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Moulin Rouge! (2001) [Review Re-View]

Released May 17, 2001:

Director Baz Luhrmann’s last project was the MTV-friendly William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (like someone else has a Romeo and Juliet) which was adored by the under 15 set that now buy N*SYNC merchandise. Luhrmann waited a long time for his follow up with Moulin Rogue, a manic musical that seems like candy for the eyes. It may have been a long time but it was well worth the wait.

The sparkling world of Moulin Rogue is around turn of the century France. Christian (Ewan McGregor), an aspiring writer, has traveled to this place against his father’s wishes. Christian believes in the beauty of love and the pull of the heart. Within minutes of setting foot in France he gets wrapped up into a production by a dwarf (John Leguizamo) and his cadre of assistants. Christian is sent to the most provocative club in town, the Moulin Rogue. Here he attempts to persuade the most famous showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman) to help push for their musical to get financial backing. Satine inadvertently confuses Christian for the man she is supposed to seduce for a large some of money, the Duke (Richard Roxburgh). And thus the merry band of misfits get their play the backing while Christian blossoms a love for Satine. But their love must remain hidden for the Duke is led to believe that Satine is his and his alone.

Kidman owns this movie, plain and simple. From her first shattering entrance being lowered from the ceiling to the last scene, she is absolutely magnificent. McGregor gives a nice performance as the dough-eyed lover. Jim Broadbent plays the Moulin Rogue’s owner, Zidler with howling delight in all his manic expressions. Even Roxburgh gives an underwritten antagonist the right amount of weasely twitch.

One of the more surprising features is how well the two leads can actually sing. Kidman gives a soft and sexy take on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and McGregor can belt out a tune with some admirably throaty pipes. As these two veer in and out of songs it’s a pleasure to watch and hear.

Luhrmann has crafted a musical with ADD, but I say this as a compliment. Moulin Rogue‘s pace is fast and pounding. People twirl above the sky, the camera zooms wildly through town streets, and dump trucks worth of confetti fly through the air. Moulin Rouge is exploding with glitz and never lets up. The editing and visual artistry is stirring. By about ten minutes into the proceedings when a green fairy starts singing a seductive version of “The Hills Are Alive” you know you are in for something else. And what a something else the film delivers. There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.

Moulin Rogue could be described as a musical for people who dislike traditional musicals. In traditional musicals people go along stuffy formula, then break out into great choreography song-and-dance. With Lurhmann’s musical is a breakneck of pomp where the characters zip around to exaggerated Hanna-Barbara sound effects and start chiming away with 70s and 80s pop songs that we all know. After the initial shock/humor of hearing characters belt out renditions of “Roxanne” and “Like A Virgin,” a familiarity sets in and it blends in to produce a surprising artistic addition.

The story of the movie is nothing new or extraordinary; it’s well worn territory. But where Moulin Rouge breaks apart and shines are with its style and exposure. The visuals are astoundingly lush and lively, the music is game and pumping, and the movie is just screaming to be seen. This was a true work of love.

The movie is bursting to the seams with life. I loved every single second, every single frame, every single moment of Moulin Rouge. I can’t wait to go see it again.

Nate’s Grade: A

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WRITER REFLECTIONS 20 YEARS LATER

This was a movie I was looking forward to revisiting and was partly dreading. With the movies that I loved in my past, there is more at stake revisiting them and finding that some of the luster, some of that original magic that enchanted me twenty years hence might be missing. Nothing is lost by re-learning that something like Freddy Got Fingered is still as awful today as it was in 2001. I had this same nagging concern with several of my favorites of 1999 and 2000, and not all of them held up (these re-reviews cannot help being partly biographical). Moulin Rouge wasn’t even a movie I had much interest in seeing back in 2001. I went at the behest of my friend Kevin Lowe and I remember my expectations being low, or maybe I wasn’t in the greatest mood, but within ten minutes that all changed. Moulin Rouge is a movie I unabashedly loved at 19 years old and watched repeatedly through my early 20s and consider a personal favorite. I was caught up in the razzle, the dazzle (especially the dazzle), but the sumptuous and crazed artistry of it all, where it could simultaneously be nostalgic and modern, irreverent and deeply serious, hopelessly romantic in the squarest of terms while being so quizzically weird. It could have been a spectacular disaster but it ended up being a spectacular spectacular. I’m happy to report that Moulin Rouge retains its charm and soaring passion even twenty toe-tapping years later.

This has and will always be a love-it-or-hate-it film. I don’t think there are many people who can watch this movie and remark, “Eh, it was okay I guess.” The opening act is relentlessly paced, anarchic and antic, bouncing all over the place, exploding with information, humor, colors, and bawdy and bizarre imagery, intending to shake you from your doldrums of what a modern big screen musical experience can entail. Under the mad genius of co-writer/director Baz Luhrmann, the movie is bracingly transporting and takes you for an immediate rush, and just as it slows down, you’re hooked. Or, if you’re in the hate-it camp, you’ve found the movie to be a scattershot, self-indulgent, ADD-addled, exhausting ride you’re eager to depart. An amusement park ride is a fine analogy for Moulin Rouge, a movie reverberating with energy and movement; it really does feel like it can’t possibly stand still. There’s a seductive green fairy line dancing, and a singing moon performing opera, and a narcoleptic Argentinian, and John Leguizamo as a dwarf, and plenty of ribald sexual humor and goofy slapstick comedy. It is, to put it lightly, a lot to handle.

With apologies to modern poets, for most of us, the poetry of our modern culture is the songs that have shaped us and our biographical experiences, the soaring ballads, the friendly singalongs, the bangers to shout at the top of your lungs, the love songs to swoon along to and melt away. Moulin Rouge is a major musical that only has one original song, the modern wedding staple “Come What May,” which was actually written for Luhrmann’s prior movie, 1995’s Romeo and Juliet, and thus declared ineligible for the Academy Award for Original Song (sorry Randy Newman, but your Monster’s Inc. song cannot compete). It is a musical composed of renditions and snippets of hit music, cementing its amalgamation as a pop-culture chimera. In many ways it previews the viral Glee music mashups and remixes, the effortless blending of one song into another, the melodies gliding like dancers and then becoming something excitingly new. It’s a different kind of creativity because it’s one thing just to hit “play” on some Greatest Hits CD and it’s another to make sure the songs track the emotional journeys and perspectives of its primary players. Early on, as Christian (Ewen McGregor) belts tunes from The Sound of Music, captivating his peers with his apparent genius, we immediately understand the instant appeal this man would have, seeming like a musical prophet to those lucky enough to listen in 1899 Paris. It’s a clever shorthand and another reflection that modern music has enough vitality and depth to serve as the romantic poetry of our age. Moulin Rouge also predates the sharp rise in jukebox musicals, using the songs of the past, usually limited to one artist, as part of the infectious fun.

The singing and song renditions are luscious and odd and beautifully re-calibrated. The introduction of Satine (Nicole Kidman) is a bold move, lowered on trapeze, her pale skin practically glowing, as she breathily sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” It’s like the movie perceives Satine as an angel being lowered to the mores of man. A male duet of “Like a Virgin” between club owner Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) and the villainous, twitchy, possessive and foppish Duke (Richard Roxburgh) is hilarious and at points unfathomably creepy. Watching “Roxanne” performed as a sultry tango is so good that you’ll never want to hear it any other way. The singing by the famous stars is remarkably polished and without the advent of Autotune, especially from McGregor who belts his tunes with impressive range. The blending of this sonic soundscape, especially McGregor inter-cutting with that “Roxanne” number, can be overwhelming to fully process, like the movie is trying to reach you on a pure emotional, elemental level where you feel it before you can fully process it intellectually. I think that sums up the movie and its lasting appeal well, because I can logically pick apart certain artistic choices, like the exaggerated cartoon sound effects that could have been pared back, but the movie is a messy, joyously messy, exuberant love letter to big messy emotions and cheesy romanticism even to the point of mockery. This is a big screen musical for our modern age, and it’s meant to tap the right combination of buttons to make you fall in love, and I do every time.

It’s amazing to me how Moulin Rouge feels like a crossroads of the old and new, reaching back to the big movie musicals of old but with the hyper-kinetic style of modern music videos. It’s immediately fresh but also familiar, and that clever construction most notably extends to its very specific use of music. It’s not trying to erase the old school musical but drag it into a new century, drafting off of modern music hits to reach a new audience waiting to feel that same heightened reality that those old musicals might not capture for a younger generation. The movie also begat a resurgence of big screen musicals like 2002’s Chicago, 2004’s Phantom of the Opera, 2005’s Rent and The Producers (also co-starring Kidman), 2006’s Dreamgirls, 2007’s Sweeney Todd and Hairspray, and on and on to recent musicals like 2019’s Rocketman (jukebox musical) and 2020’s The Prom (also co-starring Kidman). Everything Chicago did, I felt like Moulin Rouge did better the year before, and I’m convinced Kidman’s Best Actress Oscar for The Hours was a makeup award for being overlooked for her superior performance in Moulin Rouge a year prior. I don’t know if Kidman was ever better than she was here at this moment in her career, fresh off her divorce from Tom Cruise. I feel strongly that Broadbent should have won his 2001 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this and not Iris. The movie was nominated for eight Oscars and justly won two for Best Art Direction and Costumes, both going to Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin, who would also win two Oscars for her husband’s equally lush and anachronistic 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The electric editing, glittering cinematography, and all the bravura technical elements blend into a rare artistic vision so complete and so extravagantly bold at this budget level.

It should also be noted that Moulin Rouge was adapted into a Broadway stage musical in 2019, updating with more twenty-first century hits like “Crazy in Love” and “Firework” and “Toxic” and “Bad Romance” among others. Its stage run was postponed because of COVID although a national tour is planned for 2022.

From my original review back in 2001, many of my same points still hold up and it was difficult to perfectly capture the spell this movie can have, the same difficulty I’m running into today in 2021 to try and convey its unique hold on me. Regrettably, it’s another review that I felt I needed to take a potshot on “teenyboppers” from my oh so dismissive position as critic. It’s nice when I find myself agreeing with my twenty years younger self. I especially agree with this one summative statement: “There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.” Moulin Rouge is one of my happy movies and twenty years later my stupid face is still smiling.

Re-Review Grade: A

The Great Gatsby (2013)

the-great-gatsby-poster1It seemed like some sort of educational mandate that every child in the United States was forced to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, when they were in high school. In my highly unscientific number crunching, it appears that those who actually enjoyed the book are in the minority. I recall loathing it, but then again, when you’re fifteen, you sort of loath everything. Enter Australian director Baz Luhrmann, the showman who exploded the screen in razzle-dazzle run amok with Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge!. Not exactly the kind of filmmaker one would fathom helming an adaptation of a classic of American literature, but the man’s style of excess seems like a suitable match for Fitzgerald’s tale of high-class overindulgence.

In 1922, young Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to the hustle and bustle of New York City, living close to his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her rich husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). He’s also the neighbor to the mysterious and newly rich Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a reclusive man who opens his mansion up to prolific bacchanals. Rumors persist in who he is and how he accrued his enormous fortune. He’s an old flame of Daisy’s and is secretly hoping she’ll attend one of his raucous soirees. He enlists Nick to help arrange a reunion for them, and soon enough Gatsby is already planning their happy future together again. Trouble is, Tom isn’t willing to lose his wife without a fight.

101900_galLuhrmann’s helming of The Great Gatsby gave me exactly what I desired and expected. The movie is convulsing with energy and the first hour just moves; be it the camerawork or people onscreen, for long stretches there always seems to be some degree of onscreen movement. Luhrmann’s signature theatrical visual atmosphere is vibrant, joyous, and a perfect translator of the lavish lifestyles of the noveau rich in the Roaring ‘20s. The man brings to startling life the sensations of being young, privileged, and carefree, and the use of anachronistic music, while not nearly as textured and thematically relevant as Moulin Rouge!, adds to the fun. I quite enjoyed a low-key, jazzy rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” Luhrmann’s style treks in excess but it’s a much more pleasant, dreamy, and altogether beguiling form of artistic indulgence than, say, Michael Bay or Tony Scott and their respective macho visual fetishes. Luhrmann’s campy sense of style doesn’t come across as overly suffocating or distracting, at least to my eyes, and instead the man injects his movies with tremendous energy, immersing you into a new world of old and modern. This is what Luhrmann was meant for. While other canonical classics of American literature may not survive a glitzy Lurhmann treatment, it’s a good match for the extravagant excess of Fitzgerald’s setting. Lurhmann’s visuals are glorious, and the 1920s era is brought to glamorous life. You get the sense it was one giant party without any lasting consequences (if you were rich enough).

The second half of the movie slows down considerably after the amped-up introduction. We’re caught up in the characters at this point, as we should be, and the Gatsby/Daisy reunion dominates the plot. I suppose there are only so many Busby Berkeley numbers and confetti explosions one can encounter before the plot has to set in. Lurhmann and company stick pretty faithfully to Fitzgerald’s plot (rest easy, lazy high school students of today and tomorrow). Interestingly, they are far more explicit about Gatsby’s securities fraud, knowingly making a fortune off junk bonds, all in the name to impress Daisy. There’s a genuine sense of respect for the source material even with Luhrmann’s visual flourishes; at several points, Fitzgerald’s text floats onscreen. The problem is that Luhrmann’s Gatsby is almost entirely focused on the romantic coupling of its title figure and Daisy. Gone is the class criticism, the indictment of the follies of the rich, the examination of the dark side of the American Dream, and the subtext. You’ll get plenty of shots of that famous green light, 20th century literature’s most famous and unsophisticated symbol (pay attention kids: green means go), but there’s little time for complexity. It’s not a screen romance worth this much attention, which is kind of the point, but when the movie clocks at over 2 hours and 20 minutes, drawing out a lackluster romance can become rather grating.

101940_galIf I were top cite one major fault in Luhrmann’s incarnation, it’s that it adopts Nick’s fawning perspective and treats Gatsby as this tragic romantic figure. I acknowledge with every adaption there is a degree of interpretation, and romantic hero is certainly one facet of Gatsby, certainly how he sees himself, but by the end of Fitzgerald’s novel, Gatsby is really more a naïve man who really only sees Daisy as trophy, a prize for his reinvention and jumping up to the storied moneyed class. Daisy herself is certainly weak-willed but her emptiness (she says there’s nothing better than for a girl to be a “beautiful, young fool”) is part of the appeal to Gatsby because he can remake her however he wants. He’s not interested insomuch as her as a person. I don’t think that the Gatsby/Daisy escapades fall into the ranks of Great Tragic Couples of Literature, but that’s how Luhrmann interprets the novel, transforming Gatsby into a revered, honorable, and heartbreaking romantic we’re meant to shed a tear for. I suppose since we’re reliving the story through Nick’s perspective that events could be colored differently. Beyond just a simplistic analysis, it also misses the greater and more futile tragedy of a man trying to escape his past by obsessively recreating it.

The acting is fairly good all around, though the standout is certainly not whom you’d expect. DiCaprio (Django Unchained) is a good fit for the handsome social-climber, but the movie only asks him to play a limited range of emotions, rarely breaking free to show glimpses of the darker, less polished side of Gatsby’s carefully crafted image. He doesn’t exactly exude the charisma you would think necessary for the man, plus his use of “old sport” is so overly abundant it approaches farce. Maguire (Brothers) is a bit too earnest even for his role. It becomes readily clear within minutes that Maguire does not possess a voice for narration. The man is also a bit too old, at 37, to play the naïve, stars-in-his-eyes Nick Carraway. Mulligan (Shame) is given the least to work with since Daisy is meant to be rather opaque but she brings an extra amount of sympathy for a character trapped by her indecision and the demands of men. Easily the best actor in the bunch is Edgerton (Warrior). It would be easy for the guy to simply be the brutish heavy, the angry husband and easy to hate antagonist. Edgerton showcases a surprising depth, and you may find yourself feeling some smidge of sympathy for the lout.

Much like Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, it’s an easy prediction that his Great Gatsby will be equally divisive. There will probably be as many critics decrying Luhrmann’s blitzkrieg of confetti and style as a campy cannibalization of an American classic as there will be celebrating the mad energy and obsequious reverence exhibited in a handsomely mounted, big-budget adaptation. The movie is even being presented in 3D, and did you ever think you’d hear the phrase “The Great Gatsby in 3D” in your life? I enjoyed Luhrmann’s gaudiness and indulgences, painting the screen with his vivid imagination. The impressive production design, costumes, visual effects, and overall visual aesthetic of the movie are a feast for the eyes. Now there are plenty of indulgences and excesses in the movie, particularly the emphasis on grand romance, but Gatsby entertains with few lags. Having read the book once and disliked it heartily in my youth, I can readily say that here is an example of where the movie is better than the book. Now if someone could go about making an improved version of The Lord of the Flies and A Tale of Two Cities, whatever you have to do, my teenage self will thank you kindly.

Nate’s Grade: B

Australia (2008)

Baz Luhrmann is a filmmaker that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “small.” He paints in giant strokes with lavish creative flourishes that separate him from the pack of visionary auteurs. I’ve enjoyed every one of his films thus far and I fee that Moulin Rouge is a romantic touchstone that I can go back again and again to be dazzled and moved. I anticipated that Australia would be suitably grandiose in scope and style. While it suitably grandiose it definitely could have used some fine-tuning when it came to scope and style.

Australia follows the adventures of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) entering the land Down Under in 1939. Her husband owns a cattle ranch in the north called Faraway Downs. She suspects that her husband travels to Australia to get a bit more business down under, if you know what I mean. He’s been killed and the only witness is a half-white, half-aboriginal boy named Nullah (newcomer Brandon Walters). It was customary for the Australian government to abduct mixed race children and ship them off to a church mission, where the tykes got to learn how to be servants for rich white people (this government policy only officially ended in the 1970s). Little Nullah hides on the Faraway downs ranch with his aboriginal mother. Lady Ashley must decide what to do with her strip of land. The local meat baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown), owns all the land surrounding Faraway downs and is close to maintaining a monopoly. Carney’s right hand man, Fletcher (David Wenham), has been keeping watch over Faraway Downs. Lady Ashley decides to hold onto the ranch and to drive the 1,000 head of cattle to sell at the town of Darwin. Carney orders Fletcher to stop the competition in its tracks. With little resources, Lady Ashley needs a rugged man to lead the cattle drive. The Drover (High Jackman) is a man of adventure and promises to deliver the cattle to their destination in Darwin. Through the course of 165 minutes Lady Ashley and the Drover will fall in love, Nullah’s freedom will be in jeopardy, and the Japanese will bomb Darwin in 1941.

The flick is ambitious, I’ll give it that. Just the title itself sets off an aim to summarize an entire country’s history, culture, and people in a declarative and definitive narrative. Somehow I doubt many will leave the theater and say, “Well, now that’s Australia.” Indeed, I find the film’s narrative to be a limp representation for a country. I suppose most big nationalistic history films start with the birth of nations, but when your country began as a repository for English criminals then I suppose you may want to find a different tale to tell. Australia is really three movies in one colossal package: a Western dust-up, a World War II disaster, and a dark history lesson over the country’s treatment of the aborigines. There is too much movie there, especially at a mammoth running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. I almost think that Luhrmann believes that if he throws out enough storylines and emotions that somehow it will form a cohesive whole, but the pieces never truly mesh satisfactory. The kitchen sink method rarely works without a grander scheme. The war elements could have been dropped entirely considering that the Japanese bombing sneaks in at the very end of the film and serves little other purpose then decimating the town of Darwin. The movie just all of a sudden transitions into Australia at wartime, and various characters have new positions, like Lady Ashley serving as a phone operator. Where did any of this come from? It just sort of happens without any solid setup or transition despite a near three-hour length. You don’t need to nudge in World War II disasters just to introduce sustainable conflict. Australia is filled with moments where the plot or the characters make big leaps without justifying the transition. Lady Ashley goes from a lily-white upper-class fop to a tanned Outback rootin’-tootin’ adventurer over the course of mere minutes.

Director Luhrmann’s over-the-top visual style is absent and the movie feels strangely square, like Luhrmann is keeping his more manic abilities in check so he can tell an old school epic. But [i]Australia[/i] is not an epic despite a running time that would argue otherwise. It has gorgeous cinematography, gorgeous natural exteriors, and a pair of fairly good-looking leads (Jackman was named People Magazine’s sexiest man alive for 2008), but these are all components and not a finished product. I kept wanting Luhrmann to break free from his creative straitjacket and add some pizzazz and inspired sidesteps. It never happened. Lurhmann has been instrumental in the birth of Australia from beginning to end (he is credited with the screen story), but having such an idiosyncratic and surreal talent make a movie that is so backwards in approach and appeal is lunacy. This is not the best use of Lurhmann’s many talents. Australia has some gauzy and gaudy visuals but it feels altogether devoid of style, though it attempts to make up for that loss in sweep.

The true history of what happened to mixed race aboriginal children is appalling and certainly worth examination. So why then is Australia another case where the story of a minority’s oppression and tragedy must be told through the eyes of valiant white characters? Nullah’s story is far more interesting then Lady Ashley learning to be a country gal or the Drover learning to settle down. There is much more inherent drama in following a child who feels displaced and forever hunted because of his own genetics. That’s far more powerful than watching the tyke play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for the 80th time on his harmonica. Whenever Australia dips into serious statements on the plight of the unfortunate aboriginals, the movie feels very awkward. This is because “serious” is not what the movie does best at all. Australia is a large-scale attempt to revitalize that old-fashioned, sweepingly romantic Hollywood filmmaking of the 1950s. You could just as easily imagine John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the starring roles, though the movie’s sensuality and outward comments on racial equality would have been tampered down. My point is that Australia is engineered to be this romantic spectacle that nearly overdoses on sentiment, so whenever it cuts to the aboriginals plight (something serious not in a silly movie sense) then it just seems tonally disjointed.

Let’s also talk about the depiction of the aboriginal people in Australia. Clearly Luhrmann has sympathy for these people and their persecution, and rightfully so. However, the movie turns the aborigines into magical otherworldly spiritual creatures. The depiction is similar to how Native Americans are seen in movies that take place in North America. The Native American is always seen as a being more in tune with nature and spirituality; they’re a “magic Indian” and always seem to possess supernatural powers and great wisdom. These portrayals are intended to be flattering but they really come across as hollow and condescending, transforming disadvantaged people into mystical and mysterious figures. Australia is packed with aborigines walking around, singing their songs to the wind, and having a near-psychic connection to the Earth and its inhabitants. There are several moments where King George, an old aboriginal man, will hum to himself and appear out of nowhere across thousands of miles to pose in a flamingo-like stance. It’s this sort of silly attempt at mystical reverence that stops the movie full-force when it touches upon the terrible realities of how the government treated the aborigines.

The actors do as best they can with such underwritten characters. Kidman found a perfect collaborator with Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge, a performance that deserved the Best Actress Oscar of that year. She has complete trust in Luhrmann. Her character is the typical role where someone from the outside adapts and finds a new home, which means Kidman is mostly comic and overacts in the beginning. She overdoes the comedy, expressing lines with a bit too much energy that almost seems against her will, like someone is pulling an invisible string to stretch her face into extreme expressions. I’ve always believed that Kidman could be a fine actress but honestly I don’t think I’ve loved a Kidman performance since 2001 with, yep, Moulin Rouge (she was quite fine in Dogville and The Interpreter). I’m starting to dread the thought that I may never see another Kidman performance that sets me afire. Jackman’s background in theater comes in handy when it comes to selling such melodrama and cheesy sentiment. He’s a handsome man and the movie takes great pains to showcase him shirtless. His character is another in a long line of solitary men who have to learn to reach out and love again despite the danger of being hurt. It’ all pretty standard for a Drover, naturally. Walters’ performance can at times be too cloying that it becomes grating. Eventually you do build a tolerance and he becomes more endearing than annoying. I had more fun with the supporting cast who can be relied on to offer glimpses of humor and menace.

I will say that I was rarely bored with the movie, though there are occasions that sag in the overly extended middle. Lurhmann still knows how to make an entertaining movie even if it’s one that generally plays by the book. The first third of the film, the cattle driving section, is the most successful and the most compelling, which is somewhat a backhanded compliment when the movie also deals with racial injustice. The stampede sequence is quite exciting and adds some needed action into the proceedings. From a technical standpoint, everything is staged well and looks refined, and my goodness does Walters have big dark soulful eyes that look pristine on the big screen. Kidman and Jackman’s big screen coupling will likely sate fans of romances between proper ladies and men with musk. Theirs is a romance thinly sketched but told with vigor. Australia is far too accomplished to be dismissed as a bad movie or a grandiose failure, but it never really settles into anything alluring or momentous.

You know what I’ll take away most from Australia? The term “drover.” Jackman’s character never has a real name, he is simply referred to as “Drover” or occasionally, “Mr. Drover,” as manners require after you sleep with a drover. He is not a “driver” of cattle but a “drover,” which sounds like a present use of a past tense. At one point little Nullah says in voice over, “The Drover drove them cheeky bulls.” Can you “druv”? When you are completed is called “droven”? I wonder if Australian school children ever had to diagram this sentence: “The Drover drove the cows until he had droven them far enough to druv.” This grammatical curiosity lodged in my brain and I amused myself elaborating on the “drover” vocabulary.

Now, Australia itself, as many locals will tell you, isn’t bad. It packs a lot of movie in 165 minutes but I just wish it had been a stronger movie. While the visuals are pleasing and the story is mildly engaging, Australia never justifies itself as the epic it so eagerly wants to become. The story is too disjointed and silly to be taken seriously and too square and stifled to be fun and energetic. Lurhmann is a filmmaker who has such limitless potential; he didn’t just resurrect the movie musical in 2001 but gave it a new language. Watching his talents get henpecked and hampered to tell a nostalgic old-fashioned romance that doesn’t resonate is like watching Gene Kelly paint. Sure it might work but the man just wasn’t meant for it. Which then makes it even more bizarre that Australia has been a passion project that Luhrmann has been working on for years. I don’t feel his passion or even his pride for his native land, though cattle drive tours might increase as a result. This is a movie that could have used more of Luhrmann’s brash and buzzy style. The only thing declarative about Australia is that Luhrmann should have been attached to a different movie.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Director Baz Luhrmann’s last project was the MTV-friendly William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (like someone else has a Romeo and Juliet) which was adored by the under 15 set that now buy N*SYNC merchandise. Luhrmann waited a long time for his follow up with Moulin Rogue, a manic musical that seems like candy for the eyes. It may have been a long time but it was well worth the wait.

The sparkling world of Moulin Rogue is around turn of the century France. Christian (Ewan McGregor), an aspiring writer, has traveled to this place against his father’s wishes. Christian believes in the beauty of love and the pull of the heart. Within minutes of setting foot in France he gets wrapped up into a production by a dwarf (John Leguizamo) and his cadre of assistants. Christian is sent to the most provocative club in town, the Moulin Rogue. Here he attempts to persuade the most famous showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman) to help push for their musical to get financial backing. Satine inadvertently confuses Christian for the man she is supposed to seduce for a large some of money, the Duke (Richard Roxburgh). And thus the merry band of misfits get their play the backing while Christian blossoms a love for Satine. But their love must remain hidden for the Duke is led to believe that Satine is his and his alone.

Kidman owns this movie, plain and simple. From her first shattering entrance being lowered from the ceiling to the last scene, she is absolutely magnificent. McGregor gives a nice performance as the dough-eyed lover. Jim Broadbent plays the Moulin Rogue’s owner, Zidler with howling delight in all his manic expressions. Even Roxburgh gives an underwritten antagonist the right amount of weasely twitch.

One of the more surprising features is how well the two leads can actually sing. Kidman gives a soft and sexy take on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and McGregor can belt out a tune with some admirably throaty pipes. As these two veer in and out of songs it’s a pleasure to watch and hear.

Luhrmann has crafted a musical with ADD, but I say this as a compliment. Moulin Rogue‘s pace is fast and pounding. People twirl above the sky, the camera zooms wildly through town streets, and dump trucks worth of confetti fly through the air. Moulin Rouge is exploding with glitz and never lets up. The editing and visual artistry is stirring. By about ten minutes into the proceedings when a green fairy starts singing a seductive version of “The Hills are Alive” you know you are in for something else. And what a something else the film delivers. There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.

Moulin Rogue could be described as a musical for people who dislike traditional musicals. In traditional musicals people go along stuffy formula, then break out into great choreography song-and-dance. With Lurhmann’s musical is a breakneck of pomp where the characters zip around to exaggerated Hanna-Barbara sound effects and start chiming away with 70s and 80s pop songs that we all know. After the initial shock/humor of hearing characters belt out renditions of “Roxanne” and “Like A Virgin,” a familiarity sets in and it blends in to produce a surprising artistic addition.

The story of the movie is nothing new or extraordinary; it’s well worn territory. But where Moulin Rouge breaks apart and shines are with its style and exposure. The visuals are astoundingly lush and lively, the music is game and pumping, and the movie is just screaming to be seen. This was a true work of love.

The movie is bursting to the seams with life. I loved every single second, every single frame, every single moment of Moulin Rouge. I can’t wait to go see it again.

Nate’s Grade: A

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