MOVIES: May 05, AU Edition

Also: Nicole Kidman’s latest is not what you think it’s about, and Australia (finally!) produces a decent movie
Released: April 28, 2005
Rated: PG
4 ½ stars

I’m not racist, but…’: That’s the sentiment which best sums up this gripping emotional drama about just how horribly people can treat each other. It also shows a side of Los Angeles that’s not in any tourist brochure.
In Crash there are a number of stories that intertwine (think Magnolia), each one more spiteful than the next. First there’s the carjacking: Larenz Tate and rapper Ludacris are totally believable as carjackers who think they are modern-day Robin Hoods because they only steal from rich white folks. Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock are pitch-perfect as the white-bread middle-class carjacking victims. Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito are exceptional as the police officers investigating the crime.
Next, you love to hate Matt Dillon as a racist cop who molests a black woman (Thandie Newton), putting rookie cop Ryan Phillippe in an emotional and ethical dilemma.
But for me the most powerful storyline concerns a Persian immigrant (Shaun Toub) who is trying to run a small shop and Michael Pena, who plays an unlucky locksmith who finds himself the target of years of repressed anger, frustration and despair. This pairing leads to one of the most powerful scenes I’ve seen on a movie screen in a long time.
Written and directed by Paul Haggis (who adapted Million Dollar Baby), Crash could have been an unwieldy mess. But he’s a maestro who crams tension into each scene and brilliantly juxtaposes and links the stories until they build into the kind of crescendo that leaves you struggling for breath.
Crash is emotional and thought provoking. I left the cinema promising to be a nicer person.

may05movieart.jpgThe Extra
Released: April 14, 2005
Rated: PG
3 ½ stars

Yaaaay! Finally, an Australian film that had me laughing more than cringing! The Extra is a funny romantic romp with the loveable Jimeoin starring as…well, he doesn’t have a name in the film. Extras never do.
The premise is simple. Normal dude wants to be a movie star. Movie stars are rich, get all the chicks and go to great parties.
Unfortunately, because of an outstanding lack of talent, all he can manage is a few roles as an extra. Viewers travel along with Jimeoin in all of his wide-eyed innocence as he meets jaded child stars, pompous lead actors and money sharks in pursuit of his dream.
It’s the same old crew Jimeoin always surrounds himself with, but when you’ve got a great cast, why mess with it? Jimeoin has the simple bloke routine down pat. His sunny optimism makes him a loser one cares about.
But it’s not just about the star: there’s also a great supporting cast to back up The Extra. Rhys Muldoon nearly steals the show as Curtis Thai-Buckworth, a former child star who’s now a ‘writer-slash-director’: his desperation is palpable. Katherine Slattery is luminous as Jimeoin’s love interest. Forget Julia Roberts – Katherine has the best smile in the biz. Bob Franklin is up to his usual standard as the underworld gangster with a brain. Kristy Hinze is beautiful but vacant. And Shaun Micallef is at his arrogant best as Detective Ridley, a cop with his own TV show who wants to be an actor.
Seriously, just to see the flare with which he his flicks open his police badge is almost worth the price of admission alone.
The Extra is fun, it is well made, and it shows there’s still a faint pulse in the Australian film industry yet.

Released: April 28, 2005
Rated: M
3 ½ stars

Forget what you may have heard. Anyone who claims Birth promotes incest or paedophilia has missed the whole point.
Nicole Kidman’s latest film is a powerful story about loss, love and grief. There has been so much hype surrounding Birth that the actual story has been lost in the furor. Nicole Kidman was booed at the Cannes Film Festival because in the film her character has a bath with 10-year-old boy who says he’s a reincarnation of her dead husband. Later she kisses him. And I’m not talking a motherly peck. I know – ewww! But somehow it works.
Let me explain why. Birth is all about reincarnation. Anna (Nicole Kidman) lost her husband, Sean, to a heart attack a decade ago.
Imagine the shock when ten-year-old Sean (Cameron Bright) waltzes into her life and claims to be a reincarnation of her dead love. Anna’s family, headed up by matriarch Eleanor (Lauren Bacall), treats the boy and the idea of reincarnation with the right amount of contempt and jaded realism you’d expect rational folk to display. But here’s the creepy thing: young Sean knows all sorts of facts that only the husband Sean could have known.
There’s a stand-out scene where Anna is at the opera and the camera stays on her face for a full three minutes – a long, long time in movieland. As the music soars, emotions play across her face, and we realise at the same moment she does: she actually believes him.
Now I’m certainly not a card-carrying member of the “Our Nicole” fan club. I think she’s generally over-rated and definitely too skinny. And I certainly don’t think she deserved an Oscar for donning a fake nose in The Hours. That said, this is one of her finest performances yet. In Birth, she isn’t trying to be a movie star, she is doing what she does best – character acting. Kidman throws herself headlong into Anna’s mind, which is one faulty unit. Watching her you yearn for the intense all-consuming love Anna felt for her husband. I think it helped that she lost her signature red locks and, with a nod to Rosemary’s Baby, goes for a dark Mia Farrow-esque pixie cut.
Cameron Bright is actually ten years old. His performance as Sean is measured and wise beyond his years. He plays an adult in a child’s body so well you start thinking…well…maybe…he is a reincarnation.
Lauren Bacall is powerful as always. The music is superb. The cinematography is classy.
Did I like the film? No. It gave me the willies. I rushed home from the cinema to scrub myself under a hot shower. But the story sticks in your head for weeks and not many films do that these days.