Posted by: David Stewart | December 27, 2008

Movie Quick Hits

We had our traditional Movie Madness with my sister and her husband in the Denver area. This is our one-day effort to get caught up on the movies we haven’t seen yet.

Australia – An epic tale of a pioneer era in a big country. Nicole Kidman as a refined woman who becomes drawn by the land and a forbidden romance. A big three hour movie by a really famous director.

No, this is not 2008’s Australia but 1992’s Far and Away. I thought all of this looked familiar!

But in Far and Away, Kidman plays opposite then-husband Tom Cruise, so I suppose she had to cleanse her palate of that effort. Australia is set in 1930’s North Territory around Darwin. Kidman’s Sarah Ashley travels to her husband’s cattle ranch to convince him to sell it. What she finds is a dead husband, a mixed race boy, and a whole lot of dust.

Baz Luhrmann is the director of Australia (Ron Howard directed the 1992 film, which chronicles the Great Land Rush of 1893). Luhrmann’s directing credits include the incredibly over-the-top musicals Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, and helped redefine the look of musical cinema.

Luhrmann uses pop music as a clue for the on-screen story in his previous movies, in a particularly anachronistic way. None of this is present in Australia. As such, it seems like a much more conventional movie. There are important musical cues like “Over the Rainbow” and a strong current of magical realism in the story telling, but otherwise Australia could have been by many other directors.

The problem is, even with three hours running time, Australia is trying to pack in too much. There are at least two complete movie stories, and a wagon load of themes. The movie plays with themes of racism, abandonment, cattle drives, romance, grieving, growing up, treachery, and obscure bits of World War II history. Any one of these would make a compelling story, and Australia tries to be all of these things.

Slumdog Millionaire – A boy who grew up in the slums of Bombay, a “slumdog,” rises up to win the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. How could he possibly do it? This is the McGuffin that propels this story of lost love and the extents to which people will go to find their love.

It’s a pretty intense movie, particularly as it explores the life of a child in the Indian slums. “You wanted to see the true India” says our hero Jamal to American tourists as he is being kicked by a policeman. But in the midst of amazing brutality and greed, you also see amazing love and charity.

By the end of the movie, our heroes break into a Bollywood-style dance number which seems a fitting end to this wild story. I thought it was well worth seeing if you can stand the harsh reality of life in the third world.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) – As a fan of Science Fiction movies, both old and new, it was inevitable that I would see this remake of the 1951 classic. In the old version, alien ambassador Klaatu arrives on earth to convince the human race to leave their violent ways. Robot Gort is on hand to deal vengence to those who would harm Klaatu.

The ethic in 2008 is not about warfare but about ecology. Klaatu must decide if life on Earth is better off without the human race around to mess it up.

The effects in The Day the Earth Stood Still are pretty effective, from a frightening new Gort (Klaatu’s robot pal) to the metal insects who begin to chew up humans and their artifacts. I imagine the Imax version to be incredible.

But the story has some serious weaknesses. A sense of dread and impending doom is developed fairly well, but it is done so much better in movies like Independence Day. Also, central to the basic idea of the story is that Klaatu must somehow be convinced that the human race should be saved. But it’s not clear at all that there is anything worth saving on Earth based on the story told on screen.

As a sci fi geek, it was a fun movie to watch on the big screen, but don’t go expecting a great story and compelling characters.



  1. hey.. greetings from another movie lover..haha..
    so i haven’t watched those three movies you reviewed.

    you watched 3 movies in a row? wow.. haha, my maximum movies watching in the cinema just 2.

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