'Mao's Last Dancer' overtakes Paul Hogan movie as Australia's highest-grossing film of 2009

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Australian Bruce Beresford’s (Driving Miss Daisy) latest film, Mao’s Last Dancer, has just been released following a very strong marketing push, and was rewarded with an A$4.3 million opening week, making it the highest-grossing Australian film of  the year. This is an Australian production even though it takes place mainly in China and the U.S. Based on the best-selling book, it recounts the story of a young peasant lad who is selected by Mao Tse-Tung to train as a ballet dancer. On a trip to the U.S., the dancer defects and achieves international fame. Beresford will next direct the Australian/Canadian co-production Zebras in South Africa next year. The story, marrying soccer and apartheid, is about winning against the odds.

Paul Hogan’s latest film, Charlie & Boots, is also a huge hit, overtaking the critically favored Samson & Delilah with over A$3 million. The road comedy follows the adventures of a father (Hogan) and son (Shane Jacobson) as they take a road trip up the entire East Coast of Australia. Despite the international success of his Crocodile Dundee films, Australian Hogan, now residing in the U.S., hasn't had been able to replicate that achievement in recent years. His previous film, the 2004 comedy Strange Bedfellows (with a similar plot to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) has not as yet been released in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Samson & Delilah has also generated over A$3 million and passed its 20th week of release. This film has just been confirmed as Australia’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 82nd annual Academy Awards. The film is mainly in an Aboriginal dialect. Samson & Delilah has just been released in New Zealand and opens in France this month. Seven films have passed A$1 million at the local box office so far this year, a better-than-average result.

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The Australian dollar has been gaining in strength against the U.S. dollar for the last four to five months. This has not been good for the local film industry and it appears that the big-budget actioner The Green Lantern with Ryan Reynolds will not be shot at the local Fox Studios later this year as previously announced, but instead be moved to Mexico early next year.

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Local rights to seven New Zealand films produced in the 1980s have been restored in an historic deal negotiated by NZ Film. The films had several owners following the liquidation of their original sales agent around 20 years ago. The films are likely to undergo restoration before being re-released in New Zealand at festivals and on DVD. They include Came a Hot Friday (1985) and Pallet on the Floor (1984).

This article was revised on Oct. 8, 2009.

E-mail your Australia/New Zealand news items to David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com.