Melodrama on the Barbie!
Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, an aspirant romantic epic, pits plucky Lady Ashley (Nicole Kidman) against the Outback of northern Australia, evil Cattle Barons, and the Imperial Japanese Army circa 1939. Along the way she falls for Wolverine the Drover (Hugh Jackman), adopts a mixed race boy-shaman called Nullah, learns about true love, and decides that institutionalized racism is bad. The movie has grand scale and epic vistas and impressive set pieces. It has ambition. It also hits every single melodramatic note in the book.
If you’re in the right mood, you won’t notice it that much during initial viewing. The cheese, spread in thick ample quantities, kind of melts over you as the movie progresses. That’s because Australia is gorgeous and famliair. At some point though, you start to see the romantic-action formulas coming at you like a herd of stampeding Aussie beef. As a director, Luhrmann seems to have chops for visual styling and empathy for feminine sensibilities, but he forgot the key component for the true Epic film – characters.
Lady Ashley and the Drover are archetype-driven cliches. They never really develop the kind of depth or complexity inherent in a true epic. Jackman’s sole function seems to be that of sexy cowboy love object for Kidman. He never does anything wrong (or very interesting), and all his actions seem designed to get to the next romantic moment. Lady Ashley is the high-class dame-turned-frontierswoman. You can tell more about her progression to Outback enlightenment by her costumes than through anything Kidman does. The most interesting character is Nullah, who is one part mystic, one part narrator, and one point rescue object for the final set piece. Luhrmann just can’t seem to get far enough away from his fairy-tale sensibilities to imbue these characters with enough iron to make them truly memorable.
All criticality aside, we enjoyed this film and would certainly recommend it for date night. Don’t know about repeat viewing though (another requisite for an epic) unless you were doing some kind of spot-the-cliche drinking game.
City Copper Crushes Country Crime
Hot Fuzz, written by and starring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) had been on our list for months. It’s one of those fun British comedies that sort of pre-supposes you know a little something about the genre (cop action/dramas) being spoofed. The film is even more effective if you’re a little familiar with English life contrasted between London and the countryside. It’s a very funny and entertaining movie, though I suspect it was somewhat mis-marketed in the U.S. Hot Fuzz is not a skit-driven spoof-fest like Monty Python or the Naked Gun series; it pretty much plays it straight in terms of narrative – at least until the final act, which is out of control.
Officer Angel (Pegg) has been promoted to Sergeant and transferred to the countryside because he’s making the other London coppers look bad. Angel is that familiar by-the-book super-cop who always gets his man. In the idyllic village of Sandford, he meets the cavalcade of quant smalltown folk and tries to fit in. But his copper sense starts to tingle when a series of ‘accidents’ begins to point toward foul play. He’s on the case, with his new action-flick obsessed sidekick (Nick Frost, also from Shaun of the Dead).
What I loved about this movie are the clever shots at the cop action drama – the smash cuts, the dialogue, etc. Abusing the chase trope (how many scenes of Simon Pegg sprinting full out after a bad guy…) and the little ridiculous bits thrown into the first two acts, which are otherwise fairly realistic. These serve as hints to a hilarious Stallone-style sendup of a third act.
Highly recommended for the discerning comedic viewer. Hot Fuzz is fully two grades better than many a recent Hollywood comedy.