David Wenham

Van Helsing (2004, Stephen Sommers)

I knew Van Helsing was going to be pretty bad… but nothing could prepare me for it.

It’s not even bad in an interesting way. Its components are, simply put, terrible. Richard Roxborough’s performance as Dracula is possibly the worst essaying of the character… ever. The special effects are awful–the CG monster at the beginning is laughable. Sommers tries to play it a little like a James Bond movie, but a bad one.

Hugh Jackman–as the main character–is somehow not in it enough to make an impression. The story’s very busy, which means Jackman doesn’t actually have much to do.

Kate Beckinsale has an accent and she’s dressed a little like a pirate. Her character doesn’t make much sense, but she and Jackman’s presence in the film doesn’t make much sense either.

Sommers’s target audience is five year-olds (the dim ones) who get references to the old Universal monster movies and Vampire Hunter D, which Sommers plagiarized in regards to Jackman’s costuming.

There’s nothing even remotely good about it. Alan Silvestri’s score is terrible. Maybe David Wenham is funny as the sidekick (he’s playing Q to Jackman, only as a monk).

Besides the generally awful special effects, even the composite shots are bad. They’re so bad it’s incredible they were done for a film released in 2004.

The scariest thing about Van Helsing is someone out there likes it and thinks it’s good.

Easily one of the worst things I’ve ever partially seen.

Sommers redefines dumb.



Written and directed by Stephen Sommers; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto and Jim May; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Sommers and Ducsay; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Gabriel Van Helsing), Kate Beckinsale (Anna Valerious), Richard Roxburgh (Count Dracula), David Wenham (Carl), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein’s monster), Elena Anaya (Aleera), Will Kemp (Velkan Valerious), Kevin J. O’Connor (Igor), Alun Armstrong (Cardinal Jinette), Silvia Colloca (Verona), Josie Maran (Marishka), Tom Fisher (Top Hat), Samuel West (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Stephen Fisher (Dr. Jekyll) and Robbie Coltrane (Mr. Hyde).

Australia (2008, Baz Luhrmann)

First, a message from my wife: Hugh Jackman is a hottie boom batty.

There, that public service announcement is out of the way.

Australia is actually not the worst modern three hour vanity project I’ve seen. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is much worse. Australia, mostly thanks to director Baz Luhrmann’s “Looney Tunes” influenced direction, is something of a unique film. It’s a lot like an imitation Disney cartoon–complete with Nicole Kidman’s outlandish outfits and frequent mugging at the camera in the first act and Jackman’s character not even having a name.

Luhrmann does a lot of his bad CG–enough it makes one wonder if the CG is supposed to look fake, I imagine it is–and he does his digital backdrops and he really tries for a modern Technicolor experience. Except with his four second shots, it’s hard to think of Australia, the reels of film, as an experience. The viewer certainly has one, but the film’s shockingly empty of any content.

It’s not a boring film, which is nice. At times, I was horrified with myself for sitting through it–the first fourth is full of atrocious moments–but as it neared the end, I realized it didn’t feel much like three hours. It isn’t endless torture, maybe because the beginning narration forecasts the eventual Japanese attack so it’s got to show up… presumably.

I’m not sure where in the running time the attack happens, but when it does, Australia ceases to be an inane retro-remake of They’re a Weird Mob (maybe trying to sum up a country in a filmed narrative isn’t good idea… I mean, if the Archers couldn’t do it, what chance does Baz really have) and instead becomes a remake of Pearl Harbor. Except with really awful CG and a ludicrous series of events pulling Jackman, Kidman and adopted son Brandon Walters all back together.

Walters is, besides Kidman, the perfect example of what’s wrong with Luhrmann. Walters plays a half-caste (half Aboriginal, half white). Baz casted him because the kid looks like a kewpie doll, not because he could act. I could see this kid stuck in a car window, looking soulfully out at me. Zero reason otherwise to cast the kid.

Jackman’s actually good for most of the film, even if Australia does introduce him based on the comparison between he and Clint Eastwood’s eyes. There’s the squint and the cowboy hat and maybe even some spaghetti western music. But he’s fine. Until he has to start delivering lines, in the last hour, Kidman said to him in the first twenty or thirty minutes. It’s painful to watch, really. But otherwise, it’s a decent performance. Also good is David Ngoombujarra as Jackman’s sidekick. He doesn’t have much to do, but when he does, he’s excellent. Jack Thompson, Barry Otto and Ursula Yovich are all fine too. Not good, but fine.

As for bad–well, I guess I’ll start with Ben Mendelsohn, because Luhrmann just wastes him in a lousy role. Kidman’s terrible, but in the same boring way Kidman’s usually terrible so it isn’t even interesting. But Luhrmann forces a bad performance out of David Wenham, something I didn’t think possible, with such bad writing. Wenham’s inhumanely evil character–in a film full of them–is a constant absurd eyesore. Bryan Brown’s also bad in a smaller role, but it’s a stunt casting kind of thing. It’s forgivable. The misuse of Wenham is not.

The film’s problem, besides Luhrmann’s cartoonish direction, is the script. It’s not any good, past being well-paced I suppose. It skips interesting things, focuses on boring ones and has lots of plot holes. Mandy Walker’s cinematography is good, in those four second shots, and David Hirschfelder’s music has some great moments.

I probably expected Australia to be better. I don’t know why. It’s clear from the first four minutes just what kind of mess Luhrmann has made… but it does improve throughout–the directing even. Just not Kidman and Wenham.



Directed by Baz Luhrmann; screenplay by Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan, based on a story by Lurhmann; director of photography, Mandy Walker; edited by Dody Dorn and Michael McCusker; music by David Hirschfelder; production designer, Catherine Martin; produced by G. Mac Brown, Catherine Knapman and Luhrmann; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley), Hugh Jackman (Drover), Brandon Walters (Nullah), David Wenham (Neil Fletcher), Bryan Brown (King Carney), Jack Thompson (Kipling Flynn), David Gulpilil (King George), David Ngoombujarra (Magarri) and Jacek Koman (Ivan).

The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)

I was expecting something more eclectic from The Proposition, an Australian Western written by Nick Cave. I’m not sure if Australia has their own variation on the Western–I suppose something like Ned Kelly might qualify. The Proposition is an American Western set in Australia, with the Aborigines standing in for the Indians. It might be historically accurate–probably is–but it’s still a Western. Cave’s seen some Westerns too, but the most visible influence for the Western part of The Proposition are Monte Hellman’s Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting. The Proposition is an improvement on either of those films, because Cave’s got something going on I’ve never seen in a Western before… the bad guys are really the bad guys.

It’s not a situation where there are no good guys (like Unforgiven, though, arguably Ned is a good guy in Unforgiven)–the sheriff character is actually a good guy in The Proposition. I haven’t seen Ray Winstone in anything but Last Orders and I don’t remember him, but he’s amazing in The Proposition. His relationship with his wife, played by Emily Watson (who’s rather good, but not as good as I expected her to be), is Cave’s masterwork in this film. It’s a beautiful, complicated relationship in the middle of a hard, violent Western. It’s a touching and romantic and it’s a rare thing–not just in a Western–to have a marriage start and end a film with the couple caring for each other. There aren’t even any hiccups in it… It’s wonderful.

Unfortunately, the Western is not. The film follows around Guy Pearce, whose performance consists of being really, really skinny and maybe having a broken nose. It’s the worst work I’ve seen from him, though the film doesn’t give him much to do. The film, however, gives Danny Huston even less to do and makes him out as an outback Charles Manson, but he’s still quite good. John Hurt’s cameo is bad and the film wastes David Wenham (who would have been great in Pearce’s role) as a fop.

The director, Hillcoat, is fantastic. While he frames the shots like any good Western, the Australian Outback provides some surreal scenery. The film doesn’t take full advantage of that surrealism, which is occasionally amplified by Cave’s score, and the third act loses the directorial imagination. The style of that act doesn’t match the rest of the film and the writing fails to convince… for the first time, The Proposition becomes predictable. Still, it’s got that excellent marriage between Winstone and Watson going for it. Hopefully Cave will write his next film sooner than he did this one (there are seventeen years between his first script and The Proposition).



Directed by John Hillcoat; written by Nick Cave; director of photography, Benoît Delhomme; edited by Jon Gregory; music by Cave and Warren Ellis; production designer, Chris Kennedy; produced by Chiara Menage, Cat Villiers, Chris Brown and Jackie O’Sullivan; released by Sony Pictures.

Starring Guy Pearce (Charlie Burns), Ray Winstone (Captain Stanley), Danny Huston (Arthur Burns), John Hurt (Jellon Lamb), David Wenham (Eden Fletcher) and Emily Watson (Martha Stanley).

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