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.

ST URBAIN'S HORSEMAN is reviewed here as Saint Urbain's Horseman

STATE OF SHOCK a.k.a. Power Play

STATE PARK  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1990) Kim Meyers, Isabelle Mejias, James Wilder, Jennifer Inch, Brian Dooley, Walter Massey, Christopher Bolton, Peter Virgile, Louis Tucci.....A U.S. campgrounds about to be overrun by developers is the site of a cross-country contest and a bear-suited environmentalist/saboteur -- as well as the usual teen romances. Staandard teen-comedy isn't particularly funny, but is reasonably inoffensive and non-sexist (both guys and gals leer and are leered at). Heavy-metal rocker Ted Nugent has a cameo and plays a couple of songs. a.k.a. Heavy Metal Summer. sc: Neal M. Noble. dir: Rafal Zielinski. - partial female and male nudity.- 93 min.

THE STATEMENT  * 1/2  setting: other
(2004) (/U.K./France/U.S.) Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Frank Finlay, Noam Jenkins, Charlotte Rampling, William Hutt, John Neville, Cirian Hinds, Alan Bates, Matt Craven.....Story of a World War II French war criminal (Caine), still on the run in France decades later, being shielded by a network within the Catholic Church, and hunted by both the authorities (Swinton and Northam), and mysterious assassins. Arguably well-intentioned...but pretty much a misfire. A thin story that seems to want to be so many things (a character study, a conspiracy thriller, a social, religious and political expose) and ends up not really succeeding as any of them, where you aren't even sure of the issues, or the motivations, half the time...or even the technicalities (Caine is supposed to have been on the run for decades...yet was apparently pardoned at one point; and he has an ex-wife, yet no one seems to think to stake out her apartment). Heavy handed direction, too. Frankly, a better handling of similar material (self pitying Nazi on the run) was the final third of the 1969 anthology movie, "Night Gallery", by Rod Serling. Lots of noteworthy British and Canadian actors crop up in small parts. Respected Canadian-born Hollywood director Jewison's first, officially, "Canadian" movie...though it's not set in Canada, and with most of the principal roles going to British actors. sc: Ronald Harwood (from the novel by Brian Moore). dir: Norman Jewison. - violence.- 119 min.

STATIONS  * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1983) Michael Jones, Maisie Rillie, Joel Sapp, Richard Boland.....While troubled by a friend's suicide, a TV journalist (Jones) makes a documentary interviewing people on a cross-Canada train trip. Little in the way of plot in this low-budget drama, and the character stuff is pretty straightforward, but the scenes themselves can be mildly interesting. Worth viewing, but only if you're in an easy-going mood. sc: William D. MacGillivray, Michael Jones, Lionel Simmons, the cast. dir: William D. MacGillivray. 85 min.

STEAL  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2003) (/France/U.K.) Stephen Dorff, Natasha Henstridge, Bruce Payne, Steven Berkoff, Karen Cliche, Cle Bennett, Steven McCarthy, Tom McCamus.....A gang of happy-go-lucky American thieves (headed by Dorff), who use extreme sports techniques to make robberies (escaping on roller blades, etc.) are hunted by both the cops and the mob (whose money they inadvertently stole), and blackmailed into pulling a job by another crook, while the leader flirts with a lady police detective (Henstridge). Slick, fast, action flick seems, as the synopsis indicates, like it's trying to squeeze in every caper movie cliché it can into a single story -- rushing through the ideas, but not stoppping to make them its own. A mostly decent cast is stuck in a lame story, occasionally uttering excruciatingly bad dialogue. Basically, a lobotomized version of Foolproof. Given the money needed for the stunt chases and the overall glossy look, it's a shame they didn't spend it on better material. And shouldn't Telefilm Canada be spending its little resources on movies -- even caper movies -- set in Canada? Still, a couple of intriguing scenes include a robbery staged in the middle of a chasm spanning bridge and a steamy love scene between Dorff and Henstridge's body double where, not since the Austin Powers' movies, has a director tried to show so little while showing so much. sc: Mark Ezra (adapted by Ezra and Pires). dir: Gerard Pires. - violence; sexual content; partial female nudity.- 84 min.

Stealing Images see Short Films

STEEL TOES  * *  setting: P.Q.
(2006) David Strathairn, Andrew Walker, Marina Orsini, Ivan Smith.....A liberal Jewish lawyer (Strathairn) in Montreal reluctantly takes on the defense of a neo-Nazi skinhead (Walker) who beat an immigrant to death, told largely as a series of meetings between the two. Well acted by American Strathairn (who had played the part on stage) and Walker, too (though he seems a tad too educated and erudite for the role), but it's one of those things where once you've read the've pretty much seen the story (it's not like there are plot twists, or a mystery). It's essentially a two-person character study, which fails to fully develop or explain the characters (a chunk of the story involves Strathairn challenging Walker to go back through his own history to mount a defense, implying we'll peel back the character's layers to see what turned him into the angry man he is...but nothing much comes of it). Based on a stage play (and a two-hander, at that) the attempt to open it up into a movie feels half-hearted. Still mainly a play, with most of the scenes between the two men, often uttering dialogue that is stagy and "profound" more than realistic...while occasional outside scenes, like with Orsini as Strathairn's wife, are too few, too contrived, and too obviously just there to illustrate a point. Might have been better to just faithfully do the play for film...or to really break it down and re-build it as a motion picture. But good performances, some good moments, and undoubtedly good intentions aside, what the story fails to do is really provide much insight into or understanding of the issues and characters. sc: David Gow (from his play "Cherry Docs"). dir: David Gow & Mark Adam. - violence.- 90. min.

STEPPING RAZOR - RED X * * 1/2  setting: other
(1992).....Documentary about murdered Jamaican reggae star, Peter Tosh, including interviews with friends, bandmates and observers, but it's also about his time and place, with Tosh's own reflections -- from never before heard tapes -- on relligion, politics, etc. Interesting, though a bit confusing for those completely unfamiliar with Tosh or Jamaica, and stylishly put together...sometimes too obviously so. Good music. Actor Campbell's first directorial effort. dir: Nicholas Campbell. 104 min.

STILETTO DANCE  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2001) Eric Roberts, Romano Orzari, Shawn Doyle, Lucie Laurier, Yaphet Kotto, Brett Porter, Justin Louis.....Story of various twists and turns involving a couple of enigmatic guys (Roberts and Orzari) who start working for a crazed Russian mobster (Doyle) in Buffalo, New York on the cusp of a major deal. Violent, unpleasant crime-drama has a big twist mid-way through...but, generally, is appropriately described by one of the characters as a "murderous, sex-crazed, bad acid trip". In one scene (seeming for comic effect) a character's private parts are subjected to a coffee grinder -- ha! ha! -- but it feels like the script received a similar treatment. Laurier spends half her (few) scenes undressed...which, frankly, boosts the film's rating! A decent cast, which just makes it all the more depressing. Louis is killed off before the credits are finished! And look fast for Karen Cliche as the blonde dancing with Orzari at a club. sc: Alfonse Ruggiero, Jr. dir: Mario Azzopardi. - female nudity, extreme violence.- 98 min.

STILL LIFE (i)  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1990) Jason Gedrick, Jessica Steen, Steven Shellen, Sam Malkin, Gary Farmer.....Struggling New York musician (American Gedrick) finds himself caught up in the plans of a serial killer who uses the murdered bodies of hobos as art. Surprisingly thoughtful, slick thriller isn't great but does have some interesting ideas. Don't let the misleading, sleazy (almost pornographic) video box cover fool you. sc: Michael Taav, Dean Parisot. dir: Graeme Campbell. - violence.- 83 min.

STATE OF SHOCK a.k.a. Power Play

STILL LIFE: A Three Pines Mystery  * *   setting: P.Q.
(2013) Nathaniel Arcand, Anthony Lemke, Kate Hewlett, Gabriel Hogan, Susanna Fournier, Deborah Grover, Mike McPhaden, Kent McQuaid, Jayne Heitmeyer.....The murder of a well liked retiree in a small Quebec town leads to an investigation by Insp. Armand Gamache (British import Arcand) and his team. Made-for-CBC TV detective-mystery is based on one of a series of novels featuring the Gamache character, and takes a page from some BBC TV mysteries (like the Swedish-set "Wallander" and the Italian-set "Zen") of a non-English speaking milieu but with the actors speaking English without even faux-accents. Clearly intended as the first of a series of TV movies (ala the earlier generation of Canadian mystery movies like The Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries) but that's kind of the problem -- it feels like an episode of a TV series rather than a movie with some gravitas, or a character arc. Worse, it's not that interesting a mystery. There's little drive to the plot, few secrets to be uncovered, with the detectives not asking obvious questions, nor following up on obvious clues, presumably to stretch out the plot, with red herrings and dead end threads (ideally, even these should still lead to uncovering a pertinent clue). Presumably because the town's folk are recurring characters from the novels, there's a large cast of characters -- but most have little relevance to this particular plot (in terms of being suspects, providing clues, or even having much personality). Professionally mounted, but disappointingly lacklustre. sc: Wayne Grigsby (from the novel by Louise Penny). dir: Peter Moss. app. 90 min.

STILL MINE  * * *   setting: N.B.
(2012) James Cromwell, Geneviève Bujold, Campbell Scott, Rick Roberts, Julie Stewart, Jonathan Potts, George R. Robertson, Barbara Gordon, Zachary Bennett.....Story of a hearty and hale 80 year old man (Cromwell) who decides to build, by himself, a house more suited to the needs of his wife (Bujold), who's beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's -- but finds himself running afoul of an unbending local bureaucracy who insist it isn't up to modern building codes and order him to stop. Based on a true story, this subdued drama boasts good performances all around, but especially Cromwell (who's 80 percent of the movie) and Bujold (delivering one of her best performances in years), with good, effective scenes, mixing wry humour in with the drama. It's a movie that can be viewed a number of ways: is it a story of a couple dealing with Alzheimer's? a plucky tale of the little guy against The System? or simply a character drama about a determined man taking on a dream project? The fact that it's a little of all three means it can't be entirely pigeon-holed (in a way, the Alzheimer's stuff is actually underplayed). Yet despite that it can suffer a bit from thinness -- the scenes are well presented and paced, but the "plot" is slender, and the supporting characters not developed much beyond the minimum. Still, effective and empathetic. American actor Cromwell deservedly received Best Actor at the Canadian Screen Awards. Originally titled just Still. sc./dir: Michael McGowan. - brief male nudity.- 103 min.

STOLEN HEART  * * *  setting: USA./Ont.
(1997) Lisa Ryder, Randy Hughson, Christopher Healey, James Gatto, Meghan Toll, Shirley McQueen, Gary Farmer.....A trio of less-than-professional Canadian kidnappers (Ryder, Healey, Gatto) kidnap the daughter (Toll) of a wealthy American (Hughson)...but the lady kidnapper has another, personal agenda entirely. Off-beat, well-paced comedy-drama-suspenser gradually wins you over emotionally...nor does it wallow in unpleasantness for 90 minutes the way the mix of this premise (kidnappers) and Canadian filmmakers would normally imply. The much underappreciated Ryder does good in her first (so far, her only) lead role. Nice use of music, both the original score and the pop songs. Slick and good looking, which is surprising given that the movie was so low budget, it was apparently filmed on "short ends" (unused film stock from the end of reels donated from other films). Admittedly, the cavalier attitude toward teen pregnancy in one part implies a filmmaker who hasn't thought much about it! sc:/dir: Terry O'Brien. - violence.- 86 min.

(2001) Leslie Hope, Nola Auguston, Marnie McPhail, Gabriel Hogan, Hugh Thompson, Alan Van Sprang, Robert Bockstael, Dean McDermott.....In the days leading up to Christmas, an unstable woman (Aguston) kidnaps a newborn baby from a hospital for her own, and a local cop (Hope) helps spearhead the investigation, while also dealing with her own family problems. Surprisingly strong, suspenseful made-for-CTV movie is well acted and well paced, with good dialogue. Inspired by fact, it's still a refreshing change from most lurid "true crime" teleplays (no one gets killed or molested and it all ends well) though it might be an odd choice to be hyped as CTV's "Christmas" movie. Curiously, though based on a real Canadian incident, and ostensibly set in Canada, I'm not sure there's anything that explicitly states it's Canada if you didn't know that already: no Canadian flags, no references to anything outside the immediate small town milieu -- when Hogan, as another cop, refers to his visiting girlfriend, he just refers vaguely to her being from "out west". sc: Peter Lauterman (story Shelley Eriksen, Peter Lauterman). dir: Norma Bailey. 91 min.

THE STONE ANGEL  * *   setting: Man.
(2007) Ellen Burstyn, Christine Horne, Cole Hauser, Dylan Baker, Sheila McCarthy, Kevin Zegers, Ellen Page, Peter MacNeill, Luke Kirby.....Story of elderly, independent-minded, but ailing and embittered Hagar who reflects back on her life, her privileged small town childhood which she cast aside for love and ensuing poverty, her troubled marriage and her difficult relationship with her sons. Classic of Can Lit comes to the screen and it's certainly well intentioned, boasting fine performances from a mix of Canadian and American actors -- American Burstyn is superb as the older Hagar and Canadian Horne compelling as the younger (and it is kind of eerie how much they look alike). But condensing a novel that's a rambling chronicle of a life into a movie can be problematic. The direction itself can be a bit static, with too many long shots, and there's not really a clear narrative thread to follow, resulting in a lot of episodic scenes and incidents, rather than really building to a satisfying denouement (despite threads that feel like, if the focus was shifted a bit, they might have been teased that way -- which may be a problem with the source, or how they chose to adapt it). The characters themselves aren't entirely endearing (which is the point -- they all have their feet of clay), and though it's a good cast, a lot are kind of in small parts. Wings Hauser -- Cole's real life dad -- has what amounts to an extended cameo as the older version of his character, and Page, misleadingly prominent on the poster, only has a few scenes. But then, the back of the DVD describes this as an "uplifting romance", which isn't accurate, either! Fans of the novel certainly need not fear a hack job, but those unfamiliar with it might reach the end, shrug, and say: "well, I guess that was that, then." sc./dir: Kari Skogland (from the novel by Margaret Laurence). - sexual content; brief male and female nudity.- 116 min.

STONE COLD DEAD  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1980) Richard Crenna, Paul Williams, Linda Sorensen, Belinda J. Montgomery, Charles Shamata, Alberta Waxman, Andree Cousineau, Frank Moore, George Touliatos, Jennifer Dale.....U.S. cop (American Crenna) suspects a mobster (American Williams) -- for reasons that are rather vague -- in a series of sniper-killings of prostitutes. Suspenser wants to be part sleazy sexploitation, part '70s-style gritty cop flick, and part serious drama involving a large cast of loosely interconnected characters. But it's sluggish and muddled and doesn't make all that much sense. Decent cast. Dale's (inauspicious) film debut: she dances topless, has a couple of lines, and gets killed. Monique Mercure has a cameo and look fast, real, real fast for Michael Ironside at a car meeting with Montgomery. sc./dir: George Mendeluk (from the novel The Sin Sniper by Hugh Garner). - partial female nudity, violence.- 98 min.

A STONE'S THROW  * * 1/2  setting: N.S.
(2006) Kris Holden-Ried, Kathryn MacLellan, Lisa Ray, Aaron Webber, Hugh Thompson.....A world travelling photojournalist and environmental activist (Holden-Ried) shows up to visit his sister (MacLellan) and her family in their small town where the main employer is an environmentally suspect factory. He strikes up a relationship with her pretty friend (Ray), while concealing some secrets. Drama has a solid cast, some striking imagery, a great sense of place, and good ideas and themes. But it can come across a bit like a deliberately small-scale, low-key take on potentially big, loud themes. It lags at times, with some uneven development of themes and motives. But ultimately, holds your attention because you do become interested in the characters and their relationships. sc: Camelia Frieberg, Garfield Lindsay Miller. dir: Camelia Frieberg. - sexual content.- 98 min.

STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE  * 1/2  setting: other/USA.
(2010) (/U.S.) Misha Collins, Torri Higginson, Peter Wingfield, Hill Harper, David Lewis, Michael Kopsa, Brent Stait, Tina Milo.....An ancient mechanism beneath Stonehenge starts triggering global catastrophes at pyramid sites in South America, Egypt, etc. -- and it falls to an American conspiracy theorist (American actor Collins), and some British scientists (Higginson and Wingfield), to stop it before the world is destroyed, unaware a doomsday cult wants it to occur. Made-for-the-U.S. Sy-Fy Channel, they probably started with a title, and filled in the rest after. It hits the ground running and keeps up a brisk pace, and it boasts a good cast delivering decent performances -- unfortunately in service of characters that haven't really been written, so it's hard to actually care (a mid-story scene between Collins and Harper might have worked better if we actually believed in their friendship). And for a movie about Egyptian ruins in Maine, magnetic lines, prehistoric technology, and the end of the world -- the plot itself (like the characters) feels like it was knocked out in an afternoon. Sort of "big" with global catastrophes and exploding pyramids (as far as the limited budget allows) and sort of budget conscious, with a lot of scenes involving the characters in limited sets. Given the emphasis on parapsychological technobabble (in lieu of character development), one can't decide if the filmmakers were too much into these theories -- or whether they weren't into them at all, and that's why it just feels like nonsensical cut n' paste of half articulated concepts. Ultimately some movies are bad precisely because they seemed like they had the potential to be better. See also Seeds of Destruction for a similar effort. sc: Paul Ziller, Brad Abraham. dir: Paul Ziller. - violence.- 87 min.

THE STORK DERBY  * *  setting: Ont.
(2001) Megan Follows, Pascale Montpetit, Eric Peterson, Ellen David (a.k.a. Ellen Cohen), Janine Theriault, R.H. Thomson, John Neville, Terry Simpson, Stuart Hughes, Giuseppe Tancredi, Edward Yankie, Arthur Grosser.....Story of the notorious baby derby in the 1920s and '30s, where a Toronto lawyer bequeathed a million dollars to the woman who bore the most number of children in a set period; focusing on a newspaper reporter (Follows) who is boosting her career by covering the story, but ambivalent about its ethicality, and various poor women hoping to be the winner. Fact-inspired CBC TV movie, one of a number of "Jazz Age" docudramas, doing true stories, but told in a hip, stylized way with a bouncy, jazzy score and a certain manneredness to some of the scenes (others include Torso, Hemingway vs. Callaghan, and Sleeping Dogs Lie). Unfortunately, none have entirely succeeded at capturing the flavour the filmmakers are going for. This story is a genuinely bizarre bit of Canadian historical trivia...but is it a movie? Despite a jaunty humour at times, at other times it's an intentionally unvarnished depiction of the period, complete with its appalling sexism, racism, classism, and lack of proper health care. The result is a movie that makes you grateful you live in the modern era, but is more disturbing than interesting. Follows' fictional heroine is meant to provide a dramatic anchor, but she's not that interesting an anchor. Montpetit is very good, as usual, as one of the "contestants" (most inspired by real people, though the names were changed). sc: Karyn Nolan (from the book Bearing the Burden: The Great Toronto Stork Derby 1926-1938 by Elizabeth Wilton). dir: Mario Azzopardi. - sexual content.- 91 min.

STORM  *  setting: Alt.
(1986) David Palfy, Stan Kane, Tom Schioler, Harry Freedman, Lawrence Elion.....Two college kids, who're into survival games, (eventually) go camping and witness a murder. Seemingly pretentious suspenser is really just slow moving and amateurish. Weak performances. sc./dir: David Winning (his first feature). - violence.- 101 min.

The Story of Jen see L'histoire de Jen

(1988) Mr. T, Alex Amini, Sean Roberge, Kenneth Welsh, Richard Comar, Jackie Richardson, David Hemblen.....Street smart private eye and his lawyer associate (Mr. T and Amini) become embroiled with street gangs, real estate schemes and racial strife when they try to help a troubled teen (Roberge). Action pilot to the Global TV series T and T. U.S. personality (it's hard to call him an actor) Mr. T essentially appeals to kids, but the story itself is kind of gritty and violent. Still, not bad. sc: Guy Mullally, Richard Oleksiak (story Patrick Loubert, Mullally, Oleksiak). dir: George Mihalka. app. 90 min.

(1996-1998)  * *  Evelyn Anders ("Claire"),  Mona Atwell ("Simone"), Morpheus Blak ("Vanya"), Marc Cohen ("Murray"), Nicole Crozier ("Louise"), Sasha Dindayal ("Charlene"), Chad Donella ("Rick"), Dyson Forbes ("Dyson"), Omari Forrester ("Pipe"), Tamara Gorski ("Corey"), Suzanne Hatim ("Sondra"), Erin Hicock ("Jaz"), Kirk Lewis ("Clay"), Noam T.C.S. Lior ("Ed"), Shawn Mathieson ("Steve"), Merwin Mondesir ("Dennis"), Justin Peroff ("Rory"), Sarah Polley ("Lily"), Mark Taylor ("Jeff"), Jacob Tierney ("Alex)......Gritty teen drama. Like the first season of Madison, this series was kind of a mix of on-going series and anthology, with a large cast of regular characters, but each episode generally only focused on one, with the others, sometimes literally, just in the background.  In the second season there was a narrative thread running through all the episodes involving a murder.

Another entry in the "It's good for you" school of Canadian-made teen dramas, mixing "issue" plots with ultra-hip direction, but forgetting the niceties of dramatic storytelling, and entertainment, as if teens don't deserve the same considerations adults do. In essence, it smacked more than a little of some old NFB short you might be made to watch in class. Occasionally effective, more often slow-moving, and often the episodes leaned toward, well, hollow cliches. Meaning that, if the series really was as true-to-life as it thought it was, the Woody Allen joke ("Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television") may be truer than anyone thought. The young actors were good.

On the accompanying Internet site, it carried the proclamation that it was a "Teen Anthem for Television"; unfortunately, based on ratings, teens didn't entirely seem to agree. Still, critics liked it, and in Canada, that's worth more than a real audience, and no doubt helped lead to the follow up series, Drop the Beat. Half-hour episodes on the CBC.

STRANGE AND RICH * 1/2  setting: Alt.
(1994) Ron White, Shaun Johnston, Michele Goodger, Christine MacInnis, Larry Musser, Eugene Lipinski.....A big city cop (White), relocates to a small town, where his by-the-book methods clash with the easy going attitudes of the other officers. Gradually, he and a local cop (Johnston) put aside their differences to investigate an escaped convict and a suspicious death. Static and unimaginative made-for-TV suspense-drama has uninteresting, and unappealing, characters and is poorly put together, particularly in the direction and editing. One might expect better from White and Johnston. The title refers to the names of the main characters. sc: Roy Sallows. dir: Arvi Liimatainen. 93 min.

STRANGE BREW  * * *  setting: Ont.
(1983) (/U.S.) Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Paul Dooley, Max Von Sydow, Lynne Griffin, Angus MacInnes, Tom Harvey, Douglas Campbell.....The dimwitted, beer guzzling, donut munching, toque wearing McKenzie brothers, Bob and Doug (Thomas and Moranis) become involved with an evil brewer (Von Sydow) and his plan to make a mind-controlling beer. Comedy featuring the characters first seen in the TV series SCTV is genuinely amusing in a low-brow, I-can't-believe-I-find-this-funny sort of way. Thomas and Moranis have their characters down pat and benefit from good supporting performances. Years later though, it's hard to credit just how big these characters were. Almost two decades later, they were revived again for an animated series! sc: Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Steven De Jarnatt. dir: Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis. 91 min.

The Strange Case of Ambrose Small, the non-fiction book about the sensational disappearance by Fred McClemment, served as the source for the TV movie, Sleeping Dogs Lie.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE * * * setting: other (1968) (/U.K./U.S.) Jack Palance, Denholm Elliott, Billie Whitelaw, Leo Genn, Oscar Homolka, Gillie Fenwick.....Victorian era British scientist (American Palance) unleashes his inhibitions by chemically transforming into another person. Lavish made-for-TV interpretation of the classic suspense/horror story is a bit talky in spots, but all in all, one of the better versions of this oft-filmed tale. Filmed on videotape. Later Canadian co-produced versions of the story include the modernized Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. sc. Ian McLellan Hunter (from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson). d. Charles Jarrott. - violence.- 95 min.

(2014-)  * * 1/2   Cara Gee ("Kat Loving"), Tattiawna Jones ("Isabelle Slotter"), Melissa Freeman ("Rebecca Blithely"), Aaron Poole ("John Slotter"), Anne Marie DeLuise ("Mrs. Briggs"), Ali Liebert ("Fiona Briggs"), Terry Chen ("Ling"), Michelle Creber ("Kelly"), Matreya Scarrwener ("Robin"), Marci T. House ("Ruby"), Joanne Boland ("Morgan Finn"), Teach Grant ("Franklyn Craze"), Christie Burke ("Logan"), Mitch Duffield ("Neill"), with Tahmoh Penikett ("Marshal Caleb Mecredi"), Bill Marchant ("Dr. Thomas Blithely"), other......Western/drama set in pre-Confederation Alberta. A group of (mostly) female settlers end up stranded (after the men folk are massacred in the night) in a tiny community ruled over by a corrupt mine owner (and brothel keeper). Billed as a "dark" drama and a feminist western because of the preponderance of female leads, although there are still plenty of male characters. Indeed, it's a more balanced cast than most "normal" westerns which focus almost exclusively on male characters (it also boasts an ethnic pluralism, too). It's also a bit misleadingly named: despite occasional flirtations with portentous dreams and suggestions Scarrwener's character has Spiritualist talents, it's not a horror/supernatural series as the title might imply. Gee plays a métis woman who ends becoming the community's female Sheriff; Jones the first lady of the town and madame of the brothel; Freeman a female doctor, presumably suffering from mild autism or Aspers; and Poole played the town's overseeing corrupt founder. (The various surnames seem oddly, though perhaps deliberately, to-the-point!) Others include Creber and Scarrwener and Duffield as youngsters adopted by "Kat," DeLuise and Liebert a mother and adult daughter who end up running the local saloon; Chen as a taciturn Asian who starts out seeming just "Slotter"'s manservant, but turns out to be a rival power, controlling the local Chinese community (who are building the railroad); Grant a miner; Boland, a woman masquerading as a man; House the intitially good-hearted maid to the "Slotters;" though revealing her own dark side over time; Burke a prostitute, and many others. Penikett cropped up occasionally as a U.S. marshall (also métis) who would come by (though the town was out of his jurisdiction) and has a relationship with "Kat." (Penikett's character maybe was intended to turn historical stereotypes on their head: American law & order contrasted with the unsettled wild Canadian west). Although the series was set in the Canadian west, one couldn't shake the feeling the filmmakers were having trouble breaking away from the American model -- with many of the characters sporting conspicuously American drawls (and seeming to have migrated north from the States).

This TV series enjoyed mostly good reviews, though struggled in the ratings. Some claimed the ratings were low, some that they were fine by Canadian-standards, some that the series was too off-beat and shouldn't be expected to win a big, mainstream audience (likening it to niche American cable series, most notably the western "Deadwood" to which this bore conceptual similarities). Those who liked it praised it as an example of "edgy," "sophisticated," risky programming missing from much of network Canadian TV, citing its "darkness," and bragging it might be "too complex" for a large audience. Unfortunately, tossing around such knee-jerk terms doesn't actually mean they really apply. It's good-looking (in a gritty way), reasonably atmospheric series, with a solid enough cast, but struggles to justify the accolades. The characters are fairly straightforward, their motives and reactions pretty obvious or, conversely, inconsistent (Gee's character inparticular seems as though the writers haven't really got a grip on her). And the plots are much the same, rarely taking you anywhere (in terms of story or philosophy) unexpected or seeming entirely thought through. And there's a lack of a strong drive or through-narrative to the plotting (it begins seeming almost like it's going to be a mystery about who killed the men folk, but it isn't much of a mystery). As mentioned, it was compared to Deadwood -- but lacks Deadwood's almost poetical writing. The problem with fans insisting it's sophisticated and anyone who disagrees is a dummy is, frankly, that cuts both ways and can say as much about the fans as it does about the detractors. Ultimately, it gets by on atmosphere, the period setting, and decent enough performances (even if the characters aren't as well written) but it's not the television high water mark it was marketed as being. Created by Laurie Finstad-Knizhik. Hour-long episodes on the CBC.

(1993) David Ferry, Olga Prokhorova, Ken LeMaire, Kyra Harper, Robert Russell.....Story of a spaceship pilot (Ferry) who crashes on a deserted planet, eventually being joined by an alien woman (Prokhorova), while two ship's battle in space. Really low-budget (really) and artsy science fiction drama is almost more a play and is certainly ambitious -- and audacious -- considering its budget restraints. But ultimately it's largely uninteresting, though Ferry (required to carry the lion's share of the picture) does a good job. a.k.a. Project: Genesis. sc./dir: Philip Jackson. - brief female nudity.- 79 min.

(1969-1970)  * * 1/2  Colin Fox ("Jean-Paul Desmond"), Cosette Lee ("Raxl"), Kurt Schiegl ("Quito"), Sylvia Feigel ("Holly"), Trudi Wiggins ("Erica Desmond"), and Bruce Gray, Trudy Young, Neil Dainard, Jack Creley, Pat Moffat, Dan MacDonald, Trudy Young, Lucy Warner, Dawn Greenhalgh, etc.....Supernatural soap opera, originally set on Maljardin, a small Caribbean island, and focusing on the wealthy -- but cursed (literally!) -- Jean-Paul Desmond (Fox) and those around him, including his enigmatic maid (Lee), her mute, mentally handicapped adult son (Schiegl) and his resurrected wife (Wiggins) among others. After a while, Desmond (and those characters who hadn't, you now, been killed off by the various sinister forces at work) returned to the mainland, and the ancestral home in Desmondton, but sinister plot lines continued to arise as new supporting characters were introduced. With cancellation looming, the series actually attempted to wrap up its story lines for a finale -- though one that struck some fans as tacked on, and contradicting some of the characterization that went before. 

In the late-sixties, the U.S. soap opera "Dark Shadows", though initially fairly straightforward and undistinguished, became a genuine cult success after it shifted its focus to a vampire anti-hero and introduced an array of supernatural story lines. This Canadian-made series was a clear attempt to emulate it -- the only such series at the time to do so -- and though it only lasted one season, it nonetheless garnered its own (albeit lesser) cult following. Though while "Dark Shadows" focused on literal monsters like vampires and werewolves, Strange Paradise focused more on curses, ghosts, and the occult. And yes, it was cheesy, and yes, it was hammy, and yes, the performances could be uneven. But it could also be kind of fun precisely because it played things to the hilt, unapologetically revelling in its horror gothic ambience. It they had underplayed, or used the supernatural themes sparingly, it probably would have worked even less well. Though filmed on video tape, the existing copies seem to have held up reasonably well, and the sets were surprisingly lavish, with rich colours and deep, brooding shadows that generate a surprising amount of genuine atmosphere. Some noteworthy performances included Schiegl, who brought a certain empathy, and believability, to "Quito", and Creley, who oozed a reptilian menace as "Jean-Paul"'s brother-in-law (in the mainland set episodes). The series was spun off into a trio of paperback novels by American novelist Dorothy Daniels, and some episode collections were released to video in the 1990s (though are hard to find). Filmed near Ottawa. Apparently this was one of only a few TV soaps to be aired in first run syndication in the United States, though, in Canada, it aired on network TV -- the CBC (yes, the stodgy old CBC!) Though it ran only one season, it was a daily serial, meaning it still amassed almost two hundred half-hour episodes. 

THE STRANGER I MARRIED  a.k.a. The Man Who Lost Himself

STRANGER IN TOWN * *  setting: USA.
(1998) (/U.S.) Harry Hamlin, Trevor Blumas, Rebecca Jenkins, Shaun Johnston, Dixie Seatle, Alison Pill, Graham Greene.....Boy (Blumas) moves with his single mom (Jenkins) and sister to a small American town, only to suspect her mom's handyman and would-be suitor (Hamlin) is a murderer. Suspenser veers not always smoothly back and forth between being a youth-aimed,"Hardy Boys"-style romp, and a grittier, adult thriller. Gets kind of choppy in story and characterization as it goes along, too. sc: John Hopkins. dir: Stuart Margolin. 94 min.

A STRANGER IN THE MIRROR * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1993) (/U.S.) Perry King, Lori Loughlin, Christopher Plummer, Geordie Johnson, Juliet Mills, Terence Kelley.....Story of a struggling comedian (King) in Hollywood who makes it big, and a struggling actress (Loughlin) who doesn't, and how they meet and manipulate and fall in love... Trashy made-for-TV soap is watchable enough on a non-think level, as long as you have no expectations. Most of the characters are pretty sleazy, though, and the flick's sense of morality is pretty skewed. sc: Stirling Silliphant (from the novel by Sidney Sheldon). dir: Charles Jarrott. 100 min.


(1996) (/U.S./France)  * *  Cast: various.....Dramatic anthology, usually revolving around chance encounters and one-night stands.

TV series, by some of the same people who did The Hitchhiker, dropped the supernatural/thriller aspects of that earlier series, and went instead for arty dramas, told with some nudity and sex (sometimes minor, sometimes pretty explicit). Professionally mounted (moreso than The Hitchhiker) with good performances, but, like the literary stories they were sometimes based upon, the episodes could seem kind of pointless with murky characterization; pretentious more than profound. The series featured little Canadian artistic contribution: the stories were set in France, usually featuring a Hollywood lead playing an American, and a European (even when the lead actor was British they would play Americans). Peta Wilson, the Hollywood-based Australian actress, had a bit part in the episode "Going Without" (she kept her clothes on) shortly before landing the lead in the Canadian-filmed series Nikita. Created by Lewis Chesler. One season of 22 half-hour episodes, shown in Canada, uncut, on Showtime. - female nudity, (explicit) sexual content, partial male nudity.- 

(1988).....Documentary of the making of the big-budget Canadian movie Bethune: The Making of a Hero. What was no doubt intended as a fluffy promo for the movie becomes a fascinating chronicle of one of the more contentious films in Canadian history, looking at the clash over interpretation by the people involved and the culture shock of the on-location shooting in China. You don't have to have seen the finished product to appreciate this film. Director/narrator McKeown used to work for the CBC's news magazine "The fifth estate". dir: Bob McKeown. 83 min.

STRANGERS IN GOOD COMPANY a.k.a. The Company of Strangers

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