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|18 reviews in total|
Lara Fitzgerald's "Small Avalanches", adapted from a story by Joyce Carol Oates, is something of a small miracle - a perfectly realized short film. In little more than twenty minutes the director succeeds in depicting with stunning honesty the lazy nature of a rural summer day and the boredom that can consume a young person in their "tween" years. This achievement alone makes "Small Avalanches" worth watching, but in short order she then creates a progressively sinister scenario of a predatory male's efforts to capitalize on both the naive nature of a young girl and the isolation she finds herself in. Her idle walk home becomes all the more nerve wracking because she isn't fully aware just how bad this big bad wolf truly is. Max Vendrig and David Keely both play their parts without a false note in either performance, and the technical credits are first class. Here's an instance of watching a filmmaker achieve so much from so little, and that is the sort of talent that makes anyone who loves film look forward to enjoying what else they may create.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
BURN UP is a sharply made four hour mini-series co-produced between the UK and Canada that tackles environmental issues - chiefly global warming - and wraps them up in a cracking conspiracy thriller. The series begins with a mass murder in the Saudi Arabian desert and climaxes at an environmental summit in Calgary. The main thrust of the plot is that evidence exists proving global warming is much farther along - and far more severe - than was previously believed, but is being suppressed to protect the economy. Acting honors belong to WEST WING vet Bradley Whitford as a morally vacant oil executive (dubbed the "High Prince of Carbon") determined to keep the oil flowing no matter what the damage or cost, and Marc Warren (HUSTLE)as an amusingly blunt British politician fighting against the tide. Fine work is also done by SPOOKS star Rupert Penry-Jones as a young oil executive awakening to the evil he is part of, and Neve Campbell as an environmental advocate working for him. A number of the personnel from SPOOKS worked on the mini-series, including director Omar Madha (doing an exceptional job here), and the intelligent script is by FULL MONTY scribe Simon Beaufoy. Lavishly produced (it actually looks better than a number of films I've seen in recent years) BURN UP is never boring, and achieves what it sets out to do: present a story that engages and thrills the viewer.
This is an escapist entertainment featuring a cast of good actors and some commendable production values - all rendered pointless by the director's incessant (and I do mean incessant) abuse of the zoom lens. Whose idea was that? The director? The director of photography? Who holds the blame? It became so nauseating that it effectively spoiled everybody else's hard work. The director is not a novice and yet he allows this same grievous mistake to sink this film as he did the previous 10.5 disaster TV movie. There seems to be a mistaken notion that manipulating the zoom lens equates with directorial style. Jess Franco would even be embarrassed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The stories of celebrated Canadian author Morley Callaghan provide the
source material for this rarely seen dramatic anthology, a bold
endeavor from the embryonic days of Canada's feature film industry. NOW
THAT APRIL'S HERE, in its four stories, examines a group of people
fumbling with the complexities of love set in the time between winter
bids farewell and spring arrives with a promise of fresh beginnings. In
"Silk Stockings" young Don Borisenko is infatuated with the daughter
(Judy Welch) of his landlady, a woman slightly senior to him whose
flirting encourages the boy but who ultimately awards her time &
attention to another. "The Rocking Chair" follows recent widower John
Drainie, who believes the purchase of a rocking chair he had denied his
late wife may ease the memory of her loss and provide some forgiveness
to him. "The Rejected One" concerns a white collar youth (Tony Grey)
who brings home his blue collar girlfriend a lingerie saleswoman
(Nancy Lou Gill) for the first time and faces the disapproval of his
family. In the final segment, "A Sick Call", an elderly priest (Georges
Toupin) tries to ease the ire of a man (Walter Massey) whose wife is
critically ill. The couple is of a different faith that they feel
ostracized them from her family and now the woman's sister is adamant
the Catholic priest must see the woman no matter how much the husband
NOW THAT APRIL'S HERE was an ambitious undertaking for a project whose meager budget wouldn't likely cover the coffee budget on a contemporary Hollywood film. The stories present characters whose actions can be interpreted on more than one level. Love is at the core of each story, but rather than simply be a pure expression we see how it is distorted, in turn, by jealousy, guilt, indifference, and spite.
Set and shot in Toronto, NOW THAT APRIL'S HERE was the debut project of Klenman-Davidson Films, a joint venture by NFB veterans Norman Klenman and William Davidson. At a time when Technicolor & Cinemascope romantic melodrama from the likes of Ross Hunter and Buddy Adler were box office draws director Davidson employed a rawer style closer to the neo-realism of post-war European cinema, or even to his own documentary background. He strips away any superficial gloss to keep the focus solely on his characters. The cast is generally good if unspectacular, but there are key moments in each story that stood out for me: Don Borisenko's jumble of nerves while trying to buy a gift for the object of his affection; how Katherine Blake (in "The Rocking Chair") registers hurt when she realizes a lifeless object holds more weight than her own feelings; Nancy Lou Gill's nervous verbal outpouring as she is scrutinized by her boyfriend's family; and Georges Toupin's calm defenses against the angry protests of Walter Massey. Each of these moments hit precisely the right tone. Veteran actor Raymond Massey provides the opening narration, and the film's fine music score is by John Bath.
Barely exhibited upon its release, NOW THAT APRIL'S HERE is sadly neglected little movie, a rarity deserving resurrection. Klenman-Davidson (and many of the key crew members that worked on APRIL) made one more try at kick starting an English language feature film industry in Canada, making the motorcycle drama IVY LEAGUE KILLERS the following year. Had they succeeded with their initial forays a film making partnership akin to Britain's Archers could have found ground to grow in Canada. Ultimately it would be years before a vital industry was established, but these gentlemen deserve credit for their ambitions.
William Davidson & Norman Klenman collaborated on film project in
response to a plea from exhibitor Nat Taylor. They'd previously done a
literary adaptation, "Now That April's Here", which won critical
acclaim but drew little box office. Taylor suggested the duo try to
make a more deliberately marketable venture, something that would
appeal to the youth market. At the time American International was one
of the key producers of such fare, filling drive-in screens with
juvenile delinquent melodramas & rock musicals. The producers wanted to
help establish a viable film industry in Toronto, and so their next
project would be "Ivy League Killers".
Don Borisenko stars as Don, brooding leader of a motorcycle gang called the Black Diamonds (a real gang whose members are seen on screen) that remains a source of irritation for local authorities but commits no real harm. They are just guys n' dolls feeling free and having kicks, causing the occasional misdemeanor disturbance.
Don has the biggest hair of all the males, sort of James Dean by way of Fabian, and this could be one of the key reasons why he gets to call the shots for the gang. When the film opens the gang runs into another gang of sorts - only these are the sons of privilege. Educated, wealthy, society privileged. They rip around in their sports cars, basically following the will of Andy.
Andy is played by Don Francks, a veteran character actor, musician, and activist whose many credits include "Finian's Rainbow", "My Bloody Valentine", and the series "Nikita". This is one of his first roles, and it is amusing to see him cast as a snob with the makings of being a first class sociopath.
Andy's girl is Susan (Barbara Bricker). One look at Don's smoldering good looks and she's hooked. Her interest in the young hood leads to a meeting, and before long she's riding the back of his hog. Naturally this browns off Andy and begins an escalating series of confrontations that will affect both sides. Don's more passive leadership tactics of the gang, and his relationship with Susan puts him at odds with Bruno (George Carron), his rival for Alpha Male. Soon enough Don begins to find his command evaporating.
Andy is a thrill seeker whose yearning for kicks is becoming increasingly more malicious; his buddies go along because their characters are weak and easily bowled over by Andy. The fact he has everything must bore him, necessitating a desire to cause damage. Once Andy realizes that Susan is lost to him - his persuasive argument includes telling her Don is all wrong because "he's uneducated and probably very dirty!" - he wants revenge by sinking the bike gang with the authorities.
Doing this involves stealing their colors, getting some motorcycles of their own, and indulging in some impersonation. This will culminate in a robbery of the local dance hall, a stunt that spins out of control when Andy shoots one man in the face and smashes down another with his motorcycle while fleeing. His plan works: the bikers are blamed and Don becomes a wanted man, ostracized by his gang and pursued by the police.
Despite how bad things may look, Susan has not given up on Don. She gets to play Nancy Drew and try to crack who is really responsible for this violent crime. With the police closing in on Don, the young lovers must race to clear his name and bring the real culprits to justice.
One of the things that sets "Ivy League Killers" apart from many of the other juvenile delinquent melodramas of its era is the fact that Davidson & Klenman take a more serious approach to the material versus simply presenting their protagonists as glorified cartoon characters. It is also unique that the villains of the piece aren't the traditional leather jacket rebels - it is the privileged members of society, the supposedly law abiding. I loved the opening shot - twin sports cars slowly rolling into a desolate arena, approaching the parked motorcycles while the opening titles roll & John Bath's somber score plays out. It almost looks post-apocalyptic, and before any characters have been introduced this simple but effective visual orchestration symbolizes a violation; we merely don't know at this point who will represent good, and who will represent evil. The director and cinematographer shoot extensively outdoors, frequently freeing the movie from the confines of stage bound sets and offering more interesting visual possibilities. Their backgrounds in documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada may have helped contribute a rawer, more naturalistic presentation to "Ivy League Killers" that some of their Hollywood counterparts lacked. That said, they don't sacrifice their more commercial elements: there's rock music (including a ballad called "Easy Rider", sung at a beach bonfire by Igors Gavon), dancing, a juke joint, motorcycles n' sports cars, young love, rebellion, fisticuffs, anti-authoritative tones, and some violent action. The movie doesn't run that long, but it builds its drama nicely to a fast-paced climax that wouldn't have felt out of place in a Republic movie serial.
"Ivy League Killers", also known as "The Fast Ones", didn't get a mainstream North American release until the early Sixties. At that time it would find itself on a double bill with the British horror film "Devil Doll", directed by Lindsay Shonteff - who worked on "Ivy League Killers" as production assistant. Of the cast members Don Francks is the best known today, but star Don Borisenko did several more films in Europe. Supporting cast member Martin Lager (playing one of Don's gang) became a prolific writer of episodic television and feature films in Canada, and would collaborate with William Davidson on a variety of projects in the years to come. This movie didn't have the anticipated effect of launching a commercial film industry in Toronto by the start of the 1960s, but it is an entertaining picture and something of a rarity today.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Writer-director Jeff Lieberman made a trio of low budget horror films
more than twenty years ago that have gone on to become cult favorites.
He returns to the genre, quite successfully with SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER,
an ode to the occasion of Halloween and the kinds of films that flooded
cinemas after HALLOWEEN debuted in 1978. What makes this film different
is Lieberman has approached the material with a ghoulishly funny sense
of humor. Think of this as the "B" side to BAD SANTA - another seasonal
black comedy that was as shocking as it was funny for totally
abandoning any & all notions of being politically correct. Lieberman
does the same here: he's an equal opportunity offender who casts his
satirical gaze over a pretty wide range of subjects.
Like BAD SANTA the film pivots around a little boy who is a long way from being the sharpest tool in the shed; for certain he has trouble separating fact from fantasy. Dad's got him hooked on a computer game called "Satan's Little Helper", and for Halloween he wants to be just that. He hopes if he's good enough Satan will actually show up. While strolling the neighborhood in his little devil costume he spies a hulking black-clad man with a goat-horned Satan mask arranging corpses on the front lawns of houses in broad daylight. Convinced he's Satan he happily introduces himself to the silent marauder and offers to be his helper, provided he tags along home to kill his sister's new boyfriend. The boy is having a great time as this Satan terrorizes and kills assorted townspeople, convinced it's all phony. The boy's family is equally confused, believing this to be the sister's boyfriend playing an elaborate charade. By time they know the truth all proverbial hell has broken loose in the small town.
SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER is the kind of movie destined to be a cult favorite, as Lieberman knows how to construct scenes that are both unnerving and horrific, and within a few breaths is pushing buttons that elicit the kind of laughs where you say "I can't believe he just did that!". This is a low budget film, and certain aspects of the script seem either careless or not fully realized. The character of the boy is one of the most annoying child characters I've seen in a film - you can't help but want to reach out and smack him. The suggestion is at a certain age a child's rich fantasy life makes the fact / fiction separation a precarious task, yet the kid (like in BAD SANTA) just seems so dense he becomes a distraction. What manages to save that from becoming a detriment is just how successful Lieberman realizes his Satan Man character, a killer worthy of joining the likes of Jason, Michael, Freddy, & Leatherface in the horror hall of fame. Performance wise the strongest work comes from Katheryn Winnick as the sister, Joshua Annex as the Satan Man (without ever speaking his entire performance is a gleefully dark pantomime, and he really puts himself into the part), and Amanda Plummer's goofy variation on the Mother role.
There are many more pluses than minuses here. I'm happy to see Jeff Lieberman back, and with such a twisted little film. It's bound to make you look more closely at those gruesome Halloween front-lawn displays in your neighborhood.
Writer-director Bruce Spangler comes from a background in child
protection services, and has fashioned a small, searingly authentic
little film about a family falling apart. The mother and her boyfriend
are both junkies, and living conditions have degraded to a point where
the two children are in peril. The parents may love them, but seem
unable to do what is necessary to remain a functioning family.
PROTECTION follows the case of this family as protective services steps in to remove the children from the household. It doesn't chart any conventional paths and presents views from both sides of the fence. This is a raw and at times disturbing film, superbly acted by Nancy Sivak as the social worker, and William MacDonald & Jillian Fargey as the heroin-abusing parents. It is a sharply edited and photographed film, using the underside of Surrey as its locale. This is an extremely commendable film for Bruce Spangler and all concerned.
WILD HORSE HANK is a pleasing family film showcasing one of Linda Blair's
best performances. She plays the titular Hank, daughter of rancher
Crenna who comes into confrontation with fellow rancher Al Waxman after
returns home from school. Her stallion has escaped the ranch and been
seized by Waxman along with a herd of wild horses fated to become dog
Blair breaks the herd loose in the dead of night and sets out to drive
across 150 miles of rough terrain, hopefully to safety on a Federal
It is obvious that Blair does much of her own riding here, and she delivers a performance as Hank that is both spirited and heartfelt. It is also a pleasure to see a young Michael Wincott - so frequently cast as cold-blooded villains - in one of his earliest roles, a somewhat unorthodox good guy. He plays Waxman's younger brother, who sides with Blair in her efforts to rescue the wild horses. WILD HORSE HANK was briskly directed by veteran Eric Till, and beautifully shot by Richard Leiterman on locations in both Alberta and New Mexico. I found the movie to be good, inoffensive entertainment.
Robin Spry's ONE MAN predates several other films made about the effects
factories poisoning the communities that surround them, and it still
up well as a strong thriller. Len Cariou gives a good performance as a
headstrong TV news journalist whose investigating of mob warfare in
brings him to a local hospital one day. It is there he meets a young
worker (Carole Lazare) who points him in the direction of a potent story
nobody seems to care about: the alarming child mortality rate in a
surrounding a large factory. The company that owns the factory denies any
level of responsibility, but as the investigation deepens lives become
seriously jeopardized. The film's resolution was not one that I had
predicted, and is more in line with a 70's sense of pessimism.
ONE MAN was produced by the National Film Board of Canada (and it is available on VHS through them), and benefits both from an intelligent script and sharp direction by Spry. Cariou's character evolves in different ways during the course of the film; he's a flawed hero who is guilty of bad judgement and moral mistakes, but ultimately seeks redemption in the truth. There is also a pleasing performance by Jayne Eastwood as his increasingly bitter wife, and some interesting work by veteran actor Barry Morse as the head of the factory.
John Howe's WHY ROCK THE BOAT? is a pleasing comedy that boasts a sharp
for recreating 1940's era Montreal. Stuart Gillard, who is better known
a writer & director these days, stars as a young man aspiring to a career
a newspaper reporter. The first job at the paper is writing obituary
columns, from which he gradually progresses upward. His main ambitions
to be steering clear of the tyrannical editor (Henry Beckman) and pursuing
relationship with a lovely fellow reporter (Tiiu Leek) on a rival paper.
The girl of his dreams is secretly meeting with other newspaper people in
hopes of starting a union; Gillard sees involving himself in this as a
golden opportunity to win his love over, whether he believes in it or not.
This may not be the easiest movie to see these days, but it is a good little film that is well-written & lovingly put together. Performances are generally good. Both Gillard and Leek are likable leads, but the best work comes from Beckman, Ken James as the carousing photographer who befriends Gillard, and Patricia Gage as the seductive wife of one of the newsmen.
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