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"Whale Rider"

Directed by Niki Caro.
Written by Niki Caro.  Based on the book by Witi Ihimaera.
Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene and Cliff Curtis.
Release Year:  2002 

Review Date:  10/27/03


Let me make good on my intention to write short reviews periodically:  Why do so many theaters still have “Whale Rider” playing in them?

After seeing the movie recently, I am a bit baffled.  The film, featuring a family in New Zealand that suffers through a wife’s death during childbirth, the loss of a twin during the same childbirth, and a cranky old-school father that is only obsessed with passing on the family legacy to a son, certainly has moments of striking emotional power, scenes that truly stand out as great movie moments in not only this year but many others.

But, for the most part, it is a very slow, very methodical family drama that features an up-and-down performance from its lead, Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai, who carries the film at points throughout but ultimately couldn’t keep me awake for its 100-minute running time.  I will grant you that some of this is not the girl’s fault; it is the fault of some boring storytelling at times, so boring that I know at least twice I fell asleep for five-minute stretches.  But, I simply grew tired of writer/director Niki Caro’s insistence on painting Pai’s grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) as the evil “I think women are useless” sexist.  After a while, I got it, and I think it interfered with the flow to keep beating it into my noggin.

As a result, I found myself waiting to see when they would just show us why the damned thing was called “Whale Rider” in the first place, and when it does come, I thought it was quite powerful.  Unfortunately, I was IRATE at how Pai makes it through to the end of the film, which can only be understood by seeing what happens after she mounts a whale in the film’s final moments.

I thought this film was very average, but I know many people out there loved it.  Guess I’m just not a whale lover.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09