Reviews Wrap

Here’s a quick taste of reviews of current release Australian feature films The Tunnel, Here I AmOranges 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!

The Tunnel

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.” 

Here I Am

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

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.

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine key art AustraliaCritics 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.

Our next Reviews Wrap will cover Blame and Sleeping Beauty.

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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

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.