For audiences searching for a movie for the whole family, a quality picture with serious themes and a touch of humour, Whale Rider is just the film.
It comes from New Zealand, from a novel by Witi Ihimaera. It boasts wonderful photography of a village on the east coast of the North Island, filmed in the town where the film is set. The village is small and a community of Maori people live there. They treasure myths about their ancestor, a hero who came to the land, riding on the back of a whale. As the modern world has encroached on the people, they are in need of a new leader. When the son of the chief goes to Europe to work as an artist, expectations are high for the birth of his son.
In fact, twins are born. The boy dies, but the girl lives. When things deteriorate in the village, the chief blames his granddaughter even though he loves her. She, on the other hand, is a strong-minded girl and learns all the rites and rituals of the tradition even though she has been forbidden to do so. But, it is she who is destined to be the new whale rider and the new chief. Whales beach themselves on the coast at the end of the film, then the myth of the whale rider lives again.
Most of the cast had not acted before. Eleven year old Keisha Castle-Hughes is so natural as well as forceful on screen, there is no doubt that she will make a great leader (and actress). Rawiri Paratene as the chief brings great dignity to his role, even though he is at times harsh and stubborn. This is tempered by Vicky Haughton as the kind and proud grandmother.
The film is firmly based in New Zealand and on Maori customs. It takes us into an unfamiliar world and invites us to consider a different culture. Yet, the story and the characters are universal and all of us can identify with them. It is also a convincing picture of men and women working together and women emerging in leadership roles. Plenty to enjoy as well as to think about.
When the original was released in 1979, it gave audiences some laughs. This film was one of those frantic comedies with odd couple, Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, caught up in international espionage while they were trying to prepare their children's wedding. A re-make? Why? Why not?
I enjoyed this version (updated from Latin America to Europe and post-soviet collapse arms' dealing) and found it funnier and more agreeably frantic than the original. This time a very extroverted and cheery Michael Douglas is the spy while Albert Brooks is the hypochondriac, multi-phobic podiatrist who accidentally gets caught up in the cloak and dagger stuff.
Albert Brooks has one of the most hang-dog looks in Hollywood and one of the best deliveries of mournful, feeling-put-upon one-liners. He is perfect for this part. David Suchet hams it up with gusto as the international dealer of anything illegal who takes more than a liking to Brooks. Candice Bergen is the New Age mother of the groom.
The action keeps shifting from marriage doings in Chicago to planes and chateaux in France, always with a nice sense of timing as Douglas is able to use Bond-like ingenuity to get himself and Brooks out of every far-fetched dangerous situation. Always amusing, some good laughs - and both of them learn something from each other to be more attentive to their children and be better parents. And that can't be all bad.
The Hard Word
The Hard Word is a tough Australian crime thriller. While it shows two robberies in detail, it focuses very much on the old mateship ethos. The central characters are three brothers played by Pearce, Edgerton and Richardson. They play very well together and are believable brothers. They are released out of jail by the governor and by crooked police in order to do robberies, controlled by a crooked lawyer played by Robert Taylor. Rachel Griffiths plays Pearce's two-timing wife. Paul Sonkkila and Vince Colosimo are the corrupt police.
The film also nods in the direction of Ned Kelly and the lovable larrikin outlaws. Everybody in this film is amoral/immoral. The brothers are just the least amoral of all the characters.
Bondi Beach and Sydney locations are very well used to give an impression of the city. So also are the scenes of Melbourne. The Australian love for the Big Banana, Big Pineapple and so on receives a homage with a fictitious town and the Big Cow, a statue in which the robbers hide the money.
The action is fast-paced, violent only towards the end - which leaves one in the strange experience of disapproving of all the characters while barracking for the brothers.
Direction is by Scott Roberts, a writer who spent some time in the United States writing The American Way, K2 and Shadow of the Cobra amongst other films. This is his feature film debut.
LONDON - 27 August 2003 - 645 words