Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Australia - REVIEW

One of the easiest observations one can make about "Australia" is that they don't quite make them like this any more. "Australia" is above all things, old fashioned (lines between good and evil are drawn clearly, the bad guy has no redeeming qualities, etc...) and un-apologetically so. It is truly the epitome of the "sweeping" romance genre that has just about died out, where things are painted in broad strokes, and where the plot continues to stretch on and on, and you sometimes wish that it would keep going. Granted, it's not up to par with Baz Luhrmann's musical acid-trip, "Moulin Rouge!", but it has its share of brilliance, albeit in a less over-the-top/theatrical manner. Many scenes have a layered look, where backgrounds look less real than foregrounds, so as to create a sort of fairy-tale-pop-up-book look. At times it can be a little distracting, especially in a heart-pounding cattle stampede in the first act, but luckily it never completely derails the movie. At its center is the relationship between English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman), ranchhand The Drover (Jackman), and a mysterious aboriginee boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters, making a lovely acting debut). Predictably, Drover and Sarah start off quarreling (some of it with hilarious results), but eventually begin to fall for each other. Sounds predictable enough, right? And this is where the magic of Mr. Luhrmann comes into play. Just like with "Moulin Rouge", Mr. Luhrmann takes the type of story that we've seen done a million times, and manages to tell it in a refreshing way that stands out. Perhaps most unique (and most charming) is the way that "The Wizard of Oz" is woven into the plot, for results ranging from comical (Sarah trying to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to Nullah) to charming (Nullah actually getting to see "Oz") to haunting (a fusion of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Ave Maria"). If it sounds corny, it surprisingly isn't, and the little references and musical flourishes dedicated to "The Wizard of Oz" don't feel forced, but rather flow seamlessly with the story. Yet perhaps the biggest surprise in all of "Australia" is its sense of humor. The first third of the film is where 95% of the humor is, and some of it is gold. Watch out for a purposefully over-the-top scene with Lady Ashley getting overly excited about the site of kangaroos, that takes a rather odd turn (and one that gives Kidman the chance to tap into her often neglected comedic prowess). Though this is neither her best performance nor the most memorable character in her career, Kidman still manages to turn a cardboard cut out of a character and make Lady Ashley a living, breathing, person. Jackman, though not quite as nuanced, proves that he's one of the few actors out there who can pull off the rough-hewn leading man role with plenty of charisma and charm, while Walters exudes charm and innocence as Nullah. David Wenham makes good as the loathsome villain, along with David Gulpilil as an old mystic who guides Nullah on his spiritual journey from afar. Cinematography, while not as beautifully oversaturated as "Moulin Rouge", is still wonderful and manages to capture the Outback's more rugged beauty, while costumes and sets look grand. Tying it all together is David Hirschfelder's score, which pounds away to great effect, even bringing in a screeching choir during the brief-but-spectacular Darwin bombing sequence. Part opposites-attract love story, part western adventure, part spiritual fairy tale, and part somber war tale, "Australia" was a truly gargantuan undertaking for a director who has previously relied on stories confined to a smaller stage. Australia the continent provides Luhrmann with the biggest stage possible, and its history, its culture, its people, and, well, its actors, all serve him beautifully, and Mr. Luhrmann proves that he is the cinematic wizard of that strange and beautiful continent down under.

Grade: A

Nominations: Best Picture(#2), Best Director - Baz Luhrmann(#2), Best Actor - Hugh Jackman(#3), Best Actress - Nicole Kidman(#2), Best Supporting Actor - Brandon Walters(#4), Best Original Screenplay(#1 WINNER), Best Editing(#2), Best Cinematography(#1 WINNER), Best Art Direction(#1 WINNER), Best Costume Design(#1 WINNER), Best Original Score - David Hirshfelder(#1 WINNER), Best Original Song - The Drover by Elton John(#4), Best Makeup(#1 WINNER), Best Visual Effects(#3), Best Sound Editing(#2), Best Sound Mixing(#2)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 42

Top 10 of the Year:
1. The Dark Knight
2. Australia
4. In Bruges
5. Burn After Reading
6. The Fall
7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
8. I've Loved You So Long
9. The Duchess
10. Rachel Getting Married


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