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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: CDN.
(2007) Carrie-Anne Moss, Kevin Zegers, Callum Keith Rennie, Tygh Runyon, Cameron Bright, Michael Riley, Andrew Airlie, Camille Sullivan, Lauren Lee Smith, Britt Irvin.....Six-degrees-of-separation type story of different people still struggling with the trauma and grief caused by a fatal car accident two years before: the mother (Moss) of the dead teen; the teen's best friend (Zegers) just out of juvie detention; the drunk driver of the car (Rennie) -- who inexplicably avoided jail time! -- and his autistic brother (Runyon); etc. A good cast is hamstrung by a self-conscious, self-important drama -- a superficial construct of "stylish" edits and a few stock characters lifted from similar films, building to a climax that is supposed to convey an emotional epiphany...but doesn't. (Toward the end Moss remarks that maybe she didn't know her dead son as well as she thought...but nothing in the rest of the film seems as though that's a significant undercurrent). A lot of scenes could've been dropped without affecting the story, or our understanding of the characters, one whit (how many scenes do we need of Moss looking teary-eyed, or of uncomfortable dinners, or of people throwing things?) -- and they feel like "scenes", a chance for the actors to brood, or emote, but devoid of true context and consistency. It's called "normal", but the filmmakers fail to make the characters seem like convincing, well rounded people, many instead one-note...and even obnoxious. For a movie with aspirations to profoundity...Sullivan's protracted nude scene is the high point! sc: Travis McDonald. dir: Carl Bessai. - sexual content; partial female nudity; brief male nudity.- 105 min.
NORMAN'S AWESOME EXPERIENCE a.k.a. A Switch in Time
NORTH OF PITTSBURGH
* * 1/2 setting: USA./Ont.
(1992) Viveca Lindfors, Jeff Schultz, Jay Brazeau, James Purcell, Babs Chula, Suzanne Ristic, Timothy Webber, Robert Clothier, Dick Martin.....Ontario man (Schultz), in trouble with drug dealers, flees on a road trip with his grandmother (imported Lindfors) through the U.S. in '75 -- and the two, who never got along, come to understand each other. Likeable serio-comic film has a good script and vignettes, with nice performances, particularly Lindfors, but no real drive. The on-screen chemistry between the two leads never quite clicks, either. U.S. comedian Dick is Richard's pop. sc: Jeff Schultz (from an idea by Anthony Peter Brunette). dir: Richard Martin. 99 min.
This TV series was slick, expensive-looking and generally well-acted though like any soap (which the series increasingly became, with most episodes containing a self-contained main plot, threaded with various on-going sub-plots) its appeal depends a lot on how much you like the characters...which isn't always easy (a mantra in the early episodes tended to be characters saying "What do you want me to do about it? It's not my problem." when confronted by another character's dilemma, but this lack of altruism became less prevalent as the series progressed). Its treatment of various issues from native rights to domestic violence was often awkward and superficial, and a kind of deliberate, almost lethargic pacing hurt it a bit, giving each scene too much of a sameness, but the series was fairly popular overall, particularly in native communities -- not surprising, since it was the first, and still one of the few, adult series about native people produced anywhere in North America, and one that, with a few exceptions, treated its characters in a generally well-rounded, unstereotyped way. It was followed by a number of TV movies which, while staying true to the character/soap opera roots, were also mystery-suspense films, beginning with In the Blue Ground and including Trial by Fire, Dream Storm, Another Country, and Distant Drumming
It was also one of the first English-Canadian series to use profanity that wouldn't make it past U.S. censors (this was long before the much ballyhooed U.S. show "NYPD Blue") and probably opened the door for the looser restrictions on most subsequent Canadian series (at least, those intended principally for the Canadian market) like Traders and DaVinci's Inquest and others. Created by Barbar Samuels and Wayne Grigsby. Filmed in Alberta. Hour-long episodes on the CBC (about 13 a season).
(2006) * * * Aidan Devine ("Kilcoyne"), Janet Bailey ("Mrs. Colley"), Peter Williams ("Mr. Colley"), Debra Lynn McCabe ("Brenda Kilcoyne"), Lyriq Nent ("Joss Colley"), Jeanette Sousa ("Emira Toulary"), Kristin Bell ("Amanda Kilcoyne"), Cas Anvar ("Mr. Toulary"), with Cary Bowles ("Clay Thomas"), others.....Daytime serial try-out focusing around three families involved in Halifax's construction business, and the various romantic entanglements, back rooms deals, family squabbles and, yes, corruption and murder.
Effective series which stylistically owes more to British soaps like Coronation Street and East Enders than U.S. soaps -- with a greater use of exterior shoots, and a more working class ambience. Well-paced, keeping the energy up as we cut from the various plot threads, and with the characters (gradually) growing on you. Plus a refreshing racial pluralism. The first of two such soap trials...the other being 49th and Main. Created by Floyd Kane. Six half hour episodes (so far) on the CBC.
NORTHERN PASSAGE a.k.a. Baree
(2006) * *
Luke Kirby ("Brian"), Jessica Greco ("Mona"), Tom McCamus ("Heiz"), Brian
Fidler ("Stevie"), David Lawrence ("Bernie"), John Cassini ("Meadows"),
Sergio Di Zio ("Hendy"), Nathaniel Arcand ("Georgee"), David Fox ("Ivison"),
Tracy Wright ("Fran").....Comedy about the quirky
misfits who inhabit a small town in the Yukon, and the sort of "meteorite
rush" that ensues when a meteor explodes overhead and a local guy (Kirby)
is determined to find it before some "undercover" Americans do. Like, say,
Gas, this is a comedy that definitely benefits from its on location
filming (as opposed to be being shot in a Toronto or Vancouver sound stage).
Though intended as an on going series, the first season forms a kind of
self-contained story arc.
TV series could be seen as a snowy Corner Gas (in that
it's about the eccentric inhabitants of a small town, who get caught up
in odd-ball little schemes). But basically it's a Canadian answer to the
U.S. "Northern Exposure" -- except minus a straight man lead to act as
our "in" to the story. Which is kind of a problem -- Kirby's a decent actor,
but his character isn't that interesting or endearing a character. Going
for low-key, quirky humour, the series meanders about, with the meteorite
plot only barely developed. The series uses an interesting concept of having
the episodes overlap with each other (that is, a seeming non sequitor scene
in one episode will make sense in a later episode as we see the scene again,
but now in context) making it a series that sort of benefits from sticking
with it...even as it will make aspects incomprehensible to someone just
tuning in. (And I think the filmmakers themselves had trouble with their
own concept, as I'm sure there were scenes that don't quite mesh properly).
Ultimately...not a terrible series, kind of, sort of, cute...in a way,
I guess. But the very fact that it wants to be "quirky" and "off-beat"
makes you unsure even when/if it's missing its own goals. It's sort of
amusing...but not that funny, but maybe they'd say "that's the point: we're
not a crass laugh-out-loud sitcom"; the plots often seem a bit thin and
unevenly developed, with the season finale inparticular rather anti-climactic.
McCamus is supposed to be German...but doesn't bother with an accent, and
no one seems to know the distinction between a "meteor" and a "meteorite"
-- and maybe that's all deliberate, or maaybe a result of problems in the
production. But the result is a series that doesn't really grab ya. And
the anti-Amercanism undercurrent crosses over from being legitimate socio-political
commentary...to just being kind of uncomfortable and rude. Filmed in 2005,
but wasn't aired until 2006. Half-hour episodes on the CBC.
TV series could be seen as a snowy Corner Gas (in that it's about the eccentric inhabitants of a small town, who get caught up in odd-ball little schemes). But basically it's a Canadian answer to the U.S. "Northern Exposure" -- except minus a straight man lead to act as our "in" to the story. Which is kind of a problem -- Kirby's a decent actor, but his character isn't that interesting or endearing a character. Going for low-key, quirky humour, the series meanders about, with the meteorite plot only barely developed. The series uses an interesting concept of having the episodes overlap with each other (that is, a seeming non sequitor scene in one episode will make sense in a later episode as we see the scene again, but now in context) making it a series that sort of benefits from sticking with it...even as it will make aspects incomprehensible to someone just tuning in. (And I think the filmmakers themselves had trouble with their own concept, as I'm sure there were scenes that don't quite mesh properly). Ultimately...not a terrible series, kind of, sort of, cute...in a way, I guess. But the very fact that it wants to be "quirky" and "off-beat" makes you unsure even when/if it's missing its own goals. It's sort of amusing...but not that funny, but maybe they'd say "that's the point: we're not a crass laugh-out-loud sitcom"; the plots often seem a bit thin and unevenly developed, with the season finale inparticular rather anti-climactic. McCamus is supposed to be German...but doesn't bother with an accent, and no one seems to know the distinction between a "meteor" and a "meteorite" -- and maybe that's all deliberate, or maaybe a result of problems in the production. But the result is a series that doesn't really grab ya. And the anti-Amercanism undercurrent crosses over from being legitimate socio-political commentary...to just being kind of uncomfortable and rude. Filmed in 2005, but wasn't aired until 2006. Half-hour episodes on the CBC.
So-so TV series, filmed on video, certainly went for the big "D" drama, but it also tended toward being stilted with uninspired direction. The cast, though showing a lot of promise (particularly Dau, Lucas and some others), was too obviously inexperienced. Created by Nick Orchard. Filmed in Vancouver, but rarely admitting it. Half-hour episodes originally on the CBC.
NOT JUST A DIRTY LITTLE
MOVIE * * setting: CDN.
(1986) Gale Garnett, Victor Ertmanis, Alan Scarfe, Duncan Fraser, Ian White, Barbara Gordon.....Unemployed mainstream actor (Ertmanis) is reluctantly talked into acting in a porn movie directed by a slumming, once-respected European director (Scarfe). Comedy-drama is a lighter version of Darcus' usual play-like flicks (talkie, extended scenes in a limited number of locations). An interesting idea, it has its moments and is sporadically amusing, but ultimately it's too repetitious. Plays with your expectations a bit -- the porn people are lampooned, sure, but also shown to have their own values -- but its more serious threads clash with the inherent goofiness of the premise (whether right or wrong, appearing in a hardcore porn film wouldn't help his career, making scenes of characters blaming Ertmanis' trepidation on his out-dated prudishness ring false). Scarfe is a particular stand out as the Pollyanna director. sc./dir: Jack Darcus. - sexual content, partial male nudity.- 96 min.
This TV series had a promising first episode, but quickly lost its way with dull plots and unfunny, obvious gags, though Ditson was an appealing lead. Unlike the hugely successful British series, "Yes, Minister", which it was obviously trying to emulate, this show went out of its way to avoid issues. That's right, a political series that avoided politics! Inspired by the book, "The Governor General's Bunny Hop". A political setting was tried again in In Opposition. Half-hour episodes originally on the CBC.
* 1/2 setting: Ont.
(2003) David Hewlett, Andrew Miller.....Two losers, with life and their world (figuratively) crashing down around them, suddenly find the entire world outside their home...vanishes. Quirky SF/fantasy comedy boasts some imaginative visuals and good performances. Seems a little like a clever short film that's been expanded to movie length, and it does lag periodically, but gets better as it goes, even adding a slight dramatic edge to the proceedings. Though the problem with the premise is that when good actors like Marie-Josee Croze, Gordon Pinsent and Soo Garay crop up in the beginning, you know they're only going to be cameos. sc: The Drews (story Vincenzo Natali, Andrew Miller, David Hewlett). dir: Vincenzo Natali. - violence.- 89 min.
* setting: USA.
(1980) (/U.S.) Donald Sutherland, Suzanne Sommers, Dabney Coleman, Roscoe Lee Brown, Larwence Dane, Saul Rubinek.....With the help of a lawyer (Sommers), an American university Professor (Sutherland) trys to stop the U.S. military from slaughtering endangered seals. Should be a bitingly funny satire, but isn't. Even Sutherland is bad. Sommers, Coleman and Brown are, of course, all Americans. sc: Robert Kaufman. dir: George Bloomfield. 97 min.
* * 1/2 setting: other
(1995) Eric Peterson, Sonja Smits, Randy Hughson, David Storch, Michael Hogan, Michael McManus, Peter Blais, Linda Prystawska.....Story of family, love and revolutionary politics set in 1859 Russia and revolving around the visit of a man and his radical friend to his father's fallen-on-rough-times estate. Staged-for-CBC TV version of the critically acclaimed comedy-drama. Unfortunately, the actors still seem to think their on stage, delivering overly broad performances as though in a poor sitcom. And the play itself lacks real heart and is more cute than funny, but it's briskly paced and there's often something appealing about the talkiness of filmed plays. Ironically, this adaptation of a Russian novel was once voted best new Canadian play -- a sad comment on Canadian culture. sc: the play by George F. Walker (from the novel Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev). dir. for the stage: George F. Walker, Patrick McDonald; dir. for TV: Robert Sherrin.
Nothing Scared, a book by Alan Cairns about the infamous Albert Walker case, served as the inspiration for the moviea.k.a. Albert Walker.
NOTHING TO LOSE
* * 1/2
(1993) Alexandra Paul, Juliano Mer, Youssef Abed-Alnour, Paul Gleason, Michael V. Gazzo.....Street smart kickboxer (Mer) turns on his crimeland "family" when they kill his real kin. If you're in the mood for a low-budget man-against- the-mob action pic, then you could do worse. Some good dialogue and ideas among the cliches, with the actors actually putting some thought into their lines. sc./dir: Izidore K. Musallam. - violence, sexual content.- 85 min.
NOTHING TOO GOOD FOR A COWBOY
* * setting: B.C.
(1997) Chad Willett, Tom Atherton, Sarah Chalke, Falconer Abraham, Zachary Bennett, Dan MacDonald.....Misadventures of two New York cattle ranchers in northern B.C. in '39 and what happens when one brings home his spunky, high society bride. Low-key made-for-CBC TV comedy-drama is superficially slick, relying a lot on its personable leads, but it's so slight and lacking any real teeth (not to mention originality) that it borders on tedious in spots. Naturally, then, it was turned into a series. The sequence where Willett tries to woo Chalke (by pretending to be something other than what he is) sparks...but is over in about ten minutes. sc: David Barlow, Charles Lazer (from the books by Richmond P. Hobson). dir: Kari Skogland. 92 min.
|NOTHING TOO GOOD FOR A COWBOY
(1998-2000) * * Yannick Bisson ("Richmond Hobson, Jr."), Ted Atherton ("Pan "Panhandle" Phillips), Sarah Chalke ("Gloria McIntosh Hobson"), Kimberly Warnat ("Kit"), Kristian Ayre ("Tommy"), Will Sanderson ("Ed") (1st), with Ben Cardinal ("Nelson George"), Sarah-Jane Redmond ("Olivia"), others.....Comedy/drama about two cattle ranchers (Bisson and Atherton) -- who used to be New York business men -- in war-time 1940s in the B.C. interior. Chalke played "Hobson"'s new wife, a Vancouver debutante (curiously, the fact that all the lead characters were transplanted city folk was rarely relevant to the series; if you didn't know that was their origins, you'd hardly guess it). Warnat, Ayre and Sanderson played the ranch hands -- a girl and two under-age boys (all the able-bodied men were at war); Cardinal a Native Indian neighbour; Redmond a local school teacher with an on-again/off-again thing with "Pan".
This TV series had a pleasant enough cast (though the characters weren't quite as ingratiating), but the episodes tended toward being a little...flaccid. Moderately amusing without being funny, straight-faced without actually being dramatic, the story's tended to meander. Improved slightly with its second season...but not enough to save it from cancelation. Still, it was good-looking and benefitted from an atypical premise/milieu that might make it appealing in the right circumstances. Inspired by a true story (and the autobiographical books by Hobson). Originally filmed as a TV movie with Chad Willett in Bisson's part. Developed by David Barlow and Charles Lazar. Two seasons of hour long episodes on the CBC.
NOUVEAU-FRANCE see Battle of the Brave
NOW AND FOREVER *
* setting: Sask.
(2002) Mia Kirshner, Adam Beach, Gordon Tootoosis, Gabriel Olds, Simon Baker, Alexandra Purvis, Theresa Russell, Callum Keith Rennie.....Story of the platonic relationship between a troubled small town girl, who leaves, only to return a star, and her Native Indian best friend, who secretly loves her. Well intentioned stab at just an old fashioned tearjerker/melodrama (with the requisite rare fatal illness thrown in), but suffers from heavy handed, frequently implausible dialogue (particularly the Indian characters who talk in stilted sentences like something out of a 1950s western), workmanlike direction, and a story (heavily leaning on voice-over narration) that seems more like the outline to a movie, rather than the finished product. Benefits when Kirshner and Beach assume the roles (the first part follows the characters as kids played by Purvis and Baker) and is partially redeemed by a truly surprising twist toward the end. Olds is also good as her creepy boyfriend. Probably director Clark's only set-in-Canada effort. a.k.a. Now & Forever. sc: Bill Boyle. dir: Bob Clark. - sexual content.- 100 min.
NOWHERE IN SIGHT*
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(2000) Helen Slater, Christopher Heyerdahl, Richard Jutras, Andrew McCarthy, Miklos Perlus.....Newly blind American woman (Slater), still adjusting to her handicap, has her apartment taken over by a couple of thugs (Heyerdahl and Jutras) who believe she has information they want. Good performances from all in this slickly put together thriller make it an O.K. time waster, though, as is often the case with such movies, it's often more unpleasant than suspenseful (though not as sordid or unpleasant as some). The villains veer, not always comfortably, between being psychopaths, comic relief, and even sympathetic (the filmmakers would have been better to leave out the scene with the strippers). Slater is stuck spending most of the film cowering helplessly. It's no "Wait Until Dark", that's for sure. Slater and McCarthy (as her boyfriend) are imports from Hollywood. Slater writes and performs a song on the soundtrack -- one of those moody, folksy tunes that actually makes the film seem more ambitious than it is! sc: James Lemmo. dir: Douglas Jackson. - partial female nudity, extreme violence.- 94 min.
NOWHERE TO HIDE
* * setting: USA.
(1987) Amy Madigan, Michael Ironside, Robin MacEachern, Daniel Hugh Kelly, John Colicos, Chuck Shamata.....After her husband's (imported Kelly) murder, an ex-U.S. marine (imported Madigan) and her son are forced to flee from the killers who think she has some incriminating evidence. Good cast in this action/thriller but cliched plot and poor dialogue are a problem. Lots of familiar Canuck actors in thankless roles (Geza Kovacs doesn't even have any lines!) and second-billed Ironside only has a small part. sc: Alex Rebar, George Goldsmith. dir: Mario Azzopardi. - violence.- 91 min.
* * 1/2 setting: other/USA
(2000) (/U.S.) Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessey, Brian Cox, Michael Ironside, Matt Craven, Len Cariou, Christopher Plummer.....Drama about the post World War II trial at Nuremberg of Nazis for war crimes, focusing on American prosecutor Robert Jackson (American actor Baldwin) and Nazi officer Herman Goering (Scottish actor Cox). Most of the other actors are Canadian. It's always tricky when reviewing serious, undoubtedly well-intentioned dramatizations, but there's a sense here the filmmakers knew what they were doing...but not always why. They haven't entirely shaped the thing into a narrative. Perhaps instead of handling the thing as a court room drama (where there can be few surprises since this is history) a more interesting approach would've been depicting what led up to the trials: the decision to actually try war crimes, and why these particular men were chosen to be tried (by the end, I still wasn't entirely sure who all the Nazi defendants were, or what they were accused of doing, particularly significant since some were found not guilty). A secondary plotline with Craven as Gustav Gilbert, the Allied psychiatrist assigned to the Nazi prisoners, could've made an intriguing film all on its own. Not bad, and certainly valid, but considering the potent subject matter, a bit unfocused. A horrific mid-story sequence airing real footage of Nazi death camps seems in bad taste for a dramatization, trivializing the death and suffering like a tabloid TV's "America's Scariest Police Shootings" or some such thing. Max Von Sydow has a cameo at the beginning and a number of noteworthy Canadian actors appear in bit parts, including Rebecca Jenkins who has maybe one line as Baldwin's wife! The subject was previously covered in the American movie "Judgment at Nuremberg" -- it dealt with fictional characters, unlike this one, but was nonetheless a much superior effort. Received four Gemini Awards including for Best Mini-Series, and Supporting Actor (Cox). 4 hours. sc: David W. Rintels (from the book Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial by Joseph E. Persico). dir: Yves Simoneau. - extreme violence.-
(2009) Clark Johnson, Karen LeBlanc, Daniel J. Gordon, Walter Borden, David Collins, Chris Johnson, Samantha Somer Wilson, Elizabeth Saunders, Martin Villafana, Ndidi Onukwulu.....Story of a nurse and single mother (LeBlanc), with a potentially fatal illness, her young son (Gordon), and an aging underground boxer (Johnson). Drama is sumptuously shot, with a moody soundtrack, and good performances, and Johnson and LeBlanc are compelling performers. But the story is thin and slow as molasses -- one of those Art House films where it seems as though every minute of dialogue must be balanced by 4 minutes without dialogue. It seems to have themes, about mortality, and violence...though what those themes are remain a bit vague (including a surprisingly ambivalent -- even admiring -- attitude toward bare knuckle boxing!) And it sort of has pretensions to be a character drama...but is more concerned with the imagery than in creating plausible, fleshed out characters and relationships. sc: Charles Officer, Ingrid Veninger. dir: Charles Officer. - sexual content.- 93 min.
THE NUTCRACKER PRINCE *
(1990) voices of Megan Follows, Kiefer Sutherland, Mike MacDonald, Peter Boretski, Phylis Diller, Peter O'Toole.....Animated tale of a young girl (Follows) who, on receiving a wooden Nutcracker Prince, is drawn into its tale involving a battle with the evil Mouse King. Good animation and some nice vocal performances highlight this O.K. variation on the famous story, but it never builds up any steam with story or character. sc: Patricia Watson (from the tale "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffmann). dir: Paul Schibli. 74 min.
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