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.

(2002) Jessica Steen, Kyley Statham, Hugh Thompson, Melanie Nicholls-King, Margot Kidder, Kristine Wilson, voice of Sarah Gadon.....Story of a struggling mother (Steen) on welfare, with six kids, caring for and looking out for a daughter with debilitating Rett Syndrome. Made-for-TV CBC drama is obviously well-intentioned...but almost awkwardly so, with its plucky mom who's always right, battling the obtuse professionals, and where crises and obstacles are overcome almost before you know they exist. Touches on interesting aspects, like the fact that her other kids feel marginalized, but doesn't really deal with them fully. Still, doesn't pull its punches toward the end. The decision to have the kid cheerily, articulately, narrate (in her head) is a mixed one. On one hand it can be seen as giving a voice to a voiceless character...on the other hand, it seems to whitewash over the question as to whether the child is mentally handicapped. Nicholls-King is effective as a caring therapist. When this premiered on the CBC, it was dumped in a curiously late, 10:00 PM time slot. sc: Dennis Foon. dir: Pierre Gang. 89 min.

SODBUSTERS  * *  setting: USA.
(1994) Kris Kristofferson, John Vernon, Fred Willard, Wendel Meldrum, Cody James, Max Gail, Don Lake, Maria Vacratsis, Lou Wagner, Lela Ivey, James Pickens Jr., John Hemphill, George Buza, Earl Pastko, Steve Landesberg.....Comic western about a drifter (Kristofferson) who becomes involved in the fight between settlers and an evil land baron (Vernon). Though billed as a parody, this lethargic, made-for-cable TV comedy is so busy trying to evoke its source (principally the novel/movie "Shane") that it forgets to put in the jokes. Occasionally amusing, but not by much. Meldrum comes across best as a lusty wife. sc: Eugene Levy, John Hemphill. dir: Eugene Levy. - violence.- 99 min.

SOFT DECEIT  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1995) Patrick Bergin, Kate Vernon, John Wesley Shipp, Gwynyth Walsh, Nigel Bennett, Ted Dykstra, Damir Andrei, Von Flores.....American police arrange to break a gang of thieves out of prison so that they'll, unwittingly, lead them to stolen loot. But the undercover cop inside (Vernon) starts to fall for the head thief (Bergin). Suspenser wants to be one of those clever little films that keeps you wondering who's conning who right to the end, but largely minus clever twists or sharp dialogue. Still, professional enough, and maintaining just enough interest, to squeak by if you're in a laid-back mood. And it's nice to see a straight-to-video Canadian suspense film relying on ideas, rather than violence, to tell its story. sc: Jorge Montesi, Roy Sallows. dir: Jorge Montesi. - sexual content, partial female nudity.- 95 min.

SOFT SHELL MAN  see Un crabe dans la tete

SOLAR ATTACK * * 1/2  setting: USA./other
(2005) Mark Dacascos, Joanne Kelly, Kevin Jubinville, Craig Eldridge, Bill Lake, Stephen McHattie, Conrad Coates, Louis Gossett Jr., Sugith Varughese, Genadijs Dolganovs, Damir Andrei.....Unprecedentedly severe solar flares threaten earth by knocking satellites from the sky and threatening all life if they ignite greenhouse gases in the atmosphere...and it's up to some plucky American scientists to concoct a solution. Despite its low-budget, the film attempts some pretty extravagant effects (thanks to computer graphics) involving atmospheric phenomenon, nuclear submarines, jet fighters, etc. And if you've got a soft spot for disaster flicks and B-grade science fiction, this isn't a bad little flick, being sprightly paced with okay performances -- with a token nod to environmental concerns. It even surprises you by having the cardboard villains...turn out to have a little more dimension. If you don't have a soft spot, though, this probably won't make you a convert. Dacascos and Gossett, Jr. (as the president) are American imports. a.k.a. Solar Strike. sc: Michael Konyves, Miguel Tejada-Flores. dir: Paul Ziller. 91 min.

SOLAR STRIKE  a.k.a. Solar Attack

(1992) Paul Coeur, Valerie Pearson, Michael Hogan, Lee Royce, Larry Musser.....On Christmas Eve, two small town losers-at-the-game-of-life (Coeur and Pearson) eagerly await the return after 25 years of world-travelling and successful Al (Hogan) -- but things don't work out as they'd like. Nicely acted, if downbeat, little serio-comic film, almost a play really, is good though few of the revelations are really surprising. Hogan picked up the Best Supporting Actor Genie. sc./dir: Francis Damberger.

SOLITUDE  * * 1/2  setting: CDN
(2001) Lothaire Bluteau, Vanessa Martinez, Wendy Anderson, Eugene Lipinski, Bruce McKay, Bill Hugli.....Story of various characters at an idyllic monastic retreat, including a brooding monk (Bluteau), and a teenage girl (Martinez) and a woman (Anderson) who are visiting for the summer. Low key drama isn't big on plot, being more character and mood driven...even as it occasionally presents scenes in an arms length, aloof way (kind of muting the character aspect!). Still, works sufficiently to maintain interest, in fits and starts, thanks in part to the serenity of the milieu and the scenery. Lipinski, often cast as heavies and weirdoes, is effective as the kindly head of the order. sc: Connie Gault, Robin Schlaht (from The Fat Lady With the Thin Face by Gault). dir. Robin Schlaht. 89 min.

SOLO  * * *  
(2013) Annie Clark, Daniel Kash, Richard Clarkin, Steven Love, Alyssa Capriotti.....As part of her summer camp counsellor training, a troubled teenager (Clark) must spend a couple of nights camping alone on an island -- an island with a cryptic past -- and sinister things start to occur. Surprisingly good Old School thriller, well-paced and benefitting from the beautiful scenery (and generating tension during the day time as well as the night). It does suffer from a bit of a split personality, though. The first half is spooky, with a kind of "Blair Witch Project" creepiness (albeit without the "found footage"/shaky camera style), while the second half is a more straightforward suspense-thriller involving a decidedly corporeal menace. Both halves are well done and keep you on the edge of your seat, but the first half is, by its nature, the more intriguing. And it's nice to see a "smart" teen/summer camp thriller, one where any violence is a necessary part of the story -- rather than a gore fest where the violence is the point of the movie. sc./dir: Isaac Cravit. - violence.- 83 min.

SOME THINGS THAT STAY  * * 1/2  setting: Ont./USA
(2004) (/U.K.) Katie Boland, Stuart Wilson, Alberta Watson, Geraint Wyn Davies, Maria Ricossa, Peter MacNeill, Jack Knight, Tatum Knight, Kevin Zegers, Nadia Lutz, Megan Park.....Story of a teenage girl (Boland) in the 1950s whose family never stays in one town more than a year since her painter father (Wilson) is always seeking new environments -- and of her adjusting to her new town...even as the family must then deal with the mother (Watson) having to be hospitalized with Tuberculosis. Very well acted coming of age drama boasts nicely done scenes, but can meander a bit as it tries to cover a lot of themes and ideas, from her first romance, to aspects of faith (the family are atheists, but the girl becomes sort of intrigued by religion), to a slight hint of the supernatural (the house may be haunted by the ghost of a dead boy), and more. But often the scenes can seem a bit choppy and episodic -- occasionally even disjointed -- presumably from trying to shoe horn a novel into 98 minutes. The result is a decent, reasonably interesting movie...but a bit unsatisfying and unfocused (some descriptions of the movie as being about a radical family shaking up a conservative small town aren't really that accurate: the family isn't that radical, and the town isn't that stuffy!). Prominently billed Wyn Davies, like a lot of the supporting cast, is given little to do as a nice guy neighbour. sc: Catherine Gourdier (from the novel by Sarah Willis). dir: Gail Harvey. 98 min.

(1998) Stefanie Powers, Mickey Toft, Margot Kidder, see Tales of Intrigue

SOMETHING ABOUT LOVE* * * 1/2  setting: N.S.
(1988) Stefan Wodoslawsky, Jan Rubes, Lenore Zann, Ron James, Jennifer Dale, Diana Reis.....Hollywood filmmaker (Wodoslawsky) reluctantly returns to his hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia when his aging father (Rubes), with whom he never got along, begins to act irrationally. Genuinely effective and amusing serio- comic pic benefits from good performances, especially Wodoslawsky and Rubes. sc: Thomas Berry, Stefan Wodoslawsky. dir: Thomas Berry. 94 min.

SOMETHING MORE  * *  setting: CDN.
(1998) Michael Goorjian, Chandra West, David Lovgren, Thomas Cavanagh, Peter Flemming, Kurt Max Runte, Nathaniel DeVeaux, Jennifer Beals, Gaetana Korbin, Jan Bailey Mattia.....Story of a group of guys who hang out, play basketball, and try to figure out relationships, focusing on a guy (American actor Goorjian) who's looking for a sincere relationship, but having poor luck, and his best friend (Lovgren), who effortlessly goes from one one-night stand to another. Nice attempt at a mainstream "relationship" comedy-drama (shades of "Diner" or "Singles"), with a personable cast and the requisite catchy soundtrack. But the movie works only in fits and starts. At times seeming like it's trying too many things and ending up just muddled, while only occasionally achieving inspiration. And the characters aren't entirely endearing. Not bad...not great. Most of the female actors have just small parts (including American "name" Beals)...even West, as the main love interest, has limited screen time. sc: Peter Bryant. dir: Rob King. 98 min.

SOMETIMES A LIE * 1/2  setting: other
(1989) (/France) Ludmila Makael, David McIlwraith, Iliana Lolitch, Bruno Madinier, Micheline Presle.....Young woman (Lolitch), discovering she was adpoted, tracks down her real mother and goes to work for her, anonymously, to find out more about her. The key with a drama like this is making you interested in the character. This film doesn't. A 3 Themes-Hamster production. sc: Huguette Debaissieux, Chantal De Rudder, Pierre Lary. dir: Pierre Lary.


(2017) (/U.S.)  * * *   Paula Patton, Devon Sawa, JR Bourne, Ana Birch, Catherine Barroll, Samantha Ferris, Michael St. John Smith, Ruby Jackson, Greyston Holt, others.....Mystery/thriller with a supernatural kick-off. Months after her daughter has been murdered, a grieving American TV producer (Patton) commits suicide while, at the same moment, a private eye (Sawa) is also murdered -- triggering a cosmic event that sees them both waking up a few months earlier with the chance to team up and change future events by unravelling the conspiracy that led up to them. And it's a complicated skein: the PI's brother is in prison for a previous murder that may tie into the current killings, the governor is campaigning to bring back the death penalty (thereby condeming the PI's brother to death!), the heroine's District Attorney husband has his own sinister secrets, etc. Bourne plays her husband and young Birch their daughter. Set in the States for the American market, but other than Patton, everyone else in the cast is Canadian. (And despite the supernatural catalyst -- nothing else in the series is supernatural).

Surprisingly effective and compelling series. And one of its biggest strengths is it has no intention of being an endless, on-going saga but is a genuine "limited series." It's a mystery-thriller told over ten chapters/episodes, allowing for a plot that develops and twists and builds to a satisfying climax (oh, I'm sure they could come up with justifications for later seasons if ratings warranted, but it has a story to tell, and it tells it). And I say "surprisingly effective" because, at first, it doesn't seem especially different from any of a number of a recent serialized TV mysteries. But it benefits from a sufficiently twisty, Byzantine story that you can't predict where it's headed, or how it's going to get there, too early -- especially once you realize the killing may not be just a motiveless serial killing (though don't question some plot points too closely: like I'm not sure the governor could retroactively impose the death penalty on someone already sentenced to prison time). Patton is a little overly emotive (wearing her emotions on her sleeve) but is an appealing, likeable heroine, and with some strong key actors, including Sawa (a former teen actor nicely transformed into a grizzled tough guy) and the always dependable Bourne, and with young Birch a definite scene stealer (aided by writers who actually seem to have some idea how young kids act and talk). Based on a South Korean series. 10 hour-long episides, originally shown in Canada on Global.  

SONATINE  * * * 1/2  setting: P.Q.
(1983) Pascale Bussieres, Marcia Pilote, Kliment Dentchev, Pierre Fauteux.....Story of two teen-age girls (Bussieres and Pilote), friends, and their flirtations with separate love affairs and move toward suicide. Unusual, episodic film (it's in three sections -- hence the title) is a moody look at youthful alienation and societal indifference. Simple in structure, well- done, atmospheric and memorable. Won Best Director Genie. sc./dir: Micheline Lanctot. 91 min.

SOPHIE (TV Series)

(2008-2009)  * *   Natalie Brown ("Sophie"), Jeff Geddis ("Matt Scott"), Catherine Bérubé ("Brigitte"), Sara Botsford ("Estelle Burroughs"), Sebastian Spence ("Rick Ryder"), Mimi Kuzyk ("Judith Parker"), Amy Ciupak Lalonde ("Melissa Bryant"), Chantelle Chung ("Ophelia Burroughs"), Lyriq Bent (“Andre”), others.....Comedy about a young talent agent and single mom (Brown) raising a baby from a brief dalliance while engaged to another man (her fiancee -- and business partner -- was cheating on her, too, and took most of their clients when he dissolved the partnership). Geddis plays her -- yes, gay -- best friend, a doctor; Berube her receptionist; Botsford her aging grand dame client, who had also been her father's mistress; Spence her ex-fiancee/ex-partner; Ciupak Lalonde her ex-best friend who cheated on her with her fiancee; Kuzyk her estranged mother. Chung plays "Estelle"s adopted daughter; Bent plays the father of "Sophie"'s son, who came back into their lives.

Based on a Quebec series (Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin), the adapting of an established French-language premise for an English-language version might seem like a good idea...except that a previous attempt at that formula, Rumours, proved ill-fated. And Sophie has its own flaws. Initially, the series suffered from the old "dramedy" curse -- the not quite a comedy/not quite a drama meta-genre. In this case, the material wasn't that funny or witty...but the actors hammed it up like an over-the-top farce. As well, there was just something...appalling about the characters at first, with most unlikeable and unsympathetic (heck, there's an awkwardness to an opening episode in which the heroine is outraged about the infidelity of her fiancee...when she cheated on him, too!) The relationship between "Estelle" (as a vaguely racist mother) and "Ophelia" (her adopted Asian child who hated her) was just...unpleasant. It was as if the filmmakers wanted to emulate the characters from the very funny, very dark US comedy "Arrested Development" (which had a parallel to the "Estelle"/"Ophelia" relationship)...but didn't realize those characters were supposed to be appalling in their antics! Still, programmed following the surprise hit Little Mosque, and premiering during a U.S. writers strike, the series boasted okay ratings, and critics went gah-gah for star Brown, leading many to announce it as a hit (despite the ratings declining even in the first season). By the second season, the blume was off the rose -- the ratings were the lowest of the CBC's fiction series, and critics were now as quick to dump on the show as they had been to praise it. Ironically, the series itself was marginally better now. The style of comedy was toned down, more in keeping with the "slice-of-life" nature of the plots, and the characters were more sympathetic. It still wasn't a great series, but seemed surer of itself. The episodes in which she was involved in romantic relationships often worked better than the ones focusing on other themes. Perhaps, in those episodes, the filmmakers were more willing to let it be a low-key comedy, whereas the others tend to swing toward (ill-conceived) strident farce. The cast was certainly okay, with Botsford positively revelling in her chance to do a "character" part after years of straight-lace roles, and Brown was a capable lead -- she may not have warranted the "IT girl" status heaped on her by the media...but neither did she deserve the subsequent snubbing the media seemed to give her when the series' ratings slumped. Two seasons of half-hour episodes on the CBC. 

SOUL (TV Series)

(2008)  * * *   Keshia Chante ("Mahalia Brown"), Eli Goree ("Samson"), Michael Rawlins ("Pastor Clinton Brown"), Mpho Koah ("Jamil Foster"), Kim Roberts ("Roslyn Brown"), Ishan Morris ("Malcolm"), Jessica Parker Kennedy ("Alicia"), Karen LeBlanc ("DeeDee"), Andy Marshall ("Shaka"), Benjamin Charles Watson ("Dante"), with Cle Bennett, others.....Drama about a devout teenage girl (Chante), who is the star performer of the church choir, and is tempted with an opportunity to pursue a career in the more secular, hedonistic world of pop music. Rawlins and Roberts play her parents, Morris her brother already involved in the local club scene. Goree her boyfriend, though confused about his own sexuality; Koah the big time music scout trying to land her; Parker her sort of best friend, though musical jealousy/rivalry came between them; LeBlanc the former pop star/recovering addict turned choir director, definitely opposed to "Mahalia's" entering that world, etc.

TV series explores the notion of people of faith (and people of no faith) colliding, without being a "preachy" series -- it's less about who's right and who's wrong (some of the music biz people are sleazy...some of the religious people are intollerant and prejudiced), as much as it's just about seeing these fallible people try and figure out what they want, and need, in life (the two goals not always the same). Playing nuanced characters, the large cast of actors are mostly very good, with real life pop singer Chante, at first seeming a questionable casting choice. She's personable, and wasn't bad, but as the anchor role in a weekly drama she seemed a bit iffy...but grew nicely into the part. Definitely worth a look in. Though presumably intended as an on going series, nonetheless the one season did form an arc. One season of six hour long episodes on Vision TV. 

SOUL SURVIVOR  * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1995) Peter Williams, David Smith, George Harris, Judith Scott, Clark Johnson, Leonie Forbes, Ardon Bess, Tyrone Benskin.....Aimless Jamaican-Canadian (Williams) gets a job working for the local slumlord/gangster (Harris) while trying to look out for his irresponsible cousin (Smith) who owes the slumlord money. Trite, rambling drama is pretty lethargic with a main character who never comes into focus. In fact, most of the characters remain does the movie itself. Peter Williams, nonetheless, is someone to watch for. Michael Hogan and Ron White crop up in bit parts. sc./dir: Stephen Williams. - partial male nudity, brief female nudity, sexual content.- 88 min.

(1992) (/Ireland/New Zealand) John Bach, Ian Bannen, Brenda Fricker, Vanessa Vaughan.....Story of the life of Alexander Graham Bell (Bach), his relationship with his deaf wife and his many inventions, including the telephone. Flat, often disjointed bio is made watchable by its fascinating subject but not much more. Won three Geminis. 4 hours. sc: Tony Foster, William Schmidt, J.K. Harrison. dir: John Kent Harrison.

SOUTH OF WAWA  * *  setting: Ont.
(1991) Rebecca Jenkins, Catherine Fitch, Scott Renderer, Andrew Miller, Samantha Langevin, Michael Gencher, Stephanie Forder, Dawn Greenhalgh, George Touliatos, Stuart Clow, Elias Zarou.....Story of the various inhabitants of a small town, focusing on a plain, but always optimistic waitress (Fitch). Comedy-drama, populated by mostly unlikeable characters, trys to be both absurd and touching, but the sentiment rings hollow, most of the gags fall flat and the performances never convince. Director Boyd, whose experience is in parodies and sketch comedies, doesn't seem to know how to handle real human beings. sc: Lori Lansens. dir: Robert Boyd. - sexual content, casual male nudity and brief female nudity.- 93 min.

SOUVENIRS INTIMES  * *  setting: P.Q.
(1998) James Hyndman, Pascale Bussieres, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Yves Jacques, Jacynthe Rene, Louise Portal, Michel Charette, Marcel Sabourin, Delphine Brodeur.....Wheelchair-bound painter (Hyndman) starts receiving late night phone calls from an enigmatic woman (Bussieres) from his past. Moody, well acted film is kind of a pretentious drama at times, but kind of, sort of, leans toward being a suspense-thriller in spots. Intriguing and interesting at times, but also slow moving, without the emotional depth it needs. And the ending leaves you wondering just what the point is, and just what Proulx and Beaudin are really trying to say about responsibility and repercussions. English tiltle: Memories Unlocked. sc: Monique Proulx, Jean Beaudin (from Proulx's novel Homme invisible ala fenetre). dir: Jean Beaudin. - partial female nudity, sexual content.- 118 min.

SPACE FURY a.k.a. In the Dead of Space

(2012) Robin Dunne, Billy Boyd, Kristin Kreuk, Amanda Tapping, (voice of) George Takei.....An eccentric quartet aboard an orbiting space station (they're essentially garbage collectors) find strange things occurring after scavenging through the latest debris: the station is knocked into a dead dimension and an unknown creature is lurking on board. Sci-fi comedy stretches its minor budget well enough: it's supposed to look cheesy, but with convincing, decent-looking sets. And it boasts a good, engaging cast (perhaps surprisingly so given most aren't especially associated with comedy, though all have sci-fi role credentials). It's perhaps less a straight comedy (in a "Spaceballs" kind of way) and more evocative of those mid-1980s quirky genre-comedy hybrids. Is it a comedy utilizing the sci-fi milieu -- or a sci-fi flick that is funny? At the same time, that is kind of the problem. The story lags here and there, and though genuinely amusing, the wry humour too can wax and wane. Still, thanks to its cast and a goofy charm, it's worth a look-in for genre fans. Though the point of the title is anyone's guess! Although it had a cable TV broadcast, it seems to be trying an unusual distribution model: it's available for download from its own website, but seeming not available as a DVD or on iTunes. sc./dir: Armen Evrensel. 87 min.

SPACE RIDERS: Division Earth (Web Series)

(2014-)  * * *   Dan Beirne ("Philip"), Mark Little ("Ken"), Kayla Lorette ("Orson Ooze"), Amy Matysio ("Penny"), Kyle Dooley ("Moon Monster"), with Eugene Clark (Cmdr. Stern"), Becky Johnson ("Den"), others.....Sci-fi comedy about a couple of modern day nerds (Beirne and Little) who accidentally get hold of a couple of devices that give them super powers (part of the Space Riders, an intergalactic policing organization) and embroiling them in the various schemes of an alien villain (actress Lorette, playing a -- quasi -- male character!). Matysio plays the guys' friend, who "Philip" has a crush on but who has eyes for "Ken." Dooley the villain's shaggy hench-monster. Clark the head of the Space Riders and Johnson his aide, a series of clones.

Canadian TV has a history of stars self-creating their own vehicles (work otherwise sometimes hard to come by!) and this has also been true of some webseries -- webseries seen as a way of making something without the same obstacles as a full TV series (though often with the creators hoping it will morph into a proper TV series -- ala Sanctuary). Sometimes it misfires, sometimes it's an honest if flawed effort -- and sometimes it works! And this series is a surprisingly funny and wacky effort, mixing sly, wry badinage with some goofy outrageousness as though the star/creators want to recapture the feel of the old Saturday morning series, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein -- though more adult (with profanity and macabre humour). The actors are fun and seem to have nailed their characters and the varied style of comedy (from Lorette's comic exaggeration to Matysio's more realist delivery), and the production values are surprisingly high (at least as much as is needed for a comedy -- the space sets look like sets, the effects cheesy, but without seeming overly cheap). The thirteen episodes (ranging from 6 to 12 minutes on average) comprise about three or four stories. Created and written by Mark Little & Dan Beirne. Series' director Jordon Canning.  

SPACEHUNTER: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone * * *
(1983) Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, Andrea Marcovicci.....Intergalactic mercenary (Strauss) decides to pick up a reward by rescuing three women held prisoner on a primitive planet. Breezy S-F adventure film isn't particularly original but it is fast paced and funny. Great sets, costumes and f/xs. Hudson is particularly good. Originally released in 3-D, though not to be confused with the similarly titled (and similarly themed) "Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn", a U.S. SF pic that came out around the same time...also in 3-D. Ironside, as the villain, is the only canuck in the main cast. sc: Edith Rey, David Preston, Dan Goldberg, Len Blum (story Stewart Harding, Jean LaFleur). dir: Lamont Johnson. 90 min.

(1989) (/U.K./Italy) Michael McManus, Arsinee Khanjian, Gabrielle Rose, Tony Nardi, David Hemblen, Patricia Collins.....Hotel maid (Khanjian) is infatuated with co-worker (McManus), a movie extra, who auditions for a role in a movie by a troubled writer (Rose). And if you think that describes it, guess again! Unusual little drama is sometimes funny and sometimes ponderously pretentious -- unfortunately, it's not always clear when it's being which. Surreal climax renders the ending too ambiguous. sc./dir: Atom Egoyan. - sexual content, partial female nudity.- 92 min.

SPEARFIELD'S DAUGHTER (TVMS)  * * 1/2  setting: other/USA.
(1986) Kim Braden, Steve Railsback, Christopher Plummer, Chris Wiggins.....Headstrong female Aussie (Braden) becomes a reporter and struggles to control a newspaper...and has run-ins with terrorists, mobsters and romance. Breezy, American-styled mini-series is redeemed by a sense of humour and a lack of glitz -- both of which differentiate it from its U.S. counterparts. 6 hours.

A SPECIAL DAY  * *  setting: other
(1977) (/Italy) Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon, Francoise Berd, Nicole Magny.....One day in fascist Italy, a house wife (Loren) begins to question her life after befriending a homosexual neighbour (Mastroianni). Visually striking and well-intentioned drama never quite grabs you. Filmed in Italian. Italian title: Una giornata speciale. sc: Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola with Maurizio Costanzo. dir: Ettore Scola. 106 min.

SPECIAL DELIVERY  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2000) (/U.S.) Andy Dick, David Lewis, Megan Leitch, Jodelle Ferland, Ralph Alderman, Kevin McNulty, Ken Camroux, Jennifer Clement.....Klutzy courier for an American adoption agency (Dick) arrives at an expecting family's home having forgotten the baby...but the wife and daughter invite him to spend Christmas anyway, much to the chagrin of the uptight husband (Lewis). Made-for-TV comedy follows the tried and true formula -- guileless misfit, who is warmed to by most people he meets, clashes with a repressed stick-in-the-mud until, of course, the heart warming conclusion where he wins him over as well. Alderman, as the earthy in-law, scores best. American comic-actor Dick admirably mugs, pratfalls, and clumsily whacks people with his knapsack -- but the problem with slapstick is there's no middle ground: either it works...or it really doesn't. And this, save for a couple of mild chuckles, tends toward the latter. There's even a sour note struck by the very premise. Maybe there's nothing fundamentally different about a family having an adopted baby delivered, as opposed to going to pick it up, but viscerally it just, with a little baby being delivered door-to-door like pizza. Scriptwriter Kampmann used to work on, among other things, "WKRP in Cincinnati". Set in the U.S. but a few hockey references are thrown in, presumably as some sort of Canadian content concession. sc: Steven Kampmann (story Steve and Chris Kampmann, Bosco Flanagan). dir: Mark Jean. 92 min.

SPECIMEN  * 1/2  setting: USA
(1996) Mark Paul Gosselaar, Doug O'Keefe, Ingrid Kavelaars, David Nerman, Andrew Jackson, Michelle Johnson, Kevin Zegers, Mark Lutz, Dennis O'Connor.....Young American man (Gosselaar), with supernatural abilities to cause spontaneous fires, returns to his dead mother's home town, searching for the father he never knew...while a deadly alien assassin (O'Keefe) is looking for him. Sci-fi flick borrows ideas from "Terminator", "Firestarter" and a few others; it has some okay ideas, a few attempts at levity, and Kavelaars is certainly okay, and American Gosselaar (during his "Saved by the Bell" fame) reasonably personable -- but it's generally a slow-moving, sometimes unintentionally silly and incoherent, misfire. One is tempted to blame the obvious very low-budget (despite money for recognizable faces)...but the filmmakers have to accept some of the blame. sc: Sheldon Inkol, Lauren McLaughlin (story John Bradshaw, Daminan Lee). dir: John Bradshaw. - female nudity, casual male nudity.- 85 min.

SPENSER: Ceremony  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1993) (/U.S.) Robert Urich, Barbara Williams, Avery Brooks, Tanya Allen, David Nichols, J. Winston Carroll, Lynne Cormack.....Boston-based private eye Spenser's (Urich) search for a runaway leads him into the world of prostitution and kiddie porn. Made-for-cable TV suspense-drama suffers from a slow, simplistic plot, clumsy direction and editing, and a sanctimoniousness that never seems sincere. Urich and Brooks (who steals the show) reprise their roles from the U.S. TV series "Spenser: for hire" but Williams replaces Barbara Stock (presumably as Can-Con). First of four Canadian-made Spenser movies, followed by Spenser: Pale Kings and Princes. sc: Robert B. Parker, Joan H. Parker (from his novel). dir: Andrew Wild. 100 min.

SPENSER: The Judas GoatN/R  setting: USA.
(1995) (/U.S.) Robert Urich, Wendy Crewson, Avery Brooks, Natalie Radford, Geordie Johnson.....Private eye Spenser (Urich) investigates a case of international terrorism. Fourth Canadian-made Spenser movie...and I haven't seen it yet, so this entry is merely for reference (cast list, etc.), not a review. sc: Nahum Tate, Carol Daley, Monte Stettin (from the novel by Robert B. Parker). dir: Joseph L. Scanlan. app. 90 min.

SPENSER: Pale Kings and Princes* 1/2  setting: USA.
(1993) (/U.S.) Robert Urich, Barbara Williams, Avery Brooks, Sonja Smits, Beatriz Pizano, Maurice Dean Wint, J. Winston Carroll, Matthew Ferguson.....Boston P.I. Spenser (Urich) and his psychologist girlfriend (Williams) investigate the murder of a reporter in a corrupt small town. Second made-for-TV Spenser mystery-suspenser suffers from a weak, meandering plot and "clever" dialogue that never clicks. Smits, in a small part, delivers a strong performance. sc: Robert B. Parker, Joan H. Parker (from his novel). dir: Vic Sarin. 92 min.

SPENSER: A Savage Place  * *  setting: USA./Ont.
(1995) (/U.S.) Robert Urich, Avery Brooks, Cynthia Dale, Wendy Crewson, Ross Petty, Hayley Tyson, Tyrone Benskin.....Boston-based private eye Spenser (Urich) comes to Toronto at the behest of a TV journalist (Dale) who thinks she's uncovered some sort of crime in the local film industry. Yet another reprisal of the Spenser character (with Urich and Brooks reprising their roles from the U.S. series and Crewson added as girlfriend Susan Silverman). Better than the two 1993 Canadian-made Spenser movies, but, though light-hearted, it's still awfully meandering, with long scenes of the characters discussing their characters (as opposed to demonstrating them -- a hallmark of novelist Parker) and then investigative scenes that rarely push things forward. Still, the relocation to Toronto allows for some jokes about the colour of Canadian money. A better version of Spenser was an American TV movie (ironically, still filmed in T.O.) called "Small Vices" and starring Joe Mantagna as Spenser. sc: Nahum Tate, Carol Daley, Donald Martin, screen story Monte Stettin (from the novel by Robert B. Parker). dir: Joseph L. Scanlan. app. 90 min.


(1988-89)  * * 1/2  Cynthia Debassige ("Tafia"), Trevor Smith ("Rabbit"), Diane Debassige, others.....Young people serio-comic series set on a Native reserve in Ontario.

So-so TV series was O.K. for younger folks and provided opportunities to a host of Native actors who would go on to bigger things. Two seasons of half-hour episodes, originally on the CBC. 

SPIRIT RIDER  * * *  setting: Man.
(1993) (/U.S./U.K.) Herbie Barnes, Michelle St. John, Tom Jackson, Gordon Tootoosis, Tantoo Cardinal, Adam Beach, Graham Greene.....Troubled Native teen (Barnes) reluctantly goes to live with his grandfather (Tootoosis) on a reserve where he becomes interested in winning a horse race. Solid, well-paced made-for-CBC TV family film, with some nice performances and eccentric characters. Nothing exceptional, but will probably play well with younger teens. Good music score. sc: David Young, Jean Stawarz (from the novel Winners by Mary-Ellen Lang Collura). dir: Michael Scott. 96 min.

SPLICE  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2010) (/U.S./France) Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu.....When their official research is curtailed, married scientists (Brody and Polley) continue un-officially, creating and secretly raising a genetically mixed, humanoid life form they dub "Dren"...with dangerous results. Dark SF flick boasts some effective f/x and make-up, and is Cronenberg-esque in its mix of psychological and biological horror (though not as gory as Cronenberg). But all that can't quite paint over the fact that it's a pretty standard, cliched plot that pretty much goes where you expect it too. The hook is that the protagonists are, themselves, troubled and neurotic, but that results in a movie where you don't particularly care about the main characters. And where that can seem to be a narrative crutch to justify actions (and plot points) not otherwise explicable. An allegorical theme about family dynamics gets so self-conscious it kind of stops being an allegory. It's also so low-key throughout that after a while you start to assume it's meant as a suspense-drama rather than a horror thriller and then, does indeed, turn into a horror-thriller in the final Act! The result is okay (if disturbing for some)...but not as fresh or as penetrating as it presumably was intended to be. Chaneac is quite effective as the adult Dren. sc: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor. dir: Vincenzo Natali. - partial female nudity; sexual content; violence.- 104 min.

(1993) (/U.S.) Gregory Harrison, Maury Chaykin, Nicholas Campbell, Rebecca Jenkins, Kristina Nicoll, Nahanni Johnstone, Eugene Clark.....Rich American thrill-killer (Harrison), who likes to film his crimes, hooks up with a corrupt cop (Chaykin); another cop (Campbell) and his reporter girlfriend (Jenkins) investigate. Chaykin and American actor Harrison are fine in this poorly done made-for-cable TV suspenser, but the usually reliable Campbell and Jenkins both seem a Violent, distasteful flick uses its theme as an excuse for reveling in violence like some cheap Lorenzo Lamas picture. sc: Pete Hamill, Vera Appleyard (from the novel by Elmore Leonard). dir: Sheldon Larry. - violence, sexual content, partial female nudity.- 93 min.

SPRING FEVER  * setting: USA.
(1983) Susan Anton, Carling Bassett, Frank Converse, Jessica Walter, Stephen Young.....Young girl (tennis star Bassett) must cope with the ups and downs at a tennis championship. Really dimwitted comedy, though not the teen sex-comedy the title implies. sc: Stuart Gillard. dir: Joseph L. Scanlan. 100 min.

SPUN OUT (TV Series)

(2014-)  * 1/2   Paul Campbell ("Beckett Ryan"), Dave Foley ("Dave Lyons"), Al Mukadam ("Nelson Abrams"), Holly Deveaux ("Abby Hayes"), Rebecca Dalton ("Stephanie Lyons"), J.P. Manoux ("Bryce"), Darcy Michael ("Gordon").....Sitcom set at a public relations firm. Campbell plays the new employee (reluctantly joining the firm after a failed writing career); Mukadam his best friend (and fellow employee); Foley the firm's long-suffering boss and Dalton his perky daughter (also working at the firm); Michael the company eccentric and Manoux the high-strung boss' assistant; Deveaux plays "Beckett"'s roommate -- his ex-girlfriend (who later took over running the diner the gang visited). Part of the wave of new Canadian sitcoms deliberately marketing themselves as being American-in-style (as opposed to quirky or off-beat), though there are also some (perhaps unintentional) Canadian antecedents -- the failed writer joining a company where his friend already works evokes The Jane Show while the sassy gal friend who is an ex-lover was also used in Seed. Also as part of the "Americanization" it's a series that, though theoretically set in Canada (the CN Tower is occasionally seen), tends to self-consciously skew the dialogue toward American phrasings and references to deliberately imply it's set in the United States -- sometimes awkwardly so (such as, in one episode, referring to Cliffs Notes -- which are sold in the U.S. -- as opposed to the Canadian Coles Notes).

This sitcom was originally announced for fall of 2013, but didn't hit the airwaves until early 2014. It's an admirable attempt to be what it was marketed as -- a generic, American-style sitcom, using the reliable office co-workers milieu. Unfortunately, it's more almost funny, than actually funny. The cast is game, and there are occasional chuckles, and the characters are supposed to be mostly likeable (as opposed to making them anti-heroes). But it suffers from trying too hard, with a lot of mugging and broad gestures, delivering too often obvious set ups and punch lines (and sophomoric sex jokes). Veteran Foley is pretty good, and as sort of the calm eye at the centre, might have been better positioned as more clearly the main character. Campbell's character, alternating between straight man and comedic, doesn't as successfully create a sense of an emotional focus. Arguably a problem with the series initially was it's basically a semi-realist comedy about people in a work place...but where a lot of the humour just seems "gag" oriented, with plot ideas better suited for sketch comedy than a sitcom where, at least on certain levels, the characters and their motives are supposed to be plausibile (take the episode guest starring Foley's old Kids in the Hall pals where "Dave" is pressured to fulfill a decades' old suicide pact -- amusing as a surreal 5 minute sketch, head scratching in a half-hour sitcom). And the sense of humour can seem a few decades old -- curiously a criticism one might level at a few Canadian comedies! In the second season there was a subtle shift in that, though it looks the same, it was no longer filmed before a live audience. The plots were maybe a little more plausible -- but still not necessarily well-plotted, nor the scenes much funnier. Each episode would usually end with a blooper/outtake that was often funnier than anything in the episode itself!

Given it's stated goal was to be American-in-style, ironically it ended up embroiled in American-style controversies. Some joke tweets by co-creator Piaskoski were criticized for being racist, for which he immediately and unreservedly apologized (leading some to insist the matter was over and done and let's move on, while others argued it was a telling insight into the mentality of some people in Canadian entertainment and shouldn't so quickly be brushed aside). Then, just as the series was set to premiere its second season, co-star Manoux was charged with a criminal complaint, leading CTV to delay the new season, and even temporarily remove first season reruns from on-line venues (the actor being in every episode, and the episodes already shot, CTV felt there was no way to step around the issue -- and this coming at a time when high profile celebrity scandals involving Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby and others were part of daily news cycles). Although the second season did air a few months later in mid-2015 (even premiering with something like 400 000 viewers -- some arguing pretty impressive considering CTV hadn't exactly trumpeted its air date) its long term future seems uncertain (given the controversies and mixed reviews) with a number of the cast already announcing new projects (though given the short seasons, they could do both). Created by Jeff Biederman, Brent Piaskoski, Brian K. Roberts. Best bets: the one where Beckett gets a stalker. Half hour episodes on CTV.

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