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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.
* * 1/2 setting: other
(1990) (/France) Kim Coates, Roberta Bizeau, Ronald Guttman, Jean-Pierre Bouvier, Beatrice Benscik.....Down-and-out musician (Coates) is hired by a gangster (Guttman) to be seen with his wife (Bizeau) to provide grounds for a divorce. But when the gangster is murdered, he becomes the prime suspect. The first fifteen minutes or so of this film noire-suspenser are a write-off, but then it picks up. Technical short comings and an obvious story are balanced with good performances from Coates, Guttman and Bizeau (in a thankless part). A 3 Themes-Hamster production. sc: Robert Geoffrion (from the novel The Cheaters by Ledru Baker Jr.). dir: Josee Dayan. - sexual content, violence.- 92 min.
FRANKENSTEIN '88 a.k.a. The Vindicator
* setting: USA.
(1989) Audrey Landers, Peter Read, Dean Richards, Michelle Scattolon, Dan Gallagher, Will Korbut.....Lighthearted horror-anthology flick framed by a story of a cold U.S. TV reporter (Landers) and her visit to an odd museum. Amateur hour, kiddies and pals, from the direction to the acting to the pointless stories. And, yes, that is Gallagher the VJ. sc: Bob Farmer. dir: Constantino Magnatta. - extreme violence, sexual content.-
Freckles, a novel by Gene Stratton Porter, became the TV movie City Boy.
FREE MONEY *
* * setting: USA.
(1998) Marlon Brando, Charles Sheen (a.k.a. Charlie Sheen), Thomas Haden Church, Mia Sorvino, Donald Sutherland, Christin Watson, Holly Watson, Jean-Pierre Bergeron, Remy Girard.....Story of a couple of small town U.S.A. losers (Sheen and Church) who end up in a joint shotgun marriage to teen-age twins (the two Watsons) whose father is a corrupt, psychotic prison warden (Brando); then Sheen's character gets the idea that they can make a life away from the father by robbing a train bringing old U.S. bills down from Canada (the movie's concession to its Canadian origins). Sorvino plays an F.B.I. agent already investigating the warden, and Sutherland her estranged judge father. Sprawling, odd-ball black comedy takes a bit to decide where its headed, though that's actually part of the appeal, and manages to be decidedly off beat and darkly amusing throughout. Slick and benefitting a lot from the, for the most part, low-key performances. Brando, Sheen, Church and Sorvino are all American imports, not to mention Martin Sheen (Charlie's real life dad) and David Arquette (as a car dealer) in cameos. Sutherland has a curiously small part, playing it serious. Set in the U.S., but most of the supporting cast are made up of noteworthy French-Canadian actors, wasted in bit parts and cameos, putting on strange, mumbling-under-their-breath accents that probably won't fool anyone. sc: Anthony Peck, Joseph Brutsman. dir: Yves Simoneau. - violence, sexual content, brief female nudity.- 93 min.
Freefall, the non-fiction book by Will & Marilyn Hoffer, became the TV movie Falling from the Sky: Flight 174
* * setting: P.Q.
(2011) Pascale Bussières, Gavin Crawford, Fred Ewanuick, Karine Vanasse, Robert Charlebois, Martha Burns, Jacob Tierney, Ali Hassan, Olunike Adeliyi, Laurence Leboeuf, Yves Jacques, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Colm Feore.....Story of the Francophone inhabitants of a Quebec town, whose main industry is the local French immersion school, and the gaggle of disparate Anglophones who are enrolled -- from the politician (Crawford) seeking to brush up on his French, to the guy (Ewanuick) who needs it to get a promotion. Comedy is clearly intended to play upon some of the bilingual success of Bon Cop, Bad Cop, mixing a popular Quebec cast with some familiar Anglophone faces, and mixing scenes of French and English. And the result...is frustrating. It is funny, and buoyed by an engaging enough cast -- there are laughs, but also some sweetness (all sides are spoofed, but good-naturedly). But can feel a bit too old fashioned, like a Carry On film, or some "All-Star" Hollywood extravaganza out of the '60s...or an '80s teen comedy, only with adults (and instead of a summer camp, it's a French immersion school). It's a farce, but not hilarious enough to just coast by on the gags, and it has character threads and romantic undercurrents...without them quite coalescing into a sustained plot that drags you to a climax, often with threads that peter out and characters that feel undeveloped (wasting a lot of the huge cast...Feore has what amounts to a recurring cameo). Even what could be perceived as a central romance between Ewanuick and Vanasse feels like it's missing a middle act. It's maybe trying too hard, with too many characters and ideas (even throwing in a road hockey tournament and a Bollywood musical number!) The result is a likeable effort, with some chuckles (the sly, wry humour working better than the broader stuff) but is still liable to leave you restless before the end. As I say: frustrating. In a mix of English and French. sc: Jefferson Lewis, Kevin Tierney. dir: Kevin Tierney. - brief female nudity.- 98 min.
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (TVMS)
* * * 1/2 setting: other
(1990) (/France/Italy/Germany) Klaus Maria Brandauer, Jane Seymour, Francois Cluzet, Jean-Francois Balmer, Andrezj Seweryn, Marianne Basler, Sam Neill, Christopher Lee.....Chronicle of the French revolution and the major participants. Neither a dry text book come-to-life, nor a sudsy bodice-ripper, this is an intelligent, gripping docudrama. Handsome, gritty and well-played, particularly by the always fascinating German actor Brandauer. 8 hours, but also shown in a shorter 4 hour version (unreviewed). sc: David Ambrose. dir: Robert Enrico, Richard T. Heffron. - violence.-
LE FRERE ANDRE *
* 1/2 setting: P.Q.
(1987) Marc Legault, Sylvie Ferlatte, Andre Cailloux, Michel Cailloux, Rene Caron.....Story of real life Brother Andre (Legault), a Montreal religious figure who died in 1937 and was believed to perform miracles. Low-key drama doesn't try to explain the miracles but is O.K. and uses rather innovative flashbacks to (cheaply) tell the tale. English title: Brother Andre. sc: Guy Dufresne. dir: Jean-Claude Lebrecque. 88 min.
Moody TV series (which had absolutely nothing in common with the low-budget U.S. films of the same name) started out as supernatural mysteries with off-beat humour, but became increasingly solemn and pretentious with heavy emphasis on character and less on story. Uneven, and marred by graphic violence, with some awful episodes mixed with the good and spiced by some really good ones. Hit and miss, with a weaker final season, but well-worth catching. American actor LeMay was especially good. Created by Larry B. Williams and Frank Mancuso, Jr. (the latter produced the U.S. movies, explaining the use of the title). Some episodes were subsequently paired and re-titled Friday's Curse -- the show's in-production title and certainly a better and less confusing name. Best Bets: "Faith Healer" (dir. David Cronenberg) with Miguel Fernandes as an unscrupulous evangelist possessing a cursed glove that can both cure and kill, and Robert Silverman as a terminally ill debunker; "The Playhouse" about two abused children whose playhouse allows them temporary escape...at a price; others. Three seasons (72 hour-long episodes) in syndication, including 2 two-parters. - extreme violence.-
FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH - PART X a.k.a. Jason X
FRIDAY'S CURSE a.k.a. Friday the Thirteenth: The Series
A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY
* * 1/2 setting: CDN.
(2005) Laura Harris, Eric Johnson, Kim Coates, Sabrina Grdevich, Greg Lawson, David Lereaney, Shaun Johnston.....After moving to a small town, a young woman (Harris) finds herself increasingly unsettled as she begins to suspect her next door neighbour, David Snow (Coates), is a serial killer and is stalking her and no one, not even her husband, believes her! Inspired by fact (though heavily fictionalized) made for CTV movie starts out rather like, well, a generic TV movie, with some clunky dialogue and vaguely drawn characters, but gets better as it goes, particularly as the heroine acts increasingly paranoid so that the others' disbelief in her theories is, if not okay, at least understandable. Remains a fairly generic telling of a familiar thriller plot and, despite the "true story" angle, plays fast and loose with the facts (surely trivializing the experiences of those involved) -- but is ultimately successful on a visceral level. Interestingly, although set in Canada with an all-Canadian cast, this aired on the U.S. Lifetime network (a year before it aired in Canada in 2006!)...though, in one interview, Coates claimed he wanted to use a more Canadian accent...and the director nixed that idea. sc: Michael Amo (from the memoir, A Friend of the Family, by Alison Shaw). dir: Stuart Gillard. - brief female nudity, violence.- app. 90 min.
FRIENDS AT LAST
* * * setting: USA.
(1995) (/U.S.) Kathleen Turner, Colm Feore, Julie Khaner, Sarah Paulson, Megan Bouchard, Faith Prince.....Story of a New York housewife (Turner) and columnist (Feore) and their daughter: they start out happy, then the marriage falls apart as she feels increasingly neglected and unfulfilled, and of their ultimate reconciliation when it's almost too late. Strong, effective made-for-TV drama (melodrama?), well written and very well acted by all. Main quibble (aside from being set in the States) is that Feore is sufficiently unsympathetic in the middle (perhaps because we don't see enough of his side) that it undermines (slightly) the ultimate reunion. American actress Turner produced. Khaner has a thankless part considering her billing. sc: Susan Sandler. dir: John David Coles. 91 min.
The Frog Prince
* * * 1/2
(1971) (/U.S.) Trudy Young, Gordon Thomson, voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Carl Banas, Richard Hunt, John Lovelady, Daniel Seagreen.....Musical-comedy about a prince who's turned into a frog and a princess (Young) cursed by an evil witch so that her words are incomprehensible -- to stop the witch the frog must "bake the hall in the candle of her brain". Highly memorable hour-long (54 minutes) family film is great for youngsters and pretty entertaining for adults, too. American muppet creator Jim Henson's second made-in-Canada TV special features mainly muppets (including the obligatory Kermit in a pivotal supporting part), with Young the only live person. Thomson, as the human-version of the prince, only has a small part. See Tales From Muppetland. sc: Jerry Juhl. dir: Jim Henson.
* * * * setting: other/CDN.
(1987) (/Europe) Daniel Ceccaldi, Mel Martin, Matt Birman, Mathieu Carriere, Neil Munro, Graham Greene.....In the 1700s a bumbling, though noble-hearted, French Baron (Ceccaldi), a white man raised by Mohawks (Birman) and an English Lady (Martin) framed for her husband's murder, become caught in the middle of the war between France and England involving Canada. That rarest of all things, an old-fashioned swashbuckler! Well-paced and original with plenty of sword fights, romance, heroism, cliffhangers and a fine blending of comedy and thoughtful drama. A true delight. Ceccaldi steals the show. 6 hours. Equally fun shown in either hour long or 2 hour segments. Three decades later the title would be used for another Canadian historical adventure series -- reviewed below. sc. Pat Ferns, adaptation Didier Decoin (story Pierre Nivolet, Jean-Claude Camredon). dir: Victor Vicas, Pierre Lary.
Unfortunately the results are mixed. Perhaps it seems too much of a part of this whole trend toward "gritty historical cable dramas." Despite the (admitedly) relatively fresh and unique use of the fur trade milieu, the series can feel a bit too much like the filmmakers are just hitching their creativity to a waggon. The series rarely sparks with unexpected plot threads, or surprising character nuances, or clever lines (or wit). At its best it's capably put together, with solid performances; at its worst it can veer a bit toward cheesy, and without too many characters (despite the sprawling cast and plot threads) who truly engage. The historical accuracy is also debatable (for a series originally airing on the documentary channel, The Discovery Channel) -- if the fur trade was this violent and murderous, I suspect we'd have heard more about it (given for years people have lamented how "boring" Canadian history is!). And though the series tries to give (a bit) more presence to First Nation characters, and not just white Anglophones, it seems to have mostly excluded Francophones from the history (and at least in the first season made no effort to include other ethnicities which might have been interesting to add complexity to the mosaic). And one could also quibble about a touch of homophobia in the depiction of the villainous gay Americans. Hour long episodes.- violence.-
FROSTBITE a.k.a. The Movie Out Here
* 1/2 setting: N.W.T./Ont.
(1995) Wendy Crewson, Mosha Cote, David Qamaniq, August Schmolzer, Robert Clothier, Seporah Ungalaq.....While visiting his home, an Inuk teen (Cote) rescues a mysteriously sick woman on the tundra, and then he and a hard-nosed reporter (Crewson) find evidence of an international cover-up. Nicely done drama with strong atmosphere is both helped and hindered by its really low-key approach to the story. It gives it some of its mood, but also robs it of any real intensity, let alone suspense. sc: Marc Strange. dir: David Greene. - partial female nudity.- 90 min.
FROZEN a.k.a. The Thaw
* 1/2 setting: CDN.
(1999) David La Haye, Louise Portal, Marie-Jo Therio, Patrice Godin, Martin Desgagne, Luc Proulx, Daniel Desjardins, Danica Arseneau.....Story of various characters in a small town when the local mill workers go on strike, focusing on a sexually confused young man (La Haye) involved in various relationships. Largely directionless drama is one of those films where (at least in the first half) the actors, delivering often opaque performances (particularly La Haye), mutter one or two largely inconsequential lines, followed by long stretches of mute scenes, then another line or two, then another long stretch... Might have worked better if the film truly evoked the realist feel it might've been aiming for, but director Jean seems more interested in setting up his artful, constructed shots rather than in the characters. At one point the characters start up a band, making one think of British films like "Brass", "The Commitments" or even "The Full Monty"...but that turns out to be a minor part of the film, and doesn't go anywhere. In French. sc: Rodrigue Jean, Nathalie Loubeyre (from the novel L'ennemi que je connais by Martin Pitre). dir: Rodrigue Jean. - sexual content, male nudity.- 92 min.
FULL CIRCLE a.k.a. The Haunting of Julia
FULL CIRCLE AGAIN
* setting: USA.
(1984) Robert Vaughn, Karen Black, Stephen Markle.....Boston scientist (Vaughn) murders his wife (Black), then meets a woman who looks just like her in California. Wooden performances and matching dialogue in this very boring suspense flick. sc: Mary MacPherson. dir: William Fruet.
* * * setting: USA.
(1999) Fred Ward, Christopher Plummer, Rachel Ticotin, Kim Coates, Penelope Ann Miller, Virginia Madsen, Nicholas Campbell, Roberta Maxwell, Dan Lauria.....A burned-out New York reporter (Ward), haunted by things he'd done in his youth, gets roped into sheltering a woman (Ticotin) hiding from the law. Then he learns she's wanted in connection to a Middle-Eastern motivated terrorist assassination (she says she's an innocent dupe) -- a case he's already in the middle of covering and, indeed, is the star reporter on. There's a feeling this suspense-drama could've been a classic, but falls a bit short: nonetheless, it's pretty good. Playing around with murky, grey-shade morality and themes of redemption, it's ambitious and nicely acted by Ward and Ticotin, with a respectable supporting cast. Though of the above names, only Plummer & Coates (as F.B.I. agents) and Campbell & Maxwell (as radicals who get Ward involved) are Canadian. Former teen star Chris Makepeace served as third assistant director and has a cameo as a pilot. a.k.a. All the Fine Lines. sc: Tony Johnston. dir: John Bradshaw. - violence.- 96 min.
FUN PARK a.k.a. Breaking
All the Rules
|FUTURE FANTASTIC (TV Limited Series)
* * *
(1996) (/U.K./U.S.).....Gillian Anderson hosted this look at new technologies and the possible shape of future life on earth, given a novel pop-cultural context by connecting it to old science fiction stories -- essentially how yesterday's fiction might become (or even have inspired) tomorrow's fact. Strangely atmospheric, entertaining BBC-produced series could be fun in its wide-eyed, "gee whiz, we'll believe anything" sort of way, whole-heartedly embracing claims about teleportation, immortality, artificial intelligence and others; rarely distinguishing between the probable, the possible, and the completely nutso. Engaging if taken with a grain of salt, more troubling if taken too seriously. In addition to its largely uncritical acceptance of alleged technology, it was often rather lax in asking hard questions about the morality of some of the advances glibly envisioned. Actress Anderson (an American, raised in England, and living in Vancouver while filming the U.S. science fiction/horror series "The X-Files" -- and therefore, no doubt, appeasing all production partners) was an appealing host and, since celebrities are hired for a show like this hoping to tap into a pre-existing fandom, it's worth noting that not only did she provide the voice-over, but she also appeared on-camera frequently in cut-away sequences. In a way, an interesting "factual" companion piece to Prisoners of Gravity. The series may have been somewhat trendsetting (for better or for worse): subsequently, a number of science fact programs started using the gimmick of connecting their themes and subjects with science fiction. The series' theme music was later released as part of a Compact Disc compilation partly selected by Anderson called "Future: A Journey Through the Electronic Underground", with Anderson providing (spoken word) vocals...and performing in the somewhat sultry accompanying video. Whether this series actually qualifies as Canadian is unsure, but, when aired in Canada, the end credits claimed it had been produced in "association" with Discovery Channel Canada. 9 half-hour episodes, shown in Canada on the Discovery Channel, but also edited together into 5 hour-long episodes for the States (I know, I can't figure out the math either).
F/X: The Illusion *
1/2 setting: USA.
(1996) Kevin Dobson, Cameron Daddo, Christina Cox, Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Waugh, Jason Blicker, Kim Coates, John Neville, Phillip Jarrett.....A New York movie special effects man (Daddo) and his cop buddy (Dobson) find themselves investigating when he gets framed for murder and smuggling. Made-for-TV suspenser was a sequel to the U.S. theatrical movies and a pilot to the weekly series. Professionally mounted but almost excrutiatingly tedious. Slow-moving and lacking the clever twists and scenes that a movie called "The Illusion" would imply. sc: John Fasano. dir: Paul Lynch. 91 min.
This TV series was based on the successful U.S. movie and its somewhat less successful sequel. Professionally done, with the acting, writing and direction all capable, and Dobson and Daddo reasonably personable, but unfortunately it wasn't much more. The weekly episodes were better than the pilot (F/X: The Illusion, reviewed separately) but it still tended to be draggy, often bringing in the con-job element late in the story and, even then, the "Stings" weren't usually all that clever...or suspenseful...or even funny. "Mission: Impossible" it ain't. Ultimately it wasn't terrible, but neither was it interesting enough to make must viewing. Ironically, Australian actor-singer Daddo had already appeared in one Canadian production (Golden Fiddles) and became a dual Canadian citizen during filming, subsequently appearing in a number of other Canadian-filmed programs, including the TV series Hope Island. Based on characters created by Robert T. Megginson, Gregory Fleeman. Two seasons of hour-long episodes (approximately 44) shown in Canada on CTV.
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