The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) Presents...




Ni-Nik

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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.

NIAGARA MOTEL   * *  setting: Ont.
(2005) (/U.K.) Craig Ferguson, Anna Friel, Caroline Dhavernas, Wendy Crewson, Peter Keleghan, Kris Holden-Ried, Kevin Pollak, Tom Barnett, Catherine Fitch, Janet-Laine Green, Krista Bridges, Normand Daneau, Damir Andrei.....Story of various fringe-dwelling losers and misfits around a low-rent Niagara Falls motel/diner, including a once well-to-do couple (Keleghan and Crewson) now struggling while he seeks work, a couple with a history of drugs (Holden-Ried and Friel) trying to stay clean (he more successfully than she) while hoping to regain custody of their baby, a perky waitress (Dhavernas) considering a move into the adult entertainment business on the advice of her seedy would-be manager (Pollak) and others. There's no doubt playwright Walker has a distinct "voice" -- but that's a mixed blessing as he can be heavy handed and a little goes a long way. It's a comedy-drama but is too silly to be serious, and too grim to be funny, while seeming like it wants to evince empathy and compassion toward its sad, damaged characters even as it equally seems to regard them with a kind of smug condescension. It's a collection of lose plot threads, no one of which really seems to build to much, and without any one character really emerging as that involving. It's a mostly great cast (with maybe British actress Friel the stand-out, at least on a dramatic level, though top-billed Scottish-American comedian Ferguson seems miscast in an omnipresent but minor role as the motel manager). Actors apparently really love Walker's stuff and it's easy to see why, because each scene is a mix of farce and pathos on which they can go to town -- but that doesn't mean as a whole it really works or sustains interest. Apparently the location scenes were shot surreptitiously because they couldn't get official permission to shoot in Niagara Falls. sc: George F. Walker, Dani Romain. dir: Gary Yates. - partial female nudity.- 85 min.

NIAGARA STRIP   * *  setting: Ont.
(1987) Paul de la Rosa, April Johnson, George King, Ron Byrd, John Tench, Tracey Harney.....Federal narc (de la Rosa) returns to his home town to investigate the death of an old high school friend who may have been killed while smuggling drugs.  Shoe-string budget, but better than average Emmeritus-CHCH production.  Filmed on video.  sc./dir: Dick Makichuk.

A NIGHT FOR DYING TIGERS   * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(2010) Jennifer Beals, Gil Bellows, John Pyper Ferguson, Leah Gibson, Kathleen Robertson, Tygh Runyan, Lauren Lee Smith, Jessica Heafey, Sarah Lind.....A dysfunctional family of intellectuals (a writer, a photographer, etc.) assemble for a final family diner before one of them (Bellows) is to go to prison for a manslaughter conviction -- with deep seated issues and unresolved family history bubbling up. Serio-comic drama is good looking and moody and boasts good -- nay, great -- performances all around, and has some quirky scenes and some off-beat character histories. But you don't become emotionally invested in what happens to the characters -- and that's partly because there's little true progression (the characters and relationships aren't any different by the end than they were at the beginning). And with so much eccentric background (a history of infidelity, incest, suicide, etc.) it can feel too contrived. There's a subtle obviousness -- or obvious subtlety -- in that the movie is full of cryptic lines and hints that only become clarified as the film progresses, allowing the viewers to feel they're piecing it together themselves -- yet many of the revelations are kind of what you suspected! And most of the "secrets" are only secrets from the audience, not from the characters. Ultimately worth watching for the performances and scenes, but arguably diminishes the more you think about it. sc./dir: Terry Miles. - sexual content; casual male nudity.- 92 min.

NIGHT FRIEND   * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1989) Chuck Shamata, Heather Kjollesdal, Daniel MacIvor, Real Andrews, Cynthia Belliveau, Jayne Eastwood, Art Carney.....Priest (Shamata) decides, through friendship, to convince a teen-aged prostitute (Kjollesdal) to get off the streets.  So-so drama benefits, perhaps more than it deserves, from Shamata's sensitive performance.  Avoids sensationalism -- for the most part -- but hurts its credibility by casting Andrews, its sole black actor, as the nasty pimp.  sc./dir: Peter Gerrestsen. 94 min.
 

NIGHT HEAT (TV Series)

(1984-1989) (/U.S.)   * * * 1/2  Scott Hylands ("Kevin 'Obie' O'Brien"), Allan Royal ("Tom Kirkwood"), Jeff Wincott ("Frank Giambone"), with Sean McCann ("Lt. Hogan"), Susan Hogan ("Nicole"), Tony Rosato ("Whitey"), Eugene Clark ("Colby"), Stephen Mendel ("Freddie"), Deborah Grover ("Elaine"), and variously Lynda Mason Green, Louise Valance, Laura Robinson, Wendy Crewson, with Clark Johnson, Robert Morelli.....Crime drama about big city cops (headed by Hylands and Wincott and backed up by Clark and Mendel) on the graveyard shift and the reporter who covers them.  Royal played the reporter, a recovering alcoholic and the childhood friend of Hylands' character.  McCann was the Lieutenant; Hogan the bar owner and girlfriend to Hylands' character; Rosato a street informer (temporarily replaced by Morelli as his cousin when Rosata was filming Diamonds).  Johnson appeared from time to time as "Jefferson", a sleazy narc.  The show seemed to have trouble maintaining its female characters, going through two prosecutors (Crewson for the first six episodes, Grover for the rest) and three lady cops (Green for the first six as a deadpan character, then Vallance as a naive rookie, then Robinson, initially as an all-work-no-play forensics expert, then just a kind of nondescript character). 

This modestly-budgeted but surprisingly stylish TV series employed both gritty realism and a kind of film noire surrealism (with whole episodes taking place entirely at night and mobsters in cliched wardrobes) to cover a range of stories from whodunit? mysteries, to gangster melodramas, to provocative social commentaries with a strong emphasis on characterization of the guest stars, harkening back to an earlier Canadian and U.S. type of cop show.  Surprisingly, the series would sometimes expound Liberal and things-aren't-always-black-and- white views (unusual for a lot of cop shows) though it took the requisite hard-line attitude to most law-and-order issues (though even then it could surprise you).  Initially dismissed by some Canadian critics as just a U.S.-style series, and a "Miami Vice" wannabe (such critics unable to recognize the decidedly working class look and feel of the characters being the polar opposite of "Miami Vice"), Night Heat was actually unlike most shows south of the 49th parallel (ie: the U.S.-Canada border) benefitting from the above mentioned mix of milieus, particularly the weird atmosphere created by the almost surrealistically perpetual night.  The early episodes (the first six) were more realistic, with cases bleeding over into daylight (and sub-plots continuing from episode to episode), but quickly the series' makers realized the "night" theme was a hook worth running with; as well, the episodes became entirely self-contained.  It was also a tad more violent than many previous series (for better or worse) being one of the first North American TV series to use "squibs" (exploding blood packets) for shoot outs.  The characters were memorable, though secondary to the stories, and Hylands was a particular stand out (once described, appropriately, as the shows' "glue" by one of the producers).  Wincott went on to successful career as B-movie action star. 

It began to run out of steam in its last couple of seasons (when Jeff King took over as producer from Andras Hamori -- not to blame, but merely to distinguish), and suffered from to be expected elements of machismo and sexism, but overall produced some truly brilliant episodes and a lot of really good ones.  Though a co-production with the U.S. and overseen by American producers Sonny Grosso (a real life ex-cop who was played by Roy Scheider in "The French Connection") and Larry Jacobson, unlike later such series, this was an all-Canadian production from the cast, to the scriptwriters and directors (though occasionally, very occasionally, American actors were brought up to guest star).  In addition to the regular cast, the series had what could almost be seen as a stable of recurring actors but playing different roles (adding to the appealingly theatrical, slightly surreal ambience) -- kind of the Night Heat Irregulars -- like Jack Creley, Geza Kovacs, Miguel Fernandes, and others.

A U.S.-Canada co-production, its setting was supposed to be an ambiguous Anytown, North America, ostensibly set neither in the U.S. nor Canada, but the series generally came down on the U.S. side of the border with its the lack of legal robes in court room scenes and other things.  Filmed in Toronto, this series also gave the Canadian film industry one of its most oft-cited anecdotes -- during an early episode, when the series was trying especially hard to appear "American" (and American cities being, apparently, dirtier than Canadian ones) the crew spread trash in an alley they were filming in, to give the scene a dirty, big city look.  The cast and crew broke for lunch but, when they returned, found the efficient Toronto sanitation department had cleaned up the mock garbage!  After that, the producers decided to grudgingly accept the "cleaner" look of Toronto as the series' regular backdrop.  For years afterwards this story was cited when contrasting American big cities with Canadian ones, and as an ironic example of what could happen when trying too hard to pretend a Canadian series was set in the States.  Best bets: an atypical ghost story about three elderly sisters; a weird, difficult to summarize one guest starring U.S. actor David Carradine as writer/self-defense instructor in an isolated neighbourhood; others.  96 hour long episodes made for CBS late-night (though six were shown in U.S. primetime as an experiment, featuring American guest stars and episode titles) and shown in Canada originally on CTV. - violence.- 

NIGHT HUNT a.k.a. Survive the Night

NIGHT MAGIC  * *
(1985) (/France) Carol Laure, Nick Mancuso, Stephane Audran, Jean Carmet, Barbara Harris.....A music hall performer (Mancuso) is visited by three angels granting him wishes; he falls in love with one (Laure) but isn't true to the relationship.  Fantasy musical, almost an opera given how little real talking there is, starts out good and is helped by Mancuso's intensity, but the story is thin, and the music (which often overwhelms the lyrics) is sometimes very good, but other times just monotonous with the numbers going on way too long.  Laure is one of the few who does her own singing, leaving one to think Mancuso might have found his part less-then-satisfying.  Lyrics by Leonard Cohen, music by Lewis Furey.  sc: Leonard Cohen, Lewis Furey. dir: Lewis Furey. 92 min.

NIGHT TRACKERS * *  setting: USA.
(1987) Robyn Sheppard, Hereward Pooley, George King.....American environmentalist, convinced that a local company is involved in genetic experiments, trys to get proof and accidentally releases the monster critters.  Shoe-string budgeted horror/thriller moves along quickly and isn't too bad.  Filmed on video.  An Emmeritus-CHCH production.  sc: Rick Oleksiak, Bruce Pirrie. dir: Rick Oleksiak. - violence.-

NIGHT ZOO see Un zoo, la nuit
 
NIGHT MAN (TV Series)

(1998-1999) (/U.S.)  * 1/2  Matt McColm ("Johnny Domino/NightMan"), Jayne Heitmeyer ("Lt. Briony Branca"), Derwin Jordan ("Raleigh Jordan").....Action/fantasy about an American jazz musician (McColm) who, after being struck by lightning, develops psychic powers...plus he gets a hold of a prototype supersuit that makes him invulnerable, strong, able to fly, capable of becoming invisible, and firing a lazer beam from one eye. Wow, betcha it even does windows. Heitmeyer played his cop friend/possible romantic interest, and Jordan his techno-geek buddy/aide. 

This was the second season of an American series that had been cancelled, but Canadian producers came on board to try and keep it going. They retained American actor McColm, but dumped the rest of the cast (which had included veteran actor Earl Holliman, among others), adding Canadians Heitmeyer (as a new character) and Jordan (same character from the first season, new actor). Though based on a comic book by Malibu Comics (which was bought up by Marvel Comics), which I haven't read, my understanding is that the series diverged rather dramatically from the comic's premise. The comic itself only lasted a couple of years and had been cancelled before this series even aired! A not-very-good series suffering from obvious budget limitations, leading to cheap special effects and a static pacing, and an overall lack of finesse...or sophistication, though a willingness to be fantastical, with stories of alien monsters and the like, was a plus. Executive produced by American TV mogul Glen A. Larson (who previously did, among others, "Knight Rider"). Two seasons overall of one hour episodes in syndication, but only one of them was the "Canadian" version. 

NIGHTMARE MAN * * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(1999) (/U.S.) Lee Horsley, Charles Powell, Barbara Eve Harris, Ricky Mabe, Adam Frost, Margot Kidder, Jan Rubes, Shimpal Lelisi.....American ex-cop (American actor Horsley), with vague psychic powers and raising two kids while still scarred by his wife's unsolved disappearance, goes from Hawaii to Fiji to investigate another couple's disappearance. Mystery-suspenser suffers from a bit of a bumpy execution (with voice-over narration that seems like it might've been added in post-production to clarify confusing bits) and a mixed bag of performances (though most are O.K., like Horsley). But starts to work simply because the mystery-plot is actually off beat and intriguing...unlike so many films where the plot seems to have been punched out with a cookie cutter. And there are some nice scenes of Horsley actually making deductions! Not great, but worth a look on a slow night. Seems as though it may've been intended as a pilot for a never-realized series, though, if so, it's sufficiently self-contained that it stands on its own. sc: Michael Fisher (from his novel Cries from the Darkness). dir: Jimmy Kaufman. - violence.- 94 min.

NIGHTS BELOW STATION STREET  * * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1997) Liisa Repo-Martell, Michael Hogan, Lynda Boyd, Marnie McPhail, Brent Stait, Michael McPhaden, Kelci Stephenson.....Saga about a late-'70s, poor, dysfunctional, small town family, focusing on the teenage daughter (Repo-Martell) who discovers she's pregnant, and the affable, but alcoholic dad (Hogan), who decides to try and give up drinking. Made for CBC-TV comedy-drama starts out, not so much a black-comedy, as a bleak-comedy -- that is, something finding humour in bleak situations that really aren't very funny; and despite great performances, working class ambience, and energetic scenes, can seem a bit strident and like it says all it's going to early...but stick with it. Gets more serious, and more empathetic, and more involving as it goes. Repo-Martell and Hogan are particular stand-outs. Head and shoulders, the best of the Richards adaptations. sc: David Adams Richards (from his novel). dir: Norma Bailey. 91 min.

NIGHTSTICK  setting: USA.
(1987) Bruce Fairbairn, Robert Vaughn, Leslie Nielsen, Kerrie Keane, John Vernon, Walker Boone, Tony de Santis, Dave Mucci.....Unorthodox cop (naturally), in New York (of course), goes after homicidal bad guys (no, really?).  One of those suspensers where the baddies spend the film killing people while the hero just sits on his arse.  Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if the dialogue wasn't so silly or the actors didn't seem so uncomfortable...and unconvincing.  sc: James J. Docherty. dir: Joseph L. Scanlan. - violence.- 94 min.

NIGHTWAVES  * * 1/2  setting: USA
(2003) (/U.S.) Sherilyn Fenn, David Nerman, Bruce Dinsmore, Francis X. McCarthy, Kevin Jubinville, Jennifer Morehouse, Barry Blake.....Recuperating from an accident, a young American widow (Fenn) overhears conversations on a radio scanner that may be relevant in a murder investigation. Modern riff on "Rear Window" (with maybe a touch of "Sorry, Wrong Number") strains credibility and is a bit slow moving, having trouble sustaining the suspense during the non-suspense scenes. But squeaks by as an O.K. time-waster on a slow evening. Nice performances from Dinsmore, as a friend, and McCarthy as a District Attorney. sc: Melissa Jo Peltier (story Rhenee A. Bishop, Melissa Jo Peltier). dir: Jimmy Kaufman. 90 min.

NIGHTWORLD  a.k.a. 30 Years to Life
 

NIKITA (TV Series)

(1997-2001) (/U.S.)   * *  Peta Wilson ("Nikita Samuelle"), Roy Dupuis ("Michael"), Eugene Robert Glazer ("Operations"), Don Francks ("Walter"), Matthew Ferguson ("Birkoff"), Alberta Watson ("Madeline"), with Anais Granofsky ("Carla") (-3rd).....Hi-tech espionage/action (with the obligatory sci-fi touches of gadgets and holograms) about a woman (Wilson), wrongly convicted of murder, who is recruited against her will by Section One, a top secret (U.S.) government counter-terrorist organization, and given the code-word "Josephine".  Dupuis plays her partner/handler; Glazer, the organization's head; Francks, the outfitter; Ferguson, the computer expert; and Watson the psychological expert.  Granofsky played "Nikita"'s next-door neighbour.

This TV series was spun-off from the high-profile French film "La femme Nikita" (which was made into the American film "Point of No Return") and does indeed do a good job of evoking Euro-Trash Art Films with lots of neon, a pulsing score, flashy camera angles, thin scripts, etc....  Which isn't necessarily a good thing if you're into story and characterization.  And it was almost as plodding and humourless as Counterstrike.  Though softening some of the elements of the films (in the movies, Nikita, a murderer, was recruited to be an assassin) this series is still cold and nihilistic, with our heroine working for an organization that is no more admirable or sympathetic than the one-dimensional baddies they're after, sometimes shooting people in the back, or murdering their own agents who wanted to retire.  The fact that this moral ambiguity was acknowledged in the series doesn't make it any less nauseating.

Attractive Hollywood-based Australian Wilson is good, but frankly can be a bit mousey -- giving this "tough gal" series a bit of a sexist (and European) ambience when contrasted with rival U.S. series like "Xena" and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" -- while Dupuis is a little blank-faced (as usual) and dressed-up to look like a Vogue model.  Wilson's endless fashion changes were also a part of the show's selling point, even though tight-dresses and high heels make for impractical attire in action scenes.  Though based on a French film and starring an Australian, this series was still set in the States as opposed to Canada -- though it isn't as overt as most Americanized Canadian shows.  In fact, it tended to bill the (Canadian) guest stars as "special guest star", in situations where, even domestically, the actors aren't well known.  The CTV network stopped airing it in Canada after its third season, though it continued airing in the States; it was slated for cancelation in 2000, but fan protests led to a final 8 episodes being filmed.  Showcase later aired the series in Canada.  Hour-long episodes. 

NIKKI, WILD DOG OF THE NORTH   * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1960) (/U.S.) Jean Coutu, Emile Genest, Uriel Luft, Robert Rivard.....Story of a wolf-dog and his friendship with both a bear and a fur-trader (Coutu).  Entertaining enough Walt Disney film, though the seeming harsh treatment of the four-legged actors might make genuine animal lovers uncomfortable.  dir: Jack Couffer, Don Haldane. 74 min.

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