December 15, 2008

You voted. I saw 2 movies: "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Australia."

You could have sent me to "Rachel Getting Married," "Milk," "Synecdoche, New York," or "Let the Right One In," but you chose "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Australia." I'll say a few things comparing the 2 movies, and I'll keep this spoiler free.

1. Both movies have an in-your-face sense of place. "Slumdog Millionaire," showing us India, has us running all over the slums of Bombay and touring the Taj Mahal. I get it. It's India. "Australia" fills the screen with the map of Australia and giant red rocks and expanses of dry wasteland. Yeah, that's Australia.

2. Both movies tell an elaborately plotted story through the eyes of a little boy. In "Slumdog," the boy, Jamal, plunges into a pool of shit to get his story going, and in "Australia," the boy, Nullah, plunges into a water tank to advance the plot. Our hearts are, of course, supposed to mesh with the heart of the central child character. This is a time-worn method of emotional manipulation, but it works pretty well in both movies. Both boys, for all their troubles, are magically lucky.

3. Both movies have lovers who are torn apart and brought together repeatedly, and both have key scenes where there is a lot of violent chaos and the lovers are running around looking for each other as time is about to run out. Both movies have big close-up kisses that seem to be about the cinematic history of big close-up kisses. There's no real fire between the lovers in either movie. They are big, pretty movie-star heads, but I didn't for one second believe I was looking at 2 human beings who were passionately in love with each other.

4. Both movies weave in a very familiar work of American pop culture. The whole story of "Slumdog Millionaire" is framed by a single performance on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." This is the coolest thing about the movie and is extremely well done -- using flashbacks and quiz questions that relate to the past. "Australia" is strewn with references to the movie "The Wizard of Oz" that come and go and don't really pay off very well. Wishing, home... whatever. But it is pretty amusing when Nicole Kidman's character awkwardly and abysmally tries to tell the Oz story and sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to the boy and manages to inspire him in spite of her inadequacies.

5. Both movies have bathtubs. I'm slightly obsessed with the prominence of bathtubs in the movies. You'd think the most interesting thing in the world was a woman in a damned bath. "Australia" has the conventional lead actress taking a bath for no good reason. Hmm... 2 characters have to have a conversation. Let's put the woman in the bathtub. Depending on what rating you want, it will either be a bubble bath or it won't. It's embarrassing. "Slumdog Millionaire" has a memorably unusual use of the bathtub, so that was fine.

6. Things "Australia" has more of: cattle, horses, spears, bombs, airplanes, ships, sentimentality, pectoral muscles, drunk guys, fistfights, aborigines, contracts. Things "Slumdog Millionaire" has more of: shit, TV, doing laundry, guns, beggars, torture.

7. "Slumdog Millionaire" was a lot shorter and a lot better. "Australia" was a big epic that was completely old-fashioned except to the extent that there was supposed to be something hip about being intentionally old-fashioned. I'd rather watch "The African Queen" again, and if I need some hipness, let me watch it with hip people and we'll say hip things.


Simon said...

"Depending on what rating you want, it will either be a bubble bath or it won't."

And if you change your mind, CG bubbles!

Big Mike said...

I haven't seen "Slumdog," but you certainly got "Australia" dead on the mark.

To which I'd add a poorly drawn main character. On the one hand she has enough spunk to travel all the way to Australia at a time when war is imminent, and she has enough spunk to join a cattle drive even though she's probably never been on horseback for more than a couple hours in her previous life. On the other hand, she doesn't have the gumption to rip her own blouse and run the villian through when he threatens her in her own house. And her overwrought scene on the dock -- has the director ever heard of the word "subtle"?

Tibore said...

""Australia" has the conventional lead actress taking a bath for no good reason."

I thought the whole purpose of a "bath" was actually to luxuriate with no good reason for doing so. After all, if the object was just to get clean, wouldn't you take a shower?


Paddy O said...

I voted for both.

And I seem to have gotten both responses right too.

Sometimes just having something entirely different to complain about is cleansing. Brings new light on the usual things we complain about and helps them feel fresh again.

I mean, sure, Illinois politics might be full of corruption and the legal writing might be simply absurd, worse than a lot of student writing no doubt. But, at least we can just read the brief without having to see AG Madigan take a bath.

froggyprager said...

Rachel Getting Married has an intersting bathtub scene which is not just a fluf show the actress in a bath scene. You should see it.

Trooper York said...

The best bathtub scene in a movie is in Scarface.

Synova said...

Thanks, Trooper.

That movie gave me PTSD at the sight of bathroom tile for years after I saw it.

Synova said...

The *thing* about "Australia" is that Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman were not cast because they were obviously best for the part or had anything like chemistry. The script was probably written specifically for them, though. It looked a bit like the sort of movie I'd like but I worried that the whole production would suffer from "trying too hard."

Because Australia's native film and television industry has to compete with Hollywood and all the television series we produce and there is sort of an inferiority thing going on. (And just like in America, there are Australians who are embarrassed by the inadequately artsy, such as The Crocodile Hunter.) Kidman and Jackman are Australia's World Class Movie Stars.

And maybe this is one reason for the difference between the two movies.

Bollywood dwarfs English language film. There is nothing to prove.

Justin said...

Big Mike said...

...has the director ever heard of the word "subtle"?

Baz Luhrmann is not known for his subtlety.

Australia is not his best movie. I recommend Strictly Ballroom.

Beth said...

I'm glad you tied up with African Queen, Althouse. I kept thinking of old movies in comparison as I read your comments. Two big movie-star heads with no chemistry? I thought "Thanks God for Casablanca. Stereotypical and obligatory woman lead in the bathtub? Hairy little Frenchman with cigar in Diva is a palate cleanser.

I'm looking forward to Frost/Nixon but because I'm in the exam-grading forest, I really don't know what else is coming out right now.

Ann Althouse said...

"The best bathtub scene in a movie is in Scarface."

Better than "Hard Day's Night"?

Mortimer Brezny said...

I voted for Australia because I knew it would suck and I wanted Ann to sit through a terrible movie with wooden, bland, frigid, sterile Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. I knew they would have no chemistry. They are mannequins.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I delighted in reading that Australia was as bad as I thought it would be. I truly did.

avwh said...

IMO, "Australia" tries to be 3 films in one, in order to be both epic and "something for everyone":
the first 20-30 minutes is a farce about manners/culture between the crude outback cowboy (Jackman) and the prude/proper/snooty Brit woman (Kidman).
The next hour+ is an Aussie Western, and the last hour+ is a war romance movie.

It has very high production values (great scenery/lighting/cinematography), but the story/plot is too "high style Hollywood" to ring true for me. It also has the classic flaw of many modern "too Hollywood" movies, IMO: using today's sensibilities & standards in the stars' attitudes/mores, while all the extras are depicted as ...fill in the blank for their cultural offenses (racist, bigoted, unenlightened, etc.).

blake said...

I was hoping against hope you would see "Let The Right One In", just because it's a different movie. I'd be interested in your take on "Rachel", as well.

chuck b. said...

I would be happy to go see either of these movies if someone paid me $500. I don't like old-fashioned epics (however I do enjoy old epics) and the cinematic pleasures of shit, beggars, and torture are rather too subtle for me.

Rachel Getting Married? Is that a dingbat comedy or a maudlin chickflick? If it's the former, I'll see it for, oh, $250. The latter costs you $500.

Milk--I'd go see that for a mere $50--James Franco, cool 70s retro stylings. All movies should include at least those two things.

Synechdoche, New York. I'm supposed to be charmed by the substitution of synedoche for Schenactady, right? $100.

Let the Right One In--I've heard that one's good. Vampires, right? I'll see it for free on IMAX. Otherwise...$20.

blake said...

Rachel isn't either chick-flick or dingbat-comedy. It's...uh...dysfunctional family indie drama.

knox said...

if I need some hipness, let me watch it with hip people and we'll say hip things.

LOL. They were pretty obvious and heavy-handed in the marketing of Australia. LOOK AT US! WE'RE MAKING A COOL OLD-FASHIONED EPIC HISTORICAL DRAMA!!

knox said...

dysfunctional family indie drama.

Really? How many people die poignantly at the end?

blake said...


It's not that hack.

Actually, upon further reflection, I can't think of a recent indie dysfunctional family drama where someone died at the end. Maybe Before The Devil Knows You're Dead? (I don't remember if someone dies at the end or just goes to jail.)

That was above-average dysfunction, though.

Suicide may be painless but it's also kind of trite....

knox said...

Oh, I'm thinking of The Ice Storm and that movie with "Sebastian" in the title. (starred the guy from Entourage I think) I just saw a bunch of indie movies where I felt like, lacking a good idea, they killed someone off at the end just to try to make it "deep"

blake said...


Yeah, that's a pretty hack move. Originally, Kevin Smith's Clerks movie was going to end with a robber shooting Dante to death.

Dumb idea.