Tag Archives: Australia

New Release Review: Australia

australiapic8
directed by Baz Lurhmann
starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman
Australia/USA 2008; screened 29 November 2008 at AMC Theatres

I admit that I haven’t read many reviews of Australia in toto, but the snippets I have read and the general critical feeling indicates that most critics didn’t think it was very good. At all. And in fact, in many ways, they’re right. Australia is a mess. But it’s a gorgeous, sloppy, enjoyable mess.

Australia is not the great epic of the Australian people, or indeed, a great epic at all. It is not a particularly innovative piece of filmmaking. It is not indicative of a specifically Australian filmmaking sensibility, nor a very strong example of Baz Lurhmann’s own flamboyant filmmaking style. There’s a bit of a sense of failed ambition hanging about the film, because you can tell Lurhmann wanted at least some of those things to be true, especially the first one.

An English noblewoman travels to Australia to get her husband to sell his plantation there and return to England. Instead, her husband is killed and she stays on to run the plantation with the help of an Australian cowboy known only as Drover (because that’s what he is, a cattle drover). Meanwhile, she takes a young aboriginal boy under her protection. Lurhmann’s attempt to bring together a uniquely Australian family pulled from each of Australia’s roots (English, aboriginal, and outback drifters) is obvious to an extreme, which is part of why it fails as a national epic – it’s too calculated.

Australia

In addition to the overdetermined theme, the film suffers from tonal inconsistency. It can’t decide whether it’s a farce (the first half-hour is full of Luhrmann-esque quick close-ups and exaggerated facial expressions, as if he wanted to remind us that he’s the one who directed Moulin Rouge before settling into a much more staid style for the rest of the film), western, romance, war, family drama, elegy, social rights message picture, travel brochure or national epic. The western and war sections, especially, are so divisively separated that Lurhmann might have been better off making two films instead of one.

But even after that laundry list of defects, and I could think of more if I wanted to, I can’t get past how much I plain enjoyed watching the film, and I would go see it again in a heartbeat. It’s old-fashioned classic filmmaking in the Hollywood tradition. I hate to keep bringing up David Bordwell’s The Way Hollywood Tells It all the time as if it’s the only film theory book I’ve ever read, but it’s applicable here again – elements in the narrative are carefully placed so as to lead the audience to expect certain things to happen, and they do. So yes, it’s predictable, but satisfyingly so. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman play their characters as larger-than-life mythic figures rather than real people, because that’s what they are. Kidman especially works in her role not because she turns in an outstanding acting performance (she’s done that far better in other films), but because she channels old Hollywood star quality so well when she lets herself.

Australia

I’ll grant you I’m a sucker for westerns, and I definitely loved that part the best – there’s nothing revisionist about it, and the first half of the film could easily have been made during the golden age of westerns, full of gorgeous vistas, sweeping music and laconic hero figures. Then, suddenly, World War II starts, and it’s almost a whole different movie, which I didn’t like quite as much as the western, though it’s not particularly bad.

So Australia is a mess, yes, trying to pack too many varied things into one film that never quite meshed into a cohesive whole. But it was a very comfortable-feeling mess, and I unabashedly loved watching it. As a compromise between knowing it’s nowhere near objectively good and my subjective love for it, I give it an Above Average.

Australia

[Weird side note – according to IMDb, the aspect ratio is 2.35:1, but I would’ve sworn I saw it in 1.85:1. Anyone else see it in the narrower ratio, or was I just on crack? I even made a note about it in my notebook at the time, that it seemed odd to shoot an epic in 1.85:1.]

My 2008 Recap

As per usual, I haven’t seen enough 2008 releases to be justified making a Best of 2008 list, so here is my much more egocentric list of my favorite movies that I saw during 2008, no matter when they were released. And I threw in books, music, and games, with the same caveat. The links go to my reviews, reactions, or other previous writings about them. The non-linked ones I, uh, didn’t write about. Because I am lazy. So I’ll throw in a line about them, but I may still write about the more in the future. Or not. Because I am lazy.

Oh, and also, don’t even think these are lists of bests. They’re lists of favorites, 100% subjective. And highly subject to change.

FILM

LOVED

Cleo from 5 to 7

Cleo from 5 to 7 (imdb) – A New Wave film from a female director (Agnes Varda). It’s an excellent combination.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sunrise
Wall-E (imdb) – edit: I managed to forget this one upon publishing this post. BAD JANDY. A breathtakingly beautiful, heartwarming but not maudlin, and prescient sci-fi animated film. Virtually perfect in every way.
Divided We Fall
Easy Rider

The Fall

The Fall (imdb) – A dazzlingly imaginative film set partly in war-torn Spain and partly in the story a dying soldier tells a young girl. Not as cohesive as Pan’s Labyrinth, but very much in the same vein.
Kicking and Screaming
All That Jazz
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Speed Racer (imdb) – One of the most criminally underrated films of the year. A visionary expression of sensory overload and invention. Plus, shiny!
I Walked With a Zombie
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Planet Terror

REALLY LIKED

I'm Not There

I’m Not There
Rachel Getting Married (imdb) – Fantastic acting and script. Just misses being in the “Loved” section because I could strangle Jonathan Demme for misusing the shakicam.
The Savages
Orpheus
Werckmeister Harmonies (imdb) – Director Bela Tarr is known for using reaaaallllly long takes, and he does. But the slow pacing soon becomes mesmerizing and stunningly beautiful.
Iron Man
The Dark Knight (imdb) – I’m sorry, but I have to say I think The Dark Knight is a little overrated. Ledger is fantastic, and the Joker is the best villain the movies have seen in a long time. But I pretty much can’t remember ANY of the scenes without him.
Go
All the President’s Men
Repulsion

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading (imdb) – The black humor Coens return in force (and farce) here. It’s nothing like No Country, but it’s an over-the-top great time.
The Innocents (imdb) – This should’ve been in my Month of Horror post; don’t know how I forgot it. Very well-done quiet (maybe) evil kid horror film based on The Turn of the Screw.
Them!
Let the Right One In
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (imdb) – Perhaps a movie about hipsters running around New York City in search of an elusive band is just made for me. Granted, it’s slight, but it’s really enjoyable.
Australia (imdb) – There are admittedly a lot of tonal problems with Australia, but I enjoyed watching every second of it.
Tell No One (imdb) – A man’s wife is murdered…or is she? When he starts seeing her and hearing from her years later, it quickly becomes clear there’s much more going on in this twisty French thriller.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Transsiberian (imdb) – A couple travels from China via the Transsiberian Railway, but gets pulled into trouble by a couple of young drifters. A solid thriller with a good twist or two.
Shaft (1971) (imdb) – I saw Samuel L. Jackson’s remake a few years ago. As cool as Sam Jackson is, he WISHES he were as cool as Richard Roundtree, the original iconoclastic black private eye facing off with Harlem and Italian gangsters and the NYPD.
Night of the Living Dead

Saawariya

Saawariya (imdb) – This fairy-tale Bollywood film is extremely stylized and imaginative – one of the more interesting Indian films I’ve seen so far. They’re always visually sumptuous, but this one takes it to a whole new level.
The Flower of My Secret (imdb) – Pedro Almodovar film similar to All About My Mother in tone. Not as good, but still very worthwhile.
Synecdoche, New York (imdb) – I can’t do this one justice in a few sentences. I’m still working out in my head what I think about it. The best quote I’ve seen about it, though, is from Roger Ebert: “a film that should never be seen unless you’ve already seen it at least once.”
Les bonnes femmes
Atonement
Village of the Damned (imdb) – Evil alien children take over a rural English town. It’s way better than it sounds, a classic old-school British horror flick.
My Blueberry Nights (imdb) – Wong Kar-Wai’s first English-language film is a visually beautiful odyssey following a girl as she tries to find out what she wants. I’m excited to see his other films now, which I’ve heard are better.
Sunshine
Metropolitan
Some Came Running (imdb) – Frank Sinatra gets to prove his acting chops again as a cynical soldier returning to his small-town home. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation, and Dean Martin gets probably his best role, as well.
Lars and the Real Girl

Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole (imdb) – Reporter Kirk Douglas will do anything to get a good story, even keeping a trapped miner trapped as long as he can to increase the media frenzy. It’s Billy Wilder, so you know it’s going to be solid, and it is.
Two-Lane Blacktop
The Body Snatcher
Wristcutters: A Love Story
Isle of the Dead
Do You Like Hitchcock (imdb) – This Dario Argento film has a film student getting involved with a murder that bears a close resemblance to Strangers on a Train; the overall film also had plenty of Rear Window and I like to think a little Vertigo in there.
Be Kind, Rewind
Leatherheads
Shadows (imdb) – John Cassavetes’ first film, and often hailed as the beginning of American independent film. Touches on show business, youth, and sibling rivalry, but the tough look at 1960s racial issues is the most interesting aspect.
In Bruges (imdb) – I expected a comic action film, and it is that sometimes, but it’s also got a huge dose of thoughtful philosophy in there, as two hitmen go to Bruges (read: Purgatory) to wait out a botched job.

RECOMMENDED

Hannah Takes the Stairs
Lacombe, Lucien (imdb) – A young German boy falls into working with the Nazis during WWII, but finds his loyalties divided when he befriends a Jewish family – and falls in love with the family’s daughter. It’s a big tough at first to relate to the implacable boy, but there’s more here than meets the eye.
The Seventh Victim (imdb) – Val Lewton, occultism, missing sisters, overall creepiness – what more do you want?

Made in USA

Made in USA
The Blue Angel
Lola Montes (imdb) – Max Ophuls’ only widescreen, color feature about the rise and fall of a the title character in the courts of Europe is sumptuous, but a little distancing. Perhaps purposefully.
Paprika
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Lantana
Mickey One
Michael Clayton
The Cool World (imdb) – Another early independent film, this is the story of a young Harlem boy who thinks everything in his life would be better if he just had a gun, and thus some power and authority. Hard to see due to rights issues, so if you get the chance, jump on it.
I Am Legend
Papillon
Bottle Rocket
Ghost Ship

BOOKS

LOVED

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – First thing I’ve read by James, and I was highly impressed. His mastery of depicting the interior life is a great foreshadowing of Modernism.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – Proof that graphic novels can be just as complex and well-written as traditional novels.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – The basis for my current revaluation of Hemingway, who I used to not like. But this one is great.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – A Victorian mystery, and with my general dislike of Victorian lit, I was shocked at how much I liked it. It’s perfectly written, and so much more than *just* a mystery.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers – Similarly here, as this is technically a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but the mystery is almost secondary to Sayers’ exploration of life at an Oxford women’s college, with side notes on feminism, class, and academia.

LIKED

Good Night Mr. Holmes by Carol Nelson Douglas – Douglas rewrites Sherlock Holmes from a woman’s point of view, making Irene Adler, the only person to outwit Holmes (in A Scandal in Bohemia), the heroine.
Alias Grace Margaret Atwood – Grace is a convicted murderess, shuttled between prison and mental institution; she tells her story to a sympathetic doctor who hopes to absolve her. But the truth of the matter is elusive, even to the reader.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Ichebe – A leader in an African tribe struggles with pride and the conflict between tribal customs and the incoming Christian missionaries. Achebe is known for being among the first to bring a truly African voice into English-language literature, and his minimalist style suits the story perfectly.
Spook Country by William Gibson

MUSIC

With music it’s more “these are what I’ve been listening to the most in 2008.” Although I think I did acquire all of these albums in 2008, even though several of them are from earlier. All 2006-2008, though, I think. I linked Music Monday or concert coverage posts where I had them; otherwise tacked on a MySpace link so you can hear them yourself.

LOVED

Jenny LewisAcid Tongue
The SubmarinesHoneysuckle Weeks
BabyshamblesShotters Nation (MySpace)
Mates of StateRearrange Us
Los Campesinos!We Are Beautiful, We are Doomed / Hold On Now, Youngster
MetricLive It Out (MySpace)
Army NavyArmy Navy
Silversun PickupsCarnavas
The Apples in StereoNew Magnetic Wonder (MySpace)
Arcade FireNeon Bible (MySpace)

REALLY LIKE

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes (MySpace)
We are ScientistsBrain Thrust Mastery (MySpace)
She & HimVolume One (MySpace)
I’m From BarcelonaWho Killed Harry Houdini / Let Me Introduce My Friends (MySpace)
The RosebudsLife Like
Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend
The FratellisHere We Stand

GAMES

LOVE

Mass Effect
Bioshock – One of the most amazing stories and art direction in any game ever.
Bully – Like GTA, but at a boarding school. :) Not particularly innovative, but a blast to play.
Portal – The only problem with Portal is it’s too short! Fantastic puzzle game with a fun story to boot.
Fallout 3 – I’ve only played a few hours of this, but I can already tell it’s headed to the “loved” category. Looks fantastic and plays like Oblivion (aka, my fave game of all time).
Rock Band 2 – Not much different than Rock Band, but don’t fix what ain’t broken, and the improvements made are good. I just keeping coming back for more.

REALLY LIKE

Fable 2 – Does a nice job of improving on the first Fable, which was already good. The difficulty’s not perfect, though – I found I got through the whole main quest with very little leveling.
Guitar Hero: World Tour – The first Guitar Hero game that remotely gives Rock Band any competition, to my mind. I actually think the gameplay is a bit better, but the overall experience was less enjoyable.
Assassin’s Creed – Climbing up every building in town and running over rooftops never got old. The gameplay here is spectacular, but it’s not one I’d ever play again. Looking forward to seeing what the sequels do with the story, though.
Mirror’s Edge – Again, groundbreaking gameplay, once you get the hang of it. But I’m about halfway through and I’m already bored with the story and missions. Still, paves the way for potentially stupendous games in the future.
Lost Odyssey

Trailer Watch!

Haven’t done one of these for a long time, but I defend myself on the grounds that there hasn’t been hardly anything released yet this year worth watching. And Debbie, I promise I will write about American Idol tomorrow.

 

Baby Mama

Apparently this is the response to all of last year’s unplanned pregnancy movies.  Don’t ask me to explain why I guiltily want to see this.  Probably something to do with my untold love for 30 Rock.  Opens April 25th.

Son of Rambow

This has been knocking around festivals for a year or so, and just because it has a release date now doesn’t mean I’m overly optimistic about it coming near where I am. Ah well.  The festival reviews have been glowing, and it looks as endearing as anything. Opens May 2 in limited release.

Speed Racer

So when I first heard about this movie, I wrote it off as another stupid kids-TV-series-to-kids-movie thing.  But then I saw the trailer.  And remembered that it’s the Wachowski brothers making it.  And it looks so totally awesome that it’s pretty much my most highly-anticipated movie right now.  Look at it!  It looks so gorgeous, like a futuristic 1950s. Opens May 9th.

More after the jump.

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