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'Australia': Four reasons to love the embattled epic

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Australia_lIt’s gotten a mixed response from critics. It plummeted 53 percent at the U.S. box office this weekend to earn a meager $7 million. It’s even struggling to draw viewers in the country from which its two stars, director, and subject matter all hail. And yet, in spite of the dark cloud that’s following Australia, the latest directorial effort from Baz Luhrmann, I’m not ashamed to say I thoroughly enjoyed the one-time Oscar hopeful. And for those of you who might accuse me of being blinded by 165 minutes of certified Hugh Jackman hotness, I present four other reasons (beware: some spoilers included) why I loved the film:

1. Australia looks and feels like a storybook brought to life: As you’d expect from a Luhrmann production, nothing about this film reflects the drabness of everyday life. From the richly beautiful backdrops (the wharf in particular) to the moments of magical realism (Nullah stoppingthe stampede), the film overcomes its slightly cliché storyline with undeniable artistic splendor.

2. Brandon Walters is completely winning as Nullah: Seriously, if this little boy’s performance doesn’t melt your heart, then you might want to schedule an EKG and make sure you actually have one. Those big brown saucers of his! The way he delivers his “I sing you to me” line! Come on, even if you’re an Australia hater you gotta give me this one…

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3. Jackman finally gets a chance to flex something other than his muscles:On top of his more, um, aesthetic gifts, Jackman is an undeniablywatchable actor whose talents are often wasted in blah films (see: Someone Like You, Van Helsing). Yet in Australia,the final scene in The Territory (a bar in Darwin) boasts a beautifulperformance by the Aussie. There are plenty ofgrand, emotional moments in the movie, but, for me, Jackman’s reaction to the barman’s refusal to serve his black friend was themost affecting of all.

(3.5. Okay, yeah, I’ll admit it: Jackman has never looked hotter.)

4. Australia is a love letter to classic cinematic romances: They may not make ’em like they used to, but with this film, Lurhmann pays loving tribute to the sweeping epics of the past. And even if he doesn’t deliver a film with the grace and depth of, say, Gone with the Wind, I can’t help but admire his ambition.

So PopWatchers, who’s with me on this one? Did you find reasons to love Australia, or does the film deserve its bad buzz? Spread the love (or the hate) for the Jackman-Nicole Kidman starrer in the comments section below.