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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Gifts From the Sea




WHALE RIDER (A-3, PG-13): In a summer swimming with movies about fathers and sons, this cinematic treasure about the role of a daughter in the family, the community and the culture is for everyone (except the youngest children).

In a hospital along the eastern coast of New Zealand, a young Maori mother struggles to give birth. Twins are born as her husband, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), hovers near. When both mother and the male child die, Porourangi is devastated. His father, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the chief of the tribe, tells him to come home to find a new wife and try for a son.

Koro's heartless attitude is focused on the line of male descendents. Thus, he ignores the girl-child, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes). Porourangi, angry at his father and unwilling to take up his own role as the next chief, leaves Pai to his parents to raise. His ceremonial canoe sits unfinished near the shore, a sign of the struggle between ways of the old world and the new.

Koro begins to love and care for Pai, who is captivated by the myths of her people and continually asks about how their ancestor rode a whale across the ocean to New Zealand. Now 11 years old, she shows her love for her people by nagging them about their smoking.

Koro begins a special school to teach the boys of the tribe about their culture, and to develop "strength, courage, intelligence and leadership." Although he wants to identify a prophet who will lead them, he harshly excludes Pai because she is a girl. She is irrepressible, however, and takes traditional fighting lessons from her uncle.

Whale Rider is based on the 1987 novel by New Zealand Maori author Witi Ihimaera. Three-time director Niki Caro brings her own feminine perspective to the development of the characters. This is especially true of the women in the film, who are strong, gentle, loving and humorous. Although not a Maori, Caro seems to share their soul in ways reminiscent of John Sayles's film The Secret of Roan Inish, Scott O'Dell's novel Island of the Blue Dolphins and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's memoir Gift of the Sea.

The final 20 minutes of the film are perfectly rendered and hauntingly beautiful. Insight about family, the struggle of indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures in an always changing world, goodness, the meaning of life, and love and respect for creation. Some mild problem language and a brief drug reference.


FINDING NEMO (A-1, G): At first, everything seems to be going along swimmingly. Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) and his wife, Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), are two fish who are expecting a very large family. They have just found a home in the safe "seaburbs" of the Great Barrier Reef near Australia. Suddenly, barracudas attack: They eat Coral and all but one of the couple's eggs.

That solitary little egg grows up to be Nemo (Alexander Gould), who is just about to start his first day at school. His neurotic dad shares his fear of his environment and lays down the safety rules as he accompanies the little fish to school.

It doesn't take the adventurous Nemo long to go off the deep end of the reef and end up in the net of a diver, however. This galvanizes the fearful Marlin into action and he starts off on a journey to bring his young son, who has one fin smaller than the other, home again.

Soon, Marlin encounters Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a memory-challenged blue tang fish. She provides little help but her antics lighten the mood. She accompanies Marlin on his odyssey to find Nemo, who is now in a dentist's fish tank in Sydney.

Not long into the current, Marlin and Dory run into Bruce, a great white shark (Barry Humphries) who persuades them to attend a meeting of Fish-eaters Anonymous. "Fish are friends—not food," the sharks chant. A little blood in the water sends Bruce right off the wagon, but Marlin and Dory escape to continue their journey.

Meanwhile, Nemo and his companions in the fish tank work to escape before the dentist (Bill Hunter) gives Nemo to his niece Darla (LuLu Ebeling) as a gift. The fish are afraid of Darla because she doesn't know how to treat pets. With the help of the pelicans, Nemo escapes into Sydney harbor, where all the sewers run.

Needless to say, Marlin and Nemo are finally reunited. They almost lose Dory, and Bruce turns up again on the way home, but it's all part of the fun of this masterful Pixar-animated film by Disney.

The film's cinematic pace is one of leisure, in contrast to many other feature-length animated films. The dialogue is mostly geared to young viewers, and the clever, double-meaning repartee of most Disney animated films is largely missing. The themes, however, are adult enough. Examples include the 12-step program and fear of life because bad things often happen in the world.

One viewing was enough for me, but fish aficionados may want to go down-under for another visit at the theater or on DVD. I do wonder how "Fish are friends—not food" will translate into the languages of cultures that depend on the ocean for sustenance. Family-friendly with lessons about love, solidarity, community, the environment, helping others, the courage to live life and fostering father-son relationships.


THE ITALIAN JOB (A-3, PG-13): In this remake of the 1969 film of the same title, career thief John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) meets up with Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) in St. Mark's Square in Venice to confirm the details of what is to be Bridger's final heist. They join two others in a speedboat and proceed through the labyrinth of Venice's canal system to a palazzo and brilliantly steal $35 million in gold bullion.

Afterward, the men gather to bid the retiring Bridger farewell and divvy up the gold. But their safebreaker, Steve (Edward Norton), outwits them with a heist of his own.

A year later, Charlie approaches John's daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), who works as a security technician. He needs her skills to break in and steal the gold back from Steve. The reverse-heist story that follows is clever enough and full of well-crafted (and often violent) action sequences in planes, trains and automobile chases (well, helicopters, trains and Mini Coopers) that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.

The characters operate in a one-dimensional moral universe defined only by honor among thieves. But this is the nature of the heist genre: They do it because they can.

There have been other more elegant and intelligent heist movies, such as 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair and its 1999 remake (with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo), as well as Steven Soderbergh's witty, no-violence, no-sex, no-bad-language and totally-immoral Ocean's Eleven. These films are guilty pleasures rather than tales that evoke deep conversations at three in the morning about the meaning of life.

The Italian Job's writers try to squeeze a moral about family from the story, but it's artificial and maybe it's supposed to be. Edward Norton, unlike Wahlberg and Theron, is not just another pretty face: He can act. A fun ride, but I prefer style with intelligence over so much purposeless tension and violence among crooks.


WITHOUT A TRACE is a fine CBS drama entering its second season in the fall. There is almost a good-shepherd quality about this F.B.I. Missing Persons Squad, led by Australian film veteran Anthony LaPaglia. With caring and courage, the five-member team, however flawed their personal lives, seek out New York's lost and missing without distinction, but always with hope. Mature themes.


SAMURAI JACK is an artistic masterpiece from the Cartoon Network about a samurai from the past who gets vaulted into the future to fight the "way of the warrior" with honor. Good triumphs over some evil robots in what is an intelligent, contemplative vision for animated cartoons. Probably of more interest to adolescent and adult males.


Film Capsules

DADDY DAY CARE (A-2, PG): Funniest thing about this is seeing a grown man speaking Klingon with a three-year old. Mr. Mom (1983) did the Daddy-home/ Mama-work theme better.

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (A-3, PG-13): Two street racers are recruited by the feds to bring in a Miami drug lord. This high-energy sequel to The Fast and the Furious (2001) has adrenaline, testosterone, violence without consequences and fast cars.

HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (A-4, PG-13): Another father-son theme with casual sex, violence and fast cars. Only this movie also has the reincarnation of the Keystone Cops (Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett) trying to solve the crime and catch the crooks. It's poorly edited with a plot full of holes, but seeing this new side of Ford made me laugh.

There are two things I look for in films aimed primarily at a male audience: What are the consequences for the violence (rarely shown) and how are women represented (rarely with dignity)? These are issues worth talking about.

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