Saturday, November 29, 2008


Yesterday I saw Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Baz Luhrman brings pre-World War II Australia to life by telling the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman), a British widow who has to relocate to the continent to save her husband's business and property after he is murdered. After many doses of typical movie-romance banter, she enlists the help of Drover (Jackman), a morally sound cattle rancher, who successfully assists her while consequently falling in love with her.

They also unofficially adopt Nullah (Brandon Walters), an aboriginal boy, who often appears to be the most resourceful and clever member of this dysfunctional, yet loyal, family.

To call the film a romance isn't really being honest—sure there are elements of it surrounding the main characters. And yes, Kidman and the ever-appealing Jackman have a respectable chemistry opposite one another. But the basis of the story is not merely their love; in fact, that part feels like more of a side dish in a meal that's more Western/war than anything else.

Because Director Baz Luhrman is in charge, that's all okay, though.

His stunning landscapes make for such a beautifully lit narrative, somehow even the hellish fires of war come out looking magical.

He also commands an almost supernaturally good performance from his youngest star, Walters, who brings so much character to Nullah, he steals the show.

Australia has all the elements of a traditional epic: deaths, rivalries, lovers torn apart, orphans, war and aristocracy, and each delivers in a satisfying, if not overwhelming way.

Many of the scenes and outcomes are predictable, but nonetheless well executed. Overall, it's an entertaining and attention-keeping film.

The biggest criticism I have is in the work's length—at nearly three hours long, I couldn't help but make mental notes along the way of portions that should have been cut.

But I'll forgive an artist as great as Luhrman for seeing his vision through to the end. Despite its flaws, the movie is still a suspense-filled visual marvel, and for that reason alone, audiences should see it on the big screen.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Tonight I saw Happy-Go-Lucky, starring Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan.

I hate it when critics oversell a film.

Going into this one, I was excited about the prospect of being uplifted by a refreshing character that always saw the glass as half full. Instead I was met with an incredibly annoying leading lady and a string of scenes that don't really mesh, but are forcibly woven together like an unfinished quilt.

Poppy (Hawkins) is an elementary schoolteacher that makes it her life's mission to cheer other people up. Or, she's just goofy. It's hard to tell in the piece-y scenes that have her alternately bouncing on trampolines, falling in love, flamenco dancing and attempting to help a troubled student. Each bit could have merit if it were allowed the chance to develop, but none of them really do.

None, except for the series of bits about her taking driving lessons. Yes—she's supposed to be a thirtysomething in a big city in England, yet she doesn't know how to drive. Suspending that disbelief, she hires a company to teach her how and gets assigned the Worst Driver on Planet Earth (Marsan). Not only is he surly to her, he's dangerous on the road and many of their scenes are borderline disturbing (and if they're not disturbing, they're excruciatingly irritating).

Is the film 100% bad? No. There are delightful (and more realistic scenes) with Poppy's sister, roommate and other friends that make you feel that you're watching a Cyndi Lauper video (in a good way), and the love story near the end is actually somewhat sweet.

I just found it hard to root for someone I wouldn't be able to be in the same room with if she were real.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Today I saw Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #63, which is available here.