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RIP Ernest Borgnine

Canuxplotiation was saddened to learn of the death of Ernest Borgnine this past weekend. Although the always respectable Mr. Borgnine was well known for his high profile roles in some of cinema history’s greatest classics, he was also incredibly prolific. Little surprise then that, like many of his contemporaries, he made his way north of the border during the tax shelter frenzy of the late 1970s to appear in a handful of Canadian genre films. Though far from his most celebrated roles, Canuxploitation will always remember Mr. Borgnine in two of the better Canadian films of the period–Harvey Hart’s gun paranoia parable SHOOT (1976) and the violent crime thriller SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY (1974). And, um, he appeared in underwater sci-fi spectacle THE NEPTUNE FACTOR (1973) too.

 

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CanFilm Five: Author and Canadian Film and TV Critic D.K. Latta — Part 2

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

The Masked Movie Critic, otherwise known as D.K. Latta (or is that the other way around?) is a sometimes writer of science fiction and of non-fiction, and a self appointed (and strangely self-important) commentator about, and opiner on, Canadian film & TV and has been for years. His website The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) contains capsule reviews of literally thousands of Canadian movies and TV series and, when it started in the late 1990s, boasted it was the most extensive English-language Canadian site of its kind on or off the web. Not that there was a lot of competition for that particular bragging right. It’s probably less so now but, hey, he still likes it. It is also associated with his blog — Pulp and Dagger Blog — which is intended to cover a broader range of movie, TV and pop cultural topics, and does…but still tends to focus a lot on Canadian films and TV.

D.K. contributed two excellent lists–this earlier one on Canadian modes of movie mayhem  and this one on everyone’s favourite Canadian character actor, Michael Ironside!

Michael Ironside has become one of Canada’s most enduring exports. And has attained that singular distinction of arguably being a “cult” actor. Sure, any actor would love to be a matinee idol or to have a few Oscars under his belt. But the “cult” actor is, in his way, perhaps a more stalwart figure — a recognizable face to some, a vaguely recognized name to others…and an icon to many. He may not always appear in the best movies — indeed, “cult” actors are often usually described as being better than their material — and often in genre films of sci-fi, action and horror. But that’s kind of their appeal: their lack of pretension. They come. They do their job. And we love ‘em for it. And if you can tap into that vein successfully, you can look forward to a long career. Ironside himself once commented that in an industry where most actors were unemployed, most of the time…he’s worked steadily for years. Wonder if Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling will be able to say the same a few decades down the line?

But Ironside’s roles have often been dictated by his distinctive presence and demeanour. It’s not that he has a face only a mother could love — it’s not like he’s ugly or anything — merely that he has a face only a mother wouldn’t be very, very scared of. And with a growling voice and the perfect surname to go with it! And so whether playing heroes or villains, Ironside is usually cast as the tough guy: the murderous killer, or the gruff anti-hero. But there’s more to his career than that! So let’s look at some of Michael Ironside’s more unusual roles.

SCANNERS (1983)
Okay, yeah, this is very much what you’d expect from him. But as probably his first major role, the one that put him on the cinematic map, it’s worth starting with. Ironside had already paid his dues in Canadian film with TV guest spots, and movie bit parts, and grunt work (on the movie NOTHING PERSONAL, he had a bit part as a motorcycle cop…and behind the scenes was, according to him, doing the laundry of the film’s star, Donald Sutherland!) by the time he was cast as the telepathic villain in David Cronenberg’s gory milestone — the movie that, arguably, helped take Cronenberg out of the ghetto of cult fandom and into the mainstream.

But now let’s consider some of his atypical roles:

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Upcoming Screenings: July 2012

While many of us discovered Canuxploitation films through late night TV screenings and VHS rentals, there’s still something special about catching a locally produced B-movie classic in the theatre alongside other Canadian film fans. Here’s our monthly update featuring upcoming classic Canadian cinema screenings. Want your screening listed? Contact us.

TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL
July 12 @ 7pm
Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver
A double bill with FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), presented by Shivers.

THE FLY
July 27 @ 11:15 and July 29 @ 8:15
Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa
Cronenberg’s icky remake buzzes around for a return engagement in the nation’s capital.  More info here.

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CanFilm Five: Author and Canadian Film and TV Critic D.K. Latta — Part 1

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

The Masked Movie Critic, otherwise known as D.K. Latta (or is that the other way around?) is a sometimes writer of science fiction and of non-fiction, and a self appointed (and strangely self-important) commentator about, and opiner on, Canadian film & TV and has been for years. His website The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) contains capsule reviews of literally thousands of Canadian movies and TV series and, when it started in the late 1990s, boasted it was the most extensive English-language Canadian site of its kind on or off the web. Not that there was a lot of competition for that particular bragging right. It’s probably less so now but, hey, he still likes it. It is also associated with his blog — Pulp and Dagger Blog — which is intended to cover a broader range of movie, TV and pop cultural topics, and does…but still tends to focus a lot on Canadian films and TV.

D.K. contributed two excellent lists–this one, and a second one we will be posting shortly. D.K. sez:

Instead of focusing on a best or greatest movie Top 5 list, I thought maybe I’d connect some films — some good, some bad, some indifferent — by their very Canadian modes of mayhem. Yes, Canada may be the land of “Peace, Order and Good Government” but sometimes it has provided a forum for some singularly Canadian forms of murder…or at least, wilful violence. Since it’s a top 5, I’ve had to make choices, just narrowly excluding GINA and its grisly snowplough death, or the creepy wendigo in GHOSTKEEPER. And I’m sure BON COP, BAD COP could fill up half this list by itself. Which brings us to:

TEKWAR (1994)
William Shatner, in collaboration with Ron Goulart, wrote a series of TEKWAR sci-fi novels that were turned into four TV movies, and then became a short-lived TV series. The novels and the TV series were explicitly set in a future United States but, interestingly, in the TV movies it’s a more ambiguous North American setting. In the first — and the best — of the movies, called simply TEKWAR, a future-era private eye (played by Greg Evigan) investigates a missing scientist’s disappearance. In one scene, the villains fear he’s getting too close to the trail and send a killer android after him — a hockey player android that attacks him at a skating rink.

SHADOW OF THE WOLF (1992)
In this film, Lou Diamond Phillips and Jennifer Tilly play a couple of star crossed1930s era Inuit lovers on the run from both their tribe and the white man. An attempt at a big budget spectacle of the kind Canada rarely tries anymore (and maybe this film’s poor box office partly led to that) in one memorable scene their igloo is attacked by a ravenous…polar bear! (“Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside,” as a polar bear described igloos in an old Far Side comic strip). Not the easiest beasties to train, nor much call for them in movies set a little farther south, polar bear attack isn’t exactly one of Hollywood’s more common cliches!

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Cathode Ray Mission: The Original Global Television Network (1974)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

Instead of covering a specific cult show, this edition of Cathode Ray Mission will look back at the messy birth of a big Canadian media player–the first three months of programming at the Global Television Network. Global, in 2012, is one of Canada’s four major over-the-air broadcasting entities, fighting against CTV, CBC and CityTV for ratings supremacy. But things weren’t always this way.

Global was formed by Al Bruner and Peter Hill’s Can-Plex Ltd., in 1970. Bruner, a former big band singer, remade his name as an advertising manager for Toronto’s CTV affiliate, CFTO. CHCH founder Ken Soble lured Bruner to Hamilton. Bruner built CHCH into a money machine, as the station made huge yearly profits.

Both Bruner and Soble dreamed of a creating third national Canadian network together, until Soble died in 1966. Bruner actually convinced the Canadian Radio-Television Commission to give Can-Plex Ltd. a licence for a regional televised program service. Global was envisioned as a national network, but settled for a studio in Don Mills, Ontario and six retransmitters.

On January 6, 1974, Global held a four-hour special to commemorate its launch. Less than three months later, Global almost died.

The Basic Formula

Global’s 1974 debut resulted in 25 original shows — at least, according to Jim Bawden of The Toronto Star. Foreign programming, and feature films from “all over the world,” made up the difference.

Here is part of Global’s initial 1974 slate. Some shows don’t have years attached to them; I couldn’t identify when those shows ended.

  • CAVEAT EMPTOR, a consumer affairs show
  • EVERYTHING GOES (1974), a talk show. Initially hosted by Norm Crosby, singer Catherine McKinnon became a co-host early in the run. Ken Finkleman, Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short were among its writers
  • FLICK FLACK WITH WILLIAM SHATNER, a film-related interview series
  • FOUR FOR ADVENTURE, a travelogue. Four Quebec filmmakers visited South America, talking to Canadians who worked in that continent. Also featured a recipe each episode
  • GLOBAL NEWS JOURNAL, a public-affairs documentary series
  • GLOBAL POST, a five-minute business update
  • MY COUNTRY, where Pierre Berton talked about…well, his country
  • SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS (1973?-74), a satirical news show produced by Don Harron. Harron, Catherine McKinnon, Patrician Anne McKinnon, Barbara Hamilton, Jack Duffy, Bill Luxton, Les Lye, Howard Jerome Gomberg, Geoff Scott, Barry MacLoughlin and Ken Shaw were the castmembers. Gordon Pinsent and Billy Van made guest appearances
  • SUNDAY NIGHT HOCKEY, which televised Toronto Toros WHA games. Peter Gzowski and Ken Dryden (yes, that Ken Dryden – Dryden sat out the 1973-74 NHL season) were involved with the initial broadcasts
  • THE BRADEN BEAT (1974), an “on your side” consumer affairs show hosted by Bernard Braden
  • THE CANADIANS, a Stanley Burke-hosted show about the lifestyles of famous Canadians
  • THE GREAT DEBATE (1974-?; 1983-84 on CHCH), where Pierre Berton and others debated controversial topics
  • THE WORLD OF WICKS, an interview show hosted by cartoonist Ben Wicks
  • THIS PROGRAM IS ABOUT SEX (1974), with Dr. Sol Gordon
  • WHAT’S HIS NAME?, a game show where Catherine McKinnon, Don Harron and Jack McClelland attempted to guess the identities of famous Canadians
  • WITNESS TO YESTERDAY (1974 on Global; 1974-75? on TVOntario; 1998 on History Television), where broadcaster Patrick Watson “interviewed” an actor playing a major historical figure

The Weird Bits

Global initially disdained local advertising, and allowed only eight minutes of commercial air time. The point of the program service was not to be local. Many of Global’s original shows were made by independent producers, in an effort to keep costs low. Global aired news updates between programs, which was a new concept at the time.

SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS had a distinct Ottawa flavour, which wasn’t suprising, given that it was the brainchild of Bushnell Communications executives Stu Griffiths and Roy Fabish. Bushnell Communications, at the time, owned CJOH. SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS was initially a CTV pilot; Global, desperate for content, bought the show’s rights.

There was a faint whiff of nepotism in SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS — Don Harron was married to Catherine McKinnon. Patrician Anne McKinnon, though an actress and singer in her own right, was Catherine McKinnon’s sister. In addition, Bill Luxton and Les Lye were well-known for WILLY & FLOYD (CJOH/syndicated, 1966-88). SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS was a CJOH show in drag.

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