Australia

  • Title:  Australia
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romance, Historical, Drama
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“That strange woman, she fire Mr. Fletcher….  He can’t hurt Momma no more. …  From that day on, we call her, ‘Mrs. Boss’.  — Nullah, narrating
 
“We can’t let them win.” — Lady Ashley
“We won’t.” — Drover
 
“Sarah, I’m as good as Black [Aboriginal Australian] to that lot up there.  Now I don’t mix with dingos or duchesses.  They keep out of my way and I keep out of theirs.  That’s the way it is.” — Drover
“Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be.” — Lady Sarah Ashley
“But that’s the way it is.”  — Drover
 
Australia is a grand sweeping epic.  It has elements of an American Western, strangely enough (the first act involves a cattle drive) but the second act is where the film really shines.  Australia is beautifully filmed and the land itself is often the star of the picture.  The cast look fantastic too, especially Hugh Jackman (at his sexy best as the rough Outback drover, Drover) and Nicole Kidman (who looks incredible, whether she’s wearing traditional English clothes, or something more suited to Australia’s climate).  David Wenham, as Mr. Fletcher, is playing a real s.o.b. — and relishing it.  And newcomer, Brandon Walters, is incredible as Nullah – the half Aboriginal / half white child, who narrates much of the story.
Australia begins with a brief introduction narrated by Nullah, who’s spear fishing with his Grandfather, “King George”, the magician.  A man (who we’ll later discover is Maitland Ashley) is killed.  Then the film transitions to England, and Lady Ashley.  A pampered young aristocrat (played by Kidman), she’s annoyed her husband has yet to sell ‘that ranch in Australia’.  Convinced her husband is fooling around in more ways than one, she boards a plane and heads for Australia.  Just prior to landing, she receives a telegram that she’s to meet Drover (Hugh Jackman) who will take her to Faraway Downs, their ranch.
But all is not well in Darwin when she arrives.  It’s a rough town, war is on the horizon, and a cattle baron named King Carney has bought up all the land in Northern Australia, except the Ashleys’ Faraway Downs. Yet the price he offers her is far below what it’s worth.  Lady Ashley meets with Drover, who takes her to the ranch.  When they finally arrive, she finds her husband’s been murdered.  She also discovers her husband’s most trusted cattle-hand, Fletcher, has been beating the native women and children who live on the ranch, stealing cows and driving them across the river to Carney’s land, and that he’s also responsible for her husband’s death; most of which she can’t prove to the law.  To her credit, Lady Ashley fires Fletcher.  She then gets Drover to agree to drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin to sell to the Army. Needing at least seven people for the cattle drive, they assemble a motley crew and head off.
The drive is an adventure, and Australia itself shines in untamed glory. Fletcher uses under-hand tactics against the drive, such as spooking the cattle with fire towards a cliff.  But despite the challenges, Drover and Sarah make it to Darwin.  There, Carney has just gotten the Army representative to sign a contract, as Sarah and Drover arrive with the cattle.  However, the contract isn’t valid until the cows are loaded onto a ship, and Sarah and Drover manage to get their cattle on the ship first.  Sarah wins her contract.
Sarah invites Drover to the ball to celebrate, but he refuses, stating he isn’t one of  the upper crust of  people.  Sarah nearly sells Faraway Downs, but Drover arrives at the ball, cleaned up and in a suit.  The two dance together and decide to make a go of it, taking the half-Arboriginal/half-white child, Nullah, into their unofficial  custody.
Nullah narrates much of the story, and Sarah comes to love the child, especially as she can’t have children of her own.  Drover also loves the child, as his first wife was Black (or Arboriginal) but she died of untreated TB.  Drover, Nullah, and Sarah are happy for a time, enjoying the “wet” season, and Sarah even understands that Drover will be off droving during “the dry” season.  Soon however, the trio’s happiness is shattered.
Fletcher kills King Carney, making it look like an accident.  Nullah wishes to go walkabout with his grandfather.  Drover, understanding the custom, wants him to go, but Sarah disagrees, thinking the child’s too young.  When Nullah disappears, Drover thinks he’s gone with his grandfather anyway, but Sarah thinks something is wrong.  Nullah and his grandfather are arrested by the local police at Fletcher’s insistance — Nullah to be sent to the Mission School for assimilation, and King George to be tried for the deaths of Maitland and King Carney.
Sarah goes off to Darwin to try to get Nullah back.  Drover is off working in the Outback and has no idea what’s going on.  The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, then Darwin, hitting the mission island first, then the small army town itself.  Sarah’s right in the middle of things.  Drover arrives too, but he’s too late.  He’s told Sarah died in the communications tent.  Drover is completely bereft.  However, a young priest finds him and asks for help getting to the mission island to recover any children they can.  Drover, not knowing that Nullah was sent to the island, and having nothing to lose, agrees to help the priest, as does Drover’s close friend and brother-in-law Muggery.
They get to the island and rescue Nullah and some of the other children.  Muggery is killed by Japanese soldier as they make their escape in a boat.  Meanwhile, Sarah is helping with the evacuation of Darwin, unaware that she’s been reported dead or even that Drover is in town.
Drover’s ship sails through the fog and smoke back to Darwin.  The children land.  Sarah hears the children’s singing, refuses to get on the convoy truck and runs to find the ship pulling in.  She’s reunited with Nullah and Drover.
As a last act of mischief  Fletcher fires a rifle at Nullah.  He hits the child, but Nullah’s grandfather kills him with a thrown spear.  Nullah recovers and he, Sarah, and Drover return to Faraway Downs.  Later, Sarah allows him to go walkabout with his grandfather.
This is an excellent movie.  It’s beautifully filmed, both the wild scenery and the people.  The story is a bit typical romantic plot, but the child Nullah, lifts the story out of  romantic drama cliche’.  The cast is excellent. I highly recommend seeing it!
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Avengers

Moulin Rouge

  • Title:  Moulin Rouge
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham (Cameo)
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and to be loved in return.”

“You expect me to believe that scantily clad, in the arms of another man, in the middle of the night, inside of an elephant, you were rehearsing?”  — The Duke

“Hurt him to save him.  There is no other way.  The show must go on, Satine.  We are creatures of the underworld, we can’t afford to love.”  — Zidler

Moulin Rouge is an incredible, incredible film.  The color, music and dancing all reflect a surreal, hyper-reality feel.  Yet the story is a simple story about love — an impossible love.  Christian is a young naive Englishman who makes his way to Paris, to the heart of the Bohemian Revolution to become a writer and experience love.  He quickly falls in with a group of Bohemian artists, and is chosen to write their new show.  Needing backers, they go to the Moulin Rouge and Howard Zidler, and his head courtesan, Satine.

Through a misunderstanding, Christian meets Satine, and they fall in love.  However, Zidler needs money to convert his nightclub and bordello to a real theatre.  He promises Satine to the Duke.  The Duke even gets Zidler to sign over the deeds on the Moulin Rouge to him.

Satine is shocked to discover the man she’s really falling in love with isn’t a rich Duke after all, but a penniless Bohemian writer.  The plot revolves around their love triangle — Christian and Satine and Satine and the Duke.  And the question is:  Will Satine, a Courtesan, choose true love with Christian or go for the money she can get from the Duke (which Zidler also encourages, since he’ll lose the Moulin Rouge if she doesn’t).  The love triangle is even built into the show that Christian is writing to debut on the new stage of the Moulin Rouge.  It may seem like a simple and traditional plot — but what pulls Moulin Rouge out of the commonplace is it’s style and look.  A style that’s surreal, hyper-reality, more real than real.  And Ewan McGregor as Christian and Nicole Kidman as Satine really do give the performances of their lives.  And my gosh can they both sing!

The majority of the music in Moulin Rouge is modern music.  Rather than keeping to a historical look and feel to the film — Baz Luhrmann goes completely in the opposite direction — accentuating the way it would feel to someone in 1899-1900 to be in such a remarkable place.  The opening dance number is a whirl of lights, color, movement and loud music.  One knows this won’t be your typical musical when the can can girls and the men in white ties and black tails are singing and dancing to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Satine’s song that she performs as a courtesan is a medley of  “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl”, though the song she sings when she’s on her own is, “I’ll Fly Away”, because her ambition is to be a real actress – or at least to get out of the Moulin Rouge.  Christian first courts her with Elton John’s “Your Song”, but he’s most impressive with the song he writes for her, and the only original song in the film, “Come What May”.  (Though “The Pitch/ Spectacular Spectacular” could be argued as original – only the lyrics are, the music is The Can Can.)

But it’s surprising and even amusing to hear the modern music in the film, though the mood always fits.  “Elephant Love Melody”, for example, is an argument between Christian and Satine where they throw lines from romantic pop songs at each other.  Zidler gets to sing “Like a Virgin” to the Duke, when he’s trying to come up with an excuse as to why Satine has missed a date.  There’s also a very impressive Latin Tango done to “Roxanne”.  And many others.  It’s also common for lines of dialogue in the film to be quotes from famous music (Christian even gets his writing job by quoting “The Sound of  Music”).  Yet, somehow, it fits, it’s like when you and your friends quote lines from movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read.  Christian, Satine, and even Zidler quote lines from music.

There are also some remarkable special effect sequences in the film – and as showy as they are, it merely emphases the point at the time.

But the most remarkable aspect of  this musical is the end – it really is astounding and surprising.  I’ve seen this film now several times and I always enjoy it and appreciate it more with every viewing.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating 5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Network

Happy Feet

  • Title:  Happy Feet
  • Director:  George Miller
  • Date:  2006
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Musical, Animation, Children’s
  • Cast:  Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, Steve Irwin
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“What fabulous worlds lay out there far beyond the ice?  Was there anyplace one small penguin without a Heartsong could ever truly belong?” — Lovelace / Narrator

I truly enjoyed this movie when I first saw it in 2006, but only recently found it on DVD on sale, albeit the 1-disc edition.  The movie is still excellent and the animation is astounding!  In Happy Feet penguins court their one true love by singing their unique Heart Song.  However, baby Mumble can’t sing.  He can dance, though.  Mumble (Elijah Wood) is a fantastic tap dancer (especially for a penguin).  However, the other penguins think this is weird, and ultimately the Elder Penguin (Hugo Weaving) kicks poor Mumble out, blaming him for the famine that’s troubling Emperor (penguin) Land.  Mumble having heard about strange aliens tries to find out why they are taking the fish and has a series of adventures, meeting a group of Latino penguins, led by Ramon (Robin Williams), the guru Rockhopper penguin, Lovelace (also Robin Williams), and ultimately ending up in a zoo.  His dancing attracts attention, and Mumble returns to Emperor Land.

There he again courts his childhood sweetheart, Gloria, and wins her, with his dancing.  I loved the sequences between Gloria and Mumble, I really did.  The Elder Penguin again gets upset, but the aliens (man) shows up and issues edicts to ban fishing in Antarctic waters.  The penguins are saved.

The music in this film is Motown — and extremely well integrated into the plot, as is Mumble’s dancing. Mumble needs to be true to himself, and ultimately he is.  The animation is incredible — the ice looks like ice, the water looks like water, and even the snow isn’t as fake looking as filmed snow normally is.  At one point wind blows and we see Mumble fur move.  And of course, the dancing penguins, all in time, works perfectly. Mumble is adorable, and his story works well and is very enjoyable.  Again I really enjoyed this film.

The special features on the single disc version are a little disappointing — music videos, an old Merrie Melodies cartoon, one trailer, and probably the most useful special feature – a lesson in tap dancing by the film’s choreographer — though that is geared for children.  Still the film is worth having.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4
Next Film:  Either Mary Poppins or Gone with the Wind (another film I just recently picked up on sale)

Bewitched

  • Title:  Bewitched
  • Director:  Nora Ephron
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Genre:  Romantic Comedy
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m about to be killed by a fictional character!” — Jack  Wyatt

“I can’t be normal because I’m a witch; I can’t be a witch because I really want to be normal.”  — Isabel Bigalow

Since I reviewed this movie when I saw it in 2005 at the theater and when I finally picked up and watched the DVD in March 2010, I figured I would save a little work. Below is my original review. New comments at bottom.

Bewitched was a surprisingly fun, cute movie. Unlike many movie remakes of television shows which are often very poorly done, Bewitched travels quite happily down a slightly different path. In the film, Will Farrell plays Jack, a down on his luck actor, unable to get starring film roles after his last film tanked at the box office. Nicole Kidman plays Isabel, a witch, who like Samantha in the original television program wants to give up witchcraft and lead a normal life. And like any romantic comedy, Jack meets Isabel, the audience knows they are meant for each other, and after a few trials and tribulations, Jack and Isabel do get together, cut to end credits.

However, what makes Bewitched, incredibly fun to watch is the “B” plot, the making of a new –remake — television show called, Bewitched. Farrell’s character, Jack, meets Isabel (Kidman) in a bookshop. He offers her the part of Samantha on his new show. However, once casting her, he realises she is up-staging him right and left, and decides to make Bewitched his show. He overacts, steals scenes, has the shows writers cut Isabel’s lines, insists on delivering all the punch lines, and in short makes every mistake both a bad actor and a remake (television or film) could possibly make. When the focus group blue cards come back, Isabel is tremendously popular (99 points) but Jack isn’t (32 points; the dog did better). Farrell throws a tantrum.

Isabel, meanwhile, is having problems of  her own. She figures out how poorly Jack’s been treating her and decides to quit, but before she can do that, her Aunt Clara experimentally places a hex on Jack turning him into the perfect, and horribly fake, movie-like romantic man hopelessly in love with Isabel. Isabel, to her credit, sees this as a fake, and un-does the hex, starting over again. She then blows up at Jack, calling him out on the carpet for being selfish and self-centered (she’s right).

Jack, seeing the error of his ways, more or less tells Isabel she’s right, and the two begin working on their new television show as partners instead of as competitors. The resulting montage sequence of the creation of a new hit TV show is well done. But Isabel’s and Jack’s problems aren’t quite over — Isabel still has to tell Farrell she’s a witch, a real witch. The next sequence in the film, consists of Isabel revealing the truth to Jack. A truth that he at first does not believe, and once she proves it to him, causes him to reject her — in true romantic movie fashion. It takes Uncle Arthur, a character that Jack (a fan of the original program), imagines — to get Jack to realise the error of his ways, and that he really loves Isabel, which brings the two together.

The entire film, however, full of television in-jokes, manages to parody television, without, necessarily, parodying the show the film is based on. The film breaks the reality/screen wall over and over again, to full audience acceptance, in truly excellent style. For example, in one sequence where Jack courts Isabel, the two chase each other around various sets and partial set-pieces in the television studio where both work — in a sequence extremely reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s courtship of Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain.  (A film referenced earlier in the movie when Isabel, runs into the rain, joyfully, after arguing with her father about whether or not she can give up being a witch). In another sequence, Jack and Isabel chat on what appears to be a romantic balcony, until two stage hands move the background away while they talk. Those sequences, and the parodies of television and film conventions are what make the film Bewitched truly magical.

Update:  Yes, Bewitched is still a very fun romantic comedy with a twist. It’s enjoyable to watch, even when one knows where it is going (which let’s face it – is the case for all romantic comedies). The playing with the “Fourth Wall” still works, even when it’s no longer a surprise. Steve Carell plays “Uncle Arthur”, as a really, really good impersonation of Paul Lynde (even to the point of being a little swish) – but because his character is one that Will Farrell dreams-up, the dead-on impersonation works. Shirley MacLaine is Endora – in the new TV series remake of Bewitched, playing the part in flamboyant style and with the best wardrobe in the film (except for possibly Isabel’s). She also gets her own subplot, in that the actress, Iris, falls for Isabel’s father, Nigel, played by Michael Caine. In fact, that older romance – between Caine and MacLaine – who have fantastic on-screen chemistry, adds to the feel and enjoyment factor of the film. Will Farrell is a bit over-the-top at times, but in a sense, he’s meant to be playing an over-the-top actor/drama queen (drama king?) and it works.

Oh, and by the way, – the soundtrack / music is terrific in this movie.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Billy Elliot