Australia

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 19, 2008 10:46 pm

Australia
(Australia-U.S.-U.K.)
By TODD MCCARTHY
Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman star in Baz Luhrmann's epic romance, 'Australia.'

Embracing grand old-school melodrama while critiquing racist old-fashioned politics, Baz Luhrmann's grandiose "Australia" provides a luxurious bumpy ride; like a Rolls-Royce on a rocky country road, it's full of bounces and lurches, but you can't really complain about the seat. Deliberately anachronistic in its heightened style of romance, villainy and destiny, the epic lays an Aussie accent on colorful motifs drawn from Hollywood Westerns, war films, love stories and socially conscious dramas. Some of it plays, some doesn't, and it is long. But the beauty of the film's stars and landscapes, the appeal of the central young boy and, perhaps more than anything, the filmmaker's eagerness to please tend to prevail, making for a film general audiences should go with, even if they're not swept away. Robust, but not boffo, box office looks in store.
Putting his "Red Curtain Trilogy" of "Strictly Ballroom," "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge" behind him, Luhrmann here embarks on an announced trilogy of epics, although it remains to be seen whether or not the intended first installment, his long-in-the-works but thwarted "Alexander the Great," is still part of the package. Although there are no homages here per se, other than explicitly to "The Wizard of Oz," one feels a multitude of influences coursing through the images, from the likes of "Duel in the Sun," "The African Queen," "Gone With the Wind," "Red River," "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Searchers," "Out of Africa" and "Giant."

But to a significant extent, the film is also a mea culpa, in a vast popular-entertainment format, for the cruel racial policies once imposed by the Australian government upon Aboriginals in general and, specifically, half-castes, who were aggressively swept out of sight. It was one of Luhrmann's best ideas to make the film's narrator the prepubescent Nullah (Brandon Walters), a charming boy who not only observes the vast sweep of the story but provides its fulcrum.

One of Nullah's first remarks, that the Englishwoman newly arrived at the remote Northern Territory ranch of Faraway Downs is "the strangest woman I'd ever seen," gets a laugh, as the sight of the prim, uptight and discomfited Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) definitely looks comically absurd. Coming there in September 1939 to deal with her husband's presumed infidelity, Sarah could scarcely be more out of place on the rundown estate occupied by rough cattlemen and Aboriginal help, and Kidman is unafraid to look ridiculous as her character presents herself at the brink of hysteria.

Self-consciously jaunty exposition and over-the-top boisterousness -- Sarah's lingerie is spilled out in front of a saloon for the delectation of the rowdy drunks -- gets the film off to a choppy start. But in broad, simple strokes, and with characters that are archetypes rather than real-world credible, Luhrmann makes very clear everything the audience needs to know: Sarah, finding her husband murdered, determines to hold on to Faraway Downs, which she can only do by driving 1,500 head of cattle to the Darwin port, where the Australian military will purchase them; the only one who can manage this is the Drover (Hugh Jackman), a rugged Aussie cowboy who's himself an outcast due to his friendliness toward Aboriginals; Sarah and the Drover are destined for each other, but only after much squabbling; bad guys -- King Carney (Bryan Brown) and Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) -- will try to thwart the drive, and Nullah must be protected from officials determined to send him to Mission Island, where half-caste boys are detained.

Manned by a motley crew consisting of the Drover, Sarah, Nullah, Drover's Aboriginal mate Magarri (David Ngoombujarra), a drunken bookkeeper with the colorful name of Kipling Flynn (Jack Thompson), household helper Bandy (Lillian Crombie) and Chinese cook Sing Song (Yuen Wah), the cattle drive starts at pic's 55-minute mark, and one imagines it will last a while. But after a dramatic stampede so CGI-heavy that it may as well have been animated, and a campfire interlude that ignites the inevitable between the Drover and the now loosened-up Sarah, the drive quickly comes to an end after just 25 minutes, leading to a notable mid-pic lull in Darwin during which it's unclear where things might be headed.

A fancy dress ball provides the platform for official racism and disapproval of the likes of Nullah, the Drover and even upper-class Sarah, who by now is determined to adopt the orphaned kid. Shadowing them wherever they go is Nullah's grandfather, King George (vet David Gulpilil), a mystical practioner of traditional ways who provides the film with its strongest link to the continent's native inhabitants.

After everything had looked so bright by the end of act two, everything is now in disarray, with the protags having gone their separate ways -- for his part, Nullah has announced his intention to do his walkabout. Final third is dominated by the Japanese bombing of Darwin (on Feb. 19, 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor) and the Drover's stealthy nocturnal attempt to rescue children from nearby Mission Island. Much has been made of Luhrmann's admission of having shot several different endings, and while pic irritatingly has several potential concluding scenes, the actual finale is rather touching, with a mixed mood that feels right.

Perhaps because it is largely an outdoor picture, the film's style is less ripe and florid than Luhrmann's previous three; although not as leisurely as many epics, the pulse is lower than the director's standard alarmingly high rate. Lensing by Mandy Walker, who shot such films as "Lantana" and "Shattered Glass" and previously worked with Luhrmann on his Chanel No. 5 campaign with Kidman, is excellent, but many of the images appear worked in different ways and the CGI backgrounds, particularly in the Darwin sequences, are not of the highest standard.

Crucially for such a glamorous big-star vehicle, however, the leads are beautifully lit. Alabaster-complexioned, with blonde hair pulled back tight and lips puffed, Kidman could scarcely be wound more tightly at first. But Jackman's Drover eventually works his ways on her, and she looks much better with a tan and in more native garb later on. Her intrinsic tension and worry are given a proper contrast by Jackman, whose sheer competence at everything he does disarms the lady's disdain for his uncouthness. Women and not a few men will marvel at a stripped-down Jackman's sculpted torso as he rinses himself off in the campfire light, and the actor, making his first film in his homeland in many years, acquits himself manfully no matter what the occasion calls for.

But equally vital is young Walters. Eleven when the film was made, the attractive non-pro has a natural ease and winning way before the camera as the character who represents the tension in the country's racial divide and historical conscience.

Other perfs are as exaggerated in line with the general approach, most notably Wenham's as the ever-evil Fletcher; Luhrmann may as well have pasted a Snidely Whiplash moustache on him and been done with it.

Score by David Hirschfelder and other hands never stops, while production and costume design by Luhrmann's wife and perennial collaborator, Catherine Martin, are notable without being as dominant as they were in the "Red Curtain" extravaganzas. Pic takes plenty of advantage of diverse natural Australian locations.

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Eric
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Postby Eric » Wed Nov 19, 2008 9:18 pm

Nick Schager hated it, judging by his Facebook status update.

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Postby Okri » Wed Nov 19, 2008 8:52 pm

I think this is the film I'm most looking forward to, actually (give or take Slumdog, which won't open here until the end of December).

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Postby Penelope » Wed Nov 19, 2008 2:26 pm

Eric wrote:Ah, I see ... In the sense that I'd much rather revisit Moulin Rouge (despite basically hating it every time I saw it) any day over revisiting In the Bedroom.

Exactly.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston

"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster

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Postby Eric » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:43 pm

Ah, I see ... In the sense that I'd much rather revisit Moulin Rouge (despite basically hating it every time I saw it) any day over revisiting In the Bedroom.

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Postby Penelope » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:28 pm

Eric wrote:
Penelope wrote:Well, see, I'd take a well made epic over a pretentious indie flick any day.

You'll have to narrow "pretentious indie flick" down a bit before I can dish it back.

Let's put it this way: I expect Australia will be utter, camptastic awfulness, but I'm pretty sure I will enjoy it a helluva lot more than Rachel Getting Married.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster

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Eric
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Postby Eric » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:20 pm

Penelope wrote:Well, see, I'd take a well made epic over a pretentious indie flick any day.

You'll have to narrow "pretentious indie flick" down a bit before I can dish it back.

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Postby Penelope » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:19 pm

Well, see, I'd take a well made epic over a pretentious indie flick any day.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster

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Postby flipp525 » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:13 pm

Penelope wrote:How convenient: People magazine just named Hugh Jackman The Sexiest Man Alive.

He certainly has one of the best torsos in the biz. I'm not looking forward to Australia at all really, except for the chance to gaze at Jackman's gorgeous body for three hours.




Edited By flipp525 on 1227118414
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Eric
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Postby Eric » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:04 pm

Mister Tee wrote:The big spectacle is just not my kind of movie at all, unless it pulls off the unlikely feat of integrating recognizable human characters within

On that, I think you as a hetero and me as a homo can unite. Not a genre prone to interesting filmmaking on the whole.

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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 19, 2008 1:02 pm

Penelope wrote:I've never thought of GWTW or Titanic as camp. Valley of the Dolls is camp. Mommie Dearest is camp.

Something my post didn't mean to say but did misleadingly imply (I could use a copy editor). What I meant to suggest was not that those two famous films tilted all the way into camp, but that they possessed (for me) the cheesy qualities that this review make me expect will be turning up in Australia as well.

To make my opinion of those landmarks clear: I had no problem with Titanic as a big-audience blockbuster. I can understand why gazillions of people wanted to see that boat go down; I enjoyed the spectacle myself. What I couldn't fathom was the number of critics who were willing to ignore or even justify the ghastly, anachronistic, beyond-cornball script. Give it tech awards, but calling such a shoddily-written piece the year's best film offends my scribe-soul.

When I finally got to see Gone With the Wind (at 17 years old), it was after a decade of hearing of it as the most famous film of all time, and seemingly many people's absolute favorite. Obviously I can't imagine what it felt like to see it in 1939 -- or '49 -- but by the time I got to it, a few weeks after I'd seen Midnight Cowboy (and a year or two after Bonnie and Clyde and the Graduate), it seemed a hopeless throwback -- a giant-sized soap opera with two strong leading performances and not much else that interested me. (I've seen it a few times since, and thought less of it each time -- the Leigh performance is, for me, the one element of distinction)

The big spectacle is just not my kind of movie at all, unless it pulls off the unlikely feat of integrating recognizable human characters within -- something I find true of The Bridge on the River Kwai and the English Patient, but not many others.

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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 19, 2008 12:48 pm

Eric wrote:It's a hetero thing to prefer dull to ridiculous?

I'm sure some view it exactly that way.

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Postby Greg » Wed Nov 19, 2008 12:34 pm

Penelope wrote:I've never thought of GWTW. . . as camp.

That made me think of the parody of Gone With The Wind on The Carol Burnett Show. For me, that was definitely camp.




Edited By Greg on 1227116079
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Penelope
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Postby Penelope » Wed Nov 19, 2008 12:33 pm

How convenient: People magazine just named Hugh Jackman The Sexiest Man Alive.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster

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Postby Penelope » Wed Nov 19, 2008 12:14 pm

I've never thought of GWTW or Titanic as camp. Valley of the Dolls is camp. Mommie Dearest is camp.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster


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