Film Review: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

Starring: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes
Orchard

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Last year New Zealand director Taika Waititi breathed life into the vampire genre with his brilliant What We Do in the Shadows, my favorite comedy of 2015. The director this week turns again to his home turf to even more success for the quirky tale of Ricky Baker in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Wilderpeople is an unconventional spin on the tried-and-true old mentor meeting his younger match that manages to be action packed, unpredictable and heartfelt without veering into the saccharine territory oft trod by coming of age stories. Not only has Waititi matched my expectations based on his Shadows and “Flight of the Conchords” work but he’s significantly upped my excitement for his next project–Thor: Ragnarok (as if that was even possible!)

Julian Dennison stars as a ‘real bad egg’ called Ricky Baker, an orphan from the city who’s been to his share of foster homes. Child services drops him at a remote farm in the New Zealand bush kept by the sweet Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and bearded grump Hec (Sam Neill). Bella invites Ricky to dub them Auntie and Uncle, though Ricky and Hec are less than keen. When the welcoming Bella passes away leaving Ricky under Hec’s care, his new country life looks about to be ripped from under him again by child services. Naturally Ricky flees to the wilderness with Hec following along. They quickly become a pair of outlaws–everyone believing Hec a kidnapper–and infamous for evading a country-wide manhunt.

As Ricky Baker, newcomer Julian Dennison delivers a star-making performance. He is the perfect age for this little adventure of Waititi’s. A foster child who’s been passed around with a long list of ‘offenses’ (which child service agents will rattle off at the drop of a hat to hilarious effect), Baker is on the verge of puberty and of actually buying into his own bad reputation but is still very much malleable. There’s glimpses of Ricky posturing his ”gangsta” image between his wardrobe or his Scarface references but the brilliance of Dennison is watching the child that he actually is come to the surface. Dennison’s vulnerability is exposed when faced with the prospect of being separated from his most stable home to date. Meanwhile, his curiosity and eagerness to learn the bush life chip away at his city-kid exterior and the fact that he’s wont to spout haikus only makes him all the more endearing. There are a million layers to Ricky Baker and Dennison plays them all with great heart.

This isn’t at all to belittle the terrific support Dennison receives from his adult cast. It’s been 23 since Sam Neill begrudgingly led some kids through Jurassic Park and the years and the beard have only hardened his ornery exterior to perfection. His soft center is tougher to wear down to, but Ricky is game for the challenge. And there aren’t any dinosaurs that Neill needs to evade, but as the formidable Paula from Child services, Rachel House is an absolute scene stealer with dreams of being the Terminator. Rounding out these guys is an appearance from frequent Waititi collaborator Rhys Darby used to wacky effect as Psycho Sam.

Despite some real live threats in the bush and some choice language from kids and adults alike (“Like hell!” abounds), I can’t help but feel that Hunt for the Wilderpeople might be a perfect family film. Shot in beautiful locations, it’s hilarious without being malicious, populated with quirky characters forming genuine human bonds and I can’t stress enough the joy I derived from Dennison’s honest performance. Add to all that an action packed finale and you’ve got A Summer Movie to compete with the biggest of blockbusters. As Uncle Hec says, truly “Majestical.”

June 24 – I screened Hunt for the Wilderpeople at TFF 2016, it is now in limited US release. Visit Wilderpeople.film for trailer and local release dates. 

Dark New Day's Will Hunt talks about new album "Hail Mary"

Will Hunt is a hard rock drummer who plays or has played with everyone from Evanescence and Black Label Society to Tommy Lee’s Methods of Mayhem and Static-X. Hunt is also a part of the rock super group Dark New Day consists of Brett Hestla (Virgos Merlot), Troy McLawhorn (DoubleDrive), Clint Lowery (Sevendust) and Corey Lowery of Stereomud. The group is set to release their 3rd full length studio album titled “Hail Mary” in February and Media Mikes had the chance to ask Will about his work on the record and how he juggles working with so many different bands at the same time.

Adam Lawton: What type of approach did you take with your playing on the new album “New Tradition”?
Will Hunt: We were going for a little more of a structured sound this time as opposed to what can be heard on “12Year Silence” where everything is just sort of thrown in. The drum parts on this record were more composition than improvising. I played knowing that I wanted the drums to sound huge, and the way to do that is to give them room to breathe and leave space for that in the parts. Corey Lowery and I wanted the bottom end to be ridiculous.

AL: How does this album compare to the previous releases from Dark New Day?
WH: Like I said, we were going for a more structured sound and that’s what we got. We were really experimenting, which in some ways was liberating, in other ways we now know what we wouldn’t do in the future! (Laughs) All though, we’re very proud of the experimentation and what we got from this album.

AL: Does the band have any plans to tour in support of the release?
WH: No touring plans for this release. I’m not saying there won’t be a couple of shows here and there if our schedules can line up. We obviously would love to rock some shows together, but there no concrete plans at this time

AL: Personally what do you find to be the most difficult thing about working with multiple bands and projects at the same time?
WH: It’s like air traffic control! (Laughs) You just have to make sure to get all the projects in line and land them without crashing!( Laughs) Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but I love it! I can’t play and write enough.

AL: Can you tell us about any of your other projects that are in the works as we speak?
WH: Yes. I am officially a member of David Draimen’s new band, DEVICE. Our 1st single “VILIFY” is hitting radio in February, and the self titled album will be released in April with a tour to follow. Our 1st show is going to be at SXSW in Austin. I’m really excited about this band, I think people are going to freak on how bad ass it is. The music is absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait for people to hear it! I’m also going to record the new Soil album which I’m really looking forward to. That will be a good time making music with some old friends!

Philip Klein talks about his book “Lost at Sea: The Hunt for Patrick McDermott”

To most of us, our idea of a private investigator is based on watching such television shows as “The Rockford Files” and “Magnum P.I.” Smooth guys who were able to blend in even though they were the best looking guys in the room. And, in Magnum’s case, they were wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt! Philip Kline has managed to “blend in” for almost three decades. And that’s saying a lot about a man who stands 6’5” tall!

Internationally renowned for his investigative skills, as well as providing protection for some of the country’s biggest celebrities and politicians, Kline and his team undertook a project brought to them by “Dateline: NBC.” The network was curious about the mysterious disappearance of Patrick Kim McDermott, whose claim to fame was being the boyfriend of singer Olivia Newton John. Declared dead by the Coast Guard, as well as investigators hired by Newton John, something in the case file raised a red flag in Mr. Klein.

Klein has authored and just released the book “LOST AT SEA: The Hunt for Patrick McDermott.” In it he recounts the many hours, days and even years it took him to find a man who didn’t want to be found. Mr. Klein recently took the time to speak with MediaMikes about the case.

Mike Smith: How did this case compare to others you’ve had in the past?
Philip Klein: Well you know I do a lot of investigative work and body guard work for some of the most influential people in the United States. I’ve got to tell you, when NBC approached me about this I was kind of skeptical at first. But it turned out to be a real “who done it.” Actually more of a “why did they do it.” It wasn’t really “who” did it because we know…it was the man who was missing. But it was “why” he did it. Most investigators will tell you that the motive is the most important thing of the case. And when we found the motive of this case everything pretty much fell into place pretty quickly.

MS: Since the book has been published have you been contacted by McDermott or any representative? (NOTE: In the book Mr. Klein tracks McDermott to Mexico, where he later negotiates with a representative of Mr. McDermotts )
PK: No we haven’t. And the reason why is that we made a promise that if he provided a DNA sample…what we refer to as “proof of life,” we wouldn’t bother him anymore. His position, through his legal counsel, is that he just wants to be left alone. He has not committed any crimes, there are no warrants for his arrest and there are no, what we call in the business BOLOs, be on the lookout for in his name. So what we did was take a step back and decided that we needed to end the case. We asked his rep to send us a proof of life and we got just that.

MS: I remember in the book that you had agreed to not bother him once the proof of life was provided. I was just curious if maybe you had gotten a phone call or email saying “you were right…that’s exactly what happened!”
PK: (laughs) No, it doesn’t work like that. As much as I’d like it to work like that. I think what happens in the real world is that he is expecting an onslaught of press because the book has been released. And because he’s expecting an onslaught of press he’s probably gone back under. He’s very good. He’s learned the system down in Mexico. He knows how to disappear. He knows how to blend in. That’s what he’s probably done at this point. If I was consulting with him I would tell him that’s what he needs to do at this point.

MS: There almost seemed, not on your part but on your team, to talk directly with Olivia Newton John. Was that an outlet you really wanted to investigate but just didn’t feel it was right?
PK: Well, not necessarily. Well, you may be right in some ways. In every case there is a victim and in this case we considered Olivia Newton John one of the victims. Do we believe that Olivia Newton John knew anything about his disappearance? No. We believe that Patrick McDermott…we know that Patrick McDermott…went to her two weeks before he disappeared. He gave her some flowers and a funny card and said goodbye. They were going to break up. Olivia’s idea of the break up was…she felt that it was going to be a temporary break up. He’d done this before. In the police reports she called it a small “time out.” We believe that McDermott made the decision that that was it. He was going down to Mexico so he said his goodbyes. It’s very unusual that when someone takes off like that they say goodbye to the things they love or that they know that are common to them. And I think in Patrick’s case that he did have fond feelings for Olivia. You don’t date somebody for that long and not have some kind of feelings for them. But in the end I don’t think he wanted to hurt her. He just wanted to go on with his life. Of course Hollywood is a very, very tough place to survive. And I believe he decided he just couldn’t do it anymore. Especially in the fast lane with an “A” list star. He was always the nice looking man on Olivia Newton John’s arm. And so I think he said goodbye to her in the way he knew how to say goodbye. He bought a gun. He emptied his bank accounts down to zero. He got as much money as he could off his credit cards and he took off.

MS: Has the popularity, and the easy access of, the Internet made your job easier or harder? There is so much information out there that often you don’t know what’s true and what’s not.
PK: We have a big sign in our office for all of our investigators to read. It says “Don’t Believe What You Read on the Internet!” The Internet is a great tool, especially for investigators like us. That is one of the things we were able to do, use the Internet. We created what they call a “spider” web site…a trap site…where we could watch the IP addresses come in. One of the things you learn very quickly is that when people are running or trying to hide they’re always looking over their shoulder. So we used that concept and created the website “Find Patrick McDermott.com” We set that up as a “spider” site and we were able to trap IP addresses. We released the web site only to relatives and close friends of McDermott, including the Olivia Newton John camp. Then we sat back and watched. We blocked it from Google. We blocked it from Yahoo. And we just watched it for two weeks. And, sure enough, we started getting hits from Mexico. There’s nobody in Mexico that knew we were doing anything. So we figured at that point that he was down in Mexico. And we also knew the bigger piece of the puzzle…somebody was communicating with him down in Mexico.

MS: Do you know the status of McDermott’s life insurance policy?
PK: The insurance policy was not honored because of our report. We do know that Ms. Nipar (NOTE: Yvette Nipar was Patrick McDermott’s former wife. Despite her claims otherwise she has tried to undermine Mr. Klein’s investigation almost from the beginning. She has even gone so far to write Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, a letter asking him not to sell Mr. Klein’s book) was paying the insurance policy and keeping it active. It was a $100,000 life insurance policy. Of course the insurance company has a policy of not releasing any pertinent information except to family members. However when we did send them a formal 1702 notice, a notice saying we wanted to know who was paying the insurance policy and if the policy was active, they did copy Yvette Nipar. I think that was their way of saying, “no, we’re not going to tell you who’s paying on the policy but we’re going to copy our letter to whoever is paying on the policy.” That’s where we got that connection.

MS: I know from your emails with Ms. Nipar regarding your request to test your DNA sample with a sample of her son she refused and told you that the Coast Guard had samples of Mr. McDermott’s DNA. Did they?
PK: We did. And the U.S. Coast Guard advised us that they did not have any DNA. They didn’t understand where she was getting that information from. There was a hat found on the boat. There was also some other items found…fishing tackle, a wallet which was empty…what was missing were his two passports. So we asked them directly “what about this green hat that was supposedly left behind, was there any DNA on it or did you find any DNA in his apartment when you did the search?” There answer was “no, we did not keep any DNA. There was no reason for us to keep any DNA.” That’s always been a confusing thing for us…that the Coast Guard did not keep any DNA. The Los Angeles Police Department had immediately dropped the case. They felt, number one, that there was no foul play. Number two, it wasn’t there jurisdiction. And number three, they felt that he was probably running due to his issues with Ms. Nipar and the amount of money he owed the state of California for child support.

MS: I just pulled up the book’s web site and I see the letter she wrote Jeff Bezos asking him to pull the book.
PK: We were surprised. If you go through that letter you will see that Ms. Nipar results to name calling…she resorts to intimidation. And if you read the book you will notice that this is the same behavior she showed when we were trying to investigate. You’ll also see that she tried to use the Los Angeles Police Department to shut the investigation down. This is atypical of someone that really wants to know what happened to their loved one. It’s totally the opposite of what we’re used to as investigators. Usually when we come in and investigate the family bends over backwards. They give interviews…they say, “look, this is what we know…this is what we have.” They want to share. She has done completely the opposite. In fact, she has attempted to block the investigation at every turn. And once again, when we start talking about the case in the form of a book she begins to start trying to block it again. So all of the investigators in this office raise our eyebrows, as do some of my friends over at the Los Angeles Police Department. They raise their eyebrows and say she’s acting quite abnormal.

MS: One thing that really struck me in the book was when you relate that your father told you the three important things in life: Truth, Honesty and Faith. You then add that there is a difference between truth and honesty. What is that difference?
PK: Well, if I’m putting my investigator hat on, truth and honesty are two different things. You can say the sky is blue, and that’s the truth. But, honestly, if you’re looking at the sky and the sky has clouds in it, you don’t want to just say the sky is blue. Honesty means the sky is blue with some clouds. And I think that sometimes people, when they are scared or trying to give only the half-truth, they’ll stand up and just say the sky is blue. When they perfectly know that it’s blue and white. It’s blue with white clouds. They hold things back. And I saw a lot of that on this case. I’d get the typical Hollywood “yeah, I knew Pat…this is the way he was.” But they’d hold stuff back. And I think people in Hollywood are so shell shocked by the media…so shell shocked by the press and how hungry the press is to get a story…that they sometimes hold things back. Or, if they have something to hide, they hold things back. I think that’s what I was talking about when I mentioned that with my father. There is a huge difference between truth and honesty. The honesty is that the sky is blue with beautiful white clouds. It’s not just blue.

MS: Now that he’s 19 years old, if Chance (Mr. McDermott’s son)were to come to you and say, “Phil, can you show me what you’ve got,” would you share it with him?
PK: You know, that’s a great question! Not only with this case, which is a missing persons case. I do about 100 missing person cases a year. And I can tell you this. For each of the families I always keep what we call “the Box.” It’s the case box. Sometimes there are five or six boxes and sometimes only one box. And I keep them for the family members. Especially the young people so they can go through them when they turn 18 years old. And if Chance McDermott wants to come to our office and if he wants to sit down and dig through all of the evidence…read everything that we did, all the way back to day one when we started with NBC to when we closed with NBC to the writings of the attorneys down in Mexico City…he is perfectly welcome with open arms. And you’d be surprised. Young people come to us often and say, “you know, our parents didn’t really tell us everything Mr. Klein…would you please sit down with me and tell me what this is and show me the documents?” And we show them. We have seen it as a very emotional event…as a very spiritual event. And a very relieving event for these folks. With this case…and I’m NOT calling Ms. Nipar a liar…I’m simply saying that Ms. Nipar is holding stuff back from her son. There’s a reason and a motive for that. Maybe someday she can look him in the eye and tell him that motive.

 

Related Content

Book Review “The Klein Files: Lost at Sea – The Hunt For Patrick McDermott”

Author: Philip R. Klein
Paperback: 343 pages
Publisher: Klein Publishing
Release date: January 23, 2012

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

If I asked you about the “Patrick McDermott Case” you might not recognize what I was talking about. But if I added “Olivia Newton John”s missing boyfriend” before the name you’d certainly understand.

In the summer of 2005, while on an overnight fishing trip, Patrick McDermott vanished. A quick and hasty search by the Coast Guard, as well as investigation “experts” on land, concluded that he must have fallen overboard and drowned.

In the search for the ever popular ratings, the television program “Dateline N.B.C.” contacted famed investigator Philip Klein and asked him if he would take one of two cases they had been following. Intrigued by the celebrity aspect, and the fact that nothing seemed kosher in the information presented to him, Klein took the McDermott case. For over two years he and his team interviewed witnesses, checked alibis and investigated leads previously dismissed. And they got their man!

A true storyteller (I would love to just sit down at a table with Mr. Klein and hear some of his exploits), Klein begins the book in the middle of a harrowing plane ride. With his wife, Inga, he is escorting a suspected kidnapper and the young child she abducted back to Texas. Approaching the runway at 200 MPH the front landing gear fail to lock, causing the plane to skid. Cool heads prevail, thankfully, and everyone gets off safely. But those few minutes inside the plane are riveting. Once Klein accepts the case he and his team begin to systematically follow the clues. And there are many. Most of them point to McDermott’s horrid ex-wife, described by anyone that would talk about her as a bitch. And that was the polite word. As the case progresses Klein and his team literally travel the globe, setting traps and beating bushes. Taking advantage of the world wide web they set up a “spider” web site, one that captures the IP address of everyone that visits it. They also set up a public web site which, within 48 hours of the first “Dateline N.B.C.’ show airing, crashes 39 times and gets over 2 million hits!

While Klein is the lead investigator he also praises his “team,” from his office workers to his field men. And to Inga! It’s clear that she is the force which guides him, both personally and professionally, and his words of appreciation ring true.

If you’ve ever wanted to get inside a missing person case…and I mean INSIDE…then “Lost At Sea” is a fine entrance.