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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.
PRAIRIE GIANT: The Tommy Douglas
Story * * 1/2 setting: Sask./Ont.
(2006) Michael Therriault, Kristin Booth, Ian Tracey, Brian Markinson, Don McKellar, Shannon Jardine, Andy Jones, Aidan Devine, Nicholas Campbell, R.H. Thompson.....Story of Tommy Douglas (Therriault) -- socialist, premier of Saskatchewan, annd father of medicare -- and his beginnings as an altruistic minded small town minister in the Depression, whose outrage over injustice led him to run for office, battle the corrupt government and business interests and, literally, help reshape Canada as a whole. Douglas is an obvious subject for a mini-series (having been voted The Greatest Canadian in a national survey) and his David against Goliath triumphs are a rare example of a true life success story. This CBC mini-series hits all the key moments and events, but seems a bit...workmanlike. Stage actor Therriault, in his film debut, very effectively evokes Douglas, and the performances overall are good. And it's a good production, just not an inspired one, and one that feels padded, like it could've easily been tightened into movie-length. Ironically, some of the best, most dramatic scenes...are simply recreations of some of Douglas' own stirring speeches! Jones plays Prime Minister Mackenzie King and, in a cameo, Paul Gross appears as Diefenbaker (lack of physical resemblance notwithstanding). Interestingly, both PMs are portrayed with a certain respect, despite usually being pilloried by the modern media (Jones' Mackenzie King is rather wily and affable). Ultimately not a bad mini-series, but one you watch as much for its facts as its drama -- which is ironic, because the mini-series incited a storm of controversy over its accuracy, even getting the CBC to announce it might halt future airings unless the criticism could be addressed. The funny thing is, the claims of inaccuracy had very little to do with the depiction of Douglas and his battles -- what the show's about! -- but rather the depiction of Liberal Premier Jimmie Gardiner (Markinson) as the black hat villain, which many (even Douglas supporters) suggested was an unfair portrait of a man almost as beloved in Saskatchewan as Douglas himself -- the mini-series even going so far as to suggest Gardiner was responsible for events when it was the Conservatives who were in power! Early reports suggested Hollywood star Kiefer Sutherland -- Douglas' real life grandson -- was being sought for the role (but supposedly his TV schedule wouldn't fit) and Douglas' real life daughter, actress Shirley Douglas, was initially a consultant on the project but, apparently, quietly withdrew her support (though the reasons were not explained). The mini-series' initial air date was postponed so as not to run during a federal election campaign (and given the movie's demonizing of the then-Liberals, perhaps it's understandable). Four hours. sc. Bruce M. Smith. dir: John N. Smith.
Pray For Me, Paul Henderson
* * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1989) Torquil Campbell, Yannick Bisson, Samantha Follows.....Four non-conformist teens become friends when they join a school team to participate in a TV quiz show. Likeable, youth-aimed hour long comedy-drama. Well acted.
PREMONITION a.k.a. Convergence
PREP SCHOOL a.k.a. Ups and Downs
PRESCRIPTION FOR MURDER a.k.a. Taking Care
(1998) Patrick Bergin, Annie Dufresne. see Tales of Intrigue
* * 1/2 setting: USA.
(2000) Michael Madsen, Michele Scarabelli, Jeff Wincott, Steve Adams, Ricky Mabe, Victoria Snow, Samantha E. Cutler, Russell Yuen.....A couple (Madsen and Snow) and their kids, travelling through rural Vermont in an RV, get hijacked by a fugitive (Wincott) pursued by a police manhunt. Suspense flick suffers from some uneven performances (American Madsen looks more tired than distressed), some lapses in logic and credibility, and the fact that it just plain ain't much to write home about...on the other hand, it clips along briskly, isn't as sordid as you might expect, throws in a few unexpected plot complications and also has decent performances (Wincott and Snow, who is curiously under-billed). Final tally: a passable time-killer. sc: William Lee (story Richard O. Lowry). dir: Eric Weston. 94 min.
"Pretending the Bed is a Raft", a short story by Nanci Kincaid, inspired the movie, My Life Without Me
PRICE OF VENGEANCE
* setting: Ont.
(1985) Edmund James, David Sisak, Jim Walton.....After his brother's death, a man (James) trys to use his mafia connections to find the killer only to discover that they may be involved. Amateurish, suspense-flick-that-isn't on a shoe-string budget. Filmed on video. An Emmeritus-CHCH production.
This TV series is slick and, surprisingly, not too miserly when it comes to dinos -- either it has a big budget, or the cost of CGI dinosaur effects have come down over the years (with that said, it's not like we see the characters hand wrestling the beasties, or leaping onto their backs). A pleasant enough cast and characters and decent pacing makes for a modestly fun romp. Albeit the average age of the regulars can kind of make older viewers feel it's Degrassi: The Dino-Hunting Years (these are supposed to be the head honchos at a major company?) With that said, its ambitions are modest -- basically a well mounted, well produced up-grade of some old Saturday Afternoon live action programmer (with adult goriness!). The plots are fairly simple, likewise the character interaction. Episodes more just about finding new environments for them to hunt and be hunted by dinosaurs -- and they do come up with different environments. The "we must keep this a secret" idea feels like a rather awkward plot device. More to provide dramatic conflict, and to play upon the sci-fi cliche of secret ops and conspiracies, and maybe so the series doesn't have to veer into blatantly science fiction areas (by making this a reality where the appearance of dinosaurs is treated as normal). But it doesn't really make much logical sense and feels like a narrative contrivance. Developed by Gillian Horvath, and created by Garefield & Judith Reeves-Stevens (no stranger to dinosaur-themes, having worked on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World TV series, and a Flash Gordon cartoon with a saurian spin). Hour long episodes shown in Canada on Space. - extreme violence.-
(1992) (/France) Patrick Fierry, Mitsou, Jean-Pierre Bergeron, Roberto Medile, Andre Cailloux, Gerard Delmas.....Company president and hypochondriac (Fierry) falls in love with a free-spirit (Mitsou) and together they work to thwart a hostile takeover. Comedy wants to be light and good-natured, but is too obvious and cutesy without ever entirely working. In French. sc: Chantal Renaud. dir: Daniele J. Suissa. 84 min.
PRINCES IN EXILE
* * * 1/2
(1990) Zachary Ansley, Nicholas Shields, Stacie Mistysyn, Chuck Shamata, Gordon Woolvett, Andrea Roth, Andrew Miller.....Story of an embittered, self-absorbed teen (Ansley), a cancer victim, attending a summer camp for kids with cancer. Disease movies are supposed to be maudlin, hokey, teary-eyed and a real bore -- so why isn't this one? Fine performances, a strong narrative and strange, almost mystical imagery, make it work. Over long, but never awkward. sc: Joe Wisenfeld (from the novel by Mark Schreiber). dir: Giles Walker. 103 min.
Entertaining series mixed its intriguing, sometimes thought-provoking non-fiction with comedian Green's funny asides and some (arguably) innovative stylistic techniques such as employing a kind of multi-media approach: during the talking-head interviews, text information might be displayed simultaneously at the bottom of the screen to supplement what was being said -- a technique easier to follow than one might expect. After a few years it started to run out of new themes and got a bit repetative. Also, though intended to provide a respectful forum for the field of speculative fiction, arguing it deserved to be regarded as a legitimate art form, it actually seemed to buy into the very snobbery it was rallying against, often giving short shift to the more populist veins (like talking about alternative and underground comic books, but often being contemptuous of mainstream superheroes). Not that it ignored such things entirely (for instance, devoting two episodes to TV's "Star Trek" in its first season).
In the second season it added a framework within a framework as an additional gag: since Commander Rick "interrupted" scheduled programming, the audience was given a glimpse of that show at the beginning and end, a nature show called "Second Nature" and hosted by "Enrico Gruen" (Green again, an injoke using a pseudonym he had first employed on the Red Green Show). The series may have been inspired a little by the Canadian documentary Comic Book Confidential...and probably inspired subsequent shows like YTV's "Anti-Gravity Room". Five seasons of half-hour episodes produced originally for TV Ontario and subsequently rerun on Discovery and Space.
THE PRIVATE CAPITAL
* * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1990) Martha Burns, Gordon Clapp, Claire de Auer, David Cameron, Michael Riley, Michael Ball, Gabrielle Rose, Monique Mercure.....A look at turn of the century Ottawa and the various goings on, both political and private, of the various characters - some real, and some not. Evocative, pleasantly inoffensive little made-for-CBC TV epic is fairly effective, though not, perhaps, riveting. Nice-looking and the large cast is good, too. sc: Jeannine Locke (from the book by Sandra Gwyn). dir: Don McBrearty. app. 117 min.
Though inspired by the novel, The Code (the pilot episode even borrows the novel's plot) the property has been liberally re-imagined for TV (I'm not sure there even was a female PI character in the book!) Essentially Private Eyes follows on the heels of popular male/female detective duos (and amateur/professional, lovable man-child/serious non-nonsense woman) -- such as "Castle" (substitute celebrity hockey player for celebrity novelist) and shamelessly incorporating other tropes and cliches (the precocious daughter, the avuncular parent). It's all pretty cookie cutter (making the bland title -- Private Eyes -- appropriate)...but that doesn't mean it's bad. What it lacks in originality it arguably compensates for in simple execution. If you like this particular sub-genre of the mystery field, you'll probably find it reasonably diverting. The actors seem at ease, the characters likeable enough (Priestley's character is sympathetic rather than annoying), there are genuine chuckles to be had in the banter and badinage, and the plots clip along briskly with requisite twists and turns. A nice touch is that although the cases don't avoid homicides -- it's not a prerequisite, with some episodes revolving around thefts or disappearances, rather than a dead-body-of-the-week. Equally unusual was its willingness to accept its Canadian (Toronto) setting. It isn't that it belabours it, but it doesn't run away from it if it enhances a scene, a joke, or a plot element. So, sure, it's not liable to muscle to the top of anyone's "favourite detective duos" lists -- but it's enjoyable and in terms of putting up your feet for an hour of light-hearted antics, sometimes that's all you really need...or want. Hour-long episodes on Global.
Le Prix a payer see The HIGH COST OF LIVING
(1995) Michael Ironside, Kate Vernon, Kirk Baltz, Craig T. Nelson, Paul Coeur, Brooke Adams, M. Emmet Walsh, Shaun Johnston.....While investigating a serial killer of cops, a cop (Ironside) with his own problems -- like a sexual harrasment charge -- beggins to suspect his new partner (Vernon) may be involved. Suspense-drama tries admirably (and surprisingly) to be thoughtful and issue-driven, but it's deathly slow without enough plot developments to flesh out its idea -- though the climax is disturbingly effective. Nelson, Adams and Walsh are all Americans, but Walsh has just one scene and Adams appears unbilled. sc: Hal Salwen (story Paul Ziller). dir: Paul Ziller. - violence, brief female nudity, sexual content.- 95 min.
A PROBLEM WITH FEAR *
(2003) Paul Costanzo, Emily Hampshire, Camille Sullivan, Benjamin Ratner, Keegan Connor Tracy, Willie Garson, Sarah Lind.....A man plagued by multiple phobias (Costanzo) worries he may be the source of a mysterious so-called "fear storm" in the city, where people suffer accidents and death that correspond to his fears. Sci-fi comedy-drama (set in the near future) is decently acted, slick-looking (despite a modest budget and a tendency to deliberately blur the images at times) and boasts an interesting concept...but seems to be missing much in the way of an actual story (y'know, that thing that means one scene builds upon another, and plot threads unfold before us). You can tell it's meant to be a comedy -- not because it's actually funny, but bbecause the characters behave in implausible ways and the events have little logic behind them (or maybe that's just a product of an inherent surrealism). Ultimately more annoying than entertaining...and occasionally grisly. The movie's rife with what are meant to be (vague) themes about fear, identity, society...but they should support a story, not the other way around. sc: Gary Burns, Donna Brunsdale. dir: Gary Burns. - violence; brief female nudity.- 94 min.
THE PRODIGIOUS HICKEY a.k.a. The Prodigious William Hicks
THE PRODIGIOUS WILLIAM HICKS*
* setting: USA.
(1987) (/U.S.) Zach Galligan, Robert Joy, Bernard Herrmann, Tony Van Bridge, Albert Schultz, Damir Andrei, Hans Engel.....Story of the antics at a wealthy U.S. boys boarding school at the turn of the century. Supposedly light and funny comedy ends up being stiffly acted and ponderous. Atmospheric and evocative -- but that doesn't make it any more fun. a.k.a. The Prodigious Hickey. Co-produced by U.S. PBS and followed by two sequels starting with The Return of Hickey. sc: Jan Jaffe Kahn (from the Lawrenceville Stories by Owen Johnson). dir: Robert Iscove. 90 min.
PROFILE FOR MURDER
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(1986) Lance Henrikson, Jeff Wincott, Joan Severance, Ryan Michael, Dwight McFee.....U.S. criminal psychologist (Severance) is brought in to do an assessment of a suave business man and suspected serial killer (Henrikson) -- but she becomes attracted to him instead. Erotic suspense drama is so busy with its character stuff, it forgets the suspense...or any real drive to the story. And it's not smart enough to pull off the character stuff and psychobabble anyway. Imports Henrikson and Severance are pretty good and the film is occasionally sexy (though the usual juxtaposition of sex and violence kind of hurts it) and, at least, it's trying to be sort of sophisticated, but is ultimately dull and uncompelling. sc: Steve Fisher. dir: David Winning. - female nudity, explicit sexual content, violence.- 94 min.
PROJECT: GENESIS a.k.a. Strange Horizons
* * 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1969) John Robb, Elaine Malus, Gary Rader, Peter Cullen, Christopher Cordeaux, Abbie Hoffman.....Essentially a day-to-day look at a couple of hippie-activists (Robb and Malus) and how he goes down to the States to the demonstration outside the Democratic convention in Chicago. Interesting, nicely done little film, but it never quite grabs you the way it should. Sometimes disturbing, but effective, blending of the fictional characters with real events. sc: Sherwood Forest. dir: Robin Spry. - brief male and female nudity.- 88 min.
The Prom * * setting:
(1990) Stacie Mistysyn.....The misadventures of a teen and her klutzy blind date on their way to the school prom. Lackluster, hour long teen comedy never quite works, despite some nice performances.
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(1980) Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Eddie Benton, Michael Tough, Robert Silverman, Marybeth (Mary Beth) Rubens, George Touliatos, Jeff Wincott, David Gardner.....Six years after a prank resulted in death, a killer comes after the now-teenaged American kids responsible. Slasher flick has some decent performances and O.K. dialogue...but it fails because it's extremely slow moving (I mean, extremely). The flick's called prom night, so you know nothing's gonna happen till the prom...which is at the end of the film! Some of the scenes are so dark, it's impossible to tell what's going on. Followed by three unrelated sequels, starting with Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II. sc: William Gray (story Robert Guza Jr.). dir: Paul Lynch. - extreme violence, brief female nudity.- 94 min.
PROM NIGHT III: The Last Kiss
* setting: USA.
(1989) Tim Conlon, Cyndy Preston, David Stratton, Courtney Taylor, Dylan Neal.....Teen (Conlon), bored with his own mediocrity, finds himself hooking up with the homicidal ghost of Mary Lou (Taylor). Realizing that teens go to these films, not to be scared, but to laugh at them, we are presented with a horror-comedy...which is as funny as it is scary. Despite the gloss, there's a real amateurish feel to the way it was put together. Sequel to Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. sc: Ron Oliver. dir: Ron Oliver, Peter Simpson. - extreme violence, sexual content, casual male nudity.- 96 min.
PROM NIGHT IV: Deliver Us From
Evil * 1/2
(1991) Nikki de Boer (a.k.a. Nicole de Boer), Alden Kane (a.k.a. Joel Wyner), Joy Tanner, Alle Ghadban, James Carver, Ken McGregor, Brock Simpson.....A homicidal priest (Carver) awakens from a thirty year coma, with vaguely supernatural abilities, and stalks four teens having a party at an isolated house. Fourth Prom Night movie tries to get back to the basics of the original...with an underplaying of the supernatural and a story that's really slow moving and underlit in spots. Wyner (here billed as Alden Kane) gives a decent performance, but de Boer and Tanner are more uneven, though all three went on to better things. Still, the movie might be going for a socio-political sub-text, what with it being about cover-ups in the Catholic Church around the time that child abuse scandals involving the church were breaking in the Canadian news. The movie one of the kids is watching on TV is from director Borris' earlier, Art House flick, Alligator Shoes. Interestingly, this is the only one of the Canadian-made Prom Night movies that isn't obviously set in the U.S. sc: Richard Beattie. dir: Clay Borris. - extreme violence, partial female and maale nudity, sexual content.- 95 min.
PROM QUEEN: The Marc Hall Story
* * setting: Ont.
(2004) Aaron Ashmore, Marie Tifo, Jean-Pierre Bergeron, Tamara Hope, Scott Thompson, Fiona Reid, Victoria Adilman, Mac Fyfe, Trevor Blumas, Dave Foley.....Story of an Ontario Catholic School student (Ashmore) who fought for the right to take his gay lover to the school prom. Based on a true story, this made-for-CTV flick eschews the solemnity of most true stories, going instead for a tongue-in-cheek approach -- a generally good natured celebration of optimism more than a gritty expose of religious intolerance (even poking a little fun at gay militants). Sincere and well-intentioned...but ultimately, suffers from the old "neither fish nor fowl" syndrome. The end credits cheekily admit characters were fictionalized to "make you laugh"...but it doesn't really succeed as a comedy, while watering down the drama. Tifo and Bergeron are especially good as the parents, but like so many of the actors, aren't given enough to do (people like Gary Reineke, David Ferry, and John Bayliss crop up in bit parts). Not a movie you can diss with any enthusiasm, as its heart is in the right place, but it doesn't really pull off what it's going for. sc: Kent Staines (story Michael MacLennan, Kent Stains). dir: John L'Ecuyer. 88 min.
PROMISE THE MOON *
* setting: Man./USA.
(1997) Henry Czerny, Colette Stevenson, David Fox, Shawn Ashmore, Aidan Devine, Richard Donat, Ken James, Gloria May Eshkibok, Gordon Michael Woolvett.....In the '30s, a cowhand (Czerny) reluctantly promises his dying boss (Donat) that he'll maintain the ranch and try to make a rancher out of the man's mentally challenged son (Ashmore), despite the nefarious doings of a greedy banker (Fox) who wants the land. Made-for-CBC TV drama has a decent cast and workable ideas (even if the foundation -- ranchers vs. bankers -- is cliched) but in execution everything seems...off. Motivation, scenes, mood, even the score. An awkward misfire. Ashmore, with a couple of credits under his belt, is mistakenly listed as "introducing". And what's with the "Barbara Allen" musical motiff? sc: Kevin Sullivan, Peter Behrens (from the novel The Four Arrows Feasko by Randall Beth Platt). dir: Ken Jubenvill. 92 min.
PSI FACTOR: Chronicles of the Paranormal (TV Series)
An odd series in that it was obviously fiction, but most of its advertising seemed to revolve around claiming that it was "inspired" by fact and that the O.S.I.R. was real. And much of its fandom seemed based on this. However, whether that was intentional on the part of the show's producers, or whether it was just that the mainstream media didn't "get" the joke is hard to judge. Whatever the motive, the claim seemed initially to divert criticism of what was, essentially, a bad "X-Files" rip-off by passing it off as a docudrama. The implication being, if it's true, the weak plots and poor characterization could be excused. Unfortunately, it was no more plausible than it was entertaining. Even the show's pseudoscientific technobabble was frequently silly if you knew what it really meant (or so my science advisors tell me) and technical errors cropped up, like crediting an Arthur C. Clark quote to Isaac Asimov, or claiming writer H.P. Lovecraft disappeared (they were probably thinking of Ambrose Bierce).
The fact that its main advertising ploy was this dubious "reality" -- and the presence of movie star and real-life paranormal enthusiast Akyroyd (the co-creator's brother) -- makes the whole thing just a little...sleazy. The 2nd season changes did little to help. There was now more attempt at human drama, emphasizing the characters' interaction, but the stories still seemed silly and poorly structured, lacking atmosphere, with actors and scenes awkwardly directed. Curiously, the character/suspense stuff lacked just as much verisimilitude as the "scientific" stuff, with the conflicts and interplay ringing false -- this despite the fact that the actors were competent performers. By the fourth season, the series had completely let down its hair, making no pretense at reality. It wasn't necessarily any better, but it occasionally took itself less seriously, with tongue-in-cheek episodes like one about Zombies at a rave (with Sakovich and Vannicola dressing all skanky).
Wint (in his few appearances) and Fox generally delivered effective performances. Frewer, an actor who was extraordinarily good as crusading reporter Edison Carter in the cult SF series "Max Headroom", was less effective here. Interestingly, many of the cast had appeared in previous "genre" series (including Fox in Strange Paradise, Bennett in Forever Knight and Wint in TekWar). A trade paperback book was published in 1997 by Dan Aykroyd featuring text adaptations of many of the first season stories. Best bets: fourth season episode where the heroes find themselves running around the woods, caught between the military and cult/survivalists while trying to protect a beautiful alien woman; the first season finale, set at a Russian arctic base. Created by Peter Akyroyd, Christopher Chacon and Peter Ventrella. Hour-long episodes, shown in Canada on CanWest-Global (staggered over many years, with the final season only being shown as late as 2002). The first season, made up as it was of two stories per episode, was also show as half-hour episodes.
* * setting: USA.
(1992) Zach Galligan, Catherine Mary Stewart, Michael Nouri, Albert Schultz, Ken James, Clark Johnson, Andrea Roth, Lisa LaCroix.....Psychic American university student (American Galligan), while wooing a teacher (Stewart), has visions showing his rival for her affections (American Nouri) is a serial killer. Competently acted suspenser offers few surprises, no real thrills and rather half-hearted characterization -- though it does have Stewart in a rare (albeit mild) sex scene. Watch for the amusing "no persons, living or dead..." disclaimer at the end. sc: Miquel Tejada-Flores, Paul Koval (story by Mark and William Crawford). dir: George Mihalka. - partial female nudity, violence, sexual content.- 93 min.
P.T. BARNUM is listed under P.T. Barnum
PUBLIC DOMAIN *
* setting: USA.
(2003) Nicole de Boer, Nadia Litz, Mike Beaver, Don McKellar, Jason Jones, Lindy Booth, Don Tiefenbach, Salvatore Migliore, Jamie Johnston, Kris Holden-Reid, Caitlin Dahl.....A U.S. reality game show secretly watches contestants (unbeknownst to them) while the audience votes on a winner -- the person whose life is the most pathetic and hopeless. They include a narcissistic arrested adolescent (de Boer) oblivious to how troubled her son is; an isolated agoraphobic (Beaver); and a rich teen (Litz) who pimps for her friends to score drugs. Satirical comedy-drama of the "reality" TV trend is a low-budget serio-comic flick with some good actors and some, occasionally, interesting scenes. But writer-director Lefcoe seems to want to eat his cake and have it too, by seeming to be ridiculing his subjects...and ridiculing people who would ridicule them! The result is something that might have made a cute sketch...but as a movie, and a comedy-drama, it just isn't very funny. Some familiar faces crop up as "man in the street" interviews, like Jayne Eastwood and Arnold Pinnock. sc./dir: Kris Lefcoe. - sexual content; violence.- 77 min.
* setting: B.C.
(2002) Michael Riley, Sonja Bennett, Meredith McGeachie, Marcia Laskowski, Vincent Gale, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Don Ackerman, Sarah Lind.....Story of a widower (Riley) and his troubled, angry, teenage daughter (Bennett), and how a psycho-sexual tension between them leads her to jealously assault his new girlfriend (Laskowski)...drawing the girlfriend's "no guff" sister (McGeachie) into the circle...a sister who makes her living as a topless boxer. Quirky drama about dysfunctional people certainly gets marks for off-beat elements, but it's a little static at times, building to a standard cinematic resolution (ie: shucks...nothing resolves emotional conflicts like a good ol' fight). McGeachie and Gale (as the manager of the boxing bar) inject some energy into things...and are more interesting, and more elicit our empathy, than the lead relationship. With its "topless boxing" sub-plot (which ain't actually titillating), and the director casting his own daughter in explicit nude scenes in a story about sexual tension between a father and daughter, one can't help thinking they were hoping to ride a wave of controversy to box office success...but the controversy never quite materialized. Lind has a bit part as a girl the daughter has a conflict with (and though she's not involved in the boxing aspect, Edgemont fans might enjoy her bikini scene at the beginning). sc./dir: Guy Bennett. - explicit female nudity, violence.- 90 mmin.
(2002-2006) * * * Dan Redican ("Dan Barlow"), Bruce Hunter ("Rocko"), Bob Martin ("Cuddles"), James Rankin ("Buttons"), Gord Robertson ("Bill").....Black comedy about sentient puppets and stuffed animals who've gone bad -- Bill, a sociopathic ventriloquist's dummy, Buttons, a teddy bear given to "moral turpitude", Rocko the dog, an abusive former kids show sidekick, and Cuddles, a comfort doll (used in psycho-therapy) who developed his own psychological problems -- though, of the four, he seemed the most eager to rehabilitate (and, therefore, was the most appealing). They live in a halfway house run by the human Redican (most of the other guest star characters are human). Real life anchorman, Bill Cameron, appeared (until his untimely death) in a recurring cameo as a TV anchorman.
This comedy is definitely not intended for kids, despite using puppets as main characters. In a sense, it could be seen as a cousin to, say, the raunchy U.S. series "South Park" (an animated cartoon). Although a cleverly off-beat premise, the series actually premiered around the same time as a similar U.S. series called "Greg the Bunny" (similar in the mix of people and puppets, where the puppets are treated as living beings, though "Greg the Bunny" was more family friendly). Initially this series seemed a bit unsure of its own lines -- there was profanity, twisted ideas, and lewedness, but it wasn't necessarily the be all and end all of the humour. Unfortunately, the second season saw any remaining inhibitions cast aside. The problem isn't that they'll do anything for a joke -- even if it requires sacrificing good taste -- it's that at times they seem to feel they'll do anything to be shocking -- even if they have to sacrifice established characterization, or the joke itself. Redican's character was always the least defined, seeming to shift from episode to episode, but by the second season, even the puppets seemed to sometimes act out of character, being driven by the script, not the other way around (and continuity is non-existent, with Bill being castrated in one episode, then seeming to be fully functional in the next, etc.). As such, the second season is even more "adult" than the first...but also more uneven when it comes to being funny -- comedy can be crude, but crudity isn't automatically funny. But by the third season, they seemed to have found their tone better, and it's arguably the most sure-footed and consistent. And, overall, when it's funny, and when it can sustain the humour for a half hour, the series remains very funny.
A curious side point is the series' tendency to make jokes as if taking jabs at real issues, lampooning the Canadian social system as if the filmmakers are true blue Conservatives, even though the things they are satirizing...are completely made up! In one episode saying Corrections Canada only permits Christian worship...which I somehow don't think is true (*post-sctipt: actually, many years later, a Conservative government didn't actually ban such practices...but it did apparently cut funding to non-Christian services!).
The restraint the talented Redican and the puppet/actors bring to the material helps immeasureably, bringing a sly, low-key edge to the comedy (when too many Canadian comedies are just loud and overplayed). And the puppets, genuinely, seem like real personalities. Unselfconscious Canadianisms (references to Canadian Tire and the like) are also refreshing. Admittedly not for all tastes, but amusing. Created by John Pattison, Steve Westren. Best bets: the one about the telethon; the one about the celebrity brains in jars at the CBC (and kudos to a non-CBC program to acknowledge the CBC exists!), the one about being pizza delivery boys. Half-hour episodes on the Comedy Network.
Although the series could threaten to slip into unintentional parody, mashing up the Mennonite milieu with organized crime tropes (ie: "Witness" meets "The Godfather"), it mostly doesn't. And it mostly succeeds as a compelling and off-beat riff on familiar TV crime dramas. Central to the drama is Robbins' character struggling to be true to his spiritual convictions while both running a drug cartel and simultaneously working to undercut it, lending the series a sense of emotional gravitas beneath the requisite suspense and plot twists (the series staying rooted in an inherent secularism without mocking or belittling the characters' beliefs). It's well-told across its six episodes, with a deliberate pace at times, suiting its bucolic, Mennonite setting, yet equally clips along, with suitable twists and turns, and plot complications supplied by a large cast of interlocked characters. Peer beneath the surface and you can find antecedents in recent TV (from the prevalance of rural noir crime dramas, to series about seeming respectable civilians concealing a criminal lifestyle, with the requisite teenage children who get suspcious about what dad n' mom are up to, with even something like the American series "Banshee" playing around with crime and Mennonites) but it makes the themes its own.
Robbins, an engaging actor long lurking about the edges of popular acclaim, is nicely settled in the centre chair, bringing a sympathetic earnestness to his character, and he's well matched with the others in the good cast, including supporting turns by the likes of Dylan Taylor and Gord Rand, actors who always seem to bring their A-game to a production. The final episode maybe slips a bit into familiar TV grooves, and provides a sort of odd resolution. On one hand it seems to be an end to the story (suggesting it's a mini-series, not the first season of an on going series) with the bad guys defeated and the major plot threads resolved...even as it can feel a bit inconclusive, not really paying off on certain secondary threads. As well, the climax tests the hero's values more than it does the viewers'. The result is -- slightly -- unsatisfying. But overall it's a superior production. Hour-long episodes on the CBC.
* * 1/2 setting: other
(1983) (/U.S.) Peter O'Toole, Margot Kidder, John Standing, Donald Ewer, Frances Hyland.....Self-obsessed, English linguist (O'Toole) makes a bet that he can pass off a cockney girl (Kidder, who produced) as a lady. Competent, faithful version of the famous comedy-drama, though the play itself suffers from abrasive characters, contrivances and a lack of dramatic "oomph". Purists may balk, but the musical version, "My Fair Lady", with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, was more fun. sc: the play by George Bernard Shaw. dir: Alan Cooke.
* * setting: P.Q.
(1973) Karen Black, Christopher Plummer, Donald Pilon, Jean-Louis Roux, Yvette Brind'Amour, Jacques Godin, Terry Haig, Lee Broker, Robin Gammell.....A cop (Plummer) investigates a prostitute's occult-related murder (American actress Black) while, through flashbacks, we see the events leading up to her death. Good-looking but dreary drama-suspenser seems too much like someone saw "Klute" (a gritty drama about a prostitute) and tried to marry it with the rash of occult thrillers popular at the time...only to end up with a film that's neither very insightful nor very suspenseful. Best thing about it is the moody folk music written and performed, interestingly, by imported Black. Nice, in-your-face use of Montreal as Montreal rather than pretending it's an American city, though. sc: Robert Schlitt (from the novel by John Buell). dir: Harvey Hart. - partial female nudity, violence.- 111 min.
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