Still some of the finest films

9 December 2010
Red Hill

Red Hill

One of the great things about the Australian Film Institute Awards is that during the build up to the awards night people actually start talking about Australian cinema and the industry gets a bit of media attention. The bad thing is that this has increasingly resulted in a stack of inaccurate and unfair criticism being thrown at Australian cinema for it being too miserable and not mainstream enough. Whether in the comments found under articles about the industry or in the actual articles themselves, too many people love to characterise Australian cinema as arty doom and gloom stories set in the inner city. This is apparently the reason Australians don’t go to see Australian films.

This time last year I started writing a piece that was eventually titled “Some of the finest films”, published in issue 1999 of Overland Literary Journal and then posted online here by Overland and here by myself. The thrust of my argument was that the industry is significantly suffering do to the perception that Australia only makes worthy dramas. This prevalent perception is simply not true but that doesn’t stop uninformed commentators dismissing everything this country produces as doom and gloom.

Bran Nue Dae

Bran Nue Dae

There is a place in any healthy national cinema for challenging social-realists films, especially those that give a voice to the marginalised, and Australia makes its share of such films but they don’t typify the current industry. This year alone has seen the release of a diverse collection of films including Bran Nue Dae (musical), Daybreakers (horror/action), Beneath Hill 60 (war), I Love You Too (romantic comedy), Animal Kingdom (crime drama), The Horseman (revenge thriller), The Loved Ones (horror/comedy), Tomorrow, When The War Began (teen action) and Red Hill (action/western).

Not everybody is going to like every film that Australia produces and it’s unrealistic to expect every film to be a hit. Our industry caters to a broad range of audiences, but the intense negativity and lack of support means that frequently those films don’t always reach those intended audiences. This has been recently demonstrated with the poor levels of interest in The Loved Ones and Red Hill, which according to many commentators are supposedly exactly the types of genre films that Australia should be making more of.

The knee-jerk reaction that Australia only produces depressing films is unfounded and unfairly puts people off seeing films that deserve to be seen.

Written for the Oz Film Blogathon hosted by Dark Habits

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – I Love You Too (2009)

9 May 2010
I Love You Too: Jim (Brendan Cowell) and Blake (Peter Helliar)

Jim (Brendan Cowell) and Blake (Peter Helliar)

Comedy doesn’t have to be edgy, daring or provocative to be good but it does need to be funny and for the most part the new Australian romantic comedy I Love You Too isn’t. There are plenty of moments where you recognise that a situation or a line of dialogue is a comedic one but actual laughter is rare. A big part of the problem with I Love You Too is that it all just seems so familiar. The leading man Jim (Brendan Cowell) is a commitment-phobe man-child, the leading woman Alice (Yvonne Strahovski) longs for marriage and the leading man’s best friend Blake (Peter Helliar, who also wrote the script) is offensive and crude yet ultimately loveable. These are stock characters that trade heavily in gender stereotypes and aren’t developed in any way that is interesting or surprising.

Cowell is a great dramatic actor (as he once again demonstrated in Beneath Hill 60) but he doesn’t seem comfortable with comedy and he never makes the audience like him or wish for him to win back Alice. Strahovski is adequate as Alice but the character simply functions in the film as a goal to be obtained so there is little to work with. As Blake, Helliar just feels too much like a watered down version of Vince Vaughn’s character in Swingers.

I Love You Too: Charlie (Peter Dinklage)

Charlie (Peter Dinklage)

I Love You Too is not a complete write-off as director Daina Reid, who until now has worked in television, is clearly very capable and does a competent job with the material that she has to work with. The presence of American actor Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral, The Station Agent) also lifts several scenes in the film as he has the required comic delivery that so many of the other performers lack. Fortunately jokes about his stature are not endlessly milked and he even gets a sweet subplot. Unfortunately another subplot involving Jim’s sister is dull and makes the film unnecessarily long.

The pieces are all there for I Love You Too to be a good romantic comedy but good genre filmmaking is about working within the restraint of the genre without everything feeling tired, familiar and average. There is an almost desperate desire in Australia at the moment to make safe, generic crowd-pleasing films but that is no reason why Australian audiences should settle for mediocrity.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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