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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.
(2004-2006) * * 1/2 David Julian Hirsh ("Josh Gould"), Andrew Tarbet ("Eric Kosciusko"), Krista Bridges ("Hunter Randall") (-3rd), Sarah Smyth ("Natalie Bouchard"), Patricia McKenzie ("Jennifer Chopra"), with Christine Colburn ("Sam"), Michael Sinelnikoff ("Prof. Baronofsky"), Frank Schorpion (2nd-), Claudia Ferri (2nd-)....."Adult" dramedy about the love life of an affable, unassuming university professor (Hirsh) who teaches a course in human sexuality. Tarbet plays his best friend, an incorrigible womanizer; Bridges a woman "Josh" is sort of in love with, but who sends mixed signals, insisting she wants their relationship to be platonic; Smyth his research assistant; McKenzie another friend, a lesbian. Colburn played a free spirited artist with whom "Josh" becomes involved for a few episodes. Schorpion plays the dean of the university, Sinelnikoff an avuncular professor, and Ferri an antagonistic, rival prof. The series is set in Montreal -- surprisingly, in the some episodes at least, this is even quite overt.
Premiering just a few weeks after Show Me Yours, this is another stab at an "adult" weekly series, complete with nudity and sex, and in which the sex and romantic relationships are juxtaposed with scenes of the "smart" characters academically discussing sex and relationships. Unlike Show Me Yours, it managed to seem a little more restrained and legitimate. Hirsh is an extremely personable lead, and the rest of the cast good, too. The rampant promiscuity of the characters seemed a bit reckless in the post-AIDS reality, though. Even the hero, who was supposed to be sensitive and looking for commitment, had a new bed partner every week (one episode even posited the highly suspect notion that he could date -- and sleep with -- two woman at the same time, and the women were O.K. with that). Not to mention the need to use the character to explore different sexual dilemmas led to sacrificing the character for the story -- such as an episode where the ostensibly nice guy Josh...starts having a casual sexual affair with the young girlfriend of his friend, Baronofsky! The addition of Colburn's character, as a consistent love interest, provided greater depth to the show, allowing them to explore the ups and downs of a long term relationship...but she was written out after a few episodes. The series also seems not entirely sure where it's headed, or why. Bridges' character barely appeared in the second season -- despite retaining third billing! -- while McKenzie's character seems too much like they felt they should include a sexual/racial minority, but had little interest in the character herself. By the third season, Bridges was written out rather abruptly and McKenzie's character seemed to be integrated a little better into the episodes.
Though this series provides an illustration of the phenomenon of Canadian series that are uncomfortable acknowledging Canada may be a separate culture from the U.S. -- in one episode, the characters discuss the "controversy" of the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during a football game, and pondered what the subsequent media hysteria said about society's puritanism...when in Canada, there was little fuss, and indeed there was generally amusement at how outraged the Americans were! The decision to wrap things up in the classroom analysis made the stories problematic, as if this isn't just about these characters in these situations, but are meant to be representative of society as a whole. And if you don't agree with their various theses... Again, this is all similar to Show Me Yours (it's hard not to continually compare them). Ultimately, though not necessarily as smart or perceptive as it pretends, Naked Josh is an enjoyable enough half hour thanks to its gentle pace and its personable cast and characters. Created by Alex Epstein, Laura Kosterski. Three seasons of half hour episodes on Showcase.
* * * setting: USA./other
(1992) (/U.K.) Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Peter Boretski, Julian Sands, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert Silverman, Joseph Scorsiani, Roy Scheider, Sean McCann.....Bug-exterminator, would-be writer and junkie (Weller), in New York in the '50s, accidentally kills his wife (Davis), then becomes embroiled in a hallucinatory conspiracy in a foreign land involving talking typewriters and mugwumps (voiced by Boretski) and a woman who looks just like his wife. After years of critics telling us David Cronenberg is a genius, he finally proves they may be right. Definitely weird and dream-like, but also funny, intelligent and (unusual for the clinical Cronenberg) infused with a sense of humanity and characterization. Strong performances all around, stunningly atmospheric, well-written and directed, but it does wear thin. Won 8 Genies including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Script and Supporting Actress (Mercure in a small part). sc./dir: David Cronenberg (from the novel by William S. Burroughs). - sexual content, extreme violence, brief female nudity.- 115 min.
* setting: other
(1976) (/Germany/France/Italy/) Mathieu Carriere, Debby Berger, Christine Boisson, Miriam Boyer, Leonora Fani, Ely de Galleani, Carol Laure, Eva Mattes, Andree Pelletier.....An unstable Vietnam War veteran (Carriere) stops off in war torn Northern Ireland, drifts about for a while, then invades a house where a bunch of nurses live and proceeds to terrorize and murder them. Low-budget mix of lurid exploitation and pseudo self-importance reflected in films of the era (ala Drive In cheapies like "Last House on the Left"). It's the sort of film one suspects no one making it would exactly brag about later. The actors give it more than it arguably deserves, and by setting it against a backdrop of war and sectarian strife it wants to pretend it has something deep to say about violence...but what that might be is unclear, particularly when the last half is basically just a guy terrorizing, murdering and occasionally raping a house full of pretty young, sometimes undressed, women. I'm not sure what's more disturbing: that this was loosely inspired by -- and so exploiting -- a real incident (in Chicago), that all these co-producers decided this was the film they wanted to pool their resources to make...or that apparently a number of films over the years have exploited the same tragedy for an evening's entertainment! a.k.a. Born for Hell. sc: Fred Denger, Denis Heroux, Geza von Radvanyi, Clement Woods. dir: Denis Heroux. - violence; female nudity; sexual content.- 85 min. (some prints may run longer).
Nathalie, a French film, was adapted into the Canadian movie Chloe.
THE NATIONAL DOUBT
* * 1/2 setting: CDN.
(1992) Greg Malone, Tommy Sexton, John Gray.....Loose story of a knight and his squire playing bingo with Death for the soul of Canada is the framework for musical performances and satirical bits criss-crossing the country. Entertaining enough, made-for-CBC TV special, though the acts could've been more diverse and some provinces and one territory are skipped over altogether. sc: John Gray with Tommy Sexton and Greg Malone. dir: Ron Meraska. - casual male nudity.- app. 72 min.
THE NATIONAL DREAM (TVMS)
* * 1/2 setting: CDN.
(1974) William Hutt, Gillie Fenwick, Tony Van Bridge, Gerard Parkes, John Colicos, Ted Follows, Chris Wiggins, James B. Douglas.....Epic chronicle of the building of the cross Canada railway in the 1800s told principally as a documentary narrated by Pierre Berton, and interspersed with dramatic scenes used to illustrate character more than fact. Fascinating but at times confusing program bolstered by some truly memorable dramatic scenes and exceptional performances (particularly Hutt as John A. Macdonald), but it also tends to drag with lots of long pauses and ineffective music. It could've been tighter...and shorter. 8 hour long episodes. sc: William Whitehead, Timothy Findley (from the books The National Dream and The Last Spike by Pierre Berton). dir: Eric Till, James Murray.
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S SENIOR TRIP
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(1995) (/U.S.) Matt Frewer, Valerie Mahaffey, Lawrence Dane, Tommy Chong, Jeremy Renner, Rob Moore, Fiona Loewi, Eric 'Spanky' Edwards, Kevin McDonald, Nicole (Nikki) deBoer.....A group of U.S. high-school misfits (led by Renner and Moore) find themselves summoned to Washington to address a presidential committee on education, much to the chagrin of their strict principal (Frewer). The cast gives it a good shot, but even a low-brow comedy needs funny lines and clever scenes, something this flick lacks. And isn't there a problem when the characters are supposed to be loveable goofs who just want to have fun, when they and the movie are so mean-spirited? Perhaps explaining why the 'heartwarming' ending falls so flat. National Lampoon, for those who don't know, is a U.S. satirical magazine...with an uneven cinematic track record. sc: Roger Kumble, I. Marlene King. dir: Kelly Makin. - sexual content.- 91 min.
* * 1/2 setting: other
(2010) (/U.K./Morocco) Tatiana Maslany, Andrew Buchan, Peter Capaldi, Obi Albili, Frances Barber, Neil Dudgeon, Jack Shepherd, Al Weaver, Vincent Ragan, Art Malik.....Story of the months leading up to the birth of Jesus, dramatizing and inter-cutting the concurrent stories of Mary & Joseph (Maslany & Buchan), the magi who set out to witness the event, and a lowly shepherd struggling to pay his taxes. Made-for-TV telling of the tale goes for a low-key, modernist style in terms of performances and scenes -- allowing for some genuine charm and humour (Buchan and Maslany may be among the most likeable dramatizations of the characters). But, without being facetious, it is in service of a story that, well, you know how it ends. As such, though it has some engaging, well acted scenes...it can also feel a bit padded and stretched at times, struggling to justify the running time, and maybe a bit too low key. Supposedly shot over two years...which might explain why some scenes seem authentic, benefitting from Moroccan locations, and others kind of cheap, with obvious sets and costumes. Top-billed Maslany is Canadian...but she's the only Canadian in a significant role (Matthew Deslippe has a bit part as an inn keeper). sc: Tony Jordan. dir: Coky Giedroyc. 90 min.
THE NATURE OF NICHOLAS
* 1/2 setting: CDN.
(2002) Jeff Sutton, David Turnbull, Ardith Boxall, Tom McCamus, Katherine Lee Raymond, Bob Huculak, Samantha Hill.....Surrealist tale of a young boy (Sutton) on the prairie's in the 1950s, struggling with his repressed homosexuality. Intentionally odd little film is a little bit as if David Lynch decided to tackle W.O. Mitchell -- there are some intriguingly weird, symbolic concepts and genuine ambition at work. But the extremely slow, mannered scenes, where there's always a deliberate undercurrent of unsettled awkwardness, very quickly become repetitive. And the movie, ultimately, seems a bit thin and monotonous. You can appreciate what they're trying...even as you can't really enjoy what it is. sc./dir: Jeff Erbach. - violence.- 100 min.
"The Naval Treaty", the Sherlock Holmes story, served as part of the source for the TV movie, A Royal Scandal.
"Necros", by Brian Lumley, was one of the stories adapted for The Hunger movie, pilot for the TV series.
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(1993) Linda Kozlowski, Ron Lea, Rod Steiger, Frances Bay, Bruce Boa, Jane Wheeler, Sean McCann.....American couple (Kozlowski and Lea) move to a small New England town where their seemingly friendly Doctor neighbour (Steiger) is a psycho obsessed with killing their unborn baby. Dull suspenser could use a plot, or more interesting characters, or some suspense...or just about anything. Competently acted, with Steiger energizing things everytime he's on screen...but even he can't save it. sc: Kurt Wimmer. dir: Rodney Gibbons. 93 min.
* * 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1991) Marc St.Pierre, Michel Comeau, Lorraine Pintal, Luc Morissette, Gabriel Arcand, David La Haye, Dominique Leduc.....Story of teen-aged poet Emile Nelligan (St.Pierre) around the turn-of-the-century, his dysfuctional friends and family, and his descent into madness. So-so drama is professionally done, but suffers from a certain opaqueness -- not surprising given that he's supposeed to be both insane and a poet (an art form where, if you're not a fan, can be pretty hard to tell the good from the bad). Recommended mainly to students of poetry and Nelligan inparticular. In French with some English. sc: Aude Nantais, Jean-Joseph Tremblay, with Robert Favreau, Claude Poissant. dir: Roger Favreau. - casual male nudity.- 103 min.
* * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(2003) (/New Zealand/U.K.) Carly Pope, Adrian Paul, Ian McShane, Brendan Fehr, Rena Owen, Jay Baruchel, Vanessa Guy, Richard Fitzpatrick.....Philosophy student (Pope) obsessed with riddles and mind games gets drawn into a dangerous game of following mysteriously left riddles that will, according to Urban Legends, lead to answering the meaning of life -- a game that has driven others mad and homicidal. Brooding and moody supernatural suspense flick is intriguing but a bit slow at first, seeming to spin its wheels, and where the logic of things isn't clear...then gets better as it goes, as the earlier scenes start to make more sense in light of later revelations and genuine tension is created. Interesting...but it's a movie that's heavy on the cryptic and enigmatic, which leads to the filmmaker feeling the story doesn't entirely have to be fully explained by the end. Worth a look, but falls short of its aspirations of being another "The Ring". sc./dir: Jesse Warn. 92 min.
NEON RIDER *
* setting: B.C.
(1989) Winston Rekert, Antoinette Bower, Shelagh McLeod, Max Margolin, Janne Mortil, Samuel Sarkar, Alex Bruhanski, Peter Williams, William S. Taylor.....Burned-out child psychologist (Rekert) retreats to a country ranch, then gets the idea it can be turned into a place for juvenile delinquents. Originally aired as a TV movie, this series pilot suffers from being too obviously that, with an unfocused plot that's subordinate to establishing the premise and characters. Improves, ironically, if you're already a fan of the much better weekly series, and it's lighter in tone than many of the regular episodes. Radio and TV personality Jack Webster appears as a judge. Also shown as two episodes of the series. sc./dir: Stuart Margolin. 93 min.
The early seasons of this TV series were broadly done, with comic-relief cook, action scenes, and clunky writing and direction. But it evolved, becoming very good and capable of delivering tough, emotional stories with surprising subtlety and depth. Its cast reflected a more diverse ethnic make-up than most Canadian-made series, which is also a plus. Particularly notable performances were Rekert (natch), Tyson, Williams and the frequently under-utilized Sarkar. Popular, which made CTV's decision to cancel it strange...but it continued production for another few seasons with funding from a consortium of various independent stations. Created by Rekert and Danny Virtue (who was also the horse trainer). 62 hour-long episodes (including the two-part pilot, reviewed separately) on CTV and independents, and rerun on YTV.
THE NEPTUNE FACTOR: An Undersea
Odyssey * 1/2 setting: N.S.
(1973) Ben Gazzara, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette Mimieux, Walter Pidgeon, Chris Wiggins, Donnelly Rhodes.....Underwater lab disappears in an earthquake and when a min-sub goes to the rescue, it discovers an underwater forest and huge fish. Sounds more interesting than it is. The snazzy opening credits and theme are the highpoints in this suspense-drama. sc: Jack De Witt. dir: Daniel Petrie. 98 min.
(2001-2002) (/U.S.) * * 1/2 Timothy Hutton ("Archie Goodwin"), Maury Chaykin ("Nero Wolfe"), Colin Fox ("Fritz"), Bill Smitrovich ("Insp. Cramer"), Conrad Dunn ("Saul Panzer"), others; with Kari Matchett, Robert Bockstael, James Tolkan, etc.......Mystery about the quintessential armchair detective -- New York-based, neurotic and largely housebound Nero Wolfe -- and his fast talking leg man, Archie Goodwin, who does the physical investigating, bringing back clues for Wolfe to piece together. Fox plays Wolfe's personal chef, Smitrovich the local, none too friendly, cop, and Dunn one of the freelance detectives Wolfe occasionally employed. Based pretty faithfully on the original novels by Rex Stout, the episodes adapted from novels are usually movie-length and shown as two-parters (those based on short stories are covered in self-contained episodes). The series uses a repertory cast of recurring actors who play different characters each week (Chaykin, Hutton, Fox, etc. are the same characters, but the other actors essay new roles each story). It's a cute idea, used before in the anthology series Scene of the Crime. Though given that the Wolfe stories can be a bit repetitive to begin with, it maybe just serves to cause one story to blend into the next. Though maybe that's good for repeated viewing. It's hard to remember who did it when it's hard to recognize which story your watching (you can't say "this is the one guest starring Robert Bockstael or Nicky Guadagni", because most of them guest star those actors in one role or another).
Truth to tell, this may not be an "official" Canadian co-production, but filmed in Canada with most of the crew and actors being Canadian (only Hutton, Smitrovich, and Tolkan are American) I'll post an entry for now. Attacked with enthusiasm by its cast and crew, the series is fast-paced and moderately entertaining but presents a curious paradox. Namely, how can something so rigorously faithful to a source material (characters, set designs, wardrobe and even much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the page) still sort of miss the boat? Stout's novels are funny, but it's a funny based on witty banter and wry observations. This series goes for the funny bone by, essentially, playing the material as camp, with everything frenetic and overplayed -- from the performances, to the jazzy score, to the brightly coloured sets. By all means, Nero Wolfe shouldn't be played with solemnity, but there's a sense this series goes too far, rendering already light, breezy mysteries positively insubstantial. The result is sort of fun, but can wear out its welcome quickly.
Chaykin is good as Wolfe, though is maybe a kinder, gentler Wolfe than novelist Stout envisioned -- and despite his existing girth, he's too thin for the role, rendering lines about his "seventh of a ton" kind of offensive. Maybe some padding in his costume would've been in order. Hutton is O.K., but like the show itself, leans too far toward camp (Hutton is also an executive producer on the show). The series spun off from the TV movie The Golden Spiders and some of the other two-part episodes (such as The Doorbell Rang) are available to video. Wolfe has previously been adapted to the screen, both big and small, and in Canada, Wolfe stories had been adapted into a 13 episode CBC radio series in the 1980s with Don Francks as Goodwin and Mavor Moore as Wolfe -- a crackerjack production, it's well worth keeping an ear out for (some of the episodes have been released to audio tape). Two seasons of hour-long episodes, this series is made for A&E, a U.S. cable network, and have yet to be carried by a Canadian station.
A NEST OF SINGING BIRDS
* * * setting: Man.
(1988) Sheila McCarthy, Barry MacGregor, Bernard Hopkins, Colm Feore..... Professor (McCarthy) arrives for a temporary position at a University and encounters the off-beat and sometimes back-stabbing teachers, as well as falling in love with a separated, middle-aged professor (MacGregor). Well done made-for-CBC TV romantic comedy-drama. Strong performances all around. sc: Joe Wiesenfeld (from the novel by Susan Charlotte Haley). dir: Eric Till. app. 100 min.
* * 1/2 setting: USA./CDN.
(1995) Aidan Devine, Kevin Conway, Al Waxman, R.H. Thomson, Robin Gammell, Carl Marotte, Richard Donat, Dan Lett, Michael J. Reynolds, Roman Podhora, Billy Van.....True story of hockey player Ted Lindsay's (Devine) attempt to organize a players union in the '50s after he realizes the players are being cheated by the corrupt owners. O.K. made-for-CBC TV drama is most fascinating in its depiction of the owners of the multi-million dollar grossing NHL claiming the league never made a profit, but the "stylish" direction and hockey sound effects during conversations seem more cutesy than effective. This marriage of sports and drama was supposed to be the jewel in the CBC's '95-'96 season -- but it failed to deliver the expected ratings (not unlike He Shoots, He Scores), but nonetheless received Geminis for Best TV Movie, Actor (Devine), Supporting Actor (Waxman) and Direction. sc: Don Truckey, Phil Savath, David Criuse, Alison Griffiths (from the book by Cruise and Griffiths). dir: Jerry Ciccoritti. 92 min.
Never Sleep Three in a Bed, a novel by Max Braithwaite, served loosely as the source for the TV series, Wind at My Back.
NEVER TOO LATE *
* 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1996) Cloris Leachman, Jan Rubes, Olympia Dukakis, Jean LaPointe, Matt Craven, Corey Haim, Joan Orenstein, Frances Bay, Chip Chiupka.....Trio of independently living seniors (Dukakis, Rubes, and Leachman) investigate a retirement home when they suspect a friend (LaPointe), and his fellow residents, are being bilked by the shady director (Craven). O.K. movie tries juggling being a comedy, a gritty drama about ageing, a mystery-suspense film, and even a caper flick by the end -- with the different elements not always mixing comfortably. And part of the problem with the investigation is the viewer basically knows what Craven's up to early, so we aren't exactly waiting to learn what's going on. But generally it's a decent flick, with a good cast. A better than usual offering from scripter Martin. And though the story revolves around a retirement home (as these movies often do) it's nice to see some of the characters portrayed as still spry and self-sufficient. That's one of the producers -- and sometimes actor -- Stefan Wodoslawwsky as one of the cops. Leachman and Dukakis are Hollywood imports. sc: Donald Martin. dir: Giles Walker. 94 min.
These were just four episodes from the 2nd season of the cult British TV series -- which was a sequel to the '60s British series "The Avengers" -- but made with Canadian partners; another three episodes were British/French productions. Though not as successful as the original series, the New Avengers is favourably comparable to its predecessor, suffering from sometimes thin plots, but boasting eccentric premises and genuine wit and charm evinced by the three principals. These Canadian filmed episodes were a mixed bag. When I first posted this review, I was rather unforgiving, but having watched some of them more recently, I'm inclined to re-evaluate them. The scripts were supplied by the usual British writers but actually acknowledged their Canadian locale (something that would be almost unheard of today). The Canadian episodes suffered from technical clumsiness and uneven supporting performances (perhaps reflecting novice Canadian directors and actors who, back then, were not quite used to attempting these kind of pulpy, commercial entertainment programs). However, at least two of the episodes weren't half bad. "Forward Base", with the characters trying to locate a KGB spy base in Canada, and "Emily", about the misadventures as they try and transport some evidence (a car with a handprint on it) from one place to another. The other two episodes, though having interesting premises, I recall as being poorer.
Ironically, this show could be seen as something of a homecoming: Sydney Newman, the creator of the original Avengers, was Canadian, and Macnee was part of the wave of British actors who, temporarily, moved to Canada in the '50s looking for work. The historical significance of this series is notable, as it anticipated a coming, and not altogether welcome, trend: Canadian producers buying up the production rights to foreign series (from Airwolf to The Twilight Zone to Lonesome Dove, etc.). But at least The New Avengers in Canada admitted it was set in Canada. 4 one hour episodes on CTV.
THE NEW BEACHCOMBERS
* * 1/2 setting: B.C.
(2002) Jackson Davies, Dave Thomas, Graham Greene, Cameron Bancroft, Deanna Milligan, Kendall Cross, Duncan Fraser, Susan Hogan, Matt Walker, Francoise Yip, Dan Jaffe, Leslie Jones, Corrine Koslo.....Various characters return to the town of Gibson, including one-time lovers Bancroft and Milligan, with (sometimes) contradictory interests in the diner, Molly's Reach...which is slated for demolition by a greedy developer. CBC TV movie returns to the milieu of the popular long-running TV series, The Beachcombers, for an agreeable enough family drama mixing drama with humour (though more subdued than the series often was). Not, perhaps, a classic-in-the-making, but mildly appealing if you're feeling mellow, thanks to ingratiating enough performers and its evocation of coastal life. Though the movie is a contradiction: on one hand, it plays the nostalgia card heavily, wanting to please fans of the old show, even as it clearly wants to stake out new ground for a possible new series. Although the characters are supposed to have a history with the area, of the principals, only Davies' character was in the Beachcombers, though former cast members Pat John (Jesse) and Charlene Aleck (Sara) appear in cameos (and stock footage of the late Bruno Gerussi, Robert Clothier, and Rae Brown is inserted in brief flashbacks). Ironically, Bancroft (then a kid) had been in the Beachcombers...but playing a different character! Some familiar B.C. musicians appear as a beach band. Scripter Strange co-created the original series, and he and Davies served as executive producers. sc: Marc Strange. dir: Brad Turner. 91 min.
* * setting: USA.
(1999) (/U.K.) John Hurt, Nick Moran, Carrie-Anne Moss, Shawn Wayans, Joe Pantloiano, Gouchy Boy, Alan C. Peterson, Alex Karzis, Arthur Eng, Eugene Robert Glazer, Richard McMillan.....A man (Hurt) is drawn into a botched kidnapping scheme by his estranged, mob connected son (Moran). Dark-but-quirky film noire suspenser is not uninteresting, very much of the post-Quentin Tarantino style. There are twists and double crosses, with much of the action taking place all in one night, but it suffers from too much implausibility and illogic, as if the script needed another going over to patch up the holes. And too few of the characters, other than Moran, really become characters (even Hurt seems short changed). Writer-director Hurst doesn't seem to be the New Zealand actor of the same name. sc./dir: Michael Hurst. - violence, brief female nudity.- 91 min.
NEW WATERFORD GIRL *
* 1/2 setting: N.S.
(1999) Liane Balaban, Nicholas Campbell, Mary Walsh, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Andrew McCarthy, Mark McKinney, Cathy Moriarty.....Story of a teen (Balaban) in the '70s who will do anything to get out of her small, Nova Scotia hometown -- including faking a pregnancy so she'll be sent away -- who befriends the local newcomer, a girl (Spencer-Nairn) from New York with a mean right hook who is more enamored of small town life. Critically praised comedy is O.K., but thin on plot and even character development. It wants to be a quirky, eccentric movie (and genuinely is at times!) but overall isn't maybe quirky enough, and rarely offers up any surprises in its rambling and familiar, Canadian movie premise. Ironically, the best friend seems more interesting than the main character! Nice scenery and a good cast, particularly Balaban and Spencer-Nairn, though ex-Kids in the Hall-er McKinney and American imports Moriarty and even McCarthy just have small parts (the latter as a helpful, ostensibly good guy teacher who admits to being romantically attracted to a fifteen year old!!!) As a backhanded compliment, the movie has sufficient strengths in the writing and acting that it seems like it should've been a lot better. sc: Tricia Fish. dir: Allan Moyle. 97 min.
Sound the alarm! This TV series is arguably Canada's first great sitcom. Sure King of Kensington had its moments, and other efforts over the years have their defenders, but for a mixture of originality, daring, and belly laughs, it's hard to find a competitor. This mercilessly cynical satire of journalism, TV, office politicking, and just plain human nature was, in that respect, easily one of the darkest series ever produced, not just in Canada, but North America. But it avoids being too obvious or slapdash by delivering its laughs with a low-key subtlety missing from most sitcoms. Better, and certainly more political, than "The Larry Sanders Show", a U.S. sitcom to which it was initially compared. Celebrity guest stars, playing themselves, were also free of pretension, happily being self-mocking. And give the CBC credit for allowing such a program to be set in a "public" TV station.
Finkleman created, wrote and directed the series, as well as starring in it -- he'd only appeared on-camera in a couple of other projects, including the similarly veined mini-series Married Life) -- and he apparently burned himself out making it; the series' short life was his decision, not a ratings one (the ratings were very good). This creative burn-out presumably led to the series' uneven final episodes which got increasingly away from the "newsroom" premise, such as a parody of the Italian art flick "8 1/2" (which most viewers were unlikely to recognize) and which was strung out over three episodes, and a final, hour-long episode, set "after the collapse of public broadcasting", in which most of the key characters are involved in running a political campaign. Finkleman then went off to create a series of limited series for CBC which, though acclaimed (almost dogmatically so) by the critics, the implication was that the audience wasn't there. Which might explain while Finkleman returned (or was persuaded to return) to the Newsroom again a few years later. First with the TV movie Escape from the Newsroom. And then with a whole new batch of episodes, with a mostly new cast including Watts, Racicot and Bell (who was also a co-writer) as producers and Lewis as the new secretary; only Keleghan, Hines and Finkleman himself were carried over from the earlier episodes. Unfortunately, the return has proven less than might be hoped for. To be sure, there are still some great lines, some biting observations, and some clever plot twists...just rarely at the same time, or even in the same episode! It seems more like Finkleman's just going through the motions at times. Perhaps worried his audience wouldn't get what sleazes these characters are, a greater emphasis is put on characters reacting with disgust to the comments and antics of the baser characters...which just seems heavy handed and belabouring the point. Still, the newer episodes have their moments, but lack the vitality of the vintage ones.
Nice closing theme by Sid Robinovitch. A liberal use of profanity and adult subject matter may turn off some viewers, but it's played for naturalism, not sensationalism. In 1997, the scripts were published together in book form. The series, though, had -- arguably -- a negative impact on Canadian TV, encoouraging a number of similar, "cutting edge" comedies (like Twitch City and Made in Canada) that just weren't funny. Finkleman himself followed this with the similarly-veined, but less-accomplished More Tears and other series. 13 half-hour episodes comprised the original 1996-1997 run on the CBC, all of which were released (in groups) on video.
NEXT OF KIN
* * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1984) Patrick Tiereny, Berge Fazlian, Arsinee Khanjian, Sirvart Fazlian..... Young man (Tiereny), needing a sense of purpose, decides to try to help a family full of conflict by pretending to be their long lost son. Interesting, likeable little low-key drama marked Atom Egoyan's arrival on the film scene. Less pretentious than his later films, while still showcasing his fixation on video technology and dysfunctional families that would become a staple of most of his subsequent films. sc./dir: Atom Egoyan (his first feature).
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