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Australia

dir: Baz Luhrmann
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Pundits, wags and wits were saying that this here flick Australia was going to be Baz Luhrmann’s, and Australia’s, blockbuster answer to Titanic.

In a way they were right, in that Australia is a disaster, a tragedy and a testament to man’s arrogance and eternal hubris.

To say that this film is awful doesn’t really capture what is achieved in the opening half hour or so of this flick. I’m not sure if the film embarrasses me more simply by dint of my being Australian, or because I feel deep shame that people overseas watched this flick thinking it had something to do with Australia the country, as opposed to Australia, the Baz Luhrmann opium-suffused candy-coloured, brain dead fantasy.

That every living Australian actor is in this flick would seem to be a good thing, and doubtless it was for their bank balances. I do so enjoy it when the locals get paid work. It keeps them off the streets and lets them pay back the people they owe money to, if only for a while. But to say that they actually get to earn their tax-payer funded salaries would be stretching the truth even more than this travesty stretches the truth regarding our fair country’s history over the last century or so.

Baz, or Barry as I prefer to think of him as, makes films that are less ‘films’ than ‘experiences’. In my eyes at least, they are painful experiences. I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed any of his films apart from Strictly Ballroom and some of Romeo and Juliet. I say ‘some’ because the over-editing and abusive use of popular music tends to turn me off quicker than the mental image of former Prime Minister John Howard gyrating sexily in nothing but a g-string and pasties. Current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd doing the same doesn’t necessarily do much for me either.

I didn’t like Moulin Rouge, but that’s because I’m not one of those people who subscribes to the ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ school of relationships. I don’t feel more beholden to a director who slaps me around and violates my eyeballs and earholes. Other people do get off on that kind of treatment, and it’s not for me to judge or condemn them. Alternative lifestyle choices and all that.

Though it’s perfectly okay to judge and condemn Barry Luhrmann for this terrible flick. To me his films are empty of intellectual content, big on schmaltz and camp and low on enjoyment. Watching his flicks post-Strictly Ballroom is an experience most similar to having an unsettling drag queen throw the contents of their underwear drawer at you for at least two hours. If it were for but two minutes, it would be irritating enough, but at nearly three hours it constitutes the legal definition of torture under the Geneva Convention. Waterboarding has nothing on this fucker’s films.

There are a lot of painful sights in this flick, and much that does not convince an audience as approximating anything close to reality (ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Jack Thompson on a horse for your consideration). But nothing, including the Luhrman take on Aboriginal history and magic comes close to the unreality of Nicole Kidman’s face in this flick. It might not have been a real Nicole Kidman, since she could have been elsewhere tending to the needs of her new child Sunday. Thus, this computer generated doppelganger had to take her place. The problem was that too much of the movie’s incredible (for this country) budget was spent on CGI, on girdles for Jack Thompson, and on chest hair oil for Hugh Jackman, and so they couldn’t afford the extra programmers to manipulate CGI Kidman’s facial muscles. This could be the reason for the fact that she goes through the entire flick looking like she’s mildly surprised by something at the same time as she tries to imitate some kind of bubble-blowing goldfish.

The debilitation of CGI Kidman would be less of a problem if the myopic Luhrmann hadn’t decided to give her close-up reaction shots every single goddamn time something happens in the film. I was going to say “every time some stupid thing happens” but any viewer of this tragedy already knows the redundancy of such a phrase.

Don’t get me wrong: Nicole Kidman and her computer generated clone aren’t unappealing to the eyes. From something of a distance. It’s just that I’d prefer to see her without all that fucking botox in her face.

That’s not to say she can act worth a damn. She is a leaden weight around the neck of this already crippled film, and she drags down almost every scene she’s in. She seems to be playing one of the least believable characters in a film seemingly entirely populated by them.

Nothing and no-one renders her any less unbelievable as the film drags on. Hugh Jackman is Hugh Jackman playing less a character and more an Australian cliché. His character is indistinguishable from Crocodile Dundee, with the minor exception being that the film Australia makes Crocodile Dundee look like a masterpiece, an important history lesson and an exercise in subtlety by comparison.

Being called Australia means the flick tries to speak to the essence of our golden soiled land, which has wealth for toil, and which happens to be girt by sea, apparently. In this it encapsulates nothing that hasn’t been encapsulated with far less histrionics in dozens of better Australian films that lacked the arrogance to be titled ‘Australia’. Every thing it tries to touch on, whether it be anything to do with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, the stolen generations, the missions, Australia’s involvement in World War II, the bombing of Darwin, the colonisation of Australia, the cattle industry, frilly clothing, parasols, the outback, old people, young people, any people, whether they’re Australian or not, is treated with such saccharine contempt that I’m amazed anyone thought Australians would accept it, let alone people overseas. Bazza Mackenzie, Mark 'Jacko' Jackson and Sir Les Patterson provided more nuanced, more believable portraits of Australia in their many and varied endeavours.

It’s insulting for one, and above all a national embarrassment that this dire flick went out there into the ether, as an entertainment claiming to tell people anything about this nation, good or bad. I’d feel insulted after watching this flick even if I was from Kazakhstan and I’d never heard of this fabled country.

What fucking cheek, what gall to presume and presuppose on Luhrmann’s part. I don’t care if he ever makes a good film ever again, I’ll not squander a cent on anything with his name attached to it in any capacity.

If there are any out there who have not seen it and who wonder whether, being the point of any review, I can actually say what the film is about and articulate why I think it’s a heap of crap, then it’s possible that my descriptive powers will abandon me. I don’t think what must have been the room full of a thousand screenwriters who constructed this script could describe what this flick is about without blanching, or at least retching.

But here goes. Crikey!, uptight English aristocrat, salt-of-the-earth drover called Tramp, half Anglo half Aboriginal magical child called Nullah, magical grandfather called King George, evil cattle baron called King, obese alcoholic called Kipling; a terrible CGI cattle drive and stampede, the Lady and the Tramp fall in love through drinking rum, Tramp makes love to Lady’s immobile form and face, medical complications arise, throw in some completely gratuitous Wizard of fucking Oz references, boy is kidnapped by authorities, Tramp doesn’t love the Lady and the magic scamp, Darwin is bombed by the special effects discarded as looking too crappy by the makers of Pearl Harbor, Tramp does love the Lady and the magical scamp, bad guys get comeuppance, our heroes go home in triumph. The End.

But no summary could encompass the sheer number of levels in which all this is put together in the most terrible fashion possible. Oh, woe to those who believe there is something worthwhile in subjecting themselves to this claptrap.

Every scene is camped up to an extreme that would be thrown off the stage at a pantomime conducted by drunks for drunks. But even amidst the terrible, over-amped acting, it would be at least tolerable if it wasn’t for the absurd and off-putting editing which inserts constant shots of: magic grandfather on a cliff somewhere doing magic; postcard shots of nowhere in particular; reaction shots from Kidman’s immobile face; any shot of Jack Thompson, all processed and thrown together like the film went through an exploding and overstimulated blender. A blender which was already overflowing with corn and treacle before the film stock were thrown in for good measure.

Melodramas I can take. Musicals I can take. This kind of shit going on for three hours, which tells me more about Luhrmann’s profound limitations as a filmmaker than this great/crappy nation of ours, I cannot take. This is without doubt the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it makes me embarrassed about my citizenship. The hacks and flack spinners, professional and otherwise, who performed damage control and unleashed various levels and quantities of spin out there about how the film wasn’t that bad into the ether should be paraded through the streets in stocks, convict chains, tar and feathers. They should be nationally disgraced for this national disgrace.

If the film has a single saving grace it’s that the unfortunate magical character called Nullah is played by a delightful and charming child actor called Brandon Walters, who is wonderful despite all the terrible things the filmmakers make him do. If this had been honestly titled as a fantasy film, then everything he did would have been fine, in the spirit of films like the Narnia stories or Bridge to Terebethia. As it is, well, it is what it is. The film couldn’t make me dislike this kid, hard as it tried. So for my money he is the only one who escapes this monstrosity untainted and unharmed.

As for the rest of them, well, there’s a special level of Dante’s Inferno reserved for you. It’s the level set aside for the worst, most creatively bankrupt and intellectually insulting hacks who live only to shit on our hopes and dreams with their terrible hackwork.

If anyone, anywhere has the temerity to stick up for this monstrosity, then please, someone, explain to me the necessity of including the Asian character Sing Song in the cast list as the laundry servant at Faraway Downs. Weren’t there enough goddamn racial stereotypes in this flick without importing one of the lamest ever depicted in cinema? Was that a nod to the Chinese guy played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? What were you thinking, Luhrmann? You fucking hack. Never more will you affront my eyelids with your work ever again.

The Wizard of Oz? Are you kidding me? Nothing screams Dreamtime or Aboriginal history to me like the fucking fantasy tale of a little redheaded girl from Kansas hooking up with cowardly lions and tin men along a yellow-bricked road. You lazy, pandering hacks.

Enough. I could go on, but it’s not worth the bile or the energy. This flick makes me almost hate cinema as an art form. And that is a terrible crime.

Zero ultimately compelling reasons why this abomination should ever have been made, with or without public funding, out of 10.

“Crikey! Crikey? Crikey. Crikey! Crikey? Crikey.” – a script that sounds like it was written by Steve Irwin can’t be all that good, Australia.

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