Thursday, December 27, 2012

Terminal Choice

(Sheldon Larry, 1984)
Here the Magder clan bequeath us a movie about a computer-controlled hospital run amok that doesn't even set up its own premise - why bother when "Coma" did the job already? This frees them up to pack the first act with so much sexual innuendo and 'witty banter' that you nearly have time to forget what the movie's actually about. Admittedly this material also helps them establish an agreeably goofy tone, but soon enough things degenerate into disagreeable nonsense, cramming in mad scientists, illegal betting pools, accidental vivisection rescue ops, and so on. The actors are game enough - and the dated-for-1984 'high tech' trappings silly enough - that it could have worked as camp. Unfortunately, the TV-style slickness is a drag, the pacing is turgid, and the character development is a mess. Key supporting characters disappear for an hour at a time, Don Francks plays a jogger who's really an attorney who's really an investigative journalist, and Joe Spano's alcoholism and romantic subplots just evaporate into the underwhelming crescendo of Commodore 64 carnage.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Down the Road Again

(Don Shebib, 2011)
Shebib's belated "Goin' Down the Road" sequel is heartfelt and honest, but that doesn't mean it's any good; its elegiac tale of mortality is tragically bereft of craft. The first half of the film is a wistful epitaph for the long-gone Paul Bradley, and there's no there there; the flashbacks and exhumations from the original fail to find any semblance of form or focus. The East Coast sequence cedes some ground to original characters and present situations, but only glimmers of poignancy survive the overwhelming air of contrivance. The skeletal narrative taxes credibility in outline and pulverizes it in execution, with way too many unmotivated leaps in character development. None of Shebib's artistic strengths shine through; his dialogue, once so full of wit and surprise, is leaden and literal, and the direction shows no trace of the spontaneity and open space that used to breathe life into his languid intimacy. Kathleen Robertson's Betty-Jo is the invention of a man who can't recall the distinction between 40 and 25, and the sympathy and charm of the cast as a whole is left to wither and die.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Marie Ann

(Martin Walters, 1978)
Hard to believe the producer (Fil Fraser) who brought us the adorable Why Shoot the Teacher? proceeded directly to this dire thing, the story of the Canadian west's first white woman. But what kind of "story" is this? The entire movie feels like an inciting incident, forsaking all revealing details of the pioneer woman's life for an exceedingly halfhearted love triangle plot. Andree Pelletier is required to do so much standing around looking pretty that whenever the occasion arises to express an emotion she pounces on it like raw meat; meanwhile Tantoo Cardinal lurks and broods, broods and lurks. The project looks like it was dreamed up by local historians who had never seen a movie; the production design may be 'authentic', but neither the sets nor the characterizations feel lived-in. The flat cinematography, amateurish lighting, erratic location sound, and naggingly incongruous harpsichord soundtrack are all hallmarks of a provincial cinema that can barely hold its oar. Scholastic-style narration, carelessly slapped on to the head and tail, sheepishly explains why anyone should care.