DVD Tuesday: ‘Australia’ & ‘Milk’

by W. Andrew Powell

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in Australia

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in Australia

Arriving on store shelves this week, travel with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman to Australia’s rugged Outback for an adventure-packed romance, or visit with Sean Penn in his Oscar-winning performance as the courageous Harvey Milk. Also out this week, but much less interesting, Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac star in Soul Men, and Disney drops their latest ridiculous comedy, Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

As films go, Baz Luhrmann’s big, bombastic epic about a British rose and an Australian cattle driver is not for everyone. For instance, if meandering tales are not your thing, you will likely have a hard time sitting through the nearly three hours of this sometimes jokey, sometimes serious adventure in the Outback.

Starring Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley, a rich English woman stuck in Australia during World War II, the film is an epic war romance that has Hugh Jackman playing the working love interest who gets tangled up in Kidman’s complicated life.

Lady Sarah arrives in Australia looking for her husband, only to discover that he has been killed, leaving her to clean up the mess at the cattle farm as a local business man sets his sights on the property and Japanese forces threaten the country.

Australia is indeed a stunning film, from the postcard-style cinematography to the special effects, but Luhrmann fails to make the storyline flow from the early chapters, which are somewhat whimsical, to the darker second half.

Some blame must inevitably fall on whoever decided to let Stuart Beattie rewrite Ronald Harwood’s script. Harwood is a well-respected writer, who won an Oscar for his script for The Pianist, while Beattie is known for his scripts for films like 30 Days of Night, and the upcoming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

While I have issues with the film, I can’t deny that there is a lot to love in this slick, sometimes funny drama. Kidman and Jackman are a decent couple, and they are both a lot of fun in the early stages of the film. Young Brandon Walters, who plays Nullah, is also a true highlight, giving a wonderful performance that kept me looking forward to his next scene.

Overall, I’m disappointed in Luhrmann’s Australia, but I haven’t lost faith in the director. I wonder if he just needs to take a step back and try something different, with a better script in the first place.

Sean Penn’s Oscar winning role arrives on DVD this week, with Penn playing real-life activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in the United States of America back in 1977.

In this drama by director Gus Van Sant, we take a look back to the 70s, and Milk’s fight for equal rights, which would eventually earn the man hero status around North America. The film also co-stars James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin as three of the more important figures in Milk’s life.

While I still wonder if Penn deserved the Oscar over Mickey Rourke’s celebrated role in The Wrestler, there is no question that Milk was one of the best films of 2008 and deserved all the recognition it received.

As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “Sean Penn amazes me”. Going on to write, “[He] never tries to show Harvey Milk as a hero, and never needs to. He shows him as an ordinary man, kind, funny, flawed, shrewd, idealistic, yearning for a better world. He shows what such an ordinary man can achieve.”

Also out this week…

Soul Men
The unlikely pairing of Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac is enough to make most people curious about Soul Men, a comedic drama about two soul singers called to honour their one-time band leader. After 20 years of ignoring each other, the trip together will test their patience, and their talent.

With split reviews across the board, the film is unlikely to be your new favorite film, but Mac and Jackson are entertaining leads.

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly was less than kind in his review, however. “It’s just another grumpy-old-men grousefest with a gooey center,” he wrote, “like The Sunshine Boys or The Bucket List. Even its musical nostalgia comes off as more concocted than felt.”

Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Call me pessimistic, but am I the only one who finds it hard to accept that the once great Disney studios now puts out trashy films like Beverly Hills Chihuahua? Is it too much to ask that the House of Mouse could show a little dignity, like their subsidiary Pixar, and go back to making movies that actually entertain kids, rather than just pandering to them?

This live-action film, with mostly computer-generated Chihuahuas, has Drew Barrymore playing a very spoiled Chihuahua named Chloe, who ends up lost in Mexico and has to make her way back home to the lap of luxury in Beverly Hills. Learning to get by with the help of a few interesting sidekicks, including George Lopez voicing the admiring Papi, she will hopefully learn a lesson along the way, and get back to her owner, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua managed to get a few reasonable reviews, but for the most part critics weren’t impressed by this lame, and half-witted story.

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