Tuesday, 9 December 2008

In Defence of Luhrmann's Australia and Nicole

There is an abundance of negative publicity surrounding Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, ‘Australia’.
Tall Poppies
Criticism of ‘Australia’ seems to be strongest from the high brow movie watcher who appear guilty of a local cringe factor. It puts me in mind of the national consciousness in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony where a similar negativity was leapt upon by a waiting media, always happy to push any measure of bad news. And with headlines that scream “Australia disappoints at box office”, who can resist a knowing nod?
With a reported cost of $130m to make and promote the film, there is no doubt that this one film has cost more than any other Australian film. Coupled with a calculated business drive to promote the film heavily, which is unusual for Australian films, the nation’s “tall poppy syndrome” has been quick to set in.
Luhrmann’s use of Australian actors is welcome and his portrayal of outback landscapes is appealing. It is no wonder that Tourism Australia were keen to align themselves to his vision.
Despite the high price tag and popular nature of this film it has been far from a failure. In its first week alone its box office takings were in the order of $10m in Australia alone. It will run for a few weeks yet into the summer holidays and that figure doesn’t take into account any overseas takings either.
Contrast this with the Australian films nominated in the Best Film category at last weekend’s Australian Film Institute awards : The Black Balloon, The Jammed, The Square and Unfinished Sky. Have you heard of any of these films? Let alone actually watched any of them? Perhaps you have heard of The Black Balloon (which won best picture) or Joel & Nash Edgerton’s The Square, and that because they were advertised in some way more than the others. Their combined box office takings however are $3.9m. Total.
Furthermore their themes are broadly consistent with many Australian films of recent times, darker in tone and more serious in nature. By all accounts they are very fine films but do I, as a potential audience member, get excited about the prospect of seeing something dour and downbeat? To be sure, I will be watching these films as they hit our DVD shelves, if for no other reason than because they are Australian films, but don’t tell me that somehow they are success stories (other than the actual success of getting them made which is no small feat in and of itself) while ‘Australia’ is a failure. In every way ‘Australia’ outpoints these other films: in its profile, its popular sensibility and its takings.
The Nicole factor
The other reaction against ‘Australia’ is that of Nicole Kidman. For some reason she is ‘on the nose’ of Australian audiences and that is counting against the film.
As you all know, I am a fan of Nicole and have been for a long time and I don’t back away from that now.
I think the reasons for this anti-Nicole sentiment is two fold. The first is her tabloid profile and regular folks are heartily sick of seeing her mug on the cover of every women’s magazine. Being married to Tom Cruise placed her in the echelon of uber-celebrity and she has been a target ever since.
As an adjunct to that, facial surgery in early 2000s, initially (I believe) to reshape her nose and since then, who knows what else, has resulted in a face with no blemish or wrinkle. Certainly the absence of any “laughter lines” or the like give opportunity for people to complain of an expressionless, “plastic” face. Ironically she has the appearance of a Stepford Wife, a role she played in 2004.
Secondly, the movies in which she has played a part in recent years have not been either critically or popularly acclaimed.
Kidman’s great film roles occurred around the time of her break up with Cruise and which garnered a Best Actress Oscar : The Hours, Dogville, The Human Stain, Cold Mountain and Birth. The dark subject matter was more than met with the dark moods of her personal life. They were powerful and serious storylines.
Since then, lighter tones and more popular offerings that sadly have been less impressive: The Stepford Wives, The Interpreter, Bewitched, Fur, The Invasion and Margot at the Wedding.
All I will say in defence of Kidman and her choice of roles is that she takes risks. I can only imagine that an actress with her profile would be offered countless roles in blockbuster, ‘James Bond’ type movies. The fact that she has done very few of those types of films, and none recently, should be marked as a credit but it is not recognised.
For example, with Fur, she took the opportunity to work with director Steven Shainberg whose previous success was with the controversial and independent film Secretary. Fur turned about to be a bit too quirky for its own good.
Margot, to work with Noah Baumbach whose previous success was with The Squid and the Whale. Margot was a hard script to work through and would have sunk irrespective of the cast.
I believe that the opportunity to work on an Australian film and support the local industry was behind her motivation to work on ‘Australia’ and before that ‘Happy Feet.’
I tend to judge the success of an actor very simply. If, at the end of a movie, I am satisfied that I believed what I was seeing, then it’s a ‘pass’. It is my opinion that Kidman remains a fine actress although not every film she has appeared in, has worked.
In conclusion, I comfortably rate ‘Australia’ as a 3 out of 4 star movie. The fact that it is an Australian film that highlights our history and addresses some of our current day issues is to be celebrated and enjoyed.

You can read my review of 'Australia' here.


Anonymous said...

My post is not to defend Kidman immeasurable talent or applaud you for doing that because I don't think it needs defending. The work she has done speaks for itself and her Oscar for a 30min work solidifies her worth. As Stanley Kubrick told her, "they don't have a clue about you".

Here is my thing:

Look at Kidman's pictures taken in real time, not those on magazine covers, airbrushed to the point where she looks like someone else.

Did Kidman have anything to laugh about between 2001 and 2005 that people expect those lines, laugh lines appear because the person laughs but even so the lines are there now especially since the end of last year. If you don't see the laugh lines around her eyes then you are looking at another face. Not only does she have laugh lines around her eyes, it goes down her nose, too. Look at any HQ picture of Kidman since any time you want and will see the lines and you will see the fine lines on her forehead, the lines are there but they are very faint and the lines around her eyes. Sure, the woman doesn't have crows feet but still. As for a nose job, what kind of nose job did she have done? Kidman has two identifiable creaks, on one nostril and on the bridge of her nose, they've been there always and yet, she had work done on her nose and they remain there. How is that?

For a woman railed for being vain, she sure has a peculiar way of going about it. She botoxes her forehead apparently but doesn't get that she can use it to stop armpit perspiration, something she suffers from more than others at events and is much more embarrassing. She has nose surgery but keeps the 2 creaks on her nose. She is so into vanity that she mostly leaves her grey hair alone unless she has an event to attend.

They say her face doesn't move and yet, these same people can judge and react to her performance. There are people crying and laughing because of what she is doing on screen in Australia and yet, the stupidity of their statement that they cannot read her seems to go over their heads. These critics say her forehead is frozen, I guess I must have imagined that movement when she was in the truck with Hugh, in that scene with the lady who played Cathy or those "11" i.e. the frown lines right beside her eyebrows. Her face is so frozen that the emotions flickery all over her face in one of the scenes where she was going to get Nullah back after departing for walkabout must have been down to my imagination. They are all there.

I guess Kidman is the first western woman over the age of 40 who doesn't look weathered and wrinkled, covered in lines to suggest she has lived a life for a mere 40 years. A life lived in luxury and wealth where she doesn't have to worry about most things that cause others not to wealthy to wither away. Only in this culture do we use the phrase "growing old gracefully" for women in their 30s and 40s. Look at someone like Gong Li, she is in pristine condition just like Kidman. She is the same age as Jodie Foster but you would never guess to put them side by side. Nobody in Asia is whining about how it is all down to surgery. Look at Kidman from head to toe, for her to look the way she does, she must have her cosmetic surgeon on call every day and when did she even get the time? Also, has she discovered the kind of botox that can wear off after a day.

And if Kidman is so changed due to surgery, I am surprised she doesn't look like Joan Rivers at this point, I mean, it is not like she has that much skin to play with, where are the slanty eyes and pulled skin. Has anyone taken a look at Anthony Kidman, her father, there he is and nary a wrinkle, are they using the same botox supplier? Her sister is about 2 years shy of 40, any wrinkles showing up? I wonder why?

Was she botoxing her face when she was pregnant because even the pressure of pregnancy didn't deepen the wrinkles on her face by much.

Did you know that the NY Post actually wrote that people should expect her face to show what it really looks like when she was pregnant because she wouldn't be able to use botox and her face would start to sag and she would be seen wearing hats and glasses to cover her face? and when it didn't happen did you know that some idiots actually believe that she was either using botox and that was why her face didn't sag or that she wasn't really pregnant and was pretending? That is how ludicrous it is now.

As for how she is treated in Oz a la Tall Poppy, here is a newsflash, Kidman has not needed Australia as a country to help her career for about 17 years. This was her first true Oz movie since Flirting so if the media thinks she needs them then they may soon realise that attacking her is only going to sink this movie. Americans know better, they don't kill their movies even if they are poor quality, they pan their bad movies but they do not deride them or their actors especially when it is opening but Australians still have a lot to learn on how to sell a product from their country to foreign markets. Kidman, their focus to pour this derision is already shooting a movie called NINE where she got paid millions, the Oz film industry, on the other hand, is not going to rise out of its slump any time soon. They should think about that. If Oz media want other actors in the films they want to watch then I suggest they write their own script because Kidman doesn't need them. Kidman despite her flops is one of the very few actresses studios will allow to get first credit on a movie that is more than $100m and she has done it twice in a movie starring James Bond, Daniel Craig and this one starring Wolverine, Hugh Jackman. If the Oz media don't get what she can do then that is their problem.

Apologies for the long post but people simply assuming something is one way because that is the only explanation they have doesn't make it so.

Yes, she looks like a porcelain doll but here is a news flash: botox and plastic surgery doesn't give anyone beautiful skin or young skin and that is what she has in spades, from head to toe. Beautiful skin. As for her looking plastic, sorry but she is no Joan Rivers. A woman looking more beautiful as she grow into her years is not always down to a surgeon's knife. I mean, there you are mentioning her having surgery but for some reason omitted what she has had done. I wonder why? is it because you cannot actually pinpoint it except for the fact that she had no laugh lines?

GGBlog said...

Thanks for your input Mr A. I won't add much to your comment except to say that I was not calling Kidman 'plastic'; only repeating what others have said - both in writing and in person.
It has set me a new challenge however which I will attempt to set up over the weekend ... we'll kind of play 'Spot the Difference'. Tune in next week!!