Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Roses and Australia

That old black magic has me in its spell, that old black magic that they weave so well.

Roses. Fragrant, beautiful, flourishing roses. I love them, but only if they smell good. Roses, or any flower, that has no fragrance is not for me and I am not for them. Nothing like mixing and mingling a little of the Bard of Avon with a bit of Frank Sinatra to start the day.

I want roses. I'm going to plant roses and dig up the evergreen hedge in the planters surrounding the front and side of my cottage. I'm also going to plant some perennials to encourage butterflies and hummingbirds on this little island of greenery in the sea of asphalt that surrounds me. A few vegetables and some herbs and maybe even a few planters to surround the deck and create a wall of color and beauty. I'm in a nesting phase and I will have a beautiful nest when I'm done, inside and out. I need the fragrance and color to combat the fumes of buses and trucks and traffic and the smell of hot asphalt under the summer sun that give me headaches. A little bit of faery in a land of machines and urban sprawl, not unlike the outback in Australia during the big wet. Now that was something to see. It's too bad the characters who peopled it were so one dimensional.

I'm talking about the movie, Australia with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, featuring a very brief cameo by Bryan Brown. Now that was a collage of beauty and mediocrity that didn't surprise me.

Nicole Kidman played Lady Sarah Ashley with all the sensitivity and talent of a fifth rate contract actress for Mack Sennett and her acting was little short of slapstick with brief -- very brief -- moments of ability that failed to transcend a stock portrayal of privileged English upper class deigning to set things right among the savages. Even the love scenes were barely believable and she had such wonderful material to work with. Who wouldn't want to kiss and be kissed by Hugh Jackman? Obviously not Kidman because she approached it with all the gusto of eating a slug sandwich.

Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, as Drover was marvelous. While Kidman was chewing the scenery, he was completely at home as the rootless wanderer questing the savage world with an ease and familiarity born partly of talent and mostly of being at home in the landscape and his own skin. He was surprising and had depth. The only depth Kidman seemed to find was in the collagen injected into her trout lips.

I'll never understand why women with perfectly natural lips insist on pumping them up with collagen and steroids so they look like Lisa Rinna or Angelina Jolie. It never works well and they only end up looking bizarre. /rant

The story of the movie is about the lost generation of half caste (white/aborigine) children who are taken from their aborigine mothers (who won't miss them ten minutes after they're gone because they don't have the feelings of a white mother) and forced to live on Missionary Island to be taught by priests how to be white, despite the fact that forcing them to be white doesn't make them white and won't better their lot in white society. They're called Creamies. Lady Ashley and Drover are just the vehicles to tell Nullah's story, a tale of adversity and prejudice and incredible depth and beauty that was marred by Kidman's performance. She was not, however, alone in her over acting and scenery chewing.

She was joined briefly by Bryan Brown as the rapacious cattle baron whose monopoly on providing beef to the military is only exceeded in the greed shown by his second-in-command, Neil Fletcher, played by David Wenham. Wenham's overly melodramatic villain was worse than Brown's greedy cattle baron only because he got more screen time. I'm certain Brown would have been up to the task to overplaying and phoning in his stereotypical drunk with power boss had he had just a few more lines. Brown's portrayal was lazy and uneven while Wenham only lacked a long black mustache to twirl while tying melodramatic Sarah to the railroad tracks. Good thing there were none or this movie could not have been saved by Jackman and the beautiful young boy playing Nullah, Brandon Walters.

Perhaps the most fascinating of all the characters was King George played by aboriginal actor David Gulpilil who was a sphinx of magic and mystery and heart.

A few minor characters managed to pull off their part of the film with workmanlike precision and a touch of talent, but it was hard to get past the awfulness that was Kidman, Brown and Wenham. I expected better of Brown and Wenham and was sadly disappointed.

Even so, the movie is worth seeing if you're depressed and need a laugh or if you just want to be awed by the cinematography that drinks in the stark and surprising beauty of the Australian outback. That is worth the price of the ticket, especially if you're not into seeing the buff and handsome figure of Hugh Jackman wet and half naked or just half naked. Even with a rough beard, he's what makes the Big Wet really wet.

That is all. Disperse.

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