Reviews Wrap

Here’s a quick taste of what some reviewers said about recently released Australian feature films. Please note that these do not reflect the views of the AFI; we’re aiming to represent just a smattering of opinions and views from various sources. You’ll make up your own mind, of course!

Mrs Carey’s Concert

Mrs Carey's Concert key artBob Connolly and Sophie Raymond’s observational documentary about a high school music teacher may well be the surprise Australian hit of the year. The self-distributed film, which opened this year’s BigPond Adelaide Film Festival, is not only performing well at the limited release box office (more than $500,000 to date), it’s also being universally praised by critics and reviewers. David Stratton and Margararet Pomeranz from At the Movies describe it as “a rounded and very satisfying film that is both hugely entertaining and incredibly inspirational,” giving it four and a half stars and four stars respectively. Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Sandra Hall also gives Mrs Carey’s Concert four and a half stars, praising Connolly’s “patience and unobtrusiveness” which result in a film that’s “well worth every exhilarating minute.” The Age’s Jake Wilson  gives high praise, writing that Mrs Carey’s Concert “transcends its “inspirational” format to rank as the best Australian film so far this year.” Filmink’s Cara Nash calls the film “absorbing and revealing” and “nothing short of compelling”, using the Filmink ratings system to value the film at $17 out of a possible $20. Writing for Onya magazine, Glenn Dunks has only one qualm, observing that “a sequence in which Mrs Carey loses a folder of sheet music feels artificial and unnecessary.”  In the end however, he finds the film to be “a wonderful experience to witness.” (Interested in finding out more about Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond? Click through to read our recent interview with them.)

Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards key artFilmed and set within Indigenous communities  in the amazingly picturesque Kimberley region of WA, Mad Bastards impressed at Sundance where it premiered earlier this year. Directed by Brendan Fletcher, and featuring the musical talents of the Pigram Brothers (who also acted as producers on the film), Mad Bastards is a musical journey following three generations of Aboriginal men who find their way out of the cycle of violence. Thomas Caldwell, writing for The Big Issue magazine (review reproduced on the Cinema Autopsy blog) gave the film four stars and announced that “Mad Bastards is simply Australia’s most impressive film since Animal Kingdom.” Helen Garner, writing in the May 2011 edition of The Monthly writes that “Mad Bastards is a work of serious maturity and grace. It reminded me of something that Plato said about art – that it should be ‘like a wind from excellent places, bringing health.”

Writing for the SBS Film website, Michelle Orange found the musical interludes intrusive, arguing that director Brendan Fletcher’s “over-reliance on score sets up an avoidant rhythm that begins to feel like a lack of narrative confidence.” Ultimately though, Orange finds much to like about the film, and writes that in it’s final climactic scene, “the privileging of tableau over dialogue feels just right.” Quickflix critic Simon Miraudo gives Mad Bastards four out of five stars, and despite admitting to hating films which conclude with footage of real subjects, Miraudo acknowledges that it works here, and that “Mad Bastards is an involving tribute to – and exciting evolution of – Australian storytelling.”

Writing for the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Jim Schembri awards Mad Bastards four and a half stars out of five, writing that it “bravely explores a host of hot-button issues with a deft blending of humour, sensitivity and often brutal frankness.” Andrew L. Urban over at Urban Cinefile writes that the film “understated in its redemptive message, much like Samson and Delilah was, and while it has a few clunky storytelling moments, it’s an engaging and touching film.”


Snowtown key artCertainly the most controversial Australian release of the year so far, Justin Kurzel’s feature directorial debut Snowtown is based on the brutal serial killings known as the ‘bodies in the barrels’ cases, which occurred in Adelaide in the 1990s. Winner of the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival’s Audience Award (where it had its Australian premiere) and selected for Critics’ Week at Cannes (where it received a special mention by the Jury President), Snowtown is currently dividing audiences and critics – though everyone seems to agree that Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography and Jed Kurzel’s musical score are beyond reproach. 

One of the most rapturous responses to the film surely came from Clem Bastow at The Vine, who awarded Snowtown five out of  five stars and wrote that despite its grimness, the film is “an incredible piece of cinema and a devastating, poetic work of storytelling.” Crikey blogger Luke Buckmaster over at Cinetology was similarly blown away, praising the “airtight sense of verisimilitude maintained by unwavering directorial focus,” and calling it the “most frightening Australian film ever made, and a great piece of art.”  

Both Louise Keller and Andrew L. Urban of Urban Cinefile commended the strong performances of the actors in the film and agreed that the film succeeded in creating an undeniably tense atmosphere, yet Keller’s admission that she ” left the cinema feeling repulsed and downtrodden at the sombre world depicted, from which not even a little piece of blue sky can be seen,” is one echoed my many viewers, including Helen Garner, who admitted in The Monthly that the film left her despairing and nauseated.  The Adelaide based Anders Wotzke of Cut Print Review commends director Justin Kurzel’s naturalistic direction, but argues that the grisly film “struggles to build an emotional rapport with its audience.” Both Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton from the ABC’s At the Movies  praised the impressive acting performances on screen, but found the setup confusing and worried at the film’s lack of “moral centre”. The debate continues, and audiences seem keen to check it out for themselves, with the film’s strong performance on the limited box office charts. (Interested in learning more about the actors in Snowtown? Click through to read our interviews with Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway and Louise Harris.)

Check out these films on the big screen now, while they’re in the cinemas, and feel free to drop back and leave your comments and opinions.

Next week, our Reviews Wrap will take in the crowdfunded film The Tunnel, available freely on torrent; Beck Cole’s Here I Am, and Mark Lewis’s 3D creature feature documentary Cane Toads: The Conquest.

Why I Adore: Round the Twist

By Clem Bastow

There’s no surer way to guarantee your rapid plunge into irrelevance than lamenting the lot of “kids these days”. Their music is too loud, or too stupid; they have no manners; they take too many drugs; and their hair colour is weird and unnatural. “Kids” took plenty of drugs in the 1960s, hair colours were weirder in the ’90s, and music has been loud and stupid since Prokofiev wrote Dance of the Knights. In other words, I’d sooner commit hara kiri via rocking chair than turn into an old fogey.

However, whenever I take a casual stroll across the TV networks during the children’s television hours, I am struck by one particular thought: it’s a shame that kids these days don’t get to grow up with Round the Twist (1989-2000). That sense of slowly creeping fogeyism sparks up whenever I think of Paul Jennings and Esben Storm’s show, unquestionably one of the best children’s television shows Australia has produced. In fact, I would go so far as to say one of the best television shows Australia has produced, period.

It’s funny the way Round the Twist will weave its way back into my life. For a time, there was a Twitter game we (read: I) whiled away the hours with. It entailed, simply, writing “You now have the Round the Twist theme song in your head” and watching the outraged @-replies come flooding in.

Round the Twist Series 2

Round the Twist: Series 2

At other times, it’s been as fleeting and simple as someone saying “You two are on washing-up duty for the next 25 years!” or finishing a sentence with “…Without my pants.” Some days it’s wishing that I had a magical ability to pass on injuries to others by playing The Wild Colonial Boy on an enchanted gum leaf.

Most recently, it was upon hearing the sad news that the show’s co-creator and producer (and star, as Mr Snapper) Esben Storm had died at the age of 60. Mr Snapper was always the archetypal school principal. I can recall many classmates bellowing “SNAPPER’S COMING!” when a teacher’s footsteps stalked the hallway outside the classroom.

Round the Twist occupies a strange place in the subconscious of a generation (or so) of Australians; it didn’t necessarily enter the vernacular in the same way that, say The Simpsons did, and yet there it is, always hiding in the backs of our minds, a televisual folklore. A holiday pilgrimage to “the lighthouse” seems to be a recurring theme among many of my peers.

I think what made it – and keeps it – so compelling and watchable was that unlike most children’s shows, which feature plenty of mugging asides and bright colours, Round the Twist was bawdy, natural and, most important of all, not afraid of melancholy.

The episode Nails, from the second season remains one of the finest filmic depictions of young love. In it, Linda falls for the new boy at school, the mysterious Andrew, who lives on an island with his single dad. It turns out Andrew’s mum was a mermaid, and soon Andrew will return to the sea to live with her in a bittersweet shared custody arrangement.

It’s a testament to the delicacy of Jennings and Storm’s writing that the episode manages to pack more genuine emotion – without ever resorting to sentimentality or mawkishness – into its half hour than most romantic comedies can manage over the course of an hour or more. (In between Linda and Andrew’s lovely interactions, it goes without saying, Nails is also hilarious.)

There are, of course, plenty of good children’s TV shows being made these days. Many of the US efforts, particularly Wizards Of Waverly Place and iCarly, are cut from the same cloth as classic TV comedies like I Love Lucy and TheRound the Twist DVD cover Nanny. But there’s something about Round the Twist’s first two seasons (the “post-Jennings” years were less remarkable) that feels like it was a one-off; as though some special alchemy of cast, crew, time and place came together for a few brief moments to create a perfect series. It’s the same magic that permeates more recent short-lived shows like Freaks & Geeks and Party Down.

It would be easy to say “there’ll never be another show like it”, but that would be to lose faith in the possibility that kids these days may be lucky enough to be treated to their own TV show with the enduring importance of a show like Round the Twist.

Until that day, however, I’ll never forget the time when we “pissed on the cold ear”.

About the Author:
Clem Bastow is a Melbourne writer. She is the Music Editor of The Big Issue and Senior Contributor at Inpress, and also writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sunday Age. Catherine Deveny called her “one of the most dynamic, innovative and talented young writers and communicators we have in Australia”; Brian McFadden called her “some journalist”. After a decade of dedicated service to the music criticism business, she has also branched out into TV and film criticism at The Vine. In her spare time she spends too much money making costumes to wear to pop culture conventions.

Extra Links for Round the Twist:

Round the Twist on Wikipedia
Round the Twist on Australian Screen
Buy the series – available from the ABC Shop
Read the AFI’s tribute to the late Esben Storm here.

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon.


We’re currently looking for more ‘Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] and we’ll get back to you with more details.