Movie Review: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby
Taika Waititi

Chances are that you’ve seen writer/director Taika Waititi’s work before – whether it was his 2010 debut “Boy,” the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords” or last year’s cult comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” – but the New Zealand-born filmmaker is about to blow up in a big way thanks to a pair of high-profile gigs for Disney. (In addition to directing “Thor: Ragnarok,” he also co-wrote the upcoming animated film “Moana.”) Before jumping behind the camera for the God of Thunder’s latest cinematic adventure, however, Waititi made this quirky buddy comedy set in his native country that’s somewhat reminiscent of another Disney release, “Up.” Granted, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” isn’t nearly as good, but it’s a delightful little movie that ranks as one of the more pleasant surprises of the year thus far.

Rebellious city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has been in and out of foster care for most of his life, causing trouble wherever he goes. Given one last chance to find a suitable family, Ricky is placed with the kindly Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her cantankerous frontiersman husband Hector (Sam Neill) in their remote countryside home. When Bella suddenly passes away just as Ricky is beginning to warm up to the couple, he clumsily fakes his death and runs off into the wilderness rather than risk being sent to juvenile detention. Hector quickly tracks him down but fractures his ankle in the process, which forces the mismatched duo to work together in order to survive. But tenacious child services officer Paula (Rachel House) thinks that the bereaved Hector has kidnapped Ricky, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get him back, launching a nationwide manhunt that turns the two fugitives into folk heroes.

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The Light from the TV Shows: 12 Shows to Look Forward to in 2012

Just as 2011 is sure to end in a few days, 2012 is equally likely to follow on its heels, which means that the January TCA tour is right around the corner. As such, yours truly is about to be bombarded with the best and worst that the midseason has to offer…and, fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter. Indeed, there are a couple of shows that the broadcast networks have been unjustly sitting on for almost six months, even though they’re a damned sight better than most of the dreck we got back in September. (Stand up, please, “The Playboy Club.” Or, you know, pick the program of your choice. That one’s just easiest ’cause it was the first to go.) Much as last week found me offering up 11 shows, give or take, that I was sorry to bid adieu to in 2011, this week I’ve pulled together a list of 12 shows that I’m looking forward to checking out in 2012. Keep in mind, however, that I’m basing my excitement either on a rough cut of a pilot or, in some cases, merely on the hopefulness I get when I read about the show. Yes, this does often come back to bite me in the ass, but such is the life of a TV critic. If I’m wrong, I’ll roll with the punches. In the meantime, though, these are my personal picks for what’s looking good in the new year…

The Firm (NBC)

So sayeth the network: Based on the best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham, “The Firm” is a new drama series that continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas), who, as a young associate 10 years earlier, had brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, which included a stay in the Federal Witness Protection Program, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future — only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker), Mitch’s supportive, smart and resourceful wife, who had helped her husband expose Bendini, Lambert & Locke, is excited to start a new life in Washington, D.C., as a school teacher and mom to their daughter, Claire (Natasha Calis). Ray McDeere (Callum Keith Rennie) is Mitch’s charming, yet volatile, older brother whose work as an investigator in Mitch’s office is uniquely informed by his past stretch in prison for manslaughter. Despite a gritty past that stands in stark contrast to that of his Harvard-grad brother, Ray shares one key quality with Mitch – a loyalty that is unbreakable. Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis) is Mitch’s feisty, sexy receptionist whose work life is made all the more tumultuous by her on-again, off-again relationship with Ray. With a personality as arresting as her ever-changing hair color, Tammy is leery when Mitch accepts a deal to partner with a top law practice, as she’s not cut out for the conservative culture of a white-shoe firm.

My take: I literally only just got the pilot episode this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but the combination of Lucas, Parker, and Lewis has me very intrigued, and the fact that Grisham himself is part of the mix makes me hopeful about the possibilities of where this series could go if it’s given the chance. That’s a big “if,” though, because this isn’t the first time a Grisham novel has made the jump to the small screen. Anyone remember “The Client,” with JoBeth Williams and John Heard? It’s become so obscure that there’s neither a Wikipedia page for it nor even a clip from it on YouTube. Let’s hope “The Firm” gets a better go of it than that.

(Premiere date: January 8, 9 PM; regular 10 PM timeslot begins January 12)

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