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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.
OPEN HEART *
* * setting: CDN.
(2004) Megan Follows, Raoul Bhaneja, Vincent Walsh, Joseph Ziegler, Kim Roberts, Nicole Maillet, Kate Lynch, Karl Pruner, Victoria Snow, Russell Yuen, Athena Lamarre, Roxanne Jean.....Paediatric surgery nurse (Follows) begins to question the skill of the hospital's new star surgeon (Bhaneja) after some of the babies die from botched procedures, but finds her superiors aren't interested in her complaints, causing her to become more isolated and start to unravel. Compelling made-for-CBC TV drama thanks to well done scenes and strong performances all around, reminiscent a little of the no nonsense quality of the CBC's old For the Record anthology series. Fairly riveting while you watch, but admittedly a touch unsatisfying in retrospect, thanks to a tepid climax (which seems less like they built up to it, and more like they just realized they were nearing the end of the running time, so needed to wrap it up), and a realization that a lot of the scenes and supporting characters never go anywhere. Sold itself as being practically based on a true story...even as then it just vaguely asserts that stories like this happen in hospitals all the time, in Canada and elsewhere. For a not dissimilar subject matter, see Taking Care. sc: Raymond Storey. dir: Laurie Lynd. - violence.- app. 90 min.
OPERATION GOLDEN PHOENIX
* setting: Ont./other
(1994) Jalal Merhi, Loren Avedon, James Hong, Karen Sheperd, Al Waxman, Guylaine St. Onge.....In order to clear his name in the robbery of a rare artifact he was guarding, a man (Merhi) must track down both it and the ancient treasure to which it is a map. Poor, low-budget action-adventure wants admirably to be flamboyant (more like James Bond than Merhi's usual chop-socky films) but it's slow with mainly weak performances. St. Onge comes across best. Waxman has just a bit part and, yes, that is Tony Nardi as the lawyer -- giving the film's best performance in just one scene. Filmed in Lebannon and Toronto (and it admits it, too!). The clips during the end credits suggest whole scenes were edited out of the finished film. sc: J. Stephen Maunder, Kevin Ward (story Samir Ghouseine). dir: Jalal Merhi (his first film as director). - violence.- 92 min.
OPERATION OVERTHROW a.k.a. Power Play
ORDEAL IN THE ARCTIC
* * setting: N.W.T.
(1993) (/U.S.) Richard Chamberlain, Catherine Mary Stewart, Melanie Mayron, Scott Hylands, Page Fletcher, Christopher Bolton, Richard MacMillan, Tom Butler.....True story of a Canadian Forces plane that crashed in the arctic winter and how the survivors had to endure 30 hours waiting for rescue. Weak made-for-TV drama has some good moments, but suffers from a lot of bad dialogue and unconvincing performances. Chief assets are the stark landscape (filmed outside of Edmonton) and imported Chamberlain's earnest performance as the pilot. Mayron is also an American. sc: Paul Edwards (from the book Death and Deliverance by Robert Mason Lee). dir: Mark Sobel. app. 93 min.
ORDERS see Les ordres
ORDINARY MAGIC *
* 1/2 setting: Ont./other
(1993) Glenne Headly, Ryan Reynolds, David Fox, Heath Lamberts, Paul Anka, Joe Roncetti, Cara Pifko, Ron White, J. Winston Carroll, Les Rubie .....Story of a an India-raised Canadian teen (Reynolds) who comes to live with his aunt (imported Headly) in Paris, Ontario, and his decision to use passive resistance to stop their house from being torn down by a developer (Anka). Interesting fish-out-of-water story is nicely put together though a bit slow moving in spots. Filmed, in part, in Sri Lanka. sc: Jefferson Lewis (from the novel Ganesh by Malcolm Bosse). dir: Giles Walker. - mild sexual content.- 104 min.
* setting: other
(2004) (/France/Portugal) Roschdy Zem, Marie-Josee Croze, Yves Jacques, Marie-France Pisier, Scali Delpeyrat, Helene Patarot.....French sailor (Zem) is surprised to learn that a girl he was briefly married to years before is now a famous movie star (Croze) and he goes to visit her...suspicious as to whether she even is who she claims as she doesn't quite look like the girl he remembered. An intriguing hook, with good performances and some good scenes, making it interesting at first...but the whole seems a bit aimless, and in need of some buffing up in the plot department. It starts out seeming like it might be a mystery...but that aspect kind of peters out, and it also seems like maybe it wants to be a comedy-satire of celebrity...but doesn't really have anything fresh to say. And as a character drama...likewise doesn't have much to offer, with the personalities thinly drawn. Too bad, because there's a good movie lurking inside. In French. sc: Nathalie Najem, Laurence Ferreira Barbosa (from the story by Donald E. Westlake). dir: Laurence Ferreira Barbosa. - female nudity; brief male nudity; sexual content.- 105 min.
* * 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1974) Jean Lapointe, Helene Loiselle, Claude Gauthier, Guy Provost, Louise Forestier.....A handful of different people find themselves imprisoned for no reason given because of the War Measures Act imposed during the 1970 October Crisis. A searing docudrama using fictional characters based on real stories. It's like something Franz Kafka would have written...but it really happened! Easily one of the most important films ever made in Canada. Won a number of Etrogs. English title: Orders. sc./dir: Michel Brault. - casual male nudity.- 107 min.
ORPHAN BLACK (TV Series)
Following in the wake of other successful Canadian series (Sanctuary, Lost Girl, and Continuum -- all low key fantasy/SF series fronted by a white female lead) Orphan Black premiered to good notices, even if some did note it was vaguely reminiscent (albeit only vaguely) of the American series "Ringer" from the previous season. Special effects have progressed so far that the "twinning" effects are astonishing...you don't even think about how this is one actress playing opposite herself! And much of that credit goes to Maslany, who creates distinctive personalities (her win for Best Actress at the American Critics Choice Awards -- unusual for an "unknown" star of a sci-fi series -- surprised many, though not fans of the series). The cast overall is good, with Gavaris a bit OTT but effective, and Hanchard nicely intense. Unfortunately, the series itself can be a bit more mixed (great reviews notwithstanding). Maslany is very good at playing different characters, and some with surprising subtlety (perhaps the best showcase is when she plays one clone impersonating another!)...but that doesn't mean the characters themselves are necessarily that interesting! A serialized thriller (as opposed to one where there's an adventure-of-the-week and the clone mystery simply an on going sub-plot) it kind of needs to be enough of a puzzle to keep you interested in where it's headed, while offering enough clues (and solutions) as it goes to satiate your curiosity. Unfortunately, the overall mystery is kind of vague and generic (they're clones, and part of a secret experiment) -- you kind of want to shout at the screen: "Hey, the 1970s called and wants its clone-conspiracy themes back!" And for a serialized mystery-thriller, a lot of the "surprise" twists you can foresee a few episodes ahead, and the suspense is erratic. BUT...that partly relates to how you view it. If you see it as an unfolding novel-for-TV conspiracy or, conversely, expect each week to be a tightly plotted "story," it's disappointing -- but if viewed more as just a mix of suspense and soap opera, the fun just in hanging with the characters during their adventures and (mis)-adventures (high strung soccer mom Allison often comic relief -- in a black humour way) and not worry about where it's headed, or why, or if the writers have any long term vision, it can be more enjoyable. Bottom line: a good premise, with good actors...but suffering from a certain banality in execution. Made-for-cable, the pilot featured a surprising nude/sex scene (involving Maslany!) but that seemed more just to catch the audience's attention, because there's been little of that since (though still with some profanity, violence, and brief nudity). Created by John Fawcett, Graeme Manson. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Space. - violence, sexual content, casual male and female nudity.-
OTHELLO: The Tragedy of the
Moor * * * 1/2 setting: other
(2008) Carlo Rota, Matthew Deslippe, Christine Horne, Graham Abbey, Emma Campbell, Ryan Hollyman.....Shakespeare's play about Othello (Rota), a Moorish general in a Viennese army, caught up in the machinations of the duplicitous Iago (Deslippe) who conspires to make him jealous of his innocent wife (Horne). CBC TV version of the classic play is interesting in various ways. For one, Rota and director Shaikh are better known as co-stars of the comedy Little Mosque, and the casting of a white man in the part of the traditionally black Othello might seem controversial -- though here he is meant to be an Arab muslim (which is arguably truer to the reality than Shakespeare's play -- not that Rota is that either: he only plays an Arab muslim on TV!) The ethnic change both subtracts from, but also adds to, the racism sub-text and the trimming of the play down into 90 minutes certainly won't make it the definite version. But for lay-viewers...it's actually extremely good. Though not trying to fully shake its stage origins (all the scenes are indoor sets), it's nonetheless visually sumptuous, with rich colours and costumes, and intimate close-ups -- the mix of stagey-ness with cinematic "realism" actually creates an intriguing atmosphere, a kind of bubble-reality. And, interesting for a little Canadian production with an all-Canadian cast, the actors are its strengths, all delivering effective, nuanced, compelling performances; Rota is both intense and dangerous, yet also a sympathetic, vulnerable Othello, making the ending truly powerful. In fact, it's hard to single out a performance (Peter Donaldson is striking in a small part as Desdemona's irate father), but ultimately Horne as Desdemona is mesmerizing and a scene stealer. Best of all, they manage to make the scenes and dialogue (for the most part) comprehensible -- not always the case with Shakespearian productions. Ultimately, a genuinely compelling bit of televised theatre. sc: the play by William Shakespeare, abridged by Matthew Edision, Zaib Shaikh. dir: Zaib Shaikh. app. 90 min.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LAW*
1/2 setting: CDN.
(1995) (/France) Jurgen Prochnow, Yves Renier, Xavier Deluc, Marc de Jonge, Johnny Morina, Justin Bornstraegger, Maggie Castle.....In the early part of the century, the son of a fugitive comes to live with his father's friend (Prochnow) and, over the years, becomes involved in a feud over a woman with the psychotic son of the man his father killed. Poorly written and directed drama, though it picks up a bit toward the end. One of the Tales of the Wild films. sc./dir: Gilles Carle (from the work of James Oliver Curwood). - violence.- 95 min.
OTHER WOMEN'S CHILDREN
* * * setting: USA.
(1994) Melanie Mayron, Geraint Wyn Davies, Ja'net DuBois, Mykelti Williamson, Eric Pospisil, Gabrielle Rose, Jerry Wasserman, Frederick Collins Jr., Linda Darlow, Sandra P. Grant, Venus Terzo.....American pediatrician (imported Mayron), often dealing with terminally ill children, finds her work puts a strain on her family. Gripping made-for-TV medical drama has extremely powerful scenes and fine performances from all, though as a story, it tends to just wander. sc: Rama Laurie Stagner (from the novel by Perri Klass). dir: Anne Wheeler. 100 min.
(2000-2002) * * 1/2 Cara Pifko ("Kale Stilgic"), Jennie Calleja ("Mary Elizabeth Penrose"), Justin Peroff ("Ross Koralus"), with Mimi Kuzyk ("Mila"), Robert Bockstael ("Joey"), Vic Sahay ("Dalal Vidya"), Michael George ("Ethan").....Teen comedy about a precocious teen (Pifko) who publishes a 'zine detailing her life, allowing for inserts of voice-overs and computer animation. Calleja and Peroff play her best friends (the latter gay). Kuzyk and Bockstael her parents, and George her obnoxious older brother (and would-be comedian). Sahay played another of her teen peers.
Uneven series has a certain goofy charm, and an admirable desire to be funky and out there (some times). It's energetic, and attractive Pifko has oodles of charm, and the other actors are also good (particularly Peroff) and the plots boast nicely twisty schemes the characters get caught up in. But the bottom line assessment of a comedy is: does it make ya laff out loud? And so far, not so much. The portrayal of the parents -- as basically dorks -- is rather tiresome, and misses out on exploring a potentially interesting parent-child dynamic: since the dad is also a writer, father-daughter have a common ground. The energy and enthusiasm make it watchable, but more as a guilty pleasure.
One can't help thinking a show like this -- drenched in "hippness" and "attitude" -- won't really win over the teen audience it's aimed at, anymore than will seeing their grandmother in a mini-skirt. Some series seem genuinely hip, even if they're made by middle-aged filmmakers...and others seem like they have hippness thrust upon them. And this leans toward the latter. For a show about teens, stylistically it seems more aimed at pre-teens, which can be problematic. It sometimes tackles worthy issues, but the frank approach to things like sex and drugs might make some question whether it's suitable for younger teens -- particularly an episode that essentially seemed to be advocating the recreational use of marijuana, which might raise a few eyebrows. Created by John May, Suzanne Bolch. Two seasons of half hour episodes, originally on the CBC.
Out of Mind: The Stories of
H.P. Lovecraft * *
(1997) Art Kitching, Christopher Heyerdahl, Peter Farbridge.....A young man has hallucinations after receiving a mysterious inheritance from a dead uncle who was into the occult, and he starts looking for clues in the writings of American author, H.P. Lovecraft (Heyerdahl). Hour-long drama starts out an artsy, quasi-documentary about Lovecraft, segues into the horror story about the inheritance (meant to evoke a Lovecraft-style story), then ties the two together (unsatisfyingly) at the end. Film doesn't really give you that much insight into Lovecraft or his work, though the blatantly fictional middle arouses minor interest, with the writing, direction and performances showing promise (albeit in a film students sort of way) but peters out by the end, precisely because it isn't willing to be a straight narrative. sc./dir: Raymond Saint-Jean.
Out of Speech, a novel by J. Bernlof, became the movie Mind Shadows
OUT OF SYNC *
(1999) Gail O'Grady, Peter Outerbridge, Kari Wuhrer, Stewart Bick, Harvey Atkin, Jerry Ciccoritti, Richard Chevolleau.....Down-and-out American music producer (Outerbridge) is hired to produce the album of a sexy but talentless singer (Wuhrer) just as he discovers a talented housewife (O'Grady)...and then finds himself stumbling into a dilemma when his bosses think the housewife's vocals are the sexy singer's. Nice "concept" comedy-drama is entertaining enough with brisk scenes, though doesn't maybe develop the plot or the characters beyond the necessities. And Outerbridge's character, for all that he's supposed to get caught up in events, and feels some remorse for the duplicity, never quite stops being...well, a sleaze. O'Grady and Wuhrer are American imports, though Wuhrer has done a few Canadian movies over the years. a.k.a. Lip Service. sc: Eric Williams. dir: Graeme Campbell. - sexual content.- 93 min.
(1990) John Tench, Peter Read, Tracy Hoyt, Paul Amato, Dean Richards, Krista Bulmer, Christina Kaufmann.....Abused young man (Tench) is given power by the devil which he uses on his tormentors -- and then, abruptly and more than half-way through, we start following a cop and psychic on his trail and he becomes a business man. Low-budget horror film has some O.K. ideas but wastes them in favour of the tedious revenge story. Performances range from so-so to bad. sc./dir: Roman Buchok (story Phillip M. Good, Roman Buchok, Marie Buchok, Gilles Corbeil). - extreme violence, sexual content.- 95 min.
This TV series, taking its name from the '60s U.S. show, is glossy, expensive...and disappointing. The plots too often are cliched and weighed down by weak characterization and motivation and poor plot development and resolutions, putting the ideas and metaphors ahead of story...with an unhealthy fetish for all things military, particularly in later seasons, as if the filmmakers couldn't picture a life, or a future, outside of the armed services. And a tendency to go for downbeat endings means many of the episodes are both fatalistic, and also predictable. Derivative too, which isn't necessarily a crime as long as it's done well with some fresh quirks and interesting characters, but taking obvious ideas and then still mishandling them...? Frequently even the closing narration seems as though written for some other episode entirely! Perhaps a weakness -- and one that has hurt many hour-long aanthologies -- is that many of the episode seem more like expanded half-hour scripts, rather than what they are: short movies. Ironically, the original series, whatever its weaknesses (and it had a lot of weaknesses), served as the source for later efforts (such as the U.S. film "The Terminator") rather than an emulator. The episodes are kind of homogenous and feature few bad performances but, conversely, few great ones either...making it a series that can lure the audience back week after week -- particularly SF buffs -- with its promise, but will generally leave them kicking themselves for being suckered again.
It's made with looser restrictions than most shows, but unlike The Hitchhiker, it utilizes that fact only rarely. Some episodes use minor expletives, and violence rarely exceeds TV norms ("Caught in the Act" being one exception). Very occasionally nudity is seen (mainly female) most notably in the episodes "Caught in the Act" (with American actress Alyssa Milano appearing topless in a couple of scenes) and "Valerie 23" (with Sofia Shinas as a jealous android who appears fully nude in one scene) as well as "Resurrection" and, briefly, "The New Breed"...all of which is noteworthy because those scenes were altered for commercial television -- nudity was cut, natch, but not violence.
All episodes featured imported American actors, often more than one (including some "genre" faces such as Mark Hamill, Leonard Nimoy, and others), though very occasionally a Canuck got the good role. And though filmed in Vancouver, it was adamantly set in the United States (ironic, since even the original series occasionally set stories outside the U.S.). Two seasons were commissioned before the first episode had even aired! Best bets: "The New Breed", a creepy one in which American Richard Thomas was top-billed, but the episode belonged to Canadian Peter Outerbridge (giving a stand-out performance) as a man whose body starts mutating after he injects himself with Thomas' nanobots. Like most of the episodes, there was little ground-breaking about it, but at least it was a well-done riff on an old idea. "Blood Brothers", a straightforward suspenser, in which imported Charles Martin Smith gives a sympathetic performance as a scientist whose discovery of a cure-all puts him at odds with his brother's research company. And a few others like maybe "I, Robot" (despite its fumbled ending), notable if only because it's a remake of an episode from the original series (based on a short story by Eando Binder) and starring American Leonard Nimoy -- who appeared in the original; Cyndy Preston also starred. "The Human Operators", about a sentient spaceships that keep humans as slaves. Hour-long episodes (with a double-length premier, Sandkings -- reviewed separately) which for the first two season aired in Canada, uncut, on The Movie Network, then seven months later (edited where required) on Global. TMN dropped it though, so that starting with the 3rd season, the only episodes seen in Canada (on CanWest-Global) were edited (as such, I have no idea what episodes may have contained nudity or violence). Some episodes are available on video and an anthology featuring text adaptations of episodes from both this and the original series was also published. - violence, nudity.-
THE OUTER LIMITS: Sandkings*
* setting: USA.
(1995) (/U.S.) Beau Bridges, Helen Shaver, Lloyd Bridges, Kim Coates, Dylan Bridges.....A disgruntled U.S. scientist (Beau B.) descends into madness while secretly breeding intelligent, but dangerous, martian bugs in his barn who seem to regard him as God. Expensive-looking, potentially intriguing SF suspenser ends up unambitious and middling, suffering from largely two-dimensional performances, pedestrian direction and uninspired dialogue and characterization. Unfortunately, this pilot for the new series kind of set the artistic tone for many of the subsequent episodes. And, yes, all those Bridges are related. sc: Melinda Snodgrass (from the story by George R.R. Martin). dir: Stuart Gillard. 93 min.
* * * setting: Ont.
(1977) Craig Russell, Hollis McLaren, Richert Easley, Allan Moyle, Martha Gibson.....Story of the friendship between two big city dreamers: a gay hairdresser and aspiring female impersonator (Russell) and a schizophrenic young woman (McLaren). Off-beat, likeable serio-comic picture, though some of the non-Russell routines go on too long. The two leads are very good, especially the always impressive McLaren. Sequel: Too Outrageous. sc./dir: Richard Benner (from the story "Making It" by Margaret Gibson). 100 min.
THE OUTSIDE CHANCE OF MAXIMILIAN
GLICK * * 1/2 setting: Man.
(1988) Noam Zylberman, Saul Rubinek, Jan Rubes, Fairuza Balk, Aaron Schwartz, Susan Rubes, Nigel Bennett, Howard Jerome.....Young boy (Zylberman) doesn't know what to do when his Jewish family is resistant to his female piano partner (Balk), a gentile, until he meets an unorthodox rabbi (Rubinek). Amusing if a little broad comedy-drama covers vaguely unusual ground in focusing as much on Jewish prejudice as it does anti-Semitism. It was later turned into the CBC TV series Max Glick. sc: Phil Savath (from the novel by Morley Torgov). dir: Allan A. Goldstein. 95 min.
OVERDRAWN AT THE MEMORY
BANK * * 1/2
(1983) (/U.S.) Raul Julia, Linda Griffiths, Donald C. Moore, Louis Negin, Chapelle Jaffe, Maury Chaykin.....In the future, a free-spirited movie buff and computer expert (imported Julia) has his consciousness temporarily stored in a computer where he begins to threaten the status quo. Flawed, sometimes incomprehensible made-for-TV SF pic is light-hearted and so off-beat it's impossible to dislike. sc: Corinne Jacker (from the story by John Varley). dir: Douglas Williams. 85 min.
* * * setting: other
(1997) (/U.K.) James Cromwall, Dylan Provencher, Colm Meaney, Jemima Rooper, John Benfield, Anthony Booth, Dermot Keaney.....After his parents' deaths, an American teen (Provencher) comes to live with his withdrawn, embittered grandfather (Cromwall) on the Isle of Man, where he ends up befriending a neighbouring family his grandfather carries a grudge against; the title is the name of the neighbour's dog, and a rivalry revolving around sheep herding dogs (including a local competition) forms a key sub-plot. Handsome, well-acted -- if occasionally downbeat -- drama is intelligently written...though the climax, hinging on characters not believing the boy about something when he'd never lied before, is contrived. Beautiful location scenery. Provencher is the only Canadian in the cast of this Canadian co-production...and he plays an American (Lord, give me strength!). sc: Peter Welbeck, Sharon Buckingham. dir: Rodney Gibbons. 91 min.
* * * 1/2 setting: Ont./USA.
(2003) (/U.K.) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Ian Tracey, Sonja Smits, Chris Collins, Jason Blicker, Vincent Corazza, Roger Dunn, Conrad Dunn, Keith Knight.....Fact-based story about a mild mannered Toronto banker (Hoffman) whose gambling addiction and mounting debts leads him to embezzle from his bank...perpetrating one of the largest bank frauds in Canadian history. Understated but surprisingly compelling drama-cum-suspenser boasting sharply written, clever -- occasionally quirky -- scenes and good performances overall, with a truly superb, fascinating one from Hoffman as the tightly-wound, introverted Mahowny. An intriguing, insightful portrait of banks, casinos, and gambling addicts (despite embezzling millions, the main character doesn't spend it on himself, per se, driving a ratty car and dressing shabbily, but only on his gambling). The real life person was Brian Molony, here renamed Dan Mahowny (perhaps because of the real name's similarity to a certain prime minister?) Hoffman is American, Driver and Hurt British, everyone else is Canadian -- and Hoffman and Driver's "Canadian" accents are a hoot; they seem to be trying to sound more Canadian than the Canadian actors! Critically well regarded enough that it presumably inspired some other "gambling" themed Canadian movies like Lucky Girl and The Last Casino. sc: Maurice Chauvet (from the book Stung by Gary Ross, in the credits listed as No Limit). dir: Richard Kwietniowski. - brief female nudity.- 107 min.
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