Thursday, December 11, 2008

AUSTRALIA

Yes, my cute native friend, you may go on your silly walkabout now.

With Golden Globe nominations set to be announced in about, oh, 6 hours or so, the cast and crew of early media favorite Australia can probably pack it up and get ready for the off-season.

They sure did give it a nice strategic lunge though: teaser posters, cardboard props, and colorful trailers popping up in theaters near the end of the summer session; Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman posing in all the right photo spreads and making all the right appearances; and the studio gave the film a nice, round, grandiose, one-word title for us consumers to latch onto. (Daniel @ Getafilm details this trend here. Though, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems prepared to buck that theory later today. Although... you know most of you have been simply calling it "Benjamin Button" this whole time, right? Text messaging man... it's that text messaging I tell ya!).

But when it came time for that pre-Thanksgiving roll out, Australia came up short in its reach from the red carpet. Oh, your movie doesn't need to be good to score a nomination (see Milk), but it must be presentable, and, frankly, Australia was that pitcher showing up for spring training with twenty extra pounds of beer weight around the waist. Now that its Oscar bubble has burst, it feels somewhat easier, though admittedly anti-climactic, to step back and evaluate what went wrong.

Yippee! We didn't get nominated! Now let's get liquoured up and screw!

I'm not a Baz Luhrmann fan. Not rabidly anti-, I've just never liked anything he's done (no, I've not forgotten "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", the song that made me forgive radio stations for playing Primitive Radio Gods' "Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand" every four minutes). He has ambition, I'll give him that, and Australia kicks off with an awkwardly impressive extended intro. Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) is in transport from England to join her husband on their industrious start-up ranch "Faraway Downs". Meanwhile, a good looking cattle "drover" (Jackman) is braking bottles on skulls in a bar. Their paths meet in a visual collision that is part screwball, part Looney Tunes, and half piano bar mad-slapdashery. Surprisingly, it kinda works.

So too for the bizarre Grapes of Wrath meets The Beverly Hillbillies truck haul that "drover" gives Lady Ashley across the northern Australian landscape of matte paintings and exploding CGI kangaroos. Had Australia kept this up for its entire 165 minutes, had Luhrmann stayed playfully drunk on the knowledge that he was making a two and a half hour film with the title of an entire continent attached to it, then I might have been down for it. Yet, inevitability sets in, and you get your slow motion crossfire scene, wet-haired heroism, love making, life losing, and music motif that literally cuts through the fog at film's end.

It could've been worse. Looking back, it should've. And while that is no doubt a back-handed compliment, it's worth something in a season where we get too many paint-by-numbers pander pictures. No, Baz Luhrmann didn't drink the 2% white and creamy Kool Aid that was required of him, so he ain't gonna be getting any calls this early morning. And yeah, with Australia Luhrmann did fall on his face, but he saved some in doing so.

4 comments:

FilmDr said...

And yet I find something almost commendable in the extraordinary badness of Australia. Lurhmann doesn't restrain himself any. How many other directors dare to suck on such a visually lavish, allusive, and pretentious scale? The movie is unrelentingly "epic," melodramatic, and cheesy, but I still wonder if there's a little of that punk ethos of Romeo and Juliet mixed in there in some subtle fashion, in images of the old drunk looking like a dead cowardly lion, for instance. Why kill off the cowardly lion? There's some perverse grandeur in such high level campy folly.

Fox said...

Doctor-

I agree, and well said (I think you got to it quicker than I tried to in my entire post).

There was something gruesomely beautiful about the carnage of the mangled, jolly accountant in white seeking acceptance from Hugh Jackman b/c he stayed sober for, er... 4 hours or so.

Rick Olson said...

"Now let's get liquored up and screw" are sentiments I've often harbored when looking at Ms. Kidman.

Fox said...

Rick-

Outside of Eyes Wide Shut, I've never found Mrs. Kidman that attractive. I know that is a shocker to some people, but...

It's might be b/c she's so tall. I admittedly kind of turned off by tall women.