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Good acting, poor writing
Kitty Flanagan is an enigmatic actor who tells us little about her personal background. Those who watched "Utopia" will know what a great character actor she can be, with good direction and a good script. Unfortunately, "Fisk" does not have a good script and this must be blamed on Flanagan who is listed as one of the writers, with another Flanagan, (perhaps a sister?) sharing the indiscretion.

I have watched Kitty Flanagan do her stand-up routine. It is one of those modern routines that relies on smut in the mistaken belief that a modern audience will be tickled by crudity. "She writes her own material" is usually an indication that the result will be poorer than if the material were provided by a professional comedy writer. "Fisk" is no exception.

The situation for this sit-com is novel and promising. It has "MELBOURNE" written all over it (so Sydney people will not find it half as funny - think Graham Kennedy). The supporting cast is strong, excepting for the token Asian actor, Aaron Chen, who really is out of his depth. Why is Julia Zemiro wearing a fat suit?

I would like this series to succeed because I have so much respect for Flanagan's talent but I fear that it is not going to get any better (having watched three episodes).


I ran a restaurant for a few years in NSW. Obviously, things are slack in South Australia. It appears that one can run a Michelin Star restaurant out of a domestic kitchen. No need for stainless steel benches and coving on a tiled floor. It is also acceptable to wander around the kitchen with cow dung on your boots. Apart from that, a promising story-line was spoiled by ham acting from people who should (and probably do) know better. I remember seeing Peter Carroll on stage in the one-hander "The Christian Brothers" decades ago. He is one of Australia's finest stage actors but he should not bring over-the-top staginess into a TV role. Similarly, "Easton West" is a cardboard replica of a real chef. Natalie Abbott shows her lack of experience and rushes her lines (we need subtitles). My initial enthusiasm for this series dropped each week. It suffers from poor direction and a script that must have been written by a 15 year-old.

23 Walks

Walking Around in Circles
Why does Graham Cole (a.k.a PC Stamp) get top billing?Dave Johns and Alison Steadman are the only major characters and they do a fine job with a script that lacks originality or plot. I was expecting a major incident to launch the story but it never happened. There is, of course, great care to achieve racial balance and this adds to the impression that the whole movie is calculated and formulaic. Anyone familiar with the book / film "Our Souls at Night" will see the similarities. There must be an untapped market for love stories involving aged baby-boomers but this attempt covers old ground. It is tedious and just runs out of steam. Very disappointing.

South Solitary

Relationship Drama with Authenticity
This movie seemed to slip under the radar in Australia when it was released, though it is a very fine production. The cast, headed by Miranda and Barry Otto, give good impressions of their characters, though Barry Otto might be accused of over-doing the grumpiness. That type of officious, hyper-critical person was common in the 1930s (and later). The title suggests that the lighthouse is situated on South Solitary Island which lies off the northern NSW coast near Coffs Harbour, an idyllic spot. The setting of the movie is anything but idyllic, the locations being the windswept capes of Victoria, subject to the fierce Roaring Forties. There is no obvious plot; nearly two hours is spent examining the relationships between Meredith and the other members of the lighthouse crew. The long shadow of World War 1 hangs over the characters, all of whom have major personality problems and psychological defects. There is a hiatus between two major incidents which confused me for a time. Perhaps there is a pile of film on the cutting room floor that would have covered the time between Meredith being sprung by Netty and the scene with the launch heading out to sea. We are left to fill in a lot of gaps here and we can only guess at the turmoil that occurred. Viewers will find it difficult to identify with any of the characters. There is no hero though we might have some sympathy for the hardship endured by all people who used to work in such isolated places.

Love Sarah

Guaranteed not to offend
This is a "lovely" movie. Everyone is "nice". It is like the wonderful confections that are the centre of the story. I don't need to warn of spoilers in this review because there is nothing in the "plot" to give away. From the first ten minutes, the viewer can guess what is going to happen in the following hour, expecting a twist that never comes. This is so politically correct and sweet that it is frightening. Is this where movies are headed? Are we going to have (female) directors who have nothing to say and say it with a smile? There is no edge to this story. My 5 stars goes entirely to the actors. As expected, Celia Imrie, Shelley Conn, Bill Paterson and Penry-Jones give thoroughly professional performances, almost as though someone is paying them. I can't imagine that any of them did this with a view to achieving social justice or changing the political landscape. " ..... and they all lived happily ever after."

Operation Buffalo

Clever Satire incorrectly marketed
What a contrast there is among the reviews so far posted about "Operation Buffalo"! Were all these people watching the same show? I have a suspicion that the 1/10 reviews were written by ASIO agents, keen to avoid the scrutiny of the public (as usual). It is a light satire, set in a cringe-worthy period of Australian history in which politicians routinely doffed their caps to Englishmen (who would have happily let them be over-run by Japanese in 1944). There are very serious issues to consider in this series: nuclear war, treatment of aboriginal people in the vicinity of the nuclear tests, lack of protection for the soldiers who "volunteered", political intrigue, blackmail, cover-ups, all of which were true to at least some degree. The Wilcox MP character is clearly Richard Casey who spent much of his career trying to knife Menzies PM. Lachlan MP is based on Philip McBride. Both of these worthless pollies were knighted by Menzies and pushed sideways, leaving Menzies to rule as a dictator. There were times when I laughed uncontrollably in Episode 4 but the humour is generally subtle. There is a dark side to the plot but the writing takes the viewpoint of the soldiers involved and they probably didn't appreciate the danger they were in. Before "This Day Tonight" and the standard of investigative journalism that we have today, ordinary people were unaware of the egregious lack of talent of their leaders. There were Reds under every bed and King Ming was keeping us safe. We were part of an empire on which the sun never set, well didn't set for very long. If you didn't live through this period, you could not appreciate this series fully.

Jojo Rabbit

Anne Frank meets Colonel Klink
Drawn by the trailer, I approached this movie expecting perhaps too much. It was not very humorous and neither was it particularly novel. The concept is fine but the execution (no spoiler intended) didn't quite succeed. I see that Waititi has been nominated for awards for adapting the screenplay. I am now reading the book, "Caging Skies" and there is some similarity with the film but many differences. The focus is on different characters. The book is far from being a comedy. In "Caging Skies", Adolf Hitler does not appear as an imaginary friend. Johannes is much older, 14 - 20. The film uses only the first half of the book. There are many scenes that are not in the book. The characters are stereotypical, as in the TV series "Hogan's Heroes" but the leads, especially Jo Jo and Scarlet Johannsen, are excellent. This is a quirky movie and quite enjoyable but less than it might have been.

La vérité

Truth or Dare?
Fabienne, an ageing French film star (Catherine Deneuve) has written an autobiography which disappoints her colleagues and puzzles her screen-writer daughter (Juliette Binoche). It appears to be a work of fiction "based on a true story". (Think "The Moon's a Balloon" by David Niven). But what is "the truth"? Is it how we remember the past or is it immutable? As Rudi Giuliani would say "Truth isn't true"? There isn't much plot development but the character depth is wonderfully exposed. Who was loyal? Who was faithful? The acting is outstanding, as one would expect, seeing the cast list. Particularly impressive is the bilingual dialogue, especially from Binoche who seems to speak both English and French as a native. Also outstanding is the child actress playing Binoche's daughter. This is a thought-provoking work, a tour de force by mature (and junior) professionals.

Total Control

If it's aboriginal, it must be good?
When so many reviewers call a show "gripping", I get suspicious. Some people are racist by praising anything, no matter how poor, that features aboriginal actors. This mini-series has a lot of positives but there is no way that it deserves a '10 star' rating. Deborah Mailman is better suited to comedy roles but her work here is good. Several other aboriginal actors also show their experience and talent. That said, there is a lot of 'wood' in the supporting cast. Rachel Griffiths is the 'Big Name' star and does well as a conservative version of Julia Gillard. 'PC Garfield' is a bit hammy, as usual. William McInnes reprises a role he played in another political drama. Many plot lines are based on recent events in Australian politics (though nothing can match the reality of Australian politics). The main problem with the production is credibility. As another reviewer pointed out, there are too many implausible events. There have been a few very good TV series with aboriginal themes in recent years but this one, though interesting, is not quite good enough.

After the Wedding

Many tangled webs and personal needs
I was not aware that this was a remake. In any case, enough changes seem to have been made so that it stands along. Isobel, an American ex-pat, works in a poor orphanage in India. On day, she learns that a rich woman in America wants to give the orphanage a lot of money but a condition is that Isobel has to visit New York to meet the donor. As the story unfolds, the inter-relationships of key people are examined and it becomes clear that this donation is more than just charity. The great strength of the plot is the way the personal needs of each character are examined. The writing is excellent and, as the movie progresses, the motivations are revealed, not always to the credit of the character. The "do-gooder" perhaps is not as likeable as the rich but controlling millionaire(ess). The female characters generally are shown to be self-serving in different ways. Those who like "Spiderman" and "Star Wars" should stay away from this movie. Ignore the unfavourable reviews if you like literary films that explore character flaws in depth.

Downton Abbey

Costume drama or satire?
In 1988, Lord Montague of Beaulieu visited Australia for the National Veteran and Vintage Car Rally. As he entered the dining hall one night, an expat Pom stood up from the table and came to attention in deference to His Lordship. The way you react to that story will be an indicator of how you will react to the movie "Downton Abbey". The cast is first rate. The acting is highly professional. The settings are meticulously correct to period. The question is: "Why are English people making movies like this?" Is it, perhaps, that they are aware that they are minor players in the world and, after Brexit, will be even more insignificant? Do English people look fondly of the 19th Century as a time when God was an Englishman and all was right with the world. (This is set in the early 1920s but 19th Century attitudes still prevail.) Several audience members chuckled knowingly when various servants didn't "know their place". It all made me very uncomfortable. Some say that the class system (which is fundamental to Downton Abbey) is the single most significant cause of the decline of England. It seems curious to celebrate it. If you still feel compelled to salute His Lordships, then this is the movie for you. If, like me, you have little regard for the English upper class, then you might still enjoy this movie as a satire in the same vein as many Monty Python sketches.

The Farewell

It depends on your heritage
I wasn't going to review "The Farewell" as it seemed adequately covered by other viewers. Then I read the other reviews and noticed something remarkable: the people who were of Chinese heritage rated it lower in general than did people of European heritage. This was confirmed when I saw the movie with a friend who is Chinese, who has similar tastes to mine in just about all other areas. She also was disappointed in "The Farewell", though she was the one who wanted to see it in the first place! It appears that many Chinese people don't recognise the subtle differences in the way Asian families deal with such matters as death, education, wealth creation and professional status. It all seemed quite hum-drum to my friend but I found that the movie showed insight, subtly pointing out the cultural differences.

Crazy Rich Asians

Some People Miss the Point
I was not going to review this movie as I noted that those who enjoyed it as much as I did had already said what I wanted to say and there were a lot of reviews. The great thing about this movie is that it works on so many levels. Some reviews indicate that the viewer has only found one level. Superficially, it is just a simple love story with predictable events and predictable outcomes. On another level, it is a brilliant send-up of materialism as typified by so many Chinese people, both in China and in Australia (and elsewhere). If a Chinese family has wealth, they feel obliged to show in with as much extravagance as possible, (he says, drawing a long bow and painting with a broad brush). This especially applies to those families who have come from poor peasant backgrounds and "made good". The most important theme in this movie is the tension between love and financial status. This is not confined just to the Chinese community, of course. The negative reviews of this movie reflect more on the character of the reviewer than the quality of the production.


Excellent realistic drama, (even if the medicine isn't always exactly right)
I have become hooked on this medical drama. Unlike other reviewers, I only see the medical professional and public hospitals from the patient's point of view. I can understand why some in the medical profession would find this series confronting: the level of bullying of junior staff by their seniors, the level of male chauvinism among the surgeons, the arrogance, the "faces of Janus" when dealing with patients. Maybe some of the medical procedures are not quite correct but, Dr.Patel, perhaps hospitals in reality aren't quite correct either! The several sub-plots make this series a cut above the sentimental soap operas that usually frequent this genre: the health of the main characters, the professional pressure to "bury their mistakes", the elicit affairs between senior staff and those whom they supervise, the "glass ceiling" that seems to prevent women from becoming senior surgeons, the nepotism that ensures that the children of senior medical staff follow in their parents' footsteps. While many series have multi-cultural casts simply to be politically correct, "Pulse" reflects the true multi-ethnic make-up of Australian hospitals. Highly recommended.

Their Finest

The First Casualty is Truth
No other country's film industry can match the British for historical authenticity in period films. So often in this charming movie, I asked myself "How did they create that scene?" I am too young to have experienced WW2 but I remember the war films of the 1950s and I have seen some of the propaganda films of the war years. The mood of the these films is captured perfectly in "Their Finest" (silly title - their finest what?) I would have given 10 / 10 except for one significant weakness. We in the post-9/11 world are used to viewing CCTV film of bombs exploding and we know the extent of the damage to expect. There are scenes in this movie where bombs are supposed to be raining down, yet the damage is little more than one would expect from a large fire-cracker. If a bomb drops on a building, it is unlikely in the extreme that one person will be killed instantly while others standing nearby are totally uninjured. The acting reflects the style of the period beautifully, and comically. Bill Nighy is perfect and everyone else plays their part with enthusiasm. There is a touch of "Monty Python" in the stiff upper lip characters. The story has several engaging sub-plots and touches on a number of issues including feminism, British / USA relations, the changing nature of marriage, and politically-motivated lying. This is a record of how we were 75 years ago. Pity that we smoked so much.

Red Dog: True Blue

Sugar Mixed with Sacharine
Surely a more cynical film has never been made than this one. I didn't see "Red Dog" (1) but my wife raved about it. Having time to kill, I chose to see the "prequel". It was soon obvious that the film was a calculated tear-jerker. All the politically correct boxes were ticked, especially the Aboriginal sub-plots. The film is aimed at the pre-teen market. The inclusion of Lang Hancock as a crusty old lovably character must have been an attempt (successful?) to get some funding from his daughter, Gina Rinehart. I would rate this 1/10 but the photography deserves a point. Some talented actors were wasted in the production. Did they see the script before signing their contracts or are they really desperate for work?

The Doctor Blake Mysteries: The Open Road
Episode 1, Season 4

Who Wrote This Rubbish?
The first rule of writing is "Write about what you know." This episode continues the tradition of total disregard for historical accuracy. I can hear the producers saying "No-one will notice that". Anyone of my age will know that the Redex / Ampol car trials did not have more than half of their entrants driving Vanguards. I had to laugh at a preview: "Fast women, fast cars" - (show Series 1 Elephant Standard Vanguard, surely the slowest car every built). At one point during a post Mortimer examination, a doctor confidently identifies the marks on a dead man's chest as having been caused by a Vanguard or a Holden. No doubt her medical training involved dropping cars on people and learning the bruising patterns thus produced. At the climax, the villain lowers a jack, allowing a Holden to trap the good doctor and threaten his life. In truth, these cars had enough ground clearance to permit a mechanic to slide underneath without the car being on a jack. There were other examples those mentioned above give the general idea. I guess Stuart Page, the writer, is under 30 and thinks that everyone who is likely to watch the show is as ignorant as he is about cars.

The Family Law

A Good Idea, Poorly realised
There was every reason to be optimistic about this series. The concept of a Chinese family in Australia, facing the same problems as any other family, could have demystified the cultural differences. The problems started with casting and acting standards. It is a two-edged sword: cast an Australian-born Chinese and you just get an Australian with an Asian face, thus lessening the effect of culture. Choose a Chinese-born actor and you get someone who is trying to act in their second (or third) language, unable to express the nuances of the words. The scripts were good, except for the embarrassing sexual references. There was a hint that Benjamin is "gay" but perhaps we will have to wait for another season to see if that line is followed. There were anomalies aplenty. Why, for example, would two women who are old friends speak to each other in English when both have difficulty with the language? Subtitles were used elsewhere; why not for that scene? Talking of subtitles, there is not much point having white printing on a white background. There were promising sub-plots but others reminded me of Alf Garnet / Archie Bunker and many other politically correct anti-racists shows. In summary, this show suffered from poor production standards.

The Missing

Cliché-ridden script spoils plot with great potential
This series mirrors the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, only the sex of the child and the location of the crime have been changed. What a great opportunity to show how the police blundered, how wrong leads were followed, how the parents became suspects, how sections of the media sensationalised the situation without the slightest regard for the truth or the feelings of those involved! What a lost opportunity! The script writers of "The Missing" chose to rehash every cliché ever seen in British suspense dramas. e.g. Irish father dashes around, accusing everyone and causing trouble. Parents sight their child in a crowd, only to find that it is a case of mistaken identity. Police car chase is foiled by other drivers who seemingly ignore the "lights and music". I could go on. James Nesbit has become a walking cliché. It has got to the stage that, as soon as his name appears on a cast list, one can predict the scenes that are to follow. That said, some of the acting is first class and the difficulties of such as case are well demonstrated. It is just such a pity that the script writers just rolled out so many unoriginal scenes. Perhaps a close study of the actual people and events surrounding the McCann case could have provided them with the necessary stimuli to produce something more plausible. Is it mot the case that truth is stranger than fiction?

The Ex-PM

Opportunity Lost
Australia now has several ex-PMs, all of whom are open to ridicule and make the news for the wrong reasons. If the cartoonists can find humour in the lives of former prime ministers, why couldn't the writers of this series? The premise on which the series in based should have provided lots of good ideas. Instead, we have appalling over-acting and quite stupid story lines, far removed from the hilarious reality that the real ex-PMs provide. Consider what the writers of "Yes Minister" could have done with such a scenario. Where that series had wit and satire, this show has slapstick. After two episodes, the writers were burnt out.


First Class Documentary About Australian Bureaucracy
It is surprising that the Australian government allowed the Working Dog team to film in a department headquarters for so long and obtain such candid reactions from their staff. The small group of employees are responsible for developing nationally significant infrastructure (a.k.a. "nation-building"). Clearly, most government departments work the same way as this department reminded me so much of the one in which I used to work. Logical decisions are constantly over-ridden by politics. Long-term planning is defeated by short-term political imperatives. Media advisers outrank experts in the field. The main purpose of the department is smothered by peripheral workplace issues such as occupational health and safety, IT upgrades and social events. The second series is a great improvement on the first. Perhaps the employees were a little nervous in front of cameras for the first time but, in the second series, their true characters are much better defined. All these people would make excellent actors if they ever wanted to give up working for the public service. Kitty Flanagan would certainly make a great stand-up comedian. Some of the projects proposed are very exciting. I am looking forward to the unveiling of the solar-powered train. Also, now that Stage 2 has been "launched", I can't wait for Stage 3, hoping then to have some idea what it is! This is among the best pieces of writing that Australian television has produced.

Old School

Off to a great start
Any TV show that can boast two of the Antipodes' greatest actors has to be taken seriously. Both Brian Brown and Sam Neill have had long careers with credits to die for. This cops-and-robbers drama has the same formula as the English series "New Tricks" in that retired persons are involved in solving crimes that currently serving officers have failed to solve. The twist in "Old School" is that one of the duo is a "crim". The plot has many layers, promising to take many turns before a resolution is forthcoming. The supporting cast is strong, with the exception of Hannah Mangan Lawrence whose acting standard could only just be tolerated in "Bed of Roses" but, at 22, is really performing like someone who has been seconded from the local high school play. The writing is particularly strong in the first episode but it remains to be seen if that standard can be maintained, a failing in a number of Australian series in recent years. Judging by the scores given on this site so far, it seems that I am not the only one to regard this series as a winner.

Janet King

What do you get when a bunch of Balmain women produce a show?
I thought "Crownies" was an excellent series, despite being less than attracted by the previews. The acting was good and there was great ensemble acting, especially from the young members of the cast. I was hoping for a second season but instead got "Janet King". Why? Was Ms King the most interesting character in "Crownies"? I think not. This was a very "Balmain" production with the central character being in a lesbian relationship and with two mysteriously-conceived children. How PC can you get? Worse was the treatment of child sexual exploitation. Have we really reached the stage where police are shocked to see photos of young teenagers in bikinis on people's computers? The writing and acting were quite strong in the series, except that the plot and the casting gave strong clues as to how the story would end. I lost interest. If there is another spin-off from "Crownies", it should feature a different central character, preferably one of the younger ones.

Upper Middle Bogan

Very Australian comedy
The term 'bogan' is peculiar to Australia but its origins are unclear. I first heard the term when visiting Parkes NSW in the late 1970s when my friend reported that residents of the town referred to Bogan weather (originating from the west near Bogan Gate). The term slipped from meaning poor weather to meaning second-rate people. This was popularised by the comedienne Mary-Anne Fahey in her schoolgirl character Kylie Mole in the 1980s. The TV series "Upper Middle Bogan" is a sit-com. An upper-middle-class doctor discovers that she was adopted as a baby and finds that her birth parents are "westies" or "bogans". (Non-Australians might have been told that Australia is a classless society but the very essence of the comedy of this show demonstrates the opposite). The comedy develops from the comparison of the values and activities of the "latte set" with those of the showy, superficial, populist bogans. I wonder how people from outside Australia will take this series. There are surely parallels in other societies so not much of the humour is likely to be lost (except on Americans as some of the humour is subtle). The writing is excellent, though a couple of the later episodes were not as strong as the earlier ones. The cast is outstanding, featuring some of Australia's best actors, including a rare TV performance from "royalty" of stage acting, Robyn Nevin. Ms Nevin proves once again what a fine comedy actress she is (remember "A Toast to Melba"?). The visual humour of her calisthenics is wonderful, (even if she didn't intend it to be humorous). The actors portraying members of the Wheeler family of drag racers (the bogans) are very convincing, to the extent that the viewer could believe that they are bogans in real life (which is possibly the case as 80% of Australians are bogans to a greater or lesser degree). This is a refreshing production, showing that Australia can still produce top quality shows despite the budget limitations.

It's a Date

Clever and Funny
It is amusing to see most of the cast of "The Time of Our Lives" transposed to this clever series of short stories. Each episode features two couples who are dating for the first time. The themes are universal so, even though the stories are set in Australia, they will be appreciated everywhere in thew world. The actors include some of Australia's best and their performances are generally excellent - natural and engaging. Each episode asks a different question about dating, questions similar to those found in "agony Aunt" columns of women's magazines. Some stories come off better than others. I found the first episode the most surprising and very raunchy but the outcome (not to be spoiled here) was hilarious. Other stories were perhaps a little less successful and a couple of actors were a bit wooden. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in this series.

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