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Sample: Title; rating (out of 4); principal
setting; year of release; international co-producer (if any); cast; description;
scriptwriter; director; content warning; running time.
1/2 setting: other
(2001) (/U.K./Italy/Bulgaria) Ian Duncan, Opheile Winter, Marie Baumer, Martina Colombari, Edward Hardwicke, Gotz Otto, David Ross, Christoph Waltz, Silvio Oliviero, Jennifer Podemski.....Trio of 19th Century Englishmen (Duncan, Hardwicke, and Ross -- the latter two under-billed) head off into the African wilderness in pursuit of a lost civilization ruled over by She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Low-budget adventure-fantasy is made by some of the same people as did an earlier, fun version of The Lost World. Despite the limited budget, the (lead) actors are okay and, more importantly, give some nuance to their roles. And it starts out okay as a throw back to cheesy, low-budget Saturday matinee serials and Drive-In movies. But goes off the rails as it progresses, getting cheesier and sillier, with the characters not interesting enough to make us care; sometimes sticking to the source novel...sometimes diverging wildly, with a climax that is lifted from the novel...but doesn't make any sense here! And that's not even addressing the fact that it doesn't look like Africa and there are almost no non-white people in the entire cast (even the Arabs are played by white guys)! H. Rider Haggard's famous novel (which isn't even acknowledged in the credits!) has been filmed many times over the years...and few film versions are well regarded -- maybe it's just a difficult story to adapt. The only Canadians in the cast are Oliviero (as a Bedouin chief) and Podemski (as the leader of a cult within the lost tribe) -- neither of whom have more than a few lines. sc: Peter Welbeck, Peter Jobin (from the novel by H. Rider Haggard). dir: Timothy Bond. - violence, casual male nudity.- 102 min.
SHE'S THE MAYOR (TV Series)
Reflecting the odd synergy that seems to occasionally crop up in Canadian TV, this followed shortly on the heels of the conceptually similar Dan for Mayor. And in the midst of the current, slick, sly Canadian comedies hitting the airwaves, this has a bit of a clunky, Old School feel -- a bit broad, a bit heavy handed and prone to mugging, it misses as often as it hits...yet ultimately does have a certain good natured charm, with a sprightly pace and a personable cast (Wentworth is a scene stealer, Williams pretty, etc.). Stopping short of Wentworth's character being a simple villain lends the show a bit of dimension, as does the sexual tension between Laine-Green and him -- a nice touch that a series about borderline senior citizen protagonists would indulge in sexual tension, and pull it off to boot. Created by Jennifer Holness, Min Sook Lee, Sudz Sutherland. Half hour episodes on Vision TV.
SHEHAWEH (TVMS) *
(1993) (/France) Marina Orsini, Monique Mercure, Pierre Curzi, Annie Galipeau, Denis Bernard.....Story of a Native Indian girl (Orsini) who is kidnapped from her people in the 1600s and raised by the French, and the various humiliations and tragedies she suffers. Truly awful drama seems like they were making it up as they went along, with characters and storylines coming out of nowhere then disappearing again, no real plot, and inconsistencies in characterization even within the same scene. It also suffers from perpetually fuzzy cinematography and Beaudin's usual silly direction. Painted white-woman Orsini seems really unsure of her part, too, spending a lot of time alternating between giving primordial screams and looking stoic in various stages of undress (with hair judiciously covering her anatomy). It seems to think it's sincere and earnest, but it plays like a really bad romance novel. Dubbed version of the French language mini-series. Five hour long episodes. sc: Fernand Dansereau, with Jacques Gary. dir: Jean Beaudin. - partial female nudity, sexual content, violence.-
THE SHELDON KENNEDY STORY
* * 1/2 setting: CDN/USA.
(1999) Jonathan Scarfe, Polly Shannon, Robert Wisden, Noel Fisher, Brent Stait, Paul Coeur.....Story of professional hockey player Kennedy (Scarfe), who shocked the sports world by coming forward with the stories of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his junior league coach (Wisden). Competently-done, better-than-average "ripped from the headlines" CTV movie. Well-acted. Scarfe has always been a promising young actor, but here he truly makes the leap, fashioning a genuine performance for the roll, rather than "Jonathan Scarfe playing a hockey player". He received the Best Actor Gemini. sc: Suzette Couture. dir: Norma Bailey. - brief male nudity.- 91 min.>
* * setting: Ont.
(1985) Brenda Robins, Germain Houde, David Calderisi, Mavor Moore, Marc Strange, Damir Andrei, Eugene Clark, George Buza, Tony Rosato, Nicholas Rice.....Lawyer Carrie Barr (Robins) is hired to defend a drug courier (Houde) accused of murder, only to be double crossed by both the police and mobsters (Calderisi and Andrei). Uninvolving made-for-CBC TV suspenser has an O.K. cast and some good dialogue, but the story and characterization never becomes coherent, and the direction is just awkward -- too obviously inspired by the then-popuular U.S. TV series "Miami Vice". It served as a fore-runner (albeit with a lot of changes) for the TV series Street Legal, with Robins, Rosato and Rice playing the parts of Carrie, Chuck and Leon. Ten years later, scripter Deverell used this as the source for his novel Street Legal: The Betrayal (padded with subplots from some of the early episodes). sc: William Deverell. dir: Peter Yalden-Thomson. 94 min.
* setting: B.C.
(1987) Robyn Stevan, Diana Stevan, Ian Tracey, Christianne Hirt, Reynald Bouchard.....Teen (R. Stevan) runs away from home and her abusive stepfather and meets up with some other runaways working as prostitutes. Given the importance of the topic, the amateurishness of this film is particularly disappointing. Weak performances (despite some of the usually good young actors). sc./dir: Christian Bruyere. 77 min.
(1999) (/U.S.) C. Thomas Howell, Roddy Piper, Heidi von Palleske, Mackenzie Gray, Raymond Serra, Marina Anderson, David Carradine.....In a future where humans live underground, and rival religious sects sanction mob-style hits against each other, a troubled church assassin (American Howell) -- a "shepherd" -- has a change of heart, and ends up fleeing with his latest assigned target (von Palleske) and her son. Low-budget science fiction action-thriller has some interesting ideas, both in the reality, and the characterization (like Gray as Howell's former friend, sent to hunt him down, and kind of ambivalent about the assignment). But the movie is confusing: it sort of makes sense, if you pay close attention to cryptic lines and draw inferences -- and it sort of doesn't. It's poorly structured and paced, seeming directionless with too many redundant, or repetitive scenes (as in: "didn't they already have this conversation a couple of scenes ago?") And, of course, there's lots of brutality and sophomoric dialogue in place of plot and clever badinage. Like a lot of movies from the producing team of G. Philip Jackson and Daniel D'Or, the ideas are O.K., but the execution is a bit of a mess. Howell does a respectable enough job, though, and there's some interesting casting against type like ex-wrestler and action movie hero Piper playing the messianic bad guy, and American actor Carradine in a bit (and pointless) part as a nut with a puppet. American B-movie king, Roger Corman, was executive producer. Followed by a sequel. a.k.a. Cybercity. sc: Nelu Ghiran. dir. Peter Hayman. - partial female nudity, sexual content, violence, brief male nudity.- 95 min.
Sherlock Holmes.....The quintessential detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 19th Century has enjoyed considerable life in film and television, with many versions -- adaptations and pastiches -- over the years, and many actors assuming the classic role. Canadians have tackled the character once or twice. There was the feature film pastiche, Murder by Decree, with Canadian Christopher Plummer as Holmes, and British actor James Mason as sidekick Dr. Watson, investigating the real life crimes of Jack the Ripper. In the 21st Century came a series of made-for-TV movies featuring the all-Canadian duo of Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh. So far these have been energetic romps, with Frewer's decidedly singular interpretation of Holmes nicely matched by Welsh's more sturdy portrait of Watson. With the exception of actor Jason London in one, all the guest stars have been Canadian too. The only sour note is the fact that the films are unauthorized. Most of the Holmes stories have entered the public domain, so permission is not required from Doyle's estate, but most versions (film, TV, comics, etc.) still seek that permission as just a matter of good sportsmanship. So far the Frewer/Welsh films have included: The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four, Royal Scandal and The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (the last not actually based on a Doyle story). The first three were aired on CTV, the fourth on CanWest-Global. Other Canadian versions include a 1960s CBC radio adaptation of "The Noble Bachelor" with Robert (Beachcombers) Clothier as Holmes as well as a feature-length production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. British-born Canadian actor John Neville played Holmes (years before emigrating to Canada) in a British movie.
* setting: P.Q.
(1975) Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allen Magicovsky, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele.....Internal parasites spread through the population of a remote apartment complex, causing people to act libidinously. "Night of the Living Dead" meets "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (though not as good as either) spruced up with Cronenberg's standard themes of sexual and biological horror. Interesting use of a realist style, but like most of Cronenberg's subsequent films it's cold and clinical, lacking genuine emotion, characterization, and even much of a story...and everytime it threatens to get intelligent and provocative, it doesn't. Impressive f/x. a.k.a. The Parasite Murders and They Came From Within. sc./dir: David Cronenberg (his first major film). - partial female nudity, extreme violence.- 87 min.
* * setting: Ont./USA.
(1985) Doug Stone, Jackie Samuda, Russell Ferrier, Karen Cannata, Bill Zagot.....Anthology of three, sometimes amusing, suspense tales focusing on three brothers (all played by Stone). Shoe-string budget but surprisingly well-done though the stories tend to go on a bit too long. Filmed on video. An Emmeritus-CHCH production. sc./dir: Steve DiMarco.
* * 1/2
(1995) (/U.S.) Corey Carrier, Matthew Walker, Gwynyth Walsh, Caterina Scorsone, David Eisner, Mark Hildreth.....A boy (imported Carrier) accidentally brings the out-of-control, joke-cracking superhero (Walker) of his video game to life and decides to use him to get the goods on a gangster his prosecutor mom (Walsh) has been after. Mildly amusing hour-long comedy-adventure is O.K. once you get past Walker's obvious similarities to -- imitation of? -- Jim Carrey (does "The Mask" ring any bells, guys?). This was a pilot for a never realized series (perhaps it didn't get the go ahead because that same season the Americans also produced "Deadly Games" -- a short-lived comedy-adventure series aabout video game villains coming to life). sc: Glenn Davis, William Laurin. dir: Michael Schultz.
(1982) William Conrad, Scott Hylands, Linda Sorensen, Kerrie Keane, Chris Wiggins, Ken Pogue.....True story of American Dr. R. Adams Cowely (Conrad), a pioneer in shocktrauma research. Well intentioned made-for-TV drama, but marred by uninspired performances (except for Hylands) and wooden and melodramatic dialogue. Of interest only for its facts, otherwise forget it. sc: Stephen Kandel. dir: Eric Till. 100 min.
* 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1996) Randy Hughson, Alberta Watson, Hardee T. Lineham, Carl Marotte, Ellen Ray Hennessy, George Buza.....Story of a mildly retarded shoemaker (Hughson) who begins a tentative relationship with an enigmatic, "normal" woman (Watson). Gentle, leisurely-paced serio-comic drama is affecting and well played, benefitting from its "concept" premise and some nice scenes. But it's a bit thin and though it wants to be quirky, it's sometimes more uncomfortable (especially with the protagonist's flashes of temper). And Watson's character could've used more elaboration. In fact, by the end, the movie seems as though it's as much about the relationship between Hughson and Lineham (as his business partner) as it is about the relationship between the man and woman. Prominently billed Marotte has just a bit part. sc: Jaan Kolk. dir: Colleen Murphy. - sexual content.- 80 min.
SHORT CHANGE *
1/2 setting: CDN.
(1989) Frank Pellegrino, Shannon Lawson, George Touliatos, Aidan Devine, Barbara Jones.....Iranian-Canadian (Pellegrino) latches onto a shop-lifter (Lawson) to marry his uncle (Touliatos) so that the man can stay in the country...and soon wishes he hadn't. Comedy-suspenser throws in a lot of different ideas, but few of them click into any sort of coherence. So-so performances. sc: Nicholas Kinsey, Jacques Hardy. dir: Nicholas Kinsey. - brief female nudity.- 103 min.
Short films.....Short films (those just under a half hour) are often made independently by aspiring or even established filmmakers, intended for theatrical exhibition at film festivals. There have also been many anthology series made expressly for television by a single production company or network. These series' are often more professional than the independents, with all episodes revolving around themes. Examples like Global Playhouse, Inside Stories, The Twilight Zone, The Hidden Room, The Ray Bradbury Theater, Adventures in History, The Hitchhiker, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Saying Goodbye and others are covered under their respective titles. Independent films are usually less polished, but much more ambitious and quirky...and varied in quality. These films air on television under such banners as the CBC's afternoon show Canadian Reflections, Global's irregular New Producers series, or by themselves as fillers in otherwise empty time-slots. Some never make it to TV at all. There has never been an attempt to do a "best of..." show, selecting the best and brightest from such programs. As a starter, here are a list of just some of the more notable independently produced short films, some are off-beat and high-minded, others have no greater ambition than to be entertaining. Some dramatic ones are: "Albert", an odd serio-comic monologue delivered by actor Charlie Tomlinson; "The Art of Being" with Andrea Moodie as an aspiring artist; "Inside/Out" about a woman's (Emma Richler) attempt to withdraw from the world; "Kinnip Drumbo" a surrealistic last-man-on-earth tale; "Lost Innocence" about street kids featuring some high profile cameos; "Saeed" about an immigrant's attempt to contact kin who don't know he exists; "Stealing Images" with Lubomir Mykytiuk as an odd filmmaker; "Watershed" about a man trying to deal with his fear of a lake. Funny ones include: "The Critical Years" about a man's confessions to his psychiatrist; "The Gibbons: Canada's Fighting Elite" a mocumentary about an army unit; the engaging "Lunch With Harry's Dancer" starring Greg Ellwand; the Genie Award winning "The Mysterious Moon Men of Canada" with Gerry Quigley; and the sci-fi/adveture spoof "The Unbelievable Story of Ellison Spinrad, Aria von Sniper and the Puzzle of Easy Enlightenment" with Duncan Ollerenshaw and Randy Lobb. "The Rainbow Bar and Grill" was a CBC serio-comic pilot (making it hardly independent) that never became a series, it starred Don Francks, Lisa Langlois and Cree Summer Francks (Don's kid).
SHORT FOR NOTHING
* * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1998) Karen LeBlanc, Tennyson Loeh, Stephanie Jones, Jonathan Scarfe, Jonathan Higgins, Chris Makepeace, Jennifer Podemski, Michele Lonsdale Smith, Joanna Bacalsco.....Story of a circle of friends who work at a local diner while trying to get their film and theatre careers off the ground. Modestly-budgeted serio-comic ensemble has a personable cast (LeBlanc, inparticular, assumes centre stage quite nicely, and sings on a couple of the songs on the soundtrack). It meanders, lagging at times with characters and situations that aren't that interesting, but is ultimately O.K. Though the amount of smoking that goes on probably throws off the statistical curve. sc./dir: Siona Ankrah Camerob. - sexual content; brief female nudity.- 88 min.
SHOT IN THE FACE *
1/2 setting: CDN.
(2001) Bruce Ramsay, Katharine Isabelle, Nicholas Lea, Benjamin Ratner, John Cassini, Frank Cassini.....Introspective slacker (Ramsay) finds things take a turn for the weird when his life intersects with various eccentrics, like a quirky, unstable woman (Isabelle) he's attracted to, and a psychotic-but-bumbling would be hold up man (Lea). Comedy has a decent cast and can be amusing and clever at times...but a little goes a long way, and the "eccentric" characters and "quirky" scenes quickly become annoying in a meandering, logicless, self-indulgent story that tries wa-ay too hard to be clever. And like too many Canadian indie filmmakers, there's a feeling the Hansen brothers would do well to spend a few months in therapy before starting on their next project, because too much of the film is just based on characters screaming, and swearing, and threatening, and otherwise venting motiveless, inexplicable hostility on each other. Before too long, you'd be willing to get shot in the face just so you wouldn't have to watch any more. sc: Jaymie Hansen. dir: David Hansen. - casual male nudity.- 75 min.
SHOW ME *
* setting: Ont.
(2004) Michelle Nolden, Katharine Isabelle, Kett Turton, Gabriel Hogan.....Yuppie (Nolden) picks up a couple of hitchhiking squeegee kids, only to have them kidnap her, holding her at her own isolated cottage...with some self-discovery ensuing. Drama-cum-suspense flick is very well acted from all concerned, and stylish-looking (belying what was probably a low-budget), and with some well done scenes...but the parts never quite make a great whole. Not really a thriller, more interested in being a drama, but as such the suspense scenes don't generate much tension, but it doesn't really make you care enough about these (mostly damaged) characters to make it work as a drama. And hostage-kidnapping dramas are so common (presumably because, if you're on a budget, it requires only a limited cast and locations) it never really stands out. Gabriel Hogan has a bit part. sc./dir: Cassandra Nicotaou. 97 min.
(2004-2005) * * Rachel Crawford ("Kate Langford"), Adam Harrington ("Ben Chase"), Rachel Wilson ("Stella"), Jeff Seymour ("David"), Jennie Raymond ("Jody"), Alberta Watson ("Toni") (1st), Sasha Roiz ("Chazz") (2nd), Steve Boyle ("Gavin"), with Michelle Duquet ("Simone"), Peter Williams ("Marshall") (1st), Kristin Booth ("Olivia") (2nd), Balazs Koos ("Michael")....."Adult" comedy about a straight laced psychologist (Crawford) who is reluctantly teamed with a cocky primate biologist (Harrington) to write a book about human sexuality, interviewing people about their sexual escapades, and then analysing them. But she finds herself having to analyse her own feelings about the men in her life...including the love/hate dynamic between her and her co-author. Wilson plays their secretary. Seymour the psychologist's boyfriend; Raymond her best friend; and Watson her manipulative editor and Roiz an even sleazier publisher in the second season. Boyle plays "Jody"'s husband. Duquet cropped up as "Ben"'s ex-wife; Williams an old flame who (briefly) re-enters "Kate"'s life. Booth was "Ben"'s girlfriend in the second season and Koos played "Stella"'s boyfriend. The second season inverted the dynamics a bit, as "Kate" breaks up with "David", and starts playing the field, while formerly footloose "Ben" starts seeing his next door neighbour, "Olivia".
Joining the list of Showcase's "edgy" HBO-style series with profanity and nudity (not involving the regulars), this TV series is slickly put together with good performances, but has trouble being enough of any one thing to really score. Essentially a "dramedy" -- which is a way of saying it's too light to be a drama, but not quite funny enough to be a comedy -- the characters wander about exchanging badinage like they think they've stepped out of an old Cary Grant movie...except it's not nearly as witty as it needs to be. The raunchy sex scenes that are related (and enacted) for the characters seem a little too much like the filmmakers had seen Bliss, but wanted to cut out all the mood and character stuff and get right to the bonking...but the result seems more puerile than erotic (and seemed toned down for the second season). And the conceit of having the lead characters constantly analyse everything seems like a curious narrative choice -- telling us rather than showing us. And, frankly, if you don't buy into the psychobabble, you've got a series where everyone seems to think they're a lot more insightful than they are.
The characters seem inherently shallow, making it hard to care (the problem with doing a series entirely about sexual relationships is it renders the characters and their world view rather parochial). Another problem is that though Harrington is a perfectly competent actor, some of the rivals for "Kate"'s affections -- Seymour, Williams, even Rob Stewart who crops up in a couple of episodes -- have more charisma. In other words, you've got a romantic series where we're (presumably) waiting for the two leads to get together...and the audience is probably rooting for her to end up with one of the other beaus in her life instead! (Likewise, Harrington's scenes with Booth actually had more chemistry than his scenes with Crawford). Still, for all my negativity, the episodes are sprightly enough and the half-hour format means you can't accuse it of being tedious or boring. The acting is good (the supporting cast alone, with the likes of Seymour, Raymond, and Williams, is noteworthy), and Crawford particularly shines. To be honest, Crawford (ever since her teen years) has been an actress who the cynic might argue got her roles as much for her looks as her thespianic skills. But she's very good here -- arguably delivering a break through performance. This premiered just a few weeks before the similarly themed Naked Josh. Created by Noel Baker, Paul Jay. Half hour episodes on Showcase.
SHOWDOWN AT WILLIAMS CREEK a.k.a. Kootenai Brown
* * 1/2 setting: Ont.
(1992) Kate Lynch, Brent Carver, Janet-Laine Green, Kay Tremblay, Sean Hewitt, Krista Bridges, Joyce Campion, Chas Lawther, Jed Dixon.....A would-be baby shower turns into uncomfortable self-discovery for those concerned. Serio-comic pic never hits the mark in characterization or emotion, but is watchable with some nice performances (especially Hewitt, Carver, Bridges and Tremblay). But there's a problem in a movie where (a) everyone's drunk and (b) the more screen time a character has, the more unlikeable they become. The actors share a co-creation credit. sc: Gail Harvey, Richard Beattie additional dialogue Jim Gerrard (story Harvey). dir: Gail Harvey. - sexual content, casual male nudity.- 82 min.
Showstopper * *
1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1985).....The National Theatre School's year end production is being sabotaged and the student's themselves try to figure out why and by whom. Likeable hour long drama has some good performances (particularly the francophone leading lady), though it kind of fizzles out at the end.
Shutting Down the National Dream, a book by Greg Stewart, provided the research for the CBC mini-series, The Arrow.
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