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Australia

A sprawling romantic melodrama; fun for all

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How the plucky inhabitants of a scrappy cattle ranch in Australia's Northern Territory survive tragedy, corporate back-stabbing, ugly racial politics, a tedious charity ball and a Japanese military attack is the subject of Baz Luhrmann's sprawling World War II-era epic. It starts a bit rocky, with some overly broad comedy heralding the meet-cute of uptight Lady Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and the rough-edged Aussie cattle-drover named, of all things, Drover (Hugh Jackman). But some bad business with a local half-caste Aboriginal boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters) gets the oversized story rolling at a good clip. Lurhmann's film -- nearly 3 hours long -- is very much in the manner of an old-fashioned, mid-century Hollywood blockbuster: It's a Western interrupted by a romance wrapped up with a war melodrama, buttressed with a plank of today's politically correct sensibilities, and sweetened with two overlays of magic, one Aboriginal, the other Western-contemporary (in the form of The Wizard of Oz). There's plenty of easy take-aways, suitable for holiday-season light noshing: All the characters take literal and personal journeys; good triumphs over evil; life is a big circle (in this case, its beginning and end marked by death-by-spear, ouch); and ... uh ... if you love something, let it go. Luhrmann makes use of plenty of gorgeous scenery, but also falls back on some pretty hokey CGI, particularly in the war scenes. And speaking of the war ... those prone to sniffling during sentimental scenes of untimely deaths and just-in-time reunions are advised to pack a hanky. Really, it's like 10-movies-in-one: Something for all!

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