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.

WATCHERS  *  setting: USA.
(1988) (/U.S.) Corey Haim, Barbara Williams, Michael Ironside, Blu Mankuma, Lala, Duncan Fraser, Dale Wilson, Jason Priestley.....A genetically engineered dog befriends an American boy (Haim) while being pursued by government agents (Ironside and Mankuma) and a monster that kills anything in its path. Inane, low-budget horror plays like Littlest Hobo meets Terror Train. Dumb, seemingly juvenile scenes with the dog -- playing scrabble! - clash with the mindless violence of the monster. The dog gives the best performance, though Mankuma's O.K. Executive producer is U.S. B-movie king, Roger Corman. Followed by a sequel. sc: Bill Freed, Damian Lee (from the novel by Dean R. Koontz). dir: Jon Hess. - extreme violence.- 91 min.

THE WATCHTOWER   * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2001) Tom Berenger, Rachel Hayward, Tygh Runyon, Ralph Alderman, Mitchell Kosterman.....A serial killer (American actor Berenger), with a charismatic, motivational speaker's attitude, arrives in a small Washington town and takes a job at a lighthouse, where he ingratiates himself with his co-worker, an ex-delinquent (Runyon), and with the man's fisherwoman sister (Hayward). Suspense-drama is good looking, benefitting from decent performances from the principals and striking, atmospheric coastal scenery. And it even has some decent scenes. But the whole is just too thin and slow moving to really work. Maybe they should've dropped the opening scene and made Berenger's character more mysterious for the viewer, so that we're waiting to learn who he is and what his agenda is. As it is, there just isn't enough to sustain the viewer's curiosity. sc: Robert Geoffrion and Rod Browning & Dan Witt. dir: George Mihalka. - sexual content; partial female nudity.- 99 min.

WATER * * setting: other
(2005) Sarala, Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Manorma, Dr. Vidula Javalgekar, Raghuvir Yadav, Kulbushan Kharbanda, Vinay Pathak.....An Indian child bride (Sarala) is widowed on her wedding night and, in strict Indian Hindu tradition, where widows are expected to live chaste and largely removed from society for the rest of their lives, is sent to live in a poor commune of widows. Well intentioned, indignant drama, touching also on prostitution and child abuse. Though a period piece, the issue is still sufficiently relevant that it proved too controversial to film in India and was shot, instead, in Sri Lanka. But it suffers a bit because the social issues, the "expose", takes precedence, and the drama, the story, is kind of thin and slow moving, including a sub-plot involving one pretty widow (Canadian Ray) beginning a tentative relationship with a progresssive-thinking young man (Solomon). Good looking, boasting some striking cinematography, but with uneven performances. A difficult call, but it is a movie -- not an article, nor even a documentary -- and the result is a bit slow and thin. Filmed in the Hindi language. sc./dir: Deepa Mehta. 114 min.

WATER CHILD  see L'enfant d'eau

WATER DAMAGE   * * 1/2  setting: Ont.
(1998) Daniel Baldwin, Leslie Hope, Dean Stockwell, Laura Catalano, Mimi Kuzyk, Morgan Freeman, Eugene Lipinski, Roberta Maxwell, Peter Kelleghan, John Neville, Deborah Grover.....Man (Baldwin), troubled by the drowning death of his youngest son, finds strange things are happening around him, including murders, seeming connected to an incident from his boarding school days that he can't remember. Suspenser starts out seeming smart and off-beat, but gets pretty predictable (and frankly dumb in spots) as it goes along. Still, slickly assembled and maintains interest and, rarity of rarities, it's actually set in Canada! Child actor Freeman is no relation to the American movie star. Baldwin (one of the Baldwins) and Stockwell are Americans, but I think Baldwin may've moved to Canada. sc: Tony Johnston (from the novel by Gregory Ward). dir: Murray Battle. - sexual content, violence, brief male nudity.- 85 min.

WATER'S EDGE  * *  setting: USA.
(2004) Nathan Fillion, Chandra West, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Ralph Alderman, Daniel Baldwin, William MacDonald, Douglas O'Keefe, Daryl Shuttleworth .....Recovering from personal tragedy, an American couple (Fillion and West) retreat to his late father's semi-isolated cabin just outside of a sleepy small town, only to be caught up in local secrets when he rescues a woman (Vaugier) by killing her attacker who happens to be the local Sheriff! Rural noir suspense flick is good looking (benefiting from the B.C. scenery pretending it's the U.S.), good performances (especially Fillion, West and Alderman as an avuncular local), and some smart dialogue...but starts to unravel in the plotting. Slow-moving and thinly plotted (the mystery isn't particularly mysterious) and gets increasingly haphazard with erratic motivation -- one moment they're desperately concerned about the crime and what's going on...the next they're reflecting on their relationship, one moment they figure they have to get out of town fast...the next, they're sitting around casually and talking. Ambitious in some ways, but the serious character/marital discord aspect often collides with the pulpy thriller aspect. sc: Craig Brewer. dir: Harvey Kahn. - violence.- 96 min.

The Watershed see Short Films

THE WAY OF DUTY  * *  setting: USA.
(1994) (/U.S.) Nancy Palk, Richard Donat, Diana D'Aquila, Paul Boretski, Joanne Miller, Allan Royal, Ellis Williams, Tom McCamus.....True story of how during the American revolution, the wife (Palk) of State Attorney Selleck Silliman (Donat) must face the various political machinations involved in freeing her husband when he is kidnapped by Loyalists. Leave it to Canadians to do a movie about the American revolution, eh? Nicely acted, but the mannered performances and dialogue, though evoking the period, tend to make the story stilted and too dry -- like one of those Heritage Minutes expanded to a feature and relocated south. Recommended mainly to history buffs. a.k.a. Mary Silliman's War. sc: Steven Schechter, Louisa Burns-Bisogno (from the book by Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel Jr.). dir: Stephen Surjik. 93 min

THE WAY OF THE WEST  a.k.a. The Mountie

(2001) Fabrizio Filippo, Marya Delver, Gordon Currie, Tammy Isbell, Tobias Godson, Jennifer Clement, James McBurney, Don McKellar.....Misadventures during one day of an office worker (Filippo) in a downtown megaplex style complex where everything is connected (offices, malls, restaurants) and he's in the middle of a bet with co-workers to see who can go the longest without ever actually going outside. Kind of "Mallrats" for the corporate set (though not as successful) or a 21st Century answer to La vie heureseuse de Leopold Z (being about a guy who keeps getting sidetracked from his work). Low-key, at times surreal, comedy is hard to review. On one hand it's slick and stylishly put together with good performances (particularly Filippo). It's quirky and clever at times (as various plot threads weave in and out of each other, so that seeming disparate storylines end up dovetailing). And though it starts out seeming nihilistic, a moral centre slowly emerges. On the other hand, it doesn't always come together, with various characters and plot threads being strung along...and then not really being developed or resolving with any satisfaction. At times it's a smart, great movie...and other times kind of middling and needing a second polish. And emphasizing that these characters are living 24 hours a day in this office complex, with no fresh air, can leave the audience psychosomatically gasping for breath before too long (made worse by the fact that "freah air" is represented by downtown, exhaust-filled smog!). The comicbook allusion at the beginning is a hoot for comic fans. sc: Gary Burns, James Martin, Patrick McLaughlin. dir: Gary Burns. 83 min.


(1957-1990)  * * 1/2 Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster with (variously) Paul Kligman, Tom Harvey, Don Cullen, Roy Wordsworth, John Davies, Carol Robinson, Jack Duffy, Paul Soles, Marilyn Stuart, Peggy Mahon, Don Ewer, Bill Kemp, Keith Hampshire, Les Rubie, Lou Pitoscia, others; narrator: Bernard Cowan.....Sketch comedy series.

This comedy duo almost needs no introduction, so ingrained into the (English-)Canadian psyche have they become. Beginning in radio and then moving to TV, their style never really changed over the years: an odd blending of high and low-brow, parodying Shakespeare one minute and the latest movies and TV commercials the next, sophisticated wordplay mixed up with a lot of mugging and groan inducing puns. They have become icons as much for the mytho surrounding them as for their humour -- boasting a record number of appearances on the U.S. "Ed Sullivan Show", they apparently received big money offers from the U.S., but unlike other Canadian stars, they chose to stay in Canada (a smart decision, as it turned out, as they continued to get regular TV spots on the CBC long after their American contemporaries had been shown the door by U.S. programmers). An influence on many Canadian comedy shows like SCTV and Codco and perhaps even the American "Saturday Night Live" (SNL creator Lorne Michaels was once Shuster's son-in-law). 

A real hit and miss affair -- they could be really funny, but they could also be a touch dull, relying on too many running gags and double takes and thinly developed parodies. But their old fashioned, Vaudeville style comedy, rarely trying to be shocking or offensive, can actually become more appealing as the years go by, as a contrast to too many subsequent comedy troupes who are only about being shocking. Their indulgence in lengthy parodies (basically short movies, with scene changes and the like) was also an interesting contrast to many other troupes (even as it meant that the less funny sketches could ramble on). Though quick to parody Hollywood movies and commercials, the duo's willingness to admit their Canadianess (unlike so many) was refreshing, and by reflecting the times they lived through, they acted as kind of un-official chroniclers of the evolving Canadian experience (from bilingualism, to their Zorro spoof proclaiming his defense of anyone regardless of "race, creed, colour...or sexual orientation!") Their sketch about a Hollywood mogul hired to enliven the House of Commons Question Period is brilliant. Of course, other jokes, spoofing then-current commercial slogans, don't age as well but many of their gags ("I told him: 'Julie, don't go.'") have become quasi-classics. Their love of classics led to a lot of high brow spoofs with a low-brow mentality (spoofing Shakespearian plays by doing them as hardboiled murder mysteries) but also led to some genuinely clever, sophisticated sketches, such as their spoof of "Hamlet" in a Wild West setting. And if their "Shakespearian Baseball" sketch isn't regarded as a classic of English language comedy...I don't know what should be (their conceptually similar "Biblical Football", though not as clever, is still very good). And Trekkies might take note of their "Star Trek" spoof -- Star Trek has been spoofed by everyone from Codco to "Saturday Night Live" but, surprisingly, W&S's is arguably one of the most evocative (even mimicking music and camera shots), and sustained (clocking in at over half an hour). But, again, it's worth repeating they could be hit and miss, and are more likely to appeal to jaded adults, not afraid to chuckle at an obvious pun, than self-conscious teens looking for edgy and cutting (but such teens might try them again in ten or fifteen years). 

Despite their longevity, there weren't too many examples of later-day celebrities starting out here, or making early appearances, but a couple include SCTV alumni Catherine O'Hara (in a bit part as a maid in an "Upstairs, Downstairs" spoof, "The Chippendales") and a very young Cynthia Dale (during a musical number). A retrospective special in 1991, hosted by Shuster after Wayne's death, shows some of their best stuff and was titled The Wayne & Shuster Years. Originally hour long specials shown irregularly on the CBC, but subsequently the colour episodes were repackaged as half hour episodes for syndication (with the longer sketches serialized over two episodes) or re-edited into new specials such as 1997's "Wayne & Shuster's Masterschtick Theater". A collection of their black and white sketches was aired as a new series, Wayne & Shuster in Black and White



(1996-1997)  * * *  Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster.....Frank Shuster hosts this compilation of the comedy duo's early, black and white sketches from the '50s and '60s.

Many of them were redone in colour, making some of the sketches familiar ground, but thanks to the shorter half-hour format, some judicious editing, and presumably a "best of..." mentality in the choosing of skits -- as well as the fact that the duo may have been just a little more in their prime (and element) during the raw days of live TV -- makes this even better than the colour series. One season of 22 half-hour episodes on the CBC.

(1991) Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster.....Shuster hosts this compilation of some of the duo's best skits, assembled after Wayne's death. Fine retrospective, made originally for CBC TV, is a stripped-down, lean, mean W & S: good for a few belly laughs. 76 min.

WE ALL FALL DOWN * * setting: B.C.
(2000) Darcy Belsher, Martin Cummins, Francoise Robertson, Nicholas Campbell, Helen Shaver, Rene Auberjonois, Barry Pepper, Ryan Reynolds, Richard C. Burton, Raquel Meade.....Young man (Belsher) sinks into drugs, along with his best friend (Cummins), while grieving over the death of his mother. Inner city drama boasts scenes that are well written, well directed and well acted, but the parts are greater than the sum. It seems like the sort of movie actors would love to do (actors Cummins and Burton wrote it, Cummins directed, and Cummins, his Poltergeist: The Legacy co-star Shaver, and Cummins' actress wife, Brandy Ledford, who has a bit as a waitress, were among the executive producers) for its "edgy" scenes, and many donated their time, but the overall narrative is a bit aimless. Allegedly semi-autobiographical on Cummins part (Belsher plays his surrogate) but there's little insight into the characters, while a pivotal romance is coolly handled, and the ending trite. Belsher seems kind of spaced out even when he's supposed to be kicking! Undoubtedly a labour of love, and not uninteresting, but it doesn't quite come together. Still, actor Cummins has certainly established himself as a talent to watch behind the camera, and though he just came off a ritzy, set-in-the-USA series (Poltergeist), this movie is adamantly set in Canada -- so kudos for that. Shaver received the Best Supporting Actress Genie. American actor Auberjonois has a kind of thankless role as a homeless guy, and Belsher's mother is played by Ocean Hellman (the little girl from Danger Bay -- man, I feel old). sc: Martin Cummins, Richard C. Burton. dir: Martin Cummins. 91 min.

WE THE JURY  * * *  setting: USA.
(1996) (/U.S.) Kelly McGillis, Lauren Hutton, Christopher Plummer, Nicholas Campbell, Conrad Dunn, Nicky Guadagni, Janet Wright, Stuart Hughes, George Touliatos, Karen Robinson, Maruska Stankova, Tyrone Benskin, Anais Granofsky, Carol Ng, Barry Flatman, Roberta Maxwell, David Hemblen.....Story of a trial of an American celebrity (Hutton) accused of murderering her husband, and the jury's heated deliberations. Made-for-TV drama is a pulpier, poor man's "Twelve Angry Men" (and maybe a neo-conservative response to that classic, superb American drama) but still compelling. Good performances all around; despite "name" Americans McGillis (as a level-headed juror) and Hutton and Canucks Plummer and Campbell, most of the story's real meat and potatoes comes from the supporting cast. sc: Philip Rosenberg. dir: Sturla Gunnarsson. 91 min.

WEDDING IN WHITE  * * *  setting: Ont.
(1972) Donald Pleasence, Carol Kane, Doris Petrie, Leo Phillips, Paul Bradley, Doug McGrath.....During W.W. II, a young girl (import Kane) in a dead-end town becomes pregnant after being raped, and her father (import Pleasance) is concerned only with protecting the family honour. Down-beat but well-paced and atmospheric drama, marred by being overly mannered in its dialogue and performances. Won three Etrogs including Best Picture and Supporting Actress. sc./dir: William Fruet (from his play and his directorial debut). - sexual content.- 106 min.

WEEP NO MORE MY LADY *  setting: other
(1991) (/France) Daniel J. Travanti, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Robin Renucci, Stephane Audran, Francesca Annis, Shelley Winters, George Touliatos.....A difficult, distraught U.S. movie star, making a film near a French health spa, is murdered and her husband (Travanti) is the chief suspect. Good-looking but awful suspenser has some pretty uninspired performances. One of the Mary Higgins Clark Collection. sc: Robert Levine, Michel Andrieu, screen story Leila Basen (fron the novel by Mary Higgins Clark). dir: Michel Andrieu. 92 min.

(1977) (/U.K.) Jack Palance, Keir Dullea, Samantha Eggar, Hollis McLaren, Chris Wiggins, Barry Morse, Allan Royale, Henry Ramer, John Evans, Jack Creley.....In the near future, an amnesic man (Dullea) finds himself with others mysteriously in a nightmare version of an old wild west town. Strangely neglected science fiction pic. Strange because, though marred by gritty unpleasantness at times, this is an intelligent suspenser, with lots of fine performances and good dialogue...though Dullea probably found it reminiscent of a cross between The Starlost and Paperback Hero. Superior to a lot of better known and better circulated Canadian-made fantasy films. sc: Stephen Schneck, Michael Winder. dir: Peter Sasdy. - violence.- 96 min.

WELCOME TO CANADA  * *  setting: Nfld.
(1989) Madonna Hawkins, Anandprasad Pathunjali, David Sullivan, Murugesu Sivanesan, Charlene Bluff, Nirmalan Masilamany, Des Walsh, Sinnakili Baskaran.....Story of Tamil refugees who wash ashore in a small Newfoundland village, and of the villagers who take them in. The NFB's ultra-realist style (using non-actors and a semi-improvised script) seen so effectively in other films falters here. A concept in search of a story. Lots of shots of the Rock and Sri Lanka, but the dialogue scenes never suck you in. sc: John N. Smith, Sam Grana. dir: John N. Smith. - violence.- 89 min.


(1998-1999) (/U.S.)  * *  Cast: various......Science fiction anthology with the unusual premise that all the stories are supposed to take place in the near-future (U.S.) city of Betaville. American actor Michael Philip played the host.

This TV series was a slightly lower-budgeted cousin to the new Outer Limits, and suffered from similar problems of too often having poorly developed stories based on, frankly, not very fresh ideas -- though there was, thankfully, less emphasis on militarism. Characterization was often shaky, and the "messages" muddled, as if the writers often lost track of what they were writing...and why (conversely, other episodes were way too obvious and straightforward). DOESN'T ANYONE KNOW HOW TO WRITE DRAMA ANYMORE???

The Betaville concept could have been intriguing, but there was little attempt to really create or emphasize a consistent background (such as by using recurring background characters, obviously common fashion designs, reusing the same locations -- restaurants, etc. -- in different episodes) making it kind of a nothing gimmick. The series based most episodes on published short stories, but, instead of searching out the best, edgiest stories to freshen up the stale TV landscape, the producers seemed too often to choose stories that most resembled, well, tired old TV episodes (unless they were great stories that were just rewritten into oblivion, which often happens, too). Like most Canadian-made co-productions, each episode featured an imported Hollywood actor, most of whom were competent, but unspectacular. The episodes ranged from O.K. to pretty poor...just like the new Outer Limits. Created by Lewis B. Chesler (who also "created" The Hitchhiker and Strangers, though I still question how you can "create" an anthology series without at least writing some of the episodes, particularly ones with such vague premises) and developed by Jeremy Lipp. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Showcase.

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