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Thursday, June 5, 2003 02:23 pm

Movie Reviews

Bend It Like Beckham, Finding Nemo

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Bend It Like Beckham

Bend It Like Beckham

Fox Searchlight Pictures has gone out of its way to tout the British import Bend it Like Beckham as the next My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It's easy to see why. Both feature repressed female heroines in the unenviable position of having to reject rigid cultural conventions and familial traditions. Both deliver the happy endings audiences expect.

But Beckham is superior to Greek Wedding. There's simply more meat to the story by director Gurinder Chadha and her co-writers Guljit Bondra and Paul Berges. They underscore what a serious break from Indian tradition young Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) makes when she pursues soccer, the national pastime of her adopted country, England.

"Football" fascinates 16-year-old Jess, in particular the moves of David Beckham, who can put enough spin on the ball that its path appears to bend in the air. While her self-absorbed sister is immersed in her plans for a traditional Indian wedding, Jess finds excuses to sneak away to practice her footwork. Adopted by the Hounslow Harriers, Jess soon forms a bond with the team's captain Jules (Keira Knightly), develops a crush on its coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and--surprise, surprise-- becomes a star player.

Beckham may be a formula film, but its ingredients are fresh, particularly the performances from Nagra and Knightly, who lend a naturalism to the movie, shedding the fairy-tale feeling Greek Wedding revels in. These actresses don't look like junior fashion models with perfect hair subsisting on a diet of water, celery, and cigarettes. Jess and Jules are healthy and confident young women. It's refreshing to see positive screen role models for young girls.

(Running time 1:52, rated PG)
Grade B

Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo is the latest delight from the folks at Pixar Animation, makers of the Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc., all classics of modern animation. Though the crisp visuals are what jump to mind, it's the mixture of comedic styles and the heartfelt stories that make them endure.

Finding Nemo pulls at our heartstrings as it tickles our funny bone, dazzling us with one vibrant sight after another. The story is basic: Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) is an overprotective clown fish fearful of letting his only son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), explore the deep blue sea. On the first day of school, Nemo swims away and is promptly scooped up by an underwater diver. In a panic, Marlin sets out to rescue his son.

It's here the that film kicks into high gear, as the imaginations of writers Bob Peterson, David Reynolds, and Andrew Stanton (who also directs) go into overdrive. On Marlin's odyssey to Australia, he encounters one memorable creature after another, each endowed with a humorous trait that plays against our expectations. Meanwhile, Nemo encounters another group of colorful characters after being deposited in a dentist's aquarium.

What separates the Pixar films from the animation pack is their attention to detail. Finding Nemo sweeps us away into a world of constant surprises, overflowing with one piece of eye candy after another. The film isn't so naive as to suggest that the world--both above and below sea level--is without its share of risks, but it holds that these must be accepted as challenges to be met, not worried over.

(Running time 1:41, rated G)
Grade A

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