Film reviews September 2003

The films are rated on a 4 star scale. Any comments should be addressed to Mike Weston at

Dirty Pretty Things (3 stars, 2002, seen 9/25/2003, 1:47, rated R):

There are people around us who we don't really notice. Maids, cab drivers, hotel desk clerks, and the like are just part of the background. They're mostly immigrants, legal or not, and often don't speak English. It's not fair or nice, but it is reality.

This is a film about a few such people in the margins of London life. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a black man from Nigeria who drives a cab, shared with other drivers, and then works the night shift at a hotel front desk, keeping himself awake with special herbs. Senay (Audrey Tautou from Amélie) is from Turkey and works as a maid in the same hotel, renting her couch to Okwe while she's at work. The other significant characters are Sneaky (Sergi López from With a Friend Like Harry), who runs the hotel during the night shift, and Okwe's friend Guo Yi, who works at the morgue.

If you would like an unspoiled viewing experience, you should probably skip the rest of this paragraph. Early in the film, Okwe checks out a problem reported in a hotel bathroom and finds that the toilet is clogged... by a a human heart. He knows human hearts, because he was a doctor in his native country. Is Sneaky running a human organ business out of the hotel?

It seemed like everyone loved Tautou in Amélie, but her performance in that film and in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not didn't do that much for me. Her work here is much better, and Ejiofor is even better. Simply put, this is a film with interesting characters, well portrayed, about a world that is close but normally unseen.

Whale Rider (3 stars, 2002, seen 9/13/2003, 1:41, rated PG-13):

“Pai” (newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes) is not the heir to the tribal chiefdom that her Maori grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) wanted. She has a twin brother, but he and their mother both die during the birth, leaving only Pai and her father. He is an artist who mostly lives overseas, far from the village in New Zealand where this fable unfolds, and he leaves Pai behind with her grandparents, not sure what else to do.

The name Pai is short for Paikea, which is the name of the legendary man who led the people of this tribe to New Zealand, riding on the back of a whale. That Pai's father chose to give her that name, even though the chief has always been the first-born son, is an intentional slap in Koro's face.

Koro loves his granddaughter, but is also quite open about the fact that he wanted a grandson. He is also obstinately sure that the next chief will not be a girl. But Pai, even though she is only about 11 years old, shows signs that maybe her name is no accident.

The story is a little obvious and “special,” but tolerably so. And the images and Castle-Hughes' performance in one amazing scene more than make up for that shortcoming. The grandmother (Vicky Haughton) is also quite good in her relatively small role. Overall I thought the film didn't quite live up to its very strong reputation (winning the audience awards at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, among others), but I was still very glad to have seen it.

Parkway Theater: My wife and I drove about 50 miles each way to see this film at the Parkway Theater, in Oakland, CA, when it was also playing much closer to home. Why? Because at normal theaters you don't get to sit on a love seat with your wife or Significant Other. At a normal theater you can't drink beer or wine in the theater (the Parkway has a very reasonable $5 corkage fee if you bring your own wine, by the way). Or order food (pasta, pizza, salads, etc.) and have it brought to your seat. It's just a very pleasant way to spend an evening.

I'm told that there are a number of theaters like the Parkway in Oregon, and I know that there may be others coming to the Bay Area. I for one am hoping.

External filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

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