Monday, November 24, 2008


Some people get drunk on fame, some on power, some on the usual stuff. Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann, gets drunk on storytelling. It's been fully obvious in each Bazmark production. Some filmmakers start slow, giving you time to settle in, as they describe the world, introduce the characters and set up the plot. Baz Luhrmann starts big and usually well past the first story beats. He's already buzzing. He expects you to catch up. Consider the anticipatory glee projected in the very first frames of the "red curtain trilogy" (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!). The mere act of opening the curtains seems to thrill the filmmaker. The red curtains are gone for his fourth film, the massive epic Australia, but the storyteller (if not the story) remain the same.
Would you like to hear a story?
-Lady Ashley to a crying child

The film's first few absolutely gorgeous minutes suggest that we'll be seeing a child's adventure film. Our guide is Nullah (Brandon Walters), a "creamy" (half aboriginal, half white) who is walking with his grandfather, King George (David Gulpilil) when they chance upon a murder. Jumping forward in time, with Nullah still guiding us, we see him hiding at a cattle ranch called "Far Away Downs." Nullah, in voice over, introduces us to The Drover (Hugh Jackman) and Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) but Baz, behind the camera, only offers us tantalizing glimpses since Nullah peers at them between wooden slats. Nullah then informs us that we've missed the beginning of the story. True to Baz's form this prologue is not actually the beginning. We're whisked briefly to England for a fuller introduction to Sarah. One must have an explanation as to why she is whisked off to...

[cue titles] AUSTRALIA



JoFo said...

I agree mostly with everything you say! For me it felt... clunky. As though the script and editing needed more time before we got to see it. The first act was alot better than the second.

HOWEVER, I disagree about Kidman. I think she hit the nail on the head. I loved her in it, and it made me think she should do more comedy. She balanced the melodramtic character, by keeping it down to earth. She was the highlight for me.

Well... apart from a cerain scene with a certain someone taking a wash.

Janice said...

Nat, that pic of you in the sidebar is the sexiest yet!


i learned the pose from Ms. Angelina Jolie.

Anonymous said...

hopefully it ages well

Clay Atlas said...

I have no desire to see this film. I think BazLuhr is overrated...

Arkaan said...

Really? It's hard for me to believe anyone as divisive as Luhrman could be considered overrated. I don't share Nathaniel's enthusiasm, but I love his go-for-broke energy, even when I don't like his films.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel.. could you give me an estimate how long long each of the 4 "acts" are?

I'm ready as ever to see this movie, and I'm sure I'm going to love it. It sounds like the tonal shifts and identity issues are the biggest problems, but that's Baz for you. Are you going to give it a second try in theaters?

Anonymous said...

That post above is by -Tiger-

Anonymous said...

Also wondering, since Australia, Doubt, and Revolutionary Road are all Bs, which one you like the most? Just curious. =)

Anonymous said...

This movie sounds like out of Africa.

* Cattle ranch/Coffee Farm

* Danish Aristocrat/English Aristocrat

* Aristocratic couple in a marriage of convenience, marriage ends

* Aristocratic lady arrives in an exotic land, all prim and uptight

* Dashing adventurer helps her loosen up and embrace the wild side

* Aristocratic lady struggles for survival in the exotic land

* Aristocratic lady learns lessons from the natives/nature and the dashing adventurer and finds true self

Anonymous said...

* Aristocratic lady befriends Native Boy

Anonymous said...

* Dashing adventurer dies at the end (at least before the studio execs forced the director to change the ending)

Victoria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E Dot said...

Now I'm wondering how it'll do at the box office...

I'm thinking Hugh's star appeal and Nicole's lackthereof will balance each other out.

17 Year Old Blogger said...

I saw the film last week and I am totally in love with it. It shouldn't be taken too seriously or else it can't be enjoyed as much, but I thought it was awesome. It will probably end up in my Top 5 at the end of the year. They really don't make movies like this anymore.

Question Nate, I ended up running out to the bathroom when the first credits rolled so I didn't get to hear the song. Was it any good? I was thinking that Baz might get nominated for writing it, and it's a plus that Elton John does sing it.

Also, I really enjoyed Kidman's performance. I thought it was pitch perfect and she totally embodied Lady Ashley.

E Dot-
I don't think we should be that worried about BO. Internationally it will be a big hit, but domestically is still a question mark. Kidman is more respected and seen as a bigger box office draw/star outside of the states.

Joanne said...

Great review Nat. I'm glad to hear that though the movie may have some problems the visuals live up to expectations.

I just want to put something out there. Many have spoken about Lady Ashley's bizare behaviour at the beginning of the movie. Most have said it's Baz's style (love it or hate it) and you mentioned that it's too much of the MR bedroom scene type farce and doesn't seem to fit. But does she appear that way because we are observing her through the eyes of Nullah and to him she is bizare and fascinating at the same time. You mentioned in your review that it's because she is out of place . Maybe it is more than that. Does her behaviour become more sedate once Nullah gets to know her and she is not so alien a character? Baz may be turning our own European way of viewing the Aborigines as bizare and alien back onto us. Just thinking...

I will come back and answer my own question and see what others who have seen the movie think after I have seen it tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

17 Yr Old Blogger - Kidman is more respected and seen as a bigger box office draw/star outside of the states.

thats funny, cause i don't know anyone who likes her, and here (aus) we think she is a bigger draw outside of australia! hah... go figure

latifah said...

Believe me, outside Australia and the US, Kidman is much bigger (no pun intended) than Jackman, at least in Europe.

He still suffers from that-guy-who-plays-Wolverine syndrome

Kamikaze Camel said...

It seems only America has the weird anti-Kidman thing. I mean, everyone talks about how much of a flop The Golden Compass was, but it made truckloads of money outside the US. Of course, that doesn't help Australia since it's success or failure will, surely, be measured by it's American box office and how many Oscar nominations it lands.

Disappointing review, but then again, honestly, how often does one director make to A grade worthy films in a row. I'm sure it's happened less than people probably think.


17 --re: the song. i did not like. I mention it on its appropriate oscar prediction page though i'm not sure it's eligible because for whatever reason it's the second song played during the credits.

joanne she does become a lot more sedate once they're on the cattle drive. From then on I'm fine with the performance which is all the big romantic moments and fierce dramatic determination "we can't let them win" and all that in which Kidman is lovely.

but again... it's not really an acting film. It's more of an adventure film.

tiger i couldn't give an estimate on length because i'm not really good at diving that. I just know that it was like

prologue (very short) A
act 1 (too long) C
act 2 (just right) A
act 3 (short) B
act 4 (too long) "grade" all over the place ;) ;)

anon 10:09 it's too soon yet to rank them. I don't really no. They all feel like solid efforts even if unspectacular. I'm still rooting more for Australia Oscar wise even though it's the longest shot and even though it has more "problems" than the others... But that's just because I care more about spending the season with Baz, Nicole and Hugh than the other teams, you know?

I love them all.

to various commenters: I still don't quite get why Kidman brings forth such negativity from people in general as a star. Is it because she's too famous (after all it's not like Jolie, Pitt, Cruise and other globally household "names" don't have their share of haters too)? I don't really get it. She's not a perfect actor but she can be divine and I'll take her best work (The Others / Moulin Rouge!/ Dogville/ To Die For / Birth) over the best work of more consistent but less revelatory actresses any day.

latifah Kidman is a bigger star in the US than Jackman too. It's just that people don't "like" her as much. But yes. He does have the "Wolverine" problem in that the character is more famous than the actor. I expect that's currently in the process of changing now. It won't help that he's going back to Wolverine next. But if he gets one other picture as big and as in love with him as Australia that should do the trick.

Anonymous said...

i really wanted to love this movie because it was my number 1 must see movie this year, but i just could not. it was extremely disappointing that i just wanted it to end.

i would agree with some of your comments on this film, but the review on the link below summed up my feelings toward this film:

about nicole kidman getting a lot of negativity from some people - i do not think that it is because she is quite famous. maybe it is because of the fact that she is overrated. of course if one is a nicole fan, it would be difficult to actually realize it.

i like nicole kidman. in fact i have seen almost all of her movies and sadly, i am not as impressed as you are, nat. she is not that a strong actress. her performances would not be remembered as the best of all time. among the actresses of this generation (excluding the meryl streeps, the jessica langes, and the helen mirrens), she would pale in comparison to kate winslet, cate blanchett, toni collette, maggie gyllenhaal, laura linney naomi watts, samantha morton, charlize theron, juliette binoche, to name just a few. these actresses are far more accomplished as actors.

now you can bite my head. :)

Anonymous said...

I do not believe that Nicole Kidman is not well liked in the US. I think she is or she would not be so popular. Her films do not do well because they are not mainstream (Birth, Margot at the Wedding, etc.) or they are awful (Bewitched, The Golden Compass, The Invasion, The Stepford Wives). I think she just does not make the right film choices. If she made films like "Moulin Rouge!" and "The Others", people would come in droves. I sense that "Australia" is not another "Moulin Rogue!", but certainly it is not another "The Golden Compass". Just so-so.

However, Nicole is really more of a glamorous and beautiful star than an actress. May I also add Tilda Swinton and Catherine Keener to that list?

Anonymous said...

'She's not a perfect actor but she can be divine and I'll take her best work (The Others / Moulin Rouge!/ Dogville/ To Die For / Birth) over the best work of more consistent but less revelatory actresses any day.'

Hmmm, I wonder who you could mean??

Anonymous said...

That's sad that your review wasn't glowing. Not that I should place all my eggs into one basket with one person's opinion, but it echoes the overall sentiment that I've been reading that this film is bloated and all over the place. There's already reports in the Academy screenings of this that people were laughing through it, and not with it but at it.
:( So now I'm non-plussed and wonder if I'll see this at all. I probably won't wait to the DVD and see it in the theatre regardless, b/c there's nothing else going really, and I refuse to see "Twilight" or "Quantum of Solace". It should still be an Oscar contender if only for the tech categories, and I have to show my solidarity for Baz, Nicole, and HUGH.

And speaking of Nicole, the perceived "hate" for her is quite sad. She's a brilliant actress when she's on -- "The Others," "The Hours", "Birth", "Moulin Rouge!", "To Die For," "Dogville", "Fur" (yeah, I dug that too), "Cold Mountain", "The Portrait of a Lady", even "The Golden Compass." Yes, she's had her share of clunkers (I could barely sit through "Bewitched", "The Stepford Wives", and "The Invasion"), yes, she's overexposed, yes, she's f'd up her face with botox, but honestly, where's the loyalty? Shouldn't ardent film fans actively support the good ones through thick and thin? Label me as a fanboy, I don't care, but give me Nicole's work good and bad over all of these stick 20-somethings trying to take her throne and not coming remotely close in the process. The Oscars will probably never notice Nicole again, and fickle audiences will move on to the next young thing or stick with the respected older vets like Streep and Mirren, but still. Whatevs. Pardon the ranting.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, do you think Baz should have stayed in the editing room with it until next year, and release it then? Like MR! only later probably.

And is it really ALL over the place? Or is just that there are tonal shifts? Maybe those are deliberate (sort of like intermissions in GWTW).


Criticlasm said...

I think all the Nicole talk is interesting, but I disagree that she's not an actress. Perhaps that's the disconnect for people--she's actually a beyond competent actress when she wants to be, but she also wants to be a movie star and basks in that, so that probably seems like a sell-out. I disagree with whoever said Tilda's not an actress--obviously no one who has seen many of her films, or her work with Jarman.

As for Australia, all that was missing for me at the beginning was the burning paper between scenes. Luhrmann's in love with sweep and movement, sometimes at the expense of story. Overall, though, I quite enjoyed it, even though it's a mixture of Out Of Africa, Pearl Harbor, and Whale Rider--it's over the top, and kind of all over the place tonally, but I would expect no less from him. It's a good, old-fashioned epic, and it's been a while since anyone's made one of those.

Anonymous said...

'I disagree with whoever said Tilda's not an actress--obviously no one who has seen many of her films, or her work with Jarman.'

The person that mentioned Tilda actually said this: 'May I also add Tilda Swinton and Catherine Keener to that list?'.
I think by this they meant the list in their previous comment where they actually said Kidman pales in comparison to other actresses such as kate winslet etc.

Deborah said...

What a wonderfully written review! You've given away very little in the realm of spoiler, and yet I know exactly what's to like and not like about the film, and I'm pretty sure I know whether I want to see it.

Few reviewers hit all those cylinders. Well done!

Anonymous said...

I posted the comment "add Tilda Swinton and Catherine Keener to that list". I was actually referring to the previous post, which listed down actresses who are better than Nicole. Tilda Swinton is an amazing actress.

Rick said...

Bottom line, except for a couple of her earlier movies, Nicole Kidman is a very limited actress... she is trying too hard to be a movie star.

Joanne said...

Just saw it and I'm glad I went in with lower expectations because I loved it!! It didn't feel to long to me at all. The opening scenes were mesmerizing, the cattle stampede amazing the romance sweet and I was so glad to see that it wasn't soppy extreme Mills and Boon at all because I abhor Mills and Boon. Oh yes there were some deliberately cheesy moments but my audience laughed and cried at just the right times. I thought Nic was great in fact I think she out acted Hugh though he was really good. But Brandon was unbelievable. I had heard he was good but the whole dreamtime,storytelling, walkabout, stolen generation storyline was brillianly carried on his little shoulders. Lady Ashley's bizare behaviour is definately exagerated through Nullah's eyes at the beginning and tones down as he comes to incorporate her into his world view.

Maybe I'm easily pleased. Moulin Rouge is my favourite film of all time and when I came out of Australia I was astonished to think to myeself: "Crikey that was better than MR". I still can't believe I thought that having seen MR 5 times in the cinema and countless times since. I need to see Australia a few more times to see if I still think that.

So everybody go and see this movie on the big screen in all it's awesome epicness. If you open your hearts you will love it.

Mohammed said...

Just saw the new clips on Yahoo! and the movie looks like a collection of old films... I will go and see it though! Sometimes, we need some old-fashioned stuff and this one looks great. I will take friends to see it this weekend and i hope they won't hate me for doing that!


The cinematography was quite good. It's kind of a cheesy love story wrapped around a war premise which doesn't give it points for originality, but I really enjoyed it overall.

I HYPED Australia on EverHYPE and scored it 90%, which I think is very accurate.

If you get on there, rate me a 5 on it and request friendship.


Anonymous said...

Just saw Austalia ... what a mess... It just tried tooooo hard. The acting was amateurish with the exception of the little boy and the story went on and on and... It tried to be Gone With the Wind and Out of Africa and a dozen other classy films... I tend to cry at commercials, but I did not shed even one teardrop.

Michael said...

Who would have thought? A review of a Baz Luhrmann movie that Nathaniel wrote that I agree with pretty much wholeheartedly.

- The Opinionated Australian

Anonymous said...

How on earth is it a mess? I don't understand these comments from critics and movie goers alike.

I LOVED it! It was simply mesmerizing. They don't make movies like this anymore, that is for sure. If you're not willing to let go and dive right into this heightened fairy tale, then it definitely won't be enjoyable. Luhrmann is just a genius, and it better not take him 7 years to make another film.

My points:

*Nic is easily Oscar worthy
*Hugh is one of the best criers we have in hollywwod
*The story is completely fluent, IMO, but maybe I'm just easily pleased.
*For the love of films, this thing is deliberately cheesy, deliberately melodramatic, and deliberately heightened. Maybe the story isn't completely original, but that's why they call it a throwback. The way it is told, however, is unique: Baz's style + the whole magical theme.



Joanne said...

I'm with you DJ.

Some movies receive universal hate. Some receive universal love. Others recieve universal who cares. But Baz movies are always divisive. There are people who are dumbfounded that others don't like his movies and other people who can't believe that anyone could. I can't put my finger on why he's so divisive.

Oh and I don't get the Kidman hate. When she tries to keep a low profile she's seen as standoffish when she gets out and about promoting a film she really believes in she's seen as a try hard. When I see her interviewed she is uncomfortable at times with certain interviewers while at other times she is relaxed and shows she has a good sense of humour.

IMHO Nicole's early roles on Australian TV (Bangkok Hilton and Vietnam) To Die For, The Hours, The Others, Margot at the wedding, Birth, Dogville, Moulin Rouge and now Australia put Nicole up in that elite group of actresses who seem to get talked up in comparison. A limited actress? The movies I have mentioned are incredibly varied and in MR and Australia she goes from comedy to tradgedy and pulls it off. As JoFo says in the first post on this page about Kidman's performance in Australia:

"I think she hit the nail on the head. I loved her in it, and it made me think she should do more comedy. She balanced the melodramtic character, by keeping it down to earth."

I couldn't agree more.

E said...

Having viewed it today, I completely agree with your review and the breakdown of the acts. The first act just dragged, the second act was simply splendid, the third was alright, and the fourth is mixed. I am shocked at the harsh reviews it is receiving though, with Rotten Tomatoe's current 52% or something....

Anonymous said...

i think a lot of people are just jealous with Nicole Kidman... mostly, you get good/excellent actress but not pretty.

With Nicole, she is all, she is the movie star of the golden days,.,. people are just jealous

I dont think one can compare Nicole Kidman with Charlize.. they are of different league... and Nicole is so much more superior in every sense...

Anonymous said...

"For the love of films, this thing is deliberately cheesy, deliberately melodramatic, and deliberately heightened."

Maybe had it been marketed like that, people would have responded better. Not everybody is a Baz fan and not everybody likes the overacting that his films have.

And I'm sorry, but the cry of people being jealous of Nicole Kidman is getting old. I'm not a fan of her, but that doesn't mean I'm jealous of her. I think there are many more actresses who are much more talented than she is & when I see them in a film, I see the character. When I see Nicole Kidman in a film, all I see is Nicole Kidman.


Anonymous said...

I saw the movie the day it came out and I must say that it wasn't a mistake to go see it!

I dragged my friends along to see it and they instantly got into it. I was so into it that I cried at least 5 times.

Def. one of the best movies of 08! Also...Hugh looked really good in it. ;)

Pablete said...

"Australia" will grow in everybody's hearts little by little. Maybe, "Australia" was not meant to be a love at first sight, but it will remain as one of the all-time epic romances of the silver screen!

Do not miss and/or forget this masterpiece, please! Members of the Academy of Hollywood, should remember the movie in every category. We want to see (Lady) Nicole Kidman nominated once again, and it would be a crime if Brandon Walters was missing from the list of nominees. Baz Luhrmann should be mentioned as well. He is one of the great masters of our age, and he needs a most deserving recognition. Seven years and a half (from 12.5/13 to 20, personally) from the masterful "Moulin Rouge!" has been an eternity!

With "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", "Slumdog millionaire" and "Australia", we are in front to one of the most masterfully romantic years of cinema in a very, very, very, very longtime.

Thank you for those ravishing kisses in the sunset!
Thank you to all the artists who so beautifully and creatively built "Australia"!

Anonymous said...

By no means a classic, but most entertaining. A pudding of a movie. Starts of as comedy but ends as sentimental drama. Tries to be raiders of the lost ark,pirates of the carribean,gone with the wind,and out of africa all at once. Nicole Kidman is very well cast but not so Jackman who overacts. Nullah will steal your heart and so will the dramatic cinematography that accurately capture the vast expansesof Australia.