MOVIES: Mar 05, AU Edition

Taxpayer dollars are wasted on another dud Aussie flick,but Aviator soars and Daggers slices
illustrated-family-doctor-5.jpgThe Illustrated Family Doctor
Released: March 03, 2005
Rated: MA
1 star

The Australian film industry continues to drown the continent in a pool of unfulfilling, poorly scripted, pointless excuses for movies. The Illustrated Family Doctor doesn’t just continue this trend, it makes The Crop look like Casablanca.
Personally, I refuse to lower my standards simply on the basis of Aussie pride. This film contains nothing to be proud of.
Gary Kelp (Samuel Johnson) works for a company that condenses long books into manageable digests. His father recently died and Gary is stunned to find out his mother signed dad up to be an organ donor. Then, as if to compound his unease, he is assigned to do a cut-and-paste job on The Illustrated Family Doctor – a medical guidebook filled with lurid pictures of skin diseases and tumours. As Gary’s life falls apart, these diseases seem to jump from the screen and invade his body.
Now Samuel Johnson always looks like he needs a good scrub at the best of times. But add to that actual eye infections and skin rashes and I was reaching for the sick-bag. I was just hoping one of the diseases would be fatal.

In the meantime, his boss (the uninspiring and disappointing Colin Friels) has troubles of his own dealing with his daughter’s abusive husband. There’s even a strange and tacked-on gangster sub-plot. It’s all a sticky mess.
One of my favourite actors, Sacha Horler, has a small role as Gary’s sister, but even her talents couldn’t avert this train wreck.
It is painfully obvious that this is director Kriv Stenders’ first film. His cumbersome direction drags out scenes that should have been tight. Whatever laughter there is comes from pity rather than genuine enjoyment.
How on Earth did this film get funding? Film Finance Corporation Australia should hang its head in shame. Prognosis: terminal.

09.jpgHouse of Flying Daggers
Released: February 17, 2005
Rated: MA
4 stars

Every scene in House of Flying Daggers is a work of art. Strongly contrasting landscapes and rich colours make the characters seem like they are living in oil paintings.
Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, this Chinese film easily crosses the East-West divide. It falls in what is known as the wuxia genre, which means the story is all about swordplay and chivalry; viewers can expect plenty of stylised martial arts fights with dramatic camera angles and mind-exploding choreography. Gravity is not a concept director Zhang Yimou chooses to accept.
But it’s not all style and no substance. Set in ninth-century China during the Tang dynasty, House of Flying Daggers is driven by a classic love triangle. The players are two Tang officers –the handsome young Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and the older Leo (Andy Lau)
– who try to trick blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) into leading them to a rebel group known as the Flying Daggers.
Takeshi Kaneshiro – Asia’s answer to Brad Pitt – breathes steamy sex appeal into his role. Andy Lau, who’s more your Harrison Ford type, struggles to escape Takeshi’s shadow. But it’s Zhang Ziyi who steals the show. She looks like a delicate princess, but a flick of her wrist would smash your nose into a million pieces. Imagine a fragile Winona Ryder who could kick Jennifer Garner’s butt.
It’s inspiring to see such strong lead roles for women. Female roles in Western films just can’t compare. In House of Flying Daggers the women are fierce warriors who can fight dozens of men at a time without also having to look like they could arm-wrestle Arnie.
The film does have a couple of flaws. For one thing, the plot wraps up a bit too quickly in the end with its twists, revelations and double-crossings. And the sex scenes are very clumsy – obviously the lead characters are fighters, not lovers.
House of Flying Daggers’ Chinese title is Shi Main Mai Fu, which literally translated means “Ambushed From Ten Directions”. I prefer this title because it better captures the eye-popping special effects and head-spinning action that had me rushing out of the cinema to practice my karate chops on my younger brother.

leonardo and cate.jpgThe Aviator
Released: February 10, 2005
Rated: MA
5 stars

The Aviator has already garnered more stars than the American flag and I just gave it five more. This Martin Scorcese – directed film is a masterpiece. Viewers are swept along by the excesses of Howard Hughes’ life and wrapped up in the glamour of a seductive, groundbreaking era. Hughes lived an amazing life, and the world is a better place for hitching a ride in his slipstream. The Aviator uses a great story to showcase Hollywood’s finest actors of the moment. Now I don’t know anyone over twelve years old who actually likes Leonardo DiCaprio, but credit where credit is due: he’s captivating in this film. He doesn’t look like Howard Hughes, yet he has captured the essence of his drive, ambition and cuckoo-crazy episodes – to say nothing of the billionaire’s need for perfection, big-picture brain and desire for busty women. DiCaprio shows how a man could burst under all that pressure and wind up naked and locked in a room surrounded by bottles of his own urine.
And as always it’s all about Cate Blanchett. She of the impossible cheekbones personifies Katharine Hepburn and everything we loved about her. Blanchett nails her mannerisms, voice and headstrong behaviour. But it’s not a crass mimicry – it’s an homage. I look forward to the day a movie is made about Cate Blanchett to see who will be brave enough to portray one of Australia’s finest actors.
Kate Beckinsale stacked on ten kilos to play Ava Gardner, and the curves suit her well – as does the sassy and strong role. Alec Baldwin is at his charming and suave best as Hughes’ arch-rival, Juan Trippe. John C. Reilly is downtrodden as always as Hughes’ accountant. Alan Alda should be given more roles as he is horribly accurate as a corrupt senator. The only two who don’t shine are Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow and Jude Law as Errol Flynn. But director Martin Scorsese had the sense to keep those parts brief.
The special effects are astounding (one particular plane crash is so graphic I shielded my eyes from flying debris), the energetic music had me bopping in my seat and the cinematography is rich and luscious.The world needs more eccentric geniuses like Howard Hughes and Martin Scorsese.