susan Clark, John Gielgud, Donald Sutherland, Genevieve Bujold.....Sherlock Holmes (Plummer) and Dr. Watson (Mason) are asked to investigate the crimes of Jack the Ripper, which involves them in cover-ups and conspiracy.  Holmesian pastiche is an entertaining mystery-suspenser and one of the few technically accurate flicks about the Ripper.  Sometimes funny, sometimes very serious and sometimes moving.  Plummer and Mason are effective and Bujold exceptional in a small but pivotal role.  Film received the Best Actor (Plummer) and Director Genie.  sc: John Hopkins. dir: Bob Clark. -- violence.- 124 min.

MURDER BY NIGHT   * * *  setting: USA.
(1989) (/U.S.) Robert Urich, Kay Lenz, Michael Ironside, Jim Metzler, Geoffrey Bowes, Richard Monette.....New York amnesiac (Urich) may have witnessed a serial killing, but also worries that he may be the killer himself.  Good cast, stylish direction, etc. in this restrained and likeable thriller.  The solution is pretty predictable, but it still feeds you enough doubts to make it work.  Look fast for VJ Michael Williams as a street reporter.  sc: Alan B. McElroy. dir: Paul Lynch. - violence.- 100 min.

MURDER BY PHONE  a.k.a. Bells

MURDER IN SPACE * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(1985) (/U.S.) Wilford Brimley, Michael Ironside, Martin Balsam, Damir Andrei, Arthur Hill, Kate Trotter, Wendy Crewson.....A series of murders aboard a multi-national space flight has everyone scrambling around trying to find the killer or killers.  The usually good cast wanders through their roles in this rather right-wing unsuspenseful suspenser.  For all that it was originally shown sans ending as part of a whodunnit contest, much of the solution is downright silly.  A novelization was published...also sans ending.  sc: Wesley Ferguson. dir: Steven Hillard Stern. 89 min.

MURDER IN THE FAMILY (TVMS) * * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(1986) Gabriel Arcand, Daniel Pilon, Emile Genest.....Continuing saga of the extended Plouffe family around W.W. II and of eldest son Ovide's (Arcand) marital problems which lead him to be accused of murder.  O.K. soap is expanded from the feature Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe, a sequel to Les Plouffe, both of which were based on the fifties TV series which, in turn, came from the novel.  Whew.  Dubbed from the French.  6 hours.  sc. ... (from the novel by Roger Lemelin). dir: Denys Arcand. - sexual content, casual female nudity.-

MURDER MOST LIKELY  * *  setting: CDN./other
(1999) Paul Gross, Marie-Josee Croze, Janine Theriault, Kim Huffman, Tom McCamus, Martha Burns, Stephen Ouimette, William B. Davis.....True story of undercover R.C.M.P. officer, Patrick Kelly (Gross), involved in all sorts of illegal business, who eventually gets charged in the suspicious death of his first wife (Croze). Made-for-CTV flick is slick but almost completely...empty. I honestly hesitate to review it, because I felt nothing toward it -- it's as if I never saw it. Weird. Though oddly appropriate given its ambiguous main character who neither the filmmakers, nor Gross, really seem to have a hold of. Perhaps what contributes to the movie's over all ambivalence is the crucial legal question: on one hand, the filmmakers seem to want us to infer Kelly murdered his wife, on the other hand, his conviction was based on highly suspect evidence, suggesting a miscarriage of justice. A narrative paradox that the filmmakers seem unable to make work. Or maybe I'm just numb to these "shocking true story" dramatizations, most of which seem to trivialize the human tragedy (such as the repeated, "artful" slow-motion shots of Croze's death scene, which seem in bad taste when you realize this represents a real human being). Burns (as the only woman not involved with Kelly) is Gross' real life wife, and Beau Starr, one of his Due South co-stars, has a small part as an American gangster. sc: Rob Forsyth, R.B. Carney (from the book "The Judas Kiss" by Michael Marris). dir: Alex Chapplle. 92 min.

MURDER 19C  see Detective Murdoch Mysteries

MURDER ONE   * *  setting: USA.
(1987) Henry Thomas, James Wilder, Stephen Shellen, Errol Slue.....Young teen (Thomas) goes along with his two escaped-convict brothers and their friend as they rob and murder their way through the Southern U.S.  Pretentious and, to its credit, fairly tastefully directed suspense-drama lacks depth and any real insight into the characters.  Based on a true story.  sc: Fleming B. Fuller. dir: Graeme Campbell. - violence.- 82 min.

MURDER SEEN  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2000) Callum Keith Rennie, Nicole Eggert, Timothy Bottoms, Will Sanderson, Kent Allen, Lisa Marie Pollock, Gerald Lenton-Young, Wendy Anderson.....American university student (American Eggert) starts having psychic flashes relating to the kidnapping of a fellow student...but, not surprisingly, finds the local cops -- a nice guy (Rennie) and a emotionally embittered guy (Bottoms) -- are more suspicious of her insight than appreciative. Low-key suspense drama doesn't offer much that's fresh, and could've used some more bumps and twists to the plot, but it's O.K. Better than you might expect for what it is (a low-budget quickie); with some stabs at characterization, and a general avoidance of being too lurid or distasteful. Nice performance from American actor Bottoms as a cop struggling with his own issues. There's nothing to say where the story is set: no flags, no mailboxes, no recognizable license plates...yet the filmmakers still work in extraneous dialogue to assure us it's not set in Canada! Sheesh! sc: Marilyn Webber. dir: Rob King. 93 min.

MURDER SEES THE LIGHT   * * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1987) Saul Rubinek, Kenneth Welsh, Kate Lynch, Joan Orenstein, Janet- Laine Green, George Buza, Gary Reineke, Peter MacNeill, Catherine Disher, Mary Ann MacDonald, Graham Greene.....Private eye Benny Cooperman (Rubinek) is hired to keep an eye on an American evangelist (Welsh) hiding out in Algonquin park.  Pretty soon Cooperman stumbles on some secrets of his fellow campers and bodies start popping up.  Second Cooperman mystery is a fine blend of comedy and drama thanks, in part, to Rubinek's charmingly funny protrayal.  Sequel to The Suicide Murders.  sc: Howard Engel (from his novel). dir: Harvey Hart. - violence.- app. 100 min.

MURDER UNVEILED  * * *  setting: B.C./other
(2006) Anita Majumdar, Chenier Hundal, Hassani Shapi, Lushin Dubey, Sanjay Talwar, Vinay Pathak, Michael Benyaer, Vik Sahay, Cedric de Souza.....Story of an Indo-Canadian girl (Majumdar) who falls for a poor Indian taxi driver (Hundal) against her strict, class-obsessed parents' wishes...with murder resulting. Inspired by fact, this CBC TV movie manages that rare feet of being a "true crime" shocker...that, nonetheless, works as both a movie, and seeming as though it truly is tackling greater social issues, rather than just being a lurid exploitation of headlines. Though the flashback/flashforward structure could've been clearer and the ending is a tad anti-climactic. Nice performances, particularly from newcomer Majumdar and Indian actor Hundal. And a nice attempt to do a movie that is set in Indian (and Canada, too) and tackling corruption and prejudice in an Indian context, but told with a western style and flavour, making it all very accessible (though some of the accents have to be adjusted to). sc: S. Bennett, MR Smith. dir: Vic Sarin. - violence; sexual content.- app. 90 min.

MURDERERS AMONG US: The Simon Wiesenthal Story (TVMS)   * * 1/2 set: other
(1989) (/U.S./Europe) Ben Kingsley, Renee Soutendijk, Craig T. Nelson, Louisa Haigh, David Threlfall.....Story of real-life Wiesenthal (Kingsley) and how he survived a W.W. II death camp to become a Nazi hunter.  Handsome and at times powerful, but also somewhat sloppy and unsatisfying.  Interestingly, Wiesenthal himself declined to come to Canada to publicize the movie because of his feeling that the Canadian justice department was not doing enough to hunt down war criminals.  4 hours.  sc: Abby Mann, Robin Vote, Ron Hutchinson. dir: Brian Gibson. - brief male nudity.-
 

THE MURDOCH MYSTERIES (TV Series)

(2008-)  * * *  Yannick Bisson ("William Murdoch"), Helene Joy ("Dr. Julia Ogden"), Thomas Craig ("Insp. Brackenreid"), Jonny Harris ("Constable Crabtree"), with Georgina Reilly ("Dr. Grace").....Mystery series about a Victorian-era Toronto detective (Bisson) who investigates with an intellectualism and reliance on "cutting edge" forensic science that often puts him at odds with his more bullish, old fashioned superior (Craig). Joy plays a lady coroner who shares "Murdoch's" interest in science as an investigating tool and Harris his good natured constable. Reilly was added as another female coroner -- providing romantic tension with "Crabtree". "Murdoch" is also supposed to be Catholic, his faith occasionally tested by the crimes he investigates, and which makes him something of a "minority" in (then) predominantly Protestant Toronto. 

This series is reminiscent of the earlier CBC TV series, The Great Detective (creator Jennings even cited the same inspiration -- real life Inspector John Wilson-Murray). Murdoch began as a character in some novels by Maureen Jennings, and first came to the small screen in a series of TV movies starring Peter Outerbridge as Murdoch...and where the results were a tad dry. Transformed into a weekly series, the results are more effective. Given a slightly jauntier tone and brisker pace, at first "Murdoch" himself isn't the most riveting of heroes...but grows on you in his combination of a repressed Sherlock Holmes and "CSI"'s Gil Grissom, with Bisson a personable performer. In fact, with its emphasis on 19th Century forensics ("finger marks"), the series billed itself as a Victorian "CSI". The desire to work in period allusions -- from him teaming up with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to the characters making prophetic observations ("can you imagine if...") -- can sometimes get a bit overly cutesy....on the other hand, lend the series an air of fun the earlier TV movies lacked. And like with the previous Great Detective series, the period details are kind of the point -- why do a historical mystery series and then not make the period essential to the stories? The cast is good, Yannick sympathetic and English actor Craig nicely blustery, yet nuanced. Though Joy has little to work with (the series has romantic tension between her and "Murdoch", increasingly overt in later seasons...but they have too few scenes to make that integral) and Harris is an arguably ground breaking casting choice in that he's got a strong Atlantic Canada accent. And though Atlantic Canadian accents are common in Canadian series set in the east, this is arguably one of the first times such an actor has been cast in a Central Canadian series and where it's completely irrelevant to the part. Ultimately, a series that doesn't necessarily grab you with a single watch, but grows on you with its old fashioned, unpretentious, Ms. Marple, tell-a-story-in-an-hour intentions. It's not subtle, or edgy...nor is it trying to be. Industry watchers were a bit stunned when, despite consistently decent ratings (and international sales), City TV announced they were cancelling it after its 2011-2012 season...claiming the series was not a right "fit" for their targeted demographic. But a reprieve came when the CBC announced they would pick it up. And after initially rerunning the last City TV season on the CBC to respectable-but-modest ratings...the gamble to pick up the discard was entirely vindicated when the CBC started airing first run episodes and The Murdoch Mysteries saw its best ratings ever, and top ratings for the CBC! Best bets: the one about the gay man murdered before his wedding. Hour long episodes on the CHUM stations.

MUSIC HALL (TVMS) * *   setting: P.Q.
(2002) Claude Blanchard, Veronique Cloutier, Patrick Huard, Serge Postigo, Michele-Barbara Pelletier, Julien Poulin, Jean-Nicholas Verreault, Jean Petitclerc, Murray Head, Annie Dufresne.....Night club owner (Blanchard) works to open a new club (after his last was destroyed in a suspicious fire), auditioning and preparing the in-house acts, while trying to manage his mob-backed investors; plus there's the trials and tribs of the various performers and employees. Curious drama should be fun in its unabashed, hokily old fashioned melodrama way...but one can't shake the feeling it's meant to be taken seriously, as opposed to being the kitschy, slightly campy affair it plays like (though the over-the-top incidental music suggests a certain tongue-in-cheek). But it's actually kind of hard to follow (with lots of names being bandied about that it's hard to put to specific faces) and the characters just aren't that interesting...let alone appealling...nor are their relationships and sub-plots well developed. A huge hit in Quebec, even spawning a sequel, but one wonders if that was due simply to the non-stop classic (American and British) pop music used on the soundtrack (they even released a soundtrack CD) ala a number of previous movies that owe a lot of their appeal to just rehashing tried and true hits. The series also suffered from an antiquated anti-English streak (hypocritical given the soundtrack tunes) with the club's comedian engaging in racist jokes, and the only one who takes offense is a bad guy mobster (ooh! hiss!) Should've been grand, unpretentious, pulpy entertainment...but it's, frankly, kind of dull (though the final revelation about who torched the old club was good). The series also experienced a curious broadcasting history in English sub-titles on the CBC, which either reflects a blundering of the programmer...or that it was a ratings disaster. The first three hour long episodes were shown weekly for three weeks, Tuesday at 9 PM, then it was pre-empted for two weeks (who pre-empts a mini-series?) before the fourth episode aired, then the final two episodes were supposedly aired, well, sometime, I guess, I think. Maybe. Eventually it was shown in its entirety almost a year later, in an 11:30 PM Monday timeslot. Though it's a good bet most of its audience missed the final instalments. In French. Six hours. sc: Fabienne Larouche. dir: Alain DesRochers. - violence, partial female nudity, casual male nudity.-

MUST BE SANTA  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1999) (/U.S.) Arnold Pinnock, Deanna Milligan, Dabney Coleman, Gerard Parkes, Peter Millard, Keena McWilliams, Brian Miranda, Steve McCarthy, Jordy Benattar.....Shiftless man (Pinnock) finds himself accidentally tagged to be Santa Claus' (Parkes) replacement, much to the chagrin of the no-nonesense manager of the North Pole (Coleman), but with the support of his angelic assistant (Milligan). Made-for-CBC TV movie (one of the most expensive in CBC history) boasts some magical sets and effects, good performances from the three leads, and a genuine sweetness that almost compensates for a plot that lags and a feeling that too many ideas were thrown in, but few realized fully. Even the main character is half-baked: is he a man born to be Santa, but must convince others, or is he a flawed man who must learn to be Santa? Both ideas are fine...but are contradictory in the same movie. And the fact that the old Santa dies, or that elves are the ghosts of dead children, might make the movie unsuitable for younger kids. Better than One Magic Christmas, but still not a yuletide classic. Despite the similar premise to the U.S. hit, "The Santa Clause", Bowie had apparently been working on this script for a decade. sc: Douglas Bowie. dir: Brad Turner. 90 min.

MUSTARD BATH  * *  setting: other
(1993) Michael Riley, Martha Henry, Tantoo Cardinal, Alissa Trotz, Eddy Grant, Elizabeth Shepherd, Fernardo da Silva.....An introverted medical student (Riley) returns to his Guyana birthplace to study as a doctor and to come to grips with his feelings of isolation and abandonment.  Good looking (and this was supposedly low-budget!) deliberately paced drama has a good cast and mood and does sustain interest for the most part, but kind of lacks something crucial: a plot.  And the Freudian psycho-babble that forms the film's heart hardly warrants a whole movie.  Filmed on location.  sc./dir: Darrell Wasyk (story Wasyk and Bebo Haddad). - male nudity, explicit sexual content, partial female nudity, violence.- 109 min.
 
 
MUTANT X  (TV Series)

(2001-2004) (/U.S.)  * 1/2  John Shea ("Adam") (-2nd), Forbes March ("Jesse Kilmartin"), Victoria Pratt ("Shalimar Fox"), Lauren Lee Smith ("Emma DeLauro") (-2nd), Victor Webster ("Brennan Mulwray"), Karen Cliche ("Lexana") (3rd), with Tom McCamus ("Mason Eckhart") (1st)......Science fiction/adventure set in the near-future USA. A company, Genomex, spent years experimenting with human DNA, creating "new mutants" -- people with super powers -- in the general population. The series' initial premise was that, now, Genomex wants to recapture the "new mutants", to continue experiments, but an underground group, Mutant X, works, instead, to find and protect "new mutants" from Genomex. By the second season, that had been dropped and Mutant X is a more general crime fighting group -- even how "underground" they are is more vague (they now have contacts within the U.S. government). Mutant X is comprised of the human leader (Shea), former Genomex employee, and various mutants: March can alter his molecular density; Pratt is a Feral, with cat-like abilities; Smith a telepath; and Webster a street thief with the ability to generate electric bolts. Shea and Smith were gone by the third season and Cliche joined the cast as someone who could turn invisible. McCamus played the sinister head of Genomex who, thanks to a collapsed immune system, has to wear an artificial skin and looks like Andy Warhol. All the actors, save Shea, are Canadian, including most guest stars. 

This was controversial before it even aired due to its obvious similarities to the comic book/movie franchise, "The X-Men". Although this was co-produced by Marvel Comics (who own the X-Men), another production company claimed Marvel had sold all film rights to X-Men properties to them. Marvel, and this show's other producers, countered this was an original creation (though using the same name as another Marvel Comics comic) and was not covered by that agreement. Supposedly last minute changes were made to lessen the similarities (code names and costumes were dropped prior to filming). Whatever the legal niceties, artistically the similarities remain...not just between Mutant X and the X-Men comics, but between Mutant X and the "X-Men" motion picture (including the aloof, sterile production design, the basic black wardrobes, and even plot elements of the series' two-part opener). Significantly, in the all-American "X-Men" movie, a lead character was Canadian...but in this Canadian co-production, featuring Canadian actors, not one character is meant to be Canadian. Don'tcha just luv Canadian filmmakers? 

The series underwent some cosmetic changes between the first and second season, nullifying some of my initial criticisms (you think they were paying attention?) -- the self-consciously basic black wardrobe expanded to include other colours, the action scenes are better staged (people don't look so blatantly like they're dangling from wires) and there're less shots of the actors vogueing for the camera, and dropping the Genomex plot meant each episode doesn't necessarily seem like every other one. More emphasis is given to conflicts within the previously harmonious group...but rather than creating effective dramatic conflict, it tends to make the characters just seem bitchy and argumentative. Unfortunately, the changes are cosmetic, with the fundamental weaknesses remaining. Most episodes seem as though the were plotted and filmed in a weekend -- and not even over the whole weekend! Some series come together so well (in writing, casting, direction, etc.) they make it look effortless...and for other series, nothing seems to quite click. The series suffers from an overall blandness...bland plots, bland characters, bland look (most of the actors are ex-models). With plots and characters that are often barely developed. Ironically, you can get more insight into the character's and their relationships by visiting the show's website and reading about them than from anything depicted in the show (in one episode a character refers to how "Jesse" "feels" about "Shalimar", yet nowhere in that episode -- or any other that I've seen -- has theere been any indication "Jesse" feels anything different for her than he feels for any other team mate). Given that people like Shea and Pratt have shown considerable flare in other roles, one is inclined not to blame the actors, but the scripts and direction. 

Despite playing in the same sand box as the X-Men, with mutants-as-metaphor-for-a-persecuted-minority, the series' heart doesn't seem to be in it, muting the potential for an edgy, or socially relevant theme. 

The series had comicbook pros behind it. Creator Ari Avad is a head honcho at Marvel and original head writer Howard Chaykin was a critically regarded comicbook writer -- given to racy and naugthy, yet often bitingly political, works (American Flagg), though his forays into TV have been less impressive (including working on such ill-fated ventures as "The Flash"). Despite this pedigree, the makers were quick to distance themselves from the comicbook world, with Chaykin, in one interview, insisting the series would be less like a comic (heaven forbid) and more like such pinnacles of television excellence, "The A-Team" (is my irony coming across?). Though Chaykin was gone by the second season anyway. The series still threw in occasional comicbook in-jokes, like naming streets after famous comic artists. Overall, the series may be trying so hard to define what it isn't (it's not the X-Men, it's not super heroes, it's not a comic book) that it's never figured out what it is. 

The series has spun-off into a couple of comic book one-shots, including Mutant X: The Origin which was meant to act as a prequel to the series, showing Adam's work with, and break from, Genomex. Though co-written by Chaykin, aspects of the comic didn't quite seem to gel with aspects of the series (including identifying "Mason Eckhart" as Marcus Eckhart). 

Much was made of the fact that it premiered as the number one rated new syndicated action series, but even that raises interesting musings. In the 1990s, when first run syndication was becoming a viable market, the field included "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", "Xena: Warrior Princess", "Babylon 5" and various "Star Trek" spin-offs, all critically regarded, sometimes quite ambitious series. But by the time of "Mutant X", first run syndication has become less creatively fertile. "Mutant X"s success may say as much about the competition as about its quality. Only time will tell. Best bets: "Presumed Guilty", in which Adam gets amnesia -- the concept wasn't milked to its fulleest, but at least it was a concept. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on CanWest-Global. 


 

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