Modern entertainment has really become an international collaboration. American audiences know by now about the many TV shows, movies, and actors imported from England, and we're seeing more Canadian programs cross the border even as we've filmed half our shows there for years. But there's another country that's given us a lot of great stuff: Australia. It's time to pay tribute to some talented Aussies and a few great programs they've given us. Here are seven awesome things you need to check out that hail from Down Under.
The Strike Back star is one of those actors who deserves a lot more acclaim than he gets. Probably because he's on a show that is known for its top-notch action, he doesn't get called out for his tradecraft like he should. There's no doubt that he puts his everything into the role of Sgt. Damien Scott. He's an Australian playing an American and you can't tell, which is impressive and also amusing because his co-star Philip Winchester is an American playing British. Maintaining a near flawless accent or lack thereof is hard enough, but try doing it while you're also doing all your own extensive stunt work, and still delivering genuinely compelling acting moments in between the gun battles and fistfights. It's a dream job, but we also can't think of a more demanding part - and Stapleton aces it through and through.
'Underbelly Files: Infiltration'
Speaking of Sullivan Stapleton, he once starred in something pretty rare: a television movie that actually felt like a film. Underbelly Files: Infiltration was the second of three telefilms branded as part of Australia's Underbelly franchise. What made Infiltration so great was that it departed from the formula of its predecessor: there was very little violence and sex, placing emphasis on the characters and their mental chess game. Stapleton anchored the whole thing, in top form as detective Colin McLaren, while Valentino del Toro made a perfect opposite number as mafia boss Antonio Russo, and Jessica Napier was exactly what was needed in the role of Colin's partner Jude Gleeson. The end result was a brilliant little film, made even better by the knowledge that it's based on a true story; the book written by the real Colin McLaren is equally engrossing.
Aside from having the best name in motorsports (and possibly in life), Will Power is knocking on the door of his very first Verizon IndyCar Series championship. The Team Penske driver won yesterday's ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, and has a more than 30-point lead in the standings with two more races to go in the season. Power is one of IndyCar's most aggressive and most entertaining drivers, battling hard even when it's against his own teammates (both of whom are still in title contention). The love he has for racing and for competition is obvious every time he gets behind the wheel, so it's no surprise that he has a solid fan base, too. We'll just have to wait and see if his skill and tenacity are rewarded with his first-ever championship when the season concludes August 30 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
The Deliver Us From Evil star has built up a pretty impressive film career: Black Hawk Down, Munich, Star Trek, Lone Survivor, and he even played the first big-screen Hulk, just to name a few. Bana is one of those actors whom you know you can count on for a good performance, even if the rest of the movie is a complete disaster. Whether he's the romantic lead (as in Lucky You) or the near-unrecognizable villain of a sci-fi blockbuster (Star Trek), you can throw everything at this guy and he'll make it stick. With how he's established himself as a movie star, you probably don't know that Bana began his showbiz career as a hilarious comedian (he had his own sketch comedy show), and he also gave us the great automotive documentary Love The Beast, which he produced and directed.
'Top Gear Australia'
The folks at BBC America have done a really good deed these past few weeks: they've screened three Top Gear "Best of Australia" specials, which have enabled US audiences to see the Aussie version of the world's most popular car program. Surprise - it's as irreverent, funny and charming as its predecessor. Hosts Shane Jacobson, Steve Pizzati and Ewan Page mesh superbly well together, and all boast the combination of imagination plus lack of common sense required to present Top Gear. Whether they're driving Peel P50's through a safari park in various states of panic, or creating an engine-powered clothesline, they've won us over just like their British and American counterparts. Too bad that SBS gave Top Gear Australia the axe in 2011. We just hope someone Stateside picks up the existing episodes, because we want to see more.
There are varying opinions on the facelift that USA gave Fairly Legal between its first and second seasons in 2012. One of the things that unquestionably went right was adding Ryan Johnson to the cast as lawyer Ben Grogan. While the character wasn't all that (he was essentially a female version of Sarah Shahi's Kate Reed), Johnson lent the show a ton of energy. He became the new comic relief and, when he was allowed to get serious, he nailed that, too. Ironically, some of his best material came when Ben was paired with the character he essentially replaced as Kate's love interest: her ex-husband Justin Patrick. Watching Johnson and Michael Trucco work opposite each other, the combination of awkwardness and deadpan humor, was just fantastic. The biggest takeaway we had from the end of Fairly Legal was that someone needs to give Ryan Johnson his own show yesterday.
Okay, we're pretty sure everyone knows that the Tony and Emmy Award winner is Australian. We're putting him on here, though, because we don't think enough people appreciate the complete broad scope of Jackman's talents. Yes, he's a complete badass as Wolverine in the X-Men films, and he's kicked some behind in films like Prisoners and Real Steel, too. We're some of the few people who even liked Swordfish. But Jackman is one of the best all-around performers you'll find today, if not one of the best in the history of the biz. Filmgoers got to see his musical-theatre chops in the latest Les Miserables, but let's not forget that he was Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz and co-owned the stage with Daniel Craig (who allegedly beat him out for the role of James Bond) in A Steady Rain. And he even made Saturday Night Live funny again. If you just know Jackman as Wolverine, you know maybe one-tenth of what he's capable of.