Here’s a quick taste of reviews of current release Australian feature films The Tunnel, Here I Am, Oranges and Sunshine and Cane Toads: The Conquest. Please note these do not reflect the views of the AFI. We’re aiming to represent opinions and views from various sources. You’ll make up your own mind, of course!
On 18 May, The Tunnel was released simultaneously on DVD, BitTorrent and PayTV’s Showtime. The film’s creators (producers and writers Julian Harvey and Enzo Tedeschi, director Carlo Ledesma and executive producer Andrew Denton) used what they’ve dubbed ‘the 135K project’ to raise the budget for the film. Individuals could jump online and buy a frame of the movie which in turn has facilited the release of the movie online, for free. Luke Buckmaster over at the Crikey film blog Cinetology gives a good rundown of the film’s funding and distribution strategy, but also writes that it succeeds as a thriller, calling it “a visceral horror-umentary”, noting that its ”cinematic spookiness that will infect even hardened genre aficionados with a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.” Richard Gray and Sarah Ward of The Reel Bits are similarly impressed, calling The Tunnel “an effective horror effort filled with tension and terror.” They note that “although the innovative funding and distribution model championed by the feature is garnering it the most attention, the film deserves to be watched based on its merits.”
In a review published on Twitch, Brandon Tenold argues that The Tunnel takes its time to get going, with the scary thrills only entering half way. Tenold nevertheless praises the production values and acting, and writes that it’s a ”solid entry into the ‘found footage’ genre and…whether you like it or not, it’s one movie you won’t feel guilty about downloading.”
Richard Kuipers, writing for Variety (login required), echoes criticism about the film’s slow start, and would have liked it to reveal more about the ”malevolent presence” the characters encounter. Nevertheless, he calls The Tunnel “a pretty good spook show”, writing that its ”ace lensing on a multitude of formats contributes significantly to the film’s believability as a found-footage item.”
Beck Cole’s debut feature film Here I Am premiered at the Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival and released nationally on 2 June. Reviewing for the Age newspaper in Melbourne, Philippa Hawker praised the film, writing that “[q]uietly, and with an unobtrusive grace, Here I Am explores harsh truths, everyday realities and intimations of change.” Hawker praises the “wonderfully eloquent presence” of Shai Pittman in the central performance .
Over at Movietime on Radio National Julie Rigg praises the warmth and heart of the film, particularly found in the scenes at the women’s shelter in Temple House. Rigg argues, however, that the film leaves us guessing too much, and that some of the performances are uneven.
Louise Keller and Andrew L. Urban echo similar praise and criticism at Urban Cinefile. Urban notes echoes and parallels between Here I Am and Mad Bastards, both of which portray Indigenous characters fresh out of jail and trying to reconnect with estranged children. Keller writes that a few of the performances “are a little shaky” though she singles out Pittman and Bruce Carter, who plays the love interest, for special praise. Keller also likes the fact that the film ”shows there is a way forward, even if the path is tough.”
Reviewing for SBS Film, Fiona Williams gives Here I Am three and a half stars, calling it ”a rough diamond”. She likes the fact that “Cole keeps the tone from devolving into ‘message movie’ territory by populating the film with ballsy women who inject elements of brashness and comic relief.” Williams also praises Thornton’s intimate camera work, and the film’s soundtrack, roving from PJ Harvey, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the lyrics of Archie Roach’s anthem, ‘Walking into Doors’.
Cane Toads: The Conquest is a 3D documentary horror film about the environmental devastation left in the wake of the giant toads’ unstoppable march across Australia. Director Mark Lewis first covered the subject matter in his 1988 hit doco Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. Myke Bartlett over at The Weekly Review says it’s a pity cane toads don’t have the same box office pull as Cate Blanchett as this new movie is possibly “the funniest film of the year.”
Sarah Ward, writing at The Reel Bits calls the film “informative, amusing and unconventional…an engaging and irreverent take on the nature documentary genre.” Michael Lee of Film-Forward.com, who saw the film at its world premiere at Sundance 2010, finds the subject matter “undeniably fascinating” and writes that this particular documentary is the perfect Sundance response to the 3D phenomenon – “the right mix of sarcasm and visual flair.”
On a more muted note, Peter Galvin at SBS Film enjoys the documentary, yet argues that it isn’t significantly different from Lewis’s previous film about cane toads, and that it doesn’t feel like it’s “nearly as much fun” as the earlier film. Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton from ABC’s At the Movies also remember the earlier film as being funnier, with both of them agreeing on a three star rating.
On the other hand, Anthony Morris, writing for The Big Issue (review reprinted on It’s Better in the Dark) finds the film extremely funny, and argues that “The 3D is never a cheap trick [but is]…used to bring viewers into the film – and the ground-level world of the slow-moving yet relentless cane toad.” Morris selects the film for the ‘standout’ review of the fortnight, and awards it four stars.
Critics have praised this heart-rending true story of Britain’s child migration for its lack of emotional manipulation or sentimentality. For example, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton from At the Movies agree that Oranges and Sunshine is restrained, unsentimental and yet incredibly moving, with both critics agreeing on four stars. Richard Kuipers, reviewing for Variety (login required) writes that the film is so moving that audiences may be in tears within minutes of starting to watch Oranges and Sunshine. Yet Kuipers praises the film for its lack of sensationalism, singling out Denson Baker’s cinematography and Lisa Gerrard’s “discreet musical score” for commendation.
Marl Naglazas, reviewing for The West Australian praises screenwriter Rona Munro for creating a script that’s able to “keep a very tight lid on the sentiment, treating it as more of a detective story instead of a conventional melodrama and allowing the emotion and outrage to bubble to the surface.” However Empire’s David Hughes argues the opposite line, that “in its studious avoidance of melodrama, it’s almost too low key for its own good.”
Over at TheVine, Alice Tynan applauds lead actress Emily Watson, arguing that she’s perfectly cast as the gentle but tough-minded social worker Margaret Humphreys. Tynan also praises director Jim Loach for his “impressive craftsmanship and keen emotional intelligence” but finds the film’s pacing uneven, suggesting the material may have been better served by a television mini-series.
Thomas Caldwell, writing for Cinema Autopsy, commends Oranges and Sunshine for functioning “as both entertainment and as a piece of social awareness.” Caldwell writes that with this film Jim Loach “has announced himself a distinctive cinematic voice who is able to handle complex and difficult subject matter with sensitivity and skill.”
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.