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






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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.

SABAH  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2005) Arsinee Khanjian, Shawn Doyle, Jeff Seymour, Fadia Nadda, Seita Keshishian, Raoula Said, Kathryn Winslow, David Alpay.....Sabah, a middle-aged, single, Syrian-Canadian muslim woman (Khanjian), feeling confined by the expectations of her conservative family, begins a tentative, secret relationship with a non-Muslim (Doyle). Romantic drama is fairly sweet-tempered, benefiting from a good tempo to the scenes that means it never lags. It hits most of the marks it sets for itself...but doesn't quite shoot past them, with a kind of too pat resolution (and kind of ignores the trickier religious question in favour of making the issue more about the cultural differences). The leads, though pleasant, don't entirely generate the chemistry that would make you believe they were willing to fight for this rocky relationship. Some cute scenes (the niece trying to bamboozle a would-be suitor) but ultimately more an okay little film than a great one. sc./dir: Ruba Nadda. 90 min.

Sabbatical  * 1/2
(2008) Matthew Bennett, Anne Marie DeLuise (nee Loder), Tatiana Maslany, Stephen McHattie, Patrick McKenna.....Big city family moves to a small prairie town while on sabbatical so the wife can join a paleontological dig -- only to find the town is a creepy little place, with dark secrets...and the family has its own secrets, too. Hour long pilot was aired by CTV even though it is nothing more than the first episode of never filmed TV series...meaning it amounts to little as a stand alone watch. Despite a crackerjack, all-Canadian cast (Bennett, one of the most interesting actors in Canada -- just watch the ticks and nuances he puts into his delivery -- DeLuise, an appealing, attractive screen presence, and Maslany, one of the best teen actors of her generation...not to mention the likes of McHattie) it's one of those things where it's all in the mood, and either works...or doesn't. And this really doesn't, not succeeding as a moody, creepy effort, while having the characters behave in almost laughably implausible ways (within the space of a day or two, someone tries to kidnap their son, and the family next door is massacred in the night...and the parents still leave the kids home alone!) An admirable attempt to try a spooky, "Twin Peaks" style series (though, despite made seeming for a Canadian network...the dialogue seems to avoid saying whether it's Canada!), but unsuccessful (admittedly, proponents could argue with a few more episodes they could've smoothed out the flaws.) But that cast -- man, that cast... sc: Peter Mitchell. dir: Ken Girotti.

SABLE ISLAND  see L'ile de Sable

Saboteurs, the non-fiction book byAndrew Nikiforuk, served as the inspiration for the documdrama,Burn: The Robert Wraight Story.

THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD  * *  setting: Man.
(2004) Isabella Rossellini, Mark McKinney, Maria de Meidroes, David Fox, Ross McMillan.....In Depression era Winnipeg, a legless brewery magnate (Rossellini) decides to sponsor a contest to see which country has the saddest music...which involves past sins and members of an estranged family, each of whom, through a quirk of fate, represents a different country. Umpteenth movie from Toles and Maddin is, like all their others, surreal and dreamlike, directed, stylistically, like an old movie, with glitches and clumsy edits, filmed mainly in black and white. This time around, though, they have arguably their best cast, and it's briskly paced with a story (based on an earlier screenplay) rife with interesting ideas and satirical jabs at business and nationalism. But ultimately, the smarmy, tongue-in-cheek presentation -- done as a parody of over-the-top melodramas -- works against it. The stylistic quirks (not even innovative anymore as Madden has been doing this since the late 1980s) is interesting for all of ten or fifteen minutes, and then we're left with the story...a story which isn't supposed to make a lot of sense (as some scenes have all the logic of a bad dream) and with characters we aren't really supposed to care about, and whose actions don't always make sense. Ultimately a flick that should appeal to film aficionados...but movie goers will probably lose interest before the end. Filmed mainly in black & white with some colour sequences. sc: David Tolles, Guy Madden (from an original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro). dir: Guy Madden. - extreme violence; sexual content.- 100 min.

Saeed see Short Films

A Sailor Goes Ashore, a novel by Aksel Sandemose, served as part of the source for the movie Misery Harbour.

SAINT JUDE  * *  setting: Ont.
(1999) Liane Balaban, Nicholas Campbell, Raymond Cloutier, Bernie Coulson, Kris Lemche, Victoria Sanchez, Victor Soumis, Simon Peacock, Tom Watt, Louise Portal.....Inner city odyssey about a teen (Balaban) who wanders about, hooking up with various friends and acquaintances: junkies, child prostitutes, and pedophiles (!). Dark drama wants to be a gritty look at life on the fringe (though some of the actors look like they've stepped off the cover of a teen magazine -- hey, they don't wanna be too gritty). Many of the scenes are too pretentiously mannered and constructed to succeed as the realist, cinema verite things they may be going for (building to an end that seems more symbolic than anything), but the overall narrative is too aimless to score as a story (despite half-hearted attempts to throw in plot threads). If you were to jumble the order of many of the scenes, it wouldn't affect anything! Frankly, it seems like the kind of movie you make when you've got your funding lined up...but can't actually come up with an idea. Campbell, in a small part, plays Balaban's dad...just like he did in New Waterford Girl. sc: Heather O'Neill (story O'Neill and Esta Spalding). dir: John L'Ecuyer. - casual male nudity.- 92 min.

SAINT RALPH  * * * 1/2  setting: Ont./USA.
(2004) Adam Butcher, Campbell Scott, Gordon Pinsent, Jennifer Tilly, Shauna MacDonald, Tamara Hope, Frank Crudele, Michael Kanev.....Story of a precocious -- and slightly weird -- teen (Butcher) growing up in the 1950s at a Hamilton Catholic school, who is told that only a "miracle" can bring his mother out of her coma -- and when he hears that it would be a miracle for anyone from his school to win the Boston Marathon, he sets out, despite having had little interest or  aptitude for running, to train for the big race, determined it is the "miracle" that will revive his mother. Very funny comedy-drama boasts a sly, deadpan wit and a lot of quirky, eccentric ideas and a nice, restrained cast. Sentimental enough to be kind of touching, without being maudlin. A bit raunchy at times, but a movie that manages to be both a well done riff on a comfortingly familiar "Rocky" style saga, with stock characters (Pinsent as the conservative head priest who disapproves, American import Scott as the radical priest who comes to support the boy)...while also brimming with a quirky eccentricty that makes it decidedly its own flick. To do either type of film well (familiar cliché or off-beat film) is rare...to do both in the same movie is most definitely worth a look. sc./dir: Michael McGowan. - sexual content, casual female nudity.- 98 min.

ST. URBAIN'S HORSEMAN (TVMS)   * * *   setting: CDN./other
(2007) David Julian Hirsh, Michael Riley, Selina Giles, Gabriel Hogan, Max Morrow, Liane Balaban, Andrea Martin, Jacob Tierney, Elliott Gould, Rosemary Dunsmore, Kristen Hager.....Story of a man (Hirsh), growing up in Montreal's Jewish ghetto post-WW II, dealing with his dysfunctional family and anti-Semitism, finding love and becoming a successful director in England...only to have it all threatened by a criminal scandal. Made-for-CBC TV mini-series is the first feature length Mordecai Richler adaptation done expressly for TV, and is the only one -- to date -- actually starring a Canadian in the lead role! It's a bit uneven, sometimes with characters verbalizing motivation and emotional undercurrents that weren't, otherwise, being conveyed by the filmmakers, and suffers from similar problems to a lot of Richler stories (or at least the cinematic adaptations) of a certain emotional superficiality, and a hero who sometimes is a bit of a cad. Indeed, cynics have suggested Richler sometimes seemed to just write the same story over and over again (you can certainly detect echoes in themes, characters, relationships, and even scenes of Joshua Then and Now, Barney's Version, and even The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz). With that being said, Hirsh is a personable presence, Riley a scene stealer (and almost unrecognizable) as a shady accountant, and British actress Giles grows into her part (as the role itself becomes better defined in the second half) and the saga nicely conjures its various period milieus and, above all, it does hold your interest, getting even stronger in the second half (when the story is more focused). Certainly on a par with the various big screen (and more high profile) Richler films. And, in some ways, it may be among Richler's more ambitious efforts, emotionally and politically...though the central recurring thread of the protagonist's blind idealism of his elusive cousin (Tierney) -- the eponymous "horseman" -- never becomes more than a contrivance. Bizarrely, Kenneth Welsh, one of Canada's most prolific and respected actors -- in a small part as a judge -- has his name misspelled in the opening credits! What does that say about the Canadian film and TV biz, eh? Four hours. sc: Gerald Wexler, Howard Wiseman, Joe Wiesenfeld (from the novel by Mordecai Richler). dir: Peter Moss. - sexual content.-

SALT ON OUR SKIN  * *  setting: other/USA./P.Q.
(1993) (/Germany/France) Greta Scacchi, Vincent D'Onofrio, Anais Jeanneret, Hanns Zischler, Barbara Jones.....Story of a lusty, decades-spanning affair between a French intellectual (Australian Scacchi) and a Scottish fisherman (American D'Onofrio). Good-looking, pretentious romance is earnest and respectably put together, but it never becomes convincing. The story offers no twists or surprises and the characters and their situations don't change over time...which is, surely, the heart of drama: evolution. sc: Andrew Birkin, Bee Gilbert (from the novel Les vaisseaux du coeur by Benoite Grault). dir: Andrew Birkin. - sexual content.- 111 min.

SALT WATER MOOSE * * 1/2 setting: N.S.
(1997) Johnny Morina, Katharine Isobel, Lolita Davidovitch, Timothy Dalton, Corinne Conley, Maurice Godin.....After his parents' divorce, a boy (Morina) moves with his mother (Davidovitch) back to her Nova Scotia hometown. He befriends the local tomboy (Isobel) who hatches a scheme to capture and transport a female moose to a local island where a male moose is stranded. Dalton plays Isobel's dad (like a lot of imported actors, he tries admirably to do a maritime accent -- heck, he's the only actor in the film doing one! -- even as he hasn't quite got it right). Family film seems pretty familiar stuff (the core idea of the moose is original, it's the surrounding stuff that's formulaic) but is O.K. It's a bit slow, with scenes in and of themselves not that memorable, though the climax is pretty edge-of-the-seat stuff -- perhaps moreso than might be appropriate for little kids. Technical goofs (odd for such a professional-looking film) include gaffer feet behind Dalton's truck as he backs up, lights in the sky, and boom mics bobbing into the frame. sc: Bruce McKenna. dir: Stuart Margolin. 94 min.

SAM & ME  * * *  setting: Ont.
(1991) Ranjit Chowdhry, Peter Boretski, Om Puri, Heath Lamberts, Kalbhushan Kharbanda, Javid Jafri, Jolly Bader, Leonard Chow, Marcia Diamond, Gina Wilkinson, Howard Jerome.....Story of an East Indian immigrant (Chowdhry) who gets a job looking after a willful old Jewish man (Boretski), and of their growing friendship. Finely written comedy-drama manages to be both effective, perceptive and touching, but never hokey. Warm, but gritty, too. Excellent performances from the two leads and Puri heads a good supporting cast. The score is infectious. sc: Ranjit Chowdhry. dir: Deepa Mehta (her first feature). - sexual content, casual male nudity.- 96 min.

SAMUEL LOUNT  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1985) R.H. Thomson, Linda Griffiths, Cedric Smith, Donald Davis, David Fox, Booth Savage.....True story of Samuel Lount (Thomson), a pacifist blacksmith who became one of the leaders of the 1837 rebellion in Upper Canada. Uninvolving drama, with surprisingly empty performances from what should be a crackerjack cast (though Smith is good as William Lyon MacKenzie) and the historical issues aren't properly explained. Producer Elivra Lount is title character's great-great-grand niece. sc: Phil Savath, Laurence Keane. dir: Laurence Keane.

SAMURAI COWBOY  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1993) Hiromi Go, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Conrad, Matt McCoy, Conchata Ferrell, Byron Chief Moon, Ian Tyson.....Japanese business man (Go), tired of the Tokyo rat-race, decides to fulfill a lifelong Western movie fixation and buys a run-down American ranch...only to encounter local bigots and a land baron. O.K. comedy-drama, a modern western, is generally obvious and occasionally even sophomoric, but benefits from a decent cast, particularly Go. Though, as always, the ultra-Americaness of this Canadian-filmed movie is off-putting. Not to be confused with Tokyo Cowboy, another Canadian movie from around the same time. sc: Deborah Tilton, Michael Keusch and Dave Hunsaker (story Hunsaker and Rick Ponte). dir: Michael Keusch. 102 min.
 

SANCTUARY (TV Series)

(2008-2012) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Amanda Tapping ("Dr. Helen Magnus"), Robin Dunne ("Dr. Will Zimmerman"), Emilie Ullerup ("Ashley Magnus") (-2nd), Christopher Heyerdahl ("Bigfoot"/"John Druitt"), Agam Darshi ("Kate") (2nd), with Ryan Robbins ("Henry") .....Science fiction/horror about a private organization that investigates monsters and mutants (dubbed "abnormals") both to keep them from doing harm...and to provide them a haven so they won't be harmed by others (such as an evil, rival organization, the generically named Cabal). Sanctuary is run by Helen Magnus (Tapping) a Victorian-era British scientist, still alive today. Dunne plays a criminal profiler, recruited by her; Ullerup her butt kicking daughter; Robbins their tech guy, though also with a repressed "abnormality". The appealing Darshi joined as a street wise thief after Ullerup's character was written out. Heyerdahl plays a dual role -- under heavy make up, as "big foot", the Sanctuary's resident butler...and without heavy make up as John Druitt, "Magnus"' former lover (also from the Victorian age) whose "abnormality" (teleportation) drove him insane, with the result that he was Jack the Ripper...but now claims to be cured, though still making him an uncertain ally. This series is significant as both the first (maybe only) live-action TV series to start out produced exclusively for the internet in webisodes (in 2007), garnering enough interest to morph into a full fledge television series (some early TV episodes were expanded re-makes of webisodes) and for its heavy use of CGI f/x, with many sets and backgrounds simply visual inserts (sometimes even just offices or alley ways). This perhaps added to the series' globe hopping nature, with episodes set in the Himalayas, India, a submarine, etc. An all-Canadian production (though made with some U.S. money) and one of the few times a flashy, high concept SF/fantasy series can claim that...on screen, sadly, the series carefully avoids acknowledging a Canadian identity, and even though set in a fictional big city, it's clearly an American city.

This TV series is an odd mix of strengths...and weaknesses. The basic premise mixes aspects of "The X-Files" and, say, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (without as much comedy) with the "X-Men" (with the heroes both fighting abnormals...and seeking to protect them from a world that would fear them) and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (in that the backstory is that "Magnus" was part of The Five, a Victorian-era circle of famous real and literary figures) -- these comic book antecedents may explain a directing/visual style that was purportedly intended to evoke a graphic novel feel. The central characters can be a bit stock, yet Magnus herself, essentially Mary Poppins-as-monster hunter, is a little more off-beat. Like a lot of fantasy series, the basic "rules" of this reality are inconsistent (whether abnormals are the stuff of urban legend...or are known to the general public). And the various episodes can be slow and uneven -- and shamelessly derivative (in the first season alone ripping off "The Trouble with Tribbles", "The Thing/Who Goes There?", "Cloverfield" and the inevitable meta-human fight club episode among others) without usually being more than street vendor knock offs of the originals. Due to filming pressures, apparently many scripts were written in just three or four days...and they are quite decent for scripts written in four days...but that doesn't mean they're that great considered without that caveat. HOWEVER...the series also has its spikes, too. A personable cast, particularly Tapping (faux British accent and all), and the charismatic Heyerdahl (as Druitt), and a solid array of guest star performances. There is a genuine moodiness (the use of fake back drops arguably giving the show a subtlely surreal undercurrent). And periodic good lines, scenes, and concepts are peppered among the more banal moments. And, overall, the series exudes a certain...likeability. And there definitely seemed to be a slight improvement in subsequent seasons -- or at least more sure-footedness. Ultimately, it's more a middling-to-decent series, with elements of goodness, than a good series with lulls of mediocrity. But, honestly, that's still enough to make it worth a look-in for genre fans. As an example, the first season two-parter "Revelations" is less memorable for the plot (which ends on a "season finale" cliffhanger anyway), than for the teaming of members of The Five, with some nicely written character interaction and deliciously juicy performances from Heyerdahl, Jonathan Young and Peter Wingfield (and Tapping, too) -- making it one of the series' highlights. Tapping (who was also one of the producers), creator/head writer Damian Kindler, and frequent director Martin Wood, all spent many years working together on the StarGate franchises. Four seasons of hour long episodes, shown in Canada on SPACE.

SAND SERPENTS  * 1/2   setting: other
(2009) (/U.S./Romania) Jason Gedricks, Tamara Hope, Elias Toufexis, Sebastian Knapp, Michelle Asante, Chris Jarman.....America soldiers in Afghanistan get caught between Taliban forces...and giant (really giant!) murderous sand snakes that erupt out of the ground. Made-for-TV action-horror flick is kind of "Predator" meets "Tremors". An adequate cast (particularly American actor Gedricks) but suffers from weak dialogue (the bickering is mainly annoying), direction, and a plot that just seems to lack any cool scenes and involves the characters running back and forth from point A to point B with no real plan...or even much curiosity about these creatures. Still, to be fair to the creators, they're obviously struggling with a limited budget. The creatures are an okay f/x when they appear...but a lot of scenes involve close ups of the actors reacting to things off-camera that clearly they weren't able to actually visualize. And given the long established joke that black characters get killed off first in horror movies...isn't it awkward that, not one, but both, black actors do, indeed, get killed off early? sc: Raul Sanchez Inglis. dir: Jeff Renroe. - violence.- app. 90.

SANDKINGS see The Outer Limits: Sandkings

SANITY CLAUSE  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1990) Louis DelGrande, Martha Gibson, Kenner Ames, Booth Savage, Susan Roman, Jacques Godin, George Seremba.....A group of psychiatric out-patients ("led" by DelGrande, in his first movie vehicle), forced to fend for themselves, attempt to prove one of their number had his idea for an invention stolen. Funny but uneven, disjointed made-for-CBC TV serio-comic pic tries to be more honest and substantial than you might expect, but it's not always successful. Good cast. Dr. David Suzuki has a cameo. sc: Louis DelGrande, Neil Ross. dir: David Barlow, George McCowan. - casual male nudity, sexual content.- appp. 96 min.

SANTA WHO?  * * *  setting: USA
(2000) (/U.S.) Leslie Nielsen, Steven Eckholdt, Robyn Lively, Max Morrow, Tommy Davidson.....Santa Claus (Nielsen) gets amnesia and ends up working as a department store Santa while a cynical-but-with-heart reporter (Eckholdt) wants to figure out who he is for a story. Witty and good-spirited made-for-TV comedy is nicely acted and an appealing addition to the Christmas canon. Maybe not quite a classic, but better than most of the Christmas movies that are churned out every year. Nielsen, more toned down than his recent forays into comedy, is an appealing St. Nick. Of the above listed actors, only Nielsen and child actor Morrow are Canadian. sc: Debra Frank, Steve L. Hayes (story Chad Hoffman, Robert Schwartz). dir: William Dear. app. 90 min.

LA SARRASINE  * * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(1992) Enrica Maria Modugno, Tony Nardi, Jean Lapointe, Gilbert Sicotte, Johanne Marie Tremblay, Gaetano Cisco Cimarosa.....In turn-of-the-century Montreal a Sicilian immigrant (Nardi) accidentally kills a Quebec man and is sentenced to death. Nice-looking drama starts out about racism, touches on political machinations and religious hypocrisy, then settles on sexism. Consistently watchable, but too aloof, with only Cimarosa's organ grinder managing to be an interesting character. Nardi received the Best Actor Genie. Supposedly based on a true incident. In French and Italian. sc: Bruno Ramirez, Paul Tana. dir: Paul Tana. - sexual content.- 109 min.
 

SATISFACTION (TV Series)

(2013)   * 1/2  Luke Macfarlane ("Jason"), Leah Renee ("Maggie"), Ryan Belleville ("Mark") with Pat Thornton ("Simon"), Mark Critch ("Gary Breakfast"), Nikki Payne ("Bea"), Thomas Mitchell ("Doug St. Bruce") .....Sitcom about a trio of room mates who share an apartment -- a couple (Macfarlane & Renee) and his best friend (Belleville). Thornton, Critch and Payne play their various eccentric neighbours. Mitchell an ex-hockey pro who owns the bar where they often hang out and where "Maggie" works. Setting-wise it's more willing to allude to the fact that it's Canadian than, say, Seed...while still seeming a bit coy about making too many explicit references to that. Many of the topical references and phraseology will lean toward American, while Canadianisms are more to be inferred (Critch's character has an East Coast accent...but I'm not sure it's actually said where he's from) or are so broadly stereotypical they actually seem less authentically Canadian as a result!

Part of a new spurt of Canadian sitcoms marketed as being American-in-style. Which, depending on your POV, meant they were supposedly more slick and professional than a lot of Canadian sitcoms...or, conversely, more blandly generic than Canadian comedies which often embraced a certain idiosyncracy. The fact that Satisfaction doesn't really have much of a concept was, in fact, part of what the makers seemed to boast about (likening it to "Friends" and such). But though moderately slick it's just not very funny. Part of the problem is that the lack of a "gimmicky" premise means the series lacks a sense of individuality, or something to shape plots around (even what jobs many of the characters have -- if any -- is vague) -- so the plots themselves are almost too gimmicky. Instead of the comedy arising out of plausible every day situations, they can often seem built around unlikely and contrived ideas that exist only to justify a joke, often with a sexual angle (many of Belleville's plot lines just involve him trying to score one night stands -- or extricate himself from relationships!) And as a result the characters -- the reason you tune in from week to week -- are one note cartoons: undeveloped, uninteresting and, worse, shallow and generally unlikeable! (Acting-wise, Thornton is the most consistently amusing -- 22 Minutes almuni Critch the least). Add in an -- arguably -- sexist/misogynist streak and the whole ends up unfunny...and unappealing. Creator McAuliffe claimed the series was inspired by his past as a single guy rooming with a couple, but the series lacks much sense of grounding (and that would mean Belleville's dimwitted character is essentially McAuliffe's surrogate). Funnily, Belleville had previously starred in another Canadian sitcom, , playing a conceptually similar character, even in similar scenes (as the third wheel) and in a comedy with a similar problem of putting gags ahead of story and character logic, and so losing all three! Created by Tim McAuliffe. Half hour episodes on CTV.

SAVAGE MESSIAH * * *  setting: Ont.
(2002) (/U.K.) Polly Walker, Luc Picard, Isabelle Blais, Pascale Montpetit, Isabelle Cyr, Julie La Rochelle, Justin Louis, Domini Blythe, Elizabeth Robertson, Steve Adams.....Fact based story of a rural Ontario social worker (British actress Walker) and her efforts to expose abuse at a commune run by the charismatic, self-styled prophet, Roch Theriault (Picard). Made-for-TV docudrama never, perhaps, makes the step up to being exceptional or surprising -- artistically speaking. But it is, nonetheless, a well mounted, well paced production. Picard, in particular, does a nice job of alternating between being genuinely charming and malevolent. Walker's character is a fictional construct. Picard received the Best Actor Genie (although intended as a TV movie, it was shown theatrically in Quebec, hence why it qualified for the Genies). sc: Sharon Riis (from the book by Paul Kaihla & Ross Laver). dir: Mario Azzopardi. - extreme violence, brief female nudity, sexual content.- 93 min.

A SAVAGE PLACE  a.k.a. Spenser: A Savage Place
 

SAVING HOPE (TV Series)

(2012-) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2...* * *   Erica Durance ("Alex Reid"), Michael Shanks ("Charlie Harris"), Daniel Gillies ("Joel Goran"), Julia Taylor Ross ("Maggie Lin"), Kristopher Turner ("Gavin Murphy"), Huse Madhavji ("Shahir Hamza"), Benjamin Ayres ("Zachary Miller"), KC Collins ("Tom Reycraft"), Glenda Braganza ("Melinda Tolliver"), Michelle Nolden ("Dawn Bell"), Wendy Crewson ("Dana Kinney"), others .....Medical drama with a slight supernatural twist, being about the staff at a big city hospital, focusing on the usual soap opera threads and medical dilemmas-of-the-week...BUT in addition, the head resident's (Durance) finance, and the hospital's erstwhile chief of surgery, is in a coma, yet his astral spirit (Shanks) wanders the halls unseen, reflecting on the action, and occasionally interacting with the spirits of other dead, or near death, patients (he woke from his coma and was back doing rounds by the second season). Gillies plays the hot turk surgeon (and "Alex"'s ex); Ross the perky junior resident; Turner the psychiatric resident; Madhavji the neurosurgeon; Nolden "Charlie's" ex and another senior doctor, etc. Crewson plays the temporary new administrative head of surgery (later losing the job to Gillies character -- though Crewson continued to reoccur). One of a number of recent Canada-U.S. co-productions where Canadians were the dominant creative partner, the series is supposedly set in Canada...but is more set in that mythical country known in film circles as "Anytown, North America", with the actors incongruously referring to the hospital by the nickname "Hope Zee" (zee is the American pronunciation of the letter Z), and other things that jar with a supposedly Canadian hospital setting (like using the imperial, not the metric, system). Though there seemed less overt Americanization in the second season, after it was dropped by the U.S. network.

Though premiering to big ratings (in Canada) the first season struggled a bit at first, narratively speaking. A solid cast, and certainly slickly put together, with episodes trotting out the usual medical crises and ethical dilemmas -- but without really seeming like anything that hasn't been done in a zillion other medical series. The pacing could be a slow, and not necessarily any real drive to the on going soap opera threads (teased along from week to week) and with some of the supporting characters (like Ross and Turner) more engaging than the nominal leads. And the "supernatural" aspect can feel a bit...half-hearted. Initially, Shanks' role was basically to wander around, musing philosophic in a voice over, but without having any real impact on the stories -- even when he meets other spirits. Remove the ghostly aspect...and events would be pretty much unaffected (according to some rumours, how far the series was to tilt toward the fantasy was a tug-of-war behind-the-scenes, with the Canadian and American executives pulling it in opposing directions). BUT...the series was arguably just finding its sea legs, as it improved over the first season, the second half of the season delivering better episodes, with tighter pacing (unfortunately, by this point NBC had pulled the plug -- though CTV decided to keep going with it in Canada). And the Charlie-in-a-coma plot, which was a bit of an albatross (as it just kept the series, like Charlie, in limbo -- and repetitious) was resolved by having Charlie wake up -- though the supernatural element was maintained by having him discover he still retained the ability to see spirits. And with Shanks now up and about and able to interact with the rest of the cast in season two, the cast interaction was a little smoother (and reminded you Shanks is a solid screen presence). All of which goes to making Saving Hope a perfectly solid, slick, medical drama, the characters engaging (once they've grown on you)...albeit still with little to distinguish it from a dozen other medical dramas (the ghost aspect still a gimmick in search of a narrative purpose). Depending on how much you choose to read into plots, there's arguably a religious subtext -- even a slightly conservative one what with ghostly spirits and recurring plot themes often arguing against pulling the plug on seeming terminal patients. The series has some vague -- though only vague -- similarities to the Quebec series, Trauma. Both revolve mainly around the emergency room, both feature a female lead, and both feature a psychiatrist as a main character in the ensemble -- Trauma even had a recurring ghostly spirit (though in that case it was a hallucination). Created by Malcolm MacRury, Morwyn Brebner. Hour long episodes shown on CTV.


 

SAYING GOODBYE (TV Limited Series)

(1990)  * *  Cast: various.....Anthology series telling slice-of-life dramas revolving around the death of a loved one.

Now how's that for a winning premise for a weekly TV series? The episodes were often technically well-done with good performances, but it still leaves the question: why? Was the series intended as a self-help excercise for the bereaved? If so, the stories tended to peter out by the end, making them weak as dramas and not really offering much in the way of genuine advice or consolation as to how to get through such an ordeal. Viewed cynically, the "earnest" concept seemed more intended to secure a grant than it was an artistic expression. 4 half-hour episodes, originally made for TVO but rerun on The Woman's Network. 


 

SCALES OF JUSTICE (TV Series)

(1991-1995)  * *  Cast: various.....Docudramas chronicling real cases of Canadian law and hosted by famed attorney Edward L. Greenspan, Q.C.

Less a TV series than irregular specials, this program -- spun off from a radio series -- boastedd some big name directors (like David Cronenberg) and was stylishly put together. But, not quite dramas, not quite documentaries, it often seemed a bit dry and flat, taking even interesting cases and somehow making them seem less-so, despite Greenspan's opening phrase "there's nothing more surprising than reality". Nor was it always clear the greater legal significance, if any, of the stories. Best bets: a very good, two hour one about the murder of Sir Harry Oakes (with Scott Hylands) which was also dramatized in the mini-series Passion and Paradise. Hour and two-hour long episodes on the CBC. 

"A Scandal in Bohemia", the Sherlock Holmes story, served as partial inspiration for the TV movie, The Royal Scandal.

SCANNERS  * * 1/2
(1981) Jennifer O'Neil, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane, Michael Ironside, Robert Silverman.....Telepathic drifter (Lack) is recruited by a corporation to track down a psychotic telepath (Ironside) and his followers. Uneven SF thriller which starts out intelligently but soon gives way to violent shoot outs and gross-out effects (like the now infamous telepathically exploding heads). Bland performance from Lack doesn't help, though McGoohan and Ironside are good. Arguably Cronenberg's most famous, identifiable work...though, ironically, it bears more than a passing similarity to the 1978 U.S. film, "The Fury" (though Cronenberg coined the neater name). Followed by two Canadian sequels a decade later and some American ones. sc./dir: David Cronenberg. - extreme violence.- 102 min.

SCANNERS II: The New Order  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1991) David Hewlett, Yvan Ponton, Isabelle Mejias, Raoul Trujillo, Deborah Raffin, Tom Butler, Vlasta Vrana, Murray Westgate, Dorothee Berryman, Doris Petrie.....Telepath (Hewlett) is persuaded by a police officer (Ponton) to use his abilities in the name of the law, but quickly realizes the cop has another agenda. Thriller has some intriguing ideas, but manages to fumble most of them. Talented francophone actor Ponton's voice was dubbed, presumably so the film can pretend it's American. sc: B.J. Nelson. dir: Christian Duguay. - extreme violence.- 105 min.

SCANNERS III: The Takeover  *  setting: USA.
(1992) Liliana Komorowska, Valerie Valois, Steve Parrish, Colin Fox, Daniel Pilon, Michael Copeman, Michel Perron.....Telepath (Komorowska) becomes a psychopath intent on revenge and world domination after taking a drug designed to cure her; meanwhile, her telepathic brother is in a Buddhist monastery. I don't know which bodes worse, the all-but incomprehensible opening blurb, or Fox's name being misspelled! Horror thriller has interesting ideas and on-location scenes in Thailand, but is really bad. If these movies keep going, I'm going to need a new ratings system. sc: B.J. Nelson, Julie Richard, David Preston. dir: Christian Duguay. - extreme violence, brief female nudity.- 103 min.

SCAR TISSUE  * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1993) Roberta Maxwell, Shawn Doyle, Aidan Devine, Paul Hecht, Larissa Laskin.....Story of a woman (Maxwell) who develops Alzheimer's disease and of its impact on her family, particularly on one of her adult sons (Doyle). O.K. made for CBC TV drama has a good cast, but despite some conflict between the two sons, and a plot thread involving Doyle trying to learn the answer to a question about his mother's past before she no longer remembers herself (the solution of which is more symbolic than literal), it never quite becomes more than a movie about an issue. The town of Antigonish, referred to at the beginning, is, I think, mispronounced....though Doyle gets it right later. Actor R.H. Thomson was associate producer. For a different take on Alzheimer's, see Mind Shadows. sc: Dennis Foon (from the novel by Michael Ignatieff). dir: Peter Moss. 86 min.
 

SCENE OF THE CRIME (TV Series)

(1991) (/U.S./France)  * * 1/2  variously: Teri Austin, Lisa Houle, Stephen McHattie, Maxine Miller, Francois Montagut, Sandra Nelson, Robert Paisley, Barbara Parkins, Olivier Pierre, George Touliatos.....Mystery- suspense anthology using a set cast repertory playing new characters every episode. Initially guest stars were brought in but this was soon dropped since half the point is watching the regulars strut their stuff.

So-so TV series suffered because the stories tended to be flat, emphasizing plot twists and whodunnits over character -- which might've been O.K. for a half-hour, but made them too insubstantial for an hour. On the other hand, taken on a non-think level, it was often light-hearted and could be quirky-if-sleazy and there was a lot of novel fun in the concept of a repertory cast -- though the actors were uneven from role to role: sometimes good, sometimes not so and only McHattie (a late addition) was a particular stand-out (though Houle and Montagut were also notable). Not terrible, not great, and certainly an interesting gimmick. Created by U.S. TV mogul Stephen J. Cannell (who provided the amusing introductions -- sometimes the highlight) using, in part, his Vancouver studios, but the stories were set either in the U.S. or France. 22 hour-long episodes on CBS's Crimetime After Primetime, then in brief runs on CTV in 1993 and 1994 to fill out empty timeslots. 


 

SCHITT'S CREEK (TV Series)

(2015-) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Eugene Levy ("Johnny Rose"), Catherine O'Hara ("Moira Rose"), Dan Levy ("David Rose"), Annie Murphy ("Alexis Rose"), Emily Hampshire ("Stevie"), Tim Rozon ("Mutt"), Chris Elliott ("Roland Schitt"), Jennifer Robertson ("Jocelyn Schitt"), Sarah Levy ("Twyla"), Dustin Milligan, Karen Robinson, others.....Comedy about an uber-rich family comprised of the parents (she an ex-TV star) and their two adult children (who never quite left the nest) who lose their entire fortune save one asset -- a small town they bought as a joke years before because of the name: "Schitt's Creek." So they have to move to the town, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, and rubbing shoulders with the small town locals. Hampshire plays the sardonic desk clerk at the run-down motel at which they are staying; Rozon a hunky bad-boy to whom "Alexis" finds herself attracted and Milligan a more clean-cut guy she starts dating; American actor Elliott plays the town's uncouth mayor (and descendant of the founding family) and Robertson his wife. Although airing in Canada on the CBC this was equally intended for an American cable venue and those involved boasted you weren't really supposed to know where it was set (which is industry code for "It's basically set in the United States," the characters making references to American places and things, but not many Canadian ones).

This series was anticipated with much glee by media folk, with comedy veterans Levy (Sr) and O'Hara headlining (the two working together, off and on, ever since their SCTV days) and seen as being in the same vein as some of the critically-acclaimed Hollywood comedies in which they've appeared (such as "Best in Show"), being a dry, quirky type of comedy. And the result -- well, can kind of split viewers off into different camps. Those who love it and feel it's everything they hoped -- and those who don't. Even the sophomoric title itself being a polarizing factor, some arguing it showed guts to go with it, others suggesting it was indicative of a pretty base level of humour. It's not so much that the series is bad -- the actors are mostly fine, there are occasional chuckles -- but it's another case of something being oversold by its fans, who heralded it as smart and edgy and sophisticated and cable-like (the ultimate compliment for a network series). But the other side is that it relies on pretty obvious set ups and punchlines (think "The Beverly Hillbillies", inverted) only more deadpan and without a laughtrack. (Even the lack of a laughtrack is hardly unusual these days, especially in Canada). It's basically one note caricatures of super rich people meeting one-note caricatures of rural people, acting out fairly generic, simple Old School plots and gags (despite some likening it to "Arrested Development," which was rightly applauded for its twisty, Byzantine plots). To its credit, it did try to give shading to the characters a bit (such as the grudging friendship evolving between "David" and "Stevie"). Much was made of the fact that a second season had been approved before the first season even aired! But such announcements are as much PR as anything (a marketing stunt to create the impression it's soooo good). The series premiered to impressive ratings (over a million!) but the numbers dropped to about half that within a few weeks. Created by Dan & Eugene Levy. Half-hour episodes on the CBC.

The School, a novel by Ed Kelleher and Hariette Vidal, was turned into a movie (scripted by the author's) Voodoo Dolls

SCHOOL OF LIFE  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2003) (/U.S.) David Paymer, Ryan Reynolds, Kate Vernon, Andrew Robb, Don MacKay, Brenda McDonald, Leila Johnson, Christopher Gauthier, Shylo Sharity, Gordie Giroux, John Astin, Carly McKillip.....Unpopular but well-meaning American school teacher (American Paymer) becomes bitterly obsessed with the hip new teacher, Mr. "D" (Reynolds), whose radical and unorthodox style easily wins over students and staff alike. Innocuous, bittersweet family comedy-drama avoids some cardboard cliches -- Paymer's character isn't a villain, per se -- even as it is kind of obvious and hokey in other ways. It has some interesting ideas -- the rivalry between the teachers -- even as it doesn't fully develop some of them (even Paymer's ultimate epiphany seems vague). There's little bite to the film, as a comedy it's not that laugh-out-loud funny, and the conflict is pretty one sided (Reynolds isn't bucking the system...everyone but Paymer love him!). Still, should appeal to kids and younger teen though it's a bit long for what, ultimately, is a pretty simple story. And isn't there a problem in a movie all about "learning" which makes fun of a teacher who feels the kids should know historical dates, or where the hip teacher never does explain to the kids the real origin of the word "history" (it has nothing to do with "his" "story")? American actor Astin has just a brief (albeit pivotal) appearance. Vernon is good in a potentially nothing part as Paymer's wife as is Robb as his son and the film's narrator. One of those Canadian movies that's so archly American it's distracting...even the gym uniforms have American flags on 'em! Not released until 2005. sc: Jonathan Kahn. dir: William Dear. 110 min.

SCHOOL'S OUT!  * *  setting: Ont.
(1991) Pat Mastroianni, Stacie Mistysyn, Kirsti Bourne, Stefan Brogren, Neil Hope.....The summer after graduation has the kids from Degrassi High making plans for the future and getting into trouble, like Joey (Mastroianni) two-timing his girlfriend (Mistysyn). Gritty made-for-CBC TV wrap-up to the various successful, award winning Degrassi TV series bids farewell to the characters with pretty much the same so-so style that, inexplicably, made the programs a hit to begin with (though some of the actors do show promise). Recommended mainly to fans. sc: Yan Moore (story Moore, Linda Schuyler, Kit Hood). dir: Kit Hood. - sexual content, casual male nudity.- app. 96 min.
 

SCOOP (TV SERIES)

(1993-1994)  * 1/2  Macha Grenon ("Stephanie"), Roy Dupuis ("Michael"), Remy Girard ("Lionel"), Francine Ruel, Martin Drainville, Raymond Bouchard, Charlotte Laurier, many others.....Night time soap opera about the exploits of a Montreal newspaper, focusing on both reporters and management.

This TV series started in Quebec in 1990 (all the episodes were dubbed and began airing in the rest of Canada in the fall of '93). Yet another hit Quebec series that seems to have lost something in the translation. Flat, impersonal direction, awkward dialogue, intrusively melodramatic score, and often unconvincing -- and broad -- performances. Still, maybe it works better in the original French. Hour long episodes, shown in English on the CBC. 

SCORE: A Hockey Musical  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2010) Noah Reid, Allie MacDonald, Olivia Newton-John, Marc Jordan, Stephen McHattie, John Pyper-Ferguson, Dru Viergever, Brandon Firla, Nelly Furtado.....A homeschooled, intellectual teen (Reid) -- discovered to have the innate skill of a hockey superstar -- is signed by a pro team, but is torn between his old and new life. No -- the title isn't symbolic or metaphorical: this really is a comedy-musical about hockey! It bubbles over with goofy charm, and is amusing, with laugh-out-loud jokes peppered throughout. With that said, the movie seems torn in different directions (not unlike its hero) -- it genuinely wants to be a musical, with pleasant songs (and nary a dud in the lot) even as it sort of wants to be a spoof of musicals, with deliberately quirky meters and awkward rhymes. There are some cleverly choreographed dance numbers (like one of the locker room routines) even as a lot of time, there isn't much choreography. Reid is a strong lead -- good at acting and singing, both -- but some of the others are a mix of good actors who are uneven singers (as if it's trying to be the anti-musical musical), or professional singers who are uneven actors (and singers Australian Newton-John and Canadian Jordan, as the hero's parent, aren't necessarily given songs suited to their style and range). And the plot itself, though with a sincere heart, is a bit thin and rudimentary, not really sustaining a feature length (likewise the supporting characters are under-utilized). And there's an odd sameness to the tunes despite a variety of composers involved (a flaw with the orchestration maybe?). The use of celebrity cameos, from hockey, music and media in general, though part of the fun, also means a lot of parts don't rise above being gimmicks. And prominently-billed pop star Nelly Furtado actually just has a minor recurring cameo as an overzealous fan. The result is a likeable, genuinely charming flick...but is maybe too quirky to be mainstream, too mainstream to be quirky, and could've been a lot better than it ultimately is. sc./dir: Michael McGowan. 92 min.

SCORING a.k.a. This Time Forever

SCORNED a.k.a. A Woman Scorned

THE SCORPIO FACTOR  * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(1989) David Nerman, Wendy Dawn Wilson, David Gow, Arthur Holden, Dorion Joe Clark.....Interpol agent (Nerman) and bad guys are both after the same woman (Wilson) who has a stolen computer chip in her possession. Confusing, low-budget thriller with iffy performances. Set mainly in New York (filmed in Canada) but early scenes are more cosmopolitan...though where they got the money for location shoots is a mystery. sc: Carole Sauve, June Pinheiro (from an original screenplay by Lorenzo Orzari). dir: Michael Wachniuc. - violence, brief female nudity.- 86 min.

"Scotch Settlement", a story by Neil Peterson, was filmed by the British in '49, and Canadians in the '90s, both times under the title The Little Kidnappers

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