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.
 
 

WOJECK (TV Series)

(1967-1968)  * * * 1/2  John Vernon ("Steve Wojeck"), Patricia Collins ("Marty Wojeck"), Ted Follows ("Arnold Bateman"), Carl Banas ("Sgt. Byron James"), with Sean Sullivan, Gerard Parkes, others.....Drama about a crusading, tough-as-nails Toronto Chief Coroner (Vernon) -- loosely inspired by Mort Shulman -- who fought the system on issues such as abortion, racism, homosexuality and auto safety. Collins played his wife; Follows his friend, the obstinant Crown Attorney; and Banas the cop who did his leg work. Sullivan played a cop, and Parkes another coroner.

Short-lived (despite terrific ratings) this TV series had more guts and nerve than practically any other series anywhere, before or since, and is still a little daring, even by today's standards, both in what it said and how -- including use of flashbacks and jumbled narrative techniques. Its influence can be seen in the U.S. series "Quincy" and many Canadian ones including Sidestreet, Night Heat and Street Legal (especially the character of Leon). Vernon was excellent and the on-screen chemistry between him and Collins was electric, but the series belonged to the stories and the issues. Dated in some ways, lacking subtlety and technical finesse, but still powerful and provocative. Look for a young Margot Kidder in the episode "After All, Who's Art Morrison Anyway?". A TV movie sequel, Wojeck: Out of the Fire, was aired in 1992. Best bets: the highly regarded "The Last Man on Earth", about a native Indian's suicide; "Listen! An Old Man is Speaking", about an outspoken old man, shunted aside by society. 20 hour long episodes (including 2 two-parters) in black and white and colour on the CBC. When the series was shown on Showcase in 1995, even the colour episodes were broadcast in black and white -- perhaps to give the series a uniform look, or perhaps recognizing that the black and white episodes are regarded as having more atmosphere; one e-mailer pointed out that sometimes shows used to be transferred to black and white film for distribution copies (as film was a more universal medium than video) which might also explain why Showcase had B&W versions of colour episodes.

WOJECK: Out of the Fire * * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1992) John Vernon, Patricia Collins, Christianne Hirt, Dominic Zamprogna, Ted Follows, Michael Hogan, Alan Jordan, Maurice Dean Wint.....Former crusading coroner Steve Wojeck (Vernon) returns to T.O. after 21 years in Africa and must deal with his doctor daughter and ex-wife (Hirt and Collins) while trying to help an illegal immigrant family. The hero of the revolutionary late '60s hit CBC TV series returns with class despite a troubled production history. Excellent, moody direction, a haunting score, sharp, intelligent dialogue, and fine performances all go to make this a success, though the plotting is awfully thin. And the issues -- the backbone of the original -- seem a little soft-peddled. Wojeck, the character, has lost none of his bite or venom, but Wojeck, the movie, seems a little...safe. Still, on a technical level (the nuanced performances from the leads, the artful dialogue, and the thoughtful direction) this remains one of the best made TV movies ever produced in Canada. sc: Malcom MacRury (story Ian Sutherland). dir: George Bloomfield. 89 min.

"The Wolf Hunters", a story by James Oliver Curwood, served, in part, as the source for the cable TV movie, Warrior Spirit

WOLFCOP   * 1/2 setting: USA.
(2014) Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, Sarah Lind, Aidan Devine, Corinne Conley, Jesse Moss.....An alcoholic Sheriff's Deputy (Fafard) in a small American town finds himself turning into a werewolf and discovering there may be a secret witch's coven operating in the town. Horror-comedy is meant to be a kind of Drive-In movie/grindhouse homage sort of affair. It has perfectly fine actors and manages to seem a bit more expensive than you might expect (in terms of shapeshifting, copious gore, and even explosions). Unfortunately it isn't meant to be taken seriously (in terms of the audience being in suspense or caring about the characters) but it's not really trying to be funny-funny -- more just tongue-in-cheek. So it comes across a bit like a student film made for a small circle of friends. The first half is pretty familiar material for the genre, then switches in the second half to the title concept (with the character patrolling the streets as a cop/werewolf). But being "goofy" and being "funny" isn't necessarily the same thing. It got its start through a crowdfunding campaign but it's unlikely to reach beyond its niche audience to whom a werewolf in a cop uniform dismembering crooks and urinating on people is the height of hilarity. A sequel was announced during the closing credits! sc./dir: Lowell Dean. - extreme violence; partial female nudity; male nudity; sexual content.- 79 min.

WOLVES * * 1/2 setting: USA.
(2013) (/U.S.) Lucas Till, Merritt Patterson, Stephen McHattie, Jason Momoa, John Pyper-Ferguson, Janet-Laine Green, Brandon McGibbon, Kaitlyn Leeb.....After discovering he's a werewolf and becoming implicated in a murder, a teenager (American actor Till) makes his way to a small town largely populated by werewolves, where the moderate townies are locked in a struggle with a more feral, murderous clan (led by Momoa). A werewolf movie that tries to avoid any one cliché of the genre simply by borrowing from multiple sources. It starts out seeming a bit like "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," then quickly segues into scenes of the character on the road (as though a set up for a weekly TV series) before settling into the small-town-divided contemporary western theme; there's humour and action (it's more an action movie than a horror movie) with a kind of teen fantasy vibe (given the age of the hero and his romantic interest) yet also with some gory violence (though mild compared to some modern horror films) and a steamy (if very brief) sex scene (slightly more extensive in the "unrated" cut). The movie is well put together with a good pace and mostly good performances, especially among the supporting cast -- McHattie, Momoa, Pyper-Ferguson (almost unrecognizable as a one-eyed cowboy) and with the likes of Glen Gould and Adam Butcher in thankless bit parts. But it never quite becomes more than a collection of familiar ideas, not always developing its own concepts (like justifying why a freshman werewolf is tough enough to threaten an entire clan of experienced werewolves). And the problem with trying to shake up the werewolf genre by grafting it onto another template is it can feel like they've just inserted hirsute people into another genre. You could've told almost the exact same story without the characters being werewolves! (Indeed, Green -- here playing McHattie's wife -- years ago co-starred in the rural-clan movie Bullies). sc./dir: David Hayter. - extreme violence; brief female nudity; sexual content.- 90 min.

A WOMAN IN TRANSIT see La Femme de l'hotel

WOMAN ON THE RUN: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story (TVMS)  * * 1/2 setting: USA./Ont.
(1993) (/U.S.) Tatum O'Neal, Bruce Greenwood, Peggy McCay, Colin Fox, Alex MacArthur, Kenneth Welsh, Saul Rubinek, Catherine Disher, Victor Garber.....True story of American "Bambi" Bembenek (O'Neal) a one-time cop and whistle-blower convicted of murder on, what many considered, highly suspect evidence, and her eventual flight to Canada. Drama starts out weakly but becomes better, and more compelling, in the second half. Strong cast, but American actress O'Neal is too weak, both as an actress and as a character (though, likewise, improves). 4 hours. sc./dir: Sandor Stern (from the book Woman on Trial by Lawrencia Bembenek).

Woman on Trial, Lawrencia Bembenek's book, was the source for the Global mini-series Woman on the Run.

A WOMAN SCORNED  * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1994) (/U.S.) Andrew Stevens, Shannon Tweed, Stephen Young, Kim Morgan Greene, Michael D. Arenz, Dan McVicar, Paul W. Carr, Perla Walters.....After her husband's (McVicar) suicide, an American (Tweed) goes after the man (Stevens) she holds responsible, ingratiating herself into his dysfunctional family and seducing his son (Arenz), and also him and his beautiful wife (Greene). Only slightly erotic suspenser is often silly and unbelievable and lacks someone to root for...even the dead hubbie was an S.O.B. O.K. performances, particularly Greene. Stevens and Canadian Tweed have made a bunch of these sorts of "erotic-thrillers", but this is the first with any Canadian involvement, and even then it's pretty minor. Young, prominently billed despite having just a bit part, was presumably added as Can-Con. sc: Barry Avrich (story Karen Kelly). dir: Andrew Stevens. - partial female and male nudity, explicit sexual content.- 103 min.

WOMAN WANTED * * 1/2 setting: USA.
(1999) Holly Hunter, Kiefer Sutherland, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Preston, Jackie Richardson.....A perky housekeeper (imported Hunter) comes to stay with a dysfunctional family comprised of a middle aged professor (Moriarty) and his troubled, belligerent, adult son (Sutherland). Drama boasts nice performances from the three leads and a brisk tempo and maintains interest. But it's one of those stories where the very quirks, neurosies, and eccentricities of the characters can make them seem a little too much like players in a story rather than real people, rendering the whole thing a little mannered. And though there are scenes that seem intended to be comic, they come across more as light-hearted rather than actually funny. Sutherland, apparently, directed, but must have been sufficiently dissatisfied, or felt the project was taken away from him by the Canadian producers, that he substituted the standard industry pseudonym of Alan Smithee for Canadian prints of the movie. The American version, apparently, adheres closer to his intent and that version still has his name on it. sc: Joanna McLelland Glass (from her novel). dir: Alan Smithee. 96 min.

The Words  see No

Workin' for Peanuts  * *  setting: USA.
(1985) Carl Marotte, Jessica Steen, Shawn Thompson, August Schellenberg, John Hemphill, Doug Lennox.....Story of a working class teen-aged sports stadium vendor (Marotte) who begins wooing a rich girl (Steen). Competent but ultimately ineffective youth-aimed hour long drama doesn't really come together as either a romance or a socio-political thesis. And this is no Romeo & Juliet, choosing instead to reinforce class distinctions, rather than criticize them. First aired on Global. sc: Marisa Gioffre (from the book by Todd Strasser). dir: Martin Lavut.
 

WORKING THE ENGELS (TV Series)

(2014)  (/U.S.) * * *   Andrea Martin ("Ceil Engel"), Kacey Rohl ("Jenna Engel"), Azura Skye ("Sandy Karinsky"), Benjamin Arthur ("Jimmy Engel").....Sitcom about a level-headed young lawyer (Rohl) who takes over her dead father's small law office, and somewhat reluctantly employs her ne'er-do-well family: her self-absorbed mother (Martin), her flaky, New Age sister (Skye) and her guileless, ex-crook brother (Arthur). Though the law office setting provides some story ideas, equally it's just a generic sitcom, with other plot lines that have little to do with the law.

This sitcom, with its premise of a person taking over the family business after the loss of the patriarch, and trying to keep the eccentric family together, has a vague echo of "Arrested Development" -- in concept, not style or intent. In style and intent, it's just aiming to be an entirely familiar, nee comfortable, mainstream sitcom -- part of the wave of "American-ized" Canadian sitcoms that programmers seem to feel is the next big thing in Canadian TV (and it had a brief airing on American TV). Though unlike some of the others, Working the Engels isn't quite as desperate to pretend it isn't Canadian, even tossing in occasional Canadianisms. It started out a bit bland but, within two or three episodes, seemed to have found a good groove, delivering chuckles and laughs with reasonable confidence. Perhaps the biggest weakness is just the plots themselves, and a lack of emotional connect with the characters -- the actors are fine, the gags delivered well, but the stories can be a little too obviously just comic contrivances that don't necessarily involve you in how they'll turn out. But even then, the characters -- particularly Rohl's straight-woman lead -- do grow on you. Worth a look in. But though an enjoyable, respectable effort, it didn't particularly stand out and was cancelled after one season. Created by Katie Ford, Jane Ford. Half-hour episodes on Global.


 

WORLD WITHOUT END (TVMS) * * 1/2  setting: other.
(2012) (/U.K./Germany) Cynthia Nixon, Ben Chaplin, Charlotte Riley, Rupert Evans, Tom Weston-Jones, Nora von Waldstätten, Peter Firth, Miranda Richardson, Blake Ritson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aure Atika.....Sprawling 14th Century saga of machinations, treachery, secrets and star crossed affairs ranging from the small English town of Kingsbridge and its associated Catholic priory to the English court and the battlefields of France -- focusing, at least in part, on a headstrong young woman (Riley). Thematic sequel to The Pillars of the Earth (set generations later, none of the characters or plot threads follow from the previous series, but it's a "sequel" in that it involves the same town, and echoes narrative themes and plot ideas). As such...it's a bit of a disappointment. Not so much because it's bad, as it fails to live up to Pillars of the Earth, despite the same production company, the same screenwriter, and the same novelist (though some suggested this adaptation strayed further from the source novel than did Pillars of the Earth). The Pillars of the Earth somehow managed to take material that (at times) could border on cheesy soap opera with cartoony villains and raise it to the level of high drama...and this doesn't quite do the same, the villains almost campy at times, the drama at times aggravating (as the good heroes are repeatedly betrayed and mistreated by the corrupt villains in positions of power over them -- secular and ecclesiastical). With that said, it improves as it goes, and as the actors settle into their roles, and -- significantly -- as the plotting starts to chart out its own course (about half way through) and seem less like simply a recycling of Pillars of the Earth. As the nominal lead (in the ensemble), Riley is fetching and appealing enough (though Weston-Jones is a bit bland as her love interest). And various supporting turns make good impressions (though some continue to be billed in the opening credits...long after their characters are killed off!). The few Canadian actors -- Carlo Rota, Tatiana Maslany, Meghan Follows and Sarah Gadon -- are in fairly minor roles). A little more PG than Pillars of the Earth -- that is, there's still violent battles and racy and lurid material, just filmed in a more TV friendly way. 8 hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Showcase. sc: John Pielmeier (from the novel by Ken Follett). dir: Michael Caton-Jones. - violence; sexual content.-

THE WORLD'S A PLAY a.k.a. Gold: The World's a Play

The Worst Soccer Team Ever, the comic children's novel by William Taylor, was turned into part of the limited series All For One

WOULD BE KINGS (TVMS)  * *  setting: Ont.
(2008) Currie Graham, Ben Bass, Natasha Henstridge, Robert Forster, Stephen McHattie, Stana Katic, Clare Stone, Maxim Roy, Matt Gordon, Paulino Nunes, Joeis Jarsky.....Story of two cousins and big city cops, one, a respected ranking officer (Graham) and the other a drug addict one step away from dismissal (Bass) -- and how the former slowly finds himself drawn into corruption even as the latter is transferred to Internal Affairs. Ambitious crime-thriller can kind of be seen as CTV's answer to CBC's Dragon Boys. It boasts a good cast all around, moody direction, and some nicely written scenes...but ultimately the whole is less than the sum of the parts, becoming unintentionally silly in the second half! It never quite shakes the feeling that too much of it is a film noire cliché and despite the ambitious concept in the character progression (the "good" cop goes bad and the "bad" cop goes good) doesn't fully pull it off. Frankly both characters start out kind of sleazy and remain kind of sleazy. And for a story all about the characters, it has trouble making the relationships gel, emotionally. Like a lot of mini-series, part of it seems too protracted, as if they're desperately padding the running time...even as, in other ways, it seems choppy and abrupt, as if they needed more time to develop it (like having an extended, teary-eyed funeral scene in the second half for a character whose relationship to the leads didn't seem that significant in the first half!) Ultimately with all its good points, and the nice fact that CTV would commission a mini-series that is just entertainment (as opposed to some "wrenched from the headlines" docudrama), you want to root for it...but it misfires on too many crucial cylinders. Billed as being based on Shakespeare's Henry IV -- though one suspects that was more a marketing gimmick. 4 hours. sc: Tassie Cameron, Esta Spalding. dir: Peter Wellington. - violence, sexual content.-

WOUNDED  * *  setting: USA.
(1996) Madchen Amick, Adrian Pasdar, Graham Greene, Jim Beaver, Francois Chau, Daniel Kash.....U.S. Park Ranger (Amick) is severely wounded by an uber-poacher (Pasdar), who also kills her boyfriend and some F.B.I. agents. But, while recovering, she's strangely unco-operative with the authorities...because she wants personal revenge. Suspense-drama is a very familiar, simply-plotted "hero plots revenge on baddie" story...but tries hard to be more thoughtful and psychologically driven than that. It seems almost like it was conceived as a low-brow action flick, with some cardboard characters and unrealistic dialogue (Greene's description of all the people he's killed and the friends he's lost in the line of duty kind of makes you ask: where's he a cop -- Beirut!?!), then re-imagined as something more highbrow. But it doesn't quite pull off the metamorphosis. It wants to be deliberately paced and introspective...but ends up more slow-moving and listless, with Amick a little too blank in the lead, though Pasdar is O.K. and Greene adds some spark part way through as a cop with his own emotional baggage. Half the cast seem to be American imports. sc: Harry S. Longstreet, Lindsay Bourne. dir: Richard Martin. - violence.- 94 min.

THE WRATH OF GRAPES: The Don Cherry Story II (TVMS) * * 1/2  setting: CDN./USA.
(2012) Jared Keeso, Sarah Manninen, Tyler Johnston, Barclay Hope, Jonathan Watton, Rick Roberts, Stephen McHattie.....Continuing the story of Don "Grapes" Cherry (Keeso) focusing, in part, on his long, controversial time as a TV sports commentator, and his conflicts with the network brass -- but also interspersed with flashbacks to his youth (played by Johnston) and his pro hockey days. At times, seeming less like a sequel to the previous mini-series (Keep Your Head Up, Kid) as much as a re-take, overlapping some of the same periods (including McHattie reprising his role as tyrannical coach Eddie Shore) presumably because there were anecdotes and incidents they couldn't work in the first time around. The result, though no doubt pleasing to Cherry fans, can seem a bit like just a string of vignettes and anecdotes -- some interesting, some amusing, some kind of dull or pointless -- rather than a movie. Ironically, the first mini-series was written by Cherry's own son...but it's this one that seems even more sycophantically fawning (you keep waiting for Cherry to cure lepers!) and more clearly endorsing Cherry's controversial and conservative views (people who like Cherry are portrayed as sympathetic, well rounded characters...and those who don't are snivelling cartoons that might as well be twiddling sinister mustaches!) Picks up a bit in the second half, re-capturing a bit more of the feet-of-clay humour of the first mini-series, and particularly benefitting from scenes involving Watton as Cherry's co-host Ron McLean, a character who can give as good as he gets. Well-acted all around, with Manninen a scene stealer as Rose Cherry. Ultimately...entertaining in fits and starts, but the episodic nature of it means you could probably find yourself channel surfing periodically. 4 hours. sc: Andrew Wreggitt. dir: Jeff Woolnough.

THE WRONG GUY  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(1997) Dave Foley, David Higgins, Colm Feore, Jennifer Tilly, Joe Flaherty, Dan Redican, Alan Scarfe, Richard Chevolleau.....American executive (Foley), mistakenly believing he's suspected of murder, goes on the lam...his path unwittingly intersecting with that of the real killer, a professional assassin (Feore). Comedy-spoof starts out uneven, though it's not aggravating the way so many Canadian comedies can be, then gets better, inducing more and more chuckles, and some genuine belly laughs. It's even clever in spots (like a turnabout parody of farmer vs. bankers movies). Worth keeping an eye out for if you like silly humour...though it should've been funnier -- and the usual penchant for hyper-Americanism in this Canadian movie is distracting. Extremely snazzy opening credits are meant as a homage to the '60s-style/Hitchcockian films it's parodying. Look for one of Foley's Kids in the Hall buddies as a motel clerk; director (and one-time actor) Steinberg as a guy in a neck brace; and the pop band the Barenaked Ladies as musically inclined cops. sc: Dave Foley, David Higgins, Jay Kogen. dir: David Steinberg. - violence.- 91 min.

WRONG NUMBER  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2002) Brigitte Bako, David Lipper, Kane Picoy, Barry Blake, Eric Roberts, Cas Anvar, Simon Peacock, Jo Marr, Karen Cliche, Chip Chiupka.....A wealthy businessman (Roberts) is murdered, and suspicion falls on either his widow (Bako) or his partner (Lipper). Surprisingly off-beat suspenser (it begins being narrated by Roberts' ghost!). Although with its jumbled way of telling the story -- piling on flashbacks within flashbacks, dramatized speculations, and dream sequences -- it can blur the line between being convoluted...and just plain confusing. It suffers a little from straight-to-video flaws (including some uneven performances) but it's also a lot cleverer and wittier than you'd expect. Worth a look. sc./dir: Richard Middleton (story Lorna Lambert). - violence, partial female nudity.- 96 min.

THE WYVERN * * setting: USA.
(2008) (/U.S.) Nick Chinlund, Erin Karpluk, Barry Corbin, Don S. Davis, Elain Miles, Tinsel Korey, Simon Longmore, John Shaw, Karen Austin, David Lewis.....The denizens of a small Alaskan town find themselves under siege by a flying dragon-like creature. Modestly-budgeted flick is a mash-up between a creature feature and an episode of "Northern Exposure" (the American comedy-drama about a quirky Alaskan town -- the movie has some similar character archetypes, and Corbin and Miles were even regulars in "Northern Exposure"!) A good cast, with some wry humour, the result is certainly going for an atypical vibe for a "horror" flick (although perhaps evocative of "Lake Placid") but to mixed effect. The humour undermines much sense of gravitas (though there is more suspense in the latter part) without being funny enough to make it a true comedy-drama, and for all the emphasis on the eccentric characters, it doesn't really develop them enough to make you care. Put another way, arguably it's a good version of a mediocre movie...rather than a mediocre version of a good movie. Still, perhaps worth a look by horror fans tired of truly bad horror flicks. Though a "wyvern" is dragon out of myth, I don't think its origins are in Norse mythology as a character here states. Davis' final film. sc: Jason Bourque. dir: Steven R. Monroe. - extreme violence.- 89 min.

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