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.

SMALL GIFTS  * * *  setting: N.B.
(1993) Jessica Steen, Jeremy Ratchford, Richard Waugh, Elizabeth Brown, Brenda Devine, Gerard Parkes, Don Francks, William Dunlop.....As Christmas approaches, a young rural couple (Steen and Ratchford) struggle to make ends meet among oddball friends and relatives. Slight but light-hearted comedy-drama is amusing with good dialogue and performances, especially the two leads. The CBC let this sit on the shelf for a year. It received Geminis for Best Actress (Steen) and Script. sc: David Adams Richards. dir: Eric Till. 88 min.

SMALL PLEASURES * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1993) Lily Zhang, Reimonna Sheng, Andy X. Xu, Phillip MacKenzie, David Chant, Rick Wong.....Story of two Chinese immigrant women (Zhang and Sheng) in Toronto and their various troubles and relationships. O.K. low-budget drama has largely inexperienced performers, but is well paced with some memorable moments (like the Blue Danube waltz) and avoids the pittfalls of being too obvious or cliched. Lock's first feature, and he shows genuine promise. Supposedly the first feature made by a Chinese-Canadian. sc./dir: Keith Lock. 84 min.

(1990) (/U.S.) Farrah Fawcett, Gordon Clapp, Ryan O'Neal, John Shea, Sean McCann.....True story of a U.S. mother (Fawcett) convicted of trying to murder her own children, then claiming it was a vagrant. Fawcett isn't entirely convincing (but since her character is supposed to be lying, maybe she is) in this sensationalistic drama. 4 hours. sc: Joyce Eliason (from the book by Ann Rule). dir: David Greene.

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2011) Peter Stormare, Aaron Poole, Jill Hennessy, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Ari Cohen, Martha Plimpton, Jackie Burroughs.....A rape-murder in a small town unused to such crimes (and bordering a Mennonite community) creates inner turmoil for the local police chief (Stormare) aiding the O.P.P. investigation. He's trying to put his own anger management issues behind him...yet the primary suspect is the local ne'er-do-well (McIntyre) who's sleeping with the chief's ex-girlfriend (Hennessy). Moody, sumptuous-looking drama boasts a solid cast (particularly import Stormare, and Hennessy in a too small part) and striking visuals, but the filmmaker's so focused on the type of movie he's trying to make...he loses sight of the movie itself. It's comprised of self-consciously "arty" scenes that are supposed to seem meaningful: wordless scenes and vistas, and where even many of the dialogue exchanges barely comprise a minute or two...and are often non-sequiturs, meant to contribute to the mood more than develop a narrative. The result is choppy and disjointed where scenes could be rearranged, or even dropped, without impacting on anything! Given how paper-thin the story is, cynically speaking, a lot can feel like it's just there to boost the already brief running time (even resorting to slow motion occasionally). The crime isn't really supposed to be the point, being more a character drama...yet by the end, most of the characters, their motives, and their histories, remain vague and ill-defined. A shame -- 'cause the movie looks good. An intriguing use of a kind of Gospel/folk-punk soundtrack (by Bruce Peninsula), though even it can feel like a crutch after a while. sc./dir: Ed Gass-Donnelly. - partial female nudity.- 75 min.

(2006-2009)  * * *  Laura McLean ("Natalie"), Siobhan Murphy ("Liz"), Joanne Alderson ("Brooke"), Tricia Braun ("Lana Pearson"), with Riley Gilchrist ("Alistair"), Adam Seybold ("Reggie"), Ryan V. Hays ("Phil"), others .....Odd hybrid series is both a sitcom about the characters at a light information, Women's Television TV news magazine...and a light information series itself, as the topics and daily tips the characters discuss really are meant to be useful, including cameos by real guests (health gurus, self-help writers) and with the characters abruptly addressing the camera, or with little pop ups at the bottom of the screen. Think a less ambitious "Arrested Development" (with rapid fire pacing and an unseen narrator) meets an infomercrial. McLean, appealing, plays the newly hired researcher, Murphy the producer, Alderson the associate producer (and suitably cast as the office bombshell), and Braun the series' prima donna host. 

The Women Television Network's first (and belated) foray into an original fiction series, this was first introduced in an off beat marketing ad as thirty second spots that serialized a mini story in commercial breaks. That mini-story frankly, did not bode well, looking cheap and amateurishly acted. But add it to the list of "don't judge too hasty" because the actual series...isn't bad at all. The relatively unknown actors are very good, particularly when you consider the difficulty of the roles -- playing the "reality" of the characters, yet getting laughs from the lines...but also breaking the "fourth wall" by addressing the camera, or trying to toss off helpful life tips in some potentially awkward dialogue. And they generally pull it off! As well, the characters, though stock archetypes (Alderson as the man-eater, Braun as the arrogant on-screen star), are given more dimension than that. In fact, defying the convention of most comedies, in which humour is often derived from put downs and negative characters, all the characters are basically supposed to be likeable, decent people (save Braun's, and even she is supposed to have her soft side) -- that doesn't mean the characters can't be petty or selfish (ie: flawed), but in general, they are nice people -- and it works! And the show benefits froom its manic (but not frenetic) energy so that it bounces along, and with usually three or so plot threads per episode, even when the plots are a bit hokey or hoary, its brisk pace can hold your interest. The dual purpose of the show, to actually impart tips, is more problematic, as often the information shoots by so fast, it's unlikely you'll remember it by episode's end. Yes, the series has an accompanying website which presumably elaborates on the tips...but I ain't reviewing websites, am I? Many of the advice bits, such as make up tips, will clearly be of more value to women viewers than male viewers, but there are also more gender neutral tips and, besides, men can still enjoy it simply as a sitcom and for the engaging cast (and did I mention Alderson was well cast?) The result? Call it a guilty pleasure, but it's an unexpectedly -- refreshingly -- likeable series with a goofy, good natured charm. Created by Allan Magee. Half-hour episodes on the Women's Television Network. 



(198- - 198-)  * * 1/2  Steve Smith, Morag Smith.....Show featuring the husband and wife team, performing in comedy sketches and musical numbers...all by themselves. Though sometimes stand-up routines featuring other comics were added to the mix.

Minimalist, low-budget television proved what could be done with talent and a little chutzpah. This series introduced the character of Red Green (played by Steve) who would later be featured in the very successful The Red Green Show. Half-hour episodes, originally on the independent Ontario station, CHCH. 

"Smoke Bellew", a story by Jack London, was part of the source for the cable TV movie Legends of the North and then the movie series The Adventures of Smoke Belliou.

SMOKED LIZARD LIPS * *  setting: Man.
(1991) Andree Pelletier, Margaret Anne MacLeod, Victor Cowie, Simon Magana, Kyle McCulloch, Chip Chuipka, Greg Klymkiw, Joe Mercreds, Christina (Tina) Keeper.....Near future story of a depressed Manitoba town that agrees to take in a deposed dictator, and how he begins manipulating the town's folk and members of the local Indian band. Low-budget serio-comic pic is delightfully silly at times, and manages some more serious moments, but also tends to drag. A good premise, but the energetic direction gets in the way of character. John Paizs has a cameo but top-billed Pelletier (as the dictator's wife) is given little to do. sc./dir: M.B. Duggan. 98 min.

SMOKESCREEN a.k.a. Palais Royale

SNAKE EATER  * setting: USA.
(1988) Lorenzo Lamas, Josie Hill, Robert Scott, Cheryl Jeans, Ronnie Hawkins.....Unorthodox U.S. cop (Lamas) takes on some inbred rednecks after they murder his parents and kidnap his sister. If I say the acting, writing and directing in this ultra low-budget, distasteful action flick comes across as a really bad high school play, you'd probably think I'm exaggerating. Just don't say I didn't warn you. A sequel was made before this film was even released! sc: Michael Paseornek, John Dunning. dir: George Erschbamer. - violence, partial female nudity.- 95 min.

SNAKE EATER II: The Drug Buster  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1991) Lorenzo Lamas, Michele Scarabelli, Larry B. Scott, Harvey Atkin, Jack Blum, Richard Jutras, Ron Palillo.....Our hero is placed in an asylum after a vigilante attack on some drug dealers, but manages to continue his vendetta anyway. Added to the mix of violence, profanity, misogyny and really low-brow antics is some silly humour, and at least they hired union actors this time, which helps, but not by much. And, yes, Palillo is Horshack from the old U.S. TV series "Welcome Back, Kotter". sc: Don Carmody, John Dunning, Michael Paseornek. dir: George Erschbamer. - violence.- 94 min.

SNAKE EATER III: ...His Law *  setting: USA.
(1992) Lorenzo Lamas, Minor Mustain, Tracey Cook, Scott "Big Bam" Bigelow, Holly Chester, Chip Chuipka, Tracey Hway.....Cop Kelly (Lamas) takes on bikers. The further astonishingly inept, incredibly moronic and truly tasteless exploits. Most of the cast seem to be friends of the crew, except Cook who probably deserved a Genie Award for managing to deliver a good performance despite the material (and she appears in a love scene). sc: John Dunning (from the novel Rafferty's Rules by W. Glenn Duncan). dir: George Erschbamer. - extreme violence, partial female nudity, sexual content.- 91 min.

SNAKE TREATY a.k.a. Red Earth, White Earth


(2004) * * 1/2 Amy Price-Francis ("Shannon Jennings"), Catherine Disher ("Audrey Flankman"), Marcel Jennin ("Patrick Lewis"), Maxim Roy ("Josee Malenfant"), Travis Ferris ("Rob Elliott"), with Shaun Smith ("Garry Corbett"), Matthew Ferguson ("Donnie Logan"), Jeremy Akerman ("Lamar"), others.....Comedy-drama about a novice assistant (Price-Francis) who joins the staff of the beleaguered federal Minister of Human Resources (Disher) -- she supported the losing candidate in the last party leadership convention, so is on the outs with the prime minister. Jennin plays the minister's suave Executive Assistant whose loyalty is supposed to be in question (though it's not always clear why) and with whom "Shannon" ends up sharing a house; Roy the Press Secretary; Ferris the youthful Legislative Assistant (which mainly seems to mean manning the phones). Smith plays a reporter with an on again/off again relationship with "Shannon" (there were hints "Patrick" also had a thing for "Shannon", suggesting the possibility of a romantic triangle). Ferguson plays another government worker, a gleefully hedonistic Dept. of Defense employee, who also roomed with "Shannon" and "Patrick". Akerman plays the prime minister's sinister right hand man. 

This TV series is a mixed bag. It's sprightly, with a good cast, particularly Price-Francis whose talent and beauty can easily carry a scene. The milieu of federal politics is nicely intriguing -- and easily makes this the most archly Canadian series of its day with characters even speaking -- sub-titled -- French! (well, very, very occasionally) But the series' can be confusing in what's going on and why, and isn't as clever as it thinks it is. And the series acts as a curious apologist for all that's wrong in real life politics. Instead of having idealistic characters working the system to make things better for the people, most episodes revolve around the characters scrambling to cover the minister's butt during a crisis (even as Price-Francis' character is supposed to be conflicted about this moral pragmatism). When, at the end of the first (and only) season, Disher's character announces -- apparently sincerely -- that she is the best person suited for her position...the audience is left to say: since when? In what episode, pray tell, had she truly acted as a selfless servant of the people? One could argue that by focusing on, essentially, office politicking rather than social issues, the show's makers are trying to make an apolitical series (much as previous Canadian political shows have tried to be non-political) -- except episodes like the one about the elderly anti-poverty protester (well played by Diana LeBlanc) who turns out to be a con artist seemed clearly meant to appeal to right wingers who claim welfare fraud is epidemic (though studies haven't always born out such claims). In other words, is the series apolitical...or is the lack of altruism actually a political statement? 

Even more problematic, technically, is the "innovative" direction using jiggling cameras and spastic edits, that are meant to make the series seem cool and reflect the supposed chaos of the stories...but is just more likely to induce sea sickness, and gets between the audience and the story & characters, rather than aid in the audience's involvement with same. (And why does the camera need to "find the subject" when the characters are sitting stilly at desks?) The bottom line? The series is watchable enough, thanks mainly to its cast and milieu, but it needed to tone down its direction, and tune up its social conscience. Though set in Ottawa and stock shots of the parliament buildings are used, it's actually filmed in Halifax. Created by Wayne Grigsby. 6 hour long episodes (so far) on the CBC. 

SNOW & ASHES  * *  setting: P.Q./other
(2011) Rhys Coiro, David-Alexandre Coiteux, Lina Roessler, Marina Eva, Frédéric Gilles, Jean LaPointe.....War reporter (Coiro) returns home, wounded and feigning amnesia about the unknown fate of his photographer partner (Coiteux), while flashbacks reveal their last assignment covering the conflict in a civil war torn East European country. Sincere drama can feel a bit like a short film that's been stretched out to feature length. The constant jumping back and forth in time can, at times, feel like a crutch to pad the running time, particularly when a lot of the scenes are inconsequential (shots of the actors looking pensive, or basically reiterating dialogue from another scene). Yet the characters, relationships, and the story could easily have used fleshing out. Improves a bit as it goes, but there's a blurry line between artistically minimalist...and thinly developed. Eva is effective as a European girl with whom he strikes up a sort of relationship. Prominently billed LaPointe has just a few lines in one scene. sc./dir: Charles-Olivier Michaud. - violence, sexual content.- 100 min.

SNOW CAKE  * * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2005) (/U.K.) Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Hampshire, James Allodi, Callum Keith Rennie, David Fox, Jayne Eastwood.....After a random tragedy, a melancholy Englishman (Rickman) finds himself, somewhat reluctantly, embroiled with a high functioning autistic woman (Weaver) and her worldly neighbour (Moss) in small town Wawa, Ontario. Quirky, leisurely dramedy is good looking (and atmospherically set against a spring thaw background) and boasts excellent performances from the principals (and Hampshire is surprisingly endearing in a small but pivotal role) subtle direction and a script that takes aspects that can seem like movie cliches (the hero weighed down by a past tragedy, a stranger in town, autism, etc.) yet mixes them together in a manner, and with scenes, that seem fresh and original. Pathos-tinged...yet equally comic and wryly amusing. And Weaver even says "zed"! Moss received the Best Supporting Actress Genie (arguably the big that the film didn't pick up more awards!) sc: Angela Pell. dir: Marc Evans. 112 min.

SNOW JOB (TV Series)

(1983-1985)  * *  Jack Creley, Rummy Bishop, many others.....Sitcom set at a ski lodge in Quebec. Creley played the cantankerous manager, Bishop the bellhop, etc.

Awkward TV series was mainly notable for the fact that it was actually set in Canada (unlike most "Canadian" shows aired on CTV until recently). Half-hour episodes. 

THE SNOW QUEEN (TVMS) * * 1/2   setting: other
(2002) (/U.S.) Jeremy Guilbaut, Chelsea Hobbs, Bridget Fonda, Robert Widsen, Wanda Cannon, Jennifer Clement, Kira Clavell, Meghan Black, Suzy Joachim, Jim Byrnes (voice).....Two teenage would be lovers in a 19th Century European village are torn apart when he (Guilbaut) is kidnapped by the sinister Snow Queen (American actress Fonda) and taken to her distant ice home, and she (Hobbs) follows on a dreamlike odyssey through various regions ruled over by seasonal spirits. TV mini-series, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, was one of a multitude of similar classics-inspired projects produced for Hallmark Films, a number involving Canadian co-producers. Handsome costumes and sets (especially the eerie Snow Queen's home -- even though it's really only a limited number of sets), and not disagreeable, but not altogether riveting, either. A "family" adventure, more aimed at younger viewers and teens, and undemanding adults. The leads are pleasant but nothing more (given the limits of the parts), though Fonda is quite good, being both cruel and cold, yet also seductive and nuanced, and with some colourful supporting turns, such as Black as the Peter Pan-esque Robber Girl, Clavell, hamming it up as the Summer Queen, and an intriguing polar bear (voiced by Byrnes). Like a lot of mini-series it feels padded (for the first part, you might mistake it for an episode of Road to Avonlea rather than a supernatural fantasy), as though it could've been half as long, simply by editing out repetitious bits, the length not really used to add layers to the characters, or twists and turns to a plot that, though episodic, is pretty simple. Singer-actor Long John Baldry voices a reindeer, and Daniel Gillies appears briefly as a would-be suitor at a ball. Fonda's final screen role (well, to date anyway). 4 hours. sc: Simon Moore. dir: David Wu.

THE SNOW WALKER  * * *  setting: N.W.T.
(2003) Barry Pepper, Annabella Piugattuk, Kiersten Warren, James Cromwell, Robin Dunne, Jon Gries.....In the 1950s, a cynical bush pilot (Pepper) reluctantly agrees to transport a sickly Inuit woman (Piugattuk) to Yellowknife, only to have his plane crash in the middle of the tundra wilderness, and they must rely on each other to survive. Lavish-looking, old fashioned adventure-drama, benefiting from the breathtaking landscape, a strong performance from Pepper, and an appealing one from Piugattuk. Doesn't -- quite -- fulfil its own ambitions vis-a-vis the lead character's spiritual growth, and the ending is a tad downbeat, but overall, well-paced and absorbing. Actor turned writer-director Smith apparently spent years, off and on, working on the script and, years earlier, starred in another Farley Mowat adaptation, "Never Cry Wolf". sc./dir: Charles Martin Smith (from the story "Walk Well, My Brother" by Farley Mowat). - violence; sexual content.- 109 min.

SNOW WHITE: The Fairest of Them All  * * *
(2001) (/U.S.) Miranda Richardson, Kristin Kreuk, Tom Irwin, Vera Farmiga, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Jose Zuniga, Michael J. Anderson, Warwick Davis, Tyron Leitso.....A beautiful young princess (the beautiful Kreuk) engenders the jealous wrath of the evil, sorceress Queen (Richardson). Lush, live-action re-telling of the classic fairy tale is an atmospheric, surprisingly dreamlike (and surprisingly effective) interpretation that avoids some of the overproduced but stodgy flaws of other "classics" TV movies by the American producers Robert Halmi Sr & Jr. Though its "fairy tale" flavour means that those expecting a down-to-earth, kitchen sink take might be disappointed...conversely, there's a nice reality to some of the central performances. And those expecting a re-make of the cartoon will also be disappointed (no singing and dancing this time, folks). Though a family film, there's a decidedly grown up edginess at times, such as Richardson making a stew of (what she believes to be) Snow White's heart, or a few scenes that film students would have a field day analysing for any psycho-sexual sub-text. Nicely acted by Richardson, Irwin (as Snow White's beguiled dad) and Canadian Kreuk (in her first major role). American co-scripter/director Thompson wrote the movie "Edward Scissorshands". sc: Caroline Thompson, Julie Hickson (from the story by the Brothers Grimm). dir: Caroline Thompson. 88 min.

Snowlark, a novel by Ronald Sutherland, became the film Suzanne

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