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.

FLAG   * 1/2  setting: other
(1987) (/France) Richard Bohringer, Pierre Arditi, Philippine Leroy Beaulieu, Anne Letourneau, Philippe Pouchain.....Paris cop (Bohringer) suspects his boss and best friend may be involved in criminal activity, so he decides to stage an elaborate sting to trap him.  Plodding, muddled crime-drama never succeeds in generating tension...or much interest.  Slow-moving, and Bohringer's performance is a bit one-note.  English title: Red Handed.  sc: Jacques Santi, Simon Michael, Tansou. dir: Jacques Santi. - brief female nudity.- 106 min.

(2007) (/U.S.) * * Eric Johnson ("Flash Gordon"), Gina Holden ("Dale Arden"), Karen Cliche ("Baylin"), Jody Racicot ("Dr. Hans Zarkov"), John Ralston ("Ming the Merciless"), with Jonathan Walker ("Rankol"), Anna Van Hooft ("Aura"), Giles Panton ("Joe Wylee"), Carmen Moore ("Joely"), Steve Bacic ("Barin"), others.....Science fiction about some earth people who can move back and forth across a dimensional barrier to the alien planet Mongo, ruled by dictator Ming -- and people and creatures from Mongo can likewise travel to earth.

The seminal American comic strip, Flash Gordon, began in 1934, and became equally well known for a series of popular -- and faithful -- movie serials in the 1930s and 1940s. And the character has branched out, sporadically, into radio, TV, movies, and animated cartoons (including a Canadian-made one in the 1990s) -- usually with mixed results. In this case, the makers seem to have taken the names from the strip, adopted the tongue-in-cheek/camp tone of the 1980 motion picture...and then grafted them onto a premise that bears only a passing similarity to the source material. Actually, that's not entirely fair: the fact that even many of the guest star characters owe their origins to the comics -- such as Azura and Vultan (though here, he and his hawk people don't have wings, they have, um, capes) -- indicates the makers were genuinely trying to draw upon the comic as an inspiration. But they obviously didn't have the budget to adapt it faithfully so series' developer Hume's task was simply to come up with a budget-conscious series that could use the familiar names -- hence why much of it just takes place on modern earth, and even the scenes on Mongo tend to involve generic locations or small, in-door sets. It's actually almost hard to judge because, in addition to the inevitable comparison to the source, the emphasis on camp and comic banter kind of makes you wonder if the makers saw it, mainly, as a comedy. Unfortunately, it's not funny enough to score as a comedy (some quips are cute...some lame) yet much of the suspense/adventure is undermined by the glibness, and by the thin plots. When played straight, the series occasionally threatens to work (scenes in one episode between Van Hooft and guest star Dominic Zamprogna actually hint at the series' potential as a character drama). In fact, one almost wonders if the series was initially conceived as a young adult series, with the broad, campy tone of many a series on YTV...then, in pre-production, it was decided to cast adults. Johnson is a capable performer, and the others can be decent enough, or have been in other productions (Holden is a fetching enough Dale) and it's hard to entirely fault them, because they're basically playing it the way the material demands (Racicot's mannerisms as a comically bi-polar Zarkov seem modelled a bit on stand up comic Ron James). The "new" interpretation has some potentially interesting ideas (Ming is more meant to be a ripped-from-the-headlines dictator rather than the feudal warlord of the comic -- it doesn't work, but it was a nice try), but also has tired cliches (the costumes tended to go for the stock drab leather of any number of low-budget recent sci-fi flicks and TV shows). Ultimately, more a misfire than a hit. Developed by Peter Hume. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Space. 


(2008-) (/U.S.) * * * 1/2 Hugh Dillon ("Ed Lane"), Enrico Colantoni ("Gregory Parker"), Amy Jo Johnson ("Jules Callaghan"), David Paetkau ("Sam Braddock"), Sergio Di Zio ("Scarlatti"), Michael Cram ("Wordsworth'), Mark Taylor ("Young") (-2nd), Ruth Marshall ("Dr. Luria") (1st), with Jessica Steen (2nd), Cle Bennett (4th-), others.....Crime/action/mystery series about the elite Special Response Unit in Toronto (ie: a fictional version of the Emergency Task Force, or a SWAT team) -- that is, the people called in during crises and hostage takings, who arrive with sniper rifles and grappling hooks...but also a desire to negotiate and talk the situation down from its "flashpoint". 

TV series made the news when, originally planned as a strictly Canadian series, it acquired a U.S. partner in the CBS network looking for programming that could air during a U.S. writer's strike. And the results proved...a ratings success in Canada and the U.S. And despite the U.S. involvement, the series remains surprisingly unaplogetically Canadian, with the actors using Canadian phrasings and colloquialisms, and the scripts making occasionally Canadian-centric references. Perhaps more importantly...the series is quite good. Despite a premise that would seem a bit repetitive (commercials for the various episodes look kind of interchangeable) the episodes themselves manage to be surprisingly fresh and distinct from each other, offering up different environments, dilemmas and twists on the "stand off" crisis of the week. And though effectively tense and suspenseful...the series is as much a drama as it is an action show, often presenting stories which aren't black and white and where the motives behind the crisis have to be peeled back layer by layer, essentially mysteries where things often aren't what they at first seem, allowing both the guest stars, and the regulars, a lot of meaty, nuanced scenes. Some detractors have dismissed the show as just a generic U.S. imitation (apparently missing the fact the series does make explicit Canadian references) while others have argued that a cops n' robbers series where the heroes want to talk down a crisis more than shoot it out is distinctive from the American template and is part of what makes the series "Canadian". Occasionally hokey, wearing its heart on its sleeve (episodes often ending with the cliched soft rock musical montage epilogue). Nonetheless, Flashpoint is a riveting hour of TV, with enough tension and problem solving to make for a good suspense/adventure series...and enough human and character development to make for an emotional drama. However, despite blazing the way for a number of subsequent US-Canada co-productions, and often winning its US time slot, the American network, CBS, remained oddly soft in its support, renewing it season-by-season...but almost grudgingly, making its long term future always uncertain (eventually CBS dropped it after four seasons, though it then switched to the cable station ION in the States). Some have suggested that though Flashpoint was bringing in solid audience numbers, they were not the "right" numbers, attracting an older viewership rather than the young, commercial-impressionable MTV audience advertisers covet. Eventually it was announced the fifth season would be its last, a voluntary decision by the creators (its ratings in Canada still high...though the loss of CBS might have been a factor in terms of overall financing). Created by Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis (both better known as actors -- Morgenstern appears, without lines, in the first episode as the hostage). Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on CTV. 

FLESH GORDON 2: Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders * *
(1989) Vince Murdocco, Tony Travis, Robyn Kelly, William Dennis Hunt, Morgan Fox, Bruce Scott.....Scatological parody of old movie serials, with hero Flesh Gordon and friends kidnapped to a planet suffering from mass impotence. Incredibly vulgar, tasteless comedy is definitely not for those easily offended (or even those hard to offend) but the actors play it with gusto and there's a kind of spritely tempo that means you can't actually call it boring. And the intentionally cheesy special effects are actually kind of neat. Despite being a loose sequel to a 1970s American semi-porno film (that found mainstream, albeit cult, success), and there's plenty of sex talk and some nudity, the humour actually seems to revolve more around other bodily functions (does the phrase "toilet humour" mean anything?), meaning it's not really an "erotic" comedy. Actually, this movie makes the original "Flesh Gordon" seem positively wholesome! Hunt, as the villain, is the only carry over from the original film. sc: Howard T. Ziehm, Doug Frisby. dir: Howard T. Ziehm. - partial female nudity, brief male nudity, sexual content, violence.- 95 min.

(1969) Robin Ward, Kathleen Sawyer, Austin Willis, Sean Sullivan, Ty Haller, Tony Moffat-Lynch.....Dr. Frankenstein (Ward), who may or may not be descended from Mary Shelley's character, comes to a North American university and gets teased for his name, involved with hippies, and starts experimenting with mind control.  Pretty bad horror thriller with Sawyer being topless a lot.  But the film has achieved some notoriety -- thanks to its weird premise and counter-culture jargon -- as a bit of kitsch.  Best part of tthe film: music by the '60s rock group Lighthouse.  a.k.a. Doctor Frankenstein on Campus.  sc: David Cobb, William Marshall, Gilbert W. Taylor. dir: Gilbert W. Taylor. - partial female nudity, violence, sexual ccontent.- 82 min.

(1993) (/France) Jean Reno, Carole Laure, Bruce Boxleitner, Vlasta Vrana, David Francis, Jack Langedijk.....French soldier (Reno) and a lady doctor (Laure) team up when his old army buddy (Boxleitner) gets into trouble and goes missing in the Quebec wilderness.  Light-hearted suspenser has some banter that might be cute...if everything else wasn't so bad.  Nice scenery.  sc: Robert Geoffrion, Sylvain Saada (story Philippe Niang) dir: Don Kent. - violence.- 93 min.

FLINCH   * *  setting: USA.
(1994) Judd Nelson, Nick Mancuso, Gina Gershon, Frank Cassini, Marilyn Norry, Veronica Lorenz.....Two Americans (Nelson and Gershon), working as mannequins in a store window -- is there really such a job? --, witness a murder (by Mancuso).  Light-hearted suspenser isn't nearly as bad as you'd expect, with a clever concept, some decent performances and some not-bad dialogue.  But the plot's too thin, and as a thriller, well, it fails to thrill.  Set in the U.S. but they keep showing shots of CN trains.  sc: Tippi and Neal H. Dobrofsky. dir: George Erschbamer. - female nudity.- 93 min.

(2005) Charisma Carpenter, James Thomas, Victoria Sanchez, Karen Cliche, Allison Graham.....After a friend dies unexpectedly of supposedly natural causes, a man (Thomas) becomes suspicious when he learns some other men died in similar circumstances, and all may have been having an affair with an unknown woman, and his suspects include a woman (American actress Carpenter) he's just started seeing himself. Made-for-TV semi-erotic suspenser (there are a lot of love scenes, though with a minimum of actual nudity -- presumably a body double -- and with an aspect of equal opportunity exploitation) is something where everyone involved seems competent enough, but maybe needed to put a little more time into it. The writer needed to give the script another draft, and the actors and director needed to take more time rehearsing. As it is, you kind of know what the characters are doing, but not always in motives, or what the characters are feeling or thinking. And the mystery plot is rather thinly developed. A sub-text about classism, though admirably meant to give the story an extra level, is a bit awkward, as it veers into reverse snobbery and doesn't quite ring true -- the working class characters don't seem that working class, and the rich characters don's seem that rich. sc: Joyce Brotman. dir: Richard Roy. - sexual content; casual female nudity.- 89 min.

FLOOD (TVMS) * * setting: other
(2008) (/U.K./South Africa) Robert Carlyle, Jessalyn Gilsig, Tom Courtenay, Joanne Whaley, David Suchet.....London (England) is hit by a devastating flood as we follow various characters, from those caught out in the streets, to the government and emergency service workers trying to co-ordinate a response. Those expecting this mini-series to be some classy British take on the concept, or some clever allegory...will be disappointed. This is basically just an unapologetic disaster movie in the old Irwin Allen mould with all the clichés: estranged divorced couple thrown back together; disgraced genius who'd been warning of this disaster for years; etc. But it fails to put much flesh on the scenarios beyond the stock clichés, so you don't really care about the characters or feel their motivation is justified (Carlyle's bitterness toward dad Courtenay seems particularly out-of-proportion). The big budget scenes of characters fleeing from surging flood waters are too often set pieces as opposed to suspense scenes where you worry about the characters. The "edgy" direction and editing further undermines the human element. The result is a rather undistinguished example of a genre not exactly brimming with high points any way (and might seem a bit tasteless given recent real life disasters like New Orleans and the like). Still, it's an eye opener how vulnerable London apparently is (which, I suppose, should be obvious given it has a major river running through its heart). Canadian Gilsig actually plays a Canadian (in these sorts of Canadian co-productions, the North American accented characters are usually made American). 4 hours. sc: Nick Morley, Matthew Cope, Justin Bodle, Richard Doyle. dir: Tony Mitchell.

LA FLORIDA   * * *  setting: USA.
(1993) Remy Girard, Pauline Lapointe, Yvan Canuel, Jason Blicker, Marie-Josee Croze, Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, Michael Sarrazin, Margot Kidder, Raymond Bouchard, Denis Bouchard, Gildor Roy, Martin Drainville .....A Montreal bus driver (Girard) buys a Florida hotel and moves his family there, only to discover their dream may not be all they thought it would be...particularly when they get into a feud with another French-Canadian hotel owner.  Sprawling, amusing comedy-drama with a good cast, particularly the always fine Girard.  Michael Sarrazin and Kidder have just bit parts.  In French with some English bits (not surprising given the setting), but some of the dialogue is lost in the idiotic use of white subtitles on white backgrounds.  sc: Suzette Couture, Pierre Sarrazin. dir: Georges Mihalka. - brief female nudity.- 115 min.


(1991) (/U.S./France)   * * 1/2  Shannon Tweed ("Sally Monroe"), David James Elliot ("Mack Sheppard"), Francois Guetary ("Jean-Phillipe Pasteur"), with Ian Tracey ("Berry the rat").....Suspense/comedy-drama about a Vancouver-based small scale -- and always in debt -- charter plane service and their globe-trotting run-ins with various shadey figures.  Tweed played the Canadian owner; Elliot the ex-U.S. marine pilot; Guetary the debonair French co-pilot with the underworld ties.  Tracey was Elliott's odd-ball ex-marine buddy.

Short-lived, glossy TV series wasn't brilliant, but was entertaining with a personable cast.  It should've been given more of a chance.  Created by George Geiger.  12 episodes (including a two-parter) made for CBS's Crimetime after Primetime and shown in Canada originally on CTV. 

FLY WITH THE HAWK  * *   setting: Ont.
(198_) Peter Snook, Peter Ferri, Michael Wearne, Shelly Lynne Spiegel..... Anti-social youth (Snook) becomes lost in the woods and is taken in by a hermit who teaches him the ways of the wild and spiritual contentment.  Shoe-string budget but not too bad when it stays with the forest scenes thanks to Snook's O.K. performance.  Filmed on video.  An Emmeritus-CHCH production.  sc: Peter Ferri with Andre Vosu, Robert Tanos. dir: Robert Tanos.

FLYING   *  setting: USA.
(1986) Olivia d'Abo, Rita Tushingham, Keanu Reeves, Jessica Steen, Renee Murphy, Eugene Clark, Sean McCann.....Teen-ager (d'Abo), a gymnast before an accident, wants to prove herself and win a championship.  Most of the cliches are here, but it's pretty poorly done.  a.k.a. Dream to Believe.  sc: John Sheppard. dir: Paul Lynch. 94 min.

THE FLYING SNEAKER * *  setting: other
(1992) (/Czechoslovakia) Ludek Navratil, Katka Pokorna, Vlastimil Brodsky, Katerina Machackova, Lubor Tokos.....An introverted boy (Navratil) befriends a magical fairy.  Children's pic is well-done and fanciful, with oodles of stop-motion f/x, but ultimately, it's just too thin on plot.  See Tales for All.  sc: Bretislay Pojar, Jiri Fried. dir: Bretislay Pojar. 90 min.

(1999)  * * 1/2  Ken Finkleman, Sarah Strange, Clare Sims, Arsinee Khanjian, Tony  Nardi, others.....Quasi-anthology focusing on different characters each episode, but interweaving them with the characters from the other episodes, all under the surrealistic umbrella of filmmakers (Finkleman and Strange) making a TV series (the characters would be interrupted in mid-story to be interviewed by the camera).

Finkleman's third series in as many years was better than his problematic More Tears, but no where near The Newsroom. This time eschewing comedy entirely, these "relationship" dramas benefitted from good performances, direction and decent dialogue, but precious little genuine insight. Finkleman portrayed love affairs, infidelity, etc., but never answered why these particular characters behaved in this particular way in these particular circumstances...which is, surely, the heart of storytelling. Anyone can tell you something happened...a storyteller conveys why.

The final two episodes tried to veer into comedy and even greater surrealism, but suffered because humour is, surely, the result of the real meeting the surreal; surrealistic gags in a surrealistic context just kind of sit there. More to the point, doing a whole episode meant to analyse a character when that character doesn't remotely approach being a fleshed-out, 3-dimensional characterization is just another example of the series' flash and sizzle over substance.

Ironically, this "cutting edge" series was more than a little reminiscent of the kind of National Film Board drama you'd be expected to watch in school (at least the first four episodes). Finkleman (and his fans) were quick to point out European art film influences, while neglecting to mention the obvious hints of the style of Britsh TV writer Dennis Potter -- though Finkleman couldn't match Potter'ss flare for colourful dialogue or eccentricity. Though the monologue where Finkleman's character breaks off an affair was some right good writing. 6 half hour episodes on the CBC. 

FOOLPROOF  * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(2003) Ryan Reynolds, Kristin Booth, Joris Jarsky, David Suchet, David Hewlett, James Allodi.....Three friends who play a game of plotting foolproof robberies for fun are blackmailed by a crook (Suchet) into planning, and executing, a job for real. Light-hearted suspenser is reasonably slick, but never quite becomes more than O.K. with too little real thrills, or lasting emotional resonance. Not the breakthrough hit it was expected to be...but neither is it bad, either. It's entertaining enough, with a nice performance from Reynolds. Hewlett is wasted in a bit part as an employee at the company they're planning to rob. Atom Egoyan was one of the executive producers. sc./dir: William Phillips. - sexual content.- 93 min.

FOOLS DIE FAST  * 1/2  setting: USA
(1995) Peter Outerbridge, Victor Ertmanis, Kate Greenhouse, Robert Morelli, Wendi Coles, Dan Warry Smith, James Purcell.....One night in a small, out-of-the-way diner in the Southern U.S. in the 1940s, a psychotic but charismatic drifter (Outerbridge) woos a ditzy waitress (Greenhouse) and imprisons and torments her obnoxious, abusive boss (Ertmanis). Stagey, black and white drama-suspenser at times seems like the quintessential Canadian movie -- and I don't mean that in a good way. Unlikeable characters do unpleasant things to each other for 90 minutes...and it's set in the U.S.! Vaguely, maybe, sort of inspired by the Charles Starkweather case. The sort of play that, no doubt, strikes an aspiring writer as edgy...but hopefully he grew out of it. Largely uninsightful and pointless, with an otherwise respectable trio of actors seeming too much like they're play acting, and actor-turned-director Purcell's direction is a little too obvious and claustrophobic. It, maybe, is trying to be a comedy-drama at times, with its over-the-top evocation of period films and certainly the scenes with Morelli et al, in a cutaway part, are played for laughs. But the fact that it's unclear how much is meant to be amusing says volumes about whether they succeed. sc: David Blackwood, Linda Watt, additional dialogue Louis Di Bianco (from Blackwood's play). dir: James Purcell. - violence.- 84 min.

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