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Red Dog: True Blue (2016)
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?
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 (2016)
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 (2014)
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 (2015)
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 (2014)
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 (2014)
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 (2013)
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 (2013)
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.