"Australia" offers everything from a cattle drive to Nicole Kidman's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" to hordes of
Japanese Zeros zeroing in on screaming children during the early 1942 attack on Darwin in Australia's Northern
Territory, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The only thing missing is an iceberg.
It's a lot, and it's 165 minutes in length, yet it's not enough.
Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann's first project since "Moulin Rouge!" seven years ago, and his fourth since he debuted with the stage-derived "Strictly Ballroom" in 1992, assuredly is "not a bad-looking Sheila," as Nicole Kidman's character is referred to at one point.
The film plays with genres and riffs on classics the way the "Moulin Rouge!" soundtrack recycled contemporary and recent pop for its own fin de siècle purposes. The second half develops some momentum. But you have to pass through the first half to get to the second, by which time you may find yourself drowning in high-fructose Aussie corn syrup.
The story takes place in something like the real world and a fixed historical context, which is a first for Luhrmann. His films are close collaborations with, among others, his wife Catherine Martin, the first-rate production and costume designer. "Strictly Ballroom," "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!" comprised the director's so-called "red curtain trilogy," whipping up a flurry of cinematics and theatrics. Kidman receives top billing in "Australia" as Lady Sarah Ashley, a brittle little snip just asking to be knocked off her pedestal. (Think Katharine Hepburn in "The African Queen," without the facial expressivity.) The time is 1939, when "adventure and romance was a way of life," according to the opening title cards.
Lady Ashley has come from London to confront her philandering husband, whose cattle business is located on the remote Northern Territory ranch known as Faraway Downs. She's greeted by tragedy, however, and soon takes on the role of unofficial guardian of young Nullah (Brandon Walters). He is a "half-caste," part Aboriginal, part Caucasian and all adorable, guided spiritually by his grandfather, a magic man known as King George (David Gulpilil).
Hugh Jackman, recently named People's "sexiest man of the year," plays the sexiest cattleman of 1939, The Drover, who's his own boss, a loner, no strings, get it? "I wouldn't have it on with you if you were the only tart left in Australia!" he tells the Englishwoman. But it's simply a matter of time before he would, and he does. En route to love, and to save the ranch from the clutches of a rival cattle concern, he guides Lady Ashley and a multiethnic crew along with 1,500 head of cattle, across thousands of miles to the coast.
Luhrmann lays on the digital effects, which tend to make the cattle-rushing-toward-the-cliff cliffhangers look like outback variations on "The Mummy 3." The many-hands screenplay starts out as shrill romantic comedy (Kidman comes off like an amateur, which she's not), lurches into a tale of vicious prejudice against the mixed-race outcasts, climaxes with the Japanese attack, and the film has a lot of whoosh, but it's light on heartfelt engagement. Too much of the cutting and shooting and scoring conspires to tell the audience: Don't bother paying attention. There's another shot coming in a millisecond.
When the director staged a post-World War II version of Puccini's "La Boheme" on Broadway a few years ago, the results were pretty spectacular. Filling every inch of the proscenium frame but letting the story and the emotions breathe, all of Luhrmann's visual strengths came to the fore, unhindered by his cinematic itch for constant visual redirection, or strenuous comic relief. It's hard, with "Australia," to invest in a romance so synthetically preordained, featuring an orphan who is less a person than a history lesson. At times the film appears on the verge of morphing into a singing-cowboy musical. With Zeros.
Australia starring Nicole Kidman Hugh Jackman Movie Trailer
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for a scene of sensuality, brief strong language and some violence).
Running time: 2:45.
Starring: Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley); Hugh Jackman (The Drover); David Wenham (Neil Fletcher); Bryan Brown (King Carney); Jack Thompson (Kipling Flynn); David Ngoombujarra (Magarri); Brandon Walters (Nullah); David Gulpilil (King George).
Directed by Baz Luhrmann; written by Stuart Beattie, Luhrmann, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan; photographed by Mandy Walker; edited by Dody Dorn and Michael McCusker; music by David Hirschfelder; production design by Catherine Martin; produced by G. Mac Brown and Catherine Knapman. A 20th Century Fox release.
This charmless film concerns two lifelong friends, played by Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, whose competing weddings, mistakenly scheduled for the same day at Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, turn bride-to-be against bride-to-be. Half the comedies made in Hollywood are based on the premise of boy-men acting like idiots. Switching the gender and toning down the vulgarity to a PG level offers only change, not improvement. Hathaway in particular deserves better material.
Based on a book by Bishop T.D. Jakes, this film is a faith-based love story, secondarily about God's role in the care and feeding of an L.A. couple's turbulent marriage. Thanks to Morris Chestnut, whose warm, easy screen presence was an asset way back in "Boyz N the Hood," and to Taraji P. Henson, a by-the-book scenario (described by screenwriter Brian Bird as "sort of a male version of the film 'Waiting to Exhale'") ends up being pretty entertaining.
However sterling the craftsmanship, the film adaptation of Richard Yates' 1961 novel -- an excoriating portrait of a
mid-1950s marriage built on sticks, straw and delusion -- inflates the meaning and buffs the atmospheric surfaces of
the story, rather than digging into its guts.
But when stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet unleash their
character's demons, "Revolutionary Road" loses its tight, controlled sense of composition and air of solemnity
and, in human terms, matters.
Overnight-delivery specialist Frank Martin (Jason Statham) must once again move dangerous cargo. His wrist is strapped with a bracelet that explodes if he strays 75 feet from his car, which holds the package. The best sequences involve Frank's inventive ability to stay close to his vehicle, but otherwise, it's Frank's charismatic, unruffled dexterity in the face of impossible odds that rivets. PG-13
The story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy, but not since Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has Sean Penn played such a serenely happy individual. Penn is superb as the martyred San Francisco city supervisor, America's first widely acknowledged openly gay elected official. He was killed by Milk's former colleague, Dan White (Josh Brolin, also excellent), minutes after White's fatal shooting of Mayor George Moscone in 1978. R
En route to love, and to save his ranch from the clutches of a rival, a cattleman known as "The Drover" (Hugh Jackman) guides a prim Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman), a crew of mixed-race outcasts and 1,500 head of cattle across thousands of miles of Australia during World War II. The second half of director Baz Luhrmann's first project since "Moulin Rouge!" develops some momentum. But you have to pass through the first half to get to the second, by which time you may find yourself drowning in high-fructose Aussie corn syrup. PG-13
Christmas itself will survive this acrid, wince-worthy holiday film, but barely. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn (who both need new agents) play a carefree couple who routinely lie to their respective divorced parents about being unable to visit around the holidays. But bad weather ruins their trip to Fiji and strands them in an airport, they're interviewed on TV, and their families see it, so to save face they speed-visit all four sets of caricatures. The cast, which also includes Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall, is far better than its material. PG-13
This highly anticipated, surprisingly low-key vampire movie is a film of intelligent strengths and avoidable weaknesses, a modest adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's publishing phenomenon. It's faithful to its source material, and it's better written than Meyer's frothy book. Teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) relocates from Arizona to Washington, where she falls for tortured, sensitive vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Director Catherine Hardwicke was right to concentrate on getting the smoldering down between her stars, but her film lacks visual magic.
Voiced by John Travolta, the chief asset in a bland ensemble struggling with its material, Bolt is a canine who headlines a TV show co-starring his longtime owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus). Bolt has never been told that his life-or-death adventures are fake, so he's the star of his own depressing version of "The Truman Show." Complications separate Bolt from Penny, sending him to New York City, where his superpowers, which he believes to be real, are useless. This animated Disney feature is stingy on wit, charm, jokes and narrative satisfactions.
This lovely, vinegary holiday film from French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin is a simple picture about complicated people, the members of the extended Vuillard family. Taking place over a few days around Christmastime, the film's narrative may be more conventional than Desplechin's earlier work ("Kings and Queen," "My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into an Argument"), but it's as juicy and tonally unpredictable as anything he has made. Catherine Deneuve heads a fine cast.
Chilly-eyed Daniel Craig is the right man for the James Bond franchise, and his second outing confirms it. The trouble is, Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Monster's Ball") demonstrates that not every director is well-suited to Bondland. There's plenty of action, but half the time it's visually incoherent. The tale picks up minutes after the end of 2006's "Casino Royale." Bond is after the shadowy Quantum organization for killing his lady friend. PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content). 1:45. 2-1/2 stars.
"Slumdog Millionaire" is a ruthlessly effective paean to destiny, leaving nothing to chance. It also has a good shot at winning this year's Academy Award for best picture, if the pundits have anything to say about it. Every arrow plucked from director Danny Boyle's quiver takes aim at the same objective: to leave you exhausted but wowed. An 18-year-old (Dev Patel) in the former Bombay, India, is suspected of cheating his way to national fame on the Hindi version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" R (some violence, disturbing images and some language). 2:00. 3 stars.
This unusual vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme is an unexpectedly droll game of three-card monte disguised as an action film that turns into a (fake) reality-TV-style documentary and then into a hostage thriller. The star's star has waned, and he has child-custody battles to wage, as well as a drug-and-philandering rep to cloud his recent past. When Van Damme finds himself embroiled in a heist and then a hostage situation, he must draw upon his inner Van Damme to resolve it. The film is more a novelty item than a fully formed work, but it's very entertaining. R (language and some violence). 1:32. 3 stars.
The animated "Madagascar" (2005) made a mint, but this sequel is a better film -- less manic, more easygoing. Marooned on Madagascar, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) yearn for home in the Central Park Zoo. The penguins rig up an old, busted plane and zing the quartet (plus stowaways) not to Manhattan, but to Africa. PG (some mild crude humor). 1:28. 3 stars.
Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott mentor a medieval-fantasy-prone teenager (the invaluable Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played "McLovin" in "Superbad") and a trash-talking preteen (Bobb'e J. Thompson) in this sloppy but diverting comedy. The last 20 minutes, climaxing with a Dungeons & Dragons-type battle re-enactment, redeems much of what comes before. R (pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity). 1:43. 2-1/2 stars.
Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac play a couple of estranged backup singers who uneasily reunite for a tribute concert dedicated to their recently deceased front man. Crass but not without laughs, and Mac gets most of them. Too much of "Soul Men" relies on violent slapstick and Viagra jokes, but the two stars are having fun, and the fun translates when the script loosens its straps. Mac and Jackson transcend this hopped-up version of "The Sunshine Boys." R (pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity). 1:43. 2-1/2 stars.
Australia starring Nicole Kidman Hugh Jackman Movie Review | Michael Phillips Reviews Australia Australia Movie Review & Movie Trailer
Australia stars Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley); Hugh Jackman (The Drover); David Wenham (Neil Fletcher); Bryan Brown (King Carney); Jack Thompson (Kipling Flynn); David Ngoombujarra (Magarri); Brandon Walters (Nullah); David Gulpilil (King George).
Australia in Theaters this weekend A Christmas Tale movie review and movie trailer