Cactus not so ‘cactus’

May 13, 2008

Saw the new Aussie film release Cactus. It’s had a bad critical response and box office results so far haven’t been good, but due to my on going critique of the local industry I trotted off to the Kino to check it out. One other person in the cinema at a 9pm session.

The film wasn’t all that bad. Better than I thought. At least its a genre film. Why it hasn’t had better notices I’m unsure. Part of the critical Oz anti genre conspiracy perhaps? Its a semi crime film about a wanna be kidnapper delivering a gambler in debt to somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, where he will get his comeuponce. Travis McMahon from Good Guys Bad Guys plays the kidnapper/hitman well. David Lyons is just as good as the victim. Add Bryan Brown as a psycho cop trying to quit smoking and Shane “Kenny” Jacobsen as a truck driver and would be rescuer of Lyons and you have a good support cast too. Shane Jacobsen would be good in a crime film, he’d make an excellent gangster I’d suspect. And Bryan Brown is always a pleasure to watch.

Jasmine Yuen Carrucan, who has worked on films with Quentin Tarrantino, does a work women like job directing. The cliche of the Oz outback is used, but its isolation is actually part of the story, so its cool. The cinematography is effective to convey this feeling.

The main problem though is the script. Its just a bit corny and unbelievable at times. For example, the motivation of Bryan Brown’s character, a cop who kills one of the main characters, is sort of absurd. So to David Lyons character who feels sympathy for his abducter, when he gets a chance to escape. The film ends on an obtuse moral note that doesn’t ring true of Lyon’s character or the film in general.

What is it with Australian films and morality? Always ladelled on, corn syrup thick and in a condescending way to its audience way. Please, Australian filmmakers, read Nietzsche before you make another film, he’s only been around like120 years and its time you all caught up with the lay of the land. The script has some other odd moments, that mean the film just doesn’t really work. But still its a competent job and a lot better than early 08 turkeys Esther Blueberger and The Black Balloon. You could do worse than see this Aussie flick. But its lacklustre box office continues the Australian Film Industry Crisis. My report on the Film Vic Mindshift conference coming soon.

5 Responses to “Cactus not so ‘cactus’”

  1. I totally agree with the Bryan Brown tacked on character. It’s like his and Jacobson’s roles were tacked on with masking tape, as they serve each other, in order to get the financing thru the door.

    I saw what they were trying to do at the start of the film, giving the viewer the same sense of bewilderment and ‘what the fuck is going on’ sort of feel that the kidnapped guy is going thru. However this goes on way too long. It’s almost like it wpould make a good 55 min film but they’ve stretched out the idea to 90 mins or whatever.

    Also can someone answer the question of how he gets back, after seeming to leave empty petrol cans all over the countryside in holes. Are there back ups?

  2. richard777 said

    Yes, the supporting roles do seem tacked on. The whole film could easily have worked, though. The road movie aspect needed to finish up about around the 50 minute mark, your right…

    What about delivering the guy to his doom. A whole other story could then begin of who abducted him, etc. They could torture him. Then maybe the main character, who hangs around, feels guilty and tries to rescue him, etc. Or the guy escapes, revenge. There’s the second and third act.

    Who are on these government script advising boards? No one who understands script writing or cinema obviously, they behave more like people of the mindset of The Wiggles.

    BTW, the scene featuring the Wiggles music in Cactus is good. They invented a new form of torture. Death by Wiggles. What a way to go…

  3. syms said

    Exactly. Aussie screenwriters don’t seem to have heard of a three act structure; that’s what TV writing does for you I guess. They are either one act or two act pieces.

    I also have an issue with the film’s marketing, and have blogged about this a bit around the place. The trailer was woeful, and told me nothing about the film, really. Distributors seem intent on trying to tell the story or something in the trailers, rather than sell the damn thing to audiences.

    http://symscovington.blogspot.com/2008/05/film-marketing-in-australia.html

    Leave it to the reviews to tell the story etc. and cut shit hot trailers. Cactus could have been sold heaps better, rather that try and toe the line between blokey and arthouse (like that sells).

    This is still my fave Aussie film trailer of all time. I think you’ll like it Richard.

  4. richard777 said

    Things like second and third acts are often a good idea in genre films. Which Cactus was.

    Of course, I’m all for subverting structure and super structure in a film and not sticking to silly things like guide books on how to write scripts or script guru conferences advice, etc,… as long as its done well.

    The Cactus abduction scenario lost steam at the 50 minute mark and had to go elsewhere. It’s not a bad Oz film, but needed some more balls, I thought, in the content area devolpment and a proper ending.

    The Lucky Miles trailer was funny. “Cunt”. Yes, very Australian. Don’t know if it would have sold the film that well though. But the directors point about needing ad skills is a valid point in Oz cinema distribution.

    Your post makes very good points about Australian film marketing. Part of the money the Gov bodies flush down the toilet on rubbish like Esther Blueberger and September could go towards better marketing of good local films like Black Water, Rats and Cats and even so so fair like Cactus.

    We have to stop making expensive cinematic garbage in this country, but who will stop the next Esther Blueberger?

  5. Esther Blueburger II: The Reckoning

    [cue Wilhelm scream]

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