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Australia

It seems whenever someone desires artistic maturity they feel they must deliver a ‘message’.  Sprinkling some social commentary into their well worn formula, fingers are crossed in the hope their work will be taken seriously.  After directing three visual extravaganzas more suited to the MTV generation, Baz Luhrmann uses his birthplace as a beacon for his first foray into more adult film-making.  What transpires is another wondrous spectacle in his traditional manner with a story-telling style still in its infancy.
Forced to manage a cattle station owned by her late husband, British aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) feels out of her depth.  Appalled at the ramshackle flea-pit in her charge, she aims to make things work much to the merriment of the Drover (Hugh Jackman).  With a glint in his eye, the laconic drover joins her fight with dodgy land-owners keen to exploit the land’s rich bounty. As they find common ground, their bond is further sealed with the presence of Nullah (Brandon Walters) an aboriginal boy using his dreams in fighting against the many tribulations to come.
Saturated with enough fanfare to sink a fleet, Australia’s shortcomings are equally balanced by its many pluses.  Primarily about solidarity and resilience against a harsh environment, it also delves into the impact of colonialism. Using the stolen generation to spin his fictional tale, Luhrmann awkwardly attempts to find his own voice in this very Americanised version of early antipodean life.  Whilst the idea is sound and the use of great Aboriginal actors is commendable, the juxtaposing of his usual larrikin style and topical drama doesn’t quite work.  The main problem is the thinly drawn characters while suitable in the film’s frothy first half, aren’t strong enough to cope with its serious second act.
What it lacks in genuine story sense, the film gains in its extraordinary scenery.  The natural landscape provides a wonderful diversion from the plot’s antiquated clichés, with its beauty and danger shown to great effect.  The unnecessary use of CGI in certain sequences detracts somewhat, where the everyday surrounds easily beats anything a humble pc can muster.  Ably assisted by almost every Aussie thespian still standing, the actors clearly have a grand time in the earlier comedic scenes neatly capturing the country’s unique sense of humour.  The superb cinematography comes to the fore during the cattle run sequences, conjuring imagery a tourist ad could only dream of creating. 
More akin to 1997’s Titanic in tone and intent, Australia at least bravely charts the waters of parochial jingoism with some esteem.  Epic in a way local films rarely are, its lofty ambitions unfortunately become devalued by a simplistic script.  Despite its facsimile of other movie moments, Australia has enough of its own cinematic swagger to hold the attention over its considerable length.
Rating out of 10:  6

Quarantine

Since Lon Chaney spooked fans with his many ghoulish faces, the horror genre has maintained its purpose in scaring audiences.  Technological advances may have seen the stories told differently but its essential rhythm and drive have remained.  Quarantine updates the usual staples with a shaky camera capturing all manner of shocking moments.  Stylistically similar to The Blair Witch Project, it shows that terror and darkness can combine in gripping its prey with pure dread.
News reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) is filing a segment about the night shift at the local fire-station.  Accompanied by her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), her perky personality seems to win over the stoic fire-men including Jake (Jay Hernandez). When called to an emergency at a hotel, the crew race to the scene not knowing they have sealed their doom.  Once inside they discover a rancid plague has infected its inhabitants turning them into bloodthirsty zombies.  Out of luck and on the run, they try all manner of ways to escape their fate much to the nonchalance of outsiders keen to keep them inside.
Joining a growing breed of horror movies Quarantine drags its audience right in the heat of battle.  Not only are we asked to watch what happens but also share the character’s experiences.  Taking away the easy option of a musical soundtrack to heighten emotions, the various noises and creaks almost bring a primal feel. The film continues an emerging trend in returning to the genre’s roots in its brass tacks delivery.  Whilst some minor use of gore is evident, it relies more on the dynamics of everyone involved and the paranoia that arises from an uncontrollable situation.
Although not the best of its kind, Quarantine at least makes you care about the characters until its rather messy conclusion.  Until then the viewer has to piece together what’s happening via the information the camera provides.  This in turn keeps momentum going very nicely with some genuinely creepy moments. Unlike others it has a tight focus with the main action confined to the building.  It’s interesting how many zombie related movies have a sense of hopelessness attached, something which this film seems to have copied from the zombie handbook.
Quarantine is a fairly reasonable chiller effectively increasing  its pervading atmosphere.  The likes of horror maestros Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi may marvel at today’s techno wizardry, but even they should be pleased their macabre legacy still thrives with films like these.
Rating out of 10:  6