15 December 2008

sometimes i can understand why people might be rooting for a movie to fail. for example, it doesn't surprise me at all everytime m. night shyamalan makes yet another gawdawful disaster and critics seem to silently cheer, since he is such a pompous and self important ass, and there is understandably some joy to be had in watching him receive some comeuppance. however, often times this sort of cheering on failure seems to arise out of nowhere. to be perfectly honest this seems to happen to movies that are helmed by women, that is, at least when women star in movies but not as busty violent femme fatals. Look at Angelina Jolie. Every time she legitimately tries to act in a movie (Changeling, A Mighty Heart) critics seem to pay little attention, whereas when she pulls her boobs up out of her tank top and kicks men in the face (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wanted) everyone cheers her on. In fact, a lot of movies starring women seem to get dissed before they are even out of the chute. It wouldn't surprise me if critics had written their witty put downs of Diane English's The Women before they even saw it this summer.

Enter Australia. For some reason, every time Nicole Kidman makes a movie, it is understood that it will be getting bad reviews. And I just had a feeling even before this movie came out that it was bound to get trampled. Unfortunately, this is one instance where it pays to look past or at least through critics' reviews and reserve comment for oneself.

Australia is by no means a perfect movie, but maybe it is enjoyable precisely because it is charmingly imperfect. The narrative is strung together in a sometimes awkward way, but this is emblematic of Baz Luhrmann's work in general I think. The biggest mistake might come in the featuring of the aboriginal boy Nullah as narrator and costar. At times, his colloquial narration and strange obliviousness do come across as bordering at annoying. However, he always seems to get by on cuteness at least. And there are times, especially towards the end of the film when Hugh Jackman is obviously overacting to a degree, but there is some enjoyment to be had in watching even this melodramatic performance.

Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, who seems to have taken the brunt of the negative attention regarding the movie (surprise surprise) is really quite wonderful here. I doubt that this role actually involves a great deal of acting for her, but she does nice work with it, not only playing the dramatic parts well, which isn't much of a surprise, but actually being more convincing with the comedic elements that I have ever seen her before.

For me the real triumphs in this movie are the cinematography (the filming of the stampede scene seems especially masterful) and David Gulpilil as aboriginal patriarch King George. I would never expect critics to pay much attention to this sort of understated role, but I think it is absolutely amazing how Gulpilil just fades into the scenery here. Never once did I believe he was actually acting in this movie. It seemed more like he was just part of the landscape where the filming was taking place.

Australia is really a beautiful saga, sort of evoking Cold Mountain or maybe Titanic, full of action and never boring. At over two and a half hours in length, I expected there to be some weak spots, but it trucked along so quickly with so much story, that it seems to go by in a flash. The characters are surprisingly few for a movie of this magnitude, but the good thing about that is that they are each very well developed and fun to follow. (Gawd how much did I want to throw a brick at Fletcher's face when he was threatening Lady Ashley at the farm). And the scenery is so beautiful that it is just one of those movies that would be fun to watch even if the story was nonexistent. In sum, this is really a fun movie to watch. And honestly, can we just agree that not every movie has to be a total downer to be quality?

We can also agree, however, that Australia was never going to be successful. After all, it stars a woman. A final tip for Kidman, incidentally my favorite working actress. If you want to revive your career, you are going to have to put on a corset, work on your kickboxing, and get cast as a sexy sidekick to like matt damon or george clooney. you need to work yourself into that steven soderbergh cool clique and out of the baz luhrmann, lars von trier artistic ghetto.
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