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.

SWAMP DEVIL  * *  setting: USA.
(2007) (/U.S.) Bruce Dern, Cindy Sampson, Nicolas Wright, Allison Graham, James Kidnie, Robert Higden, Bronwen Mantel, Kwasi Songui.....Young woman (Sampson) returns to her southern American hometown where her estranged father (American Dern) is hiding out in the swamp, accused of a murder he blames on a plant monster. Made-for-TV horror-thriller isn't exactly good...except when compared to a lot of other Sy-Fy/Space Channel movies. At least it kind of feels like a opposed to something just knocked out in a weekend. Decent enough performances and some scenes where everyone (actors, writers, director) seem to be putting effort into it...are unfortunately counter balanced by other scenes that are awkward, or where characters don't ask the obvious questions. And the plot itself is thin, familiar, and not helped by the fact that it deliberately telegraphs its twists (presumably trying to generate suspense by having the audience guess what the characters don't). So, again: not really a good movie...but at least those involved don't have to excise it from their CVs in shame. sc: Gary L. Dauberman, Ethlie Ann Vare. dir: David Winning. - violence.- app. 90 min.

SWANN  * *  setting: Ont./USA.
(1996) (/U.K.) Miranda Richardson, Brenda Fricker, Michael Ontkean, David Cubitt, Sean McCann, John Neville, Sean Hewitt, John E. Nelles, Kyra Harper.....The posthumously published poems of an Ontario farm wife, Mary Swann, murdered by her husband, makes her a literary celebrity that an American writer (Richardson) wants to do a book on, leading to her meeting with Swann's neighbour (Fricker) who's erecting an exhibit to the poetress at the library. Drama is professionally put-together, with some nicely done scenes, but there's a great, yawning hole at its centre that desperately needs filling: you know what happens (sometimes before the filmmakers want you to), but the why -- of motivation, themes, scenes, and just what the point is -- is lost. Too bad, because some of the basic concepts should have worked. McCann quietly steals the film, and the scenes between him and Fricker are its best. sc: David Young (from the novel by Carol Shields). dir: Anna Benson Gyles. - sexual content, brief female nudity.- 95 min.

SWARMED  *  setting: USA.
(2005) Michael Shanks, Carol Alt, Richard Chevolleau, Booth Savage, Tim Thomerson, Christopher Bondy, Ellen Dubin, Jonathan Malen, Maria Brooks, Balazs Koos.....An experimental pesticide has the unfortunate side effect of turning any yellowjackets it doesn't kill into super-venomous, super-aggressive insects...just as a small American town is gearing up for a big outdoor Bar-B-Q competition. Thriller doesn't take itself seriously enough to put any effort into the plot or characterization...yet, despite sliding increasingly into deliberate camp as it goes, doesn't bother to try and actually be funny-funny. A generally decent cast...but stuck playing parts that haven't really been written. And there are some discrepancies in the story -- as if different scenes were shot using different drafts of the script! The result is a poor, entirely generic variation...of a sub-genre (killer bugs) that isn't well-regarded at the best of times! sc: Miguel Tejada-Flores. dir: Paul Ziller. - extreme violence.- 90 min.


(1991-1993) (/U.S./Mexico/Israel)  * *  Rob Stewart ("Nick Slaughter"), Carolyn Dunn ("Sylvie Girard") and (variously), John David Bland ("Ian Stewart"), Ian Tracey ("Spider Garvan"), Pedro Armendariz ("Lt. Carrillo"), Eugene A. Clark ("Sgt. Ollie Porter"), Ari Sorko-Ram ("Sgt. Gregory")..... Light-hearted suspenser about a beach bum private eye (Stewart) on Key Mariah, a fictional U.S. tropical island. Dunn played his business partner. Bland was the owner of the local beach bar, the Tropical Heat, latter replaced by Tracey. Armendariz, Clark and Sorko-Ram were various cops.

This poor man's "Magnum, P.I." was filmed, depending on the financing, originally in Mexico then Israel -- perhaps the only North American series to be filmed there -- but, originally, most of the guest stars were Canadian. Lot's of shots of bikinied women and bare-chested Stewart, but the series was often lame: technically sloppy with dull plots, violence that jarred with its otherwise frothy tone, and a leading-with-its-groin kind of attitude that seemed anachronistic. On the other hand, some of Stewart's wisecracks were amusing and Dunn and, especially, he, had a lot of charm. You could like the series for its stars more than for its stories.

The lead character was supposed to be both an ex-Mountie and an ex-American DEA agent -- the Mountie reference was used in Canadian TV commercials, but the show itself generally only referred to his DEA past, and made only American references...but the media lapped it up, happily reporting it as a series about a Canadian hero -- indicating you really can fool all the (Canadian) press, all the time. Ironically, this tawdry, generally unambitious series may have broken a little ground: showing an on-screen gay kiss (between Lynda Mason Green and another actress) in the episode "Deceit"... something that more socially "progressive" shows at the time like Street Legal and E.N.G. were never willing to do, despite dealing with both homosexuality and lesbianism. Perhaps even more interesting is that the series apparently gained a kind of cult fame in...the former Yugoslavia! Airing during the civil conflicts, as the country was being torn apart from within, and isolated from without (making it one of the few imported programs airing in the country), the series -- with its footloose hero living in a tropical paradise -- found an audience eager, both for escapism, and seeing in "Nick Slaughter" a kind of folk hero icon. Stewart himself later participated in a documentary examining the phenomenom. So, hey, though I dismissed the series as "generally unambitious"...I guess that's all in your perspective! Created by Sam Egan. a.k.a. Tropical Heat. Hour long episodes. Made for CBS's Crimetime After Primetime and shown in Canada on Global and re-run on Showcase. 

SWEET ANGEL MINE * *  setting: N.S.
(1996) (/U.K.) Oliver Milburn, Margaret Langrick, Alberta Watson, Anna Massey, Joel Sapp, Mike Crimp.....Young Englishman (Milburn), travelling through rural Nova Scotia looking for word of his father who vanished years before, encounters a young woman (Langrick) living in the middle of nowhere, and her strange, possessive mother (Watson). Film wants to be a creepy suspense-drama, but is more often confused, awkward...and even a little silly. Not to mention well-trod ground (in fact, Langrick has already been this route before in Cold Comfort) with an obnoxious protagonist, too. sc: Sue Maheu, Tim Willocks (from the screenplay "Love's Executioner" by Willocks). dir: Curtis Radclyffe. - extreme violence, partial female nudity and brief male nudity, sexual content.- 89 min.

THE SWEET HEREAFTER * * 1/2  setting: CDN.
(1997) Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood, Tom McCamus, Gabrielle Rose, Alberta Watson, Stephanie Morgenstern.....After a bus accident kills many of the children in a small town, a lawyer (imported Holm) with his own emotional baggage, arrives trying to stir up interest in a class action suit. Wildly hailed as one of the greatest Canadian movies ever made, it's certainly one of Egoyan's better efforts, but that's not saying much. You don't go to an Atom Egoyan film for subtlety or plot, rather you go for atmosphere and heavy-handed symbolism. Some nice performances, but like all of Egoyan's films, the acting and direction can veer into overly-mannered and the point of being giggle-inducing. Moderately interesting in spots, but slow, without the emotional -- or intellectual -- weight it wants us to believe it has. A laissez-faire attitude towards incest is rather...disquieting. Novelist Banks has a cameo as a doctor, and his real life daughter plays Holm's daughter. Fifteen years earlier, the CBC movie The Accident covered similar terrain. sc./dir: Atom Egoyan (from the novel by Russell Banks). - female nudity.- 112 min.

(1993) (/France/U.K.) Anthony Higgins, F. Murray Abraham, Leslie Hope, Michael Ironside, Andrea Ferreol.....American (Higgins) kills his wife (Ferreol), only to have an imaginary person he fabricated as an his alibi...actually show up in person (Abraham) -- well, eventually -- and harass him. Slow, ill-conceived suspenser (the "hero" is a murderer!) has inane dialogue, bad characterization and a simplistic plot. Abraham and Hope (as the love interest) almost rise above their material, though. But why does Telefilm Canada help finance a movie set in the good ol' U.S. of A.? sc: Eddy Matalon, Dominique Roulet (from the novel Qualthrough by Angus Hall). dir: Eddy Matalon. - sexual content, brief female nudity.- 91 min.

SWEET WAR see Tendre Guerre

A SWEETER SONG * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1976) Jim Henshaw, Susan Petrie, Susan Hogan, Peter Jobin, Allan Migicovsky, David Bolt.....Accident-prone sports photographer (Henshaw) must choose between the free-spirited woman who loves him (Petrie) and the woman (Hogan) who regards him as just a friend. Wandering, counter-culture comedy starts out weakly, with unfunny prat falls and a general obviousness, but gets better, and more off-beat, as it goes along. A likeable, product-of-its-time sort of flick, and its unabashed Canadianisms would be almost unheard of the Canuck film spoof, which is a hoot. And, yup, that's Nick Mancuso as the gigolo. Music by Jove. Sadly, Henshaw, who co-wrote this nugget of Canadiana, later went on to write let's-pretend-we're-in-the-U.S.A. programs like some of the Harlequin movies and Friday the 13th: The Series. Alas. sc: Jim Henshaw, Allan Eastman. dir: Allan Eastman. - partial female and male nudity, explicit sexual content.- 91 min.

SWEET SUBSTITUTE  * 1/2 setting: B.C.
(1964) Robert Howay, Angela Gann, Carol Pastinsky, Lanny Beckman, Robert Silverman.....Story of teens who think of girls, and sex, and cars, and sex, and, well, sex, when they should be studying. Once considered controversial for its frank subject matter, this black & white drama now seems like an early version of Porky's or a zillion other teen sex comedies...except for the arty, cinema verite style and the serious climax. Some promising if unpolished performances, but almost every scene goes on too long, and the thin story just rambles about. sc./dir: Laurence Kent (a.k.a. Larry Kent). 85 min.


(1976)  * * *  Chris Wiggins ("Johann"), Diana LeBlanc ("Elizabeth"), Ricky O'Neill ("Franz"), Heather Graham ("Marie"), Michael Duhig ("Ernest").....Historical family drama about a family marooned on a deserted island at the beginning of the 1800s. They lived in a treehouse and had livestock and a dog named Bruno.

O.K., atmospheric TV series was based on the novel by Johann Wyss. Appealing, particularly for kids because of the premise and exotic locale (part sets, part out-door shooting), and benefits from Wiggins' and LeBlanc's performances. Around the same time the U.S. did another version of the same idea, minus the 'THE' in the title. But it didn't last long either. Half hour episodes, originally on CTV. 

A SWITCH IN TIME  * 1/2  setting: other
(1988) Tom McCamus, Laurie Paton, Jacques Lussier, Lee Broker, David Hemblen, Gabriela Salas.....Trio inadvertently get thrown back in time where they end up ruling a primitive tribe and must battle the Roman empire. It probably would have worked better if it had been played as a straight adventure, instead of trying to be funny -- 'cause it ain't. Cute gimmick of having the Roman characters actually speak latin, though. a.k.a. Norman's Awesome Experience. sc./dir: Paul Donovan. - partial female nudity.- 90 min.

SWORD OF GIDEON (TVMS)  * * 1/2  setting: other/USA.
(1986) Steven Bauer, Robert Joy, Rod Steiger, Michael York, Peter Dvorsky, Laurent Malet, Colleen Dewhurst.....Israeli anti-terrorist team (led by Bauer) is sent out to avenge the terrorist murders of Israeli athletes in Munich in '72. O.K. suspenser suffers from its own ambiguity: it's not structured enough to be fiction, not convincing enough to be fact. Dvorsky stands out. Twenty years later, though, Hollywood would make its own version of the same book -- the Oscar-nominated "Munich". 4 hours. sc: Chris Bryant (from the book Vengeance by George Jonas). dir: Michael Anderson.

"The Swords", by Robert Aickman, was one of the stories adapted for The Hunger movie, pilot for the TV series.

THE SWORDSMAN  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1992) Lorenzo Lamas, Claire Stansfield, Michael Champion, Nicolas Pasco, Raoul Trujillo, Michael Copeman, Eugene Clark.....Psychic American cop (Lamas), plagued by medieval dreams, investigates the stealing of an ancient sword and an underground fencing competition. Imported Lamas takes a step up from his awful Snake Eater films...a very small step. Nice looking but badly done, though Copeman is good (as usual) as an eccentric psychiatrist. The movie clip on the TV is from one of Kennedy's previous efforts. Sequel: Gladiator Cop. sc./dir: Michael Kennedy. - violence, casual male nudity.- 99 min.

SYLVAN LAKE SUMMER * *  setting: Alt.
(1990) Robyn Stevan, Christianne Hirt, Allan Grant, Spencer Rochfort, Shaun Clements, Johanna Newmarch, Lochlyn Munro, Tassy Jackson, Henry Woolf, Christine McInnis, Andrew Rhodes.....Story of various characters, mainly young adults, at a summer resort, and focusing on a transplanted city kid (Stevan). Usual teen-pic hijinks (minus the sex and cussing) mix with more serious elements in this rambling serio-comic film that plays like a collection of independent stories which only occasionally intersect. Well-acted. sc: Don Tuckey. dir: Peter Campbell. 97 min

(1995) Karen Duffy, Saul Rubinek, Matt McCoy, Lynne Cormack, Torri Higginson, Chris Makepeace, Barry Morse, Nigel Bennett.....In an oppressive future, the mind of a petty thief (Makepeace) is transferred into his dead girlfriend's body (Duffy) as part of an experiment, but she/he escapes and joins up with some rebels. Confusing, cheap-looking science fiction thriller has poor writing and direction. Too bad, because the story elements could have worked and it had a better cast than most cheapo sci-fiers, particularly Morse and Bennett and Higginson (the latter two in small parts). Good costume designs. a.k.a. Memory Run. sc: David Gottleib, Dale Hildebrand, Allan A. Goldstein (from the novel Season of the Witch by Hank Stine). dir: Allan A. Goldstein. - extreme violence, sexual content, brief female nudity.- 89 min.

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