Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: ‘Public Enemies’

July 21, 2009

There are a few directors whose films, regardless of buzz, I will go see in the theater: Tim Burton; Christpoher Nolan; M. Night Shyamalan; JJ Abrams. Whether or not I like their latest film, I want to see for myself what these directors have done. It’s a short list, and even some of my favorite directors are noticeably absent (Woody Allen being the biggest omission). But there is one director that I didn’t realize I have seen all his movies in the theater (barring one) since 1992: Michael Mann.

After seeing Public Enemies, I went over to IMDb.com to see what films he had directed. Last of the Mohicans. Heat. The Insider. Ali. Miami Vice. I had seen all of these in the theater. Collateral was the only one I hadn’t. (I saw it on DVD, and now desperately wished I had seen it in the theater. It’s the one movie that I can honestly say had me on the edge of my sofa seat.)

Mann’s films brim with the right amount of intelligence and testosterone, and Public Enemies is no exception. And while Public Enemies wasn’t a knock-your-socks off action film, it is a solid entry–and better than 2006’s Miami Vice–in the Michael Mann canon.

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? The year is 1933. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his band of…bandits steal from the rich and give to themselves. Even when he gets caught, Dillinger has the right connections (and amount of chutzpah) to escape. After breaking free from jail or robbing a bank, Dillinger will cross state lines, making it hard for state police to do anything.

The FBI is getting under way, doing what local law enforcement can’t do: catch guys like Dillinger. J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), director of the FBI, assigns Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to head the Chicago office with one goal: catch guys like Dillinger.

At a speakeasy in Chicago, Dillinger meets the Billie Frechette (Oscar winner Marion Cotilard), a half French-half Native American woman. The attraction is instant, and Dillinger, a man who gets what he wants, begins a whirlwind romance with Billie.

Eventually Purvis and his men, after numerous close calls with Dillinger, use Billie to get to him. It is when Billie is in FBI custody–and the fact that his bank-robbing skills are no longer appreciated by other criminals with bigger and broader illegal operations–that Dillinger’s days are numbered.

What’s good about it? Depp, as always, gives a charismatic performance as Dillinger. And Cotillard gives a devastating performance in what could have been a throwaway part. One sequence in particular–when she is interrogated by the FBI–is heartbreaking.

Colleen Atwood’s costumes are outstanding. (There’s at least one Oscar nomination right there).

I personally like Mann’s directorial style, which usually entails using digital hand-held cameras. It gives the film a sense of immediacy. Often times period pieces are romanticized or glamorized. But Mann gives the 1930’s a shot of adrenaline rarely seen.

What’s bad about it? I hate to say it, but Christian Bale’s quickly becoming Hollywood’s top second banana. After a ho-hum performance in Terminator Salvation (in which Sam Huntington stole the show from him), Bale is once again overshadowed by his costar.

The film tries to say a lot about celebrity, crime and the ethics of crime fighting. But even at a running time of 140 minutes, it comes up a little short. It feels as if some scenes to flesh out character got omitted to keep studio execs happy. Perhaps there might be a directors cut when it comes out on DVD?…

Perfect for: Depp fans, action fans, history buffs.

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Sound Bite Me.

July 18, 2009

I really enjoy writing on this blog. However, I’ve been awfully busy these last few months. I never apologize for not keeping my blog current (after all, it’s my hobby, not my bread and butter), but I have seen a few movies this year that I haven’t reviewed,  and I though I would share some blurb-y, sound-bite-worthy reviews, all under five words or less.

Star Trek: Highly Entertaining!

The Proposal: Not that Funny!

The Brothers Bloom: Pretty Good!

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Meh! Better than X-Men 3!

Terminator Salvation: Toothless and Boring!

Monsters Vs. Aliens: DreamWorks Will Never Be Pixar!

Up: Seriously, Best Movie Of 2009!

Watchmen: I Wish I Hadn’t!

Drag Me to Hell: Crazy Awesome! I Mean It!

He’s Just Not That Into You: Neither Am I!

Earth: Wasn’t this on Discovery Channel?!

What would be your five-words-or-less review of a movie you’ve recently seen?

Netflix this: ‘Lady and the Tramp’

July 16, 2009

Picture this: Christmas 1986. My parents, in a festive mood, decide to take the entire family (all seven of us) to the movies. I, of course, am beyond enthusiastic, because any opportunity to see a movie in the theater must be seized. The movie? An American Tail, the (non-Disney) animated adventure of a family of mice emigrating from Russia to America. Was I terribly excited to see it? Not particularly. Hell, it could have been an hour and a half of talking heads and I would have wanted to see it. (Such was/is my obsession with movies; sometimes it doesn’t matter what I watch, just that I’m watching.)

We arrived at the mall, which was quite a drive away from our home. The mall, in my nine-year-old eyes, had the luxury of having two multiplexes within it, one at each end. To our dismay, An American Tail was sold out. We would have to turn around and go home. But that was a fate I could not accept. I was seeing a movie, dammit!

As a kid I would scour the movie listings in the newspaper everyday. If there ever was a movie emergency and we had to go to a movie right then and there, I would save the day and and know the show times. My years of preparation was about to pay off; I knew that Lady and the Tramp was playing at the other theater at the other end of the mall.

I successfully convinced my parents to take the family to that instead, even though we had to wait about an hour for the next show time. Did I remember the movie? No, not really. But that sweet satisfaction of getting what I wanted has lasted all these years.

Fast forward to Summer 2009. I rent Lady and the Tramp from Netflix because I can. And now, nearly 23 years after seeing it for the first time, I discover how wonderful this movie really is.

The theatrical poster from the 1986 re-release.  Courtesy IMPAwards.com

The theatrical poster from the 1986 re-release. Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? Lady and the Tramp tells the rather simple story of a cocker spaniel named Lady (whaaaa?!), who possesses what every dog should: loving owners, a warm house, and a fancy collar with ID, which ensures that if she is lost of caught by the pound, she’ll be returned to her owners.

Lady goes through an identity crisis when her owners, “Jim, Dear” and “Darling,” have a baby and her quality time with the new parents diminishes.

Months later, “Jim Dear” and “Darling” go away on a vacation, leaving the baby with Aunt Sarah, an old, dog-hating woman who believes her Siamese cats are absolute angels, but really cause a lot of problems for Lady. (Thus reinforcing the universal truth: cats are evil.)

Aunt Sarah, under the false impression that Lady has injured her cats, puts a muzzle on the dog, which sends Lady into a panic. She escapes from Sarah, spends some time in the pound, and gets acquainted with Tramp, a Mutt from—you guessed it—the wrong side of the tracks, with whom she falls in love.

What’s good about it? The animation is absolutely beautiful. The animators captured the canine movements so expertly. There’s also so real emotion to this film; if you’ve ever had a dog, you might even get a little choked up.

What’s bad about it? Some parts might be too dark for really young viewers.

Perfect for: Disney fans, dog enthusiasts.

Review: ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ – It really is as bad as you’ve heard

June 26, 2009

I had no desire to see Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But my fiancee wanted to see it, so I knew I would eventually be dragged to the multiplex to waste my money and time on it. I didn’t really care for the first film–had it been an hour and a half of robots fighting, I would have been satiated. But no. They had to add characters and story (uninteresting ones, at that).

I usually don’t read reviews beforehand of movies I know I’m going to see (especially if I will review them), but because I didn’t think Transformers 2 would be worth writing about, I thumbed through some reviews to see how it fared. Here are a few quotes I found from some professional critics:

“This is so bad it’s immoral.”

“This celluloid abortion should be buried in a vault and shown to film students as an example of big Hollywood at its worst.”

“Not to damn it with faint praise, but ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ is a flaming pile of poo.”

Now, I’m not big fan of immorality, abortions or flaming poo, but my curiosity was piqued. How could a movie–one that will probably make $300 million before summer is through–cause such a vitriolic response? (When I told my fiancee of the bad reviews, she changed her mind. So now I’m the one to blame for going to see it.)

Sometimes I like a truly awful movie, like Catwoman, a film so bad you constantly say to yourself, “there is no way that this movie could get any worse,” and then it does. A truly awful movie is like watching a train wreck or one of those medical oddity shows on TLC: you’re fascinated even though you shouldn’t watch. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is much like Catwoman in that it is gloriously awful; a shining pillar of when movies are used for evil. However, unlike Catwoman, this movie. Never. Ends.

What’s it about? The Autobots (the good robots) now work with a secret military organization called NEST, which seeks out Decepticons (the bad robots) that have been in hiding because…I don’t remember. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBouf) is heading off to college out East but leaving his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox, a.k.a. the most robotic thing in this movie) back in California because…ah, who cares. All you need to know is that robots fight in between scenes of extremely tedious plotting.

What’s good about it? This movie does, in fact, have more robots fighting, which for someone like me who felt he was short-changed by the first film, is kind of a good thing. But the fight sequences are so CG-heavy and edited so rapidly, you’ll have a hard time fully seeing what’s going on.

Is the film an immoral flaming poo abortion? No. But it’s close.

What’s bad about it? Plenty. Everything you’ve already read or heard from your friends about the movie is true.

What I was most surprised by was the stale direction from Michael Bay. He’s made his career out of directing big, loud movies where things blow up (The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, the first Transformers–and the under-seen The Island, which I actually liked), but now his trademark style (slow motion explosions, swooping aerials, dizzying shots of people mostly talking, music video-worthy moments of people having special time) feels…old. And with a running time of 150 minutes, Bay really tests the audience’s interest level. Most well-known directors branch out and push themselves after a few films because they know they’ve either proven themselves creatively or box-office wise (Scorcese is the former, Bay is the latter, Spielberg is both). Bay seems bored with his own film this time around. I personally would love to see what he would do with a character-driven comedy-drama or a straight-up kid’s film. Even if they sucked I would have more respect for him simply for the fact he’s trying.

Perfect for: pubescent boys. Everyone else will regret their choice. If you want the most ideal way to watch this movie (even though you shouldn’t), wait for it on DVD. That way you can pause to see what’s actually going on in the fight scenes and you can fast forward the extremely boring everything else.

Playing catch up. Again. I make no apologies.

February 28, 2009

CORALINE

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This Tim Burton-esque animated fantasy is visually stunning and effectively creepy.  Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a precocious tween who’s largely ignored by her workaholic parents (who, ironically, both work from home).  The family has just moved into a new apartment converted from a large old house.  In her attempts to fight boredom, Coraline befriends her quirky neighbors and discovers a portal to another dimension.  At night she visits the other world, which appears to be a perfect version of the world she inhabits during the day…except for everyone has buttons for eyes.  And things become increasingly disturbing.

I’ve seen a lot of weird movies, but this is one is way up there on the bizarre-o-meter.  It’s dark, twisted and downright morbid.  Definitely not suitable for young kids.  But the visuals are amazing.

Perfect for: Tim Burton, animation or fantasy fans.

MADEA GOES TO JAIL

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In addition to watching Why Did I Get Married, I also watched The Family That Preys and Madea’s Family Reunion this month as part of festivities sponsored by the White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies club.  (It was just me and my friend, who after watching two movies back to back, suffered from Tyler Perry fatigue  and dropped out.  No hard feelings.)  After watching Madea Goes to Jail, I think I might change the name of the club to White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies In Moderation.

Tyler Perry’s comedies go from Deathly Serious to Hi-Larious Hijinx within moments of each other.  This time around, the Deathly Serious story revolves around Joshua (Derek Luke), an Atlanta assistant D.A. who stumbles upon (in court, no less) his old friend Candy (Keisha Knight-Pulliam), during her arraignment on prostitution charges.  Excusing himself from the case and handing it to his fellow assistant D.A., fiancee and villain of the movie, Linda (Ion Overman), Joshua spends most of the film trying to get help for Candy.

The Hi-Larious Hijinx part of the film comes from Madea (Tyler Perry), the sassy senior citizen with a violent temper, whose frequent run-ins with the law have forced her to go to anger management therapy sessions with Dr. Phil (yes, that Dr. Phil) that end up going nowhere.   When a snooty white lady takes Madea’s parking spot at K-Mart, Madea exacts revenge by destroying the lady’s car with a forklift.  And then–you guessed it–Madea goes to jail.

I simultaneously like and dislike the Madea movies, because the humor is so broad and obvious, and knowing it’s kinda’ stupid, still has the power to make me laugh.  I should know better.

The character of Madea reminds me of characters found on Saturday Night Live–the less you know, the funnier they are.  Unlike the other Madea films (Diary  of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion), this one fleshes out Madea’s character (do we really need to know that in her younger years she was a stripper???) and in the process, some of the humor about the character is lost.

Perfect for: Fans of Ernest P. Warrel movies.

THIS IS MY LIFE

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You’ve Got Mail is, in my opinion, the greatest romantic comedy of all time.  It’s funny.  It’s clever.  It’s filled with great performances.  I figured that This is My Life would be an alright movie because a) it’s directed by Nora Ephron (she directed You’ve Got Mail and wrote When Harry Met Sally) and b) I like movies about showbiz.  I was wrong on both accounts.

Julie Kavner (unmistakable as the voice of Marge Simpson) stars Dottie, as a middle-aged single mom who gets her big break in stand-up comedy.  Gaby Hoffman (Field of Dreams) and a frumpy Samantha Mathis (Little Women) star as her daughters, Opal and Erica.  The film tries to tell the story from both Dottie and Erica’s points of view, but ends up focusing more on the latter.  The real story that needed to be told was from Dottie’s side, but things like stand-up routines and dealing with agents get glossed over whereas Erica’s first romance gets way too much screen time (including a sex scene that really pushes it for a PG-13).

The film is, on the whole, rather tepid and unforgettable.  If nothing else it shows how far Ephron has come as a director.

Perfect for: Hmmmm…..

DVD Review: ‘Why Did I Get Married?’

February 9, 2009

I am fascinated by Tyler Perry.  I’ve seen a few of his movies (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Meet the Browns), I’m still trying to decipher them.  I don’t find them to be very good–they tend to flip flop between wocka wocka funny and drama with a capital D–but I do find them strangely watchable.  And clearly, I am not the target demographic Perry has in mind (last time I checked I was not a middle-aged African American female), but  I keep watching them.  He’s pretty prolific, too:  not only do audiences show up for his films, he churns out about two a year.  That’s pretty impressive.

He’s made some films without his most popular character, Madea (which, for the uninformed, is Perry in drag), but until now I had not watched any of them.  So I rented Why Did I Get Married? to see how Perry fares when he plays a dude (sidenote: not only does he write and direct his films,  he always casts himself.  Could Perry be the black Woody Allen?), and to see what he has to say about the institution of marriage.  Not surprisingly, he endorses it, even though no marriage is perfect.

What’s it about? Every year four married couples spend a week together in some exotic location to work on their marriage.  This year they’ve chosen a swank log cabin in Colorado (probably Aspen or Telluride, but the movie never says where exactly).  And, of course, each couple comes to the cabin with Issues:

– Power couple Gavin (Malik Yoba) and Patricia (Janet Jackson) have a Deep Dark Secret that threatens their seemingly perfect marriage.

– Pediatrician Terry (Perry) wonders why his workaholic lawyer Dianne (Sharol Leal) won’t have sex with him.  (She has a Deep Dark Secret that threatens their seemingly perfect marriage.)

– Loud-mouthed (and frequently drunk) Angela (Tasha Smith) can’t stop telling people how it is, especially her semi-spineless husband, Marcus (Michael Jai White), who has a Deep Dark (and Burning) Secret that threatens their extremely tumultuos marriage.

– Jerk of the year Mike (Richard T. Jones) makes his overweight wife Shelia (Jill Scott) drive by herself to the retreat when she’s deemed too fat to fit into one airplane seat.  He also invites Trina (Denise Boutte), his and Shelia’s friend, to the retreat, even though it’s couples only.  The “friendship” between Mike and Trina threatens his already-in-jeopardy marriage.

The first half of the film has  everybody cooped up in the cabin, breathing in the fresh mountain air, waiting to exhale.  When the requisite crap-hits-the-fan scene finally happens, everybody leaves, packing their dirty laundry.  The second half is the aftermath.  The long, tedioius, aftermath.

What’s good about it? Scott’s performance as Shelia, the heavy-set wife desperate to make her husband love her, is the real star of this show.  You believe every word Perry wrote for her, no matter how trite or schmaltzy.  Jackson is also pretty good.  I really think if she wanted to make a real comeback, she should switch to acting instead of relaunching herself every two years as a crazysexyhott singer.  Miss Jackson, you are over 40. It’s okay to be over 40!   Quit Mariah Carey-ing it up and get in some good acting roles.  You can do it.

I have a hard time coming down too hard on any film that ultimately is pro-marriage and pro-religion.  We could always use more of them.  I only wish they didn’t have to be so preachy.

What’s bad about it? Perry’s films tend to overstay their welcome, and Why Did I Get Married? is no exception.  Perry likes to linger on shots, none of which make you say, “now that’s a movie!”  The film feels like a filmed play, which is not surprising, because it’s based on the stageplay he wrote.

Perfect for: people who like their movies extra soapy, but hope that everything will come out in the wash.

Movie Review: ‘Taken’

February 6, 2009

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There are so many films I’ve been meaning to see.  Gran Torino.  Slumdog Millionaire.  Frost/Nixon (even though it’s directed by Ron Howard).  And yet, when I had some spare time last week, what do I end up seeing?  Taken.

Not that Taken is a terrible film.  It’s just that with so many Oscar-nominated films FINALLY playing in my neck of the woods, I felt a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t see what I really wanted to see.  (I did this once before a few years ago, when I was eager to see Clint Eastwood’s  Letters From Iwo Jima but instead–inexplicably–saw Pedro Almadovar’s melodrama Volver instead.)

Taken is the kind of action that has its heart in the right place but lacks any real dramatic weight, which for a film that deals with human trafficking is something it desperately needed.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

What’s it about? Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a retired U.S. Secret Opps-type of guy who, after years of being absent on secret military missions, is doing his best to be a part of his teenage daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life.  Unable to compete with his daughter’s mother (Famke Janssen) and stepfather (Xander Berkeley), Bryan reluctantly grants permission for Kim to go to Paris, France alone with only her cousin Amanda (Katie Cassidy).

While in Paris, Kim calls her father right when she witnesses Amanda being kidnapped.  (If you didn’t watch the trailer above, now’s the time to do it.)  Kim is taken too, and Bryan uses his Jack Bauer-like skills to bring his daughter home.

What’s good about it? Taken sheds some light on a dirty international secret: human trafficking.  (The girls are abducted, drugged, then forced into prostitution.)  It’s a deplorable, disgusting trade, and you can’t help but root for Neeson as he kicks, stabs and shoots his way through low-life thugs, up to the highest bidders.

What’s bad about it? Don’t get me wrong–you want Neeson to get to his daughter.  But had director Pierre Morel made Kim less of a spoiled rich girl (her stepfather gives her a friggin’ HORSE for her birthday) and more of a girl who’s never had a lot of friends or opportunities, I would have rooted for Neeson even more.  (It also didn’t help that Maggie Grace, while 25 in real life, is playing a 17 year-old who acts like she’s 12.)

I’m okay with Neeson plowing through thugs and lowlifes, but –SPOILER ALERT– in one scene, she shoots an innocent person in the arm to get a complacent frenemy to do something for him.  Shooting an innocent person to get to the bad guys?  That crosses the line.  And from that point on, the movie lost me.

Perfect for: fans of Liam Neeson and/or the Transporter movies.

The holiday movie roundup, part 2…

January 31, 2009

So I never got around to finishing my reviews of all the stuff I saw at Christmas.  And seeing how it’s practically February, the Oscar nominations are already out, and I no longer care to write about these movies, here are my reviews in a nutshell:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Watchable, but grossly overrated.  No life-changing message, just Brad Pitt as a dude who ages backwards and doesn’t learn anything.  13 Oscar nominations?  Really?  I hate films that tell you it’s a good movie as opposed to being a good movie.

Doubt: Great acting, kinda’ dull everything else.  Meryl Streep is great as the nun hell-bent on exposing Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s priest as the pedophile she suspects he might be.  Amy Adams and Viola Davis give great supporting turns as a naive nun and the mother of a troubled student, respectively.  All four deserve their Oscar nominations.

Now, let’s move on.

The holiday movie roundup, part 1

January 3, 2009

This post is what happens when you see too many movies in a really short time span and are so busy with other things (including my new blog, City of Champion) that you just can’t give each film the review it deserves.

SEVEN POUNDS

The trailer for this film is very cryptic–it doesn’t really tell you what the movie is about.  Usually that’s a good thing, because most movies are ruined because the trailer tells too much.  But in this case, Seven Pounds is a confusing film–it’s 90% first act, zero second act and 10% third act.  It’s frustrating because the audience is in the dark about what is going on the entire length of the film, until the end when everything is revealed.  The story is rather simple, but the execution is muddled and not enjoyable to watch.  The entire film is a downer, even the ending (which is supposed to make you feel good).

What’s good about it? Rosario Dawson’s performance as an artist waiting for a heart transplant is effective.

What’s bad about it? If your idea of a good movie is watching Will Smith cry and writhe in anguish, hoo-boy, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Perfect for: fans of depressing movies.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Keanu Reeves stars as a dude who looks human but is clearly not.  Yeah, there’s a stretch.

This lame remake of the 1951 Sci-Fi classic (which I admittedly have not seen) has aliens landing in New York City (of course!), primed to destroy mankind in order to save the earth from pollution.  (The same kind of thing was done in last summer’s The Happening and it didn’t work so well there, either.)  Jennifer Connelly co-stars as a widowed scientist who helps Reeves escape from the evil military people who are trying their darndest to protect the country.

What’s good about it? It’s not boring.

What’s bad about it? The special effects are so-so.  Reeves is terrible (as usual), as is Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s son), who plays a bratty tween.  (Something tells me there’s not much acting in his performance.)

Perfect for: Keanu Reeves fans.

MARLEY & ME

Watching Marley & Me, I realized that there is an art to making a broad, crowd-pleasing film.  Director David Frankel (who directed 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada) has crafted a film that is nearly perfect in terms of pacing and accessibility.  Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston have genuine chemistry.  I’ve never said this before (and hopefully never again), but you’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

What’s good about it? See above paragraph.

What’s bad about it? If you hate crying in movies, stay away.

VALKYRIE

There was a lot of negative buzz surrounding Valkyrie (it originally was slated to come out this past summer, then it was pushed back to February 2009, the bumped up to Christmas 2008…oh, and it stars the poster boy for Hollywood eccentrics, Tom Cruise), but the good thing is that the movie itself is actually good.  Really good.

In this World War II-era thriller, Tom Cruise (in a winningly low-key performance) stars as Claus von Stauffenberg, a colonel in the German army who plots to kill Hitler and stage a military coup.  It’s a great edge-of-your-seat movie, expertly directed by Bryan Singer (who directed Superman Returns, X-Men and The Usual Suspects).

What’s good about it? SPOILER ALERT: The events of this true story take place in the summer of 1944, and Hitler didn’t die until 1945.  (It’s history, kids.  Look it up.)  But even with that knowledge, I could not stop asking, how does this end? A good indicator of a good film is when you know the ending and you still wonder what’s going to happen.

What’s bad about it? SPOILER ALERT: Hitler wins.

Perfect for: Anyone looking for a good thriller.  And anyone wondering if Tom Cruise is still worth seeing in a movie.

Review: ‘Australia’

December 18, 2008

Baz Luhrmann’s first film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge! has all the trappings of a sure-fire hit, with its attractive leads, money shots of rugged landscapes and immaculately designed sets and costumes.  But something in Australia is missing, but after sitting in the theater for nearly three hours, I don’t care what.

What’s it about? I’m not 100% sure, because for the first half of the movie I couldn’t understand what all these Aussies were saying.  (Like the superb Irish film Once, this one needs subtitles even though it’s in English.)  But this is what I gather: Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is a rich British prude who comes to Faraway Downs, her husband’s money pit of of a ranch in the Australian Outback, to sell the property and bring her husband home.  Upon arrival she discovers her husband has been murdered, supposedly by an Aboriginal mystic named King George (David Gulpill).  It turns out that the ranch could actually turn a profit, should Sarah  be able to get her 1500 head of cattle to Darwin.

With the help of the rough and tumble Drover (Hugh Jackman, in full romance novel cover mode), Sarah and her hired help (including Nullah (Brandon Walters), the 10-year old half-white/half-aboriginal grandson of King George) drive the cattle across the unforgiving Outback.

Just when you think the movie’s over, however, there is an enitrely different story that drags on for the last hour: Japan bombs Darwin, and Sarah, Drover and Nullah are separated and–SPOILER ALERT–reunited in the end.

What’s good about it? Walters gives a fine performance, and there’s some beautiful cinematography.

What’s bad about it? Well, there’s not a lot that is bad per se (barring the fact that the movie is far too overlong), it’s just that there really isn’t anything great about it.  Australia reportedly cost $130 to make; when a movie costs that much, it should knock my socks off.  I am sad to report that my socks stayed on my feet the whole time.

The film feels like a glossed-up remake of 1985’s Out of Africa (one of my favorite films), but lacks any real dramatic weight.  Australia is cinematic cotton candy; Out of Africa is meat and potatoes.

Perfect for: Swoony Hugh Jackman fans.