I’ve seen several movies lately that I haven’t had time to set down my thoughts about. There’s too much cooking today to give any of them full reviews, so enjoy these movie bites or, if you like, check out this old post on Thanksgiving Day movies. -JO

Australia Review

Australia is not, as the trailer lead me to believe, some sort of creation myth of modern Australia, although you could read it that deeply if you chose. It is, instead, Australia’s Gone with the Wind: an epic love story told against a sweeping historical backdrop.

I couldn’t stand director Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, but thankfully that is not the Baz that shows up here. We still have someone infatuated with the power of cinema, but one who is willing to subsume his directorial flourishes to the whim of the story.

And what a powerful story it is. It hinges around a “half-caste” aborigine boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), who narrates the tale. As a mixed-race child, he will be sent to the ‘locklock,’ the Christian mission, if the police find him. He is protected first by his grandfather King George (David Gulpilil), a shaman who wanders solitary over beautiful Australian landscapes, and then by Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who takes over her late husband’s cattle farm, the majestically named Faraway Downs. It is not long before Lady Ashley’s affections turn towards The Drover (Hugh Jackman), a free spirit who specializes in cattle-punching. They have a sort of African Queen dynamic, with Kidman especially giving it the full Hepburn.

After the cowboy adventure half of the movie, Lady Ashley and The Drover adopt Nullah and seem to be a happy family. But not all loose ends have been tied and a villain returns who separates the three amidst a Pearl Harbor-like attack by the Japanese on the nearby port of Darwin. For your ticket price, you get two big, fun adventure movies!

One final note: I was bothered by some of the characterizations in the film. Australia‘s portrayal of aborigines is not always sensitive but, in its defense, the whites too are painted with a broad brush. (However, the Chinese character and maybe the Japanese ones are poorly portrayed in the film.) There’s no getting around that the story presents the heroes as white saviors who are aided by the mystical nature-connected aborigines. I think smart audiences can still have fun with the film while realizing that old stereotypes die hard.

Rachel Getting Married Review

For most of Rachel Getting Married it threatens to be the most depressing wedding movie ever made. Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who gets out of rehab to go to her sister Rachel’s wedding. The movie, directed by Jonathan Demme from a script by Jenny Lumet, has the loose, verité feel of a great 1970’s drama.

For her awkward rehearsal banquet speech alone I imagine Anne Hathaway will get Academy attention. The acting in the movie in general is quite fine but she really anchors the story, and is fearless in not only making herself look less than pretty (something Manohla Dargis overpraises Nicole Kidman for in Australia) but also in having her character be less than sympathetic. She doesn’t always hit exactly the right note, but thanks to the script, the directing and the supporting cast, the character is wonderfully memorable.

The other memorable thing I’ll take away from this film is the dishwasher scene, about which I’ll say little except that it’s a small triumph, the film itself in microcosm. (And speaking of microcosms, the wedding ceremony itself seemed to borrow from the traditions of the entire world. It is the one time the movie devolves into fantasy.)

Last Chance Harvey Review

I saw the premiere of this film at the AFI Festival and I’ve put off writing about it for a while. As much as I wanted to like this sophomore effort from writer/director Joel Hopkins (Jump Tomorrow was his low-budget first feature), I was mostly bored. Maybe for people of a certain age who can sympathize with the tentative love between Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey and Emma Thompson’s Kate, it will hold interest. They certainly give likable performances.

Harvey is a commercial jingle composer who just lost his job, going to England to the wedding of his daughter. While there, she drops the bomb that she wants her step-father to give her away. Crushed, Harvey lets out his feelings to airport worker Kate, who has her own family problems: a controlling mother. She convinces Harvey to stay for the wedding and goes to the reception. Harvey stands to make a speech and he can either make a scene or be conciliatory. After this crucial moment, I guess the suspense is whether Harvey and Kate will end up together.

They were nice enough people and they seemed to enjoy each others company. I just didn’t enjoy spending two hours with them.

Changeling Review

UPDATE: I’ve was way off in believing Changeling was based on “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar” story. The reporter and writer of that story, Tal McThenia, set me straight:

I’m the reporter and writer of the radio story “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar” – someone flagged your Nov. 27 recommendation of the show to me – thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed it and recommended it.

I did want to clarify that, while the stories are in some ways similar, “Changeling” is actually not based on the Bobby Dunbar story; it is a different real-life story altogether, Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Murders:


I’m relatively sure most of the major story elements in “Changeling” are true, including the police corruption and serial killer.

I apologize to Clint and crew for thinking they messed up one of my favorite stories. I was fed bad info, but I should’ve read up on the film’s story before slamming it. Mea culpa. I can’t go back and see the movie in that light, but I imagine I still would find Angelina Jolie’s character’s reactions to her situation difficult to believe. In any case, I stand by the recommendation to listen to the hour-long radio report about a missing child who comes back — or is it a different child? — rather than spend 2 1/2 hours on Changeling.

Don’t bother with this two-and-a-half hour film, whose story is based on true story already told brilliantly by radio show This American Life. Instead, listen to the hour long This American Life version called “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar”.

Director Clint Eastwood and writer J. Michael Straczynski add a layer of police corruption and even a serial killer to distract from what is really the interesting part of the story. What would you do if you lost your child and authorities said they found him, but he was really another kid?

Angelina Jolie, as distraught mother Christine Collins, is fine. But I don’t believe her initial lovey-doveyness and I don’t believe that she would leave the train station with a kid who isn’t her son. There’s just too much in this film that doesn’t pass the smell test and I know I would feel the same way even if I didn’t already know the true story.

They changed so much, why couldn’t they change their own ending to one that was satisfying? The true story is satisfying. Seriously. Listen to it.

Role Models Review

Catch this one on DVD. This (yes) predictable story of two man-boys, Danny (Paul Rudd) and Sean-William Scott (Wheeler) who are forced by the court to mentor two problem kids is nonetheless a fun melody upon which some very talented comedians improvise. I am thinking most especially of Jane Lynch who, as the leader of the mentorship program Sturdy Wings, is criminally funny every moment she is on screen. No comedy classic, but a solid effort by some great comedic talents filled with earned laughs. And there’s a paucity of them abouts.