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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.
* * setting: USA.
(1999) (/U.S./Luxembourg) Corbin Bernsen, Daniel Newman, Kate Mulgrew, William Armstrong, Finbar Lynch, Miles Anderson.....An Indiana town suffers from mysterious crop failures, until a wheelchair-bound farm boy (Newman) has weird visions convincing him that a piece of his mother's land is fertile again...stirring up resentment in the locals when he's proven right. Mulgrew plays his single-mom and Bernsen his best friend, a broken down dreamer (and his mom's ex-beau). Science fiction flavoured TV movie puts all its effort into the standard farm-movie milieu (struggles to make a go of it, bad guy bankers, etc.) with strong performances (particularly Bernsen), but short changes the fantastical element that you just know is building to a weak, airy, ill-defined, pseudo-spiritual ending (where even the main character advises us not to question it too closely). Technically slick, but even as a straight human drama, it starts to drag. Too bad. I don't think anyone in the main cast is Canadian. sc: Karl Schiffman. dir: Don McBrearty. app. 90 min.
* * setting: Ont.
(2000) Yaphet Kotto, Ron White, Vincent Corazza, Rachael Crawford, Alison Sealy-Smith, Carolyn Goff, Vik Sahay, Tony Munch, Al Waxman..... Ensemble about the day-to-day lives of a bunch of Toronto taxi drivers. Slice-of-life drama is too obviously what it is: a pilot for a proposed (and never realized) series -- some of the plot threads never even resolve! There are some potentially interesting threads, but they aren't developed sufficiently (except maybe White's relationship with a couple of morbidly dressed kids). Supposedly inspired by real anecdotes told by cabbies, proving that truth may be stranger than fiction, but it ain't as interesting. This was the first movie made exclusively for the cable network Showcase (complete with cussing and sex, just to prove how edgy they are) and one might ask: after 10 years on the air, this was the movie that got the green light? Still, nice to see Kotto in a respectable Canadian movie. Kotto's an American actor who's lived in Canada for years, but was never embraced by the Canadian film industry like other (white) American actors who've moved to Canada -- oops! Did I say that? sc: Paul Dreskin (created by Dreskin and Lawrence S. Mirkin). dir: Steve DiMarco. 94 min. - partial female nudity, sexual content, bbrief male nudity, violence.- app. 90 min.
(2002) * 1/2 Bette MacDonald ("Regina Gallant"), Fiona Reid ("Eleanor Sharpe"), Jonathan Torrens ("Daniel Van Dusen"), Joe Dinicol ("Jason Gallant"), with Rejean Cournoyer ("Rene Chevier").....Sitcom about an earthy, fading Disco queen (MacDonald) who is appointed Governor General by a sleazy prime minister who hopes she will disgrace the position, allowing him to eliminate it entirely. Each episode has her becoming embroiled in one scandal or another -- usually not of her making -- only to have things resolve in her favour by the end. Reid plays her prim and proper executive assistant, Torrens her flakey, gay secretary, and Dinicol her laconic, level-headed son. Cournoyer plays the Prime Minister's sleazy aide. Barry Flatman played the P.M. in the pilot, but didn't seem to appear in the regular series.
This series started as a broadcasting experiment where the CBC aired two hour long pilots -- Rideau Hall and An American in Canada -- then invited viewers to comment (see my earlier essay). Announcing the "experiment" a grand success, and the response to both series overwhelmingly popular, the CBC green lighted both for an initial six episodes each. Unfortunately, the pilot for Rideau Hall wasn't very funny...and the series isn't much better. It's a series that you want to like, and that sputters at times, seeming as though it might spark at any moment...but doesn't. No less than the third series to try and get a sitcom out of politics (after Not My Department and In Opposition), the Canadianess of the premise is welcome, even if the premise of the P.M. hoping to disgrace the G.G. seems, well, tenuous. It's going for an unpretentious broad, farcical humour. But the laughs just don't occur. The casting is mostly bland, with Dinicol awkward as if seeming, frankly, as though he might be related to someone in the production (which is unfair -- he's done solid work in dramas). Torrens, at least, plays his part to the hilt.
The plots want to be those complex story lines where things snowball and the characters struggle to patch things together...but the stories don't achieve that level of sophistication. Equally problematic, MacDonald's character -- the star -- is never the one who actually saves the day (some episodes, the solution just drops out of nowhere as if the writers were just as stumped for a solution as their characters). Maybe it needs to be more outrageous: instead of MacDonald's only slightly off kilter heroine, maybe someone like Canadian-born counter culture comedian Tommy Chong would've made a better lead. So far six half-hour episodes (plus the hour long pilot) on the CBC.
RIEL (TVMS) *
* * setting: CDN./USA.
(1979) Raymond Cloutier, Roger Blay, Christopher Plummer, Marcel Sabourin, Jean Louis Roux, Don Harron, Kenneth Welsh, Arthur Hill, Lloyd Bochner, Don Francks, August Schellenberg, Brenda Donohue, Chris Wiggins, Gary Reineke.....Saga of of Louis Riel, metis leader, Father of Confederation, mad prophet, revolutionary. Surprisingly grandiose, "epic"-style telling CBC production is sometimes confusing (there's a feeling the filmmakers had trouble with the complexity of the facts and issues) but always compelling. Well-acted, particularly by Cloutier (as Riel), Blay (as Gabriel Dumont) and Plummer (as Sir John A. MacDonald). An above average historical docudrama... though, like all such films, it takes liberties with the truth, and it's awkward that, with the exception of Schellenberg, most of the metis and Indian speaking parts aren't played by metis or Native actors. The casting alone is fascinating, from the then-well known expatriates (also including bit players like William Shatner, Leslie Nielson, and Barry Morse) and prominent domestic actors, to unknowns who would go on to bigger things (like Maury Chaykin as an American gattling gun expert and Dave Thomas as a Canadian officer) to off-beat casting like filmmaker Claude Jutra as a psychiatrist. 3 hours. sc: Roy Moore. dir: George Bloomfield. - violence.-
* setting: Ont.
(1971) Don Scardino, Ralph Endersby, Mike Kukulewich, Peter Gross, Sue Helen Petrie, Hugh Webster, August Schellenberg.....During the last year of high school, four buddies hang-out, try to meet girls, and eventually try to start a commune. Serio-comic pic ultimately isn't far from being just an ancestor to Porky's. Sparodically interesting, and gets better with the commune scenes, but too often it's just as aimless and sophomoric as its characters. Under all that hair and muttonchops, Endersby really is Chub from The Forest Rangers. sc: William Fruet. dir: Don Shebib. - male nudity and partial female nudity.- 89 min.
(2001) (/U.K.) A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Claire Keim, Ryan Northcott, Derek Hamilton, Jurgen Prochnow, Courtenay J. Stevens, Emmanuelle Veigner, Daniella Evangelista, Kelly Brook.....University students enrolled in a course studying the psychology of serial killers are stalked by a killer, including the survivor (Cook) of a previous murder spree. Once upon a time, slasher flicks were the purview of low-budget movies, but with the success of "Scream", modern examples of the genre have boasted good actors and respectable budgets...too bad the quality doesn't usually match the extra money. Case in point is this particularly unsavoury entry in the field, in which the killer is sort of imitating the crimes of Jack the Ripper...and sort of not. It tries hard to act like it's got a brain, with lots of lurid psychobabble about the killer mentality, but everytime the characters open their mouths, they reveal how dumb the script is: add in confusing direction, completely implausible scenes (where the killer can appear and disappear at will, even when driving a big black jeep), the fact that just about every scene is three times as long as it needs to be, and you have a horror-thriller that's, literally, interminable (where even the ending is ambiguous). There are no less than two scenes in which the (largely abrasive) characters get together, planning to investigate the crimes...then proceed to do almost nothing! Definitely a lesser entry in a genre not exactly known for high points to begin with. a.k.a. Ripper: Letter from Hell. sc: Pat Bermel (story John Curtis, Evan Tylor). dir: John E. Eyres. - extreme violence, brief female nudity.- 114 min.
RIPPER: Letter From Hell a.k.a. Ripper
RISE OF THE DAMNED
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(2011) Liane Balaban, Colin Cunningham, Erin Karpluk, Luis Guzman, Erica Cerra, Christopher Redman, Warren Christie, Jessica Kate Meyer, Blake Stadel, Charles Zuckerman.....A few years after she survived a mysterious accident, a girl (Balaban) and her friends gather to shoot a low-budget film in an abandoned hospital...unaware a mad scientist has been using it for genetic experiments. Horror flick is pretty familiar/traditional (group of young people in an isolated locale get killed off one-by-one, albeit veering from a "Halloween/Friday the 13th" thing to more a "Night of the Living Dead" riff). Starts out mildly promising, if only because of a better-than-usual core cast...but doesn't last. Between some confused direction and chronic under-lighting (both possibly a result of budget problems) there are a lot of scenes where it's not even clear what's happening...or even which character is in the scene! And despite some decent performances, and an early chunk of the film basically just establishing the characters...they aren't necessarily interesting characters. The names of the two cops are derived from American horror film directors. Originally scheduled for release in 2008. sc: Niel Avery. dir: Micheal Buffaro. - extreme violence.- 88 min.
RISE OF THE GARGOYLES
* 1/2 setting: USA.
(2009) (/Romania/USA) Eric Balfour, Caroline Neron, Justin Salinger, Nick Mancuso, Ifan Huw Dafydd, Tanya Clark.....An American architect professor (American Balfour) in Paris and some tabloid journalists (Neron and Salinger) become embroiled in a series of grisly murders that are the work of an ancient gargoyle disturbed during the excavation of an old church. A competent-enough cast -- Mancuso is fun as a crazed priest, though American actor Balfour is more innocuous than actually inspired -- but the thin, generic script feels like it was tossed together in one evening, and makes about as much sense, and the direction is fast and perfunctory, when a horror-thriller should be about creeping mood. The director also seems to think shaking the camera for the action scenes creates tension, when it just induces headaches. You know what? If you want a hit of winged beasties, track down the 1972 movie "Gargoyles" instead. sc: Andy Briggs. dir: Bill Corcoran. - extreme violence.- app. 90 min.
THE RISEN *
1/2 setting: CDN.
(2002) Alberta Watson, Eugene Lipinski, Helen Shaver, Wendy Anderson, Daniel Maslany, Peter Outerbridge.....Woman (Watson) survives a near death experience, but with total amnesia, altered behaviour, strange visions, and is drawn to a boy she glimpses on the street; all to the consternation of her repressed, control freak husband (Lipinski) and her caring sister (Shaver). M. Night Shyamalan-style supernatural drama has an O.K. premise -- albeit, an obvious one. But it's presented in a plodding, heavy handed, self-consciously "Arty" way. The characters don't really act like real people would, nor does a lead character emerge (Watson's somnambulant style makes it hard to identify/empathize with her). The attempt to evoke a stifling, sterile atmosphere works a little too well -- very quickly you can find yourself empaathizing with the young couple who try to worm their way out of dinner engagements with the leads. The whole marital conflict thread seems there just to pad out an otherwise thin plot, rather than because it actually is relevant to the core idea. Too bad. Still, the withering portrait of the medical profession is nicely atypical. sc: Jim Osborne. dir: Jeff Beesley. 89 min.
* setting: Ont.
(1978) Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke, Jack Creley.....Five doctors on a camping trip are harrassed and, one by one, murdered by an unknown enemy in the woods. Strong performances, good dialogue and direction but, strangely, uninvolving and, obviously, unpleasant. Dane produced. sc: Ian Sutherland. dir: Peter Carter. - extreme violence.- 100 min.
THE RIVER KING *
(2005) (/U.K.) Edward Burns, Jennifer Ehle, John Kapelos, Rachelle Lefevre, Jamie King, Sean McCann, Karl Pruner, Julian Rhind Tutt, Jonathan Malen, Thomas Gibson, Richard Fitzpatrick, Ross Petty.....Small town cop (American actor Burns) investigates the suspicious death of a student at the local, exclusive boarding school, while also dealing with scars from his own past. Moody, low-key mystery-drama is something where it manages to seem both a bit thin (the mystery doesn't really offer a lot of surprise twists) and a little too complicated (throwing in sub-plots involving police corruption, an illicit romance, some quirky humour -- the cops being inexperienced -- even a slight, underplayed, supernatural element) all intended to be deep and meaningful in a way that the filmmakers don't quite tie together (one assumes the title is supposed to have some symbolic meaning). Yet -- bottom line is: it's nicely acted, boasts beautiful wintery scenery, and it holds your interest, curious to see how it all plays out. And that's the important thing. Lefevre is billed here as "introducing"...but she already had a number of credits under her belt. sc: David Kane (from the novel by Alice Hoffman). dir: Nick Willing. - violence.- 94 min.
RIVER RATS *
(1996) W. David Watson, Rudi Einfeldt, Bill Baker, Eric Barnett, Paul Lemelin, Paul Lewandowski.....A trio of teens (Barnett, Lemelin and Lewandowski) find diamonds on the St. Lawrence river that a trio of thugs (Watson, Einfeldt and Baker) want back. Technically this black & white, low-budget, non-professional flick is better than you'd expect: reasonably slick with some decent performances. Artistically, though, it's a bust. Excrutiatingly slow and tedious with unappealing characters. The movie opens with a quote from Dante, followed by a lengthy discussion on bowel movements -- establishing the film's pompous pretention on one hand, and its sophomoric dialogue on the other. One of those flicks where every second word is a cuss word and every other line a reference to bodily functions. Still, a more auspicious debut than David Winning had with his earlier, similarly-themed first effort, Storm. Filmed in Brockville. sc./dir: Eric Nicholas. - violence.- 110 min.
(1997-2000) * * 1/2 Chris Benson as Wally Wowczuk, Christian Potenza as Jimmy Snow, Dave Nichols as Maurice Long, Hamish McEwan as Ben MacKenzie, Martin Roach as Jerome "Tiny" Sheffield, Paul Soles as Costas Stavros, Maria Ricossa as Chrisa Stavros, Alex Campbell as Patrick MacKenzie, Stewart Arnott as Charles MacKenzie, Lynne Griffin as Alice Sweeney, Hugo Dann as George Pattillo, Merwin Mondesir as Gordo Johnson, Ken James as Stan Wilkes, Michelle Martin as Michelle Martin, Jayne Eastwood as Gloria Wilkes, Tyrone Benskin as Mike Hayes, Yanna McIntosh as Jenni Hernandez, Victoria Snow as Melissa Waverman-Moss, Ashley Brown as Robin Hayes, Melissa Thomson as Cassie Coulter, Diana Reis as Stephanie Long, Melissa DiMarco as Irene Stavros, Marion Gilsenan as Joan MacKenzie, Nicole Hughes as Caroline Walker, Jessica Greco as Katie MacKenzie, Matt Cooke as Terry Walker, Kristen J. Holdenried as Shawn Ritchie (it's such a big cast, like most soaps, that I've just copied the list from the official website -- hope they don't mind) subsequent additions included Jennifer Podemski, Tom Melissis, others.....Nighttime soap set in a Toronto neighbourhood and modeled, not after the glossy U.S.-style soap opera, but the middle-class milieu of British series like Coronation Street or even East Enders (though Riverdale was more upscale than that). The characters ranged from the rich to the poor, with the social nexus being the local mall.
The series started out flamboyantly, with a wrongful police shooting, and managed to inject the obligatory questions per episode that are supposed to draw you back next week. But it was a bit broadly played in spots and, other than the shooting, tended to rely on understated (that is: mundane) dilemmas, with few of the characters really being interesting...or particularly endearing. Still, passably entertaining, particularly in half-hour batches. It was initially shown twice a week, as half-hour episodes, then rerun on the weekend as an hour; later it was shown just as an hour a week. Not a big ratings success, it nonetheless may have inspired CTV's similarly veined The City. Aired on the CBC.
(2002) (/New Zealand/U.K./U.S.) Brad Johnson, Cameron Daddo, Karen Holness, Emily Lloyd, Jeremy Birchall, Jonathan Cake, Kevin Smith, Nikita Kearsley, Brian Moore.....Astronaut (Johnson) awakens from death on a strange world where people from all time periods (Roman emperors, Victorian ladies) have also been resurrected. Made-for-TV science fiction adventure flick takes one of the more famous SF book series ever written...and reduces it to the level of a "Mad Max" movie. Still, on that level, it's briskly paced with competent performances and nice New Zealand scenery. At once faithful and unfaithful to the source books (Johnson's square jawed American hero is substituted for one of the novels' protagonists: real life Victorian British explorer, Sir Richard Burton), the characterization is rather cursory, and Skogland directs a touch claustrophobically, substituting camera tricks and quick edits for real directorial style. The location and budget limitations means that the river of Riverworld is hardly as omnipresent as it should be. But it's O.K. as a way to kill a few hours. Intended as a pilot for a never realized series, meaning some of the broader questions (like who and why was Riverworld created) go unanswered. The only Canadians in the cast are Holness, as an African warrior-woman, and maybe Daddo (an Australian-Canadian dual citizen). New Zealand actor Smith, playing a warlord, died shortly after filming, and his voice appears to have been dubbed in post production. Though this failed to morph into a series, clearly executives felt there was still potetial in the concept, and a second -- unrelated -- go at it aired a few years later (reviewed below). sc: Stuart Hazeldine (from novels by Philip Jose Farmer, including To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat). dir: Kari Skogland. - violence, brief nudity.- 90 min.
RIVERWORLD (TVMS) *
(2010) (/U.S.) Tahmoh Penikett, Mark Deklin, Peter Wingfield, Jeananne Goossen, Arnold Pinnock, Laura Vandervoort, Alan Cumming, Romina D'Ugo, Kwesi Ameyaw, Bruce Ramsay, Thea Gill.....American war correspondent (Penikett) is killed...then wakes up on a strange world dominated by an endless river, and populated by people from all countries and time periods. While questing for his lost girlfriend (Vandervoort) he and his friends appear caught up in a struggle between opposing factions among the alien overlords who orchestrated their ressurections. Second attempt in less than a decade to adapt Philip Jose Farmer's classic book series to the small screen. The previous version was also partly Canadian (reviewed above), but this time it's a mini-series, and this time features a mainly Canadian cast, save Deklin and Cumming (not that any of them play Canadians, of course...save one character who we can infer, from a reference to how she died on earth, might be Canadian). Unfortunately, the second kick at the can is arguably even less successful than the first. It has some nice B.C. scenery and does build more to a token climax than did the previous version -- even as it doesn't really answer anything because the producers are still presumably hoping to get a weekly series out of it. But one can't decide if the plot is confused and muddled...or whether it's just poor writing and direction that makes it seem that way, often not explaining things, or seeming as though needed shots -- or even scenes -- were left on the editing room floor! The fact that the filmmakers may play fast and loose with the source material is less an issue than that they just aren't doing it very well. Penikett is saddled with clumsy, macho "action movie" dialogue (making flippant quips that aren't very funny, or appropriate to his circumstances) but some notable performances include the always reliable Wingfield as Sir Richard Burton, Ramsay as Francisco Pizzaro, and the beautiful Goossen effective as the female samurai Tamoe Gozen. The use of historical figures like Gozen that I don't believe were in the novels -- as well as ones that were, like Sam Clemens (Deklin) -- at least shows the writers had done some homework (though, ironically, they don't always make it clear these are real people if you didn't know that already!). And the inclusion of a gay couple among the heroes is a nice, modern, touch. But should we infer an American-centric/xenophobic undercurrent to these TV adaptations when in the 2003 version, the British Burton -- a chief protagonist of the books -- was replaced by a fictional American, while in this one, Burton is the antagonist with the protagonists predominantly (albeit not exclusively) Americans? Ultimately, after two ill-fated tries, should filmmakers just leave the novels alone...or do they owe it to the late Farmer to keep trying until they get it right? Four hours. sc: Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Randall Badat, Hans Beimler (from novels by Philip Jose Farmer). dir: Stuart Gillard. - violence.-
(1989-1996) (/U.S.) * * 1/2 Sarah Polley ("Sara Stanley") (-6th), Zachary Bennett ("Felix"), Gema Zamprogna ("Felicity"), Jackie Burroughs ("Hetty King"), Cedric Smith ("Alec King"), Lally Cadeau ("Janet King"), Mag Ruffman ("Olivia") with Michael Mahonen ("Gus Pike") and many others.....Family drama inspired by the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Set aound the turn of the century in Avonlea (as in Anne of Green Gables fame), it focuses on myriad characters, young and old.
It's hard to argue with success, and this TV series, produced by Kevin Sullivan, is definitely that, being consistently one of the highest rated domestic shows of its time and winning many awards both here and abroad. But the series seemed overly dry and formal, lacking the fun and flamboyance to really make it magic. Still, it was prestigious enough to bring in many really famous actors from here and abroad as guest stars including Christopher Reeve, Stockard Channing, Kate Nelligan and many others. Michael York was particularly memorable in, for him, an atypical role as a crusty light-house keeper. Though set in P.E.I., it was filmed largely in Ontario. It aired in the United States as Avonlea. Followed by the TV movie Happy Christmas, Mrs. King. Best bets: the one with imported Christopher Lloyd as an eccentric history teacher. Hour long episodes on the CBC.
ROAD TO SADDLE RIVER
* * setting: Alt.
(1993) Paul Jarrett, Paul Coeur, Eric Allan Kramer, Sam Bob, Michael Hogan, Shaun Johnston, Ben Cardinal, Vladimir Valenta.....Road movie about a European immigrant (Jarrett) with a cowboy movie fixation, heading west in search of a non-existent valley, and hooking up with an entourage of eccentrics. Comedy-drama is good-looking and very well-acted, but too artsy to be mainstream, too mainstream to be a cult thing, it wanders about, gradually wearing away viewer goodwill by its overlength. Tighter and shorter would have helped -- as might've a funky, counter-culture ambience. That's Thomas Peacocke as the Klansman. sc./d: Francis Damberger. - casual male nudity.- 109 min.
* 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1989) Valerie Buhagiar, Gerry Quigley, Larry Hudson, Bruce McDonald, Don McKellar, Dean Richards.....Slightly nerdy assistant (Buhagiar) to a rock promotor goes on a trek through the small towns of north Ontario in search of a missing band and their leader. Regarded by some as THE great Canadian road movie, this silly low-budget little romp is funny and fairly off-beat but definitely of the "it's-good-considering-the-budget" variety. Scripter McKellar is a standout as a wanna-be serial killer. sc: Don McKellar. dir: Bruce McDonald. 80 min.
THE ROBBER BRIDE *
1/2 setting: Ont.
(2007) (/U.K.) Mary-Louise Parker, Shawn Doyle, Susan Lynch, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Root, Greg Bryk, Tatiana Maslasy.....A man (Doyle) investigates the disappearance and presumed murder of a woman (American actress Parker) whom he discovers had a history of ingratiating herself with friends, and then betraying them. Ponderous made for CBC-TV mystery-drama suffers from implausibility and a lack of chemistry between the characters (not to mention muddy sound). It's a character drama that fails to flesh out its characters, and a mystery that seems to have little interest in the mystery. In fact, it's kind of insulting: by the end, you have more questions than answers! And it seems to be set in an alternate reality Canada where no one uses the metric system, people smoke in public places, and the Arctic is considered a foreign country! Significantly altered from the source material: Doyle's character, and the whole detective story framework, apparently weren't in the novel, basically reinventing the story as a cliched film noir/femme fatale story. Some good actors like Jennifer Podemski and Conrad Pla (as cops) and Brandon Firla (as a husband) are wasted in nothing, small parts. sc: Tassie Cameron (from the novel by Margaret Atwood). dir: David Evans. - violence.- app. 90 min.
ROBBERS OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN a.k.a. Falcon's Gold
ROBOCOP: The Future of Law Enforcement
* * setting: USA.
(1994) Richard Eden, Yvette Nipar, Blu Mankuma, Andrea Roth, David Gardner, Sarah Campbell, Cliff de Young, John Rubinstein, James Kidnie, Ed Sahely.....In near-future Delta City, cyborg cop RoboCop (Eden) tackles a mad scientist (de Young) who is killing people in his attempts to make an artificially intelligent computer. First episode of the weekly TV series which was spun off from the violent U.S. films (which, conversely, makes this the fourth movie). Played largely for camp value, the film is decidedly uneven but benefits from an energetic enthusiasm, particularly American actors de Young and Rubinstein. It actually seems better once you compare it to the latter, turgid 2001 mini-series! The violence was toned down compared to the feature films, with the movie trying for more of a family (even juvenile) ambience. sc: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner. dir: Paul Lynch. app. 90 min.
This TV series, one of the most expensive ever made in Canada, was spun-off from the ultra-violent U.S. films, but toned down the violence considerably (unlike the movies, RoboCop usually refrained from killing) and was much more human, particularly with the effective scenes between Eden and Roth. But it suffered from being rather juvenile: simplistic in character and story and too broad in its satire (and drama for that matter), with the actors often seeming uncomfortable. Some episodes featured an imported American actor as its guest star. Ironically, only the first of the "RoboCop" feature films was a success, making it no surprise to anyone (except, apparently, the producers of this series and the critics) that when this show aired, there was no audience for it, either here or in syndication in the States. Still, Canadians returned to the well once more in 2001 with the mini-series RoboCop: Prime Directives. Best bets: "The Suspect", wherein RoboCop is framed for murdering a televangelist. 22 hour long episodes, including a two-hour opener, RoboCop: The Future of Law Enforcement (reviewed separately) aired in Canada on CTV.
ROBOCOP: Prime Directives
(TVMS) * 1/2 setting: USA.
(2001) Page Fletcher, Maurice Dean Wint, Maria Del Mar, Leslie Hope, Geraint Wyn Davies, Anthony Lemke, Kevin Jubinville, Eugene Clark.....RoboCop (Fletcher), the cyborg police officer in near future Detroit (renamed Delta City) has his hands full with various villainous schemes by sundry types, including a former friend (Wint) turned into a rival RoboCop who alternates being an ally and an enemy, the sinister machinations within the mega-corp OCP (involving Del Mar, Jubinville, and Lemke as RoboCop's adult son) and a megalomaniac (Davies) out to destroy the world. Each episode of this mini-series was given its own sub-title (Dark Justice, Meltdown, Resurrection, Crash and Burn) and, though each contains the core of its own plot, ultimately the individual episodes aren't very coherent on their own. Not that they're that coherent when viewed together, either. "RoboCop" was an ultra violent 1987 U.S. movie that was a surprise critical and commercal hit, but it was a one trick pony, spawning two movie sequels, a cartoon series, comic books, and a live action Canadian series...none of which were particularly successful. Not to be discouraged, Canadians return to the well...and actually manage to make one nostalgic for the the 1994 TV series! One can't fault the all-Canadian cast, though Fletcher, a capable actor, is miscast, and both he and Wint don't seem comfortable in their costumes. But the story is sluggish, veering from lengthy gun battles and violence (the mini-series exploits the looser standards that have invaded TV of late for violence more in keeping with the movies...so be warned) to drawn out scenes of the villains plotting (often to the point of the heroes seeming like secondary characters) while borrowing ideas liberally from previous RoboCops (movies and series) as well as comic book mini-series like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen (comics that had more brains, soul, and ambition than all the RoboCop incarnations combined!). But though arguably well-intentioned in spots, it's too often illogical and the satire as biting as a toothless guppy, with attempts at thoughtful scenes and characterization that aren't really supported by the rest of the show. Still, this is definitely fanboy filmmaking, clearly a labour of love, so to hard core RoboCop fans it might elicit the occasional lump in the throat. Many of the actors could be viewed as "genre" (ie: science fiction) stars, with a number of high profile SF gigs behind them. Shown in both regular and (slight) widescreen versions. 8 hours. sc: Brad Abraham, Joseph O'Brien. dir: Julian Grant. - extreme violence.-
(2005, 2007-2008) * * 1/2 John Cassini ("Yuri"), with Meghan Follows (1st), Mark McKinney (1st), Alisen Down, William B. Davis, Gabrielle Rose, Zak Santiago, Leslie Nielsen (2nd), Fred Ewanuick, etc....Comedy-drama about the various tenants in a Vancouver apartment building (with Cassini as the shifty superintendent). The series is an odd blend of episodic series and anthology, as the various episodes seem to focus on specific characters (with the other characters drifting by in the halls and the background) then shifting the focus to other tenants in the next episode, often taking a few episodes to get back to the earlier characters (in other words, if one set of characters held your interest more than others, you might have to wait a few weeks before they were the focus again). Cassini's character is the most central, appearing in most episodes as a connecting thread...but is problematic. The series' makers clearly seem him as a kind of lovable rogue...but he's actually a kind of loathsome creature, whose antics (neglecting needed repairs, or using his pass key to break into apartments) is the stuff of a tenant's nightmare, not chuckles.
Moderately interesting series was a long time coming (it had originally been announced a season or two before, under various names -- including "Keys Cut Here"). And the finnal result is kind of hard to gauge. Nice performances (particularly the always intriguing Down) and with stories that don't tax its half-hour running time, it's an okay watch, without entirely being riveting, and the anthology/series hybridization is an interesting, but problematic concept (and not unfamiliar to Canadian TV, similar ideas having been tried in Straight Up and other shows). Modest ratings, contrasted with the anemic ratings of so many Canadian series of its day, led some to prematurely herald this as a breakthrough hit. But it wasn't especially. Like most modern Canadian series, it's made with coarser language than is common on U.S. television -- though, unlike other Canadian series, Robson Arms doesn't necessarily benefit from it (when Disney-esque plots like Follows' young daughter trying to set her up with a man are accompanied by four-letter words and a 10:00 PM timeslot, it just seems awkward). Continuing its somewhat awkward broadcast history, the second season didn't air until 2007! In the end, it produced three seasons of half-hour episodes, shown on both CTV and the Comedy Network.
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