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Whale Rider

Hi, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab…

A coming of age story about a young girl hardly seems like Vern’s cup of tea, but I’ve met this guy. He may be an ex-con, hardened by his years on the road and in the pen, but he’s got a soft spot a mile wide. It’s one of the things that makes him such a good read:


Well SIFF is over but that doesn’t mean I can’t somehow end up seeing WHALE RIDER, which won best film and best director at the festival. In fact, I DID end up seeing WHALE RIDER, which won best film and best director at the festival. Also I wrote a review of it. Or at least I am writing a review of it right now. If all goes as planned you will keep reading from here and it will be a review.

First of all let me say that this is not about some guy riding around on a whale. I thought maybe it would be some dude who travels from port city to port city helping people, solving problems, delivering goods, etc. I don’t know if maybe he would be on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Or maybe if it was Seagal he would be an ex-CIA whale rider fighting corruption using his special spook skills, while riding a whale. That’s not really what the movie is like though. If that’s what you’re expecting this may be your biggest disappointment since LAST OF THE DOGMEN.

What it is though is a real well made and moving family movie just like THE BLACK STALLION or that flying goose movie with Anna Paquin, but with less animals. The story is about a Maori man name Koro trying to maintain the ancient traditions of his culture. He says he is descended from the first Maori tribal leader who rode a whale from Hawaii to New Zealand. He believes a new chief will be born and trained in the old ways, and he alienates his family in his obsessive quest for that chief. Especially his two sons who he doesn’t think are good enough to be chief.

Whale RiderThe movie opens with Koro’s daughter-in-law giving birth to twins. But both the mother and the boy twin die, leaving a baby girl. Before they even get the bodies in the ground Koro is already talking about trying for a new baby boy.

Skip forward 13 years, the girl is grown up as Pai and Koro is giving lessons to the local boys to do traditional Maori stick fighting, chants, etc., and to test them to find the new chief. Pai is not allowed to participate or even watch because she’s a girl.

You pretty much know where it goes from there – Pai believes she can be the chief, but her grandpa doesn’t understand, so she must secretly train and somehow prove herself to him. For most of the story you pretty much know where it’s going, but it never matters. The execution is just perfect, especially in the acting. Every one of them is great but especially the girl Keisha Castle-Hughes, who has never been in a movie before. This is one of those performances where it’s hard to believe it’s even an actor it seems so much like a real person. There is a scene where her grandpa catches her stick fighting and yells at her for desecrating sacred traditions. Instead of making a rebuttal or some other thing a movie kid would do, she just kind of looks down and starts playing with the bark on the end of the stick, like a real kid would do. She is very quiet through most of the movie but conveys her emotions indirectly by the way her face tries to hide her emotions.

I gotta admit this is a good one, and there may be some crying in some cases. I definitely noticed signs of sniffling in the theater. The movie is PG-13 but only because of a scene where Pai’s uncle is asleep with a bag of weed next to him. If your 9 year old gets the joke then it’s too late anyway, throw in the towel and start bringing him to pornos.

One word of caution. Be careful not to see this movie with a bunch of idiots. The screening I went to was one of those crowds of middle age, middle class middlebrow types who you can tell don’t get out to the movies very often. I’m sure you’ve all experienced it. They show the same annoying commercial you’ve seen before ever movie for months, and the whole crowd laughs at the punchline. That’s how you know you’re in trouble. This one wasn’t as bad as when I saw FRIDA with some asshole giving on ongoing commentary about “yeah, that was a painting Frida did” or “yeah, those are the stairs at Frida’s house.” This crowd was the ones who overreact to anything mildly amusing in a movie. There’s some little joke that makes you halfway smile but the rest of the people in the theater laugh like it’s the funniest thing they ever saw, and then you start to want to retract your half smile and declare that it was less funny than you originally thought. Of course a movie like this has it’s mild stick-it-to-the-man moments where grandma tells off grandpa and sticks up for girl power or whatever, and this goes over a little too well with the crowd and you are tempted to hold it against the movie. Guilt by association.

This particular crowd also found Maori traditions to be very amusing, so any time the warriors widened their eyes to make an intimidating face the crowd laughed like they thought it was supposed to be silly. Then when I was leaving I actually heard somebody say, “This should really fly here too, with the Macaw” (referring to a local native american tribe that occasionally hunts whales). I’m not even sure what that meant exactly but I thought it was worth writing up on the internet for posterity.

Also did you know they used to have a FREE WILLY cartoon where the kid and the whale and some dolphins fought against a cyborg, who was sort of a personification of man-made technology encroaching upon the natural habitats of endangered species? That’s what I heard anyway.

Well anyway that’s about it but I predict this movie will end up on many top ten lists and probaly get a couple token oscar nominations. We’ll see. if you like movies about people and whales and shit you know what to do.



p.s. By the way Harry, I called it: THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED won best documentary at SIFF(tied with something called A GREAT WONDER).

As always, it’s a pleasure, Vern. Thanks.

“Moriarty” out.

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/15509

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 20th, 2003 at 8:22 am and is filed under AICN, Drama, Family, Reviews, SIFF. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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