WHALE RIDER: Written and directed by Niki Caro, based on the 1986 novel by Witi Ihimaera. Produced by Tim Sanders, John Barnett, Frank Hubner. Cinematography, Leon Narbey. Editor, David Coulson. Music, Lisa Gerrard. Production design, Grant Major. Maori cultural adviser, Hone Taumaunu. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton and Cliff Curtis. Newmarket Films, 2003. PG-13. 102 minutes.
This film has much to recommend, but one of the most important is its evocation of place. The Maori of New Zealand are very active participants in the place where they live. Every tribe has its marae, a large piece of land and associated building. The people of Whangara, a coastal village on the East Coast of the North Island, have a marae that faces the bay and a distinctive, beautifully decorated meeting house where all tribal events of significance take place.
However, these people have witnessed the decline of their culture. Young people move to the cities; unable to find work, they turn to alcohol, drugs or else become thugs. When the film opens, customs and native language are being lost, and old tribal ways are dying out.
So it's a pleasant surprise that in this village, school children learn to perform Kapa Haka, the Maori songs, dances and myths that sustained the people for many centuries. Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) loves the old lore. She is eager to perform, especially for her grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), an elder tribal chief, who picks up the girl at school every day on his ancient bicycle. Grandfather believes that Pai's twin brother, who died at birth, with their mother, would have become the new leader of the Ngati Konohi, a subtribe of other Maori who live along the coast. But a girl? Never!
Pai is pretty young to harbor such ambition, yet she is determined to show Koro that she is capable of learning what a chief must know. But he rebuffs the girl's attempts to connect with him. His cruel words and dismissive attitude are hurtful. But we know something from watching her that neither Pai herself nor Koro know: She is a natural leader, and her decisions will democratize the way the people approach their collective spiritual, tribal life. After all, her father named her Paikea for the (male) tribal ancestor who the myth says arrived in the village on the back of a whale, a legend 1,000 years old.
One of the film's few subplots involves old grudges between Koro and Pai's father, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), who has made a name for himself as an artist in Europe. He doesn't come to the village often, though he loves Pai. But the old man cannot forgive his eldest son for not following the old ways. Koro wanted to teach Porourangi the war movements called haka, Maori weaponry and traditional chant. But instead Koro must teach the village lads, while Pai secretly observes and practices.
Grandmother Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton) is the intermediary between Pai and Koro, but she is no pushover. She stands up to her prickly husband and is also a cultural leader. He may rule the tribal government, she says, but at home she's the boss. So when she suddenly packs up Pai's things, the 12-year old knows that it is time for her to stay elsewhere until Koro returns to himself. He has suffered a great disappointment over the poor performance of the boys he's been training.
Paikea, which also means "whale," emerged from the watery world at this spectacular bay. Whales still visit, and they are very special to members of the tribe. When Pai needs to be alone, she walks out to the large outrigger canoe abandoned by her father long ago and looks at the bay, waiting for a sign. One of the loveliest scenes is Pai singing to the whales, calling them in a whale-like chant from this boat on land.
A perfect film for older kids and parents, Niki Caro's film not only empowers girls to dream big but also shows how traditional male roles can be re-shaped to include everyone, equally. Opens Wednesday, July 2 at the Bijou. Winner of Sundance 2003 audience award, this film is very highly recommended.
Dumb & Dumberer: Prequel is subtitled When Harry Met Lloyd and stars Derek Richardson and Eric Christian Olsen as the 1994 Dumb and Dumber duo in high school. Directed by Troy Miller, with Eugene Levy, Cheri Oteri and Luis Guzmán. PG-13. Movies 12.
From Justin to Kelly: "American Idol" stars Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini in a beach party mood. PG. Movies 12.
Man Apart, A: If you've seen the trailer, you know that Vin Diesel is an undercover cop you don't want to mess with, especially after some sorry drug dealer scum breaks into his home. The New York Times' Dave Kehr calls it "a bread-and-butter action film." Directed by F. Gary Gray. R. Movies 12.
View from the Top: Bruno Barreto directs this 1960s era comedy about a girl's dream of becoming a first-class international flight attendant. Stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Mark Ruffalo and Candice Bergen. PG-13. Movies 12.
Wild Thornberry's, The: Animated film about a girl who talks to and understands animals. She goes to Africa with her parents, nature filmmakers, and her best friend, a chimp. Voices include Lacy Chabert, Rupert Everett, Marisa Tomei, Tim Curry, Brenda Blethyn, Lynn Redgrave and Obba Babatunde. Directed by Jeff McGrath and Cathy Malkasian. PG. At 10 am 7/8 only. Movies 12.
Alex & Emma: Rob Reiner directs Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson in a comedy romance based on a short story by Dostoyevsky. Wilson plays a writer who has to finish a book on deadline or deal with gambling debts to the mob. Hudson is a secretary with ideas about his book. Also stars, Sophie Marceau, Cloris Leachman and David Paymer. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.
Anger Management: Adam Sandler plays a man who must undergo anger management. His shrink, played by Jack Nicholson, moves in with him. Also stars Marisa Tomei. PG-13. Movies 12.
Bend It Like Beckham: Soccer-crazy girls in London suburb drive their respective families crazy because they'd rather play soccer than think about marriage and shopping. Warm-hearted, generous film is likely to be a big hit. Get onboard early and enjoy! Highly recommended. PG-13. Cinema World. Online archives.
Bringing Down the House: Domestic comedy starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifa is directed by Adam Shankman. PG-13. Movies 12.
Bruce Almighty: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston star in this tale of a at TV reporter, who has a really bad day, rages against God and receives more than he expected. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.
Charlie's Angels Full Throttle: McG again directs the angels — Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and ex-angel Demi Moore — to save the government's witness protection program, from which classified info has been stolen. Written by John August. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.
Daddy Day Care: Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin lose their jobs and can't afford day care for their sons, so they open their own facility. Comedy directed by Steve Carr also stars Anjelica Huston, Steve Zahn and Regina King. PG. Cinema World.
Finding Nemo: Pixar (Toy Story) presents this computer-animated fantasy of two Clownfish, Marlin and his son Nemo, who get separated in the Great Barrier Reef. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton (A Bug's Life), with voices by Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Allison Janney. Very highly recommended. G. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives.
Frida: Salma Hayak plays Frida Kahlo, the feminist painter and wife of Mexico's great muralist and painter Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) and lover of Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush). Directed by Julie Taymor. 2002 Academy Awards to the late Elliot Goldenthal for original score; also, makeup. Underrated film is one of the most visually lush films of 2002. R. Movies 12. Online archives.
Gangs of New York: Martin Scorsese's bloody epic set in mid-1800s N.Y. stars Leonard DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis as rival gang leaders. Co-stars Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly and Jim Broadbent. One of 2002's great films, with many Academy Award nominations. Very highest recommendations. R. Movies 12. Online archives.
Holes: Adventures digging holes at Camp Green Lake for Stanley, who comes from a strange family that's been cursed for generations. Embarrassingly, Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Blake Nelson co-star. PG. Movies 12. Online archives.
Hollywood Homicide: Fast-paced action comedy directed by Ron Shelton stars Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett as cops, with Isaiah Washington, Lena Olin, Bruce Greenwood, Master P., Lolita Davidovich, Dwight Yoakum, Keith David and Martin Landau. PG-13. Cinema World. Online archives.
How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days: Magazine columnist Kate Hudson and ad agency professional Matthew McConaughey try to get the other to fall in love, but things go awry. High-energy romantic comedy. PG-13. Movies 12.
Hulk, The: Director Ang Lee's action-adventure adaptation of the Marvel Comics series hits darker notes than the usual superhero comics. Scientist's (Eric Bana) inner demons change him after a catastrophic experiment. Written by James Schamus, it also stars Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas and Sam Elliott. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives.
Italian Job, The: Mark Wahlberg leads a heist that's double-crossed by one of his crew. Charlize Theron plays a safecracker in this cool revenge movie. Also stars Edward Norton, Mos Def and Donald Sutherland. Highly recommended for its pure entertainment value. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde: Reese Witherspoon is back as Elle Woods, Harvard Law, class of 2001, now in DC on behalf of pet animal's rights. Luke Wilson is still her boyfriend, as is her manicure person, Jennifer Coolidge. Sally Field and Bob Newhart join the cast. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld directs. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Directed and re-imagined by Peter Jackson, part two of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy continues. New characters, a surprise return and great battles. Director Peter Jackson's second masterpiece. Very highest recommendations. 2002 Academy Awards for sound editing, visual effects. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.
Man on the Train: Patrice Leconte's excellent character-driven film stars French icons Johnny Hallyday and Jean Rochefort as men with nothing in common, who meet in a small town and almost exchange identities. Film gives us a glimpse into that private place where our secret dreams live. Very highest recommendations. R. Bijou. Online archives.
Matrix Reloaded: Second chapter brings Neo (Keanu Reeve), Trinity (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) closer to solving the enigma but also puts them in greater danger. Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, it also stars Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith and Gloria Foster. R. Cinemark. Online archives.
Rugrats Go Wild: Nickelodeon's animated diaper set meets up wit the Wild Thornberrys after being washed ashore to a desert island from a storm-wracked cruise ship. Directed by Norton Virgien and John Eng. Bruce Willis voices Spike the dog. PG. Cinema World.
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas: DreamWorks animated pirate adventure tale stars the voice of Brad Pitt as Sinbad, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Marina, and Michelle Pfieffer as the goddess of chaos. Joe Fiennes plays Proteus, a rival pirate. Directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore. PG. Cinemark. Cinema World
Spellbound: Academy Award-nominated documentary feature by Jeffrey Blitz follows eight school kids from around the country as they prepare for and compete at the National Spelling Bee. Suspenseful, funny and heartwarming, this film's a real winner. Very highest recommendations for the whole family. G. Bijou. Online archives.
Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines: Jonathan Mostow directs, and Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to save the world from annihilation once again. John Connor (Nick Stahl), is 18 now, and he's fighting off a female killer cyborg from the future, (Kristanna Loken). R. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Twenty-eight Days Later: Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) directs this really scary horror film set in a post-cataclysmic future, where a deadly virus sweeps through earth's population in a few weeks, and leaves people in a chronic state of killer rage. Stars Christopher Eccleston, Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson. Advance word is that it's a great movie. R. Cinemark.
Two Fast, Two Furious: John Singleton directs this sequel action adventure about street racing. Stars Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Cole Hauser, Eva Mendes. PG-13. Cinemark.
Whale Rider: Winner of the World Cinema award at Sundance 2003, Niki Caro's Maori drama about a spunky girl, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes), who decides to show her beloved but authoritarian grandfather that she is able to lead the tribe, despite being a girl. A wonderful, inspiring drama that features the exquisite New Zealand coast. A don't-miss movie. Bijou. See review this issue.
X-Men 2: The next link in the evolutionary chain? Directed by Bryan Singer, stars Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden and more, lots more. PG-13. Movies 12.
RELEASES ON VIDEO
Gangs of New York: Martin Scorsese's epic set in mid-1800s N.Y. stars Leonard DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis as rival gang leaders. The notorious Civil War draft riots also rock the city. Co-stars Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly and Jim Broadbent. One of 2002's great films. Very highest recommendations. R. Cinema World. Online archives.
How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days: Magazine columnist Kate Hudson and ad agency professional Matthew McConaughey try to get the other to fall in love, but things go awry. High-energy romantic comedy. PG-13.
La Femme Nikita (France, 1991): Special edition DVD of Luc Besson film that inspired the television series. Acclaimed performance by Annie Parillaud as the street urchin who becomes a government assassin. R
Party Girl (1994): Mixed reviews for Daisy von Scherler Mayer's film starring Parker Posey as a club girl who discovers the joys of a librarian. Also stars Liev Schreiber. R.
Phone Booth: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes and Radha Mitchell star in Joel Schumacher's thriller. R.
Next week: Gods & Generals, Laurel Canyon, Pinocchio, Shanghai Knights.